Thursday, December 30, 2010

Water Filtration Systems for the Home

No single water treatment device treats all problems or is appropriate for all homes. Before you attempt a potentially ineffective remedy, the first and most important step is to have your water tested and fully analyzed by a laboratory. Only then will you have a true picture of the condition of your water and what if any treatment is necessary. A couple times a year some workman or other service provider who happens to be in my home or neighborhood tries to sell me a whole house filter system or water softening system. After examining my water analysis, I have no need for a filter system to remove solids. I have no treatment systems installed in my home so I do not need a filter to remove the residue from other treatments.

Filter systems are either activated carbon filters or mechanical filters. Carbon filters also called charcoal filters are water “polishers” they address minor odor and taste issues and are generally the finishing step when water is chlorinated to remove that swimming pool smell and taste. The ground up charcoal absorbs the contaminant and can be used for chlorine, residual pesticides and radon. Activated carbon filters cannot remove nitrate, bacteria or heavy metals. Nuisance bacteria do grow in the carbon medium thus it is important that these filters should be used in bacteria free water. This often results in multi step treatment systems. Filters need to be replaced regularly. These are four basic types of carbon filters (1) faucet mount; (2) in-line; (3) line bypass; and (4) point of entry (POE). Other types of carbon filters are pour through (portable) and specialty filters.

Faucet-mounted carbon filters attach to the kitchen faucet where drinking water comes out. In-line carbon filters are installed beneath the kitchen sink in the cold water supply line and filter all cold water. Line bypass carbon filters are installed in the kitchen under the sink attached to the cold water supply line, but a separate faucet is installed at the sink to provide treated drinking water. The regular tap delivers untreated water. The carbon filter lasts longer because only water used for drinking is treated. Point of entry (POE) carbon filters treat all water entering the home. This type of filter is recommended for treating volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that easily evaporate into the air. Because of the installation costs, size of the filter system and frequency of replacement, these are the most expensive filters to purchase and maintain.

Mechanical filters trap solids and suspended particles in the water by straining the water through a filter cartridge made of spun cellulose or rayon. They remove suspended sediment, sand, and soil (or turbidity). The water pressure forces water through the tightly wrapped fibers around a tubular cartridge that comes in all the types that a carbon filter does. These filters come in a variety of sizes and meshes from fine to coarse, with the lower micron rating being the finer. The finer the filter, the more particles are trapped and the more often the filter must be changed. Fiber filters may not remove all contaminants. If taste and odor problems remain, use a carbon filter after the fiber filter. Often these filters are sold in combination with carbon filters. Fiber filters and replacement cartridges range in price from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. A mechanical filter may become clogged if not cleaned or replace periodically. A clogged filter is one cause of a fall in water pressure. The level of total dissolved solids, TSS or turbidity and water usage will determine the frequency of filter cleaning or replacement required to keep a filtration system functioning. Filters can become hosts to bacterial growth, so that the water should be tested regularly for bacterial presence.

Remember, filters do not purify or soften water. Filters only remove some suspended particles and in the case of the carbon filters dissolved organic compounds that cause disagreeable odors and tastes. These filter systems DO NOT remove nitrate, bacteria or heavy metals.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Limitations of Reverse Osmosis for Home Use

Before you buy a treatment system, you need to know the actual characteristics of your water. The test will identify the bacteria and level of minerals that are present. Proper interpretation of the test results will help determine whether treatment is needed and what type of system or systems to consider. The intended use of the water (drinking only, drinking and cooking, laundry, or all household uses) is essential to determine the what treatment is needed and the type of system to select. There is no single “best” treatment for home use, only treatment types appropriate for certain problems. The water treatment the industry has expanded to marketing treatment systems designed treat (or at least sold to treat ) contaminants that may pose a health hazards. Unfortunately, the industry is inconsistent in the skill and knowledge of the companies and their employees and many of the systems installed are inappropriate, unnecessary or have side effects that create other problems. The free in-home water testing provided by water treatment companies is very limited in scope. The only things that they can test for in the in-home tests are hardness, pH, iron and sulfur. In addition, the sensitivity and accuracy of the tests can be limited. Analysis for organics and bacterial contaminants must be performed in a certified laboratory.
Reverse osmosis systems can be used to reduce the levels of total dissolved solids and suspended matter in drinking water. The principal uses of reverse osmosis in are for the reduction of high levels of nitrate, lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, sulfate, sodium and total dissolved solids. Removal effectiveness depends on the contaminant and its concentration, the membrane selected, the water pressure and proper installation. Proper selection of the membrane and pressure is essential when selecting a reverse osmosis system. The membrane must be selected based on complete water analysis otherwise the entire system might be useless. In addition, reverse osmosis systems require regular maintenance and monitoring to continue to function properly over an extended period of time. Reverse osmosis has been shown to remove 83%-92% of nitrates from drinking water in both field and laboratory test. This is probably the most appropriate use of reverse osmosis systems.
I am not a fan of these systems in many applications. They are often sold as (very expensive) accessory item to solve the taste and sodium problem created when a whole house water softener is installed or for feared problems without proper testing. Reverse osmosis systems use a lot of water. They recover only 5 to 15 percent of the water entering the system. The remainder is discharged as waste water. Because waste water carries with it the rejected contaminants, methods to re-cover this water are not practical for household systems. Waste water is typically connected to the house drains and will add to the load on the household septic system. A reverse osmosis system delivering 5 gallons of treated water per day may discharge 40 to 90 gallons of waste water per day to the septic system. This is a significant additional load and could impact the life and functioning of your septic system.
Effectiveness of reverse osmosis system depends on initial levels of contamination, membrane size and type and water pressure. The application of pressure reverses the natural flow of the flow of water in osmosis from high concentration so that water passes from a more concentrated solution to a more dilute solution through a semi-permeable membrane. Reverse osmosis systems incorporate pre and post-filters along with the membrane itself in order for a reverse osmosis system to function properly. It is common to have a whole house filter system utilizing activated carbon installed in series with the reverse osmosis system. In addition, because contaminants are removed by forcing water through a membrane, the membrane requires regular maintenance and cleaning. Reverse osmosis systems are normally used to treat only drinking and cooking water supplies and are often installed under the kitchen sink and requires a permanent connection to an existing water pipe. The filter water is dispensed through the existing sink faucet or a separate tap. Reverse osmosis systems are never not appropriate for treating water supplies that are contaminated by coliform bacteria (neither nuisance nor fecal) because they do not remove bacteria.
Reverse osmosis units on the market range in cost from $300 to $3000 and vary in quality and effectiveness. Homes on well water need to purchase low pressure units which are slightly more expensive than the systems designed for municipal water. The size and membrane type are one of the factors that will determine cost. Replacement membranes cost $100 to $200 and filter cartridges around $50. Reverse osmosis is a proven technology that has been used successfully on a commercial basis most famously for removing salt from seawater. Household reverse osmosis systems typically deliver small amounts (2 to 10 gallons per day) of treated water and waste 7 to 20 times the amount of water treated. Reverse osmosis systems can remove many inorganic contaminants from household drinking water supplies including arsenic, sodium and nitrate. The removal effectiveness depends on the contaminant and its concentration, the membrane selected, the water pressure and proper installation and maintenance.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Treating Bacterial Contamination in Your Well

If bacteria are found in your water (after verification testing and chlorine shocking) the water can be disinfected. The oldest form of disinfection is chlorination. This method of water purification has been in use for about a hundred years. However, if your water supply becomes contaminated, elimination of the source of contamination is the most permanent solution. Continuous chlorination to kill disease-causing (fecal) bacteria in a contaminated water source should be a temporary measure used only until you can develop a new, sanitary water supply. If fecal bacteria have contaminated a water supply there may also be an associated increase in nitrogen which can be a significant health threat to infants. Let’s be honest here, the most likely source of fecal bacteria is a nearby septic system now focus on the source of fecal contamination and think of the yuck factor. If disease-causing bacteria enter your water supply on a continuous basis, you must eliminate the source or construct a new water supply.

Chlorination is widely used because it readily controls bacteria which may enter your well during construction, repair, flooding or as a result of improper construction. Chlorination can be appropriately used to control nuisance organisms such as iron, slime and sulfate-reducing bacteria. Iron bacteria feed on the iron in the water. They may appear as a slimy, dark-red mass in the toilet tank but microscopic examination is needed to confirm their presence. Iron bacteria colonies may break loose from the inside of pipes and flow through faucets to cause stains in laundry, plumbing fixtures, etc. Though thorough shock chlorination of the well and water system may destroy all iron bacteria colonies within the house; iron bacteria that has penetrated the water-bearing formation will be difficult to eliminate and will likely re-infest the system. In this situation you will need to repeat chlorination treatment periodically or install a continuous disinfection system.

Other nuisance organisms that chlorination can eliminate include sulfate-reducing bacteria which produce a rotten-egg odor. Nuisance bacteria do not cause disease. Proper chlorination will kill these bacteria. Finally, large amounts of iron can be removed from water by adding chlorine to oxidize the clear soluble iron into the filterable reddish insoluble form. Chlorine helps remove manganese and hydrogen sulfide in the same way. In these instances a chlorination system would be installed with a filtration system, the chlorinator first. Chlorination does have drawbacks; it will not remove nitrates from water despite the implied or direct claims of some water treatment firms. Adding chlorine may prevent nitrates from being reduced to the toxic nitrite form; however, nitrates are not removed from water by chlorination.

