The Pure Water Occasional for July 7, 2014
In this after Independence Day Occasional, you’ll hear about problems and more problems: Detroit’s endangered public water system, the dire water shortage in Wichita Falls, the demise of Oregon’s only salt water lake, and the water crisis in Zimbabwe. If that isn’t enough bad news, read about the perils of abandoned wells, a deadly pig virus, melting starfish, the dwindling water supply for Las Vegas, polluted beaches, intersex fish, more gas drilling contamination, and Iran’s severe water problems. But there is good news about the development of a small but mighty wastewater treatment system and the discovery that burning more natural gas will solve the water shortage. Finally, you’ll read about the great versatility of countertop reverse osmosis units, and as always, there is much, much more.
To read this issue on the Pure Water Gazette’s website, please go here.
Abandoned Water Wells Can Present Risks
Household water well owners should act to address any improperly abandoned wells on their property as they can present threats to both people and animals, according to the National Ground Water Association. “Abandoned wells can be a physical danger to people and animals who may fall into them, but an even greater threat may be the pathway that an abandoned well provides for surface contamination into an aquifer used for drinking water,” said Cliff Treyens, NGWA’s Public Awareness Director.
It’s estimated that there are millions of abandoned wells and drilled holes in the United States. Other types of wells and drilled holes may also affect aquifers, such as ones used for:
* Mineral exploration
* Seismic data collection
* Construction water
* Groundwater monitoring
To find abandoned wells or other drilled holes may take some detective work on the part of the property owner. “The passage of years can obscure what was once obviously a well. If a person knows what to look for, however, there are some signs that can give away the location of an abandoned well,” Treyens said, including:
* Pipes sticking out of the ground
* Small buildings that may have been a well house
* Depressions in the ground
* The presence of concrete vaults or pits
* Out-of-use windmills
Other clues to abandoned wells or boreholes can come from old maps, property plans, or other documents; neighbors who have been in the area for a long time and additions to homes or property that may have covered up an abandoned well. If an abandoned well or borehole is found, the property owner should contact a qualified water well system professional. If the contractor determines the well or hole needs to be plugged, the process may begin by removing all materials such as pump parts, pitless adaptors, pipe, wire, well screens, gravel, and other particulates at the bottom of the well. Once the borehole is properly prepared – including possible disinfection of the well – the contractor can use specialized grout to fill the well from the bottom up to prevent surface water contamination from infiltrating the well.
The cost of well plugging or ‘decommissioning’ a well or borehole can vary. In Iowa, for instance, plugging drilled household wells ranges from $600 for shallow, easily accessible wells to more than $3,000 for wells greater than 500 feet in depth. The width of the well may also affect the price. The property owner is generally liable for paying decommissioning costs. Some states have programs that will help pay the cost of water well plugging. To check on your state, visit the website, then click on Water Well Basics/Well Construction Agencies.
Source: WCP Online.
Deadly Pig Virus Threatens Water Supplies
The New York Times reports that a deadly virus, porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PEDv, is estimated to have killed, on average, more than 100,000 piglets and young hogs each week since it first showed up in Iowa in May 2013, wreaking havoc on the pork industry and causing concerns for drinking water safety.
The fatality numbers are so staggering that environmentalists have grown worried about the effects of state laws requiring the burial of so many carcasses, and what that will do to the groundwater.
“We know there is a lot of mortality from this disease, and we’re seeing evidence of burial in areas with shallow groundwater that a lot of people rely on for drinking water and recreation,” said Kelly Foster, senior lawyer at the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental group.
Waterkeeper wants to put a mass disposal plan into effect, and wants it to declare a state of emergency. On its website and YouTube, the organization has posted photos of dead piglets barely covered with earth and boxes overflowing with the bodies of young pigs, although it is unclear whether all were victims of the virus.
Arial Photo of Scarcely Buried Pigs
One in 10 US beaches are dangerously polluted, report claims
Summer is the perfect time to relax on the beach — but it might be worth thinking twice before heading to some of the beaches included in the latest annual beach water report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Data included in the report shows that 10 percent of water samples collected at U.S. beaches failed federal safety standards, suggesting that swimming there might pose risks to public health.
Some of the beaches included in the list of contaminated waters are in the most popular tourist destinations, such as the Great Lakes region, making the news even more alarming.
