Monday, April 28, 2014

Spring, the Ticks are Back

From CDC
The black legged tick  also known as the deer tick responsible for infection with Lyme disease goes through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. Most ticks go through all these life stages and can take up to 3 years to complete their full life cycle, requiring a host at each stage for feeding on blood. Ticks can pass infections from one host to the next. Ticks are arachnids, relatives of spiders and live in wooded areas, brushy fields, and around your home. Though ticks are most active during the warmer months, adult ticks may be out searching for a host when winter temperatures are above freezing.
The black legged tick, Borrelia bugdorferi from CDC

The black legged tick is not the only tick to worry about, there are other ticks that carry disease. In addition, there are other diseases carried by ticks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, reports 10 other groups of diseases spread by ticks. Ticks can carry more than one disease and Lyme disease patients are sometimes co-infected with another tick-borne disease, complicating diagnosis and treatment. Other tick borne diseases include: anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, powassan, rickettsia parkeri rickettiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, STARI, tickborne relapsing fever, tularemeia, 364D Rickettsiosis. These diseases cause everything from chills, rash, fever and flu like symptoms to kidney failure and even death. Co-infection can make diagnosis trickier and may call for different treatment. There is still much we do not know about tick borne illnesses and the bacteria that cause disease continue to evolve developing resistance to treatment.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi through the bite of infected black legged ticks (also called the deer tick). Early symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic bull’s-eye skin rash and is often mistaken for flu. The Mayo Clinic reports that with treatment with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease that most people recover completely. However in some individuals and in later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease are reported to recover eventually. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause: Chronic joint inflammation (Lyme arthritis), particularly of the knee, neurological symptoms, such as facial palsy and neuropathy, cognitive defects, such as impaired memory and heart rhythm irregularities. Lyme disease is serious and to be avoided and the best way to do this is to prevent tick bites. You could completely avoid the outdoors in the warmer months of April to September or you can take precautions.
engorged black legged tick

Start with trying to avoid direct contact with ticks. Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. During the warms months of the year apply bug repellents that contain 20% - 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Before sending the kids out to play parents should apply bug repellent to their children. Use products that contain permethrin only on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains effective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings, though some field studies indicate that treated socks should be replaced more frequently.

After playing outdoors, working in the garden or playing with pets you will need to make sure there are no ticks on your body. Remove all outdoor clothing upon entering the home. I strip in the mudroom, leaving my shoes and outdoor gear in it racks and tossing my clothes into the laundry room floor. Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs, all outdoor equipment should remain in the mud room or garage. Wash your clothes in hot water and tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks. (Some research suggests that shorter drying times may also be effective, particularly if the clothing is not wet.)

Then it’s off to the bathroom to make sure there are no ticks on your body. Start with fine combing your hair and bathe immediately to wash off and more easily find ticks that might be crawling on you. While bathing conduct a full-body tick check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in your hair. Ticks are very small as you can see in the diagram below from the CDC, be diligent.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Keystone XL Pipeline Delayed Infinitely

On Friday, April 18th 2014 the U.S. Department of State announced that it will delay with no definitely period of time cited a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline citing uncertainty from a February court decision that struck down a Nebraska state law (LB1161) allowing the Governor to approve the route in Nebraska as reason to keep the federal agency comment period open. If you recall on January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released the eleven volume Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline that found that whether or not the Keystone XL Pipeline was built would have limited if any impact on the development of the Canadian Oil Sands resource.

Nebraska state Law LB 1161 is a streamline approval process. Under LB 1161 a pipeline carrier submits a route for evaluation (and recommendation) by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, NDEQ, and receives the Governor's approval instead of obtaining approval from, the Public Service Commission, PSC, under the requirements of the MOSPA. The MOSPA process includes review by the Nebraska Departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources, Revenue, and Roads, the Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Nebraska State Historical Society, State Fire Marshal, and Board of Educational Lands and Funds and also requires the PSC to schedule a public hearing within 60 days of receiving an application.

The Nebraska decision is being appealed to the Nebraska Supreme court, and there is always the option of subjecting the Keystone XL Pipeline route to the review process by the PSC under MOPA. Now the Presidential Permit review process is delayed, again for at least this construction year. On January 31, 2014, when the U.S. Department of State released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline it looked as if a final decision on the pipeline might be made by the administration this spring, but that’s not happening this year.

