Friday, October 2, 2015

Storm Preparation

With Hurricane Joaquin a category 4 hurricane expected to turn north with its path still undetermined Virginia and much of the mid-Atlantic and northeast remain in danger. Governor McAuliffe declared a state of emergency last Wednesday and said Virginians should have at least three days’ worth of supplies in their homes and avoid travel if possible. Even if the Hurricane bypasses Virginia we could have serious flood and storm damage. It seems a good time to discuss basic storm preparations for your home and how intense rainfall associated with tropical storms and hurricanes can impact your drinking water well and septic system, and what you should do if your well and septic system are impacted.

My home is on well water and without electricity I have no water, no septic, no sump pumps, my freezer containing a quarter of a cow (grass fed) that is in danger of spoiling, and my life generally disrupted with the loss of the all the modern conveniences. So eight years ago, I had a Guardian 16 kilowatt automatic generator manufactured by Generac installed. When the power to the house is cut, the generator automatically kicks in to power most of the house in about 20 seconds. The generator runs on liquid propane from a tank buried in my yard that also powers my hot water heater, furnace, gas grill and stove. The generator can supply the house for more than two weeks depending on whether the gas furnace is running, and is housed in an insulated aluminum casing under my deck (muffling the sound) and looking good as new even after eight years of sitting outside.

The generator was serviced two weeks ago and was filled with oil. (Note that if the generator runs more than a few days especially when new it will need oil.) I was a little slow in calling my propane company for a delivery- we’ll see if they come through today. Otherwise, my tank is only 60% full enough for a few days running. So, either way I am all set to go on those fronts. However, it is a little late to be installing a whole house generator. You need to make sure that your sump pump or pumps are operational and have battery backup (check those batteries and make sure they work), clear all the leaves out of your gutters and make sure the down spouts drain away from your foundation. Keeping water away from the house will protect your home and minimize the work that the sump pumps will have to do. Make sure you have batteries and flash lights. Even with the generator, we keep flashlights around.

If you do not have a generator, fill plastic bags with water and put as many as you can in your freezer today. The water will freeze by tomorrow and the frozen water will serve to keep the freezer cold without power- just like a cooler. If the power goes out, you might also want to use some of the ice bags to keep your refrigerator cold. In the end you can drink the water. Bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down, put them in the garage-that includes pumpkins on the stoop if you have already bought them.

Without electricity your well pump will not work, so you will need to fill the bathtubs and gallon jugs with drinking water when the storm hits to make sure that you will have water. If your home and well are on low ground, and the area floods then it is possible your well could be impacted. After a storm, brownish or dirty water coming from the well is a common occurrence and indicates surface water infiltration carrying dirt and contaminants into the well. If your well was flooded or your water appears dirty or brownish you need to clear your well and disinfect it and the stored water may have to last you a few days.

Septic systems should not be used immediately after flooding. Drain fields will not work until underground water has receded. Septic lines have been known to break during significant flooding, so keep an eye out for that. Whenever the water table is high or your septic drain field has been flooded, there is a risk that sewage will back up into your home. The only way to prevent this backup is to relieve pressure on the system by using it less. Basically, there is nothing you can do but wait it out, do not use the system if the soil is saturated and flooded. The wastewater will not be treated and will become a source of pollution, if it does not back up into your house, it will bubble up into your yard. Conserve water as much as possible while the system restores itself the drain field dries out and the water table fails. Also, if the septic system is not and entirely gravity system you will need power to run the pumps and need to understand if there is adequate gravity flow to move the sewage from the house.

The available volume in the septic tank (assuming you occasionally pump it) should give you several days of storage and water use if you conserve water to allow your drain field to recover. The biggest single use of water in the home is laundry- a top loading washer uses 52 gallons and a front load washer uses 27 gallons- do not do laundry until the system has dried out. Toilets manufactured before 1992 use 5 or more gallons per flush while newer, low flush toilets use 1.5 gallons per flush. Only flush older toilets when you have to- not for urine. Go easy on your water use. The septic system operates on the principals of settling, bacterial digestion, and soil filtration all gentle and slow natural processes that will have been battered by the storm. Do not pump the septic tank while the soil is still saturated. Pumping out a tank that is in very saturated soils may cause it to “pop out” of the ground. Recently installed systems may “pop out” of the ground more readily than older systems because the soil has not had enough time to settle and compact.

