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Water Recycling Picks Up Steam

The New York Times reports today on the growing popularity among drought-plagued cities of recycling wastewater into potable water--a process which, though it still tends to provoke a visceral reaction of "eewwww!", is becoming increasingly recognized as an important component in adapting to drier conditions in the South and Southwest. It's worth emphasizing, though, that this isn't all that different from what happens already. As the Times notes, treated sewage is currently pumped back into rivers and consumed later downstream, once the effluent has been diluted; the new recycling plans envision doing the same thing, except by letting the effluent filter through porous rock into aquifers. No one's actually proposing a direct toilet-to-tap program, which, apparently, exists only in Windhoek, Namibia. And, of course, the Safe Drinking Water Act still applies in any case.

Nevertheless, it's worth pointing out that schemes such as these, while not nearly as bad as their popular reputation suggests, would be less necessary if the federal government didn't insist on giving scarce water resources away to farmers who sell it back to cities at such high prices that there's political pressure to look for cheaper alternatives. 

--Josh Patashnik