Category Archives: Water Posts

Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico attributed to polluted runoff from farmland fertilizer

A story from MSN was sent to me and caught my attention.  Again, everything is connected… would you ever connect a cow in Missouri to a deoxygenated area unable to sustain life in the Gulf of Mexico?  Well, there is a very direct connection: farms are exempt from many water quality laws, however they are responsible for large pollutant loads to water ways.  Fertilizer and manure have high phosphorus and nitrogen content, which feeds algae to grow and form blooms.  These algae blooms uptake oxygen from water at the same time as blocking sun from reaching plant life below the water surface, preventing photosynthesis.  The combination of these occurrences can result in a “dead zone” where life cannot exist.  The Gulf of Mexico has the second largest recorded dead zone in the world at 5,000 sq miles, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut.  The high phosphorus and nitrogen loading is attributed to the Mississippi River and the farmlands along it. 

'Dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of Connecticut: Graphic explains how dead zones occur.

 

See the story here:

http://news.msn.com/us/dead-zone-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-is-the-size-of-connecticut#tscptme

Lake Erie Algae Bloom leaves 400,000 without drinking water

Ohio algae bloomJust another example of the need for sustainable design efforts; remember that everything is connected, that fertilizer you put on your lawn can, and will affect your drinking water!  I mentioned the algae prediction for northeast Ohio about a month ago, and conditions exceeded expectations leaving 400,000 residents without drinking water for three days this week! Read the story here:

http://www.processingmagazine.com/articles/127741-algae-bloom-in-lake-erie-leaves-400000-without-drinking-water

 

Sooooo Ionized water- life saver or ridiculous marketing scheme?

Ionized, aka alkaline, water systems seem to be a new health trend. Businesses want them for their reception rooms to show how they care about their clients’ health, or that they have the money to spend on messing with the composition of water. But is your money going where it is intended? Are there true health benefits?  Just using common sense, an individual who knows very little science would think “I know we eat and drink substances of varying pH on a daily basis, our stomachs are very acidic, therefore, a basic solution would be neutralized when mixed with stomach acid upon consumption.”  But perhaps that is more to it?

First, lets look at the science and an explanation of water and pH: Water, in its purest form, consists solely of H2O molecules.  These molecules are slightly polar, and have a tendency to dissociate (aka ionize) into H+ and OH- ions, however the reaction of these ions forming a water molecule is much more rapid.  Therefore, maintaining the ionization of pure water is impossible.  The neutrality of pure water is supported by the fact that pure water will not conduct an electrical current, however, salt water, which has an alkaline pH of 7.5-8.4, will… and we know the dehydrating affects drinking salt water can have on the human body. With an understanding of water, we can see that no machine can take pure water and change the pH. Other ions must be introduced to produce acidic or alkaline water.  All aqueous (liquid) solutions contain a ration of H+ and OH- ions, which give a solution a certain pH.  When the balance is weighted toward H+ ions, the solution is acidic; when weighted toward OH- ions, the solution is basic, or alkaline.  Pure water has a pH of 7, drinking water (tap or bottled) has a pH of 6.5-8, rainwater has a pH of 4-7, depending on where you live.  For the pH to change one unit, in either direction, the ration of H+ to OH- is either 100:1 (drop one unit in pH, making the solution more acidic) or 1:100 (an increase in pH, making the solution more basic).  Whether water is slightly acidic or alkaline, it will always contain the same number of positive and negative charges.  That being said, since alkaline water contains an excess of  negative OH- ions, it must be balanced by positive ions to stabilize and equalize the opposite charges.  Therefore when excess OH- ions are present, commonly  metal ions, such as sodium, calcium, or magnesium, are added to water to allow a stable pH change.  In other words, as the pH strays from 7, so does the purity of the water.

