The Pure Water Occasional for December 15, 2014
In this mid-December Occasional you’ll get information about Axeon, road salt, plastics in the ocean, and droughts and flooding in California. You’ll shrink in horror at news of the new sinkhole epidemic and rejoice at the discovery of an exciting new bivalve mollusk. Then you’ll hear of China’s Great Wall of Trees, a furnace oil spill in the Shela River, and depleted uranium fragments and TCE left behind by the US Army. Learn how to deal with rising sea water, where to buy Katalox Light, Aquasorb, and Colorsorb, plus how to pick a whole house reverse osmosis unit. Find out about “baby beaches” plagued with fecal bacteria, massive sewage dumping by luxury cruise ships, rare turtles stranded on Cape Cod Bay, and, as always, there is much, much more.
To read this issue on the Pure Water Gazette’s website, please go here. (Recommended! When you read online you get the added advantage of the Gazette’s sidebar feed of the very latest world water news.)
What Happens to All the Salt We Dump On the Roads?
In the U.S., road crews scatter about 137 pounds of salt per person annually to melt ice. Where does it go after that?
by Joseph Stromberg
As much of the country endures from the heavy snowfall and bitter cold that has marked the start of 2014, municipalities in 26 states will rely on a crucial tool in clearing their roads: salt.
Because the freezing point of salty water is a lower temperature than pure water, scattering some salt atop ice or snow can help accelerate the melting process, opening up the roads to traffic that much sooner. It’s estimated that more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually—about 137 pounds of salt for every American.
But all that salt has to go somewhere. After it dissolves—and is split into sodium and chloride ions—it gets carried away via runoff and deposited into both surface water (streams, lakes and rivers) and the groundwater under our feet.
Consider how easily salt can corrode your car. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a problem for the surrounding environment—so much that in 2004, Canada categorized road salt as a toxin and placed new guidelines on its use. And as more and more of the U.S. becomes urbanized and suburbanized, and as a greater number of roads criss-cross the landscape, the mounting piles of salt we dump on them may be getting to be a bigger problem than ever.
Data from long-term studies of watersheds bear this out. A group of scientists that tracked salt levels from 1952 to 1998 in the Mohawk River in Upstate New York, for instance, found that concentrations of sodium and chloride increased by 130 and 243 percent, respectively, with road salting the primary reason as the surround area became more developed. More recently, a study of a stream in southeastern New York State that was monitored from 1986 to 2005 found a similar pattern, with significant annual increases and road salting to blame for an estimated 91 percent of sodium chloride in the watershed.
Because it’s transported more easily than sodium, chloride is the greater concern, and in total, an estimated 40 percent of the country’s urban streams have chloride levels that exceed safe guidelines for aquatic life, largely because of road salt.
This chloride can occasionally impact human water use, mostly because some penetrates into the groundwater we tap for drinking purposes. Water utilities most frequently report complaints of salty drinking water during the winter, when chloride concentrations are likely to exceed 250 parts per million (ppm), our tastebuds’ threshold for detecting it. This is an especially big issue for people on salt restrictive diets. Overall, though, road salt-laced drinking water isn’t a widespread problem: A 2009 USGS study found that fewer than 2 percent of the drinking wells sampled had chloride levels that surpassed federal standards.
Road salt pollution is generally a bigger issue for the surrounding environment and the organisms that live in it. It’s estimated that chloride concentrations above 800 ppm are harmful to most freshwater aquatic organisms—because these high levels interfere with how animals regulate the uptake of salt into their bodies—and for short periods after a snow melt, wetlands nearby highways can surpass these levels. A range of studies has found that chloride from road salt can negatively impact the survival rates of crustaceans, amphibians such as salamanders and frogs, fish, plants and other organisms. There’s even some evidence that it could hasten invasions of non-native plant species—in one marsh by the Massachusetts Turnpike, a study found that it aided the spread of salt-tolerant invasives.
