Monthly Archives: September 2016

In the News…Nova Scotia First Nation Water Problem

potlotekThe Potlotek First Nation of Cape Breton is protesting ongoing dirty water issues.A thick black liquid is coming out of their taps and they are looking for government intervention. one of the residents said she showered with rust or dirt or metal or whatever it was….the water did not change color until halfway through the shower.

Everyone now has to use bottled water to brush their teeth,rinse baby bottles, and take sponge baths because they don’t trust the tap water. potlotek1

The crazy thing is their is not a boil water advisory in place. The workers at the water treatment plant test the water several times a day, and it meets Health Canada standards…but they won’t drink it themselves.


The band manager, Lindsay Marshall, knows there is iron an manganese in the water. They know thick black liquid has to do with the silt in the pipes and water tower that has built up over the years. They are also aware that leaves and other biomass get into the open water source where the drinking water originates. They have had water tower freezes, pumps break, and gone weeks without water.

The fix is expensive, and could take years…


The hope is that the Prime Minister will keep his promise to spend $141.7 million to eliminate water issues on First Nations reserves across Canada. The issues are real , the need is now..the feds have to step up ASAP.



Sewage Overflow in Tampa Bay

In a lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio we took a look at the water difficulties that they faced..what about a modern first world city like Tampa Bay?tampa2

When Hurricane Hermine came ashore on Florida’s Gulf Coast a familiar pattern emerge. St. Petersburg’s, Clearwater and Tampa Bay’s water facilities were overloaded, and there was no room for waste. Up to 151 million gallons of partially treated raw sewage were dumped into Tampa Bay.tampa1

This is the 3rd time in the last 13 months that significant amounts of sewage has been dumped into the Bay…with bacteria and contaminants. Aging infrastructure , increased rainfall , and rising sea levels are going to make this a more common experience all over the place. Civil engineers have been warning for decades that our storm water and sewage system management systems need fixing and upgrading. The solutions though are usually expensive , time consuming , and politically difficult.

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Many weakening system are not just old, but have the added difficulty of having used lead piping , before the dangers were known.

All is not bad as some cities have taken action. Boston has recently completed a 30 yr project costing 4 billion , that replaced much of the sewer  piping, and cleaned up the harbor. Chicago has committed 1.4 billion to work on their water and sewer issues. Tampa Bay has approved of 250 million expenditure over 30yrs to upgrade their water and sewer systems.

Populations are growing, the infrastructure get older, costs go up, politicians face hard issues, and climate change…not an easy task, but we only bury our heads and ignore the issues at our own risk.

Coffee grounds to the rescue….

coffee2Coffee infused foam removes lead from contaminated water….

coffee3As one of the most popular drinks in North America, coffee makes for a perkier population and also a large amount of waste coffee grounds. Scientists now report an innovative way to reduce this waste and help address another environmental problem. Coffee grounds have been incorporated into a foam filter that can remove lead and  mercury from water.

Coffee Grounds

Coffee Grounds

Millions of tons of used coffee grounds are produced annually by restaurants, the beverage industry, and people in their own homes. Much of the used grounds go to the landfill. Some of the grounds are used as fertilizer, a biodiesel source, and mixed into animal feed. Scientists are also looking to use the grounds for water remediation. It looks like powder made from spent grounds can rid water of heavy metal ions, which can cause health problems. An additional step is required to remove the powder from the purified water. The researchers are trying to simplify this process. coffee

Spent coffee powder was fixed in a bioelastomeric foam, which acted as a filter. In still water the foam removed up to 99% of lead and mercury ions over a 30 hour period. In another test with flowing water up to 67% of the lead ions were scrubbed from the water.

Something to think about as you enjoy your next cuppa joe.


Gown in Salt Crystals

crystal-gownArtist Sigalit Landau submerged a black dress in the Dead Sea. The incredible transformation was documented in an 8 part “Salt Bride”photographic series. Over a period of 2 years more and more salt crystals adhered to the dress.


Landau says”It looks like snow, like sugar, like death’s embrace”.



