Wastewater

The Time to Invest in America’s Water Infrastructure is Now

By Jim Gebhardt, CFA

Communities across the country are facing the immediate challenges of aging and inadequate drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Most of our country’s underground water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago, and in some older cities, water mains are a century old. The implications of deteriorating infrastructure can be felt nationwide— each year our country experiences about 240,000 water main breaks, $2.6 billion is lost as our water mains leak trillions of gallons of treated drinking water, and billions of gallons of raw sewage are discharged into local surface waters from aging sewer overflows.

Despite significant federal, state, and local expenditures, infrastructure investment has fallen short. Further, the cumulative investment gap is expected to widen substantially over the next 20 years with federal investments occupying a smaller space. EPA’s Clean Watershed Needs Survey and Drinking Water Needs Survey show that over $655 billion dollars in water infrastructure is needed over the next 20 years to keep pace with projected investment needs.

Over the years EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund have both been very successful at addressing important water quality and public health needs of communities across the country. With these funds we have supported state and local water infrastructure investment that provides essential services and reduces pollution in our waterways.

While our state revolving funds have been highly successful, there are still too many communities facing infrastructure challenges caused by inadequate revenue and investment.

That’s why in 2015 we launched EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center to identify and promote best management practices that can help local leaders to make informed decisions for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure that are consistent with local needs. The Center promotes the effective use of federal funds, identifies new approaches for procuring infrastructure services and capital investment for local and state governments, and employs strategies that can better serve small and lower income communities.

To explore the unique funding and financing challenges of these communities, EPA will be hosting a national convening on July 19 in Washington, DC, where state, local, and federal leaders will share best practices in coordinating funding and showcase innovative local financing solutions. I’m confident that the robust representation of states, utilities, NGOs, academics, and others will produce meaningful and productive conversations and solutions. Watch for a blog that details the conversations and next steps from the event.

The time to act is now.

About the author: Jim Gebhardt is the Director for EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center. The Center identifies financing approaches for public health and environmental goals by providing financial expertise to help communities make better-informed decisions about drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Colleagues See Wastewater “Eggs” up Close

By Amy Miller

When my corner of EPA New England – the Public Affairs office – went on a retreat last week, we took our meeting to the great beyond. Instead of meeting in a generic conference room in our office, a dozen or two of my closest colleagues and I went out to the world that gives our work meaning.

EPA staff tour the Deer Island Wastewater Plant in Winthrop, Mass.

EPA staff tour the Deer Island Wastewater Plant in Winthrop, Mass.

To be specific, we met at the Giant Eggs. Most anyone who flies in or out of Logan Airport knows about these huge white containers, a dozen eggs sitting on the edge of the Boston Harbor on Deer Island off of the Town of Winthrop. On a clear day, you can’t miss the sight of these ovals reaching 130 feet high.

What jet passengers may not know is that these containers are filled with human and industrial waste. Each day the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant accepts an average of 360 million gallons of wastewater from homes and businesses in 43 cities and towns. This facility, run by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, makes sure our sewage is separated enough, filtered enough, treated enough and clean enough to safely enter the Boston’s waters.

To accomplish this, the plant first removes grit, then treats and retreats the wastes, which are separated by gravity into liquids and solids. The effluent is filtered, scum removed from sludge, treated with chemicals and digested using microorganisms, much the way a stomach digests food. Treated solids are sent through a tunnel to Quincy so it can be turned into fertilizer. Water that has been cleaned many times over is sent 10 miles out to sea and discharged through 50 different pipes. And methane released in the digestion process is used to heat the facility.

In welcoming us to the plant, Executive Director Fred Laskey acknowledged there is still work to be done. But he was proud of the tremendous results the plant has seen. Largely because of $3.8 billion invested in Deer Island in the last several decades, the cleanup of Boston Harbor is a national environmental success story. Plant Director Dave Duest eagerly invited us to tour the plant, which sits on 210 acres that includes walking five miles of walking trails, views of the ocean and parkland.

