Today's Question Blog

Will drinking treated wastewater catch on in Minnesota?

In the land of 10,000 lakes, it turns out many areas of Minnesota are actually experiencing water scarcity, such as in White Bear Lake or southwest Minnesota. One way to mitigate the problem is to reuse water, which is mostly used for nonpotable (not for drinking) purposes (for instance, agriculture, landscaping, or golf course irrigation). But a new trend is emerging in water recycling: drinking treated wastewater. The purification process is gaining attention in western areas of the country, like Silicon Valley, as water supplies continue to dry amid drought. Despite being indistinguishable from normal tap water, the public is generally grossed out when thinking of their water's origins in the sewer. Is the process a viable option for Minnesota?

Bill Priebe and Randy Thorson of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Municipal Wastewater Program write:

The short answer is “not likely” because Minnesota has cheaper sources of water than using treated wastewater. People also perceive wastewater as “icky,” meaning it would be a hard sell.

Here’s the long answer:

Most of Minnesota has a sufficient quantity and quality of water that is readily available at low cost from surface waters like rivers, streams and lakes, or from groundwater. Some places do need to treat their drinking water to meet the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (administered by the Minnesota Department of Health).

Treating wastewater to be safe for humans is possible, but it would require more filters and disinfection. This means that the user costs would be higher until surface water and groundwater sources are depleted and unavailable.

Public perception of this practice would be a challenge and require a major education program to make it acceptable. Many Minnesotans don’t realize that their drinking water source may already include treated wastewater, in that some wastewater treatment plants discharge to a river that is used for drinking – after much treatment – downstream.

This is a good time to point out that pollutants like chloride and nitrate are rising in some drinking water sources, highlighting that Minnesota needs to protect its surface water and groundwater for drinking purposes.

Today's Question: Will drinking treated wastewater catch on in Minnesota?

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