The executive summary of that report states that Keystone XL is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.” In other words, no matter what action the Administration chooses to take on this portion of the pipeline-approve, reject, or stall- the oil sands are not staying in the ground in Canada. There is world demand for heavy crude oil and it will be met. The Texas refineries are optimized for heavy crude either from South America or Canada. The crude oil will come by pipeline, boat, and truck or rail road.

The U.S. Department of State has now extended the comment period for the Keystone XL Pipeline indefinitely. Though under the executive order currently in place, Secretary Kerry is empowered to make the final decision, the next step in the process if we ever get there requires consideration of: energy security; environmental, cultural, and economic impacts; foreign policy; and compliance with relevant federal regulations and issues. During this time, the Department of State will consult with, at least, the eight agencies identified in the executive order: the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency and each agency are to be given the opportunity to thoroughly review all comments. No decision will be made this year.

There is strong opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and in one route or another it has been under consideration since 2008. However, as the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement argues the pipeline will not determine if the oil sands resources in Canada will be mined and is the safest way to transport oil. The risks of transporting oil by rail car were seen in the Lac-M├ęgantic train disaster that killed 47 and obliterated sections of the town last year and the incident last February when 19 cars derailed in New Brunswick. To account for uncertainties about oil production, consumption, and transportation, the Environmental Impact Statement modeled 16 different scenarios that combine various supply-demand assumptions and pipeline constraints. Under most scenarios examined in the report whether or not the pipeline is built had limited impact on development of the oil sands. Oil sands production and development will slow or accelerate depending on oil price trends, regulations, and technological developments. The Canadian oil sands have been known for decades, but until oil prices rose and technology improved these oil deposits were too expensive to exploit beyond the limited scope of surface mining. Advances in technology in both oil sand extraction and refining techniques and rising oil prices altered the economics and have made the extraction of oil sand possible. While the advances in extraction techniques have quadrupled recoverable oil reserves and moved Canada into second place in proved world oil reserves, it requires more energy to produce the oil and increases the carbon footprint of the crude as compared to fracked light sweet crude from Montana.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Earth Day

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 22 marks the 44th Earth Day. The first U.S. celebration of Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. This year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling the entire week Earth Week and Administrator McCarthy will participate in several events in Boston, New York, Atlanta and Cleveland to promote President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and will focus on cutting carbon pollution to slow the effects of climate change. I prefer to look out my office window and watch as the garden and woods come back to life after the long and harsh winter we had.
a piece of my yard

Like Arbor Day which is also celebrated at this time of year, Earth Day is a way to remind ourselves that we are citizens of the earth and we need to live gently upon her. Small little efforts add up and begin with you. Today and every day we need to live our values and engage our children so that we all may step back from our lives (or handheld devices) and see how our actions and choices can impact our immediate environment and the greater earth beyond. Saving the earth starts with you and a series of small changes and behaviors will make a big difference especially if we all do it. So, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the little habits and behaviors that make a big difference and leave Ms. McCarthy to promote global action and sweeping regulations.

Conserve Energy. We use too much energy and are wasteful with it. Begin by replacing your most frequently used light fixtures or simply the light bulbs in them with more efficient fixtures- florescent, LED and Energy Star certified products. This is a simple and inexpensive first step.

The next step is to look for Energy Star products when burying new appliances and equipment for your home. When my air heat exchanges failed I looked into purchasing a geothermal heat pump, but as a retrofit to my home it was going to cost over $40,000, not in my budget. Instead, I bought a multi-speed, high efficiency, Energy Star certified air heat pump, and upgraded my ducting and insulation. I ended up with a more comfortable house and a lower electric bill.

Heating and cooling costs are almost half of most energy bills. Replacing heating and cooling equipment and upgrading ducts is not the only way to save money. There are a lot of little steps you can take. Simple steps like changing air filters regularly, properly using a programmable thermostat, and having your heating and cooling equipment maintained at least annually by a heating and cooling technician.

