Paradigms, Or Is It Ever Possible To Get Out Of The Box?
The following was part of an email that was cc’ed to me. It was part of an email written by “The Waterguy,” i.e. David Venhuizen, P.E., commenting on a NOWRA international conference in Baltimore last march (http://www.waterforalllife.org/ with various info presented listed under Resource Documents) David’s been writing about water issues for years. His comments should be read by all in Los Osos because the community needs to understand that paradigms and evaluations are only as good as the evaluators involved, that human nature abhors change of any kind, even beneficial change, and that perception, no matter how cockamamie, too often becomes reality.
Busting the Paradigm is a Full-Time Job
It was 18 years ago that the decentralized concept of wastewater management was formally laid out, complete with a set of rather compelling arguments that decentralized concept systems would, in many situations, be more fiscally reasonable, more societally responsible, and more environmentally benign than conventional centralized systems. About 7 years ago, Congress weighed in, saying that decentralized concept systems would be a superior way of addressing wastewater management needs in many settings. Yet today, all around us wastewater system planning is proceeding with no regard for anything except business as usual, for anything except “the Paradigm”.
While the report to Congress listed a number of barriers to proliferation of the decentralized concept, the first stop for any consideration of that problem is at the engineering community—the Keepers of the Paradigm. Highly recommended reading for anyone who wonders why practice in this field does not seem to evolve is a paper written by Australian researcher Sharon Beder entitled Technological Paradigms: The Case of Sewerage Engineering. The abstract of this paper presents a stark overview of our present situation:
“Sewerage engineering practice operates within a paradigm in the sense that the engineering community reached a consensus [early in the last] century that a narrow range of … options would form the basis of its subsequent practice. This consensus prevents serious consideration of alternative technologies … at a time when the paradigm is no longer adequate in a changing environment where sustainability is crucial. A technological revolution is required but is unlikely to emerge from within the sewerage engineering community unless that community recognises that their existing paradigm is inadequate to the needs of the community and the broader environment.”
We see evidence in many quarters that this recognition is lagging. On EPA’s decentralized list-serv, we hear of situations in North Carolina, in Arizona, in Montana, in Alabama, in West Virginia, where citizens are frustrated that very costly conventional centralized “solutions” to their problems are the only options being explored. On the eastern shore of Maryland, we hear of small communities seemingly tailor-made for decentralized concept solutions being offered only the conventional approach by the consultant. In north-central New Mexico, we see planning forging ahead on pipe-it-away “regional” systems in an environment where reuse-focused decentralized concept strategies would seem to be an imperative.
Facility plans for decentralized concept wastewater systems to serve about 30 colonias in the Lower Rio Grande Valley indicated this strategy would cost something like 40% of the estimated costs to either extend sewers from existing centralized systems or to set up new “regional” plants. Despite the magnitude of the potential savings, this study seems to be the best-kept secret in the Valley, completely ignored by all the consulting engineers and wastewater service providers in that area as they plan their “regional” systems.
Here in my own community, the wastewater utility planners have made a very conscious decision not to consider anything except extensions of conventional large-pipe sewers for service to new development areas. This is a region that will face increasingly severe water resources challenges in the coming decades, challenges that can be effectively addressed by moving to decentralized concept water reclamation and reuse systems, rather than funneling ever more long-term investment into water-inefficient centralized systems. In a small community near here, where the water supply issue is very current, the community fathers and their consulting engineer adamantly insist that a conventional, pipe-it-away-and-dump-it system is the only option for an organized wastewater system worthy of their consideration.
What seems to be common to all these situations is a rather complete incognizance of the decentralized concept by the engineers. It is one thing to review the options and then to rationally defend a decision to go with a more costly option, or with an option that does not reflect the long-run economic value of water. It is quite another to refuse to look at certain options at all. As Beder points out, engineers seem to act in this way because they work within the Paradigm, and they all seem to agree that options lying outside the Paradigm do not merit their attention. To have any hope of gaining consideration of those options, one has to meet and defeat the same arguments—that are “rational” only within the Paradigm—on every project. Truly, attempting to bust the Paradigm, to open up the field to better options, is a full-time job.
Certainly there are other factors that must also change in order for the decentralized concept to move into the mainstream, to take its rightful place as a legitimate organizing paradigm for a wastewater management system. But it is clear that for these more fiscally reasonable, more societally responsible, more environmentally benign wastewater systems to proliferate in our society, first and foremost the engineering community must recognize “… that their existing paradigm is inadequate to the needs of the community and the broader environment.”
Humpty Dumpty Speaks, Sort of
The following email exchange was bounced over to me by someone from the “Reclamator” team. Apparently somebody had emailed that group for more technical information on the “Reclamator.” (Both the county and the RWQCB have requested lots more detailed info. Don’t know if they’ve received it yet. ) I’m not an engineer, nor do I play one on T.V. so I make no claims for any onsite system or about anything written in these emails posted here, BUT, what I did find interesting in item # 6 is something I have always found attractive about onsite systems in general.
