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State-of-the-Art Water Purification Plant Helps Silicon Valley Battle Drought

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Santa Clara Valley Water District, the wholesale provider for the South Bay, is embarking on an effort to revamp the image of purified wastewater and lay the groundwork for replenishing local aquifers.

Speaking at a press event at the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, Valley Water CEO Rick Callender spoke about the need to continue to conserve while also developing ways to increase the supply.

At the event, staffers passed out bottles of water to elected officials and dignitaries with this message printed on the label: "This used to be waste water #GetOverIt."

"(Recycled water) may have an image problem but I think once people are educated they'll fully understand that, if you look at the ecosystem, all water is recycled," said Callender.

The purification center receives water from the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility across the street, which is pumped through a micro-filtration, reverse-osmosis system and passed through UV lights.

At this stage, the water is cleaner than what can be achieved with home filtration systems, according to the district. However, it cannot legally be deemed "potable" until it undergoes "advanced oxidation." The district is seeking to upgrade the purification center and install the technology.

Currently, the purification center outputs eight million gallons per day, the majority diverted for industrial use, irrigating landscape and agricultural crops, with the remainder released into the bay.

Once deemed "potable," it will be up to the state Water Resources Control Board to approve the use of the millions of gallons of purified water to recharge aquifers located in Campbell.

Callender remarked on the district's effort to nudge the water resources board into swift action.

"I think this is just the start of a conversation that we need to have. We need to have it now, we need to finish and we need to be able to find ways to make sure we can use advanced treated water for the water supply. I think this is just the start of a very long conversation and, hopefully, the state will be able to push and put their foot on the regulatory gas pedal and figure out how to make this happen quick," Callender said.

The district will decide whether to expand the current water purification center on Zanker Road or build a new facility in Palo Alto. Callender said the district is exploring options to do both.

"We're in the worst drought since the 70s. Our reservoirs are empty if climate change is not going away. Droughts are not going away," Callender said.

As for drinking the purified wastewater, Shane Kent in San Jose said it tasted "fine."

"It's not like tap water or anything like that but I don't notice any major difference," said Kent. "But, if I saw a fresh bottle of water, and something that was treated sewage water -- even though they're the same technically -- I would probably choose the normal bottle of water over this. So, it's a weird image issue for sure."

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