Wet zero: Worrell's wastewater gadget cleans up in SF
Once again, Worrell Water Technologies, the company founded by ex-Daily Progress owner Tom Worrell to develop earth-inspired wastewater re-use technologies, has sold one of its state-of-the-art Living Machine systems to a major buyer. This time, it's the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which wants to display the system in its new 13-story headquarters.
Back in December, the U.S. government purchased a Worrell system for a new border control facility in Otay Mesa, California; and another Living Machine is operating in the 10-story headquarters of the Port of Portland, the entity that runs Portland International Airport, where water from sinks, showers, and toilets is reused for use in toilets (and where about only 20 percent of the water typically used in a conventional office building is consumed).
“The new San Fransisco office building shows how we can begin to transition to decentralizing energy and water systems, even in a dense urban area,” says Will Kirksey, senior vice president at Worrell Water Technologies, in a release that notes that the company now has more than a dozen major systems in operation around the world.
But there are none in Albemarle or Charlottesville.
Here, local leaders have instead approved a dredge-free Water Plan and embarked on the construction of a new waste pipe costing nearly $20 million. But they have yet to consider implementing the water-reuse technology being developed in their own back yard despite recent endorsements from Mayor Dave Norris and County Supe Dennis Rooker.
Our governments recently opted to increase water capacity by building a new multi-million-dollar mega dam. What's more, our wastewater treatment systems seem to be crying out for help.
Last year, 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 rainfall. A citizen has posted video footage of tampons and toilet paper spewing into a creek. Meanwhile, the often-smelly Moore’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is on its way to getting a $40.3 million renovation.
However, as the Living Machine system shows, less water use can be as simple as mimicking nature.
Basically, the Living Machine is a man-made, turbo-charged tidal wetland that pumps wastewater through a series of cells that use plants in porous gravel to cultivate natural microorganisms to eat the waste without producing odor. Whereas the earth cleanses itself with two tidal cycles a day, the Living Machine does the same thing 10 to 12 times a day.
While government officials have rightly pointed out that replacing our current water and sewer system with Living Machine systems would be impractical, augmenting major developments and neighborhood systems with the technology could, as Worrell has said, make a "huge difference" in lessening the strain on our water supply.
Think of the mega-development Stonefield coming to the corner of Hydraulic Road and Route 29, a 65-acre mixed-use "village." The sewer pipeline beneath the development– the Meadowcreek Interceptor– is getting replaced with a bigger one to handle the needed capacity at a cost, including rights of way and engineering, of nearly $20 million.
Or, as Worrell suggests, consider Belmont.
"We could build a system for, say, the Belmont neighborhood for a couple million dollars,” Worrell told the Hook, “and you wouldn't even notice it was there."
Indeed, the unobtrusive presence of the Living Machine system, looking as it does like a mini-wetland or terrarium, is as aesthetically pleasing as it is hard-working. At the new San Francisco Public Utilities Commission building, the system will occupy approximately 1,000 square feet of the 277,500 square-foot structure, but it will recycle up to 5,000 gallons of wastewater a day, cutting water use in the building by 750,000 gallons a year. It promises to keep all wastewater on-site while providing indoor and outdoor green space.
"We needed to select a water solution that would allow us to drastically minimize our water needs," says Commission General Manager Ed Harrington. “This system provides the innovative technology needed to locally recycle water in a sustainable, ecological, and energy-efficient way.”