Joe Guzzardi: ‘Toilet-to-tap’ no longer quite so unthinkable

Published on June 5th, 2015

Joe Guzzardi
June 5, 2015
As seen in:
Lodi News

Unless Mother Nature produces a miracle, whatever precipitation has fallen in California during its so called rainy season is already in the ground. For the summer months, rainfall in Lodi averages 0.1 inches, and in September and October, the average is less than 1 inch.

As the drought becomes more severe, it’s understandable that potential solutions to making more water available to residents might become radical. But is it really possible that Sacramento would consider converting toilet water into tap water?

Tentatively, Governor Jerry Brown seems okay with the idea even though it might be a tough sell to understandably resistant consumers. And as Brown tells it, the concept may not get off the ground. Brown said the conversion won’t happen “overnight” which might, because of significant public resistance, translates into “never.” A preliminary feasibility study isn’t due for the legislature’s review until 2016.

Converting wastewater into a product that people might one day be able to drink has a track record, although a somewhat limited one. Recycled water has been used in parts of Africa where annual rainfall doesn’t meet evaporation rates, and closer to home in some parched Texas cities. And in nearby Santa Clara County, a waste water recycling plant produces more than eight million gallons of water a day, theoretically enough to provide water to more than 17,000 homes, not an encouraging statistic if it’s to prove a permanent answer. Census Bureau data released in 2010 estimates the number of occupied units including single family homes, rentals and condos is nearly 14 million.

Further south, the Orange County Water District delivers waste-recycled water from dishwashers, showers, washing machines and toilets to about 850,000 of Orange County’s 2.5 million residents. Since 2008, OCWD has injected billions of gallons of purified wastewater into an aquifer, recharging it in the process. OCWD overcame public skepticism by hosting more than 2,000 community presentations. The complete chemical process to make the conversion possible is best left to the scientists to explain: it’s complex, expensive, but doable.

In the end, what Californians want may not matter as much as what they’ll have to learn to live with. California’s population is expected to reach 50 million by 2060 according to the latest Department of Finance projections. If there isn’t enough water for the current 40 million, the inevitability of 10 million more people means drastic measures must be taken.

Tim Quinn, Association of California Water Agencies points out that instead of flushing hundreds of billions of gallons of treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean each year, coastal cities like Los Angeles could capture, clean it and convert it to drinking water. Quinn said that water discharged into the ocean is “lost forever,” yet it’s the single largest water supply source for California for the next 25 years.

Not that long ago, pristine Sierra Nevada snowmelt was the major source of California’s drinking water. Now converted toilet water may eventually take the place of snowmelt.

The options are few. The drier California becomes, the more converts toilet-to-tap will win over. Given time, as unlikely as that once may have been, the public might demand it.

Joe Guzzardi is a former Lodi Unified School District instructor. He is currently a Californians for Population Stabilization senior writing fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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