Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Septic Systems and Water Quality

September 21-25  is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Third Annual SepticSmart Week.

During SepticSmart Week, EPA seeks to inform homeowners on proper septic system care and maintenance, assist local agencies in promoting homeowner education and awareness, and educate local decision makers about the infrastructure options available to improve and sustain their communities.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) quotes a Rouge River Wet Weather Demonstration Project document to explain septic systems: (excerpts)

Septic systems are waste water treatment systems that use septic tanks and drainfields to dispose of sewage. They are typically used in rural or large lot settings where a sanitary sewer is not available...

A septic system usually is made up of a septic tank and a drain field. The septic tank is usually made of reinforced concrete, is buried and watertight. This tank receives untreated household waste. The drain field consists of a series of perforated pipes (pipes with holes in them), which distribute the liquid from the septic tank to the surrounding soil.

Although even the best designed and installed system will eventually fail, proper maintenance will ensure a longer lasting waste disposal system…

When waste enters the tank, bacteria begin to break down the solid materials. This break down reduces solids, but also leaves a residue behind in the tank. As time passes, this residue builds up, and must be removed to prevent it from entering the drainfield and clogging the system. The center liquid layer flows slowly from the tank into the drainage field. Perforated pipes allow the liquid to be equally distributed in a gravel-filled disposal field. Once the liquid reaches the disposal field, it soaks into the soil. The soil then acts as the final filter for treatment of waste received from the septic system.

Onsite sewage disposal (septic) systems are common in southeast Michigan. In Oakland County, for example, there are more than 80,000 such systems.

According to the Oakland County Health Division, “...proper disposal of solid, liquid and sewage wastes is crucial to prevent contamination to the land and the groundwater below. The use of sewers and municipal sewage treatment plants is limited to areas where infrastructure exists. On-site sewage disposal is the only viable alternative in areas not serviced by municipal sewers.”

The Health Division’s Environmental Health Services Unit issues “...permits and conducts construction and final inspections for the installation of residential and non residential on-site sewage disposal systems…”


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

GLWA and DWSD Accountability

The Great Lakes Water Authority and its largest wholesale customer, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, presently are accountable only to a federal judge. But they need to be fully accountable to their ratepayers and the general public.

First, the GLWA and DWSD boards should be taking steps to facilitate the transition from disclosure of records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to Open Government or Open Data, whereby the government and parties acting on its behalf make public information (with very few exceptions) available proactively and put that information within reach of the public (online), without barriers for its reuse and consumption.

Second, the boards’ various constituencies (the other wholesale customer groups, for example) ought to be challenging the U.S. District Court gag order that prevents public disclosure of ongoing negotiations between GLWA and DWSD and, generally, any information even remotely related to those negotiations.

Last but certainly not least, citizens, the media, communities and their wholesale organizations should demand that the Michigan Legislature provide for the democratic election of GLWA board members.

Neither social media nor traditional mass media have done much to engage the public in these issues.  One can only wonder why.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stormwater Summit; Contaminated Sites; Invasive Mussels

2015 Stormwater Summit

“Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash and his office, along with Pure Oakland Water and Lawrence Technological University, are hosting the third annual Regional Stormwater Summit on October 9, 2015.”

“Elected officials, government staff, industry leaders, engineers, environmentalists, and community members interested in sustainability, green infrastructure, keeping our waters clean, cutting edge projects and related environmental concerns are encouraged to attend.”

“Attendance is limited to the first 300 registrants. Cost to attend is only $20 and includes a light breakfast, box lunch, and beverages.”

Questions? Email or call Alyssa Atkinson:   atkinsonaa@oakgov.com or call 248-858-0967.  

Remediation of Contaminated Sites

There are significant changes to regulations for remediation of contaminated sites in Michigan. DEQ's Remediation and Redevelopment Division is presenting three Environmental Remediation and Risk Management Conferences.  Attendees will hear about how changes to Part 201 and Part 213 have created opportunities for cost effective remediation solutions.

The dates and places are October 1 in Novi, October 7 in Traverse City and October 14 in Grand Rapids.

The conferences will address the new Water Strategy and the importance of cleaning up contaminated sites for future generations.

