MPCA SSTS Bulletin

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SSTS Bulletin

February 2016

MOWA convention keynote speaker says SSTS can help recharge nation's declining groundwater aquifers



According to Tom Fritts, a board member and past president of NOWRA (National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Associaion), it isn’t difficult to see the nation is experiencing a crisis in declining levels of fresh groundwater. You can see it if you visit Hoover Dam and look at the water level in Lake Mead. Or the sinkholes in Florida. Minnesota Public Radio has produced a series of stories (What Lies Beneath) that address a host of groundwater issues in Minnesota.

Fritts says the onsite or subsurface sewage treatment system (SSTS) industry can play a role in helping to replenish falling aquifers since wastewater from homes and businesses that use SSTS return that water directly back into the ground, eventually recharging local aquifers.

Each day in the United States, 22.5 billion gallons of fresh water is pumped from underground aquifers for personal use. If all 86.5 million homes in the U.S. used SSTS, this would recharge the aquifers at a rate of 22.2 billion gallons per day.

But the fact is, only 25 percent of homes in the country are using SSTS, recharging aquifers at a rate of only 5.6 billion gallons per day. Said another way, 75 percent of homes are connected to centralized wastewater treatment facilities that discharge to surface waters that ultimately send 16.7 billion gallons of treated wastewater to the oceans every day.

Fritts said the SSTS industry is currently growing at a rate of about 5 to 7 percent a year. In order to have a real impact on the rate of aquifer recharge, SSTS professionals need to increase that rate by building confidence  and credibility in the industry among not only citizens but also local, state and federal officials.

Lack of credible leadership can lead to disaster, he said. As an example he talked about the Mann Gulch forest fire in central Montana in 1949. A crew of firefighters was sent in to fight the fire under the command of a new leader, Wag Dodge, whom they had not yet had time to get to know and have confidence in. Dodge quickly realized the fire was out of control and they needed to escape it. He ordered a retreat and at the same time began burning a ring of fire in front of their path and ordered his men to join him inside the escape fire he had created. Many of the men ignored his command and continued to run. “To hell with that, I’m getting out of here,” one crew member reportedly shouted. Dodge and only two others survived out of a crew of 16.

“Our ‘ring of fire’ idea is distributed wastewater systems can be a solution to massive groundwater depletion,” Fritts said. He said getting others to accept that idea requires developing credibility and teaching others that SSTS recharges groundwater and that it is safe and cost-effective. “Only credible leaders can ignite an incredible revolution,” Fritts says.

Fritts spoke as a keynote presenter during the 2016 MOWA (Minnesota Onsite Wastewater Association) conference held in St. Cloud in late January.