Preserving the Environment

California Is Going to Use Toilet Water to Grow Your Vegetables

July 7, 2017
California Is Going to Use Toilet Water to Grow Your Vegetables
Nicasio, Calif., in 2014 (left) and 2017 (right). Water shortages in California caused a $247 million loss of crop revenue in 2016. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Environmentalists and farmers in formerly drought-stricken areas of California aren’t poo-pooing a new source of water that will be used to irrigate the state’s agricultural crops.

By the end of 2017, toilet water and other wastewater will be used to irrigate a large swath of Central Valley farmland near Interstate 5, an area that is known as California’s agricultural hub because it produces more than 360 products.

“As long as we keep taking showers and flushing toilets, we can guarantee you water,” Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh said to farmers at an August 2015 news event.

Treatment facilities in the two inland cities, Modesto and Turlock, will collect the water from sinks, showers, washing machines and toilets, and process it into what’s commonly referred to as “gray water.” Once the not-quite-drinkable H2O is clear of all solid waste, it’s completely safe to be used to water plants or siphoned off to natural wetlands.

By 2018, a $100 million pipeline is expected to transport the processed water to 30,600 acres of farmland roughly 40 miles south.

Two years ago, drought cost California’s state economy an estimated $2.7 billion, according to a study done by UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. Water shortages resulted in $247 million in lost crop revenue in 2016.

The gray water should help drought-stricken farmers in the future, as new population growth in this region of California puts increasing pressure on the water supply and scientists predict that climate change could cause future droughts to be more drastic.

“Without something like this, the future for my son and grandson and family — we’re into this third generation — I don’t know if we can keep our business going,” Jim Jasper, owner of Stewart & Jasper Orchards, tells KQED.

California has been recycling water for more than 100 years. Los Angeles County first used treated wastewater in 1929 to water golf courses and parks, and the state has been irrigating farmland with it for more than three decades, according to the Pacific Institute. A 2009 survey (the most recent available) reported that 669,000 acres of California land was irrigated using gray water.

MORE: The Counterintuitive Solution to California’s Drought Crisis

Homepage photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.