Monday, March 30, 2015

The Smell of Chlorine Means It’s Spring

You may notice a slight chlorine taste and smell in your drinking water during over the next few weeks. Fairfax (and Arlington) have started their spring flushing program for their water systems. This is not harmful, but is important step to remove residue from the water distribution system. Flushing the water system entails sending a rapid flow of chlorinated water through the water mains. As part of the flushing program, fire hydrants are checked and operated in a coordinated pattern to help ensure their operation and flushing of the system.

Flushing of the water distribution system removes sediments comprised mostly of minerals which have accumulated over time in the pipes. An annual flushing program helps to keep fresh and clear water throughout the distribution system. Removing the residue ensures that when the water arrives in your home, it is the same high quality as when it left the water treatment plant. Though you might detect the slight chlorine smell or taste, this is not harmful and the water remains safe to drink. If you are a coffee and tea lover like me, use filtered water or leaving an open container of water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow the smell to dissipate

Drinking water in Fairfax (and over 94% of local public water supply) comes from either the Potomac River or Occoquan Reservoir. This water needs to be treated to remove impurities and disinfected to kill disease causing germs such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and norovirus. Giant screens on the water intake pipes prevent trash, debris and fish, but the water is only screened and not yet drinkable. In the water treatment plant potassium permanganate (KMnO4) is added to the water to control taste and odors, remove color, prevent biological growth within the water treatment plant, and remove iron and manganese which are naturally occurring predominantly nuisance contaminats.

Then water is pumped into a series of water chambers where the pH is adjusted by adding either caustic soda or sulfuric acid and a coagulant to remove small particles of dirt suspended in the water. The water moves through a series of mixing chambers with progressively slower mixing to allow the particles to coagulate into larger and larger particles until dirt floc is formed. Then the water is held in sedimentation basins and the floc is allowed to settle to the bottom of basins by gravity where they are removed.

The next step in the water treatment process is the infusing of the water with ozone gas and the first of two disinfection steps. This step is not used in every water treatment plant. Ozone is highly effective in eliminating the Cryptosporidium bacteria and other naturally occurring microorganisms present in water. Unlike ultraviolet and chlorine disinfection systems (which are still used in many locations), there is no re-growth of microbes after ozonation. Ozonation also reduces the formation of trihalomethanes (chlorine breakdown products) because of the reduction of organic materials in the water before chlorination.

The final steps in the water treatment process is the second disinfection, fluoridation and the addition of a ammonium hydroxide to adjust the pH slightly to prevent corrosion of piping and fixtures of the plumbing systems in customer homes to prevent the leaching of lead into water. Nine months of the year Fairfax Water chloramine as the final disinfection step. However, during April, May and June of every year Fairfax Water flushes the entire 3,200 miles of water main and uses chlorine during that time to disinfect the delivery network. During the spring flushing program, free chlorine is added during the treatment process instead of chloramines. Free chlorine is better suited to remove residue that may have collected in the pipes.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Eastern Shore, Chicken Manure and the TMDL

from USGS
According to the U. S. Environment- al Protection Agency (EPA), the primary pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are; nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. These nutrients can lead to harmful algae blooms that kill underwater plants and destroy the river, bay and estuary habitat that aquatic life needs to survive. Excess nutrients and sediments can also lead to water with little or no dissolved oxygen to the detriment of aquatic life and the ecosystem. Although the Eastern Shore includes only 7% of the land area in the bay watershed, it releases 25% of total phosphorus loads to the bay from manure and 33% of phosphorus loads from fertilizer applications. (This excludes the phosphorus from human waste water treatment.)

Phosphorus can be found dissolved in the soil solutions in extremely low concentrations or associated with soil minerals or organic materials. The relative amounts of each form of phosphorus will vary among soils. The soils of the Eastern Shore are not contusive to retaining dissolved phosphorus and the excessive levels of phosphorus applied to the land are carried into the surface waters. Over application of phosphorus is caused by the use of manure from the concentrated poultry feed operations. Poultry typically has nearly equal concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen, though crops typically require 2.4-4.5 times the nitrogen as phosphorus. Poultry manure is used as fertilizer in the region to avoid the costs of waste removal or treatment. Historically, poultry manure has been added to soils obtain the correct nitrogen content not the lower phosphorus needs. The excess phosphorus is released through runoff and erosion. Pig manure has slightly more nitrogen than phosphorus. Cow manure has typically twice the nitrogen as phosphorus and is much less of a problem when used as fertilizer.

To restore the waters of the Chesapeake Bay the EPA has put the entire 4,247 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay watershed on a pollution diet. The Chesapeake Bay pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment was mandated by the EPA to the six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and the District of the Columbia. Throughout the region the nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and other pollutants are carried to the Chesapeake Bay by stormwater runoff.

