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San Jose’s New Plant Transforms Sewage Into ‘Really Clean’ Water

| March 7, 2014
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By Sheraz Sadiq and Olivia Hubert-Allen

As California’s drought continues, cities across the state are bracing for what could be a very challenging year for the water supply.

Even before Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared the drought a state of emergency in January, current systems were maxed out, leaving little flexibility to handle the needs of farmers, ranchers or other big water consumers.

Meanwhile, some parts of the state, including Santa Clara County – the state’s fastest-growing county – have been investing in water-recycling technology. The Santa Clara Valley Water District wants to double the amount of recycled water it uses to 10 percent by 2025. So the water district and San Jose are finishing work on a $68 million Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center. When it opens in May or June, it will be the largest water-recycling facility in Northern California, capable of purifying up to 8 million gallons of sewage water a day.

What makes this plant special is the water it produces is really, really clean. Engineers say it is even cleaner than what Santa Clara County residents drink today.

“We hear communities throughout California, throughout the United States and throughout the world talking about becoming energy independent,” says Kerrie Romanow, San Jose’s environmental services director. “Here in Silicon Valley, we’re not only talking about being energy independent but we are also talking about being water independent. And really squeezing the last drop out of every opportunity that we have in our water world.”

The plant turns treated sewage water into purified water through a three-step process: microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection. This technology has been used successfully in places like Singapore and also in Orange County, which has the largest water-recycling plant in the nation.

For now, this ultra-clean recycled water will be blended with the existing recycled water supply that is already being used for things like irrigating lawns and cooling power plants in San Jose and neighboring communities. But one day, it may flow from taps as a sustainable source of water safely recycled for drinking.

For more on how the water is cleaned, read our earlier report “Water Recycling Comes Of Age In Silicon Valley.”

KQED NEWSROOM is a weekly news magazine program on television, radio and online. Watch Fridays at 8 p.m. on KQED Public Television 9, listen on Sundays at 6 p.m. on KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM and watch on demand here.

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  • Roy Nordblom

    Opening in May or June? How do I get on the invite list to the opening ceremonies / victory party? Are there anybody out there interested in helping me with putting together a tour of the site? It is fun to look at facilities as they are being constructed. I was a “green” general contractor for 14 years and I always gave tours of my jobsites. It is good P.R. I especially liked showing off the sustainable features (like the blue jean insulation in the walls) before they get covered up…

    • http://www.valleywater.org Valley Water-District

      Hi Roy. Our grand opening will likely be scheduled for June. Right now, with all of the final testing going on, we are limited in offering tours, but after June, we’ll have a regular tour schedule.