Thursday, February 11, 2016

Not So Fast- Supreme Court and Congress Delay Regulations

On Tuesday, February 9th 2016 the Supreme Court of the United States granted a stay request preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from beginning implementation of the Clean Carbon Plan while the legality of the regulation is challenged by a group that includes half the states. Though the DC District Court denied the stay, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the stay through the appeal process. This means that questions about the legality of the program will be adjudicated before the implementation of the program begins. The DC District Court is scheduled to begin hearing the case in June 2016 and the appeal of the decision by the losing side will not be heard by the Supreme Court until 2017.

This endangers the regulation. The next President of the United States could make significant changes to the regulation before implementation can begin even if the Clean Power Plan is upheld by the Supreme Court. The Clean Power Plan requires electrical generators in the nation to cut their CO2 emissions by 30% from 2005 levels or 18% from 2013 levels using a combination of approaches within each state, but essentially boils down to replacing coal fired electricity generation with natural gas generation and building lots of solar and wind power farms. Under the regulation the plans for compliance or the request for an extension were due to the EPA by September 2016. Now, at least in the half of the states that have challenged the law, that moves planning for compliance forward; and at least in Virginia allows us enough time to consider more carefully the environmental impact of the natural gas pipelines necessary to comply with the regulation under the Governor’s plan.

Power plants are the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States accounting for about 33% of greenhouse gas release (and slightly more of carbon dioxide). Greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), fluorinated gases, nitrous oxide and methane (CH4). According to the EPA CO2 represents 84% of mass of greenhouse gas emissions and that the climate models indicate to be the cause of climate change. The Clean Power Plan is viewed by many as an essential component along with Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standards, for cars and trucks to meet the President’s pledge to reduce the United States’ greenhouse emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Neither of these are based in law, but rather in regulation, and quite frankly they are inadequate to achieve the pledged goal.

Big government and detailed regulations are not the only ways of achieving greenhouse gas reductions. A simpler and more straightforward approach is a carbon tax. The carbon tax simply means that a tax would be applied per ton of carbon emitted, and the tax would be the same for heating, transportation, electricity generation, beef production, methane leaks (see California) or any other use. Many economists (including my husband) say a carbon tax is the most economically efficient approach and interferes the least with the normal operation of market forces. Also, we need additional revenue to ensure the survival of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and the restoration of the water, electric and road infrastructure our grandparent built.

There have also been several other regulations that have been halted, for now. Back in October 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an nationwide stay against the enforcement of a an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulation defining the scope of the “waters of the United States” subject to federal regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The rule revised and expanded the definition of the waters of the United States  regulated under the Clean Water Act. The revisions were made in response to a 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court rulings that interpreted the regulatory scope of the Clean Water Act more narrowly than the Agency had.

Tucked into the Omnibus Appropriations Act covering the funding of the federal government during fiscal year 2016 passed by congress and signed into law by the President in December to become Public Law No: 114-113 were several items. The Omnibus Appropriations Act restricts the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas and isolated bodies of water, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches.

In addition the Omnibus Appropriation Act prohibits funding for the “light bulb” standard regulations, requires that dietary guidelines issued are based on significant scientific agreement and are focused on nutritional and dietary information to ensure a balanced and scientific process in the future. Also, the act prohibits the distribution of genetically engineered salmon until the FDA publishes final labeling guidelines.

Last November the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of genetically engineered salmon called the AquaAdvantage salmon in the United States. As originally approved not only would genetically engineered salmon be able to be sold in the United States, the law did not require food containing ingredients derived from these salmon to be labeled as genetically engineered or genetically modified. The Omnibus Appropriations Act contained provisions requiring labeling of these fish. Now the FDA has issued an alert banning the import of any food that contains genetically engineered salmon, until FDA publishes final labeling guidelines that would inform consumers of such content.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Cleaning the Chesapeke Bay - Report Card


The Chesapeake Bay Program (a part of the U.S. EPA) has issued a report on the health of the Bay. Though they are optimistic, they are using 2010 -2012 data which makes the report almost meaningless in judging our progress under the Watershed Implementation Plans mandated by the EPA as the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Each of the six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and the District of the Columbia are required to have a Watershed Implementation Plan approved by the EPA to achieve their mandated pollution reduction goal.

