Tuesday, September 25, 2007

IPR Plans for San Jose

I know this blog is supposed to be “Water Recycling in Australia”, not “Water Recycling in The USA”. However, I think it is important for Australians to be aware that current Australian plans for indirect potable reuse (IPR) are not unique, -far from it!

The following is an article from the Contra Costa Times in San Jose. San Jose is the third-largest city in California, and the tenth-largest in the United States. It is a wealthy city, commonly referred to as the “capital of Silicon Valley”.

As the article makes clear, the major concerns are not whether the technology exists to safely recycle drinking water, but whether the community will be able to overcome the all-too-familiar psychological barriers to planned (as opposed to unplanned) drinking water recycling.

It will be interesting to watch the proposal develop (or otherwise!) during the coming months and years.

Making sewage water good to drink
Valley District, San Jose Look to Ensure Adequate Future Supply
By Paul Rogers
Mercury News
Contra Costa Times
25 September 2007

The Santa Clara Valley Water District and the city of San Jose are beginning talks on a bold new strategy to boost water supplies: making sewage water clean enough to drink.

If the public backs the plan, one day millions of gallons of the purified water could be pumped into streams and groundwater aquifers across Santa Clara County and mixed with existing drinking water supplies.

The county now provides half of its drinking water from wells that pump water from those aquifers. The other half comes from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

"This is a homegrown resource. It is the most reliable supply you can have," said Eric Rosenblum, division manager for San Jose's South Bay Water Recycling Project.

"It is much less dependent on the weather than other sources. It is a great new tool to meet water needs."

The potentially controversial idea, still in the early stages, will be discussed this morning at the water district's weekly board meeting in San Jose. A final, detailed proposal isn't expected until next year.

Experts note that the technology exists to take sewage water and purify it to levels that meet California drinking water standards using an array of techniques such as reverse osmosis, microfiltration and ultraviolet light.

But in several areas around California - from San Diego to Pleasanton - attempts at blending purified wastewater with drinking water aquifers have been dropped after public outcry from critics who call the projects "toilet-to-tap."

But some water districts have already moved ahead with projects.

The Orange County Water District will christen a new $480 million project in November to produce up to 70 million gallons of recycled water a day from treated sewage. It will be used to recharge drinking water aquifers that serve Anaheim, Huntington Beach and other cities.

The project - the largest of its kind in the United States - came after nine years of public hearings and scientific studies. It won permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Public Health.

Cautious approach

Keith Whitman, water supply manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, promised that the district will take a similarly cautious approach.

"What we don't want to end up with is what's happened in other areas where you have fear and politics cause a backlash," he said.

Because California's population is expected to grow from the current 37 million to more than 52 million by 2030, the state Department of Water Resources recommended four years ago that California triple its use of recycled water, now about 500,000 acre-feet a year, by 2030.

Nearly all the recycled water in the state, however, goes for non-potable uses such as irrigating crops, cooling power plants, and watering golf courses, cemeteries and highway landscaping.

San Jose has used it in those ways for a decade.

In 1997, the city began delivering recycled wastewater across the county through purple pipes from its sewage treatment plant in Alviso. The project now has 540 customers and provides about 10,000 acre-feet of water a year - nearly 3 percent of total county demand. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or the amount of water a family of five uses in a year.

Customers for recycled water include San Jose Municipal Golf Course, Metcalf Energy Plant in South San Jose, Oak Hill Cemetery and dozens of schools and parks.

The city sells the water at a discounted rate. Originally, the $225 million project was built after state water regulators ordered the city to stop pumping so much treated fresh water into San Francisco Bay, where it was diluting brackish marshes and changing the bay's ecology.

But now, the city and the water district see the project as a potentially significant source of drinking water.

Today, the water district board will vote whether to allow its staff to negotiate with the city to expand the use of recycled water. If approved, as expected, the final agreement would come next year.

No project would be built without public hearings, an environmental impact statement, approval from the state Department of Public Health, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the San Jose City Council.

In early feasibility studies, the water district has envisioned constructing a $52 million advanced treatment plant. It would be located in Alviso next to the city's wastewater treatment plant and produce the same amount of recycled water now produced by the plant, about 10 million gallons a day, but at a higher quality. It would remove salts that, if left untreated, would eventually build up in irrigation water, causing grass to brown and harming redwoods and other trees in clay soil.

Could open by 2012

Whitman said construction could begin on the plant by 2010 and open by 2012.

After that, if the city and district want to blend its recycled water with groundwater aquifers, they would build one or more "satellite plants" in places like Coyote Valley and further treat the water to drinking water standards.

The state Department of Public Health requires any recycled water used on food crops, school fields or residential irrigation to be treated to tertiary standards - the highest level of sewage treatment, and disinfected with chlorine. San Jose's now meets that standard.

But the health department does not have uniform guidelines for pumping it into drinking water aquifers. New rules the department is drafting would require it to meet drinking water standards.

Environmentalists are generally supportive.

"Recycled water is going to be a critical component of California's water future," said Linda Sheehan, executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance, in Fremont. "It has to be, because of population growth and because climate change is going to reduce the amount of snowpack in the Sierra."

Sheehan said, however, that the water must be rigorously tested not only for traditional contaminants such as bacteria but also for minute levels of pharmaceuticals, hormones and other contaminants that can get through sewage treatment plants unfiltered.

The largest hurdle if the project is to go forward is the "yuck factor." Even if the science is sound, how do you persuade people that it is OK to drink toilet water?

In Sonoma County, some vintners have been fighting a proposal this summer to use recycled water from Santa Rosa to irrigate wine grapes.

"I am worried that there is a huge backlash on recycled water on our grapes," Katie Murphy, vice-president of the Alexander Valley Association, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in May. "I fear negative publicity - and that could linger over our wine industry for a long time."

In Orange County, water officials held hundreds of public meetings with hospitals, civic groups, religious leaders and others. They noted that astronauts have drunk recycled water for years - and that anyone drawing water from a river is drinking the recycled wastewater of cities upstream, as Los Angeles does with Las Vegas, and Memphis with St. Louis.

"We are very concerned about public opinion," said San Jose's Rosenblum. "People in Silicon Valley value innovation and technology, but they also value a high quality environment and a reliable source of water. So to the extent that using recycled water for potable purposes helps achieve those goals, I think the people in our area will be open to its use."


Anonymous said...

Toowoomba residents are the most informed city in the world about the dangers of recycled sewerage. I feel that the good citizens of San Jose may need to recieve a copy of the book Think Before You Agree To Drink and they may just be fortunate enough to recieve one.I expect that it will make them think twice before falling for the same scare tactics.

amused said...

The corporate juggernaut moves onto another city.

ever watchful said...

You can bet on it.
I love the inference that just because this community is smarter they will accept it.

This story shows just how many lies were told during the debate in Toowoomba.
The world is so small to-day that we can gather this community into the fight very easily and we will.

Stuart Khan said...

Hello ‘Ever Watchful’,

I didn’t pick up this inference at all. To me, the article seems to be acknowledging that the onus is on the water authority and community leaders to undertake rigorous planning and outreach programs. It suggests that these are the factors that will be crucial to the projects success.

As far as I can see, nobody is suggesting that the community of San Jose are any more or less ‘smart’ than any other.

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