Published: April 2010

Plumbing California

Plumbing California

California's Pipe Dream

A heroic system of dams, pumps, and canals can’t stave off a water crisis.

By Joel Bourne
Photograph by Edward Burtynsky

On a blistering day in the megalopolis that is southern California, Shivaji Deshmukh of the Orange County Water District offers me a cup of cool, clear water that just yesterday was swirling around in an Anaheim toilet bowl. We're standing outside the second largest water-reclamation facility in the world, a high-tech assemblage of micro-filters, membranes, and UV lights that every day recycles 70 million gallons of Orange County sewage into water so clean it's almost distilled. "It's OK," Deshmukh reassures me, casually taking a slug from his own cup. "It's the same technology they use on the space station."

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