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Drought-plagued California wants residents to drink recycled wastewater

Drought-plagued California looks to recycled wastewater

Arrowhead. Poland Spring. Fiji. SmartWater. At the end of the day, it's all just the bottled product of what happens when two hydrogen molecules bond with an oxygen molecule, mixed with a few minerals here and there — and a movement in drought-plagued California is hoping water-drinkers can recognize that.

A New York Times report this morning spotlighted a specialized plant in Orange County where wastewater is processed through "several stages of purification that left it cleaner than anything that flows out of a faucet or comes in a brand-name bottle." In fact, the water is literally "stripped down to the H, 2, and O," the general manager of the county's water district explained, and the purification process removes the flavor-adding minerals found in most water supplies.

So the water is truly clean and environmentally friendly. Great! But while recycled water has been used successfully for things like irrigation in the past, turning it into a viable potable option is predicated upon people accepting that the water they're drinking was previously used for something else. Of course, this isn't actually a big deal — "everyone who lives downstream on a river is drinking recycled water," noted a water expert to the Times — but it does require Californians to get over the "yuck" factor. And despite the extensive science that goes into cleansing recycled water down to its molecular construction, in a recent study, 13 percent of adults said they would point-blank refuse to try it. Similar efforts in the past to jumpstart the recycled water trend in the state have failed.

Still, the movement is optimistic, in part because California's situation is so dire. "A small minority of people are very offended by this," said the study's co-author, Paul Rozin, but "under crisis, people accept things that they wouldn't accept otherwise." Read more at The New York Times.