If your well was flooded or your water appears dirty or brownish after the storm you need to clear your well and disinfect it. Your power must be restored to disinfect the well. Run your hoses (away from your septic system and down slope from your well) to clear the well. Run it for an hour or so and see if it runs clear. If you have a robust recharge rate as I do it will take hours to clear the well. If not, let the well rest for 8-12 hours and run the hoses again. Several cycles should clear the well. What we are doing is pumping out any infiltration in the well area and letting the groundwater carry any contamination away from your well. In all likelihood the well will clear of obvious discoloration. Then, you need to disinfect your well. This is an emergency procedure that will kill any bacteria for 7 to 10 days.

Determine what type of well you have and how to pour the bleach into the well. Some wells have a sanitary seal which must be unbolted. Some well caps have an air vent or a plug that can be removed. On bored or dug well, the entire cover can simply be lifted off to provide a space for pouring the bleach into the well. Carefully pour the bleach down into the well casing using a funnel if necessary. For a typical 6 inch diameter well you need 2 cups of regular laundry bleach for each 100 foot of well depth to achieve about 200 parts per million chlorine concentration. If you don’t know the depth of the well, pour a half gallon down the well. Wear rubber gloves, old clothes and protective glasses to protect you from the inevitable splashes, and don't forget a bucket of bleach mixed with water to wash the well cap.

After the bleach has been added, run water from an outside hose into the well casing until you smell chlorine coming from the hose (depending on the depth of your well and the recharge rate, this can take an hour or more). This step is important to mix the chlorine in the well. Then turn off the outside hose. Now go into the house and if you have a water treatment system, switch it to bypass before turning on the indoor faucets, then one bathroom and sink at a time, turn on the cold water faucets until the chlorine odor is detected in each faucet, then shut it off and move on to the next sink, or bathroom (if you have an automatic ice maker turn it off and dump the ice. Do not turn on the hot water. Once the inside system has been done, go back to the outside spigots and run the hoses until you smell chlorine coming out. Warning if you have iron bacteria in your well, your water may turn completely rust colored. Do not panic it will flush out of the system, but do not use the hot water until the water runs clear or you will have to drain the hot water tank to prevent staining.

Wait 8 to 24 hours before using the water. You want to run the hoses until the water runs clear if you have iron bacteria or simply run the hoses to prevent killing all the bacteria in the septic system. It is important not to drink, cook, bath or wash with this water during the time period it contains high amounts of chlorine whose by products are a carcinogen. After at least 8 hours, run the water into a safe area where it will not kill your lawn, your trees or plants pollute lakes, streams or septic tanks. Run the water until there is no longer a chlorine odor. Turn the water off. The system should now be disinfected, and you can now use the water for 7 to 10 days when the effects of the disinfection wear off. After 7 to 10 days you need to test your well for bacteria to make sure that it is safe.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

There is Water on Mars

from NASA news conference

On Monday NASA announced that new findings from their Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has shown that liquid salt water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Using the imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists detected light absorption signatures of hydrated salts on slopes in four locations on Mars where mysterious streaks were observed on Mars. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. The streaks have been observed to appear in four locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and disappear at colder times.

Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology is the lead author of a scientific paper just published by Nature Geoscience. There are eight co-authors of the paper, including Mary Beth Wilhelm at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and Georgia Tech; and HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona who participated in the new conference. The other authors include CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland and others at Georgia Tech, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique in Nantes, France.
from NASA news conference

By comparing the light absorption patterns Lujendra Ojha and his co-authors interpreted the spectrometer readings to be of hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the spectral signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the first time chemical light absorption patterns have been identified from orbit. On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts.

