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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

A primer/refresher on San Diego’s Water Purification Demonstration Project

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 7, 2010


San Diego’s Indirect Potable Reuse Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project, with roots going back to 2004, intends to supplement the city’s water resources with purified reclaimed water. For discussion purposes, the name is often shortened to IPR Project and for publicity purposes the Water Department plans to use the term Water Purification Demonstration Project. The City’s public outreach and education program is still in development, so this article should give you a good basic understanding of the Project.


San Diego has two large water reclamation plants that treat wastewater to tertiary standards. Tertiary water is clean enough to be used for irrigation and industrial applications in San Diego (and has been for many years), but is not considered quite good enough to drink. Here are a few photos from the San Diego North City Water Reclamation Plant (all photos in this article are mine):

Primary clarifier, where heavy particles sink to the bottom of the tank and are removed.

Secondary clarifier, where organic solids sink to the bottom of the tank and are separated from the treated wastewater.

EDR (Electro Dialysis Reversal) area of the plant, where portions of the reclaimed water receive additional treatment for removal of dissolved solids.

Chlorine contact basin where recycled water is treated with chlorine to kill any remaining bacteria.

This is where the IPR Project begins. It will take the tertiary treated water from the North City Water Reclamation Plant and subject it to a series of advanced treatment processes that will result in water that is said to be nearly distilled water quality. Once it actually begins operations, the Project will spend a year producing and analyzing the highly treated water to determine if it would be feasible for use as a supplement to our water supply. This graphic illustrates the additional treatment given to the tertiary water:

If the study proves to everyone’s satisfaction that the water is reliably pure, and if the San Diego City Council and Mayor along with the residents of the city agree, the Project envisions that 16 million gallons of water per day (for starters) could supplement our city’s drinking water supply.

Here’s a short interview with an Australian water researcher with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Like San Diego, Australia has a long-term water supply problem and is also looking for IPR to help address its water needs.

Note that the discussion in the video indicates that with reverse osmosis the water is approaching distilled quality. In San Diego’s plan, the water will additionally receive ultraviolet treatment, peroxide treatment, and additional pipeline chlorination prior to mixing with the raw water supply. Then it will be aged in the reservoir for a period of time and eventually given final conditioning at a water treatment plant prior to distribution.

Consider: Our raw imported water contains treated wastewater from upstream users (including greater Las Vegas, which sends ALL of its highly treated wastewater [an average of 193 million gallons per day] into Lake Mead on the Colorado River) and is treated in San Diego only once at a water treatment plant like the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant shown here:

Alvarado Water Treatment Plant next to the dam at Lake Murray

Under the IPR Project, tertiary reclaimed water (which approaches the quality of our raw untreated imported water) would be subjected to the advanced treatment described above. In other words, the IPR Project water would not be very different from what we’re importing now, and may possibly be an improvement.

A previous San Diego IPR water quality study found that “AWT [Advanced Water Treatment] reduced all compounds regulated by state and federal drinking water standards…to below their notification levels” and “Compared to samples from San Diego reservoirs which store untreated imported water, AWT product water was lower or equivalent in concentration levels for nearly all contaminants/parameters measured.”

Indeed, one might wonder why the advanced IPR water treatment isn’t done for all imported water supplies!

In the end, if the process is finally approved for production, the purified reclaimed water blended with imported raw supplies will be stored and aged at the San Vicente Reservoir, where the dam is now being raised in order to more than double its current capacity. The added capacity is primarily to serve as an emergency regional backup in case of disruptions in the imported supply and the supplemental IPR process could help keep it full while reducing our import requirements.

A few months ago, San Vicente Dam's surface was prepared for new concrete that will soon arrive in massive quantities needed to raise the top by another 117 feet

Although the demonstration project was approved by the City Council in 2007, implementation has been very slow, partly because of interference by some councilmembers who are still opposed to the idea. Mayor Sanders originally vetoed the project but was overridden. Just two weeks ago Councilmembers DeMaio and Lightner caused a further delay by temporarily blocking a council vote on a contract to start construction on the necessary treatment facility for the project. Still, politics notwithstanding, the project will go on.

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” — W.H. Auden


Posted in Technology, Videos, Water, Water Purification Demonstration Project | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

A photo tour of San Diego’s North City Water Reclamation Plant

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 15, 2010

If you live in a northern San Diego neighborhood and took a shower this morning, the water you washed down the drain probably ended up at this location within an hour or two.

