A new book aims to describe wastewater collection, treatment and recycling in terms almost anyone can understand.
Since I became editor of Treatment Plant Operator in 2009, I’ve been wishing for a resource to explain wastewater treatment in simple terms. That’s because writers who create articles for the magazine need at least a basic understanding of the processes and technologies involved. Otherwise, they can’t carry on a productive interview with a clean-water professional.
There is plenty of educational material out there, in books, in brochures and on websites. But it seems there are two extremes — materials far too basic to suit our purposes or far too technical, aimed at operators for their certification studies or continuing education.
Surely, I thought, there must be a middle ground. Someone should write a book explaining the basics at a level appropriate for TPO writers, and for that matter, understandable to city council and utility board members, journalists who cover environmental affairs, and everyday citizens who use and pay for wastewater treatment services.
Well, my wish has come true.
Joseph C. Reichenberger, P.E., and Madan Arora have published a 160-page softcover book, Turning Sewage Into Reusable Water: Written for the Layperson.
Reichenberger observes, “Our intent was to produce a nontechnical (or at least as nontechnical as possible) book on this important subject of treating our wastewater and recycling it. Our hope is that civic leaders and decision-makers, along with students and others, would find this informative.”
The book covers the topic from start to finish, beginning with the water cycle. It covers the history of wastewater treatment and attendant regulations, collection system, effluent limits, the basic wastewater treatment stages (primary, secondary, tertiary, advance), biosolids handling, water recycling and reuse, treatment costs, and sustainability in treatment plants.
It includes sections on decentralized treatment (septic and cluster systems) and on natural treatment systems such as lagoons and constructed wetlands.
Readers of this book will come away with a good basic understanding of why wastewater treatment is important and how it works. Is it perfect? No. For my part, I would have liked to see very simple diagrams of the various treatment processes, because most people respond better to “show and tell” than to just “tell.” For example, pictures of clarifiers and aeration basins are fine, but they don’t show what actually goes on inside.
Overall, though, I would call this a worthy effort to tackle a challenging subject for the benefit of a diverse yet important set of audiences.
If you’re an operator, you aren’t going to learn from this book — it’s well below your level, by design. But that doesn’t mean it’s without value to the profession. Here’s a book you can share with your utility board and city council members, local journalists, civic leaders and others whose support helps you do your job well.
Perhaps best of all, it’s a book to share with young people who show an interest in clean-water careers, and with the high school teachers and guidance counselors who advise them. For incoming operator interns, the book could provide a thorough yet simple introduction to the processes they will deal with.
Reichenberger observes, “Political leaders in general know very little about this topic. At times I read articles in the newspaper, and the reporters don’t get things quite right. Sometimes they actually shed a bad light on the industry, as when they talk about biosolids being a hazardous waste.
“We decided to create a book that would be easy to digest and give some basic background and facts. Our intent was to help decision-makers ask the right questions of their staffs, and understand the technical information their staffs send them, so that when the plant operators say they need a new laboratory information system LIMS, for example, or a program to control I&I, they understand the reason behind it. If it helps officials better appreciate what their operators and public works staffs are up against, it can be a real asset."
The information in this book is good — the trick is to get people who receive it to actually read it. My experience says the garden-variety public official, journalist, Rotary Club member and high school student will not do so. But some will, and those who do will come away with a better understanding of and appreciation for what operators do every day. And for that reason alone, the existence of this book is a good thing.
The co-authors have deep experience in wastewater treatment. Reichenberger is a professor of civil engineering and environmental science at Loyola Marymount University; Arora is a technical director at the Parsons engineering and construction company. Both are life members of the Water Environment Federation and registered civil engineers, each with more than 50 years’ experience in water, wastewater treatment and water recycling facilities.