Monday, July 24, 2017

Episode 378 (7-24-17): The Complicated Challenge of Cleaner Water

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:33).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 7-21-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of July 24, 2017.

This week, we feature a series of clean-water-related mystery sounds.  Have a listen for about 35 seconds, and see if you can guess where theses sounds were recorded.  And here’s a hint: It’s certainly no waste of time to learn about where water gets cleaned.


If you guessed a wastewater-treatment plant, you’re right! Y ou heard sounds from the Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority plant in July 2011.  Conventional wastewater treatment removes solid materials, disinfects water, and removes organic matter whose decomposition can reduce oxygen in streams receiving a plant’s discharge.  As you heard, plants can also take extra steps to reduce levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in order to help prevent an excess of those algae-stimulating nutrients in aquatic systems.

Wastewater treatment is just one part of the challenge of maintaining and improving water quality, that is, water’s chemical, physical, and biological conditions.  The job is large, complicated, and expensive.   Improving water quality involves regulation of point sources, like wastewater plants and industries, which have a specific input to water bodies.  It also involves land use practices to reduce non-point source pollution, which enters waterways in many places, not at one specific point. And inputs to water from air pollutants are part of the challenge, too.  Under the federal Clean Water Act and state laws, Virginia regulates point source pollution through permitting and monitoring programs within the Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ; the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy; and the Marine Resources Commission, which regulates state-owned submerged lands.  DEQ is also the lead Virginia agency for managing non-point source pollution, with the Department of Conservation and Recreation also playing a role.  Those agencies administer a variety of water-quality financing programs, such as the Water Quality Improvement Fund, the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, and agricultural Best Management Practices cost-share and tax credit programs.

With many players and challenges, water-quality programs all aim toward the goal of having water clean enough to support aquatic life and several designated human uses, including fishing, swimming, and public water supply.  We close with a water-use sound medley, reminding us of what we’re paying for with the common wealth we devote to water quality.

SOUNDS - ~26 sec – Little Stony Creek in Giles County, Va.; fishing line; a New River swimmer on January 1; water faucet; ducks; and frogs.


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This episode is a revision and expansion of Episode 72, 7-25-11, “Wastewater Treatment Plants, Nutrient Removal, and the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund,” which has been archived.

Quinn Hull recorded this week’s sounds during a July 2011 tour of the Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority wastewater treatment plant.   Plant staff member Bobby Epperly gave the plant tour and is heard in the audio.  The sounds in this recording were of the plant’s incinerator room, chlorination chamber, pump room (the high-pitched screech), grit removers, and algae-scrubbers on secondary clarifiers.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Diagram and description of typical wastewater treatment plant process, from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, online at
1. Preliminary Treatment — Removes debris which could damage plant equipment.
2. Primary Treatment — Removes 90 - 95% of the settleable solids.
3. Secondary Treatment — Removes organic matter through biological oxidation and settling.
4. Advanced Treatment — Removes solids, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants such as color and metals.
5. Disinfection — Removes organisms which might cause disease.
6. Solids Handling — Treats the solids removed from the wastewater to allow safe and economical disposal

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) diagram showing depicting point sources vs. nonpoint sources, in this case specifically for nutrients and pesticides. Image from “The Quality of Our Nation's Waters—Nutrients and Pesticides,” USGS Circular 1225, 1999, online at

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist with device for measuring several water-quality conditions (dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, and temperature) in the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia (undated).  Photo from the USGS, accessed online at  Other USGS photos related to water quality are available online at


Used in Audio

Thomas V. Cech, Principles of Water Resources, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2003, pp. 359-361.

Town of Blacksburg, “Wastewater Treatment,” online at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Wastewater Pollution Reduction in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” online at

Virginia Code Chapter 21.1, “Virginia Water Quality Improvement Act of 1997,” online at

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation:
“Land Preservation Tax Credit,” online at;
“Land Conservation: State and Federal Grants,” online at;
“Soil and Water Conservation,” online at;
“Virginia Agricultural Incentives,” online at

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality:
“Clean Water Financing and Assistance,” online at;
“Designated Uses,” online at;
“Wastewater Treatment,”;
“Water Quality Standards,” online at

Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy/Division of Mined Land Reclamation, “Water Quality Information,” online at

Virginia Division of Legislative Services, “Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund,” online at

Virginia Marine Resources Commission, “Subaqueous Guidelines,” online at

For More Information about Water Quality

Boulder (Colo.) Area Sustainability Information Network, Water Quality Terminology, online at; and
Missouri Department of Natural Resources, “Water Quality Parameters,” online at  These are examples of sites offering explanations of many water quality factors or parameters.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
“Monitoring and Assessing Water Quality,” online at
“National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES),” online at;
“Summary of the Clean Water Act,” online at

U.S. Geological Survey:
“Water Quality Information Pages,” online at;
“Water Science School/Water Quality,” online at

Virginia Water Central News Grouper posts on news, events, and information resources relevant to water quality are online at the following two links:
For Chesapeake Bay watersheds -;
For Mississippi River and Albemarle Sound watersheds (referred to as Virginia’s “southern rivers”):


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the following subject categories: Community/Organizations; Science; and Waste Management.

Following are links to some other episodes on water quality-related topics:
Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts – Episode 115, 6/18/12; Episode 305, 2/29/16;
Clean Water Act – Episode 269 – 6/8/15;
Coal and water quality – Episode 97, 1/30/12; Episode 98, 2/6/12; Episode 99, 2/13/12;
Dissolved oxygen – Episode 333, 9/12/16;
Impaired waters/Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) – Episode 115, 6/18/12;
Medication disposal – Episode 107, 4/16/12;
Motor oil recycling – Episode 188, 11/18/13;
Nitrogen and Chesapeake Bay oysters – Episode 279, 8/24/15; Episode 280, 9/7/15;
Stormwater – Episode 182, 10/7/13;
Stream assessment with aquatic macroinvertebrates – Episode 81, 9/26/11.

Following are links to some other episodes on Virginia state government entities involved in water quality:
Marine Resources Commission – Episode 91, 12/5/11;
State Water Commission – Episode 347, 12/19/16;
State Water Control Board – Episode 94, 1/9/12.


This episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – Water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.11 - relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including Chesapeake Bay.

Biology Course
BIO.2 – water chemistry and its impact on life processes.
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs:

Virginia Studies Course
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.6 – government at the national level.
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.8 – government at the local level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

Government Course
GOVT.7 – national government organization and powers.
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at