Beware of the Recycled Water Industry on Water Safety and E. Coli in California6 min read

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When I am confronted by a commenter such as Earle Hartling on my last article, “The California Push For Recycled Water is Complete With Pathogens Like E. coli”, who seems not to be aware of the current scientific literature and attempts to dissemble and discredit the work of the scientific community, I try to find out about the poster’s background. I did this with Earle.

According to information on the Internet, Earle Hartling, is employed as “Water Recycling Coordinator” for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, and also was a member of the California 2002 Recycling Water Taskforce. In the descriptive information for the Task Force they identified Earle as a “Recycled Water Wholesaler”. Also in that group was the president of the California Section of the WateReuse Association and Keith Israel who is the manger of the Monterey County organization responsible for putting tertiary treated recycled water on the Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project (CSIP) 12,000 acres which grows leafy green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce.

California AB 331 was the legislation that established the Recycling Water Task Force. Interestingly, AB 331 was sponsored by the WateReuse Association (the lobbying arm of recycled water producers). Earle is also a prominent member of the California WateReuse Association.

I recall this task force group not only for it’s high number of members from vested interests in the recycled water industry but for some notorious, notable and public dissension within the group about some water safety concerns that were said to be unaddressed in the final report.

The report issued by this task force was highly controversial as it appeared to be the handiwork of the water reuse industry and conveniently left out important public safety factors and concerns. This position is expressed in an opinion article which appeared in the Sacramento Bee on April 7, 2003 written by Dr. Ralph E. Shatter and R. William Robinson.

In this article, the authors state “We predict that, under pressure from sanitation districts and the waste water reuse industry, and with support from a wide array of business interests that would benefit, panel chairman Richard Katz will recommend in his report that California maximize reusing water. There are ominous signs.”

Further, they said, “The task force has not released any of the periodic ‘white papers’ that it promised the public, but it has issued 13 ‘top recommendations’ — none of which emphasize protecting the public from health problems that might result from introducing toxics into the state’s drinking water. Instead, the recommendations read like a waste water lobbyist’s wish list.”

The authors go on to say, “The coziness of a taxpayer-subsidized panel with a private organization whose purpose is to increase the amount of water available for distribution raises serious questions about the state’s commitment to protecting citizens’ health.”

There are other citations available on the Internet which indicate that some task force members believed that politics and the special interests of the recycling water industry were involved in the recommendations for the policy of water recycling for California.

Earle asks about the test site used by Dr. Timothy LaPara which I cited in an earlier article and whether it was a significant water treatment facility. Dr. LaPara used the St. Paul, Minnesota municipal wastewater treatment facility which is the largest treatment facility in Minnesota. This facility treats 180 million gallons of sewage a day. In a Fall, 2006 article in the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs publication – CURA – Dr. Timothy LaPara of the University Of Minnesota describes in detail the study and his concerns. LaPara points out that the St. Paul wastewater treatment facility wins awards regularly for it’s operational excellence and yet is failing to produce fully disinfected sewage effluent at the jeopardy of the citizens. In other words, by every measure, St. Paul’s treatment standards should be of the highest order and yet it isn’t.

Dr. LaPara pointed out that even operating at it’s highest level of disinfection and treatment capability, that the St. Paul facility “still released 10 trillion tetracycline-resistant bacteria each day from this treatment facility into our waterways.” Dr. LaPara makes the important point that even with what seems to be impressive pathogen “kill” statistics – 99.97% in the best results for the St. Paul facility – the immense volume of pathogens entering the facility results in that .03% non-kill number being 10 trillion tetracycline-resistant bacteria released every day, an obvious danger to humans.

Before we leave this issue I would like to point out a couple of quotes by Earle Hartling easily found on the Internet. The first is a statement that would imply that foolish decisions would get made if the pressure was on the public frightened by an impending drought : “(Public reluctance to drink recycled water) will all blow over during the next drought,” predicted Earle C. Hartling, water reuse coordinator for the Los Angeles County Sanitation District.

The second quote is is similar to those I have heard all too often in some non sequitur comment such as “All water is recycled -it’s all dinosaur pee,” said Earle Hartling. “All the water we have now is all the water we’ve ever had, every drop of water has gone through some animal’s kidney, or thousands of animals.” As I pointed out in the May/June, 2007 issue of the Journal of Onsite Water Treatment:

“One of the things some people say is that all water is recycled. This is true. The problem is, though, that it wasn’t going through a tertiary treatment plant, but Mother Nature’s system. The water we drink is filtered through the soil profile. “When you replace that with tertiary treatment you’re not replacing the water cycle; you’re just short-circuiting or short-cutting it and leaving out a tremendous bacteria-cleansing mechanism of the soil and the profiles of materials it must go through before it reaches the aquifer. There has been great success in getting recycled water to flow through bogs, marshes, and particularly sand to get fairly clean water, in effect letting the whole world of biology go to work for you.” http://www.gradingandexcavation.com/ow_0705_as.html

As I said to Earle in my first response to him, he needs to read the scientific literature more.


Frank Pecarich retired from the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the US Bureau of Reclamation in 1987. During his 26 year federal career he worked as a soil scientist with the USDA on the now- published Soil Survey for Monterey County. He lives in Ventura County.

Related articles that have been published by the California Progress Report by Mr. Pecarich can be found under the topic of Food Safety.

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