Showing posts with label wastewater. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wastewater. Show all posts

19 September 2014

Speed blogging

  1. Me on Yahoo Canada: "The Water Wars: Conflicts over water sources continue to grow"

  2. About 20 percent of people (in this sample) often pee in the shower

  3. A very interesting podcast on water infrastructure with Marshall Davert of MWH Global, a good reddit thread on how pipes stay clean (or get clogged) and a nice photo essay on a big NYC wastewater treatment plant

  4. The US Patent system is so broken: patents pending on systems for monitoring, marketing and analyzing water rights?!?

  5. China's S-N water transfer may stunt regional growth. No duh

  6. Delusional mayors plead for subsidies because "local governments pay for 98 percent of infrastructure improvements," but water-system failure would harms the national economy. Their economic illiteracy is exceeded only by their weak grasp of cost-benefit analysis: payment in proportion to benefits. I don't see any benefit to someone in Indiana for a water project in San Francisco.
HTs to RM and LV

11 September 2014

Does fixing a mistake make it worse?

EC writes from Florida:
One of the big questions staring me in the face is... as we reach the limits of sustainable use without “significant harm” to the environment and reuse more and more wastewater, what happens to the systems that have adapted to the volume of discharge provided by our waste stream outfalls?

We have looked at many issues to determine if there is extra available water in our basins, but the amount of “freeboard” available for additional human use may be equivalent to the volume projected to go into reuse -- purple pipe systems here -- in the future.

Reuse is fantastic for farmers recapturing and reusing fertilizer runoff, cities looking for less regulated water sources for esthetic irrigation, and water quality improvements in general. It is terrible for salinity intrusion up rivers with lower discharge volumes, groundwater recharge areas fighting salinity intrusion, hydroperiods in flat wetlands, migratory species looking for a critical water depth, and other water volume dependent issues.

Have you looked at that?

Also variability in the demand for water reuse is a big issue. Spray fields used to help discharge extra water exceeding reuse storage volume, almost always occurs on rainy days or after the soils are saturated. That is when lawns don’t need to be watered and spray fields are least effective at handling the runoff. It seems to be when reuse water managers run the spray field pumps 24-7. What is your experience with the expense of reuse water storage?
As all of you know, I am not a scientist, and therefore unqualified to comment on the size of the impacts from these changes in use, but I wrote this back:
I agree with your general points, that (1) "efficiency" may leave nothing for nature (eg, the Jordan River) and (2) human centric changes may tip systems into collapse.

But those dangers are often ignored by humans. My "end of abundance" thesis is that we've exceeded limits that we've been able to ignore for ages.

What are our choices, now that we're seeing the impacts of our behavior? We can either step back and rethink our habits or drive ahead and off the cliff.

It seems you've described the manifestations of failure to reform. The question is whether policy "leaders" will act on those bad outcomes
Can any scientists comment on the these issues? Can any policy wonks give examples of where science feedback is driving policy reform?

(The EU's Water Framework Directive is an attempt to improve environmental water quality and quantity, but it's top-down and resisted by many national governments.)

19 August 2014

Webinar on wastewater tomorrow!

I'm doing a webinar -- "The Emergence of Wastewater as a New Supply" -- for the American Water Resources Association tomorrow at 1pm EDT. It's free for AWRA members and $25 for non-members. (I'm not paid :)

Speed blogging

  1. "Western-style" irrigation -- reservoirs and canals diverting "excess" water from rivers -- is growing in popularity in the eastern US. I'd say that's the result of depleting groundwater. I'd also say it's a sign that farmers will be depleting environmental water flows and screwing up ecosystems

  2. Here's the video [mp4] of my AWRA webinar ("Pricing Drinking Water for Conservation & Fiscal Stability". You can also listen to the audio [mp3] and read the slides [pdf], as the video omitted my talking head. I'm doing another one ("The Emergence of Wastewater as a New Supply") tomorrow. Speaking of which, this Texas community is using wetlands to filter its wastewater

