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Showing posts from August, 2016

Inspector Screening

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Septic systems get far less attention than they warrant, considering how severely they affect our watersheds. Maryland delegates much of the monitoring and control of onsite sewage disposal systems (OSDS) to the counties. Calvert County's monitoring and control from the Public Health Department seems to be limited to checking installers, but they don't take measures to ensure or even encourage valid inspections. When I asked them for a list of inspectors, they sent me their list of installers. I called back to see if there was an inspector list and was told that all the installers are tested and are qualified to conduct inspections. I then called a random company on the list and asked about having a septic system inspection performed. The septic guy they referred me to told me that he had never done an inspection and seemed to think that many home inspectors do a decent job by flowing water into the tank and looking for evidence of seepage. That's the type of inspector th…

September is for Septic Systems

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Though I am a septic skeptic, I still depend on my septic system and want to become a responsible system owner even as I wean us off the practice of dumping in our drinking water. I want to encourage others to be responsible septic system owners, too, so I will do what I can to put together an awareness-raising drive with the help of materials in the toolkit provided by the EPA for septic-smart week (Sept. 19 - 23). At least I can put up some posters; maybe do some door-to-door handouts, making initial contact with homeowners who may be good candidates for conversion to humanure composting.

One thing I've never done that the EPA recommends is hire an inspector every three years to see if my septic system is developing problems. Since I have violated several other guidelines over my 11 years of ownership pertaining to protecting the integrity of my system, I may actually have a failed or failing system and not even know it. Most homeowners are probably in the same boat, not even th…

The #1 Source of Pollution in Our Watershed

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The 7 million or so gallons of sewage that spilled from wastewater treatment plants into a couple of the Chesapeake Bay's tributaries two weeks ago turned my head in a new direction. It redirected me on my capstone project for the Watershed Stewards Academy to focus on humanure in my neighborhood. Septic tanks are the current locus of the problem. Particularly problematic are failed septic systems in which sewage resurfaces and then gets washed by storm runoff into surface water.

The environmental impact of failed septic systems can be estimated using a figure from Purdue University stating that one failed system will discharge 76,650 gallons of sewage to the surface in one year. Extending that to an estimate of the number of homes in the critical area of the Chesapeake Ranch Estates, and applying a factor of 10%, which is the EPA's estimate of the proportion of septic system failures, and the annual amount of sewage flowing overland from this 1,000 foot wide zone stretching a…

Anti-Septic Solutions

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Clivus (pronounced "cleevus") Multrum toilets are a brand of composting toilets that have received the "best available technology" (BAT) designation in Maryland, which means they could be used as alternatives to septic tanks if combined with greywater systems on new construction. They could also allow reduction of septic tank sizes by 30% when installed without a greywater system. If folks want to bypass the 5-year recurring requirement for a groundwater discharge permit, they might try using the composted urine from the toilet as a nitrogen booster to compost high carbon material in a separate long-term, thermogenic compost pile. One drawback to this and other types of waterless toilets that require a vent fan is that you might want to include a backup source of power to keep the fan running during power outages. Another is that it may cost you more to heat and/or cool your home due to the continuous venting through the toilet.

All of this is particularly relevant…

No Peaking

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The human world's consumption of energy and consequent production of waste heat shown on the graph here reminds me of the microbial activity observed in my compost piles by way of temperature readings. The scale would need adjusting to read in degrees Fahrenheit, but the initial climb and plateau are quite similar. The second heating phase (China joining the world economy) would be analogous to adding another huge batch of well-chopped organic matter to the pile; it brings the temperature even higher, but the effect is relatively short-lived. Once the temperature of the pile peaks at about 160 degrees, the microbial population can no longer tolerate those conditions and there is a rapid die-off causing the temperature to drop to near ambient. Without resorting to manurial metaphor, Gail Tverberg explains how the current downturn in per capita energy consumption could well continue into a complete collapse of our current way of life. Rather than ascribing the cause to peak oil, as …

