Monthly Archives: April 2017

Water: A Family Affair

Hygiene, sanitation, and water conditions have improved for many of us on planet Earth. However in 2017, 663 million of us have unsafe drinking water.

Let us consider these stories from around the globe with the daily struggle for water and compare them to your own experience.

In Niger , Foure Moussa collects 80 litres of water daily for her families use from a bore hole 2 kilometres away. To avoid the line ups she goes at night.

In Bolivia, Rene Visalla use 140 litres of water a day. They now have running water and a toilet. This has brought the family a measure of safety as they don’t go out at night to relieve themselves and are exposed to snakes in the bushes.


In Malawi, Rhoda January and her family retrieve 100 litres a day from a borehole. Before this they got their water from shallow wells that had to be treated with chemicals…chemicals they were generally to poor to be able to afford.

In Jordan, Abu Ibrahim and his family use 8,000 litres a day…200 hundred for human consumption and 7,800 for their herd of sheep. They have a nomadic life following the availability of food and water for the herd.

In Niger,  Hamadou Hama and his family have three choices to get their daily water requirement of 100 litres. They can get water from unsanitary pools of rainwater when available, or pay for water from a nearby tap( not available year round), or get it from a distant borehole.

In Myanmar, Nyo Oo and her family get their 100 litres a day mainly from a local borehole. In the rainy season they save money by collecting water from local ponds..but risk contamination.

In New York City , U.S.A. Ashely Gilbertson gets his families 1,000 litres a day from a tap in their home. Water supplied by the local utility.

From reading these stories we can see that in developing countries 100 litres a day will probably take care of the family…where as in our North American example 10x the amount is used. Of course it is just not the amount of water used but what is required to get it and the quality.

Consider these examples to your own daily experience.


Thanks to Huff Post,UNICEF Canada, and Ashley Gilbertson

Trouble in Paradise

When we want water, we just turn on the tap…and presto we have potable water. In this article I would like to look the Caribbean as the countries in that area have been implementing various water conservation tactics to deal with a prolonged drought.

From Trinidad and Tobago in the south to Jamaica in the north governments and utility companies have had to put into effect measures like a ban on watering lawns or washing vehicles to deal with the low water levels in reservoirs due to lack of rain.

Water police officers have been deployed in Trinidad to ensure compliance. Meanwhile, in Jamaica water rationing has become an everyday event. Antigua is the latest country to come on-line with water rationing until there is an increase in rainfall. Antigua and Barbuda’s Meteorological Service has stated that the below average rainfall last August is the main reason for the current drought which is described as moderate. Blame goes to El Nino.

Guyana is another country experiencing drought like conditions, and again the blame goes to El Nino. Irrigation water is being significantly threatened in certain areas. The capital , Georgetown,  get some 50% of it’s potable water from surface supplies and this is threatened.  Authorities state that water is going to have to voluntarily be reduced in certain areas, and involuntary in others. The Ministry of Agriculture is concerned about water for the crops and they will be aggressive in ensuring farmers have the water they need to feed the nation.


Arctic Waters and Plastic Bits.

The world’s oceans are littered with vast amounts of plastic…bottles, bags , toys, and more.Now this junk is making it’s way to the Arctic.

A recent study by researchers from Spain show a major Ocean current is carrying the plastic, from the North Atlantic, to the Greenland and Barents Seas and leaving the plastic in the surface waters, in the sea ice, and possibly on the ocean floor. 

We are seeing more human activity in this part of the world due to the shrinking ice pack navigation becomes easier. Plastic pollution could spread more widely in the years to come. The danger is that there are consequences we understand and know, but also there will most likely be hidden issues that we are not aware of at this point. 

Every year 8 million tons of plastic enters our waters, joining the already millions upon millions of tons already there. We do understand that plastic pollution has made its way into the food chain. Plastic in the oceans is thought to accumulate in big patches called “gyres”. Scientists now believe these gyres may account for only 1% of the total of plastic in the waters. 

Another model of ocean currents predicts that plastic garbage could also accumulate in the Arctic Ocean, specifically the Barents Sea (located off the coast of Norway and Russia). This part of the ocean is important for the thermohaline circulation, a deep water global current dictated by differences in temperature and salinity. As the warmer water drives up into these areas it brings the plastic with it.


The scientists in the study sampled floating plastic debris from 42 sites in the Arctic Ocean in 2013. the researchers did not find many large pieces of plastic nor did they find much in the way of plastic film. The film is thought to have already broken down. Most pieces were 0.5 mls to 12.6 mls.


The plastic found is not considered to be from local populations nor from ship traffic since there is little of each in the area.

The lesson is that the plastic is coming in from the North Atlantic, and will require international agreements to control. The more we know of what happens in the Arctic, the better chance we have of solving the problem.


Linking Water and Energy

The head of the Canadian International Water Institute says that Canadians have to start considering water and energy issues as been bound together thanks to climate change. Putting energy and water issues together puts an whole new meaning to water security.

What is water security? this is what is meant by having the proper volume and quality of water available when you need it, while making sure that Mother Nature also has what she requires. Consider that energy is used to purify and transport water, and water is used to create energy.

Canada’s population and economy has grown considerably over the decades, but our attitudes to water have not changed much. It appears that Canadians have difficulty realizing that we do face real water issues. European waste water standards are tougher than here, water prices are higher, and conservation more pronounced. The average Canadian in a city uses 329 litres of water a day vs a city dweller in Munich, Germany uses 100 litres a day.

