State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Reclaimed Water: Safe to Drink?

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.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

31 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Daniel Stellar
14 years ago

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.

MikePoelke
MikePoelke
Reply to  Daniel Stellar
1 year ago

After 4 days of no water…
There is no Yuck factor.

Lindsay
Lindsay
14 years ago

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
14 years ago

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
g
14 years ago

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.

aiyana
Reply to  g
4 years ago

sorry but your wrong because it is safer than that toilet water that your drinking out of the bottled from a factory so your wrong

nour
Reply to  g
4 years ago

sorry g, but if you truly think reclaimed water is just toilet water, then you are wrong. recycled or reclaimed water is indeed used as toilet water, but the reclaimed water that is given to us to drink has gone through many purifiers that it is safer than your tap water. also, if people get over the never-ending “YUCK!” factor, imagine the lives we can save! all water has gone through at least 4 animals/ humans anyways, recycled or not.

Zoe Ava Jordan
Zoe Ava Jordan
Reply to  nour
2 years ago

I’m sure you think that fluoride is Fine for Your children and you to consume as well.

Aiyana
Reply to  g
4 years ago

hi, g I know you haven’t been on this in 10 yrs but u need to pay attention because if you did then you would understand what this is trying to prevent or persuade if we should drink toilet water then it would probably be safer than the water coming out of your shower in the morning and at night if I can get over it that you can get over the yuck factor of this entire situation I may be a kid but I know a lot for my age so don’t be talking so if we do drink toilet water then I wouldn’t die like your smug like comment so I suggest you get your facts right got it? GOOD!

Paul
Paul
13 years ago

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
psirvent
7 years ago

Is reclaimed water disinfected ?

nour
Reply to  psirvent
4 years ago

yes. if recycled water was not, they would not give it to us.

G.P.
G.P.
Reply to  nour
3 years ago

You believe everything you hear and see.
You drink it “first” for a couple of months and then come back here give us your opinion

Zoe Ava Jordan
Zoe Ava Jordan
Reply to  nour
2 years ago

So I guess you can put disinfectants in your body and that may help with viruses.??

Aiyana
Reply to  psirvent
4 years ago

yes it would be or they wouldn’t
suggest it

umm
umm
7 years ago

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.

nour
Reply to  umm
4 years ago

actually, recycled water is safer than spring water in most cses

Missy
Missy
7 years ago

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

G.P.
G.P.
Reply to  Missy
3 years ago

Please don’t sell those eggs.
Give them freely to the the government official that approves this.

person
person
5 years ago

dont drink it

nour
Reply to  person
4 years ago

don’t drink it? we already do though. and what is your evidence against recycled water?

G.P.
G.P.
Reply to  nour
3 years ago

What is your evidence that its safe?
Someone told you it was, didn’t they?

emily
emily
5 years ago

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
Ibis
5 years ago

Can you cook with reclaimed water

G.P.
G.P.
Reply to  Ibis
3 years ago

I’m sure that’s the first choice for all the top chefs in the world…
That, extra special flavor…

n said
n said
5 years ago

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

Seth Flannigan
Seth Flannigan
4 years ago

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
Alexander garcia
4 years ago

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 plants the point is there is no such thing as new water it was all at one point or another consumed then excreted filtered then consumed again reclaimed water in most cases is far safer to drink than most well water . People hear the term reclaimed water and probably imagine all the water running into the storm drain just being collected into some giant tank then just being pumped back put into the sprinkler system or they imagine all the sewer water just being squeezed out to separate from solid waist and then also pumped directly from that to be used as reclaimed water BUT THAT IS NOT THE CASE !! It is far more complicated that that and it is often highly filtered before use if it wasn’t then everywhere reclaimed water was used would smell like SHIT and CHEMICALS but it DOES NOT

G.P.
G.P.
Reply to  Alexander garcia
3 years ago

You my friend should take an extensive tour of your local waste water/ reclamation facility and when your done, go right to the nearest faucet of the end product and help yourself to a great big fresh drink of it!

Aiyana
4 years ago

actually, g we can be doing this because if we want our children to survive for more than a year than we can do this so if you don’t mind I think I’ll join the discussion and you can read my other points in the area under g’s comment and my BFF’s opinion as well if you’re curious so maybe get your facts right before you comment again thanks

G.P.
G.P.
3 years ago

I don’t believe for a second that this is safe!
**I might be convinced otherwise if “all” politicians and local officials and you who think this is a terrific idea, be the first to test it for a period of about two years…
Take a couple of ladles of your used toilet water and run it through a coffee filter, then your brand water filter, add a shot of bleach and you’ll be fine…
Putting your faith in any thing another man or woman says is very risky.

31
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x