“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a parlor game based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are, on average, about six acquaintance links apart.
Imagine now to catapult this connection through history. And I am not talking about my extra-ordinary long family tree. I am talking big: imagine to really going back in time. Could we be somehow connected to Genghis Khan? Or to Otzi, the Similaun Ice-Man. Is it possible? Where is the connection?
It turns out: we are connected through water. Yes, because the water that was used 100, 100,000, 1,000,000 year ago, is somehow the same water we use now. At least, to a certain extent (in reality, the O-H bonds in water are continually being broken and reformed).
If this holds true, the balance of water that was present on planet earth when the dinosaurs were still alive is somehow similar to the one we have today. Problem is: with climate change, growing population and ramping pollution, the water we can consume is becoming scarce. In fact, one in three people on every continent of the globe is already affected by water scarcity, with its potentially devastating consequences.
So, considering that we have been using the same water over and over, why is it so difficult to accept the idea of re-using the waste-water that has already been “used” and discharged? Did you know that Singapore has achieved more than 30% of water-reuse (for irrigation, public areas, industries and indirect potable water)? Or that Perth is working is planning on a 0-rain scenario to provide “Water forever, whatever the weather”, thus contributing to Australia’s national goal to have 30% water reuse by 2015?
Apparently, the issue is not so trivial, and there may be a mental barrier to accept that wastewater can in fact be used for other purposes. Still, there is some misinformation that is fueling misconceptions, like the “from toilet to tap idea”. So misleading! Water re-use is not about drinking the water from your toilet (I am running out of jokes on this one). The water to be re-used is in fact treated through a sophisticated tertiary system often based on reverse-osmosis technology and ultraviolet light. Clearly, understanding the process of water treatment can help to make wastewater recycling more acceptable. On top of this, before it gets to our tap, the water would be re-treated through a drinking-water treatment plant! It is proved to be safe and efficient.
The good thing is that the opposition against these kind of projects, often fueled by the so called “yuck” or “ick factor”, is subsiding (check out this report from the San Diego County Water Authority). Besides being a very practical and real need, there is a romantic side to all of this. If it is true that up to 60% of the human body is water (70% for the brain, 90% for the lungs), and if we accept that the same H’s and O’s have been around for centuries (though dissociated and recombined many many many times), then in our thirstiest day we could actually find a spiritual (and molecular!) boost from our ancestors. Inspiring, isn’t it? Now, if you’d excuse me, with my greatest humility I will allow myself drinking some good old Napoleon. Or at least, some of his liquid residuals…
For more information on the topic of water reuse, please consult the presentations of our panelists in our Water Week 2013.
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