Chlorine in water is not poisonous to humans or animals. However, if the concentration is great enough the water will have an unpleasant taste and or smell. Some people object to the smell and/or taste of extremely small concentrations of chlorine. In those cases an activated carbon or charcoal filter may be used to remove the chlorine from the drinking water. Chlorination can also produce disinfection by products which are carcinogenic. Trihalomethanes (THMs) are organic chemicals that may form when chlorine is used to treat water supplies that contain humic compounds which are associated with decomposition of organic materials such as leaves, grass, wood or animal wastes. Lifetime consumption of water supplies with THMs at a level greater than 0.10 milligrams per liter is considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a potential cause of cancer. THMs can be removed from drinking water through use of an activated carbon filter.

Other methods of disinfecting water include boiling, distilling, treating with ultraviolet light and treating with ozone. Treatment with ultraviolet light and ozonation are replacing chlorination in may water treatment plants and is becoming more popular for home use. Water must be filtered before treatment with UV light. So, unlike chlorination systems, the filtration system is installed ahead of the UV treatment system. The typical single home UV system is a complete unit that includes a filtration cartridges and can be purchased as a whole house unit or an under the sink kitchen installation. UV, like distillation, disinfects water without adding chemicals. It does not create new chemical complexes, nor does it change the taste or odor of the water, and does not remove any beneficial minerals in the water. Ultraviolet devices are most effective when the water has already been partially treated, many units use filtration-sometimes both sediment and a carbon filter to clean the water prior to passing it through the UV light, which results in both disinfected and cleaner tasting water.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Test Your Water Before Purchasing Home Treatment Systems

Single family home water treatment systems were historically intended to treat aesthetic water quality problems. The biggest sellers had historically been water softeners that were universally marketed to all private well owners. Lately the industry has expanded to treatment of contaminants that may pose a health hazard. Unfortunately, the industry is inconsistent in the skill and knowledge of the companies and their employees. Many water treatment companies provide free in-home water testing. This testing is very limited in scope. The only things that they can test for in the in-home tests are hardness, pH, iron and sulfur. In addition, the sensitivity of the tests can be limited. Analysis for organics and bacterial contaminants must be performed in a certified laboratory. The in-home tests are crude tests performed by people without certification and with limited training, the usefulness of the results obtained in this way are limited by the skill and honesty of the tester. Be extremely wary of in-home testing. Sloppy sampling procedures, reusing sample tubes can render the results worthless or misleading.

Before attempting to resolve a perceived water problem, have your water analyzed. Contamination from human and animal waste and chemicals can be a very real health hazard and should be addressed immediately. However, most of the water quality issues with private wells are from naturally occurring contamination. These are often nuisance contaminants that are produced from the underlying soil and rock geology and wildlife. From the underlying rocks radionuclides and heavy metals can enter the groundwater. There are areas with natural occurring arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and fluoride. While some of the symptoms of mineral contamination are obvious, never buy a treatment system until you have tested your water completely at a certified laboratory and identified the correct solution. Other contaminants may be present that need to be addressed or the “condition” may be marginal and can be addressed without installing a treatment system. There are limitations and side effects from all treatment systems. Know what they are. While many natural contaminants such as iron, sulfate, and manganese are not considered serious health hazards, they can give drinking water an unpleasant taste, odor, or color.

The WaterCheck with Pesticides is an informational test packages targeted to be an affordable option for consumers. The WaterCheck with Pesticide covers 15 heavy metals, 5 inorganic chemicals, 5 physical factors, 4 trihalo methanes, 43 volatile organic chemicals (solvents), and 20 pesticides, herbicides and PCB’s. The Minimum Detection Levels, which are the lowest levels at which the laboratory detects that contaminant are below the levels established by the Safe Drinking Water Act so this affordable ($217 including shipping and handling) test will serve as a broad screen of drinking water. Though I know it is tempting to skip the analysis, don’t. Analysis is the only way to make sure you select an effective remedy. Once you know the characteristic of your water you can choose the proper treatment system or plan of treatment. Do not assume that installing a water treatment system similar to a neighbor's will be the best answer to solving your water quality issues. There can be tremendous differences in natural water quality in extremely short horizontal distances.

Though nothing should replace testing your water supply regularly the attached publication from the Virginia Cooperative extension “Home Water Quality Problems-Causes and Treatments” is a quick read and offers suggestions for common problems. Do not treat aesthetic problems that are not a nuisance and test your water completely before you buy any treatment system.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Solution to Pollution is Dilution

When I worked at the US EPA in the 1970’s there was a sign on the wall of the adjacent office that said, “The Solution to Pollution is Dilution.” There was both truth and cynicism in that sign. At the time we were determining the likely contaminates in a waste stream and the levels of those contaminants that would be acceptable based on the potential impact to life. The guiding principal of toxicology is that there is a relationship between a toxic reaction (the response) and the amount of poison received (the dose). An important assumption in this relationship is that there is almost always a dose below which no response occurs or can be measured. So if the concentration of the contaminant was low enough there would be no toxic reaction.

In addition, there is another factor that has been observed for generations and studied in the recent decades. The planet is able to filter and heal itself from limited amounts of pollution. There have been numerous studies of groundwater and surface water systems that have documented this. In Dutchess County New York and North Carolina studies documented that the most important factor in septic regulation is controlling nitrogen pollution from septic systems was average density. Both studies demonstrated that density of on-site waste disposal should not exceed one unit per 2-3 acres for an average size house (and household) to ensure water quality. Adequate dilution, soil filtration and time are necessary to ensure sustainable water quality. These studies were performed on nitrate concentrations as a proxy to achieve adequate dilution and natural attenuation of all contaminants.

Historically, horizontal and vertical setbacks for septic systems were developed without consideration of the dilution for wastewater components like nitrate, pharmaceutical residue, caffeine and other substances we humans consume, process or produce. The overall regional density of septic systems was examined to ensure that groundwater resources would not be overwhelmed by the total load of contaminants. The density recommendations were developed based on the nitrate concentration in traditional septic wastewater. Nitrate was used as a proxy because all humans produce about 10 pounds of nitrate per year, it does not easily break down and there is a drinking water standard and an inexpensive analytical test. Dilution was really the goal here.

An estuary is a coastal area where freshwater from rivers and streams mix with saltwater from the ocean. Estuaries are protected from the full force of the ocean by mudflats, sandspits and barrier islands. One of the least appreciated functions of estuaries is to help control pollution. Water from upland areas often carries sediment and pollutants. The marshy land and plants in estuaries filter these pollutants out of the water. The plants in estuaries help prevent shoreline erosion. Estuaries also protect inland areas from flooding and storm surges. When a storm hits, estuaries often absorb water from the storm before it can reach upland areas. The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary. Right now we are engaged in a major effort to reduce the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution that enters the estuary through its tributaries in an attempt to restore the estuary to some arbitrary historic state.

The Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are impaired by the release of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. These pollutants are released from waste water treatment plants, from agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, air pollution and other sources, including septic systems that enter the tributaries and Chesapeake Bay. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom. Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased, primarily because of regulation of wastewater treatment plants and improved farm practices, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded.

The “strict pollution diet” that EPA is imposing on the six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states only addresses nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment it does not address other contaminants that have been noted in the tributary waters by the US Geological Survey. The USGS began looking into skin lesions on bass in the southern branch of the Potomac River. Some fish had bacterial lesions, some fungal lesions, and some fish had parasite. The USGS concluded that there was no specific cause of the lesions and that the fish appeared to be immunosupressed so that any pathogen in the water could attack the fish. A series of studies were performed over a period of years and it was discovered that the bass suffering from lesions were intersexed. This prompted further sampling of the river that identified higher concentrations of wastewater chemicals near the wastewater plants. Pesticides currently used in agriculture were detected at all locations sampled and traces of estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals were found at all locations examined though their source is not yet known. Though they cannot identify a single chemical or group of chemicals responsible, USGS have embarked on further study to gain greater understanding of the implications to the earth’s ecosystem.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Revised Watershed Implementation Plan and Farmers

For agricultural operations the revised WIP will require the implementation of resource management plans on most agricultural acres which may include: 35 foot grass or forest buffers between cropland and perennial surface waters; stream exclusion of livestock over time; and implementation of nutrient management plans. The Commonwealth intends to provide cost-share funding to achieve implementation of these best practices through the soil and water conservation districts. The WIP calls for farms to implement "resource management plans" to reduce pollution but does not mandate what those plans should include and requires them only if adequate funding is available through the cost share programs. These programs are cost share programs and do require financial participation of the farmers. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation objects to the seemingly soft requirement of this provision stating that 30% of the nutrient and sediment pollution is from agriculture.

