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From Used To Useful: The Ultimate Form of Recycling

Posted on November 14, 2017 by | Comments Off

Most people think what ends up at a wastewater treatment plant is exactly that – waste. Something that is worthless. Now, I admit it is smelly and gross. I’ve stood at the headworks of one of our larger plants, the place where sewage first enters to be treated and where big bar screens trap and filter out all of the large pieces of trash that somehow got down into the sewers. It’s not pretty. I may or may not have gagged. So when I say it’s smelly and gross, I speak from personal experience. How could anything useful come out of that? There is nothing left to be reused or recycled, right? Wrong.

When I talk about wastewater, AKA sewage, I’m not just talking about your toilet flushes. Sinks, showers, washing machines, dishwashers, restaurants, and other businesses all drain to the sanitary sewer system, which is a collection of pipes and pumps that send all that dirty water to our wastewater treatment plants to be cleaned.  And all that dirty water adds up to about 150 million gallons a day. Still sounds like “waste,” I know, but it’s actually full of resources and resources can be reused as long as they can be recovered. That’s why wastewater treatment plants across the country are being renamed for what they actually are – resource recovery facilities.  It’s not just about treating dirty water; it’s about REUSING and RECYCLING. Here are a few ways HRSD is recovering resources:

crystal-green-aglink

Environmentally-friendly fertilizer made with phosphorous that used to be inside a sewage pipe.

1.  Nutrients – HRSD partners with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies to recover phosphorous from sewage and turn it into an environmentally-friendly commercial fertilizer right here in Suffolk. It’s called Crystal Green® and its slow-release formula reduces fertilizer runoff as an added bonus. But it gets even better. Crystal Green® is made from struvite, a concrete-like material that builds up on the inside of sewage pipes and causes clogs. Not only are we reducing nutrients going into our waterways by removing them from the wastewater, but we’re creating something useful from something that is normally a big and costly pain-in–the-you-know-what.

MAR_7997

HRSD’s Combined Heat & Power System uses 100% of the gas produced; previously, more than half the gas was wasted.

2.  Energy – In Virginia Beach, HRSD’s Atlantic Treatment Plant Combined Heat and Power System generates renewable power and heat from gas produced during the plant’s treatment process. This system meets about half of the plant’s electricity demand and produces enough electricity to power 1,200 homes for a year. And P.S., cleaned water at this plant is sent into the Atlantic Ocean about 1.5 miles offshore, but a portion of it is routed through heat exchangers at the Dam Neck Naval Facility to provide energy-efficient building heating and cooling.

BAC-GAC-Filtration-300x200

HRSD’s highly treated water passes through the Carbon-Based Advanced Water Treatment step at the SWIFT Pilot facility.

3.  Water– The wastewater that flows to our plants every day is treated and then the cleaned water is sent into local waterways to be reused in the environment. But we decided we could do better than that. HRSD’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) will take highly treated water that would otherwise be discharged into local rivers and put it through additional rounds of advanced water treatment to meet drinking water quality standards. The SWIFT Water will then be added to the Potomac Aquifer, the primary source of groundwater throughout eastern Virginia. This will not only replenish our dwindling groundwater supply, but help the Bay by reducing the nutrients we currently discharge into local rivers, and help fight the impacts of sea level rise. Our SWIFT Research Center is currently under construction and you can check swiftva.com for updates and to learn more.

This might sound like resource recovery to the extreme, but ideas and technologies like these are being implemented all over the world as more communities seek forward-looking solutions. You can also turn your home into a resource recovery facility (and it’s way easier than what HRSD is doing!). Take the #BeRecycled pledge for America Recycles Day on November 15th and pledge to:

  1. Learn – Find out what materials are collected in your community.
  2. Act – Reduce the amount of waste you produce, recycle more, and buy materials made with recycled content.
  3. Share – Encourage others to take the #BeRecycled pledge.

Compost Grown

I have plants growing out of my compost bin – I guess that means it’s working!

This year I’m recovering resources by composting my kitchen scraps and yard waste. All of those leaves littering my backyard right now will be put to use fertilizing my garden beds in the spring. Check out the photo I took this week of my compost bin – it can’t wait to get started! 

 

 

Posted in: Going Green, Household tips, Reduce reuse and recycle, Research, Waterways

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Keep Drainage Flowing and the Bay Clean

Posted on August 3, 2017 by | Comments Off

Mailbox in Flood WatersIf you live in Hampton Roads, you have flood stories.  It’s part of living near the water.  Here is the good news:  You can take steps to reduce flooding.  And that flood reduction work will very likely help the environment too.

Flooding in Hampton Roads is caused by:

  • High tides that flow upstream, flooding low lying areas and blocking stormwater from leaving the land;
  • Intense rain storms that overwhelm stormwater drainage systems.

