The practice of recycling paper or plastic is more commonplace, but infrastructure in California is now working to recycle water. As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during an episode of MSNBC’s “Street Level U.S.A.” he likes to refer to it as “showers to flowers” instead of “toilet to tap.” Whatever phrase you use, the process is the same: taking wastewater from sinks, showers, appliances, and (yes, it’s true) toilets, from homes and businesses through stages of treatment of disinfection until it is again potable water.
In addition to the water recycling by the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) has loaned $388 million to the East County Joint Powers Authority in San Diego County to process and purify wastewater. The East County AWP Program’s state-of-the-art technology will generate up to 11.5 million gallons per day of new drinking water, approximately 30% of the current drinking water demands for East San Diego County residents.
With a 1,100-mile coastline, Californians often believe all we’ve got to do is look west to solve our water problems. The state has 17 desalination plants in the works; they are either operational, partially constructed, or in the planning phase.
The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant is the largest in the United States. Every day 100 million gallons of salt water is sent through semi-permeable membranes in an effort to create 50 million gallons of fresh water. That’s approximately 10% of potable water for the 3.1 million people in the region.
But as tempting as it would seem, the ocean cannot solve all the water needs in California (or the world as nearly 700 million people suffer from water scarcity). Researchers are working to design a more efficient and affordable desalination process, but it currently uses more energy and is more expensive than traditional sourcing methods. The impact desalination has on the atmosphere, ocean, and marine life is still not completely known. For these reasons, desalination is a hotly debated issue.
With the impact of climate change also uncertain and as drought persists and water tables decrease in California and throughout the U.S., the pros and cons of desalination are being weighed. For example, The Los Angeles Times reports Gov. Gavin Newsom is pushing for a new desalination plant in Orange County over the objections of environmentalists. The controversial Huntington Beach plant seems to be moving forward as a key permit was issued in April. It is estimated that this plant would produce potable water for nearly a half million Orange County residents.
“The Governor has spoken many times about the importance of … ensuring the sustainability of California’s water supplies,” Newsom’s office said in a statement regarding the plant. “Regions across California must continue to innovate on local projects as climate change makes our state’s water supply more unpredictable.”
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