The Pure Water Occasional for July 14, 2014
In this mid-summer Occasional, you’ll hear how octopuses avoid eating their own tentacles, who plans to turn abandoned cellars into cisterns, and why algae and cyanotoxins are becoming a greater threat. You’ll hear of drunk and sober zebrafish, golf’s gluttonous water lust, the world’s most water-stressed cities, worries over the arrival of Fukushima water, the dysfunctional Ditsobotla sewage plant, blind cavefish, nitrates in Minnesota, drought and more drought (from Lake Mead to Lake Huntington), the contested ownership of wastewater, and a very filthy ship called The Badger. Finally, you’ll be treated to Pure Water Annie’s masterful explanation of “How Softeners Work,” and, as always, there is much, much more.
To read this issue on the Pure Water Gazette’s website, please go here.
Harper’s Findings: The Secrets of the Deep
by Gene Franks
When this month’s Harper’s came to my mailbox I did what I always do. I went straight to the last page, where the “Findings” feature reports, usually in pithy one-sentence summaries and without source references, the important things we humans have found out during the past month. This month’s issue (August 2014) was particularly rich in water-related discoveries. Here are some:
A goldfish piloted a fish tank on wheels with its thoughts.
Octopuses possess a chemical that prevents self-sucking, and can differentiate other octopuses’ severed tentacles from their own, which they rarely eat.
Piscivory was reported among spiders on all continents save Antarctica, as was numeracy among blind cavefish, who live under the Somali desert. (The fish cannot, however, distinguish between successive integers, expressed in sticks.)
Anxiety in crayfish was induced by French scientists using both electric shocks and injections of serotonin, then relieved with injections of benzodiazepine.
Sober zebrafish will follow the lead of a moderately drunk zebrafish and will speed up to keep pace; extremely drunk zebrafish will lag behind sober fish.
The windshield wiper fluid of some Arizona school buses was found to contain Legionnaires’ disease.
The ferrous metals from which hatcheries are built confuse the magnetic sense of young steelhead.
In the Marshall Islands, rising seas were carrying away Japan’s war dead.
Male Mientien tree frogs (Kurixulus idiootocus) use the concrete drainage ditches of Taiwan to amplify their mating songs . . . .
Reference source: Harper’s (August, 2014).
Golf is a big water user, but so is growing lettuce
The grass doesn’t stay green automatically. The average golf course gulps down 10,000 gallons of water per day.
According to a report by the United States Golf Association:
There are an estimated 1,504,210 acres of maintained turfgrass (greens, tees, fairways, rough) on golf facilities in the U.S. An estimated 1,198,381 acres or 80 percent of maintained turfgrass are irrigated.
Approximately 80 acres of an average 18-hole golf course’s 100 acres of maintained turfgrass are irrigated.
From 2001-2005, an estimated total of 31,877 acres of irrigated turfgrass were added to existing golf facilities in the U.S. The greatest net gain in irrigated acreage
From 2003-2005, the average water use for golf course irrigation in the U.S. was estimated to be 2,312,701 acrefeet per year. That equates to approximately 2.08 billion gallons of water per day for golf course irrigation in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s “Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000” report,approximately 408 billion gallons of water per day are withdrawn in the U.S. Golf course irrigation accounts for 0.5 percent of this total.
Water use varies significantly by agronomic region. An average 18-hole golf facility in the Southwest region
uses an average of 4 acre-feet of water per irrigated acre per year. An average 18-hole golf facility in the
Northeast region uses an average of 0.8 acre-feet of water per irrigated acre per year.
Sources of this water?
52 percent use water from ponds or lakes.
46 percent use water from on-site wells.
17 percent use water from rivers, streams and
14 percent use water from municipal water
12 percent use recycled water for irrigation.
Gazette’s conclusion: Golf courses use oceans of water, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared with total human water usage. Agricultural irrigation is, of course, the biggest water user by far. Still, it’s disturbing that golf uses more water than water polo.
