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While you were slogging through the last days of summer, a lot of interesting things happened in the ever-changing world of water. Read on to hear about some of them.
New From the Pure Water Gazette:
by Hardly Waite
Back in 1992 when the paper Pure Water Gazette printed an entire issue called "The Gazette's Great Water Article," magazine stories about the condition of
US waters were common. Unfortunately, though magazines and newspapers keep grinding out articles that point out the same old shortcomings of the way the US cares for its most precious resource, nothing of significance has been done to change things since the Clean Water Act of the 1970s.
I regret to say it isn't likely that things will change.
There is simply no political will to address the serious problems facing the nation's water supplies, and there are rich and powerful vested interests who beat down every attempt at reform.
Here are a few examples of the problems.
There are now, by the EPA's estimate, some 60,000 chemicals being used in the United States. The EPA, the regulatory agency which was created under the Clean Water Act to look after our water supplies, has regulatory standards for only 91 of these. The remaining 59,900 or so are not being monitored by your water supplier.
Attempts to broaden regulation are met immediately with crushing opposition from wealthy opponents in industry or even our own government. This is because our government is now populated by people who worked in the for-profit sector last year or will work there next year. It's called a revolving door.
States oppose regulations that would affect businesses, although the health of their citizens is at stake.
Every attempt to regulate use of the powerful water contaminant perchlorate, a rocket fuel ingredient, has been fought by the mighty propaganda machine of the US military. Military propagandists, with public financing, publicly question the patriotism of proponents of perchlorate regulation. If you love your country, you'll drink your rocket fuel and keep your mouth shut.
The regulatory standards for the tiny number of contaminants the EPA has acted upon are pitifully inadequate, and enforcement is lax. And the standards themselves are of very questionable accuracy.
The truth is that no one really knows how much vinyl chloride or benzene one can safely ingest over a period of years. Contrary to the mythology promoted by regulating agencies and water suppliers, the EPA's magic numbers aren't based on some concrete and absolute scientific standard that deserves our confidence. EPA standards are politically negotiated numbers--backroom compromises that set the standard somewhere between an assumed safe level and what is convenient for the polluting industry or the water supplier. Even the "science" used by regulators to determine safe levels is laughable; it is still based, now, in the 21st century, largely on "animal studies," a branch of science that would have died in the Middle Ages if it were not so profitable and useful to manipulators.
Similarly, few Americans seem aware of the deplorable state of the aging infrastructure that handles our water and sanitation systems. The original Clean Water Act provided at least limited funds for the rebuilding of the nation's water and sanitation systems. Since that time, although Congress has found ample funds for endless wars, bank bailouts, and tax relief for the super rich, there is never any money for such unglamorous items as the expansion and repair of sewage systems that were designed for half the population that we now have. In most urban areas today, even a 1/2" rain shower overwhelms the drainage system and pours thousands of gallons of untreated sewage and chemical runoff into drinking water reservoirs.
These and many other aspects of the highly inadequate management of our water resources are discussed at length in an exceptional multi-article study that appeared over a period of months in the New York Times. These well-documented pieces include information that cause one to think twice before trusting the water that comes straight from the tap. From the Times' studies one learns, for example, that since 2004 “the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.” The Times confirms the finding of previous Associated Press studies that one in six Americans is ingesting pharmaceuticals in their drinking water.
Most discouraging of all is the finding that there have been more than half a million violations of the Clean Water Act committed by water suppliers since 2004 and only 6 percent of the water systems that broke the law were ever fined or in any way punished by state and federal officials. And fines to wealthy polluters are usually just a slap on the wrist--the amount being a tiny part of what the polluter saved by ignoring the law.
A substantial portion of the Times reports can be found here:
I hope you'll read them. There's a wealth of information, and especially several video reports worth watching. Watch the videos. You'll like them.
Source: Pure Water Occasional.
How Fire Prevention Pollutes Drinking Water
by Scott Learn
ROCKAWAY BEACH -- From her front porch, Nancy Webster has a clear view of the hills just east of the coast highway, a western hemlock forest that's home to Rockaway Beach's water supply.
The retired social worker, who grew up in a Northwest logging family, worried when she saw patchwork clear-cuts expanding in 2011.
Last summer, she and a friend hiked into the watershed during a storm and saw the creek that feeds Rockaway Beach's water treatment plant "running chocolate brown." In September, she spotted helicopters spraying herbicides, catching distinct whiffs at her house a half-mile away.
Just like that, the latest highly motivated critic of Oregon's Forest Practices Act, which governs private timberlands, was born.
"You can just see the mud washing off the slopes, and then a 20-foot buffer on logging along the creek," Webster says. "It just seems like there is very little protection for the watershed."
Timberlands are easier on water quality than cities and farms. The timeline between harvests runs for decades, and herbicides typically get sprayed only in the first years after a cut, until new trees are established.
But when it comes to stream buffers and herbicide applications, Oregon's rules for private forests are less stringent than in neighboring Washington and far less stringent than in national forests.
