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Articles from World Water Blog

Conserving Water with Flushless Urinals Published on August 27th, 2010

Several months back, featured a story about the invention and early application of so called “flushless” urinals. These urinals use a combination of hydrostatic pressure and eco-friendly chemistry to create a liquid barrier through which waste can move but sewer vapors cannot escape. After being invented, the early adopters of this technology were mostly novelty users and hard-core environmentalists; now, it seems, many other major consumers of water are finding value in these waterless marvels. Several US states, Ohio, New York and Delaware among them, have installed flushless urinals at rest stops along major highways. These installations are part of a larger effort to reduce water and electricity usage at these facilities while still offering full-service, modern facilities to travelers; low-volume flush commodes, timed or photo-eye triggered faucets and LED lighting are all becoming commonplace at these rest stations. It is estimated that each flushless urinal saves up to 10,000 gallons of water annually when placed in service in these high-traffic locations. Combine several of these toilets with low-flush models in the ladies’ room then multiply those installations across the land and these states stand to save literally millions of gallons each year. In addition to highway rest stops, flushless urinals are making their way into other areas of American life. The Grand Canyon National Park, NASA’s Space Flight Center and many business office buildings have retrofitted their facilities to include the devices. In some cases, the issue driving the installation is water availability and wastewater treatment. Such is the case in near the Grand Canyon; the southwest United States is notoriously dry and water rights are a continual point of contention. Saving water is paramount in these locations and the flushless urinals are a means to and end. In the case of the office building installations, however, the driver is often pure economics. Especially in new construction, less flush-urinals means less plumbing which means a lower-cost building and a long-term lower cost for the tenants who need to pay the water bills. Until recently, the state of Minnesota had gone the opposite direction of these trends, however. In Minnesota, the legislature passed a ban in 2007 prohibiting the installation of flushless urinals. The ban stood for over two years until 2010 when the legislature voted to allow the plumbing code to take flushless urinals into consideration. While there has been considerable hand-waving regarding the reasons for the original ban and the recent lifting, outside observers almost universally agree that the state of Minnesota has moved in the right direction. It may not be tomorrow that your office building installs flushless toilets but it’s likely that you will be seeing them soon. The technology appears to have proven itself over the last few years to the point that few questions remain regarding its clean, effective operation or its tangible water savings. Flushless toilets stand as a classic example of how technology can effectively address water resource issues.

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Introducing “Water Hour” August 27th, 2010

A movement may have started on June 11th, this year. The first ever “Water Hour” was celebrated that day around the globe. As part of its promotion of the event, the Water Environment Federation notified the staff at H2Bid about the event. Water Hour is a different approach to the problem of water resource management and conservation; instead of a “doom and gloom” approach, the founders of Water Hour encourage people to take one hour to reconnect with water in their lives. By sharing positive stories of how water has shaped us or made us happy, the movement hopes to develop a sense of value in people that is associated with water in their lives. Promoted by over 60 diverse environmental and conservation groups, the Water Hour founders reached out across the globe. So far they have solicited over 400,000 stories and affirmations from individuals. Technology paved the way for the call for the stories as well as the affirmations themselves; Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube all served as platforms for sharing these positive stories about water. A quick scan of the sites reveals the various ways that we view water: as sustenance, as recreation, as a means of travel, as a means to connect and as a livelihood. These stories are called “Water Moments,” they represent the moment that water became a tangible part of our lives. Water Hour is a positive event; it does not ask participants to dwell on the negatives. Also, it is different by its very nature – a dispersed, almost individual event. The founders of the event address these differences by noting that Water Hour is like an engine, “your Water Moment is like an emotional spark that ignites the fuel, and the Water Hour celebration is the explosion of creativity and outreach that follows. Now the engine is running – so declaring your commitment to take action carries the inspiration of Water Hour forward to make a difference year-round.” Though Water Hour has officially passed for 2010, the founders of the movement encourage people to contribute and interact as an online community year-round. They fully expect that these Water Moments will lead to collaboration and action by readers and observers of the sites. In fact, there are examples that indicate this is happening already. Some of the collaborative focus is aimed at making a larger impact during Water Hour 2011 while other discussion groups appear to be focusing on the health of the Great Lakes and even how to reduce the water-needs impact of biodiesel production. Water Hour’s focus is certainly different from the usual conservation message and only time will tell if this new focus will be effective in the long run. From the editor’s perspective, however, the first Water Hour appears to have been a great success and certainly seems to have raised the awareness of many. If you would like to share your story with the broader community, browse to and contribute. Who knows, perhaps your anecdote will be the inspiration that drives a future conservationist or inventor!

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Preserving Groundwater by artificially recharging Aquifers July 11th, 2010

With every steady rain, a cycle begins which helps to recharge and replenish most aquifers of the world. The water soaks into the ground, makes its way to the aquifer via percolation through the ground and rock. When we take more water than the aquifer receives over a given year, however, we begin to deplete the groundwater source. While conservation and water management can help to decrease the rate at which we consume the water, it is becoming increasingly common for water districts to recharge or replenish their aquifers artificially. Artificial recharge takes two basic forms; the first being passive recharge. In this method, catchments are created to capture heavy rains that may simply result in runoff and never percolate to the aquifer. By creating large basins to capture the runoff, the captured water has an opportunity to migrate through the ground to recharge the aquifer. This method is widely employed in the southwest United States and in China, as well. A second type of artificial recharge is active recharge. In this method, water is actively pumped directly into the aquifer or at least into the porous rock above it. This method is clearly more energy-intensive than the passive style of aquifer recharge; this makes it suitable when passive methods are insufficient or impractical due to terrain or geology. Active recharge is often used to prevent saltwater intrusion into a partially-depleted aquifer. Coastal regions of the United States as well as the nation of Singapore take advantage of this technique to protect their freshwater resources. Additionally, active recharge is sometimes used in heavily-populated areas where the demands on the groundwater are particularly severe. The practice of artificial recharge is part of a comprehensive water management plan for Mexico City and the surrounding region put into place in 2007. The plan, which also includes conservation and irrigation water recycling, was aimed at overcoming many of the water challenges that Mexico City has faced in the last century. The valley in which Mexico City is situated receives 28 inches of rainfall each year, though the vast majority of this precipitation comes in the form of heavy rains in the summer months, often associated with the remnants of hurricanes. The remainder of the year sees very little rainfall; this cycle leaves few permanent rivers and dictates a heavy reliance on groundwater. To take advantage of the summer rains, the Mexican authorities have begun expanding the stormwater diversion basins to the north of the city. Originally, these basins were created to avert flooding associated with the seasonal storms but studies found that the water was seeping into the aquifer and actually recharging it. To maximize the advantage of this passive means of recharge, the Mexican planners have fully incorporated the basins into their project.

Articles from World Water Blog In addition to the fairly well-known practice of stormwater catchments and recharge, Mexico is experimenting with active pumping of treated wastewater as a means to recharge the aquifers in their region. This has been somewhat controversial, though the Mexican government has gone to great lengths to secondarily treat the wastewater prior to pumping it into the aquifer. Additionally, monitoring wells have been established to evaluate groundwater quality near the recharge stations and it is the hope of the Mexican government that any problems will be detected before they cause a health risk. So far, though, no issues have been reported. Where plausible, artificial recharge appears to offer water planners an effective tool with which they may more effectively manage their groundwater resources. Especially when used in conjunction with conservation; it would seem that humans can help take some stress out of the natural system by helping to recharge the world’s groundwater supply.

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The Benefits Of Rediscovering Buried Waterways June 8th, 2010

If you live in an urban area, chances are that you pass over hidden waterways every day on your commute to work. Of course, we may barely notice the streams and rivers that are visible but what most city dwellers don’t realize is that there is likely a hidden watershed buried under miles of concrete and pavement. In many cases, cities are “resurfacing” or “daylighting” these streams and creeks, allowing the sun to shine upon these waters once more. Historically, as cities expanded, they often buried or diverted streams that were “in the way” of progress. This is far from a modern trend; there are examples that stretch back to the Roman Empire. In many cases, these waterways were incorporated into the sewer system; in others they were diverted or buried to prevent flooding in the heavily populated areas. As modern sewer systems were built, city streams and creeks often found their way into the storm sewer system. Specific examples of this type of urban planning can be found all across North America from Los Angeles’ Arroyo de la Brea to Philadelphia’s Mill Creek. Virtually every major city has a hidden waterway to be found. Urban explorers are drawn to these hidden waterways partly because of the challenge in finding them and partly to reveal these streams that once ran free to the greater public. Exploring the deep underside of the city isn’t for everyone, though, so the stories tied to these waters are not well known. There are new trends emerging, however, that may allow everyone to see and experience some of these waterways once more. In San Francisco, the city’s Public Utilities Commission is studying plans to expose or “daylight” several creeks and streams that have been buried for decades. Top contenders for daylighting include: Islais Creek, originating in Glen Canyon Park and flowing through Bernal Heights to Islais Creek Channel, passing under Third Street just north of Bayview; Yosemite Creek, flowing from McLaren Park in Visitacion Valley through Portola to Bayview and entering the bay near Candlestick Park; and the little-known Stanley Creek, flowing along Brotherhood Way into Lake Merced near the border with Daly City. The city is considering bringing these waterways to the surface and allowing them to flow in open-air channels that parallel the streets and sidewalks. Though this won’t return the waterways to their original, natural states, the city’s compromise approach will offer considerable benefits to the city. A study funded by the Public Utilities Commission found that bringing Yosemite Creek to the surface would reduce strains on the water system by taking the natural flow of the creek out of the sewer system. In addition, it would reduce the annual runoff volume by 36 million gallons per year. In another study involving Islais Creek, it was shown that there would be a reduction in a peak flow through the sewer system of three to nine percent – a significant factor.

