Water Pollution:

Information on the Use of Alternative Wastewater Treatment Systems

RCED-94-109: Published: Sep 26, 1994. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether wastewater treatment costs could be reduced by using alternative treatment systems, focusing on: (1) whether cost-effective alternatives to conventional wastewater treatment systems exist; (2) the barriers that limit the use of these alternatives; and (3) how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is addressing the development of future technologies.

GAO found that: (1) alternative systems for collecting and treating wastewater have the potential to reduce costs significantly; (2) alternative treatment systems can help many communities that cannot afford conventional treatment systems meet their wastewater treatment needs; (3) alternative treatment systems include collection systems that use smaller pipes and are buried at shallower depths than conventional sewer systems and natural treatment systems that use soil, vegetation, and aquatic environments as treatment or disposal mediums; (4) natural treatment systems employ few mechanical parts, use little energy, and have lower construction, operation, and maintenance costs than conventional treatment systems; (5) barriers to the use of alternative systems include the lack of knowledge about their applicability, performance, and cost, private-sector financial disincentives, and restrictive state and local codes and regulations; (6) hesitancy about using available alternative systems has discouraged private-sector investment in future cost-effective technology; (7) although EPA funding for wastewater treatment research has dropped significantly over the past 15 years, EPA is considering spending $1 million to implement three projects that would provide information on alternative systems and attempt to reduce the barriers to their use; and (8) in the last 2 years, EPA has taken steps to better promote alternative technology innovations, invest in promising technologies, and accelerate the use of alternative technologies.

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