Soil Microbiology – Key to Sustainable Water Resources

J. Rodney Dickerson, P.E., Dickerson Consultants, LLC, P.O. Box 338, Homer, LA 71040 :

The total mass of the microbiology in soil exceeds all other life on the planet combined, several times, yet very little is actually known about how bacteria function outside of specific areas of scientific interest, with virtually all research focused upon specific individual strains of particular species. Moreover, that focus has been directed toward isolating, reproducing and applying individual strains to soils specifically to promote plant growth and health.

Soil microbes are critical to the carbon / water cycle which sustains all life on planet earth, yet we humans ignore them in dealing with issues of waste materials, from organic food waste to human fecal matter to animal manure. Instead, the historical focus has been on expending massive amounts of fossil fuel, directly or indirectly, and producing and consuming energy in dealing with these problems, when soil microbiology will do the work without any significant additional energy input.

Scientists, including microbiologists and engineers, have wrongly believed it impossible to proactively manage a microbial microcosm in a sustainable manner, largely because we scientists have become so specialized in our work with tightly focused worldviews we, quite literally, can’t see the forest for the trees. Nevertheless, over the past 25 years techniques have been developed that not only prove microcosms can be proactively controlled, but that doing so results in enormous reductions in energy consumption at every level of life cycle analysis in wastewater treatment using common, non-pathogenic, naturally occurring, facultative soil bacteria from genus Bacillus, the most abundant microbiology on the planet.

Now our understanding has been expanded to include not only wastewater treatment, but processing organic waste of all kinds, including animal manure, without energy input using these remarkable bacteria, thereby reducing the use of fossil fuels and generation of greenhouse gases. Moreover, the resulting residual microbiology is exclusively those utilized in the processes, and they have been proven to be plant health and growth promoting. Therefore, when returned to the soil to promote plant growth and health, they also clean ground water without energy input as it reenters the earth’s aquifers because facultative bacteria perform without oxygen input. Moreover, facultative anaerobes perform best with little or no oxygen input.

Eliminating the need for any significant amount of oxygen input into organic waste treatment will save up to 20% of all energy generated in the developed world by reducing energy input at every level of the carbon / water cycle. And, in the lesser developed or undeveloped world it means clean potable water, 50% or more reduction in irrigation water to grow crops, more crop production without chemical fertilizers and sustainable life without adding more greenhouse gases through fossil fuel consumption.

Key Words: sustainable, soil, microbiology, wastewater

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