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Toilet to Tap - Recycling Water in Drought-stricken California

March 16, 2015

Lesley Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes drinking recycled toilet water? That’s right, and it is not because she will go to any length to flush out a story. Pardon the puns, but Ms. Stahl is among a growing number of journalists sipping purified water from the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) highly touted Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) in Fountain Valley, California. A joint water reuse project of the Orange County Sanitation District and OCWD, the GWRS purifies 70 million gallons of water a day. Instead of being pumped out into the Pacific Ocean, the treated sewer water flows to the GWRS to undergo a purification process that involves microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light treatment with hydrogen peroxide, resulting in what industry experts call “near-distilled quality” water. About 35 percent of the now pure water is injected into wells to help create a saltwater barrier and the remainder is pumped back into Orange County’s groundwater basin to help augment local drinking water supplies. The GWRS produces enough water annually to meet the needs of more than 600,000 residents. The project is currently undergoing an initial expansion that will be completed in 2015 bringing the total production to 100 million gallons of water a day, enough for 850,000 residents annually.

Historic Drought

Jokes aside about the many toilet-to-table headlines, California’s water shortage is no laughing matter. The state is suffering from the worst drought on record and water-use restrictions are severe. Farmers in the most productive and richest agricultural region of the world are paying millions to drill deeper into California’s aquifer for water to keep their businesses afloat. That threatens California’s already bone-dry groundwater system and has hydrologists worried.

The Power of Partnerships

The award-winning Groundwater Replenishment System is considered a global model in a world hard-pressed for clean water. OCWD relies on several partners to make its remarkable water reclamation story a reality. PerkinElmer, a recognized leader in global life and environmental sciences, is proud to be one of them. PerkinElmer’s Optima® 8300 inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES) coupled with ESI’s prepFAST technology detect trace metals in the water. These analytical instruments help scientists to regulate the water purity and make sure it meets or exceeds Federal standards before returning it to the aquifer. A testing process for multiple metals and other pollutants that once took weeks now takes only a few minutes, thanks in part to the 7,600 dedicated professionals at PerkinElmer.

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