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How Other States Can Follow LA’s Lead for Turning Sewage Into Drinkable Water

Posted June 7, 2019

One of the processes for creating a more sustainable future is finding a way to recycle dirty materials and resources, including sewer water. Believe it or not, there are technologies that can help clean the sewage and convert it back into drinkable water. This would go a long way to boosting our sustainability and increasing the natural resources we have available.

Image credit: Bettinafilms, Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

This very thing is already happening in Los Angeles, at the Bureau of Sanitation’s Hyperion Treatment Plant (HTP) located off the coast of Playa del Rey. The plant actually serves the 3.3 million residents of Los Angeles, as well as 29 contracting cities.

How exactly does the 144-acre facility convert various sewage streams into usable water? How does this impact the city’s water supply?

LA to Recycle 100 Percent of Its Wastewater by 2035

Currently, the Hyperion plant processes about 260 million gallons of wastewater every day, but only recycles about a quarter of that. The other 75 percent isn’t drinkable and is instead pushed back into the ocean.

More recently, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a plan to reach 100 percent recycled wastewater by 2035. Obviously, this will require some upgrades to the plant in order to boost the recycling rate. According to the Bureau of Sanitation, the enhancements will cost an estimated $2 billion.

The current system purifies a small amount of the wastewater for drinking, and the excess is sent through a five-mile outfall pipe which leads into Santa Monica Bay and the ocean.

The upgrades will see new groundwater wells for collecting the cleaned water, as well as an additional pipeline to direct it to the appropriate reservoirs. A system closer to the Hyperion plant will help clean the water so it’s “near drinking quality,” and then it will travel to a nearby replenishment facility. In these locations, it will be filtered more until it’s passed into the existing groundwater for consumption.

Interestingly, the Hyperion plant is one of four different treatment facilities within LA. Its three sister facilities already produce 100 percent recycled water, so the Hyperion upgrades definitely have some precedent.

Recycling Wastewater for Sustainability

The important takeaway here is that the massive city of LA — with a huge population of over 4 million — can repurpose wastewater to improve sustainability. More importantly, the now-cleaned water can be rolled back into the groundwater wells and any other sources that are used to supply the city’s population.

Not only does this cut down on overall consumption, and boost availability, it helps improve accessibility during times where water is more scarce, such as a drought. LA is no stranger to droughts either.

The idea is that similar methods could be used all across the country, and even the world, to improve the quality of water that’s available and boost availability for all. Considering 95 percent of all water that enters a home is dumped down the drain daily, an average of 400 gallons for a family of four, there’s a lot that can be done with the waste.

Even just treating the wastewater and using it for irrigation can provide benefits in terms of sustainability. Israel recycles 80 percent of its water and uses it for irrigation, for example. In the U.S. Florida is another example of this, as the state reclaims, treats and reuses much of its wastewater.

Of course, water systems, the related pipelines and additional infrastructure may need to be redeveloped and revised to support the treatment and reuse of wastewater. That’s one of the bigger obstacles standing in the way of this happening all over. Luckily, 85 percent of Americans support the idea of increasing federal investment to aid in rebuilding water infrastructure.

The support is there, and while it may take some time, there are many benefits to boosting sustainability in this way. The most important is that we’ll be collectively increasing our available water supply, which becomes more important with each day, especially as our population grows.


Emily covers topics in manufacturing and environmental technology. You can follow her blog, Conservation Folks, or her Twitter to get the latest updates.

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