Spring 2016 Environmental Sustainability Cohort
“We do not get water from nature; we borrow it”
Water cycle was thought to us as early as in our elementary days and it was emphasized as continuing processes occurring in our major spheres – atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere. It includes complicated processes such as evaporation, condensation, precipitation, run-off, percolation, infiltration and aquifer flux. Most of us thought we have a clear understanding of these processes that we memorized it by heart. However, it is not as simple as we used to believe! Taking a deeper look on the processes and expanding the lenses of analysis will lead us to realization that there are significant intervening factors involved in the processes. Let us factor the impact of the activities of man. We draw significant amount of water from natural sources to fuel our socio-economic activities and we continue to discover systems to make our life easier and “better”. Unfortunately, at most points, we failed to recognize that we are compromising the quality and quantity of these waters.
The water cycle
We use water in everything we do, but we fall short to understand or even asked ourselves how much is our total water consumption or our “water footprints and most importantly, we failed to assess how much we contributed in the conservation of this precious resource. Most instances, man get water from the ecosystem and utilized to his satisfaction but in the end, just released it back to nature without exerting effort to treat it. We get clean water but we return unclean water to nature. It is a double jeopardy and obviously an imbalance equation. Thus, man shall put a deeper understanding that his inclusion in the natural water cycle distorted the balance of systems. It does not mean that man will stop using water (as he surely perished) but it connotes that he shall exert efforts to use water sustainably and restore and protect its quality.
Using the elementary perspective of water cycle, we must be able to comprehend that all water drawn away from its natural path for the use of man will most likely become waste water. Having this idea will caution us to ensure waste water shall be clean first prior to discharge to the natural ecosystems. My short stay with the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) in Albemarle County, Virginia provided me an opportunity to see some of these potential interventions we can employ to reduce the pressure we induced in the water cycle:
Fat, Oil and Grease (FOG) Program of the ACSA
FOG management tips
FOG is a serious concern of the ACSA not only due to its potential damage to its pipes and facilities but more importantly its impact to water quality. The ACSA is the primary distributor of drinking water in the Albemarle County as well as the main service provider in the channelling of wastewater from homes, institutions, business and transport systems to wastewater treatment plants. It currently maintains over 280 miles of sewer lines and related facilities intended for the collection of wastewater. This organization acknowledged that “all water we draw from the ecosystem will return to the ecosystem”, thus, it had been aggressive in pushing for programs backing the cleaning of water prior to discharge to the ecosystem and one of it is its FOG program. The organization understands that FOG from kitchens, food establishments and other sources could block the pipes resulting to overflows that could result to grim environmental consequences. It is a business entity but does not look only for profit rather have a wider understanding and involvement in maintaining a sustainable hydrologic cycle. It consistently educates costumers to do FOG management and incrementally influence them be involve in water conservation. For more details of their program see http://www.serviceauthority.org/fog.html
Biofilters, storm water basins and filterra of the Albemarle County and City of Charlottesville
The Albemarle County and City of Charlottesville instituted programs to maintain its healthy and sustainable hydrology. It understands that water cycle can be affected greatly by inland activities such as land development thus it invested on programs to buffer the potential degradations these developments will cause to the water ecosystem. Significant interventions are the stormwater basins, biofilters and filterras. Stormwater basins are intended to catch runoff water and allow sediments to settle in a pond and filter it with natural vegetations prior to being discharge slowly to the natural environment. The biofilters are innovations using stones, gravels, sand and indigenous vegetation to filter runoff water. The stones or gravels are piled in the outlets of drainage canals to slow the current as well as to trap sediments. The runoff then will pass a canal with sand beds and planted with flood resistant indigenous flora. The plants and the sand beds dawdles the runoff current and trap smaller sediments that were not trapped in the stone filters improving quality of water percolating in the aquifers. The filterra on the other hand, uses tree and stone/gravels to filter runoff. Trees are planted in manholes with layers of stones or gravel reducing flow of runoff water and filtering sediments before draining to a drainage manhole constructed next to it.
Robust vegetation along of the biofilter at Albemarle County