Climate change is one reason we will have to change our attitude.

Rainfall patterns on the Prairies are changing. Large scale flooding is causing communities to review their infrastructure. Hydro dams have to review how their dams get filled.

Perhaps because we think we have so much water we don’t realize there might be a problem on the horizon. We should consider that other countries have faced these problems and have come up with solutions that might work for us as well. Ideas in use today are using green energy for irrigation, treating waste water in such a way as to create energy to offset the energy used to filter it for our use. Many solutions save money by making better use of both the water and energy.

Considering the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates the we have upcoming expenses of some $88 billion for infrastructure, financial considerations will probably drive much of the water/energy nexus. There will most likely be a drive for public /private projects. These can work well or can be huge pitfalls. Done well with transparency from everyone . careful thought , and a good balance between the sides they can work. To reduce the costs water and energy should be considered together.


No Plastic Water Bottle? No Problem.

The future water bottle is here and it is an edible , gelatinous blob.

Skipping Rock Labs of London, England have come up with a way for home cooks to whip up a batch of water encased in an algae based gel. Rehydrate from a plastic bottle, no way, consume a squishy ball. Bite into one  or suck it back whole,

Let’s face it we use a vast amount of plastic, some 80% does not get recycled and ends up in our landfills or worse in our waterways and oceans.  Now through a culinary technique called sphereification, where water is captured in a double gelatinous membrane. The end product is simple, cheap, resistant , hygienic, biodegradable , and edible. The process is licensed as a creative commons so everyone can make them as they wish in their kitchens, modifying , and innovating the recipe.


Seeking Whales

To protect whales you have to be able to find them. Given how large the oceans are this can be a problem. Researchers at the University of Victoria and at Dalhousie University in Halifax have come up with a cost-effective and minimally invasive way to track whale movements. by using underwater drones they can track the whales singing and thereby track their movements.

The underwater drones are called Slocum Gliders and have been deployed on the east and west coasts patrolling for whale activity. The data collected is used to pinpoint the whales and inform where different whale species are congregating in turn helping to inform ocean management practices.  To aid in the conservation of whale populations we have to know where their habitats are…not so easy when these animals are very migratory.


One of the benefits of the information is to be able to inform the Canadian Navy where the whales are and then the Navy will cease to operate in that area until the whales have moved on. One can only imagine what the noise of an exploding shell would sound like in the ears of a whale.

In the future it is possible that whale presence could be broadcast to commercial ships as well, allowing the ships to keep away.

So undersea drones the newest whale protection tool!

Study Finds Neonic Pesticides in US Drinking Water

For the fist time small traces of the world’s most widely used insecticides have been detected in tap water.

In Iowa scientists took samples that show levels of neonicotinoid chemicals remained constant despite treatment. However drinking water treated using a different method of filtration showed big reductions in neonic levels. further study is required before any conclusions can be drawn relating to human health.

The introduction of neonicotinoids began in the early 1990’s. The were seen as an improvement  because they are usually applied as a seed coating, lethal to insects, but not to other species. Sales have grown greatly over time.


The concern over the environmental impact has also grown…concerns about causing harm to bees. The concern is so great that in the EU neonics has faced a moratorium on their use on flowering crops since 2013.

A US Geological Survey from 2015 found neonics in widespread samples from 48 rivers and streams in the US. This new study from the USGS and the University of Iowa looked at tap water that was treated in two different treatment systems. Samples from the U of I treatment plant barely removed any of the neonic chemicals. Water taken from the Iowa City treatment facility removed almost all of the neonics.

To be sure the values in the water are quite small to begin with, but there is some concern as to the longer effects of exposure.   Part of what is going on is because the scientists want to bring or expose us to their concerns over the neonics.  For instance , the insecticides might be transformed by the filtration process into other substances that pose an even greater threat.

The study does present evidence that the presence of neonics in drinking water can be essentially negated if activated carbon filtration systems are used.

So it appears we can shield ourselves from the neonics in the water supply, but what can we do for the bees…given what they do for us?

Seawater to Drinking Water

A UK based team of researchers has devised a graphene based sieve capable of removing salt from seawater. This is the type of thing that could help millions around the world get access to clean drinking water.

It has up to this point been difficult to produce graphene based barriers on an industrial  scale. Scientists from the University of Manchester have shown they have solved some of the challenges by using a graphene oxide.

This graphene is characterized as single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It has extraordinary tensile strength and electrical conductivity.

Current methods of production can be difficult and costly. The new method of production means graphene oxide can be produced in the lab by simple oxidation. Now they can make this single layer of graphene , the challenge becomes making this layer permeable. Hole sizes can not be bigger than one nanometre or the salts go through. Graphene oxide membranes have proven successful in sieving out small nano particles, organic molecules ,and even large salts. However up until now they could not be used to filter out common salts as the holes required were to small. Previous study has shown the graphene swells when placed in water, allowing smaller salts to flow through. Now by placing an epoxy resin on either side of the graphene sheet, the expansion is stopped.

Water molecules can pass through individually, but sodium chloride can not. In fact the speed of water passing through is quite fast, therefore it is ideal for desalinization.

By 2025 the UN expects 14% of the world’s population will be facing water scarcity. Products like this are going to be required. the science of this product has now been proven, questions of durability still need to be answered.

The ultimate goal is to be able to produce potable water from seawater or waste water with minimal energy input.