Since we’re on the topic of sustainability in our electricity and waste stream, perhaps we should talk about water … and, more specifically, wastewater reuse.

We live in a coastal desert. Water is scarce and the “drought” as we see it is the cyclical inevitability of living in the arid southwest. What will continue to complicate our quality of life (if you think water is important, that is) is the ever growing demand upstream on water that was once readily available for San Diegans.

There has been a lot of talk over time about the need to diversify our water supply portfolio. The San Diego County Water Authority has taken a leadership role, and rightly so, in attempting to secure more reliable water sources for San Diego’s growing population.

It’s interesting to note that like trash, our per capita water use has not increased historically over time. Our population has grown, but even so, our efforts to conserve have helped us limp along with enough water supply to meet our needs. Sure, more needs to be done, including some better efforts at encouraging water efficient landscaping, but there is still the need for additional water sources to quench San Diego’s thirsty population.

One idea that is quickly discarded by some is the idea of water reuse … meaning, we take our wastewater and instead of dumping it into the ocean, we treat it to a higher standard (whatever is needed for the end user) and reuse it. Seems like that might be a good idea, given our limited supplies, but the political acceptance of this concept in a broad manner has been hard to achieve.

Some efforts are occurring. The city of San Diego’s North City Reclamation facility is indeed a water reuse facility. Unfortunately, the city lacks the funding for the delivery infrastructure to make large scale use of this water available to potential customers. The city has looked at ways to force the mandate (and ultimately the cost) down the throats of businesses near the “purple pipe,” but success has been limited and as a result, millions of gallons of reusable water are sent out the Point Loma outfall pipe. It really is like flushing money down the toilet (let alone a vital natural resource).

So, the idea that other jurisdictions in this country and around the world currently use is to pump the newly minted water into either aquifers or our reservoirs for later extraction and more treatment for potable use. This is known as indirect potable reuse. The significant benefit this would have over the whole dual plumped system we are currently using is that you don’t have to spend money on a separately delivery infrastructure, both conveyance to a potential user, as well as that user’s property where they would need segregated pipes to keep the two water supplies separate.

But instead of pursuing a scientifically sound program of reuse, our overly politicized world has described the concept as “toilet to tap” in a, so far, successful attempt to demonize and kill the idea. It’s sad that when we’re looking at potential 20 percent cutbacks in water use should we have another dry year that we continue to keep our heads in our behinds on something that makes scientific and public policy sense.

Maybe when our taps stop working, we’ll consider this beneficial water reuse concept a little differently. And to those who think I wouldn’t want to partake in the use of reclaimed water, yes, I, for one, am willing to drink my own waste.

Bottoms up!


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