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.”

17 comments

This is the future . We can no longer afford to be wasteful.
Remember the advice of our ancestors

"A penny saved is a penny earned."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Bad politics kills innovation.

Charlottesville is under the political control of a very few who force decisions to follow their thoughts. So they gave away city control, assets and money to RWSA. Forget about the Living Machine, we are going to have a mega dam and uphill river at great expense and environmental damage. David Brown, Huja and Szakos decided this as directed by a few dictatorial Democrats.

Think about RWSA. Mike Gaffney, David Brown, Ken Boyd are leaders. Kurt Krueger is the attorney, and Tom Frederick the Executive Director. These are the people who hung a RICO (gangster) suit on Peter Van de Linde, the guy who innovated the single stream trash system that recycles near everything. These RWSA people were the same RSWA who tried to destroy Mr. Van de Linde economically and his personal reputation. Government persecuting an individual citizen.

Why do the people of Charlottes let these things happen to them? Don’t they see what’s being done by these people?

This innovative technology highlights the absurdity of Charlottesville and Albemarle's current water/sewer plan. The water demand projection that calls for the mega-dam plan does not even account for water saving technologies mandated in federal legislation from 1992, let alone currently cutting edge technology like these living machines, which will be common place in the future, if we choose it. That's why the demand projection is 26% wrong now, 6 years into a 50 year projection. Let's stop this needless waste of our resources and money - demand that Charlottesville City Council increase our water capacity by dredging South Fork FIRST rather than flooding and clear cutting our forest at Ragged Mountain Natural Area to build a new mega-dam that we will not need. This is a critical time because Council will decide Monday whether to insist that dredging occur before giving away our land at Ragged Mountain. Make your voice heard: email council at council@charlottesville.org and sign this petition:
http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-city-council-dredge-first-for-water...
and spread the word.

Very Good Article. It is important to consider this type of technology to deal with population and to tie up less land for waste containment and treatment. Seems there is a part of Charlottesville that would love to have Tom Worrell come home with this. We need to encourage this type of research and development. This type of innovation is a part of what makes the USA strong OR might help make it strong again.

Very Good Article. It is important to consider this type of technology to deal with population and to tie up less land for waste containment and treatment. Seems there is a part of Charlottesville that would love to have Tom Worrell come home with this. We need to encourage this type of research and development. This type of innovation is a part of what makes the USA strong OR might help make it strong again.

Anyone who has not seen the locally posted video for which this article provides a link should watch it immediately. What's shown is shocking. Unfortunately, however, it’s not uncommon.

The video's text asks about sites of other such storm sewer overflows. One that I see regularly after heavy rain or snow melt is at the northeast corner of the intersection of Ridge Street and Oak Street. There, on numerous occasions, gushing water has actually lifted a monster manhole cover and floated it aside. And that has happened inches from the wall that partially encloses the Barrett Early Learning Center So the overflow not only sends polluted water rushing down hill into both Oak Street and the Barrett play area, but it poses a risk of bodily harm to the small clients of the center, any of whom could easy disappear into the large hole left uncovered.

Another large storm sewer half a block away on Oak Street at 4th Street N.W. also receives mega amounts of water during heavy rain and snow melt. But no overflow occurs there because the pipe beneath Oak Street -- which I heard roaring with water on a recent bright sunny afternoon -- sends its excess into the bed of a creek that once flowed openly from near Oak Street through the ravine at the Ridge-Cherry property and across what became an enlarged Tonsler Park in the 1970s to a stream that feeds the seriously challenged Moore's Creek..

That Oak Street creek's natural flow has been radically disrupted over the years. The discharge pipe at the north end has silted. Illegal bulldozing in the Ridge-Cherry ravine almost completely buried another stretch. And the rest is trapped in a culvert and piped beneath the ramp that connects Cherry Avenue to Ridge Street and beneath Tonsler as well. Nevertheless, the wooded ravine at Ridge-Cherry still acts as a highly effective rain garden, cleaning and absorbing what flows in from the north end and sending only a clear trickle into the culvert at the south end.