  3. Christopher Gasson (Global Water Intelligence) destroys the new ISO standard on footprinting. Let's stick with IWRM, people

  4. I didn't know that Governor Cuomo bought out a bunch of coastal landowners, to "save the government money in the future." Good move

  5. An interesting analysis of China's water governance complications

  6. Rivers recover when dams are removed. I suggest a dam cap and trade: any new dam (or dam that wants its operating license renewed) should remove the equivalent (in water storage?) volume of outdated dams
H/Ts to BB and RM

25 June 2014

Speed blogging

  1. A scientist comes up with a simple (cheap) way to "sniff" sewers for leaks

  2. My guest post on oil sands and pipelines for Water Canada: "Ethical Water: Canada Must Protect the Environment, Jobs, and Taxpayers"

  3. Good move: Kiribati bans fishing to turn its waters into a marine sanctuary (and tourist attraction). Better news: Obama declares the largest marine reserve in the world (~2 mil km2)

  4. California's drought may bring $7 broccoli as a reflection of the "true cost of water," but it's also the result of a Farm Bill that prevents midwestern farmers from competing with California farmers. Congress Fail #24

  5. After a backlash from voters protecting their lawn subsidies, the City of Davis appears [lots of confusing statements] to be reverting to a disastrous combination of 87% of revenues from variable charges and a big "stabilization" fund. (Investors want the fund in case people use less water and revenues dive.) Average cost per customer will rise under this formula (due to the risk premium), but probably not water conservation. Fail.*
H/T to ND
* Also see yesterday's post and addendum

28 March 2014

What is the cost every time you flush?

Zeliang Wang writes:*

People use water everyday, your liquid waste would go to WasteWater Treatment Plant through underground pipeline. The liquid waste is going to primary treatment plant where wood, stone, sands and other solids are removed, after that, waste goes to secondary treatment where the most of organic, bacteria and solid sludge are filtered. After all the procedures, the water would be discharged to river. What is the cost every time you flush? I looked at my toilet, it costs 6 litres of water per flush, from the utility billing of Vancouver, one unit water is $2.385 (one unit is 2,831.6 litres), one unit of sewer water is $1.906, thus, through calculation we can get that one flush cost about $0.01. That is so cheap that could be negligible for every one. However, what I calculated is the basic cost that would appear on your billing, there could be more social cost and negative externalities that is unpredictable if people flush food, cooking grease, medication and oil. Cost of flushing these waste:
  1. Less oxygen in ocean because food need oxygen to decompose which is harmful to the fishes and our fishery industry.
  2. Blockage happens in the pipeline because cooking oil become solid and this may lead sewer overflow.
  3. The medication is hard to clean out so your drinking water could contain limited level of pharmaceutical.
  4. One drop of motor oil can pollute 50 litres of water, and cost more to consume the organic from the wastewater.

On the other hand, if people recycle the waste in proper ways, there is no such cost to us and there could be more benefit. For example, cooking grease can be recycled and converted into biofuel which is in application currently. If food go to landfill and composted properly, it would produce “compost (like soil) and biofuel” that can run vehicles.

Bottom Line: When you know how our wastewater treatment plants work and the cost of flushing food and chemicals, we should not flush everything. Recycle the waste as much as you can.


* These guest posts are from students in my resource economics class at Simon Fraser University. Please leave feedback on their logic, ideas and style and suggestions of how to improve.

24 January 2014

Speed blogging

  1. Me, on the radio (after a minute of folk music :), discussing "what does water scarcity mean to Canadians?" (30 min MP3)

  2. This thesis looks at the struggle to provide water to the poor in Bolivia

  3. An examination (and perhaps critique) of China's transboundary relations; Ethiopia, meanwhile, says "boo" to Egypt's claim of Nile waters

  4. Non-residential water consumers in England and Wales will be customers in 2017, when they get to choose their retail water provider (as is now the case in Scotland)

  5. DC's water utility is building a "500-year storm barrier" to protect its facilities from climate change. DC is on of "11 US cities" that may run out of water. The others are in CA(2), FL, GA, NE, OH, TX(3), UT, but I bet that the vulnerable list is very long.

