The Pure Water Occasional for October 13, 2014
In this tarnished holiday Occasional, you’ll hear about drought and more drought, Pokegama Lake, the Cantareira, Christopher Columbus, cholera, and the famous Broad Street Pump. Learn about the Coca Cola war in India, the great Irish water bill protest, pollution by the steel industry, and lead contamination from police bullets. Learn how to save the earth by peeing in the shower and learn why fracking really isn’t so bad after all. You’ll hear about the Peruvian city that’s being swallowed by a hole and the danger of arsenic in New Hampshire wells. There are contributions by Pure Water Annie, Bea Sharper, and Tiger Tom, 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.)
Texans Getting Creative With Water Conservation
by Chyristine Ayala and Neena Satija
WICHITA FALLS, Tex. — As this North Texas city struggles through one of the most severe droughts ever, saving water is no longer just about avoiding fines or staying in the good graces of one’s neighbors.
Since the city raised water rates by 53 percent in October, it is also about saving money.
“We have big buckets in our showers that catch the cold water as it warms up, and we carry those out and pour them on trees or bushes or whatever,” said Katie Downs, who lives with her husband and 8-year-old daughter near the edge of town.
Wichita Falls’s hefty rate increase is unusual, and it is in part because extraordinary conservation efforts by residents have meant that the utility was selling less water and needed to make up for lost revenue. Water and sewer bills are going up substantially across Texas and in many other places around the country as utilities struggle to maintain aging infrastructure, deal with drought or come to grips with the rising costs of a scarce resource while searching for new supplies.
This Wichita Falls Nursery Specializes in Plants that Don’t Need Much Water
“People have been hit on both sides,” said Jeff Hughes, director of the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The rates have been increasing higher than inflation, but also, salaries and wages have gone down in many regions.”
Those increases are causing people to get creative. Ms. Downs said her family saved the last 2 ounces in bottles of drinking water for houseplants or their dog. Other residents in the city of 100,000 spoke of taking “Navy” showers — quick showers taken on ships with limited water supplies — or replacing water-intensive lawns with drought-resistant plants.
The popularity of such plants has been a boon for Paul Dowlearn, who owns a nursery and sells plants that can withstand drought, like red yucca and Texas sage. “I’m selling plants that can live on the rainfall, and I’m not talking cactus and gravel,” Mr. Dowlearn said, standing in the nursery’s small indoor area, where two large rainwater collection bins are surrounded by brightly colored plants.
One reason for rising water rates is simply the need to catch up, Mr. Hughes said. Most water utilities, which are government-owned, have been loath to raise rates enough to keep pace with the cost of maintaining old and expensive infrastructure — until breakdowns and staggering debt force increases.
“We have about $5 billion worth of infrastructure, and you’ve got a lot of things you need to do,” said Terry Lowery, assistant director of business operations for Dallas Water Utilities, which plans to raise rates 3 to 6 percent each year for the next five years. “Moving water is expensive.”
In the Dallas area, invasive zebra mussels that clog water intake pipes have caused spikes in water rates. And the fast-growing region’s search for new supplies, which could include a hotly contested multibillion-dollar reservoirin Northeast Texas, is likely to send rates even higher.
In San Antonio, the city’s water system is considering a pipeline project that would cost $3.4 billion, bringing in groundwater from 140 miles away. That would add 16 percent to current water rates, the utility estimates. On top of that, more rate increases are needed to pay for repairs to an aging sewer system that has had multiple failures in the past several years, contributing to a forecast from the utility that combined water and wastewater rates in San Antonio will increase 41 percent over the next five years. (The San Antonio Water System is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune.)
Representing a San Antonio coalition of congregations, schools and unions, Diane Duesterhoeft told the City Council at a hearing last week that low-income and middle-class families would be hit hardest. “It doesn’t take a lot of courage to spend someone else’s money,” Ms. Duesterhoeft said. “It does take courage to face the public and gain their informed consent on such a critical decision.”
The San Antonio Water System said it had long offered discounts of close to 25 percent to people whose incomes fall near or below the poverty level. About 20,000 customers a month took advantage of that last year, the utility said. Another program offers one-time payment assistance financed by private donations for those struggling with their bills.
The programs are not common, and most government assistance for households is focused on electricity bills, which are generally significantly higher than water bills. Thousands of households in both Dallas and San Antonio — about 1 to 1.5 percent of ratepayers — have water service cut off for not paying, both cities’ utilities said. They send out multiple notices over a few months before cutting off someone’s water.
