Category : Environmental Issues
Ways to Cut Your Water Usage that are right for YOU
Back in my college days when the first rumblings of the conservation and sustainability movements were being felt, we had an expression that became a bumper-sticker philosophical gem… “Save water… shower with a friend!” Translation: ”Conservation can be fun!” In the late 60′s young people were just becoming aware of the unthinking waste of resources that flowed from the affluence and innovation of the WW2 generation.
Today water conservation has become a permanent part of our society, in part due to increased public awareness and in part through legislation. Virtually every aspect of our water usage has been subject to local and federal rules and regulations. All new toilets, faucets, showerheads and many appliances must conform to federal guidelines limiting water flow rates. Washing machines have been subject to such radical rules that many top-loaders must use a special type of detergent to clean properly! Similarly, handling of waste water has been tightly regulated as the pollution of ground water has emerged in some areas as health and safety nightmares. Read more »
Japan’s Fukuoka Water Plant desalinates seawater for 150,000 citizens.
Image via Arun Katiyar (Flickr)
The Process of Desalination
If there is one cruel fact none of us can deny, it is that water is becoming a scarce commodity for many people on the planet. Some people blame global warming, others blame climate change; I tend to think one directly affects the other, so it’s both in my opinion. But, whatever the cause, we need to keep America, and the rest of the world, afloat with plenty of safe water. Water desalination is not something new. It is, however, an uncommon form of water treatment. As our water supplies continue to dissipate, we need to consider the desalination process, and how it will help us and the rest of the world ensure that we have enough safe drinking water.
What Is It?
Let’s begin by discussing what water desalination actually is. The process of desalinating water means that we are removing primarily salt, but also other minerals, from saline water. The desalination process is commonly used on sea vessels, particularly those with long-term water-bound missions such as submarines. Desalination allows those on board the vessel access to plenty of “fresh” water without the necessity of storing gallons of H2O, which would account for too much weight and take up too much space. Read more »
Turn that water faucet off!
Image via Jenn Durfey (Flickr)
Could Water Scarcity be a National Security Concern in the Future?
September 11, 2013 marks the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and as a New York City resident, this time always makes me think about national security. An attack of this nature is the type of security threat with which most of us are familiar. When we think of national security, we think of terrorist and war-related attacks. However, I want to talk today about another type of national security concern that also needs to be in the forefront of every American’s mind. This national security threat is water scarcity, and believe me, the threat is very real.
I don’t mean to be a “Debbie-Downer” in this post – any discussion related to national security isn’t generally fun – but if you look at the latest water scarcity facts, you’ll see that this is a discussion we need to have. So, here we go! Let’s take a look at some of the issues surrounding our national water crisis.
Water Is Life
You learned it in elementary school: without water, we have no life. We need water to survive, animals need water to survive, and crops need water to grow. If we have no water, we have no means to sustain our existence. This is why water scarcity is a national security concern. In fact, it’s a global security concern, and we need to look at water scarcity solutions before drought becomes an irreparable epidemic on our home soil.
Think about it. Other nations are already starving to death because they do not have enough clean, safe water to grow food and feed themselves. Can you imagine that in the U.S.? Probably not, but that just might be the source of the problem. We’ve had access to clean water for so long, we simply do not think about not having it, and we need to.
Fracking releases flammable chemicals into our water supplies.
Image via JMR Photography (Flickr)
Water Controversy: Is Fracking Safe and What Do Fracking Chemicals Do to Your Drinking Water?
In popular culture, “frack” is a swear word uttered by the characters of the science fiction franchise “Battlestar Galactica.” “Eureka” fans also heard Fargo use it a time or two. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out the actual expletive the word represents. In the real world, however, fracking isn’t the granddaddy of all curse words, but it is just as serious. And when it comes to water controversy, fracking water – with good reason – is at the top of the list. Is fracking safe? No. And this blog post will ask and answer some of the most important questions about fracking water and the fracking chemicals polluting our water supplies.
Q: If it isn’t a swear word in outer space, what is the origin of the word “fracking”?
A: “Fracking” is a linguistic blend of the phrase “hydraulic fracturing.” Hydraulic fracturing is also called “hydrofracking.”
Q: What is hydraulic fracturing?
A: Literally, hydraulic fracturing means breaking something apart with water. In this case, hydraulic fracturing means pumping water underground to destroy bedrock and release the natural gas encased within the rock.
