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.
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Forget Bottled Water
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.
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
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
Sources & Other Resources
- 2 - Turning sewer water into drinking water - OC Register
Article on new wastewater to drinking water facility.
- Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Ammonia Toxicity and pH Changes
- Chemical of The Week: Ammonia
Awesome and fun article on Ammonia.
- Waste management news
New technologies in waste treatment!
- Water Use: Wastewater treatment
US Department of The Interior Wastewater resource & index.
- Toxic substance profile: Ammonia
- Drought Mitigation Trade-offs
What are the trade-offs for mitigating drought through desalinization of sea water?