Drought-ridden State Must Embrace Water Recycling

Posted in: US Water News, Water shortage
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Recycled waste water is used at the Montebello Golf Course in Montebello. California’s drought has put new emphasis on expanding programs to recycle waste water. (Photo credit: File photo)

Article courtesy of Sergio Calderon | April 21, 2015 | Los Angeles Daily News | Shared as educational material

Californians are bombarded daily with news about the state’s historic drought. Gov. Brown is calling for mandatory restrictions to reduce California’s water use by a whopping 25 percent.

After reviewing new evidence about alarming shortfalls in the Sierra snowpack, Brown said: “It’s a different world. We have to act differently.”

The state’s water crisis is also forcing Californians to take a fresh, long-overdue and “different” look at the untapped water resources literally in our backyard. I am talking about the millions and millions of gallons of wastewater Californians daily generate in our homes and businesses, that — after being used only once — is treated and then discharged into the ocean.

Why isn’t this precious water re-used — at least once more — before it heads to sea?

The answer for years has involved a lack of political will and public acceptance. But those obstacles are losing force and credibility in the face of our potentially crippling drought.

Fortunately, several California water agencies have been ahead of the curve in wastewater recycling innovations and even now are exploring new ways to safely use local wastewater resources to address the state’s immediate drought emergency and the state’s long-range water needs.

One of those agencies is the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD).

Lakewood-based WRD is charged with the critical job of managing the two giant groundwater basins underlying south Los Angeles County. The groundwater in these WRD-managed aquifers supplies 40 percent of the drinking water for 4 million residents in 43 cities, including Long Beach, Torrance, Inglewood, Compton, Downey, Norwalk and Gardena.

WRD’s job is to refill those aquifers to make sure they contain a ready supply of drinking water at all times. In a normal year WRD purchases about 6.8 billion gallons (or 21,000 acre feet) of water imported from the Colorado River and from Northern California to help replenish its aquifers.

Here’s the problem: WRD can’t rely on the availability of water imported from the drought-challenged Colorado River and the environmentally-sensitive — and equally drought-challenged — San Francisco Bay-Delta. And even when available, imported water has become increasingly expensive because of the huge energy costs of transporting that water several hundred miles to Southern California.

WRD’s answer to these challenges is its Groundwater Reliability Improvement Program (GRIP).

Under GRIP, WRD will eliminate its use of imported water to replenish its groundwater basin aquifers. Instead it will completely refill those aquifers with purified wastewater. The GRIP Project will use highly advanced treatment processes to purify the wastewater so it meets the same cleanliness standards as imported water. This recycled water is locally available and would otherwise flow into the ocean if not re-used. So why not use it again? That’s what GRIP will do.

In October 2013, Gov. Brown said GRIP-like programs are the future. “California needs more high quality water, and recycling is key to getting there,” the governor said.

WRD is now ready to begin construction of its GRIP water recycling project. GRIP has been endorsed by health officials and environmental groups. Nor is GRIP experimental. For more than 50 years, WRD has been using a blend of recycled wastewater and imported water to refill its aquifers without any adverse health consequences.

This practice is time-tested.

GRIP will enable WRD to completely end its dependence on increasingly uncertain and costly supplies of imported water in favor of safe, reliable and affordable recycled wastewater. Its implementation will be a major step toward achieving the water future envisioned by both Gov. Brown and WRD.

Sergio Calderon is the President of the Board of Directors of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD).

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