Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sustainable Path (Soft Path) to Water Future

I attended a seminar given by Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute earlier today at Rutgers University. Dr. Gleick offered six soft paths to the water future. I took quick notes of the six paths as follow:

1) Invest in decentralized infrastructure
2) Match water quality requirements with water designated uses
3) Do not take the demand for granted (i.e., Do more with less water)
4) Expand definition of water supply
5) Price water properly
6) Expand concepts of regulation and institutions

I was a part of the team that organized the seminar.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Very High Sewer Fee?

I recently received a sewer bill from my township and my household was charged an annual fee of approximately one thousand dollars! Could it be called the "money down the drain?"

Township of Montgomery, New Jersey has just instituted a new usage-based sewer fee schedule. I applaud the township's change that would provide fairness as well as encourage water conservation.

But the expensive part of the sewer service also caught my attention. It was about twice the water fee! That is, it costs about twice as much to get rid of the wastewater as to receive the potable water.

The sewer fee is being calculated by the township as follows:

Base Fee = $200 per unit

Usage Fee = $6.88 per ccf* of water used

* 1 ccf per year = 100 cubic feet of water per year = 2.05 gallons per day

For example, if 50 gallons of water is used per person per day (in winter and spring seasons), the annual sewer fee for a household of 4 would be 871 dollars.

Mayor Louis Wilson, quoted in an article published in the February 10, 2009 edition of Montgomery News, provided two explanations for why the sewer fee is so high in the township:

(1) The township owns and operates eight small sewage treatment plants, and thus there is no economy of scale that we could get by being part of a regional sewer system.

(2) Our plants discharge into local streams and brooks rather than into a larger river, and thus they must meet a very high water quality standard for the (treatment plant) effluent.

The Mayor's explanations are reasonable.

The township population was only 23,023 based on the 2007 census estimate. That is, each treatment plant, in average, is serving a community of less than 3,000 people. Average capacity of the treatment plants is probably only about 0.2 million gallons per day (MGD), while capacity of a regional treatment plant would be from tens to hundreds MGD. According to a State of Wisconsin survey, the sewer fee for small communities (population less than 2,000) is approximately twice that for large communities (population greater than 50,000).

With an average household of $840, the sewer fee charged by Montgomery Township is actually not very high in comparison to other small communities in the US.

Nevertheless, I need to start checking how my family could consume less water. Although consuming less water would be good for the environment, I do not expect a significant sewer fee reduction since the township would need to operate and maintain the same infrastructure, and replacing the existing infrastructure would be costly.

It would also be interesting to find out how the township could reduce the treatment cost, if possible at all. To reduce the treatment cost, control of specific pollutant sources as well as use of innovative technologies could be explored. But cost of the treatment itself, e.g., chemicals, is typically a small fraction of the total O&M cost.

Credit: The image above of "Pike Brook (Sewage) Treatment Plant" was located and cropped from Virtual Earth.

My album contains additional photos of the Pike Brook Sewage Treatment Plant and its effluent receiving water.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dye the Chicago River Green

In celebration of Saint Patrick's Day, the Chicago River has been turned green for about a day for the past 40 years.

On February 14, forty (40) pounds of vegetable-based, non-toxic dye was poured into the Chicago River in downtown Chicago, turning the water green. The green color would typically last for about a day, depending on the flow conditions. By the way, the exact dye ingredients remain a secret.

I think it is a lot of fun, and it is great that residents are enjoying their river!

Photo credit: Xinhua News Agency (Hu Guangyao)

Info source: