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The Impact of Climate Change on Massachusetts Septic Systems

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Climate Change + Population Increase = Imbalance in the Waterways of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

The old septic systems used by about 95% of the growing population of Cape Cod are contributing to rising nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the waterways which are slowly warming due to climate change. Septic systems are a great option in places where homes are too spread out to justify sewers and water treatment plants but they don’t filter out the nitrogen and phosphorus that ends up seeping into groundwater. When nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the water, they act as a fertilizer for bacteria and algae. This combination of factors has resulted in an “explosion” of blue-green algae to take over the Cape and wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

After several lawsuits filed by environmentalists, the state of Massachusetts has proposed that local communities are required to fix the problem within 20 years. This has created some pushback from the community of Mashpee, MA that has already started installing a sewer system, the construction of which was projected to be spread out over 25 years. If the proposed rule is enforced, that would force the community to move faster and find a way to cover the huge cost of construction. This raises the issue of cost in general since sewers and water treatment plants are extremely expensive for the community and new septic systems can be a huge expense to the individual homeowners in the area, many of whom are retired and living on fixed incomes.

How this plays out in Massachusetts will be viewed by other states in the future as they seek to address similar surface water quality issues in areas with a high density of decentralized wastewater treatment. 

For more information concerning Nutrient Runoff from Septic Systems check out some of the following resources:

For more information concerning Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) check out some of the following resources from WaterOperator.org:

Free Program to Help Rural Entrepreneurs Thrive

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In 2021 the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) launched the Open for Business program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of the program is to serve entrepreneurs across the country in launching and growing their business through the help of RCAP’s extensive network. 

The Open for Business program offers free tools designed to assist entrepreneurs looking for resources to enhance their business. The program’s hub has self-guided online workshops, live webinars on relevant topics for expanding your business, and one-on-one coaching from a team of professionals with a wide range of expertise. Register for one of their live webinars below:

The Open for Business hub also offers training resources that provide knowledge on some of the most used digital tools in business as well as financial assistance resources via a list of up-to-date government, non-profit, and private funding sources and loans for small businesses. 

For additional knowledge-building, the WaterOperator.org blog also regularly features content on running your water system like a business. Here are some examples:

Septic Systems 101 Training

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Through our sister program at PrivateWellClass.org, our team hosts monthly webinars. Each year the most popular training in Septic Systems 101. Below you'll find a recording of the most recent training, held in August 2022. Topics include:

  • What is safe to flush down a drain?
  • Do you need to put additives in your septic tank?
  • How can you prolong the life of your system?
While the webinar is geared towards a homeowner, the material can be helpful for drinking water professionals who may frequently receive questions from their customers who have septic systems. Please note that it is provided for informational purposes only.
 
 

Hurricane Preparedness for Wastewater Facilities

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As Hurricane Ian left swaths of Florida without water and wastewater services at the end of September, the New York Times was already reporting on potential environmental impacts of the storm hitting South Carolina. Beyond the acute hazards of exposure to untreated wastewater, the biggest concern in hurricane-impacted areas is nutrient pollution and the potential for harmful algal blooms.

As extreme weather events impact larger stretches of the country, the water sector (including regional watershed protection entities) will need to anticipate greater consequences in the emergency response planning process. Florida DEP's Hurricane Preparedness for Domestic Wastewater Facilities and FEMA's Hurricane and Flood Mitigation Handbook for Public Facilities offer some helpful recommendations.

FEMA divides its recommended (primarily anticipatory) mitigation strategies into four categories: elevate or relocate, protect or divert, floodproof, provide redundant systems. The fact sheet identifies which of these strategies are appropriate for each major component of a wastewater facility. For example, installing "backflow prevention devices such as valves on lines that flow into the lift station and emergency overflow lines" is an option for floodproofing a lift station.

FEMA also provides a similar framework for drinking water systems.

Florida DEP's suggestions for before and after a hurricane can provide an update to an existing baseline checklist, particularly for minimizing these concerning downstream impacts. For example, it is recommended to "drain wastewater holding ponds as completely as practical after receiving a hurricane warning" as well as ensure that biosolids for land application have been "spread or stored in a secure manner."

