The Pure Water Occasional for September 29, 2014
In this late September Occasional, you’ll be enlightened by news about fibronil, fluoxetine, triclosan, bromine, glyphosate, polybrominated diphenyl, hexabromocyclododecane, cyanazine, diazinon, and a debilitating snail-borne disease called schistosomiasis. Also read about the demise of the Aral Sea and the Lar Dam reservoir, pesticides in US streams, the perils of warm water bottles, pollution by the Delaware National Guard, and Tehran’s water crises. The status of the Toxic Substances Control Act, Americans’ opinions about their tap water, China’s monumental water diversion project, the extension of the great marine sanctuary, and the problems faced by US desalination plants. Hear about calcite, corosex, soda ash, carbon dioxide, and bicarbonate alkalinity from Pure Water Annie, and get a wrap-up of this week’s water numbers from Bee Sharper. 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.)
Goodbye, Aral Sea
By Eric Holthaus
The Aral Sea, once the world’s 4th largest lake, is now officially dry. The story is not one of global warming but one of human irresponsibility. The photo shows shipwrecks where the Aral Sea once was.
The Aral Sea—a huge part of it at least—is no more.
According to NASA, “for the first time in modern history, the eastern basin of the South Aral Sea has completely dried.”
Humans have been farming the Aral Sea area in Central Asia for centuries, and the lake has gone through spectacular boom-and-bust cycles in the past. But the lake hasn’t been this dry in a long, long time. Speaking with NASA, Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University, said, “it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since Medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.”
In the early 1900s, the Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world. It has been dwindling since the 1960s, when a Soviet program of irrigated agriculture diverted the region’s major two rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, largely to grow lucrative but water-intensive cotton. Sound familiar, California?
Since the Soviet Union dissolved, things have only gotten worse. According to a report (PDF) by the United Nations Environment Programme, more than 60 million people now live in the Aral region, up fourfold since 1960. At the same time, inflows into the lake are down sharply, a phenomenon possibly linked to climate change. With the help of the World Bank, in 2005 Kazakhstan built a dam as a last-ditch effort to save part of the lake, with mixed results. According to NASA, this year’s final push toward record-low lake levels came as a result of low snowpack in the mountains that feed the lake.
This isn’t a story of climate change, though. It’s a story of barreling ahead with the status quo amid a superfluity of stop signs. Rice and cotton fields are still widespread in the Aral region, though oil and gas exploration in the dry lake bed is becoming more common, too.
Without the steadying influence of the lake on local weather, winters in the surrounding region are now colder, and summers are hotter and drier. Blowing dust, laced with agricultural chemicals that have built up as a result of runoff into the lake over the years, has contaminated surrounding communities. This is not a place you’d want to live.
The tragedy of the Aral Sea should be a cautionary tale for people in the increasingly water-scarce American Southwest. After all, we have our own fair share of Aral Seas here, too. About 100 years ago, eager California farmers drained Lake Tulare, then the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. More recently, Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead, now at record-low levels, has lost its title as the biggest reservoir in the country. (As of February of this year, it had fallen all the way to fourth.) Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in California, is starting this year’s rainy season at only 26 percent of total capacity,
There’s tenuous hope that California is finally starting to recognize the dire situation the mix of agriculture, urban growth, and climate fluctuations have put them in before it’s too late. California’s legislature recently passed a series of measures that will regulate groundwater pumping, the last Western state to do so. Last week, the governor signed the bill into law.
As for the desiccating Aral region, there’s nowhere to go from here but up.
USGS report: Pesticides contaminate nation’s streams
by Laura Lundquist
A new U.S. Geological Survey study shows that pesticides continue to infiltrate the nation’s streams, however, the types of pesticides mixing with the water are changing.
As part of a continuing survey of water quality, USGS scientists found that, over the past decade, one or more pesticides still contaminate close to 100 streams sampled nationwide, indicating that the problem is pervasive.
“The information gained through this important research is critical to the evaluation of the risks associated with existing levels of pesticides,” said William Werkheiser, USGS associate director for water.
Scientists analyzed stream samples collected regularly between 2002 and 2011 for pesticides, which include both herbicides and insecticides. They also divided streams into agricultural, urban and mixed-use categories.
The high occurrence of pesticides between 2002 and 2011 was consistent with findings from the previous decade, 1992 to 2001, but now fewer streams exceed the human health limits for pesticides. Only one stream exceeded the health standard this decade, compared to 17 percent of agricultural streams in the previous decade.
However, water quality is still bad for aquatic life, such as frogs, fish and insects. Nearly two-thirds of agricultural streams and half of mixed-use streams had pesticide concentrations that exceeded limits for aquatic life in both decades.
