Stakeholder Trends and Insights
Californians Supporting Recycled Water Use as Long-Term Drought Solution

So far, El Niño has been unable to quell concerns over California’s drought, which is expected to persist or only slightly improve over the next few months. Reduced water flows have reduced hydroelectric power generation in the state at an estimated cost of $2 billion and 10 percent more emissions. Farmers, particularly in Central Valley’s Cawelo Water District, have had to resort to using water produced in the oil drilling process to irrigate their crops despite that the health consequences of doing so are largely unknown. Despite conservation efforts from consumers and companies alike, ultimately, Californians may need to consider additional options for local water supply.

The online survey was conducted by research firm Edelman Intelligence, as commissioned by Xylem Inc., a global water technology provider. Approximately 3,000 randomly selected California voters responded between January 14 and 30, 2016.

87 percent of respondents are either ‘somewhat’ (38 percent) or ‘very’ (49 percent) supportive of using recycled water as an additional local water supply, and 83 percent are either ‘somewhat’ (41 percent) or ‘very’ (42 percent) willing to use recycled water in their everyday lives.

89 percent of respondents were more willing to use recycled water after reading an ‘educational statement’ explaining the treatment processes that the wastewater undergoes to become safe, drinkable recycled water. Further, 88 percent agreed that seeing a demonstration of the water purification process would make them more comfortable using and drinking recycled water.

Californians do not view the use of recycled water as a short-term fix to the state’s 5-year drought: 88 percent of California residents agree that even if El Niño brings increased rainfall to California, the state should continue to invest in the use of recycled water for drinking purposes. In fact, if El Niño brings the expected rainfall to California, only 12 percent of respondents said it would cause them to be less concerned about saving water.

Admittedly, Xylem Inc. stands to gain from the adoption of recycled water. The company offers transport, treatment, testing, and use efficiency technology and services for public utility, residential and commercial building, and industrial and agricultural customers.

“We conducted this survey in an effort to better understand public perception about recycled water, and are very encouraged by the findings,” said Joseph Vesey, the Senior VP who leads Xylem’s North American commercial business. “With overwhelming support from the public, California is well-positioned to lead the U.S. in accelerating the availability and acceptance of recycled water. The state has the opportunity to champion a flexible framework that recognizes the unique needs of local communities as they work to establish water resource strategies that include sustainable solutions, such as recycled water.”

Others, such as architect Russ Drinker, agree that water recycling should get more attention.

“[The media has] focused on conservation instead. But if Californians really want to have an impact on our water use, we have to recycle our freshwater ... and get over our psychological resistance to that,” he told The Guardian.

Drinker worked with the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company to develop a version of its regular Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA made with recycled greywater – that is, water that is treated after use in sinks, showers and washing clothes – using the same water recycling technology used by NASA for astronaut Scott Kelly’s year on the International Space Station. In a blind taste test, people couldn’t tell which of the two pints was made with recycled water.

“This is the product [where] people think that water is the most important ingredient,” brewery owner Lenny Mendonca told The Guardian. “So if I can demonstrate to people that not only is [greywater beer] good, but it’s great, then why wouldn’t you use that water for everything else?”

For now, the greywater beer is not commercially available; Mendonca wants to focus on using it to catch the attention of policymakers and the public. Currently, it is illegal to directly pump treated recycled water back into the drinking water supply in California.

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