"There's a lot of interest in capturing and reusing recycled wastewater in the state," said Ellen Hanak, director of the Public Policy Institute of California's Water Policy Center.
However, Hanak said water recycling is "not completely drought-proof. In a severe drought like this one, people conserve a lot — and the more you conserve on your indoor use, the less goes to the wastewater treatment plant."
Ferrante, the L.A. County sanitation official, said his agency has seen a 20 percent reduction in wastewater flows since 2005 coming to the sanitation district. "The bulk of that is residential — your low-flush toilets, your low-flow showerheads and other things."
Although direct-to-potable reuse for drinking water is already underway in Texas, the "toilet to tap" program is limited in California because of state regulations. Most of the recycled water from existing California recycled water plants now goes into groundwater storage basins or reservoirs.
"Fundamentally, people like environmental features, so if they know there's a lake or a reservoir or the groundwater that it goes into, that makes them feel more comfortable," said Meeker. "But the reality is you can get that same treatment in a tank or anything else."