Pure Water Occasional, November 27, 2017
In this after-Thanksgiving Occasional you'll hear a lot about pipes: pipe sizing, the materials used in pipes, corrosion and scaling of pipes, and the politics of pipes. Then there are sewage spills, bacteria in gas wells, the decline of saline lakes, the unflushability of flushable wipes, hog farms, bypass valves, gastropods, GenX, PFOS/PFOA, alternatives to water softeners, and, as always, there is much, much more.
What Causes Low Pressure in Your Home?
Corrosion buildup inside galvanized pipe can cut water pressure significantly. Often, buildup occurs over the years and pressure loss is so gradual that you don’t even notice. When the pipe is replaced, the water pressure gain is surprising.
Low water pressure in your home may have an easy solution
If you get your water from a city water system that puts out plenty of water pressure but the pressure in your home isn’t what it should be, here are some possible causes to consider.
Debris and mineral buildup in pipes
Sand, dirt, and pollutants can enter your home’s pipes when a water main fractures. Even without a fractured line, your pipes are susceptible to mineral buildup from the deposits that water leaves behind when traveling through your home. Even a small amount of sediment can create a blockage in your home’s plumbing.
The solution to this piping problem is to examine a section of the pipe to determine whether mineral buildup is the problem. If this is the case, plumbing chemicals that break down and flush the debris can solve the problem more often than not.
Corrosion buildup inside piping
Although your steel or galvanized water piping systems are intended to last up to 20 years, the insides of these pipes tend to block the flow of water with natural corrosion over the years. In this case, repairs don’t work, and you’ll need to replace the pipe. This can be expensive. Replace with pipe that doesn’t corrode.
If a leak is significant enough to lower your water pressure, you’ll usually find it without looking too hard. If in doubt call a plumber. Plumbers have ways of finding leaks that aren’t easily detected by normal means.
Municipal water supply malfunctions
Sometimes, your problems with water pressure may have nothing to do with your own piping system. It may be caused by a malfunction in your area’s municipal water supply.
Just as with your own piping, these systems are subject to leaks, buildups, and other problems that can affect the water supply and water pressure. Fortunately, you can call your local municipal water supply company to determine whether the municipal water systems are the issue and if the problems will be corrected quickly.
Alternative Methods of Protecting Pipes
Over the years many products have been developed to protect pipes. Although the conventional ion exchange water softener which has been in use for over 100 years is the product of choice, there are many alternatives.
The use of phosphates to inhibit scale buildup goes back to the early 19th century. Phosphate treatment does not remove hardness minerals but rather “sequesters” them to prevent hardness scale deposits. Preventing scale with phosphates has wide application. Poly-phosphate cartridges (which often combine phosphate and carbon to add taste/odor improvement to scale prevention) are very popular in restaurants, for example, to protect equipment such as coffee machines from scale while providing good-tasting water. Poly-phosphate can also be fed as a liquid into a water stream to protect home appliances and to prevent hardness buildup on buildings and sidewalks from irrigation water. Siliphos beads, popular in Europe but not as widely used in the U.S., are an application of phosphate technology. Siliphos is a natural product made of milk thistle that forms a microscopic coating on the inside of pipes to protect from scale formation.
Other Corrosion Control Methods
There are highly concentrated chemicals that can be pump-fed into the water stream to protect large reverse osmosis membranes from calcium scaling. Spectraguard, for example, is used to protect reverse osmosis membranes from calcium scaling even when inlet water is extremely hard. It can replace a water softener for RO pre-treatment.
The popular treatment medium KDF, most often used for chlorine reduction as in shower filters, for example, is also marketed as a scale preventer. KDF uses the “redox” process of passing water over dissimilar metals to modify the structure of scale-causing minerals and converting hardness to aragonite. There are variations on this technique utilizing metal bars inside pipes rather than granular KDF media.
Magnets, Electro-Magnets and the Newer Methods, TAC and NAC
Over the past few decades consumer demand for non-traditional scale prevention methods has led to the development of a number of magnetic and electro-magnetic devices. Treating scale with natural magnets actually goes back to the late 19th century. Currently there are a great number of electro-magnetic and other electronic systems on the market ranging from simple and inexpensive to very complex and very expensive. The effectiveness of electro-magnetic devices is often debated.
