Water is the life blood of the State’s economy and if water agencies are struggling to meet current demands how are they expected to meet the future demand when California’s population is expected to increase by 15.4 million by the year 2064; a 41 percent increase? The traditional approach of creating storage and conservation isn’t sufficient to meet our water needs; plus there’s no room to put a brick in our low flow toilets. We must look to other sources to augment our supplies. One such reliable and locally available water source that can be made available in a relatively short time is “Recycled Water”.
On April 1st, the California Department of Water Resources conducted their snowpack survey which determined we are only at 32 percent of average. This was no April Fool’s joke; only providing more evidence that California is in the midst of its worst multi-year drought since the mid-70’s. Studies have shown that California has had extended drought periods throughout history; water has always been a concern to those living here. Now couple that with the numerous demands on the current water supply; urban, industry and agriculture and geographical splits; North versus South. It becomes clear why not one single idea works in solving the State’s water woes.
What is Recycled water? Quite simply it is the practice of using water more than once rather than just sending it out to the river or ocean. Several agencies throughout the state for years have been treating their wastewater and distributing it for non-potable use; such as, watering golf courses, cooling water for oil refineries, and re-charging aquifers (for saltwater barriers or indirect use). Now is the perfect time to increase the volume of water produced and expand the ways in which we use it.
My first professional experience with recycled water was in 1998 when our firm was retained by the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) to manage the construction of their “Clean Water Revival” project. Following the path forged by pioneering agencies in Orange County, the District was building a new advanced treatment facility using the latest technology; micro-filtration (MF) and reverse osmosis (RO) treatment and ultra-violet disinfection (UV) to produce a product that exceeded potable water standards. The District planned on taking this new water source and injecting it deep into the local aquifer where it would spend the next nine (9) years migrating through the groundwater aquifer before finding its way back into the local water supply. Unfortunately a few vocal critics labeled the project “Toilet to Tap” which ultimately forced the District to change their plan and use the water to supplement local urban irrigation instead of bolstering ground water supplies. The citizens of the state have been slow to adopt Recycled Water as a true source of water. Perceptions are improving and there is hope that the recent move to consolidate the drinking water program under the State Water Board will help.
The Governor is behind the effort to promote the wider use of recycled water by signing Senate Bill 322 in 2013 which requires the State to investigate the feasibility of developing uniform water recycling criteria for direct potable reuse by September 2016. So what is holding the agencies back from building the facilities?
Recent surveys of the wastewater and water utilities have shown that the largest impediment to recycled water projects is funding. There are currently 44 projects that are permitted and “shovel ready” that could produce 220,000 acre-feet of new water. Unfortunately those agencies don’t have all the funding needed to build their projects. Like the public perception about recycled water, acceptance to fund these projects is changing too. In March the State Water Board approved $800 million that will be used to fund recycled projects for agencies who submit applications by December 2015. This is a good start but unfortunately only a ‘drop in the bucket’ for what is really needed. More money is needed to fund future projects to expand this water supply source. The State and its citizens can no longer afford to ignore this reliable and locally available water supply.
For more information on California’s water crisis, read ACEC California’s latest issues of Engineering and Surveying Business Review at the link below. You will find articles about the severe drought that continues to impact the entire state and ACEC California members offer potential solutions to our state’s water woes.