The report revealed that the cleanest beaches were in Delaware, New Jersey and New Hampshire, which tied in top position, each recording a 3 percent failure rate. At the other end of the scale was Ohio, where 35 percent of samples fell short of safety benchmarks. Other states with relatively high failure rates were Alaska and Mississippi, at 24 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 3.5 million people each year fall ill with diseases caused by contact with polluted water. Most of these cases are caused by spilled raw sewage in beach areas, CNN reported. NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine explained that sanitary overflows and contaminated runoff can reach beaches even if they are located away from urban areas.
Source: WasteWater Processing.
Water News for the Week of July 7
Intersex fish found in Pennsylvania rivers spur search for chemicals. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has begun an extensive sampling of chemical contaminants in response to the discovery of intersex fish in three of the state’s rivers. Male fish carrying eggs were found in the Susquehanna, Delaware and Ohio river basins, a sign that the water may be tainted with chemicals. The most common hormone found in water and soil samples was estrone, a potent endocrine-disrupting chemical often found in sewage from wastewater plants and the manure of animals such as cows, chickens and pigs.
Starfish are ‘just melting’: Disease killing 80 percent of them. A mysterious wasting syndrome is wiping out sea stars along the entire West Coast, with a new flareup in Washington hitting hard this month and walloping Oregon waters previously unaffected.
GE agrees to pay $7.9M. General Electric Co. will pay $7.95 million to settle part of a federal lawsuit filed in 2009 by several Saratoga County municipal agencies that shut down or moved their water supplies when the company began dredging PCBs from the Hudson River that year.
Families’ well water disrupted in Pennsylvania. Route 711, designated a “Pennsylvania Scenic Byway,” wends through the countryside south of Ligonier. The bends in the two-lane road mirror the twists that three families living along it have traveled in trying to replace water supplies contaminated by wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
Miami’s plastic vice: Bagging the ban on bag bans. The harsh environmental impact of plastic bags has spurred a movement to eliminate them. The elected officials of Miami Beach say they would like to have a plastic bag ban of their own. But they can’t, because it’s illegal in Florida to ban plastic bags.
A dig at Zimbabwe’s untrusted waters. Conflicting findings about Zimbabwe’s water quality dilemma continue to hog the media in this Southern African nation, with independent findings evidently showing that water in most bodies is contaminated, contrary to government-initiated research giving the water a clean bill of health.
Iran’s water crisis the product of decades of bad planning. Iran is headed for a water shortage of epic proportions, and little is being done to reverse a decades-long trend that has reduced the country’s water supply to crisis levels.
Water supply key to outcome of conflicts in Iraq and Syria, experts warn. The outcome of the Iraq and Syrian conflicts may rest on who controls the region’s dwindling water supplies, say security analysts. Rivers, canals, dams, sewage and desalination plants are now all military targets in the semi-arid region that regularly experiences extreme water shortages.
Oregon’s only saltwater lake is disappearing, and scientists don’t know why. An environmental mystery is unfolding in south central Oregon. Lake Abert is drying up, killing everything that lives in it. Scientists are alarmed.
The saltwater lake has dropped to a low not seen since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, killing the brine shrimp, forcing migratory birds to find another stop and exposing the lakebed’s alkali dust, a pollution source, to the dry gusts that sweep through the Great Basin.
As the lake declines, the scientists fear that Lake Abert will completely dry up without anyone helping.
Lakes across southern Oregon are shrinking as drought grips the region. But the scientists say drought doesn’t explain what’s happening to Lake Abert, the Pacific Northwest’s largest saltwater lake. The snowpack that feeds it has only been slightly below average over the last decade.
It’s an environmental mystery: A 64-square-mile lake is dying, and no one knows exactly why.
Witchita Falls 20 Carwash Establishments May Soon Be Denied Use of City Water
Some of the prayers for rain were answered this week, but not much of it fell in the watershed.
And Wichita Falls car wash businesses are keeping a close eye on the lake levels because when they fall 20 percent, they will be cut off from the city water.
The 20 car washes in the city may soon be looking for another water supply if they want to stay open because the possibility of shutting down completely is shifting concern around town into high gear.
When Stage 5 water restriction started in Wichita falls on May 17th car washes were hit with a major restriction. They had to close down two days each week instead of one.
But they may soon be hit with a more devastating mandate when the combined levels of Lakes Arrowhead and Kickapoo reach 20-percent.
“Car washes will no longer be allowed to take water from the city system. .. from the city’s potable water system,” says Russell Schreiber, Wichita Falls public works director.
All American Super Car Wash managers say they have been searching for options to keep the company’s 75 employees collecting a paycheck when that mark is reached.