By far the most popular new “salt-free” technology, however, is template assisted crystallization (TAC). It has become very big in the residential market and is also used in commercial applications. TAC works in tank style units requiring no backwash, no electricity, no salt, and no drain connection, as well as cartridge-style units for smaller applications. Like other alternative methods, TAC does not actually soften water by removing hardness minerals, but instead purports to convert hardness to microscopic crystals. As with other non-traditional softening methods, TAC units do not actually remove anything from the water. So, their performance is essentially impossible to quantify with a test. These units cost a bit more than conventional softeners but do not consume water, salt, or electricity. The media, however, is expensive and requires replacement, usually after 3 to 5 years. TAC units are also more fragile than softeners, requiring protection from sediment, chlorine, copper, and iron.
We do not sell magnets or electronic conditioners, but we do offer small poly-phosphate cartridges and feed systems (pumps, tanks, media) for larger applications. We have Siliphos in bulk and can put it in cartridges for whole house scale prevention. We have Spectraguard for large RO protection. We have KDF in bulk, in cartridges, and in shower filters. We have all sizes of TAC (OneFlow, formerly branded as ScaleNet). Additionally, we stock media, cartridges, and pre-built units. We also have a very good sequestering product called Unrust for iron and hardness in irrigation wells.
And, yes, we do have lots of water softeners, both single tank and twins, in different formats and sizes. They cost about 1/4 as much as the telemarketers’ systems, but you don’t get a free year’s supply of soap.
Above is a granular activated carbon/ phosphate cartridge for scale prevention and chlorine/chemical reduction. It fits standard filter housings and contains Granular Activated Carbon with 8 ounces of polyphosphate. This is a good taste/0dor cartridge that protects equipment (coffee machines, icemakers, etc.) from scale formation. Phosphate does not remove hardness minerals in water but “sequesters” them so that they do not damage metal surfaces. The cartridge is good for about 2000 gallons service at a one gallon-per-minute flow rate.
Water Pipes: An Underground World We Neglect
More than a million miles of underground pipes distribute water to American homes. Maintaining that complex network is an extremely expensive and never-ending ordeal.
Some pipes date back to the 1800s. As they get older, they fail in different ways. Some split and rupture, with an estimated 700 main breaks occurring around the U.S. every day. The most devastating failures damage roadways, close businesses, and shut off service for hours or days. If pipes are particularly bad, they can contaminate water.
Utilities have long struggled to predict when to replace pipes, which have vastly different life cycles depending on the materials they are made from and where they are buried. Some might last 30 years, others more than 100. Sophisticated computer programs are helping some water systems prioritize the order in which pipes should be replaced, but tight budgets often mean the fixes don’t come until it’s too late.
Replacing a single mile of water main can cost from $500,000 to more than $1 million, but doing so is far more disruptive to customers if it fails first. Experts say up to 20,000 miles of pipe will need to be replaced annually beginning around 2035, an increase from the roughly 5,000 miles currently needing replacement. Des Moines Water Works alone has 1,600 miles of distribution pipes.
The Philadelphia Water Department, the nation’s oldest, is already spending tens of millions of dollars more per year to replace its worst pipes. Yet the city experienced more than 900 water main breaks in the most recent budget year. In June, two massive breaks forced evacuations and damaged cars, homes, and businesses.
New Orleans once boasted about not raising water rates for two decades. But in 2012, the city approved a ten percent increase on water bills for eight straight years as part of a plan to fix the crumbling system. The average household’s monthly water-and-sewer bill will climb to $115 by 2020. The extra money will help replace deteriorating mains damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The massive main break that flooded the UCLA campus in Los Angeles in 2014 — ruining its basketball court and inundating buildings and fields with millions of gallons of water — was widely seen as a wakeup call for failing infrastructure. But a year later, the city’s response illustrates how large of a problem many systems face.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is moving from a 300-year replacement cycle to a 250-year cycle for its 7,200-mile water distribution system, still far slower than the 100-year cycle many experts recommend. The department is proposing a 3.8 percent annual water rate increase for five years, which would go largely toward system improvements and gradually raise the typical household water bill by $12.30 per month. Heavier users would face steeper increases.
An Easy Bypass for Water Filters
The compact whole house filter pictured above is a decade and a half old. While age may have taken its toll on appearance, the unit has functioned flawlessly over the years with no more care than an annual cartridge replacement. The filter is protected from freezing in winter by a removable cover.
