Recycled Water: Good Enough to Drink?

The City Council discussed one of the world’s most precious resources last week; water. The council had its annual meeting with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. In the past, the two organizations have had some turbulent conversations; however, at this meeting we were all on the same page about conservation and the future supply of water.

Half of our water is imported from the Delta and Hetch Hetchy. Imported resources come with challenges, since you cannot always count on imports. A prime example is the 1970’s oil embargo.

San Jose has a facility that produces clean water. Not out of the ground but from what you and I flush, use in the sink and shower. I mentioned the facility and the opportunity for you to tour it in a past blog. Less then 1 percent of the water on this planet is available as fresh water. The water we do have is the same water used over and over again.The Water Pollution Control Plant allows San Jose to control its destiny by producing this scarce resource.

We built this facility to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act so that water discharge to the bay is clean, not contaminated. Over time, we have built purple pipes to distinguish the water supply. Purple pipes transport recycled water to industrial users for large projects like North San Jose and the new City Hall. To extend purple pipes to every home in San Jose for landscaping would take a long time and a lots of money.

We are in the midst of approving a new agreement with the Water District where we will provide recycled water.  We would also jointly fund future expansion of the Water Pollution Control Plant. The clean water that would be supplied to the Water District could be used to do stream-flow augmentation so that our creeks could have more water flowing in them. Another option is to pump the clean recycled water to the groundwater recharge ponds. Here, the recycled water would be diluted with rainwater and then percolate in the ponds and pick up all those natural minerals. Some time later the water would be pumped out of the ground and flow to our faucets to shower, cook and drink. Some find the idea of drinking recycled water inconceivable.  However, it is already done in Orange County, with 2.3M customers, and Singapore.

I believe that in my lifetime we will see wars over water supply in addition to the cost of water rising for the consumer. At the local level we should be planning to allow more options for our future that keep water in mind.

Water supply is one of the reasons I believe that the city of San Jose should build less housing. In the General Plan 2040 Task Force we have interest groups advocating for as many as 180,000 new housing units. Some of the Task Force members including myself want to see lower housing numbers—around 70,000. Let’s save the water for jobs and new industries.

Would you be open to drinking recycled water in the future that is cleaned by micro filtration, reverse osmosis, UV light and other advanced treatments?  In the Orange County facility, they have a tour that starts off showing waste water coming into the plant and then all the steps it goes through. Visitors can see and drink the clean water at the end. I myself have not visited the Orange County facility but would like to do so in the near future. In the meantime here is a YouTube link about the Orange County facility.

Related to water this past Saturday, a group chose to clean a portion of the Los Gatos Creek trail in conjunction with the city of San Jose Great American Litter Pick Up. This small group of volunteers did a great job cleaning up the creek by filling over 50 bags with trash, removing 11 shopping carts and painting out graffiti.  Shout out to some of the hard working volunteers: Ed Rast, David Dearborn, Jack Nadeau, Robert Mulvany, Martin Delson among others.

Finally, a friendly reminder that I will be hosting the Concord Coalition on Monday 4, 7PM at City Hall Council Chambers for a showing of the movie I.O.U.S.A. Please RSVP to [email protected]


  1. Good news about the District’s participation in the WPCP upgrade.

    And thanks for representing for recycled water. We all drink it, whether we call it that, or not. As you pointed out, “The water we do have is the same water used over and over again.” But to be more pointed about it, all of the treated wastewater from the Central Valley flows into the Delta, which we then look to as our source for fresh drinking water.

  2. P.O. informed us that:“Less then 1 percent of the water on this planet is available as fresh water.”

    The other 99% can be desalinated.  Let’s get SV working on a cheaper way to do it.  Israel gets a huge % of its water by desalinizations, as do some Arab countries. A new “green” technology.

  3. “Would you be open to drinking recycled water in the future that is cleaned by micro filtration, reverse osmosis, UV light and other advanced treatments?”

    Absolutely.  It’s just as clean or cleaner than what we drink now.  I expect the anti-science crowd will fight it, but without it, we will be SOL when it comes to survival in this arid region of the world.  We must recycle our water to sustain our population as it keeps growing.

  4. Pierluigi,

    <water supply is one of the reasons I believe we should build less housing>

    I agree.
    Though I’m not averse to the idea of using recycled water, with smart planning and enforcement of immigration laws it probably wouldn’t be needed.(please don’t misconstrue this as racism) The situation can either be looked at as a shortage of water or as an overabundance of people, or some combination of the two.

