Come On In, the Water’s… um, Well…
This image was used in an award-winning ad, “A
Bad Day At the Beach,” commissioned by the John Muir
Chapter’s Great Waters Group, objecting to the Bush
administration’s proposal to blend partially treated
sewage with treated sewage. (Image courtesy of Kohnke Hanneken
Bush Administration Exposes Americans to Poorly Treated Sewage
By Ananda Hirsch
Last November, the EPA released a draft "blending" plan
that would allow publicly owned treatment works to "blend"
partially treated sewage with treated sewage and discharge it into
waterways during rain storms. Partially treated sewage would undergo
only primary treatment (removal of solids) and basic disinfection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are an estimated
7.1 million cases of mild-to-moderate infectious waterborne disease
in the U.S. each year, and 560,000 moderate-to-severe cases. Even
though the Clean Water Act requires municipalities to treat raw
sewage to remove health-threatening viruses and parasites before
it is discharged into rivers, lakes, streams, and drinking water
sources, the Bush administration’s proposed new policy would
likely expose more Americans to waterborne diseases.
Residents of Milwaukee know all too well the dangers of sewage in
water—in 1993 an outbreak of cryptosporidium killed at least
54 people. But despite improvements to the sewage system, Milwaukee
still practices blending. "Call it what they will, the bottom
line is the Bush administration is saying it’s OK for us to
be exposed to bacteria and viruses that can cause illness,"
says Milwaukee conservation organizer Rosemary Wehnes.
Sewage that has only undergone primary treatment may still contain
pathogens that sicken people, such as giardia and cryptosporidium.
This means that bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens would likely
be discharged into our waterways, potentially causing a variety
of illnesses, from mild gastroenteritis (stomach cramps and diarrhea)
to life-threatening diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and infectious
Heavy rains often overload wastewater treatment facilities. When
sewer systems are overloaded it can mean sewer backups into basements
or the release of untreated or poorly treated sewage into our rivers
In addition to their proposal to allow blending, the Bush administration
has also requested a $500 million cut in wastewater treatment funding.
This means that publicly owned treatment works would be able to
make fewer necessary upgrades, potentially increasing incidences
Blending is not the only option. Cities across the nation are beginning
to employ innovative solutions to reduce runoff during heavy precipitation.
Options such as planting native plants in yards, growing wildflowers
in the median of roadways, and "green roofs" covered in
grasses, capture rainwater as it falls and release it more slowly,
thus reducing the burden placed upon the wastewater system.
Rather than increase the use of environmentally beneficial ways
of capturing rainfall and funding needed upgrades to our sewer systems,
the Bush administration is promoting irresponsible ways of addressing
Send a letter to President Bush urging him to enforce the current
Clean Water Act and continue to require that wastewater meet proper
treatment standards prior to discharge. Remind the president that,
rather than accepting partially treated sewage in heavy storm runoff
as a way of life and weakening Clean Water Act protections, his
administration should focus on ways to reduce runoff, including:
rain barrels, green roofs, porous materials for parking lots, and
water absorbing landscaping. In addition, the administration should
ensure adequate funding for needed upgrades to our sewage infrastructure.
Write: President George W. Bush; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW; Washington,
For more information contact Ananda Hirsch at (202) 675-6693, or
Up to Top