I was thinking about justice and regulations as I was trying to straighten out a problem at my Bank. I found myself waiting interminably for the branch manager with another customer with his own problem. We had both driven the 16 miles from our corner of Prince William County to wait at Bank of America on Route 50 and to face seemingly insurmountable regulations. While we were waiting, my neighbor, a fourth generation cow farmer, told me about his concerns with the WIP. His cattle are sustainably and locally raised and for the most part are pasture raised on grass; however, he admitted that the cows are watered by the streams that come together in our area to feed Bull Run. His concern was if he needs to build stream exclusions, and bridges for the cows to move from one pasture to another then create watering systems for the cows in each pasture that the cost would put him out of business even with cost sharing. He also voiced concerns that nutrient contamination coming from upstream sources would prevent him from being able to achieve the targets of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. Since he had not read the revised WIP many of these concerns may have not been well founded or researched, but certainly the WIP will have a profound impact on his business and the business of all farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

According to the National Association of Conservation Districts, NACD, there are 4.3 million acres of farmland within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that will be impacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL for the bay. A USDA draft report reportedly shows that farmers and ranchers are making good progress in the Bay, but that is not enough to meet the stricter demands of the TMDL. Of the actively-cropped 4.3 million acres, farmers are actively implementing erosion control and nutrient management practices on more than 4.1 million acres. The NACD states that these actions have reduced sediment pollution on rivers and streams within the Chesapeake Bay watershed 64%, cut nitrogen pollution 36% and reduced phosphorus pollution 43%. Nonetheless, the Chesapeake Bay foundation states that 30% of the nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is from agriculture operations and is pressing strongly for tighter regulations and enforcement against agricultural operations. .

I had no answer as to whether sustainable, humane, local agriculture should be encouraged, or if the world is better with a few high intensity concentrated animal feed lots that have a combined smaller land footprint and are not in sensitive watersheds. Though, I am not at all certain that there are any locations not in some sensitive watershed. In the west (home of many agri-industrial operations) water diversions are having severe impact on the environment. The agricultures economy is manipulated by farm subsidies that distort the market and agricultural practices. To pay for the increase costs of complying with the higher costs of sustainable agriculture, instituting nutrient management and best practices and enforcement of those steps the cost of food will have to rise either directly or indirectly. I only know I would prefer to continue to buy my meat locally from an operation where I can see the cows are grass fed and pastured. Then there are the hobby farm operations, lots zoned to allow horses and the current push for a zoning to allow backyard chickens in the much of Prince William County. It is impossible reconcile the requirements necessary to comply with the Chesapeake Bay TMDL with the personal freedom, small scale local food and population growth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What’s in the Final Watershed Implementation Plan for Virginia?

After reviewing the September 2010 draft of the Watershed Implementation Plan, WIP, from Virginia the US EPA detailed a series of regulatory threats or as the EPA preferred to call them “back stop” measures for Virginia. These threats and the understanding that Virginia was better off implementing their own plan spurred the Commonwealth to develop a more aggressive WIP that meets the TMDL mandated by the EPA despite protests about the costs. The revised WIP for Virginia was submitted to the EPA on November 29th and appears to address many of the areas of concern, but does not target agriculture as aggressively as the EPA and the Chesapeake Bay NGOs seem to have been pushing for.

In the revised WIP Virginia commits to significant additional pollution reductions from wastewater treatment plants in the James River basin. The existing limits on total nitrogen and total phosphorus are reduced by an additional 1.6 million pounds of nitrogen and 200,000 pound reduction in phosphorus in the James River prior to 2017 and an additional reduction of 1.0 million pounds of nitrogen and 250,000 pound reduction in phosphorus in the James River post-2017. These nitrogen and phosphorus reductions will be obtained by upgrading wastewater treatment plants. Virginia has committed to obtain a total reduction of 6 million pounds of nitrogen pollution from wastewater treatment plants in the WIP at this point; this does include planned upgrades that are currently underway in the Commonwealth.

The revised WIP also reduces the rate of growth in on-site sewage disposal systems, or septic systems. The intension is to raise the costs to operate a septic system through regulation which would make clustered systems or community systems more competitive and raise the overall cost of building and maintaining homes. The cost of housing would increase in the area in response to these requirements. In addition the revised WIP proposes to require the offset of new system loads through an expansion of the Nutrient Credit Exchange Program. The Commonwealth intends to implement amendments to Virginia Department of Health regulations for alternative systems which are currently a little bit in limbo because of the temporary emergency regulations that the department of health has done little to enforce in much of the Commonwealth. The proposed amendments require a minimum 50% reduction in delivered nitrogen for all new small alternative onsite systems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed resulting in an effective delivered load to the edge of the project boundary of 4.5 lbs TN/person/year. All large alternative onsite systems will have to demonstrate compliance with <3 mg/l total nitrogen at the project boundary.

The revised WIP states legislative and regulatory changes will be considered to require all new and replacement septic systems within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to utilize one of the nitrogen reducing technologies. The WIP states that DEQ will seek legislative changes necessary to establish tax credits for upgrade/replacement of existing conventional systems with nitrogen reducing systems. In addition, they will seek legislative changes to establish 5 year pump-out requirements for all septic tanks in Chesapeake Bay watershed not just Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act areas.

For agricultural operations the revised WIP will require the implementation of resource management plans on most agricultural acres which may include: 35 foot grass or forest buffers between cropland and perennial surface waters; stream exclusion of livestock over time; and implemented nutrient management plans. The Commonwealth will provide cost-share funding to achieve implementation of these best practices through the soil and water conservation districts. The WIP calls for farms to implement "resource management plans" to reduce pollution but does not mandate what those plans should include and requires them only if adequate funding is available through the cost share programs. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation objects to the seemingly soft requirement of this provision. If the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is correct that 30% of the pollution loads in the Chesapeake Bay are from farming practices, the best money spent could be to implement agricultural nutrient management plans.

Allocations for newly developed land will be set at a level that results in no increase above allowable 2025 average nutrient loads per acre from previous land uses; unless offsets are obtained. This in effect is a limitation on or added cost to development. Many of these provisions seem intended to slow population growth, because utilization of increased technology and knowledge on how to control the nutrient and sediment pollution has to some extent been overwhelmed by continued population growth in the area.

To attack other problems of suburbia, and the ever increasing suburban sprall in the region, the revised WIP suggests restrictions for application of non-agricultural fertilizers and voluntary reporting from “for-hire” applicators such as lawn service companies. In addition to controls suggested on do it yourself lawn fertilization. Golf courses will be required to implement nutrient management plans.

The revised WIP requires that Virginia’s Stormwater Management Regulations (currently under revision) will require redevelopments to meet reductions in nutrient and sediment loads, and to prevent nutrient pollution and sediment load increases from new development. In the future all new development appear to be required to be almost sediment and nutrient pollution free. The Commonwealth will reduce pollution from stormwater running off urban streets and parking lots by mandating reductions in state permits for large city stormwater systems. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation stormwater runoff remains the only source of water pollution in Virginia that continues to increase and must be aggressively addressed if restoration of the Bay is to succeed. It seems likely that the increase in nutrient pollution and sediment pollution from stormwater systems is partially a reflection of the expansion of suburban development out into Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties and the increasing population in these areas.

It remains to be seen if these revisions to the WIP will be adequate to satisfy the federal regulators and how Virginia plans to pay for these estimated $7 billion in pollution control measures in the next six years.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Virginia Submits Their Final Watershed Implementation Plan

On November 29th 2010 Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Doug Domenech, submitted the final version of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The introduction to the revised plan states that full implementation of the plan would cost more than $7 billion dollars which would be according to Secretary Domenech “another federal unfunded mandate on the state, localities, private industries, and homeowners and would place enormous new fiscal stress on state budgets.” As a show of good faith, the Governor of Virginia included $36.4 million new dollars in the state’s Water Quality Improvement Fund in his 2011 budget amendments. The WIP went on to state that “In these austere times, we cannot guarantee what additional funding will be provided by our General Assembly. It is our position that the success of the WIP may be subject to the provision of sufficient federal funding to assist in covering these massive new unfunded mandates.”

In Virginia this $7 billon dollars to meet the 2017 TMDL represents more than $1,500 for every person living within the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. To put this in perspective, the state would have to add a Chesapeake Bay surcharge to every property tax bill within the watershed for the next 6 years of $1,000 or more per household.

If you recall the first version of the Virginia WIP the plan did not meet the TMDL loading levels with “reasonable assurance.” The EPA found that none of the states met the reasonable assurance standard, but that Virginia’s WIP had a “moderate need” for federal backstops. Virginia’s WIP was found to have serious deficiencies. It did not meet allocations for nitrogen (6 percent over) and phosphorus (7 percent over), but did meet allocations for sediment (12 percent under). In addition, the EPA found that the Virginia WIP relied on pollution trading programs but had no commitment to adopt new regulations relying instead on market forces. The WIP was deemed to be vague and was found to have limited enforceability and accountability for filling the gaps identified by the EPA and few data points to demonstrate compliance.

Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded. As a result, US EPA has taken control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated TMDL to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July and to be finalized at the end of December) allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time. It is also a keystone of the federal strategy to meet President Obama’s Executive Order to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay by 2017

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation performed a telephone survey of Virginia residents and found that 80% of voters believe that Virginia can protect water quality and have a strong economy with good jobs for Virginians. In addition, almost two thirds of Virginia voters want Virginia to establish its own plan to reduce polluted runoff through stronger requirements and incentives so that farms, sewage treatment plants, and others meet the new pollution reduction standards rather than have the federal government step in and take control in Virginia. So we now have the revised WIP and the need to add $7 billion dollars in state taxes to pay for the plan.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Energy Incentives and Other Market Distortions

The California Public Utilities Commission, PUC, is currently considering granting the state’s big utilities $77.3 million in additional rewards under a program for cutting the amount of energy their customers use, despite indications that the actual energy saved was far less than originally hoped when the utility companies launched the energy saving programs. Essentially, the PUC is considering paying incentives for programs that did not have the desired result, and the money they are using is coming out of the consumer’s pockets. However, it is likely that the incentives will be paid and is another example of bureaucratic waste we as a country can no longer afford.

The rewards were conceived to give utilities a financial incentive to sell less electricity and natural gas. Command and control environmentalists hailed the program as a major innovation to fight global warming when it was launched and certainly the intention was good. The PUC set three year energy-efficiency goals for the utilities. If the companies met those goals, they would get rewards, paid by their customers in the form of increased rates. If they missed by a wide margin, they faced fines. How to actually measure the savings was initially not known so a proxy for that goal was established and that is at the heart of the current dispute at the PUC, but not the real problem. The a newly develop methodology used to estimate savings shows vastly different results from the original methodology. The PUC believes it has developed a better methodology to measure results than the original standard and wants to change the method of measurement.

Utilities are a highly regulated industry. The profits are based largely on the volume of energy sold less cost of providing service, including the value of all the pipes, wires, power plants and electrical substations each utility owns and is allowed to enter into their cost basis. All costs whether productive or not can essentially be recovered in rate increases. The current program was launched ahead of an acceptable methodology to evaluate the results. The current efficiency rewards were designed to make energy efficiency part of the utilities’ everyday business, but utilities are trained to analyze any program to maximize cash flow to the utilities. So, the utilities did what they were supposed to do, embrace the program to maximize their return.

While the PUC spent $97 million developing a way to evaluate and verify savings from the efficiency program, they started issuing rewards to the utilities based on actions taken like giving out compact fluorescent light bulbs and pay incentive for energy star appliances. Now the PUC wants to use its new evaluation standards to determine how much energy the utilities really saved (or as real as the current model can predict). The utilities developed programs to profit from the program using the original behavior standards and now the PUC wants to change the rules and the difference is $371 million less in reward payments to the utilities. Now the PUC will have to determine if they will pay the incentives and how much of this failure will be paid by the consumers and how much will be paid by the stockholders.

The utilities spent $2.1 billion on the efficiency efforts from 2006 through 2008 subsidizing compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy efficient appliances for their customers, running efficiency clinics for homeowners and working with businesses to trim their energy expenses. These were the behaviors that the regulators thought would produce results and so the program was initially set up to reward the utilities to run them. Now the PUC has determined that these programs have not been as effective as hoped and they need to determine if they will make additional payments under the old benchmarks or change measurement tools now. It appears that $2.1 billion of the utilities money (which no doubt was recovered from rate payers) was spent, $97 million of the rate payer's money was spent to develop a method to determine that the original goals presented to the utilities were wrong, and then $400 million in incentive will probably be paid when all is said and done so that a total of $2.5 billion will have been spent to achieve only a trivial reduction in energy use. Our regulators in action.

As in all things regulatory and government lawyers will be paid large sums of money to determine which individual investor or consumer pocket this money (and their handsome legal fees) will come out of. The real questions are how effective are these kind of programs in promoting desired behaviors, and should the government be engaged in these types of programs. This is just one government program and example of what our legislators, politicians and regulators have created.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Solar incentives and Other Market Distortions

The government in its wisdom has determined that solar, wind and geothermal sources of renewable energy are to be encouraged either to prevent global warming or for energy independence. Tax incentives and rebates targeted at end users were created to encourage the adoption of inefficient and costly technologies like solar panels. To purchase and install a 7.36 KW solar array consisting of 32 Sharp 230 watt solar panels, 32 Enphase micro-inverters and mounts was $57,040. The engineering and permits cost $1,500 for a grand total of $58,540 out of pocket. A rough estimate using the DOE model of my savings on electricity is $1,400 per year. That is an under 2.4% return on my investment each year. Not a very attractive investment. To encourage the solar voltaic industry, the federal and state government offered incentives.

The 7.36 KW are equivalent to 6.2 KW PTC. I managed to reserve 6 KW PTC Renewable Energy Rebates from Virginia and on completion of installation, inspection by the county, and sign-off by my power company, NOVC, I filed my paperwork with the state and received my renewable energy rebate of $12,000 from Virginia. This payment may or not be taxable income. When I file my federal tax returns at the end of the year, I will have to fill out a special form and maintain copies of all the documentation for my federal tax returns as well as evidence that Virginia paid my Renewable Energy Rebate to obtain my 30% tax credit of $17,562. Thus, from the original installation cost of $58,540 I subtract the Virginia Renewable Energy Rebate of $12,000 and the 30% tax credit of $17,562 and my total out of pocket cost for my solar system after the first year is $28,978. which ups my return on investment to almost 5% a year.

In addition, some state governments have required electricity distributors to take measures to reduce the amount of fossil fuel used to generate electricity and increase the amount of renewable energy used within their energy mix. This is called the Renewable Portfolio Standard and utilities can meet their requirements by either investing in renewable technology directly, or purchasing the renewable energy credits from others. Power generated by renewable energy sources (like my solar photovoltaic system) is tracked by a state created authority and given a certificate of production. Then, the Solar Renewable Energy Credit, SREC, can be traded on the open market to allow utilities to meet their Renewable Portfolio Standard, RPS, that are required to offset their carbon-emissions. A SREC is not electricity, it is a credit for energy produced and used elsewhere. SRECs have value only because RPSs require that a portion of energy produced by a utility be produced by renewable power.

Utilities in the state buy SRECs from solar installation producers. It is a way for states to ensure that the upfront cost of solar power is recovered from utility companies (and ultimately from the consumers). Some states, like New Jersey and Maryland, require their utilities to buy SRECs only from residents of their states creating a closed market where the price is kept high. Other states, like Virginia, have no current RPS requirement. Still other states, like Pennsylvania allow their utilities to buy their RPS from any resident within the PJM regional transmission organization. The power in the grid is purchased and sold on a regional basis, so I suppose there is some logic to a regional SREC market. This is a virtual market place where virtual commodities are sold by virtual companies. Only accounting entries change hands in this market.
In order to produce SRECs, a solar system must first be certified by state regulatory agencies, usually public service commissions or public utility commissions, and then registered with the state authorized registry that creates and tracks SRECs. Once a solar system is certified with the state agency and registered with a registry such as PJM GATS, SRECs can be issued using either an estimate table or actual meter readings depending upon state regulations and the type of meter used. My solar meter has to be manually read, and thought the power production of my panels can be monitored online; the PJM GATS uses estimated production for residential installations. In most cases, smaller installations are able to use estimates, while actual meter readings are required for large installations.

Within the PJM (where my house is located) I can currently sell my SRECs to utilities in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. I can sell my SRECs on the spot market or I can shop for a long-term SREC contract. The discount for a long term contract is huge because the market is not well established and potentially risky. The value of SRECs will go up and down depending on the supply and demand as determined by the number of solar installations, states requiring RPS, and states allowing sale within the PJM regional transmission organizations. RPS requirements are currently set to increase over time, but regulations can change. SRECs in Pennsylvania have ranged from $200-$300 per megawatt hour. So after having my system qualified in Pennsylvania, I could earn an additional $2,000-$3,000 a year for 15 years or as long as the demand for RPS lasts which ever is less. Under the federal incentives (what my husband lovingly calls Al Gore funny money) I can sell SRECs for 15 years assuming that there remains a market for SRECs in the future. So my return on investment could double or triple depending on the value of the SRECs.

SRECs are not physical entities, but merely a credit for having made power (I used all the power produced by the panels in my own home) their value depends entirely on regulation which can change over time. There is a certain risk that SRECs could become worthless at any time if regulations change because SRECs are nothing real. Of course they could become worth more. Meanwhile, I will continue selling SRECs on the spot market. After looking into creating an account for my SRECs in Pennsylvania and Washington DC, I ended up signing up with a service to manage my SRECs for 5% of the sale price. After investigating the market, I discovered that there are tremendous inefficiencies, a few young companies and not a lot of operating history. I ended up taking a bit of a flyer on SREC Trade, a small operation out of San Francisco after checking references with the state regulators. So far it is working out. I have successfully been registered in the Pennsylvania and Washington DC markets and have received three checks so far for the sale of my SRECs.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Local Stormwater Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Winter is coming and so the woods on the back seven acres of my land are easily accessible and I can walk to the stream behind my house. My intension was simply to collect the trash that accumulated in the area since spring, but I am bothered by the erosion I observe in the stream bank. It is not noticeably different from the spring, but certainly there has been some impact to the area and I can only guess it is from paving the road in my neighborhood. It is a private road about 2 miles long that is maintained by the 34 property owners who live in our neighborhood. During big storms it is clear that the stormwater runoff is inadequately controlled by the ditch that runs along side the road and terminates on the crest of the hill down to the stream. Yet, the challenge is to get a group of rugged individualists to spend money to address a problem only two homeowners see and care about.

