South Jordan receives first state permit to taste-test water that has already gone down the drain

In an effort to keep up with growth and add to its water portfolio, South Jordan started testing a system to turn reclaimed water into drinking water.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People are encouraged to sample purified recycled water from the South Jordan Pure SoJo facility showcasing advanced water purification technology on Thursday, March 21, 2024,

South Jordan • In a decade or so, South Jordan residents may be quenching their thirst with recycled drinking water.

The Salt Lake Valley suburb moved a step closer to that future Thursday when it announced that it had received the first state permit to taste-test reclaimed water that is purified to the point of being safe to drink.

For years, South Jordan officials have been looking for an additional source of water for the growing suburb. The city boasts a population of about 83,000 and currently imports all of its water. To keep up with a rising population and future droughts, city officials wanted to secure more water for residents.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People tour the South Jordan Pure SoJo pilot program demonstrating new technology to purify recycled water and make it drinkable for the public, Thursday, March 21, 2024.

Through research and collaboration with Utah universities and state water agencies, the city has built a carbon-based, demonstration-size water recycling system to show how it will meet that goal.

South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey was adamant that water is the most important issue facing her city.

“We all want to continue to maintain the lovely quality of life that we enjoy here so much. We have to have adequate water,” she said. “Someone said all of the other concerns that we have here in the state of Utah won’t matter if we don’t have water, and that’s true.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Water bottles offered at the South Jordan Pure SoJo water purification project, Thursday, March 21, 2024.

The system the city debuted Thursday — dubbed “Pure SoJo” — is the first of its kind in Utah and is tailored to South Jordan’s needs. It takes water that has already been used inside of homes and cleaned by the South Valley Sewer District’s Jordan Basin Water Reclamation Facility and diverts 10,000 gallons daily for additional purification before it would otherwise be released into the Jordan River.

The system uses four steps of filtration, including ultraviolet light, to screen and capture pollutants. Each step in the process, known as carbon-based ozone biofiltration, targets a specific type of pollutant.

Most other water reuse projects across the country tap a different process called reverse osmosis, which pushes water through a high-pressure membrane to clean it, but those systems create large waste streams of brine and require about twice as much energy to run.

South Jordan doesn’t have anywhere to put that waste, so it decided to use the carbon-based system.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Raymond Garrison, public works director for South Jordan, explains the water purification process being studied at the Pure SoJo program on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

“In this treatment process, I’m not worried about the water or how safe the water is to drink. The water is safe to drink,” said Ray Garrison, South Jordan’s public works director. “Moving forward, [I am] a little concerned about public perception and acceptance of something like this, and I believe it’s our job to educate the public.”

The demonstration system, which won’t deliver water to homes, will run for the next five years as city and state officials keep testing for quality. South Jordan will also lead educational tours of the facility and show residents how it works.

Ramsey and other city officials hope to have a full-size system capable of producing 3,500 acre-feet of water per year — enough to fill about 1,750 Olympic-size swimming pools — up and running in 10 years. The next steps are to raise funding for a bigger facility and work with state water agencies on regulations.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People tour the South Jordan Pure SoJo pilot program on Thursday, March 21, 2024.