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Orange County Wants You To Know It's Perfectly OK To Drink Recycled Toilet Water

(Photo via OCWD/Facebook)
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Along Hollywood Boulevard on Wednesday, representatives of the Orange County Water and Sanitation districts handed out free bottles of drinkable recycled wastewater as part of a year-long public relations campaign.

"California, and the world, are increasingly becoming aware that we can reuse our local water supplies in a safe and cost-efficient manner," Denis Bilodeau, president of the OCWD, said, reports KNBC. "We have perfected the treatment technology at our Groundwater Replenishment System facility. We are taking our water and our message to the public to alleviate any 'yuck' factor."

But drinking wastewater is not new. As Mehul Patel, director of water production for the OC Water District, told KPCC, wastewater has always been in the system.

Yeah, a lot of it is in our heads. What most people don't realize is that treated wastewater of different qualities has always been part of the water supply. All water has been recycled at one point or another. Any water is the same water. It's just the level of treatment that determines.

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We don't want the water to be judged by its source, but by where it is today. That's the bias we have to overcome.

So, why the public outreach, and why now? For about a decade now, the OCWD has been pumping wastewater back into underground aquifers as way to stop saltwater intrusion, notes the Orange County Register. Meaning, recycled water is already in OC's taps, if circuitously. However, a new law—California's Assembly Bill 2022, now enables the water district to bypass the groundwater route and begin delivering the recycled water directly to taps—some 1,000 gallons a year.

"We're able to produce safe and great-tasting drinking water, so let's do all we can to preserve local water supplies by reusing them," Greg Sebourn, of the OCSD and Groundwater Replenishment System Steering Committee Chair, said, notes KNBC.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, L.A.'s own Department of Water and Power completed a wastewater reclamation plant in 2000 (the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys) and started spreading the water over fields near the Hansen Dam (in the northeast San Fernando Valley) so the water would enter the ground aquifers. However, public backlash to the "indirect potable reuse" program (which became known derogatorily as "toilet-to-tap") stopped the implementation. However, LADWP continues to use reclaimed water for landscape irrigation, and as recently as February it was announced that the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant would receive a $50 million expansion.

"It's water. All water is water as long as you do the right treatment like we have," Patel concluded to KPCC. "It shouldn't taste any different. This water is just as good if not better than any other source of water you're drinking now."

LAist reached out to the OCWD and OCSD, but they were unavailable for immediate comment.