Tuesday, January 29, 2008

OC Loves Toilet to Tap

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2008 at 4:57 PM

Last Friday, Jan. 25, was a big day for Orange County that had nothing to do with large shopping centers or Josh Schwartz sightings.

The county had a special opening ceremony for what is considered the world's largest water-purification system, churning the water from millions of Southern California toilets into purified water.

Yep, toilet to tap. 

I now understand that the visual that comes from the "toilet to tap" term is incorrect. The OC plant doesn't treat the water and send it back on through to household kitchens and bathrooms. Federal laws prohibit this water from going back directly to the consumer. The plant's real name, Groundwater Replenishment System, further explains the toilet to tap concept in OC: The water will be injected directly into the ground above aquifers, allowing the earth to further filter the already-purified water and replenish the groundwater drinking supply. 

I just love the fact that a survey done last year in San Diego revealed that folks just don't want to drink water that once had poop. Yet fish poop and other runoff collected in lakes and oceans doesn’t seem that bad.

I think there are plenty of people out there in rural areas of Arizona and other parts of the country who better understand the importance of groundwater when they rely on wells. It's those wells that tap into aquifers, where nature has done the purification for us through layers of sediment. The problem is that many of those homes are near farms or ranches, where nitrates from fertilizers also make their way through the sediment and contaminate the ground water. 

That's why the system in the OC is so important. If you're going to replenish the groundwater, that water had better be nitrate- and bacteria-free. And of course these were the safety issues brought up when John Kromko rattled cages with his toilet-to-tap scare tactics with Prop 200. The New York Times picked up on the battle when they interviewed Kromko last November as part of a story on communities across the country getting in on the toilet-to-tap concept. 

Kromko's POV was all about controlling growth. If this is the issue, then this constituency needs to get to more Pima County planning and Board of Supervisor meetings, or lead a sterilization campaign. I have a feeling Carolyn Campbell of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Conservation Protection wouldn't mind the company. 

One problem I see with the OC system reminds me of the challenges of going solar: the cost and reality of what can be done. The system, while considered the largest in the world at a cost of more than $400 million, is only able to produce enough recharge to provide water to 144,000 families. Considering the population of OC, it that barely makes a dent. 

Although you've got to the love the system's Web site and all the pretty OC people just loving their recharge toilet-to-tap water.

Poop? What poop?