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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fact-checking Jim

The facts are what I say they are.
By Linda Felaco

As an avid shellfisher, I was curious about Jim Mageau’s claim in a recent comment here on the blog that an EPA study of Green Hill Pond had shown that denitrification systems are unnecessary. Green Hill Pond is so heavily polluted that it’s permanently closed to shellfishing, so it seemed to me that if anything, the pond would be the poster child for denitrification systems.


And guess what: It doesn’t say what Jim said it says.


In fact, it says pretty much the opposite. It states the need for denitrification systems quite clearly.

“The three coastal communities [Charlestown, South Kingstown, and New Shoreham, all three of which were studied in the report] receive heavy seasonal use from rental properties and vacation homes, which overtaxes onsite systems and their growth rates are among the highest in the state due to residential construction and redevelopment pressures centered in coastal areas. The three communities share similar resource protection goals, with priorities being to protect groundwater supplies for public and private wells, and to protect saltwater ponds, which are sensitive to nitrogen and bacteria. Onsite systems have been identified as the major source of nitrogen to Green Hill Pond, which is impaired for shellfishing due to excessive pathogens, and also nutrient-enriched.”
“Installing new [onsite nitrogen reducing] systems diminished the threat of bacteria contamination however, most of the demonstration systems used treatment technologies generally capable of reducing nitrogen by 50% and in many cases, to the 19 mg/l concentration standard set by RIDEM for denitrifying systems. However, further reducing nitrogen to very low levels that might be necessary to restore Green Hill Pond water quality has been a great challenge due to the area’s high residential density, small lots, shallow groundwater table, and limited space for package systems using treatment technologies with higher nitrogen removal efficiencies.”

In other words, denitrification is necessary but is not sufficient to actually restore the pond’s water quality. In fact, the report recommends the use of shallow-narrow drainfields in addition to denitrification, though it also says that the gains often end up being offset by fertilizer use. Meaning not only do we need denitrification but we also need shallow-narrow drainfields and a fertilizer ban.

“This study indicates that shallow drainfields can provide enhanced nitrogen removal beyond that provided by the treatment unit but that fertilizing lawns can offset benefits of advanced wastewater treatment systems. … The management implications for this work are that compared to bottomless sand filters, shallow pressure dosed drainfields offer opportunities for additional nitrogen treatment and should be considered wherever lot size and water table depth is great enough deep enough to accommodate shallow drainfields.”
“A draft facilities plan was prepared under RI DEM guidelines and a scope of work was prepared with EPA technical assistance to the communities. … The draft Facilities plan proposed that a combination of increasing tidal flushing of Green Hill Pond by opening an inlet to Rhode Island Sound and long-term conversion of conventional septic systems to high efficiency nitrogen reducing technologies should be undertaken.”

So at this point, I’m thinking to myself, what a schmuck I’ve been. Here I am doing all kinds of research on my stories, making sure I can back up all my facts—often spending more time finding links than on the actual writing—when all I need to do is find something related to the subject matter at hand and just say that it says what I want it to say regardless of whether it does or not. Heck, why even read it once I’ve found it. As long as it’s got a plausible-sounding title, I’m golden! Won’t this be a huge timesaver. Thanks, Jim!