But urban streams became worse, with 90 percent containing pesticide concentrations exceeding aquatic life limits compared to half in the previous decade.
The authors noted a change in the pesticides present between one decade and the next, which is one of the reasons they say direct comparison between decades is problematic.
They credited most of the change to pesticide regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency causing a reduction in the use of some toxic pesticides.
For example, in the 1990s, the herbicide cyanazine was found to cause birth defects and could leach through the soil into the groundwater, so cyanazine use dropped.
Residential use of the insecticide diazinon also dropped in 2004 after it was shown to be highly toxic to birds and bees.
Concentrations of both cyanazine and diazinon have dropped in samples from the recent decade. In the meantime, though, new pesticides were developed, and their concentrations have surged.
The insecticide fipronil, for example, was approved for use as recently as 1995, so it wasn’t widely used during the first sampling decade. Since then, studies found that the fipronil concentration steadily increased in urban streams between 2000 and 2008, indicating increasing use in residential areas.
Fibronil disrupts an insect’s central nervous system. That means that, like diazinon, it also kills good insects such as honeybees.
A 2003 University of Greenwich study found that fibronil degrades into a more toxic substance that can accumulate in fish.
The recent decade of sampling found that six main pesticides, including atrazine and fipronil, were found in all streams at least half the time, and fipronil exceeded the concentration limit for aquatic life in 20 percent of streams.
The insecticides fipronil and carbaryl were found in urban streams more than half the time.
The authors say the other major change has been the switch to the herbicide glyphosate, made possible by the increased use of genetically modified crops.
Glyphosate levels weren’t included in this report because scientists can’t easily measure how much is in streams.
Some research has indicated that glyphosate is also contributing to honeybee colony collapse.
Montana streams that were sampled included the Yellowstone River at Forsyth and Sidney, and the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River near Edgar. Other rivers in the region included the Bighorn River at Kane, Wyoming, and the Teton River near St. Anthony, Idaho.
Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Water News for the week ending September 29, 2014
Why You Should Not Drink Warm Bottled Water. Temperature matters, as you’ll see from this study that compares the antimony and BPA content of bottled water stored under warm vs. cool conditions.
Toxic water found below Delaware Air National Guard base. Pollution investigators have found toxic compounds in groundwater below the Delaware Air National Guard base matching those that prompted shutdowns this summer of the city of New Castle’s entire three-well public supply network and two Artesian Water Co. wells
A rising tide of contaminants. The number of chemicals contaminating our environment is growing at exponential rate, scientists say.
The Toxic Substances Control Act went into effect in 1976, almost 40 years ago, and has not been updated since.
The number of chemicals contaminating our environment is growing at exponential rate, scientists say. A team of researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey tracks them in American waterways, sediments, landfills and municipal sewage sludge, which is often converted into agricultural fertilizer. They’ve found steroid hormones and the antibacterial agent triclosan in sewage; the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) in fish; and compounds from both birth control pills and detergents in the thin, slimy layer that forms over stones in streams.
The law does require the Environmental Protection Agency to maintain an inventory of registered industrial compounds that may be toxic, but it does not require advance safety testing of those materials. Of the some 84,000 compounds registered, only a fraction have ever been fully tested for health effects on humans. The data gap includes some materials, like creosote and coal tar derivatives, which are currently manufactured at rates topping a million pounds a year.
Bromine looks sinister – like something you might find on Dr Frankenstein’s workbench. But are people sometimes too hard on compounds made from element 35 of the periodic table?
As you read this article, you are probably surrounded by bromine – in the chair or sofa you are sitting on. In the carpet on your floor, the curtains at your window, perhaps even the walls of your house. And in the computer whose screen you are staring at.
All these things are likely to contain unnatural substances such as polybrominated diphenyl ether or hexabromocyclododecane. Bromine-based chemicals have also found their way into food and drinking water – indeed until recently they were added to drinks like Fanta and Gatorade.
Some of these chemicals have been shown to be dangerous to human health, and have been banned or withdrawn. Yet the bromine industry claims it is the victim of “chemophobia” – an irrational public prejudice against chemicals borne out of ignorance and misinformation.
Bromine saves lives, they point out, although there is no denying that pure bromine is extremely unpleasant. It derives its name from the Greek for “stench.”
Americans Concerned about Tap Water Quality
According to NSF research reported in Medical Daily, 82 percent of Americans report they are concerned about contaminants in tap water. The leading concern is pesticides, followed, in order, by prescription drugs, detergents, flame retardants, and over-the-counter drugs. The report notes that ironically although most Americans report concern about drugs in their tap water, only 28 percent of those surveyed knew how to properly dispose of drugs. (In case you don’t know, flushing them down the toilet is not the proper way.) Read the full report in Medical Daily.
