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What Is Recycled Water?

Water can be recycled from:

  • rainwater (rain caught from the roof or other direct methods of rain capture),
  • stormwater (rainwater that has reached the ground or other hard surfaces on the ground like roads, ovals, paddocks)
  • irrigation run-off (from sprinkler drainage, overspray & driveways)
  • greywater (from the bath, shower, basin and maybe the kitchen)
  • treated effluent (from a sewage treatment plant)

These are all alternative water supplies that, when treated as required, are suitable for a range of purposes. This can include irrigating agricultural lands, in horticulture, industrial processing, in residential dual pipe programs, and to keep our public and recreational spaces green.

Recycled water is a valuable resource. It contributes to conservation of drinking quality water, improves the reliability of our water supplies, frees up water for the environment or growth, and reduces the amount of treated effluent discharged into our bays and oceans.

Water recycling is a generic term for water reclamation and water reuse, where the resulting water is referred to as recycled water. This term is used throughout this world, but you might also find a number of other terms used in the water industry to describe recycled water or the process to make it. These include:

  • Water recycling
  • Water reuse
  • Water reclamation
  • Wastewater
  • Reclaimed water
  • Grey Water
  • Sewage effluent

Why Recycle Water?

Water is a precious resource, yet less than 20% of America’s urban and industrial wastewater is recycled. Water recycling is a socially, environmentally and economically viable solution to help utilize our water resources more efficiently.
Recycling our water can offer substantial benefits to our society including:

  • Providing more drinking quality water for domestic uses by substituting drinking quality water with recycled water for irrigation of residential landscaping, agricultural crops and amenity horticulture
  • Reduction of nutrient and contaminant loads into oceans and rivers
  • Reducing demand and stress on freshwater resources such as the groundwater and rivers by providing alternative water supplies

There may also be benefits to agricultural and amenity enterprises through:

  • Guaranteed water supply
  • Supply of water quality underpinned with a comprehensive water quality assurance program
  • Security for investment in agricultural enterprises
  • Recycling of valuable nutrients

How Safe is Recycled Water?

Recycled water is very safe when guidelines are followed and it is used for the intended purpose. There are standards that apply for its use.

Recycled water programs are approved by the designated regulatory authorities in each state of the United States. This is usually the departments responsible for health and/or the environment. These departments assess the level of risk to humans or the environment to determine if a recycled water program will be approved. The level of risk which is considered acceptable is the same, if not better, as that used for drinking water treatment and reticulation programs throughout the United States. In many cases, recycled water more than meets many other water quality guidelines used in the US.

What Can Recycled Water Be Used For?

Recycled water can be used for almost any use, as long as it is treated to a level to make it fit for that intended purpose (i.e. fit-for-purpose) from a health and environmental perspective. However, the cost of treatment may make reclamation uneconomical for some uses. The United States now has more than 500 different recycled water programs operating. The bulk of these programs involve:

  • Urban and municipal environments
  • Households, golf courses and recreational parks.
  • Industry
  • Washing and cooling in power stations and mills.
  • Agriculture

Other possible uses include:

  • Groundwater recharge
  • Municipal landscapes
  • ‘Dual pipe’ urban uses
  • Environmental flows and wetlands
  • Fire Fighting

What is the difference between recycled water and reclaimed water?

These terms are generally used interchangeably and which word is used depends on the region. Recycled or reclaimed water is water that is used more than one time before it passes back into the natural water cycle. Thus, water recycling is the reuse of wastewater for beneficial purposes such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing, or replenishing a groundwater basin (referred to as groundwater recharge).

Who regulates recycled water in California?

A number of regulatory agencies have adopted requirements that must be followed when producing, distributing, and using recycled water. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has adopted strict public health and safety requirements and guidelines, which help protect the public from any potential risk associated with use of recycled water. Local Departments of Public Health may also have guidelines and inspection requirements for the use of recycled water, such as requirements for the use of backflow devices to prevent mixing of recycled water with potable water. The Sanitation Districts have adopted Ordinances and Requirements for Recycled Water Users pertaining to the use of recycled water that incorporate requirements and regulations imposed upon the Sanitation Districts by other regulatory agencies.

What is the difference between gray water and recycled water? Are they regulated differently?

Gray water is untreated residential wastewater that does not come from a toilet or garbage disposal (i.e., bathroom sink, bathtub, shower, laundry, etc.). Gray water is regulated by the state of California, and a building permit must be obtained before installing a gray water system to collect and send this water to the resident’s landscaping, but water quality is not routinely monitored.

Recycled water, at the industrial level on the other hand, is water that is purified through several treatment processes to a level that is safe for a variety of beneficial uses. A number of regulatory agencies have adopted requirements that must be followed when producing, distributing, and using recycled water. Water quality is strictly monitored and routinely reported to the respective Regional Water Quality Board.

Does recycled water stain concrete, granite, tile, or headstones?

Recycled water produced by the Sanitation Districts is well within the EPA drinking water standards for color, and will not stain most surfaces. Staining is associated with the calcium, iron, and copper content of water, which is generally low in the recycled water produced by the Sanitation Districts. Mineral deposits may occur, but at levels no more than what would generally occur with potable water.

Should I be concerned about controlling sprinklers and exposures during high winds?

Wind should be considered when designing and implementing a recycled water irrigation system. A buffer zone may be required between irrigated areas and drinking fountains, eating areas, residential neighbors, and domestic wells.

What is the difference between wastewater, gray water and stormwater for water reuse?

Wastewater is untreated liquid containing domestic sewage and industrial waste. Wastewater comes from residential dwellings, commercial buildings, industrial and manufacturing facilities, and institutions.

Gray water is untreated household wastewater from bathtubs, showers, lavatory fixtures, wash basins, washing machines and laundry tubs. It does not include wastewater from toilets, urinals, kitchen sinks, dishwashers or laundry from soiled diapers.

Storm water is precipitation that flows across land to water or through conveyances, such as ditches or pipes to one or more waterways. It may include storm water runoff, snow melt runoff, surface runoff and drainage.

Is recycled water safe for plants?

Yes. Recycled water contains many of the same minerals found in fertilizers, so it is good for your plants. Recycled water tends to have a higher salt content than drinking water. We advise you to direct the recycled water to the roots of the plants and not the foliage. This will protect them from potential leaf burn. Click for a list of the constituents in our recycled water.

Why do we use recycled water?

As the population increases, more demands are placed on water supplies. Traditional sources been local groundwater and imported surface water through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California from the Colorado River and State Water Project. To meet the demand for new water, water recycling is one nontraditional way to help stretch the available supplies and result in improved reliability of supply for everyone in Southern California in the long run. Other strategies include water conservation, water transfers, and desalinated water from the ocean.



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