Q: Who uses fracking?
A: The gas industry uses fracking to access the earth’s natural gas source found underground. Fracking is allowed at both the state and federal government levels.
Q: How many states allow fracking?
A: As of 2012, it was reported that 34 states allow fracking. This number is expected to increase, however, as the federal government recently authorized fracking in Texas in an effort to increase its position in the worldwide exportation of natural gas.
On January 4th, the drama “Promised Land” will premiere in theaters across the country. The basis of this film is centered on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, and the possible consequences of this drilling process on nearby communities. Though fracking may seem like an odd topic to choose for a Hollywood film, it has gained a lot of recent attention regarding concerns about environmental impacts, particularly water contamination.
Hydraulic fracturing is a means of extracting resources like natural gas and oil from underground by pumping fluid, usually a mixture of water and chemical additives, into geological formations like shale and coalbed. The pressure from the fluid creates fractures underground, allowing extraction of the resources. A large portion of fracking is conducted in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Ohio. These states are on top of the formation called Marcellus Shale which is one of the most important gas reserves in the United States. Fracking can also be found in other parts of the country, such as Colorado, Texas, North Dakota and Wyoming.
Though fracking has been performed for many years, it was brought to our attention in 2011 when the EPA reported that sampling showed that water contaminants in a local aquifer in Pavillion, Wyoming were possibly associated with fracking operations. This study was initiated because many local residents complained the drinking water had a bad taste and odor. EPA stressed that the fracking conditions in Pavillion were different from conditions in other parts of the country because it occurred in and below the aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells. Therefore, water sources in other parts of the country may not be at risk of contamination if the fracking conditions are different.
So how can fracking result in contaminated water?
As mentioned previously, fracking fluids contain chemical additives. These chemicals are added to change the fluid properties. For instance, some chemicals are used to increase the thickness of the fluid. Hundreds of different chemicals may be used and the types used will vary depending on the site and company performing the fracking. Many of these companies prefer to not publicly disclose the chemicals used which causes more concern.
As part of a 2011 study, the US Committee on Energy and Commerce surveyed 14 leading oil and gas companies to learn about the composition of the fluids used for fracking. The most common chemical used was methanol. Isopropyl alcohol, 2-butoxyethanol, and ethylene glycol were also frequently used. These chemicals are not regulated by the EPA due to their low toxicity. A small percentage of companies were found to use petroleum compounds like benzene and toluene which are regulated by the EPA because they are highly mobile in ground water and are known human carcinogens. Other additives, such as instant coffee and walnut hulls, are not chemicals of concern but people are curious about their purpose as an additive.
The additives can possibly contaminate water sources through several routes. A common method of fracking fluid disposal is via underground injection of wastewater. EPA determined that this method is not likely to contaminate drinking water sources though it is mentioned that they reserve the right to conduct additional studies if necessary. Other means of wastewater disposal have a greater risk of water contamination. Since there are no specific national standards for fracking wastewater disposal, some wastewater is transported to treatment plants which are not all equipped to treat this type of water, according to the EPA.
Spills are probably one of the greatest sources of surface water contamination. From January to July 2012, several natural gas drilling incidents occurred in Pennsylvania alone. Thousands of gallons of production fluid were spilled in several of these incidents.
Since this process of natural resource extraction is quickly gaining in popularity, the EPA is still in the process of establishing regulations for fracking. Proponents of fracking, which often include local residents, firmly believe that it is a drilling method that is necessary to increase economic development and energy independence. It is important, however, that the operations are conducted responsibly in order to prevent unnecessary contamination.
Rainwater harvesting is an age-old practice of collecting and using rainwater that has become more popular in recent years. Some people are trying to reduce water usage costs while others are concerned about water quality and possible contaminants in their drinking water. If you are considering rainwater harvesting read below for some useful information to help you better understand the process.
A rainwater harvesting system consists of several components:
- The catchment surface: This can be a roof or other apparatus that initially collects the rainwater. If using a roof, please note that composite or asphalt shingles are not appropriate for drinking water collection.
- Gutters or downspouts: These help to channel the water from the catchment surface.
- Leaf screens: Use screens to remove large debris like twigs and leaves from the rainwater. You may also want to use a first-flush diverter which prevents the initial flow (usually several gallons) from entering a storage unit. This device diverts water containing smaller impurities like pollen, dust, and bird feces away from the storage unit, often to a planted area for fast absorption.
