It is an obvious fact: there is no life without water. Water is a major part of all our daily life, drinking a glass of water, taking a shower, cooking, washing clothes – you name it. Water is a necessity! Unfortunately, our main water sources have been affected with contamination that not only degrades our rivers and oceans but also affects our groundwater. The water on Roatan is no exception. Why does this happen? Runoff from construction sites, inadequate sewage treatment in many communities, livestock feeding areas, garbage areas; all of these cause the healthy groundwater to be contaminated by human or animal waste. The presence of fecal matter (coliforms or streptococcus) in the water can cause many problems such as diarrhea, nausea, headaches as well as skin and eye problems. In addition to these organic contaminants other minerals present in our water that affect its quality are iron, manganese, chlorides (salts) and hydrogen sulfide.
Before we talk about cleaning our water the first step is to analyze our water chemically and microbiologically to confirm the water’s quality. This will have a cost but it would give you a description of what affects your water and guide you on how to treat it. Water treatment is the process of removing undesirable chemicals (nitrates and salts), biological materials (parasites, bacteria, algae, viruses and fungi), suspended solids (sand and clay), and gases that can be harmful.
Some of the most common methods for treating water include filtration and disinfection. Filtration is used to remove particles from the water as the water passes through a filter. Sediment filters are used to remove sand, clay and impurities from the water. Carbon filters are used to reduce chemical quantities, poor taste, odors (chlorine smell) and other pollutants. Reverse osmosis is highly effective in removing several impurities from water such as dissolved solids, turbidity, chlorine and salts as well as many dissolved organics and even bacteria.
Disinfection is the process of killing germs, virus or bacteria in the water that can cause diseases. Chlorine disinfection is very effective at killing the bacteria that it contacts. The disadvantage is the smell when used too much. Ozone disinfection prevents regrowth of bacteria in water that is being stored in large quantities. Ultraviolet disinfection sterilizes microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses that may be present in the water.
Because each of the filtering and disinfection processes has a specific function, a series of technologies are often used to provide the desired end result which is purified water. Systems can be as small as a faucet-mounted model, which filters water from one source only, or whole-house systems that filter the entire water supply of your home. ACME Environmental Solutions, the leader in purification systems on Roatan, has been successfully installing integrated water purification systems that deliver 100% pure drinking water. Considering all the various elements that could be affecting your water, the best option is to analyze your water and know what are the eminent problems and then have ACME engineers design and install a treatment system that meets your exact needs.
One of the most effective Aerobic Treatment Units (ATU’s) built to handle domestic sewage is the Delta Whitewater® Tank. Many of these units have been installed on the island, but because all of them are below ground and hidden, you may not even know that you have one in your own backyard! The purpose of this article is to provide all users with helpful general information of how these popular tanks work and how to do a proper maintenance on them.
One of the most important advantages Delta tanks have over other ATU systems is that they are adequate for use in poor soils, in areas with high water tables and other difficult sites, many which are found on our island. These units can clean wastewater removing up to 97% of the impurities of the original wastewater.
The system is composed by a fiberglass tank sized according to the volume it will treat, an air compressor and an alarm panel. Another component that should be considered by owners of Delta systems is a pre-treatment tank which should be installed between the house and the tank. Many Delta systems were installed on the island without this vital part. This pre-treatment tank should collect the non-biodegradable waste, such as plastic, paper and latex trash that are harmful to the operation of the Delta tank.
The Delta process involves mixing the air and the liquid with suspended sludge. The air supports the bacteria that digest the organic wastes. In this system the waste cycles inside the tank and the clear water rises to the top and exits the tank where it is discharged to a dispersal area such as a leach field. Owners must be aware of the need to protect the bacteria in the system from anything that will kill them, specifically excess bleach or disinfectants used in toilets. It is critical to ensure the air pump is operating to provide oxygen to the bacteria. There is a buzzer on the alarm panel that will sound when there is a system problem. The switch on the alarm panel should be kept in the “Normal” position. If the alarm goes off, call a professional service technician immediately.
Owners should check weekly to see that the air pump is working correctly. If the air pump is not working, your system is failing! On a quarterly basis, air filters should be cleaned and rinsed with warm water. Every six months, owners should check the quality of the color, turbidity and an odor in your effluent to ensure the system is doing its job. Also, every one to three years, after performing a settleometer test, excess sludge will have to be removed using a pumper truck.
These maintenance routines can be managed by your local professional wastewater company, ACME Environmental Solutions. ACME is the island’s sole distributor for Delta Whitewater® Systems and can help you check your system’s current condition and also provide parts for your Delta units.
Designing and building septic or sewage systems for businesses and residences is quite a fun task! It takes a lot of data collection to be able to offer the best solutions for clients. The engineer designing the system must consider such things as the number of rooms in homes, the gallons of water per day utilized in buildings and the type of soil where system will be discharged for the last part of the treatment (in septic systems it is known as the drain field). But once this design process is completed and the system is installed, the operation of the system falls to the owners and operators of the systems.
Maintenance! The Key word is Maintenance! How we take care of our septic or sewage system is very important. A failing system is pretty unpleasant to deal with; it may cause overflows or backups in the home or business which creates a terrible mess. Depending on your system, there will be some different points to consider but basically, solids (sludge) and scum will always have to be removed. Normally, wastewater from the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry flow into a tank. The solids such as feminine hygiene products, wipes and other non-biodegradable objects remain trapped inside the tank. All these solids accumulate and need to be removed and disposed of properly. The liquid known as effluent will make its way to the drain field where it leaches through the soil in traditional septics or proceeds to a secondary and tertiary treatment in advanced plants. The scum which is often oil, grease and soap floats on the top of the effluent and is removed when the solids are pumped.
