It’s Time to Get Used to Drinking Recycled Wastewater

North American cities are preparing to source water from toilets and sinks

Diane Peters
Future Human
Published in
7 min readJan 28, 2021

--

Illustration sources: cienpies/photosynthesis/Getty Images

In August 2020, a group of 50 beer lovers in Calgary—along with drinkers videoconferenced in from Edmonton and Ottawa — had a communal sip of a limited-edition brew of Village Brewery’s Blonde. This one-off was made from purified water that had only recently been wastewater flowing from the city’s toilets and sinks.

“There wasn’t a comment from a single person who said that the beer tasted strange or funny,” says Leland Jackson, PhD, scientific director of Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets, which runs research projects out of a Calgary wastewater treatment facility and partnered with Village Brewery and water tech company Xylem to make the beer. The water used by the brewers went through an additional four-step purification process after it was scooped from the treatment plant.

Some compared the ale with Village’s regular Blonde. “People were amazed that you could not tell the difference,” says Jackson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Calgary who also brews his own dark ales at home (with regular water).

This quaff was not entirely about pleasing beer nerds—it was also illustrating the feasibility of direct potable reuse (DPR), or recycling wastewater into drinking water. In southern Alberta, where Village Brewery is located, a dearth of fresh water means communities and companies can’t get licenses to draw more water from the area’s rivers and instead must swap water rights. Across the border, many parts of California struggle to find enough fresh water. Huge swathes of the southwestern United States face severe shortages.

North America’s cities keep growing, but there’s less fresh water for their residents. “With climate change, we’re expecting less precipitation. We’re not likely to have more water. We need to get creative and do more with what we’ve got now and possibly in the future,” says Caroline Scruggs, PhD, associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of New Mexico.

“Direct potable reuse is going to be the future for many communities. We have the…

--

--

Diane Peters
Future Human

Writer, editor, teacher and reader based in Toronto. Canada! Big on science, facts, good sentences and tennis.