Also, you can seal and insulate your home to avoid waste. Thermography using infrared cameras that show surface heat variations can be used to detect heat losses and air leakage in building envelopes and identify where insulation will be most effective. Seal and insulate your home and reduce air leaks and stop drafts by using caulk, weather stripping, and insulation to seal your home's envelope and add more insulation to your attic to block out heat and cold and prevent you from spending money to cool your attic in the summer and heat your attic in the winter.
 
Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reducing, reusing, and recycling in your home helps conserve money, energy, and reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and manufacturing. And for goodness sake, don’t litter.

Use water efficiently. It takes energy to pump, treat, and heat water, so saving water reduces greenhouse gas emissions. According to the EPA, 3% of the nation's energy is used to pump and treat water. For those on public water, saving water reduces your water bill. For those of us on a well saving water reduces my electric bill and ensures that my well can provide a reliable source of water. Saving water around the home is simple.

The typical American uses the most water for flushing, showering, washing hands and brushing teeth, and laundry. Buying water efficient appliances and fixtures, maintaining the fixtures and repairing any leaks can significantly reduce our water use inside the house. Low flow faucets and shower heads and behavior modification (not running the water while you brush your teeth or shorter showers can save about a third of the water typically used for personal hygiene. Laundry is the largest or second largest use of water. A top loading washing machine uses 43-51 gallons per load while a full size front load machine uses 27 gallons per load and some machines have low volume cycles for small loads that use less. A standard dishwasher uses 7-14 gallons per load while a water efficient dishwasher uses 4.5 gallons per load.

Eliminating the watering of our ornamental gardens would significantly reduce water use especially in the most arid parts of the country where up to 75% of household water use is for the outdoors and there is the most pressure on water supply. Be green in your yard; work with nature to have a low maintenance and healthier garden.
There are five principle of a “green” yard:
1. Build and maintain healthy soil.
2. Practice natural lawn care
3. Plant right for your site
4. Limit watering
5. Adopt a holistic approach to pest management- not using or minimizing your use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Composting your food and yard waste enriches your soil (use it to dress your lawn and beds), reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills.

Travel less. As can be seen above Americans use a significant amount of energy for transportation. We need to reduce this by not only choosing the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets your needs, but by reducing the amount we drive and fly. I will not tell you how to reduce your driving or flying, these are actions determined by career choices and life choices- what you do for a living, where you live how you get to work and the kind of vacations you take. Think about it and make the best choices you can. Make your choices consistent with your values.

Finally, you might want to consider purchasing some green power to power your home. Green power is environmentally friendly electricity that is generated from renewable energy sources such as landfill gas, hydro power, wind and the sun. You can purchase some through your electric company or you could go the expensive route and install solar panels. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have over 7 KWatt of solar panels on my roof that cover all my non-heating and cooling electricity usage. The only way they made economic science was through tax incentives, rebates and sale of solar credits. It is expensive energy subsidized in truth by other rate payers.) Thank-you and have a nice Earth Day.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fracking the Northern Neck of Virginia


DNR Westmoreland State Park
Virginia has gas rich shale deposits. Bet you didn’t know that.Ruby Brabo, a County Supervisor from King George’s County spoke to the Potomac Watershed Roundtable about her concerns about the Virginia Department Mines, Minerals and Energy granting permits to hydraulically fracture in the Virginia Tidewater region, allowing oil companies to lease land and removing control for the fate of the communities effected from local government without adequate protection for the environment and watershed.

During the early Mesozoic Era about 227 million years ago several shale basins formed along the east coast of the United States and Canada. The basins filled with a variety of sediments including boulder beds, coarse-grained sandstones, red siltstones, mudstones, gray and black shale and coal. the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates a potential mean undiscovered natural gas supply of 3,860 billion cubic feet and natural gas liquids of 135 million barrels within five of the East Coast Mesozoic basins: Deep River, Dan River-Danville, Richmond basins, which are within the Piedmont Province of North Carolina and Virginia; the Taylorsville basin, which is almost entirely within the Atlantic Coastal Plain Province of Virginia and Maryland; and the southern part of the Newark basin. The Taylorsville basin is estimated to have a mean gas potential of 1,064 billion barrels.

