Jewish World Review May 8, 2000 / 3 Iyar, 5760
`Excuse me, but there
seems to be something
in my water'
CALIFORNIA, WE HAVE LONG BEEN TOLD, is the place
where America's trends are born. The way we live
is determined there -- things that seem odd and
cutting-edge take root in California, then slowly
work their way to the rest of us. By the time we're
ready for them, they don't seem so odd anymore.
But I'm willing to go on record: This new
toilet-to-tap-water idea that is beginning in
California right now will never catch on anywhere
else. There is no way in the world that the rest of
the country will ever buy into this.
You may have heard about it (if you haven't, you're
Sewage water flushed down the toilets of residents
of California's San Fernando Valley will, under the
plan, be sanitized -- and then end up as drinking
water that comes out of faucets of people in the
Los Angeles area.
This is all being done is the name of environmental
concerns and ecological benefits.
The purification of the water flushed down toilets
reportedly takes five years. By the time people
drink it, it allegedly will be just fine -- tasty and
Yet -- as Lori Dinkin, president of the Valley
Village Homeowners Association, told the Los
Angeles Daily News -- "This is human waste. I'm
very uneasy about that."
Indeed. Environmental groups have said that this
toilet-to-tap-water method will assure that the Los
Angeles area will not have to depend on water
pumped in from other parts of the state, and that by
drinking cleaned-up toilet water, residents will be
doing something that "is less destructive to wildlife
habitats in Northern California and along the
Which is all very praiseworthy -- wildlife habitats
should be preserved and protected whenever
possible -- but if it means telling people that the
water they are gulping down is water that, five
years before, was flushed from the toilets of
strangers. . . .
Well, you'd think that political realities alone would
kill this plan before it even gets started.
It would be the dream position for any California
politician to be able to take: He or she could face
the electorate, and, in speeches and radio and
television commercials, say about the incumbent:
"Friends, may I remind you that during my
opponent's administration, you were told that you
must drink water that was flushed from other
You would think that there might be a 100 percent
turnover in the California political structure. Out
would go every elected official who was in office
when the toilet-to-tap-water plan took effect; in
would come every candidate who would tell voters
that he or she is disgusted by the very idea.
The subject of water -- where it comes from, how
it is paid for -- is a complicated one, and it is one
that citizens prefer not to have to think about too
much (and, in fact, virtually all tap water is recycled
in one way or another). Twenty-five years ago, you
never would have guessed that Americans would
willingly pay for bottles of water to drink, the same
way they pay for soda pop; now it is so common
that even McDonald's sells water in bottles, and
people seem convinced that if they are swigging
down a bottle of water they have paid for, it is
fresher and tastier than what they might get from
the tap. (They make this assumption even though
they usually have no idea where the bottled water
came from, and how long it has been sitting around
some warehouse, or in the hold of some ship on its
way to the United States from Europe.)
This California plan, though . . . you would think
that someone in authority would have overruled the
scientists. Obviously the scientific experts believe
with complete confidence that, in the five-year
cleaning program, water flushed from toilets can be
so thoroughly purified and sanitized that there is no
chance at all for any problems.
Still . . . someone should have sat down with them
"How do you think people are going to react when
we tell them: `Drink this water. Someone went to
the bathroom in it and flushed it down the toilet five
years ago, but this should not concern you at all.
We can vouch for the goodness of this former toilet
water -- after all, we're the government. Trust us
No, whatever happens with the toilet-to-tap-water
plan in California, you can assume that this is one
trend that will never make it past that state's
borders. All around the United States, politicians
are polishing their campaign slogans for every
election year in the century ahead:
"Vote for me -- and I'll never make you drink from
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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