Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Element One: Testing The Waters

This is our first element for our continued look into wastewater treatment. We have here a short quiz to take that will let us asses what knowledge of waste water and its treatment you have. It is only 5 questions long and should not take more than a couple minutes. please take it here:

And after you finish that if you are still interested in the treatment process get caught up to speed watching this simple look at waste water.

Monday, April 29, 2013

​The Facts: Answers to the Quiz

Q: How much waste water do you make in a day?
A: ~50 Gallons

​ An average American household can produce anywhere between 50-75 gallons of waste water per day, per person. This wastewater is coming from toilets, sinks, showers, and dishwashers.

Q: Where does waste water go?
A: Underground

​ Waste water in urban areas does end up underground after it leaves your house, but it travels through sewage pipes to your local water treatment facility. There it is processed in various ways to cleanse the water of biological and chemical waste.  

Q: What is the main source of Waste water in the U.S.?
A: Both Agricultural and Industrial

​ They both produce large quantities of waste water but in different ways. Industrial sources tend to be point sources that can be easy to pinpoint but often chemically hard to clean. Whereas agricultural sources are non-point sources, diffuse over a large area, which makes them hard to control. Industrial sources come from many different industries such as chemical, pharmaceutical, mining, oil, and metal. The wide variance of the sources and the often hazardous nature of chemicals used leads to much difficulty in dealing with these sources.  Agricultural waste water comes largely from the runoff of irrigation of farms; this water often contains fertilizers and pesticides that contaminate the water. Due to the generally wide area covered by agricultural practices collecting and controlling this water becomes a serious issue.

Q: What are environmentally friendly ways to clean waste water?
A: Constructed wetlands; a Mesocosm

​ Constructed Wetlands and Mesocosms are in essence similar practices. Constructed Wetlands are artificial or restored wetland areas for both the purpose of native and migratory wildlife to re-inhabit, and to deal with waste water discharge from certain areas. The natural environment can often deal with septic and storm waste water through ecological means, such as plant uptake and soil drainage. This method of treatment is not only beneficial to treating waste water, but is often aesthetically pleasing and environmentally preferred.
A Mesocosm is a way of treating waste water in a facility using a series of controlled living organisms that each in succession deals with different aspects of the waste. Mesocosms in essence function similarly to a constructed wetland except it is more controlled and can harness, without worry for ecological disaster, non-native species who might better deal with certain impurities. These are sometimes called “living machines” and can be as effective as conventional systems for sewage and storm runoff wastes.

Q: How does waste water affect the environment?
A: Eutrophication, Heavy metal accumulation, water turbidity

​ Waste water can affect the environment in a number of very destructive and harmful ways. Eutrophication is the buildup of nutrients in an aquatic ecosystem that can lead to unfavorable ecological responses. One such example is algae blooms that happen and can cause depletion of oxygen in the water and can seriously damage other wildlife populations.
​ Heavy metal accumulation is just as its name would imply. Many industrial practices involve the usage of various harmful (both to humans and the environment) heavy metals. When waste water is left untreated and exposed to other sources of water, these pollutants can cause serious environmental harm. One such example is chromium, which is used in a wide array of industries from metallurgy to dyes and in one of its oxidized states (chromium (IV)) is a carcinogen.
​ Water turbidity is the relative cloudiness of water. This altogether may not be so environmentally disastrous but it is still a way in which waste water can affect the environment. Much of the waste that is in the water is in some way visible, be it large enough in size or by color. These impurities themselves can have a huge impact on the environment in the previously stated way and as well can make a body of water not only be contaminated but appear contaminated.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Element Two: The Place


Onondaga Lake is located in Central New York, northwest of Syracuse New York. Onondaga Lake is known as one of the most polluted lakes located in the United States. Due to the lack of regulations in the past, there were major problems with both sewage and chemical pollution into the lake. For a while, Syracuse dumped human waste into the lake with little to no treatment. This had caused major problems with algal blooms and Eutrophication. Factories that were located along the shoreline of the lake were also dumping toxic chemicals into the lake such as Mercury. These chemicals are still found within the sediment at the bottom of the lake.

