Producer's Notes: California's Water Future

Could the future of potable water in California be in recycling wastewater? The Orange County Water District thinks so. In February of this year it opened its advanced water treatment plant, which produces 50 million gallons of potable water per day. It took them 13 years to finish the project. They spent a lot of that time educating consumers. Of course the idea of drinking water that was once used for other less savory purposes than drinking is an unpleasant thought. So Orange County's water district took its educational campaign very seriously. They went to great lengths to explain that the wastewater is cleaned to the point where it meets state and federal drinking water standards and then put through an extra filtration step, which consists of dumping it into a lake with a sandy basin and letting it filter into the aquifers. (This is why they call the project the Groundwater Replenishment System). As part of its outreach, the district even got Orange County's Bishop Jaime Soto to record positive comments about the project and posted the video on its Web site.

Here in the Bay Area, projects to use recycled wastewater aren't as advanced. Still, John Stufflebean, director of environmental services for the City of San José, says it’s in the cards for San José. The city has started its own educational effort. Stufflebean is one of the city officials that give regular guided tours of the San José/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant in northern San José. The process really is quite a sight. The gray and smelly raw wastewater comes in on one end, and at the end of a three-step process -- once again clean and transparent -- either trickles back into the Bay or is used to irrigate golf courses and farms. Stufflebean says that people on the tour often ask why this water can’t be used for drinking. With some additional steps, it could. Stay tuned. Perhaps in the future it will.