This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
Water recycling is nothing new. In fact, it’s what water does best.
You probably first learned about the water cycle back in first grade. You may not, however, have considered how long the return trip should be between when you take a drink of water, expel that water, and, well, drink it again.
A mobile lab created by researchers in Colorado Springs, Colorado wants you to get comfortable with cutting down the time from toilet to tap water — by a lot.
“We wanted to build something that we could take to communities and show that we can take just about any wastewater and turn it directly into drinkable water,” said Tzahi Cath, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.
In the past week Utahns have witnessed the air simultaneously filled with smoke, rain and hail. With climate change, we can expect the unexpected.
“What we’ve seen all this summer is rapid climate change,” said Tara Bishop, a research ecologist for the Maintaining Resilient Dryland Ecosystems science program of the US Forest Service. “The wildlife and the people of Utah cannot keep pace.”
Adapting to that change, said Bishop, may mean getting outside of our comfort zone in unexpected ways.
Recycled toilet water on wheels
Professor Cath’s contribution to water conservation is the PureWater Lab. Crammed into a 35-foot trailer, it carries some of the most sophisticated water purification and monitoring equipment available. While state of the art, the materials used were also sourced for their affordability and availability.
In addition to highly sophisticated monitors, it goes through six steps of filtration and purification — from prefiltration to catch large objects, to ozone, waste-consuming microorganisms, carbon filters, and chlorine and ultraviolet treatments.
Like a traveling roadshow, the lab moves from one Colorado community to another. At each stop, the show is the same — untreated wastewater enters at one end of the trailer, and clean, high-quality drinking waters comes out the other.
Colorado is currently writing the rules for direct recycling of wastewater to potable (drinkable) water. The mobile lab, as much as anything, is a public relations campaign on wheels aimed at proving there is nothing to fear from directly recycled water.
“I was the first one to drink water from the trailer,” Cath said, “so I took personal responsibility here.”
The professor explains some are skeptical of drinking the recycled water, but others are excited because they understand the importance of this innovation.
“They understand we…