DEQ's Remediation and Redevelopment staff will give updates on RCRA/Part 111 Corrective Action, Michigan’s Role in the TSCA PCB Remediation Program, Land and Resource Use Restrictions Overview, No Further Action and Redevelopment, Brownfields - Solving Technical Issues, and more.

Invasive Mussels

The Invasive Mussel Collaborative is offering a new listserv developed to promote communication among stakeholders engaged in zebra and quagga mussel management, control, research or related efforts. This new service began September 1.

“This listserv will be a forum for sharing information about invasive mussel control, research and management.  Appropriate postings include management strategies, field study results, permitting information, policy issues, research, etc. This list will also receive information from the Invasive Mussel Collaborative (http://www.invasivemusselcollaborative.net), including webinar announcements and other relevant information.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Water Efficiency in Detroit

Wouldn’t it be beneficial for everyone if the Great Lakes Water Authority could pull the City of Detroit into water efficiency, as that term is used to describe policies being implemented in other cities, Atlanta for example?

Think of “water efficiency” as meaning best water practices or cost effective water or affordable water.

The problem is that Detroit, GLWA’s largest wholesale customer, may be adamant not to be influenced in any respect whatsoever by an Authority dominated by its (Detroit’s) suburban neighbors. (Could it be a matter of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face?)

Unfortunately, GLWA doesn’t appear to have the power to compel such a positive outcome as water efficiency in its wholesale customers. (As concerns efficiency, note also that GLWA inherited five operating potable water treatment plants, while it’s been known for years that the system could get by nicely with four.)

Atlanta, on the other hand, has taken significant steps toward water efficiency. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports:

Water Efficiency

The Office of Water Efficiency makes Water Saver Kits available to its water customers. Each kit contains a showerhead, faucet aerator, and toilet-leak-detection tablets. The city also offers rebates for high-efficiency toilets for residential and multifamily units. The City of Atlanta has also adopted a goal of achieving a 20% reduction in per capita citywide water consumption by 2020.

Energy Efficiency and Self-Generation

Under the Power to Change initiative, all city facilities, including the Department of Watershed Management facilities are striving to meet a 20% energy reduction by 2020. The RM Clayton wastewater treatment facility’s combined heat and power system converts waste biogas into energy which is used on-site.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Atlanta’s Green Infrastructure Ordinance promotes green infrastructure and runoff reduction practices and complies with the metropolitan north Georgia water planning district’s model Post-Development Stormwater Management Ordinance. The city also has an ordinance to allow and regulate rainwater harvesting to control stormwater runoffs.

Since 2009, the City of Atlanta has required the installation of water sub-meters for new and some existing multifamily and mixed-use, multi-tenant buildings.

Last Updated: December 2014 - See more at: http://database.aceee.org/city/water-services#sthash.JLZmuHxv.dpuf

Now compare ACEEE’s assessment of Detroit:

Water Efficiency

There are currently no water efficiency goals, policies, or programs in place for the City of Detroit.

Energy Efficiency and Self-Generation

There is not currently any programs in place for energy efficiency in water operations. Detroit’s wastewater treatment plants do not have methane self-generation capacity, but the facility’s solar panels have a generating capacity of 20 kW and produce an estimated 21,500 kWh per year.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure

In 2013, the City of Detroit updated their Stormwater Management Program Plan to reduce and control wet weather discharges from its combined sewer system. This includes guidelines for educational outreach, new construction, redevelopment, and municipal operations. There are no programs, funding, or incentive structures in place to further encourage green infrastructure stormwater management in Detroit.

Last Updated: December 2014 - See more at: http://database.aceee.org/city/water-services#sthash.JLZmuHxv.dpuf

This is a challenge only Detroit’s mayor and city council can address. If they fail to meet the challenge, the whole region will pay (as usual).
                                        *****  jl  *****

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Crowd-Sourced Water Quality Monitoring

To further the intent of state and federal clean water laws and reduce pollution crises on beaches and in streams, harbors and lakes, why don’t we set up crowd-sourced monitoring?  
It would involve video and audio recordings, viewable (along with related crowd-sourced data) on a public website maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) or an environmental non-profit.

There could be pages on the website to display routine monitoring (data and visual conditions) and, separately, emergency data and visuals.  

Routine monitoring might include depth, turbidity, color, surface sheen or scum, debris, dead or dying fish or other wildlife, and field test results indicating the presence of toxins or pathogens. It wouldn’t have to be scientifically pure to be useful.  Different people could contribute from various locations at irregular times.