“We’ll still maintain our position as one of the lowest rates in the state,” said Greg Flores, a spokesman for the San Antonio Water System. He added that the utility was considering establishing a lower water rate for those using less than 3,000 or 4,000 gallons a month — more than someone living alone in an apartment would use, and perhaps barely enough for a family of four that did not have a lawn.
In Dallas, water rates have risen much more slowly for households that use low amounts of water, and the bigger increases have been reserved for those who use a lot of water, Ms. Lowery said.
Wichita Falls does not have any city-funded programs for water bills. But Jim Dockery, the city’s chief financial officer, said some nonprofits helped those in need, and the city was considering printing messages directly on billing statements that encouraged customers to donate to the cause or ask for help.
Mr. Dockery said he expected things to get better once the drought ends, but rates would still have to be high. That is because the habit of conservation is likely to continue, which means the utility will keep selling less water.
“A lot of customers have installed water conservation measures that they will likely continue using after the drought is over,” he said. “The price is going to continue to be high.”
But Mr. Dowlearn, the nursery owner, is not worried. He had rainwater collection systems at work and in his home long before the drought started.
“My wife and I have not paid a water bill in over 25 years,” he said.
Source: Texas Tribune.
Research: Fracking Uses No More Water Than Traditional Oil Production
Research done at the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas has cleared fracking of one of the most serious allegations leveled against it by environmentalists who oppose the practice—that is uses a disproportionate amount of water and risks depleting water sources for agricultural and residential users, especially in already water challenges south Texas.
“The water used to produce oil using hydraulic fracturing is similar to the water used in the U.S. to produce oil using conventional techniques,” she said.
She says even though fracking works by blasting, or ‘fracturing,’ hard rock shale formations with a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals, the total amount of water used during the life of the well is not appreciably different than the amount of water used for traditional types of oil wells.
She says the only difference is the point in the drilling process where the water is used.
“We use the water for hydraulic fracturing up front, right after we drill the well,” she said. “In conventional production, we use the water later in the production, with water flooding and enhanced oil recovery,” she said.
The alleged overuse of water is one of several techniques environmental groups have used to try to shut down or limit the fracking wells which are close to making the USA energy independent.
Scanlon says her research did not study whether water used for fracking is in fact depleting the water table under the Eagle Ford, but other studies have indicated that the total water use for fracking is about the same as the water used to keep a golf course irrigated.
“The reason we’re using more water is because we are producing more oil,” she said. “Not because hydraulic fracturing is any more water intensive.”
Source: WOAI Radio News.
Study: Some cancer cases could be avoided through water treatment
by Jo-Anne MacKenzie
CONCORD — Hundreds of cases of cancer could be avoided if more New Hampshire residents tested — and treated — their private wells, according to a new study.
The study, funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at the long-term health effects of drinking water with elevated levels of arsenic. It estimates between 450 and 600 cases of lung, bladder or skin cancer here could be avoided if well water was tested and treated.
Some 46 percent of N.H. households get their drinking water from a private well, according to Paul Susca, a supervisor in the Department of Environmental Services drinking water division. Ninety percent of those wells are bedrock wells, which is where the arsenic is found.
Maine and New Hampshire rank highest nationally in the percentage of residents who use private wells, he said.
About one in five — some 20 percent — of private wells in New Hampshire have elevated levels of arsenic, according to NHDES Commissioner Thomas Burack.
Arsenic is considered a Class 1 carcinogen. It’s long been known that there’s a high incident of arsenic in many private wells, particularly in Rockingham, Merrimack, Strafford and Hillsborough counties. As many as 41,000 people in those four counties alone may be drinking water with arsenic levels higher than the EPA standard, the study says.
But there’s a problem just as significant as the arsenic levels — getting residents to have their well water tested and then doing something about it if arsenic or other contaminants are found. Although radon is even more commonly occuring, this study only looked for arsenic.
Dartmouth College did the report for NHDES and the state Department of Health and Human Services. The reporters held focus group meetings with residents of four towns, including Londonderry, each with a high number of private wells, all in areas with relatively high arsenic levels and all with a high percentage of children.
The experts found many residents associated contaminants in water with taste, smell or appearance, none of which hold true for arsenic, radon and many other contaminants.
There appeared to be a significant lack of knowledge among residents about water testing standards, according to the report. Those who did have their water tested often stopped there, the study showed, either because the results were tough to interpret or because they thought the cost of treatment would be prohibitive.
