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United Nations Environment Programme
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7. Wastewater and stormwater disposal

Disposal of wastewater and stormwater should preferably be considered only when reuse options are not feasible. Ultimate disposal of wastewater is either onto land or water (river, lake, ocean).

7.1 Land-based disposal of wastewater

Disposal onto land takes the form of effluent from on-site and off-site treatment systems being allowed to percolate through the ground. For a septic tank, for example, this occurs through the soakage of overflow from the septic tank in a leach drain (Section 4.1.4). Disposal onto land generally pollutes groundwater, and may reach surface water when groundwater eventually discharges into surface water. The impact of BOD and nutrients in the wastewater on the surface water has been attenuated by soil processes and is therefore not as severe as direct disposal into surface water. Disposal from an off-site treatment plant for groundwater recharge to control encroachment of seawater in coastal areas is a form of reuse.

7.2 Wastewater disposal to water environments

Disposal into a lake, stream or ocean needs to take into account the ability of the receiving water to assimilate wastewater. The natural purification capacity of the environment is limited. Even when wastewater is disposed to the ocean, the area surrounding the outfall can be sufficiently polluted and the pollutants (including pathogens) can be washed towards the beaches. Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) promote the growth of algae in the receiving water. In lakes and sensitive water environments the removal of nutrients may be required. Furthermore if the wastewater contains high levels of heavy metals and toxic chemicals, these may have to be removed before wastewater disposal. Over the years the requirement for disposal into water environments have become stricter as the impact of pollutants is better appreciated. It can be expected that this trend towards more stringent discharge requirements will continue (See the Source Book’s Western Europe and North America Regional Overviews).

7.3 Stormwater disposal

The ultimate disposal for stormwater is onto land (by infiltration to groundwater) and to water environments (river, lake, ocean). These have been covered as part of stormwater treatment (4.3) and reuse (6.3), because they utilise infiltration as a general technique. Techniques for stormwater reuse are those that delay its ultimate flow to water environments to improve flow management and hence reduce the frequency and extent of flooding. At the same time these techniques also generally remove pollutants (particulates and oils) prior to the water reaching a river, lake or the sea, while creating amenities such as wetlands, waterfowl habitats and water-based passive and active recreational facilities.

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