“Proven” doesn’t equal “good”

The following was written by Hilde Maingay and published as a letter to the editor in the Falmouth Enterprise, May 2, 2014.

Have you heard it over and over?

“We have to sewer the densely populated areas. We can only rely on “proven” sewer technology to clean Little Pond.”

But just because sewers are a “proven technology” that does not mean that they have proven to be good.

They are proven to …

  • be disruptive and destructive during construction
  • be expensive to build, operate and maintain (O&M)*
  • use a lot of resources and energy in construction
  • waste all nutrients and recycle nothing
  • mix valuable nutrients with heavy metals and other toxins
  • depend on and continuously use large amounts of energy
  • produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases
  • encourage using expensive drinking water to flush toilets
  • put nitrogen, phosphorus and toxic pollutants back into the groundwater
  • dispose of waste effluent and toxic sludge elsewhere, polluting our neighbors’ land, air and water

Coastal Pond PollutionBut sewers do not ….

  • meet the nitrogen TMDL for Little Pond
  • fully remediate the impaired aquatic ecosystems in Little Pond
  • keep nitrogen, other nutrients, and toxic pollutants out of our waters
  • keep money within our local economy
  • create sustainable local jobs and products

*Between 2005 and 2014, the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility has needed $22.5 million for repairs and upgrades, and about $15 million for O&M. The plant only services 700 parcels. Thus it costs $32,143 per parcel over ten years just for the repairs & upgrades, and about $21,428 per parcel for O&M. That is $53,571/parcel over a ten-year period.

Sewer N WasteSo why do we never hear about these huge costs to treat the waste of only about 700 parcels? Because most of those costs are hidden in our real estate taxes, paid by ALL the Falmouth taxpayers.

Even if it were half that much, it would be an outrageous expense for a “treatment” facility, which only gets rid of 73% of the nitrogen. The rest of the nitrogen goes “away” by dumping it back into the ground or shipping it over the bridge as sludge, mixed with all the phosphorus, other nutrients, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and other toxic pollutants. Nitrogen is manufactured with fossil fuels and phosphorus is mined from rapidly dwindling non-renewable deposits. Both nitrogen and phosphorus are essential nutrients for food production.

House-Sewer-WasteWait for future costs for the next upgrade, and the next, and the next. The next upgrade of our treatment plant will be to recover the phosphorus, and the following upgrade will be to reduce heavy metals, then pharmaceuticals and then other contaminants of concern (CECs). So if we think we can ‘afford’ to add more proven sewer technology, think again: we can’t afford the sewer we already have!

Sewering has proven to be extremely expensive and simply moves materials to other watersheds, to pollute water, air, and land somewhere else. Is that really the kind of ‘proven’ technology we want?

Please vote No on Question # 1 and let’s focus first on natural system technologies that can clean our water, recover the nutrients and remediate our aquatic eco-systems faster, better, cheaper and more sustainably.

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