Clean Water Act dramatically cut pollution in U.S. waterways

by Kara Manke

The 1972 Clean Water Act has driven significant improvements in U.S. water quality, according to the first comprehensive study of water pollution over the past several decades, by researchers at UC Berkeley and Iowa State University.

The team analyzed data from 50 million water quality measurements collected at 240,000 monitoring sites throughout the U.S. between 1962 and 2001. Most of 25 water pollution measures showed improvement, including an increase in dissolved oxygen concentrations and a decrease in fecal coliform bacteria. The share of rivers safe for fishing increased by 12 percent between 1972 and 2001.

Despite clear improvements in water quality, almost all of 20 recent economic analyses estimate that the costs of the Clean Water Act consistently outweigh the benefits, the team found in work also coauthored with researchers from Cornell University. These numbers are at odds with other environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act, which show much higher benefits compared to costs.

“Water pollution has declined dramatically, and the Clean Water Act contributed substantially to these declines,” said Joseph Shapiro, an associate professor of agricultural and resource economics in the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. “So we were shocked to find that the measured benefit numbers were so low compared to the costs.”

The researchers propose that these studies may be discounting certain benefits, including improvements to public health or a reduction in industrial chemicals not included in current water quality testing.

The analyses appear in a pair of studies published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cleaning up our streams and rivers

Americans are worried about clean water. In Gallup polls, water pollution is consistently ranked as Americans’ top environmental concern – higher than air pollution and climate change.

Since its inception, the Clean Water Act has imposed environmental regulations on individuals and industries that dump waste into waterways, and has led to $650 billion in expenditure due to grants the federal government provided municipalities to build sewage treatment plants or improve upon existing facilities.

However, comprehensive analyses of water quality have been hindered by the sheer diversity of data sources, with many measurements coming from local agencies rather than national organizations.

To perform their analysis, Shapiro and David Keiser, an assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University, had to compile data from three national water quality data repositories. They also tracked down the date and location of each municipal grant, an undertaking that required three Freedom of Information Act requests.

“Air pollution and greenhouse gas measurements are typically automated and standard, while water pollution is more often a person going out in a boat and dipping something in the water.” Shapiro said. “It was an incredibly data and time-intensive project to get all of these water pollution measures together and then analyze them in a way that was comparable over time and space.”

In addition to the overall decrease in water pollution, the team found that water quality downstream of sewage treatment plants improved significantly after municipalities received grants to improve wastewater treatment. They also calculated that it costs approximately $1.5 million to make one mile of river fishable for one year.

Comparing costs and benefits

Adding up all the costs and benefits — both monetary and non-monetary — of a policy is one way to value its effectiveness. The costs of an environmental policy like the Clean Water Act can include direct expenditures, such as the $650 billion in spending due to grants to municipalities, and indirect investments, such as the costs to companies to improve wastewater treatment. Benefits can include increases in waterfront housing prices or decreases in the travel to find a good fishing or swimming spot.

The researchers conducted their own cost-benefit analysis of the Clean Water Act municipal grants, and combined it with 19 other recent analyses carried out by hydrologists and the EPA. They found that, on average, the measured economic benefits of the legislation were less than half of the total costs. However, these numbers might not paint the whole picture, Shapiro said.

“Many of these studies count little or no benefit of cleaning up rivers, lakes, and streams for human health because they assume that if we drink the water, it goes through a separate purification process, and no matter how dirty the water in the river is, it’s not going to affect people’s health,” Shapiro said.  “The recent controversy in Flint, MI, recently seems contrary to that view.”

“Similarly, drinking water treatment plants test for a few hundred different chemicals and U.S. industry produces closer to 70,000, and so it is possible there are chemicals that existing studies don’t measure that have important consequences for well-being,” Shapiro said.

Even if the costs outweigh the benefits, Shapiro stresses that Americans should not have to compromise their passion for clean water — or give up on the Clean Water Act.

“There are many ways to improve water quality, and it is quite plausible that some of them are excellent investments, and some of them are not great investments,” Shapiro said. “So it is plausible both that it is important and valuable to improve water quality, and that some investments that the U.S. has made in recent years don’t pass a benefit-cost test.”

