No evidence sewer project will improve water quality

By Jessica Grembi The town of Colchester states that the objectives of its proposed sewer project are to “improve and protect water quality in Malletts Bay by removing human waste bacteria from the Bay.” That’s a laudable goal, but I find no scientific evidence that the proposed sewer project will impact the water quality of […]

By Jessica Grembi

The town of Colchester states that the objectives of its proposed sewer project are to “improve and protect water quality in Malletts Bay by removing human waste bacteria from the Bay.” That’s a laudable goal, but I find no scientific evidence that the proposed sewer project will impact the water quality of Malletts Bay in any meaningful way.

It will clearly not “remove human waste bacteria from the Bay” as there is no hard evidence that any of the detected human-associated fecal contamination is coming from malfunctioning septic tanks. In fact, the sanitary survey that accompanied the town’s Microbial Source Tracking (MST) Report clearly indicates no leaking septic systems were found to be contributing to the human-associated markers within the area surveyed. Rather it implies that human-specific fecal contamination is likely coming from tributaries flowing into the inner Bay. Nor does it rule out contamination emanating from boaters or bathers.

If the town’s sewer objective is to improve water quality in the Bay, I would strongly argue that this proposed project will not achieve that goal.

The proposed sewer project will not reduce the E. coli levels to anywhere near compliance levels, as less than 5.5 percent of the total samples in the proposed sewer district were even associated with human contamination.

Instead of trying to sell the project as a generic “save the bay, improve the water quality” win-win, the real motives should be transparently discussed with all stakeholders (voters) before a decision is made to spend a tremendous amount of financial resources to construct a sewer system that simply will not improve water quality.

A better approach would be to systematically follow the MST Report and other Malletts Bay findings that clearly suggest alternative measures that will meaningfully impact fecal contamination from wild birds, wildlife, domestic animals, swimmers, bathers (especially toddlers in diapers) and the hundreds of boats docked and moored during summer months in Malletts Bay.

Jessica Grembi holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Penn State University. She is presently working at Stanford University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering where she is a PhD. candidate.

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