It may not sound the least bit appealing but experts say drinking “toilet-to-tap” water is a concept San Diegans may have to swallow one day.
Some find it disgusting. Others see it as a viable solution to threatening problems: ongoing drought, increasing population, and not enough water for some three million people.
Recently, the City of Orange County held opening ceremonies for the world’s largest water-purification project-a “toilet-to-tap” system. The project takes sewage water from bathrooms in areas such as Costa Mesa, Fullerton, and Newport Beach, cleans it-via a $490 million system of pipes, filters, and purification tanks-then delivers it into lakes in Anaheim. There it will seep into clay, sand, rock, and then into aquifers in the groundwater basin. Months later, this same water will end up in some half a million Orange County residents homes. It’ll flow through their showers and kitchen taps.
For most of us, this concept seems like crap. We can’t fathom drinking water that once had poop in it! Public outcry over using “toilet-to-tap” water for potable use has shut down multi-million dollar projects in Los Angeles despite the fact that the project would have supplied enough water for 120,000 homes. And similar projects have been canned here in San Diego.
Proponents of the “toilet-to-tap” systems say the water is safer than the public realizes and is often cleaner than our current drinking water. Some studies of our San Diego drinking water have found it contained contaminants such as ibuprofen, DEET (a bug repellent), and even an anti-anxiety drug. So, while recycled sewage water may not wet your whistle, I imagine news about contaminated existing drinking water leaves you thinking you’ll drink only coffee-(but it’s made with water!).
So the issue remains, if we don’t have enough water what can be done? San Diego already imports 90 percent of its water from sources that are drying up.
Sure there’s desalinization but that, say experts, costs a whole lot more than using recycled sewage water. Recycling wastewater is nothing new; it’s been used for landscaping and agriculture in many U.S. cities. Today, some cities such as El Paso, Texas and Fairfax, Virginia already use recycled wastewater to help with support the drinking water.
Still, the thought of using toilet-to-tap water makes some people’s blood boil. They see it as unsafe and taking far too much risk-it’s a concept that should only be used as a last resort.
Regardless of what side of the drinking well you are on, we can all do something to help conserve water, even if it is just the tiniest amount. You know-all the things we know but forget or simply are too lazy to do-turn the water off when we’re brushing our teeth, don’t let the hose water the concrete when we’re washing our cars, fill up the sink when we’re washing the dishes, and watch how much water we’re using on our landscape. Experts say more than 50 percent of residential water use is flowing into our yards. To help reduce that figure, aim to landscape with drought-resistant plants that are beautiful but also consume much less water.
We’re a growing city with shrinking water supply. So even though the rains have been coming, San Diegans know in the not-too-distant future it’ll dry up again and leave us thirsty for more.