Rehoboth wastewater is a valuable asset

March 28, 2014

I read with interest in the March 21 edition of the Cape Gazette Mayor Cooper’s clear and unequivocal statement with respect to the city’s proposed outfall pipe and the alleged lack of viable alternatives. Mayor Cooper’s comment with respect to utilizing wastewater in a fashion other than simply piping it into the ocean was “it’s not feasible to build wetlands” with this wastewater. Just because the mayor says it, doesn’t mean it is correct.

As I noted in a previous letter to the Cape Gazette Jan. 10, my company, Meritract LLC, has been in the business of restoring, enhancing and creating wetlands around the country over the last 20 years. I am extremely familiar with projects undertaken by my companies and those owned by colleagues and competitors who have successfully utilized various forms of wastewater to produce successful wetlands all over the country. Indeed, at this juncture it is not even a debatable issue as to whether wastewater can be utilized for these purposes.

Rather, the questions typically surround issues such as how many acres of wetlands will be supported by the wastewater and what types of wetlands does one seek to produce utilizing this methodology. Often, there are questions of how much water and how steady a flow will be produced, and one must gauge the project accordingly. But to blatantly state that wetlands cannot be produced in this fashion is to simply ignore reality and is just plain inaccurate.

I believe the issue here is perhaps one that the mayor would prefer to ignore. That is, early on in the consideration process, cost was highlighted as a, if not the, major consideration in exploring the alternatives for the wastewater. Moreover, simply running a pipe under a street and out into the ocean is actually a fairly simple engineered solution, although hardly the most environmentally preferable approach. I again suggest as I did in my last letter, that we should be viewing the wastewater as an asset rather than how it is being viewed with the outfall approach. Clearly, when there is any discussion whatsoever of “diluting” the nutrients into the ocean, the discussion loses any characteristics of utilizing the wastewater as an asset. It is simply raising a white flag and acknowledging that, “Oh well, let’s dump this bad stuff in a large body of water and no one will be the worse for wear.” By its nature, this approach, without even discussing its potential negative impacts on water quality, clearly reduces the wastewater to less than an asset.

By contrast, we are a region in desperate need of more healthy wetlands to serve a critical function. Wetlands, by their nature, are natural filters and produce chemical, biological and physical filtration activities. Yet, as I have stated on many occasions at seminars nationally, the birds living in a constructed forest do not know or question who planted the trees or how they got there. Likewise, there are now hundreds of thousands of acres of successful constructed wetlands around the country serving their appointed purposes including cleaning our waters, and you can be sure that the water does not know how it got there or who built the wetlands.

I would respectfully direct the mayor to go online and review sites such as, among hundreds of others, where it is plainly obvious that the science of creating successful constructed wetlands is hardly a debatable issue any longer. To suggest otherwise is simply to ignore present-day reality.

It is interesting that the mayor seems to question why at the eleventh hour people are raising concerns about the outfall pipe approach. I do not believe that this is fair. From the outset, those retained by the city to create the wastewater alternatives were well aware of various solutions and alternatives including the created wetland approach. It was concluded early on that the created wetland approach was too expensive to explore, and the direction then became dumping the water into the ocean. This is why we are here today, not because the constructed wetland approach is not feasible.

I again implore the mayor and council as well as DNREC to consider the constructed wetland approach. As I previously stated, the city and/or the state can benefit from the created wetlands in many ways including the ecological benefits and the economic value from wetland credits produced. This is the modern view of wastewater - to treat this as the valuable asset it is and to remove the negative connotation from its utilization. To dump the wastewater into the ocean is truly nothing more than a “waste” of a valuable resource. To suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

Bob Sokolove
Rehoboth Beach

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