“We’ve looked at many different options, as far as hauling water, using well water, those types of things. And, we’ll continue to research those to find out what’s best for our customers, our employees and the long-term viability of our business,” says Jim Caddott , general manager at All American Super Car Wash.
Washing a car may take a backseat with many drivers now that Stage 5 restriction are in effect but for some businesses, like car dealerships, washing a car is a little more important.
“People expect their cars to be clean when they buy it but also when they’re out shopping. They want to see the bright, shiny cars. So, we do everything and it helps sales to have clean cars on the lot,” explains Ted Turner, with Patterson Honda.
But some car owners, like Helena Wise, say water conservation should come before clean cars
“We need to conserve all the water that we have so I completely understand not being able to wash your car at all,” Wise says.
Again, Wichita Falls car washes can no longer use city water once combined lake levels reach 20-percent.
And those levels are currently at 22.7 percent.
The race to stop Las Vegas from running dry. Outside Las Vegas’s Bellagio hotel tourists gasp in amazement as fountains shoot 500 ft into the air, performing a spectacular dance in time to the music of Frank Sinatra. But the end is in sight.
Waste Water: Before and after treatment by the new wastewater membrane system.
Revolutionary waste water treatment developed in Edmonton. A company is looking to change the way waste water is treated in remote locations of Alberta where temporary work camps are set up. Over the last couple of months, Orelis has been testing its membrane technology.
“So, our particular membranes are specific for smaller applications. We can’t do the big city of Edmonton with our membranes. We’ve really designed it for what the industry is in Alberta: a lot of smaller communities. Smaller, remote industrial camps,” says Peter Christou, the managing director of Orelis.
The company has developed a waste water plant that takes up a small footprint and can be shipped to various locations. Once connected, the waste water is fed into the system. But first, the solids have to be separated.
What does this mean?
by Hardly Waite
Jesus was able to turn water into wine. That’s nothing. Oil companies are now turning natural gas into water. According to a website called North Texans for Natural Gas , “. . . an estimated 4 to 5 million gallons of water is used to frack one Barnett Shale natural gas well. Since natural gas production and combustion produces water, it can take just 250 days to replace the water used during fracking. Since a Barnett Shale natural gas well will produce 20 to 30 years or more, it will actually replace more water than it used to frack the well.”
If this is true (as it must be, since we found it on the internet), all we need do to remedy drought and water shortage is produce and burn a lot more natural gas. How did we not see how simple it is?
Recent dust storm at Boise City, Oklahoma, where drought is so severe and prolonged that the BBC likens the situation to the 1930s dust bowl. This could have been avoided had Oklahomans burned more natural gas.
Detroit’s Fight for Public Water Is Also the Nation’s
Cutting off water to those who can’t afford it has roots in a long-standing, inequitable pricing scheme
by Anna Lappé
Detroit made international news this month when its municipal water board resumed cutting off water to residents with unpaid bills. With thousands of community members struggling in homes with no running water, local groups reached out (PDF) to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation to intervene. On Wednesday, U.N. officials responded, calling the water department’s actions a “violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s decision to cut off residents with unpaid bills has put the city in the crosshairs of a national press seemingly fascinated by yet another story of its dance on the economic brink. Community groups, zeroing in on residents’ inability to bathe, cook or use the toilet, saw the shutoffs as an indication that the department is desperate to bring down its $5.7 billion water and sewer debt. Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder last year to see the city through bankruptcy, is considering the privatization of the city’s water. According to a water department spokesman, “DWSD has no say in the matter.”
Any such consideration of full (or even partial) privatization of a vital public good such as water — especially under the guise that such a move would help straighten out the city’s finances — would be tremendously shortsighted.
Downsides of private water
Privatization of water has a terrible track record in the U.S. and around the world. According to a white paper out this month from Corporate Accountability International (CAI), water privatization overwhelmingly leads to higher prices for cities and people and, in many cases, decreased efficiencies.
In the United Kingdom, two decades of privatization increased the average cost of water by 50 percent. In France, the price of water shot up 16 percent under private management, the result in part of the private water companies’ legal mandate to return profit to their shareholders. In contrast, a public water system puts any revenue from ratepayers back into the system, which is how Paris saved $46 million in the first year after taking back the water department from a private company — and lowered rates for residents.