            In 1955, the Syracuse Sewage Treatment Plant was transferred to Onondaga County. This treatment plant was upgraded in 1959-1960 and was renamed the Metropolitan Syracuse Wastewater Treatment Plant (Metro). The wastewater that is currently being treated here is being discharged into Onondaga Lake. Metro treats around 80 million gallons of wastewater daily which is produced by the 270,000 residents of Onondaga County and many industrial commercial customers in the city of Syracuse. Metro is a conventional wastewater treatment system meaning that the process used to treat the wastewater requires energy, outside chemicals and machines. There are three main stages that are used to clean the water which are primary, secondary and tertiary treatment.                

           In Primary treatment, solid materials are separated from the wastewater, through a screening process, a sand/gravel settlement process, and a final low energy settlement (primary clarifier) process. At this final stage, oil and grease is also skimmed from the surface of the wastewater. In Secondary treatment, aeration tanks are used where aerobic bacteria are provided oxygen and consume the dissolved organic waste. Upon leaving the aeration tanks, the bacteria and associated materials are allowed to settle out in secondary clarifiers.  At this point greater than 98% of the waste has been removed from the wastewater.

          In Tertiary treatment, wastewater is pumped to the new tertiary treatment facility at Metro.  This new facility is a new state-of-the-art process for year-round removal of ammonia and phosphorus.  The facility utilizes a biological aerated filter to remove ammonia through the growth of oxidizing nitrogen bacteria on polystyrene beads.  The wastewater is then sent on to a high rate flocculate settling system (HRFS) to remove phosphorus, by adding an iron oxide compound and other flocculating compounds to the waste water.  Fine sand is then added to the water and the phosphorus floc is settled out with the sand.  Upon leaving the HRFS the wastewater is then disinfected utilizing ultraviolet radiation during warm weather months.  UV radiation is utilized as an alternative to chlorination of the water, as chlorination residue in the water discharged to Onondaga Lake is harmful to the lake's ecology.  UV radiation sterilizes the bacteria and does not produce a harmful residue.

           Are there other ways that this wastewater can be treated? The answer is yes. The alternative to conventional wastewater treatment systems are natural systems. Natural wastewater treatment systems don’t require the desired inputs that conventional systems do. Conventional wastewater treatment systems are more capital and energy intensive as compared to natural treatment. A prime example of a natural wastewater treatment system which was invented by John Todd is the Living Machine. The purpose of the Living Machine was to use a series of plant ecosystems that work together in order to clean water. This approach offers a natural and eco-friendly alternative to expensive conventional water treatment plants. The most basic design requires a minimum of three different ecological systems that process the water in different ways. Each ecological system is isolated from the others in order to allow each individual system to treat the water in its own unique way. Each of these ecosystems don’t only persist of plants, many other forms of life are involved such as bacteria, fungi, snails, clams and fish which all thrive in breaking down these pollutants.

           Another example of a natural wastewater treatment system is a constructed wetland. Constructed or even natural wetlands are well known to improve the quality of water. Wetlands have a high species richness meaning that many forms of life have the ability to live together in these ecosystems. Looking at the holistic view of the ecosystem instead of each individual part, ecological engineers are able to design wetlands that have the ability to treat water using select species that work together.  Would it have been logical to have used these natural systems to treat the water flowing into Onondaga Lake instead of the conventional water treatment plant used now? What if we replaced the Metro plant with a bunch of natural systems? How would you like your water to be treated? What are your thoughts and comments about this topic?

Also if you took the quiz from last weeks element and are curious about the answers read up on them here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Element 3: The Life and Water Usage of a College Student

It’s easy to go about your day and be ignorant of how much water you use. Rarely do I remain conscious of the amount of waste-water I produce; it’s so easy to take for granted. But during the course of this project I have been growing more aware of how much I produce. I’ll take you through a day in my shoes and highlight just how easy it is to not think about it and how much waste water I make. I’ll walk you through a normal Thursday of classes.

