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Quenching our thirst

Los Angeles should follow the example of Orange County, which is about to start purifying wastewater.

December 05, 2007

The Orange County Water District's new $480-million Groundwater Replenishment System is set to launch operations Dec. 15. It will take treated wastewater -- a.k.a. sewage -- from an adjacent treatment plant, force it through state-of-the-art microfiltration, reverse-osmosis and ultraviolet-ray purification systems, and then dump the resulting 70 million gallons of purified water a day into a system of ponds in Anaheim, from which it will percolate slowly into an aquifer and into the county's drinking water supply.

When Los Angeles tried to do something like this a decade ago, constructing a $55-million wastewater reclamation plant in the eastern San Fernando Valley, citizens flew off the handle, fretting about the prospect of water flowing from "toilet to tap." Politicians who had supported the project reversed course in 2000 and shut it down.

But Orange County's Groundwater Replenishment System, the largest of its kind in the world, is getting nothing but kudos. Running at full capacity, it will provide enough water to satisfy 140,000 families each year, at a lower cost than relying on imported water from Northern California. It also will reduce the amount of sewage the county dumps into the Pacific Ocean, making beaches cleaner and safer.

On Monday, San Diego's City Council voted to study a water-reuse project of its own, overriding a veto from Mayor Jerry Sanders. And the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is once again considering plans to recycle wastewater.

As the discussions proceed, Angelenos should resist false notions about fecal matter spewing from kitchen faucets and accept the basic truth about, well, fecal matter spewing from kitchen faucets. Water molecules are water molecules are water molecules. The same limited number of them have been recycled continuously for billions of years. Treated sewage already flows into the Colorado River, the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River -- all upstream sources of L.A.'s water. And that water, once cleaned, is perfectly safe.

With supplies from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta increasingly unpredictable, regions need to do what they can to tap into local water resources. Wastewater reuse is a relatively cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to make that happen. Cheers to Orange County for outgrowing its potty-humor phase. It's time for Los Angeles to do the same.

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