Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Day 75: Sewage becomes drinking water

photo by Dwight Eschliman

"All water on earth is recycled: the same drops that misted Devonian ferns and dripped from the fur of woolly mammoths are watering us today. From evaporation to condensation and precipitation, the cycle goes on and on. But in the planet’s drier regions, where the population continues to rise, we can expect the time between use and reuse to grow ever shorter, with purification, pipes and pumps standing in for natural processes. Instead of sand and gravel filtering our drinking water, microfibers and membranes will do the job; instead of sunlight knocking out parasites, we’ll plug in the UV lamps.

You could argue that in coming to terms with wastewater as a resource, we’ll take better care of our water. At long last, the “everything is connected” message, the bedrock of the environmental movement, will hit home. In this view, once a community is forced to process and drink its toilet water, those who must drink it will rise up and change their ways. Floor moppers will switch to biodegradable cleaning products. Industry will use nontoxic material. Factory farms will cut their use of antibiotics. Maybe we’ll even stop building homes in the desert.

But these situations are not very likely. No one wants to think too hard about where our water comes from. It’s more likely that the virtuosity of water technology will let polluters off the hook: why bother to reduce noxious discharges if the treatment plant can remove just about anything? The technology, far from making us aware of the consequences of our behavior, may give us license to continue doing what we’ve always done."
-From "A Tall, Cool Drink of.... Sewage?", ELIZABETH ROYTE, Published: August 8, 2008

This article reminded me of one of smudge's less successful installations, but was a provocative and timely project nonetheless, the poetics of nightsoil ... AND the great book that served as primary inspiration, H20 and The Waters of Forgetfulness: Reflections on the Historicity of Stuff by Ivan Illich.

"Following dream waters upstream, the historian will learn to distinguish the vast register of their voices. As his ear is attuned to the music of deep waters, he will hear a discordant sound that is foreign to waters, that reverberates through the plumbing of modern cities. He will recognize that the H20 which gurgles through [the] plumbing is not water, but a stuff which industrial society creates. He will realize that the twentieth century has transmogrified water into a fluid with which archetypal waters cannot be mixed."
-Ivan Illich, H20 and the Waters of Forgetfulness

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