After years of complaints, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying whether Oregon's regulation of nonindustrial sources of water pollution, including timberlands, is good enough.
Oregon's Forest Practices Act was the first in the nation to regulate private lands when the state adopted it in 1971. But disputes over it have bubbled up around the state.
In southwest Oregon, much of the congressional delegation favors applying the more lenient rules on 1.5 million acres of federal forests, raising concerns about the effects on rivers and drinking water.
Residents of Triangle Lake, west of Eugene, complain of drift from spraying on private timberland -- and point to herbicides found in their urine. And the EPA and others question the effects on streams and salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Along the coast, drinking water is a top concern.
Tom Merrell, manager of the Arch Cape Service District, says Oregon's no-cut zone of 20 feet along significant streams doesn't protect drinking water from herbicides and mud runoff, or "turbidity." Washington's no-cut zone is 50 feet. Turbidity adds to filtering costs and can boost harmful byproducts that arise when chlorine, a disinfectant added to kill bacteria, hits organic matter bunched in the water.
On Oregon's north coast, 11 of the 18 public water systems fed by rivers or creeks have received alerts over the years for high levels of disinfection byproducts -- trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids.
"These rules are archaic, and they're weighted against anybody but the landowner," says Merrell, who adds that the district has some of the costliest water rates in the state. "I've pleaded with (Oregon Department of Forestry) and landowners for years and years and years to strengthen these buffers, and I've just run up against the wall."
The watershed that feeds Rockaway Beach runs 1,200 acres, with Jetty Creek the main conduit. On a steep hike along forest roads with Webster and other members of Rockaway Citizens for Watershed Protection, the part of the creek closest to U.S. 101 and the water plant is heavily forested and shaded.
Within a mile, clear-cuts emerge, scrabbly ground bumping into strips of trees along the creek. The citizen group's analysis of Google satellite photos and harvest notices show that about fourth-fifths of the watershed was clear-cut since 2004, the majority since 2010.
As a drinking water stream, Jetty Creek gets some protection. But Oregon's smaller, non-fish-bearing streams -- which can be 80 percent of a watershed -- get no buffer from cuts or spraying under the law. Washington, by contrast, extends its 50-foot, no-touch buffer to at least half of its small-stream network.
Stream buffers for aerial herbicide spraying are also smaller in Oregon than in Washington. And Oregon's notification system is solely on paper and costly, with windows for potential sprays as long as six months.
The hikers pass tributary creeks still trickling in late July, with trees cut to the edge. Judy Coleman, Webster's friend, compares it with the Portland-owned Bull Run watershed near Mount Hood, where logging has been prohibited since 1996.
"If this happened in the Bull Run, there would be an uproar," says Coleman, a former water quality analyst for Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality.
Ideally, she and Webster say, Rockaway Beach would buy this land, or at least an easement along streams. Another potential solution: Swap land with federal agencies, which use relatively little herbicide and have buffers of 150 feet on small streams, with only thinning allowed.
Since January 2011, Rockaway Beach officials have warned residents eight times about excess disinfection byproducts after quarterly testing. The byproducts can diminish liver, kidney and nervous system function, and increase the risk of bladder cancer, health officials say.
The district, which supplies 2,300 water hookups, spent $600,000 on a membrane filter two years ago for its new treatment plant, but that didn't solve the problem. Now it's spending $120,000 for an upstream sand filter to try to capture more silt.
A 2002 evaluation identified clear-cuts as a potential source of contamination. But Luke Shepard, Rockaway Beach's public works director, says it's not certain that logging is to blame. Treatments have changed, he says, and supplementing with well water has stopped, expanding reliance on Jetty Creek.
He shuts down the plant for 24 hours when turbidity runs high or after timber companies tell him an herbicide spray is coming.
"We're kind of feeling the pressure from both sides," he says. "Logging's a pretty important industry around here, and there are a lot of conflicting interests with the watersheds."
At this point, it's unclear if logging contributes to the byproducts, says Kari Salis, a manager for the Oregon Health Authority's drinking water program.
Organic material can flow in naturally. Treated water can hang out in coastal systems longer -- demand drops when tourists depart -- increasing chlorine contact with organics. And the state has no data on how much logging contributes organic matter to the water. Since protection of source waters is voluntary, Salis says, there's "no regulatory hook."
DEQ studies of coastal drinking water watersheds have pinpointed turbidity as a concern, but haven't determined what causes it.
This fall, the agency will monitor Jetty Creek to try to catch potential impacts from herbicide spraying. Statewide, tests of treated drinking water rarely find herbicides.
Washington's streamside protection rules are "considerably stronger," DEQ officials say. Generally, studies show that clear-cuts increase water flow, powering streams to erode bank sediment or stir up streambeds, says Joshua Seeds, a DEQ drinking water program specialist.
But the connection isn't specific enough to ask forestry officials to tighten rules.