The Chesapeake Bay Model is the basis for the Watershed Implementation Plans. It is really tricky to actually measure the progress. The best real world data comes from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Relatively unnoticed, the USGS issued their report on the monitoring results for the Chesapeake Bay for the 2014 water year last week. The USGS obtains the data from the Chesapeake Bay Non-tidal Water-Quality Monitoring Network is a partnership among the States in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the USGS, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. This group has created a network of monitoring stations to measure nutrient and sediment pollutant loads and changes in pollutant loads over time.

The initial network formed in 1985 had nine river monitoring stations. In 2004, the Chesapeake Bay Program formalized the network, and a period of expansion followed at the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program was developing the mandated . In 2010 and 2011, the network was further expanded to address the needs of the EPA mandated TMDL. The network currently has 117 sites designed to measure changes in nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended sediment in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended-sediment loads and trends are determined based on continuous streamflow monitoring, extensive water-quality sampling, and statistical analysis. The USGS computes the loads and trends and makes the data available on the Web.

Because there is a relationship between rainfall and nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution the USGS attempts to normalized the flow data before they look at the tends in the data. They use an algorithm to estimate the trend in “flow-normalized load,” trying to minimizes the confounding effect of any concurrent trend in discharge. In addition, this year there was a change in data used.

Historically, the USGS did not compute trends for water monitoring stations having recorded data for less than 10 years. However, in 2014 a large number of newer stations had records that reached 9 years. Because of the needs of the Chesapeake Bay Program for the most comprehensive analyses available ahead of the “Mid-Point Assessment” for the bay total maximum daily load set for 2017, the USGS elected to compute and include trends for stations having only 9 years of data (2006-2014) in the 2014 water year results. This data dominates the short term trend analysis performed by the USGS.

Overall, the short term analysis showed trends in nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended-sediment loads for the Chesapeake Bay monitoring stations that were more often degrading than improving. You can dress this up and put a ribbon and bow on it and point out that since 1985 the trends in nutrient and sediment pollution had been predominantly improving in nitrogen pollution, and evenly divided in phosphorus pollution and more often improving for suspended-sediment load, but still it is puzzling why the recent trends have been in the wrong direction.
Nitrogen Load from USGS

Phosphorus Loads from USGS

Sediment loads from USGS 

 
from USGS

Maybe, the problem is the flow normalization methods and heavy rain and run-off impacts, or maybe we have not yet begun to see the results of the steps taken under the Watershed Implementation Plans. Next year EPA will measure the results of the Watershed Implementation Plans progress, it will be interesting to understand how the progress will be judged.

The EPA has call “resilience” an indication of the state of the ecosystem. Nick DiPasquale, the director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, said “Over the years, in any number of ways, we’ve seen evidence that when we make the right decisions and take the right actions, the ecosystem is resilient enough to come back. We’ve restored rockfish populations, improved crab management and numbers and, more recently, have seen restored grass beds survive and new ones emerge despite heavy rains and sediment-laden runoff. These signs of resilience are indicators that we are on the right track. They mean our collective work to restore, protect and engage people in Bay issues can have an impact.”

The Chesapeake Bay is a complex, sensitive and dynamic ecosystem and it is impossible to define the current state of the Chesapeake Bay in short, simple terms. To understand the health of the Bay watershed, we must consider all of these indicators and their long-term trends and the trends are not looking good.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Flint Michigan and America Bad Decisions Everywhere

When President Obama declared that an emergency exists in the State of Michigan with the water supply of Flint he stated that safe affordable water was a right. However, trying to keep the cost of water as low as possible in Flint, Michigan a city with a population of about 100,000 plagued in recent decades by poverty, aging infrastructure and a declining population and budget shortfalls, is the underlying cause of the current tragedy. This is a man-made disaster that could have been prevented at many points along the chain of decisions and events that caused it.

