Would You Like a Cup of Pee?

In 2016 the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere will be up and running at Carlsbad in San Diego County. At a cost of $1 billion, estimates suggest 50 million gallons of drinking water flowing to drought stricken California every day. Consider that against the $142 million Orange County California designated to produce an additional 30 million gallons a day of drinking quality recycled water – translation – pee.

Recycled water is nothing new. San Fransisco built a reclaimed water plant in 1932 – removing solids from sewage, treating it for impurities and using it for irrigation. Since 2008 Orange County has operated a massive water treatment and reclamation facility – half the water pumped into a aquifer, the other half rests in filtration ponds for 6 months or so before ending up in drinking well intakes. At a fraction of desalination costs, Orange Country recycles 85 million gallons of water every day.

Desalination undoubtedly sells faster than recycled sewage water. Cost be damned – we demand clean cars, perfect golf courses and showers as long and often as we please. Never mind that over half the people on Earth have no access to clean drinking water, or scrape by each day on the amount of water we squander brushing our teeth.

I wonder how many of us would be willing to compromise, consuming no more than our fair share of daily global water supplies? A suggestion equally preposterous as cost effective reclamation over desalination. Nobody stops to think the well might run dry – water seen as an inexhaustible constant. Distasteful public perception regarding consumption of recycled pee, no match for prohibitively priced desalinization projects. Damn the cost, we’re far too civilized to drink pee. ( I can only assume treated excrement from millions of sea creatures is acceptable).

In April, Portland Oregon  surveillance cameras captured a teenage boy urinating through a fence into a reservoir.  Outraged officials took the reservoir offline, drained 38 million gallons of water, publicly assuring residents of purged pee in the interest of health and safety. Holy crap, are you kidding me? These same nincompoops drained the reservoir in 2011 after a similar urine scandal. Suck it up Portland and drink a little pee!

Dire warnings that water is the next oil, drought, climate change, drained aquifers resulting from increased population and  environmental indifference are genuine concerns. Reclaimed water will be a reality one day. Pondering a future dependant on drinking a little pee is the least of our worries.



How Many People?

The “balance of nature” has become an abstract concept in terms of our place in the puzzle. A industrialized world which tends to remove humanity from the equation – “nature” becoming the realm of plants and animals,  beyond our lofty”king of the hill” mentality. All too easy to forget mankind plays a pivotal position in Earth’s balance.

Prior to mechanized farming and medical advances such as immunization – world population chugged along at a manageable pace. Somewhere between one and two billion people until the mid 17th, early 18th century when food production tripled along with the number of mouths to feed. From a billion or so in 1850, two billion by 1930, to over seven billion today – taking a moment to ponder our planets’ breaking point is a sobering thought.

Water is a finite resource – as with fossil fuels, we can’t manufacture it. Over a billion people on Earth have limited access to fresh water. China, India, the Middle East, California – all face epic water shortages. Available land for farming has reached critical mass – there simply isn’t any more, and what we do have is stretched to a breaking point by over-use and water shortages.

When China introduced the “one child” policy in 1979 I thought of it as totalitarian meddling – reproductive legislation, yet another blight on an already oppressed country. Impossible to fathom public outcry if western politicians dared hint at such a travesty of human rights.

Like it or not, we all need to ponder how much our planet can sustain. By 2050 our population is projected to top 10 billion. I don’t know what the answer is. Are we willing to play golf on artificial grass, turn off the fountains in Las Vegas, collect rain water for our yards, flush the toilet after every third use, and learn to live with dirty cars? Would we be willing to settle for our “share” of available water in exchange for restoring the balance of nature.

Ponder the balance of nature and ask yourself – how many people can the Earth support? Nature’s balance depends on the answer.