Bill Handel

Bill Handel

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Is California Ready To Drink Sewage Water?

Environment engineer Collect samples of wastewater from industrial canals in test tube, Close up hand with glove Collect samples of wastewater from industrial canals in test tube. mobile water laboratory check

Photo: onuma Inthapong / E+ / Getty Images

There has been speculation of California moving towards using sewage water and turning it into drinking water for years!

But has the time for the Golden State finally arrived? Sort of...

Cali. has turned to recycled water for years now, to help conserve every droplet they can. [But first,] "regulations require it to go through a reservoir or an aquifer before it can flow to taps”

The new rules, mandated by state law, would require extensive treatment and monitoring before wastewater can be piped to taps or mingled with raw water upstream of a drinking water treatment plant. 

There is a few steps to be taken before chemicals and pathogens are removed from flush and faucet water is set for consumption. Even though, some of then sewage has already undergone “traditional primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary treatment.”

But how? [Well, any] water that flushes down toilets, whirls down sinks, runs from industrial facilities and flows off agricultural fields is teeming with viruses, parasites and other pathogens that can make people sick. Chemicals also contaminate this sewage, everything from industrial perfluorinated “forever chemicals” to drugs excreted in urine. Bypassing groundwater stores or reservoirs to funnel purified sewage directly into pipes means that there’s less room for error.
The new regulations would ramp up restrictions on pathogens, calling for scrubbing away more than 99.9999% of diarrhea-causing viruses and certain parasites. Also a series of treatments are designed to break down chemical contaminants like anti-seizure drugs, pain relievers, antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals. Medications can bypass traditional sewage treatment so they are found in low concentrations in recycled sewage and groundwater.
1)Preliminary Treatment: All the random debris in sewage is filtered out, typically using bars and grates. Essentially, the treatment process starts by removing the largest objects and moving on to the smallest.
2)Primary Treatment: The waste then is sent to settling tanks, where heavy solids, such as fecal matter, sinks to the bottom and forms a sludge. Meanwhile, oils and soapy chemicals float to the top and form scum.
3)Secondary Treatment: The next step is to remove organic matter and other biological contaminants from this clarified water. In aeration tanks, oxygen bubbles into the water, allowing microorganisms to gradually digest contaminants. After gorging, these microorganisms clump together and settle to the bottom of the tank.
4)Tertiary Treatment: Wastewater that will be used for non-potable purposes, such as irrigating crops or golf courses, must then be disinfected. Typically, chlorine is used to kill bacteria, making the water safe for many purposes, but not for drinking.
5)Advanced Purification: Additional steps are taken to purify the water enough to consume. It is disinfected with ozone, digested by microbes and filtered through activated carbon. Reverse osmosis clears away chemicals and salt, and finally, advanced oxidation with UV light cleanses remaining contaminants.

Photo: Graphic by John Osborn D'Agostino

The joint effort, called Pure Water Southern Californiahas already received $80 million from the state. The first phase of the project, which could be completed by 2032, is expected to produce about 115 million gallons of recycled water a day, enough for 385,000 Southern California households.

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