“This location” is the North City Water Reclamation Plant (NCWRP), a large-scale state-of-the-art facility that can treat up to 30 million gallons of wastewater per day.

NCWRP is located at the northeast corner of I-805 and Miramar Road but the grounds are camouflaged behind high slopes with landscaping and the only entrance is from Eastgate Mall on the opposite side of the property. Drivers passing on Miramar Road or the freeway are unlikely to even notice it unless they already know about it.

The plant treats wastewater to tertiary standards, meaning that the treated water is clean enough for irrigation, landscaping and industrial use.

A portion of the plant’s grounds will soon see new construction on an even more advanced water treatment facility. The new facility will be used for the City’s Water Purification Demonstration Project, a scientific study to evaluate the feasibility of purifying reclaimed tertiary water to a state that is as clean or cleaner than the raw untreated water the city now imports from the Colorado River and Northern California.

If the study proves successful, the City will propose blending the purified reclaimed water with the imported raw water and storing it in the soon-to-be enlarged San Vicente Reservoir. The water would then be aged in the reservoir to allow natural conditioning processes to work. Finally, as is now the case, the reservoir water would be piped to one of the city’s water treatment plants where it would be processed into drinking water ready for distribution to customers. Also, the Helix Water District is working on its own El Monte Valley Project that will use IPR water to recharge groundwater that it uses for its service area in La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, and unincorporated areas near El Cajon. The source of the highly advanced treated water for this project may also be the City of San Diego’s North City Water Reclamation Plant or else the Santee Water Recycling Facility which presently supplies water for the Santee Lakes.

One term used for this treatment process is Indirect Potable Reuse, or IPR. It’s sometimes called “planned indirect potable reuse” because in reality the Colorado River contains treated wastewater from Las Vegas and other communities on the river, so we already do unplanned indirect potable reuse for our drinking water.

I recently joined a group of UCSD students for a guided tour of the reclamation plant. Brian Drummy, Senior Public Information Officer for the Metropolitan Wastewater Department, provided a very interesting guided tour of the facilities. He kindly supplied the captions for these photos as well. Thanks Brian! And by the way, about that shower water arrival time…that was only my guess as I couldn’t find out how fast wastewater really travels through the system.

(click any thumbnail for enlargement)

Wastewater is sent through this bar screen system, which gathers and removes large debris.

Plant’s control room, where all of the plant’s processes are monitored.

Primary clarifier, where heavy particles sink to the bottom of the tank and are removed.

Pumps, pipes and tanks within the odor control building.

Top of the aeration tanks, where wastewater is mixed with bacteria that helps decompose organic pollutants.

Secondary clarifier, where organic solids sink to the bottom of the tank and are separated from the treated wastewater.

Secondary clarifier, showing the exit channels for the wastewater.

Exit channels in the secondary clarifier.

EDR (Electro Dialysis Reversal) area of the plant, where portions of the reclaimed water receive additional treatment for removal of dissolved solids.

EDR (Electro Dialysis Reversal) area

EDR (Electro Dialysis Reversal) area

Chlorine contact basin where recycled water is treated with chlorine to kill any remaining bacteria.


Posted in Indirect potable reuse, Technology, Water | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Another power outage scheduled for Navajo area of San Diego

Posted by George J Janczyn on May 22, 2010

SDG&E has announced another planned power outage for the western side of San Carlos near Del Cerro and Lake Murray. Electricity will be shut off at approximately 11:00pm Friday, June 4, 2010 and will stay off for up to 7 hours or longer. SDG&E indicates they need to replace an electrical switch.

Over 1000 residences mostly east of Park Ridge Blvd. and south of Navajo Road & Jackson Drive will be affected. Letters to affected residents were mailed May 21.

The same area had its power cut off last December 5, 2009 starting at 10:30pm in order to replace an electrical switch. Service was not restored until 9am the following morning.

When I called SDG&E’s planned outage number at 800-211-7343 to ask why we’re having to deal with another outage so soon for the same reason, I was told that the previous work was either done incorrectly or else some equipment was defective.

SDG&E’s power outage website is but it appears to lack any information about planned outages.


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Information overload, filter failure, and the semantic web

Posted by George J Janczyn on May 8, 2010

I recently alluded to the problems we face in trying to retrieve useful information in an online environment in my post “Do we still need library catalogs?” Here’s an interesting (and very well-done) short video that further captures the flavor of difficulties in making improvements:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "film – web 3.0 «", posted with vodpod


Posted in Libraries, Technology, Videos | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Colorado River Aqueduct and All American Canal inspection trip

Posted by George J Janczyn on May 4, 2010

I just finished a two-day Colorado River Aqueduct Facilities Inspection Tour hosted by the San Diego County Water Authority and sponsored by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (many thanks to SDCWA’s Scott Robinson for inviting me!). I went on this tour to get a closer look at the infrastructure that contributes a large amount of water that San Diego needs to import to stay alive.