A new waterway in China is part of the biggest water-diversion scheme in the world: the second arm of what is known as the South-North Water Diversion Project. The new canal will help avert an imminent crisis. But the gap between water supply and demand will remain large and keep growing.
Shifting billions of cubic metres of water across the country has caused huge disruption. The government says it has moved 330,000 people to make way for the central route. Laixiang Sun of the University of Maryland in America reckons the number uprooted is at least half a million. There will also be health and environmental costs. Diverting river-water northward could promote the spread of diseases common in the south, particularly schistosomiasis, a debilitating snail-borne disease. Reduced flow in the Yangzi may make coastal water supplies vulnerable to intrusion by seawater and increase the potential for drought.
The financial cost is also high. Mr. Sun puts the cost of the project at more than $62 billion—far higher than the original $15 billion price tag. His estimate does not include the running of the project or the building of 13 new water-treatment plants to clean the water. Read the rest in The Economist.
Are prospects of widespread desalinization realistic? What holds back more desalinization plants from being built, Pacific Institute’s Heather Cooley told an audience in Sacramento, “is the cost of financing, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and the marine impacts from the intake of water from the ocean called ‘brine.'” A perceptive article that describes the positives and the (frequently unmentioned) negatives of desalination.
The Drought You Can’t See
The Western Hemisphere is experiencing a drought of crisis proportions. In Central America, crops are failing, millions are in danger of starvation, and if the drought doesn’t break soon, even vessels transiting the Panama Canal will need to lighten their loads, which will increase prices for goods transported globally. In the western United States, the drought-stricken region spans a vast area responsible for much of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and beef. As the drought’s grip has tightened, water users have turned to tapping groundwater aquifers to make up the deficit for people, crops, livestock, and industry. But even when the rain does return, regreening the landscape and filling again the streams, lakes, and reservoirs, those aquifers will remain severely depleted. It is this underground drought we can’t see that is enduring, worrisome, and in need of attention. You’ll have to regsiter to read the entire article from Science.
Drought has 14 communities on brink of waterlessness. Fourteen California communities are approaching a crisis point and trucking in water while they work to find a solution.
Tehran’s reservoir at Lar Dam. Tehran is just a few days from being out of water.
The ritual chants of “Death to America!” have not gone away, but at Friday services across Iran worshipers sought divine intervention in a matter more climatological than ideological. The faithful prayed for rain, or at least were urged to do so.
“For God’s sake, let’s go to God’s door and ask his Almighty to send water,” an animated Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi implored worshipers on the campus of Tehran University, the traditional venue of nationally televised Friday prayers.
Occasionally breaking into sobs, the ayatollah exhorted members of the congregation to make their pleas both to the Creator and to Imam Hussein, a revered figure in Shiite Muslim tradition. The water shortages afflicting Iran, Sedighi suggested, could be a heavenly nudge aimed at getting sluggish believers to pay a little more attention to matters of the spirit.
“God sometimes sends ordeals to make his followers seek him out by praying and avoiding sin,” he told worshipers, adding his own view that the divine reprimand, if that’s what it is, stretched the limits of fair play. “Iran has dedicated lots of martyrs to God and does not deserve a shortage of water,” Sedighi asserted.
Concern is mounting about dwindling water supplies across Iran, from the densely populated, smog-ridden capital and its parched suburbs to provincial towns and cities to far-flung corners of the nation, much of which is desert. Lakes and rivers have been drying up, reservoirs are at historic lows and water supplies have been cut in some areas. The annual snowmelt from the mountains is on the decline.
On the streets here, people grumble about cuts in water service. Many buildings have tanks on the roofs to collect rainwater. Unfortunately, it hasn’t rained in months. Bottled water is available, but many Iranians have little excess income for purchasing it. Most Iranians rely on tap water for both drinking and washing.
The most repeated water story of the week was probably that George Clooney rode to his wedding in a water taxi.
The Lodi Flames varsity girls water polo team went 2-0 on the first day of the El Capitan Tournament in Merced. The Flames opened with a 13-6 win over Washington of Fremont. McKenna Martin netted six goals, Olivia Grim had three, Karlyn Bertsch added two and Marissa Joerke and Delaney Duncan each had one. Lodi also beat Liberty of Brentwood 13-4. Martin had six goals, Grim had four and Duncan, Bertsch and Taylor Brooks each had one.
US announces world’s largest marine sanctuary in the Pacific
Washington: The United States on Thursday announced the creation of the world’s largest marine sanctuary in the Pacific, where commercial fishing and energy exploration are off limits.
The move expands the already existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, west of Hawaii and northeast of Australia to six times its previous size.
