Liquid Assets
4:00 am
Tue September 24, 2013

Liquid Assets: How Cincinnati became a world water leader

The Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) will add yet another layer of treatment in October to make your drinking water safer. This technology and others like it are a model for the world and that's why Cincinnati is attempting to become a global leader in the area of water technology.

You might say we have some of the cleanest drinking water around. The Greater Cincinnati Water Works treats it with five key steps:

  1. A coagulant causes debris to clump together so it can be removed.
  2. Sand filters remove most of the rest of the particulates.
  3. The purpose of the GAC (granular activated carbon) is to remove chemical contaminants.
  4. UV (to start in October) will disinfect.
  5. Chlorine is added to make sure it is safe to drink.

Cincinnati's long history of water research

Water treatment has evolved here since 1907. That's when Cincinnati's rapid sand filtration plant first opened, the second of its kind in the U.S. It dramatically reduced typhoid cases. About this same time a group of doctors and researchers began the first federally mandated comprehensive study of river pollution. This group eventually became the EPA, which put its primary water research program in Cincinnati. It was picked, in part, because of past accomplishments. The United States Public Health Service and GCWW began collaborating in the early 1900's.

In the 1970's, the EPA and the water works teamed up to research granular activated carbon or GAC. This process removing chemical contaminants is now a regular part of water treatment here. Inside the bed there are 11.5 feet of carbon and the water sits on top of that. Every so often the carbon is flushed out and purified a furnace. In 1992, the Greater Cincinnati Water Works was the first utility in the nation use GAC and then purify it on-site.

GCWW and the EPA work together to make water safe after 9/11

GCWW was the first and only utility to test the EPA's water security plan. This effort to keep water safe and secure from terrorists continues to be rolled out nationally. EPA Director of Innovation Clusters Sally Gutierrez says we have to take this important resource seriously. She says, "Water continues to be a scarce resource that needs to be carefully proportioned, that needs to be carefully guarded, so that there’s enough for the people, the industries and for us to be competitive as a country.”

Right now the EPA is testing the toxicology of the Ohio River at the Water Works, by freeze drying solids.    Assistant Water Works Superintendent Jeff Swertfager knows the relationship with the EPA is valuable and says, “What the EPA’s doing here, we’ll learn from that research and we’ll be able to treat water better or more efficiently.”

Just a short walk away is the new ultraviolet treatment building where a $30 million project is scheduled to go online in October. In 1999, the EPA discovered UV was one of the most economically effective treatments to purify drinking water. Water Works Supervising Engineer Ramesh Kashinkunti says eight UV reactors will kill microorganisms in the water missed by the other filtration processes.

Utilities will be end users of the cluster technology

As the water becomes cleaner, the water works can focus on its infrastructure needs. That's where the water technology group Confluence and others come in, according to Water Works acting director Biju George. He wants to use sensors to monitor pipes which typically last about 100 years. “That is because (the pipes are) underground. We have no feel for it. If we have sensors, we have a better way of knowing its health, maybe we can stretch it to 130 maybe more.”

George says the Water Works is working on a collaborative project with the cell phone company Qualcomm. Wireless technology, much like cell phone chips, would collect and send information about water as it flows throughout the distribution system. This could help the utility become proactive instead of reactive.