Waste Waterworld

Will poop-to-tap plan raise a stink?

Indeed, to illustrate how well-orchestrated the event was, consider the final slide on the screen, which stated, "Thanks for taking the time to attend," followed by a line that read, "Questions."

It was too much for Anderson, who rose from his seat about three-quarters of the way into the presentation. He'd had enough. Looking too dapper for the room in his suit, Anderson recalled being told 37 years ago that Agent Orange would not harm people, that it was only bad for plants, and that he could drink it.

"Can you tell me with no uncertainty that you can prevent human-feces viruses from getting into our drinking water?" he asked as officials sat silently. "Do you know the source of deadly viruses is human feces? And we have all these people immigrating here to Orange County from all over the world. Who knows what viruses they are bringing with them?"

Then he said, "I gotta go" and split. Jim Anderson had left the building. Well, not quite. Caught in the lobby, the former member of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps was still shaking his head in disbelief over the groundwater proposal.

"It's just contrary to common sense," he said. "You see the research they've done today. It's like first grade. They are talking about taking human feces and mixing it with our drinking water. Viruses cannot be totally filtered out with reverse osmosis. Microorganisms are very small. For oxidation and bleach to work, it will take a huge amount. It's very unlikely they will have the amount of oxidation to do it."

After the roadshow, as people mingling in the back of the room munched on chocolate-chip cookies and gawked at water-filtration models, Dawes and Wildermuth were asked if they expect more tough questions when the forums move to other towns.

"People should ask questions," Dawes said. "Any time you tell people we're going to take human sewage and turn it into drinking water, they look at you and say, 'You're nuts.'"

He paused a beat, looked at Wildermuth, and then added, "We aren't, are we?"

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