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Bill aims to help turn recycled wastewater into high-quality drinking water

Declining Sierra snowfall and continuing drought conditions have some people looking at recycling wastewater as a stable source of supplies in the future.

Many Bay Area districts are already tapping into lower-quality recycled water for outdoor use. Santa Clara Valley Water District Board Vice-Chair Gary Kremen says it's about 5% of their supply.

"Most of our recycled water today is used for outdoor irrigation and some slight amount is used for cooling towers," said Kremen.

Now, there's a new House Bill 4099, co-sponsored by Congressman Jared Huffman of San Rafael.

It proposes allocating $750 million dollars for federal grants to fund recycled water projects, such as turning wastewater into high-quality drinking water.

"Water recycling is going to be part of that future if we're going to survive in the Western United States," said Michael Kiparsky, Director of UC Berkeley Law School's Wheeler Water Institute.

Kiparsky says right now, many consumers accept recycled water for irrigation or flushing toilets but says there's a problem with the "ick" factor when it comes to recycling water for drinking.

"It's either as good as or in many cases higher quality than what you can take from the river directly," said Kiparsky.

Kirparsky says recycling water can also be more cost-effective than building large desalination plants or creating parallel infrastructure piping for potable and non-potable water sources in buildings and communities.

"The direct potable reuse has the advantage that you don't need to go and retrofit houses that already exists which is very expensive or put a set of parallel pipes under the pale purple pipes under the street," said Kiparksy.

"I'd rather drink the water out of Hetch Hetchy or the Mokelumne River, wherever it comes from...and use the recycled water for irrigation," said Christopher Pieri of Alameda.

"For gardening I wouldn't have a problem with it. I don't know about drinking. I wouldn't mind flushing my toilet with it," said Jane McKenna, an Alameda resident.

If HR4099 passes, Gary Kremen of Santa Clara Valley Water says they would apply for the grants.

"We have plans drawn up. We've done recycled water projects so we're hoping to get a material part of that money," said Kremen, who says the district is hoping to increase its recycled water supply as a more stable source through drought years.

Experts say it would be a drop in the bucket in terms of funding needed, though, to get all Western water districts the infrastructure they'd need for recycling.

Still, Kiparsky says it could have a profound impact on the water industry.

"This bill not only funds projects but it also could act as a catalyst for accelerating the kind of innovation that we need to see in water management in the West," said Kiparsky.

The bill has been introduced in the House and is currently in the House Natural Resources subcommittee.