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🚰 "From Toilet to Tap"

What About Water?

Photo by Giorgio Trovato / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Jay Famiglietti
Guest: Mike Markus | General Manager | Orange County Water District
Category: 🚰 Utility

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:59] “We down here in Southern California, […] we only get about 13 inches of rain per year. And what the Orange County Water District does is manage a very large groundwater basin in central and northern Orange County. So it's up to us to find additional supplies, sources of water to replenish the groundwater basin. And we can't rely on mother nature to do that. […] And that's why we turned to recycled water. And our board was very visionary in the mid 90s to identify this and to see treating wastewater to a very high degree and using that treated wastewater as a source of supply for the groundwater basin.”

[3:18] “The Orange County Sanitation District treats all of the municipal and domestic wastewater in central northern Orange County, which serves about 2.5 million people. So they take the wastewater and […] go through a primary and secondary type treatment process, which makes the wastewater safe enough to discharge into the ocean. But rather than discharging it into the ocean, we intercept that water after it's been treated. […] We consider wastewater a resource, not a waste. We take that wastewater, secondary treated, and then we run it through an advanced purification process consisting of micro filtration, reverse osmosis, and advanced oxidation. By the time it's gone through our treatment process, it's nearly distilled water. […] We then take that highly purified water and we put it back into the ground. So we put it back into the groundwater basin and then the retail water agencies in the area pump it out of the groundwater basin and go directly into their distribution system serving their customers.”

[4:44] “The current capacity is 100 million gallons per day, and that's enough water to provide 850,000 people per year. […] We actually started the project back in the mid 90s and we were pilot testing the technologies at that point in time. So in the mid 90s, micro filtration hadn't been used on wastewater, it had been used primarily on surface water as treatment. […] And then the project evolved in the early 2000s, […] and our first phase went into operation in January of 2008 at a capacity of 70 million gallons per day, with the ability to expand and ultimately to 130 million gallons. We've always been saying that the first quarter of 2023 will be at our ultimate capacity of 130 million gallons per day, which will be enough water for a million people.”

[7:20] “We're able to produce the water at an equivalent cost of imported water. […] In Southern California, we rely primarily on water outside of Southern California. So the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California brings water in from the Colorado River in northern California. But with climate change and everything else, sources of supply are very variable moving forward into the future. So it's really up to us to develop these local supplies. The cost of groundwater […] is about half the cost of Met water. So it's very important for us to find sources of supply so we can continue to utilize the groundwater basin. As far as the cost of the recycled water, it's right now equivalent to the cost of Met water. […] We have a more sustainable source of supply […] and one that over time will actually cost lower than imported water. When you compare that to desalinated water, desalinated water is right now about two and a half times what Met water is. It probably is the most expensive supply that would be available. […] We always say we should conserve first, recycle next, and ultimately, if we ever need any additional water supply, we do have the ocean, we have the technology, but it is the most costly.”

[14:25] “We have a hashtag #getoverit [regarding peoples’ perception of toilet to tap]. […] There were projects in Southern California that were trying to do the same thing. They were trying to do what we'll call indirect potable reuse projects. […] And all […] of them never got off the ground, because they became politicized […] and people used that terminology that these water districts are forcing you to take water that you're flushing down the toilet. And so our board and I give them a lot of credit, they were quite visionary. When they first met to develop the project, it was 1997, […] instead of talking about hiring an engineering firm, or any other type of consultant, they said, we need to hire an outreach consultant.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 30 min | 🗓️ 01/19/2022
✅ Time saved: 28 min