Down the Drain and Back


The thought of filling a cup with water that was once used to flush the toilet alone is enough to make many people nauseated. However recycling waste water for human consumption is no longer a rejected, last resort idea, many cities in the US are exploring or implementing this option as a cost-saving water conservation method.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), recycled waste water is defined as treated waste water for beneficial uses.

Recycled wastewater is distinguished according to different levels of treatment and end uses. Gray water is wastewater from residential, commercial and industrial bathroom sinks, bath tub shower drains and clothes washing equipment drains. The water is typically disinfected and filtered before returning for local landscape irrigation.  Recycled waste water with very advanced chemical treatment, filtration and disinfection can be used to replenish groundwater aquifers and surface water aquifers destined for human consumption. Water used in cooling processes at industrial facilities can be recaptured and reused for the same purpose again.  Unplanned recycled waste water is treated waste water from a city upstream that has entered into a downstream city’s water source. Water upstream may be used, treated and reused few to many times before ending up downstream.

According to a recent study by the National Research Council, the health risks associated with using recycled waste water is no more than that of existing fresh water supplies. This is a complete turn around from the previous study by the same group in 1998, which concluded that recycled waste water should be “an option of last resort” for human consumption. The study compared pathogen and chemical contaminant levels between water from a conventional source and water from aquifers partially recharged with treated sewage and founded no difference in health risks between the two and, in the case of pathogen levels, may be lower.

Recently, a research team at the University of Southern Maine surveyed about 2,700 individials across 5 cities in the US about their willingness to drink water recycled from waste waters. 38% were willing, while 13% were not willing and 50% were unsure. Despite the lack of support, participants of the survey were more willing to drink the recycled water if it had been stored in aquifer than if it had been directly supplied from the treatment plant.

For years, many water-strapped cities and towns in Western US have been implementing water recycling technologies and policies to get the most out of their water supply and to meet future water demand.

– Las Vegas, Nevada currently discharges its treated wastewater into Lake Mead, which also supplies water for Southern California and much of the Southwest.

– Los Angeles, California boasts two waste water treatment plants that provide recycled waste water for beneficial uses within the City. The Glendale Water Reclamation Plant treats over 20 million gallons of water every day, while the Donald C. Tillman Reclamation Plan treats about 40 million gallons of water per day. Both supplies irrigation water for City-managed golf courses, parks and landscaped areas.

– Last year, while facing a prolonged drought with no end in sight, Big Spring, Texas, begun constructing a water treatment plant that will treat and redistribute about 2 million gallons of water back to Big Spring and three nearby cities for residents to use.
– In 2008, Tucson, Arizona adopted an ordinance that requires all new single family or duplex residential units to install water piping features that allow or can allow for the recapture and reuse of gray water.

– In 2008, Inglewood, California completed construction of 2,700 water piping to and from Ashland Park, landscaped areas of the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) buildings and the water source. After retrofitting was completed in 2009, water expelled from municipal uses has been diverted for landscape irrigation of the Park and landscaping at the CalTrans buildings.

– In late 2007, the Orange County Water District of Orange County, California began treating the region’s municipal waste wasters with an intense mix of ultraviolet light, filters, screens and chemicals. The recycled product is injected underground to form a barrier against seawater intruding into groundwater and to replenish aquifers that supply water for the region’s residents.

– During the same year in San Diego, California, the City Council, anticipating future water demand, approved a proposal to incorporate treated waste water to replenish the city’s reservoir, but it was rejected by the mayor. The reasons being high costs and personal aversion to the idea.

The recent trends in water management across states in Western U.S. show that cities are pursuing alternative water conservation strategies more progressively and openly. Although it is likely that no one will ever feel completely at ease with drinking perfectly drinkable recycled waste water, protecting our precious water supply is more important than protecting our feelings.


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Works Cited:
Archibold, Randal C. “From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking.” 27 November 2007: The New York Times. Last Accessed 10 February 2012.

Boxall Bettina. “Report Backs Greater Use of Recycled Wastewater.” 2012 January 11: Los Angeles Times. Last Accessed 10 February 2012.

City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Water Reclamation.” Last Accessed 10 February 2012.

Rettner Rachael. “Would You Drink Recycled Sewage? Why It Grosses Us Out.” 8 September 2011: Live Science. Last Accessed 10 February 2012.

Stepney, Chloe. “More Western Towns Adopt “Toilet to Tap” Strategy to Water Conservation.” 22 August 2011: The Christian Science Monitor. Last Accessed 10 Feb 2012.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Water Recycling and Reuse: The Environmental Benefits.” 20 January 2012. Last Accessed 10 February 2012.

West Basin Municipal Water District. “Harbor/South Bay Water Recycling Project.” Last Accessed 10 Feb 2012.

Burying the Pot of Black Gold in Los Angeles for Good


It is no surprise that oil is the lifeblood of the City of Los Angeles and its surrounding municipalities. But what is not known by many, even its residents, is the abundant amount of oil that sits below their feet. Though most of the oil consumed in the US are from imports, oil production was a productive and is still an ongoing industry in the greater Los Angeles region.

In 1892, two oil businessmen, Edward Doheny and Charles A. Canfield first struck black gold about 4 miles of the City’s Central Business District. This became the Los Angeles City Oil Field. From there, oil fields of all sizes manifested across the region. By the 1920’s, 1930’s, oil production in the region reached its peak, producing as much as 27 million barrels of oil per year. Some of the major oil fields in the region still in operation today are the Los Angeles City Oil Field, Inglewood Oil Field, Long Beach/Signal Hill Oil Field and Santa Fe Springs Oil Field. The latter three are situated further away from the densely populated areas. The region naturally grew in population and diversified in economy, but the drilling continued. Today, the oil fields are hidden behind sleepy neighborhoods, shrouded in vegetation, disguised as monuments adjacent to buildings or  tightly wrapped by metal fencing. The region is still producing about $3 billion worth of oil annually.

However, the proximity of these and many other oil fields to urban life through the years has subjected many residents to adverse health and environmental impacts. Residents near the Inglewood Oil Field have experienced noxious fumes, noise pollution and higher rates of asthma and lung cancers. The residents near this oil field are predominantly African American, which has triggered cries for environmental justice. Soil and groundwater contamination and soil subsidence from water withdrawal are one of many environmental hazards resulting from the oil drilling. According to NASA, land around the Long Beach Oil Field subsided nearly 9 meters before fluid injection was implemented to offset the problem. In recent years, lawsuits brought forth by citizens, local governments and advocacy groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Community Health Councils, Inc. and the desire for space to develop much needed housing and public facilities are putting an end to the industry.

As of early 2012, the Los Angeles Oil Field is closing down to make way for an affordable housing project. Capping of the oil wells has begun and completion date of the housing project is slated for mid 2014. After a lengthy battle in the courts, production at the Inglewood Oil Field will be greatly limited in operation size, monitored and assessed for local health and environmental impacts. A sustainable residential community is replacing the Santa Fe Springs Oil Field. Construction of homes is in progress. Many of the completed units are already occupied. While this oil field still has a dozen of active oil wells, they are enclosed by block walls and vigilantly monitored by the State of California and City of Santa Fe Springs. Many other oil fields are now defunct and abandoned; the equipment still standing as if frozen in time. Slowly, the oil industry in Los Angeles is becoming another page in the region’s history books.

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