WaterOperator.org Blog COVID-19 in Wastewater Surveillance Over the past two years, researchers have
Over the past two years, researchers have turned to wastewater to find out more about the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September of 2020 the CDC developed the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) to help monitor and better understand the spread of COVID-19 throughout communities. The NWSS works directly with public health departments to track the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the wastewater of communities across the country. They are able to do this because humans infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus shed the virus in their feces making it detectable within community wastewater systems. The CDC has been able to gather a large amount of data because 80 percent of households in the United States are served by municipal wastewater collection systems. Wastewater surveillance programs have been implemented across the country in places like Utah, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Illinois. Programs have also been implemented internationally.
Wastewater surveillance technology has proven to be very beneficial to communities because it is able to detect the virus even before people start showing symptoms. This is helpful because once health departments are aware, communities can immediately take stricter precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. You can stay up to date on the presence of COVID-19 in your community by checking the COVID Data Tracker which provides regularly updated information on the presence of SARS-CoV-2 levels in wastewater at testing sites across the country.
SURE! is a program within the Cal Poly School of Civil and Environmental Engineering that seeks to find solutions within the water-energy nexus that will provide sustainable solutions to wastewater recycling and resource recovery. The mission of the SURE! program is to help expand the wastewater recycling workforce and develop new sustainable technologies. The program received a WEF award for its commitment to water treatment education and research. The SURE team has worked on algae-based wastewater treatment, algae biofuels, conversion of wastewater solids to energy, potable re-use, and dairy wastewater treatment.
A quarter of Americans rely on decentralized wastewater systems, including septic tanks, because they are too far away from municipal sewers or the local environment cannot support a wastewater treatment plant.
Decentralized wastewater treatment facilities can offer economic and environmental benefits to a community, but they can also be dangerous to public health and the local ecosystem if they are not designed properly.
In the Black Belt region of Central Alabama, the rural landscape and heavy clay soils make it difficult to establish a traditional wastewater facility. These communities have struggled with wastewater management for years and the U.S. EPA (with many partners) has been working to help develop long-term solutions.
Impermeable soil, high rates of poverty, and no sewer access can result in difficult choices. Some communities in this region use straight pipes to carry wastewater to a nearby location like a ditch or woods, where residents can then be exposed to raw sewage.
Decentralized wastewater treatment systems can use a variety of different approaches to process a community’s wastewater, but there are also financial and managerial solutions that can be explored. Responsibilities can be better distributed and organized with community leadership. Individuals who attend community meetings and communicate with their state and local government officials are more likely to have their voice heard.
The newly passed infrastructure bill is set to contribute $150 million in decentralized household grants over five years to help low-income homeowners construct or repair failing septic systems. Investments are also needed in cost-effective treatment technologies and innovative approaches to help municipal wastewater systems reach rural communities.
Dig Deep, an organization that helps bring running water and adequate sanitation to communities across the United States, created a decentralized wastewater innovation cohort to help connect rural communities with innovative solutions.
The Alabama Black Belt is just one of many regions of the United States that are struggling, with a history of environmental injustice compounding logistical challenges. Roughly 2.2 million Americans across the United States still do not have running water or adequate sanitation.
The information in this blog post was presented at a U.S. EPA webinar in May 2021. A recording is available to explore this topic in more depth:
Contributed by Phil Vela
A wastewater collection system is a series of pipes, tunnels, conduits and other devices that transport wastewater from homes, businesses and industries to a central treatment plant. Transport of the wastewater is either by gravity (the preferred method) or with the use sanitary lift or pump stations to either a location that gravity can be used or to another lift or pump station and finally to the wastewater treatment plant. In either case, the collection system has many functioning parts as shown and described below.
Figure 1 (source) shows the different types and sizes of sewer lines in a typical wastewater collection system. They range from the smallest (approximately 4 inches) located at the home or business to the large truck mains (minimum 12 inches and can be as large as 27 ft tunnels in large cities) that carry the sewerage to the waste treatment plant. A brief description of each follows.
Here's house the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District describes each of the components:
House Sewer conveys the sewerage from a building to the lateral or branch lines.
Lateral & Branch Sewers are the upper ends of the municipal sewer system. Laterals dead-end at their upstream end with branch sewers collecting the wastewater from several lateral sewer lines.
Sub-main Sewers are collectors for numerous lateral and branch sewers from an area of several hundred acres or a specific neighborhood or housing development They convey the wastewater to larger trunk sewer lines, to lift stations or to a neighborhood package water quality treatment center.
Trunk/Main Sewers serve as the main arteries of the wastewater collection system. They collect and convey the wastewater from numerous main sewer lines either to a water quality treatment center or to a interceptor sewer.
Interceptor Sewers receive the wastewater numerous from trunk sewers and convey it to a water quality treatment center. These are the largest diameter lines in the sewer system and the furthest downstream in the system.
Lift or Pump Stations are utilized in gravity sewer systems to lift (pump) wastewater to a higher elevation when the route followed by a gravity sewer would require the sewer to be laid at an insufficient slope or at an impractical depth. Lift stations vary in size and type depending upon the quantity of wastewater to be handled and the height it must be lifted.
This video from American Water College describes the components of a wastewater collection system:
This article was featured in a recent edition of Innovations for Small Systems, our monthly water technology newsletter.
Researchers at University of Montreal, Canada have found a way to filter the waste from municipal wastewater through the roots of willow trees while also producing renewable bioenergy and 'green' chemicals. The study, which was published in Science of the Total Environment, details the experiment conducted in Quebec, Canada to investigate the potential for sustainable wastewater treatment through phytofiltration, an emerging method to remove contaminants from water through the use of plants, to be integrated with renewable biorefinery.
Phytofiltration plantation is an alternative wastewater treatment method where root systems from non-food crops, such as fast-growing trees, are used to capture contaminants and nutrients from wastewater. Short rotation coppice (SRC) willow has been considered as a promising renewable bioenergy crop due to its natural tolerance to contamination and the roots ability to filter out nitrogen in sewage, which can then be harvested for renewable lignocellulosic biofuels. This concept of a biorefinery illustrate the potential of multifunctional biotechnologies to address environmental challenges caused by human activities.
Last year the much-loved Skills Builder tool from WEF, the Water Environment Federation, received an refresh along with a commitment to keep it updated.
The WEF Skills Builder offers randomized 10-question quizzes on wastewater and laboratory topics at three difficulty levels. The updates modernized the functionality as well as aligned the questions with ABC's standards for subject matter and format.
The tool is free to use and correct answers are provided, along with linked references to WEF's publication store.
Study guides and test preparation resources are a popular topic on our blog, including this post on studying for certification exams.