On a broader scale, elevated salt concentrations can reduce water circulation in lakes and ponds (because salt affects water’s density), preventing oxygen from reaching bottom layers of water. It can also interfere with a body of water’s natural chemistry, reducing the overall nutrient load. On a smaller scale, highly concentrated road salt can dehydrate and kill trees and plants growing next to roadways, creating desert conditions because the plants have so much more difficulty absorbing water. In some cases, dried salt crystals can attract deer and moose to busy roads, increasing their chance of becoming roadkill.
How can we avoid killing trees and making roadkill of deer while de-icing the roads? Recently, in some areas, transportation departments have begun pursuing strategies to reduce salt use. Salting before a storm, instead of after, can prevent snow and ice from binding to the asphalt, making the post-storm cleanup a little bit easier and allowing road crews to use less salt overall. Mixing the salt with slight amounts of water allows it to spread more, and blending in sand or gravel lets it to stick more easily and improve traction for cars.
Elsewhere, municipalities are trying out alternate de-icing compounds. Over the past few years, beet juice, sugarcane molasses and cheese brine, among other substances, have been mixed in with salt to reduce the overall chloride load on the environment. These don’t eliminate the need for conventional salt, but they could play a role in cutting down just how much we dump on the roads.
See also: Icy Roads Prescribed a Low-Sodium Diet.
Study: 270,000 tons of plastic floating in oceans
by Audrey McAvoy
A new study estimates nearly 270,000 tons of plastic is floating in the world’s oceans. That’s enough to fill more than 38,500 garbage trucks.
The plastic is broken up into more than 5 trillion pieces, said the study published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
The paper is the latest in a nascent field where scientists are trying to better understand how much of the synthetic material is entering the oceans and how it’s affecting fish, seabirds and the larger marine ecosystem.
The study’s lead author is Markus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization that aims to reduce plastic in the oceans.
To gather data, researchers dragged a fine mesh net at the sea surface to gather small pieces. Observers on boats counted larger items. They used computer models to calculate estimates for tracts of ocean not surveyed.
The study only measured plastic floating at the surface. Plastic on the ocean floor wasn’t included.
Bits greater than about 8 inches accounted for three-quarters of the plastic that the research estimated is in the ocean.
Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who wasn’t involved in the study, said the researchers gathered data in areas where scientists currently don’t have measurements for floating plastic debris, including the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean near Antarctica and the South Atlantic.
In addition, the study’s estimate for tiny plastic bits less than one-fifth of an inch — about 35,540 tons — is comparable to an earlier study by researchers in Spain who used different methodology, Law said. That study estimated there was 7,000 to 35,000 tons of plastics this size floating in the ocean.
It’s encouraging that two different approaches came up with such similar answers, given how difficult it is to measure plastic in the ocean, she said.
Studying the amount of plastic in the ocean will help scientists understand how the material will affect the environment and potentially the food chain.
For example, Law said, we might eat tuna that has ingested another fish that has eaten plastic that has in turn eaten another fish with plastic. These plastics could potentially have toxic chemicals.
“Am I being poisoned by eating the fish on my plate?” she asked. “We have very little knowledge of the chain of events that could lead to that. But it’s a plausible scenario that plastic ingested at lower levels of the food web could have consequences at higher levels of the food chain.”
Source: Poughkeepsie Journal.
Water News for the week ending December 15, 2014
American drought: California’s crisis. A storm has hit California, but that’s not going to end the ‘worst drought in a generation’ that is turning much of the center of the state into a dust bowl. This drought is bringing one of the richest states in America to its knees. The Guardian takes a comprehensive look at the drought in California.
Sinkhole in Chicago
There is an epidemic of sinkholes. How water causes sinkholes. See the BBC report.
US Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Beaufort Sea.
Organic farming more drought resistant: Report. The supposed productivity gaps between organic and conventional farming may be a lot smaller than thought—and organic farming may be especially competitive during droughts like the one currently crushing California’s massive agricultural sector.