Stqff of EPA New England check out the view from the top of the giant eggs at Deer Island.

Staff of EPA New England check out the view from the top of the giant eggs at Deer Island.

The best part of the tour is what it lacked – any odor. We were grateful for the chance to climb to the top of the eggs, and also pass by two disinfection basins, each about 500 feet long with a capacity of 4 million gallons – and never smell a thing, thanks to the scrubbers and carbon absorbers that remove the smells. In the basins, the treated effluent is mixed with sodium hypochlorite and then finally, sodium bisulfite to de-chlorinate the water to protect marine organisms. After disinfection and dechlorination, the liquid is ready to be discharged.

Deer Island is actually a national park. Folks there welcome visitors and proudly show off their odor-free operations, which by the way are not visible from the nearby residential community of Winthrop.

So it’s not just EPA folks that are welcomed on Deer Island. Tours are offered, by reservation on Tuesdays and Fridays by calling (617) 660-7607.

http://www.mwra.state.ma.us/03sewer/html/sewditp.htm

Boston Harbor cleanup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIN1S5mJoCQ

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Amy Miller, who is in the Office Of Public Affairs of EPA New England, edits this blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA and Muscatine, Iowa, Work Together Toward Green Development

By Marc Kingston

Muscatine meeting

EPA employees and contractors, along with community members, discuss green solutions for Muscatine at the April workshop

Muscatine, Iowa, is one of 51 communities across the country selected to participate in EPA’s Making a Visible Difference in Communities program, which focuses on building partnerships with community stakeholders to improve public health and the environment.

I worked with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities and the city of Muscatine to arrange a Green and Complete Street Workshop in April 2016. Jonathan Smith, engineering manager of Tetra Tech’s stormwater services, served as facilitator.

We started with a tour to identify areas of Muscatine that are ripe for green development and sustainable practices. After the tour, we met with members of the community and city leaders who were interested in learning about green solutions, such as diverting rainwater from entering the sewers and allowing more of it to soak into the ground where it can provide moisture for plants.

Muscatine meeting

Jonathan Smith, Tetra Tech (EPA contractor), speaks with Muscatine community members

A number of technologies are available to reduce the impact of rainwater runoff. These include permeable pavement that allows precipitation to soak through into the ground, rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, and other green landscape features. New curb bump-outs were also discussed at the meeting. They help channel rainwater into rain gardens, where water collects and soaks into the ground.

The community is considering implementation of green infrastructure practices based on concepts provided during the workshop. EPA and the city realize that green infrastructure in the public right-of-ways will help divert rainwater from the sewers and help prevent sewer overflows.

Muscatine meeting

Muscatine community members share ideas with EPA employees and contractors

Another goal of the workshop is to create a more sustainable, pedestrian-friendly environment along the Mississippi Drive Corridor and other transportation corridors in Muscatine.

Together, we want to change the way rainwater is managed, make downtown Muscatine more beautiful, send less polluted runoff to neighbors downstream, and use less energy to treat water at the wastewater treatment plant.

The environmental projects in Muscatine will truly make a visible difference in the lives of Muscatine residents. And I look forward to continuing my work with the community, which complements the city’s interest in green solutions.

About the Author: Marc Kingston serves as a Making a Visible Difference facilitator at EPA Region 7. He also serves as a grant management specialist in the Region’s Office of Policy and Management. Marc has a degree in environmental studies from the University of Kansas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Thinking About What’s Under Our Feet

by Valerie Breznicky

They’re out of sight, often out of mind, and increasingly, out of time.

In many cases, the drinking water and sewer lines that run beneath us have aged beyond their useful life.  And when these lines crack and leak, serious public health issues can occur from contaminants entering our drinking water systems, as well as raw sewage infiltrating ground water and surface water supplies.

Just days ago, we marked National Infrastructure Week.  It was an opportunity to highlight the value that well-maintained infrastructure can bring to our economy, our jobs and public health and safety.  It was also a chance to share information on how specific gaps in our infrastructure matter to all of us – from lost water to sewer overflows.

