Why centralized treatment of wastewater is here to stay
June 26, 2009

Fast Company magazine features an article in its latest issue touting the innovations behind a building in Rhinebeck, NY, that will treat 5 million gallons of its own wastewater every year. The system includes a 10,000-gallon tank for collection, an artificial wetlands process for treatment, and a "green lagoon" for polishing the water. While the project is certainly innovative, the notion of managing all wastewater on-site is probably less efficient than the technology might suggest. The process itself can work, but in the real world, lots of things end up being flushed down the drain -- many which shouldn't be -- and that's part of what makes centralized treatment at a municipal wastewater treatment plant efficient in the long run. There are those who have suggested in the past that all wastewater treatment could be conducted with reed beds and wetlands -- former Vice President Al Gore made one such argument about a decade ago. But with concerns about emerging contaminants, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals in our water, it's unlikely that urban areas will ever become attractive spots for on-site treatment. On-site wastewater treatment is an obvious necessity for remote sites like parks, campgrounds, and rest stops. We serve those kinds of users with things like chlorination tablets and small pumping systems. But for municipalities of any real size, pumping the wastewater to a centralized wastewater treatment plant is really the only viable way to ensure quality wastewater treatment.

June 2009
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last revised June 2009