A tanker loaded with furnace oil went down this week in the Shela River. Read details of this environmental disaster that didn’t make the news in the US.
Villagers take seepage off river water along Sundarbans. The air around the Sundarbans is thick and it smells foul. The black slick flowing down the Shela and Pashur rivers, covering grasses and plants on their banks, gives a feeling that it is not the world’s biggest mangrove forest, rather an industrial city cursed by civilisation’s waste. Animals have started to die.
California drought: Storm gives bump to state water supplies. The pounding storm that shut down schools and inspired “hellastorm” hashtags on social media has California water managers, for the first time in a long while, talking about a possible dent in the drought.
Great wall of trees keeps China’s deserts at bay. China is holding back the desert, for now. The Great Green Wall – a massive belt of trees being planted across China’s arid north in what might be the largest ecological engineering project on the planet – seems to work, according to a new study.
Critics attack plan to leave firing-range mess. Critics say it would be a bad precedent to let the U.S. Army retreat from the task of cleaning up or even monitoring the site in Southern Indiana where live-fire tests left behind more than 160,000 pounds of depleted uranium shell fragments plus millions of unexploded conventional shells.
TCE Contamination at Missile Base Continues to Spoil Wyoming Groundwater
For nearly 13 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality have worked to clean groundwater contamination at Atlas missile site No. 3 caused by the improper drainage of trichloroethylene.
For nearly 13 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality have worked to clean groundwater contamination caused by the improper drainage of trichloroethylene.
The cleaning solution, commonly referred to as TCE, is known to cause cancer and liver damage if consumed, and it is found in seven Atlas missile sites surrounding Cheyenne.
Wyoming politicians and environmental officials are left to question the Corps’ remediation methods as years drag on without a conclusive remediation plan. Read the full Associated Press story.
Flirting with Retreat
As sea levels rise, many areas face the “daunting choice” between fighting to hold back the sea or to retreat.
Sea levels have risen an average of 8 inches globally over the past century as a result of glacial thaw, polar ice melt and the expansion of water as it warms, according to the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For much of Europe, higher seas are aggravating storm surges like those that battered Britain last winter – setting up daunting political and economic choices about what to do in response.
At Lowestoft, about 30 miles south of Happisburgh, the sea has risen 4.1 inches since 1962, based on readings from a tide gauge there. It’s one of at least 105 gauges worldwide to show an increase of 4 inches or more during the same period, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level, based in Liverpool, England. The analysis encompassed annual sea level readings from 229 tide gauges worldwide with data covering a 50-year period.
In Europe, the largest increase was at Dieppe, France, a city on the English Channel. Like Happisburgh, its cliffs are crumbling as seas rise. A gauge in the harbor showed an increase of about 8 inches since 1960.
Around the world, the biggest increases were in Asia, reflecting the greater impact in that region of subsidence, the process by which geological forces and the extraction of groundwater cause the land to sink. Near Bangkok, Thailand, a tide gauge showed an increase of nearly 3 feet since 1959. In Manila, the Philippines, the sea level rose about 2.7 feet.
As the rising waters take a worsening toll, European governments and local authorities are forced to ask: What’s our coastline worth? And can we afford to defend it all?
About 200 million people – 40 percent of the European Union’s population – live within 30 miles (50 km) of the sea, and the numbers are growing. In some parts of the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France, the population jumped as much as 50 percent from 2001 to 2011.
In most cases, EU coastal investments are focused on strengthening existing infrastructure to deal with sea level rise and more extreme weather. France, Spain and Italy, in particular, prefer to add sand to beaches and reinforce other coastal defenses as needed in order to maintain big sources of tourism dollars. Apart from scattered experiments such as Happisburgh, European nations are not encouraging people to retreat inland. Full story.
