Recycled water: Better for business, better for the long haul
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During a live streamed video conference between the White House and the International Space Station, President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIran claims it rejected Trump meeting requests 8 times ESPY host jokes Putin was as happy after Trump summit as Ovechkin winning Stanley Cup Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin MORE asked astronaut Peggy Whitson what the country is learning in space. She gave a timely response, revealing the secret to solving water shortages across the country.

“Water is such a precious resource up here that we also are cleaning up our urine and making it drinkable,” she said. “And it's really not as bad as it sounds.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Trump responded, “Better you than me.”

But highly-purified recycled water is not just better for the International Space Station and its astronauts. Here on Earth in Orange County, Calif., the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) just began bottling highly-purified recycled water for educational purposes — and it’s better for business.

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The GWRS recycling facility provides the lowest cost of manufactured water per drop for Southern California. And as we increase local water recycling, drought prone population areas will not be held hostage to a lack of reliable water from imported water sources from other regions. This means more money locally to expand infrastructure and increase jobs. At the GWRS facility alone, expanded water purification will create 700 jobs over the next three years.

The GWRS is the world’s largest advanced water purification project for potable reuse and its advanced purified water is the first to be bottled in the Western Hemisphere. The facility, a collaboration between the Orange County Water District (OCWD) and the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), recycles wastewater that would otherwise be released into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, the water is channeled through a three-step advanced purification process.  

The product? Near-distilled-quality water superior to current drinking water standards in all 50 states. And it’s all going into an underground reservoir of water in Southern California, stored and pumped at our fingertips whenever we need it. In the future, such water recycling programs can be expanded to drought affected regions across the country ensuring robust local economies, sustainable recreation and a high quality of life for all.

Highly purified recycled water offers an innovative solution to an urgent problem. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), 40.2 million people in the United States are impacted by drought right now. And they’re not just in California. NIDIS has declared primary drought disaster regions across the Southeast, including counties in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

For Americans who rely on agriculture, the impact of water shortage is especially hard. In 2012, an intense period of drought cost an estimated $31.8 billion due to widespread crop failure and disaster relief funds, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Crop failures are passed down to consumers, too, as fewer crops lead to higher prices at the grocery store register. And in 2014, California alone lost 17,100 jobs to drought conditions, says the Brookings Institute.  

There is no single challenge to our localities that touches on every facet of our lives more than a safe and reliable water supply.  With innovative thinking and forward-looking commitments from all levels of government, we can fix the water shortage. The expansion of the GWRS and our highly-purified recycled water facility will increase our water production by approximately 30 million gallons every day (mgd) to a total capacity of 130 mgd of scientifically tested, clean, pure water. This is the equivalent of one year’s water supply for more than one million people.

The GWRS Final Expansion will continue to produce reliable, clean water at the lowest cost per drop for Southern California. Helping to create a more cost-effective project, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently invited OCWD to apply for $124 million-dollar Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan to help fund this critical water project.

In addition, the United States Bureau of Reclamation invited OCSD to apply for a Water Infrastructure for Improvements to the Nation (WIIN) Act to maximize wastewater flows to be recycled, which will help OCSD meet its goal of 100 percent recycling. Federal support of recycled water projects is critical and we look forward to the continued support of the administration to move these projects forward.

Ultimately, increased water supplies better prepare our country for future water shortage, protecting all Americans from higher prices and job loss.

Denis R. Bilodeau, P.E., is the president of the board of directors of the Orange County Water District and Gregory Sebourn, PLS, is the chair of the board of directors of the Orange County Sanitation District.


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