Someday, millions of Americans will be drinking their own urine, says Robert Roy Britt, managing editor of LiveScience.com, a news site that prides itself on the provocative approach it takes to science.
In a recent commentary for the site, Britt, based in arid Phoenix, said that because of imminent drought in the West, many people will have to rely on treated sewage -- containing human waste -- for their drinking water.
"We now have too many people living in places where we don't have fresh water," Britt told AOL News.
As an example, Britt cited the Phoenix area, which gets its drinking water from a remote body of reservoirs, including Lake Mead, which sits more than 230 miles away.
He suggested that Phoenix and other cities throughout the Southwest may soon go the way of Orange County, Calif., which does exactly what he's foretold – it recycles wastewater into tap water.
That's right. From the toilet bowl to the punch bowl, so to speak.
Of course, the trip isn't without its stops. Orange County takes "highly treated" sewer water and sends it through various filtration and purification processes, until the final product exceeds the standards for most drinking water. The water is then seeped back into the aquifer, where it blends with natural water that eventually makes it to the tap.
While the treatment takes only about 45 minutes, the water can sit in the ground for up to two years, according to Jason Dadakis, director of health and regulatory affairs for the Orange County Water District.
"Some people think it's piping sewage straight to your tap," Dadakis told AOL News, "but it's a little more complex than that. We're using an advanced purification technique that provides the best quality available for replenishing Orange County's groundwater base."
The method, called the Groundwater Replenishment System, or GWRS, went online in January 2008 and currently turns 96 million gallons of wastewater into 70 million gallons of recycled water daily, for an efficiency rate of nearly 75 percent.
Dadakis emphasizes that Orange County is doing something positive for the environment by reusing wastewater that would otherwise get dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
"We're letting drinkable water go out into the ocean every day," he said. "Southern California alone dumps 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater into the Pacific every day."
There is talk of expanding GWRS output to 100 million gallons per day, or enough water to supply 850,000 residents for a year.
"Some people are already drinking their own pee and don't know it," said Britt, referring to the people of Orange County.
And if the GWRS expands, that will almost certainly be true.