California must act to ensure safe water for all. We’re in a drought. The drought we refer to has been the long lack of action by California’s leaders on the issue of safe drinking water in disadvantaged communities
Study links small drain pipes to pollution at Newport’s ‘baby beaches’. Small drain pipes carrying runoff from Newport Beach streets could be causing high fecal bacteria counts frequently detected in bay waters at so-called “baby beaches,” according to a UC Irvine study.
Cruise ships dumped a billion gallons of sewage, Cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of sewage into the ocean in 2014, much of it raw or poorly treated, an environmental group says.
Cape Cod Is Experiencing a Surge of Stranded Turtles
For as long as anyone knows, young sea turtles have ventured up the East Coast, leaving warm seas to feed on crabs and other prey. And some of them have lingered too long in northern waters and been stunned when the season turns cold.
Around this time of year, volunteers regularly patrol the beaches of Cape Cod Bay to rescue turtles that wash up at high tide — six of seven species of sea turtles are endangered — so they can be rehabilitated and relocated to warmer shores in the South.
But this year the usual trickle of stranded turtles has turned into a flood, and nobody seems to know why.
Since mid-November, volunteers on turtle patrol have found nearly 1,200, almost all young Kemp’s ridley turtles, the most endangered of turtle species. That is almost three times as many as in the previous record year, and many more times the number in an average year. More turtles are being found every day.
New Products at Pure Water Products
Pure Water Products has added media in recent months to improve and expand our offerings in backwashing and ready-made cartridge filters.
Katalox Light is versatile granular filtration medium based on a natural zeolite (clinoptolite); Made made in Germany, Katalox Light is mainly for removal of iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide, but is also an effective treatment for arsenic, radium, heavy metals, colors, odors, organics, turbidity and radionuclides. Katalox Light makes a very effective sediment filter, filtering down into the 3 micron range. For iron removal, it contains significantly more manganese dioxide than Birm, and it considerably lighter (and therefore backwashes more easily) than Filox. It can support a service flow rate of up to 6.5 gpm in a 10″ filter tank, giving it a significant advantage over Birm, yet requiring a backwash rate of only about 5 gpm in a Vortech tank, 6 gpm in a standard tank. Katalox Light works well independently but also lends itself to use with chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, potassium permanganate, and aeration. Katalox Light is certified to ANSI/NSF standard 61 for drinking water.
Jacobi Coconut Shell Carbons. We now stock Jacobi standard coconut shell as well as Jacobi Aquasorb catalytic carbon. Aquasorb catalytic is a harder, more durable and less expensive substitute for Centaur catalytic. Like Centaur, it’s an excellent choice for removal of iron, hydrogen sulfide, and chloramines.
Color removal carbon. We now also stock Jacobi’s Colorsorb 5040 high macropore carbon for the reduction of tannins and other color issues. It is available both in bulk for backwashing filters or in pre-made cartridges.
Also available but not yet on our website is a new vertical mount installation kit for our AerMax units that makes a more compact installation, plus a pump timer, that makes AerMax installation much easier.
Whole House Reverse Osmosis
by Gene Franks
A residential whole house reverse osmosis unit consists of more than just the reverse osmosis unit itself. Usually, some pretreatment will be needed, a storage tank is required, and the water will then have to be post-treated and pumped into the home.
The Reverse Osmosis Unit
There are many excellent residential whole house reverse osmosis units on the market. They are usually classified according to the number of gallons per day of “permeate” (finished water) they are rated to produce. GPD ratings are purely theoretical: the actual production depends on the nature and conditions of the treated water. TDS (total dissolved solids), for example, affects production rates considerably, as does water temperature. When furnished a detailed water analysis for the water to be processed, RO manufacturers will usually perform an analysis called a ROSA test that gives a fairly accurate prediction of the actual production and the quality of the finished product.
Axeon AT Series RO Unit. Units in this series produce in the 500 to 1000 gallon-per-day range. When you get the unit, it has been run and tested–it’s ready to install and use.
