Turning Wastewater Into Drinking Water

Introduction to Wastewater Resources

An important article was written in the Sacramento Bee on March 2nd, 2009, titled "Proposal May be Tough to Swallow". I found it to be an important article on the topic of water resources & policy.  The Sacramento Bee did worthy justice to the topic. As we proceed through the age of green technologies, recycling previously used material, and resource management, it is important to make sure that all material be recycled--including wastewater for human use.  Over 180,000 acre-feet of wastewater is discharged by the Sacramento area alone--enough water to support 400,000 households, or almost 1,000,000 people1.

      Americans tend to find this concept disgusting and unsanitary even given the primary thesis of the water treatment industry--to make water useable again by humans. Yet, why is it that we can't make wastewater consumable by humans? Well, technology now allows us to do so; but the idea of doing just that still remains taboo, unorthodox, and damaging to the reputation of humans being divine caretakers of earth.

      I don't have an issue with drinking water that used to be wastewater--given the fact that all water has gone through the water cycle and has been consumed (and thus evacuated) by many organisms throughout the two billion years that organisms have been present on earth.  In short, Current technology allows us to convert previous wastewater into drinking water without sacrificing quality.

Modern Success Story: Orange County

Orange County, California is becoming a successful example of healthy water resource management through the context of wastewater conversion.  The amount of water resources available for the growing population without importation is unsustainable. Desalinization is an option, but is extremely expensive.. Southern California gets most of its drinking water via pipelines originating from the Sacramento Delta and from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The county of Orange has identified this as potentially burdensome and unsustainable.  In turn, the county decided to open up its own wastewater to drinking water facility in 2008. The facility is now the largest in the world and serves 2.3 million customers2.

Ecological Risk of Wastewater

When wastewater is not converted into drinking water, it is dumped (along with its solid sewage) into estuaries, rivers and oceans. Wastewater & sewage have a relatively high concentration of ammonia (NH3) and thus complicate environmental situations such as plant, fish and phytoplankton growth, among others, when introduced. Continuously high concentrations of ammonia lead to the destruction of an aquatic ecosystem; this poses a massive risk to possible endangered aquatic & terrestrial species in an affected area. Treated urban sewage & wastewater evacuation in to the Sacramento River has increased from 13,254 pounds a day in 1985 to over 30,780 pounds a day in 20093. I have noticed that treated sewage that contains water is more likely to be dumped back in to rivers, streams, etc. When wastewater is separated (to be purified in to drinking water), the sewage seems to be less likely to be deposited back in to rivers, streams, etc. At this point, the dehydrated sewage is transportable (since it is significantly less heavy), and can be used as fertilizer or even feed for California’s renowned agriculture industry.

Wastewater Media

A wastewater discharge pump in the sacramento valley.  Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.
A wastewater discharge pump in the sacramento valley. Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.
Ammonia is a complex, polar molecule that complicates aquatic ecology when in high concentration.  Photo courtesy of Elmhurst University.
Ammonia is a complex, polar molecule that complicates aquatic ecology when in high concentration. Photo courtesy of Elmhurst University.

Conclusion

After researching the topic, I believe it is worth it to invest in wastewater to drinking water technologies. The ecological & environmental risk of not doing so is great—the byproducts of the non-treated wastewater & solid waste threatens ecosystems and endangered species. Water resources (especially in California) are dwindling; desalinization is absurdly expensive, the population is growing exponentially, and water resources (especially in Southern California) are not recharging fast enough to support the population. Also, the money that could be made from these facilities is great—selling water to local municipalities, selling the filtered, treated solid sewage as agricultural fertilizer & feed. The solid organic sewage that is not acceptable for agricultural use can be utilized for incineration. There are many options that can be looked at, and invested in—simply dumping the wastewater & it’s solids is wasteful in itself (forgive the silly pun), and unforgiving to both sensitive ecosystems, and the people of California who so direly need it.

Recycling Water in Southern California

Synopsis

Background / literature review:  Converting wastewater in to drinking water is gaining attention in California—primarily because of recent droughts, alleged misuse of water resources, and the exponentially growing population.  My sources were the Sacramento Bee & the OC Register, two newspapers that gave me the best information within the respective contexts & geographies (both human and physical), for which I was investigating.

