WES Industries Blog

Fighting Red Tide: The Role of Wastewater Treatment

Apr 13, 2023 4:31:02 PM / by Anthony DeLoach

WES red tide

One of the most pressing issues that we face today is the phenomenon of red tide. Red tide is algae bloom that can cause serious harm to marine life and humans.

In this article, I will explore what red tide is, what causes it, and its impact on Florida. Most importantly, the role of wastewater treatment in helping to prevent it.

What is Red Tide?

Red tide is a natural phenomenon that occurs when certain species of algae grow out of control. These algae produce toxins that harm marine life and humans. The term "red tide" comes from the reddish-brown color that the water takes on when the algae bloom. The bloom can happen in any part of the world in warm, coastal waters.

What Causes Red Tide? 

Various factors cause these harmful algae to bloom.

  • Changes in water temperature
  • Nutrient pollution
  • Ocean currents

The most common cause is nutrient pollution. Nutrient pollution occurs when excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus enter the water. These nutrients can come from agricultural runoff, sewage from residential drain fields, inefficient wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, and fertilizer.

Red Tide Blooms in Florida - History and Impact

Florida has a long history of deadly algae blooms. The state experiences red tide almost every year, lasting for months.

It devastates the state's marine life, including fish, sea turtles, and dolphins. The algae produce toxins that can kill these animals. The dead fish can wash up on shore, causing beachgoers an unpleasant odor and an eyesore.

How Do These Microscopic Algae Affect Marine Life?

It affects marine life in a variety of ways. The algae's toxins can cause respiratory problems and neurological issues.

With most coastal outbreaks, the loss of marine life is significant. It produces toxins and decreases oxygen levels, another contributing factor to marine animal fatalities. Red tide disrupts the entire ecosystem and has been increasing in both frequencies of outbreaks as well as areas impacted.

How Does Red Tide Impact Humans?

It can also have a severe impact on humans. The toxins produced by the algae cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, and even neurological issues.

People who swim in the affected waters can experience

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • wheezing

Those who eat contaminated seafood can become sick.

The Benefits of Wastewater Treatment in Fighting the Red Tide

Wastewater treatment plays a critical role in fighting the red tide. Remove excess nutrients and suspended solids from wastewater before discharging them into the environment. The wastewater treatment plants can help prevent nutrient pollution and reduce the likelihood of red tide.

It is essential in areas like Florida, where groundwater or surface waters are very shallow. This allows septic waste drain fields to leach into the groundwater that eventually enters the coastal waters from stormwater runoff. The increase in nutrients is a significant contributor to red tide.

The Science Behind Wastewater Treatment

Wastewater treatment involves a series of processes that remove contaminants from wastewater.

The first step is the primary treatment, which removes large particles like grit and debris.

After primary treatment, the wastewater is processed in a secondary stage of digestion. Consisting of acclimated bacteria breaking down the raw organics.

The next phase includes settling remaining solids or filtration,

Then it is followed by disinfection, such as chlorine or ultraviolet (UV) treatment, to destroy living bacteria.

Unfortunately, thousands of outdated or poorly functioning wastewater treatment plants in the US fail to meet treatment standards. These systems release high levels of nutrients and phosphates daily into our waterways.

In the past, wastewater treatment systems were mainly designed to remove large and fine solids, pathogens, and contaminants. The treated water from these WWTP is disinfected and released into the environment.

The Benefits of Wastewater Treatment for Red Tide Prevention

Updating wastewater treatment process standards at wastewater treatment plants has many benefits. This can help prevent the growth and spread of red tide.

By removing, updating, and remodeling older wastewater treatment plants to today's more stringent water quality standards

Treatment plants can remove higher levels of nutrients and phosphates, preventing these red tide food sources from entering our waterways.

Removing the nutrient and phosphate load rate that flows into the coastal waters. It can significantly reduce the impact on the environment and the economy. The red tide and its effects cause millions of dollars in lost revenue for industries like fishing and tourism.

The Challenges of Implementing Wastewater Treatment for Red Tide Prevention

While wastewater treatment is an effective way to help prevent red tide. Its implementation has some challenges.

Outdated wastewater treatment plants require updating to newer standards. Millions of miles of underground pipes are leaking. Unwanted stormwater can enter a wastewater treatment plant as a result. This can cause an imbalance and disruption of service.

Updating standards has its challenges due to the expenses involved.

These include identifying outdated treatment facilities and assessing the subterranean pipeline system in a specific urban or rural location.

Creating and putting into action a resolution plan and covering the costs associated with construction.

Capital costs can be particularly high, particularly in areas with limited funding for environmental infrastructure projects.

Without proper water treatment, wastewater treatment plants cannot remove contaminants. These contaminants can lead to outbreaks and the growth of red tide. 

The Importance of Wastewater Treatment: Fighting and Preventing Red Tide.

Red tide is a severe marine environmental issue. It has continued to worsen with increased population growth and urban sprawl that requires immediate action.

Proper wastewater treatment is essential. It helps to reduce the number of nutrients released into the environment. This helps to prevent red tide.

While there are challenges to its implementation, the benefits of wastewater treatment for red tide prevention are significant. It is up to all of us to support the development of wastewater treatment infrastructure to protect our environment and economy.

Let us all pledge to support the development of wastewater treatment infrastructure and raise awareness about preventing red tide. Together we can make a difference and protect our planet.

Tags: Insider, wes industries, What is red tide, Cause of red tide, Wastewater treatment infrastructure, Water treatment standards, Wastewater treatment plants, Red tide in Florida, Wastewater treatment system, Water temperature, Marine life, Benefits of wastewater treatment

Anthony DeLoach

Written by Anthony DeLoach

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