Turning back the tide is not an option.  Our goal has to be finding ways to increase the capacity of our drainage systems.  Cleaning ditches is one way you can help create more capacity.  More ditch volume means less flooding. 

How does cleaning a ditch help the environment?  The Chesapeake Bay is dirty – literally. Dirt (also called sediment) and  yard debris can be carried in stormwater to local waterways. To help clean up the bay, your city or county is required to reduce the amount of sediment entering waterways from drainage systems.  The cleaner we keep our ditches and drainage pipes, the less sediment we send to the bay. 

Local government crews do their part by clearing public drainage systems.  They remove debris and re-grade ditches that have filled in by dirt carried in stormwater.  Citizens can help  by making sure that fences, foot bridges and other structures do not block ditches.  In most cities and counties blocking public drainage easements with structures and landscaping is prohibited.   

Many ditches are privately owned and not maintained by your local government.  Property owners are responsible for cleaning these ditches.  It’s an easier job if you keep yard debris and grass clippings out of ditches and storm drains.  Also, do not store fallen leaves, grass clippings and other yard debris near drainage features like storm drains. You should also think before you plant.  Keep trees and other large plants out of the ditch and away from the sides of a ditch.   If possible, coordinate your drainage-clearing work with your neighbors’ efforts.  That way longer stretches of the system will be free to flow.  Neighborhood teams may be able to help elderly residents or other owners who are not physically capable of cleaning their ditches.  But always ask for permission before working on someone else’s property. 

Do your part to keep the water flowing and save the environment.  Fewer flood stories is a good thing.

Posted in: Outdoor tips, Waterways

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So What Do You Do With Pool Water?

Posted on July 28, 2017 by | Comments Off

Pool chemicalsPool ownership can be great.  You can swim anytime you want, and entertain the kids without leaving home.  All you have to do is step out into your yard to enjoy it.

Of course, all that beautiful water occasionally needs to be drained.  What do you do with the stuff?  Are you allowed to drain it into a stormwater system?

Pool water can be drained to the drainage system, but only when it is dechlorinated.  After all, you don’t want to kill our crabs, fish, and other aquatic life by releasing chlorine into the environment.  State law prohibits discharging chlorinated pool water.

Here is how to drain your pool responsibly and legally:

  • Dechlorinate pool water by letting it sit for several days without adding more chlorine. 
  • Your water’s pH level should be between 6.5 and 8.5 before draining.
  • If you are in a hurry to drain your pool, you can add sodium thiosulphate to break down the chlorine faster.  Please remember that it will still take time for the chlorine to break down…DO NOT discharge pool water immediately after adding this chemical.
  • Dechlorination times depend on the weather and the volume of water being discharged.  If you have a pool, you have a test kit.  Use it before discharging water.
  • When in doubt, let the water sit longer! 
  • Drain your pool water over grass.  This will help some of the water infiltrate into the soil.  

Pool filterNow let’s talk backwash, as in that water produced when you backwash your filters.  This water should not be drained into the storm drainage system.  Backwash water has a heavy concentration of chlorine and other pool chemicals.  It also contains sediment and small debris that had been lodged in the filter.  Run filter water through the grass to a landscaping area.  If need be, create an infiltration pit so backwash is absorbed into the ground. 

With a little bit of time and planning, you can maintain your pool in an environmentally, legal manner.  Enjoy your summer, and enjoy that pool!

Posted in: Outdoor tips, Waterways

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Algae: Let’s Get Rid of the Scum

Posted on July 12, 2017 by | Comments Off

pond_algaePond Scum. Green Slime. Mosquito-Breeding Muck. 

Nobody likes a pond covered with algae. Algae can be beneficial, but that all-encompassing, gooey mess is too much. That pond scum is a smothering blanket that blocks light and kills plants and fish. Why do some ponds turn into scum pits, while others have minimal algae growth? As a pond owner or someone living near a pond, what can you do to prevent it?

Algae grows in stagnantwaters. It loves direct sunlight and nutrients. You can discourage algae growth by adding oxygen to your pond and reducing exposure to the phosphates and nitrogen found in fertilizers. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Aerate! Bubbling aerators and fountains keep the water moving and add oxygen to ponds. Higher oxygen levels reduce algae growth.
  • Add plants! Plants add oxygen. They also use some of those nutrients that contribute to excessive algae growth. Pond plants can improve a pond’s aesthetics while keeping the water clear. Your best sources of information on plants are local nurseries and garden centers that specialize in ponds and wetlands plantings. Be aware that ponds located near tidal water may contain salt or brackish water. If that is the case, opt for salt-tolerant species.
  • Treat if you must, but use an environmentally friendly algaecide. Do not grab the stuff you would use in a swimming pool. Use only the amount recommended.