Problem Statement / Intro:  Is investing in wastewater to drinking water worth it?  The question was investigated through the lens of ecology, human geography & utilization, and profitability.

Methodology / Findings:  The dumping of wastewater & the solid sewage that comes with it (when unfiltered) is indeed wasteful and hazardous in itself.  There are far more inventive and useful ways to utilize both wasteful & organic solid sewage, respectively.  The technology is available for wastewater to drinking water conversion, and solid sewage can be processed for agricultural use (fertilizer & feed);  solid waste that is unacceptable for agricultural use can be exported to incinerators for waste-to-energy (WtE) fuel.

Some Wastewater Statistics & Key Points

  • Over 180,000 acre-feet of wastewater is discharged by the Sacramento area alone--enough water to support 400,000 households, or almost 1,000,000 people
  • Renovation & upgrade costs for a single treatment plant could exceed $1,000,000,000 (one billion dollars) if wastewater to drinking water measures are not taken, since current waste treatment technology is lagging in the United States.
  • Because it deserves repeating: The Orange County wastewater to drinking water facility (opened in 2008) is now the largest in the world and serves 2.3 million customers.
  • Areas that often experience seasonal drought and/or have an exploding population are far more inclined to invest in wastewater to drinking water technologies.
  • Urea (urine) and human feces are the primary supplier of ammonia (NH3) in wastewater and is extremely toxic.
  • High ammonia concentrations in estuaries and deltas due to wastewater dumping is threatening dozens of endangered species in California alone
  • Treated urban sewage & wastewater evacuation in to the Sacramento River has increased from 13,254 pounds a day in 1985 to over 30,780 pounds a day in 20093

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Comments 24 comments

kerryg profile image

kerryg 7 years ago from USA

In the last few years, I've become interested in using living machines and artificial wetlands to manage wastewater more effectively. Some of these systems apparently can get it to a potable level, and I've heard of others that combine wastewater treatment with fish farming and other types of food production. Interesting stuff.

http://hubpages.com/living/Living-Machines


matiskater profile image

matiskater 7 years ago

nice article i like it!!! and great research!!


cgull8m profile image

cgull8m 7 years ago from North Carolina

Great Hub, eventually we have to use more and more waste water, the way the population is growing is too much. In Space they do this but there is no other alternative for them. Dean Kamen is also working on a water purifying system that does wonders. http://moourl.com/pp388


Iphigenia 7 years ago

This is a great hub - and academically strong, I like how you have quoted your sources and resources. Recycling waste water is such an obvious way forward.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

Water is a big issue here in California and it may come to our state finally accepting this is a viable alternative.


Grant Lawrence profile image

Grant Lawrence 7 years ago from BC

Hi Mike,

I like the flow of your article here. Where I live water is starting to become an issue, much of the consumption is for the hectars of orchards and vineyards. We've just successful stopped the sinking of an old bridge here because of how much bacteria it would kick up and effect 5 drinking water intakes. We should look at what is being done in Europe, they've had to live with water constraints in major centers for a long time.

Check out these books: "Blue Gold" by Maud Barlow (now working at the UN on water issues) and "Blue Covenant" by the same author. This is one other book I will track for you.

Also, take a look at the documentary "FLOW: for the love of water", I've heard it is quite good.


k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California

Great hub and an issue people really need to be educated on! Having lived in Eastern NM, I understand the importance of recycling water. I can remember towns dying out because you could no longer find water. We really do need to protect this resource!


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Good info on an important topic, direxmd. Thanks for sharing.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Congratulations Direxmd for being part of the Golden Hubnuggets Rush. :-)

Yes if you love this hub, do vote for it by clicking this link: http://hubpages.com/community/Golden-HubNugget-Rus...


BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 7 years ago from Bristol

In many areas of the UK this is already a major source of water. Sometimes it may be indirectly as water is treated and discharged into watercourses only to be extracted for use further downstream. This is definitely a thing that should be used more often, particularly in water stressed areas such as the south west USA.


