Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

Water Transformation Part 10: The Benefits

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

4/15/15 1:01 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 9 - Restored Streams and Green  Infrastructure


Water Transformation Part 9: Restored Streams and Green Infrastructure

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

4/6/15 4:51 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 8 - Distributed Wastewater Treatment  Plants


Water Transformation Part 7: Beginning the How

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

3/20/15 3:20 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 6: Configuring Transformation II  

Back Bay Charles River - Charles River Watershed AssociationCRWA began what we call our Urban Smart Sewer project in the fall of 2013 with a three year grant from the Scherman Foundation's Rosin Fund, and support from Eaglemere Foundation. Our first orders of business were to discover whether the distributed wastewater treatment plants we had investigated with our Littleton, MA, Smart Sewer project could be sited in dense urban confines. To help us, we put together a technical advisory committee (TAC) made up of principals from federal, state, and Boston agencies.


Water Transformation Part 6: Configuring Transformation II

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

3/10/15 1:28 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 5 - Configuring Transformation I


Stream Daylighting - Charles River Watershed Association
Daylighted Saw Mill River, Yonkers, NY
Photo by Zach Youngerman

In my last post, I introduced the concept of distributed wastewater treatment as an important tool for getting distributed energy generation and water reclamation, and increased resilience, while Restoring Nature. Building on the concept, we at Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) have been looking at collecting wastewater, treating it, and infiltrating it into the ground near each of the treatment plants. Most distributed wastewater treatment plant conceptualizations I’ve seen would send reclaimed water once reused back to the piped sewage system it was originally collected from. If we were to do that, though we would capture the energy and reclaimed water, we would miss a significant environmental opportunity.


Water Transformation Part 5: Configuring Transformation I

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

3/2/15 5:14 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 4 - Nature's Principles


Water Transformation Part 4: Nature’s Principles

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

2/23/15 12:52 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 3: Diversity

Nutirent Cycle - Charles River Watershed Association
Forest nutrient and water cycle (expand image)
No problem can be solved with the same consciousness that created it.

-Albert Einstein

In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series, I highlighted four principles that CRWA has taken from our examination of forests as water systems. They are:


Water Transformation Part 3: Diversity

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

2/16/15 5:55 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 2 - Wasteful and Inflexible  

Water Transformation Part 3: Diversity - Charles River Watershed AssociationIn Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I contrasted forests as water systems to our engineered water systems. I identified three important fundamental differences in the way forests deal with water when compared with the way we engineer water:


Water Transformation Part 2: Wasteful and Inflexible

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

2/9/15 12:36 PM

PREVIOUS POST: Water Transformation Part 1 - Thoughts About the Science

Wasteful and Inflexible - Charles River Watershed Association

In Part 1 of this series, I left off comparing a natural forest “water system” with our urbanized centralized water/wastewater systems. I also noted the value forest systems find in waste, and began describing the potential for similar value in large urban water infrastructure systems. There is energy in the organics in wastewater, thermal energy in the water itself, and value in the cleaned water we discharge as “waste” someplace far away from where that water was first collected as potable drinking water.

Urban water system managers are pursuing the energy generation opportunities that organics in wastewater and food waste contain, capturing what we discharged as waste and turning it into a resource. But this step forward has its limits, because contained in the same wastewater is significant thermal heat energy, and enormous volumes of re-usable water. For example, cleaning one million gallons of wastewater requires approximately 4,000 kilowatts of energy, but because that same chunk of wastewater is warm, it contains approximately 36,500 kilowatts of thermal energy.


Water Transformation Part 1: Thoughts About the Science

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

2/2/15 5:56 PM

This is the first in a series of blogs we will be releasing most every week on CRWA’s Urban Smart Sewer and Blue Cities work. Each post will build on its predecessors. Rather than start at the end, however, with our conclusions and current projects and objectives, it occurred to me that I should start with our rationale, because it is important to understand.

Water Transformation - Charles River Watershed AssociationI’ve attended a few professional conferences lately that have me thinking. They were attended by a collection of the leading water organizations from across the nation identified by their new approaches to centralized urban drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater infrastructure. Their focus was on efforts to introduce greening to reduce stormwater runoff on the one hand, and enhance methane production in wastewater treatment to generate energy and reduce carbon emissions at end-of-pipe wastewater treatment plants on the other. There were also several financing approaches discussed, including notions around something like 100-year municipal bonds.

What struck me was that the starting point for each investigation is the managed water/wastewater system itself. The systems are analyzed within an environmental regulatory framework, and additions to those systems are made to meet regulatory requirements, control costs, and reduce energy demand.

The general notion is that by introducing greening to cities (rain gardens, swales, trees, infiltration chambers) we can capture stormwater runoff, reduce water pollution, and depending on the size of the green areas, store one to three inches to help reduce flash flooding. On the wastewater side, greening can dampen combined sewer overflows (CSOs). At the end of the wastewater collection system, at the sewage treatment plant, the plan is to capture methane from wastewater treatment and burn it to generate energy. By adding food waste to the treatment stream, the digesters at these plants can produce more methane to generate more energy. The whole system energy generation process reduces carbon dioxide and methane emissions over putting food waste and organics in landfills, and makes the plants more efficient, meeting their own energy demand and selling any additional electricity to the electric grid.

This is all good stuff. But to my way of thinking, the solutions are limited by the perspectives of the investigations. Adding greater efficiencies to existing systems is good, but given the analyses we’ve conducted at CRWA over the past 25 years, together with the complexities our changing climate presents, makes me wonder whether these efficiencies will prove good enough.

There’s another way to understand urban water and wastewater. Urban systems are built to convey potable clean water, send it through pipes to homes and businesses, collect it again once used, and then treat it and discharge it. Compare our water systems to those in a forest. Rain falls and is collected where it falls by soil and flora. It is slowed by leaves and soft ground, infiltrated, collected in aquifers, large wetlands, vernal pools, ponds, lakes – keeping water local for use and reuse. There is no wastewater treatment plant in nature – the waste of one process becomes the energy for the next in a cycle of resource-to-waste-to-resource.


Using CRWA's Blue Cities Approach to Enhance Boston's Greenway Links

Posted by Amy Rothe

7/7/14 6:09 PM

  CRWA's Pallavi Mande presents design proposals.

With a foundation that lies in the visions of Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot, the City of Boston has developed a legacy of greenways and open space that connect the region’s rivers, harbors and parks. For over a century, these greenways have provided scenic foot paths, enhanced adjacent neighborhoods, and strengthened economic development. However, today, many of these greenspaces remain disconnected from one another and as such, are under-utilized by those who might benefit from them most.


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About Charles River Watershed Association:

One of the country's oldest watershed organizations, Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) was formed in 1965 in response to public concern about the declining condition of the Charles. Since its earliest days of advocacy, CRWA has figured prominently in major clean-up and watershed protection efforts, working with government officials and citizen groups from 35 Massachusetts watershed towns from Hopkinton to Boston. Initiatives over the last fifty years have dramatically improved the quality of water in the watershed and fundamentally changed approaches to water resource management.