WEF's membership newsletter covers current Federation activities, Member Association news, and items of concern to the water quality field. WEF Highlights is your source for the most up-to-the-minute WEF news and member information. 

March 2011, Vol. 48, No. 2

Top Story

National Botanic Garden of Wales Upgrades Wastewater Recycling System
Forced bed aeration in reed bed system saves money and educates visitors
Garden - Reed Bed 1 Small The National Botanic Garden of Wales last summer introduced a new enhancement to its wastewater recycling system.

History of recycling wastewater

Since the garden opened, it has recycled its wastewater using reed bed technology, which allows bacteria to break down solids into liquid, according to the garden’s Web site. This recycling system, installed around 1998, included a settlement tank, anaerobic digester, closed aerobic tank, and clarifier. It was capable of handling flows from up to 4000 people per day, said Clive Edwards, operations and facilities manager at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.
A view of the new reed bed installed at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Photo courtesy of ARM Ltd. (Staffordshire, England). Click for larger image.

“Although state-of-the-art in its day, the old system was very reliant on flow pumps and aeration pumps, and consequently expensive to run,” Edwards said. The system used around 10 kilowatts of electricity per hour at a cost of $12,850 (£8000) each year, he explained.

“The need to desludge the system after 10 years led to a discussion on its effectiveness,” Edwards said. “In the light of advances in technology, it was decided to upgrade the system.”

Installing a new and improved system

In August, the gardens installed technology known as forced bed aeration within the reed beds, removing the old system and its aeration tanks. The new system feeds directly into a larger external reed bed system, Edwards said.

ARM Reed Beds (Staffordshire, England) installed a 128-m2 saturated vertical flow aerated reed bed system designed to handle peak flows of 48 m3/d, with average flow rates of 18 m3/d, said Clodagh Murphy, researcher at ARM Ltd. (Rugeley, England). “We basically retrofitted the forced bed aeration system into the [existing reed bed],” Murphy said.

To do this, the company cleaned out the existing bed, washed the gravel at the bottom, placed aeration lines below the bed, and changed the distribution system to flow vertically, she explained. Wastewater is applied into the top portion of the gravel, where it flows vertically down to the bottom, she said. The aeration lines add oxygen to the bottom of the reed bed.

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Above, the original bed at the National Botanic Garden of Wales prior to refurbishment. Left, the refurbished reed bed before planting the reeds. Photos courtesy of ARM Ltd. Click for larger images. 

“Essentially a reed bed is excavated, lined, and filled with gravel,” Murphy said. “Then you plant the reeds into that, and the water flows through the gravel and comes into contact with a number of microbes.” The microbes digest contaminants in the water, while the reed beds filter out any solids, she said.

Garden - Reed Bed Operation Small   The system includes aerobic zones near the surface and anaerobic zones at the bottom of the bed, fostering different types of bacteria that treat the wastewater in different ways, Murphy said. “If you add oxygen into that system, you boost the number of aerobic microbes that are in the system, and you get a much greater degree of treatment,” she said.

The new system increases the available oxygen by as much as 15 times what’s found in a normal passive system, Murphy said. A typical oxygen transfer rate within a horizontal reed bed system is about 5 g/m2 of oxygen per day; within a vertical reed bed system this increases to 17.5 g/m2 of oxygen per day; and in a forced bed aeration system, this increases to 270 g/m2 of oxygen per day, she explained. “Adding more oxygen to these systems means we can treat much stronger effluent.” This also allows reduction in the size of installations, she added. 
This illustration shows how a saturated vertical flow reed bed operates with forced bed aeration. This type of system was installed at the National Botanic Garden of Wales last summer. Image courtesy of ARM Ltd. Click for larger image.

The technology was the result of Scott Wallace’s research and work done through his company, Naturally Wallace Consulting (Vadnais Heights, Minn.), Murphy said. The technology has been used in the United States for years but is relatively new in the United Kingdom. The installation in the National Botanic Garden of Wales is one of the first forced bed aeration installations in the country, she added.  