Articles from World Water Blog Nearby, the city of Berkeley has a history of bringing forgotten waterways to the surface. Strawberry Creek was one of Berkeley’s earliest daylighting or resurfacing experiments. Completed in 1984 at a cost of about $50,000, a 200-foot section of the creek was removed from a culvert beneath an empty lot and transformed into the centerpiece of a city park. The impact of that transformation has been significant. Property values in the area around Strawberry Creek Park have increased, crime has decreased, and an empty warehouse has been converted to offices and a bakery. Strawberry Creek’s success was followed in 1993 with the daylighting of Codornices Creek. The city daylighted 400 feet of the creek; nearly four hundred volunteers helped to restore the original crooks and bends stream, which was an important factor in regulating speed and controlling floods. After the completion, the area saw a gradual increase in the population of species like crayfish, damselflies, garter snakes, mallards, egrets, and gophers. The success in Berkeley shows what can happen when buried waterways are rediscovered and utilized. Now, with a major city like San Francisco following suit, the practice could be more widely adopted. It seems clear that there are significant benefits to restoring the natural flow of water through a city both in terms of urban ambiance and the more practical matter of enhancing the capacity of the storm sewer systems. It appears that “daylighting” should be considered as part of any urban area’s comprehensive water management approach.

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Water Utilities-Decreasing Revenues and Increasing Costs April 22nd, 2010

It may be counterintuitive, but in the current down economy, US water bills have been rising. A complex set of circumstances are at play to cause this improbable situation including lower demand, a shift in income sources and fixed costs associated with maintenance and facilities. Efforts have been made by the utilities to reduce their costs where possible, but this has not alleviated the problem, entirely. Water consumers – virtually every household and business in the United States – must find ways to manage their finances or conserve even more. During the global recession, many businesses have reduced shifts or closed entirely. To the extent that these companies were users of water, their demand has dried up with their industry. Before the recession began, many companies were heavy users of water, including metal processing plants, assembly factories and food and beverage makers. Each of these industries, and more like them, used water in ways that most consumers wouldn’t – water jet cutting, process heating and chilling. Such industrial water creates two stresses on the water system; the demand for the water itself and the demand for wastewater treatment after it is used. Water utilities responded to these stresses in the boom-times by building modern wastewater treatment facilities and increasing their wellfields. When the business demand plummeted, however, these expensive facilities still had to be maintained, even though they were not being fully utilized. Similarly, families cut by the recession began to conserve; watering lawns less frequently and trying to keep their bills low in any other way possible. Just like in the case of business, this decreased demand did little to impact operating costs. Certainly, less electricity was required to run the pumps and a decreased volume of wastewater required processing, but the cost of running the facilities was mostly fixed. Compounding the problem was the huge drop in revenue from new home building and development. In the lead-up to the recession, developers were paying fees to run water and sewer pipes to new subdivisions and business parks. In some cases, these revenues went from millions of dollars just a few years ago to only a few hundred thousand for the past year. It appears that many utilities were factoring these revenues into their general costs of operation, setting up their users up for a bigger hit when the economy turned sour. In some cases, like Mount Pleasant, SC, the water utility was forced to lay off nine employees. Additionally the Mount Pleasant Waterworks cut overall operating costs by 10 percent. Even with those savings, however, the utility was forced to raise rates by nine percent this year. That amounts to approximately $50 per year for the average household says Clay Duffie, Mount Pleasant Waterworks’ general manager.

Articles from World Water Blog The economy appears to be on the verge of recovery, so the end of this conundrum may be in sight. Going forward, water managers and planners should be encouraged to utilize smart planning to analyze finance and revenue ‘weak points” that may lead to future shortfalls. This won’t stop every problem from occurring, but it may make the next recession at least slightly less painful than this one.

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The Growing Trend Of Climate Refuges February 28th, 2010

For many decades, there have been almost constant news reports of large groups of people displaced by wars and famine. In many cases, these refugees flee their native lands, cross borders and settle in camps run by the United Nations or a NonGovernmental Organization (NGO). A new type of refugee is emerging in this century, however; rather than fleeing war or persecution, these are refugees of ecological changes and challenges. This is particularly true on the Horn of Africa; this region includes the nations of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. While not geographically considered part of the Horn, Sudan neighbors this region and faces similar challenges as a result of climate disasters. These disasters, namely drought and resulting famine, are further exacerbated by long running ethnic conflicts and regional wars. This combination of natural and manmade trouble have pushed millions to leave their family lands for the hope of a more stable life elsewhere. Currently, the UN and NGOs working in the field estimate that 10 million people worldwide have already become refugees due to climate change and natural disasters. Looking forward, though, an Oxford University professor, Norman Myers, who has been a leading scholar drawing attention to the climate refugee problem, estimates that by 2050 there will be more than 25 million refugees attributable to climate change. He predicts that climate will replace war and persecution as the leading cause of global displacement. In many cases, the refugees are fleeing from an area that has been their home and their source of livelihood stretching back generations. Take the story of Rukiya Ali Abdirahman. She and her husband lived in a region of southern Somalia that was not hard hit by clan warfare. The couple had a small farm; growing food for themselves and selling the excess. Three years ago, however, the rainfall began to decrease and the crops failed. As a result, they have abandoned their home and have migrated to the refugee town of Dadaab, in northwest Kenya. There Rukiya makes mud bricks and her husband gets construction jobs when he can. “I would have been happy to stay on the farm and die there,” she told the AP. “We could have coped with the insecurity. But we couldn’t cope with not having anything to eat. That’s when we left.” In addition to creating the problems that drive people to become refugees, climate and weather-related crises can make matters worse for existing refugees. In 2005, for instance, heavy rains and flooding in Kenya destroyed a refugee camp that housed 25,000 fleeing the Somali conflict. To date, the UN has no comprehensive plan for dealing with climate refugees. In fact, the entire international community has been slow to address the problems or even acknowledge the existence of climate refugees. The international community must work to first, identify legitimate climate refugees and understand that their needs are different in many ways from those fleeing disasters or poverty. Certainly they’ll need the same

Articles from World Water Blog basics: food, shelter and clean water but these new refugees will also likely need to learn new trades, as well. This issue deserves attention now, before a crisis makes the situation unmanageable.

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California moves to improve freshwater management February 7th, 2010

As readers of this blog may be aware, the State of California has been facing many challenges with respect to its freshwater management, endangered species, and agriculture. In November, 2009, the state took a step forward to face those challenges in the form of four bills that total over $11 billion in funding directed towards the state’s river systems, lakes, and other water management projects. The bills cover four major areas of water management. The first, Senate Bill No. 1 addresses the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area and lays out a plan for reestablishment of the natural wetlands while preserving the state’s fresh water resources. The second bill, Senate Bill No. 6 requires that localities monitor groundwater levels to avoid pumping aquifers dry. Senate Bill No. 7 aims to bring urban and agricultural water users to the table to begin a real discussion about water conservation. Finally, Senate Bill No. 8 addresses the practice of water diversion and seeks to set up a more equitable playing field for all the state’s water stakeholders. Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Plan The Delta Plan, as it is called, establishes the twin goals of providing a more reliable water supply along with restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. To accomplish these goals, the new law establishes the Delta Stewardship Council; the Council, staffed by seven appointed members who are intended to bring a balanced, state-wide view to the Council. The Council’s mandate sets both goals as “coequal” that is, conservancy and water availability must both be pursued and neither may trump the other in priority or urgency. Additionally, the law directs state agencies and local governance boards to definitively establish water levels that are needed to maintain the biodiversity in the region. Funding from a recent ballot-initiative will be directed toward improving the pumping stations and flood control mechanisms such that these critical operations continue but the biodiversity of the Delta can be maintained. Groundwater Monitoring For the first time in the state’s history, California will require local agencies to monitor groundwater levels in both drought years and so-called “normal” years. This is critical to avoiding the water “slump” problem that was identified by this blog some months ago. Namely, during the drought years, conservation lags behind the drought – in effect the conservation doesn’t usually begin until the drought is well underway and the aquifer water levels are reduced. Then, when the normal rains come again, the conservation abruptly ends – without ever giving the aquifer an opportunity to replenish. This abusive cycle results in dangerously low water levels and an unpredictability to water availability in

Articles from World Water Blog the longer term. The new law seeks to avoid these risks through constant monitoring – drought or rainy. Statewide Water Conservation Senate Bill No. 7 requires urban water agencies to reduce water consumption by 20 percent per capita by 2020. The importance of this action cannot be overstated. For the first time, the State of California is actively seeking to stabilize or even reduce overall water use. These agencies have wide latitude in how best to achieve the reduction goal but mechanisms include penalties for offenders and increased funding for agencies that need capital to implement conservation plans. The bill goes further by requiring agricultural water use planning for the first time in the state’s history. These plans will look at ways of delivering water to growers in a more equitable manner and also seek to implement best practices aimed at conservation in the agricultural fields with a goal of replacing everincreasing water use with improved sustainability in agriculture Water Diversion and Use The state will be directing hundreds of millions of dollars at multiple projects aimed at securing the reliability of the state’s water supply. Included in these projects will be flood protection projects that will reduce the risk of levee failures that would jeopardize water conveyance. Additionally, the State will pursue integrated regional water management projects to reduce dependence on the Delta, which currently accounts for a large portion of the State’s fresh water sourcing. Governor Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers showed a cooperative spirit, working together to craft these bills. Though the challenges facing the state were demanding and the problems offered no easy answers, the solutions that they’ve come to appear solid. While these bills may not solve every water-related problem that California is facing, they do appear to set the state on a path toward sustainable water solutions.

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Rowing for Water January 3rd, 2010

Think about the usual holiday plans: Dinner with family, visiting friends and perhaps watching a few bowl games. A young Ohio woman, however, has a radically different set of plans this year. Some time around New Year’s Day, Katie Spotz, a fresh-faced 22 year old, will depart Senegal to row solo across the Atlantic. Yes, you read it correctly – she will ROW across the Atlantic. Katie is undertaking this amazing endeavor to raise awareness of safe drinking water issues around the globe. She has partnered with the Blue Planet Run Foundation, a SanFrancisco-based non-profit group that funds sustainable drinking water projects around the world. Her goal is to raise enough funds to bring safe drinking water to at least 1,000 people. Miss Spotz has a special rowboat, outfitted with solar panels to power her satellite radio, her laptop and, of course, her mp3 player. Her home for the next three months is also stocked with several hundred pounds of dehydrated food – enough to last about 100 days – and a reverse osmosis water to produce fresh water from sea water. In addition she’ll be carrying a few sets of spare oars and spare parts kits for the boat and the hardware on it. All of this will be propelled across 2,500 miles of open water by Katie, herself. If you’re wondering how one rows across the ocean, Katie has outlined her “typical” day – you may note that she’ll be rowing for 10-12 hours each and every day: 6:00am Wake up and eat breakfast, check weather and night progress 6:30am Row for two hours 8:30am Mid morning meal, prep water for the day 9:00am Row for two hours 11:00am Lunch #1, take position and plot chart 12:00pm Short break, powernap 12:30pm Row for two hours 2:30pm Lunch #2 3:00pm Row for two hours 5:00pm Dinner, contact land team with progress, scrub bottom of boat (when needed) 6:30pm Row for two hours 8:30pm Stop rowing, secure boat for the night, sleep Katie has been preparing for this voyage for some time, now, and as of December 20, 2009, she is in Senegal performing final preparations. She’s trained daily to keep in peak physical shape and she has worked with the boat

Articles from World Water Blog manufacturer to anticipate and plan for every foreseeable contingency. She can rebuild and maintain all hardware on board her craft and she’ll have a medical kit on board in case she needs some mid-ocean maintenance, herself. For the sake of providing strangers with fresh drinking water, this spirited young woman will live on a 19 foot rowboat and will, most likely, not see another living human being for 3 months. If you would like to track Katie’s progress or, better yet, aid her in her cause, please visit: Row for Water. Katie will be happy to have you on board!