Lujendra Ojha first noticed the darkish streaks which are only about 16 feet wide as a University of Arizona undergraduate in 2010, using images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling Mars with its six instruments since 2006, they have mapped only about 3-4% of the surface of the planet, but they have been able to document the continual reappearance of the dark downhill flows.

For years scientists watched as dark streaks, or downhill flows appears in the spring, grow during the Mars summer and disappear in the fall. These downhill flows, called by the scientists “recurring slope lineae” (RSL), had been described as possibly related to liquid water, but until these new findings of the appearance and disappearance of hydrated salts in conjunction with the RSL on the slopes confirmed the presence of water that was only speculation. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine and allow the water to flow in freezing temperatures. The scientists believe that there is likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening, though they do not know where the water comes from in the first place. What the scientists do know is that there is water flowing on Mars and that the planet has much more humidity in their remaining atmosphere than previously imagined.

Mars is the plant in our solar system most like earth. It is believed that once about 3 billion years ago it was much more like earth with an extensive atmosphere and ocean. Something happened to cause a major change in the planet’s climate that caused it to lose much of its water. Scientists have wondered if life started on Mars billions of years ago. The presence of water raises the question of whether life in some form exists on Mars today. We do not really know how to look for life on Mars, we only know what life on earth looks like. There is a lot more we need to learn before we can determine if there was or is life on Mars.

When NASA sent the Viking 1&2 orbiters and landers to Mars 1976 they found Mars to be a dessert planet assumed to be dead. At that time we knew less about microbes, and looked at only tiny bits of the planet. Atmospheric measurements from Viking confirmed that some meteorites found on Earth originated on Mars. This proved that some meteorites found on Earth were originally from Mars and advanced the theory that a giant meteor impact with Mars caused the catastrophic loss of atmosphere and ocean and sent pieces of the plant hurling towards earth. The more recent Mars missions have placed in orbit and on Mars itself a series of instruments including the Curiosity Rover that have allowed us to see a much more interesting and maybe viable planet.

During my adulthood, biologists have found that microbial life has amazing flexibility and can survive in extreme environments. Today we believe that the fundamental requirements for life are water, organic compounds (carbon compounds) and an energy source for synthesizing complex organic molecules. Even today we do not yet understand the environmental and chemical evolution that lead to the origin of life on earth or on other planets, but in recent decades scientists have realized that life can thrive in settings much different from the tropical soup rich in organic nutrients that was once the accepted science for the creation of life. Microbial life on our own planet has been found to an amazing flexibility for surviving in extreme environments, unimagined by earlier scientists. The challenge for the future is to understand where the water on Mars comes from and then look for life on Mars. Alfred McEwen the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HIRISE principal investigator stated in the new conference that there is the possibility of life in the interior of Mars, but we are a long way from being able to search for it.

While one of the area noted to have the RSL –water streaks within a couple of mile of the Curiosity Rover on Mount Sharp its mission cannot be used to investigate further. The distance, though sounding small, is an eternity for the slow moving Rover was not designed to climb slopes. In addition, the Curiosity Rover was not sterilized before it was sent to Mars and undoubtedly carried microbial life with it to Mars. The time the Rover has been exposed to extreme UV light may have sterilized the Rover, but maybe not. So Curiosity will avoid areas where there is water for planetary protection and to avoid detecting the microbial life we inadvertently sent to Mars.

On Earth where there is water there is life. The science of life needs to move forward to know how to search for life on Mars. Future missions to Mars will search for the source of the water. For now the working theory is deliquescence, pulling the moisture from the atmosphere. The discovery of flowing water and perchlorates on Mars make the possibility of a manned mission appear within reach this century. Water can be purified, it can be used to make breathable oxygen, and perchlorates can be used to make rocket fuel (aluminum perchlorates is rocket fuel)- all this could add up to an extended stay on Mars with a return trip. First, we need to turn our focus and investment to space.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Tale of Two Water Systems

There is no true “cost” of water. The price charged for water, often does not reflect its value or true cost. Much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life and approaching the age at which it needs to be replaced. Moreover, our growing regional population stresses our supply of fresh water requiring billions of gallons of additional water storage. The price charged for water has a political component.

