Monday, April 1, 2013

Sewers :: Private or Public Services?

Curbside "night soil" collectors. 19th c.

What Goes In, Comes Out.


Body parts in sewers?  Why is this happening?  People used to be sensible enough to dispose of spare of body parts by digging a hole with a shovel. 

Turns my stomach to think the waste water system is being used to flush body parts away.  Wastewater gets hit with a few sacks of chlorine and a spin through the filter - wash cycle to return as drinking water.  

Ick!   A tour of your local wastewater treatment plant is instructive.  Can they catch and remove everything that goes into wastewater? Check out a "purified" water bottler too.  Or,  learn how to purify water yourself.  

We can't live without water and there's not enough of it.

And who owns the clean tap water resources and waste water systems that serve your suburb, city, town or farm?  It's probably not "the Gubber-mint."

How does the waste water system work in the US, anyway?  Mostly, it's owned by private companies. Some small, some ginormous.   A great rush to privatize US waste water systems occurred in the early to mid-1990s when the Clean Water Act was up for renewal.  Big international water companies snapped up small US water companies and especially waste water treatment where the profits flow.

In the decade since the U.S. has been flushing cash down the gasping maw of the wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the scalp money to nearby countries like Pakistan, Israel and Kyrghistan, more than a few towns and cities in the Continental U.S. are selling off water and waste water treatment systems.  The cities and towns just can't afford the burden.

Grand Rapids is one example.  Other towns are in the market reports USA Today.  Economies of scale, and reduced work forces, enable larger water management companies to improve the net income from water treatment and wastewater management.

Politics involved in privatization of water includes fresh and waste water systems owned by corporations based in foreign countries, not in itself a bad thing, but when things go wrong, it's helpful to have a decision maker in the same zip code.  Or not.  Proximity doesn't guarantee dedicated or informed management.

Severn Trent Services, the current name for a very experienced British water treatment company, states it understands the North American wastewater treatment and water market.   Veolia Environnement offers similar water management services.  Actually, STS and Veolia, to name just two companies in a large, prosperous industry, doubtless offer high-quality water management services.  Europe, with its concentrated urban populations, developed filtered wastewater treatment more than 200 years ago.  Scotland first, in 1804.

Scotland, England, France, and other nations established functioning municipal water and sewer systems long before flush toilets were a universal commodity in U.S. households. 
U.S. municipalities developed a faster waste filtering system in 1890. 

Human waste pushed outside a residential compound during Winter for collection in Spring.
The class division of effective wastewater treatment in America tells another story. Analysis of U.S. census data in 1970 indicates about 10% of U.S. households relied on a privy or similar, especially in states with low per capita income.     The insidious and under-reported concentration of residual pharmaceuticals in U.S. drinking water also deserves inquiry and remediation.  Maybe by 2180?

What do economics of privatization mean for municipalities? Competition among towns to attract the best deal from multinational water management corporations shopping for a bargain water service.  And there may be issue concerning regulatory authority for these companies exploring the US market.

What does privatization mean for taxpayers?  Often, higher water supply and  wastewater treatment fees, with curtailed service.
Figure it out:  who owns your tap water and who owns the sewer service in your neighborhood?  Consider installing  a composting toilet (Made in the USA) and go off the wastewater grid.

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