Not very many people outside of the water sector truly understand just how closely wastewater and drinking water are connected. Even within the water sector, the categories used to sharpen focus on one subset — wastewater, surface water, drinking water, groundwater, etc. — can turn into barriers to open discussion and new ideas. The irony is that most of the work surrounding water involves the transitions from one category to another. This issue of WE&T examines several of those transitions.
For example, the utility featured in this month’s plant profile turns groundwater into drinking water — a pretty standard process until elevated concentrations of volatile organic compounds and chlorides were discovered. Now the drinking water production facility also functions as a water reclamation facility of sorts. The facility uses reverse osmosis to remove the contaminants to produce drinkable water. In fact, adding the treated water to uncontaminated groundwater leads to higher overall water quality.
Another article spans several transitions — from wastewater to surface water to drinking water. When a septic system was failing at a country club in upstate New York, the solution was to install a membrane bioreactor to reduce phosphorus runoff, algae, and Giardia cysts and Cryptosporidium oocysts in the watershed. The funding for the project came through a program that safeguards the watersheds that provide New York City’s drinking water.
Probably the most treacherous transition from a public acceptance viewpoint is the one from wastewater to drinking water. One of the major hurdles is the “yuck factor.” The poll results shown below prove that this specter still holds sway.
But the articles, “From ‘yuck’ to ‘yes’” and “Sustaining San Diego” demonstrate that opinions are changing. Quantitative surveys and qualitative experiences are showing that people are not as resistant to the idea as they once were.
In fact, one of the articles indicates that as the distinctions between types of water blur, water and wastewater utilities will need to re-evaluate the how they operate to optimize direct potable reuse.
So, it seems the next transition isn’t as much for the water as for the people who protect and provide it.
©2012 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.