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Water Plan Would Turn Sewage Into Beverage

Two O.C. agencies back the $352-million project, which will be the region's largest. Public workshops are set.


Just as technology has yielded everything from fast food to cellular phones, it may soon produce something more basic to Orange County residents: changing sewage and sink waste into drinking water.

For several years, water-filtration companies have been trying to prove to the Orange County Water District that their method of cleaning waste water is the best.

Now two agencies--the water district and the neighboring Orange County Sanitation District --are poised in January to approve a $352-million project that will pump recycled, heavily cleaned sewage water into the county's huge, underground aquifer by 2004.

"This project will generate a lot of brand-new water that otherwise just goes out to the ocean," said Philip L. Anthony, a water district board member at a joint water-sanitation district meeting Monday. "It's absolutely essential for our future."

The project is critical for keeping imported water at existing levels, officials said, and keeping overall water costs down for the county. About 71,600 acre feet a year will be cleansed from waste water--the equivalent of flooding a football field with a column of water 13 1/2 miles high.

Plans call for the water district, located in Fountain Valley, to pump in treated waste water from the sanitation district, then send it through a microfiltration system. About 60% of the purified water will be shipped by underground pipeline from the district's facility to the Kraemer Basin in Anaheim. The remainder will be pumped into the ground near the coast to help dilute saltwater in an underground aquifer.

Water experts have said the Orange County project will be one of the largest microfiltration systems in California. In addition to filtration, the system will use reverse osmosis, essentially a two-part filtering process, and then sterilize the water with ultraviolet light. Minerals would be added to the water to prevent concrete and iron in pipes from leaching into it.

Kurt Berchtold, assistant executive officer for the Regional Water Quality Control Board, said that although there are other water recycling projects in the region, there's "nothing even remotely" close in size involving direct use of recycled waste water into an aquifer.

Without the project, the county would have to rely even more on water imported from the Colorado River and Northern California, sources that are both expensive and increasingly restricted for environmental reasons, said Ron Wildermuth, a water district spokesman.

The project will primarily serve north Orange County, which relies on ground water for three-quarters of its supply. South County, which has no aquifer, imports 100% of its water, Wildermuth said.

Funding totaling $56 million has already been raised. The two agencies also will seek state and federal grants and loans.

To increase the public's awareness, four community workshops will be held starting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Community Center, 250 E. Center St., Anaheim. The other workshops include: Huntington Beach at the Central Library and Cultural Center, Room D, 7111 Talbert Ave., Saturday, 10 a.m.; the Fullerton Public Library, Room B, 353 West Commonwealth Ave., Nov. 28, 7 p.m.; and at the Irvine City Council Chambers, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Nov. 30, 7 p.m.

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