The dress is a replica of a traditional garment worn by the protaganist in “The Dybbuk”, a traditional Yiddish play about a possessed bride , and later exorcised of a demonic spirit. The artist symbolically transforms the mourning dress into a gown of celebration.

Weather Disasters and Climate Change

weaExtreme weather events that occurred in 2014 were studied, and it was determined that 14 out of 28 had human caused changes at their root. The finger prints of human induced climate change are seen around the world.

The detective work was not up to the task of making these connections until the science caught up. The debate will continue over accuracy and details , but improved modeling tools have made it easier to determine cause and effect. Confidence has grown in the ability to link specific events to climate change…specifically heat waves. Extreme rainfall is less likely to show cause as climate change.

wea4Here is the global rundown of what the report find about human induced climate change and the 2014 weather.

North America: Climate change plus local land use worsened prairie flooding in Canada. Hawaii’s hurricanes were substantially more likely because of climate change, and so were Northern California’s wildfires. Very cold winters such as the one in the upper mid west have become 20 to 100 times more likely than in the 1880’s.

wea2Africa and the Middle East: Climate change worsened the drought in east Africa. No drought link was found in the rest of the Middle East.

Antarctica: Sea ice reached a record of nearly 7.8 million sq. miles in 2014 because of the wind carrying cold air offshore and boosting ice production. Climate change will make this less likely.

Asia: Climate change played a role in extreme heat in Korea, China, and made several disasters more likely…flooding in Jakarta, a Nepal snowstorm that killed 43, and extremely high sea surface temperatures in some sections of the Pacific Ocean. wea3

Australia: Climate change made the heat waves of 2014 more likely.

Europe: Compared with 1950. climate change tripled the chance of extreme rainfall in southern France. Record heat..more likely.

South America: Human induced climate change made Argentina’s heat wave five times more likely. southern Brasil’s water shortage was due to increased population and water demand.

reference Randy Loftis, National Geographic.



4 things that have to happen to end California’s drought

caliCalifornia is being drenched by storms and picking up snowpack this week driven by the powerful El Nino…but recovery from years long drought will take more than a few storms. Lake mead

California is in the midst of a 4 yr drought, the worst in recorded history. To get out of it certain conditions have to converge. It is a good start that the strong El Nino has brought recent storms with reservoirs showing some recovery, and the snow pack at 103% of what it should be at this time of year.The Sierra snow pack is critical to Californians for much of their water comes from the spring melt water. A significantly deeper snow pack will go a long way to helping the reservoirs recover.

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So what 4 things have to happen….?

They will need 4 more months of storms. The rain may help with aquifers , and help the reservoirs , but much of it will run to the sea. it is the snow pack that is critical to the water supplies.

Secondly, storms have to hit in the right place. Storms that stay on the coast  or get shunted to the north won’t be that helpful. Storms that saturate the mountains are required to build that snow pack.

Thirdly, below freezing temperatures in the mountains are required to hold the snow in place, and build the snow pack. If the moisture come down as rain , it can quickly go through the flood channels and be lost out to the sea, leaving less water to fill the reservoirs in the spring.

Fourthly, true recovery takes time.  The snow pack , reservoirs , and aquifers need a good year , but  a few good years to recover will be needed. Also , consider that California is losing millions of trees to the dryness and to beetle infestations…with can then increase the wildfire situation.

A New Tool for Wetland Management.

bear-r2Wetland managers in arid regions have a difficult task of planning for water supplies and controlling invasive vegetation. Utah State University has developed a computer model that recommends varying the water levels in wetland units to effect an increase in productive habitat area….greatly improving migratory bird habitat.

In Utah a marshy wetland teaming with life is a cherished resource, but with shrinking water resources and invasive vegetation managing these areas is becoming more problematic. A team of experts applied the model to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, an important feeding, resting and breeding ground for millions of migratory birds. bear-r

If the refuge managers apply the findings they could nearly double the area of productive wetlands habitat using existing resources. By dynamically altering water levels in wetland units at the refuge improves habitat for migratory birds. Adjusting water levels within wetland units more frequently also better corresponds to historical hydrologic conditions. The suggestion is also to focus the efforts to eradicate invasive species in the late summer instead of early fall.

