We design and deliver on-site water management solutions for commercial and select residential scale
Water is one of our more precious resources. At Ecovie, we believe that decentralized water management is necessary to help assure everyone has clean and plentiful water. Potable water scarcity, water quality, water discharge, and storm water runoff are real issues impacting communities across the country.
At Ecovie, we design and deliver on-site water management solutions for commercial and select residential scale. By collecting rainwater, treating and recycling greywater and blackwater, we contribute to developing water resilient communities, one building at a time.
Miami Can Potentially Run Out of Potable Water
Every city has water supply challenges, no matter how much water surrounds them. Miami is often considered an area with abundant water and thus immune to water supply issues. We more often think of an excess of water causing flooding and runoff exacerbated by sea-level rise. In fact, we do not think enough about the availability of potable water, which is the most urgent need that we must address before it is too late.
Miami pulls its drinking water from the Biscayne aquifer. As stated by the United States Coast Guard, the Biscayne aquifer underlies an area of about 4,000 square miles and is the principal source of water for all of Dade and Broward Counties and the southeastern part of Palm Beach County in southern Florida. Throughout much of the its area, the top of this high permeable aquifer is at or near the land surface. The water in the aquifer is easily accessible, but it is also very susceptible to contamination, since shorter and more direct pathways are present. The Biscayne aquifer, that provided us with clean water for many years, is now at risk of having salt intrusion and serious contamination.
Southeastern Florida is facing water problems that can be resolved with thought leadership, proper planning and a comprehensive action plan. Here, we explore the issues in Southeastern Florida and present ways in which on-site water management can help prevent and solve water issues that could have a strong effect on the health of our people and especially our children.
Water Contamination Risks Facing Miami
The challenges facing Miami water contamination have been escalating to new heights. Flooding, discharge of fats, oil and greases, buildings discharge, overloaded treatment plants, mined limestone quarries, saltwater intrusion, leaking septic tanks and cracked superfund sites, are all contamination problems on their own. When all of them are considered together, we can easily reach a crisis point, where short term solutions will have a very slim impact.
In addition to property damage, safety, and nuisance of flooding, dirty, contaminated water is washed into waterways. In the case of Miami and the other southeastern cities, this is more immediate than in other areas. Southeastern Florida has an added runoff caused by urban and local natural factors. As many other cities, Miami is built with impermeable surfaces. Paved areas and rooftops are perfect conduits for storm water runoff. This dirty water reaches our canals and Biscayne Bay almost immediately affecting the water quality and creating flooding.
Flooding is also more prevalent due to a stronger rainfall intensity. Miami’s rainfall during heavy rains has increased over 7% over the last 50 years. While this may not sound high, it can represent the difference between flooding and not flooding. The frequency of fair-weather flooding, where unusually high tides bring ocean water into streets and neighborhoods, is also increasing.
Discharge of Fats, Oils, and Greases
Miami is under an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree to reduce the wastewater discharge that is contaminating Biscayne Bay. Fats, oils, and greases (FOG) are significant water contaminants and are a problem in Miami area, where the food service industry is a key component of the local economy and adds FOGs to the residential wastewater. These FOGs directly affect local waterways and can have adverse effects on wildlife and the quality of potable water. FOGs can clog pipes and cause raw wastewater discharge into major waterways such as Biscayne Bay which in turn reaches the Biscayne aquifer, Southeastern Florida’s main water supply.
Building discharge is created by water coming from toilet flushing, showers, washing machines, kitchen sink, dishwasher, bathroom sinks. This water goes to the sanitary sewer. A single family of four tends to generate about six thousand gallons of wastewater per month, that goes into the sanitary sewer. Additionally, garden irrigation and storm water discharge can add about three thousand gallons per family per month, going to the storm water sewage. Building discharge is a big issue in Southeastern Florida and many building permit requests are being denied in certain areas of Miami-Dade County because the sewage system simply cannot handle any more wastewater.
Overloaded Treatment Plants
Treatment plants can physically only handle a certain amount of water each day. When a major rainstorm occurs, the systems physically cannot handle the amount of water flowing through them, so raw wastewater is discharged into local waterways. This contaminated water eventually makes its way into the Biscayne aquifer.
Mined Limestone Quarries
About 20 years ago, limestone quarries were mined in close proximity to the Biscayne aquifer. Now, contaminated water, including mining chemicals, has less distance to get to the aquifer and is reaching our potable water source.
In the Miami area, the aquifer is quite close to the seafloor and saltwater can seep into its base. This occurs when sea levels rise and added pressure is put on the walls of the aquifer. This saltwater intrusion is contaminating the Biscayne aquifer.
Leaking Septic Tanks
Septic tanks are used throughout Miami-Dade County and there are over ninety thousand in use. These tanks are known to leak, and waste can easily get into the groundwater. Since Biscayne aquifer is so shallow, this contamination is a major driver of septic tanks water leakage with acetaminophen (Tylenol) being detected in many areas.
Leaking Superfund Sites
According to the EPA, South Florida has 11 superfund sites. The Superfund sites are underground storage tanks created to store hazardous waste and keep them safe from adverse weather or tampering. However, it is very common for them to leak. These tanks can sometimes be mere feet away from where groundwater runs. Many Miami-Dade area sites have been designated as EPA superfund sites and have been proven to be contaminating the aquifer.