A bypass valve is a handy addition to a filter. It allows sending water to the home even if the filter has to be taken out of service for repair or replacement. In this installer-built bypass system, water enters from the right. The filter is shown in the service position. The top valve is closed and the two lower valves are open. To bypass the filter, close the lower right valve and open the top valve. With both lower valves closed, water (unfiltered) can be sent to the home even if the filter is disabled or removed.
Corrosion of water pipes has many causes, and not all are well understood. Corrosion causes leaks and also affects the quality of drinking water.
Here are a few of the main reasons why water pipes corrode. Some are simple and easy to remedy; others are complex and hard to diagnose. Often, more than one of the following contributes to the breakdown of pipes.
Galvanic. Galvanic corrosion is common with metal pipes. It occurs when pipes made of different metals are joined together. A small electrical current flows from one to the other. Galvanic corrosion is easily prevented by installing a dielectric union when joining the pipes, but in the effort to save money, dielectric connectors are often left out.
Dissolved Gases and Chemicals. High levels of dissolved gases, like oxygen or carbon dioxide, can corrode metal pipes and cause pinhole leaks. High levels of chlorine can be corrosive to pipe, and high levels of fluoride corrodes stainless steel. Chloramine is associated with the leaching of lead from inner pipe surfaces.
Low pH. Water with low pH attacks copper pipes and causes pinhole leaks. Copper is subject to corrosion when the water is below 7.0 pH. This is usually not a problem with city water, but it can be a significant issue for well owners.
Low alkalinity. Alkalinity is related to pH, but it isn’t the same. Low alkalinity leaves pipes vulnerable to acids.
Low TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). Nature hates a vacuum. Water that has a low dissolved mineral content can pull minerals from metal pipes.
High Temperature and High Flow Rates. Hot water is much more corrosive than cold. The faster water flows through a pipe, the more it breaks down the pipe.
Microbiological. Microbes, if given a food supply and oxygen, can corrode pipes causing interior buildup and subsequent leaks.
Corrosion in a water distribution system can cause health issues as well as damaging water leaks. When pipes are corroded, some of the metal from the pipe enters the drinking water and is consumed. Pipes and fixtures containing copper, lead, and brass (brass contains lead) can cause a variety of health problems.
While the municipal supplier regulates contaminants such as lead at the water plant, no one is checking the actual amount of lead or copper that comes out of the kitchen tap.
Pipe corrosion is a compelling justification for having a drinking water system under the kitchen sink. A comprehensive treatment system like reverse osmosis takes care of virtually any contamination that enters the water on its way from the water plant.
Pinhole leak in copper pipe caused by corrosion.
Hog Farms and Water Quality
A 2017 Iowa state water assessment released found that 750 out of 1350 of Iowa’s waterways were “impaired.”
Large hog farms are undoubtedly a major contributor to that “impairment.”
Iowa has more than 6,300 hog farms and about 60 percent of them raise more than 1,000 hogs, leaving farmers to deal with with massive amounts of manure. More than 10 billion gallons of liquid manure are applied to Iowa fields annually. State records identified 800 manure spills between 1996 and 2012. The manure is high in fecal coliform, nitrogen and phosphates.
The situation is essentially the same in the country’s second largest hog producing state, North Carolina. The state also deals with an estimated 10 billion gallons of hog feces and urine waste each year, according to an analysis of state data by the non-profit organization, Environmental Working Group. The waste, like the hog farms themselves, is concentrated: North Carolina has the two highest hog producing counties in the nation. Together these counties account for 40 percent of the state’s wet waste.
Across the U.S. nitrogen pollution from livestock manure has increased 46 percent over the past 80 years.
Though a number of pollutants impair Iowa waters, nitrate, which can also get into water from leaky septic tanks, wastewater treatment systems, and certain fertilizers, plagues the state. The pollution, which has been linked to certain cancers, some birth defects, and other diseases, exceeded federal limits in 11 of the state’s public water supplies in 2015, according to a state report.
About 300,000 people in the state are on private wells. A University of Iowa study of 475 wells across the state found that 49 percent tested positive for nitrates and 12 percent of those were above federal safety limits. An additional 43 percent tested positive for coliform bacteria which comes from animal or human waste and can make people sick.