With the frequency and severity of hurricanes and other extreme weather events increasing, facilities may need to adopt new strategies to prevent costly cleanup efforts and even legal battles.

The Best Podcasts for Water and Wastewater Professionals

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More than one-third of Americans listen to podcasts regularly and the numbers are increasing every year. Audio content builds trust and connection with the audience in an easily-accessible format. Professional podcasts in particular have found a home as "background music" during quiet parts of the work day.

Below you can find a list of podcasts that may be of interest to water and wastewater industry professionals. You can find all of these shows in Apple Podcasts and typically in your favorite alternate podcast app as well.

Water-Focused Podcasts, Recording New Episodes

Tap Talk: The Drinking Water in Rural America Podcast from WaterOperator.org

"Everyone has a role to play in protecting public health. Tap Talk connects professionals across the drinking water community with ideas to extend and enhance our work."

Talking Under Water from One Water Media

"The preeminent podcast for the water industry, including municipal and industrial water and wastewater, residential water treatment, storm water management and erosion control."

waterloop from Travis Loop

This show "features conversations about water in our lives and communities with a focus on solutions for sustainable future."

Words on Water from WEF

"Words On Water features conversations with people who work on water issues and discussions about the opportunities and challenges facing one of Earth’s most precious resources."

The Water Values Podcast from Bluefield Research

"This podcast series explores water issues from a variety of perspectives with the goal of uncovering the true value of water."

Water-Focused Podcasts, Not Currently Recording

Audacious Water from John Sabo

"The podcast that seeks opportunities to create global water abundance and equity for everyone."

Water in Real Life from Rogue Water

"Water in Real Life was created for water professionals who believe that if you desire to build the right relationships with your community then your ability to connect with them through storytelling is essential."

Related Podcasts

The Brookings Cafeteria from The Brookings Institution [Not Currently Recording]

From 2013–2022, the Brookings Cafeteria podcast presented experts, ideas, and solutions across a range of policy topics.

  • See also: 17 Rooms, a podcast about actions, insights, and community for the Sustainable Development Goals and the people driving them.

Power Source from Citizens Utility Board [Not Currently Recording]

"Are you really saving money by unplugging your appliances? How do you make the switch to solar? Is your refrigerator running (efficiently?) Power Source answers your burning utility questions, all in 15 minutes or less."

Pumps & Systems Podcast from Pumps & Systems Magazine

"Pumps & Systems is the voice of the international pump and rotating equipment industry. As the leading media brand for pump users worldwide since 1993, it delivers relevant industry news and powerful technical information."

SDG Talks from Kevin Sofen and James Armour

"SDG Talks Podcast highlights Change Makers and their work around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."

Tap Talk Podcast: Season 2 Recap

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Launched in spring of 2022, the second season of Tap Talk discussed a wide range of water issues that coalesce at the community level. Our conversations with experts from across the industry focused on the importance of human-centered and practical decision-making as the foundation of real, sustainable progress.

  1. TT013 – Water is an Economic Development Problem
  2. TT014 – Building Civic Engagement in Rural Water Issues
  3. TT015 – Selecting Appropriate Water Treatment and Ethical Providers
  4. TT016 – Listening to People and Data
  5. TT017 – Creative Collaborations in Water (Part 1)
  6. TT018 – Creative Collaborations in Water (Part 2)
  7. TT019 – Water and Children’s Health
  8. TT020 – Community-centered Infrastructure Planning
  9. TT021 – Education and Funding Options for Well Owners
  10. TT022 – Best Practices in Webinar Training
  11. TT023 – Environmental Justice, Water, and Public Health
  12. TT024 – Thinking Differently about Infrastructure

You’re invited to discuss the episode in our LinkedIn Group. If you decide to share on Twitter, please use the hashtag #TapTalkPodcast. And, of course, make sure to subscribe in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.