    Doesn’t desalination require large amounts of energy? Unless I’m mistaken there’s an effort to conserve energy too so wouldn’t we be exacerbating one problem in an effort to solve the other?

    Went for a bike ride on Saturday and noticed some volunteers cleaning up the creekbed near Willow Glen. Thank you all for those efforts.
    On another topic, it sure would be nice to have a continuous, interconnected bike path system that linked Los Gatos Creek, Guadalupe Creek, Coyote Creek, and Alamitos Creek.

  5. Using recycled water will help, but we all need to get used to just using less water. Right now we waste a lot of water needlessly.

    I’m still seeing people hosing down their driveways instead of sweeping them!

    Desalination uses a lot of energy, so even if we used it, the water produced would be expensive and there would be a need to conserve it.

    6. Building more dams won’t help, because the dams we have now are a long way from full. Have you been by Lake Shasta lately?

  6. Since we won’t be needing the porn filters at the city libraries can they instead be used to filter urine into fresh clear yummy drinking water? Maybe in the end we could install the porn filters in the urinals at the city libraries.

  7. The number one solution to resource management is Population Control and dispelling the notion of unrestricted reproductive rights.

    Your taxes are going to feed (water?) the demands of Octomom’s 14 kids, afterall.

  8. #11 wrote:“On another topic, it sure would be nice to have a continuous, interconnected bike path system that linked Los Gatos Creek, Guadalupe Creek, Coyote Creek, and Alamitos Creek.”

    Here, here!!!

    Sanata Clara Valley has an extended system of creeks with levees on both sides.  They are mostly locked off to public use—Guadalupe from downtown to SJC being a notable exception.  They are perfect areas for hiking/biking/jogging.

    If I had to guess, I’d say the various city attorney’s and county counsels, and the water district lawyers have them locked off for fear of lawsuits if someone was attacked/raped/robbed/injured/killed while using the levees for recreation.  That issue could easily be resolved by state legislation granting civil immunity.  There are already statutes granting private landowners of open lands immunity from damages for people injured using their land.

  9. We could save a lot of money and water if the City kept a better eye on faulty sprinklers. I see water guising out of broken sprinkler heads all the time. I gave up calling the City to report them because they could care less. Businesses and apartment complexes are the same. They have their sprinklers set to turn on after hours so they don’t have a clue their sprinklers are broken. Go figure~

  10. Timely and important issue, with a good focus being taken by both the watershed stewards and the development gatekeepers.

    I always thought new infrastructure like reservoirs was a better trigger for Coyote Valley than jobs.

    Being in a semi-arid region with 10-12 inches of rain a year means we get a fair bit of rain, but never enough.  Before we expected the distracted politicians in Sacramento to take care of our communities future (as economic vitality goes hand in hand with the quality of life that abundent water allows) we should maximize the local supply.

    The original 1921 Conservation survey conducted by SCV after alternating floods annd droughts along with dried up wells alarmed everyone called for 17 reservoirs.  We built ten in two waves between the 1930’s and 1950’s and after that passed the buck to Sacramento to fuel out ongoing growth with imported water.

    1. Conservation (not just low flush toilets but banking water in wet years for dry ones.)
    2. Storm Water harvesting (capture more of what rainfall we get and bank it, like Adelaide, Australia is investing in.)
    3. Wasterwater recovery – follow Orange County’s lead and build industrial scale facilities to get the maximum possible return of freshwater possible (they spent $480 million.)
    4. Desalination – It used to cost $1000/AF but new breakthroughs are bringing the cost down.  This is an emergency lifeline (natural or man made disasters may cripple imported water systems) so we should invest in a scalable enterprise level system that could provide a trickle using renewable energy or be scaled up at need to provide our entire supply for a short period if needed.
    5.  Reduce Demand – Encourage native plants and non-native plants that are drought tolerant and spend the effort to still make public spaces pretty without drinking up the freshwater that is increasingly a finite resource.
    6.  Introduce tiered pricing so that water hogs pay a higher rate regardless of ability to pay (though the obscenly rich could probably fill their pools with bottled water if they felt like it.)
    7.  Quality – Tap water quality and public school quality are the true measure of a civilization and if its not good enough for everyone, where not living up to our ideals.

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