Source: Berkeley News

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PFC Highlights

Posted October 8th, 2018

What We Know About PFCs

  • PFCs are a class of chemicals that get into drinking water mostly from airports and non-stick cookware. They also originate from industries that create packaging, clothing, and carpeting.
  • The United States has been identified as one of the world hot spots for PFC contamination.
  • Wherever there are manufacturing facilities, airports, or high populations you will find PFCs in the drinking water and in people’s blood.
  • The PFC contamination that has been discovered up to now is just the tip of the iceberg. The worst is to come.
  • There are estimated to be over 3,000 chemicals in the PFC class used globally. The EPA has only looked at a handful of these chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS. Those two were phased out in 2015 but they persist in the environment and drinking water. One of the major obstacles researchers face is that they only have methods for testing for some 39 of the thousands of chemicals that exist.
  • PFCs are stable in the environment so they don’t break down easily and they bioaccumulate in the body. A CDC study in 2004 found multiple PFCs in almost every individual tested.
  • We know most about the chemicals that have been phased out and least about the chemicals that are still in use. What we really know nothing about is the effects of a cocktail of these chemicals in the human body.
  • The Water Quality Association has identified and verified as effective treatments through testing as effective treatment, verified through testing by the WQA, includes anion exchange, reverse osmosis, and carbon filtration.
  • The Water Quality Association has identified and verified through testing the best known treatments for PFCs. These are anion exchange, reverse osmosis, and carbon filtration.

Information above was gathered from a WQA radio podcast featuring speaker Eric Yeggy.
















The Very Popular “Single Tank” Aeration Systems for Iron and Hydrogen Sulfide Have Issues


A particular style of iron/manganese/hydrogen sulfide filter that has become very popular in recent years combines aeration in the same treatment tank with the filter media. These are sold under a variety of names, like AIO, “iron breaker,” and “iron ox.”  (We call them “single tank aerators.”)  It is understandable that they are popular.  They are effective removers of reasonable amounts of iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide, they cost less than most alternative methods, they save space, and they are relatively easy to install.

How They Work

Single tank aerators are built like a standard backwashing filter with iron/sulfide media like Filox, Birm, Katalox, or Catalytic Carbon in a “mineral tank” with a control valve on top to backwash the media. They differ from standard filters, however, in that the control valve is a water softener valve that has been modified to draw in air instead of a brine solution. During regeneration, the control valve draws in and stores air in the filter tank. During the service run, this compressed air is used to speed up precipitation of the targeted contaminants. Since air is taken in only during regeneration, the regeneration process has to happen often. In most cases, a daily regeneration is required for residential treatment.


In air-induction units, air is drawn in through the screen-protected port during the daily regeneration cycle.

Issues To Consider

There are a couple of issues that should be kept in mind if you’re considering getting a single tank aeration/filtration unit. One is water usage. Single tank units have to regenerate every night, and they use more water per regeneration than conventional non-aerating filters. The table below looks at water usage for a typical 10″ X 54″ single tank aeration iron filter as compared with a non-aerating conventional iron filter of the same size.  The chart assumes that the iron level is moderate and the iron filter can be regenerated every third day. The aerating filter must must be regenerated every night to maintain its air charge.

Water Usage of a Conventional Iron Filter vs. an Air Draw Filter


Air Draw Unit, regenerating every day.

Conventional Backwashing Filter, regenerating every third day.

Regular Backwash Cycle 10 minutes @ 5 gpm. Total: 50 gallons. 10 minutes @ 5 gpm. Total: 50 gallons.
Air Draw Cycle 40 minutes @ 1 gpm. Total: 40 gallons. No air draw cycle. Total: 0.
Rinse Cycle 1 minute @ 5 gpm. Total: 5. 2 minutes @ 5 gpm. Total: 10.
Total Gallons Per Regeneration: 95 Total Gallons Per Regeneration: 60
Total Gallons Per Year: 34,675 gallons. Total Gallons Per Year: 7,300 gallons.

Stated differently, while a conventional iron filter may use 140 gallons of water per week, an air-induction filter of the same size will use about 665 gallons per week. This is water that is drawn from the well and also waste water that has to be disposed of.