But, Susca said, cost ought not to be a factor.
“In most cases, people can use a point-of-use, under-the-sink kind of system to treat arsenic at levels that commonly occur,” he said. “It’s not a hazard for skin exposure, it’s the consumption, including cooking, so you only need to treat water you’re consuming.”
He said a typical under-the-sink system costs “hundred of dollars.”
Officials don’t have a firm grasp on the percentage of residents who use well water who have their water tested, Susca said, although a survey to get that number is underway.
Those conducting the study surveyed — or tried to — thousands of households with private wells. But the response rate was just about 3 percent.
Of those who did respond, 82 percent always or frequently drink tap water, according to the report.
The risk of consuming untreated well water with high levels or arsenic is significant. The study estimates of 688 cases of cancer among residents with arsenic-contaminated well water, 451 cases could be avoided if the water were treated for elevated arsenic levels.
Chronic arsenic exposure potentially leads to bladder and lung cancer. The state’s rate of bladder cancer is the highest in the country at 29.7 cases per 100,000, according to the National Cancer Institute.
That statistic can’t be entirely attributed to arsenic in well water, the study reports, but it’s noteworthy that Maine ranks second for bladder cancer incidence and also has high levels of arsenic in its groundwater.
The study authors recommend improved communication about the importance of well water testing, testing events and campaigns in targeted towns as a next step.
“We want to emphasize that people should test their wells and do something about it if (arsenic) is at an elevated level,” Susca said.
The NHDES is working to develop an online tool that would allow residents to plug in their test results and get recommendations for treatment. That’s expected to roll out in the first half of 2015.
In the meantime, he said, people should have their water tested and if it needs treatment, consult several water treatment vendors.
There’s a lot of information available at http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/dwgb/.
Water News for the week ending October 13, 2014.
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U.S. Steel: New spills add to legacy of steelmaking pollution. U.S. Steel’s plan to off-load its Hamilton, Ontario, property is complicated by a legacy of historic pollution — but spills continue right up to the present day.
Pit city: A giant hole is swallowing a town in Peru. Cerro de Pasco is an environmental and urban catastrophe. A polymetal mine, which opened in 1956, is in the middle of the city—not beside it but in it. As it grows, thousands of families have had to move into unplanned urban developments, most of which lack basic sanitation.
Farmers fight Coca-Cola as India’s groundwater dries up. Savitri Rai winces as she recounts how police beat her when she protested against groundwater extraction at a Coca-Cola Co. plant near her farm in India. A decade later, she said her water supplies keep dwindling.
As California’s drought worsened from 2012 to 2013, one Riverside City Council member consumed enough water to supply eight California households.
Mike Soubirous is a prodigious water user, pumping more than 1 million gallons per year at his lushly landscaped home on a hot, windy Southern California hilltop.
Soubirous also is a member of the Riverside City Council, which in July voted unanimously to impose tough new water conservation rules in this desert city of 317,000.
Yet as California’s drought worsened from 2012 to 2013, he consumed enough water to supply eight California households – more than any other top water official in the state, records show.
In July, the Riverside City Council voted unanimously to impose tough new water conservation rules in the desert city.
Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines said a horrendous malfunction in his sprinkler system made him a million-gallon user in 2013, the first year that water meters kept track in his west Fresno neighborhood.
Baines’ first metered bill showed he used 4,000 gallons per day that month – about 11 times the state average. The city, which says it has the lowest water rates in California, charged him $182.43 for that water.
One year and 1.24 million gallons later, Baines finally solved what he called a “freak situation” involving his sprinklers: In the middle of the night, water would stream from defective sprinkler heads, flooding the yard. The ground became so saturated that a sinkhole opened up behind his house, he said.
An environmental assessment of a Tennessee firing range on Moccasin Bend indicates that the nearly 40 years of spent bullets at the site may be causing lead-laden surface water to flow into the Tennessee River.
The assessment, paid for by the National Park Service to estimate the cost of cleaning up the site, shows that about 6,147 tons of surface soil across five areas on the range contain more than 400 mg/kg — the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable lead limit for the site.
No subsurface soil or water is jeopardized by lead, but the report shows lead-contaminated surface water is likely finding its way to the river, either through stormwater drainage ditches or natural routes.
Lead contamination can impair learning and behavioral development in children, and cause nerve and organ damage in adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You want to save the environment, right? Prevent global warming, save the world’s 13 Icelandic snow owls, that kind of thing.