In New Jersey, where United Water, the U.S. affiliate of the global water company Suez, has a number of contracts, the firm has lobbied against bills requiring notification of rate increases or keeping local governments better apprised of water supplies, according to the CAI report. (Full disclosure: I am a strategic adviser to CAI.)
In Stockton, California, four years of private water — as well as neglected infrastructure and contract noncompliance — ended with the city reclaiming public control. In fact, CAI reports that since 2002, more than 20 municipalities in the U.S. have taken back control from private companies such as United Water.
Private water companies pitch their services as a way to balance budgets, but Detroit’s public water system is struggling in large part due to policy decisions, not because of some inherent inefficiency of the public sector.
An unjust water policy
A big reason many of Detroit’s poorer residents are struggling with their water bills is inequitable water-pricing. The United States uses a uniform unit pricing scheme for water delivery; it’s a form of cost allocation that allows rate differences between categories (say, residential or commercial users), but not between different types of users — who might have vastly different incomes — within those categories. Because water rates are felt disproportionately by low-income consumers, they burden public districts that have less wealthy residents. In a 2013 report on local government spending on public water (PDF), three mayors — Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter; Scott Smith of Mesa, Arizona; and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California — called the pricing scheme “regressive” (PDF), adding:
Current public water cost allocation schemes that rely on uniform user class pricing place a tremendous financial burden on the lower median income households in a community. The financial burden is both substantial, and sometimes, widespread in a community.
It’s a conclusion that might sound abstract but is very real to the 12,500 Detroit households that had their water cut off so far this year.
This water pricing structure was put in place with the birth of the Clean Water Act, but back in the 1970s when it passed there was significantly more federal support for local water districts. Since then, according to the watchdog group Food & Water Watch, federal spending “on improvements to our water and sewer systems has declined by more than 80 percent.” Even as the 2008–10 recession pushed more and more families into debt and increased unemployment, local water systems were forced to carry a greater burden for water services. In 2010, local government spent $111.4 billion on water needs — an all-time high.
With all eyes on Detroit, it’s important to realize what we’re seeing: A city water department cutting off residents appears — and is — extreme, but it’s a taste of what private water companies do. “The rate hikes and service cutoffs we’re seeing in Detroit,” CAI’s Erin Diaz told me, “while uncharacteristic of public water systems, are actually a very real glimpse into what the city’s system could be like if privatized — we’ve seen it all over the world.”
We need a renewed investment in public water. The mayors’ report on local water and wastewater spending warned that without more robust federal and state support for water systems, communities around the country will increasingly feel the pinch. But the solution is not privatization; we need what the mayors called “a fresh look at local affordability and national water policy” — a more equitable water policy that does not leave districts or needy citizens in the lurch. For thousands of community members in Detroit, this fresh look isn’t happening quickly enough.
Source: Al Jazeera America.
Countertop Reverse Osmosis Units
The simple countertop reverse osmosis unit is a much under-valued item. Dollar for dollar (or penny for penny, because countertop RO units don’t cost a lot), countertop RO is the most efficient and economical way to produce top quality water.
By way of definition, what sets countertop RO apart from an undersink RO unit, more than the fact that it often sits on the countertop, is the absence of a pressurized storage tank and the incidental small parts that the pressure tank requires. Countertop units produce water, slowly, to be collected in a pressure-free container.
Two styles of countertops are commonly sold. One is a complete-in-itself system that has its own non-pressurized storage bottle built into the unit. This style can itself range from relatively simple to very complicated. Some units require electricity and have built-in pumps and electronic shutoff devices; others run on water pressure only and use a simple float valve as a shutoff. Both simple and complicated usually have the working parts enclosed in a plastic case which can cause space-related design problems and make servicing the unit a challenge.
A Simpler Style
The second style of countertop reverse osmosis is a simpler design that does not provide a storage system of any type. These units simply produce water through an outlet hose to be collected in a container of the user’s choosing. These are bare-bones systems that have no extraneous parts. The entire apparatus is devoted to producing water, and appearance is usually not a big consideration.
The unit pictured at the top of this article is one of Pure Water Products’ standard countertop RO configurations. It’s a simple, three-stage RO unit that uses standard inline carbon filters and a conventional standard-sized membrane. All parts are readily available and easily replaceable. It produces water at the rate of about 2 gallons per hour.
Below is our most popular countertop RO unit. You’ll note that it doesn’t look like a countertop RO unit.