Local Legalities wrt Reducing Septic Tank Usage

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The Chesapeake Ranch Estates (CRE), where I live in Lusby, Maryland is a good place to promote humanure composting. Every one of our 4,000+ unique single-family dwellings is connected to a septic tank. About one-tenth of our residences are in the critical area, magnifying, manyfold, their potential for polluting the Bay. The EPA standard for septic system density is at 40 systems per square mile, an area's groundwater is most likely being overly contaminated. CRE's septic system density is around 900 systems per square mile.
Calvert County's phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to help reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is relying on a few demanding measures to improve the nitrogen removing performance of septic systems. By installing denitrifying septic systems, they can eliminate up to 93% of nitrogen discharge to the watershed from those sites. The government's cost to execute the WIP will require double the current budget, but a lot of the cos…

A Campaign Wrought In Extremis

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Social marketing (ne: social media) stems from the field of public health. A lot of it involves consciousness raising. My consciousness about our utterly disastrous approach to wastewater recycling was recently piqued by overflow incidents in Howard County which allowed over 7 million total gallons of untreated sewage to discharge into the Patuxent and Patapsco Rivers.
Former state senator Bernie Fowler, a long-time champion of cleaning up the Patuxent ever since a historic sewage overflow incident spurred him to the cause, lamented that he probably won't live to see a restored Patuxent after last week's incident. Sewage overflows into our waterways are a public health nightmare, as well as environmentally devastating.

The root cause of the problem of sewage in our rivers is not a matter of how well we operate wastewater treatment facilities, nor is it flooding brought on by increased stormwater. The root cause is that we treat sewage as waste and not as a resource, because, i…

Wholistic Medicine

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Health is a major concern in my household these days. My wife's diabetes has resulted in numerous hospital stays over the years, many of which involved surgery, as with her recent foot injury from which she is slowly recovering. Several members of our church attended a workshop last year to begin collectively educating our congregation on diabetes and how to guard against it. Our campaign hasn't gone very far yet, but having learned about social marketing at my most recent Watershed Stewards Academy session, I have a new toolset to try out.

Our other household member, Gretchen the rottweiler,
has had her share of health issues lately, too, though she is only three years old. The major problem started last winter when she tore her cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which ended up costing us around $4,000 to surgically repair. No sooner had she finished recovering from that, and then she came down with urinary incontinence. Visits to the vet, medication, and flooring replacement a…

Maximizing Health Benefits from Cultivated Crops

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Many of  mushrooms' medicinal properties come from agents they use to protect themselves from pathogens in their environment. Mycelial hyphae are only one cell wall thick, so they must be well armed to fight off whatever threats come their way.

Plants behave similarly to mycelium by manufacturing chemical agents to stave off invaders. It would seem that these special chemicals would also be of use to humans who cook and consume their hosts, just as when they eat mushrooms.

Without going into a plant by plant breakdown of these medicinal compounds, we can still consider what it takes to maximize their presence in our food. Just growing and cooking your own food is the most important step to improving nutritional and pharmacological content in your diet.

Some vegetables lose a large percentage of their nutrients in the transition from farm to table. Considering those from the list of important nutrient sources in my last post,

Produce items to eat ASAP after harvesting include strawbe…

Help Yourself

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Before alleviating injuries and prolonged neglect with herbal remedies, an even more fundamental step is giving our bodies their best fighting chance by supplying them with all the resources they need. Following the general rules prescribed by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is important, but if people are like plants, then something akin to Liebig's Law of the Minimum also pertains. The Law of the Minimum states that the overall health of a plant is limited by scarcity of the nutrient(s) that it most lacks.

The Dietary Guidelines tells us which nutrients tend toward deficiency in American diets. These include potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E, and C. Two others, iron and folate, are important for women. Limiting the amount of meat in one's diet makes access to these nutrients even more challenging, but I believe that the crops and poultry I raise now or in the near future on a relatively small area will be sufficient to satisfy a…