Toilet to Tap: Orange County Turning Sewage Water into Drinking Water

The Orange County Water District is purifying wastewater into drinking water at a $481 million recycling plant. The plant uses micro filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light, and hydrogen peroxide disinfection. 70 million gallons of sewer water is treated a day in Orange County, California meeting the drinking needs of over 500,000 people, including visitors to Disneyland.

Some call the process “toilet to tap”, but county officials prefer the term “Groundwater Replenishment System”. Wastewater treatment is more economical than desalination, but there is definitely a negative public perception to consider with treated sewage water.

Steve Gorman explains the process:

“The plant takes pre-treated sewer water that otherwise would be discharged to the ocean and runs it through a three-step cleansing process-essentially the same technology used to purify baby food and bottled water. Thousands of micro filters, hollow fibers covered in holes one-three-hundredth the width of a human hair, strain out suspended solids, bacteria and other materials.

The water then passes to a reverse osmosis system, where it is forced through semi-permeable membranes that filter out smaller contaminants, including salts, viruses and pesticides. Reverse osmosis also is the main process used in desalination.

Finally, the water is disinfected with a mix of ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide.

The resulting product exceeds all U.S. drinking standards but gets additional filtration when it is allowed to percolate back into the ground to replenish the aquifer.”

Trying to build public support, waste managers have launched a campaign to inform residents of Southern California that they are already drinking treated wastewater. Large amounts of heavily treated waste is discharged from cities upstream that also tap into the Colorado River, like Las Vegas.

Orange County’s wastewater recycling system currently produces water for $600 an acre foot, and experts predict the price of imported water will rise to $800 an acre foot in just three years. An acre foot provides a year supply of water to two families. Southern Californians are going to have to accept wastewater recycling if they are going to continue to provide water for all residents in times of drought.

Written by Jennifer Lance


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  1. Sounds like a very safe way to replenish ground water. Far better than sending that water into the sea, where it can only further polute the ocean, and where it is lost as fresh water.

  2. It’s a difficult one isn’t it?

    Just the thought of drinking treated sewage water makes you cringe.
    Yet the process has been mastered and people are already drinking it with no harmful effects recorded so it must be sucessful.It sounds like it has been a case of “what you don’t know doesn’t harm you”. The people have already been drinking it whether they liked it or not,and now they are being informed.

    I wonder how many went on to purchase and consume only bottled water because of this,increasing pollutants of plastics in the environment?

    As for disinfecting with hydrogen peroxide :

    Hydrogen Peroxide on the other hand, is simply water with an extra oxygen molecule (H2O2) and breaks down into oxygen and water. It’s certainly kinder on the environment. H2O2 is produced by both animal and plant cells and is formed naturally in the environment by sunlight acting on water. (source=

    The use of chlorine bleach to clean loos etc must be stopped tho. These are harmful to the environment anyway and I’m sure it is far more difficult to elimate these from sewage water than it is to sort out the bacteria from the p–ps!
    It might make people think about using “safe chemicals” to clean and disinfect especially if they think that what they put down the drains is coming back to bite them up the b-m.

  3. The more we talk about “Toilet to Tap” – the sooner we all become OK with the concept. I smile and tell my No Water No Life (R) audiences that I too have trouble contemplating drinking treated sewage water, but that we’d better get used to the idea because recycled water is a big part of the global solution puzzle – not just in Orange County!

    Toilet-to-Tap Water is a lot better than the water many drink in No Water No Life’s case-study watersheds in Africa!