Fairfax Water has announced its intention to raise their water rates next spring. There will be a public hearing on Thursday, December 17, 2015, on the proposed rate increase held at Fairfax Water’s main office at 8570 Executive Park Avenue in Fairfax. This rate increase is part of an ongoing program in Fairfax to ensure that the water infrastructure in Fairfax County is maintained.

The need for infrastructure replacement is an issue that has caused significant service problems and rate increases in other parts of the Washington Metropolitan region. Fairfax Water Board of Directors have dedicated funding to infrastructure maintenance and replacement for many years, and has forecast future capital needs for replacing water mains in the system rather than try the wait for the water mains to fail first. In addition, Fairfax Water is planning for additional water storage within their system by developing the Vulcan Quarry as a reservoir.

Fairfax Water benefits from the fact that their distribution system is relatively young. Over half of the water mains (56%) have been in the ground for 30 years or less and only 23% of their distribution system is over 50 years old. After observing the experience of other regional water companies that have neglected maintenance and replacement they are choosing the other path. In the next decade or two, Fairfax Water will have to replace the oldest portions of the distribution system to maintain their record of low water rates and system-wide break rate at the lowest in the region. In 2010, the Fairfax Water Board increased the annual budget for repair and replacement of the water pipes by 50% to $9 million per year and has since increased expenditures for repair and replacement to $11 million per year. Yet, water in Fairfax remains a bargain.

Fairfax Water performed a comparison of the water costs throughout the Washington Metropolitan region. This comparison is based on rates as of July 1, 2015, and on 24,000 gallons of residential water use for an established account. That is approximately the water usage of one person. The amount shown for each jurisdiction/utility includes the service charge and the water charge for 24,000 gallons. I assume that the comparison was done this way because Fairfax Water looks best with this approach, as you can see in the chart Fairfax Water has the lowest quarterly rate in the region.

From Fairfax Water
In contrast, the highest quarterly water rates in the region are in Manassas Park more than three times the cost of water in Fairfax. The city of Manassas Park does not own their water supply or water treatment plant. Instead they buy their water from the City of Manassas and Prince William County who in turn buys water from Fairfax Water. Not only does Manassas Park have to pay for the water they receive, but also for the right to have access to part of the water supply and reservoirs. Manassas Park is a small utility system and they have to spread the system’s overhead costs over a relatively small base of fewer than 5,000 customers.

In addition, tucked into that overhead is debt service. Manassas Park is responsible for paying City utility bonds, their share of the bonds used to build the Upper Occoquan Service Authority Waste Water Treatment plant where there sewage is treated. In addition because the water and sewer payments go into the city's Enterprise Fund the money is also needed to make the annual principal and interest payments on the bonds sold to build the City Schools, Police Station, and Fire Station & Community Center. In total bond interest and principal payments will increase to $4.5 million in FY2016 when the sewer bonds come due. (In case you do not have a calculator handy, that is $900 per household.)

On top of the debt that Manassas Park has managed to accumulate, they failed to properly maintain their water distribution system. At the worst point in the winter of 2011 Manassas Park was losing over half the water they purchased to leaks. In the past few years, they have managed to reduce their water loss to around 25%, increase system pressure, cut city costs and raise revenues by increasing taxes and water and sewage rates. In case you care about these things Manassas Park’s bond ratings have improved from junk to once more investment grade. So Manassas Park is headed in the right direction, but fees and taxes are not going down and it does not appear they have the capital to improve the distribution system.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Wood Rot

Yes that is my house

Wood rot is sometimes called “dry rot,” but that is simply a misnomer. Decayed wood is often dry in the final stages when the wood has blossomed with the bodies of wood-rotting fungus giving rias the illusion of dry rot, but moisture is required for the rot to spread. While the decay is taking place the wood must be moist. Wood rot or decay is caused by fungi, microscopic plants that form threads almost invisible to the naked eye unless clumped together. Some fungi merely discolor wood, but decay fungi destroy the fibers that give the wood strength. Spores or “seeds” of decay fungi are always present in the air; they can’t be kept away from wood. But fungi can only grow in wood only when it contains more than 20 % moisture.