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Fortunately in our office, we manage the region’s EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), working with our states to finance fixes for some of those leaky and creaky lines.

Here are just a few examples:

With a $784,576 loan from the CWSRF in the State of Delaware this year, Cape Henlopen State Park will be able to use Cured-in-Place Pipe Relining to fix cracked sewer lines.

West Providence Township in Everett, Pennsylvania, is using a $5 million CWSRF loan to replace 35,000 linear feet of existing terra cotta sewer pipe (which has cracked and disconnected), replacing it with new Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) collection lines.  This will prevent high flows to the treatment plant which has caused overflow of diluted sewage during wet weather events.

By using $34,000 in DWSRF grant money in Virginia, the Virginia Rural Water Association was able to purchase leak detection equipment to aid small water authorities in locating physical leaks in drinking water distribution lines, saving the communities money and precious clean water.

As our drinking water and wastewater pipelines increasingly show their wear, investing in the next generation of infrastructure makes sense, not only from a public health perspective, but from an economic standpoint as well.  While there is a cost to making these investments, we need to me mindful that access to clean, safe water is essential to all of us, and investing in clean water today will save us all money over the long run.

 

About the Author: Valerie is an EPA environmental scientist and one of the Region III Sustainable Infrastructure (SI) Coordinators.  She has more than 31 years of experience managing infrastructure grants and has spent over seven years as an SI Coordinator, ensuring the sustainability of our water and wastewater infrastructure through information sharing and the integration of SI principles in all state programs.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Water for Emergencies: Bigger Solutions than Bottled Water

By Lauren Wisniewski

It is easy to take our drinking water and wastewater services for granted.  Most, if not all, of us have lost electricity in our homes, but I can recall only one time when I turned on my faucet and I had no tap water. That time was in November 2010, just a day after coming home from the hospital after giving birth to my twin daughters.

I panicked. I sent my husband down to the basement to get our emergency supply of bottled water, which I bought soon after I started working on water infrastructure resilience and emergency preparedness. Those bottles were long expired. I was ready to send him to the store to buy bottled water (which may not be an option in a wide-scale event). Thankfully, my sister quickly determined that our outage was due to water main repairs on our street and the county utility workers soon had our water working again.

Though our water outage was brief, it highlighted the importance of preparedness both at the personal and utility level. In our home, my family now stores an ample emergency  supply water in our basement as part of our emergency supplies, and I make sure to replace it before it expires. In our community, I know that my county is prepared for power outages, too. It has stand-by emergency generators or transfer switches to connect readily to a portable generator at its water pumping stations and has enough fuel to power its generators for several days. To find out more about building power resilience at your water utility, check out the Power Resilience Guide for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities, which provides tips, case studies, and short videos to help ensure your vital water services continue even during power outages.

The last few years, I have combined my passion for emergency preparedness and knowledge of water utilities to focus on increasing power resilience at drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country.  Check out EPA’s Power to Keep Water Moving video that highlights the importance of power resilience at water utilities.

About the author: Lauren Wisniewski has worked as an environmental engineer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Water, since 2002.  Her efforts have been directed towards power resilience at water utilities, Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection, Climate Ready Water Utilities, Active and Effective Security, Water Quality Standards, and watershed modeling.  Her work involves coordination between drinking water and wastewater utilities and state, local, and federal agencies.  Lauren has a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering (BSE), summa cum laude, in Civil Engineering from Duke University and a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from George Washington University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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South Korea and the Heartland Connected by World Wide Water

By Jeffery RobichaudSouth Korea Meeting photo 1

Here in Kansas, we are the EPA Regional Office that is farthest from an international border. But surprisingly, we still get our own share of out-of-town visitors.

