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Recycling Sewage Water Into Drinking Water May Become New Normal Amid California Drought

BERKELEY (KCBS) – With California in the fourth year of a drought, many feel drastic measures are needed to turn things around.

David Sedlak, a UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering and author of the new book "Water 4.0," feels the answer is sitting right in front of us – taking water from sewage treatment plants and turning it into our drinking water supply.

"We do this already in Southern California. Essentially you take waste water and you put it through a normal sewage treatment plant. Then you put it through a second treatment plant that has reverse osmosis, the same technology that's used to take salts out of seawater, and then a system with ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide to break down any chemicals that escape from the system," Sedlak tells KCBS. "Then it goes right back into the water supply."

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Sedlak said the water crisis is not only a California problem, but something that is moving across the country, and will only be getting worse because of climate change. He said one of the most important things that needs to be done is to educate the public, and let them know that the process is truly creating water that is safe to drink.

"In many ways, it's cleaner than the water people are already consuming. If you've ever been to Southern California or the Southwest where the water tastes funny, you're probably tasting all the dissolved salts in the water and they make it unpalatable," Sedlak said. "This recycled water has much lower levels of salt. If people could do a side-by-side taste comparison, it tastes better than a lot of the water you get around the country."

Sedlak said that of the water that ends up going down the sewer, about 80 percent of it can be recycled and that could dramatically increase water supply in cities, sometimes by as much as 30 percent. And the cost? "This treatment technology is more expensive than the run-of-the-mill drinking water treatment systems that we have now. But it's less than half the price of building seawater desalination plants and is less expensive than what cities are paying to buy water on the open market," Sedlak said.

He said in times of crisis, it becomes easier to explore this technology and idea, as water officials look to all avenues for water.

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