Pure Water Occasional, November 11, 2017
In this early November Occasional you'll read about water-hardy plants, poultry pollution in Kansas, ballast water in lakes, nitrates in city water, and a big oil spill in the Gulf. Learn how news affects water usage, how to disinfect house pipes, and how to mix oil and water. You'll hear about a gigantic water leak, GenX pollution, UV with rainwater, UV with city water, and, as always, there is much, much more.
Boil Water Orders Are Increasing:
What This Means to Residential Water Users
by Gene Franks
Adding a "point of entry" ultraviolet system to the home's incoming water does away with the need to "boil water."
“Boil water” alerts are issued by water suppliers when the safety of the water they deliver is in question. The standard instruction is that water should be brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute (longer at higher altitudes) to kill waterborne pathogens.
Formerly, government agencies tracked boil water alerts in the US as public information, but as the number of alerts has increased dramatically in recent times record keeping is no longer done. In the absence of such information, Dr. Kelly Reynolds of the University of Arizona recently used a Google News search to identify boil water alerts across the US for a two-week period in August 2013. Dr. Reynolds found 29 alerts during the period.
Alerts are issued for a variety of reasons–bad weather, especially flooding, a break in a water main, low system pressure, finding of fecal coliform by testing, system leaks, system maintenance, detection of E. coli or cryptosporidium by routing testing, and general elevated bacteria counts are the most common.
As pipes and pumps age, and as power outages and weather incidents become more frequent, it is certain that boil water alerts will become more common.
The boil water strategy for assuring micro-biologically safe water is at best a risky one. We have been conditioned to rely on the safety of our water systems to provide potable water, but this perception of safety is changing. Each time a pipe ruptures or pressure in the pipe goes down, microbes are drawn into the delivery system. A blanket "boil water" warning, even if given on time and received by all concerned, is a haphazard way to assure safety. Studies have shown that both reception of the alert and compliance with its recommendation are far below 100%.
It is certain that we have gone past the time of complete trust in the water delivery system to provide pathogen-free water. Just as more and more people are now relying on home treatment devices to provide chemical-free and more aesthetically pleasing water for drinking, cooking, and bathing, it is logical that “final barrier” devices to assure that water is free of bacteria, viruses and protozoa are becoming more common for city residents.
Fortunately, modern water treatment has developed many alternatives–from very tight filters for drinking water to whole house treatments like ultraviolet. These are certain to become prominent fixtures in US homes. As Dr. Reynolds says, “The inherent, unpredictable nature of the distribution system and the maintenance quality of the distributed water add credence to the need for routine POU [point of use] treatment.”
Reference: Water Conditioning and Purification, Sept., 2013.
Nitrate Levels in Water are Increasing
In a Nutshell: Ever-increasing amounts of chemical fertilizers and animal manure are being swept into rivers causing alarming increases in nitrate levels in the drinking water of farming states like Iowa, Illionois, and Minnesota. Nitrates are no longer only a well-water problem. Cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids get their drinking water from nitrate-laden rivers and are now facing difficult and expensive removal procedures. The unsavory trade-off is that corporations get cheap corn and citizens get high-priced, low-quality drinking water.
Agribusiness Corn Farming Is Fueling the Continuing Rise in Nitrates in the Drinking Water of Farm Belt States
In Iowa, nitrate levels in water have reached levels never seen before.
After a long drought, a soggy spring washed fertilizers and manure off of farms and into the rivers that provide drinking water. The elevated nitrate levels are becoming a threat to human health.
According to an AP article:
Nitrate levels have soared because drought-withered corn plants didn’t suck up all the nitrogen spread on fields last year. The drought was followed by Iowa’s wettest April in 141 years, and that rain washed unused fertilizer into rivers, the primary source of drinking water for 45 percent of the state’s population.
Nitrate in water is an issue throughout the Midwest, but Iowa is especially vulnerable because about 90 percent of the state is dedicated to agriculture. Corn requires an abundant supply of nitrogen, which must be added to the soil through the application of nitrogen fertilizer or manure.
