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Home > Natural Resources > Water Strategies to Preserve Natural Resource Supplies and Quality

The Splish-Splash Edge of Waste Water Innovation

Waste water recycling is a growing necessity by cities facing water shortages

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California water conservation

Indirect Potable Water Reuse

Orange County Water District is launching what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.

The finished water product, which district managers say exceeds drinking water standards, will not flow directly into kitchen and bathroom taps; state regulations forbid that. This recycled water processed by the The Groundwater Replenishment System will be injected underground, with half of it helping to form a barrier against seawater intruding on groundwater sources and the other half gradually filtering into aquifers that supply about three-quarters of Orange County.

River Effluent or Treated Groundwater?

For years, treated sewage, known as effluent, has been discharged into oceans and rivers, including the Mississippi and the Colorado, which supply drinking water for millions. But only about a dozen water agencies in the United States, and several abroad, recycle treated sewage to replenish drinking water supplies.

The completed Orange County project (2007) will produce 70 million gallons of water per day, which will provide enough water for 144,000 families annually. The water can be purified for less than the cost of imported water using one-half the energy required to import water from Northern California.

Toilet to Tap

Proponents of the "indirect potable water reuse" approach to water replenishment are adding these latest approaches to facing the limited supply of fresh water in aquafers and ground water facing encroachment by salt water.

Orange County began purifying sewer water in 1976 with its Water Factory 21, which injected the processed water into the ground to protect groundwater from encroaching seawater. That plant has been replaced by the new one and is intended to cope with current water needs and expectated growth in the county’s population through 2020.

Toilet to Toilet, Toilet to Lawn, or Laundry to Lawn, Shower to Laundry

"The hydrologic cycle is a closed loop and every drop anyone has ever drunk may have once been dinosaur tinkle, so all our drinking water is "recycled wastewater," says David Venhuizen, P.E. With decrentralized water management using biofiltration, rainwater harvesting and soil treatment technologies, there are many options being developed and commercialized to turn waste water into a resource, not waste.

"According to the AKWA-2100 study in Germany," reports Venhuizen, "the most cost and resource efficient strategy in many circumstances would be to decentralize the system and focus on serving non-potable demands with sub-potable reclaimed water.

"It is a matter of re-routing the investments that would be dedicated to the treatment needed to effect potable reuse--direct or indirect. We would need to re-engineer the whole system all up and down the line so that rather than 'toilet to tap' the strategy would be 'toilet to toilet', 'toilet to lawn', 'laundry to lawn', 'shower to laundry' and so on.

Waste Water Trends

Cities around the world are looking at saltwater encroachment and sewage treatment options. Water officials in the San Jose area announced a study of the issue in September, 2007. And San Diego, which imports about 85 percent of its water because of a lack of aquifers, asked residents this year to curtail water use.


David Venhuizen, P.E.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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