Our ability to recover natural gas buried in shale deposits beneath the earth has increased. Advances in horizontal drilling which allows a vertically drilled well to turn and run thousands of feet laterally through the earth combined with advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the pumping of millions of gallons of water and laced with thousands of gallons of chemicals into shale at high pressure have increased our ability to recover natural gas from shale. Long ignored shale gas is potentially valuable. Until recently there was no economically feasible way to extract this gas. The Taylorsville basin has not been explored using newer fracking techniques so it is not known if we have the technology to exploit these deposits, yet. Nonetheless, according to Ruby Brabo, Shore Exploration and Production Corp. has obtained mineral leases on 84,000 acres of land in Virginia.

Though fracking has been widely used for decades without problems, hydraulic fracturing or hydro fracking has changed in the past 15 years. The oldest type of hydraulic fracturing is coal bed formation fracturing that has been used for more than 65 years. The volume of water needed for hydraulic fracturing varies by site and type of formation. Fifty thousand to 350,000 gallons of water may be required to fracture one well in a coal bed formation while two to five million gallons of water injected at much higher pressure may be necessary to fracture one horizontal well in a shale formation. Virginia currently only has gas well in the coal rich Appalachian Plateau. The existing wells are vertical wells that were nitrogen fracked. This is a completely different technology than contemplated for the Taylorsville shale deposit, but apparently the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is granting permits for these areas seemingly untroubled that the techniques to safely drill and frack this geology has not been demonstrated.

There are other problems and risks with fracking that should be addressed before hydro fracking takes place within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Water used for fracking fluids is acquired from surface water or groundwater in the local area. The Northern Neck of Virginia has only a single source of drinking water the aquifer in the coastal plain. The sediment deposits in the coastal plain is a geology that has never been fracked. Though chemicals typically represent less than 0.5% of the volume of the fracking water, that 0.5% amounts to 15,000 gallons of chemicals in the waste water recovered from the typical hydro fracking job. The chemicals serve to increases the viscosity of the water to a gel-like consistency so that it can carry the propping agent (typically sand) into the fractures to hold them open so that the gas can flow. The flow back, the recovered fracking fluid mus be properly and safely disposed of.

Determining the proper methods for the safe disposal of the large quantities of this fracking fluid that may also contain contaminants from the geological formation including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides and organic contaminants and monitoring the impact from this disposal must also be addressed before fracking is allowed in Virginia. Several of the techniques That have been utilized in other parts of the country to dispose of fracking fluid have proven unsafe and the others may not be viable or safe in Virginia. Techniques that have been tried have included deep well injection, discharged to surface waters after treatment in an waste water treatment plant designed to remove contaminants of concern, or applied to land surfaces where it can seep into the water table which is the sole source of drinking water in the Northern Neck communities. Deep well injection disposal has been associated with earthquakes, but in Virginia may simply sever as a path for contamination of the groundwater. There are no appropriate waste water treatment plants to treat the likely contaminants in Virginia, and surface application of contaminated water may be too direct a route to the aquifer in the coastal plain.

Geologists and engineers believe that in hydraulic fracturing the intervening layers of rock prevent a fissure from extending into the water table. The problems seen in drinking water wells near hydro fracking jobs typically occur when fracking fluid seeps into drinking water wells through improperly sealed or abandoned drilling wells. However, there has been no testing of proper well construction in shoreline sediment deposits. Proper well construction and abandonment standards to protect the watershed needs to be developed and enforced. Virginia does not yet have a regulatory structure to ensure proper well construction and protection of drinking water supplies. In addition, the water that is absorbed into rock formations may change the formations and the hydraulic balance in ways we do not understand and drawing large quantities of water in a short period of time may impact the groundwater whose level has been falling for decades from over pumping.

Finally, care must be taken to avoid degradation of watersheds and streams from the industry itself as large quantities of heavy equipment and supplies are moved on rural roads, recreational trails and residential roads and placed on concrete pads. The picture below from the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, shows the amount of equipment involved in a hydro frack. The watersheds must be monitored. Sampling should take place before fracking and at regular intervals after a hydro frack job. We need to proceed slowly to make sure that we are doing it right and protecting our water resources and communities. While landowners have every right to lease their land and obtain gas royalties, We have only a small margin for error our water resources and the regional ecology. The gas will still be there if we take the time to understand fracking adequately to be able to release the gas from the shale formations without significant damage to our water resources and communities.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Occoquan River Cleanup

The Girl Scouts were out to help
Spring is finally here after a long harsh winter that refused to loosen its grip on this part of Virginia until April. Saturday, a fabulously beautiful spring day, was the 5th annual Upper Occoquan River Cleanup. This massive collection of trash from the Occoquan River happens every year and on this side of the river is the combined effort of the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, Trash Free Potomac Watershed, Penguin Paddling, Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department and the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District (where I volunteer as a director.)


