Windsor firm seeks to slake state's thirst with wastewater

[caption id="attachment_86498" align="alignright" width="320"] An engineer prepares to taste water from the reverse-osmosis pilot treatment system at an Orange County Water District plant.[/caption]

WINDSOR -- A local firm is leading an effort to convince California residents that modern technology can clean wastewater so well that the resulting water can be blended with conventional drinking water to solve current and future water crises.

Public affairs agency Data Instincts, whose previous work includes outreach on The Geysers wastewater recharge project and recycled-water programs for Santa Rosa and Windsor, is part of a team of communications firms and academics tasked with developing a realistic plan and methods for building public support for "direct potable reuse."

That means, highly treated wastewater would be routed to drinking-water treatment plants for further processing or blended with water in distribution pipelines. Currently, tertiary-treated wastewater is allowed to be used in certain agricultural, commercial and limited residential irrigation via segregated piping, with warnings not to drink the water. An alternative is indirect potable reuse, which pumps treated wastewater into aquifers to replenish tapping from wells and take advantage of natural filtering.

What Data Instinct and the rest of the team will be battling is the "toilet to tap" epithet that came into common parlance in recent years amid legislation and project proposals in California and other drought-prone states and countries to transform wastewater into a water-saver. Yet, advances in technologies such as reverse-osmosis treatment, which uses tiny-pore membranes to screen out virtually all but water molecules, have been coming into wide approved use for dramatically reducing water used for cleaning winery, brewery and other industrial equipment by recycling process wastewater in the facility.

[caption id="attachment_86499" align="alignleft" width="224"] Mark Millan[/caption]

"It's cleaner than what most of us currently drink," said Mark Millan, principal of Data Instincts, about the resulting quality of water after such treatment.

The potential to recoup more than one-third of the 4 million acre-feet of highly treated wastewater that annually is flushed into California waterways by 2020 and up to two-thirds of current discharges by 2030 is behind direct potable reuse efforts in Sacramento under the Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Jerry Brown administrations.

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