Then you must pee in the shower. That’s the earnest message from a couple of students at England’s University of East Anglia, reports BBC News.
The two students, Debs Torr and Chris Dobson, theorize that their idea could “save enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool 26 times.”
The Jacareí reservoir, part of the Cantareira supply system, has begun pumping inactive storage water to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, which is stricken by drought.
Agricultural losses are no longer the most visible effect of the drought plaguing Brazil’s most developed region. Now the energy crisis and the threat of water shortages in the city of São Paulo are painful reminders of just how dependent Brazilians are on regular rainfall.
Nine million of the 21 million inhabitants of Greater São Paulo are waiting for the completion of the upgrading of the Cantareira system, made up of six reservoirs linked by 48 km of tunnels and canals, which can no longer supply enough water.
For the past four months, the water that has reached the taps of nine million residents of Brazil’s biggest city has come from the “dead” or inactive storage water in the Cantareira system – the water that cannot be drained from a reservoir by gravity and can only be pumped out. These supplies will last until Mar. 15, 2015, according to the state government. Read the rest in Tierraamerica.
Small study may have big answers on health risks of fracking’s open waste ponds. A first of a kind study from West Virginia will help Americans inside the fracking boom understand the dangers of exposure to VOCs.
It may seem remarkable that a community in California, one of the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries, does not have safe drinking water. But for the residents of San Lucas, water problems are nothing new.
San Lucas is the kind of sleepy community where dogs, chickens, goats and even the occasional horse have been known to follow students to school. Mothers and younger siblings regularly join school-age children in the cafeteria for lunch, and wandering dogs seem more common on the streets than moving vehicles.
In some ways, San Lucas was fortunate because specific parties found responsible for the contamination. The well that supplies the community is on property owned by the Naraghi family and farmed by the Mission Ranches Co. In 2006, Mission Ranches began converting irrigated vineyards to row crops, “a process that caused or allowed nitrate containing wastes to be discharged to groundwater,” according to a 2013 cleanup and abatement order issued by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
As the responsible parties, the Naraghi family and Mission Ranches are required to provide safe drinking water to residents until a permanent solution is found. In other communities, residents sometimes have to buy their own bottled water or rely on limited supplies from other sources. In San Lucas, where residents pay monthly water bills of about $50, each home receives 25 gallons a week. Read the full story in Al Jazzera.
The Great Irish Protest Against Water Bill
It was the biggest anti-austerity protest ever.
Tens of thousands of Irish marched on Saturday in Dublin to protest against the government’s plans to charge for water services from next year.
The organizers of the protest, the Right2Water and the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) movements, asserted that nearly 100,000 people from all over Ireland attended the demonstration. In the beginning local police said about 30,000 people rallied, but then announced that they would not make an estimate.
If the organizers numbers are corrected, scaled to population size, this would be the equivalent of 1.2 million marching in London or about 6 million in the United States.
Water services have been free for several years in Ireland; however, recently, the center right coalition government decided to charge households hundreds of euros from the start of the next year, as part of the measures intended to boost the economy.
The charges reach between US$109 to US$784 per year depending on the number of adults and children living in one same house, according to Irish Water, the agency that provides the services. Full story and march video.
Princeton Tigers Outscore Loyola in Men’s Water Polo
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The 10th-ranked Princeton men’s water polo team opened play at the 2014 SoCAL Tournament hosted by UCLA with a 12-7 loss to No. 7 University of the Pacific. Rebounding in the afternoon session, the Tigers held off No. 16 Loyola Marymount University, 9-7.
Improving to 12-3 on the season, the Orange and Black return to action tomorrow at 2:45 p.m. (EST) against No. 11 University of California-Davis. Should Princeton prevail, the Tigers final tournament match would take place at 7:45 p.m. (EST). In the event of a loss, Princeton would return to the pool at 6:30 p.m. (EST). See the Season Archive.
In other water polo results, the home team won some of the games and the visitors won some.
In other water sports news, a group of six swimmers have claimed a world record of 380 kilometres (236 miles) for open-water relay distance swimming after crossing the eastern Mediterranean from Cyprus to Israel. The Israeli team left Paphos at the western end of Cyprus on Oct. 5 and set the new mark on Friday when they reached the coast south of Tel Aviv but they remained on their support yacht and came ashore together on Saturday. Details.
The Greater Pokegama Lake Association filed a complaint with EPA concerning water allowed to back up into the lake from the Mississippi River.