There are also two species of fungi that spread from moist soil into dry wood by conducting water to the wood through vine-like structures, but most fungi cannot conduct moisture. Decay happen most frequently when two conditions are present, the wood is regularly soaked and remains wet and a section of the wood is exposed or in contact with soil.

Fungi and termites may sometimes occur in the same wood because the moisture attracts pests. Decay fungi soften the wood and, in the final stages, make it spongy or cause it to shrink, crack and crumble, but do not produce the continuous, clear-cut tunnels or galleries characteristic of termite infestation. Often wood decay occurs without termites.To prevent wood decay you need to keep decay fungi from entering the bottom of the structure and keep the wood elements dry.

To prevent moisture, your home site should be well drained. The soil surface should slope away from the house, and downspouts should discharge into drains or masonry gutters or splash blocks that lead the water several feet away from the house. I was careful to choose a house with a natural slope from northwest corner to southeast corner. I added French drains to the west side and south side of the house to move water away from the home and I was careful about maintenance, and yet my home developed a wood rot problem.

Serious decay damage is most often due to one or more of the following errors in construction or maintenance:
  1. Poorly drained soil and insufficient ventilation under houses without basements.
  2. Wood such as grade stakes, concrete forms, or stumps left on or in soil under houses.
  3. Wood parts of the house in direct contact with the soil. 
  4. Wood parts embedded in masonry near the ground.
  5. Use of unseasoned and infected lumber.
  6. Sheathing paper that is not sufficiently permeable to moisture vapor.
  7. Inadequate flashing at windows, doors, and roof edges.
  8. Poor joinery around windows and doors and at corners, and inadequate paint maintenance.
  9. Lack of rain gutters and roofs without overhang.
  10. Unventilated attics.
  11. Roof leaks; leaks around shower-bathtub combinations, kitchen fixtures, and laundry rooms.
  12. Failure to use pressure treated lumber or naturally durable wood where moisture cannot be controlled.
When we ripped apart the front of the house and jack hammered the edge of the concrete step we found that the side wall of the house had not been properly flashed and that there seem to be water infiltration below the palladium window and possibly from above the palladium window. In general, architectural frills or decorative elements of construction often provide entry points for water or pockets were moisture can remain long enough to let decay get started. Lumber absorbs water most readily through exposed ends, and in joints.

As the contractor took the front of the house apart, he did not find a “leak” what he found were several of the construction errors above. So, it was decided to rebuild central section of the front wall of the house that was covered in decorative imitation stone. I had to have the imitation stone removed because the decayed wood extended under it. By removing the stone we were able to see the extent of the damage and rebuild.
the old front of the house
Since I was spending a lot of money to repair the damage I spent even more to improve the construction of the house so that hopefully wood rot will not re-occur in the future. After removing the stone facing from the front of the house, they removed the Tyvek house wrap, the oriented strand board subsiding and insulation. Some of the insulation was damp and an entire side of the sub-structure was rotted as well as the cantilevered floor that formed the entry way.

All the damaged structural wood beams were removed and replaced with pressure treated lumber. Once repairs were made, new r-15 insulation was installed on the main part of the house and the garage (which was being rebuilt because the fake stone had to be removed from that wall, too so the decorative stone would match). After that the house was re-sheathed using pressure treated plywood to replace subsiding and all exposed siding was wrapped with DuPont Tyvek.
same corner as on top rebuilt

After rebuilding the base of the wall the new flashing was installed at the base that extends a foot above the steps. The palladium window and door were replaced with a Marvin window and the front door, transom and sidelights with a Pella door. All were very carefully flashed. Finally, the contractor installed a Driwall Rainscreen system by Keene products on top of the Tyvek wrap to move moisture that might build up under the stone away from the house and then installed the new real stone facing.