In 2016, federal researchers tested the South Fork Iowa River basin before and after hog manure was spread on a field nearby. (This is a typical disposal method.) The researchers found multiple harmful bacteria and pathogens in the water after the application, including a surprising amount of hepatitis E. The researchers concluded there exists “…a potential role for swine in the spreading of zoonotic pathogens to the surrounding environment.”
As feces-contaminated water reaches streams, fish kills are common. One group estimates that almost 5 million fish over the past decade in Iowa streams have been killed by animal waste .
Water use is also heavily dependent on livestock population. Across the entire state of Iowa, livestock accounts for only about 4 percent of water use, but in some agricultural counties the figure can be as high as 95%.
The hard-to-treat antibiotic resistant bacterial infection MSRA is also easily found in swine and swine workers. People who live near large hog operations appear to have about triple the risk of getting MSRA. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says MRSA is the most concerning of current antibiotic-resistant threats, resulting in about 11,285 deaths annually.
With mounting evidence of the dangers of hog manure to human health and environmental safety, one would expect Iowa to step up its regulation efforts. The opposite is true. One researcher says that Iowa’s lawmakers are “leaving its people at risk in favor of hogs.”
Environmental Health News reports:
Iowa’s GOP-controlled Legislature has shown little desire to fix this and in fact has moved backwards: This year it forced a $1.2 million budget reduction on the state Department of Natural Resources, the agency charged with overseeing water safety and health. The DNR eliminated the Bureau of Forestry and eight other positions, including the animal feeding operations coordinator.
The Diameter of Pipes and Plastic Tubes
The Diameter of Pipes and Plastic Tubes: Double is More Than Double
The rule of thumb in pipe sizing is twice the diameter equals four times the flow. Two one-inch pipes do not equal a two-inch pipe. It actually takes four one-inch pipes to carry the same load as a single two-inch pipe. Therefore, if you split a two-inch pipe into two one-inch pipes, you are cutting its flow capacity in half.
People who plumb with large pipes are usually aware of this, but with smaller tubing it’s easy to overlook this basic law of nature.
With the small flexible plastic tubing used for undersink filters and reverse osmosis units it is important to know that what is called 1/4″ tubing is measured by its outside diameter (OD). With 1/4″ tubing, the inside diameter, the path that the water flows through is actually about 1/8″. What we call 3/8″ tubing is roughly 1/4″ inside diameter, so following the rule of thumb of pipe flow, a 3/8″ OD tube will actually carry four times the water flow as compared with the 1/4″ OD tube. This is a very important fact to keep in mind if you’re planning to send water from your RO unit across the room to an icemaker or refrigerator. Especially if your run is long, you’ll have a much better result with 3/8″ tubing than with 1/4″.
War Over Water Pipes
by Gene Franks
A recent New York Times article focuses on a pressing problem that few Americans are aware of:
America is facing a crisis over its crumbling water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task.
Two powerful industries, plastic and iron, are locked in a lobbying war over the estimated $300 billion that local governments will spend on water and sewer pipes over the next decade.
The battleground is beneath our feet. Who wins the plastic vs. iron war will affect the safety and availability of drinking water of generations of Americans.
Some of our water pipes are 150 years old. In just a couple of years the average age of over 1.5 million miles (think of it!) of water and sewer pipes will be 45 years. In hundreds of towns and counties cast iron pipes are more than a century old. There are even said to be a few miles of old wooden pipes that have survived for well over a century. Lead pipe water pipes, once widely used, have been banned for 30 years but more than 10 million old lead pipes are estimated to be in service today. The lead from these pipes, as the Flint experience taught us, can leach into public drinking water supplies at any time if there is a change in water treatment methods or water source.
About two-thirds of our existing water pipes are made from traditional materials like steel or iron. Plastic piping is now growing in popularity as a substitute for existing metal pipes, partially because the plastics industry is taking advantage of fears created by the Flint experience. As much as 80% of new piping is being made with plastics.
The sale of pipe, as is to be expected, is a highly politicized business. Piping standards are often mandated by law, and many laws are outdated but very hard to change, so whether plastic or metal piping is used often depends not so much on economic, health, or safety considerations as on which industry’s trade organization has the deepest pockets.
With $300 billion in pipe sales at stake, politics rules. Corporations that supply pipe pay high dues to trade associations who lobby and initiate legislation on their behalf. Trade associations and large corporations court politicians with campaign donations. One source notes that the iron pipe industry has gone to great lengths to flatter the president through praise of his infrastructure proposals.
