Making the water supply meet the demands in California is a constant battle. A recent report disclosed, not only the amount of water that is being dumped into the ocean from the coastal wastewater plants in California, but also how much of it could be saved with better waste management processes.
Heal the Ocean, a non-profit organization based in Santa Barbara that strives to reduce the pollution in the ocean, recently sponsored a long-term study of the wastewater recycling potential in California. Led by water policy researcher, James Hawkins, the group compiled samples of the discharged water coming from the wastewater runoff from coastal metropolitan cities.
Hawkins’ research revealed that, in the Pacific Ocean and the bays in California, “417 billion gallons were discharged at 57 locations.” Hawkins said that all the water used in homes—“every time you use your sink, every time you use your toilet”—is treated by inferior standards at the coastal wastewater treatment plants and is then dumped into the ocean.
Because it goes through the treatment process before being dumped into the ocean, the wastewater’s effect on the coastal waters is not what concerns Hawkins and his team. Hawkins says that the bigger concern is the opportunity that is lost in this process.
Andrew Juliano, a policy analyst for Heal the Ocean, said the purpose of the study is “to show the potential to harness this wasted wastewater, promoting local water sustainability and reducing ocean pollution in the process.” He went on to talk about the wastewater treatment plant in Santa Barbara and how they have increased their ability to recycle 4.3 million gallons per day. Juliano also mentioned that plans are in the works for a new water recycling project at Montecito; he also said that California has a 5-year plan in place “to implement policy for direct potable reuse.”
Interestingly enough, coastal wastewater discharges are of no benefit to the state, according to Hawkins. The ability to dump wastewater into the Pacific is an issue of convenience for the coastal wastewater plants, however, the impact of the alternative could be huge.
Hawkins believes that it “would be incredibly aggressive but potentially feasible” to recycle 85 percent of the wastewater runoff. He said that “it would be enough water for nearly eight million Californians.”
Because of the continuing drought conditions in California, this is an important issue. According to Hawkins’ sources, recent numbers show that 48 percent of the state is under a state of drought, including severe conditions for 23 percent.
Some wastewater is already being recycled at wastewater treatment plants. For instance, wastewater is cleaned enough to be injected back into the groundwater supply in some Orange County water treatment plants. However, based on the findings of this study, much more still needs to be done.
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