If the homeowner screws up his system from misuse, he alone is responsible for its repair. In community wide collection and treatment systems, the whole community has to pay for abuse done by certain individuals, i.e the overall cost for a community wide treatment system is high just so it can treat and handle illegally dumped motor oil, other illegally dumped toxins and drugs poured down the toilet, (or into a collector storm drain in the dead of night, as has happened in other cities), cigarette butts, diapers, icky unmentionables and toxic crud of all sorts, whatever crap people want to dump because they’re too lazy to recycle or dispose of things properly & etc. Everyone pays a higher cost to fix the messes caused by the wastewater system abuser. With onsite systems, however, there’s a much more elegant solution: YOU dump crap down YOUR septic system that “kills” it, then YOU get to pay for the damage and repair, not your neighbor.
[response to email below]
I really appreciate you questions. Obviously, you are in the industry in one way or another.
One of the reasons I haven’t gone into depth on “technology description” is due to the fact that I am no “selling” the system, but only the service of eliminating the discharge of pollutants at the source. You wil be able to educate yourself on the biological process technology of the Reclamator by going to the old website, http://www.aeswastewater.com/. This site explains the technology quite well and is geared toward educating the engineering community.
Again, we are not selling the Reclamator. I own the Reclamator which I utilize to provide the service of “eliminating the discharge of pollutants” at the source through entering into an agreement with the homeowner much like the cable company, gas company or garbage company. We all own our components which are required to provide the services. For that reason, I haven’t really put much effort into educating the public as to the technical aspects of it as it is about as technical as a gas meter and who really cares how the gas meter works as long as they get the gas through it.
I will answer your questions below and if you wish to have anymore information, please contact me direct at 775-848-8800. I would be curious as to why you have such a great interest in the Reclamator.
[Question from original email inquiry]
I am particularly interested in seeing the information you intend to place on the "Technology Description" page on your web site. Presently I only get a "Page Not Found" message when trying to link to that page.
Specific items of interest include:
1. What is the specific biochemical process in the Tertiary Bio React Zone.
The biological process a continuous feed cyclic reactor (CFCR), not an SBR. It is an intermittent decant extended aeration (IDEA) process which I developed in 1988 which is superior to the conventional continuous process and batch processes. I currently hold several patents on this latest biological process, both in the US and additionally international.
2. This appears to be a batch type extended aeration process.
I understand that is the first assumption as not many know of the new innovative biological process technology, however, it is not an SBR, nor conventional extended aeration. As I explain the basic difference, the IDEA CFCR is a single basin complete mix process which accommodates influent flow on a continuous bases, provides for inherent nitrification and denitrification, liquid/solids separation and ultra filtration (UF) water purification decant which produces a permeate which meets the MCLG standard for treated drinking water, “a non-enforceable public health goal.” It takes the “BS” out of the SBR. It isn’t batch nor sequential, but rather continuous and cyclic.
3. What are the air input volumes and contact times used.
As the IDEA CFCR is a extended aeration process, the same design criteria is used in the design of the Reclamator. As the total volume of the Reclamator is 1500 gallons, the contact time of a 250 gpd flow would be a 144 hour detention time, well over a sludge age of 1000 days; this is why the Reclamator produces such a low volume of sludge. With over a 20 year track record, it has proven, with typical use, it only has to be wasted an average of every five years.
4. Where are the air pumps located?
The little diaphragm compressor is typically located near the house; however, we have some located within the riser of the reactor. It is extremely flexible as to the location of the compressor. Lately, we locate it inside an irrigation box beside the foundation of the house at the electrical connection.
5. What process is going on in the Pre React Zone?
The Pre React Zone is a primary react zone. The process is an anaerobic process which serves to reduce the total organic load, prepare the phosphorous for absorption and trap all inorganic waste products. It additionally serves as a source of carbon which feeds into the Pre React Zone during each decant so as to initiate controlled, consistent denitrification.
6. What limits are there on the influent quality in terms of waste from garbage disposals, clothes washing detergents, water softener backwash effluents, etc?
There are no limits on the influent quality as long as it is domestic household wastewater. The Reclamator has demonstrated itself to handle all domestic wastewater flows and strengths, even without the Primary React Zone. However, due to the fact that AES is totally responsible for all management of the Reclamator as a part of the service provided, we have designed the Reclamator with the Primary React Zone so as to provide an extremely hearty facility which allows for a very long period between service requirements. We haven’t experienced any downsides with clothes washing detergents nor water softener backwash effluents. The only effect the waste from the garbage disposal has is cause shorter periods between service requirements; this is why the client pays for the wasting as the use of the Reclamator is directly related to how often it needs service.
