Proposal to Transform Sewage into Drinking Water Faces California Vote

(HorizonPost.com) – Water regulators in California this week are set to approve long-anticipated rules that would permit local water agencies to convert sewage to potable water, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The new regulations considered by the State Water Resources Control Board would allow “toilet to tap” projects to move forward in multiple communities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Clara County.

The search for additional options for drinkable water is expected to intensify due to the risk of drought.

Currently, most California wastewater is treated and discharged into rivers, the ocean, or other bodies of water. Under the proposed rules being considered this week, some treated water would be kept within the system, treated again at a higher level, and within days or even hours returned to the main water supply. This process is called direct potable reuse.

Other states in the West, including Colorado and Texas, are also testing direct potable reuse.

Pacific Institute Director of Research Heather Cooley told the Chronicle that direct potable reuse has been embraced in other parts of the world, including Namibia and Singapore.

Even if approved this week, the impact on California water supplies would not be immediate since the regulations would not take effect until California’s Office of Administrative Law also signs off, which isn’t expected to happen until next summer at the earliest. After that, it could be another three years before the first projects are approved.

The significant cost of such a project, however, is a big hurdle, particularly for smaller communities. However, direct potable reuse is significantly less expensive than desalination.

Another possible hurdle is the public response. According to the Chronicle, about a third of the public is not particularly sold on the idea of drinking water that was once sewage. At the same time, water experts believe that the water scarcity in the state has made California residents more receptive to direct potable reuse.

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