It is my understanding the road was built by the developer of the lots in 2004. I bought my home from a bank in 2007 so I rely on information from my neighbors. Stormwater management for the development of the road and for the road itself was not regulated within the rural crescent (the area within Prince William County that requires 10 acres per home with some limitations and loopholes). On January 29, 2005 Virginia Soil & Water Conservation Board & Department of Conservation & Recreation responsible for municipal separate stormwater sewage systems, MS4s, and Construction General Permits for stormwater. The DCR did not issue regulations until December 9, 2009 when they adopted the Final Regulations Parts I, II, and III Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) Permit Regulations, but then just over a month later on January 14, 2010 the DCR suspended the regulations and convened hearings.

Though the DCR retains regulatory responsibility for the MS4 and Construction and General Permits for managing storm water, localities with MS4 permits and localities within the Chesapeake Bay Protected Area must adopt a local stormwater management programs to comply with the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Act and the US EPA mandated TMDL. These elements will have to be incorporated in to the environmental chapter for the Prince William County comprehensive plan. Part of the challenge is to have the plan or requirements reach in a reasonable manner the stormwater management of our community and other communities like us. To meet the requirements of the EPA TMDL we need to reduce nutrient pollution from all existing sources, not just ban new development and increase regulation on point source polluters. Though I do not know if it will be reasonable, the obvious solution is to tie obtaining permits to maintain and repave the road with installing stormwater best management practices, BMPs, to ameliorate the excessive flow of water during storms.

Natural systems like our land and stream respond to runoff volumes, frequencies, durations and temperatures. Even though “pollutant” is defined broadly by the EPA in the Clean Water Act to include virtually every imaginable substance added to surface waters, including heat, it does not include water volume. A more straightforward way to regulate stormwater contributions to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed impairment would be to use flow or possibly something like impervious cover, as a measure of stormwater loading and then require BMPs based on the amount of pavement. Flow of stormwater is easier to monitor, model, and even approximate rather than the complicated modeling of the loadings of individual contaminants in stormwater effluent. Using BMPs to simply reduce stormwater flow will automatically achieve reductions in pollutant loading. Moreover, flow is itself responsible for erosion and sedimentation that is damaging our streams and rivers within the watershed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Environmental Chapter of Prince William County Comprehensive Plan

Prince William County as well as all interested parties have submitted their comments to the US EPA on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and that comment period is now closed. I was fortunate to hear a summary of the PWC’s concerns and comments by Prince William County Public Works representative Marc Aveni. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL could eventually mean more monitoring and reporting on the county level and more government control of our lives.

The TMDL proposes very strict standards on both point and non-point sources of pollution. Everything from construction site runoff to individual lawn fertilization could become a regulatory issue. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL allocates nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollutant reductions to both point and nonpoint sources to meet the Bay's water quality standards, EPA expects Virginia and the other five watershed states and the District of Columbia to provide EPA with documented "reasonable assurance" that nonpoint source loading reductions will be achieved as a condition for reflecting such reductions in the Bay TMDL.

The meaning of reasonable assurance could be a costly issue in Virginia. Ultimately, because permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA) include effluent limitations necessary to achieve the Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL water quality standards, if nonpoint sources do not accomplish the loading reductions identified to EPA’s satisfaction or “reasonable assurances” then, more stringent effluent limits will be applied to CWA permits for point sources. This could cost millions upon millions of dollars because the higher level reductions in nutrients simply requires more treatment steps at waste water treatment plants and storm water systems. I am not a big fan of command and control method of regulation for all non-point source pollution. Unfortunately, regulatory command and control of the littlest corners of our lives is the only form of “reasonable assurances” that the US EPA recognizes.
Though the comment period has closed EPA has not yet taken final action on the Chesapeake Bay TMDLs it is clear the new regulations will focus on short-term, two-year goals called milestones by the EPA. Virginia and the six other Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions will be required to meet the soon to be finalized TMDL and future milestones, and will be required to put in place all pollution control measures the EPA deems necessary for a restored Bay no later than 2025. The final TMDL are scheduled to be met by December 31, 2011 and according to comments submitted to the EPA by Prince William County everything from construction site runoff to individual lawn fertilization, limitations on backyard chickens, and horse ownership could be under the microscope in order to meet the new TMDL within the framework of the EPA Chesapeake Bay pollution models. The federal TMDL could eventually mean more monitoring, reporting and possibly even more staff at the county level, though Prince William County Public Works believes they can meet the demands by fully staffing the two vacant FTEs.

Prince William County is holding public hearings on the environmental chapter of the PWC Comprehensive Plan on December 7th at 7:30 pm at the PWC offices at the McCoart Building at One County Complex Ct., Woodbridge, VA. If you have an interest and are local you should be there. I am anxious to hear the concerns of citizens, businesses and developers and to see if these comments relate to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. I am hoping to gain insight into how Prince William and the other localities within the watershed will manage to navigate the requirements of the TMDL. I do look forward to seeing a fully restored Chesapeake Bay some day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Keeping Your Home Dry-Roof Maintenance and Moisture Problems

Too much moisture in a home can lead to mold, mildew, and other biological growth. The presence of these molds can lead to a variety of health problems including allergies, asthma and more serious respiratory problems. In addition to health problems, excess moisture can lead to problems such as rot, structural damage, and paint failure and create a hospitable environment for pests and mold. Correcting and preventing moisture problems is a first defense against termites, mold, and structural failure.

Every couple of months you should make a point of walking through you home looking up for water stains in the ceilings. Often this simple act can identify a problem before you have significant water damage. Water stains can be caused by roof leaks, or condensing moisture. There's a lot of moisture generated inside homes. Bathrooms without exhaust fans or fans not vented to the exterior, leaking dryer vents, damp basements, kitchens and crawlspaces and basements can be the source of moisture in the in the home or attic. Improper roof ventilation or uneven insulation can create "cold spots" where moisture condenses to the point of dripping onto the ceiling or wet areas on the underside of the roof sheathing. Air conditioning equipment or heat exchangers in the attic, can result in condensate dripping out of the system or off of the refrigerant lines or ducts.

Twice a year I like to check my attic for mold and leaks. Mold in the attic is generally caused by increased humidity and moisture, generally from improperly installed or inadequate attic vents, soffit vents, blocked soffit vents or a roof leak, or any other source of moisture. When I added insulation to my attic I made a point of checking the attic every six months for the first couple of year to make sure that the increased insulation did not impact the effectiveness of the attic ventilation against mold growth.

If excessive moisture builds up in an attic, over time the moisture will attract mold spores which germinate and form mold in the attic which can be seen as blackened areas in cellulose insulation, along rafters or across the roof sheeting. Black mold in your attic may be a variety of things. In most cases black mold on your roof rafters is not likely to contain Stachybotrys the toxic mold we have heard so much about. Wet cellulose (such as attic insulation) is reported to have a higher probability of being infested with Stachybotrys.

An interior drip that occurs when it rains is easy to identify as a roof leak. If you remember that water moves down the roof and look along the horizontal plane to identify the water flow. The easy way is to search the attic during a rain storm when the drip is occurring. A two day heavy rain storm in the fall or spring is the perfect time to locate the leak. Take a picture with your phone or digital camera or the leak and the general area so that the roofer can locate it on a dry day. A stain in the ceiling can be an indication of moisture buildup, dripping from an air conditioner or other difficult to identify problem. Photograph the stain after rain storms to see if it is growing. Otherwise, the source of the moisture will have to be identified.

Many roof leaks can be quickly and simply fixed by a roofing professional (certainly not me, I do not climb on roofs). Many of the most common include flashings, those architectural features designed to join roofing to the other parts of your home. Of course they may also be located within skylights, chimneys or ice dams. Identifying the location of the water infiltration will help a good roofer identify the source of the leaks.
Most roofs are not really water tight, they are pitched and designed to shed water. A newer roof is likely to leak in the valley where two roof planes intersect, at improperly flashed locations around chimneys, plumbing vents, furnace vent flashing, wall step flashing. An improperly installed roof may have left the old flashing in place and have used roof cement, that gooey black tar instead of properly reinstalling or replacing flashings they simply layer on the roof cement which is at best a temporary solution, because it breaks down when exposed to UV light. As your roof ages the roofing material- shingles, slate, shakes, whatever- may become damaged in areas, and need to be replaced. Cracked, damaged or missing shingles, slate, tiles or shakes can be replaced without replacing the entire roof. Possibly a nail has backed itself out of the roof sheathing allowing water entrance. Repairing small roof leaks can prevent larger problems. Pay attention to your home.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What Can A VAMWON Volunteer Do For You?

The Virginia Cooperative Extension obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Research Education and Extension Service (USDA-CSREES) to restart the Virginia Household Water Quality Program (VAHWQP) originally launched in 1989. and establish the Virginia Master Well Owner Network (VAMWON). Not exactly an acronym that rolls off the tongue, but VAMWON volunteers can help simplify understanding the components of a well and private drinking water system. VAMWON trained VCE agents organize and conduct county-based drinking water clinics and serve as a local resource for clientele with household water quality concerns.

