KENT WARD

Reclaimed water to the rescue

Posted Aug. 12, 2011, at 8:30 p.m.

Those lists of recommended summertime reading that can be found in most any newspaper at this time of year invariably seem to promote obscure works that no one has heard of heretofore and, with any luck, will never hear of again.

The suggested reading often as not can seem more like heavy lifting than the pleasure that is supposed to go hand in hand with kicking back on a lazy summer vacation afternoon, feet up and nose stuck in a good book.

To each his own, however.

In choosing their summer reading, some may prefer to be guided by an erudite bookworm with a taste for the profoundly exotic in literature. Others may favor finding treasures on their own by browsing through libraries and bookstores — a pastime that is rapidly advancing electronic technology figures to one day render obsolete, according to various doomsayers.

Electronic gadgetry progress notwithstanding, libraries and bookstores remain regular ports of call for many of us. But like many a former ink-stained wretch, I find much of my basic summer reading pleasure the same place I find it the other nine months of the year: In the morning newspaper.

Where else can one learn of the discovery of giant other-world hogweed plants in Maine, with an accompanying photo of a 10-foot tall Bar Harbor specimen bearing huge flowers that can cause painful reactions and blindness in humans? Or read, in a single edition, about Maine’s Redneck Olympics, the self-serving antics of professional politicians, the latest telephone or Internet scam, and bedbugs?

And where but the morning newspaper would you find a totally engrossing story — with emphasis on the gross part, the squeamish among us might insist — about drought-stricken West Texas communities resorting to a plan to transform sewage into drinking water?

“When in drought: Turn sewage into drinking water,” read the Bangor Daily News headline over the story in Thursday’s newspaper.

“Construction recently began on a $13 million water-reclamation plant believed to be the first of its kind in Texas,’’ The Associated Press reported, “and officials have worked to dispel any fears that people will be drinking their neighbors’ urine, promising the system will yield clean, safe water.”

The city manager of Big Spring, a community that will be joined by three others in using the reclaimed water, said any water is good water as far as he is concerned. When the recycled water finally reaches the tap, its origin is “something I wouldn’t think about at all,” the man told an AP reporter, which makes him a far more adventurous soul than most of us, I dare say.

Similar plants have been operating for years in Arizona, California and in other countries, according to the article, and water experts predict that other American cities will follow suit as they confront drought and growing populations.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have been drinking recycled urine and sweat since 2009, reportedly giving it good reviews. Earth-bound people tend to be of a different mind about the deal, however.

“It just doesn’t sound very right, does it?” an Odessa woman asked the AP reporter. “I don’t want to drink it.”’

In reality, I suppose the thought of recycled sewage as drinking water should be no more cringe-inducing than the thought of drinking water processed from a municipal reservoir after huge flocks of notoriously messy Canada geese have frolicked on its surface all summer. But, still …

The origin of born-again water might not be a turnoff for the aforementioned Texas city manager and others when they get a taste of it down the road. But I’m guessing that the source of the liquid probably crossed the mind of the trailblazing human guinea pig who was the first to take a swig of it after space agency scientists perfected the process.

I once believed the bravest person in the world to be the first one to eat a lobster. Years later I decided that the bravest — and also dumbest — guy in the record book was the intellectual who first jumped off a cliff with only a bungee cord and a prayer attached to his left ankle. I now consider the new champion to be, without question, the first person to knowingly drink reclaimed water.

Perhaps he was a bored bungee-cord jumper seeking new thrills.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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