Typical GPD sizes for residential RO units are 500, 1000, 1500, and even more. Sizing adequately is important, and over-sizing a little doesn’t hurt. A lot more capacity than you need, however, is not good for the equipment. RO thrives on work and it’s better for the equipment to run several hours per day than to make an occasional short run and shut off. Consider your household needs. Unless you have special uses like extensive irrigation, about 75 gallons per day per person is usually enough. Keep in mind, however, that you might get only 200 gallons of actual output from a 500 gallon unit and the unit might have to run virtually continuously to keep up with the demand, so a 1000 GPD unit might be a better choice for a two-person home than a 500. In most cases, too, 1000 costs only a bit more than 500, and larger units are usually more efficient than small ones.
Reverse osmosis can tame some very challenging water by reducing dissolved solids levels by almost 100% and removing arsenic, nitrates, lead, and other problem contaminants, but the RO membranes themselves must be protected from contaminants like iron, hardness, manganese, turbidity, silica, and chlorine. Pretreatment can require an iron filter, a water softener, sediment filtration and/or chemical scale inhibitors. Pretreatment is not optional. Although the RO unit can itself remove the calcium that causes hardness scaling, untreated hardness will eventually scale the membrane, and membrane replacement is costly. Keep that in mind when considering a whole house RO installation. Consider, too, that iron filters and softeners have to be allowed some time to regenerate themselves when the RO unit is not running. This can affect sizing.
Filters and/or softeners may be needed to pre-treat water for iron, hardness, sediment–anything that can damage the reverse osmosis membrane.
RO water is naturally low in pH, so it often a good idea to send it through a small neutralizing filter (usually calcite) to bump the pH back into the 7 range. This protects pipes and fixtures and can make the water more aesthetically pleasing. Also, after the water has been stored in a tank, a small carbon postfilter will improve the taste. Finally, an ultraviolet lamp can assure safe, bacteria-free water. Calcite, carbon filters, and UV are all optional, but you should consider them seriously.
Reverse osmosis units make water slowly, so storage is necessary to assure that enough water will be on hand for domestic needs. The standard whole house RO storage vessel is a plastic, un-pressurized (atmospheric) tank. The RO unit produces water into the tank; when the tank is full, a float valve turns off the RO unit. When the water level drops, the float valve restarts the RO unit to refill the tank. To send water to the home, a delivery pump is used. Some modern pumps (Grundfos is the leading brand) require no pump tank and send a smooth surge of water to the home when a faucet is opened or an appliance asks for water.
Common tank sizes are 165, 300, 500, and 1000 gallons. A 300 gallon tank is plenty big for most domestic RO installations. Keep in mind that if your RO unit is a high producer, you can get by with a smaller storage tank. Typically, RO tanks need 4 ports requiring bulkhead fittings–one on the side near the bottom from which water is sent to the home, one for the float valve, one for RO water to enter the tank, and one to serve as an overflow safety device in case the float valve fails to turn off the RO unit. The last three holes are near the top of the tank.
One More Thing
Something people often fail to think about when they consider installing whole house reverse osmosis is the brine, or “waste water.” There will normally be a lot of it. You’re almost certain to have at least as much brine to get rid of as finished water to use. You probably won’t want to put the brine into a septic tank. What you’re going to do with the brine is something you should work out before you purchase a whole house RO unit.
Pure Water Products currently offers large RO units and accessories from Watts, Axeon, and Nelsen Corporation.
Please visit our RO Parts Page for tanks and accessories. We also have dedicated parts pages for countertop water filters, undersink filters, and aeration equipment. We stock parts for everything we sell.
Thank you for reading. Please come back next week.
Places to Visit on Our Websites in the meantime.
Garden Hose Filters. Don’t be the last on your block to own one.
Model 77: “The World’s Greatest $77 Water Filter”
”Sprite Shower Filters: You’ll Sing Better!”
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