Flint, Michigan is a city that in the late 19th century was a hub for the manufacture of carriages, by 1900 Flint was producing more than 100,000 horse-drawn carriages each year. The body, spring, and wheel companies for the carriage industry became suppliers for the Buick Motor Company, which moved to Flint in 1903. In 1908 William Durant consolidated the major manufacturing units in Flint into the General Motors Company. For the next half a century the city’s growth paralleled the success of the automotive industry. In 1950 Flint was the site of the largest single General Motors manufacturing complex. However, the closing or relocation elsewhere of various General Motors plants in Flint in the 1980s and early ’90s left the city with a shrinking economy and dwindling population.

During the early development of the automotive industry, Flint built out its water and sewage infrastructure. More than a hundred years ago and into the early part of the 20th century, it was common practice to use lead pipes to connect homes and businesses to the water mains under the street, despite the fact that the toxic nature of lead was already known. If the pipes had been replaced over the past 100 years there would have been not lead piping to leach lead into the system and poison the residents, especially children. .

The current crisis began when the city of Flint decided to switch to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) as the City’s permanent water source in a cost saving measure as wholesale water rates from the old Detroit system kept growing in an attempt to support rising maintenance, repair and operating costs in that system. KWA would supply water to the members by building a new pipeline from Lake Huron. While waiting for KWA pipeline to be completed, the City of Flint planned to use the Flint River as a temporary alternative water source.

Here is where the problems began. Though the Flint Water Treatment staff, LAN engineering consultants and the DEQ understood that the Flint River would be subject to variations due to temperature changes, rain events and would have higher organic carbon levels than Lake Huron water and would be more difficulty to treat, they thought that Flint had the equipment (after a Water Treatment Plant upgrade) and the capacity to meet the demands of treating river water. They were wrong.

First, Flint struggled to meet the Safe Drinking Water Act levels at the water treatment plant. Then residents noticed changes in the smell, color, and taste of the water coming out of their taps. Tests showed high levels of bacteria that forced the city to issue boil advisories. In response, the city upped its chlorine levels to kill the pathogens. This created too many disinfectant byproducts, which are carcinogens. Then the corrosive water began leaching lead, other metals and whatever else was in the biofilm on the old pipes into the water in the homes. Flint’s water department could have averted disaster by having a corrosion management plan and using additives to diminish the corrosiveness of the water at negligible cost. They did not have a corrosion management plan and did not think it was necessary.

For decades instead of replacing lead pipes urban water companies (especially in poor cities) have used chemicals to control lead and other chemicals from leaching into the water supply. Many at the American Water Works Association and other trade groups have questioned the wisdom of this strategy, there is always some lead leaching and many of us believe that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water.

Most existing lead pipes are over 100 years old, are in the older cities of the east coast and mid-west and should have been replaced in the normal course of preventive maintenance program. Unfortunately, that is not how we operate in the United States. A few cities, including Madison, Wisconsin, and Lansing, Michigan, have taken steps to remove all of their lead pipes. Such projects can cost tens of millions of dollars and have to paid for by including an increase in water bills and also paid by property owners. It was estimated by the American Water Association that there are 6.5 million lead pipes still in service in the United States- most more than 100 years old.

The last U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment was done in 2011 and released in 2013. The survey showed that $384 billion in improvements are needed for the nation’s drinking water infrastructure through 2030 for systems to continue providing safe unlimited drinking water 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week to the 297 million Americans who depend on them.

The lion’s share of the costs estimated by the EPA is for treatment ($72.5 billion to expand or rehabilitate infrastructure to reduce contamination) and distribution ($247.5 billion to replace or refurbish aging or deteriorating water mains). This estimate may not even include the cost of replacing lead connector pipes because in many locations the piping from the home or building to the water main is the responsibility of the home/building owner. In Michigan the responsibility is shared with the city.

