Normally we don’t think much about where our water comes from, but when I read this BloombergBusiness article about how one California community is turning raw sewage into water you can drink - I just had to see how they're doing it.
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It's a pretty unique partnership between two government organizations - the Orange County Sanitation District and the Orange County Water District. Basically, the Orange County Sanitation District takes the raw sewage and processes it to a point where it is clean enough to dump into the ocean but it's not drinkable. Instead of dumping it into the ocean, it's piped next door to the Orange County Water District, where it is further processed into water you can drink.
Against my better judgement, I watched the entire process. Literally seeing the raw sewage filled with everything you can think of that goes down a household drain - and flushed down the toilet. After several treatments - including filtration, reverse osmosis and UV light - it was ready for a taste test. The former raw sewage looked just as clear and fresh as bottled water.
As I lifted the cup to my mouth I couldn't help but think of what I saw being strained out of the raw sewage, but I took a sip. It was perfectly tasteless - even a little flat, since it's essentially distilled water. It's an amazing use of technology for a totally sustainable source of local water - because people in Orange County aren't going to stop taking showers or flushing the toilet anytime soon.
While my stomach was a bit queasy, my brain is amazed at what technology can accomplish.
And in case you're wondering - California regulations don't yet allow this purified water to go straight to faucets. It must first be pumped underground and then pumped back out by water suppliers in the area. It's that final - and somewhat unnecessary step - that regulators are currently looking to, um, filter out.
On the web:
Groundwater Replenishment System
Raw sewage is first "raked" to remove solid objects
Treated sewage water starts the purification process (those bubbles are household soaps)
Underground, inside the purification plant
Pop quiz - which one do you want to drink?
Reverse osmosis is the real key here to clean water
The final product, thanks to technology!