“We’re talking about an area of ocean that’s nearly twice the size of Texas, and that will be protected in perpetuity from commercial fishing and other resource-extraction activities, like deep-water mining,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.
Former president George W Bush declared the area a national monument in 2009, and an executive order from President Barack Obama makes the protected space even larger. The total protected area now includes 490,000 square miles (1.27 million square kilometers) around the Wake and Jarvis Islands and Johnston Atoll.
“This is the grand-daddy of all marine protected areas around the world. Some of these areas had like a 50-mile radius around them, now they are going to have a 200-mile radius,” said Jackie Savitz, vice president for US oceans at the advocacy group Oceana.
Read the rest in the Pure Water Gazette.
Gazette Numerical Wizard Bea Sharper brings you up to date on the current water news in numbers.
Year when the US Toxic Substances Control Act went into effect — 1976.
Number of times it has been updated since 1940 — 0.
Number of registered chemical compounds that have been recorded by the EPA — 84,000.
Number of these that have been tested fully for health effects on humans — unknown, but a tiny fraction of the total.
Rank by size in 1900 of the now dry Aral Sea among the world’s lakes — 4.
Number of residents of Sao Paolo, Brazil, which is dangerously close to running out of water — 20,000,000.
Current percentage of capacity of Cantareira, the lake complex that supplies half the water for Sao Paolo — 7.6%.
Fraction of China’s farmland that is located in the northern part of the country — 2/3.
Fraction of China’s natural available freshwater that is in the northern part of the country — 1/5.
Year in which Mao Zedong first proposed sending water from southern China to the north — 1952.
Year in which the new Grand Canal project sending water to the north was completed — 2014.
Number of people moved from their homes to make room for the great new canal — 330,000 plus.
Factor by which Chinese industry uses more water than the average western industrial country — 10 times.
Gallons of sea water needed to produce one gallon of potable water by reverse osmosis desalination — 2.
Daily production capacity of the largest sea water desalination in the United States, located at Carlsbad, CA — 50,000,000.
Daily production of the modest sized plant in Santa Barbara, CA — 2, 800,000.
Number of US desalination plants currently in planning or under construction — 15.
Number in Mexico — 3.
Number of square miles covered by the extension of the great marine sanctuary created in September 2014 — 490,000.
Amount of increase in the antimony content of bottled water stored at 158 degrees F. as compared with the same water stored at refrigerator conditions – 319-fold.
According to recent NSF research, percentage of Americans who are concerned about contaminants in tap water — 82%.
Percentage who are concerned about detergents — 24%.
Rank of pesticides among the concerns documented in the survey — #1.
El Capitan girls water polo scores — 6-3, 4-2, 3-1.
Pure Water Gazette technical writer Pure Water Annie explains what makes water acidic and how you fix it.
by Pure Water Annie
Acidic water is, by definition, any water with a pH of less than 7.0.
Water that is low in pH can have undesirable effects on plumbing fixtures and piping. Green staining of fixtures is a common indication of acidic water. Copper pipe can be ruined by water low in pH.
Low pH is also an issue in water treatment. Sometimes it is necessary to raise the pH of acidic water in order for other treatment strategies to apply. For example, oxidizing iron to prepare it for filtration is difficult if the pH of the water is low, so raising the pH of the water is often the first step in removing iron from well water.
Almost all water treatment issues involve pH in some way. Water constituents change in nature as pH changes, so many treatments can be applied only if pH is within the desired range.
Although the sales strategy of a class of drinking water products called “ionizers” is based on raising the pH of acidic water, there is no evidence that drinking water low in pH has any negative effect on health. Taste, of course, can be an issue if the pH is very low.
Treating Acidic Water
The pH value of water decreases as the amount of carbon dioxide, CO2, increases, and pH increases as the amount of bicarbonate alkalinity increases. The ratio of carbon dioxide and bicarbonate alkalinity within the ranges of 3.6 to 8.4 is an indication of the pH value of the water.
Acidic water can be corrected by several water treatment strategies. A common treatment is injection of soda ash, and a more aggressive treatment is the injection of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). This is usually accomplished by injecting a solution of the soda ash or caustic soda directly into the water pipe.
A second strategy is to run the water through a bed of calcite (the most common treatment mineral) or corosex. As the low pH water passes through the bed, the mineral dissolves into the water and raises its pH.
Calcite treatment raises the pH by adding calcium carbonate to the water. This has the sometimes undesirable effect of increasing the hardness of the water slightly. Calcite and corosex are most commonly used in backwashing filters, but calcite alone can be used with simple upflow filters if the water is reasonably clean. Calcite is also commonly used in cartridge form as a postfiltration treatment for undersink reverse osmosis units. RO lowers pH, and calcite filters are used to bring the pH back to neutral.
Also, more about pH and water.
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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