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Food Processing Wastewater Problems In Western Michigan November 2nd, 2009

Hard boiled eggs turn black in the shell, you are forced to use bottled water to shower, and townspeople in your community have stomach ailments in such numbers that something must be happening. You finally f ind out that your well has been compromised; in fact your entire town’s groundwater has been tainted with arsenic and other heavy metals. Sounds like something out of a madefor-television movie, doesn’t it? It’s reality for several towns in Western Michigan. You might expect to find that there was a corporate culprit, a metal forging operation or a smelter that was dumping waste illegally. In that, you’d be wrong. In this case it’s a Bird’s Eye Foods facility and a Minute Maid juice plant. The Bird’s Eye plant processes and packages apple, cherry and blueberry sauces, glazes and other fruitbased products; the Minute Maid facility processes and cans fruit juice and juice drinks. Before you jump to a conclusion and convince yourself that these plants are adding something to your food, they a ren’t. What they are doing actually sounds environmentally friendly, on the surface. About 40 years ago, the food processing facilities began to spray their process waste water on their fields. It seemed like a good thing to do; the fields get added nutrients from the shredded husks and pits left over after the fruit was processed and the local municipalities didn’t need to deal with additional untreated sewage. It seemed like it was a real win-win situation. That is, until the problems began. It began in the 1980’s with unpleasant odors coming from the well water. Now the problems include orange slime in the pipes, iron-oxide patinas on anything that comes in contact with groundwater and even one young man’s death from gastric cancer (a rare form of the cancer, to be sure) is being blamed on the contamination. Currently, some 50 families in Fennville, MI, live near a plume of groundwater allegedly contaminated with metals that spread from the local Birds Eye processing plant. At a nearby Minute Maid juice plant, in Paw Paw, there’s another plume. In these rural west Michigan towns, it appears that the food processors have sprayed so much wastewater onto fields that heavy metals seeped into groundwater, contaminating wells. Elevated levels of iron, arsenic, manganese and other potentially toxic substances have been detected in the

Articles from World Water Blog groundwater of these two communities. State of the polluting for at least a decade but have moved slowly.




It turned out that the old adage, “too much of a good thing is bad” is quite true when it comes to spraying the fields with fruit remains. In the 1960s, both operations started disposing of their production wastewater by spraying it onto local fields, just as other food companies did for years. It was believed that the salt, sugar and other organic matter in the wastewater would restore nutrients to the soil, while the impurities would be filtered out as the wastewater percolated down through the dirt and into aquifers. What happened was unexpected; scientists now understand that the wastewater had high concentrations of organic matter that robbed the soil of oxygen, causing naturally occurring metals that had been attached to soil particles to be released into groundwater. The Minute Maid facility, which is owned by Coca-Cola, stopped spraying in 2001 after opening a $7 million wastewater treatment facility. The company continues to monitor the groundwater and is working with the State of Michigan. The company has installed new wells for some residents in the area, but problems still persist. The Bird’s Eye facility is still spraying, though it has proposed a $3.5 million upgrade to its existing wastewater treatment facility. Bird’s Eye has also attempted to offer restitution by installing new wells for residents. It’s fair to say that no one though that cherry pits and apple skins would cause so many problems but this is a stark reminder that unintended consequences can be severe. Environmental impact studies can and should be used to evaluate well-intentioned efforts so that this situation is not repeated.

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Federal Funding to Keep the Great Lakes Great October 17th, 2009

The U.S. President, Barack Obama, began to make good on a campaign promise calling for a $5 billion (US), 10 year program aimed at restoration of the Great Lakes. This summer, the President delivered his request for funding to the U.S. Department of the Interior and in that document the President requested a boost in spending of approximately $475 million in FY 2010 targeting Great Lakes cleanup and restoration efforts. The additional funding adds to the roughly $500 million that Congress routinely appropriates to the Great Lakes each year. In total, the President’s request would mean nearly $1 billion for the effort. At the time that this article was written, both the House and the Senate have passed their versions of the FY 2010 Interior appropriations bill and the House has passed the conference committee version which marries the two original bills into one. The Senate is expected to take up the conference committee version in the coming weeks and it is widely expected to pass. In addition to simply adding money to the coffers, President Obama has also appointed a “Great Lakes Czar” to oversee cleanup and restoration efforts. The President named Cameron Davis, president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, to coordinate federal programs on the lakes, including efforts to clean up contaminated sediments, reduce existing pollution sources and s tanch the onslaught of invasive species in recent decades. Upon hearing of Mr. Davis’ assignment to the position, Jack Bails, the Chairman of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, stated that “Cameron Davis’ work at the Alliance for the Great Lakes during the last 23 years has helped put the Great Lakes on the national radar – not only with the new administration and Congress, but with states, cities and countless citizens. His passion and commitment to the Great Lakes has earned him the unofficial title of ‘Mr. Great Lakes’ in recent years. This makes it official.” Davis will report to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and his official title will be “Senior Adviser on the Great Lakes”. In his new role, Mr. Davis will be largely accountable for overseeing the new restoration projects that are funded in the 2010 budget. The projects that feed into this effort are wide and varied, but fall into a handful of major categories: partnerships, monitoring, habitat restoration, thwarting invasive species and near-shore health. A sampling of the FY 2010 Great Lakes restoration programs are detailed, below. The US EPA will coordinate/collaborate with Canada, Federal Agencies, states, ndustry, tribes and NGOs, and the public to implement critical lake-wide management plans, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative programs, projects and activities. This effort is funded at

Articles from World Water Blog a level of $13 million and will allow for strategic implementation of critical projects that have already been identified by Great Lakes resource managers. The US EPA will also spearhead an effort to coordinate the development of monitoring networks and enhance related state agency and university capabilities with a goal of developing comprehensive monitoring and predictive ecosystem capabilities. This $15.5 million program is specifically aimed at monitoring near-shore water quality and identifying “non-point” sources of pollution. Non-point pollution includes septic system a nd leech-field emissions, agricultural runoff, and erosion from stream banks and construction sites. Through the “Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will award grants to the eight Great Lakes States, Native American Tribes and private interests to implement practical solutions to restore and conserve the region’s fish and wildlife resources. This $8 million effort is the primary federal program dedicated to restoring important fish and wildlife and the habitat on which they depend. In conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife effort, a separate Bureau of Indian Affairs program will award $3 million in grants to approximately 25 tribes and inter-tribal organizations to protect and restore culturally significant native species such as wild rice and the habitats which support these species. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will establish and enhance programs that minimize the risk of introduction and impacts of aquatic invasive species by establishing a risk assessment program that supports decisions for State regulation, industry self-regulation, and habitat restoration programs. Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service will begin to implement elements of a Great Lakes Ballast water initiative including supporting the Ballast Water Technology Demonstration Program. Clearly the President’s words were more than just an idle campaign promise; this set of efforts will undoubtedly result in a cleaner, more vibrant Great lakes ecosystem. As an editorial aside, I can vividly recall watching filmstrips in grade school that showed brown froth at least one foot thick sloshing onto the shores of Lake Erie. The narrator told of how damaged the lake had become; raw sewage and industrial run-off polluted the once pristine waters. I can recall it so vividly because I was upset and ashamed that we had allowed our great lake to become so fouled. I bring up this memory to point out how far we’ve come in our cleanup of the Great Lakes in just a few decades. Today, there is no brown foam sitting atop the water. Today, children can swim off the beaches and boaters can enjoy the open water. To be sure, we have more to do, but if what we’ve already accomplished is any indicator, the future of the Great Lakes will be bright, indeed.

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For almost a century, the United States has been collecting and processing data about the state of the nation’s surface water. Lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds are observed, measured and sampled to check for water quality, contamination and water levels. From this data, a fairly robust picture of the nation’s surface water can be had. Satellite imagery has made this task more efficient enabling seasonal changes in water levels to be observed on a grand scale. Without diminishing the value of these efforts, one critical area of water monitoring has been left behind. Groundwater, which makes up a significant amount of the fresh water on the planet, is more difficult to measure and understand than surface water. The obvious issue is visibility, while it is readily apparent to even a casual observer when a lake level begins to drop; the same is not true of a ground water aquifer. To appropriately measure and sample ground water, monitoring wells must be drilled and water extracted from those wells. Until 2009, this monitoring effort was left squarely in the hands of the states. Some states, like California, New York and Ohio have had extensive groundwater monitoring networks containing hundreds of wells that are sampled yearly – some even more often than that. Other states had minimal monitoring systems that were comprised of only a handful of wells; still other states, like Massachusetts had no program in place, at all. In fact, as of 2007, a total of 11 states have no state or regional monitoring program. With the passage of the SECURE Water Act of 2009, the US Congress is seeking to eliminate that disparity. Water level and aquifer health monitoring Among other its other aspects, the SECURE Water Act directs the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to pull together the data from monitoring sites nationwide. The USGS will take the data from the states that are already actively monitoring their groundwater and incorporate this into a national database. Additionally, the USGS offer grants to states and will teach best practices for groundwater monitoring, thereby ensuring a national standard for monitoring and reporting. Using the data that it collects from the states, the USGS will build a model of the nation’s groundwater supply. Specifically, the bill directs the USGS to do the following: • Work with federal, state, and local entities to implement a systematic groundwater monitoring program for major aquifer systems in the United States and to support the Groundwater Climate Response Network

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Work with appropriate state and local entities to conduct a study identifying significant brackish aquifers in the United States Implement a National Water Use and Availability Assessment Program to provide better information on the water resources in the United States; identify trends in use and availability; and help forecast water availability for future needs Maintain a national inventory on water and provide grants to states to enable locally generated data to be integrated with national data sets.