A Relentless Drought Is Forcing Las Vegas to Take Extreme Measures
by Arnie Cooper
Lake Mead Intake No. 3 tunnel
Editor’s Note. The dire water shortage facing Las Vegas is hardly news, but this Newsweek piece does a fine job of providing perspective. Drought isn’t new to the area, but drought plus overpopulation plus increasing temperatures have created a much more complicated scenario than that faced by the Anasazi who lived in the area a thousand years ago. The article below offers a particularly good overview of the problem and possible solutions. — Hardly Waite.
When a 60-year drought slowed the mighty Colorado back in the 12th century, it didn’t much matter. The river had to feed only local wildlife and not the millions of people who have since settled in sprawling and hugely water-dependent metropolises like Las Vegas.
Today another dry spell is blistering much of the Southwest. Of course, no one can say whether this 14-year-event will become a decades-long megadrought, but the city is taking no chances. Counter to its reputation, Las Vegas has been one of the country’s most progressive municipalities when it comes to water conservation. Despite explosive population growth, per capita water use has dropped 40 percent in the past two decades, water recycling is up, and homeowners are pulling up their sod in record numbers to save H2O.
But it’s still not enough. Which is why the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is rushing to complete a new intake pipe for Lake Mead, Las Vegas’s main water source.
Initiated in 2008, the project was originally slated for completion in 2012. But the $817 million venture has not gone smoothly. In July 2010, work on the three-mile tunnel was cut back when crews struck a geographical fault, releasing water and muck into the construction area. Attempts to stabilize the area failed, forcing the team to begin excavating in a different direction. The project is now expected to be finished in July 2015. “We’re trying to get this done before the lake drops low,” says Erika Moonin, the engineering project manager for Vegas Tunnel Constructors. “We start seeing water-quality impacts at low lake elevations with our existing facilities.”
According to Moonin, every summer a thermocline—a distinct layer of warmer water, which traps wastewater and contaminants within it—forms near Lake Mead’s surfaces. As the lake level falls, that layer gets closer to the intake pipes, making it more difficult and more expensive to treat drinking water.
And it’s not just Lake Mead and Las Vegas that must cope with the drought. The 1,450-mile Colorado River irrigates nearly 4 million acres of land and provides water to 30 million people in seven states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and California. (Mexico and 23 Native American tribes also share water rights.) The area’s driest two-year-period on record spanned from 2012 to 2013, and the entire river system is now 50 percent full (or empty, depending on how you choose to view it).
Every year, the water manager at each reservoir along the river determines how much water can be sent downstream, based on how much precipitation has flowed into the system. Lake Powell, which sits on the Colorado on the border between Utah and Arizona, is the country’s second-largest reservoir. It dropped a combined 60 feet in 2012 and 2013. This year, because it currently sits so low, Powell will make its lowest water release since the basin started filling in the 1960s.
That means less water going into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, which sits farther down the Colorado, between Nevada and Arizona. That’s presenting a challenge for thirsty places like Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its supply from the lake.
In fact, with Mead at 40 percent capacity as of June and dropping, the city could be down to its last straw. Currently there are two intake pipes “sipping” the liquid gold out of the lake and into the city’s waterworks, but if the lake, now down to 1,084 feet, drops to elevation 1,065, serious problems will ensue. That’s because Intake 1, located at elevation 1,050, will no longer be able to effectively pump water. Projections made by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation predict that the lake will fall to 1,068 feet by June 2015. That would mean major difficulty pumping from Intake 1—not to mention water-quality concerns.
The new intake pipe was supposed to pick up the slack, but the economic crisis in 2009 forced the SNWA to postpone building its new accompanying pumping station. Instead, the authority opted for an emergency connection between Intake 3 and the two existing pipes. In June 2014, the connector tunnel was completed .
Bronson Mack, a public information officer for the SNWA, admits that the emergency connection won’t fully compensate for the loss of water should Intake 1 go down. “But it does buy us at least a few years of operation,” and, he adds, it will help them continue to defer the costs of building that third pumping station.
That may sound promising, but it only points to the extreme measures water utilities are going to need to take in a drier future to keep the taps flowing.