Direxmd profile image

Direxmd 7 years ago from Sonoma County, California Author

Thank you so much for your comments everyone! I feel honored :) Sorry that I haven't been able to respond to everyone!

BristolBoy,

I agree Bristolboy, it just makes sense--ESPECIALLY in areas that are demographically way over their human carrying-capacity. Turning wastewater into drinking water in these areas is a no-brainer.


Direxmd profile image

Direxmd 7 years ago from Sonoma County, California Author

I decided to edit this article--I felt that it was too fluffy and vague before. I actually gave some answers and conclusions to this version. I hope you all enjoy :)

-Mike


natureheals profile image

natureheals 7 years ago from Canada

Thank you for this very useful information. :) This technology will surely be very useful for recycling water and waste management. Water demand is increasing everyday among the increasing population, this will be the best thing that could help to produce enough clean water for consumption.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

cool information.


tungsten carbide 7 years ago

Tungsten carbide

Tungsten steel

Tungsten metal


tungsten metal 7 years ago

Water also can be purified by adding liquid chlorine bleach, although this method is not as safe as boiling. To purify water with bleach, filter the water into a clean container. Use liquid chlorine bleach that contains between 5 and 6 percent chlorine--Clorox or Purex, for example.


bryanmccarty profile image

bryanmccarty 6 years ago

Excellent hub and great to know that our future is not spoiled yet!


jon 6 years ago

hey


gmrwebteam 6 years ago

Hi. I must thank and really appreciate the hubber for this really nice hub. As far my practical knowledge says I found Reverse Osmosis a very traditional but effective way to clean water and make it suitable for drinking.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

Well to my knowledge we are already drinking waste water, I know there is a plant near us that we stay as far from as we can. Of course the water still comes through our faucets. If we had stayed with septic tanks with sewage and water going into the ground and purifying itself and moisture pulled back up as it should be we would not have this problem, but no we have to hook up to sewers paying hundreds for the privileged besides so much every month, carrying all this waste to a little stirring pot mixed with I don't even wanna think about what, in it, to seep back out to us by the know it all scientists and government. The earth knows how to purify itself if man will just leave it alone.


4FoodSafety profile image

4FoodSafety 6 years ago from Fontana, WI

Excellent Hub! Very well researched!

Sadly we need to recycle waste water.

Point of use water filtration is needed for the piping in all cases.

Great comments and recommendations - must closely review - thank you!


electricsky profile image

electricsky 5 years ago from North Georgia

Thanks for your interest in wastewater hub. I recently saw a television show that said consumers are being scammed in that businesses bottle the very water they get from their taps and sell it back to them. We are made to feel the treatment plants aren't doing such a great job in delivering sanitary water. I am inclined to believe they are not doing such a great job. However, and I will continue to keep a professional treatment filter on my tap water and only drink treated water or bottled water as I just don't trust what comes out of my faucet.


King Neece 4 years ago

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Our University of Alabama patented solar desalination product uses no electricity, has no filters to replace, can be taken anywhere and extracts pure water from any contaminated water source. It removes radiation, fluoride, salt, pesticides, bacteria, dirt and other contaminants from any water. It aids people to be prepared for disasters. Made tough in the U.S.A.

Please visit us:

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These units can also be placed together in arrays of literally any number of panels, as needed, to accommodate a desert farm or any remote area that needs water.


WhatTheHub profile image

WhatTheHub 4 years ago from Florida

I used to work in a waste water lab where we kept a close eye on the stats of the discharge on a weekly basis. We keep a close eye on everything, because the lab is highly regulated by the Florida Dept of Health as well as the Florida Dept of Environmental Protection. They come in usually once a year to perform an audit and to make sure we run a TIGHT ship.

The discharge is dispersed among fields owned by the city. Pine trees and special grass is used to absorb the nitrates/nitrites and phosphates thus keeping the concerned aforementioned chemicals entering the environment in the most natural way possible.

Bahia grass is a chosen grass of the discharge site as well as evergreen pines.

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