Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wellness Wednesday: Wait, What the WWTF?

It’s easy to take what seem like the simple things in life, like running water, for granted. You turn on the faucet and out it comes. You flush the toilet and there it goes. Your sprinklers go off like clockwork. I was taught the importance of water conservation (e.g. turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth and whatnot) but not until a recent visit to the City ofWoodlake’s Waste Water Treatment Facility (WWTF) did I truly grasp the consequences of my actions and the ‘big picture’ when it comes to water use.

A waste water treatment facility is the destination for all waste water that travels through our complex sewer systems. This can be from our homes (toilets, baths, showers, kitchens, sinks, etc.), industry, and storm water runoff. A lovely combination of human waste, animal waste, oil and grease, and whatever else finds its way into the system go through a series of processes at the facility in order to treat it so that it may be discharged into a body of water, used as irrigation, or even put back into the groundwater supply. That is the overly simplified explanation so you can visit good ol’ Wikipedia for some great diagrams. The largest gag reflex point of Courtney and my tour of Woodlake’s WWTF would have to have been at the very beginning where solid wastes that cannot proceed through the treatment facility are disposed of into the trash to be taken to the dump. Nothing was even processing at the time we stood there but I could only imagine. Close second was standing on the catwalk over the bubbling waste water as it was being treated – see photos for full effect. The most amazing part of our tour was that while I was thoroughly disgusted, I was also equally fascinated.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that these complex processes to treat waste water take a huge amount of energy. My personal adventures in benchmarking municipal energy use and seeing the utility bills related to running these facilities caused my jaw to drop. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), ‘municipal water supply and waste water treatment systems are among the most energy-intensive facilities owned and are operated by local governments, accounting for about 35% of energy used by municipalities’. You can’t deny the obvious link between water and energy; in fact, this is something the VIEW Partnership hopes to address in the coming year. The City of Woodlake wisely incorporated energy efficiency measures into the development of their treatment facility which will help with operation costs.

I think it goes without saying that these facilities are not only related to energy but also to our health. Without these treatment facilities…well, I don’t need to spell it out - just think about it. Proper collection, treatment, and disposal of waste water are crucial for human and environmental health. Water contamination can lead to cholera, typhoid, parasites, and Hepatitis – just to name a few illnesses.  

My visit to Woodlake’s facility was a reminder to be cautious as to what I put down the drain and to be thankful for our municipalities for allowing us safer and healthier lives.  Hats off to you, Woodlake, and congrats on the grand opening of your new facility!

PHOTOS (from C. Kalashian)

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