Now, let’s look at the ionization process: Ionizers use a process called “electrolysis”, which refers to the breaking of chemical bonds, due to electric current.  The thought process is that breaking bonds will leave OH- ions unpaired, in suspension between the H+ ions that are consumed by a negative electrode, and the positive electrode, creating an alkaline solution.  If the solution is solely water, these H+ and OH- ions will bond back to original state quickly, resulting in a pH of 7, just as prior to electrolysis.  Bottom line, if your water is at drinking water standards, from the tap or bottle, no electrical device or chemical additive is capable of creating alkalinity.  Therefore, if your goal is to consume alkaline water, and your device does not add ions, you are literally wasting money and energy.  Due to the fact that pH adjustment in water cannot be maintained, some devices depend on the addition of salt to increase water’s conductivity, using NaOH, which allows chlorine ions that are present in water to bond with OH- ions, creating hypochlorous acid, which is a weak acid and oxidizing agent.  Some systems allow this to be separated and used as a disinfecting agent, but many times, this hypochlorous acid is encouraged to mix with sodium hypochlorite, which is equivalent to diluted laundry bleach.  In other words, you can make this water yourself by adding bleach to your drinking water!  Just adjust the pH with lemon juice, and you are good to go!  Getting thirsty yet?

Why so many claims of health benefits from alkaline water?  Although it has been proven by numerous research studies (including those performed at Michigan State and Ohio State) that highly alkaline water has extreme adverse effects on plants and animals, very few studies have been performed on humans.  The lack of experimentation on humans has, unfortunately, allowed for claims of positive effects, not based on scientific fact; and although our medications come with warnings that are based on animal experimentation, somehow, alkaline water is exempt from stating these findings.  People genuinely believe that drinking alkaline water makes them feel better, and there are many claims of health benefits.  So let’s again look at the scientific reasons behind these claims.  The hypochlorite ions that are present in ionized water (which is charged with external salts) may end up in the digestive tract and the large intestine, where the presence of these ions can react with, and kill, bacterial organisms (whose job is to remove harmful substances), which may make certain individuals feel better initially.  However, the presence of hypochlorite ions is known to trigger a number of cellular processes connected with cancer, by suppressing genes that normally act to inhibit cell proliferation and tumor growth.  This negates the positive impacts you initially feel, and also contradicts claims of preventing cancer.  From the research reports I have read, tumors, which are naturally acidic, do not respond positively to basic surroundings, however they do respond to extreme acidic environments.  For example, vitamin C has been proven to kill cancer cells.  Surprising? I know.  One would think that if something is acidic, it can be neutralized with a base.  There has not been a single unbiased, scientific research report that provides conclusive evidence of an alkaline environment, within the human body, being beneficial.  However, it is evident that a neutral pH is necessary for biologic processes to carry out normally.

Another reason people may feel better from drinking alkaline water is simply because they are finally drinking water; or at least drinking more than they were, prior to their “life-saving” water system.  Drinking water can improve your health and well-being significantly, providing cells with the tools they need for metabolic processes and waste removal…plus it helps the appearance of your skin by “plumping” flaccid cells.  The third reason that ionized water may make someone feel better is as simple as believing… the placebo effect is no joke, people!

Conclusion: If you are still a proponent of an alkaline diet, drink some runoff water that is naturally alkaline from minerals in soil, rather than water that is induced with salts and electric current.  There may be some animal excrement that has not been biodegraded yet, but it is still probably healthier in the long run than ionized water.  Tap water is slightly alkaline, but at healthy levels.  Drinking plenty of this should make you feel and look great.  If you don’t like the taste, or if you are worried about pipe contamination, get a Brita filter or a filter for your faucet, that uses a membrane  or activated carbon filtration system to remove trihalomethanes, which are responsible for poor taste and odor.  The first red flag that went up for me was the claims of unheathy drinking water in the US, and claims that pharmaceuticals exist in both bottled and tap water, which even if true, this “ionization” process would not be able to rid water of this issue either, in addition, the vague explanations to the health claims seemed a little sketchy.  Then finally, the disclaimer stating that none of the claims are backed by real scientific research.  Many of these ionization machines are manufactured in Japan or Korea, countries knows for their susceptibility to  pseudoscientific water-treatment schemes.  In the US, these devices are sold by dealers who know very little to nothing about science.  They will tell you their machines perform miracles, however, no matter which ionization system you buy, either these machines are doing absolutely nothing, or they have the potential for harm  in the long run.  Even pro-alkaline professionals say that this water should only be ingested for a maximum of two weeks. The facts from a chemist:

