Monday, March 27, 2017

Toilet to tap: Recycled water may be New Jersey's future

The Haworth Water treatment plant in Oradell. (Photo: Marko Georgiev/  

With wastewater being treated upriver from drinking water plants, we're already drinking recycled water. Should we be doing it more?

James M. O'Neil reports for The Record:

Turning wastewater into drinking water: the ultimate in recycling.

It's not as unusual -- or repulsive -- as it may sound, and it could be critical for maintaining North Jersey's water supply. In fact, we're already doing it, though not in a planned or intentional way.

As North Jersey’s drought continued through last fall and into the winter, the Wanaque and Oradell reservoirs fell below 45 percent of capacity. Yet when people across the region turned on their faucets, clean drinking water still flowed out -- in part because residents of Fairfield, Lincoln Park and Pequannock kept flushing their toilets.

The sewage from those toilets – and the wastewater from the sinks, washing machines, showers and dishwashers in those towns -- sloshes to a sewage treatment plant on the Pompton River. After treatment, the sewage becomes clear, clean effluent, and is released into the river, mixing with the river flow for about 1,500 feet.

Then some of it gets sucked into a pump station, which shoots the mixture of river water and effluent through a pipe for 11 miles to help refill the Wanaque Reservoir. There, the water gets further treatment before being distributed to water customers across North Jersey. Another pipe, 17 miles long, sends some of the river water and effluent to the Oradell Reservoir, where it receives further treatment to become drinking water for 800,000 residents in Bergen and Hudson counties.

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“I’m a huge fan of reuse – taking the water we already have and making it go farther,” said Robert Glennon, a water policy expert at the University of Arizona College of Law and author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It.” “We reuse water all the time.

"We’re drinking the same water the dinosaurs drank.”

The water's circle of life comes amid growing concerns about North Jersey's drinking water supply. As the dry weather of last summer and fall illustrated, the area is vulnerable to the ravages of drought. The region’s relatively small reservoirs can quickly become depleted. And though indoor water use has declined thanks to more efficient toilets and appliances, outdoor use is on the rise as residents water their lawns and landscaping. In effect, people are taking water that has been treated to meet stringent drinking water standards, and dumping it on the ground.

Meanwhile, the region’s population continues to grow, as former industrial sites are converted to high-rise residential developments, adding pressure on the water supply. And because the region’s pipes are so old, as much as 25 percent of treated drinking water leaks out before it ever reaches customers.

And given how developed the region is, there’s really no space for additional reservoirs, experts say.

Read the full story and related video here

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