Pumping station for a water treatment facility.

Los Angeles plans to put recycled water in the faucet

Water has always been recycled. The water molecules in the shower or coffee cup may have been the same ones that rained down on dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago.

But with advances in water recycling technology, the water that came out of your sink this morning may be back in your tap sooner than you think.

The City of Los Angeles and agencies in Southern California are researching what is known as “direct drinking water reuse,” which means returning clean, recycled water directly to our drinking water systems. This is different from indirect drinking water reuse, where the water spends time in a large environmental barrier such as an aquifer or in a reservoir.

Recycling experts shudder at the infamous phrase “a toilet to replenish,” an allure that became popular with politicians and headline writers alike in the late 1990s when projects to use recycled water to replenish groundwater began to take shape in the San Gabriel Valley and the city of Los Angeles.

Miller Brewing Company and Community Groups strongly opposed The San Gabriel Valley Project, even sued the agencies involved in environmental impact reports.

Today, repeated courses of devastating drought as well as scientific advances have tempered this view.

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10:21 AM July 22 2022An earlier version of this article omitted the first name of Brad Covey from Metropolitan Water in Southern California.

“There was a public health legacy where sanitary engineering practices and regulators considered sewage to be waste, it was something to be avoided, something to be feared,” said Brad Covey of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District. “Now that we have the technology… the public, regulators and the scientific community have much more confidence in our ability to safely reuse this water source.”

Their efforts depend on the state’s Water Resources Control Board, which has tasked lawmakers with developing a set of uniform regulations on direct reuse of drinking water by December 31, 2023.

The City of Los Angeles wastes no time preparing projects that can be launched once regulations are passed.

An impressive pumping station at an advanced water treatment facility in the Pico Riviera Water Regeneration District.

(Irrfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

A live potable water reuse demonstration facility near Headworks Reservoir north of Griffith Park is likely to be the first approved direct drinking water reuse project in the state, said Jesus Gonzalez, director of water recycling policy for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Energy. You will benefit from recycled water produced by a facility in Glendale, but the water will not be added to the drinking water system yet. However, it would serve as a proof of concept, he said.

“This is going to be the future of Los Angeles water, the future of the state’s water supply,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the Headworks project is set to go online soon after the regulations are in place — initially within the next five years.

Two workers at a water purification plant.

Trenton Genta, left, and Bert Mantella Jr. work at the Pico Rivera Water Renewal District facility.

(Irrfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

But the Headworks project is just one part of the city’s ambitious plan to recycle 100% of its wastewater by 2035 — a pledge Mayor Eric Garcetti made several years ago.

To achieve this, the Hyperion Water Reclamation plant—which currently only treats wastewater to the level necessary for release in Santa Monica Bay—must be converted into a state-of-the-art water purification facility that produces water clean enough to drink.

The Department of Water and Energy has plans to take the water that Hyperion produces — enough for two million people — and put it into the vast aquifers under the southern part of Los Angeles County as well as the San Fernando Valley.

There are also plans for direct reuse of drinking water at the Los Angeles Canal Filtration Plant in the San Fernando Valley, which is currently cleaning water drawn from the Owens Valley and Mono Lake Basin northward.

The city is also working with the Water Regeneration District, which manages groundwater rights in the area, on a master plan to determine the optimal locations for injecting recycled water into aquifers.

This massive project, called Operation Next, has an equally high price tag – up to $16 billion for the entire program, which is expected to be completed in 2058.

It is already nearing completion of a small-scale advanced filtration facility, built in partnership with Los Angeles International Airport to produce 1.5 million gallons per day of water for non-potable uses such as toilet flushing and cooling, according to Tracy Minamide, Los Angeles’ chief operating officer. Sanitation and the environment. The project will go online in the spring of 2023 and is another proof of concept for the larger Operation Hyperion.

City officials are scrambling to find funding sources to enable Hyperion 2035 and Operation Next to proceed as intended.

“We were knocking on all the doors, state and federal, trying to get grants or loans,” Gonzalez said.

Another advanced water purification project is expected to be completed at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys that will send water to aquifers in the San Fernando Valley in December 2026.

Wide view of Hyperion sewage treatment plant in Playa del Rey across from Dockweller State Beach.

The Hyperion sewage treatment plant in Playa del Rey, left, across from Dockweiler State Beach.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

As the city proceeds with its ambitious plans, some have questioned its ability to properly maintain the existing water infrastructure.

Just a year ago, the Hyperion plant suffered a catastrophic flood that resulted in 17 million gallons of untreated sewage. lying in the ocean. Failure also caused millions of gallons of Drinking water to be diverted For the uses it usually serves recycled water and the residents of El Segundo File a lawsuit against the city on alleged exposure to toxic pollutants in the wake of the spill, according to court documents.

Minamed said the plant is now back in full operation and normal water quality, and bypasses and backup storage are being built in case of future accidents.

“This spill has reinforced everyone, including us, that we need monitors and alarms at the top of the sewage plant so that we can identify any problems, whether they are spills, or whether they are infrastructure issues,” Gonzalez said. .

In the meantime, the State Water Board should consider such incidents as it develops new regulations, and consider how the regulations would hold up in a worst-case scenario.

“The key to what we try to do is always protect public health, so when we write these regulations our focus is on protecting public health,” said Randy Barnard, chief of technical operations for the drinking division at the Water Council. Water.

Since real-time monitoring of pathogens and chemicals is not yet possible, water treatment operators must rely on the concept of “removal of logs,” which measures the number of contaminants removed from the water during each step of the process, rather than the number of contaminants remaining in the water.

Three tree stump removals equate to removing 99.9% of pollutants, for example. The state requires up to 20 log removals for some viruses.

“We sometimes accuse this of being too conservative, but that’s because we’re putting public health at risk,” Barnard said.

The state water board has already presented a draft regulation to a panel of experts that has given a preliminary finding that it adequately protects public health—a milestone in the process. Once they are formally approved, they will go through an administrative and legal process that will take about a year before they are formally approved.

Water industry leaders are eager to get started.

A man standing in front of a map of Los Angeles

Rob Best from the water regeneration area.

(Irrfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

“The technology is that good,” said Shane Trussell, president and CEO of Trussell Tech, which is involved in advanced water purification projects across Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities.

Once regulations are in place and larger agencies have projects on the ground, Trussell believes smaller agencies will follow suit.

“I expect by 2040 … most of the effluent in Southern California will be recycled or on its way to being recycled,” Trussell said.

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