As contaminants and nutrient control in water systems become common issues in cities and counties around the country, more and more municipalities are looking into decentralized wastewater treatment system options. While there are a number of reasons as to why this option is being pursued, the two main reasons and benefits of DWTS are how environmentally friendly and cost effective it is. With a wide range of treatment options from simple septic systems to cluster systems, this option can be served on different scales, including individual homes, multiple homes or businesses.
Environmentally friendly and cost-effective for every community
The green aspect of a DWTS is that the water could be recycled back into the ground or water source, which would prevent communities from pulling more water than what is available. By also treating the wastewater, there is not only potential for water reuse, which could not only cut into the demand for treated drinking water, but also filter out more contaminants than what centralized wastewater treatment systems do. Even if the wastewater isn’t cycled in for reuse, the filtering out of pollutants would create a positive impact on the environment as the water is deposited back into earth.
“Depleting groundwater is an issue across the country because we’re taking more than what’s being given back,” explained University of Minnesota’s Adjunct Assistant Professor Sara Heger. “Decentralized wastewater treatment systems typically have smaller collections systems so the closer you treat your wastewater, the cheaper. I’ve yet to see a comparison where decentralized systems aren’t more cost effective.”
“Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Can Be Green And Sustainable” is an EPA document that states that DWTS respond well to growth while preserving green space since “decentralized systems can be easily scaled to a needed size for communities with rapid growth and/or where installing pipelines a long distance to a central waste facility can be too expensive.” DWTS is an ideal option for growing communities.
Another benefit of DWTS is the simple and easy general maintenance that is required. Because DWTS options are less mechanical and have lower energy requirements, all components are smaller. DWTS has the ability to adapt and be flexible by working on a variety of sites and soil conditions, which allows many communities to benefit from the system despite their location.
Challenges in funding and implementing the system
One of the biggest challenges faced when implementing a DWTS is making sure citizens understand the wastewater treatment option and why it’s important. The community has to know how it works and get on board with the idea since there may end up being an extra cost, whether it be a separate cost on a wastewater bill or on property taxes. When explained properly about not only the green footprint, but also the cost-effective equipment and economical impact, residents may get on board with the idea of DWTS.
Another one of the most difficult challenges on any new project is the upfront bill, which the majority of municipalities can struggle to get funds for. Funding may be available in certain areas, such as grants and loans. It’s important to research what kind of resources are available in each state, city or county. EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund is a low-to-no-interest source of loan funding regarding the installation, repair and upgrading of DWTS and water quality projects. CWSRF is a program that rural, small-town and suburban communities should look into for potential funding.
Since it’s mainly small businesses that specialize in working with DWTS, it can be difficult to navigate through businesses that understand the work that goes into DWTS and how to properly scale them to the size that is needed for the community. By working with a knowledgeable business or engineer, the community can avoid problems and misinformation that could occur.
“They really need to find a consultant, designer and engineer who really understands what this is,” advised Heger. “It has to be scaled down right. Small communities need to do lot by lot assessments and figure out who has a compliant system and who doesn’t, then find the closest location to put a potential cluster system in.
“They should find someone to work with them who has also worked with cities just like them. Talk to other cities and communities similar to their own to gain more firsthand experience. Talk to a local and state regulator to see if they qualify for any local funding options.”