Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Saving the Bay with Sewage

With the increase in heavy rain events (the past two weeks here, for example), the chances of having a wastewater treatment plant overflow to the watershed are growing. These incidents occur often enough for us to understand how devastating they are to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. All of the efforts going into reduce nonpoint source pollution can be obviated in a day by the point source pollution of a major overflow incident. Reporting of incidents is easy to check on the state's database.

Nonetheless, the suggestions by the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science to reverse a decades-long trend of deteriorating conditions in Calvert County's tidal waters still emphasized nonpoint source measures, such as upgrades to septic systems and riparian buffers. That's where I come in, as perhaps the first Master Watershed Steward in Calvert County (once I complete the Watershed Steward's Academy this fall and capstone project sometime next year). The role of a Watershed Steward is to educate residents and encourage measures to mitigate nonpoint source pollution of the watershed.

Aside from the usual arsenal of methods to correct various nonpoint source problems, I'm hoping to introduce biochar in buried compost filters and bunker spawn in future projects.

Photo by sandwichgirl  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Back on the topic of wastewater treatment, Biocharo  (+Kathleen Draper) posted her ideas for the top ten ways to scale up biochar production without inviting deforestation.  The number one underutilized feedstock is sewage sludge. Here in Calvert County, our dried sewage sludge is trucked off to Virginia where they find a way to turn it into fertilizer. While there may be some pollution problems with that approach, making the sludge into biochar should correct them. Not only that, we could use county-owned land right near the Appeal sewage treatment plant to set up a pyrolysis facility. Combined with pyrolysis of yard and lumber waste, this would give the county a growing income stream and save on trucking costs of sludge sent off to Virginia. Even if the local agricultural market isn't ready for it by then, there is plenty of use we could make of biochar as a stormwater management tool, while getting carbon sequestration credit for the state's greenhouse gas reduction plan.

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