I spent the day at Riverview Estates where volunteers walked along the banks of the river collecting trash and the vast majority of volunteers were on the water in canoes, kayaks and platoon boats collecting floating trash. There were several locations along the Occoquan to put in and drop trash. We were one of the trash collection stations and the a lunch station for the hard working and happy volunteers.


The Occoquan River Cleanup is part of the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup coordinated by the Alice Ferguson Foundation working with the region’s soil and water conservation districts, community groups, employers, and schools happens this time of year. The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is the largest regional event of its kind and happens over several weekends so that you or your group can still participate this year. It is a great single day volunteer opportunity.

Over the next several weeks there will be a series of neighborhood events that are an opportunity to spend a few hours outside with others cleaning up the trash from our water ways and road ways, planting trees and nature walks in our many regional parks to appreciate the trees. Year after year volunteers clean our roadways, streams, rivers, and streambeds of trash that started as litter and carried along by stormwater and wind into our waterways and parks. We also remove items that were illegally dumped in the woods or carried by off by storms. Don’t litter and teach your children not to litter, that is the best way to prevent trash along our roads, streams and waterways. The trash does not magically disappear, but finds its way carried by stormwater to our waterways and parklands disrupting the natural water flow and beauty of our natural world.



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fairfax County, Collecting Real Data to Model the Watershed

Potomac Watershed Round Table met on Friday, April 4th in the Fairfax County Herrity Building. The meetings are open so you are welcome to attend. As usual there were several stimulating presentations about programs operating in the Potomac Watershed and threats to our watershed. Shannon Curtis an Ecologist with the Fairfax Count Stormwater Planning Division spoke to the group about the evolution of the water monitoring program in Fairfax County Virginia and the long-term monitoring partnership between Fairfax County and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that began in 2007.

Back in the 1980’s ecosystem monitoring by Fairfax County and others discovered that there is an ecosystem response time lag of 10-15 years (either positive of negative) to changes in the landscape. Traditional development practices cover large areas of the ground with impervious surfaces such as roads, driveways, sidewalks and buildings. Slowly, but surely this changes the ecosystem. The paved and impervious surfaces prevent rainwater from infiltrating into the ground, causing it to runoff site at velocities and volumes that are much higher than would naturally occur, carrying with it pollutants, oil and grease, and litter.

The collective force of high velocity rainwater scours streams and over time erodes stream banks carrying sediment and other pollutants into the streams, rivers, estuaries and bays. The US EPA believes that sediment and nutrient pollutions contained in runoff from urban areas is the largest source of water quality impairments to estuaries (areas near the coast where seawater mixes with freshwater) in the United States and has turned its water quality focus on these areas starting with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and moving forward with the Gulf Coast estuaries.

Nationally, billions of dollars are being spent to implement stormwater best management practices and low impact development strategies based on computer simulations and models. In Virginia alone millions upon millions of dollars are expect to be spent on stormwater best management practices in the next 10 years. Fairfax county programs are helping to understand how well these programs work. The Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division performed a baseline study of the condition of all the streams in Fairfax County in the late 1990;s and found at the time that three quarters of the streams were in fair, poor or very poor condition. The deterioration of the streams had resulted from the development of the county over the previous 40 years.

This finding was used to develop the stream protection and management plan. Then in 2007 Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Division and the USGS began a long-term monitoring effort to identify countywide conditions and trends in stream water quality and quantity. The first five years of data has been accumulated by the program. The information collected will be used to evaluate the benefits of past and future watershed improvement projects. There are currently twenty monitoring stations (recently expanded from 14) in the county collecting data. Fifteen of these sites are monitored manually on a monthly basis; the remaining five sites are equipped with automated stream gages which are monitored continuously.
Stream gage in Fairfax from USGS

Instruments at the five automated gages measure six indicators every 15 minutes and during storm events: water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance (a measurement of the dissolved solids in the water), turbidity, and during the storm events sediment and nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) concentrations. The manual stations are sampled monthly. These gages cover and area of less than six square miles. It is hoped that this data will allow the USGS and Fairfax County to observe small and subtle changes over time.

