Editor's Letter: The Resource Recovery Utility of the Not-So-Distant Future

Jan. 21, 2015
Treating wastewater is not just about cleaning dirty water; it’s about recovering resources. This is a very powerful concept, and it’s gaining traction. Cordell Samuels, WEF past president and Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant superintendent, explained in a recent interview that many other elements, such as phosphorus, nitrogen and energy, can be recovered from wastewater that can help reduce operating costs of utilities.

By Angela Godwin, Editor

Cordell Samuels is a past president of the Water Environment Federation and a plant superintendent of the Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant on the shores of Lake Ontario -- and he's passionate about changing the century-old perception of wastewater treatment. "As time has gone on and we've seen the development of the industry," he said, "we see that there are so many other new trends -- phosphorus, nitrogen and energy that can be recovered from the wastewater that can reduce the cost of operating the facilities."

These are not theoretical, "pie in the sky" technologies, he observed. "These are things that are happening." He pointed to the advancement of water reuse in Singapore, energy recovery projects at California's East Bay MUD, and the installation of a struvite recovery facility at Chicago's Stickney treatment plant.

"I'm really passionate that if we change our mindset, and really see these as resources, then we would begin to put our moneys into recovering them and reusing them economically and beneficially for the population," he said.

Asked whether he felt the mindset was indeed changing, Samuels said he did. "It's shifting because, in those places where they're putting the moneys in, they're getting a return on the investment," he said. At East Bay MUD, for example, they are able to generate as much energy as they need -- or more -- to run the facility, which reduces operating costs and allows them to do other important things.

The biggest challenge in changing the mindset may lie with utility customers, he suggested. "I believe that the person on the street doesn't really get that this is occurring in the industry," he said, "and we need to develop the communication so we can get that to the average person."

When that happens, though, Samuels sees the "utility of the future" as an exciting prospect, one that is a closed loop system that works well within the community because the public will understand what it is. "Some of the irritants that we have now between the community and the facilities will disappear," he suggested, "because people in the community will know what the facilities are doing, what the benefits of the facilities are." By the same token, the utility will understand the community's concerns and will have educated itself to not only deal with the issues but prevent them from developing in the first place.

"And I don't think it's in the distant future," he said. "I think it's achievable in the very near future."

Editor's Note: To watch the full video interview with Cordell Samuels, please visit waterworld.com/video/video-interviews/water-tech.html.

Angela Godwin
Chief Editor, WaterWorld

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