The Effects of Sewage Pollution on the Occoquan Watershed and Possible Solutions

Maeve, Angelica, and Rachel, USA, 14-16

The Effect of sewage pollution on the Occoquan watershed and possible solutions according to, sewage is defined as, “Wastewater that often contain feces, urine and laundry waste”. Pollution is defined by Oxford Living Dictionary as, “The presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects.” These two definitions put together creates the definition of sewage pollution. Sewage pollution has grown as an issue throughout our watershed, but people do not think it is an important issue because they think it does not affect them directly. Each year in Alexandria, VA, 11.3 million gallons of sewage mix with the water in the Potomac River. Human sewage is filled with salmonella, hepatitis and other infectious diseases. This makes the water dangerous for people to be in, and if they do go into the water, there is a high chance they will become sick. This problem does not only affect us here in Burke, VA, but also countries around the world. According to the World Health Organization, in Afghanistan, only 46% of the population has water that is not tainted with sewage. Over 50% of the pollution needs to be solved, and there are many solutions.

We conducted a survey about sewage pollution to gather information on what people in our surrounding communities think of the issue. Forty three people tool our survey. Thirty-four had heard of sewage pollution, six had not, and three were unsure. When asked how concerned they were with this issue on a scale of 1-5 (5 being extremely concerned), 19 people said they were a 3 (moderately concerned) and 13 people were a 2 (slightly concerned). No one was a 5, although 5 people were a 4 (very concerned). This shows people are aware, but not extremely concerned. 39 of the 43 people did not believe they were affected by sewage pollution. Four people believed they were. 30 didn’t have knowledge pertaining to sewage pollution, but 13 did. This 13 people who answered yes were then asked to explain. One person wrote, “Untreated sewage pollution makes its way to our streams and rivers to pollute our watershed.” Last, was space for people to write about anything pertaining to sewage pollution that could be helpful to us. One person said, “Sewage pollution is a very big threat to biodiversity in water sources.” There were other comments showing that sewage pollution is an issue that needs to be solved.

On January 4, 2019, two members of our group visited the Upper Occoquan Service Authority Sewage Treatment Plant to retrieve information about how sewage treatment is being dealt with in our community. It was a great chance to ask questions and also understand the sewage treatment process. During this visit, we had the change to talk to Robert Canham, the director of water treatment processing at the plant. We also learned about how polluted water comes to the plant and is cleaned so it can be used for drinking or other activities. Canham also highlighted the effects of sewage pollution on organisms in it and the environment itself. All together Canham said he believes that sewage pollution is increasing and he thinks that his treatment plant is one of the things that is helping the growing problem.

We were able to determine, from our survey that people are aware of the issue of sewage pollution and do realize it needs to be solved. One solution we have come up with is to plant trees. This maybe simple, but it is an efficient and cost effective way to help the problem. The trees collect stormwater that would otherwise get into the sewage. This could cause the sewage pipes to overflow, which would lead to it polluting the nearby water sources. Ford Motor Company recently started growing 10 acres of plants on the roofs of a truck factory in Missouri. This by itself kept 4 million gallons of stormwater from going into the sewage system. The positive side of the solution is that it keeps the sewage from overflowing and polluting the water, and is much cheaper than expanding the sewage pipes to accommodate the excess stormwater. The negative is that there would need to be space available to plant the trees and open space is hard to fin in many communities today.

Another solution is to update the wastewater infrastructure. This would prevent sewage from overflowing or seeping through the cracks. However, this process is expensive, such as billions of dollars, and will take years to complete. For these reasons it is best to stick with planting trees because it is cost effective and can have a more immediate effect.

We need students to understand our project in order for it to be successful. Students in school now will be the ones who this solution will most affect. We will persuade students help us by offering community service for anyone who participates, while making sure they understand the long term impact. We will create flyers to advertise the opportunity and put them up around Lake Braddock. We will also create ads to put on the Morning Bru to advertise further. Once we have a large number of students we will go out and plant the trees.

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