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O.C. officials visit Hollywood to give away bottles of recycled water

HOLLYWOOD — Tourists and shoppers along Hollywood Boulevard were given free bottles of water June 21 — a seemingly nice treat on a sweltering day — but some people weren’t exactly smiling when they realized the water was once swirling in a toilet.

Officials from the Orange County Water District and Orange County Sanitation District, who passed out the free bottles as part of a statewide tour, said the ultra-purified recycled water actually exceeds all state and federal quality standards. But that didn’t calm everyone’s nerves.

“Eww,” one passerby told NBC4 as she was offered a bottle. Another person suggested drinking toilet water should generally be reserved for dogs.

But the Orange County officials said they want to change people’s thinking about the benefits of recycling water.

“California, and the world, are increasingly becoming aware that we can reuse our local water supplies in a safe and cost-efficient manner,” said Denis Bilodeau, president of the Orange County Water District. “We have perfected the treatment technology at our groundwater replenishment system facility. We are taking our water and our message to the public to alleviate any ‘yuck’ factor.”

Orange County officials said the groundwater replenishment system facility has been producing purified water since 2008, but state regulations limit the ability to use it to replenish groundwater basins — but the state does allow it to be bottled and handed out as an educational tool.

So the Orange County Water District and the Sanitation District began their statewide tour in Hollywood in hopes of changing public opinion about the near-distilled-quality water.

“Today, we launch a year-long effort to reach as many people as we can in California to share our success and promote a very sustainable process that will increase our water reliability in the state,” said Greg Sebourn, steering committee chair for the Orange County Sanitation District and the groundwater replenishment system. “We’re able to produce safe and great-tasting drinking water, so let’s do all we can to preserve local water supplies by reusing them.”

The O.C. officials argued that the water-recycling facility costs less than importing water from Northern California and the Colorado River.

“As public agencies, we have a duty to share our commitment to creating safe, reliable and new sources of water with communities that, otherwise, might be put off without the knowledge we are providing and without being able to taste it,” Bilodeau said. “We’ve given tours of our facility for years, but this educates a limited audience. Now, with these bottles, we are able to reach a much larger audience.”

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