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California approves turning sewage into drinking water
Featured Image Credit: D3sign/PT Stock/Getty Images

California approves turning sewage into drinking water

Regulators approved the rules for recycling wastewater after multiple reviews by scientists

Regulators in California have approved rules for turning sewage into drinking water for people in the state.

Sorry if that news has put you off your coffee.

Recycling wastewater is nothing new in California - it's actually a practice that's been going on for decades, but it's never before been used directly for drinking.

Sewage has previously been recycled to make the ice rink for the Ontario Reign minor league hockey team, to make snow at Soda Springs Ski Resort, and to water crops on farms in the Central Valley.

Even in Orange County, which operates a large water purification system, recycled wastewater is used to refill underground aquifers, where the water mingles with the groundwater for months before being used for drinking water.

However, on Tuesday (19 December) regulators approved rules which would let water agencies treat wastewater before putting it straight back into the drinking water system.

The rules mean recycled water could go straight back to taps.

The decision comes after multiple reviews by independent panels of scientists over more than 10 years, during which California has experienced a number of extreme droughts.

Jennifer West, managing director of WateReuse California, which advocates for recycled water, said: “Water is so precious in California. It is important that we use it more than once."

Since the project will require public support, the rules ensure the water is not only safe, but also good quality.

Wastewater must be treated for all pathogens and viruses, even if they aren’t present in the wastewater, before the minerals that make fresh water taste nice are added back in.

Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the division of drinking water for the California Water Resources Control Board, commented: “It’s at the same drinking water quality, and probably better in many instances."

The water would be treated for all pathogens and viruses.

Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the Water Resources Control Board, stressed that people shouldn't worry about drinking the recycled water, as many are already doing it.

“Anyone out there taking drinking water downstream from a wastewater treatment plant discharge — which, I promise you, you’re all doing — is already drinking toilet to tap,” Esquivel explained.

“All water is recycled. What we have here are standards, science and — importantly — monitoring that allow us to have the faith that it is pure water.”

Though the rules have now been approved, building the necessary treatment facilities is expensive and time-consuming, meaning the project will initially only be viable for bigger, well-funded cities.

However, some of the state's biggest water agencies have plans to build large water recycling plants in the coming years.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which currently serves 19 million people, aims to produce up to 150 million gallons of both direct and indirect recycled water each day.

Another project, located in in San Diego, hopes to account for nearly half of the city’s water by 2035.

Topics: Health, US News, Food and Drink, Science