VAMWON volunteers and agents provide education to rural residents about private water system management. To help protect families who obtain their drinking water from private wells, Virginia now licenses water-well installers and has a series of regulations for private wells to make sure that new wells are properly constructed. In addition, the Health Department permits the wells. In Virginia private well regulations date back to 1990 and the Department of Health expanded the regulations in 1993. Prior to that only public water supply wells and private wells constructed during the installation of a new or repaired septic system were regulated by the Department of Health. However, the vast majority of the private wells in Virginia were constructed before the regulations and there is no requirement that these older private wells comply with safe drinking water standards.

Current regulations ensure that a well is built properly, but does nothing to verify that it continues to work properly and the water remains healthy to drink. That is the job of the well owner, and it takes some work and some knowledge which the VAMWON volunteers and agents can provide. Unlike public water systems, private systems are entirely unregulated; consequently, the well location, construction, testing, and treatment are the voluntary responsibility of the homeowner. As a result, many individual water wells have never been tested, and their owners are generally uninformed about water quality issues. The VAMWON volunteers and agents can provide information and resource links for private well owners and inform Virginians dependent on private water systems about water testing, water treatment, and system maintenance.

Poorly constructed and unmanaged water wells are a potential risk to groundwater aquifers that supply wells and the homeowners, farmers, and businesses that access them. Pollution of entire ground water aquifers may occur from failing septic systems, manure and fertilizer applications, mining, or other land uses. Individual water supplies may also be contaminated around the exposed well casing (wellhead) from surface water flowing along the well casing and/or from a loose fitting or absent well cap that allow insects, animals or surface water to directly enter the well. VVAMWON volunteers and agents are available to provide information on how to inspect a well , respond to questions from neighbors, present information at local HOA or township meetings, and hosting a booths at a county fairs. In addition, volunteers also educate neighbors through various media sources (i.e., internet, newspaper, and township newsletter articles). You can find your VAMWON volunteer neighbor through this link by entering your county in the search box.

A VAMWON volunteer or agent can provide guidance for you to verify that your well is properly constructed, functioning properly and your water is potable and of good quality. The VAMWON volunteer or agent can help identify problems with the water system and provide information on suggested treatments. They can provide information on the limitions of various water treatment options and other solutions. Finally, the VAMON volunteers and Agents has information on household water conservation and managing your well during a drought. Consulting with your VAMWON volunteer and agent should be your first step in understanding and managing your private water supply.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Drinking Water Problems with Your Private Well Part 2

Contamination from human and animal waste and chemicals can be real health hazards and should be addressed immediately. However, most of the water quality issues with private wells are from naturally occurring contamination. These are contaminants that are produced from the underlying soil and rock geology and wildlife. From the underlying rocks radionuclides and heavy metals can enter the groundwater. There are areas with natural occurring arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and fluoride. While some of the symptoms of mineral contamination are obvious, never buy a treatment system until you have tested your water and identified the correct solution. Other contaminants may be present that need to be addressed. While many natural contaminants such as iron, sulfate, and manganese are not considered serious health hazards, they can give drinking water an unpleasant taste, odor, or color.

The WaterCheck with Pesticides is an informational test packages targeted to be an affordable option for consumers. The WaterCheck with Pesticide covers 15 heavy metals, 5 inorganic chemicals, 5 physical factors, 4 trihalo methanes, 43 volatile organic chemicals (solvents), and 20 pesticides, herbicides and PCB’s. The Minimum Detection Levels, which are the lowest levels at which the laboratory detects that contaminant are below the levels established by the Safe Drinking Water Act so this affordable (relatively) test will serve as a broad screen of drinking water.

A lot of the well water in Virginia is hard water (though there are areas where soft water occurs naturally.) Hard water contains minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. Water containing approximately 125 milligrams of calcium, magnesium and iron per liter of water can reduce the cleaning action of soaps and detergents and can form a scale (lime scale) in cookware, hot water pipes, and water heaters. There are a number of simple things you can do to reduce the effects of hard water in your home, without having to resort to treating your water, so called softening. My water has elevated levels of calcium and magnesium. My iron content is very low. High iron content can begin to stain your teeth at 0.3 parts per million (ppm), you may also notice brown/orange stains on tubs, inside dishwashers, sinks and laundry. There are simple things to do to address hard water, but with excessive iron you might consider additional treatments.

Choose a detergent based laundry product. Some laundry detergents/soaps do not produce as many suds in hard water, these are likely to be soap-based products and do not work as well in hard-water as detergent based products. These days, there are laundering powders and liquids available for a wide range of water hardness. Also, manufacturers often recommend using slightly more detergent to compensate for the hard water. Check the package.

Reduce the temperature of your hot water heater. When water temperature increases, more mineral deposits will appear in your dishwasher, hot water tank and pipes. By reducing the temperature, you will save money and will reduce the amount of mineral build-up in your pipes and tank. Use rinse agents to remove mineral deposits. There are low pH (acidic) products available to remove mineral deposits from pots and pans and dishwasher. Alternatively, you can use plain white vinegar by using the dishwasher dispenser or placing a cup of vinegar on the dishwasher rack. Boil some white vinegar in your kettle to remove hard water deposits. Drain and rinse your hot water heater annually.

In days past, at the first sign of hard water, domestic water supplies were commonly softened by using a tank containing an ion-exchange material, which takes up the calcium, magnesium and small amounts of dissolved iron from water in exchange for sodium. Conditioning the home water supply with sodium is pleasing to some. The amount of sodium in water conditioning systems is a real problem and may increase the corrosively of the water. Personally, I do not care to add all that sodium to my diet while removing calcium carbonate and magnesium (something that is also sold in pill form for stronger bones). Household water treatment services are very profitable because of the monthly bills. Conditioning the water supply may include water softening, iron removal, neutralization of acid water, reverse osmosis, turbidity control, removal of objectionable tastes and odors, and aeration. Water softening and filtering are the most common methods of conditioning well water.

Dissolved iron in the water that is oxidized by air to form iron oxide, causes reddish-brown stains in sinks, toilets, tubs, dishwashers, and dishes. Other symptoms of excessive iron are reddish-brown stains or yellowing of laundry, especially after using chlorine bleach. The iron can cause the water to taste metallic. Brown sediment in standing water would be another symptom. With these indications, the water should be tested for iron to verify the problem and determining type and amount of iron problem, select appropriate iron removal equipment such as chlorinator or and sand filter, high capacity water softener or manganese greensand filter. The correct choice of treatment for iron problems can be complex, depending on the level of iron in the water and the presence of other impurities; do not skip a full water test.

Sometimes iron bacteria are mistaken for iron mineral. Iron bacteria forms a reddish slime on walls of toilet flush tank and reduced water flow. Slimy material suspended in clear water. Iron bacteria, which live on iron in the water and have hardened into scale, can be mistaken by a water treatment sales person for iron. The solution for iron bacteria is to address the bacteria problem. Installing a chlorinator to feed into the well near the pump intake and an activated carbon filter to remove excess chlorine and other objectionable tastes or odors will address iron bacteria. Black stains on sinks, tubs, and laundry are often attributed to iron, but actually that is cause by manganese. Water with high manganese may feel greasy. Manganese (often appears with iron). Iron removal treatments also remove manganese.

Low pH, commonly called acid water; or corrosive water is most common in coal county and areas underlain by Triassic shales or limestone and can often caused by a high concentration of carbon dioxide. Water softeners may increase the corrosiveness of acid water making the situation worse. Low pH water can corrode water pipes. Water dripping from corroded iron or galvanized pipe has a rusty color. Corroded copper or brass pipes cause blue-green stains on plumbing fixtures. Laundry may have red, reddish-brown, or blue-green stains. The water may also have a metallic taste. The acidity level will determine the appropriate treatment such as aeration, soda ash feeder, or neutralizing filter.

Hydrogen sulfide, sulfate reducing bacteria, or sulfur bacteria can cause a rotten egg odor. Copper and silver turn black in the water. Iron, steel, or copper parts of pumps, pipes, and fixtures corroded. Black stains on laundry and porcelain. Black particles in water are indications of this problem. (Note that manganese may also cause black staining on porcelain fixtures.) Compounds such as iron sulfide, calcium sulfide, and sodium sulfide can interfere with hydrogen sulfide removal so multiple treatments may be required test your water to select the appropriate treatment system. Appropriate treatments may include chlorination or aeration followed by filtration through a sand filter.

