The front page article in Jan. 22's edition of The Sunday Post-Journal regarding wastewater sewer systems infrastructure performed an excellent service to the community by clearly identifying the challenges that most utilities are facing. I hope that it was the first of several articles to follow.
The opportunity now exists to explore the issues further. Since plant upgrades will need to occur, the public will be well-served by further educational articles on the subject, bond referendums will inevitably occur, and therefore voter education will be an important need.
The article reported that changes are going to need to be made to the wastewater treatment process in order to assure compliance with new phosphorus and nitrogen (nutrients) discharge limitations that are being mandated by state and federal authorities. This presents an opportunity for a follow-up article that explains why the new limitations are necessary.
The public needs to understand why making the changes are so important to aid in stopping the further decline of Chautauqua Lake and other waterways. Land development that has occurred over the past 200 years has resulted in more nutrients reaching the waterways than would normally occur naturally. An overabundance of nutrients in waterways has accumulated which has caused blooms of algae and bacteria. These blooms have become esthetically unpleasing and at times toxic, thereby forcing beaches to close and water use to be restricted.
The overabundance of nutrients has also caused problems for entities that use the water for drinking and domestic purposes. Nutrient reductions need to occur right away to stop the further decline of our fresh water.
Nutrient reductions are a need nationwide. Many plants have implemented various technologies that are available. Some technologies have very worthy by-products that should be considered locally here. For example, the wastewater plant in Saco, Maine, has cut its heating oil consumption by 88 percent and its electric bill by 30 percent. Variable motor drives, programmable controls, using effluent flows for geothermal heating and cooling, solar power, small wind turbines and natural lighting features are options that need to be considered.
Other plants solidify the phosphorus that is removed and sell the product as fertilizer. The Oakland, Calif., East Bay Municipal District uses the biogas that its process creates to generate 90 percent of the energy that the plant requires for operation.
Changes can be made at the wastewater plant and/or out in the collection system. Oftentimes modifying collection systems can be less costly than implementing plant changes. Explaining how collection systems can be modified to incorporate green infrastructure techniques could easily be the topic of another article. Keeping nutrients from entering the system saves having to remove them at the plant. Rain gardens, bio-swales, grey water reuse systems and other actions can be undertaken to implement cost saving green infrastructure improvements.
Chautauqua County is going to face these issues head-on during the next couple of years. How the community reacts will determine our long term fate. The Post-Journal can play a valuable role in helping the community to move forward in a way that aligns us for success in lowering annual user costs and in perpetuating this community's wonderful environment.
Douglas E. Conroe of Maple Springs serves locally as chairman of the Chautauqua County Environmental Management Council, as vice president of the Chautauqua Lake Association and as a NYS commissioner to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.