There is much industry-sponsored legislation aimed at modernizing piping standards. Opponents of the industry-backed bills, including many municipal engineers, say they are a thinly veiled effort by the plastics industry to muscle aside traditional pipe suppliers.
At first glance it would seem that plastics are an obvious replacement for the nation’s aging metal pipes. Plastics, after all, have already pushed out copper as the preferred pipe for connecting municipal lines to homes as well as within the homes themselves. Plastic pipe is light, easy to install, corrosion-free, and about 50% less costly than iron pipe.
Not everyone is comfortable with plastic piping, however, and there are rising health concerns.
Although plastic piping has been around for some time, we are just starting to understand the effect of plastic on the quality and safety of drinking water. Concerns have always focused on chemicals that could leach into the water from the pipes themselves. We have not answered completely questions about how water treatment chemicals like chlorine and chloramine react with the plastics in piping. (If you wish to pursue this topic, there’s detailed information here.) Now there is concern that contaminants can enter plastic piping through surrounding groundwater contamination. It appears that pollutants like benzene and toluene from soil polluted by chemical spills or from groundwater can permeate certain types of plastic pipe and leach into the water. One report identified 150 contaminants that can migrate from plastic pipe into drinking water. The New York Times says, “Scientists are just starting to understand the effect of plastic on the quality and safety of drinking water. . . .”
One thing that should really concern us is there is a total lack of government regulation over the safety of piping used in water supply insfrastructure. There is no federal oversight of the materials or processes used to manufacture plastic water pipes; instead, water pipes are certified and tested by an organization paid for by industry, NSF International.
NSF International is not a government agency, and it has never received regulatory authority from the federal government, yet NSF certification is widely accepted by the public as the ultimate guarantee of product safety and reliability. NSF is paid by the industries it regulates and in the case of pipe it does not disclose test results for the pipes it certifies.
There is no doubt that switching to plastic piping exclusively could save water suppliers (and consequently taxpayers) significant amounts of money in the short term, but there are public health concerns that should be addressed. It would be good if these issues could be decided not by politicians but by qualified experts acting in the public interest.
Although NSF International displays a picture of the US Capitol building on its web page, it is not a government agency and does not receive its authority from the government.
Here are just a few of the many articles about water issues that are available every day from the Pure Water Gazette
Unpotable water dumped annually in Buffalo creeks and river
Depending on rainfall, the sewage lines managed by the Buffalo Sewer Authority spew between 1.75 billion and 4 billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater into creeks and rivers each year.
The first serious shopping accident of the season took place in a Texas water treatment store.
Defense bill to analyze health effects of exposure to chemicals
A comprehensive study into the long-term health effects of PFOS/PFOA exposure by the Centers for Disease Control will be required by a new law attached to a defense bill.
Natural gas well water good environment for bacteria
Researchers in Arlington, TX have discovered certain bacteria thrive in water that has been contaminated by natural gas wells.
Saline lakes around the world are shrinking in size at an alarming rate.
What--or who--is to blame is not an easy question to answer, but certainly heavy withdrawal of water by humans is a factor. Lakes like Utah's Great Salt Lake, Asia's Aral Sea, the Dead Sea in Jordan and Israel, China's huge Lop Nur and Bolivia's Lake Popo are just a few that are in peril. These lakes and others like them are suffering massive environmental problems and solutions to these problems are not clear.
Banned shoe manufacturing chemical contaminating MI river
Industrial chemicals once used to manufacture the iconic Hush Puppies shoe brand are contaminating the Rogue River in an area where leftover leather from a demolished tannery litters the riverbank above the Rockford, Michigan dam. The chemical, perfluoroctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, is no longer manufactured in the United States because of its public health risk. Through studies, exposure has been tied to liver disease, thyroid malfunction, and developmental problems in children.
Chemical pollution of Cape Fear River
In addition to GenX, it is suspected that an unknown chemical that can cause liver damage is polluting Cape Fear River water.
Issue of flushable wipes going to court
"Flushable wipes," which definitely should not be flushed, continue to be a major water contaminant and problem for municipal water suppliers. They are now the subject of a suit in federal court.
Millions of beached snails remains a mystery
Millions of tiny snails, gastropods, have for reasons unknown taken over a beach south of St. Petersburg, Florida. See the stunning video provided by the Orlando Weekly.
Places to visit on our websites
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the next Occasional!