  6. "Does the Endangered Species Act Preempt State Water Law (and property rights)?" Yes, for now

  7. The EU will now debate whether a human right to water should be enshrined in EU law and that public, not private companies should be responsible for providing water services. I suspect that no legislation will emerge from this debate, as the key to access is income support for the poor, not rights, and there's no evidence that the public sector is either more efficient nor cheaper than the private sector in the long run (short-run reductions in prices can reduce reliability). Related: Swedish public utilities price according to each other more than costs
H/Ts to DL and JV

21 November 2013

Speed blogging

  1. A great article on the New California Water Atlas (I'm advising them)

  2. Barry Lehrman and I chatted about Los Angeles, Owens Valley and their aqueduct futures (41 min on YouTube or MP3)

  3. Developing countries are mad that developed countries are not delivering promised money to help cope with adapting to climate change, which is going to "manifest" through a nastier water cycle (Philippine representatives are fasting in protest).

    Addendum: 600 NGO groups have walked out, protesting a lack of delivery of promised $ by developed countries; Poland fired its enviro minister (chair of UCOP19). Looks like +4C

  4. Speaking of adaptation, California homeowners are upset that they will have to pay the full cost of insurance. Politicians complain that risk-adjusted rates are "unaffordable." People should have thought about that before moving into a flood plain. My solution: no insurance = rescue inhabitants but no money for the house. My Dutch colleagues have a better solution -- help threatened [Delta] homeowners see that they need to work together, via games!

  5. How Bangladeshis turn sewage into clean water, fish and flood control

18 November 2013

Don't leave shit lying around

I'm going to tell you a story -- make an observation really -- in honor of World Toilet Day.*

This picture gives the first thousand words. I took it on 8 Jun 1999 near Zhaoxing, China


As you can see, there are five side-by-side outhouses (and a few chickens), all of them with "collection boxes" under the legs. These boxes are periodically opened and cleaned of nightsoil, which is spread onto fields as fertilizer.

So shit is a resource (a good) not a waste (a bad).

That's not the case in developed countries, where people flush their private waste into the collective sanitation system or in poorer countries where people without access to toilets leave their private waste in common fields and paths. 

So we've got two different problems (shit is seen as a bad instead of a good; people dump their bads into the commons) that can be addressed by turning shit into a good or ensuring that people take responsibility for their shit, respectively.

How do we get those solutions? Composting toilets can do wonders on a small scale, but densely populated places need to have toilets that drain to adequate sewage and treatment systems.

Bottom Line: Take care of your shit -- and help others take care of theirs.
* I am part of the #Blog4Sanitation movement setup by Splashdirect to raise awareness of the importance of global sanitation. Learn more about World Toilet Day.

14 November 2013

World toilet day!

I'm not a fan of various "days of action," but a rep from Splashdirect (great name) sent me a nice email about WTD (19 Nov) and the infographic below.

Splashdirect is also running a contest for the best toilet story [sic]. The winner will win £250 ($400), but Splashdirect will donate £2 to WaterAid for every entry they receive (via blog post) by 18 Nov.

Imagine not just instant wealth or your £2 contribution to those in need of a toilet. Imagine the fame that you'll get from entering the crappiest contest in the world!