- Storage tanks: Storage tanks, also referred to as cisterns, store the water for future use. The storage tanks can range from trash cans and steel drums to tanks made of fiberglass, polypropylene, stone, or even wood. The type of storage tank depends on precipitation rates, water demand, length of dry spells, catchment surface area, and other considerations.
- Delivery system: Complex rainwater harvesting systems also have a delivery system that allows the water to be gravity-fed or pumped to the location where it will be used.
According to the Colorado State University Extension website, rainwater can contain contaminants like arsenic and mercury which are absorbed from the atmosphere. The water may also contain small fecal matter, microorganisms, and other impurities that the screens and diverters do not remove. If the water is to be used for drinking, it needs to be tested and treated. One treatment solution is to use a water purifier to remove harmful biological and chemical contaminants. While the rainwater may contain harmful contaminants, it will lack minerals like calcium and magnesium which are normally found in groundwater. Since these are beneficial to have in drinking water, you may want to consider adding minerals to the water.
While you may be intimidated by the initial process of setting up the rainwater harvesting system, keep in mind that it will be worth the effort. For every square foot of catchment area, you can harvest about 0.6 gallons for every one inch of precipitation. So if you are using a 1,000 square foot roof as a catchment surface, you can expect to collect approximately 600 gallons every time it rains one inch! It is very important to understand average precipitation amounts for your area. The Western Regional Climate Center has maps that show the annual average precipitation for every state. If you are thinking about constructing a rainwater harvesting system be sure to check with state and local regulations as there may be permits or other requirements that may apply.
For more information about creating a rainwater harvesting system, the Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting is very useful. If you would like a professional to design and install the system, the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) offers a searchable online directory.
Within the past few decades, our society has become much more environmentally conscious. Like many others, you may be trying to “go green” by practicing environmentally responsible behavior in the hope of minimizing impact on the environment. While it is overwhelming to think about changing your lifestyle altogether to “go green”, consider starting with one small change that will reduce waste. A good place to start, for example, is reducing plastic water bottle usage.
In 2011 National Geographic reported that Americans purchase approximately 29 billion plastic bottles of water every year. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (USGAO) bottled water consumption doubled from 1997 to 2007 and it is likely that it will continue to increase. The USGAO also reported that in 2006, 76.4 percent of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic water bottles, which are the most common water bottles, were discarded. This equates to nearly one million tons of PET plastic water bottles discarded every year.
The PET plastic is essentially an inert material and is not known to leach chemicals. Unfortunately, however, the USGAO reports that the plastic water bottles will take thousands of years to decompose in a landfill. The slow decomposition rate occurs because the water bottles are compacted before they are deposited in a landfill which prevents them from being exposed to sunlight and the atmosphere. These elements are essential for decomposition.
In addition to contributing to landfills, plastic water bottles impact the environment in other ways as well. Any discarded plastic water bottles that do not make it to the landfill become litter both on land and in the water. This can possibly disrupt wildlife and is an eyesore as well. Furthermore, researchers at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California evaluated the energy needed to manufacture, process, transport, and chill the plastic water bottles. They discovered that the energy cost of producing bottled water can be up to 2000 times the energy cost of producing tap water. The manufacturing process also requires extensive amounts of crude oil which is a natural resource. According to a National Geographic article, 17 million barrels of crude oil are used annually to produce the plastic material. The author of the article mentioned that the amount of crude oil needed to produce one water bottle would fill the bottle approximately one-quarter full.
If you would like to start to “go green” by reducing your plastic water bottle usage, there are several options available to you. If you are purchasing bottled water because you do not like the taste or quality of your tap or well water, consider purchasing a water filter that removes contaminants, such as chlorine, from the water. This will allow you to drink from a re-usable glass instead. Many people also prefer plastic water bottles for the convenience of being able to carry their water with them to run errands, go to work, or other purposes. If you would still like the convenience of a water bottle consider using a re-usable water bottle. Some water bottles are now available that have filtering capabilities as well so you can filter water at any location.
Remember, it is estimated that a person will consume about 30 gallons of bottled water per year which is more than 200 16-ounce water bottles. Try to “go green” today by reducing your plastic water bottle usage and you will contribute less to landfills, litter, increased energy costs, and natural resources consumption as well.