Keep in mind, of course, that the aerating system can be much more effective than the conventional filter working without an oxidizing agent. Air provides pre-treatment that could also be done with oxidizers like chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, potassium permanganate, or ozone–all of which come with their own problems and disadvantages. Keep in mind, too, that there are other forms of aeration. The old venturi or “micronizer” systems use no water at all, and the free-standing compressor-p0wered aeration systems (AerMax, for example), cost more initially but are more effective and use only about 2 per cent as much water as the AIO units. (A  Pure Water Occasional back issue has a concise explanation of how all three aeration systems work.)

Another issue to be considered is upkeep. Filter control valves running on clean city water usually go years without internal parts failures. Not so with well water filters that have to deal with contaminants like iron and high sediment levels. Filter control valves have inner seals that degrade when exposed to harsh water conditions.  Such degradation is regarded as normal wear and tear, and well owners should expect to do fairly frequent maintenance on inner control valve parts like pistons and seals and spacers. While this is true of all iron filters, single tank aeration units are much more prone than standard units to experiencing inner gasket failures.  This is probably due in part to frequency of regeneration but it is more specifically because the 40-minute daily air draw cycle dries out and corrodes sensitive inner parts and leads to early failure.

Single tank aerators offer a quick and relatively inexpensive solution to well water problems, but buyers should be aware that they have some drawbacks.

Measuring our “Water Footprint”

Posted October 4th, 2018

Meat-Free Diets Could Cut Our ‘Water Footprint’ In Half, Say Scientists

By Ben Keane


Three thousand litres of water – that is the amount needed to produce the food each British person eats every day. This is according to a new study into the “water footprint” of diets in Western Europe, conducted by the European Commission and published in Nature Sustainability.

The term “carbon footprint”, which accounts for all the emissions of CO₂ associated with the manufacture or production of an item, has become commonplace in recent years. Similarly, the “water footprint” of food can be calculated using information on the amount of water required during cultivation and processing.

The authors of this new study, led by EC scientist Davy Vanham, first gathered existing data on the water footprint of various foods and drinks. They then combined this with census information for regions within the UK, France and Germany, and knowledge of local eating habits, to calculate how much water is used to feed people in each region and how that could be reduced. Considering the record-breaking heatwave and drought across Europe in summer 2018, their insight may have arrived just in time.

Of the three countries studied, the UK has the smallest average water footprint at 2,757 litres per person per day, in Germany the average is 2,929 and in France it’s 3,861 (for reference, people in the US use more than 9,000 litres per day). One of the standout reasons for the difference between these countries is that the French drink more wine, compared to the Germans and the British who prefer beer, which has a smaller water footprint.

Another feature of this study is the focus on smaller regions which reveals large differences within these countries. A common theme is that rural areas have higher water footprints than cities, mainly due to differences in diet. People in London, for example, eat less red meat than other regions. This is why the UK’s highest footprints (still less than France’s smallest footprint) are found in the south-west, North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

In Germany and France this trend manifests as a distinct north-south divide, with the French wine growing regions in the south-west using up to 5,000 litres per person per day. According to the study, another cause of differences within each country is the make up of regional populations. In London, the amount of wine consumed is closely related to the level of education of residents. In other words, water footprint increases with education.

But what does all this mean? Well, 3,000 litres a day adds up to more than a million litres per year — or enough water to fill your local swimming pool three times over. More importantly, a higher water footprint is associated with an unhealthy diet, largely due to meat requiring a lot more water than vegetables or fruit. In all three countries, people “eat too much sugar, oils and fats, (red) meat as well as milk and cheese combined,” write Vanham and colleagues, and in France and Germany “people do not eat enough fruit and vegetables.”

Eating less meat through adopting a “healthy meat” diet could reduce water footprint by up to 35%, the authors say. An even greater saving can be made if meat is replaced by fish, lowering water footprint by 55%, but interestingly moving completely to a vegetarian diet makes around the same savings. Making such changes will not only save water, but will have the additional benefit of improving diet in countries where more than a third of people are overweight and around a quarter obese.

