Gov. Brown Pushes ‘Toilet-to-Tap’ to Solve California’s Water Shortage, but Pooh-Poohs Immigration Reduction, Population Stabilization

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By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

May 28, 2015

In California’s fabled golden age, pristine Sierra Nevada snowfields furnished sparkling snowmelt and water for the state’s residents and farmers. Will toilets join Sierra snowfields as a main source of water in California’s overpopulated, fallen future?

If the state’s political and business elites have their way, that is exactly what will happen.

From this…..
Snowfields high in the Sierra Nevada Range.

California’s Gov. Jerry Brown has thrown his qualified support behind so-called “toilet-to-tap”water recycling measures as a means of addressing the state’s historic drought.

“I know people don’t like ‘toilet to tap,’ but it is memorable. It is memorable,” Brown said in a May 21 speech to political and business leaders in Sacramento. And he tried to reassure an understandably apprehensive, skeptical public: “Don’t worry, it’s not going to happen overnight. And we’re going to test.”

Last month, in a staged event, San Jose’s Mayor Sam Liccardo drank recycled wastewater to demonstrate publicly that toilet-to-tap water is as clean and healthy as Sierra snowmelt. Liccardo also asked the governor to ease restrictions on its use.

At present, Santa Clara County’s wastewater recycling plant yields more than 8 million gallons of water per day, or about 9,000 acre-feet per year. In theory, this is enough water for about 10,000 homes of families of four, including exterior landscaping.

Plans are afoot to quadruple that plant’s capacity, even though the recycled water is now used just for irrigation and manufacturing.

To this:
California’s future source of drinking water? Projected population growth makes it
all but inevitable.

Down south, the Orange County Water District (OCWD) adopted water recycled from waste early on. About 2.5 million residents of Orange County residents get their water from a massive underground aquifer. Since 2008, OCWD has injected billions of gallons of purified wastewater into that aquifer, recharging it in the process.

OCWD overcame initial reluctance and the “yuck factor” by giving more than 2,000 presentations to communities around the county.

At OCWD’s 24-acre treatment facility in Fountain Valley, wastewater from a sewage treatment plant next door is converted to pure H2O. First, microfiber membranes filter out bacteria, particles and protozoa. Wastewater is then piped to a reverse osmosis (R-O) facility, in fact, the largest potable water reuse facility in the world. Here, using a lot of energy to create pressure, H2O is forced through plastic membranes that remove nearly everything that isn’t H2O. The R-O process even removes viruses, dissolved chemicals and residual pharmaceuticals.

The final step is to add peroxide (H2O2) to the water and expose it to ultraviolet light that kills anything that might still survive. The end product is distilled water, which is then piped to a series of recharge basins, which resemble small lakes. From here it percolates down through the soils and recharges the 350-square mile aquifer, which amounts to a large subterranean storage reservoir.

Which of these would you be willing to drink?

Implementing advanced technologies (“techno-fixes”) like these to overcome water shortages is costly, and not without environmental side-effects, such as the energy they consume and the need to dispose of concentrated waste. But they are preferable to desalination plants, more dams on rivers that have escaped dams to date, or doing without water.

The problem is that, all too often, the Powers That Be see techno-fixes as circumventing limits to growth. Instead of acknowledging that California is already overpopulated and that adding still more people will only aggravate the situation, cornucopians like Brown and other political and business elites treat each techno-fixe as a deux ex machina or savior that can accommodate infinite population growth.

Brown has shown his utter disdain for environmental realists like CAPS who have called for immigration reduction to stabilize our population. Earlier this year in Washington, he said that opposition to immigration “reform” (i.e., amnesty and vast increases in legal immigration) “at best is troglodyte, and at worst un-Christian.”

In so doing, he has shown time and again, that in the words of Earth Day founder Senator Gaylord Nelson, Brown’s oft-professed concern for the environment is phony.

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