By JENNIFER CISNEROS
Marketing and multimedia manager, Bio-Microbics
Writer and historian Wallace Stegner once said that national parks are “The best idea we ever had … They reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
Ever since the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, was established more than 140 years ago, the need to conserve natural and historic environments for the enjoyment of humans has been a top priority. From the largest — Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska — to the smallest —Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania — national and state parks are about promoting tourism and at the same time leaving these areas unimpaired for future generations.
However, the remote location of national and state parks creates a challenge to onsite infrastructure and wastewater treatment. To provide the best levels of services, facilities, comfort and safety, national park directors, planners, and rangers must become multidisciplinary conservation and recreation engineers.
A growing number of visitors to the parks indicate that facilities, concessionaires and infrastructure need upgrading to prevent pollution and ecological degradation.
A national and state park conservation initiative focuses on the management of wastewater created on site and its relation to the parks’ natural biodiversity, cultural heritage and scenic sources. As an adaptive management idea and approach, allowing developers to integrate more innovative solutions can even help achieve incentive-based, green-building certifications or grant programs.
Several considerations must be taken into account, including operation and maintenance by park staff and the certain natural habitats that need to be protected: natural wetlands, waterways including creeks, rivers, lakes, groundwater aquifers and marshes. Soils and terrain, including mountainous regions, rocky outcrops, cliffs, shallow sandy soils, limestone deposits and calcium-rich soils — which can harden in the presence of urea — also become factors.
Land use, transportation planning and walking/bicycle trails are also on the list of what creates more livable communities. More thought must be applied to include the needs of pedestrian and handicapped end-users’ recreational activities combined. Popular recreational activities at parks often include swimming, boating and fishing, which are affected by the quality of the water. When a park is improved with leisure amenities and aesthetic enhancements, ecological concerns must be addressed as well.
Typically a park or preserve’s infrastructure and facilities can include, but are not limited to, the following developments that add to the wastewater stream:
- Visitors information center, staff office, and/or property management office
- Historic buildings and popular scenic landmarks
- Restaurants, general stores and gift shops
- Parking areas, which accumulate trash, sediment and oils from rainwater runoff on impervious pavements
- Detached or satellite facilities, including but not limited to showers, sinks and drinking fountains
- Lodging: Hotels, resorts, extended stay cabins, floating cabins and campgrounds. Many visitors of national parks make use of these facilities, which generate significant volumes of sewage and wastewater, including large volumes of grease. This requires more advanced methods of effluent treatment and disposal.
What are a national or state park’s options for sewering?
Options include the extremes of no action and the do-nothing approach to connecting to the municipal sewerage network. The no-action alternative assumes that the current systems of effluent treatment are adequate and meet current regulations and standards. In this situation, no change is needed. However, these systems have become severely outdated.
On the other hand, connecting to the municipal sewerage network is considerably and prohibitively more costly. Additionally, the common practice of aligning services to the road isn’t always convenient, given the local topographic conditions. Gravitational feed may not be possible along the entire length of the pipeline, therefore necessitating the addition of pump stations along the way. Installing a pump station means cutting into the preserve. The pipeline and/or pump station could cause significant environmental harm and have a greater risk of failure in more sensitive areas of the park.
Studies have been conducted in cooperation with community and environmental groups to develop less centralized and more environmentally beneficial wastewater treatment systems. The possibility of using decentralized Fixed Integrated Treatment Technologies in place of expanding existing centralized plants makes more sense, especially when focusing on fit-for-purpose treatment or water reuse opportunities.
Decentralized solutions can involve many types of treatment technologies, from small, individual onsite systems to clustered and/or mixed systems that collect sewage from each source and transfer it by gravity or small diameter collection systems to single or several smaller treatment plants. Focusing on the fit-for-purpose treatment option, decentralized systems such as RetroFast, MicroFast, HighStrengthFast, MyFast and the BioBarrier and BioBarrier HSMBR systems are designed to address specific needs and levels of treatment. This can help reduce overall costs for their installation, operation and maintenance. For renovations, upgrading what currently exists with more robust treatment and multicell treatment options also can provide quick compliance and long-term benefits without damaging or impacting the natural environment of the park.
For new construction on sustainable sites, decentralized advanced treatment systems are ideal for projects with land constraints and flows from 500 to 160,000 gallons per day or more. Innovative, decentralized sewage treatment solutions offer flexibility and cost-savings, help meet requirements for green building certifications and help communities develop better strategies for storm and wastewater management plans. Investments in storm and wastewater infrastructure can be effective integrated approaches for protecting public health by reducing sewer overflows and pollution.
Decentralized sewage treatment plants can offer options to allow for onsite or off-the-grid treatment sized for a property’s or a community’s wastewater flow.
Engineered for specific applications and delivering the essential planning and design services to meet this growing need, decentralized treatment systems allow for a reduction or elimination of leach fields, for the repair of a biologically-failed field, for the building of structures in unsuitable sites or soils, for the removal of nitrogen for areas near bodies of water and for allowing effluent to be released into environmentally sensitive areas, help in making water available for reuse. When it comes to national parks, more stringent regulations focus on recycling and maintenance to ensure that the tourists both enjoy the natural beauty and do not interfere with the pristine environment.