As the California drought continues public and private sector organizations look to solutions to comply with the State’s mandatory water reduction measures. In addition to desalination plants coming back on line and rainwater harvesting, communities are looking at ways to overcome the “yuck factor” of water recycling.
Less “extreme” versions have been in place for some time, as household wastewater goes through layers of treatment processes that break it down to its prime components of “H, 2 and O”. The results have been used for irrigation for years, but it’s possible to purify the water to sparklingly clear levels.
Used already in craft beer brewing, extreme purified water is one of the array of ideas being implemented to manage California’s ever-growing problems. Dealing with consumers is essentially a marketing problem, more so in this case than the norm.
Water recycling is common for uses like irrigation; purple pipes in many California towns deliver water to golf courses, zoos and farms. The West Basin Municipal Water District, which serves 17 cities in southwestern Los Angeles County, produces five types of “designer” water for such uses as irrigation and in cooling towers and boilers. At a more grass-roots level, activists encourage Californians to save “gray water” from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines to water their plants and gardens.
Enticing people to drink recycled water, however, requires getting past what experts call the “yuck” factor. Efforts in the 1990s to develop water reuse in San Diego and Los Angeles were beaten back by activists who denounced what they called, devastatingly, “toilet to tap.” Los Angeles built a $55 million purification plant in the 1990s, but never used it to produce drinking water; the water goes to irrigation instead.
But with the special purification plant, which has been operating since 2008, Orange County swung people to the idea of drinking recycled water. The county does not run its purified water directly into drinking water treatment plants; instead, it sends the water underground to replenish the area’s aquifers and to be diluted by the natural water supply. This environmental buffer seems to provide an emotional buffer for consumers as well.
The $481 million plant opened during a previous drought. “It made us look like geniuses,” Mr. Markus said. The timing is right again. In the midst of the current drought, the county has completed a $142 million expansion that will increase capacity by more than 40 percent, to 100 million gallons a day, and at a fraction of the cost of importing water or desalinating seawater. (A further expansion to 130 million gallons a day is planned.)
Now water reuse is being tried elsewhere around the country, including parched cities in Texas that do pipe treated water directly to their water supplies. Here in California, “there are agencies considering this all over the state,” said Jennifer West, the general manager for WateReuse California, a trade association.
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