Orange County residents are going to be drinking a little more treated wastewater, after the county’s water district Wednesday unanimously agreed to expand its water recycling plant – already the largest of its kind in the nation.
That means almost half the water for the 2.4 million customers of the Orange County Water District will soon come from recycled water.
Under the expansion, the agency will recycle 130 million gallons per day of wastewater, up from the current daily capacity of 100 million gallons. District officials estimate the current system provides water for 850,000 residents annually, and the additional capacity will boost that number by another 250,000 people.
The treated water is used to replenish underground aquifers that are pumped to provide drinking water.
“I am excited, I guess you can tell,” said Cathy Green, president of the water district board. She said the five-year drought has severely depleted the county's water supply. Even with so much recycled water, the groundwater basin is only 25 percent full, she said.
“Frankly it would have been very difficult to get through all of this drought without the groundwater replenishment system,” Green said. “It has been a godsend.”
Officials say that water treated at the plant exceeds state drinking water standards. It is then pumped into the groundwater basin for further purification, and eventually used for drinking water.
Many other communities are starting programs similar to Orange County’s, but some of them have been stymied to one degree or another by the “ick” factor, Green said.
“Pure water is pure water,” Green said. “If you think about it, all water is recycled. So, whether you want to realize it or not, that’s the reality.”
The need for new sources of water in the county is still high. The district is buying water and is urging residents to take much stronger conservation measures.
There is one small twist if that conservation effort is successful, Green says: if people use less water, that could mean less wastewater going through the pipes for the replenishment effort.