sewage

Puget Sound fouled by West Point sewage

Last spring, PBS's Frontline aired an episode called Poisoned Waters that investigated major U.S. waterways in “peril” due to pollution. Among them was Puget Sound.

“We thought all the way along that [Puget Sound] was like a toilet: What you put in, you flush out...We  [now] know that's not true. It's like a bathtub: What you put in stays there,”Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire told Frontline.

Puget Sound just got a little dirtier. Beginning Monday night and lasting until Tuesday morning, around 10 million gallons of sewage flowed from the West Point Treatment Plant, located in Magnolia, into Puget Sound.

“This situation is unacceptable,” wrote Christie True, director of King County's Wastewater Treatment Division, on the King County website.

According to King County's website, “the overflow began as employees prepared the plant for high flows during last night’s rainfall. Standard operating procedures during wet weather entail readying an emergency bypass gate that can open automatically to prevent flooding inside the plant that could harm workers and damage equipment.”

A switch malfunctioned, activating the bypass gate and diverting the untreated wastewater into Puget Sound. Pam Elardo, the plant's manager, told the Seattle Times that it took three hours to repair the switch in order to close the bypass gate.

King County immediately closed nearby beaches out of concern for public health and inspection. The county took samples of the water and will continue to monitor the water over the next couple of days.

Should we be using composting toilets? Should NYT's "Toxic Waters" series on sewers, stormwater raise that question?

The latest installment of The New York Times' excellent "Toxic Waters" series has pushed me over the edge: I'm now firmly of the opinion these guys should win a Pulitzer.  

I've sung the praises of Charles Duhigg's reporting before, but he really got to the heart of the matter with this latest piece on sewage and stormwater.

It's been a while since I visited this topic, and in the meantime it seems the holy grail of related medical research has been found: research connecting the sloppy way our aging sewers are handling waste with actual human sickness. According to Duhigg:

A 2007 study published in the journal Pediatrics, focusing on one Milwaukee hospital, indicated that the number of children suffering from serious diarrhea rose whenever local sewers overflowed. Another study, published in 2008 in the Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, estimated that as many as four million people become sick each year in California from swimming in waters containing the kind of pollution often linked to untreated sewage.

I've written extensively about these problems in the Puget Sound region. Duhigg and the Times are taking it to the national level. And yet, Duhigg doesn't forget to detail how the guys at the local sewer plant in Brooklyn get antsy when it starts raining much, generating stormwater that overpowers sewers in the Big Apple:

They choose cable television packages for their homes based on which company offers the best local weather forecasts. They know meteorologists by the sound of their voices. When the leaves begin to fall each autumn, clogging sewer grates and pipes, Mr.

Seattle pledges more pollution control to help Puget Sound

The city of Seattle and King County will step up efforts to prevent raw sewage from flowing into Puget Sound and its tributaries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

But the steps are small compared to those called for by environmentalists who want to see Puget Sound and the Duwamish River cleaned up. The current schedule gives Seattle until 2020 and King County until 2030 to almost completely end pollution from so-called "combined sewer overflows." (PDF)

These sometimes-smelly oopsies result from a piping system that mixes untreated sewage with rainwater runoff. Most of the time it's a good system because the rainwater -- aka stormwater, the largest remaining water pollution source in the country -- goes to a wastewater treatment plant.

But when a lot of rain hits overloaded systems like the one King County and Seattle operate, the whole mess comes shooting out into waterways. Sometimes the stuff backs up into streets or even basements.

Major pollution discharges into the Duwamish River are scheduled to continue for decades, despite today's order and despite what's supposed to be a  major EPA effort to clean up the Duwamish.

Such discharges happened 336 times in the Seattle-King County system in 2007, the most recent figures available.

A surprising number of these overflows happen during relatively dry periods after little or no rain.

Stimulus brings flush toilets for Native Americans in AK

The days of relieving oneself in a "honey bucket" will soon be over in a number of isolated Native American communities in Alaska, Alex DeMarban reports in The Tundra Drums.  Some $42 million is being spent to bring flush toilets and other sanitation improvements to the towns. In a few cases, sewage lagoons inside floodplains will be relocated to places where they are not in danger of causing widespread contamination in times of high water.

AK towns face overabundance of sewage

In another example of how America is failing to keep up with its basic needs, the Anchorage Daily News reports today that towns in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley -- suburban Anchorage, essentially -- are struggling to treat ever-growing v0lumes of human waste. Rindi White's somewhat predictable lead about people not wanting to think about what happens after they flush gives way to some pretty stark evidence that the towns of Palmer, Wasilla and Mat-Su Borough are in deep doo-doo:

In Palmer, ammonia levels at the treatment facility off Outer Springer Loop Road already exceed federal standards and, if not fixed by 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency has threatened to fine the city up to $27,500 a day.

In Wasilla, the nitrate levels in testing wells near the city wastewater treatment center off Old Matanuska Road are high. Nitrates can pose a health risk in drinking water.

Meanwhile, throughout the Valley, septic pumpers drive thousands of extra miles a year hauling millions of gallons of septic waste from Mat-Su to Anchorage because there is no place to dump it in the Valley.

The American Water Works AssociationNational Association of Clean Water Agencies and others have been warning for years (PDF) about deficits in upkeep of American infrastructure. And don't forget that interstate highway bridge that evaporated in Minnesota.