In August 2015, scientists from our Drinking Water Program and Environmental Science and Technology Division sat down with five South Korean representatives from Kunsan National University, the National Institute of Environmental Research, the Korea Environment Corporation, and the country’s Ministry of the Environment. Dr. JeJung Lee, who is our partner in the very cool KCWaterBug, helped arrange the visit and assisted with translations where necessary.

South Korea Meeting Photo 2

What was truly fascinating, yet I suppose not altogether surprising, were the issues we talked about. This group of scientists from across the Pacific wanted to learn more about how our Agency protects and regulates groundwater in the United States. They also met with staff at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the University of Kansas, and the U.S. Geological Survey. As it turns out, many of the issues they grapple with are, in fact, the same ones we deal with here in the Heartland.

We first talked about nitrate pollution. Here in the United States, nitrate is regulated in drinking water at public water systems, with a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million, which is rarely exceeded.

South Korea has many more private wells in urban areas, while nearly all individuals in metropolitan settings within the United States get their water from regulated public water systems with protected water sources. We learned that sampling at residential homes is difficult for them to accomplish, because homeowners are afraid of losing the ability to use the water or are fearful that they will be required to pay for treatment.

On the remediation (hazardous waste cleanup) side, our visitors were interested in chlorinated solvents and the concerns and risks associated with the vapor intrusion pathway at sites with volatile organic compounds. A specific area of interest was methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that used to be prevalent in the United States, and its associated vapor intrusion concerns and risks.

On this day, EPA did most of the talking. It would have been nice to have had the time to hear more about how South Korea regulates groundwater nationally, South Korea Meeting Photo 3especially private water well use and construction standards, as well as their experiences with water treatment processes and techniques for drinking water and wastewater. Unfortunately, they had a busy schedule and were sprinting over to the University of Kansas to meet with professors, before moving on to Tennessee to meet with staff from the U.S. Geological Survey.

We will just have to wait for another visit. As you can see in the photo, even with the language differences, we managed to share some laughs!

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. Jeff’s journeys across the Pacific have always stopped just halfway across, and he hopes to someday cross the International Dateline and visit friends in the Far East.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The power goes out, but the water flows on

by Patti Kay Wisniewski

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Exercising emergency response plans at DC Water’s Fort Reno Reservoir Pumping Station

Have you ever wondered how water continues flowing to your faucet even when your power goes out?  Lots of us take this fact for granted, because losing water service is so rare. That’s no accident. It’s because the water industry invests significant time and effort to keep the water flowing during all types of emergencies.

Maintaining power at water treatment plants is key to making sure the water delivered to homes and businesses is safe. They need power for dosing treatment chemicals, measuring treatment performance, and powering pumps. Many water utilities have back-up generators to keep these important components functioning, as well as close working relationships with energy providers to ensure that they are a top priority for restoring service.

EPA and state drinking water programs have worked with water utilities for decades to develop emergency response plans. But, a plan that simply sits on a shelf doesn’t do much good in an emergency. That’s why EPA, states and utilities “exercise” these plans – to practice what would happen in a crisis, and ensure that the water continues to flow in a real emergency.

For example EPA’s Mid-Atlantic drinking water program works closely with utilities in the District of Columbia to develop and exercise response plans.  Last year, we held exercises to test water sampling plans, laboratory capabilities, and communicating with the public and the media during emergencies.

The potential impacts of climate change also play a part in response plans and emergency exercises.  Water utilities understand the importance of delivering safe water to their customers, even when extreme weather causes flooding, power outages, or even losing a water source.

Paying close attention to the local weather forecasts is also critical to pre-planning efforts, as is working closely with other emergency responders, such as fire, police, and haz-mat, as well as local and state agencies.  Many utilities have joined water and wastewater agency response networks (WARNs) that let them more easily obtain support during severe weather events, and provide support to utilities in neighboring communities.

Check out EPA’s website to learn more about water utility emergency response and efforts to help water utilities be more resilient when emergencies happen.