"If we had direct analysis that said these practices equal this water quality impact, we would take (it) to ODF (Oregon Department of Forestry) and they would take it to their board," Seeds says. "It is something we need to do more work on."
The two timberland owners in the Rockaway Beach watershed -- Stimson Lumberand Olympic Resource Management -- say they often exceed state requirements.
Scott Gray, Stimson's western resources manager, said company officials put more than minimum buffers along drinking water streams and work with local water managers to address concerns.
"We take our land stewardship responsibilities very seriously," Gray said in an email.
Tim Raschko, Olympic's director of timberland management, said the company cut 500 acres from 2010 to 2012, and spent $357,000 on logging road maintenance in 2011, four times the industry average per acre.
Runoff from roads is considered a prime source of sediment in streams long term, particularly during log hauling. Raschko said workers set up silt fences and sediment traps and monitored the creek for sediment.
The company notifies neighbors within 1,000 feet of spraying of herbicides, Raschko says, and tries to post more precise spraying dates, neither required under Oregon law. It also skipped herbicides in the clear-cut closest to the water plant, he says.
Raschko says he can't answer whether Oregon's forest rules -- set by compromise as much as science -- are adequate.
"But there's science going on and we need to get answers on that quickly, so if things are inadequate, we can adjust," he says.
The state Forestry Department is working with timber companies, university experts and other agencies on three studies to better gauge the effects of logging on streams.
The first report, on Hinkle Creek near Roseburg, found significantly more sediment from logging. A Coast Range study along the Trask River should show whether greater protection of headwaters would benefit water quality.
Lena Tucker, deputy chief of the department's private forests division, says the state has adjusted rules often over the years, and will again if science supports it. After studies indicated runoff problems from log hauling during storms, for example, the state restricted it. The state also plans online notification of pesticide spraying by late 2014, replacing cumbersome paperwork.
The Oregon agency also bears in mind that forests generate better water quality than subdivisions or other uses, she says.
"Overall," Tucker says, "our mission is to keep those working forestlands working."
Source: Oregon Live.
Pure Water Gazette Fair Use Statement
Adapted from an article by Francie Diep.
Bangladesh’s water situation is “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.” Groundwater in many countries, including the U.S., has naturally high levels of arsenic. Drinking water contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic harms the lungs as much as decades of smoking, a new study has found.
How copper gets in water, its significance, and how to get rid of it.
by Elizabeth Cutright
A few weeks back, I proposed a “water scarcity road trip” to visit the nine cities that, according to 24/7 Wall St., were in danger of running out of water. Last week, I wondered how long it would take for the powers-that-be to realize our dwindling reservoirs are equivalent to a climate change canary-in-a-coalmine.
BEIJING - The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this week extended its global "toilet revolution" campaign to China, kicking off a competition with grants of $5 million to encourage Chinese talent to reinvent the toilet.
The Reinvent The Toilet Challenge-China will fund research teams in China to develop a "next-generation toilet," which the foundation defines as waterless, hygienic, not requiring a sewer connection or electricity and costing less than five US cents per user, per day. Full Story.
Ending decades of bitter disputes over fragile Mono Lake, Los Angeles and conservationists this week announced an agreement to heal the environmental damage caused by diverting the lake's eastern Sierra tributary streams into the city's World War II-era aqueduct.
The controversy over alkaline Mono Lake, which is famous for its bizarre, craggy tufa formations and breeding grounds for sea gulls and migratory birds, is one of California's longest-running environmental disputes. Full Story.
Nestlé Waters Canada has extracted millions of litres of groundwater, for free, from the traditional territory of native Americans without consultation or compensation. The chiefs are pissed. Full Story from The Vancouver Sun.
Japan’s nuclear watchdog said a leak of highly radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant could be the beginning of a new disaster — a series of leaks of contaminated water from storage tanks. The plant operator has built hundreds of steel tanks to store massive amounts of radioactive water coming from three melted reactors, as well as underground water running into reactor and turbine basements. Tokyo Electric Power Co. says about 300 tons (300,000 liters, 80,000 gallons) of contaminated water leaked from one of the tanks, possibly through a seam. The leak is the fifth, and the worst, since last year involving tanks of the same design at the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, raising concerns that contaminated water could begin leaking from storage tanks one after another. Full Story.
The latest innovation in irrigation comes from China. It is called trace irrigation and it works by taking advantage of the capillary force of water. Its originator, Jhu Jun, claims that trace irrigation can use half the water and half the pesticides as compared with even drip irrigation. Full Story.
Single-cup coffee comes in individual portions, encased in plastic capsules or packets that you put in a special coffeemaker to brew one cup at a time. Tens of millions of consumers have already switched to single-cup brewing nationwide, likely because it's ultra-convenient, and popularity of single-cup coffee is growing fast. The problem is that it’s an environmental nightmare. Full Story.
Thank you for reading, and please stay tuned next Monday for another gripping Occasional.
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