Gazette Numerical Wizard Bea Sharper brings you up to date on the current water news in numbers.
Estimated number of pieces of plastic found afloat in every square kilometer of ocean — 13,000.
Depth at which a discarded sewing machine was found in the Mediterranean Sea — 4,000 feet.
Percentage of drought-driven water rate increase this year in Wichita Falls, TX — 53%.
Percentage of rate increases projected each year for the next 5 or 6 years in Dallas — 3% to 5%.
Percentage of rate increase projected for San Antonio water/wastewater rates over the next 5 years — $41%.
Estimated percentage of private wells in New Hampshire that have elevated levels of arsenic — 20%.
Annual water use in gallons of one Fresno, CA city councilman due to lawn irrigation “malfunctions” — 1.24 million.
Year of Dr. John Snow’s famous Broad Street Pump Study — 1854.
Rank of drought and water shortage among this week’s top water stories — #1.
How Removing a Pump Handle Ended a Cholera Epidemic
by Pure Water Annie
Pure Water Gazette technical writer Pure Water Annie explains A Landmark Event in the Understanding and Control of Waterborne Diseases
Waterborne diseases like infectious hepatitis, bacterial dysentery, cholera, and giardiasis were common until fairly recently. Throughout the world, health impacts were staggering. Entire villages in Europe were wiped out by plagues in the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1848 and 1849 in a single cholera epidemic alone, 53,000 people died in London.
Dr. John Snow’s 1854 Pump Study is a landmark in the development of epidemiology (the study of infectious diseases).
The Broad Street Pump Findings
Dr. John Snow, a London obstetrician, became interested in the cause and transmission of cholera after witnessing severe outbreaks of the disease in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1849 he published a pamphlet that suggested that cholera was transmitted by contaminated drinking water. Many theories about the cause of cholera were in circulation at the time, and Dr. Snow’s polluted water theory was not widely accepted. The then-dominant theory was the miasma theory that stated that diseases such as cholera or the Black Death were caused by a noxious form of “bad air.” This was a short time before Pasteur’s “germ theory” became popular.
In 1854 Dr. Snow carefully plotted the locations of the illness and compared his findings to the subscriber lists of two private companies that provided water for London. His research showed that cholera occurred with greater frequency among the customers of one of the companies–the one that drew its water from the lower Thames river which was contaminated by London sewage. The other company used upper Thames water, which was less polluted.
Dr. Snow’s maps indicated a strong correlation between cholera cases and the proximity to the intersection of Cambridge and Broad Streets. The obvious conclusion was that the main cause of the cholera epidemic was the water drawn from a community pump on Broad Street.
Although few at the time believed Dr. Snow’s theory, the handle was removed from the pump to prevent further use of the water and the plague of cholera was broken.
Both the pump and its handle are on public display today and Dr. Snow’s discovery remains a landmark achievement in public health.
Reference: Thomas V. Cech: Principles of Water Resources: History, Development, Management, and Policy. (John Wiley and Sons, 2005).
If Columbus deserves a “day,” so, too, do Hitler and Jack the Ripper
by Tiger Tom
I, Tiger Tom, seldom get to write for the Gazette or the Occasional because I so seldom write about water. But since they taught us in school that Columbus was the brave sailor who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 in his three merry ships whose names we had to memorize, his connection with water makes him fair game.
The first thing you need to know about Christopher Columbus is that he was a mediocre sailor but a skilled con man. Above all, he was unimaginably greedy and as cruel as a snake. As for his personal attributes, Columbus was described by one historian as “an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing— not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting Biblical scripture— to advance his ambitions….”
Those are his good qualities.
Here is how historian Howard Zinn describes Columbus’ interaction with the native Anawak:
Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”
But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. American Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. (Zinn, Howard, “A People’s History of the United States”.)
This is mild in comparison to some of the accounts by the great man’s contemporaries. For example, the author of the multi-volume History of the Indies, the Catholic priest Bartolomé de las Casas, who observed the region where Columbus was governor, recounted countless atrocities committed by Columbus and his followers. Las Casas describes Spaniards driven by “insatiable greed” — “killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples” with “the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty.” He describes how systematic violence was aimed at preventing “[American] Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings.” The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing the natives by tens and twenties and cutting slices from their bodies to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas said, “My eyes have seen acts so foreign to human nature that I now tremble as I write them.”
But he did, as we like to say, “discover America,” so we have given him a “day” on our calendar. I vote that we take it back.
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