Dec 15 2013
Recycling — Duh!
“I shall never cease to be amazed at the infinite capacity of the human mind to resist the penetration of useful knowledge”
– a favorite saying of my father, S. J. (Ben) Burgess, who was a research engineer for the State of Montana Highway department. Never has this been truer than now. Common sense tells us recycle the water we use once and throw away. We hear about twin tunnels under the Sacramento-Joaquin Delta, more energy-hungry desalination plants and continuous pressure on residential water users to conserve even more, not recycling – Duh!
We recycle everything from plastic to newspapers and automobiles. Do we recycle our water? Not in San Diego, except for little-used purple pipe water systems and a useless pilot plant that cannot even add its one million gallons a day to the system because “it is not certified”.
Whether a person is an advocate of direct potable recycling (DPR) or indirect potable water recycling (IPR), the real facts tell us there is precious little political will to push water recycling. We import dirty water that has seen the inside of human kidneys in Northern California and along the Colorado River, treat it to drinking water quality, flush our toilets, take baths and showers, wash our dishes and clothes and then dump it into the ocean.
The technology is decades old. Especially IPR has been used in the United States since the 1960’s, and yet to hear the Luddites talk, it is a brand new idea subject to endless testing and whimsical articles written that try to keep the general public from accepting the idea. But wait! They are, despite the weak-kneed pols who fail to educate themselves about the tenuous and fragile system we have for delivering water to Southern California. Over 70% of polled San Diegans like the idea of recycling wastewater.
The hard facts are the Central Valley is literally sinking (technical word—subsiding) despite the great boondoggle known as the State Water Project that was pushed by Governor Brown, Sr., to alleviate the irrigation of the Valley with groundwater, and the 25,000 wells that were causing land subsidence. It didn’t work, there are still thousands of unregulated wells supplying water to agri-business.
Endless studies have shown a single seismic event under the Delta will cause the levees to liquefy and sink, causing salt water to flow south as 10,000 hp pumps suck it up high enough to make it flow by gravity in that giant 10,000 cubic ft per second man-made river we call the Stated Water Project. Twin tunnels are supposed to rectify this for $25 Billion dollars. Forty-foot diameter pipes under the Delta are still subject to ground movement.
San Diego would still have to import some water – recycling could handle about half the needs of San Diego County. Then we can talk about desal plants to supplement the rest. Keep in mind storage is for imported water, not locally supplied water. But we could store recycled water.
When the toilets don’t flush and water fails to come out of the faucet, it will be too late. Thomas Fuller is credited with the old saying, “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry”.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
About Alumni at the University of Montana