Tap Talk Podcast: Season 1 Recap

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With our work here on WaterOperator.org and on our sister program PrivateWellClass.org, our team has a unique national role that weaves in and out of environmental health, water infrastructure, and public policy. While we use our science backgrounds to get the job done well, our purpose is fundamentally about communication. We want to connect people with information and each other.

Tap Talk: The Drinking Water in Rural America Podcast was born from noticing and facilitating these connections over the past decade. The first season was released in Fall 2021 and featured twelve episodes:

  1. TT001 – The Drinking Water in Rural America Podcast
  2. TT002 – Private Wells vs. Public Water Systems
  3. TT003 – Mastering Well Owner Education
  4. TT004 – The Problem with Springs
  5. TT005 – Controlling Nitrification in Chloraminated Systems
  6. TT006 – Protecting Well Users in North Carolina
  7. TT007 – Helping the Smallest Water Systems
  8. TT008 – Asset Management for Rural America (Part 1)
  9. TT009 – Asset Management for Rural America (Part 2)
  10. TT010 – Understanding Groundwater Quantity and Quality
  11. TT011 – Risk Communication and Perception
  12. TT012 – Water Supplies and Renter’s Rights
Listeners can subscribe to Tap Talk via their favorite podcast player, including Apple Podcasts.

Additional Free Test Prep Training Resources for Operators

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Below is a list of free test prep training resources to supplement our previous articles: Free Test Prep Training Resources for Operators, Operator Math Part 3: Continuous Education, and Featured Video: Water Exam Success. These resources can help prospective water and wastewater operators prepare for certification exams. 

Operator Licensing Requirements Across the United States

The 125-page report outlines licensing requirements for water and wastewater operators across all 50 states to determine opportunities for and barriers to cross-training. 

Drinking Water C & D Level Certification Review

This 434-page document contains a collection of 22 presentations that will help operators prepare for their C & D level certification exams. Topics discussed include: how to improve your exam score; filtration; water treatment; the Safe Drinking Water Act; Florida drinking water rules; water sources; well requirements for PWSs; storage systems; chlorination and disinfection; disinfection and disinfection byproducts; water treatment plant maintenance; taste, odor, aeration, iron removal, and stabilization; sedimentation; demineralization; coagulation & flocculation; corrosion control; water softening; water transmission & distribution; basic chemistry; laboratory methods; math; and treatment plant safety.

Need-to-Know Criteria Wastewater Treatment Operator Class I 

This 11-page factsheet was developed to assist operators in understanding the content that will be covered in (a previous version of) ABC’s Standardized Wastewater Treatment Operator Class I exam. A methodical and comprehensive international investigation was conducted to determine the most significant job tasks performed by wastewater treatment operators. The content covered on the exam represents the job tasks identified through this research as essential operator competencies and is not limited to the practices of your system/facility. 

Regulatory Resources

Handbook for Water Distribution System Operators

This 39-page handbook contains useful information on approved training courses, related regulations, and associations that assist in training or technical programs.

Drinking Water Training System

This U.S EPA website provides training on the federal requirements of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. 

Chemistry Resources

ABC Formula/Conversion Table for Water Treatment, Distribution and Laboratory Exams

This 4-page document can be used as a study tool to help water operators prepare for certification exams.

ABC Formula/Conversion Table for Wastewater Treatment, Industrial, Collection and Laboratory Exams

This 5-page document lists formula, conversion factors, and abbreviations needed to prepare for the Wastewater Treatment, Industrial, Collection and Laboratory Exams.

Water Treatment and Distribution Operator Chemistry Reference Sheet

This 3-page factsheet includes frequently used formulas and conversions for water treatment and distribution operators.

Math Resources

Absolution Water - Conversions

This 12-minute video offers a tutorial on math conversions noting special tips for finding the correct answer without any mistakes.

Water Treatment and Distribution Operator Math Reference Sheet: Frequently used formulas and conversions

This 15-page factsheet contains frequently used formulas and conversions for water treatment and distribution operators.

