Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sewer to Spigot: Recycled Water

The Wall Street Journal ran a very good article on Indirect Potable Water Recycling in the USA this week. The article, authored by Anjali Athavaley and titled “Sewer to Spigot: Recycled Water” was published in the Real Estate section of the Journal on May 15th. It’s long, but well worth a read as it provides a good description of the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System in California, as well as current plans in San Diego.

The article also mentions the 1998 US National Research Committee report on Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR). We have previously discussed this report and the implications of its description of IPR as an option of “last resort”. So I was interested to read the Chair of the Committee’s recent comments quoted on that point:

That wasn't always the case. A National Research Council committee concluded in a 1998 report that reclaimed or purified wastewater can be used to supplement drinking-water sources only as a "last resort" and "after a thorough health and safety evaluation." But Jim Crook, the chair of the committee, says that since that report was issued, there have been a great deal of advances in treatment of wastewater, such as the use of ultraviolet light after reverse osmosis.

"We know a lot more than we did back then, and we can treat it to higher levels," says Mr. Crook, who is a member of an independent advisory panel created to review the Orange County system and a similar independent panel that looked at wastewater recycling in San Diego a few years ago. In Orange County, the purified wastewater is cleaner than the county's groundwater supply, he says.

On the issue of community attitudes, I quite liked the following paragraphs:

People who learned about the system early on and were involved in county politics say they have no health concerns. "The public gets a little nervous about it," says Ralph Bauer, 77, a retired research chemist and former Huntington Beach mayor who was on the City Council from 1992 to 2002. But "you can actually make the water purer than what you would get out of rivers and lakes."

Still, some residents find it unsettling. "I would never touch it, nor would I give it to my dog to drink," says Carina Sampson, a 29-year-old hairstylist in Anaheim, Calif., who found out about Orange County's groundwater-replenishment system through a friend a few months ago. Anaheim is one of the areas that will eventually receive water that has passed through the new wastewater-treatment process.

Ms. Sampson and her Chihuahua both drink bottled water exclusively. She says of the recycled waste: "I just find it repulsive regardless of what it goes through."

Read the full article here.

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