 

About the author: Patti Kay Wisniewski has worked in the drinking water program for over 30 years covering such topics as emergency preparedness, consumer confidence reports, and the new electronic delivery option.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Career Beat: Drinking Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators

by Patti Schwenke

Job opportunities exist in the water and wastewater sector

Job opportunities exist in the water and wastewater sector

Ever consider a career as a drinking water or wastewater treatment plant operator?  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects are expected to be excellent in the coming decade with a projected growth of 8% through 2022.  Many current treatment plant workers are nearing retirement age, and there are not enough new workers entering the industry to meet demand.  Recent high school graduates looking for steady work or anyone thinking about a new career with good pay, benefits, and economic stability can find career opportunities in the water treatment and distribution fields. As of May 2014, more than 78% of water and wastewater treatment plant operators were employed by local governments and earned an annual salary of $45,880.  Those employed by the federal government reported the highest annual salary at $55,050.  Employees of state governments averaged $51,800 a year.

It’s an exciting time to be working in these industries: plant operators are now on the cutting edge of innovative treatment technologies, energy efficiency, and nutrient recovery.  The processes to get drinking water from streams, reservoirs and aquifers and to make wastewater safe to release into the environment are complex.  Drinking water treatment plant operators run the equipment and monitor the processes that treat the water which starts in aquifers, streams, and reservoirs, ultimately flowing to your tap. At wastewater treatment plants, operators use biological and chemical treatment to treat and disinfect wastewater before it’s released to a local waterway.

Energy efficiency has also become an important part of treatment plant operations in helping communities become more sustainable, protect against climate change, and save money.  Drinking water and wastewater systems account for 3 to 4 percent of energy use in the U.S., resulting in emissions of more than 45 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.  Wastewater plants are being recognized as resource recovery facilities, harnessing energy and even mining nutrients for marketing as a fertilizer.

What does it take to be a water treatment plant operator?  Check out this video from an EPA partner, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership or take a virtual tour of a water treatment plant. If you think this might be a career for you, these links to operator certification programs in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia will get you started.

Water is vital for all living things to survive. Professional treatment plant operators have the challenging and rewarding job of keeping water safe for us all.


About the Author:  Patti Schwenke has been with EPA’s Philadelphia office for more than 20 years.  In 2014, she joined the Water Protection Division as a Project Officer, where she manages grants that fund drinking water projects.  Patti and her husband, Glen, enjoy the outdoors and travelling in their motorhome.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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We Must Work Together to Build Resilience in Communities Facing Climate Change 

By Kelly Overstreet

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve already posted blogs by Andrew Speckin and Sara Lamprise. Our third blog is by Kelly Overstreet, who continues to intern with our Program Operations and Integration staff.

151006 - CREAT logo

In August, I attended a fascinating Climate Change Workshop, sponsored by the Nebraska Silver Jackets, with my EPA colleague Robert Dunlevy. Silver Jacket groups partner with federal and state agencies to manage flood risk at the state level. Bob made a presentation on EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT), a software tool to assist drinking water and wastewater utility owners and operators in understanding potential climate change threats and assessing the related risks at their individual utilities. As an intern, I went along to gain some valuable, direct experience in collaborative problem-solving.

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

Bob Dunlevy and Kelly Overstreet

As we drove north to the workshop at the Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center in Nebraska City, Bob used the trip as a teaching opportunity, noting sites of loess (windblown sediment), commenting on the heights of various rivers and streams, and discussing the variety of unique geological structures here in the Heartland. Many of these lessons were anecdotal, relating to his 25 years of experience working with communities as an EPA representative.

Bob reminded me of the unique position EPA plays as a U.S. regulatory agency. We have a broad mission to ensure that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.” In achieving that mission, we as federal employees must focus on our individual contributions to help achieve EPA’s overall goal.

In economics, there is the phenomena of “agglomeration economies.” While the concept can get quite technical very quickly, the general idea is that businesses are most successful when they exist in proximity to each other. This allows for the exchange of tacit knowledge between businesses that provide goods and services both laterally across sectors and vertically within.

