November 2, 2009

Water & Wastewater in Latin America

by Bob Murphy

Being born and raised in the  United States I often think that we have superior technology not just as it relates to water and wastewater treatment and operations, but also in other aspects of infrastructure. Within infrastructure the conversation will often lead us to the topic of “Green” or “Sustainability” with our resources and I have learned that we, in the U.S.,  may think higher of ourselves than is justifiable with regards to these terms.

Traveling through Brazil I noticed one thing that is not as visible in the larger cities in the United States. Every building or business, in the regions where I traveled, had bins for recycling solid waste. At the end of my first day I checked into a hotel, took the elevator to my floor, the door opened and the hall was dark. I first thought the power was out on this floor until I entered the hallway and the lights came on. The lights in the hallway operated off of a motion sensor. I opened the door to my room and began to feel around for the light switch and could only locate a large bulky unit on the wall. After some time I was able to determine that my room key should be inserted into this central processing unit to turn the power on in the entire room. After you turn the power on to all of the lights and appliances they all operated off of motion sensors or timers to prevent wasting energy.

Corrosion related problems that can be repaired/rehabilitated or prevented with protective coatings vary within the treatment processes. Water treatment in Sao Paulo does not offer the same volume of opportunities as we have in the United States. The system here, contains very few municipal water storage tanks to perform maintenance painting on because the system has plenty of head pressure from gravity. Most of the problems seen within water treatment here, are primarily due to age of the structures.

Wastewater related corrosion problems are very similar to those that we have in the U.S. with Microbial Induced Corrosion. This form of corrosion was greatly accelerated in the U.S. due to the clean water act and removal of heavy metals from the waste stream. The countries that I visited do not have these regulations in place, yet they are seeing similar effects to substrates within their systems. The problems that they are experiencing with their wastewater collection systems and treatment facilities will increase as the number of citizens that have sewer service  increases.

These underdeveloped countries for water and wastewater need the expertise of those who have seen the problems that they are seeing now and will see in the future as their systems grow. With the technologies that they are currently using to cut energy cost it will be interesting to see what they can do with such a precious resource like water.

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