A millennium ago, when the Anasazi lived in the river basin, they simply moved to wetter regions when epic droughts hit. But that’s not an option today for residents of Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. And, in 2014, human-caused climate change is making normal dry spells even worse. “You add warming temperatures to a drought, and it becomes even worse,” says Toby Ault, a climate scientist and assistant professor at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University.
One reason is that the heat tends to send more moisture into the atmosphere because of higher evaporation rates. A recent study by Benjamin Cook, “Global Warming and 21st Century Drying,” argues that this increase in evaporation could end up making a larger part of the West more susceptible to a megadrought.
In fact, Ault’s team at Cornell has come up with a frightening estimate of future megadrought risks: There’s an 80 to 90 percent chance of a 10-plus-year drought occurring this century, with a realistic threat of an epic 30- to 40-year dry spell. Unfortunately, water managers won’t even know if such a drought is happening until many years pass.
Connie Woodhouse, a researcher at the University of Arizona’s Tree Ring Lab, says droughts can be evaluated only by looking back. “It’s a little bit hard at this point to say, ‘Yeah, we’re at the beginning of a megadrought or we’re not.’ You have to watch as things unfold,” she says.
But it doesn’t take a crystal ball to realize just how serious the current Western dry spell is, and cities are starting to respond. Las Vegas uses a lot of water for its size (think of the fountains at the Bellagio), but it has made significant improvements in water efficiency. For example, the city now recycles 100 percent of the water it uses indoors (in bathrooms, kitchens, etc.). And despite a tripling of the population since 1989, per capita water consumption has decreased over 40 percent—thanks largely to the city’s Water Smart Landscapes program, which pays residents $1.50 a square foot to remove turf. “If you had an 18-inch-wide piece of sod, you could roll that piece of sod 85 percent of the way around the globe,” says John Entsminger, general manager of the SNWA. “That’s how much grass we’ve taken out.”
Doug Kenney, director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment’s Western Water Policy Program, at the University of Colorado Law School, also gives Las Vegas water management high marks. “People like to cast a critical eye on Las Vegas regarding water use, but in general, it has shown a lot of leadership in municipal water conservation, and it has been one of the strongest voices calling for improved management of the river as a whole,” he says.
As for those Bellagio fountains, if you were ever mesmerized by the 500-foot geysers, you can assuage your guilt, knowing they’re fed from an old well once used to irrigate the golf course at the Dunes.
Still, more than 50 percent of Vegas’s green carpets remain. Entsminger admits the area has plenty of work left to do. “We’re proud of our conservation plan, but we’re not declaring victory,” he says.
That said, with just a 1.8 percent allotment, Nevada has the smallest entitlement of the seven states that share the river. The real issue, says Kenney, is “the fact that the Law of the River promises more water to seven states and Mexico than exists currently and is expected to ever exist.” He’s referring to a series of agreements, laws and court decisions made since the original Colorado Compact of 1922, which determined how much water would be allotted to each of the states.
Things would get a lot simpler if some serious rain could be counted on. There is a glimmer of hope in that regard, thanks to a possible return to El Niño conditions this coming winter. With above-average sea surface temperatures developing over much of the eastern tropical Pacific, the National Weather Service has indicated the potential for enhanced rainfall in parts of the West.
But even if next year turns out wet, that won’t be enough to fill those reservoirs. Dan Bunk, a senior hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation, says that would take an extremely wet period, like the one that occurred from 1982 to 1985. “If you were to simulate that four-year period in our models, you could fill the system back up in about four to five years. But you’re basically talking about repeating the highest four-year period on record,” Bunk says.
The chance of that happening is slim. Ault says we need only combine the long periods of aridity during the last few millennia with future climate models to understand we’re destined to face some serious droughts this century—thus increasing the need for water departments to tackle expensive, complex and time-consuming projects like Intake 3.
What’s more, Kenney points out that lowering intakes is just a coping strategy that doesn’t solve long-term water woes. “Make no mistake: If demands are allowed to continue exceeding supplies, then building a deeper straw only delays a day of reckoning. If a megadrought is on the horizon, then the money being spent by Las Vegas on the new intake is to buy time to find a solution; it’s not the solution itself.