The water bill that most pay barely covers the cost of delivering the water and essential repairs for all those water main failures. There seems to be significant resistance to increasing water bills to pay the true cost of water and the system to deliver that water in a safe and sanitary way. As a matter of fact there were public protests over having to pay delinquent water bills in Detroit in 2014. Protesters claimed clean water as a right that should be free. No one maintains a system that is “free” and  few value what is free.

Last August, the National Drinking Water Advisory Council created by the Environmental Protection Agency recommended changes to the almost quarter century old Lead and Copper Rule that would accelerate the replacement of lead service lines (those that run from the mains to consumers’ properties) nationwide. “There is no safe level of lead,” the council’s working group wrote in its report. The lead pipes need to be removed from our cities and our homes.(When was the last time you thought about replacing your water connection line?) Safe drinking water regulations need to address, management, maintenance and replacement of water infrastructure.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Stop HB 1389

The oil and gas industry has found a champion to prevent the disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking oil and gas wells in Virginia. Last week on Tuesday, January 26th a half an hour after adjournment in the 3rd Floor East Conference Room, Delegate Robinson introduced her bill to allow industry to avoid disclosure of the chemicals in fracking fluid. This was submitted after the deadline and introduced in a committee that she sits in on. The bill is HB 1389, carried by Delegate Robinson and you can help us by asking your delegate to vote NO on HB 1389.

HB 1389 summary: “Virginia Freedom of Information Act; record exclusion for trade secrets submitted to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Excludes from the mandatory disclosure provisions of FOIA trade secrets, as defined in the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (§ 59.1-336 et seq.), submitted to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy as part of the required permit or permit modification to commence ground-disturbing activities. The bill provides that in order for such trade secrets to be excluded, the submitting party shall (i) invoke this exclusion upon submission of the data or materials for which protection from disclosure is sought, (ii) identify the data or materials for which protection is sought, and (iii) state the reasons why protection is necessary.”

This raises concerns. Drilling companies use a variety of chemicals in their drilling process, which have been undisclosed in the past because they are considered ‘trade secrets’. Without knowledge of what chemicals are being injected into these well the impact can these chemicals can have on the surrounding environment and populations cannot be judged or easily discovered. Even if some impact is seen or suspected, it is necessary to know what chemicals you are looking for. If there is an accidental spill, first responders need to know what safety equipment and protective clothing are necessary to protect the public and our property. We are beyond the time for these trade secrets, it is more important to protect our water resources, our environment and our people.

As a Director of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District I have been a member of the Sub-Committee on Fracking for the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, VASWCD. In a series of regular meetings during the past year we examined the fracking processes in Virginia and the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area and to developed a policy that was ultimately approved by the VASWCD Board and adopted by vote of the membership at our annual meeting in Richmond.

The Fracking Sub-Committee was lead by Chip Jones of Northern Neck and included: Andrew Gilmer, Clinch Valley; Wayne Webb, Lord Fairfax; Deirdre Clark, John Marshall; Kris Dennen, Loudoun; Janet Gayle Harris, Tri-County/City; Elizabeth Ward, Prince William; Henry Snodgrass, Holston River; Nicole Anderson Ellis, Henricopolis; Matt Kowalski, Lord Fairfax; Mark Monson, Thomas Jefferson SWCD; and Harrison Daniel, Northern Neck. We were assisted by the VASWCD staff.

The VASWCD Policy on Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area supports revision of Virginia Oil & Gas Act managed by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to include:

1. Postponing the issuance of any permits for hydraulic fracturing of gas and/or oil-bearing formations in Virginia/Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area until such a time as a baseline of groundwater flow systems and their relationships to the underlying geology can be conducted, interpreted, and reported. The research and interpretation should be conducted by a group of non-partial professionals with the appropriate expertise (e.g. USGS).