Objectionable taste or odor other than hydrogen sulfide can be caused by decaying organic matter, pollution from surface drainage, insufficient chlorine being used to disinfect water. Also, there are people who simply do not care for a high mineral content. Install activated carbon filter or automatic chlorinator followed by activated carbon filter. Turbid, cloudy or dirty water, dingy laundry or other similar problem can be caused by silt, sediment, small organisms or organic matter, suspended in the water. These do not need to be addressed unless they are a nuisance. Installing a whole house fiber or a sand filter will address those problem, but will introduce a potential area for creation of other problems if not properly maintained. Coliform bacteria can persist within slime formed by naturally occurring ground water microorganisms. The slime (or biofilm) clings to the well screen, casing, drop pipe, and pump and may even invade filter systems. The pros and cons of each water treatment system should be carefully evaluated before choosing to treat water or selecting a treatment system for you home.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Drinking Water Problems with Your Private Well Part 1

First of all let me say that according to the US EPA actual events of groundwater contamination have historically been rare and typically do not occur at levels likely to pose health concerns. This fact is the basis of the EPA and state health departments’ absolute acceptance of private and unmonitored use of groundwater for drinking water purposes for a significant portion of the United States. In Virginia 34% of the population is estimated to obtain their drinking water from private groundwater wells. However, as development in our modern society increases, there are a growing number of activities that can contaminate our drinking water and increased density brings more opportunities to impact groundwater. As an environmental engineer I tended to see a lot of contaminated sites, so I tend to focus on threats to the groundwater and worry about my groundwater quality more than most.

The most common sources of pollution to groundwater supplies come from two categories; naturally occurring ones and those cause by human activities. Naturally occurring contamination are those that are produced from the underlying soil and rock geology and wildlife. Microorganisms in the soil and from wildlife can travel into groundwater supplies through cracks, fissures, other pathways of opportunity or even through sedimentary and basaltic rocks that are highly fractured and overlain by a thin cover of overburden. Nitrates and nitrites from the nitrogen compounds in the soil can also enter the groundwater. From the underlying rocks radionuclides and heavy metals can enter the groundwater. There are areas with natural occurring arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and fluoride.

Human activities can also introduce contaminants into the groundwater. Bacteria and nitrates can be caused by human and animal waste. In our own neighborhoods septic systems, horses, backyard poultry can cause these problems. On a regional level small lots and dense population of septic systems or large animal or fertilized farm operations can cause problems. Heavy local use of pesticides for ornamental gardens (those small suburban lots again), heavy metals from mining operations, industrial products from manufacturing and industrial operations, leaks from underground storage tanks, solvents from automotive and airplane maintenance or dry cleaning operations. Landfills and household waste can introduce solvents, motor oil, and paint, paint thinner, water treatment chemicals and others.

It is cost prohibitive to test for every potential contaminant. To know what type of contaminants might be impacting your well a simple rule of thumb is to look out from your property. What you can see is likely to be the source of human contaminants to your drinking water well. Though some will see large farming operations, factories, military and industrial operations, gas stations, mining operations, most private well owners will see neighbors. Your and your neighbors septic systems, a few horses or dogs, maybe backyard poultry, lawns that have been fertilized (or over fertilized) and houses that may have been sprayed for termites.

You can not taste bacterial contamination from human and animal waste and you can not taste nitrate nitrite contamination. You can even grow accustomed to low levels of bacterial contamination, so that it is only house guests who develop intestinal disorders. Since bacterial contamination cannot be detected by taste, smell, or sight, all drinking water wells should be tested at least annually for Coliform bacteria and E Coli. Due to the extra cost (under $20) most health departments only recommend total coliform testing. Total coliform counts give a general indication of the sanitary condition of a water supply. Total coliform includes bacteria that are found in the soil, in water that has been influenced by surface water, and in human or animal waste. Fecal coliform is the group of the total coliform that is considered to be present specifically in the gut and feces of warm-blooded animals. E. coli is considered to be the species of coliform bacteria that is the best indicator of fecal pollution and the possible presence of pathogens.

Most state’s well construction code requires all new, repaired, or reconditioned wells to be disinfected with chlorine to kill bacteria that may have been introduced during construction. Testing is required initially to demonstrate that the water is free of Coliform bacteria before the well is put into service. Bacteria can be introduced into a new well during construction and can remain if the water system is not thoroughly disinfected and flushed. Well construction defects such as insufficient well casing depth, improper sealing of the space between the well casing and the borehole, corroded or cracked well casings, and poor well seals or caps can allow sewage, surface water, or insects to carry coliform bacteria into the well. Unplugged abandoned wells can also carry coliform bacteria into deeper aquifers. In an existing well system that formerly was bacteria free look for defects. All wells should be Coliform free when initially put into service. However, be aware that and unscrupulous well driller (or home seller) could test immediately after shocking the system with chlorine and in that way obtain a bacterial free sample of a well.

If the bacterial contamination is only Coliform bacteria and not E. coli, be sure to inspect the well for defects, check the grouting, casing, and clean the water delivery system and filter of slime and flush the system fully. Then retest. If the system passes let a few weeks go by and retest again. If repairing and cleaning the system does not solve the problem then one of the long-term solutions will have to be implemented. This includes continuous disinfection and replacing the well. Be aware that whole house filters, water softening systems for hard water do not remove bacteria or nitrate/nitrite from water. A reverse osmosis system can remove nitrate/nitrite from water.

If you do have a bacterial problem, fix it. There are four types of water treatment that can be easily and inexpensively used to remove bacteria
. They are chlorination, ozonation, ultraviolet light, and heat. Chlorination is the most commonly used means of disinfection in private water systems. High chlorine concentrations can have objectionable tastes and odors, and even low chlorine concentrations react with some organic compounds to produce strong, unpleasant tastes and odors. To eliminate the excessive amounts of chlorine, the water is then dechlorinated. Activated carbon filters are the most common devices used to dechlorinate water, remove objectionable chlorine tastes, and reduce corrosion of plumbing systems. In addition to removing taste and odor problems, granular activated carbon absorption is a good method to remove other impurities including some pesticide residues, and radon. Boiling water will kill bacteria, but be aware if bacterial contamination is being caused by leaking septic or animal waste, you might also have a nitrate/nitrite problem (which can be lethal to infants) and boiling water concentrates the nitrate/nitrite. Also chlorine and UV light water treatment systems do not remove nitrate/nitrite.

Excessive levels of these nitrogen compounds in drinking water have caused serious illness and sometimes death in infants less than six months of age. This condition results when nitrate is converted to nitrite in the infant’s body. Nitrite then interferes with the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blueness of the skin (methemoglobinemia). This is an acute disease in which symptoms can develop rapidly in infants from very minor exposure. So, if you well water contains bacteria, before you decide on a treatment option, test for nitrate/nitrite. If there is excessive nitrogen compounds it is important that you install a reverse osmosis system on the drinking water tap used to mix baby formula or make up bottles (and make coffee and food preparation for that matter). Under counter reverse osmosis systems generate 3-5 gallons of waste water for each gallon of treated water depending on the system.

Sometimes the installation of a new well may produce water with less nitrate and nitrite and bacteria, but is best to determine the source of contamination before a new well is installed. The new well would need to draw water from a different geologic horizon in order for it to have a reasonable chance of avoiding or lowering the contamination. To help determine whether a new well could produce better quality water the sampling of similar wells in the immediate neighborhood could assist in measuring the extent of the contamination present.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Groundwater in Virginia

According to George Harlow at the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Richmond, VA about 34% of all drinking water in Virginia is supplied by groundwater and there are 1.7 million Virginians whose drinking water is sourced from groundwater and supplied by their own private wells. The information below is from a talk Mr. Harlow gave and the Private Water Supply Handbook.

The geology-the underlying types of soil and rocks of an area determines the characteristic and availability of groundwater. To survive over time, a population must live within the carrying capacity of its ecosystem, the most important element of the ecosystem is potable water. Without water there can be no life. Water is needed for drinking, bathing, to support irrigated agriculture and industry. In Virginia, our rainfall is usually adequate and there is limited need to irrigate. Precipitation and soil type determines how much the shallower groundwater is recharged annually. However the volume of water that can be stored is controlled by the reservoir characteristics of the subsurface rocks. Groundwater may be present today that was precipitation months, years or eons ago. Using more groundwater than is recharged through precipitation is unsustainable over the long run.

The nature of the soils and rocks varies across Virginia by physiographic province. The geological regions of Virginia are (from east to west) the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, the Blue Ridge, the Valley and Ridge and the (Cumberland) Plateau. There is also a limited areas of Mesozoic Lowlands within the Piedmont that is not a geographic region but is a physiographic province and is groundwater rich. I happen to live within the Mesozoic Lowlands. The natural occurrence and availability of groundwater depends on the geological conditions.

The Costal Plain of Virginia is composed mostly of unconsolidated geologic deposits and extends from the Atlantic coast to the “fall zone” a geological line that runs north-south through Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg. At its widest portion the Costal Plain is over 100 miles wide. Costal Plain deposits consist of alternating layers of unconsolidated sand, gravel, silt, shell strata and clay and slopes generally southeast. There are two groundwater systems, an unconfined aquifer and a lower artesian aquifer both flow in the general direction of the topography slope towards the ocean. In unconsolidated sediments well casings must reach to the water table and the well must be screened in the saturated zone, but just about anywhere you drill a well, you will find groundwater. Water tends to be of good quality for the most part, but there are areas where over pumping has resulted in salt water intrusion and areas where iron and hydrogen sulfide occur. It is very possible with little more population growth that during drought years Fairfax and the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area will have inadequate water.

