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black water system...  RSS feed

 
Posts: 223
Location: Rural Unincorporated Los Angeles County
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We converted our standard septic system into a simple wastewater treatment plant which recovers, composts, settles, filters, and stores every drop of water from our household sewage so we can reuse it irrigate our fruit trees and grapevines.

aeration tank



settling tank



storage tank and pressure pump



hand pump





 
Posts: 2300
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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While it is possible to treat sewage to the point where I would drink the water
Mastication-Aeration-separation-biological filtration-phosphorous+nitration removal-Sanitation (UV)-Reverse Osmosis-Sanitation(UV/Ozone)

I just feel weird about 2 thing:
1)Handling what is basically drain-field sewer water in a bucket vs say hands off drip irrigation.
2)Storing drain-field sewer water so that the population of bacteria can have exponential growth in a tank that isn't continuously aerated, much less sanitized.

That said your 'drain-field' water looks so clear nice settling setup that you have there.
My biggest recommendation would be to send a water sample to be tested to make sure it is at least as clean as a dirty city river.
 
Greg Mamishian
Posts: 223
Location: Rural Unincorporated Los Angeles County
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Anerobic sewage is positively foul, but when you aerate it just like nature does when it tumbles water over rocks and waterfalls it becomes just like pond water. I pump out the sludge from the bottom of the settling tank and use it as fertilizer on our trees and vines. Because I do this myself, we never need to pay hundreds of dollars again to have our tank commercially pumped. What was a waste paroduct now becomes a valuable highly useful commodity. The sludge that comes out of the tank is exactly the same as the sludge that comes off the bottom of our fish ponds when I muck them out. I ran our sewer water through a Berkey and drank it with no ill effects. I just wanted to see what it would be like in an emergency.

As far as handling the water, it's no more dirty than garden soil is. You just wash your hands when you're done like you would when you finish gardening. In fact our composted sewer water is actually cleaner than city waste water as we don't put any toxic chemicals in it so as not to kill off the aerobic bacteria culture. Neither my wife or I take any pharmaceutical drugs so our sewer water is completely free of those toxics. We're also vegetarians so our sewage is free of meat pathogens.

I discovered that once the sewage has been thoroughly composted by aeration, the reclaimed water does not turn foul again in the storage tank and does not require subsequent aeration.

Anaerobic bacteria metabolize hydrogen sulphide. That's the stink. But when you aerate sewage, aerobic bacteria eat the anaerobic bacteria. And because aerobic bacteria metabolize carbon dioxide there's no smell, so the tank is open all the time and covers are not required, just  a couple of safety screens so no one falls in.



Historically California has had droughts lasting over 100 years. So there is no reason this one wouldn't have the potential to last beyond our lifetimes. So we're prepared for drought to be the new normal. Our sewage treatment plant markedly reduced our water bills. We've saved thousands of dollars in the three and a half years we've had plant in operation.



We have two dozen fruit and nut trees and a dozen grape vines as well as a small garden so there's always a constant demand for irrigation water.



When I first got the system up and running I took a sample to a laboratory for testing. They wanted $1,200 so I said I'll pass on their offer.

I also installed a toilet sink in the bathroom. Got the idea from a video about how Japanese Hotels conserve water.



The water coming out of the faucet is the water that refills the tank for the next flush. This water gets used three times for:

1. Washing our hands
2. Flushing the toilet.
3. Irrigating our trees

We use more water outside in the yard than inside our house, so there is no need to try to conserve water because we know that every single drop will end up outside in the storage tank. Our septic pit is not used and not required. All the toilets are set for full 5 gallon flushes, we take all the long showers we want and freely run water in the sinks while brushing our teeth.










 
S Bengi
Posts: 2300
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Here is a bacteria only water test for farm irrigation water. It only cost $35
https://agsci.psu.edu/aasl/water-testing/farm-food-safety-gap-water-testing
 
gardener
Posts: 442
Location: SoCal USA
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How long is the water aerated in your system? Is there a minimum time needed to kill the bacteria? Could you describe the path the blackwater is taking, starting at say the toilet or sink, until it's being used in the landscape? I was curious what the steps are, in comparison to say an earthship.

One of my future goals is taking my graywater from all sources (composting toilet not included) and irrigating greenhouse plants before sending the water out to fruit trees at the other end. So I'm curious about any extra steps that may be needed, beyond having a screen in my kitchen sink drain to catch food particles. Since you're including a flush toilet your situation is different of course, but knowing what is helpful without using too much electricity (as I'll be off grid) would be great. Thanks!
 
S Bengi
Posts: 2300
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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As long as you don't store you greywater, and you use it in your landscape immediately it's no worse that soaking in a 'clean' tub of water for 40min or handwashing 'dirty' dishes for over 15 minutes. Neither of those hurt anyone.

