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Sewage can be cleaned well enough to make it highly purified, according to Orange CountyBy Jennifer Lance

The Orange County [California] Water District is purifying wastewater into drinking water at a $481 million recycling plant. The plant uses microfiltration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light, and hydrogen peroxide disinfection.  70 million gallons of sewer water is treated a day in Orange County, California meeting the drinking needs of over $500,000 people, including visitors to Disneyland.

Some call the process "toilet to tap", but county officials prefer the term "Groundwater Replenishment System".  Wastewater treatment is more economical than desalination, but there is definitely a negative public perception to consider with treated sewage water. Steve Gorman explains the process:

The plant takes pre-treated sewer water that otherwise would be discharged to the ocean and runs it through a three-step cleansing process—essentially the same technology used to purify baby food and bottled water.

Orange County, CA turning wastewater into drinking water

Orange County, CA turning wastewater into drinking water; photo by pvsbond

Thousands of microfilters, hollow fibers covered in holes one-three-hundredth the width of a human hair, strain out suspended solids, bacteria and other materials.

The water then passes to a reverse osmosis system, where it is forced through semi-permeable membranes that filter out smaller contaminants, including salts, viruses and pesticides. Reverse osmosis also is the main process used in desalination.

Finally, the water is disinfected with a mix of ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide.

The resulting product exceeds all U.S. drinking standards but gets additional filtration when it is allowed to percolate back into the ground to replenish the aquifer.

Trying to build public support, waste managers have launched a campaign to inform residents of Southern California that they are already drinking treated wastewater.  Large amounts of heavily treated waste is discharged from cities upstream that also tap into the Colorado River, like Las Vegas.

Orange County's wastewater recycling system currently produces water for $600 an acre foot, and experts predict the price of imported water will rise to $800 an acre foot in just three years. An acre foot provides a year supply of water to two families.  Southern Californians are going to have to accept wastewater recycling if they are going to continue to provide water for all residents in times of drought.

Additional Video:

See original news item: BlueLivingIdeas, Mar-14-2009  
Related reading:
  Commodification Of Water (Aug-11-2011)
  "If your experience is that your food comes from ..." (Jul-19-2011)
  The Shrinking Pie: Post-Growth Geopolitics (Jul-7-2011)
  Anita Mangels 'Explains' That Greenhouse Gases A... (Sep-4-2010)
  10 Ways To Celebrate World Water Day! (Mar-22-2010)
  'Swelling Glass' Cleans Polluted Water Like A Sp... (Jan-28-2010)
  Creating A Home Graywater System (Dec-26-2009)
  California Gets Smart-Grid Funds To Bottle Wind (Nov-27-2009)
  California May Regulate TV Energy Consumption (Oct-26-2009)
  Michael Pritchard Turns Filthy Water Drinkable (Aug-5-2009)

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Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Mar-16-2009)   Web site
Thanks, Keith. Good point about the astronauts, and about the 5 billion (or even 6,000 fantasy) years.
Comment by: keith (Keith) (Mar-16-2009)   Web site

This is great news. People shouldn't be afraid of drinking purified water (except when too purified and stripped of minerals). The astronauts in International Space Station are also recycling their wastewater into drinking water. Also remember that there is no such thing as "fresh water", every single drop of water on the planet earth has been here for 5 billion years (or 6000 if you are a creationist) and for more than 5 billion years floating around in space before that.

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