Benefits of the new system
The system upgrade cost approximately $24,000 (£15,000) and was partially funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, Edwards said. This cost is similar to installing a packaged wastewater treatment system, but savings accumulate after installation, Murphy said. The system saves £7000 per year in energy and maintenance costs, she added. With these savings, the garden estimated to pay back the cost for the system in approximately 2 years, Edwards said.

Simplifying procedures makes the new system very low maintenance,” Edwards said. Except for the blowers, the system has no moving parts, which reduces maintenance and associated costs, Murphy said. The system needs to be inspected to make sure that it is operating properly, that water is not rising above the gravel bed, and that the reeds are not being squeezed out by weeds or overgrazed by rabbits, she added. ARM has a 2-year contract to maintain the system.

Currently, the system produces some odors, but the garden staff is confident the odors will be masked when the newly planted reed bed matures in the spring, Edwards said. Because the wastewater remains below the gravel, there should not be an odor, Murphy explained.

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The new reed bed installed at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Photo courtesy of ARM Ltd. Click for larger image.

“Wastewater is collected from the main toilet areas,” Edwards said. “Once treated, the water is pumped out to irrigate our biomass plantation, which is coppiced regularly and used as fuel to heat the great glasshouse.” (Coppicing is a forest management technique in which trees or bushes are regularly cut back to low stumps to stimulate the production of new shoots for regeneration.) 

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Increasing sustainability and education

Primary benefits of the system upgrade are the ability to recycle wastewater onsite and cost effectively, and to provide the public with a model for sustainability, Edwards said.

Education is an important aspect of the garden. “We currently take primary schoolchildren to look at [the wastewater treatment system] under a daylong course called Everyday Choices, which gets the children to think about their impact on the planet and things they can do to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Bruce Langridge, interpretation officer for the garden. The garden is working on developing more courses for older schoolchildren and undergraduates. These educational materials will be made available online, he said.

The garden also plans to offer a regular series of guided walks to educate visitors on its “holistic approach to water conservation, including how we harvest rainwater to service the toilets and water the plants,” Langridge said, “and how our drainage water goes into our restored lakes.” The new treatment system provides an important component of this holistic and sustainable water system.

Views of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Photos courtesy of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Click for larger images. 
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Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
Organizations Work To Ensure Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Schools Worldwide

Many organizations have formed a partnership to ensure students in schools around the world have clean water, adequate sanitation, and proper hygiene.

More than half of all primary schools in developing countries lack adequate water facilities and nearly two-thirds lack adequate sanitation. Students in these developing countries face health threats, as well as economic and educational disparities, according to UNICEF (New York).

“A school cannot be a school without adequate sanitation and hygiene,” said Murat Sahin, UNICEF adviser for the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools program. Sahin has helped design and develop a call for action at the global level and has participated in a U.S.-based call to action, he said. Since its launch last April, nearly 30 organizations have signed on to the WASH in Schools program.

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Pupils from the Tamman Patti village primary school wash their hands before the school midday meal. The school, located in the Shikhar Mandal, India, includes a hand-washing area and toilet area that are a part of the Utta Pradesh government’s sanitation and hygiene project supported by UNICEF. Photo courtesy of Tom Pietrasik, UNICEF.


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Two girls with pails walk towards latrines at Umubano II Primary School in Gisenyi, Rwanda. UNICEF provides educational supplies and supports teacher-training at the school, which has separate latrines for girls and boys. Photo courtesy of Giacomo Pirozzi, UNICEF.
Globally, the goal is to have bathrooms installed in all schools in the countries — more than 89 at last count — where the WASH in Schools program has been accepted, Sahin said.

The program also needs a global monitoring network to make sure water, sanitation, and hygiene are available consistently. To do this, the campaign is working to strengthen collaboration among organizations, governments, and schools receiving aid in developing countries, Sahin explained.