Pure Water Products Style A Countertop Reverse Osmosis Unit
This classy countertop is a simplified version of our “Black and White” undersink unit. It is pictured here without the diverter inlet and drain and product tubes. It uses the same basic setup as our undersink unit, except the membrane, which is a Filmtec 50 GPD for faster production. This countertop RO has the same lifetime guarantee as our Model 77 countertop filter. It isn’t designed to look pretty on the countertop, but its performance is unchallenged.
Applications for Countertop RO Units
The most common use is as a bottled water maker. The unit is installed to the sink faucet and allowed to produce water into a bottle. When the bottle is filled, you turn the unit off. You can leave it in place or remove it. It can also be installed in a laundry room or patio–anywhere there’s a water source and a drain.
As an aquarium filler. Water is collected in a large container for subsequent addition to the aquarium. An auto shutoff system can be supplied on request that turns the unit off when the container is full.
As an outdoor pond filler. The unit can be allowed to fill the pond when it is turned on manually or it can be installed to top off the pond and shut off automatically when the pond is full. We can supply the unit with a garden hose connection that will allow the user to produce RO water from a garden hose.
To provide final rinse water for a spot-free car wash. The water must be captured in a small tank, then pumped to provide pressure for the car wash. A deionizing cartridge can be added to provide zero-TDS water if desired.
To provide high quality water for plants, either in small outdoor gardens or greenhouses. This application also requires capturing then pumping the water to the point of use, although small drip systems could be designed that take water directly from the RO unit.
Pure Water Products Countertops
We’ve been making countertop units for several years and have come to love their simplicity. Innovations, consequently, have come in the form of making them simpler rather than more complex. If you’re willing to discount aesthetics and to sacrifice a bit of convenience, a countertop RO unit is definitely the way to go.
Both of our basic countertop units follow the same three-stage design.
Style A, pictured above, uses standard-sized 9.75″ X 2.5″ filter cartridges, so there’s an almost unlimited variety of filter substitution possibilities as well as design change possibilities. (We’ll build the unit as a four or five stage if you ask, but the standard three stage unit in the picture is our favorite format.)
Standard components are
Prefilter: MatriKX CTO Carbon Block (black housing in the picture).
Membrane: Filmtec 50 Gallon-Per-Day TFC. Produces water at the rate of about 2 gallons per hour, under normal conditions. Production varies according the temperature, quality, and pressure of the inlet water.
Postfilter: MatriKX CTO Plus (formerly called KX-1) Carbon Block (white housing in the picture).
As with our Black and White undersink units, the customer can make cartridge substitutions without adding to the price. Popular alternate cartridges include Doulton ceramic cartridges (bacteria), calcite/carbon post filter (to raise pH and “remineralize”), MatriKX VOC coconut shell carbon block postfilter, deinonizing postfilter cartridge (for absolute zero-TDS), and KDF/GAC prefilter for extra-long dechlorination capacity.
Style A is bracket mounted so that it can be hung on a wall, but it also has flat-bottomed housings, so it can stand alone.
The Style B countertop unit, top picture on the page, is more limited in scope. It uses the same membrane (Filmtec 50 GPD thinfilm), but its cartridges are 10″inline disposables. The current setup is a Pentek carbon block inline as prefilter. The postfilter is an Omnipure coconut shell carbon granular carbon disposable. Both have plenty of capacity for a year’s normal residential service between replacements. There are fewer cartridge options for the Style B unit, but any of the 10″ inline cartridges on our main website cartridge menu will fit the unit.
Both units are quite easy to service, since all the working parts are easily accessible.
Compared with Undersink RO Units
Countertop RO units, compared with undersink RO systems, have the main disadvantage of inconvenience. The user must provide a collection container and monitor the shutoff, where the undersink unit has its own pressurized storage container which delivers water to a faucet or remote appliance under pressure and turns itself off when its container is full. Countertops, however, have some distinct advantages:
Countertops have the great advantage of not having to produce against the back pressure from the storage tank. This increases their efficiency in TDS reduction and gives them a definite advantage over undersink units in product-to-waste ratio. Stated otherwise, all things being equal, the same membrane in a countertop unit should process a gallon of water while running less water to drain than it would in an undersink unit, and the dissolved solids rejection performance should be a bit better in the countertop. (A permeate pump installed on an undersink unit is an effort to duplicate the back-pressure-free situation enjoyed by a countertop unit. Countertops do not need a permeate pump.)
Other obvious countertop advantages include ease of installation and portability. And don’t forget cost. Because countertops have fewer parts than undersink units, they naturally cost less.
You can see our two countertop RO units on our main website.
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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