The software shows how to best use the limited water , man power, and finances. It can quickly go through millions of possible solutions and find one that provides the most benefit. bearr1

Wetlands around the world are under increasing pressure, increased attention to these valuable resources is required. These dynamic ecosystems provide us with water storage, protection against flooding, recreation, eco tourism, hunting, habitat for wildlife , and much more.

This particular software program may not be all that is required , but surely is a step in the right direction.



Why a giant lake turned blood red..

The salty waters of Lake Urmia recently turned from deep green to blood red, likely due to algae and bacterial blooms. urmia

The Iranian Lake Urmia has been slowly drying up and shrinking for decades. Now the Lake that was once one of the largest in the middle east looks like a huge crime scene.

NASA’s Aqua satellite took a photo in April of the lake with a deep green hue..but by mid-July algae and bacteria had turned the water into a srained red pool.


Drought , heat, and increased demand for irrigation water have steadily been shrinking the salty lake. As the volume of water decreases the salinity increases which makes the lake a great breading ground for Dunaliella algae, which can turn the water red.urmia-5

Lake Urmia’s color changing has happened before. Spring rains and meltwater arrive to bring freshwater which stabilizes the salinity. As drought and agriculture pressure increases red waters may become more common.

Thanks to satellite observations the lake has lost 70% of it’s surface area in the last 14 years. The concern is that is land use and water consumption remain as it is now the lake will soon disappear.

Making pesticide droplets less bouncy

indiaWhen farmers spray their fields with pesticides or other treatments only about 2% of the spray sticks to the plants. Much of it just bounces off the plant, lands on the ground , and becomes part of the run off the flows to our rivers and streams…often causing serious pollution.

MIT to the rescue.

A team of researchers at MIT has found a way to combine two inexpensive additives to the spray that greatly reduces the amount of spray that bounces off. First off we have to understand that many plants have a tendency to be hydrophobic(water repelling).  The new approach will have the spray divided into two portions. One portion is given an additive with a negative electric charge, the other given an additive with a positive charge.  When two of the oppositely charged droplets meet on a leafs surface they form a water attracting defect. that sticks to the surface and increases the retention of further droplets. india2

This project was aimed at assisting communities in India, and throughout the developing world. Spraying of pesticides is typically done from a tank on a farmers back, and since reducing the amount of pesticide wasted..reduces the farmers overall costs…and reduces the overall soil and water pollution. india3

The lab tests show the new system could allow farmers could get a good effect , but only use 1/10th as much pesticide or other spray. The polymer additives are natural and biodegradable and so will not contribute to runoff pollution.india4

This new approach looks promising in the lab, and with a bit off tweaking will be ready to take to the field shortly.


Herbicides and Stream Macroalgae

round Spraying herbicides to kill weeds has become common practice among farmers to ensure space and nutrients for their crops. Streams receive most of the runoff that contains these weed killing chemicals, but little research has been done to look at the direct effects this has on key organisms in the water.

round1A recent article in Phycologia looked at a study in Brazil that examined the effects of glyphosate based herbicides on a type of green macroalgae that is common in streams around the world. The assumption was that the macroalgae would be sensitive to the chemicals thus affecting their photosynthesis, chlorophyll levels, and respiration. Macroalgae are perfect for monitoring the health and clarity of fast moving fresh streams they are important organisms when it comes to cycling nutrients and increasing plankton. round3

The study tested several concentrations of technical grade glyphosate, Roundup weed killer, and AMPA and the effects on the algae were noted.  Algal photosynthesis was greatly reduced when glyphosate and roundup were used together. Concentration of the active ingredient and exposure time were considered.

AMPA boosted photosynthesis. Dark respiration , or respiration that occurs regardless of light , also increased with AMPA. Finally, the study found that when AMPA and certain  amounts of glyphosate were applied less chloropyll was found.

The end results found that the performance of algae was affected by herbicides. The form of the herbicide is crucial to determining the end effect, the algal productivity could shift visibly depending on the types of herbicide applied. Even legal amounts of herbicide can have an effect.