  • “Ionized water” is nothing more than sales fiction; the term is meaningless to chemists.
  • Pure water (that is, water containing no dissolved ions) is too unconductive to undergo signficant electrolysis by “water ionizer” devices.
  • Pure water can never be alkaline or acidic, nor can it be made so by electrolysis. Alkaline water must contain metallic ions of some kind — most commonly, sodium, calcium or magnesium.
  • The idea that one must consume alkaline water to neutralize the effects of acidic foods is ridiculous; we get rid of excess acid by exhaling carbon dioxide.
  • If you do drink alkaline water, its alkalinity is quickly removed by the highly acidic gastric fluid in the stomach.
  • Uptake of water occurs mainly in the intestine, not in the stomach. But when stomach contents enter the intestine, they are neutralized and made alkaline by the pancreatic secretions — so all the water you drink eventually becomes alkaline anyway.
  • The claims about the health benefits of drinking alkaline water are not supported by credible scientific evidence.
  • “Ionized”/alkaline water is falsely claimed to be an anti-oxidant. It is actually an oxidizing agent, as can be seen by its ability to decolorize iodine (see video)
  • There is nothing wrong with drinking slightly acidic waters such as rainwater. “Body pH” is a meaningless concept; different parts of the body (and even of individual cells) can have widely different pH values. The pH of drinking water has zero effect on that of the blood or of the body’s cells.
  • If you really want to de-acidify your stomach (at the possible cost of interfering with protein digestion), why spend hundreds of dollars for an electrolysis device when you can take calcium-magnesium pills, Alka-Seltzer or Milk of Magnesia?
  • Electrolysis devices are generally worthless for treating water for health enhancement, removal of common impurities, disinfection, and scale control. Claims that “ionized” waters are antioxidants are untrue; hypochlorites (present in most such waters) are in fact oxidizing agents.
  • Claims that “water ionizers are approved for use in Japanese hospitals” are misleading: these “approvals” merely attest to the machines’ safety — that they will not electrocute you! My understanding is that the Japanese Health Ministry is highly critical of therapeutic claims made for alkaline water.
  • Artificially alkaline water only neutralizes acidity where it has direct contact, like the stomach and upper bowel. When consumed daily, the upper bowel in particular becomes overly alkaline and side effects begin to appear. Most common are erratic heart behavior, hypertension, nervousness/anxiety, urinary tract and bladder infections, and stabbing side pains.
  • We have spoken to numerous individuals who were hospitalized for heart conditions that magically disappeared when they stopped drinking artificially alkaline or ionized water. Why would anyone ingest anything unnatural when natural alternatives are available at a comparable cost?
  • More severe side effects were observed in a clinical study involving rats. The study revealed injury to cardiac tissue (heart muscle) as a result of drinking ERW (Electrolyzed Reduced Water), or water created by ionizer machines (artificially alkaline water). In an age when heart disease is a leading killer, ionized water is simply not a smart choice.

 

Phytoplankton off the coast of Iceland…some blooms are just part of the changing of seasons

nasaphyto

Usually we want to limit algae blooms formed as a response to urbanization as much as possible to protect aquatic life. But in some locations, blooms are a brief mainstay of an annual natural cycle.

“Phytoplankton Bloom Off the Coast of Iceland
A spring bloom of phytoplankton lingered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Iceland in early June, 2014. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on June 5. At that time, swirling jewel tones of a vast bloom were visible between banks of white clouds.

According to the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, phytoplankton blooms around Iceland usually occur in early spring and fall. The spring bloom is driven by longer daylight and the warming of surface layers. This leads to stratification of the waters, and allows the phytoplankton to stay in the surface layer and reproduce. By summer the huge numbers of phytoplankton in the blooms decreases nutrients, and the numbers of the organisms begins to plummet.”

Image Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

Wetlands=Kidneys

wetland biom by bio expedition
wetland biom by bio expedition

Today I received an EPA email that made the analogy linking wetlands and human kidneys. Of course my mind just started racing, and I began writing this post. I remember when I was working in land development during the housing boom, we had too much work to handle, the developers couldn’t buy, clear, and build fast enough. It is Florida, so most of the land purchased and intended for build, contained wetlands, protected trees, and/or protected species. For an area to be considered a wetland, it needs to meet some requirements… they must be inundated by surface or ground water in normal hydrologic conditions, there must be specific “wetland vegetation”, and the soil must be classified as hydric (soils mostly saturated operating under anaerobic conditions). I remember hearing awful rumors about tactics some developers would use to ensure that every portion of their land was develope-able… purposely planting invasive vegetation that would take over the ecosystem by competing with native wetland plants for resources and winning, or plants/trees that require enough water to turn a once wet area, dry. Oh, Father, for they do not know what they do… or they just do not care; regardless, removing wetlands, and then developing lands resulting in more runoff of much lower quality, is a recipe for disaster. There is a reason why they are protected, and contrary to what some may think, there are no tree hugging picket lines chaining themselves to lily pads.