The first five years of data (when there were only 14 gages in operation) has recently been accumulated and analyzed by the USGS and provides a baseline of the condition of the watershed based on real data and not US EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Model. The Urban loading modules of the Chesapeake Bay Model are believed to have the greatest uncertainties and this is a great opportunity to perform a “reality check” on the EPA’s oversight of the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. EPA is using the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment mandated to the six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and the District of the Columbia to manage contamination in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The TMDL sets a total Chesapeake Bay watershed limit for the entire region of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year which is a 25% reduction in nitrogen, 24% reduction in phosphorus and 20 %t reduction in sediment from the current levels. The pollution limits are then partitioned to the various jurisdictions and river basins based on the Chesapeake Bay modeling tools. Now, the data that the USGS Gages Partnership with Fairfax County can provide a baseline of the condition of the watershed based on data not modeling by the EPA. So far they have discovered that high phosphorus in the western portion of the county is a naturally occurring deposit that was formed about 200-250 million years ago during the Triassic period and unlikely to be remediated by any stormwater or agricultural best management practices.

In addition, the monitoring has shown that stream conditions within the county have not changed much since 1998 when the Stream Protection Strategy base study was performed, though Mr. Curtis pointed out that there might be a subtle improvement in the data, but it could be a function of weather conditions, time will tell. However, during the past 15 years the county has grown in population and development increasing the pressure on the streams, so a steady stream condition might be a small victory.

Cleaning stormwater runoff is very expensive. Preventing stormwater runoff using green infrastructure and low impact development strategies appears to be effective, but is difficult to implement and maintain. Low Impact Development and green infrastructure are a series strategies for stormwater management emphasizing water capture and conservation using natural features to mimic as closely as possible natural hydraulic properties of a site. The idea is to reduce runoff with strategies like green roofs and rain gardens and move water slowly through open unpaved areas to allow infiltration of rain water into the earth. This reduces the quantity and velocity of stormwater as it leaves a site reducing the damage that uncontrolled stormwater runoff created by building roads, sidewalks, playgrounds, and structures and compacting soil can cause.

Nonetheless, the data gathering and work performed in Fairfax raises the question of whether it is possible for urban streams to ever fully recover. Those cleanup goals may not be realistic or attainable. Fairfax County is looking to discover what is the “best attainable conditions” for its streams. In addressing pollution from runoff each step requires consistent and sustained behavior modification of individual citizens working with government. Human behavior is very slow to change and maintaining stormwater best management practices is something each individual must do for the plan to succeed.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Waters of the United States

Coming soon to federal regulation
On March 31, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) released a proposed rule to expand protection and regulation under the Clean Water Act to streams and wetlands that are merely seasonal. The text of the rule will appear in the Federal Register in April and open a 90 day comment period.

Though the EPA news release called this action a “clarification,” it is tremendous expansion of the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act which made it illegal to discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters of the United States unless a permit was obtained. The discharge of pollutants regulated under the Clean Water Act was from so called point sources. Point sources are discrete conveyances, such as a pipe. The regulation was intended to stop the free discharge of sewage and industrial waste into our rivers.

The proposed rule expands the definition of navigable waters to apply to include wetlands, seasonal streams and any water that might at any time during the year impact or reach the navigable waters of the United States. In this way the EPA does not see this as an expansion of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction, but it is. The proposed rule will sweep in waters previously considered isolated or exempt and that are a great distance from navigable waters.

For several years EPA has attempted to expand the reach of the Clean Water Act to all waters and discharges to include all sources. Federal authority does not extend to non-point sources, such as from run off from agricultural and urban sources not part of a storm sewer system as well as other small sources such as septic systems. The EPA has been frustrated in their attempts to address what they view as the current generation of environmental problems. These problems are subtle, much less visible to the naked eye because they are from diffuse or non-point sources and often not nearly as susceptible to a top-down, command-and-control approach.

