Right now, recycled water only fulfills about 3% of California’s needs. But with the drought going on and on, recycling sewer water into drinking water may be what saves the state. And already, Orange County has the world’s largest wastewater recycling plant.
The Orange County Water District Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) currently produces 100 million gallons of nearly potable water daily. By next year, its capacity will increase by an additional 30 million gallons. After several treatment processes, the water district injects the water into the ground, adding to the groundwater supply. Mother Nature provides one last filtering treatment.
Of course, the dream is to go straight from water treatment center to tap. “Direct potable use means closing the loop fully: Water coming out of the recycling process is run directly to the drinking water plant or refills a reservoir,” said Dan McCurry, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, according to a USC news release.
“There’s a lot of excitement about direct potable reuse, but right now it’s not legal in California but should be soon. The bar is much higher for direct use reuse because you sacrifice the filtration given by the environment.” Closing the potable water loop will also be cheaper and save energy, since pumping water out of the ground is a more intensive process.
The future isn’t here quite yet. In the meantime, water restrictions may leave California’s lawns browner than residents like. If you haven’t already swapped out your grass for a rock and cactus garden, now is the time.
McCurry says the public is generally willing to work together on water conservation—up to a point. “It’s the kind of thing you can get people to do for a little bit but then they get sick of it. In the long term, we need to produce more reliable local sources of water.”
Lead image via Pexels