But once Mayor Dave Norris and City Councilor Kristen Szakos get what they unsuccessfully voted for on 22 February -- that is, once major development removes the Ridge-Cherry trees and fills and paves and/or builds on the most fragile portion of the Ridge-Cherry ravine -- tens of thousands more polluted gallons will rush unobstructed and unfiltered toward Moore's Creek.

It's way, way, way past time for the Vision Statement authors at City Hall to act as they claim to aspire. It's way past time for them to do business with Tommy Worrell. It's way past time for them to dredge the South Fork Reservoir. And it's way past time for them to persuade their very, very, very good friends at Southern Development to donate or trade the Ridge-Cherry ravine to the City so that it can become officially what it already is informally -- an irreplaceable natural asset to everyone in Charlottesville and to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed besides.

Can someone explain why the Truth and Taxation group, that has successfully lobbied to keep taxes low in the county is not interested in plans that will lower water and sewer rates ?

Once the rates skyrocket and the contracts for the dam/pipeline and treatment plant are signed, there will be no turning back, and that will mean year after year of rate increases, with a debt that must be paid by those on the water and sewer system.

Your spot on NancyDrew!

The RWSA only recently had elected officials added. So it was hard for the individual citizen to complain. You have to get past the RWSA to get to the Supervisors and City Council.

Then there is ACSA. All appointed without any requirements. Complaining to them is like talking to the wall.

And the City Staff is no better. Try complaining to them.

So the cabal of a few has control. The citizens are shut out. Pay your bills, read the plaques to the stooges, kneel down and shut up.

I think we need to make the water and sewer authority completely accountable to the ratepayers by electing the members or disbanding the authority all together and holding our elected officials accountable for the utility rates - not some quasi-governmental body that spends money as if they have a blank check and has no motivation to innovate for less costly alternatives , such as those presented by Mr. Worrell.

But why aren't the Truth and Taxation people upset by this --you certainly couldn't call this transparent budgeting ?

Small correction from my earlier post - City Council has not actually scheduled a vote on dredging for Monday, but sometimes they vote on things whether they are scheduled or not, unfortunately. Regardless, it is, and will continue to be, important to show them that many people in Charlottesville think we should dredge first, and that we don't need a new dam. Sign the petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-city-council-dredge-first-for-water

Small correction from my earlier post - City Council has not actually scheduled a vote on dredging for Monday, but sometimes they vote on things whether they are scheduled or not, unfortunately. Regardless, it is, and will continue to be, important to show them that many people in Charlottesville think we should dredge first, and that we don't need a new dam. Sign the petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-city-council-dredge-first-for-water

Sorry, the last (2!) have a bad link. This one works: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-city-council-dredge-first-for-water...

"Tom Worrell ...has sold one of its state-of-the-art Living Machine systems to ...the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which wants to display the system in its new 13-story headquarters. "

So here we have our version of the RWSA leading the way in water conservation with the purchase of this system for their new building.

Our local RWSA has been renovating their offices for months- are they leading the way as well ?

Gary O'Connell is running ACSA with the same competence he ran the city. I personally do not think that the people on the Board of Supervisors or City Council have a green vision. Howev er, eventually the federal and state governments will increase their regulations in controlling our water and sewer processes. Also, down the road I doubt if Cville will be allowed to stockpile 2.4 billion gallons of water at Ragged Mountain, either. I don't understand why you people don't see that out local officials do not understand anything that are not platitudes or or socialist doctrine.

If you believe in affordable, sustainable solutions for our community please sign this petition. It's time to stop the waste and maintain our resources .

http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-city-council-dredge-first-for-water...

Let's offer Tom Worrell the job of director or the RWSA . It's time for a change. We wouldn't see innovative cost effective solutions to our water and sewer problems until we get a new director.

@Ratepayer, they just hired Gary (Overrrun) O'Connell for that position.