I'll post mine on Monday :)


World Toilet Day - An infographic bought to you by the team at Splashdirect

30 October 2013

Speed blogging

  1. Victory! The US government is phasing out subsidies for flood insurance (wow, a private market may emerge!). Some people are upset that price increases constitute a "taking" of their property values (who wants to pay full price to live in a flood zone). If that's true, I recommend that they sue for reimbursement from the land developers who build "high security houses" there in the first place

  2. I saw Watermark a few weeks ago in the theatre, which was a great way to enjoy the huge panoramas of water in motion and water abuse by humans. The directors (from Canada) spoke after the film, taking the high road of "we need people to think about how they see and use water" over the low road of "do this to solve our water problems." I agree with that perspective, given the importance of local ideas and local support for solving water problems (some academics discuss governance). Here's the trailer:



  3. Footprints are just about as dead as ethanol, i.e., they are policy irrelevant, one-dimensional indicators

  4. "Jellyfish take over the oceans" is not the title for a horror movie. It's news -- and bad news -- for humans who want to swim, eat fish, or use ocean water for cooling and other industrial processes

  5. A lifecycle assessment of the tradeoffs between saving water and spending energy when it comes to wastewater recycling

18 October 2013

Let's get serious, America

Aquadoc posted some information from a recent Columbia U. report on fixing and financing water infrastructure. Read it [pdf] but also take my comments into consideration:
Regarding this statement ("It will be difficult for many utilities to raise rates high enough to pay down existing levels of debt"), I'd say that rates (or taxes) must rise. Most utilities have been underinvesting since the "big push" of installing networks over 100 years ago. They've drawn down capital, and now it's time to bite the bullet and spend. Americans pay less for water than Europeans, and they get what they pay for.

On (1), it's important to benchmark performance (e.g., IB-NET) to see how well they are doing. Want to push that to its limit? Use my method for improving manager performance [pdf]

On (3) and (4), it's important to keep leakage and recovery in mind. Most leaks are in the system -- not the household -- and recovery means that conservation (demand down) is not as important as reducing leaks and recycling water.*
Bottom Line: Water managers can deliver quality water services, but they need to be pushed to achieve quality and properly funded.

* Speaking of recycling, Portland just dumped another 8 million gallons because someone peed in the reservoir. Those managers need to grow a pair and tell customers that their water isn't that clean BEFORE it goes through the treatment plant. The cost of drain/refill, alone, is much higher than the TINY cost of cleaning some pee out of the 8 million gallons. Upside down priorities.

Correction: That was in 2011, when it was ALSO a bad idea :) -- thanks to CF for the correction...

H/T to RM

18 September 2013

Desalination: Why Not

The Water Channel just released this video. Yes, it's me talking, but it's damned good :)


06 August 2013

So how do you grow?

AM writes:
I've recently had a chance to read your joint piece with Christopher Gasson entitled "A global survey of urban water tariffs: are they sustainable, ef´Čücient and fair?" [pdf] and it prompted me to seek your thoughts (from the perspective of a policy analyst) on phase development.

If (hypothetically speaking) you had complete autonomy in designing the managing the development of water and wastewater management services for a city in a developing country, how would you go about phasing the construction and financing of those systems in consideration of government subsidies and ensuring quality control by balancing the benefits that come with public and private involvement in the process?

Do you believe there might be a "formula" for phasing development of a community's water service needs that takes into account current population, per capita wealth, land area of the community in question, and density? Furthermore, can (or rather should) that development be broken into bins in a continuum within which we place a particular community in order to gauge demand and the appropriate level of financing/investment structure necessary to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable utility network?

I might sound a little naive since there are broader factors that must be taken into account (i.e. the regional/national economy, the cost of materials, the role of government, the role of international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF), but I am of the belief that there might be a recipe with which to guide governments and communities to a state of readily available service.
This is a great question and very relevant in cities that are growing and/or suffer currently from a lack of water/sewerage.* The main problem involves money, i.e., who should pay for what?

In my dissertation, I discussed how Southern California grew unsustainably based on cross-subsidies, such that it was first too cheap to move to a new place and then how too many people strained water supplies (this paper summarizes that dynamic).

The problem is the same in developing countries from a water perspective. It's also -- I'd argue -- the same from a financial perspective, since water and sewer service are actually quite cheap, even relative to poor people's incomes. The main difference will be corruption, which can destroy ANY good idea. So, I'll have to make that note ("deal with corruption" -- usually via transparency and community oversight/control) and move to financing.