The model that will be constructed from the data is expected to show what effects seasonal variations in rainfall have on the aquifer, how long it takes water to migrate from the surface to the aquifer in various regions of the country, and what contaminants might be present in the groundwater. Beyond this, the model will help regional planners understand if water is being diverted or consumed faster than it can be replenished. This task is critical to water planning and management and, while relatively easy to accomplish at a reservoir or single-well field, it becomes significantly more complex when it is applied to an area such as the Colorado River Basin in the southwestern United States. While citizens can certainly take advantage of the information that will be available in the USGS database, another more-practical outcome will be that many individual home owners and farm owners can start to understand the health of the aquifer they use every day. A significant portion of the nation’s homes and even more of its farms are supplied with water coming from individual wells. These wells are independently maintained by the property owner and have no requirement for monitoring. By utilizing the anticipated USGS information, these individual landowners can better understand how their well level might fluctuate over time and what, if any, contamination might be present. This information should lead to better decision making on all levels. For a better understanding of the United States ground water monitoring efforts, please visit the National Groundwater Association at and examine the results of their 2007 survey of the states. The survey is available at

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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ‘09 August 8th, 2009

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ’09 – H2bid’s Overview A great deal of publicity has been focused on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 or the “Stimulus” bill as it is more popularly known. Chief among its priorities, the stimulus was aimed at jump starting an economic recovery in the United States; similar to other government efforts worldwide, the plan aimed to begin work on a number of domestic initiatives that could put large numbers of people to work. Among the spending priorities was water and sewer infrastructure. This article will examine the funding allocated in the stimulus plan targeted at water and sewer system upgrades, repairs and new construction, seeking to understand how much of the total program will go toward these projects, when it is likely to be spent and how. A scan of the bill reveals that of the $787 billion (US) total, over $6.8 billion is earmarked for water or sewer projects . Additionally, there are earmarks for the US Army Corp of Engineers totaling over $4 billion and earmarks for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture; these three agencies have typically had a role in water conservation, diversion and ecology efforts, so it is safe to assume that the overall spending will be well above the $6.8 billion baseline. Some estimates have put the total as high as $19 billion, but details supporting this sum were not found during research for this article .

Further complicating the matter of arriving at a total for water projects is that some of the money in the bill was allocated to states to use at their own

Articles from World Water Blog discretion – within appropriate spending guidelines, of course. Many of these state grants are intended to put people to work while addressing infrastructure needs simultaneously. For that reason, many projects were selected because they were “shovel ready”, a term meaning that the planning phases are complete and the physical work can begin as soon as funding permits. These projects range from highway and bridge repair to energy infrastructure and, of course, water and sewer system upgrades and repair . While the stimulus monies are slated to be spent over the next 10 years, however the vast majority of the funds are scheduled to be spent in the next four years. In fact approximately $599 billion of the $787 billion total is projected to have been spent by 2012. The two main drivers behind this rapid spending pace are a desire to jumpstart the US economy and, to be certain, politics; 2012 is the next major election year. While that may seem cynical, it is, in fact, a highly practical motivator. Politicians who desire re-election want to make certain that the economy recovers on their watch.

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There has been a certain degree of controversy over which projects were funded. Some have argued that the hardest hit areas of the United States, that is those who have lost the most jobs in the current recession and those areas which have a chronically higher unemployment rate, should have a greater share of the stimulus monies. In fact, the “shovel ready” concept works against these areas. In previous eras, it may have been possible to start construction on a new road or begin to lay new sewer pipe quickly but ask any city or regional planner and they will tell you that there is a significant amount of work that must happen prior to the first shovel touching the earth. Most modern projects require significant up-front planning including traffic studies, environmental impact studies as well as detail design and drafting of the project and site, among others. When this is taken into account, it is understandable that the cities and states in the worst financial shape going into the recession would be the ones who were least situated to have completed all of the up-front work needed to have a long list of “shovel ready” projects. Though some agencies such as the Department of Energy have had to come up with new ways to contract projects, it appears that most of the water infrastructure work will pass through traditional bid-contract scenarios. The states will contract directly in most cases, though some projects will be funded through the US Department of the Interior, in particular those that relate to drinking and waste water upgrades on Native American reservations. Remember that is an excellent source for notices relating to these and other projects!

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Economic Stimulus Money for Water Projects June 25th, 2009

President Obama Provides Economic Stimulus Money for Important Western Water Projects California and indeed the entire western region of the United States, face chronic issues with respect to water use management. As reported in a December 2008 article on this site, California faces special problems intensified by cycles of drought; additionally, budget shortfalls are compounding the problems by limiting what the State can accomplish. Some relief may be in sight, though; in April 2009, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, met with California’s Governor to offer help in the form of economic stimulus money aimed at helping to take some stress off of the water supply of the western United States. “In the midst of one of the deepest economic crises in our history, Californians have been saddled with a drought that is putting tens of thousands of people out of work and devastating entire communities,” said Secretary Salazar. “President Obama’s economic recovery plan will not only create jobs on basic water infrastructure projects, but it will help address both the short- and long-term water supply challenges the Golden State is facing. From boosting water supplies and improving conservation to improving safety at our dams, these shovel-ready projects will make a real and immediate difference in the lives of farmers, businesses, Native American Tribes and communities across California.” In particular, Secretary Salazar identified a series of programs including: •

• •

$40 million for immediate emergency drought relief in the West, focused on California. These investments will allow for the installation of groundwater wells to boost water supplies to agricultural and urban contractors, the facilitation of the delivery of Federal water to Reclamation contractors through water transfers and exchanges, and the installation of rock barriers in the Sacramento Delta to meet water quality standards during low flows; $109.8 million to build a screened pumping plant at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam to protect fish populations while delivering water to agricultural users irrigating approximately 150,000 acres; $22.3 million to address dam safety concerns at the Folsom Dam near Sacramento, which is currently among the highest risk dams in the country for public safety; $8.5 million to repair water-related infrastructure at Folsom Dam; $20 million for the Contra Costa Canal to protect water supplies for 500,000 Californians and to build fish screens to restore winter-run Chinook salmon and the endangered Delta smelt;

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• •

$4.5 million to restore the Trinity River and honor the Federal government’s responsibility to the Native American Tribes; $26 million for Battle Creek Salmon/Steelhead Restoration project, which will help restore fisheries that support thousands of jobs in northern California. $4 million to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan for conveyance systems to move Central Valley Project and State Water Project water, habitat restoration and adaptive management; $4 million to broaden scientific knowledge of Klamath River sedimentation for future management decision-making; $20.7 million in smaller water infrastructure and related projects across California.

Several of these projects should appear familiar to readers of this site as they have been identified as high-impact projects that are required to deal with water management in the Golden State. Additional projects are focused on prevention of future water shortages by investing in upfront planning and preparation before another crisis presents itself. In a state with a centuries-old tradition of cyclic drought, it seems wise to make such investments Beyond the California-specific projects, Secretary Salazar announced almost $1 billion in additional effort focused on water in the western United States. These projects include: •

• • • • • •

Meeting Future Water Supply Needs (including Title XVI water recycling projects and rural water projects) – $450 million Improving Infrastructure Reliability and Safety – $165 million Environmental and Ecosystem Restoration – $235 million Water Conservation Initiative (Challenge Grants) – $40 million Green Buildings – $14 million Delivering water from the Colorado River to users in central Utah under the Central Utah Project Completion Act – $50 million Emergency drought relief in the West – $40 million

The Department of the Interior, on its website, states that they selected projects that address the Department’s highest priority mission needs; generates the largest number of jobs in the shortest period of time; and creates lasting value for the American public. It seems certain that investing in water management in the American west will pay dividends for years to come

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China’s South-North Water Diversion Project May 24th, 2009

Every large city needs a constant supply of fresh water to satisfy its citizens; Beijing is no different. Beijing, which recently hosted the Olympic and Para-Olympic Games, is a city of approximately 16 million people and growing rapidly; current projections estimate that by 2010 there will be over 17 million residents. While normally news about a city expanding is met with enthusiasm, Beijing’s water supply can only support about 14 million. Complicating the matter is the fact that Beijing is in the dry north and the surrounding province of Hebei has been locked in a drought since 1999; since that time, the region has only received about 75 percent of the anticipated precipitation.

Northern China, the industrial heart of the nation, has a much lower rainfall than the southern reaches of China and its rivers are beginning to run dry. Over the past 20 years, the Yellow River has often gone dry in its lower reaches and some smaller rivers are now dried out most of the year. Beijing has worked with Hebei Province to supply the city with water, but there just isn’t enough water to be had. In fact, areas of Hebei are showing evidence of subsidence due to the drain on groundwater reserves. At the heart of the problem is that the entire region is historically dry. Mao once noted, “Southern water is plentiful, northern water scarce.” Long Term Vision

Articles from World Water Blog Beijing has long been aware of the critical need to supply its growing population. Beijing undertook a massive water project called the South to North Water Diversion Project. First envisioned in the 1950’s, the project was started a few years ago; it is estimated that the project will complete in 2050. The project is divided into three major routes, the Eastern Route, the Central Route and the Western Route.

The project’s eastern route, diverting water northward from the Yangtze River through a tunnel burrowed beneath the Yellow River, will see an expansion of the 1,600-km Imperial Grand Canal; at the culmination of the project, the Grand Canal will be the world’s longest aqueduct. The 1,200-km-long central route will also tunnel under the Yellow River. The most ambitious part of this project is to divert river waters cascading from the Tibetan highlands. This is a technically challenging phase and it includes a series of canals and tunnels along a 1,215-km route bisecting the eastern Tibetan Plateau to connect the upper reaches of the Yangtze with the upper reaches of the Yellow. The tunnels would have to be cut through the earthquake-prone Bayankala Mountains. In the Tibetan plateau, China’s South-North Project calls initially for building 300 km of tunnels and channels to draw waters from the Jinsha, Yalong and Dadu rivers, located on the eastern rim of the plateau. The possible diversion of the Brahmaputra waters northward is to come later. The idea of diverting portions of the Brahmaputra is controversial – this may adversely affect the dry-season availability of Brahmaputra waters downstream in India and Bangladesh while increasing wet-season flooding.