 I wake up at 8:30 am and the very first thing I do is go into the bathroom, I use the toilet and then I get in the shower. I shower for about 17 minutes, the water running consistently for that entire time. I get out, flush the toilet, and go to the sink. At the sink I turn on the faucet and wet my toothbrush. When I finish brushing I rinse with more water. Then I wash my face once more with water from the faucet. All waste water.

 After that I walk to class, my first class is a lecture that lasts for about 55 minutes. During lecture I begin getting hungry and can only hold off the sensation with water from my Nalgene. After lecture I have some time before my next class and I go to the campus cafĂ© and order some food. It’s about lunch time so I order a burger. As I watch them make it, they pour water on the griddle and flap on some patties. Yet more water. Sure I didn’t directly use that, but it was for my order, I can’t help feeling responsible.

                Lunch is over and I head to class, a discussion class for an hour and twenty minutes. At around the 45 minute mark the ice tea from lunch and the water from the previous class demand of me the toilet yet again. More water usage. Class is over and I have a laboratory class right after. It is a chemistry lab, and throughout the lab I need to use water to clean glassware, make dilutions, involve in reactions, and etc. There is no second thought, it must get used the way it does or I can’t complete what I have to do. It is only until after lab, some 3 hours later when I have a moment to breathe and think back. Most of the water used in the reaction or with other hazardous chemicals will be treated separately, but all of the water for cleaning the glassware, which I can only guess at must be gallons, goes down the drain.

                Classes are over for me now on Thursdays but I hang around campus for a couple more hours to do work. I record a total of 3 more bathroom trips during the rest of my time on campus, two liquid, one solid, each trip producing waste water from flushing and washing. By this time it is getting late and I am getting hungry again, so I trek home. Entering my kitchen I am halted by piles of dishes from my roomate and I sitting in the sink. It’s been days since the dishes have been done and anything I need to cook with is dirty. I do the dishes like so, I prewash with soap and water, leaving the sink flowing the entire time. As plates and bowls and spoons and forks get their washing I place them in the dishwasher. I look down at my watch and the whole ordeal takes about 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of continual water usage.

 The plates and such are loaded up, but pots and pans don’t fit into our washer and must be done by hand, another 10 minutes of thorough washing. More water down the drain and away. I am pretty hungry and the lack of dishes to use is annoying, so I boil a pot of water and make some pasta, easy and quick. But I take more water from the sink, and most of it, after I am done cooking will get poured away again. As I wait for the water to boil I turn on the dish washer, and sit in contemplation of the water I used today, all so easy to use and easy to get rid of, no need to think of what to do with it once I am done. These thoughts tumble around in my mind as I sit opposite of the dish washer, spitting out gallons of water tumbling around all of my dishes, washed and washed again. All of it down the drain and away.

Doing the math:

~17 minutes in shower X 2.5 gallons/min = 42.5 gallons

~2 minutes sink for brushing X 1.5 gallons/min = 3 gallons

5 toilet usages X 1.6 gallons/flush = 8 gallons

~40 min washing dishes X 1.3 gallons/min at sink = 52  gallons

 Total waste water produced = 105.5 Gallons!


A Chart that shows on average the daily usage of water in a household.

Obviously this only takes into account the daily routines I do, but there are many other things that we do to produce waste water. Think about your routines and comment below on how you use water on a daily basis. How can you reduce that usage?



Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

How much water do you use?


Over the course of the following week I decided to conduct a face-to-face survey with both ESF and SU students. The only question I asked was, “how much water do you use in a day”? I thought that this would broaden our horizons by collecting data from a different group of people besides the #nifkin twitter group.


After gathering data, I decided to group the results by different sections. As seen on the pie chart, I grouped each person’s answer in five different sections, < 30 gallons, 30-50 gallons, 50-80 gallons, 80+ gallons and with the response “I don’t know”. A majority of the students that responded to my question answered with “I don’t know”.



The results of this experiment can be deemed inconclusive since each of these responses was most likely an educated guess even though a majority had no idea. This goes to show that most people really don’t keep track of how much water they are truly using in a day. Fresh water is a finite resource that can soon run out if we don’t manage the amount of water we use in a day. How can we keep track of the amount of water we use daily? Should there be a limit? How can we sustainably use water?