In 2000, a transformative climate-driven “megadrought” swept over the Colorado River watershed. By the early 2020s, levels on the river’s two largest reservoirs were hitting record lows and threatening the water supply for forty million people. Outside the West, water stocks are stressed even in states with bountiful rainfall such as Florida. From coast to coast, conventional measures to sustain the most fundamental natural resource on earth—drinking water—are coming up short. Recycled water could help close that gap.
In Purified: How Recycled Sewage Is Transforming Our Water, veteran journalist Peter Annin shows that wastewater has become a surprising weapon in America’s war against water scarcity. Annin probes deep into the water reuse movement in five water-strapped states—California, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, and Florida. He drinks beer made from purified sewage, visits communities where purified sewage came to the rescue, and examines how one of the nation’s largest wastewater plants hopes to recycle one hundred percent of its wastewater by 2035. At each stop, readers come face to face with the people who are struggling for, and against, recycled water. While the current filtration technology transforms sewage into something akin to distilled water—free of chemicals and safe to drink—water recycling’s challenge isn’t technology. It’s terminology. Concerns about communities being used as “guinea pigs,” sensationalist media coverage, and taglines like “toilet to tap” have repeatedly crippled water recycling efforts. Potable water recycling has become the hottest frontier in the race for expanded water supply options. But can public opinion turn in time to avoid the worst consequences?
Purified’s fast-paced narrative cuts through the fearmongering and misinformation to make the case that recycled water is direly needed in the climate-change era. Water cannot be taken for granted anymore—and that includes sewage.
A veteran conflict and environmental journalist, Peter Annin spent more than a decade reporting on a wide variety of issues for Newsweek. For many years he specialized in coverage of domestic terrorism and the radical right, including the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the Branch Davidian standoff outside Waco, Texas. He has spent many years writing about the environment as well, including droughts in the Southwest, hurricanes in the Southeast, wind power on the Great Plains, forest fires in the mountain West, recovery efforts on the Great Lakes, and the causes and consequences of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
In November of 2010, Annin was named managing director of the University of Notre Dame's Environmental Change Initiative, which tackles the interrelated problems of invasive species, land use and climate change, focusing on their synergistic impacts on water resources. Before joining Notre Dame, Annin worked for a decade as Associate Director of the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources, a nonpartisan national nonprofit that organizes educational fellowships for mid-career environmental journalists. In September 2006 he published his first book, The Great Lakes Water Wars, which has been called the definitive work on the Great Lakes water diversion controversy. In 2007 the book received the Great Lakes Book Award for nonfiction. In August, he will become co-director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College in Ashland, WI. Since 2004 Annin has served as the volunteer executive director of Gull Rock Lightkeepers, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring Gull Rock Lighthouse, a storied Lake Superior light 2.5 miles off Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a master's in international affairs from Columbia University in New York.