Convincing people to make such a change to their eating habits will not be simple. A number of suggestions are put forward in the study, including punitive measures for “unhealthy” foods, such as a sugar tax. However, such approaches are controversial, with considerable evidence suggesting that they are harmful to low income families. A more subtle approach would be to change the layout of supermarkets, “nudging” shoppers towards more healthy purchases.

Finally, the authors acknowledge that education of the population in dietary matters will be key. But, as their own analysis shows, more education is associated with higher wine consumption, which increases the water footprint.The Conversation

Ben Keane is a Postdoctoral Researcher, Soil and Plant Science, at the University of Sheffield.

This article is republished from The Conversation.

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Nitrates in Water

Posted September 18th, 2018

Nitrates in Water: The Basics



The primary sources of nitrates in water are human sewage, livestock manure, and fertilizers. Areas with a high density of septic tanks and animal agriculture in close proximity to the drinking water source are most vulnerable to contamination by nitrates. Research has shown an increase in nitrates in water as both agriculture and population grows. While nitrates used to be a “well water” problem, many urban water suppliers  now having to work to keep nitrate levels down. (See Nitrate Levels in Drinking Water Are on the Rise.)

The foremost health hazard associated with excessive levels of nitrates in water is blue baby syndrome, a condition that affects the blood usually in infants 6 months old or younger. Young infants’ digestive systems convert nitrates to nitrites and can be fatal.

Nitrates and nitrites are very soluble and cannot be precipitated from water. This means they have to be treated with a chemical or biological process. The best treatments for nitrate contamination are reverse osmosis, distillation, and anion exchange. Reverse osmosis is normally the product of choice for residential applications. Anion exchange can also be effective but it is important to have a water analysis to show other contaminants. Anion treatment is less effective in water with high TDS, high hardness, and high sulfates.

EPA maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are 10 mg/L for nitrate and 1 mg/L for Nitrite.

Vinyl Chloride

Posted September 17th, 2018

Vinyl Chloride

Vinyl chloride is not found in nature. It is a man-made cancer causer that gets into water supplies mainly as a result of manufacturing emissions and spills. It serves as a raw material to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polymers (plastics). PVC is used to manufacture many industrial and consumer products: water and sewer pipe, wire insulation, floor and wall coverings, toys, medical devices, food packaging, etc.

Vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen. It is a danger especially to workers in manufacturing plants where it is used. As a water contaminant, the greatest danger is from contaminated wells.  It seeps into wells as a result of manufacturing leakage and spills.

Removal of vinyl chloride is accomplished best by filtration with granular activated carbon and by reverse osmosis units. Some distillers remove vinyl chloride.

Go here for more information.

A Filter Control Valve that Costs Less and Does Not Need Electricity



Fleck’s Simple 2510 Manual Control.  No Electricity Required. It Isn’t Sexy, But It’s Very Functional.

Fleck 2510 Manual.  This is the most basic of filter valves, yet in many situations it can be the best.  In spite of the low price, it’s a tough and durable piece of equipment.  The 2510 Manual is a  non-electric control that requires manual backwash and rinse.  It is, therefore, not practical if backwashing needs to be performed daily (as with many iron filters, for example), but for a clean city water application where chlorine removal is the main purpose, a monthly backwash is often sufficient and performing it can be a 15-minute task.  The valve operates with a simple selection lever and has only three choices: Service (means the filter is in service, providing water for the home), backwash, and rinse.  Performing the backwash and rinse is like shifting gears in an car: pull the lever to backwash and let it run for five to ten minutes, pull it down to rinse for a couple of minutes, then return it to service.


Simple lever-controlled programming includes Service, Backwash, and Rapid Rinse positions. No electricity needed.

The 2510 Manual Control unit has exactly the same capacity as the larger-format, fully automatic 2510 timer control, but it costs approximately $150 less and requires no electrical connection.

Suggested uses:

City water chlorine or chloramine filters that require only infrequent backwashing.

Remote installations like seasonal cabins where an electrical connection is not available.

“Off the grid” installations where saving electricity is high priority.

Installations where a permanent drain connection is not convenient. (The filter must have a drain for backwash and rinse water, but it can be hooked to a garden hose and used for lawn or garden irrigation. The filter’s drain can be easily fitted with a garden hose connection.)

Any intermittent-use application where it’s easier to regenerate the filter manually than to continually reprogram an electric control valve.





