Think about everything you put down the drain. You probably know better than to dump used motor oil. But, what about bacon drippings? “Flushable” wipes?
City officials say teaching everyone in Juneau what’s OK or not is part of the path to running cleaner sewage treatment plants. That includes industrial waste, household chemicals, and fats, oils and greases.
And stopping this practice: “I’m sure I’m like everyone else who has a garbage disposal, and I use that instead of composting, ‘cause I’m not a gardener,” said Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, on a tangent during a meeting in February.
Juneau’s treatment plants have a tendency to get overloaded with organic matter, like food scraps, so in-sink garbage disposals aren’t great.
Over the next several years, the City and Borough of Juneau has a lot of promises to keep with environmental regulators after racking up dozens of pollution violations at its two main sewage treatment plants.
Coming up with strategies to control the sources of problematic waste is one of many promises, big and small, that the city made in a new agreement with state regulators. Other promises have to do with the sewage treatment process itself. They’re part of the process for the city to get its two main wastewater treatment plants into compliance with the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act is a landmark federal law passed in 1972. Lawmakers got motivated to adopt the sweeping legislation after a very polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire.
“When we see that there are effluent violations, we lose sight of the incredible success story that the Clean Water Act actually has been,” said Michelle Hale.
Hale has about 30 years of professional experience on water quality issues, including as the former director the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Water Quality — the regulators.
“If you reviewed discharge data from across the state, and really across the nation, you would find most dischargers end up violating permit limits at some point in time,” Hale said.
Hale is also a member of the Juneau Assembly. She said the city’s violations should be taken very seriously, but they’re also by design. As discharge permits are renewed every few years, the Clean Water Act gradually tightens pollution standards. The process the city is working through now is part of a feedback loop for cleaner and cleaner water.
“So it’s actually not a…