Articles from World Water Blog It would appear that China has an ambitious plan to quench the thirst of its people but it also appears that China must work with its neighbors to the south and west so that an equitable and sustainable agreement can be reached. If such an agreement were reached, it would certainly be historic and could lead to the long term prosperity of the entire region.

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UN- World Water Development Project May 1st, 2009

A REVIEW OF THE UNITED NATIONS WORLD WATER DEVELOPMENT REPORT The third edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR) was presented at the World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey on March 16, 2009. Taking a more in-depth approach than the two previous reports, the WWDR focuses on four major elements: the drivers of change, the use of water for humans and for ecosystems, the state of the water in the world, and options for responding to a changing world. In examining the drivers – or the influences that put pressure on water resources – the WWDR reminds readers that most human activities have the potential to exert pressure on water resources and need to be managed. Specifically, the world’s population is increasing by approximately 80 million people per year; this means that even more fresh water is needed when today it is a luxury in most of the world. Additionally, the rapid global rise in living standards combined with population growth presents a major threat to the sustainability of human population growth. This is based on the fact that as populations move from subsistence living to agricultural or industrial societies, their water needs increase. Improved sanitation, improved access to drinking water and improved agriculture – all are welcome changes in the developing world, but all draw more heavily on water. In the section examining the use of water in our world, the report outlines the major end-uses of fresh water, the trends behind those uses and the impact of water scarcity on society as reflected though the end uses. Agriculture is of course primary on the list; agriculture, by far, is the most water-intensive human activity. Of course, without agriculture there would be famine and as such, sacrifices from other areas may have to be made to sustain our global food supply. On the other hand, advances in low-water agriculture may help “give back” some of the water now devoted to this important human endeavor. Also noted in the report are water demands for energy, health, industry and the environment. Lastly, the report notes that social efforts to eradicate poverty consume water. We often don’t think of this when we engage in altruistic efforts to raise the quality of life for people around the globe but we are, in fact, increasing the strain on the world’s fresh water supply systems when we do this. The report certainly commends the efforts of anti-poverty crusaders around the world, but it does caution that water resource planning should be a top priority for these efforts, not an afterthought.

Articles from World Water Blog In the third major section, the WWDR examines the state of the world’s water and spends significant time addressing the changing threats and emerging opportunities that could affect the world’s water. Citing climate change as a factor, the report notes that droughts have become more frequent and more persistent in the past few decades. Additionally, the “over abundance” of water in the form of typhoons, floods and other disasters have displaced millions in the past few years. Rarely do we hear about an opportunity coming from climate change, but the report offers one: with improved water efficiency and distribution, the earth could become a greener, more verdant planet.

The effect of climate change on the world’s vegetation – two possible scenarios. The models above are the composite results of 5 different modeling scenarios and show that, on the whole, a warmer world could be a more productive world from an agricultural standpoint. The barrier between the present and that world is water distribution; if that can be improved modestly, the positive impact on societies around the globe could be enormous. In the last major element of the report, the WWDR analyzes the options that lay before us in responding to water needs in the world. The report encourages “outside the water box” thinking such as incentivizing conservation and large-scale regional planning rather than simply addressing issues at the community level. The WWDR also levels constructive criticism at

Articles from World Water Blog governments and planning bodies for allowing corruption to become so widespread in the water industry around the globe; it suggests that by simply improving transparency many of these problems will fix themselves. By taking a frank look at governments’ roles in policies and planning, the report urges policy makers to consider water development planning as a primary step in any process – rather than a minor detail that can be decided later. All in all, the report paints a picture of a world in flux; not all outcomes are determined. Some roads lead to increased water scarcity and turmoil while others lead to an improved, more productive world. Our future can be a bright one if we choose it to be. The full report can be accessed here: ng_World.pdf

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Global Climate Change Part 4-Preparing For The Future April 1st, 2009 In this, the last of H2Bid’s series on the effects of climate change, the options for action will continue to be explored. As mentioned in the third article, surprisingly little effort has gone into preparing for climate change even though most scientists agree that even the aggressive greenhouse gas emission targets proposed for the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009 will have little, if any, measurable effect on the current global warming trend. The last article suggested some general preparations that could minimize potential negative outcomes of climate change; this article will discuss specific actions that water planners, hydrologists and regional managers could take to protect the water resources in their areas

If any one theme was meant to be conveyed in this series of articles, it was that climate change will mean change. Change in and of itself is neither good nor bad, but change for those who are unprepared will almost always result in a poor outcome. Long-term water planning choices, such as the design and construction of new water-supply infrastructure, agricultural planning, urban water allocations and rate structures, and reservoir operating rules all depend on climatic conditions; if these conditions change, the choices must change as well. More appropriately, if the planning choices could begin to change ahead of the climate, much more favorable outcomes should result. Normal reservoir levels are based in part on the historical average rainfall for a given area. While this has historically worked for most regions, one needs only look to California’s current water shortfalls to appreciate the risks of assuming that rainfall rates will never change. If the freakish and unpredictable weather that affected medieval Europe during the Little Ice Age was to happen in modern times, water planners would, of course, want to take full advantage of the heavy rains when they may occur, rather than letting the excess water pour out the spillways of their dams. By capturing more rainfall when it occurs, it will leave these regions in an improved position should the rainfall frequency diminish. Regional managers may want to consider several options for increasing the capacity of their reservoir systems. If the opportunity exists to create additional reservoirs in a region, it should be proposed as a project with high potential payoff. Alternately, in areas with earthen or moderately reinforced dams, it may be possible to raise the height of the dam and create a new spillway for the new maximum planned reservoir depth. Even an increase of 3 meters (about 10 feet) could mean a huge increase in the holding capacity of many small, local reservoirs. For those planning new construction, consider not relying completely on the local historical minimums, maximums and averages. Rather, consider various “climate what-if” scenarios. Looking at what effects might happen with prolonged 25% or even 50% variations above and below the historical rainfall

Articles from World Water Blog norms will offer key insights into what plans might offer the “biggest bang for the buck� over the coming decades. Additionally, look at recent rainfall trends, over the past decade or two and compare those to the historical patterns. If a recent trend shows some major departure from the historical pattern, perhaps it should be factored into the plan. Working with agricultural outreach programs, common sense farming techniques and new innovations should be stressed. Drip agriculture, drought-resistant crops and land use planning will all play important roles in maximizing crop yield while minimizing water use. Experiments involving large-scale use of drip agriculture in China show that it could reduce agricultural water demand by more than 50%. Additionally beneficial to both farmers and watershed managers, drip irrigation has recently been shown to reduce fertilizer runoff by 95%. Also critical for water systems near coasts, it will be important to protect fresh water sources from sea water infiltration. Groundwater pressure barriers may be useful in stopping infiltration into wells and aquifers. Developing and enhancing the barrier wetlands will help to protect the river and lake systems just inland from the coast. These buffer areas should be managed in a way that allows for their inland expansion to match the predicted sea level rise. Certainly none of these options are inexpensive or easy; but as stewards of our local water resources and systems, it is our collective responsibility to plan for the success of those systems. It should be well understood that regions which anticipate and plan for the effects of climate change will fare much better than regions which do not. Taking that point one step further, those regions which have planned well and positioned themselves well, should expect to see increased economic prosperity and growth as a result of their stable water resource position. The opposite is likely to be the outcome for the under-prepared. That argument should be at the center of the planning debate that will certainly ensue when planners and engineers take their ideas to their governments and citizens. Assuming that the weather patterns that have been in place for the past 50 to 100 years will always be in place is simply unreasonable. The climate of our planet is constantly changing and we must change our attitudes with it.

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Global Climate Change – Part III March 7th, 2009 In the first of these articles on climate change, some of the current and predicted temperature trends were discussed. In this, the third in the series, a look at the trends on the ground and their effects will be discussed. What will climate change mean for our planet? For us? In the second article we found that historic cultures both benefited and became imperiled as a result of the climate changes they experienced. It will likely be a similar mixed result for our time; some may find their way of life challenged while others may actually find that their opportunities improve in the changing times.

The predictable outcomes of climate change can be summarized in a short list of effects, shown below. These effects are not necessarily good or bad but they do represent challenges that we must be prepared to face. For all the effort that has gone into trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, very little has gone into actually preparing the world for what will likely still happen even if those emissions reductions do occur. Probable Effects of Climate Change • • • •

Changes in Weather and Rainfall Patterns Changing Habitats and Growing Areas Rising Sea Levels Population Migration

One of the surest outcomes of climate change is a shift in regional weather and rainfall patterns around the globe. In fact, evidence exists that this is happening already; satellite imagery of the Sahara Desert shows that, since 1990, the Sahara has been shrinking. Greater rainfall near the southern end of the desert has meant increased growth in vegetation and experts predict that by the end of the 21st century, the Sahara will be reduced to its 1901 extent, when a land survey had been conducted. This fact alone should not be alarming or create hysteria; the Sahara has waxed and waned many times throughout recorded human history. That said, it should be taken as an indicator that change is upon us. Climate models suggest that water availability and average river flow are projected to increase at high latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, and decrease in some dry regions at mid-latitudes and in the dry tropics. It is likely that larger and more numerous areas will be affected by droughts, while more frequent heavy precipitation events will increase flood risk. The amount of water stored in glaciers and snow cover is expected to decline, complicating water availability in regions where one-sixth of the world population currently lives.