Miami economic and urban growth coupled with the increase in rainfall in the last few years creates a perfect storm for water contamination. Building and food services discharge, overloaded treatment plants, mining chemicals, saltwater intrusion, leaking septic tanks and dripping superfund sites, are directly impacting the quality of the water we drink.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimates that by 2045, as much as 29 percent of Miami Beach and 26 percent of Key Biscayne could be “chronically inundated,” which UCS defines as flooding twice a month. This will be due to the combination of heavier rainfall, higher tides, and more impervious surfaces.
Miami area is facing water disruption and scarcity of potable water risks and more urgency is needed to build a water resilient habitat for all of us.
The solutions typically offered tend to be large scale in nature. Steps like increased release from the Everglades, large city sewer expansion, and piping and pumping infrastructure replacement-in-kind are under work. However, there are resilient complementary on-site solutions that are faster, easier and cheaper to execute.
On-Site Water Management Solutions
By managing on-site water, it is possible to create a safe water supply for potable and non-potable needs while benefiting our environment. Treating rainwater, grey or black water, insulates us from water shortages while reducing demand from aquifers and reservoirs.
Cutting wastewater and stormwater discharge keeps our cities growing and our water source cleaner. Using on-site water provides emergency water supply in crisis time.
Rainwater collection is a simple and efficient way to help reduce runoff, prevent flooding and provide a very viable water supply, taking load off the Biscayne aquifer. It is relatively low cost and low maintenance depending on the system capacity.
In a rain-heavy area like Miami, rainwater can be collected and used for non-potable applications like toilet flushing, irrigation, and cooling tower makeup. It can also be used as potable water with the proper water treatment. Using clean rainwater as a drinking water source is at least as healthier as the municipal water supply with the advantage of lacking pesticides and fertilizers, toxic Superfund material, septic tanks contaminants, carcinogenic chlorine and pharmaceuticals, among other contaminants, all present in our tap water.
It has been calculated that a non-potable rainwater system on a single family home could supply up to sixty thousand gallons of water per year and an order of magnitude more for large buildings. Potable rainwater systems can approach full off-grid water supply and reduce the water discharge for the benefit of its residents.
By reducing the amount of water that needs to be treated centrally, the benefits of rainwater collection are twofold. First, they lessen the load on wastewater treatment facilities, specifically during rain events. Second, saltwater intrusion lessens due to fewer voids in the aquifer.
As one of many storm water best management practices, rainwater collection offers runoff reduction and adds a viable water supply by using collected water on-site beneficially.
Greywater is water coming from showers, laundry, bathroom sinks and cooling towers. It has less contamination than blackwater, which includes toilets and kitchen discharge. A greywater system treats water on-site for potable and non-potable purposes.
There is a copious amount of shower, laundry, bath, and sink water that comes from buildings. In fact, greywater is the largest wastewater contributor in a city. Well over 50% of all domestic wastewater can be captured as greywater, reducing discharge over 50% and cutting the load on downstream infrastructure. In effect, a twenty-story high rise could discharge closer to what a ten-story high rise would do.
The impact on the environment and the development opportunities offered could be transformational. By treating captured greywater to a standard required for toilet flushing, cooling tower make-up, irrigation, and laundry, the strain on municipal water treatment and overflows would be greatly reduced.
Florida requires that greywater recycling systems be certified NSF 350. Look for those types of systems when selecting a greywater system.
Blackwater is wastewater coming from toilets and kitchens, which tends to have a high biological load (BOD), fats, oils and greases (FOG), and solids.
Around ninety thousand residences in Miami-Dade County keep this water in a septic tank. Rather than allowing lightly treated water from an inefficient septic tank to leak into water supplies, it is relatively easy to treat wastewater and blackwater to a standard in which it can be used on-site for non-potable purposes.
One of the easier solutions is to convert the ninety thousand septic tanks in Miami-Dade County to active aerobic systems. There are systems on the market that allow for retrofits to reusable water quality without having to replace the tank. The net cost of such a solution would be a small fraction of the proposed city sewer extensions under discussion, even including monitoring and regulation. Since water from such systems is suitable for drip irrigation, there can be zero discharge and no seepage of contaminated water to the aquifer. When coupled with a greywater system, the actual amount of water requiring treatment is more than cut in half.
Like many other US cities, Miami has an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree and significant issues with clogged piping infrastructure caused by fats, oils and greases (FOG). Food services are the main contributors to FOG and the focus of many of the solutions. By eliminating discharge and by monitoring interceptors and grease traps, Miami Dade County can go a long way to preventing FOG related issues downstream. This in fact is happening with programs being implemented by Miami-Dade County.
Worldwide, on-site water management is collectively making a big impact on the water supply. These techniques are just starting to be adopted in the Miami County area, and will, if widely adopted, be part of the solution to its water challenges.
Miami is often considered an area with abundant water. We do not think enough about the risk of potable water availability, the most urgent need that we must address before it is too late.
We can tackle our water issues with strong innovation, establishing Miami and Southeastern Florida as leaders in the area of comprehensive water management solutions.
Only if city officials establish adequate regulation, if developers, architects and engineers design with comprehensive on-site reusable water management as a critical design criteria, if Universities collaborate for research and development purposes, and if the community in general is supportive of a leading initiative on water reuse, will we be able to accelerate our cities preparedness and to become one of the leading water resilient cities in the USA.
We have the responsibility to create a healthy environment for our children. Let’s do it.