Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sewage Treatment

Phew….wonderful things to do with sewage…read on…

An excerpt.

Strange and wonderful things to do with sewage
Carolyn Heiman,Times Columnist
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The story was intended as light banter -- really no more than a joke. The man who shoulders much of the responsibility for ensuring that the Capital Regional District politicians have the information they need to move forward on sewage treatment, recounted visiting a Chinese city where residential toilets had conversion systems resulted in the owner's house getting a gas supply for their kitchen stove.

Imagine, said Dwayne Kalynchuk, the general manager of environmental services, every Victorian having a fuel connection between their toilet and barbecue.

Imagine indeed. After taking a moment to get over the yuk factor, I recognized that I have my own indoctrinated notions of sewage being something ideally pushed not only from mind, but disposed as far away from source as possible. A toilet-to-kitchen connection seemed too close. But is it really something to be so squeamish about? Perhaps like politicians and regional bureaucrats now forced to deal head on with the topic of sewage, I needed to open my mind to possibilities that might exist beyond putting it in a football field-sized pond in someone else's neighbourhood.

Those possibilities are endless if you listen to Stephen Salter, a professional engineer involved with Victoria Sewage Alliance, an organization that has been agitating for sewage treatment in the region.

Salter has nearly made a career of looking at alternative methods of treatment. He has binder full of approaches that have been tried in other places, and in October he's travelling to Kristianstad, Sweden, to check out their sewage innovations. In particular, he's lobbying for the region to have a design competition that could showcase treatments not contemplated to date. They're the kind of treatments that would convert sewage into biogas used to fuel buses and cars and heat homes. It's done in other jurisdictions, so why not in the capital region, Salter suggests.

From California to Switzerland he has found examples of cities that use sewage as a resource, not a waste. These are places that have taken sewage and all of its components -- fat, grease, organic material, sludge, minerals, water -- to make fuel, fertilizer, water for irrigation and even ash containing metals and minerals that is rerouted to a mine and blended with ore.

Naysayers are quick to dump on Salter's ideas, saying they are too expensive or impractical for the region. But this may be old-style thinking at work.

Joe Van Belleghem, of Windmill Developments, recently recounted his reaction to a cost estimate to have the Dockside Green residential development have its own in-house sewage treatment.

"My jaw nearly dropped," said Van Belleghem. Idealism might have been stomped out by economic assumptions if Van Belleghem didn't continue to challenge the premise the estimates were made on.

He didn't try to make the sewage treatment cheaper. Instead, he factored in costs he'd save with the system. How much would he save if he didn't have to connect to the city's sewage system? Did the estimate take into account that that Dockside Green residents would require less treatment because of the water-saving appliances and devices that would be installed? What about the value of the treated water that will be used for irrigation?

Tallied up, the high cost of in-house treatment not only made sense, Van Belleghem figures its operation will make money.

If all of this sounds a little implausible, just cast back 20 years or so. Did we ever think we'd be wearing cosy jackets made from recycled plastic pop bottles? At some point it would have sounded crazy to suggest that we'd supply 1,600 homes with electricity from garbage at Hartland landfill. We're told the 2010 Olympic Village will get its heating from its sewage. This year The Economist reported on a San Francisco project to make valuable methane out of dog feces diverted out of the landfill by pet owners. The city figured that pet waste coming from its 120,000 canine residents accounted for four per cent of household refuse. All of these are strange, but true examples. No joking.