Preventing & Addressing Runoff with Water Treatment Systems

Runoff is one of the leading problems with water pollution today. The EPA rates Vermont’s Lake Champlain as “Impaired,” and it isn’t the only lake dealing with detrimental blue-green algal blooms caused by pollution. A report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) found that over half of the rivers, streams, and lakes failed EPA standards for safe drinking water, fishing waters, and waters to swim in.

This is alarming as in 2010, the EPA reported that “almost 20% of the 50,000 lakes” were impacted by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Violations of nitrate limits in drinking water supplies doubled over a decade. This is alarming and runoff, one of the leading causes of pollution, must be addressed throughout the nation.

What are the most polluted lakes and rivers in the U.S.? We’ve compiled a list of 10 of some of the most polluted rivers and lakes in the nation.

  • Alkali Lake (an EPA Superfund site)
  • Calcasieu River
  • Lake Erie
  • Lake Michigan
  • Lake Okeechobee
  • Mississippi River
  • Ohio River
  • San Jacinto River
  • Torch Lake (an EPA Superfund site)
  • Willamette River

Some of the pollution in these rivers and lakes come from industrial plants. Farm run-off is another problem as the fertilizers used on crops raise phosphorus levels. Cities with combined sewer and stormwater drains also threaten lakes and rivers. Runoff must be controlled as part of a nationwide measure to clean up our water.

Why Runoff Matters

Stormwater runoff is a leading problem with algal blooms, damage to the fish and aquatic life in lakes, streams, and rivers. It also creates toxins that take extra time to treat before water can leave a water treatment plant and go to the community water system.

When there’s a storm, water flows from streets and driveways into drains that in some areas go directly to the sewers. Along the way, the rainwater picks up road salt, automotive fluids, pesticides, and fertilizers applied to lawns and gardens. 

It doesn’t have to be runoff that goes into sewers either. Runoff can leave a farm’s fields and leach fertilizers and pesticides into area streams, rivers, and lakes. As phosphorus and other levels in lake and river water increase, fish and aquatic life are poisoned and die. Algal blooms increase and can be toxic to pets and animals that use the lake as a source of water or to cool off on a hot summer’s day.

How Can Cities and Towns Best Manage Runoff?

One of the leading ways to manage runoff is by embracing Low-Impact Development (LID) practices. This includes incorporating the following into new developments or renovations in older districts.

Rain gardens are one way to put rainwater to good use. Create a garden that’s a haven for native butterflies, honey bees, and birds to use for food and a natural habitat. The rainwater waters the garden. As the unneeded water filters through the soil, sand, and bedrock, which naturally filters it before it returns to underground water sources.

Rooftop gardens are becoming a common building amenity. The plants in the gardens soak up some of the water to help grow crops that can feed others in the community. In the process, some rainwater is kept from going to the storm drains. 

An example is in Manhattan over the Javits Centre. There’s a one-acre orchard, berry bushes, and vegetable gardens growing on top of the building. The produce from this green roof provides supplies for the building’s catering staff and the rest is donated to a local organization that provides groceries to those in need.

Sidewalks and driveways can be constructed with permeable pavers that allow rainwater through and into underground aquifers where water is prevented from overloading sewer systems. It’s possible to capture the water for reuse at home for chores like watering trees, flower beds, washing cars, etc.

Is your district one of the around 700 communities where the sewer system and storm runoff systems are combined? A heavy rainfall or snowmelt strains these stems and leads to raw wastewater getting released into lakes and rivers. Consider separating the systems to lower the risk of raw sewage ending up in local bodies of water.

People In Your District Need to Do Their Part

In addition to the steps cities and towns can make with their stormwater runoff and wastewater treatment plant measures, townspeople need to do their part. Educate the people in your district to ensure they know how their actions can negatively impact water quality. If you have to spend more time treating water to meet EPA requirements, it’s costing them more money.

Some of the most important things they can do is to:

  • Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Keep up with car maintenance to avoid oil, gasoline, brake fluid, transmission fluid, windshield washer liquid, and coolant leaks.
  • Use environmentally-friendly ice melt products in the winter or stick to sand or fireplace ashes.
  • Properly dispose of leftover paint, cleaning products, and chemicals.
  • Read labels and purchase eco-friendly cleaning products.
  • Close lids on trash and recycling barrels to keep trash from blowing down the street.

Filtration Options for Water Treatment

Even with the best measures, some runoff is going to get through. Sand filters are a good way to remove debris. If stormwater goes to your wastewater treatment facility, make sure you have screens and trash rakes that remove trash that gets caught up in the heavy rains. Plastic bags, sticks, wrappers, and straws can clog pumps and impellers and cause a lot of damage. Removing as much trash as possible is vital to your treatment plant.

When it comes to filtration, sand is the most common, but there are other options. Coconut fibers, activated charcoal, and semipermeable membranes are different choices.

Which Treatment Strategy Is Best?

There is no right way. You have to consider your district’s needs. How much space do you have available for rain gardens, green rooftops, or retention ponds? Is there more residential runoff than industrial or vice versa? What are the EPA guidelines you’re required to meet?

All of this has to be factored into the decisions you make for reducing runoff. If your district is a combined sy stem where you’re treating both sewer water and storm runoff, you need equipment that adjusts to increased flow rates. 

Working with a professional is key to getting an effective, on-budget runoff treatment plan that keeps contaminants out of your lakes and rivers. 

Lakeside Equipment can help you plan the best approach for runoff and water treatment solutions. Managing storm runoff is the first step and treating what comes into your wastewater treatment plant is secondary. Our water treatment experts help you plan sensible solutions that match your municipality’s budget.