Sewers to Sinks

A drought-stricken California county has found a new source of water: its toilets

By Jonathan Parkinson

Past experience was key in persuading OC residents to accept the new plant. Back in 1975, seawater was threatening to creep into the groundwater and ruin it completely. To stave off the threat, Orange County adopted the then-novel idea of using recycled sewage to replenish their groundwater supply, employing a similar if less advanced filtration process on a limited scale. The plan was so successful Orange County upgraded to the full scale plant that opened earlier this year. Even so, convincing customers wasn’t always easy. “A lot of people don’t think about where their water comes from,” says DePinto. “That’s why it was so important to go out and explain the technology and how it works.”

In a larger sense, as Zachary Dorsey of the WateReuse Association (a nonprofit that advocates for better management of water resources) points out, “All water is recycled.” Whether it be waste-, fresh-, or salt-, H2O worldwide shares one thing in common: every drop eventually evaporates and falls back to earth as rain or snow. Then the cycle repeats. “There is no new water,” Dorsey says.

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