Drought May Force Californians To Drink Treated ‘Toilet To Tap’ Water (VIDEO)

Californians are running out of options for water sources, but they have one big one left: wastewater. The technology to turn wastewater into drinking water has been around for years, but in the past, the possibility has been vetoed by people who can’t get past the “yuck factor.”

Donald Schultz, an activist from Van Nuys, is an example of how crisis can change attitudes. He told the Los Angeles Times:

“You know, toilet to tap might be the only answer at this point. I don’t support it, but we’re running out of options. In fact, we may have already run out of options.”

Advocates say that the water that comes out of the treatment process is cleaner than the water currently coming out of taps. As George Tchobanoglous, an expert in water reuse at the University of California, Davis, puts it:

“When it comes down to it, water is water. Everyone who lives downstream on a river is drinking recycled water.”

Orange County has been using what’s called an ‘indirect potable reuse system’ since 2008. The water is treated and then sent into the aquifer for six months before being mixed into the main water supply. That extra environmental cushion helps allay people’s fears.

However, the treatment system is very thorough, using a three-step process. First, the water passes through a micro-filtration system that takes out particles, protozoans, and most bacteria. Second, it goes through reverse osmosis, forcing it through a membrane that takes out fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, viruses, and salts. Third, hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light break down any remaining pathogens or organic compounds.

Organized opposition seems to be dissolving in the face of necessity. Early in this century, anti-potable water activists used the ‘toilet to tap’ phrase to purposely turn people off to the idea. Now, there’s a concerted effort to educate Californians about both the advantages and the need for potable water’s use.

Michael Markus, general manager of the Orange County Water District — the biggest water reuse treatment plant in the world — reframes used water as a resource rather than ‘waste’. Instead of calling it to ‘toilet to tap’ water, he prefers ‘showers to flowers.’ Obviously, that engages people’s emotions in a different way. The facility’s used water comes from toilets, showers, dishwashers, and stormwater.

Orange County may have the world’s largest plant, but it’s far from the first. In parts of Africa, it’s been used for years. Closer to home, two cities in Texas — Big Spring and Wichita Falls — are dealing with their drought in this way. On the International Space Station, drinking processed used water is a way of life. Col. Douglas H. Wheelock, a former commander of the station, made light of it:

“I drank it for six months, and it was actually quite tasty. We had a running joke on the station. Yesterday’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee.”

Even the wealthy 1% and well-connected Republicans don’t have the ability to buy their way out of this crisis. Treated wastewater is coming to a plant near them, so it’s either leave California or overcome the ‘yuck factor’.

Watch the process that’s making California’s drinking water possible in the video below:

Featured image via screenshot from YouTube video.