Don Behm's April 19, 2008 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article goes on at length about the "swelling sanitary sewers," but no mention is made between this phenomenon and it's connection to urban sprawl. This is a glaring and puzzling omission.
As Dr. Jane Frankenberger, an Assistant Professor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, reports, "The fate of rain that falls on the land is strongly affected by land use. In a forest or grassy area, most rain soaks into the soil (infiltrates), where it eventually is used by growing plants or percolates to ground water. Ground water flows slowly into streams, usually over a period of months, providing steady base flow (flow in streams in times without rainfall) that fish and other aquatic life need. By contrast, most rain that falls on a parking lot runs off immediately, often draining into storm sewers that transport it to a stream or ditch."
As noted by the Envirocast Weather & Watershed Newsletter, "Impervious surfaces can create a number of environmental challenges, such as more frequent and severe urban floods, ... and pollution in the form of storm water runoff." The more we build endlessly upon open space, paving parking lots and highways, we are diverting water with deleterious effects.
American Rivers, of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Smart Growth America, explains, "... sprawl not only pollutes our water, it also reduces our supplies. As the impervious surfaces that characterize sprawling development -- roads, parking lots, driveways and roofs -- replace meadows and forests, rain no longer can seep into the ground to replenish our aquifers. Instead, it is swept away by gutters and sewer systems."
The Alliance for the Great Lakes in the 2007 The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement inform, "The systems [sewage treatment] are aging and many are inadequate to meet currents needs, including the increased volume of wastewater imposed by suburban growth."
Sprawl and Big Box stores and strip malls are integral in creating impervious surfaces, as detailed by the Sierra Club, "Big Box stores like Wal-Mart threaten our landscape, our communities and the environment by building on the fringe of town, paving vast areas for stores and parking lots, and undermining the economic health of existing downtown shopping areas...Large parking lots contribute directly to non-point source water pollution, which is the leading cause of water pollution in the U.S. Each acre of impermeable parking surface produces runoff of 25,000 gallons of water during a 1 inch storm. By contrast, a one-acre undeveloped site only has runoff of 2,700 gallons during the same storm. Runoff from impermeable surfaces leads to erosion, flooding, and the flow of pollutants like oil, chemicals, bacteria and heavy metals into waterways."
With some suburban areas already fearing the possibility of running out of water, the fact that, "Sprawling development slows the replenishment of underground aquifers, making it harder for communities to cope with drought," as noted by Cat Lazaroff of the Environment News Service, should be a major point of discussion when we are speaking about sewer and sanitation problems and resolutions. In the same article, Betty Otto of American Rivers affirms, "Sprawl development is literally sending billions of gallons of badly needed water down the drain each year ... the storm drain"
The National Resource Defense Council elucidates, "Haphazard sprawl development also brings runoff water pollution to more and more watersheds, degrading streams, lakes, and estuaries. Natural landscapes, such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, are typically varied and porous. They trap rainwater and snowmelt and filter it into the ground slowly. When there is runoff, it tends to reach receiving waterways gradually. Cities and suburbs, by contrast, are characterized by large paved or covered surfaces that are impervious to rain. Instead of percolating slowly into the ground, storm water becomes trapped above these surfaces, accumulates, and runs off in large amounts into waterways, picking up pollutants as it goes."
Here again, yet another crucial issue the media should be leading the discussion on, but sadly are only reporting a, meaningless without full context, portion of the story. They should be forcing our politicians and corporations to think big about and tackle such an immediate need. Fostering debate, thereby leading the charge to develop sustainable policies dealing with sprawl, sanitation, and, in general, the environment.