Conservation Corner: WATER…the way who intended it to be?


Conservation corner - winter 2008  

There are many television commercialsI love to hate, and one really gets on my nerves. It advertises a popular water filter by showing a cascading mountain stream with the tag line, “Water, the way nature intended it to be.”

I have three problems with this commercial: 1) the implication that tap water is not safe to drink; 2) the assumption that anyone really knows nature’s intentions; and 3) the suggestion that water in “nature” is somehow more pure than water coming
out of the tap.

I am pretty sure it was in Grade 4 Science where I learned that the most common solvent in everyday life is water. The mountain stream shown in the commercial probably teems with Giardia and who knows what else.

In 2006, the GVRD complained to Advertising Standards Canada about this company’s TV and print commercials. The company responded by adding a small disclaimer that municipal water is safe to drink.

The perception created by this kind of advertising could add to the significant social barriers to emerging technologies, like indirect potable water reuse, an idea whose time has come in Orange County, California.

Water flushed from toilets in Santa Ana makes its way to the Orange County groundwater replenishment plant where it is ‘super-filtered’ until it is cleaner than rainwater. It is then discharged into a small lake where it percolates into the ground. Utilities pump from this aquifer to supply 2.3 million customers with drinking water.

Imagine the field day advertisers for bottled water or water filters could have with that!

Yet, according to an article in the New York Times, with the demand for water
growing, aquifers dropping faster than they’re being replenished, snow packs thinning, and climate change predicted to make dry places even drier, water managers in Los Angeles, San Diego, Georgia and Miami are taking a hard look at similar systems.

Here in Canada, the idea of using reclaimed water for drinking would be a hard sell, maybe an impossible sell. Even using reclaimed water for irrigation or other purposes where high quality water isn’t necessary is not widespread in this country. Why is that?

First, because compared to some parts of the US, we have an abundance of water, priced so low that we are almost giving it away. Second, we have not fully exploited water conservation, water metering, and other far less expensive methods of increasing supply.

But, the main reason we do not utilize reclaimed water in Canada is that, with the exception of British Columbia, regulations do not allow it.

The POLIS Project on Ecological Governance in Victoria suggests the real problem with utilizing reclaimed water – beyond the obvious financial challenges – is public perception, and maybe that is why there is no strong push for regulatory change.

The irony is that nature itself is the greatest water recycler of all, a fact not lost on the operators of the Orange County system, who point out that the recycled water coming out of their plant is cleaner that that found in the natural source from which it came.

But the TV image of that “pure” mountain stream is powerful. If given the choice between walking in two parks, one irrigated with water from a mountain stream and another irrigated with water from someone’s toilet, I will bet most would choose the former.

In the Okanagan Valley, there is an old joke that says water goes through five or six bladders on its way from Vernon to the United States. I guess that is a form
of indirect potable water reuse. Even so, I will pick my Kelowna tap water over  bottled or filtered water any day of the week.

Maybe someday I will have an alternative to tap water for my lawn.


By Neal Klassen, BCWWA “Watermark” contributor


Originally published in the Winter 2008 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).


Posted January 2009