Recycled wastewater is already being used to help keep parks and golf courses green. But the water supply could be expanded if we add it to groundwater. Plans are being accelerated to do that.
An advanced water purification plant that recycles waste water from San Jose homes and businesses opened last summer. The recycled water is then used at parks, golf courses, and at industrial plants. That helps reduce the need for fresh water by 8 million gallons a day. But it's only a start.
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Because of its success, the Valley Water District is now pushing to expand the system by 2020 or sooner. When fully deployed, the purified recycled water would be injected into groundwater basins, representing 20 percent of the district's supply.
"That may not sound very significant, but given the fact that we have those other resources, when you add the 20 percent of that great firmness of supply, it helps enormously," said Garth Hall with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. "It will help us from the year we bring these plants on line, which will probably be around 2020."
A similar system has been pumping purified wastewater into groundwater basins in Orange County for the past seven years. The primary purpose here is to counter salt water incursion in the groundwater. But in the Bay Area, the purified wastewater would be mixed with groundwater, which eventually would be drunk.
Plant operators say it's safe for humans to drink. But the state is still working on regulations to allow it to be pumped directly into the water distribution system.
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A major obstacle could be getting people to drink purified wastewater.
"It's like, just even the thought of it and the smell," said water customer Susana Lopez. "No, I don't think I would."
Fellow water user Rabbia Zorn added, "I don't trust it. Bottom line, it's filthy. It needs to be for plants and what-not. But for humans, no way."
State regulations for drinking purified wastewater could be a few years away.
"We're convinced it'll come but we don't need that right now," Hall said. "We need the opportunity to take the purified water and put it into the ground, and we fortunately have a groundwater basin that is totally receptive to that."
Five Bay Area water agencies have also been studying how to desalinate brackish Delta water to increase our water supply.
One of the easiest ways to reduce water use is to simply turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth. Doing so will save two gallons per minute. Also, each minute you cut from your shower saves 2.5 gallons. And if you install aerators on all your bathroom and kitchen faucets, you'll reduce household water usage by about four percent.
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