Water conservation takes a lot of effort. It doesn’t just happen as you think it would. Cities and states spend a lot of money trying to educate their residents about how to conserve water. Without education and awareness campaigns, how else would residents know when to start conserving during a drought or some other water emergency.
The hope of a water conservation education campaign such as Water IQ here in Texas is to get people on a permanent pattern of water conservation practices. You hope that people will continue to practice water conservation even during times of ample water supply. Therefore, you need all the help you can get in terms of spreading the message.
The internet and social media can certainly help out in this effort, but they can also detract from the spread of water conservation ideas. A recent headline by Grist read:
Texans drinking urine, consulting Bible in face of ongoing climate apocalypse
Bloggers and journalists write these quick, catchy headlines in order to catch the fleeting eye of online news and social media consumers. They know the headline needs to make people react so that they can get a click out of them. This particular headline cheapens a very complex process of water treatment.
If people read the headline without clicking, they will probably think “ewwww, glad I don’t live in Texas”. If they do bite and read the blog post, they would see,
Inspired by NASA’s innovations in urine-drinking, Big Spring, Texas is installing a wastewater recycling plant to transform sewage into drinking water.
If people don’t click on the links in the blog post, they will probably think, “ewwww, glad I don’t live in Big Spring.” Really the blurb should have read,
Rather than waiting for Mother Nature, Big Spring, Texas speeds up water reuse by blending treated wastewater with traditional water source.
Same number of words but much more descriptive and it actually aids the goal of water conservation education. This may also make people to be more inquisitive about the “waiting for Mother Nature” part.
Now for the civil engineering lesson…
I hate to break it to you but nearly everyone who lives in cities that rely on surface water is drinking water that has water molecules that used to be someone else’s urine. Basically, towns upstream from your city discharge their treated wastewater into creeks and streams that empty into rivers or lakes. Then cities have intake structures that pull water from these rivers or lakes, treat it, and then pump it into their water distribution systems. Now it does mix with the ambient water in the reservoir, but the urine that made up the wastewater flow from the upstream towns, is still technically “in the water” of the river or lake when the downstream city pulls it out to the treated and consumed by the residents of that city.
Ever since people have been living downstream of other people, we have been “drinking urine”. Think about it… the water molecules don’t go away. Now it may take days, weeks, or even months for those exact water molecules to make it to the downstream city’s intake so you don’t have to worry. I don’t want anyone to be disgusted by this and go out and start drinking only bottled water. Bottled water has its own quality issues.
Hopefully I have provided a little glimpse of how we treat our waste in the natural environment. I hope you don’t get disgusted the next time you hear about using reclaimed wastewater… we have been doing it for a long time. The next time you see an internet headline about water issues such as these, please take some time to understand these complex systems. They may be the key to our water future.