Expert panel guides Valley Water’s path to expanding purified water

What do tax season, home renovations and water reuse have in common? They can be complicated and may require calling in the experts. That could be an accountant, a structural engineer or in Valley Water’s case – an independent advisory panel.

Valley Water is one of the dozens of water agencies that has hired an independent advisory panel to help evaluate reusing water for drinking. Panels are independent teams put together by the National Water Research Institute, a non-profit that works with water utilities, regulators and researchers in developing new, healthy water sources for drinking.

Members of Valley Water’s independent panel to help evaluate reusing water for drinking.
Top row (left to right): Dr. James Crook, Environmental Engineering Consultant, and Dr. Adam Olivieri, Vice President, EOA, Inc.
Middle row: Dr. Katherine Cushing, Director of Sustainability, San José State University, and Mehul Patel, Director of Water Production, Orange County Water District.
Bottom row: Dr. Shane Snyder, Executive Director of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Dr. Jean Moran, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, California State University East Bay

With frequent and severe droughts in California, reusing water is a critical strategy for ensuring water reliability. Valley Water has been preparing for drought by investing in technology and infrastructure, including the Anderson Dam Seismic Retrofit Project, upgrading and maintaining our pipelines and water treatment plants and expanding the use of recycled and purified water.

In 2014, the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center opened its doors and a new possibility toward water reuse. The facility, located in San Jose, is the largest of its kind in northern California. It takes secondary-treated wastewater and uses three proven purification processes – microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light disinfection – to produce highly purified water that meets and even exceeds California’s strict drinking water standards. 

The purification center opened as a demonstration and research facility. Valley Water has been producing, monitoring and testing purified water for nearly a decade. With free public tours, community members have also been encouraged to witness the technology and taste the high-quality water produced, which is safe to drink. Valley Water’s long-term goal and vision is to use this clean, safe and renewable water source to augment our drinking water supplies, by replenishing our groundwater. Since before the purification center’s opening, Valley Water sought out and listened to the advice and expertise of an independent advisory panel. Members of the panel are internationally renowned scientific and technical experts that provide a review of water projects and can advise on decisions, legislation, and best practices. What’s the invaluable benefit? An independent, third-party review and evaluation by industry experts.

“Keeping things independent and objective is a form of protecting public health,” says Dr. Adam Olivieri, member of Valley Water’s independent advisory panel. The panel has no conflict of interest and provides unbiased advice and recommendations on Valley Water’s water reuse program, he explained.

The panel has continuously been involved in the development of the Countywide Water Reuse Master Plan, a collaborative effort between Valley Water and local partners. The plan is a blueprint for expanding water reuse, including recycled water for non-drinking purposes, and purified water to boost local drinking water supplies. As staff develops and fine-tunes the plan, the panel provides an annual review to advise on ensuring safety, system quality checks, environmental best practices, consistency with California recycled water regulatory requirements, and other project elements.

Medi Sinaki, an engineer for Valley Water’s Recycled and Purified Water Unit, describes the panel as a beacon. “As you are flying toward your final destination, they help adjust your flight course,” he said.   

Depending on the type of project, panelists are selected based on technical background and expertise. For Valley Water, the individuals’ knowledge is a major asset. Composed of public health experts, engineering doctors, geologists and toxicologists, several of these individuals lead research that helps inform legislation and ultimately shape regulations in California related to water reuse for drinking.

In California, independent scientific advisory panels are legally required for recycled water projects depending on the intended use of the water and the treatment process. Valley Water’s purification process meets the treatment criteria that wouldn’t require a panel. Yet the agency believes in the value of a third-party group of experts, and is committed to ensuring the safety of this new water supply. 

California has not yet adopted regulations for sending purified water for reuse directly to drinking water systems, also known as direct potable reuse. But guidelines and requirements have been set for using purified water to replenish groundwater and more recently to add to surface water supplies, like reservoirs; something that cities and counties in Southern California and across the country have been doing for years.

Valley Water hopes to join the other public agencies in reusing water to replenish our drinking water supplies with the Purified Water Project. With the past guidance and continued support of the independent advisory panel, Valley Water can confidently expand water reuse in Santa Clara County, protecting us from reoccurring droughts and the impacts of climate change.

To learn more, visit the project page here. To take a free virtual tour of the Silicon Valley Advanced Purification Center, sign-up today.

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