Where Rehoboth’s sewage should go is wrong question

This ran in the Cape Gazette this week:

By Alan Muller | Sep 07, 2015

Elisabeth Stoner’s wonderful poem Aug 31 has motivated me to write more about the Rehoboth ocean outfall debate. In my opinion the discussion has missed the key point, which is simple enough:

If the sewage is treated to “drinking water standards,” and the toxins and nutrients and pharmaceuticals are removed, it doesn’t much matter where it goes: into the ocean, into the canal, or into the groundwater (via spray irrigation or rapid infiltration). Or, right back into public water supplies. Adequately treated, it would not do harm and would provide useful volume.

On the other hand, there is no remaining place for inadequately treated sewage.

No room for it in the ocean, no room for it in our groundwater, no room for it in surface waters. No room for it coming out of our taps.

This indicates that money should be spent on upgrading treatment, more than on outfall pipes.

In any case, the City of Rehoboth, with its extraordinary property values, can afford to do the right thing, not just the cheapest thing.

My fundamental objection to the ocean outfall is the lack of commitment to adequate treatment, and the out-of-sight-out-of-mind aspect of a submerged offshore outfall. Trust the DNREC to police this? No thank you.

For many years it has been stated that treatment technology is adequate to recycle wastewater directly back into potable water supplies. For the most part, people have resisted this as the thought is unappealing and there is no room for failures in such a system. But, with increasing water shortages in many places, this approach will likely have to be used more and more, and people will have no choice but to get used to it. On the other hand, Delaware doesn’t lack for volume of water; what we lack is water quality.

The narrow, legalistic, and ultimately somewhat indifferent approach of the DNREC water bureaucracy, and the Office of Drinking Water in the Division of Public Health, has left us with the vast majority of Delaware’s waters polluted by the state’s own standards, and healthy drinking water not always assured.

Fixing this requires better leadership at every level, but especially it requires a different sort of regulatory bureaucracy, staffed by people able to define problems correctly and provide technical leadership.

Alan Muller
executive director
Green Delaware

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