The Environmental Protection Agency requires nitrate in drinking water be kept at less than 10 milligrams per liter. Above that level can be deadly to infants younger than six months because the chemical can reduce the amount of oxygen carried in their blood. Pregnant women are advised not to drink water above the EPA limit, as are adults with reduced stomach acidity. There is conflicting evidence and expert opinion regarding nitrates as a cancer causer.
One river in Iowa, the Racoon River upstream from Des Moines, had nitrate readings of 24 mg/L last year. The Des Moines River reported a record high 18 mg/L. Both rivers furnish drinking water for Des Moines. The city of Cedar Rapids has also experienced high levels of nitrates.
Many city water plants lack the equipment needed to reduce nitrate levels and are reduced to blending high nitrate water with water of better quality to produce an acceptable (below 10 mg/L) product. Other cities, like Des Moines, have expensive nitrate reduction equipment but prefer not to use it because of high operating cost.
Iowa and Illinois rivers typically have some of the nation’s highest nitrate levels, but other top corn states also have issues, including Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and the eastern portions of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
According to the AP article cited above, nitrate levels in those states have been rising since the 1950s but leveled off in the 1980s. In the last five years, they’ve been climbing again as high corn prices have driven farmers to plant near-record corn acres. One official said, “In essence what we’re doing is subsidizing cheap food, paying for it through the high cost of cleaning up our water after it’s contaminated by fertilizer.”
And the cost indeed is high. Des Moines has now had to switch on a $4 million nitrate reduction system that costs $7,000 per day to operate. In some Minnesota cities, the price of water has risen dramatically.
The nitrate invasion is, of course, the logical result of an unsustainable agricultural system that is focused entirely on short-term profits without regard to the consequences. Farmers are being encouraged to limit fertilizer use and to leave plants in the field to lessen erosion, and many have made changes. But for most, it’s agribusiness as usual and the rivers be damned.
While it is difficult for city water suppliers to remove nitrates from the millions of daily gallons they process, it is relatively easy for homeowners to remove nitrates from drinking water. Reverse osmosis removes nitrates handily.
Source: 2013 article from PostBulletin.com
Without careful management, corn in the field can turn to nitrates in the water.
Private Wells Should be Tested at Least Annually
Livestock feedlots are a primary source of nitrates in well water.
City water supplies are tested for pathogens frequently - in some cases, several times a day. Well owners, however, frequently hold the opinion that when they bought the property the well was tested and that means it's safe for life.
In most cases the testing that is done when a home changes hands is only the most rudimentary test for coliform. Moreover, this test usually has little validity because realtors and even county officials often suggest that if the well fails, the seller of the property should “shock” treat it, then test again immediately. Passing this test offers no assurance that bacteria won’t return as soon as effect of the massive chlorine dose wears off.
Fecal coliform bacteria. The presence of coliform in water indicates waste from humans or warm-blooded animals may have contaminated the water. Water contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria is more likely to have pathogens present that can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, or other symptoms. If coliform is found, most test agencies test immediately for a prominent member of the coliform family, E coli.
Nitrates. Water with nitrates at levels of 10 parts per million is considered unsafe for human consumption. Nitrate levels above 10 ppm can disrupt the ability of blood to carry oxygen throughout the body, resulting in a condition called methemoglobinemia. Infants younger than six months old and young livestock are most susceptible.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). While high TDS itself offers no immediate threat to health, an increase in salinity can indicate problems with the well. Water with high TDS levels may leave deposits and have a salty taste. Additionally, using water with high TDS for irrigation may damage soil or plants.
In addition to the basic annual tests recommended by the Texas Well Owners Network, common sense should mandate more extensive testing when a home with a well is purchased and on a regular basis thereafter. Comprehensive testing at five year intervals, at the very least, would seem advisable.
The home owner is his own water superintendent. If he doesn’t take care of his water, no one will. A regular comprehensive water test can provide peace of mind in an age of rapid population growth, agricultural excess, and invasive petroleum development.