Now for the really important step: Reduce the fertilizer! If you use too much, you are fertilizing the algae. If you feed it, scum will grow. Use a nutrient management plan. That means that you should have your soil tested before using fertilizer. That way you can limit fertilizer use to what your soil needs. Extra fertilizer is not absorbed by your plants…it runs downstream. Also, avoid fertilizing near a drainage system and watch the weather! You don’t want to fertilize just before a rain storm.

Following these steps will keep your fertilizer and your landscaping dollars from washing away. In addition to the money-saving benefits, reducing algae makes ponds look better. It also helps the environment. 

Posted in: Lawn and landscape, Outdoor tips, Waterways

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Meat Water: Not A Thing

Posted on June 28, 2017 by | Comments Off

There comes a time in every educator’s life when you question if you are really making a difference. Am I reaching people? Am I molding the next generation of world changers? Will they remember any of this? 

I’ve been a Community Educator with HRSD for about 5 years and I love what I do. I get to teach people how HRSD cleans dirty water and why clean water is important, create interactive activities to bring to schools, and blog about my experiences right here on “Let’s Talk Green.” At this point, most of my friends and family know what not to flush because it’s one of my favorite soap boxes to stand on. Encouraging civic engagement is my jam. I even convinced my brother to stop hurling his used turkey fryer oil over the fence. Community Educator win.

But then, it happened. One ordinary night my husband and I were going through the post-dinner motions of cleaning up and getting the kids clean and in bed with enough efficiency to allow for a TV show and an adult beverage before turning into pumpkins. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him leaning over the kitchen sink with the pan he had cooked the beef in that night. No, I thought. He can’t be. He wouldn’t…

Fats Oils Grease Disposal

This is not “meat water.” It is FOG.

Me:  What are you doing?

Husband:  Huh?  Just…

Me:  Are you pouring that grease into our sink?! 

Husband:  What? No, it’s not grease, it’s meat water.

Me:  MEAT WATER?! Meat water is not a thing. There is no such thing as meat water. 

Husband:  Yes, this is meat water. It’s not grease. Bacon makes grease. This is more like water.

Me:  HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?! You can’t pour that down the drain. Do you ever listen to anything I say? I spend a lot of time telling people to keep FOG out of their drains, and now you, my own husband, my sink. That clogs pipes, causes sewage spills…Ahhhhhhhh!  *Throws hands in air*

Husband:  It’s MEAT WATER! Meat water doesn’t clog pipes.

Me:  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MEAT WATER! 

I could continue but we just started to talk in circles at this point. 

Community Educator FAIL. Apparently, my messages are sometimes lost on the ones closest to me. And this is the same sink I have blogged about in the past, a sink that my husband installed WITHOUT a garbage disposal because garbage disposals send too much gunk into the pipes and contribute to clogs and sewage spills. He knows that part. He scrapes his leftovers into the trashcan and compost bin like a champ.   

I guess I need one of these above my sink.

I guess I need one of these above my sink.

So here goes.  For my husband and everyone else I have failed to reach. Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) DO NOT GO DOWN THE DRAIN. That includes any leftover residue from cooking meat. Even if it looks “watery.” It’s not meat water. Meat water does not exist. Google it. 

It turns out, I’m not alone. My coworker, Molly, is also a Community Educator, guest blogger, and environmental steward with a green thumb (check out her composting tips). She realized recently that her husband was not using the strainer in their kitchen sink. He didn’t think he needed to since he scrapes all of the large pieces of food in the trash. But what about the teeny tiny pieces? If our husbands lived together, they would have some hefty bills from the plumber. The FOG sent down the drain would cling to the pipe walls and catch all of those teeny tiny pieces and eventually make a big ol’ clog. And there’s more. She also caught her husband (why is it always the husbands?) leaving grass clippings on the sidewalk because “the rain will wash it away into the storm drain.” And not just any storm drain. A storm drain that resides on the worst hit street in the state of Virginia by Hurricane Matthew. Their house flooded, their floors floated, they evacuated in the middle of the night. Everyone on their street is all too familiar with the stormwater system and how important it is to keep things flowing. PLUS, grass clippings pollute our waterways with excess nutrients. Our husbands are both smart people, but it seems we’ve overlooked them in our quest to save the world. 

We all need reminders now and then, so please, take this home with you today:

Meat water is not real. Fatbergs are real. 

Google it. Then educate your spouses.

Posted in: Fats, oils and grease disposal, For educators, Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Keeping storm drains free, Lawn and landscape, Lawncare, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized, Waterways

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