Recycling Toilet Waste: California Considers Making Domestic Wastewater Drinkable

Recycling Toilet Waste: California Considers Making Domestic Wastewater Drinkable

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (R) tastes wastewater that was treated at the Antioch Water Treatment Plant with Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe (L) on August 11, 2022 in Antioch, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Naveen Athrappully

Naveen Athrappully


Updated: 7/13/2023

California has put forward a proposal to convert domestic and industrial wastewater into a “climate-resilient” drinking water source even as safety concerns remain regarding its consumption.
On Tuesday, California’s State Water Resources Control Board announced a series of proposed regulations that would allow for municipal wastewater to be mixed in with water systems as part of Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom’s water recycling strategy. “The process, known as direct potable reuse, will enable systems to generate a climate-resilient water source while reducing the amount of wastewater they release to rivers and the ocean,” the water board said in a July 11 press release. The proposal is in its draft stages.
The wastewater, which “includes mostly domestic waste and may include commercial and industrial waste,” will be treated to levels that meet or exceed drinking water standards, claimed the agency (pdf).
Darrin Polhemus, deputy director for the Division of Drinking Water, insists that the recycled water is of “higher quality and lower risk than many traditional drinking water sources.” The board intends to consider adopting the regulations by the end of this year.
According to a blog post at the University of Florida, though reclaimed water from wastewater is highly disinfected and treated, it may contain substances at levels that disqualify drinkability. This can include higher levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen or various pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
In the state of Florida, reclaimed water has been used for more than four decades for non-drinking purposes. However, such water must not be used for drinking or sanitary purposes “because of its composition,” the university post warned.
The quality of water treatment is also a critical factor. In case the treatment processes at the water treatment plant are not rigorous, the recycled water will certainly contain contaminants that make it unsafe for drinking.
“The treatment train shall consist of no less than four separate treatment processes for each of the following pathogens: enteric virus, Giardia lamblia cyst, and Cryptosporidium oocyst,” said the report.

Government Policies and Water Shortage

The wastewater recycling project is part of Newsom’s “Water Supply Strategy” (pdf) for California, published in August last year. Even as the strategy blames water shortages in the state on “warming climate,” experts point at government policies.
In an interview with EpochTV last June, Brett Barbre, former director of the Municipal Water District of Orange County, held the state administration and the federal government “responsible” for the water shortage “because we have not continued with the building of our water infrastructure.”
Major dams and reservoirs in California that serve the state’s citizens were built in the last century, Barbre said. “If you look at our infrastructure, major facilities, the last major reservoir was built by metropolitan in Southern California 1999 … We really have not kept up with the population growth.”
In a July 2022 interview with EpochTV, Darcy Burke, the board president of Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District, said that the drought issue facing the state was “man-made.”
“It’s not that we don’t have enough water. We’re not managing the water we have well.” She pointed out that a vast amount of water is wasted every year by releasing it into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta due to a mandate by the state’s environmental policy, which insists that the move is necessary to protect endangered fish.
During the water year October 2021 to September 2022, Burke says 4.5 million acre-feet of water was released into the ocean. “That is 4.5 million football fields full of water a foot deep. That is enough for 12 million Californians.”
The state was suffering from severe drought throughout the earlier part of the year. An exceptionally wet season prevented the deterioration of the situation starting from mid-March.
By April, reservoirs were filled again following multiple atmospheric river storms and cyclones that covered parts of the state in snow.
“We’ve had an enormous amount of water in the form of rain and snow,” Peter Gleick, a hydrologist, said to The Guardian. “So in that way, the way most people think about this problem, the drought is clearly over … But California’s water problems are not over.”

Wastewater Recycling Plan

Newsom’s “Water Supply Strategy” aims to recycle and reuse at least 800,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2030 and an additional 1.8 million acre-feet by 2040, with most of the recycling involving direct wastewater discharges that now go into the ocean.
As of August 2022, around 1.5 million acre-feet per year of treated wastewater was being discharged into the ocean waters. State regulations already allow communities to use recycled water for drinking through aquifers and reservoirs.
This year, the state water board is expected to propose regulations for wastewater treatment that will allow for recycled water to be distributed by suppliers without having to first put them into reservoirs or aquifers.
The strategy expects the 2030 water recycling target to cost around $10 billion. For the 2040 goal, costs are projected to be around $27 billion.
Naveen Athrappully

Naveen Athrappully


Naveen Athrappully is a news reporter covering business and world events at The Epoch Times.

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