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey, “Understanding Nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Implications for Management and Restoration—the Eastern Shore,” by Scott W. Ator and Judith M. Denver highlights the contribution of the Eastern Shore to the nutrient pollution problem. Though only a small area of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Eastern Shore contributes disproportionately large loads of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that have contributed to ecological and economic degradation of the bay in recent decades.

The disproportionately large releases of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Chesapeake Bay from the Eastern Shore are attributable to both human farming and agricultural practices as well as natural hydrogeologic and soil conditions. Land application of poultry manure and use of fertilizers is intensive on the Eastern Shore. Also, hydrogeologic and soil conditions promote the movement of these compounds from application areas on the land surface to groundwater and surface waters; and the proximity of much of the Eastern Shore to tidal waters limits natural removal and depletion of these compounds. The Eastern Shore represents only 7% of the Chesapeake Bay watershed land area, but receives nearly twice as much nitrogen and phosphorus applications per acre as other part of the watershed, and a significant portion is released to the bay.
from USGS

The Eastern Shore has been primarily agricultural for several hundred years. Nearly 600 million chicken are produced each year on the eastern shore more than half in Maryland, most of the remainder in Delaware. There are also crops grown in the region. Using applications of nitrogen and phosphorus to fertilize the land increased substantially during the second half of the 20th century, but use of fertilization has since stabilized or decreased while agricultural production has continued to increase.

Once applied to the land as either fertilizer or manure, nitrogen and phosphorus are carried primarily by runoff (stormwater or irrigation) to the surface waters. On the Eastern Shore, nitrogen is primarily transported to surface waters through groundwater in the form of nitrate, and phosphorus transported primarily in overland runoff. Here is where the hydrology and geology of the Eastern Shore region made everything worse. The naturally high oxygen containing groundwater and soil allowed for the uptake and storage of excessive nitrogen in the groundwater of the Eastern Shore. The USGS reports that 70% of nitrogen in the local streams is delivered through groundwater as nitrate and it will take decades to dissipate even if current use is significantly curtailed. Phosphorus, conversely, is predominantly transported over the land in runoff attached to sediment. Applications of phosphorus to farmland in recent decades have far exceeded the amounts necessary for crop growth. Thus, phosphorus has increased in the environment. Unlike nitrate, phosphorus is relatively insoluble in water and so excess phosphorus generally accumulates in agricultural soils. The only way to remove it is the slow take up of phosphorus by plants or by erosion of the soil carrying the phosphorus into the bay.

On the Eastern Shore, nitrogen is common in groundwater and surface waters and phosphorus is common in surface waters at concentrations that are well above natural levels, and are among the highest in the Nation. The increasing nitrate concentrations over time largely reflect the increasing nitrogen applications in previous decades and the long time periods required for the movement of nitrate in groundwater to flow to surface waters.

Soils and surface water sediments are sandy and permeable over much of the area—conditions that promote the movement of nutrients from application areas to groundwater, streams, and tidal waters. Agricultural best management practices need to be designed specifically for the regions. Te land application of phosphorus needs to be reduced (or eliminated for a period of years) and tightly controlled in the future and that means addressing the problem of poultry manure. Any solution will increase the costs involved in raising chicken and producing eggs. Ultimately it means that the cost of those food products will go up either directly or through some other means.

Monday, March 23, 2015

New Fracking Rules for Public Land

On Friday, March 20, 2015, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the final rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands. This rule establishes new requirements to ensure wellbore integrity, protect water quality, and enhance public disclosure of chemicals and other details of hydraulic fracturing operations. This final rule will supplement the existing regulations that were established in 1982 and last revised in 1988, long before the latest hydraulic fracturing technologies were developed or became widely used.

The rule requires an operator planning to conduct hydraulic fracturing to do the following:
  • Submit detailed information about the proposed operation, including geology, the location of faults and fractures, the depths of all usable water, estimated volume of fluid to be used in the hydraulic fracture operation, and estimate the direction and length of fractures. 
  • The rule requires more stringent monitoring and verification that the cementing of the borehole is properly done. An expanded set of cement evaluation tools are required to help ensure that usable water zones have been isolated from the gas well and protected from contamination. 
  • Elimination of the “type well” concept to demonstrate well integrity. All wells are now required to demonstrate well integrity. 
  • Public disclosure of all chemicals will be required after fracturing operations are complete. The existing database, FracFocus will be used for this disclosure. 
  • The final rule requires that all produced and recovered water from the hydraulic fracture be stored in rigid enclosed, covered, or netted and screened above-ground tanks. Open pits (for the most part) are not acceptable. 
  • Finally, the rule requires additional disclosure and public availability of information about each hydraulic fracturing operation. 

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that the compliance cost will be approximately $11,400 per well, or about 0.13% to 0.21% of the cost of drilling a well.