2. Performing a comprehensive review of Virginia regulations concerning resource extraction, specifically updating regulations to incorporate standards for the hydraulic fracturing of gas and/or oil-bearing formations. This review should include consideration of the safe handling and disposal of all products of the fracking process including well cuttings and used fracturing fluids.

3. Strengthening the regulatory process by requiring VDMME & VDEQ to have joint permit approval authority throughout Virginia. If Virginia regulatory authority is structured such that joint permit approval is not feasible, then DMME should not issue fracking permits unless all DEQ recommendations are also required by DMME for issuance of a permit.

4. Requiring certain minimum engineering/management practices (BMPs) to safeguard Virginia citizens and resources, including but not limited to: continuous monitoring, full public disclosure of all chemical ingredients and chemical breakdown products and volumes, and emergency cleanup plans.

5. Require bonding in amounts adequate to address comprehensive oversight of each operation and full site remediation.

6. Ensure that DMME, DEQ, and other regulatory agencies with oversight of the hydraulic fracturing industry are funded and staffed at appropriate levels to monitor all extraction operations and enforce all regulations.

ISSUE: Several leases for oil and gas drilling have been obtained in the Taylorsville Basin, which is located in the Coastal Plain of Virginia. Currently, the region does not have any active wells and has only had exploratory drilling done in the past. Proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, as well as fragile geology of groundwater aquifers, causes concern of possible water contamination during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process.

CONCERNS:

Hydraulic fracturing requires massive amounts of water, sometimes in the excess of millions of gallons, to create a gas producing well. Where will that water come from?

Procedures for the safe management and /or disposal of waste products, including recovered contaminated injection water, have not been identified. Fracking processes, as well as the post-fracking injection of fracking fluids, have been identified as contributors and/or causes of seismic activity in several states.

d. Drilling companies use a variety of chemicals in their drilling process, which is undisclosed because they are considered ‘trade secrets’. We do not know what impact can these chemicals have by themselves on the surrounding environment and population.

e. If drilling were to be approved in the Taylorsville Basin, the minimum engineering/management procedures that must be implemented are:

  1. Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Department of Environmental Quality must have joint approval authority for permits.
  2. Monitoring wells must be in place in close proximity to drilling sites to ensure groundwater quality is maintained.
  3. All chemicals used in the process must be publicly disclosed with such information being registered with the Virginia Departments of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
  4. All recommendations to the drilling permit application by DEQ MUST be implemented before DMME grants final approval.
  5. Surface and ground water cleanup plans shall be developed for the drilling site and all downstream impacts.
  6. Sufficient bond, paid by the drilling company, shall be in place to cover any potential cleanup costs of contaminated areas at the drilling site and associated impact areas, and to address the requirements of the surface and groundwater remediation plans. Bonding should also be sufficient to cover physical damage and economic impact from environmental contamination.


The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts supports postponing the issuance of any permits for hydraulic fracturing of gas and/or oil-bearing formations in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area until all of the concerns noted above have been addressed and appropriate mechanisms are in place to assure the protection of the environmental quality of the region.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Zika Virus

Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites, currently from the Aedes species mosquitoes. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Outbreaks of Zika have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. In May 2015, the first local transmission of Zika virus infection (Zika) was reported in Brazil from there it spread to the rest of South America, to Central America, Caribbean and now appeared in Puerto Rico and Hawaii. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel alert for people traveling to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and recommended for pregnant women to avoid the areas.

This alert follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly, babies born with abnormally underdeveloped heads, and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. A few months after the introduction of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection into Brazil, there was an increase in congenital microcephaly occurrence. The incidence of congenital microcephaly increased by twenty times. This increase raises questions about the possible role of the Zika infection in congenital microcephaly, though there is currently only ecological evidence of an association between the two events, because there is no test for the presence of the Zika antibodies to confirm past infection. A possible causative nature of the association cannot be ruled out and more research needs to be done. The CDC has taken down its article on the possible association, but you can read the article from the European Center for Disease Control.