Agriculture is reported to be one or the main non-point sources of water pollution and in studies done in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Sacramento River Delta and other locations the contamination from agriculture runoff has been the major source of contamination. Pesticide runoff is a large contributor of known pollutants to the watersheds and may be a significant contributor of endocrine disruptors to the freshwater supply. Both rain feed and irrigated agriculture are sources of contamination of fresh water. Now EPA is making another attempt to expand the Clean Water Act reach to all water and all sources of pollution.

EPA has overcome the challenges of regulating every source of contamination in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed by imposing the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) mandated to the six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and the District of the Columbia. The TMDL sets a total Chesapeake Bay watershed limit for the entire region of 185.9 million pounds of nitrogen, 12.5 million pounds of phosphorus and 6.45 billion pounds of sediment per year which is a 25% reduction in nitrogen, 24% reduction in phosphorus and 20 %t reduction in sediment from the current levels. The pollution limits are then partitioned to the various jurisdictions and river basins based on the Chesapeake Bay modeling tools and monitoring data.

The US EPA has mandated these levels and allowed the states (and District of Columbia) to determine how to achieve them (with the EPA’s approval) by threatening to use what they call “back stop measures”, but are simply reductions in the allowed (permitted) releases from point source permits (waste water treatment plants, municipal separate storm sewer systems, and confined animal feed lots) to achieve the TMDL Essentially, they have said do this in a way we find acceptable or we will impose the most direct and expensive method to achieve our clean water goals.

Now, EPA wants to expand their authority to every bit of water in the US and will be able to effectively and directly regulate all sources of pollution without working through the states. If adopted as proposed, this rule will be felt throughout the U.S and in all areas of our economy and lives not previously directly touched by the EPA. It will have a profound impact on many locally regulated activities, including home building, mining, road construction, commercial property development and water infrastructure projects. The capricious application of the federal command and control regulatory scheme will directly impact all our lives.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sustainable Water for California

from Drought Monitor March 25 2014
Despite recent storms dropping several feet of snow in the mountains, the water content of the snowpack in California was at 32% of normal last Tuesday. The recent rains in northern California have added less than an inch of water; and according to the National Weather Service, the weather is expected to be warm and dry, the rainy season is at an end. After three years of drought, the situation is becoming critical as over a dozen of the small towns with single source water supplies are in danger of running out of water as their wells and reservoirs may go dry before summer’s end. Ninety-nine point eight percent of the state is in a drought from moderate drought through extreme drought to exceptional drought.

The climate of earth has changed over the centuries. The Sahara was not always a desert, once rivers flowed and lakes existed. A 200 year period of drought is believed to have contributed to the collapse of the Mayan civilization. So scientists’ concerns that California and the entire western region will have less precipitation, diminished snow pack and less springtime runoff in the future must be planned for. California must find sustainable water management solutions in the face of a drier future. The drought in California will affect all of us in the cost of food and energy.

California grows $45 billion dollars of food a year, and some nuts and fruits are only grown in California. Without irrigation, crops could never be grown in the arid and semi-arid lands of California where irrigation consumes more than 75% of the water supply. The system of water rights that developed in the west assured for generations the allocation of water to agriculture. The water rights system as conceived and administered in the western states was not designed to conserve water. It was developed in a time when population was still sparse, water supplies were believed to be plentiful and development and growth was to be encouraged. This water rights scheme has resulted in non-sustainable use of groundwater and unsustainable agricultural practices.

Micro-irrigation also known as drip irrigation has the potential to increase yields and decrease water, fertilizer, and labor requirements if managed properly. However, the costs involved in implementing drip irrigation in California can be substantial, not just the $800-$2,000 for the tubing, filters and pumps, but also the irrigation infrastructure that would allow controlled constant delivery of filtered water. On demand water availability for irrigation may be an insurmountable hurdle within the current water infrastructure and  water allocation and rights system in California. This has to change, but the massive water infrastructure of California is not flexible and our political system and human nature have not excelled in the past at sensible choices for the future.

The Pacific Institute an Oakland based NGO is an expert on freshwater issues, especially those in California. They have just launched a new website- California Drought. The website is a central location for tools, research, and information on the drought. The site brings together information on technologies and policies that have been developed to respond to droughts in other parts of the country and world and in previous droughts in California. It is necessary that all communities within California make sure that their water supplies are robust and that they respond to the changes in water availability.

