Few people are brave enough to sip water from a sewage tank.
But the world’s richest man did it.
A few weeks ago, Bill Gates drank a glass of water that came directly from sewage fed into Janicki Bioenergy’s Omniprocessor. “The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle. And having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It’s that safe.” he said.
Going forward, in a drought prone area like India where we waste so much of our ground water, mining our precious resource, sewage, maybe a great solution going forward.
There are a number of “ifs” here.
(1) How many of us would drink water from sewage? Other people’s sewage? The first reaction is “Yuck”, followed closely by “Gross” and “I’ll pass”. We have that luxury today. We’re also succumbing to the availability bias. Much of the water we drink today is ultimately derived, at least in some part, from sewage. We don’t directly see it, so we choose to disregard this. Singapore uses water from waste extensively. They currently source 30% of their water, which they call “New Water” from waste and plan to increase this to 60% in the future.
The psychological barrier is the greatest. As humanity, we’ve overcome psychological barriers before. But we will only if we need to.
(2) Current water and sewage pricing ensures no solution will be found if status quo on pricing prevails. Currently, people who pay, pay about 0.5 paise/L of drinking water for household in Madurai, or less. Farmers, the biggest users of water, get water for free – either through the overflow from dams during monsoon time or through ground water (free power). Industries also get highly subsidized water. Ground water is considered the exclusive property of the person owning the bore into an aquifer.
We pay little, if any for sewage removal and treatment. This essentially ensures our sewage is not treated.
In the meanwhile, our ground water levels are falling, our water bodies are polluted by untreated sewage and we drink contaminated water.
I repeat, this is a great solution. We need two barriers to be overcome:
(1) The psychological barrier
(2) The mispricing barrier: water and sewage treatment are NOT free. We should not pretend otherwise.