“[The program] depends on the teachers and the students,” Sahin said. In addition to monitoring installations and working with organizations involved, WASH in Schools relies on those attending and working at the schools. The program requires education for students and teachers at schools with new facilities. Students need to be proud of exhibiting good WASH behaviors; they are assigned the task of maintaining bathrooms and making sure other students wash their hands, he added. 

Working together
The partnership — which includes organizations such as IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre (The Hague, The Netherlands), CARE (Atlanta), Water for People (Denver), and the World Health Organization (Geneva) — released an advocacy document outlining the six points of action for the campaign. The document, Raising Clean Hands, calls for increasing investment in WASH systems in schools; engaging policy-makers at all levels to support the effort; involving multiple stakeholders; publicizing WASH projects that incorporate construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation of facilities with WASH education in schools; monitoring programs for continuous data collection and program progress; and contributing evidence and data for the effective distribution of funds. 

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Two pupils at Niyamatpur Khurd primary school clean the boys’ toilets. UNICEF and the Uttar Pradesh Government are working to promote good sanitation and hygiene practices by constructing and painting school toilet blocks such as the one at this school located in Mirzapur, India. Photo courtesy of Tom Pietrasik, UNICEF.
Each coalition member focuses on a different aspect of the issue, such as education, installation of water and sanitation infrastructure in developing countries, obtaining funding, or promoting health. “Each of the groups plays a different role in the process, but all of them are necessary to move things forward,” said Elynn Walter, director of WASH Sustainability at the WASH Advocacy Institute (Washington, D.C.).

Building toward the future
WASH is not a new concept. Many of the organizations involved in the coalition have been working on WASH in developing countries for many years. But the effort gained momentum in the last year with global meetings, additional participants, and the release of Raising Clean Hands, Walter said. “It gave something very tangible for people to be able to build upon when they’re looking at their efforts,” Walter said. “[WASH in Schools] continues to grow.”

The opportunity for change by focusing on students is promising because children are more open to the idea of changing their habits and routines and more likely to spread the information to others, Sahin said.
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A girl raises her slate where she has written, “Mado washes her hands.” The girl is in Kanema Primary School in the Casamance Region of Senegal. The school is partnered with UNICEF and has introduced environmental, sanitation, nutrition, and hygiene education to the curriculum. Photo courtesy of Christine Nesbit, UNICEF. Click for larger image.

“A school is more than a classroom,” Sahin said. WASH is needed for education because it reduces hygiene-related illnesses and increases student attendance and achievement, he added. It also is important because children in developing countries are more susceptible than adults to contracting WASH-related diseases, according to Raising Clean Hands.

Partner organizations meet regularly to decide on strategies, share information, identify solutions to problems regarding installing and maintaining WASH facilities in schools, determine events and actions needed to raise awareness and funding, and set priorities for the campaign.

The campaign began in the United States in October by spreading knowledge to all levels of the government and to the public about the lack of WASH in Schools in developing countries, as well as increasing funding and support for the campaign, Walter said. “WASH in Schools is really to raise awareness, to increase the amount of funding that’s being spent on WASH in Schools, and to increase collaboration,” she said.

To launch WASH in Schools in the United States, the partnership opened the interactive Bathroom Pass exhibit. “It gave the background of four different children,” Walter said.

The children — from Honduras, Madagascar, Nepal, and the United States — were featured to show the contrast between conditions in developing countries and the United States, as well as to show U.S. students how to make a difference. The U.S. student featured in the exhibit joined a high school organization that raises funds and awareness. That student’s group also partners with schools in developing countries to implement WASH facilities through the organization H2O for Life (White Bear Lake, Minn.), Walter said.

The exhibit, which closed its doors Jan. 14, featured a hand-washing station called a tippy-tap, often used where water is scarce or where no hand-washing facilities are available. It also featured a hand-washing challenge where visitors apply Glo Germ — a substance that lights up under a black light — on their hands and were asked to wash it off with the tippy-tapto see how thoroughly they washed their hands.

