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From toilet to tap?

November 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Turning waste water into tap water good enough to drink. They're doing it in Orange County, and in large quantities. Now Los Angeles County is looking to follow suit. Over a half million people in Orange County are drinking recycled water.

That's right, Orange County residents are drinking and washing with recycled waste water that has gone from toilet to tap.

Flushing the toilet in the O.C. sends much of the waste water to a sewage treatment plant in Fountain Valley. Where it used to spew into the Pacific Ocean.

But since January, instead of going to the ocean, the brown stew is being pumped next door to the Orange County Water District Replenishment System, where it is recycled into pure drinking water. Are you now wondering why?

"We live in a desert and we are dependent on two primary water sources: the Colorado River and the northern California. Right not in the Colorado River they are in the eighth year of drought. The northern Californian water supply has been cut because of endangered species," said Mike Marcus, Orange County Water District.

It takes six months to a year and several steps to produce water suitable for human consumption.

First the water goes through microfiltration where it is forced through tiny holes that are 300 times smaller than a human hair. The next step is reverse osmosis in the largest RO plant in the world. And the final step is an ultraviolet light treatment with hydrogen peroxide.

Although cost and technology were barriers at one time, the toughest hurdle is public acceptance. But yuck value aside, Los Angeles is now considering a water purification system of its own.

"The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power under the chief executive wants to do water reuse in a big way, a bold way, but do it right. He has cited this project in Orange County as a great success. The whole world in fact has cited this project a great success," said James Strayer, water reuse expert.

Now the trick is to get Los Angeles to feel the same way.


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