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Wastewater infrastructure is critical to maintaining and improving environmental and public health. The USEPA estimates that about $300 billion across the U.S. and $30 billion in New York will be needed over 20 years to maintain and improve wastewater treatment and distribution. Similar to water systems, a small number of very large treatment plants serve a vast majority of the state’s residents. In addition to centralized wastewater treatment facilities, a significant number of rural and suburban homes (approximately 25%) are served by roughly 1.6 million decentralized treatment systems.

WRI Publications

Rahm, B.G.; Vedachalam, S.; Shen, J.; Woodbury, P.B.; Riha, S.J. 2013. A watershed-scale goals approach to assessing and funding wastewater infrastructure. Journal of Environmental Management, 129:124-133.

Treatment Plant
Wastewater treatment plant in Ithaca, NY

There is an urgent need for new approaches to assist states and other decision-makers to prioritize wastewater maintenance and improvements. This study presents a methodology for performing an integrated quantitative watershed-scale goals assessment for sustaining wastewater infrastructure. This methodology was applied to ten watersheds of the Hudson-Mohawk basin in New York State that together are home to more than 2.7 million people, cover 3.5 million hectares, and contain more than 36,000 km of streams. Data on 183 POTWs treating approximately 1.5 million m3 of wastewater per day were assembled. For each watershed, eight metrics analyzed, which were then integrated into three goals for watershed-scale management. The results demonstrate substantial differences in character, need, and the appropriateness of different management strategies among the ten watersheds, and suggest feasibility of performing watershed-scale goals assessment to augment existing approaches to wastewater infrastructure analysis and planning.

Homeowner education for improved private decentralized wastewater management in two lakeshore communities. 2012-2013 Community Grant from New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, Rochester, NY. View more information and resources from these workshops.

Presenters at one of the workshops

Approximately 1.6 million homeowners in rural and suburban New York use decentralized methods to treat household wastewater. Many decentralized systems do not function well due to factors such as inadequate soil quality, under-design, age of the system and poor maintenance. Untreated or partially treated wastewater contains pollutants, nutrients, and pathogens that can contaminate ground and surface water. Proper siting and regular maintenance by homeowners can prevent failure and extend the life of a system, preventing pollution from reaching surface water and protecting human health. This grant resulted in four homeowner education workshops in communities around Chautauqua Lake in Chautauqua County and Canadarago Lake in Otsego County to increase awareness about maintenance of decentralized wastewater systems. Expert speakers from the industry, wastewater utilities, local watershed groups, and Cornell Cooperative Extension made presentations, which were well-received by the community, and generated local press attention. Read more about decentralized wastewater treatment systems.