Making the Case for Recycled Water

Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant

The Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant, located 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, California, has expanded its Advanced Water Purification Facility to include an indirect potable reuse system.

By Ron Askin

figure 1Recycled water, or water reuse, is gaining traction amongst consumers, governments and industry as communities across the world struggle with rapid population growth and persistent drought, challenging their ability to secure sustainable access to clean drinking water.

Within the last year, media reporting has been dominated by “day zero” headline warnings of taps running dry across Cape Town. Across Southwestern U.S. states, home to some of the nation’s most fertile farming areas, drought has sparked wildfires and threatened the livelihood of farmers. For many, this will be alarming coming in the wake of a 2011 drought during which Texas agriculture lost $7.6 billion, one of the worst losses in the state’s history, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a harsh reality that for at least one month a year, one third of the global population – some 2.7 billion – lack access to water, according to World Wildlife Fund, a global conservation organization. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use and climate change is negatively impacting supply. According to the United Nations, at the current consumption rate, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025.

In the face of drought episodes like these, water recycling is receiving growing recognition as a “must-do,” not a “nice-to-do.” In California, for example, the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant has expanded its Advanced Water Purification Facility to include a water reuse system, enabling the water scarce state to sustain the supply of water across Los Angeles. The system utilizes microfiltration and reverse osmosis, followed by an Advanced Oxidation Process to produce purified, recycled water compliant with California’s stringent groundwater recharge regulations for indirect potable reuse.

As cities recognize the opportunities that water reuse can bring, it’s essential that they also develop the core policies and educational resources necessary for their communities to become reuse-ready.

figure 2In late 2017, global water technology company Xylem commissioned a survey of California residents to uncover their attitudes toward recycled water. The state had just recovered from one of the worst droughts in decades with devastating consequences; millions of trees died, native fish could not migrate up rivers to spawn, while farmers were forced to rely heavily on groundwater, with some tearing out orchards. Wells dried up, forcing hundreds of families in rural areas to drink bottled water and bathe from buckets. A drought emergency was declared in 2014 and shortly afterwards officials ordered mandatory conservation for the first time in state history. While the drought emergency has officially been declared over, recent reports indicate climate change will make California’s drought cycle even more volatile.

According to the statewide survey, an overwhelming majority of Californian residents believe that another drought is on the horizon and 90 percent were concerned about future water supplies. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) supported using recycled water as an additional local water supply, regardless of water shortages, while a clear majority (87 percent of survey respondents) were willing to use recycled water in their daily lives.

The survey also revealed implications for public policy about recycled water for personal use. Californians are receptive to receiving rebates, reduced costs or other incentives for using recycled water. Almost 90 percent of respondents said they would support using recycled water if it reduced their monthly water bill, and the same percentage support statewide actions by water agencies to adopt recycled water as a standard practice to prepare for future droughts.

Furthermore, California residents (75 percent) reported that they felt more willing to use recycled water for personal household purposes after learning more about the treatment process used to purify recycled water, outlining a clear opportunity for increasing public support for water reuse.

figure 3The importance of public education is a factor borne out by the experience of communities around the world. The city of Perth, Australia, for example, is set to receive up to 20 percent of its drinking water from reclaimed sources in the coming decades. This follows a 10-year journey of research and a comprehensive public education campaign incorporating a visitor center and trial facility where school children and their parents were taught about the technology. According to an Australian Water Corporation survey conducted following the public education phase, 79 percent of Perth residents were in support of the plan.

Embracing water reuse should be high on the agenda for communities seeking to build a sustainable water future and engaging the public in this journey will be a critical factor in realizing the vision. The recent survey shows that, thankfully, California residents have not forgotten the pain of recent drought years, and it is encouraging to see continued strong and widespread support for recycled water as one solution to building water resilience in the state.

The water sector must leverage this positive sentiment and act on it, in California and beyond. Public and private organizations must work hand-in-hand to make water recycling the norm and ensure that our collective ‘day zero’ never comes.

Ron Askin
Vice President | Xylem

Ron Askin is vice president of Xylem’s water utilities business in North America. He is responsible for advancing Xylem’s business across the public and private water and waste water sectors for Xylem brands including Flygt, Sanitaire, Leopold and Wedeco.

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