First bottles of purified recycled water debut

Central Valley Business Times, 6/21/17

First there was Perrier. Then came other bottled waters, from the case lot at a warehouse store to the $20 per glass water carefully poured by a water sommelier.

Now there’s water from the sewers of Orange County.

For what they’re saying is the first time in the Western Hemisphere, the California public is getting bottles of highly purified wastewater from Orange County.

Officials of the Orange County Water District and Orange County Sanitation District say it demonstrates the safety and technological advancements of sophisticated treatment systems that now provide new sources of drinking water.

The water district and sanitation district, collaborators in the world's largest water purification facility of its kind — the Groundwater Replenishment System -- officially kicked off a statewide tour to pass out free bottles of Groundwater Replenishment System water to further convince the public that purifying what once was wastewater can become a trusted new water resource.

"California, and the world, are increasingly becoming aware that we can reuse our local water supplies in a safe and cost-efficient manner. We have perfected the treatment technology at our Groundwater Replenishment System facility," says OCWD President Denis Bilodeau. "We are taking our water and our message to the public to alleviate any 'yuck' factor."

The GWRS has been providing advanced purified water since 2008. It's a proven source of reclaimed water that costs far less than water imported from Northern California and the Colorado River, the two Orange County agencies say.

Currently, regulations limit the use of advanced purified water to replenish groundwater basins even though the GWRS facility creates water that exceeds state and federal drinking water standards. Under California law AB 2022, adopted last year to expand the public's awareness of water treatment advancements as the state marches toward direct potable reuse of this water, agencies such as OCWD are now allowed to bottle highly purified recycled water to be handed out for free as an educational tool. The water is so pure, it is near-distilled in quality, they claim.

"Today, we launch a year-long effort to reach as many people as we can in California to share our success and promote a very sustainable process that will increase our water reliability in the state," says OCSD and GWRS Steering Committee Chairman Greg Sebourn. "We're able to produce safe and great-tasting drinking water, so let's do all we can to preserve local water supplies by reusing them."

Using a custom-built "lemonade stand" with picture boards and descriptive brochures, the two districts will be visiting college campuses, festivals and other public events to pass out limited quantities of the commemorative bottles of water and describe the three-step purification process. The year-long tour also celebrates the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the GWRS facility, which will expand its capacity in the near future to produce 130 million gallons a day of purified recycled water—enough for 1 million people.

"The GWRS facility saved us during the most recent drought. It also gives Southern California one of the least expensive new sources of water," Mr. Bilodeau says.

Although state health officials are currently drafting rules that could eventually permit recycled water to be sent directly to drinking water supplies (direct potable reuse), OCWD's authority is confined to using purified recycled water indirectly, to replenish Orange County's groundwater basin.