If not removed, the solids and scum will accumulate reducing the effective tank volume, resulting in wastewater moving through the tank more rapidly with less treatment. This puts the ground water and surface waters at risk for contamination. As this accumulation of solids gets worse, the solids will spill over the drain field and clog it prematurely, which is very expensive to correct.
If garbage disposals are used in kitchen, these practically double the amount of solids entering the system – meaning more pumping! So let’s consider limiting the use of the garbage disposals, not using too much water (50 gallons per person per day should be the standard), avoid adding cooking oils, grease, hygiene products, cigarette butts, pesticides, paints and thinners into the system. With proper maintenance, a septic system can work efficiently for many years.
ACME Environmental Solutions offers pump services throughout Roatan. We own two pump trucks of 1,600 and 1,200 gallons respectively. ACME recommends that each owner keeps records of repairs, pumping and any other maintenance activities that have been done on their system. Proper maintenance includes having the tank pumped up regularly, conserving water and spreading out water usage and protecting drain fields.
In this day and age, technology can be applied to everything that surrounds us, making life easier. In this article, we will introduce handy tools that help unclog drains or leach fields that are filled with debris such as tree roots, hair, grease and excessive amount of toilet paper which create backups. This is an annoying task that no one wants to deal with but there is new equipment that helps out with these nasty ordeals. The roots of plants are drawn to water as they grow. If there are leaks in our sewer pipes, tree roots find their way into the pipes and obstruct the flow of waste. Then grease and hair are trapped by the roots which eventually block the pipe. This trapped material and the roots have to be cut up and removed to restore the flows. Leach fields are more susceptible because they are intentionally designed with perforations and they might end up attracting roots. The most common way of clearing these blockages and restoring the flows of waste is by using a rotating flexible metal cable called a drain snake. Some people will try to use wire that often damages the pipes themselves.
The drain snake is inserted into the drain pipe where the clog is occurring and is then maneuvered until it reaches the blockage. There are a few different types of drain snakes; there are the standard hand-held drain snakes that are turned by hand and can be successfully used in household plumbing. For larger pipes or longer distances, powered drainpipe cleaning machines are required. These machines use the mechanical force of an electric motor to twist a long, flexible metal cable through the clogged pipe. These electric drain snakes or Roto-rooters are inserted into drains and pushed to the point of the clog. Then the motor is turned on so the cutter head (auger) can cut up and dislodge the items blocking the flow by cutting and pushing on the debris until the drain is cleared. The cables can be up to an amazing 80 meters long.
There are also flexible cables that don’t rotate that have cameras on the end of them that can be inserted into the pipe so the operator can see where and what the blockage is. ACME Environmental Solutions has added to its product line the Spartan Drain Machine and so far, we have successfully helped out various households with drain blockages.
Preventive actions can be taken to avoid these blockages. Users need to be informed that household substances such as grease and oil, disposable diapers, wipes, and other sanitary products need to be disposed in the garbage, and not into sewer lines. Wiping hair out of the sink instead of washing it down the drain will also help. Caustic drain cleaners should be avoided as they can damage plastic plumbing and kill the valuable bacteria in the septic system. These small actions will help keep the sewer lines clear.
In our article last month, we discussed fresh water: its consumption, care and its current status in the world. We suggested different ways in which we could improve our habits and conserve this vital resource. Knowing these, we can consider better ways of managing our water. Living on a tropical island has enormous benefits because we can take advantage of our rainy season and maximize the collection of rainwater.
The rainy season on Roatan recently started – we are looking at 3 to 4 months of abundant rainfall. A smart move for every home owner would be to start utilizing this free water for their daily household chores. One of the easiest and economical technologies used in many countries is rain harvesting. Basically, rain harvesting is all about collecting, diverting and storing rainwater for later use.
Rainwater harvesting is a viable alternative to drilling wells and pumping water to the surface and buying water from private water suppliers. Its collection may be from roof tops, terraces, paved or unpaved surfaces. It normally has low costs, and water can be consumed with only modest treatment. The easiest catchment is from our roofs. Normally, your roof catchment area is equal to the total square footage of your house plus the extension of your eaves.
Let us dive into what components make up a water catchment system for roof rainwater.
Gutters: Water from the roof gathers in the gutters and runs to a pipe towards the tank or cistern.
Screen: The rainwater goes through a screen to remove leaves and debris, and then funnels into the top of the covered tank or cistern.
Storage: The tank or cistern should be dark, to prevent algae from growing, and screened, to prevent mosquitoes from entering.
Barrels with a capacity of 55 gallons are a popular way to begin rainwater harvesting, especially on communities with water scarcity; they are low cost, and can be installed along houses, under decks, or in unused spaces. Each barrel can supply a family for 4 to 5 days with 7 liters per person per day.
This technology is cost effective because it does not require purchased energy for its operation. All the construction materials needed for construction can be found locally in almost any hardware store. Cisterns can easily be incorporated into the construction of the foundation on new homes. The maintenance is not complicated requiring the owners to clean the gutters and roof before rainy season begins and to clean the tank, barrel or cistern at least once a year.
Rain harvesting should ideally be applied to all homes locally Some of the reasons why rain water should be harvested, especially on an island, include reducing the water table depletion, reducing demand on existing water supply, reducing run offs and erosion, it’s completely free and very pure.
Let’s catch it while we can!Another interesting fact about rain harvesting: For every inch of rain that falls on a catchment area of 1,000 square feet, you can expect to collect approximately 600 gallons of rainwater! That’s free water right there!