Engineer: Throwing Good Water After Bad Is Destroying Our Shorelines
CHARLOTTE AMALIE — An engineer who specializes in waste management has written to the 31st Legislature asking it to address the “urgent planning and infrastructure management needs” that have been brought on by the worst drought since 1951.
Sue Parten, the principal engineer of Community Environmental Services in Crown Bay Marina, wrote to Senators earlier this month asking them to deal with “the mounting regional water crisis” that is affecting the territory.
“I assume you are all aware of the extreme drought conditions in the entire eastern Caribbean region,” Parten wrote. “St. Johns, Antigua has only three weeks of capacity left in a water supply reservoir there. This is a very desperate situation that should have been better anticipated and prepared for. El Nino years typically bring drought to the region, and climate change is exacerbating that trend.”
Parten said “our elected officials and EPA can and should be doing more on this front” for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
“It’s a given that recycle quality water should be produced at centralized wastewater treatment plants, for non-potable uses, public works/construction needs, landscaping, etc.,” she wrote. “But it’s vital that de-centralized wastewater systems (homes and businesses not connected to the centralized sewerage system) be designed and built (and maintained) to do so also.”
The CES principal engineer said “those systems account for about 70% or more of the VI/region’s wastewater systems.”
“Toilet flushing alone accounts for 20-30% of water uses for residences, and around 80-90% for commercial office buildings,” she wrote. “It makes no sense to use potable water supplies for toilet flushing when high-quality recycle water can be cost-effectively produced using methods and materials routinely used elsewhere in the U.S. for de-centralized systems.”
In other places those systems are in place simply to meet environmental quality standards in the state’s jurisdiction, Parten said.
“Landscape watering needs are huge during these droughts,” she said. “There is simply no reason to be using desalinated potable water for those watering needs.”
Parten said very few local sellers of de-centralized wastewater processing units actually produce usable recycled water through treatment, which has made property owners and managers reluctant to buy them.
“They instead produce inadequately -treated water” [that is not useable] even for surface application for landscaping purposes, let alone toilet flushing,” she said. “Most of us have seen far too many of these smelly, maintenance-intensive and power-guzzling systems and too few persons in the VI are familiar with responsible and sustainable systems now commonly used elsewhere.”
“When it does eventually rain, the effluent from these systems is degrading our shorelines from the nitrogen and pathogens released onto the ground surface, as that water combines with rainwater and flows down the hillsides,” she added.
Parten said the Virgin Islands government and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “should be making regular public education announcements and help encourage these practices that are critical to the survival of the region.”
“The collateral and perhaps no less important benefit to producing recycle-quality water is that our shorelines won’t be impaired by inadequately-treated sewage,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, there was reaction to today’s story on the Virgin Islands Free Press website Sunday evening.
“Many years ago Cowpet West recycled water to the toilets, it didn’t last because of the quality of the grey water was too poor,” Mike Kirschbaum wrote. “They did continue to water the grounds with it though. Another place, called Sugar Bay or such had a wastewater process that utilized membranes, was quite efficient. I’ll bet that a system like that would produce grey water suitable for toilet flushing.”