Kale or quinoa? Free range chicken or seasonal veggie medley? Pellegrino or… recycled water?
Californians could soon start drinking purified wastewater. In response to a five-year drought, the State Water Resources Control Board recently informed legislators that regulating recycled, drinkable water is perfectly feasible. California would be the first state in the nation to implement such regulations.
Exploring water reuse is a smart move. Policymakers have long looked to science to address water shortages -- and farmers and ranchers have long recognized the value of recycled water. As California struggles to solve its water scarcity crisis, funneling purified, recycled water to the drinkable water supply is a logical step. With the right technology, the process should be sustainable, cost-effective and completely safe.
Outside the United States, many urban centers are already relying on reused water. Israel embraced water recycling ten years ago to help address its water shortages. Today, the nation has so much water that, as one farmer put it, "[we] don't really care if it rains anymore."
Singapore has historically been classified as "water poor" by the United Nations, relying heavily on water imports from nearby Malaysia. But thanks to investments in water recycling, four water reuse plants now meet 30 percent of Singapore's water needs -- and the nation is now water independent. In fact, policymakers and urban planners are now gearing up for the city-state's water demand to double over the next 45 years.
In California, dry weather and climate change have exacerbated drought conditions, and climate experts estimate that even if it rained one inch per day in San Francisco and Oakland for 13 straight years, California's water reserves still wouldn't bounce-back to pre-drought levels.
What's more, the state's population is growing -- as is demand for its agriculture offerings. This will continue to put even more pressure on California's water supplies. This "new normal" should concern every American. Already, the average American consumes about 300 gallons of California's water every week by simply eating food from the Golden State.
Sending recycled water into the state's drinkable water supply -- a process known as direct potable reuse -- is broadly supported by the public. A new survey from Xylem found that 83 percent of Californians are open to using recycled water on a daily basis. Further, nine out of 10 state residents support continued investment in drinkable recycled water, even if California gets more rainfall.
These numbers make sense. Virtually all the earth's water is recycled, over and over again, by nature. As Executive Director of the WateReuse Association and Water Environment & Reuse Foundation Melissa Meeker has pointed out, "It's the same water now as when dinosaurs walked the earth." And thanks to modern filtration and disinfection technology, recycled water is cleaner and safer than bottled water.
California has always spearheaded the implementation of advanced technologies and practices to create a more sustainable environment and drive economic growth. As we look toward regulations for recycled drinking water, the state has the opportunity to lead once again.
-- Colin Sabol is a senior vice president at Xylem, a water technology company, where he directs analytics and treatment.