L.A. Water Supply: Toilet-to-Tap, Take 2

Los Angeles has been known for years for having an unsustainable lifestyle; the water the city requires to live is brought by aqueduct from over 200 miles away, a triumph of engineering, but an ecological abomination. Will the mayors ambitious new plan save the day?

Antonio Villaraigosa, who is in his third year overseeing the affairs of the city of angels, is planning to aggressively campaign in favor of a water reclamation technology that Angelenos passed over ten years ago, but that would serve to dramatically lower the risks of living so far from their water supply. Los Angeles is, like all of California, going through a drought right now, and that natural event has turned many Angelenos into water conscious consumers the way they weren’t ready to be when this proposal was first floated in 2000.

That proposal, which opponents successfully labeled toilet to tap was highlighted by the approaching 2001 mayoral election, for which none of the candidates were in favor of the measure, a play towards the San Fernando Valley, site of the project both then and now. In 2000, however, the valley was also beginning to put steam behind an effort to secede from the cityfurther crippling the movement towards a more sustainable infrastructure.

How Does This Work, Anyway?

Purifying water that comes out of waste systems isn’t all that hard anymore, and its being used in several other communities nationwide, most notably Californias own Orange County. The water is first returned to the Tillman treatment plant in the San Fernando Valley, where its purified to a drinkable quality via a series of chemical treatments and filtration, including reverse osmosis that’s not terribly unlike that used in desalination plants. From there it travels to what are known as spreading grounds where the water is allowed to seep through layers of soil (more filtering) en route to the underground aquifer that L.A. must be able to draw from more effectively if it is to wean itself from the viaduct. It will, models predict, spend 2-3 years mixing with the water in the aquifer before the first recycled water comes back to public use in heavily diluted form and goes straight to you got it a purification plant.

How Is This Eco-Friendly?

While 2007 in the life of Atlanta should be enough to scare any major city into ensuring it has complete control over its water supply, there are several ecological benefits to recycling your waste water. Chief among them is that people readily forget that the water you’re drinking was almost certainly supposed to be somewhere else maybe in an underground aquifer, or maybe in a fragile wetland. If L.A. was ever able to take care of L.A., then the surplus would be a boon to the ecosystems of the Owens River, the current source of drinking water to the stars. Not a fan of wetlands? Recycled water also cuts down on the amount of wastewater discharge that treatment plants place into the environment, to potentially catastrophic effect.