San Diego imports about 90% of its water and a good deal of that comes from the Colorado River. It’s one thing to casually acknowledge our dependence on the river, but there’s nothing like getting a close look at some of the engineering that goes into maintaining this immense system.

Stops along the way included San Vicente Reservoir, Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant, Diamond Valley Lake, Copper Basin, the Whitsett Intake Pumping Plant, Parker Dam, the All-American Canal and Palo Verde Irrigation District farmlands.

On to the pictures (clickable for enlargements).

We began the tour at San Vicente Dam, where a project to raise the dam by 117 feet using a roller-compacted concrete technique is underway. When the dam raise is completed, the dam’s capacity will increase from 90,000 to 242,000 acre-feet.

I took this shot a few months ago, when they were water blasting the dam's face to prepare the surface

Surface is all clean now, ready for new concrete. The scraped rock on the right side shows how much higher the dam will be.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environment, Government, Technology, Water | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Do we still need library catalogs?

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 29, 2010

I should say immediately that there’s nothing here about the controversy over a new public library for San Diego, but if you’re bugged by problems with online information retrieval, this may interest you.

I’d like to draw attention to a blog that has some very interesting discussions about library catalogs (it can sometimes be quite technical for casual readers). It’s called First thus: thoughts about the future of libraries and the catalog and is hosted by James Weinheimer, Director of Library and Information Services at the American University of Rome.

A recent series of posts looks at differences between doing research with online tools like Google (which entails typing keywords into a box to retrieve large quantities of results arranged to suit Google’s business needs), compared to using card catalogs (which allow navigation of information that has been conceptually organized). This excerpt from one post illustrates:

Research has shown that some 80% or more people rate their searching abilities as “very good” or “expert”. And they may be, for a mundane task such as finding the height of Mt. Everest, getting somebody’s email address, or finding and buying a new Ipod on (More or less what librarians term “ready reference”) But once they are confronted with the task of finding information for a class paper–even on extremely simple topics such as the one I gave you–they discover they are helpless and don’t know anything at all. They don’t know where to begin; they don’t know how to end; they don’t know anything except to type different words into a box and it’s not working. This is when they come to the reference librarian for help, and in my experience, they are more or less in a state of shock and totally panicked.

Read the rest of this entry »

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SDG&E “smart meters” being rolled out in the Navajo area

Posted by George J Janczyn on April 1, 2010

San Diego Gas & Electric will soon be replacing all electric and gas meters in the Navajo area in San Diego. The current schedule shows San Carlos, Del Cerro, and Allied Gardens upgrades will take place April through June of this year. Residents are supposed to receive a notification letter several weeks in advance.

The new “smart meters” record energy use information and have two-way communication between the meter and SDG&E. All residents will receive a new meter — it is not an optional upgrade. Information, including an interactive map, is available from SDG&E’s website.


From SDG&E’s website: “Smart meters are digital meters with two-way communication that send energy use information to SDG&E. In the future, electric energy use will be recorded every hour at your home and every 15 minutes at your business. Natural gas information will be available on a daily basis. This information can help you understand how you are using energy so you can make money-saving and environmentally friendly changes.”

Once the smart meter is installed, residents will be able to see hourly updates on their energy usage via the Internet. The meters can be connected to a Home Area Network to control home digital devices such as home security systems, appliances, temperature controls, etc.

SDG&E will no longer need to send meter readers to record your energy usage; that information will automatically be sent from the new unit.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that there have been problems with television sets disabled when a new meter was installed. Reportedly, some older model televisions are susceptible to the power being turned off and back on again.

Residents are advised to unplug sensitive electronic and electrical devices before technicians shut off the power to replace the old meter.

Faulty SDG&E smart meters replaced / SignOnSanDiego — “Some of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s new smart meters turned out to be not so smart last week. They got confused during a software update, cut power to customers and stopped communicating with the company.” – May 21, 2010

The Associated Press ran this story describing concerns that smart meters have security holes and are vulnerable to being hacked.

This San Diego Reader article speculates on SDG&E’s motives in rolling out the new meters.