“We are currently working with our partners to convert [Bathroom Pass] into a traveling exhibit so that other students around the country can learn about WASH in Schools,” said Katie Carroll, secretariat coordinator for the Global Public–Private Partnership for Handwashing at AED (Washington, D.C.). This depends on sponsorship donations, but Carroll hopes to get the exhibit touring in the second half of the year, she said.

UNICEF will work with partner organizations to plan other activities to promote WASH in Schools. The next event will be informational sessions about the program at the Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN) being held in Sri Lanka in April, Sahin said. The partnership will continue working on its efforts to raise awareness and funding until schools around the globe have proper WASH, he said.



Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
Washington-area Water Leaders Gather To Discuss Priorities

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Water leaders from the Washington, D.C., area gathered Feb. 17 to meet Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Executive Director Jeff Eger and hear about U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water priorities from EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner.

Eger started off the luncheon, describing his experience in and hopes for the water industry. “What attracted me to this position is the talent, the energy that’s in this industry, and the passion that people feel for it,” he said. “I hope that with you all, we can continue to raise the value and the care that our citizenry have for this issue.” 

Nancy Stoner continued the conversation, discussing her childhood memories of growing up next to a tributary of the Shenandoah River in Waynesboro, Va., where the inability to eat mercury-contaminated fish from the river seemed normal. “I just feel like there’s a core of what we see, that the rest of the world doesn’t see or know about,” she said. Our challenge is educating the public about the value of clean water and its importance for human and environmental health as well as the economy, she said. 

From left, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner and Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Executive Director Jeff Eger were the featured speakers at a WEF luncheon on Feb. 17. Photo courtesy of Allison O’Brien. Click for larger image.

EPA’s overarching goal for the near future is to disseminate information about the value of clean water, threats to clean water, and actions individuals, organizations, and businesses can take to institute real, cost-effective solutions that have results, Stoner said. “We’re trying to work on a flexible framework [and] come up with something that will really make a difference on the ground,” she said.

Focusing on green infrastructure

Stoner said EPA will focus on low-impact development, green infrastructure, and stormwater management solutions. This area includes many new technologies and innovations that generate interest and enthusiasm, especially at the local level, she added. EPA is working to include allowances for using new technology innovations to meet standards.

EPA is planning to release the proposal for a stormwater rule in September that proposes a program to reduce stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment. In the rule, EPA is trying to set standards while allowing for a diversity of approaches to reduce stormwater discharge, Stoner said. After the proposal period, during which EPA will accept comments and suggestions on the plan, the agency will finalize the proposal, hopefully in 2012, she said. 

EPA has created a green infrastructure work group to determine how to meet local needs and revitalize cities with green infrastructure while still meeting regulatory requirements. The group is identifying potential barriers, viable tools and techniques, and required policy changes, Stoner said.

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Stoner talks at a luncheon on Feb. 17. Photo courtesy of Allison O’Brien. Click for larger image.

Addressing drinking water contaminants
In the area of drinking water, EPA will be working on more cost-effective ways to regulate contaminants. “We decided we need to start … thinking about [contaminants] in groups,” Stoner said. “That’s a new approach to try to be more efficient on our end and also more efficient in terms of the drinking water utilities’ costs associated with treatment.” The first group of contaminants the agency will look at will be volatile organic compounds, she said. 

New research and regulations for drinking water contaminants are under way, Stoner said. EPA will work with drinking water utilities to gather information on chromium-6 and decide how to move forward on regulations for it. In addition, EPA recently determined to go forward with developing a regulatory standard for perchlorate.

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Water leaders listen to Stoner talk at a luncheon on Feb. 17. Photo courtesy of Allison O’Brien. Click for larger image.

“We view [nutrient pollution] as a very significant problem that we need to invest our time and effort in to figure out ways to address it,” Stoner said. In light of research showing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways, increasing nitrate violations, and increasing algal blooms, EPA will focus on fixing these problems, she said.

Working together to find solutions
Many of EPA’s water-related focus areas rely on collaborations and partnerships, Stoner said. For example, EPA has only some of the tools needed to address nutrient pollution, while other tools are in the hands of federal, state, and local agencies; and with individual citizens. EPA will work on forming these partnerships and work to educate citizens, businesses, and organizations in the process, she explained.