Most city and county governments offer inexpensive tests for coliform bacteria. Nitrates and Total Dissolved Solids can be tested with inexpensive home testing devices, and there are many excellent labs offering comprehensive testing at a reasonable price.
Ultraviolet Treatment for Home Rainwater Systems
Ultraviolet (UV) is the logical choice for rainwater harvesting systems that supply water to homes.
When rainwater is held in a cistern to be pumped to the home, it is subject to microbial contamination. Standing water will eventually produce some microbes. The logical choice to assure that it is safe for drinking is to run it through an ultraviolet purifier on its way to the point of use. UV eliminates bacteria, cysts (giardia and cryptosporidium), and most water-borne viruses.
UV is a perfect addition to rainwater systems because it is a clean, easy-to-use technology that does not add chemicals or objectionable tastes or odors to the water. UV produces no by-products.
Since rainwater is naturally soft and iron-free, the only pre-treatment needed is a sediment filter in front of the UV unit to assure that the water is particulate-free. Adding a carbon prefilter can improve the taste and odor, but it is not essential.
UV needs 110 volt electricity, and it should be installed as close to the point of use as possible. UV on rainwater applications is virtually trouble-free. There are never chemicals to add. The only regular maintenance is a lamp change once a year.
Two Lawsuits Have Been Filed in GenX Pollution of Cape Fear River
Photo Shows Chemours Plant Discharge into Cape Fear River
A water utility provider in southeastern North Carolina has sued another company for accusation of polluting the Cape Fear River, where the utility gets its water. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority filed a suit in October 2017 accusing the chemical company Chemours and DuPont of violating the Clean Water Act and several other federal laws by putting a chemical called GenX into the water. This is the second lawsuit filed this month against Chemours for GenX contamination.
GenX, which is used to make Teflon and other items, is an unregulated chemical, and the health effects of long-term exposure to it aren’t well known.
Still, state regulators have ordered Chemours to provide bottled water to dozens of people living near the company’s plant whose private drinking water wells have shown high levels of GenX.
Bottled water, of course, is a short-term fix for the problem. Area scchools are also being tested for GenX contamination.
Disinfecting UV Pipes After Installation
With most UV systems, the easy way to add chlorine for disinfection is to remove the cartridge from the filter housing, pour bleach into the housing, turn on the water and let the bleach circulate past the UV unit into the house pipes.
Unlike chemical disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine, ultraviolet (UV) does not provide a residual protection. UV disables microbes as they pass the germicidal lamp, but if there is microbial contamination downstream of the UV lamp bacteria can continue to grow.
It is necessary, therefore, to disinfect house pipes with chlorine when a UV unit is initially installed or when for any reason infection of the home’s pipes occurs.
Turn the UV unit off. Turn off the water going to the home, then add chlorine–regular household bleach–to the water line upstream of the UV unit. Two cups of household bleach is a good amount unless the home or building is very large. Since the UV unit will normally have a filter housing in front of it, the easy way to add bleach is to remove the cartridge from the housing, pour in the bleach, reassemble the housing without the cartridge, and turn the water back on. (Keep in mind that if there is a carbon cartridge between the point of chlorination and the UV unit, the filter will remove the chlorine from the water, so be sure you remove that cartridge.)
Chlorinate the house lines by opening each faucet in the home and letting the water run until you smell chlorine coming from the faucet. Do this for every showerhead, toilet, outside tap, and appliance. Start with the farthest away tap and work back to the UV system. Repeat for the hot water lines. If you run out of bleach (or cannot smell bleach) at a given outlet, turn off the main water supply and add more bleach to the filter housing.
Give the chlorine time to work. Let the chlorine sit in the pipes for at least two hours.
Turn off the water, replace the filter cartridge, turn on the UV (this is important!), turn on the water and flush the chlorine out of the house lines. When the chlorine is gone, you can start using the water.
When to repeat the procedure.
This process should be repeated if contaminated water ever gets past the UV system, after seasonal shut-off, and after the UV by-pass is used. If the unit does not have a solenoid, disinfect after a prolonged alarm condition and following a power outage. You can safely skip this procedure if you are installing UV on municipal water that has been continually chlorinated.
