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Local and regional water agencies explain new wastewater into drinking water rules

State regulators approved the new regulations for on Tuesday.
Colorado River Management
Posted at 10:31 PM, Dec 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-20 02:29:18-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Water is arguably the most vital resource, and California knows it.

On Tuesday, the State Water Board approved a new rule allowing - but not requiring - water agencies to take wastewater, treat it and then put it directly into drinking water.

“So, the regulators are comfortable with the level of treatment and the safety levels of that water to be directly connected to our distribution systems,” Lindsay Leahy, the Director of Water Utilities from City of Oceanside, said.

Before this direct wastewater transition rule, some communities in California, like Oceanside, have been using indirect potable reuse for some of their water supply, as it turns out.

“We’re able to take treated wastewater and then treat it further. We put it in an environmental buffer like the ground or reservoir, and then we can retreat it for a final time and then distribute it to the public,” Leahy said.

Leahy told ABC 10News that Oceanside has produced indirect potable reuse water since 2022. She also mentioned another well-known indirect potable reuse plant in Orange County that uses some recycled wastewater in some capacity.

The City of San Diego is in the process of building a plant similar to that of East County.

A spokesperson for San Diego County sent ABC 10News the following statement:

"...Potable reuse is a key tool for water agencies to use to help address both water supply and water recovery needs. The City of San Diego has been actively engaged in the development of both the Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) and Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) regulations and appreciates the thoughtful and collaborative approach of the State Board and Division of Drinking Water. The DPR regulations allow substantial flexibility for individual projects, while also setting rigorous standards to ensure the health and safety of public water supplies..."

Leahy and the Chief of Operations at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Mickey Chaudhuri said direct potable reuse wouldn't have that environmental buffer in its process.

Chaudhuri said the treated wastewater already has a number of treatment steps, and other steps like ultraviolet light and reverse osmosis.

“And then ultimately for direct potable reuse, it’ll go into a drinking water treatment. So, the same drinking water treatment plants that have been operated for decades and the number of treatment processes there, it’ll be treated through that process,” Chaudhuri said.

However, following the announcement of the new rules approved by the state, some people had different opinions about the prospect of drinking water if it was once wastewater from the direct potable reuse process.

But if an agency has a potable reuse project, rather than solely depending on the Colorado River and its possible cutbacks,they would be less impacted, according to Leahy.

"It helps to balance some of the stresses that we have in imported supplies, in other ground water supplies. It's a base supply that whether it's a wet year or a dry year, that water is coming,” Chaudhuri said.