During drought conserving water is the first step. It is the quickest and cheapest way to reduce water demand. Changes in plumbing standards have produced low flow plumbing fixtures that can slash indoor water use. There are tremendous differences in water consumption of appliances and fixtures based on their age and design, according to the Handbook of Water Use and Conservation by A. Vickers.  Before the advent of low flush toilets, flushing was the largest use of water for each person. If you have new toilets and are home all day, your daily water use for flushing would be 8.2 gallons versus 25.5 gallons for an older toilet. That is a significant water savings.

The typical American uses the most water for flushing, showering, washing hands and brushing teeth, and laundry. Buying water efficient appliances and fixtures, maintaining the fixtures and repairing any leaks can significantly reduce our water use. By replacing appliances and fixtures with water efficient fixtures and eliminating outdoor use of water the typical American could reduce their water use to about 38 gallons per person per day without significantly changing their lives. Notice this eliminates outdoor watering. The time for green lawns in California is done. Outdoor watering in the semi-arid climate of California can more than double household water use according the US Geological Survey.

After conservation the next step in changing water use is utilizing all the alternative resources both though soft structure and capital structures. California needs to expand the use of recycled/treated wastewater, eventually eliminating the discharge of treated wastewater into the ocean and capture and treat all storm water. There may also be a role for other strategies, properly managed such as desalinization, the exploitation of groundwater, building additional reservoirs and damns and Governor Brown’s $15 billion plan to bore a pair of 30-mile tunnels east of Sacramento to channel Sierra.

Seawater desalination, by a reverse osmosis process, in which filter sea-water is forced through a fine membrane at up to 1,000 psi to remove salt and other impurities producing freshwater and a highly saline wastewater product referred to as brine is very reliable, but expensive. A relatively small desalination plant, a 50-million gallon a day seawater desalination plant that will supply the San Diego region with approximately 7% of its drinking water needs in Carlsbad, CA cost $1 billion to build and will require 15,000 kilowatt hours of energy for every million gallons of water produced to operate the equipment that is 273,750,000 kW-hours per year. That is extremely expensive water and can only reasonably be used after all conservation and reuse options have been implemented.

A cheaper and just as reliable source of water is to process and treat waste water and storm water. There is no reason that wastewater and water captured in stormwater systems in the cities should be released to the sea. For 30 years Los Angeles County has recycled the water from wastewater treatments plants. This water from both secondary and tertiary treated wastewater is discharged into spreading basins to recharge groundwater. Groundwater recharge can be done by surface spreading or direct injection wells. Recharging an aquifer has lower capital costs than dam and reservoir construction, but requires similar distribution networks and pumping costs tend to be higher. Monitoring water quality and availability are essential.

A private company, Cadiz, wants to tap an aquifer beneath 34,000 acres of the eastern Mojave and sell the water to suburbs and subdivisions in the Los Angeles Basin. Cadiz has proposed pumping 16.3 billion gallons a year from the Mojave to the coast of southern California through a 43-mile pipeline that Cadiz wants to build, and then merge into the Colorado River Aqueduct into Los Angeles. The groundwater took a millennium to seep down from the mountains and is not being recharged at anything approaching that rate. The result will be a drop in groundwater levels and subsidence. It is, however, legal even if it is wrong and unfair. Groundwater in California is complicated. Monitoring water availability and allocations and potential water rights of overlying landowners are not part of the California groundwater ownership and there is no allocation of groundwater the way that surface water rights are allocated.

NASA scientists, university researchers and the California Department of Water Resources water managers are now working together to apply advanced remote sensing and improved forecast modeling to better assess water resources, monitor drought conditions and water supplies, plan for drought response and mitigation, and measure drought impacts. NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) and Global Land Data Assimilation System to quantify groundwater depletion program will launch the next generation of satellites able to monitor groundwater changes on a weekly basis and be able to interpret the date in a more timely fashion to manage water resources in real time. Our increased knowledge about and ability to monitor water and groundwater and their interactions along with this drought provides California with an opportunity to address longstanding and intensifying water resource concerns. It can be an important turning point in California’s history or the beginning of the end.