Articles from World Water Blog As weather patterns change, the growing ranges of some crops may shift. Governments, corporations and individual land owners must be aware of these shifts and their potential impact. Certainly, modern farmers have more resources and knowledge at their disposal than their counterparts in medieval Europe; as such, there is no reason to expect famine. Rather there must be a general understanding and acceptance that there may come a year when planting the same crop in the same field no longer makes sense. There are many crops which do far better in certain climates, even shifting from one variety to another within the same family of crop can mean a bountiful harvest in a year that is wetter or dryer than the historical norm. Educating farmers and land managers about the relationships between crop variety, crop yield and local climate and making more seed types available could minimize the impact of climate change on the global food chain. Furthermore, governments, universities and non profit organizations must continue to offer up to date forecasts of anticipated climate shifts; in this way the farmers and planners can leverage their knowledge to achieve the best outcome from year to year and decade to decade. As the world warms, ice at the poles will melt; in turn, that melt water will slightly increase the depth of the world’s oceans. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that the global average sea level will likely rise by 18 to 59 cm (7 to 23 inches) by the end of the 21st century. The effects of this rise will be most pronounced in low-lying areas near the coast; coastal erosion and infiltration of sea water into fresh water aquifers are likely risks. Additionally, it is plausible that fish and shellfish ranges may shift with the rising waters. Complicating this is that some of the land that could be underwater in a century is currently in use; to the extent that the current uses could pollute the water when submerged, governments and corporations must focus on remediation of these sites in the coming decades. In response to the changes outlined above, human populations will naturally shift; people will seek to migrate to the areas where crops and water are more plentiful. While predictable, this human migration will tax the resources of the regions to which the people migrate. If well managed, this population shift could be fairly benign, even beneficial in some ways like increased labor resources, greater depth of knowledge and skills and even improved cultural understanding. If not managed, however, human migration can lead to increased competition for resources and conflict. Furthermore, as people move about the globe, so will disease. Once again, the prepared regions will fare well by actively and aggressively educating both their settled population and the newcomers about the situation. Immunization, community health outreach and well-managed sanitation will all play important roles in minimizing the effects of disease and routes of transmission in these future scenarios. National and regional planners should

Articles from World Water Blog begin to include such scenarios in their disaster planning exercises and readiness training.

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Global Climate Change – Part II February 15th, 2009

Global Climate Change – Part II Previous Climate Changes In the first of these articles on the effects of climate change, several exaggerated scenarios were offered as ‘worst case’ climate change outcomes. For the most part, the scientific community dismisses these as hype and propaganda; at the same time, some experts offer us insight into the real, probable outcomes of climate change. How does the community of experts go about separating the hype and hysteria from the probable and predicable? In a word, history. Scientists need only look to the past to find the answer to the question of what may come. Though it appears to be accelerated, this is not the first time that the Earth’s climate has changed; some changes were regional, some affected half the planet and others were truly global and in each case, there are geological and archeological clues as to what happened and what resulted. Many of these events even happened inside the bounds of human history so there are firsthand oral or written accounts to back up the archeology. The American Southwest is well known today as a desert region; images of dust-covered cowboys and oasis-cities like Phoenix and Tucson spring to mind. 1,500 years ago, however, this region was wetter, even lush. The Pueblo Peoples (sometimes referred to as the Anasazi) called the region home and built complex, apartment-like cities into the canyon cliffs; these cities housed many people and were continuously habited for hundreds of years. If one stands in these monuments of the ancients today and looks out a doorway or window the view is radically different from what the original occupants would have seen. Today, the region receives very little rainfall and the view is one of a dry, arid land with minimal vegetation. It is hard to imagine how these ancient people thrived in such a harsh environment. Archeology paints a picture of a different land when the Ancient Pueblo lived in their cliff cities, however. Seeds found in pottery, scraps left in ancient garbage dumps and even paintings all tell the story of a wetter, greener climate. Recent satellite imagery shows the remnants of dry river beds and cultivated fields in the area surrounding the Pueblo dwellings; given these facts, it is easy to understand why the Pueblo settled in the area. In fact, the period from about 700 AD to 1130 AD shows evidence of consistent, regular rainfall and concurrent with the rains, there is evidence of a population boom in the region; Native Americans migrated to the area because of abundant food and relative peace among the peoples.

Articles from World Water Blog At the end of this time, native tradition tells of the Great Drought and both geological and archeological evidence supports this; beginning in approximately 1150 AD, the continent of North America entered into a 300 year period of radically decreased rainfall. As crops failed and water became scarce, the Pueblo people eventually abandoned their cities, migrating to other, more habitable locales, leaving their empty buildings to history. Other cultures were affected by the Great Drought, as well. Half a continent away, the Mississippian Culture declined and disappeared in the same time period. On the European continent, the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age provide other examples of what climates can do to cultures. The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) is a well-documented period lasting from about 800 AD to 1200 AD; during this time, Europe experienced warm temperatures, regular rainfall and extremely stable climate. It is not well understood by scientists if this was indicative of global climate at the time, but it is generally accepted that at the least, the entire North Atlantic region saw these patterns during the MWP. The effects of the MWP on the human population of Europe are captured in personal writings, paintings and even tax documentation. Wine grapes grew as far north southern Britain, crops were plentiful and the population flourished. These were welcome changes from the previous period, often referred to as the “Dark Ages”. Other evidence for the long-lasting, stable, warm climate include the remnants of stumps that show the tree line in the Alps was several hundred meters higher than the modern tree line. It was during the MWP that the Vikings took advantage of ice-free seas to colonize Greenland and Iceland. In contrast, the Little Ice Age (LIA) which occurred from about 1300 AD to about 1850 AD, was marked by cold temperatures, extreme weather and famine. Ice cores show evidence that in about 1250 AD, the North Atlantic Ice Pack began to grow, slowly for the first few decades and then more rapidly in the following century. In Europe, the climate grew colder and more prone to violent weather events. The rains of 1315 are well documented in church and personal journals; unusually heavy rainfall plagued European farmers in the spring of that year; the rains continued and the temperature remained cool for the rest of the spring and summer, preventing the crops from growing in the fields. The same records tell of the Great Famine of 1315-1317, the first of several famines that struck Europe with regularity in the LIA. In the end, millions perished because of these crop failures. Paintings of the time show scenes of winter often lasting well into when summer would be expected; and records indicate that the winters were harsh and fiercely cold. One priest even writes of finding the communion wine frozen one morning. Even the notoriously tough Vikings abandoned their settlements in Greenland; in fact, some of these villages have only recently been ‘discovered’ after the glaciers that had covered them for hundreds of years retreated as a result of our current warming trend.

Articles from World Water Blog Taken as a whole, these stories all point to the fact that one predictable outcome of climate change is unpredictability. It is fair to say that our modern world has greater insight into the weather and science than our forbearers but we should not let ourselves rest on that advantage. We must be diligent in tracking changes in our climate and acting upon predicted outcomes extrapolated from those changes. Some effects may actually be beneficial, like the increased crop yields in the MWP, and we must be poised to take advantage of these benefits when they emerge. Likewise, we must guard against the crop

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Global Climate Change February 1st, 2009

Global Climate Change Part I – An introduction As the Earth’s climate changes, new stresses will be placed on the planet’s resources and those who are tasked with managing them. The available data indicates that the global climate has warmed by approximately 0.74 °C (1.3 °F) over the past hundred years, from 1906-2005 . Furthermore, many scientists predict that the Earth’s average temperature could rise an additional 1.4 °C (2.5 °F) or more in the coming century. A great deal of attention has been paid to what contributing role human activities may be playing in this temperature rise; greenhouse gases, most specifically carbon dioxide (CO2), produced as fossil fuels such as oil and coal are burned are cited as the major drivers behind this temperature rise. In an effort to counter the trend, nations began to propose reductions in greenhouse gases; at the Kyoto conference of 1992, specific greenhouse gas reduction targets were set for many industrialized nations aimed at an overall reduction of 5.2% by 2010. The Copenhagen conference, planned for 2009, is expected to push these target reductions even further. For all of the effort and attention paid to climate change in the past two decades, however, many industrialized nations’ greenhouse gas emissions actually increased after Kyoto. Even more troubling, the proposed reductions being currently discussed for the Copenhagen conference will likely have little, if any, measureable effect on the world’s climate. Most experts actively engaged in climate research estimate that a 50% or more reduction in man-made greenhouse gases would be needed to diminish or stall the current warming trend; by contrast, the European Union is currently advocating a 20% reduction plan over the next 10 years (2010-2020) , a reduction level that the experts say will offer no impact. These scientists back up this assertion by demonstrating, through computer-based modeling, that 20% emissions reductions yield no significant reduction in the warming trend.


Change in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (1990-2004) (not including land use conversions)









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New Zealand








United Kingdon


United States*


Worldwide Total*


* based on 1992-2007 reporting ** source data from the 2007 IPCC Assessment Report on Climate Change Often cited as reasons to push the industrialized world faster toward greenhouse gas reductions, are the stories of what might happen if the world’s climate spins out of control. Mass extinctions, monster hurricanes, floods, the grain belts turning to desert – all have been cited as potential disasters if the world does not change its course. Even movies depicting a sudden ice age, complete with blasts of air cold enough to instantly freeze a person, have been produced as theatrical warnings of our coming peril. To be sure, most of these are over-exaggerations of what may come, but scientists generally agree that some change is inevitable; what is not in agreement is what those changes will be. In light of the world’s general behavior, and coupled with the fact that scientists believe that deep reductions in emissions are required to produce a tangible impact, it is unlikely that the current warming trend will stop. What does that mean for the world? What can be done to prepare for or even mitigate the effects of these changes? In the next few articles, H2Bid will explore some likely outcomes of a warming world and propose some actionable plans that could help to lessen the strain on water systems that may face challenges in the wake of these outcomes.

