Making Wastewater Potable…and Palatable

Recycling has reached a whole new level. There is no such thing as new water these days, and although it is still the cheapest utility out there, new ways of conserving, treating and recycling wastewater need to be invented and implemented. “Toilet to tap” programs are growing in popularity, especially in the state of California where they are staring down a water crisis.

The big question, says Klaus Reichardt, CEO and founder of Waterless Co., LLC, is how much water do we have? Whatever the answer is, the fact remains that we, as a human race, are using too much. Efforts have been made in recycling water, but Reichardt then poses another question, “What else can we do?”
Reichardt is always looking at what he can do next, and Waterless Co., LLC is the manufacturer of No-Flush Urinals and other restroom products, located in Vista, California, and Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind.

According to recent reports, the island nation of Singapore is aggressively developing systems to recycle toilet water into tap water. The reports note this is necessary because the island, with five million people, currently imports water from nearby Malaysia, and the Singapore government believes this reliance on another country for drinking water is no longer in its country’s self-interest. Most of its inhabitants agree.

This is not happening just in Singapore, according to Reichardt, “It’s even happening here in our own backyard.” He says that parts of Orange County, California, began purifying sewer water as far back as the 1970s. In recent years, due to California’s chronic water problems, this capacity has been ramped-up significantly.

In fact, Singapore started its program with the help of those in Orange County. Principal Communications Specialist for Orange County Water District (OCWD), Gina DePinto says, “They have smaller facilities there, and we work hand in hand with them.” In addition, OCWD is also helping San Diego and the city of Los Angeles to implement their own systems. San Diego County, DePinto says, “is 95% reliant on water from the State Water Project and the Colorado River, which has been in drought for nine years.”

“Many experts say water will likely be the oil of the 21st century,” adds Reichardt. “Once we get over the ‘yuck factor,’ recycling sewer water will likely become more accepted. Thankfully, we have the technologies to do this safely.” OCWD uses microfiltration, reverse-osmosis and ultraviolet light with hydrogen peroxide in order to produce high quality water for its residents. Orange County has three million residents and two and a half million are being serviced by recycled wastewater (NOTE: only 15%-20% of the total water for our service area is recycled wastewater). DePinto says the resulting water after treatment is so pure they actually have to put minerals back in, “It’s near distilled quality.”

It is estimated that nearly 900 million people worldwide currently lack access to safe drinking water. This number is expected to increase with population growth and as many emerging nations lift their living standards, which will directly result in amplified water consumption needs.

“In Orange County, the water department even conducts tours so visitors can see how sewer water is converted to potable (drinkable) water,” Reichardt says. OCWD has gone to great lengths in order to keep the residents informed since the program of treating wastewater began. Numerous articles and books have been written on OCWD and its partner organization, the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) in addition to allowing people access to tour the treatment facility and view the process. People even get to sample the end product. DePinto says, “People say, ‘It tastes like water.’ We laugh and say, ‘That’s because it is water.’ It’s not voodoo—the technology has been around since the ‘50s.”

“We can’t just waste water,” DePinto says, “We have to change our thinking, and the way we do things.” That’s why places like Singapore and Orange County are putting wastewater to good use instead of letting the precious resource simply go to waste.

Story by Jade Acadia

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