August 2006, Vol. 18, No.8

Waterline

Waterline - Sand Filtration System Goes ‘Extreme’

Eljen Corp. (East Hartford, Conn.), a manufacturer of pretreatment systems for decentralized wastewater systems, recently donated an Eljen Geotextile Sand Filter (GSF) System to television’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The Somers, N.Y., project features the repair and expansion of an old septic system to make way for construction of a new three-bedroom home on the site.

The Eljen GSF, the latest version of the Eljen In-Drain™ System, was chosen for its ability to provide wastewater treatment for small sites. Both the New York State Department of Environmental Protection and the Westchester (N.Y.) Health Department watched the project closely due to the area’s role as a New York City watershed. Also of concern to the regulators were the limited space, poor soils, and an expanded home footprint — all challenges needing solutions in order to gain the necessary approvals to move ahead.

The Eljen team, led by Stephen Dix, had 5 days to complete the system, including permitting and installation, in order for the production to move ahead according to schedule. The installation was completed within hours of the scheduled start of production, and the episode aired on May 14 on the ABC television network.  

Monitoring Herbicides in Midwest Drinking Water

Residents of Fort Wayne, Ind., and those of two dozen small communities who rely on the St. Joseph River watershed for drinking water are breathing a sigh of relief. A sampling of water running through the watershed in northeast Indiana is showing glyphosate herbicide contamination to be minimal, according to a U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) news release. The herbicide’s levels have exceeded the federal limit for drinking water only once during 3 years of testing, the news release states.
However, that sigh of relief may be short-lived.

According to ARS, 3 years of testing data from the ARS National Soil Erosion Laboratory (NSERL) in West Lafayette, Ind., show that the herbicide atrazine is often found at levels exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit for drinking water.

Drinking water treatment plants in the Fort Wayne metropolitan area use activated charcoal to remove atrazine — which is used to control weeds in cornfields — that has most likely run off from cornfields. Because many farmers in the St. Joseph River watershed region must rely on drainage pipes and ditches to get their fields dry enough to plant, ARS supports a project focused on measuring and curbing runoff pollution from these drainage systems.

Runoff from farms carries nutrients, soil, and pesticides to the St. Joseph River. Scientists are looking at a variety of drainage improvements, such as maintaining an even water table, adding alum or gypsum to reduce contaminant levels in runoff, and filtering standing water.

NSERL has two automated systems with special extraction equipment that can detect five different pesticides simultaneously in tiny amounts of water. It is the only lab involved in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) that is sampling water for glyphosate (commonly known by the brand name Roundup®), the herbicide that increasingly is being substituted for atrazine.

For more information on the CEAP program, see www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/nri/ceap. Read more about NSERL at www.ars.usda.gov/main/docs.htm?docid=2973.  

Scientists, Fishermen, Team Up for Trawling Study

Working in cooperation with trawler captain Cameron McLellan and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (Portland, Maine), University of Maine (Orono) graduate student Emily Knight and marine science professor Les Watling recently completed a long-term study that examines the effects of groundfish-trawling on the ecology of the sea floor in the Gulf of Maine.

In areas of the sea floor that have been protected from trawling for 2, 4, and 6 years, Watling estimates that it will take about a decade for the surface-dwelling organisms to re-establish themselves. He based his estimation on the gradual increases in the complexity and diversity of the sea-floor communities, a University of Maine press release notes.

Watling cautioned that a full recovery of the habitat would take much longer than a decade.
“I am pretty firmly convinced that if the groundfishing industry doesn’t soon begin to undertake measures to conserve complex bottom habitat, there will be little chance that fishery will ever recover to levels seen 50 or 100 years ago,” Watling said. “Small, bottom fish need complex habitat, and it is clear that rock-hopper gear reduces habitat complexity,”

The good news, according to the news release, is that recently protected habitats are recovering. While anything resembling a “natural” condition would certainly be far in the future, Knight found that significant gains had been made in the short term.

“Scientists were predicting it would take decades for recovery but didn’t have an opportunity to look at it,” Knight said. “This is the first project that has been able to look at areas closed for 6 years. We’re already seeing signs of recovery after a significant amount of time. We’re not seeing a huge trajectory change, but we can say it is recovering toward stability.”

For more information on the affects of trawling and sea-floor habitat, see www.gma.org 

Clean Water Permit for Aquatic Invasive Species

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is developing a clean water general permit to address aquatic invasive species in ballast water discharges from ships crossing Michigan waterways. Michigan is the latest in a growing number of states and environmental groups attempting to limit the spread of the species, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) news release.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has been joined by attorneys general in other states in the region to support litigation by environmentalists calling for regulation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency governing invasive species contained in ballast water discharges. The legal action cites concerns that the ballast water can contain species, such as zebra mussels, that foul discharge and water intake pipes, the news release notes.

The U.S. Coast Guard currently implements the National Invasive Species Act of 1996. Under its open water exchange program, the Coast Guard urges ships to empty their ballast tanks while at sea to avoid discharging potentially contaminated ballast water in U.S. waters. However, the exchange program is not enforceable, according to USDA.

A draft version of Michigan’s general permit states that ships must either treat their ballast water to kill any invasive species or agree not to discharge any ballast water in state waters in order to operate in Michigan ports, the news release says. DEQ identifies three ballast water treatment methods in the draft plan — hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide as ballast water biocides, ultraviolet radiation, and deoxygenation — that are deemed adequate to prevent the discharge of invasive species.
DEQ’s permit was set for proposal early this summer. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana are also considering similar invasive species legislation and permitting programs.

For more information on invasive species, see www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov.