Keeping it clean: Reports of pharmaceutical residue in nation’s water supply don’t worry Truckee sanitation officials
April 23, 2008
Standing in an odorless field above nearly 80,000 feet of underground pipelines moving Tahoe-Truckee sewage, Jay Parker unravels the intricate wastewater treatment processes that help maintain the integrity of the Truckee River ” located just one mile away from the indirect discharge of reclaimed water.
Parker ” chief engineer and assistant general manager of the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency ” backs the advanced water reclamation plant despite tests being done to detect pharmaceuticals in the Truckee River.
The Truckee Meadows Water Authority decided to sample the major water supplier for Reno and Sparks in March after reports surfaced of an Associated Press investigation into pharmaceutical residue in major metropolitan water supplies, said Paul Miller, manager of operations and water quality for Truckee Meadows Water Authority.
Miller said he expects the results back within the next two weeks, and said he doesn’t believe the tests will show contamination of the Truckee River water.
While there are no direct discharges of treated water into the Truckee River like there are in other municipal areas that are under investigation, there is an indirect discharge, Miller said.
The Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency’s wastewater treatment plant, located east of the Highway 267 Bypass, discharges an average of 4.5 million gallons a day into a disposal field about one mile from the Truckee River by spray irrigation, Parker said.
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“We have more treatment processes than any other plant in the state,” Parker said Monday while giving a tour of the facility. “We’re such an environmentally sensitive area so we have to treat the water to a stringent standard higher than the typical treatment plant.”
The sewage water is collected from the region’s five member districts and is purified through nearly a dozen filtration systems ” double the processes at an average treatment plant, Parker said.
As the sewage filters through the extensive purification stages, nitrogen ” which serves as a fertilizer for algae growth ” and phosphorous ” which is a salt ” are removed, Parker said.
After traveling through this series of biological, chemical and physical treatment units, the reclaimed water is then discharged into a disposal field where it filters through the soil for several weeks before entering the Truckee River, he said.
In addition, the agency recently completed a $66 million expansion to keep up with regional development, as well as to increase the quality of discharge that flows into the river, Parker said.
The new biological nitrogen removal process has replaced the plant’s reliance on chemicals, which will reduce the level of pollution by eliminating salts, Parker said.
However, Parker said whether the state-of-the-art treatment plant removes pharmaceuticals is unknown as the Environmental Protection Agency does not require testing for drugs under the safe drinking water act.
But Parker said he remains optimistic in the agency’s ability to purify the water.
“We have many barriers that other treatment plants don’t have,” Parker said. “There’s no direct discharge into the river, which really sets us apart.”
Even if the test results show a presence of pharmaceuticals in the water, Miller said the findings would be in the parts-per-trillion range.
“It would be at a level that people should not be concerned about,” Miller said.
Based on recent research of the nation’s water utilities using the highest concentrations found, reports showed one human could safely consume more than 50,000 eight-ounce glasses of water per day without experiencing any health effects from pharmaceuticals, according to a statement by Dr. Shane Snyder, a scientist with the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“The fact that more pharmaceuticals are detected today is not due to greater contamination of our nation’s water, but a reflection of the increasingly sensitive analytical technology that allows us to identify … these chemicals in water,” Snyder said in the statement.