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Health Impacts of Expanding Urban Recycled Water Use in California

  • Author(s): Sokolow, Sharona Yael
  • Advisor(s): Godwin, Hilary
  • et al.

The overarching goal of the work described herein is to elucidate how expanding recycled water systems throughout California would impact human health and how we might lower barriers to the expanded use of recycled water in this region. We focused on three topics: (1) comparing the health impacts of expanded use of recycled water to other water conservation strategies in Southern California; (2) conducting a detailed case study on the financial costs, greenhouse gas emissions, energy and health of different water source scenarios for Long Beach Water District (LBWD); and (3) interviewing public health and water industry professionals to understand barriers to expanded use of recycled water in California. Based on our first study, we concluded that expansion of recycled water has the potential to yield greater net health benefits than other water conservation strategies in Southern California, when the full range of health impacts of water conservation strategies, including those related to energy use and human health, are taken into consideration. In our second study, we found that maximizing recycled water use in LBWD would lower energy and greenhouse gas emissions and be more cost effective than other water source options by as early as 2025. In our third study, we found that critical stakeholders perceive that the majority of the barriers that prevent expansion of recycled water use in Southern California fall into the following categories: regulatory restrictions, infrastructure costs, lack of funding, requirements for new technology, adverse health effects, and negative public perception of recycled water. Taken together, these studies provide clear insights into the advantages associated with expanding use of recycled water in Southern California, the gaps between perceived and real barriers to expanded use of recycled water, and how committed stakeholders—including those in the public health profession—can help ensure that water solutions that benefit our region’s health are pursued going forward.

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