The disease symptoms are usually mild and last for 2 to 7 days. Infection may go unrecognized or are misdiagnosed as dengue, chikungunya or other viral infections that cause fever and rash. Asymptomatic infections are also reported to be common. According to the CDC about one in five people infected with Zika virus will develop symptoms, which include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Other commonly reported symptoms include myalgia, headache, and pain behind the eyes. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon and case fatality is low.

During the Zika virus outbreak in French Polynesia, in 2013, 74 patients who had Zika symptoms, later developed neurological or autoimmune syndromes - out of them, 42 were diagnosed as Guillain–Barré syndrome. In the current Brazil outbreak , 121 cases of neurological manifestations and Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS) have been reported, all with a history of Zika-like symptoms. Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. The first symptoms of this disorder include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances the symmetrical weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralyzed. Most people will have good recovery from even the most severe cases, although some continue to have a certain degree of weakness.

The Zika virus orginated in Africa and some disease specialists believe it was introduced in Brazil during the World Cup. These same scientists modeled the vectors to spread the disease have warned that the Brazil 2016 Summer Olympics could serve as a catalyst for the virus to spread the disease to the rest of the world.

Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spreads the Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will continue spread to new countries. In December 2015, Puerto Rico reported its first confirmed Zika virus case. Locally transmitted Zika has not been reported elsewhere in the United States, but cases of Zika have been reported in returning travelers. There is no widely available test for Zika, a blood or tissue sample from the first week of the infection can be used with advanced molecular testing. It is also possible that due to Zika’s close relation to two dengue and yellow fever it may react with the antibody tests for those viruses.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snow Day

The northeast corridor was hit with an epic snow storm over the weekend. It snowed for about 30 hours where I live (southwest of Washington DC between Aldie and Haymarket, Virginia). The snow started at 12:42 pm on Friday and lasted into Saturday evening. Due to the gusting wind and snow, we actually could not tell when it stopped and for all of Saturday it was near blizzard conditions.

The strong winds made it hard to measure accurately due to the drifting, we got over two feet of snow. My rain/snow gauge collected a total of 25 inches of snow and measurements I took had drifts up to my waist and down to just a few inches with a small area in front of the house bare for a few hours last night. Most readings away from the house, tree stand and out buildings seemed to be between 22-32 inches.

I did all that measuring during (and after) the storm for my CoCoRHS report. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRHS) is a non-profit, community based, network of volunteers who measure and report rain, hail and snow in their backyards. It is one of many citizen scientist projects you can participate in. CoCoRaHS was started in 1998 to help scientists do a better job of mapping and reporting intense storms. CoCoRaHS became a nationwide volunteer network in 2010 and is now international with observers in Canada. You can join if you are interested or donate to keep the network operating.
My measuring stick showing 32 inches near the snow gauge 
This is my first year and I am still learning the ropes on the best way to take big storm readings. So far my strategy is to collect snow (or rain) from my gauge every 4-6 hours, measure record and accumulate the totals for the 24 hour observation period.

So here are some pictures from around my house during and after the storm:
Looking up the road everything is buried in snow- visibility impaired by the near blizzard conditions.

The backyard in whiteout conditions the third septic tank is  just visible

the deck buried in snow

The husband dug out the heat pump last night in hopes of saving it from damage. it was on aux. heat

The snow slid off the solar panels onto the deck (Hope it holds the weight!)

By noon Sunday the road was plowed and y driveway cleared by. Pev's Paintball.
All of the snow that was on the solar panels slid off the roof- most of it onto the deck. Turns out that solar panels are very slippery! Sunday afternoon after we were all dug out, my husband and Melissa took some of the snow off of the deck to lighten the load, take the pressure off the sliding glass door, the railing and to make sure that the furnace vent was clear.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Water in Flint Michigan

On January 16, 2016 in response to a request from the Governor Rick Snyder President Obama declared that an emergency exists in the State of Michigan. The President's action is in addition to the State declared emergency and authorizes emergency assistance is to provide water, water filters, water filter cartridges, water test kits, and other necessary items to address the current crisis.

