Recycle more water

Turning sewage into water is the Golden State equivalent of turning water into wine, and California has been doing it for decades.

Californians used about 732,000 acre feet of recycled water in 2021. That’s almost two-thirds of the water that the state’s major aqueduct funneled south in dry 2021 — equivalent to the amount used by roughly 2.6 million households.

None of it flows directly from “toilet to tap.” But the State Water Resources Control Board is developing regulations for direct potable reuse of highly treated wastewater.

For now, much of California’s recycled water is used for non-drinking purposes, like irrigating landscapes, golf courses and crops. It also refills underground stores that provide drinking water. Southern California has been replenishing local groundwater supplies with recycled wastewater since the 1960s.  

Newsom called for ramping up recycled water use by 2030 by roughly 9% from the amount used in 2021, rising to 1.8 million acre feet by 2040. Critics, however, voiced disappointment with the target’s lack of ambition which falls short of previous state goals

In the meantime, water suppliers are spending big to build out water recycling facilities in Northern and Southern California.  

But there’s a catch: As Californians replace their water-guzzling household appliances with more thrifty devices and let the yellow mellow before flushing, the waste stream becomes more concentrated — which could lead to higher treatment costs, more contaminants and less recycled water overall.