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Sewage to Drinking Water?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

 Check out this LA Times article suggesting that Los Angeles may begin to use heavily cleansed sewage as a drinking water source...LA is facing some tight water times, and this seems to be part of one good solution.  I'm sure they wouldn't do it if it wasn't safe.  My gut reaction is to be a bit put off by the idea though...thoughts?





May 16, 2008


Los Angeles Eyes Sewage as a Source of Water


LOS ANGELES — Faced with a persistent drought and the threat of tighter water supplies, Los Angeles plans to begin using heavily cleansed sewage to increase drinking water supplies, joining a growing number of cities considering similar measures.

Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, who opposed such a plan a decade ago over safety concerns, announced the proposal on Thursday as part of a package of initiatives to put the city, the nation’s second largest, on a stricter water budget. The other plans include increasing fines for watering lawns during restricted times, tapping into and cleaning more groundwater, and encouraging businesses and residents to use more efficient sprinklers and plumbing fixtures.

The move comes as California braces for the possibility of the most severe water shortages in decades.

Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada, which supplies about a third of Los Angeles’s water, is short of expectations. At the same time, the Western drought has lowered supplies in reservoirs, while legal rulings to protect endangered species will curtail water deliveries from Northern California.

Worsening the problem, Los Angeles is expected to add 500,000 people by 2030, forcing the city to examine new ways to meet demand. One option off the table, Mr. Villaraigosa said, is a repeat of the city’s troubled history, fictionalized in the movie “Chinatown,” of diverting a distant river southward to slake the city’s thirst.

The city, pushed by legal claims, is already paying millions to restore dried-up portions of the river, the Owens.

“There simply are no more holes or straws to pitch,” Mr. Villaraigosa said at a news conference at a water plant.

Many cities and towns across the country, including Los Angeles, already recycle wastewater for industrial uses and landscaping.

But the idea of using recycled wastewater, after intense filtering and chemical treatment, to replenish aquifers and reservoirs has gotten more notice lately because of technological advances that, industry leaders say, can make the water purer than tap water. San Diego and South Florida are also considering or planning to test the idea, and Orange County, Calif., opened a $481 million plant in January, without much community resistance, that is believed to be the world’s largest such facility.

None of the proposals or recycling projects already under way send the treated water directly into taps; most often the water is injected into the ground and gradually filters down into aquifers.

That is what Los Angeles would do, too. But the city abandoned that idea seven years ago in the face of political opposition, and is likely to face some debate about it now.

Fran Reichenbach, a founder of the Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association, one of the groups that opposed the plan, said she remained unconvinced the water would be safe.

“I appreciate them trying to save us in a time of water shortage, but the fact remains the kind of toxins and chemicals that are created on daily basis cannot be tested for,” Ms. Reichenbach said, disputing industry claims to the contrary. She said the group would push for independent testing and analysis of the treated water.

But Mr. Villaraigosa and H. David Nahai, the general manager of the Department of Water and Power, said they would push forward.

It will cost about $1 billion to retool the water works to treat the sewage, capture more rainfall and make other improvements. The money, city officials said, will come in part from state grants and fees on polluters, though they have not ruled out increases in water bills as well. The City Council must approve some of the changes.

post #2 of 7

I think it's a good idea, and that opposition is probably almost entirely due to psychological rather than scientific objections.  As long as the water is safe (as appears to be the case), I don't really care where it comes from.  And if you're going to put millions of people in a naturally arid area, I don't think you really get to complain where the water comes from.

post #3 of 7

It's amazing how much water could be reused.  I do think in conjunction with huge projects like this, we really need to be encouraging solutions at the individual level as well.  Addressing the supply side is great but the demand side needs some work too.  Low-flow toilets and other plumbing fixtures are an easy (and relatively cheap) way to go.  Also, if you're going to live in a naturally arid area, you need to deal with the reality of your location.  It irks me when I see these lush lawns which suck up an unbelievable amount of water in a place that's supposed to be dry.  Xeriscaping (or gardening with native and drought resistant plants) would be a great improvement.  And I, for one, think it can be even prettier than lawns.  Hm....xeriscaping....that might be a good wiki...hint hint to those interested in the contest.

post #4 of 7

Yeah totally.  My low-flow toilet cost $150 (and I'm getting a rebate on it from my county), and I got free low-flow fixtures from PG&E in a low income program, but it turns out my 2 gallon per minute showerhead only cost $5-10.  I just think water conservation isn't something people think about until they're hit by a big drought.  My area doesn't even monitor water meters - we just pay a flat charge for our water bill each month.  That really bugs me.  I see my neighbors watering their lawns all the time, washing their cars, spraying down the sidewalks - it's such a big waste of water just because they don't even think about it.

post #5 of 7

I would rather that they take other steps to conserve water rather than a) spend the $1 BILLION to come up with the appropriate treatment options, and b) I don't like the idea of drinking treated sewage. 


How about people in CA simply cannot water their lawns, ever?  How about homes are required to phase in low flow toilets and shower heads?  And new construction is required to install greywater systems? 


Is sewage really the answer, or is it another temporary bandaid?   Especially for those living in a desert environment, people need to be realistic about what is acceptable water consumption, and what is wasteful.

post #6 of 7

No reason not to do both - conserve water and use treated sewage.

post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 

 I don't know, I've gotta agree with Nitedreamer about the yuck factor in drinking treated sewage.  Can't underestimate the power of the mind to dissuade...  And I do have to wonder about the cost of implementing the treated sewage program -- not just the technology, but also the massive PR campaign to convince LA denizens that it's okay to drink.  I guess what I'd be curious about is just HOW much would we have to gain by drinking treated sewage vs. other "water programs."  

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