California Approves Wastewater Recycling for Drinking Water

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When a toilet is flushed in California, the water can end up in a lot of places: an ice skating rink near Disneyland, ski slopes around Lake Tahoe, farmland in the Central Valley. And now, coming soon, it can even end up in kitchen faucets. California regulators have recently approved new rules that allow water agencies to recycle wastewater and reintroduce it into the pipes that carry drinking water to homes, schools, and businesses.

This is a significant step for a state that has long struggled to secure reliable sources of drinking water for its more than 39 million residents. It also signifies a shift in public opinion on a subject that, as recently as two decades ago, faced backlash and led to the abandonment of similar projects.

California has experienced multiple extreme droughts, including the most recent one, which scientists say was the driest three-year period on record and left the state’s reservoirs at dangerously low levels. In light of these challenges, the importance of water conservation and reuse has become increasingly evident.

“Water is so precious in California. It is important that we use it more than once,” said Jennifer West, managing director of WateReuse California, a group advocating for recycled water.

While California has been using recycled wastewater for various purposes for decades, such as making ice for hockey rinks and snow for ski resorts, it has not been directly used for drinking water. However, Orange County operates a large water purification system that recycles wastewater and replenishes underground aquifers. The water then mixes with the groundwater for several months before being pumped up and used for drinking water again.

Under the new rules, water agencies in California would have the option to treat wastewater and reintroduce it directly into the drinking water system. This makes California only the second state, after Colorado, to allow such a practice.

Developing these rules has been a lengthy process, taking regulators over 10 years and involving multiple reviews by independent panels of scientists. A state law mandated that the California Water Resources Control Board approve these regulations by December 31, a deadline that was met just days before.

The approval of these rules has been welcomed by some of the state’s largest water agencies, all of which have plans to construct large-scale water recycling plants in the coming years. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, serving 19 million people, aims to produce up to 150 million gallons (nearly 570 million liters) per day of both direct and indirect recycled water. Another project in San Diego is aiming to account for nearly half of the city’s water supply by 2035.

However, to successfully complete these projects, water agencies will need public support. They must convince customers that recycled water is not only safe to drink but also free from any concerns about its quality.

California’s new rules require that the wastewater be treated for all pathogens and viruses, even if they are not present in the wastewater. This sets a higher standard than regular water treatment rules, which only necessitate treatment for known pathogens. Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the division of drinking water for the California Water Resources Control Board, explains that the treatment process is so stringent that it removes all the minerals that give fresh drinking water its taste. These minerals must be added back at the end of the process to ensure the water is enjoyable to drink.

In conclusion, California’s approval of new rules for recycling wastewater into drinking water marks a significant milestone in the state’s ongoing efforts to secure a reliable water supply. By embracing water reuse and conservation, California is taking a proactive approach to address its water challenges and ensure a sustainable future for its residents. With stringent treatment processes in place, recycled water can be just as safe and, in many cases, even better in quality than traditional drinking water sources.

Source: The Manila Times

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