California's drought may lead people to drink toilet water

As climate change and water scarcity become more pressing challenges around the world, governments are exploring innovative ways to maintain adequate water supplies, such as converting sewage waste into drinking water.

And if you live in California, this could soon be coming out of your kitchen faucet.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted on Tuesday to allow water firms in the populous, drought-prone state to pump treated effluent into consumers’ taps. The board stated in a statement that the decision will provide California with “the most advanced standards in the nation for treating wastewater to such an extent that the finished product meets or exceeds current drinking water standards.”

“This is an exciting development in the state’s ongoing efforts to find innovative solutions to the challenges of extreme weather driven by climate change,” said board chair E. Joaquin Esquivel.

Members overwhelmingly accepted the new standards on Tuesday, after years of debate and just six years before a deadline set by the state to implement legislation for wastewater reuse by the end of 2023. Water firms will be allowed to submit project ideas to the board after the new guidelines are adopted next year.

California's drought may lead people to drink toilet water

According to Esquivel, the additional processes will save energy and assist the environment, and “these regulations ensure that the water produced is not only safe but purer than many drinking water sources we now rely on.”

As per the Associated Press, many people are already drinking treated effluent, according to Esquivel. What is now available is wastewater cleansed through a method known as “indirect potable reuse,” in which wastewater is released into natural water bodies such as reservoirs and rivers before being converted into drinking water.

The vote on Tuesday allowed for this therapy.

Any water recycled in this manner must go through at least three separate treatment processes and will be monitored and further treated for pathogens, according to the new regulations passed Tuesday, a version of which was laid out in a 62-page document issued earlier this year.

According to the document, they include the employment of an “ozonation process” — the addition of ozone gas, a powerful oxidant disinfectant — to the water, followed by the addition of biologically activated carbon to the water.

The water will next go through a “reverse osmosis” process that physically eliminates impurities from the water, as well as an enhanced oxidation process that uses chemicals like hydrogen peroxide or chlorine to clean it. The new legislation does not require water providers to supply water through direct potable reuse, but it does allow them to do so, which might help save finite resources and reduce waste released into seas and natural rivers.

California's drought may lead people to drink toilet water

California has been in drought for more than three years, with record heat and wildfires. To address the rising issue of limited water supplies, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) proposed new water recycling standards last year, which are expected to cost $27 billion by 2040, according to the Associated Press.

It further stated that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves nearly half of the state’s 39 million population, has already begun construction on a massive water recycling project.

The concept of converting sewage into drinking water is not novel. According to the city’s facility, Windhoek, Namibia’s capital and one of the driest countries in Africa, was the first city in the world to implement wastewater recycling more than 30 years ago.

Singapore has built a massive filtration system capable of treating roughly 238 million gallons of water each day, enough to fill 350 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The majority of it is used in industrial operations and cooling systems, while some are blended into the city-state’s drinking water.

California, where previous concepts were criticized as “toilet to tap” in the 1990s, is not the only state employing these technologies, as people increasingly warm up to ideas that provoked fury in the past.

Texas opened its first direct potable reuse facility in 2013, while Colorado recently issued rules for the use of wastewater for drinking.

In Britain, where citizens protested similar proposals in 2013, the director of the country’s environment agency stated last year that people needed to become “less squeamish” about the concept.

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