Reclaimed Water: Safe to Drink?

by |June 23, 2009

People often cringe at the thought of water that was once wastewater being treated and used as drinking water. However, in Tampa, Florida, voters will be deciding next year on whether to use reclaimed water as part of the city’s drinking water.

sign about reclaimed water

Reclaimed water, also known as recycled water, is highly treated wastewater that is often used as a replacement for potable water for irrigation and industrial needs.  It is clear, orderless, and sometimes can be made cleaner than water naturally found in wells (water that people think of as safe to drink). At this time, reclaimed water is only used for irrigation purposes, being used in large part for golf courses. It is also significantly cheaper than the potable water sources, which makes it an attractive alternative in irrigation to many people (in Florida, irrigation is as much as 50% of the total water use of a family). However, many people do not think it is safe to come in contact with reclaimed water because it can contain nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in higher than normal levels. Not all recycled water has these elevated levels though — in Orange County, California, reclaimed water has been used indirectly for drinking. Reclaimed water there is used in their groundwater replenishment program, in which they highly treat wastewater and inject it into the aquifer to filter down, helping prevent future water shortages. This example demonstrates that recycled water can be made clean enough so that is can be used for potable uses.

In Tampa, 55 million gallons of reclaimed water is deposited into the Tampa Bay every day, which is harmful to marine life. There will also soon be regulations about how much of this reclaimed water can be deposited into the bay, meaning the city will soon have excess reclaimed water with no way of storing or using it. Using this water would not only be beneficial to the marine life in the bay, but it would also reduce the stress on the aquifer, reservoir, and desalination plant, which all have been experiencing issues lately. Reclaimed water is already used in a small percentage for lawn watering in the city, but the service is not available everywhere and is not used to the extent it could be.

On the 2010 ballot, water customers will be able to vote on whether they are interested in the concept of using reclaimed water in the drinking supply.  Even if the vote passes, it is not certain that it will actually occur.  The plant would have to undergo a $100 million upgrade to make it capable of producing water that is of drinking standard. After that, the water would need to go under many tests to ensure it is actually safe to drink. It will be interesting to see if other cities will soon go on this path of making reclaimed water into potable water — the voters in Tampa Bay may be some of the first.

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Daniel Stellar
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Reclaimed water (a great euphemism for what I’ve usually heard referred to as toilet to tap) is very interesting, and clearly has potential. While many questions still need to be answered, it’s necessary for people to get over the “yuck” factor, and seriously consider the issues. It’s also important that the discussion begin with the recognition that many parts of the US are hugely water-stressed, and creative solutions, including reclaimed water, need to be part of the mix.

Lindsay
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Lindsay

Reclaimed water will need the best PR campaign in the world in order for people to get over the “yuck” factor. It could start with a new name – maybe, “good-as-new” water?

Samantha Tress
Guest

I agree that reclaimed water will probably need a PR/education campaign before it gets too far. One place this could start is with pointing out that all water is “reclaimed” – the same water has been cycling through the planet’s hydrologic cycle for billions of years. So if we started thinking about this in the longer-term, it might be more palatable (no pun intended). It’s interesting how thinking about many environmental issues (carbon dioxide emissions, mining, overfishing, etc.) in the longer-term would be beneficial for the environment.

g
Guest
g

no one should ever have to drink some toilet water. If you want to get sick and die, than go ahead,…do it! This super bad for us, for our health,and don’t forget the children!!! WE can’t be doing this.

Paul
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Paul

Reclaimed water that has been treated to drinking standards is completely safe to drink. Just think of the Earth…it is a closed system. This means that nothing ever leaves or enters Earth( except a few asteriods here and thier). The water in Earths oceans been there for billions of years, and some of it was probaly in your toilet at some time. Just think of it…does the cleaning process make the water safe? YES!

psirvent
Guest
psirvent

Is reclaimed water disinfected ?

umm
Guest

reclaimed water is highly treated water that may be as pure as spring water. SO DON’T GO SAYING IT’S BAD FOR OUR HEALTH. you might be drinking it every day!! if spring water is just as clean as reclaimed water it’s completely safe to drink.

Missy
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Missy

So I need to know if I give my chickens reclaimed water and eat their eggs it’s all safe?

person
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person

dont drink it

emily
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emily

I’m doing an essay about it and i think yes because if you got no water then you have to drink for you survive

Ibis
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Ibis

Can you cook with reclaimed water

n said
Guest
n said

From my point of view we cac filter and use ocean water for tap instead of wastewater.

Seth Flannigan
Guest
Seth Flannigan

Nowhere in California where reclaimed water is used is there a sign saying it is also safe to drink. It always says the opposite.

This article doesn’t mention whether we are are talking about recycled sewage water or different types of reclaimed water, such as storm drain run off water, etc

Alexander garcia
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Alexander garcia

First off all toilet water is just tap water it all comes from the same 3/4 inch pvc pipe that is at the edge of your yard where your water cut off valve is it’s then pumped from there to supply all of the water in your home . Second all water on existence has previously been waste water at one point or another then filtered through natural means example evaporation into the atmosphere and returned as rain or filtered by the minerals in the ground till it reaches the water table or by artificial means such as water treatment… Read more »