It is a growing challenge to meet human needs by providing a source of clean and affordable water. This has become quite evident over the last few years and is a problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible. The increasing demand for clean water, population growth, climate change and water quality deterioration are some of the factors that contribute to the pressures for improved wastewater management.
Wastewater can often mean different things to different people. It generally comprises of a mixture of domestic wastewater from baths, sinks, washing machines, toilets and from industry. Additionally it will often contain rainwater runoff (storm water) from roads, roofs and other impermeable surfaces. Generally it is water that has been adversely affected in quality by anthropogenic or human influence and can encompass a wide range of potential contaminants and concentrations.
As concerned citizens, we cannot allow wastewater to be disposed of in any precarious manner that may be dangerous to human health or pose potentially damaging effects on the environment. Despite the fact that the environment is amazing in its ability to heal itself, there is still a limit to what it can do and how much it can tolerate and transform.
As Trinbagonians, we often enjoy bathing in clean beaches and pristine rivers with our family. It brings a feeling of family togetherness and happiness. In order for this to happen, it is important to have our wastewater treated before being released into the environment. This includes a combination of proper collection, treatment, discharge of wastewater and proper disposal of the resulting sludge. This will provide the possibility of clean water to be returned to the environment and so allow water to be used for various purposes including fisheries and family outings to the rivers and beaches. To assist with this, The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is responsible for the collection, transmission and disposal of wastewater in Trinidad and Tobago. It achieves this objective mainly through the Public Sewerage Systems in Port of Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Point Fortin and Scarborough Tobago.
It may often be questioned by many citizens why a lot of emphasis must be placed on treatment. We don’t like to encounter the scent of raw sewage as we enter our beautiful beaches or even the sight of oil spills covering our beautiful shores. Without proper treatment, the untreated wastewater can create many problems for public health, water resources, wildlife and ecosystem. Besides, being an eye-sore, it can also negatively impact the social and economic well-being of societies.
It has been documented that poor disposal practices can result in high Coliform counts in the coastal environment which can lead to health problems such as dysentery and typhoid fever. It can also affect the livelihood of the community, cause eutrophication (algal blooms) in bays and harbors that may result in death of many fish and aquatic organisms and even damage our coral reefs. In fact, untreated wastewater may cause significant damage to coral reefs which may strongly affect the employment opportunities for many individuals particularly related to coral reef fishing and tourism. This in turn may heavily impact the economy, especially in Tobago since it is highly reliant on tourism as it main form of economic gain. The coral reef is highly valuable and offers many services related to fisheries, tourism and shoreline protection. It was valued to contribute about $100 – $130 million to the national economy in Tobago (WRI 2006). Coral reef associated fisheries as a livelihood has also been estimated to contribute between US$18-$33 million per year. It must be noted that these were estimated as significant economic contributions to Tobago’s GDP which was $286 million in 2006. Hence this deterioration of the aquatic environment together with indiscriminate release of untreated wastewater has indeed become a serious issue.
At present, only 20% of domestic wastewater produced in Trinidad and Tobago is collected and from that only 5% of total domestic wastewater is treated and disposed of (WRI 2014). It was noted that in the Caribbean (although Trinidad and Tobago had the highest population access to centralized wastewater systems) only 30% of the population is sewered and serviced by the wastewater authority while 70% of the population is serviced by septic tanks, soakaways and pit latrines.
Based on the recent findings, many people have often questioned whether wastewater treatment is sufficient in Trinidad and Tobago. In 2004, the results of a survey (GIWA Regional Assessment for the Caribbean Small Island subsystem) indicated that wastewater treatment is often absent or insufficient in many Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago. Despite the fact that numerous efforts were made to reduce problems associated with wastewater, they have continued to escalate over the past few years.
Factors such as population growth, growth of the industrial sector and the inability of the Caribbean Governments to secure the expansion of sanitary sewerage system are most probably to blame for these problems. Inadequate funding seems to be a major hurdle for most Governments as they are unable to improve and expand the existing sanitary sewerage system. Despite the high cost, the great Mahatma Gandhi once stated that “Sanitation is more important that political independence and there is a need for champions of sanitation”. One of his major goals was always to suggest strategies to improve wastewater management in India and try to reduce the volume of untreated waste entering the rivers courses and coastal waters.
Over the years, the degradation of the aquatic environment as well as the discharge of untreated water has indeed become a serious concern nationally, regionally and internationally. While water is a valuable resource and brings several benefits, untreated wastewater can have serious impacts on public health, water resources, wild life and ecosystems in general. These factors can negatively impact both the social and economic aspect of society.
Globally treated wastewater offers many golden opportunities. While inadequate treatment and lack of recycling and resource approaches can also lead to lost opportunities, reuse and recycling of treated wastewater have proven to be beneficial. These include many applications such as irrigation of areas including public parks, playgrounds, ornamental landscape and golf courses. It can also be used for fire protection, air conditioning and even as boiler feed water or for toilet and urinal flushing in commercial and industrial buildings.
To address the challenges of wastewater, Trinidad and Tobago has developed policies, legislative tools and regulatory linkages to ensure that wastewater management is undertaken in a sustainable manner. Among them include the Water Pollution Rules 2001, Trade Effluent Standard, Water and Sewerage Act, National Environmental Policy, Specification for the Effluent from Industrial Processes Discharged into the Environment TTS 547:1998, Specification for the Liquid Effluent from Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plants into the Environment TTS 417: 1993 and Waterworks and Water Conservation Act Chapter 54:41 and Pesticides and Toxic Chemical Act: Act No. 4/1986. These rules in Trinidad and Tobago are enforced by a regulatory body namely the Environmental Management Authority.
As part of the regulatory requirements, companies in Trinidad and Tobago have been asked to voluntarily agree to discharge effluent in conformance with the Permissible Levels of the Water Pollution Rules. It can be quite an expensive, tedious, and sometimes a frustrating task to accomplish at times. Luckily there are providers such as the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) that can assist easily with these tasks and make the quality of life better.
With population explosion and growing industrial expansion, wastewater continues to enter our coastal and near shore environments untreated causing catastrophic and sometimes irreversible damage to our beautiful and fragile ecosystems. As concerned citizens, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to protect our beautiful environment. After all “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Over the past seven years handling the Water Pollution Permit (WPP) and concerns with pollutant concentration, CARIRI found that there was a need for interpretation of results and recommendations/solutions requested by clients. And this need prompted CARIRI to expand its services in the field of Effluent with the establishment of the Effluent Management Solutions (EMS) Unit.