The Piedmont is bordered by the “fall zone” on the east and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west. The Piedmont is the largest geological region in Virginia and has a diverse geology largely dominated by igneous and metamorphic rocks, with some areas of sedimentary rocks. The area has limited overburden and the fractures and fault lines formed in the rocks store and transmit groundwater. The size and number of water bearing fractures decrease with depth so significant supplies of water are generally located in the first few hundred feet. There is a wide variation in groundwater quality and yield ranging from under 1 gallon to over 50 gallons a minute. The largest yields are obtained where fracture and fault system are extensive along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In other areas of the Piedmont, disintegration of the granite bedrock forms a zone of granular material with slow recharge and relatively high and annoying amounts of iron and sulfur. To be productive a well must be located within a fracture. Water tends to be hard and in many areas contains high levels of iron, sulfur, and can be acidic.

The Mesozoic Lowlands are within the Piedmont region. These areas consists of an interbedded sequence of sedimentary and basaltic rocks. The rocks of the lowlands are highly fractured and overlain by a thin cover of overburden. The lack of overburden limits natural protection to the aquifer. The sedimentary rocks are productive aquifers. The soils are described by the USGS as Balls Bluff Siltstone with a gravel, sand and clay type bedding plane. In the siltstone bedding plane, the fractures within the rock run predominately north south. Thus while ground water flows generally speaking west to east, water or a contaminant that catches a fracture will carry the contaminant to depth in a north south pattern. Contaminants can enter the groundwater at these fractures spread easily. Groundwater is easy to locate and tends to be hard.

The Blue Ridge province lies to the west of the Piedmont and is a narrow zone (4-25 miles wide) of mountains that runs from North Carolina to Maryland with the highest elevations in Virginia. The bedrock is near the surface and relatively impervious and contains limited amounts of water in joints, fractures and fault zones. Igneous and metamorphic rocks are most common on the eastern slope (and into the Piedmont) and sedimentary rocks are common on the western slope. Water yields are low and limited and typically very high in iron. Water containing fractures can be few and far between and it is very possible not to find water on a home site or to have a well run dry regularly.

The Valley and Ridge region is to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is underlain by consolidated sedimentary rocks of limestone, dolomite, shale and conglomerate. Limestone and dolomite occur beneath lowlands, such as the Shenandoah Valley (also within the lowlands between the Potomac and the Catoctin Mountains) these deposits consistently form productive aquifers. Karst features such as sinkholes, caves, and large springs are found in the Valley and Ridge province. The ridges in the upland area are typically underlain by sandstone and shale with limited groundwater yield. Limestone frequently contains underground channels that store and transmit groundwater. Rapid movement of water in the limestone area makes the pollution potential high. Aquifers are often recharged directly by streams crossing fault zones giving wells in these areas the highest yields. This direct surface water to groundwater recharge can create serious water quality problems. The groundwater in these zones bypasses any natural filtration the soil might have provided. The quality of the groundwater would reflect the quality of the seasonal streams and surface water and tends to be acidic.

The smallest geological region of Virginia is the Cumberland Plateau also called the Appalachian Plateau which includes the southwester tip of Virginia. This region is underlain by sedimentary rocks, primarily sandstone, shale and the coal. It is the presence of coal that has most determined the fate of this region. The groundwater travels in the coal veins. The gentle folding of these formations has created domes and basins and faulting has occurred. Groundwater quality is generally best in the bedrock above the stream level. The groundwater in the stream level contains high concentrations of sulfate, sulfite, nitrate, iron and carbon dioxide. The water improves at 150-300 feet below this area. Groundwater is generally used for small domestic purposes and processing coal. The shallow nature of the groundwater allows for relatively easy contamination.

The quality and minerals in the groundwater are determined to a large extent by the local geology. Virginia is rich in water our actions will determine if we remain so. The process by which water from rainfall, snowmelt, streams and rivers flows into water bearing geologic formation is the groundwater recharge process. The climate change models (as limited and faulty as they may be) predict that Virginia will become a bit wetter and warmer (think North Carolina). A failure of the water supply in Virginia will be due to our own actions and decision. The land surface through which groundwater is recharged must remain open and uncontaminated to maintain the quality and quantity of groundwater of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Virginia Master Well Owner

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates public water systems, the responsibility for ensuring the safety and consistent supply of water from the estimated more than 1.7 million private wells in Virginia belongs to the well owner. Owners of private wells are responsible for all aspects of water system management. These responsibilities include knowing the well’s history, testing the water quality annually (or more often as needed), and having the well system and its components inspected regularly by a well driller licensed or certified by the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, DPOR, and ensuring the maintenance and repair of the system.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Research Education and Extension Service (USDA-CSREES) to restart the Virginia Household Water Quality Program (VAHWQP) originally launched in 1989. The program centers around household drinking water clinics, which include confidential water sample analysis followed by a meeting where citizens learn how to interpret their sample analysis report and how to care for their water system and address any potential problems. The water clinics were restarted and the Virginia Master Well Owner Network (VAMWON) was established, patterned after very successful master well owner volunteer network established in Pennsylvania.

I spend this past Saturday at all day training in Charlottesville, Virginia to become a Virginia Master Well Owner volunteer. The Virginia Master Well Owner Network, VAMWON, consists of Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) agents and qualified volunteers trained in the proper design, management, and maintenance of private water supply systems (springs, wells, and cisterns). The day included training on a variety of topics pertinent to developing a unified understanding of private water systems, including groundwater hydrology in Virginia, water testing, routine system maintenance, and dealing with water problems.

Like many of others, my professional experience gave me insight into understanding the private water supplies, and the resource materials from the program (all available on-line) which I studied in advance well prepared me for the training. The opportunity to ask questions of experts and listen to other’s questions, see equipment and demonstrations was a great way to reinforce everything I learned. The best place for all homeowners with private drinking wells to start is to review the brochure “Ten Tips for Managing Your Private Well Water Supply.”

As a VAMWON trained volunteer I am expected to reach out to private water system owners in a variety of ways, ranging from speaking to local community groups and HOAs to informal discussions with friends and neighbors. We can provide information and guidance of where to seek the appropriate help and services to address a water/well problem. We are here to help you can find a VAMWON trained volunteer or extension agent on-line or through you local extension office.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems

The federal 1987 Water Quality Act (WQA) was an amendment to the Clean Water Act, requiring that EPA issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for storm water discharges that were permitted prior to February 4, 1987, or associated with industrial activity, or from Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) serving a population of 100,000 or more, or judged by the permitting authority to be significant sources of pollutants or which contribute to a violation of a water quality standard.

The storm water program also includes a Phase II, which phased in regulation of some smaller dischargers than previously regulated. These regulations require storm water permits by March 10, 2003 for numerous small MS4s, construction sites of one to five acres, and industrial facilities owned or operated by small MS4s which were previously exempted under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. Until now only a portion of the small MS4s have been regulated under Phase II.

The universe of small MS4s is quite large since it includes every storm water collection system in every community except for those medium and large MS4s regulated under the first phase of the storm water program. There are thousands of them. Only a portion of small MS4s have been regulated d by the Stormwater Phase II Final Rule, either by being located near an urban area having high population density or designation by the NPDES permitting authority because the MS4 or drainage ditch discharges to sensitive waters.

As was stated in Executive Order 13508 -Strategy for Restoring and Protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Comment Response dated May 12, 2010: EPA will initiate rulemaking to increase coverage and raise standards for CAFOs, municipal stormwater, and new dischargers of pollution. The EPA representative at the Public Hearing in Annandale, VA stated that EPA expects that it will promulgate new Chesapeake Bay specific regulations expanding the reach of MS4 point source regulations to ensure compliance with the total maximum daily load, TMDL, numerical limit imposed by EPA.

Polluted stormwater runoff is commonly transported through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), from which it is often discharged untreated into local water bodies. To prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into an MS4, operators must obtain a NPDES permit and develop a stormwater management program. In the smallest MS4s a stormwater management program consists of modest activities like education, best management practices, BMPs to control flow and run off.

On December 28, 2009, EPA issued a Federal Register Notice announcing EPA's initiation rulemaking to strengthen its stormwater program. EPA is now soliciting input on potential rules and regulations relating to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with several public “listening sessions” to be held in October and November 2010, and an interactive Webcast scheduled for November 16, 2010, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST, Visit to register to participate in the Webcast.

The intent of the new regulations is to control and manage stormwater discharges not currently regulated that are causing or contributing to water quality impairments in the Bay watershed. That is pretty much every drop of stormwater in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This would require additional measures, such as BMPs and change in flow patterns targeting ( but not limited to) nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, According to the Federal register these rules would require the retrofit of stormwater controls for existing developments; and applying specific performance standards to discharges from new and retrofitted stormwater systems within the watershed. EPA is also seeking input on whether to consider specific evaluation, tracking, or reporting elements.

That modest announcement will probably impact all homeowners throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The success of any changes in stormwater regulations in protecting the environment will depend on notification of and the compliance of individual homeowners, homeowner associations and communities. For the individual homeowner the regulations will have to be clear, fair and easily understood by a layman reading them and county and community staff will have to be informed and informative. Compliance with the regulations will suffer if no one is ever aware of them, the building department will issue roadwork permits with out ensuring compliance with MS4 regulations or the regulations are, or are perceived, to be excessively costly or burdensome and without environmental benefit.