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NASA System Recaptures Water From Urine December 31st, 2008

Imagine that you were on the adventure of a lifetime, exploring outer space and – literally – going where no one has gone before. Oh, and there’s just one catch; you’ll need to recycle your own urine into drinking water. That’s now reality for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. In November, the space shuttle Endeavor delivered NASA’s Water Recovery System (WRS) and after a few initial glitches, it appears to be functioning well. Orbiting 250 miles above our planet, the International Space Station is an outpost for humanity tethered to our world only by gravity. Supplying the station with water has always been an issue; the cost per pint tops $15,000 US. As such, the astronauts had always relied on recycling and water reclamation was a necessary fact of life. The crew of the station had to recapture every possible drop: water evaporated from showers, shaving, tooth brushing and hand washing, plus perspiration and water vapor that collects within the astronauts’ space suits. In a pinch, they even transferred water from the fuel cells that provide electric power to the space shuttle, but one frontier of reclamation lay untapped: the astronauts’ own urine. Image courtesy of NASA

Articles from World Water Blog The WRS mimics the water cycle of our own planet, evaporating and re-condensing the water and then passing it through filters that capture and remove any remaining contaminants. Going into a bit more detail, the new system distills urine then shunts it to join the rest of the recovered fluids in the water processor. The processor filters out solids such as hair and lint and then sends the wastewater through a series of multifiltration beds, in which contaminants are removed through adsorption and ion exchange. After that, a reactor that breaks down any remaining compounds to carbon dioxide, water and a few ions. After a final check for microbes, the water is again clean and ready to drink. NASA, the Russian Space Agency and most scientists see urine recycling as a logical ‘must have’ for interplanetary travel. Furthermore, once at their destination – say Mars – the explorers will most likely need to continue water recycling until a permanent settlement is in place, even if local water sources exist. While every effort would be made to land the exploration crew near ice deposits, until that ice is proven ‘clean’ and fit to drink, the crew will need to live as they had for the journey. The initial few days of testing the new WRS were frustrating to the crew and mission controllers. The WRS seemed to be unable to run for more than four hours without being restarted. Finally, the problem was identified as a poorly-mounted centrifuge. Astronauts Mike Fincke and Don Pettit changed how the centrifuge was mounted in the unit and the WRS began running smoothly. NASA has stated that it plans to test the recycled urine for any contaminants and to make sure that the system works as well in microgravity as it did on Earth. If all goes well, the crew of the International Space Station will get the go-ahead to use the WRS unit full-time in 2009.

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Alliance for Water Efficiency November 6th, 2008

One way that we can make our existing water supply work more effectively for our society is conservation. Through efficient use of fresh water supplies, it is possible to stretch our existing resources further and preserve them for the future. While there are many novel concepts and technologies that could make a substantial impact toward conserving our water a challenge has been sharing that information with the broader community of regulators, planners, contractors, and appliance makers so that national policies might be developed. All of these groups have a direct influence in implementing water conservation technologies but lack of a common forum appeared to impede progress historically. In a proactive move to change that trend, in 2006, the US EPA announced the formation of the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE). AWE’s primary mission is to serve as an advocate for water efficiency research, evaluation, and education by bringing local, state and federal regulators together with utilities and industry representatives to the same table. Many of the initiatives publicized by AWE seem like common sense; that said, without the national clearinghouse that AWE offers, few would know of these efforts, much less benefit from them. Take low-flow toilet testing for example; everyone generally sees the value that low-flow toilets bring to water conservancy but many consumers and home builders are hesitant to embrace the technology because they wonder “will it work?” There were a variety of proprietary tests that we performed by manufacturers touting their own solutions and even a test conducted by Consumer Reports magazine but few of these tests were performed with realistic media and accurately represented how the toilet would perform with human waste. The MaP (Maximum Performance) project was undertaken to address this; by working with water conservation experts and toilet fixture manufacturers, the MaP project developed a test that used soybean paste as a test media. The MaP testing report now includes information on over 700 models of toilet, 200 of which are rated as high efficiency toilets (HET); the test report rates each fixture by the amount of waste cleared in a single flush and includes other useful information such as water usage per flush and the model’s compliance with various efforts and standards. Most consumers and homebuilders would never be aware that such efforts have been made to provide the information that’s they need to make a conscious choice to buy a low-flow toilet; the Alliance seeks to change that – and consequently make an impact in reducing water usage. Beyond just toilet testing, AWE offers a substantial residential efficiency library. Compiling information and standards on many areas including showers, dishwashers, irrigation and swimming pools, the Alliance seeks to educate home builders and home owners so that smart decisions can be made by both groups.

Articles from World Water Blog At the other end of the spectrum from consumer education is drought planning and response; AWE tackles this as well. AWE rightly links water conservation and drought as two drivers of water policy and planning; while water conservation will not completely prevent drought, it can forestall acute crises and reduce demand, allowing the natural water cycle to ‘catch up’ to human usage patterns. The Alliance offers the State of California’s Urban Drought Handbook (published by the state’s Department of Water Resources) as a practical roadmap for communities currently dealing with drought and those who see the value in establishing a plan before a crisis occurs. The handbook is an extremely concise resource for state and local governments and offers a complete roadmap for managing a drought including identifying demands, alternate sources and establishing triggers that can be a sort of early warning system for water planners and elected officials. Additionally, AWE offers information and education through newsletters and press releases. Scouring the lay-media as well as the professional and academic journals, AWE finds articles that range in sources from local newspapers to Scientific American magazine. The Alliance is putting together a comprehensive portal for water conservation, technology and real world issues. AWE couples this library of information and articles with a convenient search tool which allows users to quickly identify and locate information specific to their situation – whether contractors, planners or consumers – everyone benefits. What’s more, AWE does not restrict access to this database of information, it exists to be used by any and all who are interested. Until the EPA chartered the Alliance, water conservation efforts were local and disparate. The AWE offers a national platform and voice to advocate for the best of these programs. Through increased education and advocacy of smart policies, the AWE represents a huge step forward for sustainable water planning and use in North America. Its members are hard at work, shaping the future of our water policy.

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Public Corruption & its Effects on the Water Industry October 4th, 2008

When people talk about the major issues impeding progress in bringing clean water and sanitation to the developing world, themes like “limited resources,” “lack of infrastructure,” and “war” are common. All are certainly very real barriers, yet one issue that stands in the way of millions having access to water rarely gets attention: corruption. Huguette Labelle of Transparency International issued a recent report titled Global Corruption Report 2008: Corruption in the Water Sector. In the report, Labelle’s group asserts that corruption in the water industry is one of the root causes and a catalyst for the global water crisis that threatens billions of lives and exacerbates environmental degradation. The report goes on to identify specific examples, including petty bribery in water delivery, procurement-related looting of irrigation and hydropower funds, covering up industrial pollution, and manipulation of water management and allocation policies. In the developed world, corruption typically takes the form of rigged contract awards or payments for work that was never performed. Major US cities like Atlanta, New Orleans and Chicago have all seen water scandals in recent years. Even Sweden has seen bid-rigging and price fixing plague it’s water infrastructure development. The motivation in these cases is all too clear; the US, European and Japanese water industries have a combined annual budget of over 200 billion USD. Even a small piece of the pie is a tasty morsel for an unethical contractor or official. Though the corruption certainly exists, graft in the developed world rarely results in the denial of basic sanitation and clean water to the residents of those nations. Instead, the outcome is higher prices for water and sewer services; it’s estimated that corruption increases the cost of sanitary services by as much as 30%. That said, those in the developed world might consider themselves lucky that the impact of corruption is not greater. In the developing world, the effect of corruption is often the denial of services to many and outrageous fees to those lucky enough to have water service. In Zimbabwe, urban residents have to bribe officials to ensure they can get access to basic services. “As residents we are faced with the twin evil of a continuously deteriorating service delivery system and corrupt officials – some of them in decision-making positions – who take advantage of the sorry state of affairs to fleece us when we ask for the situation to be rectified,” Edmore Mbirimi, a resident of Chitungwiza, told IRIN, a humanitarian news agency. Mr. Mbirimi was told if he wanted his broken sewer pipe repaired, he should “drop a feather” (offer a bribe) to the employees of the public works department.

Articles from World Water Blog In China, bribery to avoid the enforcement of environmental regulations has reportedly contributed to a situation in which the aquifers in 90 percent of Chinese cities are polluted and more than 75 percent of river water flowing through urban areas is considered unsuitable for fishing and drinking. To combat these problems, Transparency International offers several key recommendations, including establishing transparency and participation as guiding principles for all aspects of water governance, strengthening regulatory oversight, and ensuring fair competition and accountable implementation of water projects. Along those lines, one of the key goals of H2bid.cominternational bid clearinghouse is to increase transparency in the bidding process for water utility contracts. By opening water utility contracts to all qualified contractors and firms, worldwide, facilitates finding the contractor that will bring the most value to the job, not just the handful of contractors who may know how to “work the system.� By increasing competition and transparency, aims to answer Labelle’s call for a reduction in the corruption and graft that prevents millions of people from having affordable access to clean drinking water.

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New Solutions For Acid Rain September 21st, 2008

Most people have heard of acid rain, widely discussed as a threat to forests downwind from coal-fired power plants. Acid rain is primarily caused by sulfur dioxide (SO2), a byproduct of burning coal, oil or gas that is tinged with sulfur. Because sulfur is a commonly occurring element, it is virtually impossible to find deposits of these fossil fuels that do not contain sulfur. When sulfur dioxide is emitted as these fuels are burned, it enters the atmosphere and reacts with water. The outcome of this reaction is sulfuric acid (H2SO4); it is this acid that gives the rain its name. Not a Recent Problem Most nations have moved to burning low-sulfur fossil fuels such as low-sulfur coal. Since acid rain hasn’t been in the news lately, it is assumed by the public to be a t hreat that has passed and in fact the measures put in place in the 1980’s and 90’s have made a significant impact on the problem. Upon closer examination though, the rain downwind from fossil fuel power plants is still acidic. Figures 1 and 2 show Eastern North America during the time periods of 1980-1984 and 1996-2000, respectively. Figure 1

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As one can see, there was a significant reduction in the acidity of the rain, especially in the Great Lakes region over the intervening years. That said, the pH of ‘clean’, natural rain is about 5.6; as a reference, vinegar stands around 3.0. Given this, the rain in the region is still quite acidic and capable of causing significant environmental issues. The Impact of Sulfur Dioxide After it has reacted in the atmosphere, sulfur dioxide falls to the Earth as acid rain. The most obvious impact of acid rain is one that we can visibly see. Plant life suited to normal-pH rain does not thrive well and will die in acid rain regions. The forests of Europe were devastated by acid rain. Figure 3 is an area of the Black Forest in Germany where there was significant tree-die-off from acid rain. Figure 4 shows how this death begins at the branch-level. Figure 3

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Figure 4

Effects that are not seen, however, may be even more significant. When acid rain falls in lakes, rivers and streams, the pH of the water is altered. Lakes that become acidified cannot support the variety of life that they once did. Crayfish, freshwater clams and muscles are the first to disappear and as these creatures are removed from the food chain, others begin to die, as well. Lakes in limestone-rich areas are less prone to these die-offs as the limestone can neutralize the acid; lakes in regions where granite is common do not have this natural buffer and are the first to show such distress. In addition, as the aquatic populations are reduced, the animals that rely upon the lakes for food and shelter are also impacted. Fish-eating birds and land mammals migrate to other areas and frogs, snails and other lake-dwellers die off from one generation to the next.