Whether you are a creationist or a big bang theorist, we can pretty much all agree that the human body is a system made by and from nature. It just makes sense that the intricate matrix resembles that of nature. I won’t make all of the connections here, I’ll just stick to the portions run parallel to wetlands. The EPA made a great analogy…wetlands are the kidneys of the environment, they filter out excess nutrients, and provide settling time for particulate bound pollutants (bad stuff attached to dirt) to remove these toxins from water stream. This prevents algae blooms from multiplying to the point that aquatic life is threatened, resulting in hypoxia and summer fish kills. But that’s not all folks, they do even more! Similar to how your bladder holds fluids, wetlands hold water, storing water along the path, to reduce peak flows, and slow down flow, preventing from erosion and sudden temperature changes (for aquatic life).

Wetlands are an important part of responsible planning and sustainable development. They can be constructed to alleviate impacts of development and urbanization on the hydrograph (how the stormwater runoff flows during and after a storm), and to filter pollutants prior to outfall to a natural water body connected to our drinking water sources. Wetlands also promote infiltration, recharging the groundwater table, making them an important part of the hydrologic cycle.

Next time you take a walk, I encourage you to make connections between the system within yourself and the system in which we live. The parallels can give us a better understanding of the importance of taking care of our environment.

Don’t drink bottled water, you may get E.coli, while some kid’s urine causes a public water facility to dump all storage, oh, and Cleveland rocks!

Image

So are we really surprised to hear issues with bottled water?  Well, we should be shocked the E.coli contamination in Pennsylvania was actually found before people got sick!  Due to lack of regulation on bottled water, many “less than perfect” batches are sold to millions every day.  Of course the company is saying that the lab that tested the water made an error while testing.  Just to clarify, E.coli bacteria lives in human and animal waste, and is fatal to babies, and the elderly.  Labs are pretty much guarenteed to be E.coli free.  Meanwhile in public municipality world, the city of Portland dumped 38 million gallons of treated drinking water because some dumb high school kid thought it would be funny to pee in it.  Many think this was wasteful, but if it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be able to use it as an example.  Do you think a bottled water company, who doesn’t need to answer to any government authority, would waste product like that? Definitely not.

Now for a superhero public WTP story with all the makings of a triumphant midwest legend: In 2006 Fiji took a swing at Cleveland tap water saying “The label says Fiji because it’s not bottled in Cleveland”.  Well Cleveland did some testing, and it found that the bottled water contained 6.3 micrograms of arsenic per liter; the city’s tap water was arsenic free. Fiji apologized, and it was a “W” for water utility directors, and those in Cleveland where “W’s” are rare (it’s Lebron Jame’s fault, right?).  Seriously…do we need more reasons to not drink bottled water? Let’s list them anyway:

First, the quality is not better:

  • In the United States, 24 percent of bottled water sold is either Pepsi’s Aquafina (13 percent of the market) or Coke’s Dasani (11 percent of the market). Both brands are bottled, purified municipal water3.
  • If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, try a filtered water pitcher like Brita.
  • In the U.S., public water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires multiple daily tests for bacteria and makes results available to the public. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water, only requires weekly testing and does not share its findings with the EPA or the public7.

Do we need more reasons?? Well here you go:

  • Making bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year1. And that’s not even including the oil used for transportation.
  • The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes for a year2.
  • In 2006, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38.3
  • Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year3.
  • The recommended eight glasses of water a day, at U.S. tap rates equals about $.49 per year; that same amount of bottled water is about $1,400.
  • Antimony, which is found in PET plastic bottles, in small doses can cause dizziness and depression; in larger doses it can cause nausea, vomiting and death.8

Save Money and The Environment:

  • One water pitcher filter can effectively replace as much as 300 standard 16.9-ounce bottles. So you can get great-tasting water without so much waste.
  • The average water pitcher filters 240 gallons of water a year for about 19 cents a day4. Put in perspective, to get the same amount of water from bottled water would require 1,818 16.9-ounce water bottles a year5 – at an average cost of a dollar a bottle, that’s $4.98 a day6.
  • For about $10 each, you can purchase a 16-ounce or 32-ounce Nalgene bottle, saving you hundreds of dollars a year on bottled water.
  • Tip: Get a water bottle!!!  One Nalgene bottle can last for decades (literally I’ve had the same one for 15 years), making it easy to stop buying bottled water when you’re out

  1. Pacific Institute. “Fact Sheet: Bottled Water and Energy – Getting to 17 Million Barrels.” December 2007.
  2. “Not Disposable Anymore.” P.O.V.’s Borders. 2004. PBS.
  3. Fishman, Charles. “Message in a Bottle.” Fast Company Magazine July 2007: 110.
  4. This cost assumes the purchase of a $25 pitcher (one filter included), plus 5 replacement filters at $9 each, for a total yearly cost of $70, or $0.19 cents a day.
  5. Each filter produces 40 gallons of water and the average owner uses 6 filters in a year, to produce 240 gallons, or 30,720 ounces, of fresh-filtered water. 30,720 ounces is equivalent to the water found in 1,818 16.9-ounce water bottles.
  6. Purchasing 1,818 16.9-ounce water bottles at the cost of $1 each costs $1,818. Over the course of a year, that’s $4.98 a day.
  7. Burros, Marian. “Fighting the Tide, a Few Restaurants Tilt to Tap Water.” The New York Times [New York City, NY] 30 May 2007: Section F, Page 1.
  8. Shotyk, William. “Toxic risk in bottled water?” Royal Society of Chemistry. September 2006.
  9. Banthebottle.com
  10. Processing magazine
  11. http://www.governing.com/topics/energy-env/gov-cities-tout-municipal-tap-water-as-better-than-bottled.html

http://www.processingmagazine.com/articles/127219-pennsylvania-bottling-company-recalls-water-contaminated-with-e-coli

La Chua Trail, Gainesville, Fl

Lachoola Trail, Gainesville, Fl

Todays Adventure: Lachoola trail. This entire 22,000 acre site was covered with water until a sinkhole formed draining it to it’s present swampy state. Most of the time, sinkholes are not natural occurrences, but the results of urbanization and lowering of the ground water table. They can drastically change the hydrology and ecosystem of an area, so whenever possible, vote, design, and develop responsibly!

Water kills more people than violence

wateraftricaAs amazing as it is, we Americans are able to go about our day to day activities, turning on the faucet whenever we please, knowing we are getting safe, clean water. We don’t even think twice. We live in our bubble, rarely looking past our own zip code, while millions of others live a completely different life, with different struggles, different priorities, different goals and dreams, and are constantly faced with obstacles we will never know. Carrying buckets of polluted well water, sometimes for miles, to their families, knowing they need water but not knowing if they will become sick from it. All while we live in a land where we believe that clean water is a right that we should be given without question.

Polluted water kills more people than all forms of violence. Really think about that. Then think about how the violence is recorded and distributed in media, you almost can’t avoid hearing about it, but when was the last time you read a families’ personal struggle and loss of a family member over water? It is sad, but true. Thinking about it again, is our intentional ignorance a form of violence? This instills a feeling of guilt in me, but I will do what I can to help.

http://www.processingmagazine.com/articles/126842-un-polluted-water-kills-more-people-than-all-forms-of-violence

“Sustainability”

imagesCAJURKCUSustainability is a catch phrase used by laymen and experts in several fields.  The word sustainability by original definition meant the ability to sustain, or the potential to keep things the same way.  Now, people in all areas have made their own definition of sustainability to the point where the true definition has been lost.  Perhaps this isn’t on accident; as the thermodynamic principle of entropy states, entropy is forever increasing, which states that things cannot stay the same.  Therefore true “sustainability” is not possible, in any field, for any area.  It is impossible.

That being said, the term “sustainability” for my purposes in environmental engineering represents the ideas and efforts made to preserve a natural system, or even better, to minimally disrupt a system despite inevitable changes to the respective environment; including increasing population, urbanization, temperature and energy changes.  Though “sustainability” has become the buzz-word of environmental discussions world-wide, I respectfully recommend the use of  “Low Impact Design” as an alternative.  I know, three words to replace one isn’t ideal, however, those three words do have one less syllable, so to me, it’s justified.