Sewage treatment, efficiency and discharge
As per the Surfrider Foundation, “900 billion gallons of untreated sewage spills into U.S. waters due to poor infrastructure every year”. I have to ask, are the current sewage treatment options available to the homeowner the best option possible to avoid such devastating damage to our water supply and environment? What affordable options do we have to work with? The current septic tank is no different than my grandmother’s septic tank. The current sewer system is not different than my grandmother’s sewer system. Neither system has experienced any benefits in the advancement of technology over the past four decades. So why has there not been any change to such a critical problem?
The only reason I can figure is the fact that the sewage treatment industry (septic and central), local governments and the building industry do not want to change. Industries do not self disrupt – most disruptions are from the outside. The traditional distributed septic tank system has very minimal standards that need to be met in regards to the effluent discharge – NSF/ANSI 40. The system requires a large foot print of land thus restricting the areas of installation. Older systems are subject to flooding in certain storm conditions thus exposing the environment to raw sewage overflows. On the positive side (if there is one), home owners on a septic system have learned what goes down the drain must be complementary to the digestive enzymes of the septic system otherwise the bill to replace a drain field of pump out a tank is very expensive.
The traditional centralized sewer system also has many negative drawbacks. First and foremost it is very expensive to install and maintain a centralized sewer system. One can see this in the property assessments when a new system is installed in a community as it can amount to 10’s of thousands of dollars and in some cases I have seen assessments of $30,000 for a sewer connection. Most of the current utilities are working with infrastructure that is 50 to 100 years old and with age comes big problems. “Sewage overflows are a significant problem in the Southeast because of inadequate and aging infrastructure,” said Stan Meiburg, Acting Regional Administrator of EPA’s Southeastern office. As our centralized sewer systems age more and more pipes leak and discharge RAW sewage into the environment and the water table. The problem is so great Miami Dade County was forced by the EPA to commit $1.6 Billion dollars to upgrade their current system due to excessive sewage overflows. The sad part is the 15 years Miami Dade County gets to make the upgrades – just how much damage will be incurred between 2013 and 2018? Areas that have sand composition are more at risk because of the fact that the bacteria and enzymes needed to break down the fecal matter do not live in sand but in soil. Florida is a great example where you have a high percentage of land that is “sand”. Another problem is sheer volume of sewage and excess volume in a sewer system can be attributed to rainfall. Many sewer and storm water systems are combined as this occurs in 20% of the sewers in the USA (see above illustration from the city of Buffalo, NY – guess where the discharge water goes*). These systems are on the decline due to clean water acts, but the idea of discharge in over flow situations has not. Centralization of any utility is a flawed strategy because the idea of transporting and concentrating toxic matter to be processed in one location is always subject to an environmental disaster. Proper installation and management of decentralized systems is they best opportunity to reduce our dependence on governments and utilities and to protect our environment.
The solution to existing and future sewage treatment problems is the installation of “Advanced aerobic sewage treatment plants” individually or in small community settings with this owner preferring the individual model. First and foremost the individual model insures personal responsibility for everything that is placed in a drain of toilet. It is at the source where we can have the single largest impact on our community (tax dollars) and the environment (drinking water). A source driven solution calls for the accountability and the processing of 100% of all sewage generated on site utilizing 21st century technology to insure the highest possible discharge. We intend to install an small footprint aerobic sewage treatment plant (no drainage field required) built to exceed NSA 350 standards and reduce Nitrogen and phosphates below 10 parts per million. All of this done on top of an already ULTRA-LOW system allowing us to operate disconnected from water table and sewage treatment.
Surfrider Foundation has some great programs to help solve the problems facing local beach communities. 2015 Clean Water Annual Report. Serious Risks from Sewage at the Beach is a great blog post by Surfrider Foundation exposing just how dangerious our water an be. We hope to demonstrate an actual solution for current septic tanks, new septic installations and solution to leaking existing sewer lines.
*Local water bodies