If a “user” puts anything down their drain which is not compatible with the Reclamator, such as used motor oil, etc., the Reclamator will signal AES (or anyone else who wants to be notified, even any authority who wishes to monitor also) via Wi-Fi and we will respond, service it and bill the client for the service as a “System Abuse” charge. You may see information on this in our “531” Proposal on our site.
8. What are the electrical service requirements in terms of voltage and amperage?
The Reclamator operates on 120 volt service just like most other household appliances. Both the compressor and the effluent discharge pump draw less than 5 amps.
8. What are the normal power demands in terms of wattage?
The Reclamator operates on approximately one KWH per day.
9. Are critical components such as the Effluent Discharge Pump, level sensors, and control hardware redundant?
Not in a single family application. We have found the components to be extremely reliable with an average of a 10 year life expectancy and the Reclamator is monitored 24/7 via wireless and Wi-Fi communication which sends a report every four hours which will tell us how many gallons of water we have produced and if the Reclamator needs any service plus the Reclamator has a reserve capacity of 48 plus hours; therefore, there is no justification for redundancy within the Reclamator.
10. In the event of system failure and the need to use the Emergency Bypass, what is the proposed disposal method for this discharge?
Into the existing drainfield which is currently receiving septic effluent now. It beats the ocean or estuary which would receive the discharge from a conventional publicly owned centralized sewer facility. However, keep in mind; we will receive a notice of service requirement BEFORE the system even starts to bypass. There is no problem which cannot be resolved with a matter of less than an hour service call. Even the bypass effluent is of a tertiary quality of less than 5/5/5 BOD/TSS/TN.
On a final note, the UF membrane is a “definite barrier” to pollutants, i.e. virus, pathogen and fecals. The UF membrane is designed to interface with a TSS level of 50 parts per million (ppm) continuously and only interfaces with less than 5 ppm in the Reclamator application. The UF membrane also is designed with a FLUX rate which provides for it to flow 5,000 gallons per day (gpd) when in the Reclamator application it only flows up to 500 gpd. No pollutants can bypass the UF membrane, thus eliminating the need or justification for any continuous testing or effluent monitoring of the system as the physical treatment technology is not subject to variation as the system would be if it were only biological. Any equipment or process failure which would cause any degradation of the substrate to the point it would not permeate pass the UF membrane, we will receive a high level notification. We will simply respond, initiate the repair and get the Reclamator back on line. As I said earlier, we have 20 years with this system which has given us a tract record of reliability. All components used within the Reclamator are of commercial grade and are the very same components used within the municipal and industrial systems, i.e. diffusers, float switches, and pumps.
Tribune? You’re Years Too Late and Gazillions of Dollars Too Short.
Sorry, Trib, but your crocodile tears in today editorial come waaaayyyy too late. If you had been doing the watchdog job you should have been doing years ago, this sewer train wreck would never have happened. For years, Ron Crawford over at http://www.sewerwatch.blogspot.com/ has laid down a complete trail of breadcrumbs that anyone, even a myopic newspaper editor, could have followed, breadcrumbs that kept leading to the kind of provocative, investigative journalism that newspapers are supposed to be doing. Instead, for years, you ignored those questions, ignored the evidence and documents in front of your faces, (even when they were posted on Ron’s website in pdf form, to be read by anyone,) and instead simply turned into cheerleaders or spinmeisters. It’s been a disgraceful performance, so, plluuueeeze, spare Los Osos your electioneering (today’s last minute sidebar with bold sub-heads, “Last chance to ward off individual fines” . . . . Awwwww my Gawwwwwddd we’re all gonna die in the streets like dawgs! ) and your phony crocodile tears this late in the game.
Protest Vote Tuesday, Oct 23, BOS
2 p.m. in the BOS chambers. Vote count, Wednesday, Oct 24, at the county clerk’s office.
The following Protest Ballot/Letter was e-mailed around as just one example of some of the reasons various people are protesting this assessment ballot. I’ve removed any names, since some members of the community and certain anonymous people posting on this blogsite (since 86ed by me) had “threatened retaliation” if people voted “no.” What’s important here isn’t “who,” but “what,” and that is the general content and the concerns being presented. They’re serious ones and ones both the County and State and Feds need to be aware of and deal with them, since failure to solve these concerns may well end up causing another train wreck.
[one] Ballot/Assessment ProtestWe. XXXXX (Assessment #24**) and XXX (Assessment#24**) protest the assessment on APN 038-***-***.
We object and protest for the following reasons:Concerning our votes, we were subject to intimidation and coercion bythe SLO County Board of Supervisors, the CCRWQCB and Ca. Rep. SamBlakeslee by their statements and actions leading up to this ballotassessment. (Most notably, the CDO's and the RWQCB's refusal to vacatethese orders.