Videos and audios of developing water quality emergencies, supplementing a phone call, likely would influence the speed and nature of agency (e.g. police, health department or environmental) responses.

The severity of the fish kill in the Black River following manure runoff in August 2009; the extent of the July 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River after a corroded pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured; and the size of the silt runoff from a hundred acres or more stripped of vegetation for a huge construction project on East Grand Traverse Bay in September and October 2014, all could have been recognized and dealt with sooner, had there been routine crowd-sourced monitoring.

See earlier post:

UPDATE 9-11-15:
Note that "The University of Michigan is investing $100 million into a new project to analyze ‘big data.’ Big data refers to the collection of intensely complex and vast information ...  ’big data’ also refers to how fast information can be collected and how many different types of information can be analyzed together. The university will hold an all-day symposium next month to showcase the new ‘Data Science Initiative’."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Profitable Green Canopy and Stormwater

Let’s expand our green canopy in the upper regions of the Clinton, Rouge and Huron watersheds. Trees generate oxygen, capture carbon and absorb water. Tree roots also guide excess surface water down into the ground.

New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles already have plans to plant one million trees in 10 years, mostly with tax dollars, volunteers and philanthropy. What I have in mind for southeast Michigan is a different  model.

Overlooked by many green infrastructure advocates is that some trees have commercial value other than lumber.  We could increase the canopy and simultaneously create or expand commercial fruit orchards, Christmas tree farms, sugar maple groves, nut tree groves and ornamental tree nurseries, in addition to native woodland stands.
Image result for apple orchard

Chestnuts are grown as a cash crop in west Michigan.  Why not here in southeast Michigan?  In California, the meatier English walnut variety is grafted to native walnut rootstock.  Why not here?   

Growing trees for profit requires lots of water, a resource California and other southwestern states are running out of.  Michigan has a water advantage, and we should make the most of it.

If 120 communities in the Great Lakes Water Authority system each committed to planting 1,000 trees per year, we’d have a million more trees - and a magnificent canopy -  in less than 10 years. And if done as I suggest, the project would eventually pay for itself twice, first in stormwater control savings and second in cash crops.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Silt Enforcement Hypothetical

Suppose there are 8,000 active residential construction sites in southeastern Michigan this spring, summer and fall, all on average-sized city lots, all having excavations for basements with the corresponding piles of dirt.  Also suppose that there are 3,000 large commercial, industrial, public works or utility projects, each having disturbed the soil to a significant extent.

Further, let’s assume that on half of all such construction sites, no erosion controls have been applied, and on the other half, silt fence has been installed but not maintained; and after being run over by trucks, front-end loaders, skyhooks and the like, the silt fence no longer functions.

Say the weather is in the typical range with three major rainstorms over the construction season at any given site.  Assume further that during each of those heavy rains, each residential lot loses one ton of loose soil (equivalent to a pickup truck load) in runoff which flows into sewers, and each of the large commercial, etc., projects loses three tons.  Then, after three heavy rains, a total of 51,000 tons (51,000 pickup truck loads) of dirt have gone into sewers.

Unlike many cities the size of Detroit or larger in the past decade or so, insolvent Detroit was not required to build a huge tunnel to hold billions of gallons of storm runoff for gradual release, screening, settling and treating.  

Instead, in our region, a deluge that causes silt-laden water to surge from construction sites into sewers also causes the sewers and a handful of small retention basins to overflow into local ditches and streams, which feed international treaty waters like Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and Lake Erie.

That means, in our hypothetical, during each construction season, 51,000 tons of eroded soil clog the sewers, cloud our natural waterways, and fill the bottoms of rivers, harbors and lakes with sediment.

Image result for vactor 2100Silt fence at Lowe’s costs construction contractors around $30 for a 100’ roll. (Two or three well placed rolls would probably suffice on most city lots).  Thus, if local (county or city) erosion control enforcement agencies forgo strict requirements for silt fence (paid for by contractors) in preference for county or city sewer vacuum trucks like the Vactor 2100 (at $350,000 to $400,000 each) to suck the mud out of sewers, the needless cost to taxpayers is inexcusable.  

Something’s wrong with this picture.

[Readers: Got better numbers?  Leave a comment.]