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Improperly treated sewage is a major and often the most dangerous source of pollution and contamination in many waters of national significance. Aging, inadequate wastewater treatment infrastructure routinely puts raw or partially treated sewage in ground and surface waters. For example, about one spill occurs in Florida every three hours. Meanwhile, many utilities only remove solids and pathogens, then discharge harmful amounts of nutrient pollution into aquifers and surface waters.
Meanwhile, in sandy or rocky soils, and/or in areas with high water tables, Onsite Sewage Disposal Systems (septic systems) easily transmit nutrient-rich, disease-carrying into state and federal waters.
The resulting contamination threatens the health of humans and wildlife, as well as our most valuable natural resources, such as coral reefs, beaches, and estuaries, plus springs, creeks, and rivers.
Florida is tragic case in point. Raw or partially treated sewage provides concentrated sources of nutrients, and is essentially a “superfood” that allows harmful algal blooms including red tide, brown tide, and cyanobacteria to bloom intensely, for as long as the sources of nutrition are available.
In 2018, millions of fish and other wildlife died from exposure to harmful algal blooms, residents and tourists suffered from exposure to their toxins, and the state lost billions in tourism revenue. Sewage contamination played a significant role in every bloom. Meanwhile, the numbers of beach closures due to high fecal bacteria counts skyrocketed, and a species of antibiotic resistant of MRSA bacteria, previously only found in hospitals, was discovered in Tampa Bay.
Our nation’s sewage infrastructure is aging and in most places cannot handle the growing demand for advanced treatment, reuse and recycling. Congress needs to increase funding for programs that update wastewater treatment, recycling, and reuse.