There are three sources of money: tariffs, taxes and transfers. In water abundant areas, tariffs do not need to be volumetric; they should be where water is scarce. Tariffs should be charged to users from day one. Taxes on property can pay for sewerage services; in the Netherlands, they are charged for the number of people at an address. Transfers are a form of subsidy. In rich countries, they can go to the poor via the tax system (a negative tax), but that's harder in poorer countries. In those places, they can be allocated to the poorer neighborhoods (e.g., favelas) in proportion to the number of people, from the central government. (Chile "charges" poor people for water services but then forgives the cost of service for a small initial volume of water use).

I recommend that mix of sources (more reliance on user pay than subsidy) because I prefer that water companies work for people instead of politicians.

The other issue is the mismatch between spending and revenues. It's expensive to build a water/sewer system, but that system will last for decades. That implies that the system be financed with debt at first, which will be repaid by users over the following decades. Such a system can work everywhere, but it needs to be guaranteed and managed separately from other debt streams. That's why I prefer "corporate" water utilities (either private or public). Recall that the State of California just "borrowed" $billions derived from carbon permits to pay general expenses. Like I said, corruption can screw up everything.

Bottom Line: Water and sewer services should be phased in as cities grow, with debt for expansion being repaid by user fees.
* Watch/listen to this great TED talk on "crap," i.e., the importance of sewerage services.

29 July 2013

Recycle reuse reduce?

When it comes to consumer goods, reduce-reuse-recycle makes lots of sense. Don't buy that bike if you're not going to use it. If you are going to use it, then reuse a used one. Once you're done using it, recycle it instead of dumping it into a canal (the Dutch option :)

That consumer-centric logic may make sense for private goods, but it may not make sense with water, a collective good for which "use" has a larger definition.

Consider the low flush "green" toilet. Most people consider the water "used" when it's flushed down the toilet. Under that belief, it makes sense to "reduce" water use by installing a low flush toilet, but such an installation may not make sense when the sewer system needs lots of water to "flush" through solids, if the treatment plant works better with a higher liquid:solid ratio and/or if the treated water can be reused or even recycled (yes, toilet to treatment to tap). Under those conditions, low flush toilets may deliver worse results for the consumer who has to pay for the new appliance (they last for decades) or for the utility that needs to spend more time or money (a cost that's passed to customers, of course) to adjust to lower water volumes.

Bottom Line: Don't just look at the isolated impacts of an action or policy -- consider them from start to finish.

18 April 2013

Water management in Singapore

Way back in January, we made a short visit to Singapore and I had the great luck to get a tour of some of the facilities of PUB, the public corporation that manages all of Singapore's water, from rainfall to tap to toilet to treatment, discharge and recycling.

Singapore is an exceptional country in many ways: a city-state with a British colonial heritage; a population of Chinese, Malay, Indian and many other nationalities; an import-export powerhouse; impressive governance; and a high quality of life.

The government in charge of Singapore Inc. reminds me of the Dutch government: planning everywhere, strong economic incentives and decent policies and outcomes.* It lacks the forbearance over matters of marijuana, sex and chewing gum, which may explain why Singapore doesn't have a reputation for fun and beauty.

But these differences may stem from Singapore's security situation. It split off from Malaysia in 1965 (relations are cordial rather than warm) and needs to be self sufficient in a rough neighborhood with scarce resources (even sand).

Water is one of the most scarce resources in Singapore, so PUB (no longer known as the Public Utilities Board) puts a lot of emphasis on security of supply and management of demand.

George talks about PUB's big ideas
I was very impressed with PUB's operations and strategy. You may be familiar with their NEWater program, in which they treat wastewater for reuse. The big users of this water are industrial customers that prefer very clean water (tap water is "contaminated" because minerals need to be re-added after NEWater treatment).

They also took 20 years to create an enormous reservoir (see photo) by cleaning up the catchment and blocking the mouth of a formerly saline estuary. PUB now stores a lot of freshwater in the estuary. (PUB discloses neither its storage capacity nor its reserves of water, for security reasons.)

