Tidal action: Living Machine system selected for US government facility

onarch-gsarampRendering of the new US/Mexico border entry facility in Otay Mesa, California with an integrated Living Machine system. Site design by Design Workshop, Inc., a landscape architecture firm based in Denver, along with Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects.

Looks like the U.S. government isn't poo-pooing  Tom Worrell's Living Machine technology.

The former Daily Progress owner's Albemarle County-based company, Worrell Water Technologies, announced December 6 that its unique waste-water treatment system has been selected by the U.S. General Services Administration for a new United States/Mexico border facility. The land border control crossing, located in Otay Mesa, California, is one of the largest in the country.

Worrell's Living Machine is basically a man-made, turbo-charged tidal wetland. Waste water is pumped and filtered, and monitored by microcomputers, through a series of cells that use plants in porous gravel to cultivate natural microorganisms that eat up the waste. The cells continuously fill and drain, mimicking the tidal action of estuaries.

Whereas the earth only has two tidal cycles a day– nature’s way of flushing the toilet– the Living Machine replicates that cycle 10 to 12 times a day. The unique system was featured in a 2009 Hook cover story entitled “The Tao of Poo,” and over the summer a delegation from Winneba, Ghana visited the company's headquarters, prompting Charlottesville's mayor to speculate on the possibility of using the technology locally.

"There are large stretches of Albemarle County... where a Living Machine could very well make a whole lot of sense,” mayor Dave Norris told the Hook.

Indeed, as the community worries about the future of its water supply and pollution dumped into Moore's Creek and Rivanna River, technology like the Living Machine, located right in our own backyard, could alleviate some water demand.

Already, Central Virginia seems to be ripe for new ideas.

In May, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality sent a warning letter to the city, saying Charlottesville must improve its aging sewage systems, which have backed up at least 40 times since 2008 and continue to dump thousands of gallons of raw sewage into local creeks and streams during heavy rainfalls

As for the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, it too has a tendency to pour raw sewage into local waterways.

The Hook obtained several years of state data that show that in just seven months of 2003, 65 million gallons of untreated sewage flowed into Moore's Creek from the RWSA's plant. Things were better in 2004 and 2005 when fewer than five million gallons of sewage bypassed the system. But in a single October 2006 incident, 24.55 million gallons of human, household, and corporate slop poured into Moore's Creek.

The official blame for all these permit-exceeding incidents went to "heavy rains." But "heavy rains" are not unusual–- and they aren't going to stop. What if the idea of centralized sewage systems is flawed?

Will Kirksey, senior vice president at Worrell, isn't claiming that the Living Machine can suddenly replace centralized systems, but he seems eager for more pilot projects using what he calls "a sustainable, ecological process for turning a building’s waste water into high quality water for re-use within and around the building.”

At the Otay Mesa facility, the Living Machine system will be located along the pedestrian walkway into the United States, and will be integrated into the landscape and site design. Indeed, as is characteristic of these systems, visitors probably won't even realize it's there, although it will be capable of treating 1,500 gallons of waste water each day.


Here is what sewage "bypassing the system" looks like:


This is the Gowanus canal in Brooklyn.

"...prompting Charlottesville’s mayor to speculate on the possibility of using the technology locally."

Could make a nice moat around City Hall.