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Wastewater: Nature's Power Drink?

By Roy Marler
Illustrated by Dr. Biology

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  • Ecosystem: a group of different plants and animals that live together and are dependent on the area in which they live.
  • Invertebrates: animals that do not have a backbone... more
  • Riparian: the plants and animals found along the edges of rivers.
  • Species diversity: the number of different types of plants and/or animals found in an area.
  • Wastewater (effluent): treated water that is released from a city's Wastewater Treatment Plant... more

Have you ever wondered how some rivers just suddenly appear? Within Arizona, several cities now release wastewater into riverbeds, essentially creating "new" rivers. Rivers such as the Salt River from Phoenix, the Santa Cruz River downstream from Nogales and Tucson, and the Agua Fria River downstream from Prescott Valley all receive wastewater. Is wastewater different from water found in naturally occurring rivers, such as the Verde River? Is this wastewater good or bad for the invertebrates, plants, and animals that live along these rivers? A study is now being conducted to try to answer these questions. To answer this ecosystem size question, we must first study smaller parts within the ecosystem. One part we are looking at is water chemistry to determine if there is a difference between wastewater and water from natural rivers. We are looking at the plants and animals living within the river to see if they are different. We are also determining if the water in the riverbed is moving into the ground where it can influence groundwater chemistry and plants living along the river. Next we are studying the trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses growing along the river to see if they are growing differently because of the wastewater. We also want to know if wastewater rivers have plants that are different from what we find along natural rivers. Finally, we are looking at the birds and invertebrates found with the plants along the river to see if they are changing because of the wastewater. Once we have studied all these different parts, then we will combine them together to see if the ecosystems are different along wastewater rivers compared to natural rivers. This study will take several years to complete, but below is a brief introduction to some of the things we have found so far.

 

arrow Wastewater and Natural Water Basic Chemistry
arrow Basic Measurements (basal area and density) of woody plants
arrow Growth Rates of Selected Trees
arrow Survey of Birds
arrow Conclusions

 

Quiz yourself on the information you just read in this article!


Here are some other places to read and learn about wastewater and ecology.

On the Web:

There are hundreds of sites on the web, but their web addresses often change. It is best to look for them using a search engine like Google or HOTBOT using the key words life wastewater and ecology.

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Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.