I would even send my grey water to a pond/wetland and eat fish from it. Obviously I wouldn't drink gallons of unfiltered water from it weekly.
Growing up my greywater went straight to my landscape as a kid I even play around making a path for the water to flow using nothing but a stick. It never got me sick.  
 
Greg Mamishian
Posts: 223
Location: Rural Unincorporated Los Angeles County
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Our aerator runs for 12 hours a day and is off over night when no effluent is passing through. It costs less than $5 a month. Municipal water treatment plants aerate their raw sewage for about 6 hours. Our aeration tank is 900 gallons while the settling tank is 600 gallons.

Our water bills are bi monthly and we use an average of 10 units of water every two months. One unit of water is 748 gallons so we use ~7,500 gallons every 60 days. This means our house produces 125 gallons of blackwater per day, so it takes slightly over one week for the effluent in the aeration tank to be completely replaced.  The air pump is oversized so I adapted a large lake aerator for use in the tank. It is a 12 inch diameter microporous membrane which produces huge clouds of suberbly fine bubbles with an abundance of surface area.

I'm not really concerned with E Coli as it occurs naturally in soil. So adding more doesn't make any difference. We wash our vegetables just like we would if we bought them from the market. E Coli in the soil has no effect on the fruit or nuts hanging on the branches of a tree, or grapes hanging from a vine.

One advantage of using our composted blackwater for irrigation over municipal water is that it has no chlorine or chloramine in it so it doesn't kill off the biomes in the soil. Heavily oxygenated water is absolutely ~loaded~ with tiny living creatures. It is literally living water. If you look closely with a flashlight you can see thousands of tiny fresh water "shrimps" swimming around. Some grow as large as a half an inch. We use our blackwater to keep three fish ponds full. In the 17 years we have had the ponds we have never fed the fish because they live on what naturally grows in the water.
 
Greg Mamishian
Posts: 223
Location: Rural Unincorporated Los Angeles County
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Mark Tudor wrote:How long is the water aerated in your system? Is there a minimum time needed to kill the bacteria? Could you describe the path the blackwater is taking, starting at say the toilet or sink, until it's being used in the landscape? I was curious what the steps are, in comparison to say an earthship.

One of my future goals is taking my graywater from all sources (composting toilet not included) and irrigating greenhouse plants before sending the water out to fruit trees at the other end. So I'm curious about any extra steps that may be needed, beyond having a screen in my kitchen sink drain to catch food particles. Since you're including a flush toilet your situation is different of course, but knowing what is helpful without using too much electricity (as I'll be off grid) would be great. Thanks!



Our system is quite simple. The raw sewage from our house dumps directly into the 900 gallon aeration tank. Then it passes to the 600 gallon settling tank. Then through a 20 inch long filter to a 40 gallon sump with an automatic pump which pushes the water up the hill to a 660 gallon storage tank. From there we use buckets for hand watering as well as a stainless steel shallow well pump which pressurizes the water to 50 psi so we can use a garden hose.

If you aerate your greywater even with a tiny air pump and airstone, you can store it indefinitely without it ever turning foul. Oxygenated water is also better for greenhouse plants.

Aerating water is magic... because it's what nature does.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 2300
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Greg, I have to admit I am impressed by the scale and setup of your operation.

Greywater to Toilet to Humanure (Fertilizer)  + Pond Water ( For Fish Production and Irrigation, maybe you even use it for your chickens/egg too)

Although I am a bit squeamish coming to your house and getting infested with your specific strain of gut microbiome and parasites.
If it was my own microbiome that I am already infected with, then it wouldn't make much of a difference.

I would give you an apple even though I am still abit squeamish.

If a lab test was to show that your compost and water was 'okay' I would recommend this to everyone.
And even if the blackwater side is a no go, I think that what you have is perfect for a grey water setup.
 
Greg Mamishian
Posts: 223
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S Bengi wrote:Greg, I have to admit I am impressed by the scale and setup of your operation.

Greywater to Toilet to Humanure (Fertilizer)  + Pond Water ( For Fish Production and Irrigation, maybe you even use it for your chickens/egg too)

Although I am a bit squeamish coming to your house and getting infested with your specific strain of gut microbiome and parasites.
If it was my own microbiome that I am already infected with, then it wouldn't make much of a difference.

I would give you an apple even though I am still abit squeamish.

If a lab test was to show that your compost and water was 'okay' I would recommend this to everyone.
And even if the blackwater side is a no go, I think that what you have is perfect for a grey water setup.



That squeamish feeling is there for your own protection.