Water News for the week of July 14, 2014
Editor’s Note: Drought and water shortage dominated this week’s water news, with articles about the tense situation in California and Las Vegas at the top of the list. In a word, there wasn’t a lot of good news. –Hardly Waite.
State to San Antonio: No, you can’t own your wastewater. Several months after San Antonio Water System’s bold move to secure ownership of its treated sewer water even after it gets released back into a public waterway, state regulators are saying they doubt that’s possible. The dispute highlighted how valuable treated sewer water, once considered useless, has become in an age of diminished water supplies.
San Antonio Bay
According to Processing magazine, Loving County, Texas is testing an innovative desalination plant that will transform brackish water into drinkable water, supplied to households in the town of Mentone.
The $3.5 million plant is one of its kind in the Permian Basin. The evaporative desalination unit itself was manufactured by Netherlands-based company SaltTech. Apart from brackish water, it can also treat processed water from hydraulic fracturing operations, which are among the most common industrial activities in the area.
When water enters the unit, it gets evaporated in specially designed cyclone chambers where clean water is separate from the brine. Treated water is condensed from steam and the brine is disposed of as a solid after it has been dried. The Mentone facility also includes a new solar power plant, brackish water well, storage tanks and booster pumps.
Since the technology is unique for Texas, authorities have requested a pilot test that will demonstrate how the process works and if the water meets all state standards for quality. After its completion, the produced water will be included in the public water system.
Water Stressed Cities. The number of large cities reporting water stress is smaller than previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change. Still, one in four of the 200 cities surveyed was classified as experiencing water stress.
The term water-stressed is used to denote cities that use at least 40 percent of their available water supplies on an annual basis. Earlier estimates suggested that about 40 percent of all cities fell in that category, according to The Nature Conservancy.
Tokyo, Delhi, Mexico City, Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro and Moscow are among the cities that face the biggest water stress. The study pointed out that the actual number of cities reporting water stress was not as large as expected because previous estimates did not take into account water from more distant watersheds reaching cities through pipes.
Van Gogh’s Blossoming Almond Tree
Your almond habit is sucking California dry. In the long term, the almond boom may prove bad news for everyone who relies on California’s farms for sustenance. “It takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond. . . . You don’t have to scramble to figure how many almonds make up 2.1 billion pounds to realize that that’s a hell of a lot of water.”
Lake Mead reservoir drops to record low. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, has dropped to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s, a decline that reflects 14 years of drought and a growing imbalance between the Colorado River’s flows and the demands of cities and farms across the Southwest.
South African water contamination: A dark story of lost and ruined lives. According to a Green Drop report, which monitors the quality of treated waste water that is put back in the river system, Ditsobotla sewage plant has been dysfunctional for many years and has become an active danger to health. In the last three months, 11 babies have died from contaminated waste water in one South African hamlet.
Waves for worry? Scientists weigh-in on status of radioactive waters from Fukushima. While scientists anticipate substantial dilution of the radiation in the world’s largest body of water, the potential health effects cut to the heart of the contemporary scientific debate on the biological consequences of low-level radiation.
Minnesota seeks farmers’ help on nitrates in water. As Minnesota communities spend millions of dollars to remove nitrate contamination from their drinking water, state officials say it’s time for farmers to do more to prevent the problem.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture plans to use new rules to be more aggressive in getting farmers to limit the amount of fertilizer chemicals leaching into groundwater. Assistant Commissioner Matt Wohlman tells Minnesota Public Radio the agency could restrict how much nitrogen is applied; restrict the timing, source and placement of applications; or require the use of certain best management practices.
But Kris Sigford, water quality director at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, says the department hasn’t moved fast or forcefully enough to reverse rising nitrate levels.
Consumers often pay the cleanup costs through higher water bills.