“I very much believe in changing things through working with people,” Stoner said. “I’ve always felt if you could just get a group of people together to decide what we should do, we would do something smart.”

“We’ve got a lot to do together, so here’s to the future,” Eger said.
Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
WEF Provides Technical Sessions Online at No Charge

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) offers everyone a chance to preview technical and training content featured at WEFTEC 2010. Watch several technical sessions online at no charge.

  • Denny Parker, from Brown and Caldwell (Walnut Creek, Calif.), speaks about  technology and innovation.
  • Kartik Chandran, from Columbia University (New York), examines unique directionality and metabolic modeling of autotrophic nitrous oxide production.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Bob Periascepe discusses national environmental priorities. 
  • Experience three complete technical sessions (Solids to Energy, Ultra-Low Phosphorus Removal, and Strategic Reuse Planning).

Preview these technical sessions to see what WEFTEC is all about. WEFTEC 2011, Oct. 15– 19 in Los Angeles, will include more than 120 training opportunities on water quality topics, such as nutrient removal and recovery, energy management, stormwater, collection systems, biosolids, drinking water, water reuse, and more.

For more information, see www.weftec.org

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Click for larger image.


Clarifying the Relationship Between CAFOs and VTAs

There appear to be some inaccuracies in “USDA Design Could Pave Road to CAFO Compliance for Milk Houses” [February] article that could lead to misunderstandings of the concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFO) rule. First, small dairies are not CAFOs by definition and are rarely “designated” a CAFO under that portion of the CAFO rule. Secondly, the CAFO rule has little to do with federal groundwater protection.

I believe the author meant to refer to the Underground Injection Control rules, which recently addressed discharges of nonhousehold wastes into the groundwater, such as through a septic tank and leach field, which is what the dairies formerly had been doing with their parlor wastewater. 

The CAFO rule standard for CAFOs is essentially, “no discharge to waters of the state.” A vegetated treatment area (VTA) system would not be allowed for a CAFO. The net result is some CAFO owners and consultants will now be pushing for a VTA system because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region I authorized them for CAFOs.

— David Freise, Topeka, Kan.

Author Andrea Fox responds
: The EPA Region 1 has not authorized VTAs for CAFO waste, and the article does not propose what the agency will do. In Massachusetts, EPA generally focuses on permit development and issuance.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) assists farmers in determining whether their operations meet EPA’s regulatory definitions of a CAFO, and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection governs various groundwater, surface, and other water protection rules. MDAR provides outreach and education to AFO operators on both EPA’s regulatory CAFO program as well as technical assistance to help farmers to “better protect water quality” in general, according to MDAR’s Web site. In many cases, it’s unclear which operations meet the definitions of small or medium CAFOs (there happen to be no large CAFOs in Massachusetts), and many in the industry are still trying to figure out their status.

To predict that “some CAFO owners and consultants will now be pushing for a VTA system because EPA Region I authorized them for CAFOs” is untrue not only because VTAs have not been “authorized” by this EPA regional authority, but also because it assumes a mixing of various wastestreams at multipronged agricultural operations. CAFO regulations affect all agricultural “production areas,” which cover processing facilities — including milk parlors — and washwater can and is usually handled separately from waste milk and other streams, according to the technical resources contacted for the article.

The bottom line is vegetated systems could help any agricultural operation with milk house waste, whether it is a designated CAFO or not. Excess levels of nitrates and phosphorus are among a number of chemicals seen in groundwater and surface waters in many agricultural regions, and this particular ecological solution may be recognized in the future as an effective treatment for nutrients originating from milk house washwater.

What do you think?

welcomes your letters on topics that are covered in the newsletter. Letters that are chosen for publication may be edited for factual accuracy, clarity, style, and length.

Please send your letters to Highlights Editor Jennifer Fulcher at jfulcher@wef.org. Please include your full name, professional title, organization name, contact information, and city, state, and country of residence.