Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanks to Frackers, We'll Soon Be Drinking Recycled Toilet Water !

    A chemist checks the quality of water recently removed from a sewer in Colorado and recycled for drinking.

No, not necessarily people in other states - but here in bone dry Colorado, where ever larger influxes of newcomers (mainly because of the MJ retail markets) and fracking, are driving our water demands into the stratosphere. Because of those ever increasing demands and with ever diminishing water reserves, the ghoulish idea of recycling waste water from toilets - otherwise known as "toilet to tap" - has entered the aware citizen's lexicon. Colorado water providers, facing a shortfall of 163 billion gallons, acknowledge there's little choice than to turn to waste water.  They're calculating that if the worst sewage can be be cleaned to the point it's safe to drink, then our state's dwindling aquifers and rivers can be saved.

But the cynic must ask the incisive question: How is it we got to this parlous point of facing a shortfall of 163 billion gallons of decent fresh water? Therein lies the rub!

Are we ready for consuming water that not long before was flushing down assorted turds of differing morphology and dubious composition? To be honest, I am not sure. According to a Denver Post article (Nov. 21, p. 1D) "Front Range utilities will push the practical limit in re-using water to the maximum potential and that includes implementation of 'toilet to tap' recycling".  The soon to be announced 'Colorado Water Plan' is expected to mandate that Colorado residents must "re -use all available waste water as a pre-condition before state officials accept new trans-mountain projects".

Look here, this is serious shit! NO laughing matter! Major obstacles remain including:

- The huge costs of water cleaning using multiple filter cleaning systems

- The legal obligations in Colorado to deliver water downstream

- The disposal of the contaminants purged from waste water - mainly thousands of gallons a day of super -concentrated salty mixes that must then be injected into deep wells or buried. The mixture is so toxic it can destroy skin on contact.

- The "Ick" factor - i.e.  when consumers know the water ingested was only recently used to flush the effluent of another's bowels.

- Safety and monitoring - This entails installing water monitoring and testing systems sensitive enough to track a wide array of pathogens (including E. Coli. cryptosporidium etc), suspended particles and hard to remove specialty chemicals (i.e. tossed out contraceptives, diet pills, laxatives,anti-depressants,  pain killers etc. found in waste water - not to mention synthetic chemicals such as in herbicides.

How did we reach this sorry state? FRACKING!  The frackers - thanks to our Neoliberal guv, have been allowed to run amuck - drilling up to 50,000 frack wells across the state with each one consuming up to 5 million gallons each to enable hydraulic fracturing of the soil to release shale oil and natural gas.  Do the math and you will see that the total water lost to fracking actually exceeds the shortfall noted earlier by nearly 37 billion gallons! (Using a 4 million gallon per well average consumption) Note again, this is going on in an already arid state that has suffered over seven years of drought.

Colorado is already implementing limited re-use in places like Aurora, which entails filtering partially treated waste water through river banks.  This water is then treated again at Aurora's state of the art plant. At all times, as the Post piece notes, the challenge is ensuring that any engineered water-cleaning system is just as good as what nature provides with its slow settling and filtration.

State PR honchos also desperately want to change the language - getting rid of the god-awful (but accurate)  "toilet to tap" description in favor of something like "sequential water modification". Once they can finally get people to start using the correct lingo, they believe they can mostly remove the 'ick' factor from suspicious brains.

And don't think Colorado is the only state facing re-use of wastewater or "toilet to tap" planning. (Sorry, I don't use goofy, fulsome euphemisms.) A Texas state water plan calls for increasing re-use of waste water eight fold by 2060. The Texans have clearly seen the future and it looks dry - maybe as dry as the opening scenes of the dusty landscape from 'Interstellar'.

Meanwhile, California cities devastated by the current drought and other towns looking at a dry future, are also considering waste water conversion for drinking water.

Don't laugh! It may soon be coming to a town near you, if not your own!


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