Also, the RWQCB's threat to issue blanket CAO's to theentire Prohibition Zone if the 218 assessment failed).We fear possible retaliation and/or harassment by the CCRWQCB andprivate individuals due to the public disclosure of our vote. The SLOCo. BOS has refused to make our vote private, despite repeated requeststo do so. They have stated that they believe that they are unable to doso under law. We believe they are mistaken.
We object to the ballot itself, believing it has technical flaws that effect our voting decision and the outcome.We believe the SLO County's process leading up to the assessment balot was flawed.
The assessment ballot is being decided prior to thedetermination of what Project we will have (i.e. design, location,technology) or its final cost.
SLO County has refused to conduct an EIRaccording to CEQA guidelines prior to the 218 assessment and thus deprives us of the information we need to make an informed choice on ourballot.
The SLO County's process using the Technical Task Force to evaluate the County's "Fine Screening Report"--the basis for the Engineer's Report--was biased and flawed in many ways and did notprovide an adequate analysis which would allow us an educated vote.
There was no independent, objective peer review of the "Fine ScreeningReport" prior to the 218 assessment vote.
This 218 assessment and total project costs are unaffordable."Unaffordable" means we would have to leave our home of 25 years.Others are also in this same situation---e.g. many seniors who havelived in Los Osos longer than we have. The socio-economic diversity ofLos Osos would be permanently and negatively impacted, and this iscontrary to law.
The Public Utilities Code does not allow public works projects to cost in excess of 20% of the assessment value of the property in the District(the Prohibition Zone). We believe the proposed viable project alternatives (and certainly the Tri-W project) exceed this amount and so is unlawful.To drive residents from their homes for a sewer project such as the one proposed, is both immoral and illegal under Ca. Government Codes.
The Prohibition Zone (PZ) is being singled out from the rest of Los Osos to pay for a "special benefit" that the entire community will benefit from.The PZ is being singled out from the rest of Los Osos to pay for more than its fair share of "general benefits". The next assessment or charge for these "general benefits" is unknown at the time of this 218 assessment vote.
We protest a lack of Environmental Justice as ordered in the Ca.Government Codes.
We object to being prohibited by the CCRWQCB from considering an on-sitewastewater treatment system as a possibility, and we demand our rights under AB 885 to consider an on-site system.
We object that a design-build option under Government Code #5956 and also the design-build-finance option has not been included in the options analyzed by the SLO County LOWWP team prior to the 218 assessment ballot.
We object to the SLO County process that will require further assessment, the results of which we will have no control over.
We object to taking on the financial burden of the LOWWTP that was the obligation of SLO County for many years and they failed to build the LOWWTP, as required. We object that SLO County allowed over 1,000 newhomes to be built in the Los Osos PZ since the 83-13 order by the CCRWQCB (and the 1988 building moratorium) which has made our water and sewer situation worse. We object that SLO Co. never implemented order83-12, as required by the RWQCB, regarding septic tank maintanence.
We object to the electioneering done by the Co. BOS and its staff, the CCRWQCB and its staff and the Tribune newspaper. The level of misinformation/disinformation, threats and fear-mongering have tainted the 218 assessment which is supposed to be a fair and uncoerced voting process.
We object to the specific order by the CCRWQCB which states that the LosOsos Prohibition Zone must comply with their "Zero discharge order"which requires all residences and businesses in the PZ to cease all discharge by 2011. (Previously, the RWQCB santioned the construction of a wastewater treatment plant in the PZ which allowed 7 mg per liter of nitrates to be discharged at the Broderson leachfield site---hardly"zero discharge".
Numbers, Gimme Them Ol’ Time Numbers, Gimme Them Ol’ Time Numbers, They’re Good Enough For Me.
The Trib editorial states that as of that writing, “40 percent of the eligible voters have not cast their ballots.” That’s an interesting number, if correct, because in the original mini-assessment of 2001, was it?, 40 percent didn’t bother to return their ballots either. If that percent holds now, then I think it would be safe to say that when it comes to assessments, 40 percent of Los Osos is permanently out to lunch.
My guess on this vote? A guess only? Because the votes were “weighted,” and because the Big Lie that this town was nothing but a bunch of “Anti-Sewer Obstructionist Urine Swilling Moonbeam McSwines” was ALWAYS just that, a big lie, I’m guessing that a “Yes” majority was achieved a few weeks after the ballots were initially mailed out (not that there’d be any way of verifying that unless the ballots are time-stamped as they come in?) It’s also my guess that a few years ago, if that post-recall “October Compromise” had been put to a 218 vote, it would have been the same: Yes, keep laying pipe, move the plant out of town, get going. Which means all the RWQCB’s ACL, CDO stupidities and Taxpayer Watch lawsuits, dissolution attempts and other Medean idiocies that ensued were totally unnecessary and should never have happened. That’s my guess anyway. What’s yours.
Tick, tick, tick, tick……