 

Most Clicked Links from the Innovations Newsletter

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With growing efforts to enhance water quality and to protect public health, 2021 brought many new innovations to the water sector. From innovative PFAS treatment technologies to enhanced wastewater surveillance to track the spread of COVID-19, the following list highlights the most accessed resources featured in the Innovations for Small Systems newsletter's 2021 archive.

Small Drinking Water Systems Webinar Series
A webinar series hosted by EPA to communicate the latest information on solutions for challenges facing small drinking water systems.

EPA Cybersecurity Best Practices for the Water Sector
EPA published a webpage featuring resources to help water and wastewater utilities implement cybersecurity best practices. This new page contains various cyber resilience resources available from EPA.

Tracking SARS-CoV-2 RNA through the Wastewater Treatment Process
This paper presents data on SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentration and removal rates during the different stages of the activated sludge wastewater treatment process to better understand the fate of the virus at the different stages

EPA Drinking Water Treatability Database (TDB)
The TDB presents an overview of over 120 regulated and unregulated contaminants found in drinking water with current information on treatment processes. EPA updated the TDB on May 19 to include new references and treatment options for PFAS.

Expedited Approval of Alternative Test Procedures for the Analysis of Contaminants Under the Safe Drinking Water Act; Analysis and Sampling Procedures
On May 26, EPA approved 17 alternative testing methods for use in measuring the levels of contaminants in drinking water to determine compliance with national primary drinking water regulations.

EPA Identifies Drinking Water Contaminants for Potential Regulation
EPA announced the Draft Contaminant Candidate List 5 (CCL 5) on July 12 to include 66 individual chemicals,12 microbes, and three chemical groups – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), cyanotoxins, and disinfection byproducts (DBPs).

Performance of rapid sand filter – single media to remove microplastics
This paper aims to analyze the effectiveness and mechanism of rapid sand filters (RSF) for the removal of microplastics (MPs) during drinking water treatment and analyze the effect of research variables on the performance of filter media. 

Cyanobacteria Assessment Network Application (CyAN app)
On August 3, EPA launched the CyANWeb Application, which is an easy-to-use web browser-based tool that provides access to cyanobacterial bloom satellite data for over 2,000 of the largest lakes and reservoirs in the United States.

Tap Talk: The Drinking Water in Rural America Podcast
The Private Well Class program has launched a new podcast series, Tap Talk, which highlights the unique challenges which small public water systems and many private well users experience.

18th Annual EPA Drinking Water Workshop: Small System Challenges and Solutions
This free, annual workshop, which was presented virtually in September, provided in-depth information and training on solutions and strategies for handling small drinking water system challenges. This workshop will be virtual again for 2022.

Zapping Untreated Water Gets Rid Of More Waterborne Viruses
Texas A&M University researchers published a paper in September 21, where they highlighted their research validating the effectiveness of Iron Electrocoagulation in the removal of viruses from water.

EPA Awards $6 Million in Funding to Research Human Viruses Found in Wastewater Intended for Reuse
EPA announced on October 27 that five grants have been awarded funding to research on existing and novel alternative methods to detect and monitor viruses that are excreted with feces in wastewater intended for water reuse applications. 

ASDWA Publishes New PFAS MCLs White Paper for States that are Considering or Developing PFAS Drinking Water Standards or Guidelines
ASDWA published a PFAS Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) White Paper on November 5, to serve as a resource for states that are developing or considering developing PFAS drinking water MCL regulatory standards or guidelines.

EPA Announces Over $3 Million in Funding to Small Businesses to Develop Environmental Technologies
EPA announced on December 14 that 30 American small businesses will receive funding to develop novel technologies to address pressing environmental and public health problems such as domestic greywater, microplastics, and lead service lines.

Nutrient Smart Recognition Program
WEF and EPA launched the NutrientSmart (NSmart) program in December to help reduce nutrient loadings in waterways by encouraging the adoption of enhanced nutrient management practices by water utilities and distributing information on tools and methods for lowering nutrients.

Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule
EPA published the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) on December 27 to better understand the national occurrences and levels of 29 PFAS found in the nation's drinking water systems.

Check out past issues of the Innovations newsletter.