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BBC's David Willis in Los Angeles
"Many residents are uneasy about the toilet-to-tap plan"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 22:02 GMT 23:02 UK
Toilet water on tap
Residents think it is going too far
Californians could soon be downing glasses of recycled toilet water.

People in the San Fernando valley, where there is a big water shortage problem, are not keen but environmentalists say there is no need to be squeamish.

The water will be fully treated in the first scheme of its type in the world.

And residents do have time to get used to the idea because the reclaimed water will not reach taps for five years.

A three-year pilot programme is due to start next week. The sewage water will go through an intensive purification process, closely monitored to ensure it is safe to drink.

Then it will be combined with normal groundwater so that only 20% or less of what reaches the tap will come from toilets.

Water shortage

The idea behind the $55m programme is to ease the state's perennial water shortage.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles water department said studies showed that drinking recycled water caused no ill effects.

Cleaning will take five years
But some southern Californians find the prospect very unappetising.

"This is human waste," said Lori Dinkin from the Valley Villagers Homeowners Association.

"I am very uneasy about it. They have said all these lovely things about Agent Orange. I don't like to think about it."

Protecting wildlife

The East Valley Water Reclamation Project is due to start taking about 3.2bn gallons of sewage water and sending it to the Hanson Dam to be treated for several years.

If the recycled water is accepted, it could supply 70,000 families with tap water.

Environmentalists say the project will make Southern California less dependent on imported water and lead to less destruction of wildlife habitats.

"The water that we drink everyday has been around for millions of years and circulated through who knows what - dinosaurs, black bears and panthers," said environmentalist David Czamanske from the Sierra club.

"The water becomes purified through natural processes or it can be purified through reclamation processes."

Expensive scheme

Mike Waddington, who deals with water management for Water UK, says the process does not come cheap.

Because of the length of time taken to actually purify the water, it will only be suitable for countries with considerable financial resources.

It will not be the answer for those third world countries with severe drought problems.

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