“Filthiest Ship on the Great Lakes”
That’s what Senator Dick Durban called the venerable S.S. Badger, pictured above. The Badger is the last coal-powered US steamship. It’s still an active ship. Built to carry railcars year-round, the Badger is a heavy relic that can sail smoothly on rough waters while carrying as many as 600 passengers and nearly 200 vehicles. It is in trouble with environmentalists, however, because it dumps tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every day. The waste amounted in recent years to nearly four tons a day and more than 500 tons a sailing season. To keep the Badger afloat, the owner is trying to make changes that would satisfy environmental regulations. Read the details in National Geographic.
Mechanical pumps turning oases into mirages Until recently, a natural spring exploited since Roman times supplied the iron-rich water for irrigation. But when the spring began to dry up in the 1990s, the government built a deep well to supplement its waning flow.
Huntington Lake summer fun drying up in California drought. The consequences of the drought are increasing. But none of the drought’s effects may hit home on as visceral a level as summer fun drying up.
Basements of abandoned homes would become cisterns, according to plan. In what a local alderman called “out-of-the-box thinking,” Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is exploring the idea of using the basements of foreclosed and abandoned homes as cisterns of sorts to hold stormwater during heavy rains.
Climate change could affect your drinking water. “Drinking cups of clear tap water could be a luxury we are less likely to take for granted in the near future as climate-change culprits affect our waterways—and our water bills.”
This piece addresses the important issue of algae and cynatoxin, a contaminant regulated in Europe but currently unregulated in the US. Here are some issues:
Water Temperatures in the Potomac River are going up with an average warming of .046° C per year due, in part, to the hotter air temperatures. By 2040, the Potomac River—which supplies 75 percent of the area’s drinking water—will likely see an increase in surface water temperature of about 2.7° F, but could increase as much as 4.1° F.
The increased temperatures—both in and outside the water—create a changed ecosystem for the Potomac and Occoquan that could force water treatment plants to change their filtration process. Some of these problematic scenarios could include longer blooming seasons for blue green algae, a decrease—or killing off of—eelgrass, and more runoff from farms and rainwater filled with contaminants and pollutants like manure and fertilizer.
Blue green algae or cyanobacteria can release toxins called cyanotoxins which have been known to cause liver tumors, neurological disorders and even death in animals and humans. While many European countries follow the World Health Organization drinking water guideline of 0.001 mg/litre for at least one type of cyanotoxin, the United States has yet to adopt any federal regulations on these toxins.
The algal blooms do occur naturally, but the increase in duration, species and number of algal blooms could create toxins harmful to our health as well as absorb the much-needed oxygen in the water, which affect the odor, clarity and taste of the water.
Here is more information on the issue from the Pure Water Occasional website:
Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, and other algae include a number of species of microscopic aquatic organisms that perform photosynthesis to produce energy and oxygen. They produced Earth’s earliest fossils.
Often identified as “pond scum,” some are important food sources but others put out toxic compounds called cyanotoxins that are harmful to humans and other animals.
Cyanobacteria also produce organisms that give water a musty odor. Reports of algae-caused unpleasant taste and odor in drinking water are common. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is funding research to improve detection of cyanotoxins. Detection must be performed in an analytical laboratory.
Although they are invisible in surface water in low numbers, they multiply rapidly into clumps or “blooms” where water is warm, shallow and undisturbed. Blooms can look green, blue-green, yellow, brown or red.
According to Water Technology magazine, “Algae-containing water can be swallowed, can contact the skin or is inhaled in aerosol-like droplets while swimming or showering. Cyanotoxins can cause gastrointestinal and lung ailments; allergic responses; skin and eye irritation; liver damage; tumor growth; and neurotoxic (nerve) reactions. Effects of long-term consumption uncertain.”
Though many countries and some US states have established mandatory or voluntary standards, the US EPA continues to monitor cyanobacteria only as an “unregulated contaminant.” The World Health Organization guideline for the cyanotoxin microcystin LR in drinking water is 1 microgram per liter.
Water treatment for algae and cyanotoxins.
• Activated carbon is effective and can resolve cyanobacteria-caused taste and odor issues.
• Reverse osmosis (RO), nanofiltration and ultrafiltration will remove/reduce single-cell cyanobacteria, and may also help reduce cyanotoxins.