Decorative elements of the front were reworked to prevent water infiltration. Between the palladium window and the top of the front door is a single sheet of plastic material with trim applied on top, rather than the separate elements that were there before. The new window has a pronounced sill that was lacking in the old window. New gutters were installed with gutter returns. Beefier trim was installed around the window and above the stone. A French drain moves water away from the front steps and ultimately away from the house. Every change made was intended to prevent water infiltration with the pressure treated lumber was my last defense against future damage. Now I am hoping that this all works.
A lot of money was spent and it does look a little prettier

Monday, September 21, 2015

Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates – The Final Water Solution

On Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm Loudoun Water will be holding a public meeting for the Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates water systems. The meeting will be held in the Loudoun Water Boardroom located at 44865 Loudoun Water Way, Ashburn, VA 20147.

Loudoun Water is finally moving ahead with the design and construction of water treatment for Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates building a single water treatment plant to serve both communities. This process began in 2010 when routine testing found total coliform and E. coli bacteria in the untreated raw water from one of the Raspberry Falls wells. That well was determined to be Groundwater Under is the Direct Influence of Surface Water or GUDI by the Virginia Department of Health whose regulations require filtration and disinfection of GUDI water used in a drinking water supply system.

Instead, the well was taken out of service and replaced the following year by a new well at a cost of almost a million dollars. Replacing the well solved the problem for the short term, while Loudoun Water investigated long term solutions. However, experience in the western third of Virginia has demonstrated that the GUDI condition could impact the other wells and it ultimately did.

In the summer of 2014 two of the four wells in Selma Estates and one of the two wells in Raspberry Falls were taken offline after E. coli was detected. The three remaining wells between the two systems could only produce enough water to meet the typical indoor needs, and Loudoun Water requested that residents conserve water and to curb outdoor water use. The communities responded well and reduced their water usage so that the communities could survive the water emergency without mandated water restrictions.

The Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates current water supply systems were constructed by the community developers in 2002 and 2007 respectively, possibly inappropriately considering the underlying geology. After completion they were turned over to Loudoun Water to operate. Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates are clustered developments built in the karst area of Loudoun County in what is now the limestone overlay district. This district was created in 2010 in the area of the county generally north of Leesburg and east of the Catoctin Mountains which is underlain by limestone conglomerate bedrock and runs north along Route 15. The limestone overlay district is really just a zoning change that attempts to ensure that the groundwater supply in that area is capable of supporting needs of current and future residents without creating sinkholes. Karst terrain is fragile and ignoring the limits of natural systems can have serious consequences.

Currently Water is supplied to Raspberry Falls by two community wells. The Selma Estates community drinking water treatment system consists of four wells, water storage, booster pumps, a sodium hypochlorite treatment for disinfection, a greensand filtration unit, a fluoride feed system, an orthophosphate feed system, a standby generator and the pipes for the distribution system.

Though, Loudoun Water considered building separate systems for the two communities the final plan now is to build a combined system with 900 gallon per day per connection maximum flow rate. The plant will be located in Selma Estates and will utilize membrane filtration. This is a water purification technology approved by the Virginia Department of Health and successfully used in dozens of karst locations in the Commonwealth. This technology uses a semipermeable membrane to remove bacteria and microorganisms from the water.

A combined water system is being built because though the initial capital costs are a bit lower for separate smaller system the ongoing operating costs are much lower for a combined system. Selma Estates was chosen as the site for the combined system because it is located at a higher elevation than Raspberry Falls and gravity can be utilized to reduce the cost of water distribution.

The project is currently still in the design stage and will be ready to go out to bid at the end of 2015. Construction is planned to begin and be completed in 2016. The treatment plant is planned to be operational at the beginning of 2017. Loudoun Water will fund the capital costs of the new water treatment system through its general fund. The communities will not be assessed as originally announced last winter. The general fund will be replenished over time through user rate payments collected from all Loudoun Water customers.

