Tag Archives: #wastewater

Waste Not

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Many years ago, I was on vacation on a small Caribbean island. The hotel was new, and a man from one of the neighboring rooms found out just how new when he turned on the bathroom faucet, only to have the water run from the sink straight on to his feet. The drainpipe hadn’t been installed. He immediately turned off the faucet. Of course, he got a different room, because a hotel guest can’t be expected to find a pot for used sink water.

‘Like ancient pots spilled from a drowning ship, tube sponges bulge eerily’ (1993). Mixed media.
Artist: Panya Clark Espinal

I’ve been thinking about this story today, World Water Day. The theme this year is the importance of treating wastewater in the overall cycle of maintaining a viable freshwater supply. Currently, most wastewater around the world is allowed to flow untreated back into waterways, lakes, oceans and land. Not only is this a waste, but it contributes ever more to the pollution of existing freshwater supplies.

There are so many reasons we don’t properly treat wastewater, from lack of facilities and funding to the general human attitude towards natural resources: We assume they are virtually limitless until they are almost gone.

And so even those of us in regions with good access to water, and with advanced sewage treatment options lose sight of water’s value. We brush our teeth with the faucet open, we take long showers, we wash dishes with the water running, we use water-thirsty appliances, we irrigate recklessly, and still the water flows endlessly out of a faucet or a hose, to be magically whisked away by pipes to treatment plants most of us never see.

Like Ancient Pots spilled from a drowning ship, tube sponges bulge eerily (1993). Mixed media.
Artist: Panya Clark Espinal

We know there are areas where people stand in line for hours to get a bucket or container of water for cooking and bathing; we know there are places where there are no pipes to carry away sewage. One in ten people on the planet don’t have access to safe water or sanitary facilities. The rest of us open the faucet and let it flow.

Getting back to the hotel guest with the wet feet: If we all had to deal with the results of a running faucet and no potential for installing new pipes, would we be more attentive to how much water we use, and what we do with our used water before it drenches us?

 

Sweet Poison

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What’s nectar to some is poison to others.

Natural-gas wells on public land in the Jonah Field of western Wyoming. Fracking is routine for most gas wells drilled now in the U.S.  Photo: EcoFlight via SkyTruth

Natural-gas wells on public land in the Jonah Field of western Wyoming. Fracking is routine for most gas wells drilled now in the U.S.
Credit: EcoFlight via SkyTruth

Fracking, an extraction technique that involves injecting water mixed with chemicals into wells to break apart shale formations that cover pockets of oil or natural gas.

Gelling agents, acids, friction reducers, surfactants and many other chemicals are pumped into the ground to break up rock formations and release natural gas. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and volatile organic compounds. After returning to the surface, the “produced” water is placed in evaporation ponds and dispersed into the air. Fracking fluid is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and drilling companies are not required to disclose all the chemicals they use. Credit: EcoFlight

Gelling agents, acids, friction reducers, surfactants and many other chemicals are pumped into the ground to break up rock formations and release natural gas. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and volatile organic compounds. After returning to the surface, the “produced” water is placed in evaporation ponds and dispersed into the air. Fracking fluid is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and drilling companies are not required to disclose all the chemicals they use.
Credit: EcoFlight

Fracking: Praised as an economic and energy boon, condemned as a toxic threat.

Overspray of drilling slurry at hydro-fracking drill site. This by-product from mining operations includes rock debris, drill bit lubricants and possibly residual radioactive material. The overspray at the top is a violation and a danger to any bodies of water downhill. Dimock, Pennsylvania. Credit: Islandbreath

Overspray of drilling slurry at hydro-fracking drill site. This by-product from mining operations includes rock debris, drill bit lubricants and possibly residual radioactive material. The overspray at the top is a violation and a danger to any bodies of water downhill. Dimock, Pennsylvania.
Credit: via Islandbreath

All the images here hold a certain terrible beauty.

Even with this apparent nectar to energy worries and economic security, since when has nectar ever shown more staying power than poison?