52 million gallons of recycled wastewater a day is helping keep California’s drought at bay

Inland Empire Utilities Agency
This pond, found at the Inland Empire Utilities Agency in Chino, California, uses recycled water. The IEUA repurposes a combined 52 million gallons of water per day over four facilities.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in The New York Times about a Southern California water utilities company – the Inland Empire Utilities Agency – that repurposes 52 million gallons a day. So, I immediately hopped on their website to see if it would be possible to tour the facility, which is just an hour east of Los Angeles.

As an environmental enthusiast and given that, at the time of this post, California is in its fourth year of a severe drought (check out this link for some shocking photos showing reservoirs before and after this predicament came about), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see first-hand how water flushed from toilets, and water that goes down sinks, bathtubs, and showers is repurposed.

The golden state’s water shortage is so dire that the governor issued California’s first-ever mandatory urban water restriction rules. On top of that, in May, an estimated 12 million trees died as a result of the drought: because trees are dehydrated, they’re weaker and more easily consumed by beetles. Turns out that more trees in the state are killed by beetles than by wildfires. (You can read more about that in the LA Times here if you’re interested.)

Farmers are also heavily affected by this severe water shortage, and thousands have already lost their jobs.

But even with the magnitude of the problem, learning about what the IEUA does is really inspiring because the amount of water it recycles is enough to serve more than 500,000 people each day, as the average person uses an estimated 80 to 100 gallons of water daily.

If you have the chance to check out the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, it’s definitely worth an hour (or two). It’s free, they’ll tour anyone who wants to come (even if you’re not from the United States), and there’s such so much to learn.

In the mean time, here are some quick facts about the facility I visited, called regional plant 5 (RP-5):

  • The 52 million gallons of water the IEUA recycles is a combined total of water from four different plants
  • The facility treats wastewater from sinks, carwashes, washing machines, toilets, showers and certain industrial facilities
  • Water is collected from sewage in Chino, Chino Hills, and parts of Ontario
  • RP-5 treats an average of10 million gallons per day but can treat up to 15 million gallons
  • It takes 24 hours to treat the water
  • The reclaimed water is used for golf courses, irrigations, parks and medians. As stated earlier, the water cannot be used for drinking; however, it can be injected back into aquifers to recharge groundwater, which is considered safe to drink
  • There are five stages in the treatment process: preliminary, primary, secondary, tertiary and disinfection

On a separate note, it helps the IEUA tremendously if consumers refrain from throwing the following three items down the toilet and sink:

  • Flushable wipes (because they are not biodegradable)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells (along with coffee grounds, these take a long time to biodegrade)

And on another separate note, there is a park called the Chino Creek Education Park located in the headquarters. It is free, open to the public, and is open from sun up to sun down.

Inland Empire Utilities Agency Chino Creek Educational Park
Chino Creek Education Park

Preliminary treatment>>>

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