Treated Water for Every Purpose?

Ron Bolin: August 2, 2011                                            

The organization of cities makes infrastructure demands which can only be met by common and coordinated efforts led by some governing body.  To get around in limited space means that a network of roads must be laid out, developed and maintained.  To provide electricity or natural gas, at least by the means that have been traditionally available, means that an electric or gas grid must be designed, implemented and maintained.  To provide water for both drinking and other uses means that a system of delivering water and taking away liquid waste must be planned, implemented and maintained.

We are now in the process of determining how to bring safer water to our homes and businesses at a price which can be afforded.  There may be similarities between these systems and the tradeoffs between massive and overwhelming projects which are worthy of examination.

In the case of roads, for example, the public system reaches the boundaries of all properties in a municipality.  At the interface between these public and the private spaces an important distinction takes place.  The responsibility for the public roadways is public.  The responsibility for providing facilities to bring vehicles onto private property (driveways) and for their storage (garages) on private property is demanded of the private property owner who must maintain the standards for them set by the municipality.

Similarly, the electrical grid brings electricity, generally along the road network, to a point where private homes and businesses can attach for electrical service.  Responsibility for the devices connected to the grid belongs to the property owner and those devices must be purchased by her/him.  These monolithic grids are gradually being tested by the introduction of power generation on private property using solar, wind, or other systems.

The natural gas pipeline system also uses the public road right of ways for distribution.  Again there is a public/private divide at the property line and the responsibility for furnaces, stoves, etc. which use the gas are the responsibility of the home or business owner.

The water network, like the other necessary utility services, shares the roadway rights of way.  It differs, however, from the road, electric, and gas systems by the multiplicity of the uses of water.  Water is a vital part of the human and animal diet as drinking water.  And it is also used, far more extensively however, for other purposes: bathing, laundry, toilets, home and car washing, gardens and lawns, etc.  These uses form by far the largest proportion of the use of water in homes or commercial businesses.  As such, is it necessary or even reasonable, to treat all that water to a drinking water standard:  Indeed, to a standard which, while safe at the source, may encounter contamination on its voyage through kilometers of pipes from that source to the individual homes or businesses.

Think About It?

The electricity that is delivered to your home is undifferentiated.  The gas that is delivered is undifferentiated.   But ater comes to your home for two very different purposes: potable water to drink and water for all other uses.  The potable drinking water which you use is about 5% or less of the water that you use.  While it certainly would be far too expensive to bring two sets of water lines to your home or business, perhaps that is not the only alternative.  Too, perhaps it is too expensive to treat 100% of our water even though only 5% or less of it needs to be potable.

There are a number of alternatives for drinking water which are already in use: bottled water (for better or worse), filtered water, boiled water  and/or distilled water, all of which can, and are currently, being used by some safety conscious individuals or families in Nanaimo.  We do not know the proportion, but it is not inconsequential.  This provides to the home or business the same opportunity to take control of drinking water in the home just as there is the opportunity to control the use of electricity or gas.

In point of fact there are also filters for the home of the same type as those proposed for the water treatment plant; some with still further protection such as ultra violet treatment of the water.  Units of this type could be supplied to every home and business in Nanaimo for less money than it will cost to build the proposed water treatment facility and would eliminate the need for concern about contamination coming from the kilometers of leaky pipes that bring the water from the source to the end user.   Do we really need to spend tens of millions of dollars to still further treat our bath, laundry, car wash, lawn and garden water?

Perhaps we need to give consideration to the final treatment of water in the home.  In the Age into which we are moving many of the massive projects of the past will be replaced by smaller, more dispersed and ultimately less expensive technologies.  Maybe this is one of them.