Category Archives: pollution

A crash course in septic systems and how they’re damaging the environment

Septic System

In his State of the State Address on February 3, 2011, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made the following statement:

“We must realize that where we choose to sleep, eat, and live affects our environment and it affects our Bay. Together, we’ve made some great progress in recent years. And we shouldn’t take that lightly. It didn’t happen by chance, it happened by choice … reducing farm run-off, reducing pollution from aging sewage treatment plants; most recently, starting to reduce the damage and the pollution that’s caused by storm-water run-off. But among the big four causes of pollution in the Bay, there is one area of reducing pollution where so far we have totally failed, and in fact it’s actually gotten much worse, and that is pollution from the proliferation of septic systems throughout our State – systems which by their very design are intended to leak sewage ultimately into our Bay and into our water tables.

Now look, you and I can turn around this damaging trend by banning the further installation of septic systems in major new Maryland housing developments. This is common sense, this is urgently needed, this is timely, and for the health of the Bay we need to do what several rural counties have already done and had the good sense to do.  We are up to this” (source).

Reactions to this statement have been mixed and confused.  If you’re not familiar with septic systems, the Governor has just informed you that they are designed to leak sewage.  How can this be true?  Who would design such a system?  If you’re one of the 420,000 Maryland households using a septic system you probably feel singled out.  You no doubt wonder how your perfectly functioning septic tank could be contributing to the death of the Chesapeake Bay (source).

In response to this confusion, I decided to do some digging and learn more about how septic tanks function, malfunction, and ultimately impact our waterbodies.  Hopefully this will shed some light on the issue and promote a better understanding of septic system developments. Continue reading A crash course in septic systems and how they’re damaging the environment

Ten Largest Endorheic (Salty) Lakes of the World

I am always surprised when some piece of information I’m looking for is actually not on the Internet.  Such was the case this afternoon when I searched for a list of the largest endorheic waterbodies in the world.  An endorheic waterbody is a terminal lake (sometimes called a sea) that has no outlet other than evaporation.  In other words, rivers and streams flow in but nothing flows out.  Since the only way water escapes is via evaporation everything else – salt, nutrients, pollution – are continuously concentrated in the remaining water.  Some, like the Dead Sea, are so salty they cannot support life, but others support very unique ecosystems.

I’ve become interested in endorheic lakes because they are a microcosm for a number of water-related issues and act as a catchall for the pollution we put into our waterways.  Take, for example, Devils Lake in North Dakota.  Having no outlet means that the level of the lake can increase dramatically over a short period of time.  Since 1995, water levels have gone up nearly 25 feet destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and inundating thousands of acres of productive farmland.  State government constructed an outlet to release water into a nearby river but faced stern opposition from other states and Canada, who don’t want pollution and parasites from Devils Lake transferred into their waters.  As you can see, it can become quite the predicament.  Just wait until I get around to blogging about the Salton Sea!

Anyway, I was searching the Internet for a list of the largest endorheic lakes and I just couldn’t find one.  Sure, Wikipedia has a list of the largest lakes in the world, but this only includes a handful of endorheic lakes.  Wikipedia also has a page on endorheic basins, which mentions a lot of lakes but not in any structured way.  It also intermingles them with drainage basins, which may capture water without outlet but are clearly not lakes.  So, Internet, you’re welcome, because today I have constructed for you a list of the Top Ten Endorheic Lakes of the World (by surface area). Continue reading Ten Largest Endorheic (Salty) Lakes of the World

Hungary Sludge Flood

This wouldn’t be much of water resource blog if I failed to mention the catastrophe unfolding this week in Western Hungary.  This one has “top ten water resource disasters in history” written all over it.  Around noon on October 4, 184 million gallons of toxic aluminum production waste was released when a containment reservoir ruptured sending out a wave of sludge that flooded 15 square miles.  Five people were killed and over a hundred injured as they tried to escape the sludge, which at times was over 6 feet deep.  Anyone who came into contact with the substance was immediately burned by the red chemical mixture.  Check out these photos from Boston.com:

That red line was the height of the sludge flood

Continue reading Hungary Sludge Flood