Anticipating sea level rise’s impact on coastal septic systems

Hidden Infrastructure: Onsite Wastewater Disposal and Sea Level Rise

Onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS), such as individual septic systems are a key component of the wastewater infrastructure in the United States. These systems are very common in areas where centralized sewer systems are unavailable, and thus large numbers of them are located in rural coastal areas, on barrier islands, and in other areas difficult to reach with sewer. This project will develop locally specific data on the impacts of sea level rise in Bryan County, Georgia by modeling surface water inundation along with groundwater impacts associated with defined sea level scenarios. These data will be integrated with existing septic location data and other existing environmental metrics to identify those septic systems most likely to be severely impacted under the different sea level rise scenarios. Finally, demographic and socioeconomic data will be overlaid with the septic system vulnerability data to identify areas that are likely to be least able to adopt new wastewater management strategies in the coming years. In these communities, we will collect data about local understanding of sea level rise and septic system functionality in order to gage the likelihood of local adaptation.