Los Angeles Times

L.A. ready to lead in recycled water

The city is preparing ‘potable reuse’ plans to launch once state regulation­s are passed.

- By Jaimie Ding

Water has always been recycled. The water molecules in your shower or cup of coffee might just be the same molecules that rained on dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago.

With the technologi­cal advancemen­ts in water recycling, however, the water that went down your sink this morning might be back in your tap sooner than you think.

The city of Los Angeles and agencies across Southern California are looking into what’s known as “direct potable reuse,” which means putting purified recycled water directly back into our drinking water systems. This differs from indirect potable reuse, which entails water spending time in a substantia­l environmen­tal barrier such as an undergroun­d aquifer or in a reservoir.

Water recycling experts shudder at the infamous phrase “toilet to tap,” an alliterati­on that became popular with politician­s and headline writers alike in the late 1990s when projects for using recycled water for groundwate­r replenishm­ent were beginning to take shape in the San Gabriel Valley and city of Los Angeles.

Miller Brewing Co. and community groups vigorously opposed the San Gabriel Valley project, even suing agencies involved over the environmen­tal impact reports.

Today, recurring cycles of devastatin­g drought as well as advancemen­ts in science have softened that view.

“There’s been a public health legacy where sanitary engineerin­g practices and regulators considered sewage a waste, it was something to be avoided, something to be feared,” Coffey said. “Now that we have the

technology … the public, the regulators, the scientific community has much greater confidence in our ability to safely reuse that water supply.”

Their efforts hinge on the State Water Resources Control Board, which has been tasked by legislator­s to develop a set of uniform regulation­s on direct potable reuse by Dec. 31, 2023.

The city of Los Angeles is wasting no time in readying projects that can launch once the regulation­s are passed.

A direct potable reuse demonstrat­ion facility near the Headworks reservoir just north of Griffith Park will probably be the state’s first approved direct potable reuse project, said Jesus Gonzalez, manager of water recycling policy at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. It will take advantage of recycled water produced by a facility in Glendale, but the water will not be added to the drinking water system just yet. However, it will serve as proof of concept, he said.

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

The Headworks project is scheduled to come online soon after the regulation­s are in place — tentativel­y within the next five years, Gonzalez said.

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 accomplish that, the Hyperion Water Reclamatio­n Plant — which currently treats wastewater only to the level necessary for release into Santa Monica Bay — must be converted into an advanced water purificati­on facility that produces water clean enough to drink.

The Department of Water and Power has plans to take the water produced by Hyperion — enough for 2 million people — and put it into vast aquifers under the southern part of Los Angeles County as well as the San Fernando Valley.

There are also plans to implement direct potable reuse at the Los Angeles Aqueduct Filtration Plant in the San Fernando Valley, which currently cleans water siphoned from the Owens Valley and Mono Lake Basin up north.

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

This massive undertakin­g, dubbed Operation Next, has an equally large price tag — upward of $16 billion for the whole program, which is projected to be completed in 2058.

A small-scale advanced purificati­on facility is already close to completion, constructe­d in partnershi­p with Los Angeles Internatio­nal Airport to produce 1.5 million gallons per day of water for nonpotable uses such as toilet flushing and cooling, according to Traci Minamide, chief operating officer for L.A. Sanitation and Environmen­t. The project will come online in spring 2023 and is considered to be another proof of concept for the larger Hyperion operation.

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

“We’ve been knocking on every door, state and federally, trying to receive grants or loans,” Gonzalez said.

Another advanced water purificati­on project at the Donald C. Tillman water reclamatio­n plant in Van Nuys that will send water to groundwate­r basins in the San Fernando Valley is anticipate­d to be completed in December 2026.

As the city pursues its ambitious plans, however, some have questioned its ability to maintain its existing water infrastruc­ture.

Just a year ago, the Hyperion plant suffered catastroph­ic flooding that led to 17 million gallons of untreated sewage being dumped into the ocean. The failure also caused millions of gallons of drinking water to be diverted for uses normally served by recycled water, and residents of El Segundo sued the city over alleged exposure to toxic pollutants in the wake of the spill, according to court documents.

The plant is back to full operation and normal water quality, Minamide said, and bypasses and backup storage are being built in case of future incidents.

“That spill did reinforce everybody, including us, that we do need to have monitors and alarms upstream of the wastewater plant to be able to identify any problems, whether they’re spills, whether they’re infrastruc­ture issues,” Gonzalez said.

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

“The key for what we’re trying to do is always protect public health, so when we’re writing these regulation­s, our focus is on protecting public health,” said Randy Barnard, technical operations section chief of the water board’s division of drinking water.

Since real-time monitoring of pathogens and chemicals isn’t yet possible, water treatment operators must rely on the concept of “log removals,” which measures how many contaminan­ts are removed from the water during each step of the process, rather than how many contaminan­ts remain in the water.

Three log removals are equivalent to removing 99.9% of the contaminan­t, for example. The state is requiring up to 20 log removals for certain viruses.

“We get accused of that sometimes that we’re too conservati­ve, but it’s because we have public health at risk,” Barnard said.

The state water board has already shown a draft regulation to an expert panel that has given a preliminar­y finding that it sufficient­ly protects public health — a critical milestone in the process. Once they’re officially approved, they’ll go through an administra­tive and legal process that will take about a year before being formally adopted.

Water industry leaders are eager to begin working.

“The technology is that good,” said Shane Trussell, president and chief executive 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 bigger agencies have projects off the ground, Trussell believes smaller agencies will follow suit.

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

 ?? Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times ?? WORKERS AT a treatment plant in Pico Rivera. The drought has softened views on reusing water.
Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times WORKERS AT a treatment plant in Pico Rivera. The drought has softened views on reusing water.
 ?? A PUMPING Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times ?? station at a treatment plant in Pico Rivera. “The key for what we’re trying to do is always protect public health,” one water official said.
A PUMPING Irfan Khan Los Angeles Times station at a treatment plant in Pico Rivera. “The key for what we’re trying to do is always protect public health,” one water official said.

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