Onsite Wastewater Management - The Sustainable Option

by Curt Kerns, M.S., R.P.Bio., C.F.S.

Coastal waters did not evolve receiving complexed nutrients from land. Before European agriculturist arrived much of the animal biomass was concentrated in the Great Plaines and the Prairies. Nutrients were filtered by grass lands, forests, and wetlands. Today human and domestic animal populations are largely coastal and direct discharge of wastewaters is the norm. Nutrients, often in complexed forms, are now released in vastly greater quantities. Complexed nutrients stimulate the growth of marine bacteria, which in turn can result in dinoflagellate blooms.

Dinoflagellates can cause harmful algae blooms (HABs, also called red tides). Some species of dinoflagellates use sunlight at times and at other times feed on bacteria. The dominant species of dinoflagellate associated with PSP in British Columbia’s coastal waters is Alexandrium catenella. Unbroken down compounds from sewage and storm water runoff stimulate harmful algae blooms. HAB problems are growing increasingly serious and large; the entire Strait of Georgia was closed to shellfish harvest last summer. The oceans are not the infinite sinks we once thought they were.

The end of sewage pipeline is NOT the end of the problem. The solution to pollution is NOT dilution. The answer is in retaining wastewaters on land loosing neither the nutrients nor the water and insuring we protect the ecology of coastal waters. Grasslands, forests, and wetlands process wastewaters well, surface and subsurface waters do not. Properly done onsite wastewater management is sustainable whereas discharge to surface or subsurface waters is not.

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“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein

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