Articles from World Water Blog Didn’t We Already Solve the Problem? What More Can Be Done? One solution employed in the 1980’s and 90’s was to build higher stacks or chimneys. This effectively put the sulfur higher into the atmosphere and the acid rain moved further downwind. It quickly became obvious that this was just pushing the problem – not solving it. In fact in 1988, Prince Charles of Britain recognized this, saying: “Our responsibilities do lie in not exporting our problems abroad.” The ending to this story doesn’t need to be so gloomy, though. There are new technologies that are being employed at power plants around the world. One such technology is flue gas desulfurization or FSD, essentially removing the sulfur dioxide from the combustion gases as they ascend the chimney flue. The three main methods employed to accomplish FSD are wet-scrubbing, dry-scrubbing, and injection. In wet and dry scrubbing, the two most commonly used methods; a slurry of limestone or lime is sprayed through the chimney as the gases rise. This lime reacts with the SO2 and the resulting compounds ‘rain’ down to be collected at the chimney’s base. There are also emerging technologies that could surpass the efficacy of lime scrubbing. The Chendu power plant in China and the Pomorzany power plant in Poland have installed new technology in which the flue gases are blasted with electrons and then exposed to ammonia. This reaction is said to leave little un-reacted SO2 that will escape the chimney and additionally it shows a similar reduction in nitrous oxide (NOx). Though still in the early stages of testing, this may lead to very clean power plants in the developing world offering hope that the same problems that plagued Europe and North America, such as acid rain, might be avoided as these emerging economies expand and develop in the 21st century.

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How China Created Clean Water for the Beijing Olympics August 30th, 2008

In the months and weeks leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, there was considerable concern about the pollution in and around the Olympic venues and its potential impact on the Games. Media coverage tended to focus on the worst case scenarios of ‘what might happen’ but little coverage was aimed at what actions the Chinese initiated to mitigate health risks to athletes and spectators. This article will shed some light on those actions and the results that followed. Beijing Before the Games The Chinese categorize water quality by giving a grade of one to five. Grade one is water that is safe for drinking, grade three is safe for everyday use, grade five is polluted water; unfit for even agricultural purposes. Prior to the games, a survey showed that nearly 60% of China’s water is grade three or lower and less than one-quarter of the nation’s sewage is treated. Compound this with hyper-accelerated urbanization and the nation’s water supply was in a critical condition. A bird’s eye view of the “Water Cube”

Beijing was no exception, when it was announced in 2001 that the Games would be coming to the city, the Tonghui River, part of the Grand Canal built in the early 7th century AD, had been reduced to a garbage dump and an open sewer. A student survey conducted by China’s Green Student Forum cataloged

Articles from World Water Blog many residents’ complaints and concerns. They found that a majority of Beijing residents were dissatisfied with the quality of their city’s water in 2001; Gallup polling in the same year returned a similar statistic. Remarkable Efforts With the announcement that Beijing would host the 2008 Olympic Games, China set out on an aggressive path to clean the air and water. China’s leaders and people wanted to put their best foot forward to the world but many in the global community were skeptical; China’s plans were grand and seemed unachievable. The Chinese set a goal that by the time of the Games, over 90% of Beijing’s sewage would be treated and the Games would not be plagued by algae blooms in the lakes or bad water tainting the fans’ mouths. In addition, the Chinese set goals of having in place 2.68 million tons per day sewage treatment capacity and 50% water-reuse by the time of the Olympics. In fact what happened was nothing short of stellar. Between 2001 and 2008, the Chinese built 17 new sewage treatment facilities in the Beijing metropolitan area; as of early 2007, these facilities were processing over 2.9 million tons of sewage per day – exceeding the Olympic goal a full year ahead of schedule. By the time of the Olympics, sewage treatment in Beijing was over 93% and the 50% re-use mark was being easily met. But the Chinese were just getting started. In addition to the basic goals of treating the sewage and cleaning up the city’s appearance, the Chinese officials made inroads into cleaning up the rivers, lakes, streams and ponds in and around the city; partly by blocking over 1,000 direct-sewer pipes that flowed into 15 waterways in the city. In total, well over 2 billion dollars (US) was invested in the city’s water cleanup efforts. Excellent Outcome As a result of the Chinese efforts, visitors to the city and the hundreds of millions who watched the Games on television did not see a developing nation; instead they saw a nation of growth and prosperity. In every venue from the rowing courses to the beach volleyball courts near the lake in Chaoyang Park, observers watched the competition and were not distracted by environmental issues. While the world’s opinion is certainly important to China as it emerges in the 21st century, perhaps the best arbiter of China’s success in mitigating the water quality issues in Beijing is the opinion of the city’s residents. In recent Gallup polling, a substantial majority of Beijing residents said they were satisfied with their water quality – a complete reversal of the 2001 statistic. Additionally, well over half of the respondents said that over the last several years the problem of water pollution has improved in the city. Looking to the Future

Articles from World Water Blog China still has a long road ahead; Beijing is well on its way, but the country as a whole still has major water and sewage issues. What the Chinese effort shows, however, is that with the right investment and clarity of focus, dramatic results can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time. China’s successes in preparing for the Olympics show that the problems faced by developing nations are not insurmountable obstacles; rather they are simply challenges waiting to be taken up by those with the will to succeed.

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WATER SYSTEM INFRASTRUCTURE – A VIEW OF WHERE WE ARE, WHERE WE COULD GO AND HOW WE CAN GET THERE. This is the first of several essays that are aimed at focusing attention on water and sewer infrastructure systems. In this essay, the current state of city and regional systems are examined; the current state of the industry will be examined next, investigating some of the tools, resources and technologies that are available, today. Beyond that, the final essay in this series will look at the needs emerging from the developing world as well as the shifting demands that will drive decisions affecting the upkeep and expansion of existing water infrastructure. When those of us who live in developed nations turn on the tap or flush the toilet, most of us are not thinking of what it takes to deliver us that glass of clean water or treat our sewage. The infrastructure that is in place for pumping, purifying, transport and waste treatment is what allows those mundane, daily activities to occur without a second thought. These water and sewer networks are a patchwork-quilt of local and regional systems that have been pieced together in order to meet the needs of the populations that they support. In some cases, components have been in place for hundreds of years; this is especially true in the case of networks that serve large urban centers. In fact, fully 1/3 of London’s water pipes are over 150 years old , and while there may be some truth to the adage ‘they don’t build them like they used to’, the stark reality is that water and sewer systems do deteriorate over long periods of time and constant use. Populations grow and new industries bring new needs. The infrastructure to support these new needs must be put in place; new roads and power systems must be constructed, and installed as needed. Water and sewer systems cannot simply ‘expand capacity’ as needed, though. Because of this, water system mangers and engineers must plan for the future in design and construction, anticipating future needs. Critical questions that city and regional managers must ask themselves include: - What is the state of the existing water and sewer systems? - What is the yearly cost to maintain these systems? - What population were these systems designed to serve? - Are these systems meeting the current demands that are placed upon them? - What is the best approach to addressing any immediate issues or shortfalls? - What are likely to be the demands placed in these systems 25 years in the future? 50 years? 100 years? - How far into the future will the systems continue to support the population? - How can those future needs be most effectively addressed? - Are there new ideas or new technologies that should be pursued? - How can these repairs, upgrades and improvements be financed? In examining the water and sewer systems in the United States, the first point of interest is the distributed and independent nature of these networks. The US Congressional

Articles from World Water Blog Budget Office (CBO) found that over 53,000 independent systems are in place to serve an estimated 264 million people. While that may seem like a huge number of water systems, it should be noted that just 7 percent of these community systems serve 10,000 people or more . While local control and regulation is, in many cases, desirable, in this case it unfortunately leads to situations where some local communities struggle to deal with the costs associated with addressing necessary upkeep and maintenance of these systems, much less improved water quality. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) data on the costs of monitoring and treatment to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act standards that came into force as of September, 1994, suggest that the average cost per household was on the order of $4 per year in systems serving more than 500,000 people, but $300 per year for systems serving no more than 100 people . The need to maintain the existing drinking water supply systems is clearly evidenced by the tragedies that unfold when those systems fail. As an example, in 1993 contamination of the Milwaukee water supply by cryptosporidium caused 400,000 cases of gastrointestinal illness and an estimated 50 to 100 deaths. Less catastrophic failures demonstrate the widespread nature of the problems. According to EPA’s data, 880 publicly owned treatment works receive flows from “combined sewer systems” which commingle storm water with household and industrial wastewater and frequently overload during heavy rain or snowmelt. Such overflows are estimated to discharge 1.2 trillion gallons of storm water and untreated sewage every year. Even “sanitary” systems with separate sewers for wastewater can overflow or leak because of pipe blockages, pump failures, inadequate maintenance, or excessive demands. According to a draft EPA report, overflows from sanitary sewers alone result in a million illnesses each year . Even historic Boston Harbor was used for nearly 300 years as the disposal site for regional sewage until a court-ordered cleanup and treatment plan changed that in 1998. While Boston appears to have successfully upgraded its sewer treatment and disposal system, there are still many coastal communities in the US, Canada, Europe and elsewhere that practice raw sewage disposal in the world’s oceans. This is a practice that generates almost universal repulsion when it is exposed to the public light, and mostly continues because of public ignorance that it occurs. Furthermore, many urban and rural drinking water systems lose 20 percent or more of the water they produce through leaks in their pipe networks; London offers a prime example of this. Water leakage in London’s Thames Water system runs at the equivalent of 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools a day. In part, such problems are the result of normal aging of water infrastructure worldwide. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that a sewer pipe lasts 50 years and a 1998 US survey of 42 municipal sewer systems found that existing pipes averaged 33 years old, suggesting that many are, or soon will be, in need of replacement. These facts are not presented in order to alarm or point fingers; instead they are offered as the starting point for discussions. The fact is that today more people have access to clean water than ever before in human history and that is a great accomplishment, of which

Articles from World Water Blog everyone should be proud. That should not, however, preclude constructive assessments of problems that affect the health and well being of people in communities everywhere. Quite the opposite, knowing how much has been accomplished and the effort that has gone into putting the infrastructure in place should be motivation to maintain and continually improve the drinking water and sewage treatment systems that serve the world.

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