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More water than you could ever imagine… right beneath your feet!
by Jerry Alonzy
Image via Sergiu Bacioiu (Flickr)
In 1864, Jules Verne imagined an ocean where few men had ever been. Harry (or Axel, depending on the translation from the French you are reading) is the nephew of Professor Hardwigg, the discoverer of a document chronicling the voyage of Arne Saknussemm to the earth’s center. He stares dumbfounded at the vast body of water before him, illuminated by some seemingly magical force.
“I stood still, far more stupefied than astonished. Not all the wildest effects of imagination could have conjured up such as scene! ‘The sea – the sea,’ I cried.”
Yes, it was a sea far beneath the earth. “A vast, limitless expanse of water, the end of a lake if not of an ocean, spread before us, until it was lost in the distance.”
In one of his most well-known tales, “A Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Verne imagined a vast underground sea, a water source for uncountable species of plant and animal life unencumbered by the vagaries of our terrene climate and the rules of evolution. Could a body of clean, fresh water really exist deep within the earth to become the life force to a subterranean world?
The Natural Water Cycle – How water moves on the earth… and moved mankind
by Jerry Alonzy
Image via Daniele Nicolucci (Flickr)
According to the United States Geological Service (USGS), approximately 71%% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Between oceans, lakes and uncountable rivers and streams, there is a remarkably small area without surface water. It’s amazing that more of us don’t have to drive boats to work!
Many areas of the world that do lack obvious surface water seem arid, but not too far beneath the surface the driest areas can have ground water… even vast aquifers with clean, pure water are accessible with modern technologies. Go deeper and there may be more water than exists in all the oceans! (A fascinating story and it’s not science fiction. Stay tuned for my next post!)
Earth’s water supply is virtually unlimited, but that doesn’t jive with the simple fact that there are serious clean water supply issues in some areas of the world. Similar to the problem we face with natural gas, oil and even food, the problem is not in the supply but in its harvesting, purification, storage and transport. It’s no exaggeration to say that all the water we will even need is right here! All that is needed is the will to reach for the brass ring and do what is needed to get it!
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The “natural” permeability of soil… a primer
The word “soil” is shorthand for a variety of minerals (in the form of crushed or eroded rock) and organic material between the surface of the earth and bedrock, also called “ledge”. Every type of soil has a natural ability to allow surface water to pass through; this is called permeability. A soil that has less permeability may cause puddling to occur at the surface, at least till the water can pass through the ground, or cause soggy ground. A soil with more permeability quickly dries at the surface, which can be a negative if, for example, water drains too quickly through the soil from your beloved vegetable or flower garden!
To a soil scientist, this simple explanation hardly (if you’ll excuse the pun) scratches the surface of soil study. Soils are not uniform, even within a relatively small area, and variations even a few meters apart can be dramatic. And don’t even try to wrap your head around geographic variances. New England soils, many formed from glacial activity during the ice ages, are totally different from those in Mexico or Florida.
What is important in this discussion is how different soils react to sudden exposure to water, such as a pelting rainstorm or, in the case of a septic system, doing laundry or flushing a toilet. Some soils swell when exposed to water, slowing down the percolation rate (the speed at which standing water will move through the soil). Others absorb water without swelling. These soils allow water to move through them quickly and allow for the best drainage. Read more »
Keep your drains flowing free
by Jerry Alonzy
Part 2 – Solving common drain problems
As we learned in Part 1 of this article, each drain in your home has special characteristics designed to minimize the chance of a blockage, while allowing maximum water flow. For example, some have reduced or restricted openings to keep small items out (such as coins or wedding rings). Toilets have the least restriction on flow, which I think you’ll agree needs no further explanation!
But, despite the designer’s best efforts, all drains have design flaws that can make blockages more likely. Likewise, small behavioral changes on your part can either limit or eliminate the chance of expensive plumbing calls!
I am going to discuss the simplest methods of repairing common blockages. I will not be discussing plumbing snakes, which would be an article in and of itself; but can be needed if these do-it-yourself methods fail.
Blockages caused by “acts of nature,” such as roots growing into your sewer pipes or earthquakes, are out of your control, but most other blockages are repairable by the home handyman. Here are some do-it-yourself tips to keep your drains flowing. Read more »
Keep Your Drains Flowing Free
By Jerry Alonzy
Part 1 – Understanding how your drains work
We talk a lot about water quality and its relationship to health, but the fact is that only half of plumbing is water coming in. The other half is water going out, via your home’s drain or waste water system.
Plumbing drains seem simple and I guess they are to those of us who have had their benefits for our entire lives. But your home’s drain pipes are not randomly placed… they follow design principles that have been in place for hundreds of years, ever since the recognition that gravity controls the movement of water!
A waste water drain system (regardless of the material it’s made from) must incorporate certain characteristics to function safely and effectively:
1) All drain pipes must slope downwards over their entire length. The slope must be steep enough so that waste-filled water will flow in the desired direction at adequate speed to allow all waste material to exit into the sewer or septic system.
If even a small section of drain pipe is level or, worse, sloped upwards, it will both slow the emptying of the pipe and become a “trap” where waste will tend to accumulate, leading to a blockage over time. Read more »
Dr. Michael J. McGuire is an environmental engineer whose career has focused on drinking water quality and the history of water. His expertise on the subject of water led him to publish numerous articles and books, such as The Chlorine Revolution. He also frequently updates his two blogs: This Day in Water History and Safe Drinking Water Dot Com, and remains active on twitter. He continues to write extensively on this important world-wide issue.
Since 1971, he has been active in the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and has been a member of other societies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Chemical Society and the Water Environment Foundation. He received his PhD from Drexel University and has since won awards for his excellence in environmental engineering. In 2009, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
Q: What sparked your interest in safe drinking water and water history?
A: I was fortunate to land my first job with the Philadelphia Water Department in 1969. The theoretical information that I had learned about water quality as an undergraduate was brought to life as I participated in projects to safeguard the drinking water for that great city. Samuel S. Baxter, the water commissioner for Philadelphia, convinced me that public service associated with providing safe water was absolutely the best way to spend my career.
The water history bug bit me in 2005 when I wrote an article for the AWWA Journal about the revolutions that occurred in U.S. drinking water disinfection over the previous 97 years. Chlorinating the Jersey City water supply in 1908 was the first revolution, and I became fascinated with the people who were responsible and with the barriers they faced to implement effective water treatment processes. At that time, waterborne disease was a leading killer especially of very young children. What Dr. John L. Leal and George Warren Fuller did back then was extraordinary, and their exploits fed my desire to learn more about the roots of our profession.