However, such knowledge doesn’t only exist in the private sector. Upon arriving at Nebraska City, I had the opportunity to witness the power of tacit knowledge firsthand. The workshop offered a series of lectures and talks from several federal, state, and local agencies directly involved in flood resiliency and adaptation measures.

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

View from Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitors Center

Not surprisingly, we joined representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all with different missions and different sets of tools for accomplishing their goals. And yet, through the collaborative process of sharing knowledge and asking questions, I left with a much stronger sense of the challenges we face in coping with extreme weather events.

Sometimes our role in EPA’s mission can feel piecemeal, but to best achieve our mission, we must form partnerships and foster relationships. Each of us has a different focus and knowledge set, but as long as we continue to have conversations, like at the Silver Jackets training, we don’t have to be limited by the specific priorities that shape our service.

About the Author: Kelly Overstreet is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and will continue part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, earning master’s degrees in urban planning and human geography. Kelly’s graduate research focuses on how municipal climate planning can address issues of environmental justice and social equity. She’s a cat lady, and proud to show off her pet photos.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Saving the Planet from Too Much Man Made Nitrogen

By Kristina Heinemann

Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/)

Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/)

Environmental sustainability is all the rage right now. Much of the focus when talking about sustainability is on the global carbon cycle and climate change, but there are other global cycles that have been disturbed to an even greater extent than the carbon cycle. Since the Industrial Revolution biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorus or the Earth’s nitrogen and phosphorus cycles have been disrupted even more than the carbon cycle.   Biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorous is a scientific way of talking about the pathways and interactions the elements nitrogen and phosphorus have with the physical and biological world.  Human beings have altered these pathways and systems dramatically to the point that we and the planet are at great risk.  You can see this represented in the figure above – we are clearly in the “red zone” when it comes to disturbance of nitrogen and phosphorous cycles!

One dramatic consequence of too much nitrogen – the Peconic River Fish Kill, Riverhead (NY) Yacht Club, June 15, 2015 Photo credit: Andrew Seal

One dramatic consequence of too much nitrogen – the Peconic River Fish Kill, Riverhead (NY) Yacht Club, June 15, 2015 Photo credit: Andrew Seal

One important source of “too much nitrogen” in the coastal areas of our Region — New York, New Jersey, and the Caribbean — are conventional onsite wastewater disposal or septic systems many of which were never designed to remove or reduce nitrogen.  We face a serious need to upgrade many of these systems to technologies that will reduce nitrogen flow to our estuaries and coastal ecosystems.

Being SepticSmart Also Means Using Appropriate and Well Designed Septic Technology To Protect Water Quality

Being SepticSmart Also Means Using Appropriate and Well Designed Septic Technology To Protect Water Quality

SepticSmart Week, which kicks off this year on Sept. 21, will educate public officials and the public at large about the importance of using well designed and appropriate septic treatment technology that is protective of water quality.  Advanced onsite treatment systems can remove as much as 74 percent of nitrogen before it enters the environment.  Part of my job at EPA is to help state and local governments meet this need.  As an example Suffolk County, New York declared nitrogen public enemy #1 and launched an advanced treatment septic demonstration program to install and test nitrogen removal systems on almost 20 residential properties throughout the County.

EPA, in cooperation with states and partners, works hard during SepticSmart Week and year-round to educate local decision makers, engineers and homeowners about managing and upgrading their wastewater infrastructure in order to protect the waters they swim in, fish from, and drink. (By the way this also happens to be National Estuaries Week – take a look at all the great resources aimed at restoring estuaries like the Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, the New York – New Jersey Harbor, Barnegat Bay, Delaware Estuary, and San Juan Bay in Puerto Rico at: https://www.estuaries.org/national-estuaries-week !)

About the Author: Kristina Heinemann is EPA Region 2’s Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Coordinator and lives on Long Island’s North Shore where she is the not-so-proud owner of two antiquated cesspools one of which often acts more like a holding tank than a wastewater disposal system!   

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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