Cities Embracing Wastewater Recycling

With few options for obtaining more water, the small community of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, is going to replenish its dwindling water supplies by treating and recycling its own wastewater.

"'All we've done is recycle the same water on this earth since the beginning of time,' Mike Nivison [Cloudcroft, NM Village Administrator] says. 'This is just a more controlled environment for doing the same thing. I do believe this will be our salvation.'"

"He's right, of course: Using water is fundamentally a matter of recycling. Mathematically, you can show that the liquid pouring from your faucet today probably contains some of the same water molecules that George Washington drank in 1776. Remember the water cycle diagram you saw in grade school: Two hydrogen atoms bound to one of oxygen precipitate from clouds as rain or snow, seep into the soil, transpire from leaves, get lapped up by animals, course through streams and rivers, and finally settle, temporarily, in the ocean, only to evaporate once again to start the cycle anew. The idea of reuse is central to our understanding of water - perhaps even a bit compelling, when it comes to sharing molecules with George Washington."

"Cloudcroft's will be one of the first wastewater systems in the nation to allow - or require, depending on your perspective - residents to drink treated wastewater that hasn't been naturally cleansed in a river or aquifer. It will be built entirely as a matter of necessity. At an elevation of more than 8,500 feet in southern New Mexico's Sacramento Mountains, Cloudcroft is high and, thanks to recent years of drought, dry."

"'A city like San Diego can go buy more water,' says Bruce Thomson, a University of New Mexico civil engineer who has been helping Cloudcroft develop its new water system. 'It's expensive, but they can. But Cloudcroft is simply out of water. Because they're at the top of the mountain, there's no new place to drill wells. They're at the top of the watershed. They don't have any other alternatives.'"

Thanks to Jon Cecil

Full Story: Facing the Yuck Factor

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