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Makers of camcorders must be armchair photographers

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 16, 2010

Test high def camera: only the smallest of hands will be able to finger the controls easily (holding it with one hand, my fingers and thumb almost completely encircle it)

Today I went to the Ocean Beach north jetty to test an HD camcorder (Sony HDR-XR150, built-in hard drive with 25x optical zoom) by filming some surfing action. My own camcorder (Sony DCR-TRV103, Hi-8 cassette tape with 20x optical zoom) doesn’t do badly for standard definition–that’s what I’ve been using for all the surfing videos I’ve posted here–but I wanted to see what can be done with a high def camera.

Alas, the test camcorder’s LCD display completely washed out in the sunlight, making it extremely difficult to follow the action. Since the camera has no optical viewfinder I had to jerry-rig a cardboard hood in order to see the LCD images at all. The resulting video looks very shaky, partly because I could hardly see what I was shooting, but despite built-in image stabilization and being on a tripod, this camera just didn’t perform to my expectations when it came to shooting action, especially at a distance.

My standard definition dinosaur--my hand can grasp about half of it

My experience reinforces my earlier opinion that a camcorder without an optical viewfinder is of no use for serious photography. I don’t know why manufacturers insist on omitting this critical component; I can only surmise they haven’t tried shooting action in bright sunlight themselves. Either that, or they just don’t care. Another thing most HD camcorders seem to lack is adequate optical zoom–this test model was unusual with 25x, but most consumer HD camcorders offer only 10x optical. Strangely, many standard definition camcorders have well over 25x optical. In any case, I don’t think the camera is worth the $700 asking price. As for other makes and models, I’ve looked all over without luck for an HD camcorder with an optical viewfinder and at least 25x optical zoom. If you know of one, please let me know where you found it!

Otherwise, it was a nice day at OB…the waves just kept coming, one after the other. Combined with the long paddle to get out, it made for a good workout (a fun one, though) for everyone.



Here’s video shot with the high-def camera. Although wide-angle shots with slow panning came out okay, the action sequences reveal the camera’s weakness. Keep in mind I was using a tripod here:



March 17: For comparison, here’s video I shot with my old camcorder. Its zoom isn’t as powerful and it isn’t high def, but the overall quality is much more satisfying to me.


Posted in Surfing, Technology, Videos | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

“Minds for sale”

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 15, 2009

Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University presents a spirited, thought-provoking examination of issues raised by online “crowdsourcing,” or the harnessing of human intelligence to create content and ideas in areas where computers alone do poorly. His talk is illustrated with examples such as:

Mechanical Turk, where users can sign up to receive payment for performing tasks such as choosing the best among several photographs of a storefront, writing product descriptions, or identifying performers on music CDs.

ESP Game, where instead of participating for monetary reward, users play games for scores, with their gameplay recorded and analyzed. One game licensed by Google helps to catalog Google Images by having two players look at photos and guess how the other would label them.

Zittrain is the author of “The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It.”

The talk is about 50 minutes with a question-answer session at the end; it’s worthwhile if you can find some quiet time.

[Dec 22 postscript: I just came across this item: the Guardian used a crowdsourcing project to produce this news report.]

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Getting things fixed around town

Posted by George J Janczyn on November 24, 2009

The U-T has a “Just Fix it” column you can contact if there is “a problem government hasn’t taken care of despite your complaints.” The column’s writer selects cases and follows up by contacting the appropriate agency and resolving communication issues or other impediments to the solution. Good PR for the U-T although the scope of service is by necessity limited by space and time.

I wonder why the U-T or another news organization (or the city, for that matter) doesn’t take advantage of one of the online services that let people easily request 311-type government services, facilitating the process of getting requests routed to the appropriate agency and tracking them for follow-through.

Such services allow people to report problems from their mobile devices in addition to their computers and even to include photos in their reports. People can see what else is being reported in their areas and add their “vote” to issues already submitted that they are also concerned about.

Take a look at some of these offerings.
A neighborhood reporting system that has been established for some time
Another reporting system
Another reporting system
An example from Great Britain
A website meant to facilitate an international effort to build open interoperable systems that allow citizens to more directly interact with their cities.

On the live SeeClickFix map you can hover a spot to view details


Having such a system for San Diego could lead to better service, reach new constituents, and facilitate interagency collaboration. Wouldn’t something like this be a handy resource for our community?

Apr 12, 2010: O’Reilly Radar just published this review of SeeClickFix.


Posted in Government, Internet, Newspapers, Technology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »