'Sewer' water in a bottle — yum!

Published: Sunday, Oct. 14 2007 12:22 a.m. MDT

SYRACUSE — The water appears crystalline and pure. The plastic container like any other water bottle you'd buy at the neighborhood market.

The label tells another story altogether.

It says: "North Davis Sewer District drinking water."

If that's not enough to give you pause, read on. This is not water from a fabled mountain spring. Nor is it a product of a soda pop conglomerate that claims the water has been double- or triple- or quadruple-purified.

Folks at the sewer district, says sewer-district manager Kevin R. Cowan, hand out bottles to those who tour its facilities. This "refreshing" humor is trying to make a serious, instructive point.

"We make them (visitors) think it is the treatment product," he said. "But it's also a lesson about our environment ... (about) being more conscious about what goes down the drain."

"This water originated as all-natural sewage collected through high-quality reinforced concrete sewer lines in the high mountain valleys of northern Davis and southern Weber counties," the label says in parody of many another water bottle.

"It was then processed using state-of-the-art screening, grit removal, sedimentation/flotation, biological oxidation, solids contact conditioning, and chlorine disinfection on the way back to you. This system is usually effective in removing up to 94 percent of biodegradable pollutants...."

Hmmm: 94 percent.

And that's a major point. What are you sending down the drain, hoping that the sewer district can remove it all before the water is returned to nature (and not, as you may be thinking, put into water bottles)?

"Ingredients," notes the back side of the bottle's label: "Water, fecal matter, toilet paper, hair, lint, rancid grease, stomach acid and trace amounts of Pepto Bismol, chocolate, urine, body oils, dead skin, industrial chemicals (aluminum, copper, zinc, lead, chromium, nickel, molybdenum, selenium, silver arsenic, mercury,) ammonia, ... soil, laundry soap, bath soap, shaving cream, sweat, saliva, salt, sugar. No artificial colors or preservatives. Some variations in taste and/or color may occur due to holidays, predominant cuisine preference, infiltration/inflow, or sewer cross-connections."

Cowan says: "It's all in good fun."

He said Jeff McFarlane, pretreatment coordinator at the plant, used similarly labeled bottled water as a tongue-in-cheek Christmas gift for his neighbors last year, since they all know where he works.

Cowan said the district decided the bottles had promise as an inexpensive way to both have fun and promote water quality.

He said the public can help by not letting certain products swirl down the drain to end up in the sewer system, particularly paint, gasoline and household solvents.

Cowan said the sewer district recently completed an expansion project that has reduced pollutants by a couple of tons per day — ingredients that would otherwise have ended up in the Great Salt Lake.

Utahns are lucky that they are served by mountain water runoff. However, in places along the Mississippi River, for example, water is indirectly reused downstream.

So, really, it is not a stretch to think that former sewer-treated water could end up in the drinking supply.

As for the water inside the sewer district's bottles....

Layton Councilman Renny Knowlton, who represents the city on the sewer board, handed out the bottled water at a recent meeting. The response was tepid, to say the least.

"Ooh!" some people said. "Gross!" others exclaimed.

Then Knowlton suddenly uncorked a bottle and downed it to prove it really was pure water, a small matter clarified on the otherwise over-descriptive label. In blue print down the side it says:

"This bottle contains, pure, safe, drinkable water. Not a product of the North Davis Sewer District."

In other words — "Just kidding!"


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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