For more than a year the drinking water supply in Flint Michigan has been contaminated first with high levels of microbial contaminants such as viruses and bacteria, and inorganic contaminants such as salts and metals which were a result of inadequate treatment of the water, then high level of lead began to appear in homes and have persisted. Reportedly, the lead is the result of slightly caustic, inadequately treated water leaching lead from the old distribution system. This is a related problem that happened in 1994 in Washington DC and hard experience found the solution.

This all began when the city of Flint decided to switch to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) as the City’s permanent water source in a cost saving measure as wholesale water rates from the old Detroit system kept growing in an attempt to support rising maintenance, repair and operating costs in the Detroit Waster and Sewage system. KWA would supply water to the members by building a new pipeline from Lake Huron. While waiting for KWA pipeline to be completed, the City of Flint planned to use the Flint River as a temporary alternative water source.

This decision to use the Flint River was approved by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to proceed with treatment of water from the Flint River in 2014. Here is where the problems began. Though the Flint Water Treatment staff, LAN engineering consultants and the DEQ understood that the Flint River would be subject to variations due to temperature changes, rain events and would have higher organic carbon levels than Lake Huron water and would be more difficulty to treat, they thought that Flint had the equipment (after a Water Treatment Plant upgrade) and the capacity to meet the demands of treating river water. They were wrong.

Flint struggled to meet the Safe Drinking Water Act levels at the water treatment plant. The first problems were with of increased levels of trihalomethanes (disinfection by-products formed when chlorine reacts with organic matter in drinking water) next were increased levels of total coliform and fecal coliform bacteria levels. Just when they were convinced that the finished water from the plant was within Safe Drinking Water Act requirements, the began to appear problems at the tap. Lead levels became highly elevated. This should not have been unexpected. It had happened before.

In 1994 amendments to the Clean Water Act Safe Drinking Water Act to regulate disinfection by-products formed when chlorine reacts with organic matter in drinking water resulted in similar problems in Washington DC when they changed from chlorine to chloramine for disinfection. The amendment regulates the disinfection by-products; the EPA considers these byproducts to be a potential health threat. The treatment process for the Washington DC water supply was changed to add ammonia after primary disinfection to react with the remaining chlorine to prevent the formation of disinfection byproducts (haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes). The change caused cause a lowering of pH in the distribution system, the water became slightly more caustic than it had been, increasing the possibility of corrosion.

Shortly after the change, increasing pipe failures and levels of lead began appearing in the homes of Washington DC residents. It turns out chloramine-treated water picks up lead from pipes and solder and does not release it, resulting in elevated levels and deterioration of the pipes. Extreme lead concentration began appearing in homes. This is similar to what happened in Flint. It should have been considered by the city, the DEQ and the Consultants before the change-a simple literature search would have identified the potential for the problem.

Dr. Marc Edwards a MacArthur Prize winning professor of engineering at Virginia Tech ultimately identified the cause and solution to the problem in Washington DC. The lead problem was addressed by adding orthophosphate and tightly control the pH of the water. Orthophosphate controls corrosion in pipes, service lines, and household plumbing throughout the distribution system. It works by building up a thin film of insoluble material in lead, copper, and iron pipes and fixtures. This thin film acts a barrier to prevent leaching of metals into the water, but only works in a narrow pH range. Calcium hydroxide (lime) is also added to adjust the pH of the water to ensure optimal performance of the orthophosphate.

Last September, Dr. Edwards was hired by Flint to find a solution to their problems. Flint has returned to obtaining its raw water supply from the Detroit water system and will be adding orthophosphate and controlling the pH. It remains to be seen how much of the piping system has been damaged by this adventure in cost cutting. When poorly maintained and old pipe distribution systems subjected to this chemical stress often experience extensive pipe failure next. This all started as a cost savings measure.