Waste disposal has been a challenge in modern history. Back in the day, dirty water was plunged from the second story window to the streets, and the stench was allowed to infiltrate the neighborhood.
Today we take disposal for granted. As long as our toilets flush and take the waste away most people are ignorant of what occurs to the waste. Every solution seems to open up unforeseen consequences.
In wastewater the approach has always been dilution. Wastewater is blended thoroughly and disposed of in oceans and rivers. Ocean disposal is very controversial as to its impacts on the bays and estuaries. Water quality regulations are gearing up to desist of these practices.
However, before we start picketing to stop all ocean outfalls there are a few things to consider:
- Environmental Impacts - Wastewater is loaded in nutrients; specially phosphorous and nitrogen which are the basic food of phytoplankton. As food increases, organisms tend to grow faster and in masses. Algae blooms are a problem causing oxygen depletion and fish kills. Wastewater tends to be a few degrees warmer than the ocean’s temperature which could also become a problem with reef growth. We are also adding more ingredients to the mix like pesticides, toxins, bacteria and viruses. The concentration of mercury in some fish make them unhealthy for human consumption. In addition, there is the negative impact of dirty water, bacteria contamination and beach closures in tourism. Every day, the ocean water is tested for bacteria and if the count of bacteria is high the beach is closed for swimming.
- Economics - Water is a business. The business of producing drinking water that is safe, free of bacteria and aesthetically pleasing at the most reasonable cost. There is a balance of what customers would like their water to taste and look like and what it costs to produce. The technology exists that would make any water squeaky clean. In fact, so clean that they have to “dirty” it up again so it is safe to drink (the water that we drink needs to have certain mineral content to be healthy). However squeaky clean is too expensive. Essentially we have the power to drink our own waste, but it is hard to sell to the consumer at the added cost and social stigma.
- Alternatives - States like Florida and California are heavily regulating ocean outfalls of wastewater. Florida has moved to desist of ocean outfalls and heavily educate and instal policies for reuse and reclamation of wastewater. At this point, most golf courses use partially treated water for irrigation. Most consumers are not willing to buy recycled water. Therefore, since the demand is not there the cost is not justified. Currently, the alternative is to dispose of it in mile-deep wells. Although potentially the wastewater could rise up to contaminate our drinking wells. Well disposal is so new that the impacts to the environment have not been negatively corroborated.
Ocean disposal as it stands could be detrimental to the environment over time. More rigorous treatments are now required to disinfect water before disposal, and prevent concentrations of bacteria/viruses in our beaches. Multiple studies have denied that ocean dilution creates any long lasting impacts to the bays. Without this definitive scientific proof, dilution is the cheapest way of disposal.
However, social stigma has been rising and increasing pressure on regulators to implement policies to prevent ocean disposal and move into reclamation. There is a long way to go to bridge the gap between education, policy and technology.
About the Author:
Ken Myers is an expert advisor on in-home care & related family safety issues to many websites and groups. He is a regular contributor to www.gonannies.com. You can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.