Loudoun Water is a political subdivision of the state, just like a town or a county. All income is received is either as ongoing user fees from customers or as availability fees from developers. Loudoun Water receives no tax money. Loudoun County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the country over the past decade and Loudoun Water has capital improvement and expansion projects totaling over $600 million planned over the next 5 years. All of this will have to be paid for by water rates.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dirt’s Partner in Protecting Children from Asthma

photo by Scott Bauer from USDA

For more than a quarter of a century scientists have observed that children growing up on a dairy farm have a lower incidence of allergy, hay fever and asthma and other respiratory diseases than other children. At least a dozen observational studies aimed at uncovering the underlying cause of the increased incidence of asthma in children have confirmed this protective effect. This observation has produced the idea known as the hygiene hypothesis, that our modern obsession with cleanliness and widespread use of antibiotics and antibacterial soaps has purged our homes of microorganisms that once taught a child’s developing immune system not to overreact to foreign substances.

Endotoxins are part of the outer membrane of bacteria and are shed into the environment after bacteria die. Endotoxins, potent stimulators of the immune system, are ubiquitous. Though exposure to dirt containing endotoxins is probably only one explanation for the protective effect of growing up on a dairy farm, the correlation has been confirmed. A 2013 paper by Barnig et al “Indoor dust and air concentrations of endotoxin in urban and rural environments” that analyzed endotoxins in farmhouses and non-farmhouses found that endotoxin levels were significantly higher in floor and mattress dust in farmhouses compared to other rural and urban homes. Lack of ventilation and direct entry into the house were found to correlate with an increase in dust endotoxin levels. However, the scientists in that study found no difference between endotoxin concentrations in the air of urban and rural houses, and airborne endotoxin levels did not correlate to dust levels.

It was assumed that the dust containing the endotoxins acted directly to train the immune system’s T cells. However, in a new paper published September 4th 2015 in Science Magazine, “Farm dust and endotoxin protect against allergy through A20 induction in lung epithelial cells,“ scientists from Gent University and Flanders Institute in Belgium have found another mechanism by which the endotoxins provide protection. A20 is an enzyme made by the epithelial cells in the respiratory tract and lungs. In laboratory studies using mice the scientists showed that chronic exposure to dust containing elevated levels of endotoxins provided protection from developing asthma. The experiments provided evidence that environmental protective factors can work by suppressing the activation of epithelial cell cytokines that activate dendritic cells (inflammatory molecules) through the induction of the ubiquitin–modifying enzyme A20.

In mice that were specially engineered to lack the gene for A20 in their lung epithelial cells, endotoxin exposure did not provide protection from asthma. The scientists also tested the response of human bronchial cells harvested from healthy people and people with asthma. The scientists found that exposure to endotoxins lowered the levels of the inflammatory molecules in the healthy cells. Despite endotoxin exposure the levels of inflammatory molecules did not decrease as much in cells from people with asthma and that those cells also made less of the enzyme A20.

This newly discovered mechanism for protection from asthma is unlikely to be the only pathway of protection for farm children from allergy, hay fever and asthma and other respiratory diseases. Within the gut, colonizing microbial induct the express of A20 shortly after birth to dampen inflammation to commensal bacteria. In a 2013 study in Poland it was found that early-life exposure to unpasteurized milk appears to protect against asthma, and related conditions, independently of place of residence and farming status, and in both children and adults. What we are also learning is how complicated an organism we are and important commensal bacteria are.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Doing a Brewery Right in Prince William County

from Google maps

Last Tuesday the, Prince William Board of County Supervisors announced its intent to sell the old Thomasson Dairy Barn, on Hornbaker Road in Innovation Park, in Manassas along with 6 acres of land surrounding the site, for $1 million to Silva Holdings, Co. Silva Holdings is the group that withdrew their application for a destination Farm Brewery in Clifton, VA last May after the community did not support the project.

