Water Recycling Efforts Spark Policy Debate in California

In water-strapped southern California local authorities are exploring new approaches to water usage, launching new programs that send highly treated wastewater back into the groundwater supply to serve as drinking water.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally tonight, a very different way of dealing with water shortages in Southern California. NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles reports.

  • JEFFREY KAYE, NewsHour Correspondent:

    In Orange County, California, officials thought their best chance for getting more water for the area's three million residents was going down the drain, billions of gallons of wastewater going to waste.

    Then, local water and sanitation officials bought into an idea: turning that wastewater into clean drinking water.

  • MIKE MARKUS, Orange County Water District:

    This project is extremely important today, because the southland is facing a water crisis.

  • JEFFREY KAYE:

    Mike Markus is general manager of the Orange County Water District. He oversaw the design and construction of a recently opened water purification plant, the largest of its kind in the world.

  • MIKE MARKUS:

    It's important that we develop new water supplies locally so that we can help somewhat drought-proof this area. And that's exactly what this project does: It gives us a water supply that we have control over that will provide enough water for a half-million people in northern and central Orange County.

  • JEFFREY KAYE:

    But what would residents think of drinking water that had once been sewage, a program some critics called "toilet-to-tap"?

  • VIDEO NARRATOR:

    Orange County needs a new, reliable, and locally controlled supply of high-quality water.

  • JEFFREY KAYE:

    To sell the idea to the public, they produced informational videos and hosted community forums. The efforts paid off. There was nearly zero public opposition to the project, says sanitation board member and local City Councilman Larry Crandall.

  • LARRY CRANDALL, Orange County Sanitation Board:

    I believe it's because we taught them through educational resources to understand what the process is. And I believe that if you educate people about what it is, they're going to understand it. And if they understand it, they're going to accept it.