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Making Sewer Treatment Plants Sexy

Water, water everywhere and nothing safe to drink........

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

If today I sound even worse than normal, it's not because my testosterone injections aren't working well enough, but that I'm first world suffering from a cold of sorts, and my voice has been destroyed or improved, depending on opinion. So this will sound somewhat like listening to a grandparent choke to death on fishbone or, maybe, worse. Still, you'll listen if you know what's good for you....

Colorado may have edged off the drought list, although we all realize that melodramatic rains and floods aren't as helpful as chronic drizzle and lots of snow melting slowly, so we'll see. Nonetheless, it sure has felt greener and healthier than it has in years, and the healthy coats of local ruminants casually chowing down throughout Boulder speaks to a general upswing in regional improvement.

Compare and contrast to, oh, California, where a water main burst on the UCLA campus and they lost somewhere around 10 to 15 million gallons of fresh water, which is 20 to 25% of the normal amount Los Angeles uses in one day, about 55 million gallons. Coverage, however, was focused on damage to the Pauley auditorium, sports facilities, and automobiles in the parking garages, rather on ten million gallons people might need in the middle of the state's worst drought, ever. Probably a good idea, actually, not to focus on that loss.

Like most of this nation's cities, LA's water system is about a century old, and the huge 30 inch steel pipe was part of a gravity fed system that took three hours or more to shut down, which those of us in the 21st century might think is three or more hours too many. Of course, shutting it down quick, even if it could be done, would increase the pressure all through the system and numerous, or innumerable ruptures would predictably occur, destroying not just the entire water system but everything built above it and downstream.

Fixing these things is a real engineering horror, and especially so in land crisscrossed with geologic faults like Los Angeles. I would think $100 billion would be a reasonable estimate to replace and improve a system the size of Los Angeles and to bring it up to what we all would like to think is a responsible, rugged, and reliable distribution system of fresh water, a resource of some importance.

Here in Boulder, we have had similar if far smaller incidents, augmented by the concurrent revelations of bad sewer lines and storm drainage last autumn. Houses that barely escaped the flood were visited by the backed overflow of those conveyances to everyone's enjoyment. Our sewers and our fresh water distribution is biodegrading as we speak, and we all know it, and we all know it's going to be real expensive. And although Boulder is facing bravely into the wind and making plans to pay for it, it isn't enough and it isn't soon enough. A few more gravity fed infusions of huge amounts of water into the sewers - which we call a flood - could just rupture the whole thing, fouling the land for quite a while and providing quick sand like earth at exciting and smelly but expensive junctures around town.

It always annoys me to see the wealthy want to affix their names to art centers or sports stadiums but few see the benefit in underwriting, say, the Boulder Water Reclamation Facility or the Boulder Water Main and Reservoir System. Not sexy enough, one supposes.

Today in Los Angeles, as the city realizes it just pissed away to no purpose 10 million gallons of badly needed water, I'd hope the wealthy and responsible might see benefit in civil engineering projects in need of immediate and perpetual help and upkeep. I'd hope for that here in Boulder as well without the need of an illustrative example.