@ The Future of Drinking Water (You May Not Like It)

Humor me for a moment, and take a short mind trip into our future — 2035 to be exact. The scene is the popular Astro Bar on Thompson Lane, where the town’s movers and shakers like to meet after work. An attraction at the  bar is Cocktail Data, the android bartender, who mixes the best martinis in town and can talk intelligently about sports, women or the weather.

Customer: “Scotch and water, please, Data.”

Cocktail Data: “Do you want bottled water or reprocessed sewer water right from the tap?”

Customer: “I’m feeling adventurous tonight. Give me the toilet water brew.”

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Using repurified sewer water for drinking is one suggestion a city planning consultant recommends looking into. The Kendig Keast Collaborative, which is helping Murfreesboro plan for the next 20 years of rapid growth, examines almost everything (including water) in the grab- bag Chapter Two of its study.

When the looking at the water situation, the authors suggest the unthinkable — that we might have to start drinking water from toilets. Let’s hope at least the scotch is good.

It’s a perception problem

The technology is there to make the water close to the distilled product. The problem,  the consultant suggests, is a marketing one. Already, the idea has a clever marketing buzzword: “One Water”.

The future is now in Wichita Falls, Texas, a city northwest of Dallas that is about the size of Murfreesboro. Because of a drought in Texas with  no end in sight, city leaders have decreed that water be piped directly from the sewer plant to the water plant where it is treated and mixed with fresh water for drinking.

The city has no choice. Without radical steps, it is estimated that Wichita Falls will run out of water within three years..

How the process works

The process is called direct potable reuse, but some citizens have a more picturesque term — “toilet to tap.” To view a story on Wichita Falls that ran on NPR about a year ago, click: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/06/309101579/drought-stricken-texas-town-turns-to-toilets-for-water.

There are three steps in the process: (1) microfiltration, (2) reverse osmosis and (3) use of ultraviolet light or chemicals to get rid of bacteria.

The consultant says the city has the technology to do this. The city’s water utility already provides treated wastewater about 40,000 customers for non drinking uses. Because of uncertainties about how much water it will be allowed to draw in the future from Percy Priest Lake, the consultant recommends that the city look into the “One Water” idea and consider educating the public about it.

Fail-safe monitoring necessary

The real concern in One Water is monitoring the water constantly with sensors and having a means to shut off the pipeline from the sewer and divert that water if the water quality falls below an acceptable level at some point.

Other recommendations from Kendig Keast in the water section of the report are more mundane:

– Evaluate technologies for boosting the oxygen level in local bodies of water.

– Conduct a marketing campaign to try to get people to love repurified water.

– Work with the county water utility to encourage use of repurified water for lawn watering in new subdivisions. In addition, require muil-family and commercial developments to install systems to use repurified water for non drinking purposes, such as toilets.

– Install improved leak-detection and automatic metering technologies. Both the city and county water utilities report that a significant amount of water is unaccounted for, either through leaks or problems with aging meters.

*        *        *

Meanwhile, lets go  back at the Astro Bar:

“On second thought, Data, let me see your wine list.”

@ Drainage and Flooding Issues Pose Limits on Development

Sinkhole Issues

Shortly after I arrived here, a Florida man died when a sinkhole opened up beneath his bedroom and swallowed him. Being an alarmist type, sinkholes are often on my mind. There’s a small depression in my back yard, and I always mow through it carefully,.

First, the sky problem and now this.

Sinkholes and other constraints to development are discussed in a plan to prepare the city for the next 20 years of intense population growth. The study is being done by the Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaboration

Drainage, Sinkholes, Flooding and Verbiage, Oh my!

This is one of the most difficult portions of the study that I have read so far. It follows the section on revitalizing the downtown area. I’m not sure why. There is a mass of detail. Yet, nowhere is there a blueprint in this section to tell the reader what the theme is or how the sections in this chapter fit together to form a big picture.

The reader’s eyes start to glaze over from references to 303 (d) streams, Municipal Separate Storm System permits, and BMP’s, which are best management practices.

Since we’re a flightly bird anyway, and the sinkholes issue made us nervous, we’re going to hit the highlights and dismiss the class early. Besides, many of the recommendations are for the staff to continue what it is already doing well.

The Theme

The closest thing to a theme is not in the text but runs as a cutline under a satellite shot of the city.

Murfreesbro, which is surrounded by farmland and forests, has few natural barriers on how it can grow. But there are constraints: (1) the Stones River floodplain, and (2) the region’s geology, which creates numerous sinkholes.In addition, development is not practical in areas where the water table rises at times to less than two feet below the surface.

These constraints are causing a deficit of land needed to provide all the homes, parks, schools, fire and police protection for a population that will double in just  20 years.

Listen Up. This will be on the exam:

  • Flooding: The danger is greater in older parts of town built in floodplain areas before the federal government had issued strict standards.
  • Sinkholes: Our bedrock is limestone, which is great for public buildings, but not good for bedrock. Water creates channels through this relatively porous rock, and if the channels become big enough, a sinkhole appears.
  • The closer the limestone is to the surface the greater the risk of flooding.
  • About 50% of the runoff from storms in the city and the immediate surrounding area flows to sinkholes.
  • The more land we pave land over with development, the greater the runoff problem becomes.
  • This makes water contamination a major issue if the water flowing into the sinkholes contains antifreeze, road salts, fecal bacteria or other pollutants.

Solutions:

  • Break up paved areas with unpaved sections so water can get into the ground.
  • Encourage green building, which reuses water on a parcel instead of allowing it to flow away in runoff. A good example is the use of rooftop gardens on some major city buildings. The gardens absorb rainwater falling on the roof and also help insulate the building.
  • Guide development away from floodplain areas that already have 10% of their land area impervious to rainwater.
  • Consider requiring the ground floor of residences to be two feet above the high water mark in a 100-year flood.
  • Require a 25-foot buffer around the openings of sinkholes.
  • Where water flows to a sinkhole, consider requiring developers to divert at least some of the runoff to things like detention ponds.
  • Monitor the streams that fail to meet the EPA’s water quality standards and work out the best technology for reducing the pollution in these waterways.

What have we learned today? Two things.First:  A 100-year flood doesn’t mean it’s a major  flood that only occurs once every 100 years. It means each year there is a 1% chance of it happening. Second: The average citizen probably won’t read this stuff.

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