• Disinfection methods (such as chlorination) may kill cyanobacteria but not eliminate the cyanotoxins they release.
One pool expert writes, “The only sure-fire method of destroying waterborne algae is by running the water through an ultraviolet light. UV lights sterilize the algae and prevent it from reproducing. It will clear up the water and keep it clear. When installed correctly, a UV will show outstanding results within a matter of a day or two.”
Water for Detroit
By Neda Simeonova
Editor’s Note: We’ve printed recently two accounts of the plight of citizens of Detroit who have had their water shut off by the financially strapped city. These articles raised humanitarian concerns for the poor and unemployed and questioned the government’s right to deprive anyone of water, one of life’s basic needs. The piece below by Neda Simeonova shows that there are two sides to every story. At least two.–Hardly Waite.
Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced earlier it would shut off water to thousands of overdue water and sewer accounts.
DWSD distributed 46,000 shut-off notices with approximately 4,500 total shut-offs in May, according to a USA Today report.
Months after the initial announcement, protest against this controversial issue continue, attracting national attention.
According to DWSD, however, there has is working closely with its customers who are delinquent in their payments to prevent avoidable water shut-offs. The department currently has more than 17,000 Detroit customers enrolled into a successful payment plan program that is designed to fit each customer’s financial situation and ability to pay.
Next month, the DWSD also plans to launch a new financial assistance program for the city’s indigent population.
And as far as the 4,500 customers who had their water shut off, within 24 hours, 60% of the affected customers paid their accounts in full and had their service immediately restored. Forty percent of the remaining customers had their service restored within 48 hours, according to DWSD.
When faced with a huge volume of delinquent accounts, utilities often are forced to take measures, which ultimately could cause significant controversy.
How Water Softeners Work
by Pure Water Annie
Gazette Technical Wizard Pure Water Annie Gives a Quick An Easy Explanation of How Water Softeners Work
Above is a diagram of our Fleck 5600 Softener. It shows how our softener—and everyone else’s softener—works.
A water softener is an ion exchanger. Hard water—water with a high calcium/magnesium content—enters the softener through the “In” port indicated by the green arrow. It passes through the control valve and into the treatment tank, where it goes from top to bottom through a specially prepared resin that “softens” it.
The resin consists of beads that have been specially manufactured to be saturated with sodium ions. “Softening” occurs as the hardness minerals in the water attach themselves to the resin and are “exchanged” for sodium.
The softened water then enters the long center tube, called a riser, via the strainer basket in the bottom of the tank and passes upward through the riser. The water exits the softener via the control valve (blue arrow) and is sent to the home.
When the resin becomes saturated by hardness minerals, the softener automatically goes into regeneration. (The regeneration process is initiated by a timer or a meter, depending on the type of softener you purchase.) By this process the hardness minerals are washed down the drain (via a drain tube not shown in the diagram), and the resin bed is rinsed, resettled, and recharged with sodium. It is now again ready to soften your water.
The regeneration process is accomplished by passing very salty water from the brine tank through the resin.
The brine tank must remain filled with softener salt at all times so that it can regenerate the softening resin again and again.
Brine. Name given the extremely salty water that is used to regenerate the softener’s resin.
Grain. A standard measure of hardness. A “grain” of hardness is the equivalent of 17.1 parts per million.
Hardness. The concentration of calcium and magnesium salts in the water.
Hard Water. Though not all authorities agree on a precise definition, water with over 7 grains of hardness is considered “hard” by almost everyone. Many would say that hardness begins at a lower number.
Ion Exchange. A chemical reaction in which ions are exchanged in solution. In the case of the water softener, which is a cation exchanger, calcium and magnesium are exchanged for sodium.
Regeneration. The process by which an ion exchanger (like a water softener) renews its ability to do its job. In the case of the softener, a strong brine solution is passed through the resin bed and sodium is exchanged for calcium and magnesium.
Resin. Specially manufactured polymer beads used in the ion exchange process to remove dissolved salts from water.
Please visit our RO Parts Page for tanks and accessories.
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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