N.J. is first state to regulate toxic PFNAs in drinking water


New Jersey has become the first state to regulate its drinking water for a man-made, toxic chemical compound once used in making nonstick cookware and now linked to a variety of health problems.

A new Department of Environmental Protection rule will cap the amount of compounds known as PFNAs, short for perfluorononanoic acid. For years, the state has been concerned about the level of PFNAs detected in water samples and has studied how the compounds were making their way into water.  The state has even found some of the compounds in fish from recreational waterways and has begun issuing consumption advisories.

PFNAs are part of a large group of chemical compounds known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds were also used to make firefighting foam, stain-resistant clothing, and food packaging.  They have been linked to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and hormone disruption.  PFAS can accumulate in the body and remain for long periods.

There are no federal standards for the compounds.  Environmental Protection Agency officials under the Trump administration sought to block the release in June of a federal study showing that the same class of chemicals that contaminated water supplies near military bases and other areas, worrying it would cause a “public relations nightmare.”  Since then, the EPA has held a series of public forums on the compounds, including one in Horsham that drew hundreds of residents.

The New Jersey rule amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to set a maximum contaminant level of 13 parts per trillion of PFNAs starting in 2019.  It aligns with Gov. Murphy’s much more aggressive environmental policies compared with the Christie administration, which declined to take up the issue. Environmental groups have long sought such regulation.

“Today, the state has met the challenge to protect people from exposure to PFNAs, one of the most toxic perfluorinated compounds known,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

PFNAs were first detected in the Delaware River watershed in Gloucester County in 2010, according to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.  The compound was found in a groundwater well in Paulsboro near the Solvay plastics manufacturing plant.  The Paulsboro groundwater showed concentration of 96 parts per trillion.  Higher levels were later found.  The borough filed notice it would sue Solvay, which led to a water treatment system to remove the compound.

Reprinted from

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Prices and Tariffs

Posted September 6th, 2018

Prices they are a-changin’


When all the political smoke clears, the truth about “tariffs” is that they amount to a tax increase that isn’t called a tax increase.

And it isn’t the Chinese or the Mexicans or the Canadians who pay the tax. It’s American consumers.

For those who buy water treatment equipment, taxes are going up sharply. One of our vendors just notified us that all products from one major American supplier are going up 4 to 8 percent because of tariffs. Our main parts vendor has just notified us that the prices of filter media and softener resin, filter tanks, and control valves are going to increase sharply. That means prices of finished filters and softeners will rise considerably.

Prices tend to spiral. When a tax on Chinese carbon forces up the price, this allows domestic carbon makers some room to raise their prices and still remain competitive. Foreign-made and American-made both go up. And once prices go up, they hardly every come back down, tariff or no tariff.

In a nutshell: because of the tax increase, we expect that our water softeners, tank-style and cartridge-style filters, filter media and parts in general will be selling for about 10% more.  Very soon.


Posted August 31st, 2018


Chloride, one of the most prevalent anions found in water, combines most commonly with the cations sodium, calcium, and magnesium.

Chloride levels in most waters range from 10 to 100 mg/l, and sea water contains over 30,000 mg/l chloride in combination with sodium, as NaCl.

Chloride is an essential electrolyte that helps to maintain pH, transmit nerve impulses and regulate cellular fluids.

Chloride in water is more a plumbing issue than a health issue.

Chloride, when concentrated, can cause corrosion of metal piping, so when treating water high in chloride plastic is usually preferred to stainless steel for reverse osmosis membrane housings. Iron is leached into water from metal pipes when high levels of chloride are present. Chloride is the main cause of pitting of stainless steel. Chloride combines with hydrogen to produce hydrochloric acid.

The suggested MCL for chloride is 250 ppm. Above this level water often has an unpleasant salty taste.

Reverse osmosis removes around 95% of chloride, and electrodialysis and distillation are also effective. In industrial settings, strong base anion exchangers can be used.

In practical terms for most residential users, in city water chloride is not a problem.  For well owners with high chlorides, undersink reverse osmosis takes care of drinking water.  If water is so high in chlorides that it is unusable for irrigation, whole house reverse osmosis is an option.