Stop the Sewage, Save the Stream | Teen Ink

Stop the Sewage, Save the Stream

September 21, 2023
By DDBelanger BRONZE, Newburyport, Massachusetts
DDBelanger BRONZE, Newburyport, Massachusetts
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

We are surrounded by water. Infact, 71% of the earth is comprised of water, whether it be rivers, lakes, ponds, or oceans. There are very few organisms that can survive without the presence of water (including humans), leaving us with no choice but to keep our water clean and healthy. 

I live in a town that borders a beautiful 110 mile river which glistens in the sun, has boats lining the shore, and creates incredibly picturesque sunsets. In the summertime, residents of the town as well as countless tourists participate in watersports in the river such as paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, fishing, boating, tubing, etcetera. The acronym “CSO” is a major concern to the health of our community, however it is only known by very few people. 

CSOs, also known as Combined Sewage Overflows, have been occurring for decades along this river, however there were more of them this summer than ever before due to an increase in rainfall. And, yes, it’s as bad, if not worse, than it sounds. Typically during a rainstorm, the sewage treatment facilities overflow due to the added volume of rainwater that is mixed with the raw sewage. The treatment plants along the river are unable to treat the water as quickly as it accumulates, and as a result, instead of having the untreated raw sewage back up into people’s houses, it is dumped directly into the river. So, raw sewage is dumped directly into the river that flows past many towns where people are unknowingly swimming and boating in filthy water. 

Although it is typically advised to avoid contact with the river water for 48 hours after a CSO, this information is extremely difficult to access, and it is often unclear when the CSO started or finished, so the timing is somewhat nebulous. I can confidently say that the majority of people in my town, and the people in bordering towns along the river, fall into one of two groups. People who are unaware of what a CSO is and therefore unconsciously swim in the polluted waters, or people who are aware of the term CSOs but don't know the severity of the amount of sewage being dumped into the river or the potential health effects that could result from having contact with the contaminated river. 

I have witnessed some of these health issues first hand as my dad is a waterman and often in the river surfing and paddle boarding. Before we were aware of what CSOs were, he unknowingly went in the river and put his health at great risk. After coming home numerous times with staph infections, itchy eyes, sore throats, ear infections, swollen lymph nodes, and digestive issues we became aware of the seriousness of this pollution and the source. 

If having raw sewage dumped directly into a river where people swim and boat doesn’t sound bad enough, you might be disgusted to hear that half a million people get their drinking water from this river. Additionally wildlife living in the river are also affected, along with dogs who swim and sip from it, and birds that swim atop it. You might ask, why aren’t these sewage treatment plants getting upgraded so that they are able to manage the appropriate amount of waste and rainwater without overflowing? The reason is, this solution would cost roughly one billion dollars and would take decades to complete. As a result, I feel that the best immediate impact I can have is to help educate the public about CSOs and the importance of contact with the river water afterwards.  

Raw sewage being dumped into rivers from CSOs is not only a subject that is plaguing my community. Countries around the world struggle with this same problem and are faced with the difficult decision of how to upgrade or refine their existing sewage treatment plants,given the staggering costs to do so. It really shouldn't be an option of whether or not to upgrade the facilities, it should be a requirement, however the costs and time to do so are prohibitive. If our health is our priority, we must always keep in mind that, “Water is life, and clean water means health.”

The author's comments:

I am extremely passionate about the health of the environment as well as the public. I was born in California and, like my dad, enjoy water sports. Everything in my life has something to do with water, I even play ice hockey on frozen ponds. As humans, it can be difficult to find ways to interact with our surroundings, without harming it. My goal is to educate those who aren’t aware of the anthropogenic issues in our world today, and how we can minimize and prevent them. We are lucky enough to be given the opportunity to live on earth, so we might as well treat it with care! 

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This article has 1 comment.

on Oct. 3 at 10:58 am
Shorthairdontcare BRONZE, Houston Area, Texas
4 articles 0 photos 62 comments
Wow, more people need to know about this!