In an open letter to the community of Clifton Mark Silva, one of the partners said “Your concerns and fears have NOT fallen on deaf ears and now it’s time to walk the talk. In the spirit of cooperation and understanding, I have decided to forego bringing Loudmouth Brewing Co. to Clifton, Virginia, and accordingly, we intend to withdraw our application to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control by COB tomorrow. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love for the community... I look forward to having a pint of craft beer with all of you very soon...just somewhere else! “

Well, that somewhere else is here in Prince William County. Mr. Silva told me that he had initially considered the old Thomasson Dairy Barn as the site for his destination Farm Brewery and after giving up plans for Clifton approached the Prince William County Department of Economic Development and negotiated a deal. “The preservation and reuse of the Thomasson Barn has long been a desire of the Board, and is identified as a strategic priority in our Comprehensive Plan,” said Corey A. Stewart, Chairman, of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “The planned use as a microbrewery and bistro will provide an amenity for the companies located in and around Innovation Park and will make the area even more attractive for companies that are considering locating to the area.”

As part of the sales agreement, Silva Holdings will restore the historical landmark which will be incorporated into an $8 million destination brewery, bistro and distribution facility operating under the name 2 Silos Brewing Company. In addition to the $8 million in capital investment, the project is expected to create more than 100 new jobs for our community and turn the Thomasson Dairy Barn from County surplus to gem.

The Thomasson Dairy Barn built in 1929 was once the milking barn of a dairy operated by William Thomasson. The barn was constructed using textile hollow-tile terracotta blocks and is an example of a two-story barn of that era, utilizing the two silos for grain feed storage, the first floor for milking cows and the second floor for hay storage. The protracted decline of the dairy industry in Prince William County led to the eventual ceasing of operations and barn has been vacant for over 50 years. As Supervisor Jeanine Lawson said, “This project embodies the type of development I have been pushing for in Prince William County. It supports our agribusiness community, provides for family gatherings and enhances Innovation Park for our business community.”

This restoration project moves the Thomasson Barn from County surplus to a new category of commercial real estate property and will generate tax revenue, while enabling citizens and visitors to appreciate their rich agricultural heritage anew. Prince William County will extend the road and provide access to public water and sewer to the site. The Thomasson Dairy Barn is zoned M1 and not part of the Rural Crescent, but rather part of the Innovation Plan.

Though 2 Silos Brewing Company will still meet the requirement of Virginia SB 430 the law that created an easy to obtain limited brewery license for breweries that operate on a farm. The Initial Phase will include renovation of the Barn, construction of the beer garden and brewery with a capacity of 2,500-3,000 barrels a year. Subsequent Phases if the project is successful, could expand capacity to 15,000 barrels of beer a year and if rezoned to M2 higher production is possible. Farm breweries are limited to no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per calendar year, must be located on a farm in Virginia, and use agricultural products that are grown on that farm in the brewing of the beer.

Beer production has very few environmental issues. Excluding an accidental spill of a hazardous chemical such as anhydrous ammonia or chlorine (typically used to treat water), the main discharge from beer production is wastewater high in organic matter. However, 2 Silos Brewing Company will be connected to public water and sewage and presented a series of plans to incorporate low impact development strategies at the site. 

Beer is about 95% water; however the amount of water used to produce a pint of beer is far greater that the amount of water contained in the beer. Although water usage varies widely among breweries and is dependent upon specific processes, the U.S. average is about 7 gallons of water for each gallon of beer produced, but varies from 3.26-7.44 gallons of water to gallons of beer. That figure is from the 2011 study by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER). Craft breweries tend to be on the higher end of the range because small packaging uses more water and the size of the brewery, but water recycling equipment packages are available. According to the BIER study facilities with larger production volumes tend to have lower water use ratios.

However, the brewery will be on public water and its water usage for beer production 3,000 barrels will be equivalent to about the water use of about 24 people. At the full production of 15,000 the water usage would be equivalent to about 120 people. There will also be water usage for growing hops, and operating the bistro and beer garden. Silva Holdings estimated water usage for their previous (and abandoned) project at 20,376 gallons of water a week for their Phase I which produced 2,500 barrels of beer a year, 42,212 gallons of water a week for Phase II which produced 5,000 barrels of beer a year, and 84,760 gallons of water a week for Phase III which produced 12,500 barrels of beer a year. While this might have had a significant impact on the water table from a groundwater well producing most of that water over several days in Clifton, the impact on public water and sewer is not significant. Silva Holdings intends to minimize impact and I look forward to learning more about their plans when I speak to their team next week.