  4. I think is better not to disclose the idea of treating tap water. There are many things that the goverment does to protect the general public and they dont go into details, they just do it. Same thing with the water recycling we dont need to know from where is coming or how we get this magnificent liquid. just let us drink our cold lemonades, and our favorite fountain drinks from fast food restaurants. Ha, and the beers and mixed drinks, all those are from tap processed water. As per sewer to tap water term, I dont like the name of it. We should just call it “recycled water” , sounds better and make us feel that we are doing something to protect our precious planet. By Martin Contre

  5. Rumored from Asia, American humanure richer than Asian pig Shiite due to great rich diet , and a better candidate for bio-gassing into fuel and fertilizer sludges for soil amendments. True or not, humanure is a valuable resource flow often over-looked by capitalists and corporations, who do not bear the costs of disposal in the first place! BUT: Municipalities can sell bottled gas for fuel, and fertilizers by the bag for local fields and at least off-set the costs involved! Going “All the Way” to drinking water depends mostly on locality and scarcity of good drinking water, doesn’t it! It is the most complete treatment of the flow from our “Crapper” obsession, however, other countries and peoples , like Sweden, have dry crappers, not requiring up to 16 gallons of drinking grade water every time you get the call! They also recycle human urine to veggie gardens, where it does quite well at replacing otherwise trucked in chemical fertilizers! Revelation? not really, our ancestors from Europe did so centuries ago, and still do in France for example! Part of the dynamics of the paradigm shift we are undergoing in America will involve better sewage treatment, and a new sexuality but that is another story!

  6. Unfortunately, no mention of the projected population addition of 20 million people within 30 years! At some point, we must contend with an unsustainable population crisis by stabilizing our human population. Otherwise, toilet to tap will be the least of our problems. We cannot keep growing exponentially and expect to feed, water and house ourselves on a finite planet. Let’s inject overpopulation into the discussion as the final solution. Everything else simply waylays the inevitable collapse of our civilization. FW

  7. Dear Simple Earth Media:

    As a six continent world traveler, I speak clearly about population stabilization as our only method to bring about a sustainable future. You may play the three minute video of my work below as well as a follow up by Lester Brown. I would appreciate it if you addressed more overpopulation articles to drive the discussion and debate.


    Dear Americans concerned about the future of America as to population/immigration overload:

    The following program, hosted by George A. Colburn, features six continent bicycle traveler Frosty Wooldridge as he describes, while astride his touring bicycle, the ramifications of adding 100 million people to the United States in the next 25 years. He talks about water, energy and pollution. Later, the imminent and foremost authority, Lester Brown, author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization speaks about what humanity faces in the 21st century. After Mr. Brown, a panel of top minds discusses what America faces if it fails to change course. You may circulate this program to your clubs, civic groups, church groups and to as many people as possible to create discussion and debate as to THE single greatest issue facing America and humanity in the 21st century: human overpopulation.

    This link will connect you with the video:

    DC: 202-258-4887

    β€œWe must alert and organize the world’s people to pressure world leaders to take specific steps to solve the two root causes of our environmental crisisβ€”exploding population growth and wasteful consumption of irreplaceable resources. Over-consumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.” Jacques-Yves Cousteau


  8. Desalination has worked for the US Navy for eons! Why not Cali? Can’t wait to here the howling when there’s an accident, and “TOILET TO TAP” is no longer an acronym!

  9. I think this is deplorable! There has GOT to be a better way. I think this process should be reversed immediately! There are already problems with the current water system, what happens when there is a breakdown in the system? On numerous occassions we have been told not to drink water in certain areas due to contamination issues. I will not buy property or food in Orange county. It is a shame because I love it there.

  10. You can’t clean fluid that came from ones bowels and other parts of the human body clean enough for me to knowingly drink it. It isn’t water, its bodily fluid. All bottled products should be required to disclose in which county they are produced in. I will not purchase beverages produced in Orange County by Coke, Pepsi, Nestles, ect. The earth surface is two thirds water, one third land……..we don’t have a water shortage. If the filth that is being transformed into drinking water in Orange County is possible, only a fool would believe that ocean water can’t be purified as efficiently. Keep treated sewage water treated in Orange County in Orange County.

  11. how can they do this!!!!!!!!!
    That is just an insult to human beings
    I bet that nobody will want to drink toilet water because even though is ‘clean’
    just thinking of where it came from gives you a disgusting feeling

  12. I called the water dept. in my city (Garden
    Grove) and asked about the toliet to tap possibility in our city and they denied it. They stated that our water is either ground or Colorado River. Since last year we have experienced skin and scalp issues from some type of change in our water. Can you verify where your water actually comes from ?????

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