Mayor Karla Brown cited toilet-to-tap as a key rationale along with expending money to clean up Perfluoroalkyl substances in one well that currently is not in use. The man-made chemicals have been shown to have harmful effects to reproduction and development as well as the liver, kidney and immune systems in laboratory animals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The chemical provided a convenient excuse to pullout of the valley-wide consortium. The challenge is that we already are drinking treated effluent through the water imported from the State Water Project. That water, exported from the Delta near Tracy, is downstream from the cities of Elk Grove, Stockton, Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy to say nothing of Sacramento. Depending upon the season, such as late in the fall, treated wastewater is a significant component of flows through the eastern Delta.
It’s notable that Orange County, with its aquifer over-drafted and sea water seeping in, started using recycled wastewater to recharge the aquifer that also provided its potable water. There’s nearly a 50-year history of doing so. The county operates the largest recycling operation in the world—topping Singapore that is No. 2. The Orange County system when an expansion is finished in 2023 will produce 130 million gallons of drinking water daily, enough to supply one million people. It will do so at the modest cost of $850 per acre foot, less than the $1,000 per acre foot it pays for surface water imported from Northern California by the State Water Project.
During the drought, cities, Pleasanton included, accelerated reusing treated effluent for landscaping throughout the city. What Orange County and other areas have shown is that it’s a valuable resource and one that can be locally controlled. The State Water Project, which supplies 80% of the valley’s water in a normal year (whatever that is) depends on the Sierra Nevada snowpack, while other alternatives such as desalinating brackish water from the Delta will involve substantial infrastructure costs to reach the Livermore Valley.
Citing the “ick” factor is easy, but it ignores systems have been operating successfully in a variety of places around the globe. This was a bad decision and reminiscent of the past growth battles where the anti-growth advocates tried to limit infrastructure to limit residential growth. Today’s reality is that housing prices have skyrocketed because of lack of supply.
Just how the California exodus will play out post-pandemic and its impacts remains to be seen. The planning needs to move ahead.