We’ve all heard the joke: Put a spoonful of wine in a barrel of sewage and you’ve still got a barrel of sewage. But put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine and it changes into a barrel of sewage.
But is it true? It depends on whether the sewage is raw or treated and how it’s been treated.
Nature is the ultimate water recycler. Any drop of water we drink may have flowed through some animal before entering the continuous hydrologic cycle of precipitation, runoff, flow to the sea, and evaporation. We count on nature’s dilution and cleansing processes plus sophisticated water and sewage treatment systems to ensure a safe water supply. We assume, usually correctly, that the water coming out of our faucets can be safely used to drink, wash with, or dilute wine.
As strange as it seems, Mississippi’s water resources aren’t enough to satisfy all our demands. We have been depleting our groundwater supplies for years. Some of our rivers suffer from too little flow during dry seasons, unable to sustain our needs, even though they may flood during other seasons. Reservoirs, once thought to be the best solution to both flooding and dry spells, are a hard sell in the 21st century. So what do we do?
The first thing to do is accept the fact that sewage can be purified and become clean enough to reuse. We can look to our magnificent Mississippi River as an example. It provides both water supply and treated sewage dilution for states from Montana to Mississippi. We can learn from Nevada, where virtually every water drop gets recycled. We can learn from Columbus, where treated wastewater flows to the Cogentrix combined cycle power plant for use as cooling water. We can learn from the Landscape Architecture Department at MSU, whose building harvests rainwater for the native plants surrounding the building.
EPA offers the following terms:
Water recycling is reusing treated wastewater for beneficial purposes such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing, and replenishing a ground water basin (referred to as ground water recharge).
Gray water is reusable wastewater from residential, commercial and industrial bathroom sinks, bath tub shower drains, and clothes washing equipment drains. Gray water is reused onsite, typically for landscape irrigation.
The next thing we can do is look for opportunities to recycle our water and put these technologies to work.