Define "okay".
Is garden soil "okay"? Is compost "okay"? Our composted sewage is no different from the compost in our bins or the rich soil in our garden.

What is genuinely dangerously toxic are standard anaerobic septic systems. No one should ever come into contact with anerobic sewage. The tanks should remain covered up and never accessed unless they need to be pumped by a professional. Aeration creates a totally different environment. In really wet years we have Pacific Tree Frogs living in the settling tank. It's just like a pond.



I actually got the idea for our own plant from watching videos of municipal sewage treatment plants.





Their main sewage treatment method is simply aeration. They just do what nature does. Of course to produce sanitary drinking water they add a lot more strictly controlled procedures following aeration, but since we're only putting water back into the ground to grow trees and vines, it's not necessary for us to do anything else.


 
S Bengi
Posts: 2300
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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A regular anaerobic drainfield just put the water back into the landscape with no special anything. So not much of a difference. My only concern is actually putting my hand in a bucket of that water without any sanitation.
I would feel better if one of the following happened
1) Sanitation (Ozone/UV/etc
2) If it was drip irrigation or sub soil irrigation
3) If it was just grey water and not sewage water.

I also notice that the municipal sewage treatment plant have a sludge treatment section.
Most of what I see online seems to suggest
1) settling/filtration/dewatering/dehydration to reduce the moisture content.
2) followed by heat treatment to kill parasitic worms and other such dangerous microbes.
2a) Most just put it in a oven and cook it
2b) A few even recommend regular thermophilic composting

Do you at least compost it, where the compost temp gets up to 140F?
I wonder if a solar oven could bake it.

I have another question.
You mentioned a 20inch filter, can you describe it in more detail. How did you make it or a link to buy one? What exactly does it filter in your opinion

Not really a question, I wonder how the 'shrimps' got into your 3rd big tank (water storage tank), and what other 'pond life' is in there.
Did you 'inoculate' the storage tank or did they just show up from the 'cross contamination' from your actual fish pond.

After 17yrs you I am sure you have a very stable system, I wonder if critters bring in pond life via the open little 40gal sump tank.

 
Greg Mamishian
Posts: 223
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S Bengi wrote:My only concern is actually putting my hand in a bucket of that water without any sanitation.



Are you concerned by actually putting your hand into garden soil without any sanitation?



 
Greg Mamishian
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S Bengi wrote:A regular anaerobic drainfield just put the water back into the landscape with no special anything. So not much of a difference.



Anaerobic effluent is really smelly so I'm not sure I'd really want to use that to irrigate trees. However, if you're referring to percolating water back into the ground by way of leach field or septic pit, that's totally fine because no one can come into contact with it.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 2300
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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Yes septic drain field also called leach field.
I was sating that normally society just dump the 'horrible' anaerobic effluent and say you can't plant vegetables right on top of it but a few feet away is okay to plant in and play in. And if that is okay your setup in comparison doesn't seem too bad.


My other questions still stand though, what is your 20inch filter made from?, etc, etc
 
pollinator
Posts: 457
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Greg Mamishian - just curious, why did you decide to include toilet water instead of using a humanure system or an incinerating toilet. I'm planning to build a home for myself in the next year or so and thinking about ways to deal the greywater, toilet etc. Your system interests me.
 
Greg Mamishian
Posts: 223
Location: Rural Unincorporated Los Angeles County
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Greg Mamishian - just curious, why did you decide to include toilet water instead of using a humanure system or an incinerating toilet. I'm planning to build a home for myself in the next year or so and thinking about ways to deal the greywater, toilet etc. Your system interests me.



Because we live in the middle of a severe long term drought, water is prohibitively expensive. Reclaiming it is a high priority for us, so I came up with a simple way to reuse all of our water so as to set us free from being victims of the water company's high rates.

Recently, we got a couple of these simple bucket toilets



and are trying them out to see how well they work. A friend of ours is a woodworker so he gives us big bags of his waste sawdust. We combine it with the ashes from our wood stove to use as medium in the buckets. So far they work really well. We compost the waste in seamless anaerobic composters like this



because there's no smell and no flies.


I'm happy for you! Building your own home is a genuine American pioneer adventure. My wife and I bought raw land, cleared it, and built our own home out in the boonies.



It's tiny simple and cheap, but we have no mortgage and live in it for half the cost of renting.
 
Greg Mamishian
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S Bengi wrote:My other questions still stand though, what is your 20inch filter made from?, etc, etc



It's a simple "bristlebrush" filter and works pretty good.



It's really easy to clean in less than a minute. I just pull it out, dunk it in the tank a few times, and put it back in. I clean it about once a month.




The riser is always open and I put a long handle on it for easy access.



 
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