The U.S. West Coast has been at the forefront of water conservation and reuse for years.  After all, it’s a desert out there. 

So I wasn’t surprised to read an article in the National Rural Water Association’s Rural Water Magazine about Orange County, California’s new water reclamation plant.  

Reclaimed water is nothing new.  We’ve been using highly treated wastewater effluent for years to irrigate crops, golf courses and landscaping–or in cooling towers or other industrial applications.  But Orange County is the world’s largest plant designed to treat sewer water for use as drinking water supply. 

It’s not really “toilet-to-tap.”  But “indirect potable supply” will be the wave of the future.  Orange County’s system puts treated effluent through a rigorous process of filters, screens, chemicals and disinfectants, then injects it underground. 

Part of the water provides a barrier against saltwater intrusion while the other part slowly filters through porous rock into aquifers that supply 2.3 million people with drinking water. 

Think that sounds yucky?  Many people have been drinking “previously treated wastewater” for years.  Those cities with surface water supplies take their drinking water from rivers or streams that often have upstream sewer plants.  After treatment, where do you think many of them discharge the effluent? 

With rapid growth and dwindling supplies, we can count on more projects like the one in Orange County.  It’s certainly technically possible to produce good, drinkable water from what used to be a waste product.  But get out your wallet, because it won’t be cheap.  The price tag on Orange County’s 70 million gallon per day Groundwater Replinishment System was $481 million.