Those supply-side, engineering projects are complemented by sound demand-side management and incentives. Residential consumption is 153 LCD; non-revenue water is 5 percent; all wastewater is captured and treated; most residential and commercial customers pay the same tariff: SGD 1.17 per m3 plus a 30% conservation tax means SGD 1.52/m3 (USD 1.25/m3 or $3.50/ccf); excessive residential use and water exporters pay more. Poorer households pay the same price as everyone for water; they get some direct financial aid.

For more details, I suggest reading this 2006 article [PDF] on PUB's performance and a list of dos and don'ts that Singapore gets right but most water utilities -- in developed and developing countries -- get wrong (e.g., cross-subsidies between users, failure to recover costs, untreated water, etc.)

George was very helpful in explaining the roots of PUB's success in Singapore's development model of no corruption, lots of education, and promotion based on meritocracy. He said that Singapore's -- and PUB's -- future challenges will come from a lack of qualified workers and the rising cost of energy. Everyone else faces the same problems, but Singapore is going to have an easier time tacking them.

Is Singapore unique? Although money and professionalism are important (necessary) conditions for producing these results, I think it's also important to have either control over or a very good coordination among managers of various water flows, from environmental to drinking to irrigation to wastewater. A small country like Singapore can do this more easily than a larger one with more layers of government, but that only means that water managers in larger countries need to work harder (they can hire PUB to help :)

Bottom Line: Singapore has the best -- most sustainable, fair and efficient -- urban water management that I've seen. PUB's successes are important as proof to those who say it cannot be done because it is being done.

* The government doesn't just have road tolls to limit congestion, it auctions the ten-year permits to HAVE a car. They now cost about USD 50,000.

12 April 2013

Speed blogging

Collecting water in Maharashtra
  1. This ODI publication -- "Private sector investment in water management: company forms and partnership models for inclusive development" -- has a useful discussion of the differences between cheap talk corporate involvement and serious community engagement in water management in LDCs. It's not about money as much as shared governance; local people know more about how water is (mis)used, and companies can benefit by partnering with them (not just giving them money).

  2. Two steps forward, one back in Mexico, whose water agency (CONAGUA) is looking to drop water subsidies (good!) while the UN plans to subsidize water saving devices (good in terms of demand destruction bad in terms of poor targeting).

  3. Fahad Al-Attiya of Qatar talks about his country's quest for food self sufficiency -- by growing food with desalinated water from solar panels. It would be easier, cheaper and better for everyone if they just finished the Doha (yes, the capital of Qatar) round of free trade talks, so that Qatar could import its food from a functioning, secure market for food.

  4. Los Angeles discussing waste-used-water recycling. That will be helpful when LA loses access to water from Northern California.

  5. An undersea water pipeline from Turkey to Northern Cyprus? Sure, if the Turks are willing to waste money on subsidizing farmers there.

  6. An update on water markets in Australia [pdf] has this snapshot (but read the whole thing!)


H/Ts to MC and DL

27 August 2012

Speed blogging

  1. Heard about the Phnom Penh "miracle"? A public utility that extended service with full cost recovery in one of poorest, most corrupt countries? One factor driving success was bonuses for good employees and the axe for those who underperformed. Read all about it here [pdf] -- I met the author a few weeks ago in Berlin :)

  2. India's mismanagement of energy is similar to -- and connected with -- its mismanagement of water.

  3. Shale gas drilling near your house? Good news if you get proyalties, bad news if you have a private well (in terms of property value, but I'd say that it's hard to separate perception from actual water contamination).

  4. A discussion of toilet-to-treatment-to-tap, to turn waste- used water into something useful.

  5. Obviously? "This first, rigorous evaluation of a WASH project... finds that the water point intervention had a sizable impact on the use of improved water sources and on the health of young children while sanitation training had a strong impact on latrine ownership and on the health of both adults and older children" in Mozambique.
H/Ts to ML and RM