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Toilet to tap


COURTESY: CLEAN WATER SERVICES  - A judge tastes a beer brewed for the 2015 Pure Water Brew competition sponsored by Clean Water Services, the Washington County sewer and storm drainage utility. Clean Water Services made treated, purified water available to home brewers for the competition. Despite public concern for the environment, don’t expect Portland or its suburbs anytime soon to resort to widespread reuse of treated wastewater for drinking or other domestic uses.

Aside from abundant supplies of freshwater and added costs of delivering treated wastewater to households and businesses, there is the matter of public acceptance.

“We just haven’t gotten over the ‘ick’ factor,” says Karin Power, a lawyer for The Freshwater Trust and a Milwaukie city councilor.

Power says the city has asked about the possibility.

“It seems to make sense that if you require only a couple of additional steps, we could be reusing this water directly," she says. "Other countries, such as Singapore, have reached the point where they absolutely have to. They have engaged in massively expensive public campaigns to get people to drink it.

“But we do not have the kind of scarcity problem that California is running into. Until we are boxed into doing that kind of innovative work, I just don’t know if spending public dollars on that next step makes sense.”

COURTESY: CLEAN WATER SERVICES  - Some of the beers sampled by judges in the second-annual Pure Water Brew competition last year. Power and others responded to a question raised by Brian Wegener, advocacy manager for Tualatin Riverkeeper, during a regional water forum sponsored jointly by the City Club of Portland and the Washington County Public Affairs Forum.

Wegener says the region is spending millions to treat wastewater, most of it discharged into rivers, while officials consider developing future water sources. He says recycling and reuse should be added to reduction of demand through conservation measures.

“It seems we are consuming beyond our means,” Wegener says. “We should be using it (treated wastewater) as a primary supply.”

But Kevin Hanway, Hillsboro’s water director, says the Tualatin River needs an augmented flow from the wastewater treated by Clean Water Services, the agency that serves most of Washington County.

“What we have determined in joint planning with Clean Water Services … is that the best place for that treated effluent to go is back into the river to help maintain its water quality,” Hanway says.

“In addition, just because of the economics associated with power and a secondary pipe system that is needed for delivering that water to customers, it’s much more economical to tap these other sources that are still providing an abundant supply without having an impact on in-stream needs.”

Clean Water Services does treat about 100 million gallons annually to the higher standards — a small amount was used in highly publicized beer-brewing contests in 2014 and 2015 — but the amount is a fraction of the 65 million gallons of wastewater treated by its plants daily in Durham, Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Rock Creek.

COURTESY: CLEAN WATER SERVICES  - Canned beer brewed from water treated by Clean Water Services in Washington County. Singapore, an island city-state in Asia, purifies about twice as much wastewater daily to the highest standards — but it’s consumed mostly in high-technology manufacturing.

Michael Stuhr, director of the Portland Water Bureau, says such reuse is technically feasible but economically unfeasible.

“The consensus was that for the Northwest and Northeast, it is unsellable,” Stuhr says.

“Ultimately, we have to convince ratepayers to pay for it. Now maybe all of you would be willing to drink such water at a much higher cost. In Portland’s case, 80 percent of our customers receive their water from gravity — which is free.

“If I have to start pumping that through a plant, you just watch the rates go through the roof — never mind the ‘ick’ factor.”

In its discharge permit pending before the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Clean Water Services will be required to develop plans for use of recycled water and highly purified water.

“I think there are opportunities where that does make sense,” says Mark Knutson, chief executive of the Tualatin Valley Water District. “But because it’s costly to produce it, there are only certain areas where it does make sense to be able to reclaim wastewater.”

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