If performing the above procedure fails to produce a “passing” bacteria test, the first thing to suspect is that your house plumbing has “dead ends.” Dead ends are pipes that have been capped off so there is no water flowing through them. If such dead ends exist, you may have to open them so chlorinated water can flow through during the disinfection process.
Sometimes hot water heaters require more disinfection time than standard house pipes because buildup of contaminants such as manganese and iron can interfere with the disinfection process.
Keep in mind that sophisticated systems which monitor UV transmittance, excess chlorine in the water can trigger a low performance warning and, if the unit has a solenoid, can actually shut the water off. In this case, you will need to override the solenoid to perform the disinfection procedure.
If you would like to test your comprehension of this article, or if you just like taking tests, here's a test we use in our employee training program.
UV Disinfection Questions
- UV units need to be disinfected with chlorine after every rainstorm. (True False)
- The most commonly used disinfectant is (hydrogen peroxide, chloride, chlorine).
- Too much of the disinfectant in the water can (reduce UV transmittance, cause an electrical short, ruin o ring seals) thus hindering the disinfection process.
- Disinfection is necessary because (UV does not work well all the time, UV won’t work without chlorine, UV has no residual effect).
- A “dead end” is a pipe that has no (outlet, solder joints, solenoid valve).
- The article recommends using about two cups of bleach to disinfect a standard home. ( True, false).
- To disinfect, the easy way is to put the disinfecting chemical into a (solenoid valve, filter housing, empty pipe) in front of the UV unit.
- You may need to disinfect the pipes again after a power failure. (True, False).
- Always run the water through each outlet in the home until you can smell chlorine. (true, false)
- Bleach should be left in the water pipes for a minimum of 24 hours to assure proper disinfection. (true, false).
Sorry, no prizes given - not even a gold star. All you get for making a perfect score is the glory. (Here we do everything for the glory.) If you want us to grade it, cut and paste the test into an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, highlight the correct answer, and send it to us.
Here are just a few of the many articles about water issues that are available every day from the Pure Water Gazette
Water saving houseplants
For those who are serious about saving water, Prevention magazine has recommended ten hardy houseplants that only have to be watered once a month.
News outlets influence water conservation
In an article called "More ink, less water," the L.A. Times reported research showing the more often major newspapers wrote about the California drought the more Californians cut back on the their personal water use.
Scarce reporting of recent Gulf oil spill
About 672,000 gallons of oil spilled when a pipeline fractured about a mile below the ocean's surface in late October in the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Venice, Louisiana, which is about 65 miles south of New Orleans. The spill dumped 16,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf in less than two days, but was barely reported on in the media.
Source: New York Times.
Pollution concerns deter new poultry plant projects
Tyson Foods announced it is considering a location in Kansas for a new $320 million poultry processing complex. Although communities welcome projects that bring jobs, concerns of atmospheric pollution and water contamination make it increasingly harder for poultry producers to find homes for new facilities. Because of its capacity, the poultry plant would require a new or upgraded wastewater treatment system. And, solid waste used as agricultural fertilizer would create odors in the area, which is a major concern for many residents, as rural areas tend to have a majority of private water wells.
Source: Water Quality Products Magazine
Increased interest in ballast water treatment
There has been increased legislative activity regarding ballast water in ships in an effort to keep invasive species out of lakes, plus increasing interest in treatment of ballast water.
Man arrested for animal cruelty
A man in Chino Hills, California was arrested for pouring boiling water on his girlfiend's dog. Details here
Oil and water CAN be mixed
Contrary to popular wisdom, scientists at MIT have apparently found a way to mix oil and water.
Source: Science Daily
Water leak adds up to very hefty water bill for city
The city of Derby, Kansas received a bill from its water supplier for $600,000 as the result of a leak in a 16-inch water main that went undetected from mid-June through mid-August. Water loss was 179 million gallons. City officials were able to negotiate a settlement of the bill for $156,000.
Source: Derby Infomer
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