Hydraulic fracturing is the current method of extracting unconventional oil and natural gas that is locked inside impermeable geological formations. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, was made possible by horizontal drilling. Fracking involves the pressurized injection of fluids made up of mostly water with some chemical additives into a geologic formation. The pressure used exceeds the rock strength and the fluid opens or enlarges fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released. The fracturing fluids (water and 1-2% chemical additives) are partially recovered and returned to the surface where they are stored until final treatment or disposal. Natural gas or oil will flow from pores and fractures in the rock into the wells allowing for enhanced access to the methane or oil reserves. Hydraulic fracturing techniques are particularly effective in enhancing oil and gas production from shale gas or oil formations.

The development of horizontal drilling, combined with hydraulic fracturing, has made the production of oil and gas from shale feasible. Well stimulation techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing, are commonly used by oil and natural gas producers to increase the volumes of oil and natural gas that can be extracted from wells. The current debate over fracking centers on the economic benefits, energy security and potential environmental safety of the process. The greenhouse gas emissions from a coal-fired power plant can be reduced by about half and the mercury and sulfur emissions eliminated if the plant is replaced by a natural gas fired power plant. Opponents cite the potential negative health and environmental effects as reasons to ban the practice, while proponents tout its economic benefits, positive environmental impact of cleaner and lower carbon energy than coal, and energy security.

The environmental concerns that surround fracking include air pollution from the operation of heavy equipment, human health effects for workers and people living near well pads from chemical exposure, noise and dust, induced seismicity from the disposal of fracking fluids, and increased greenhouse gas emissions from poor well head control and continued use of hydrocarbons. However, the biggest health and environmental concerns remains the potential for drinking water contamination from fracturing fluids, natural formation waters, and stray gases. This new rule is aimed primarily at protecting our water resources.

Many of the requirements under the new rule are consistent with industry guidance and the voluntary practice of operators; some of the requirements are already required by state regulations. So to the extent that industry is already in compliance, the costs of may be overestimated. The rule provides significant benefits to all Americans by avoiding potential damages to water quality, the environment, and public health. The rule creates a consistent, predictable, regulatory framework, and could be used in states with limited experience in regulating fracking operations.

This rule only applies to drilling/fracking operations on federal and Tribal lands. Last year, lands under the stewardship of the Interior Department produced over 200 million barrels of oil (5% of the oil consumed in the U.S.) and close to 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (11% of the natural gas consumed). There are currently over 100,000 wells on federally managed lands across the country, with close to 3,000 new wells drilled each year. Of wells currently being drilled, over 90% use hydraulic fracturing. Currently, there are nearly 36 million acres of Federal land are under lease for potential oil and gas development in 33 states. As of June 30, 2014, there were approximately 47,000 active oil and gas leases on public lands, and approximately 95,000 oil and gas wells. Existing wells will have to come into substantial compliance with the rule.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Come Out and Help Clean Up our Rivers and Streams

volunteers signing up last  year

Spring is finally in the air after a frigid February. Saturday, March 21, 2015 the river cleanup season officially kicks off with the Marumsco Creek cleanup at Veterans Park in Woodbridge. The cleanup is from 9 am to noon and is a great opportunity to help. You can just show up and sign in on the day of the event. Veterans Park is located at 14300 Featherstone Road in Woodbridge, Wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy -long sleeves and rubber boots would be best.

The Marumsco Creek cleanup is the first, but 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 that found its way into our water ways from litter and dumping.

Can’t make the Marumsco Creek cleanup, there are others. On Saturday, April 11th 2015 will be the 6th 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.)
volunteers in 2015

The Occoquan River Cleanup is part of the 27th 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 throughout the region and the biggest day is April 11, 2015. There are many locations and opportunites to join in and help. The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is the largest regional event of its kind so that you or your group can still participate this year. It is a great single day volunteer opportunity.

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. Come out and help us make our water ways free of trash.

Monday, March 16, 2015

World CO2 Emissions Unchanged in 2014

The International Energy Agency, IEA, has released its preliminary 2014 estimates of world CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Global emissions of carbon dioxide remained at 32.3 billion metric tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year. The IEA based in Paris was established in November 1974 in response to the global oil crisis created by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. Its primary mandate was to promote energy security amongst its member countries. Over the years the mission has evolved to include holding global warming at 2°C by providing policy recommendations for ways to ensure reliable, clean energy for its 28 member countries (which includes the United States).

In the 40 years in which the IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there have only been three times in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980's; 1992 and 2009. In 2014, however, preliminary data indicates that the global economy expanded by 3%, though revisions may change that. The IEA believes that this suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought as CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP continues to inch down. According to the Financial Times the nations of the world are beginning to decouple growth from carbon emissions pointing to perhaps a sustainable future.

According to the IEA energy consumption shifts in China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, were among the reasons emissions stalled last year. In 2014 China increased their generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and burned less coal substituting natural gas in some instances. As can be seen in the chart to the right, efforts to promote more sustainable growth – including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy – are producing the desired effect of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions. The top CO2 emitters remain China, the United States, the European Union, India, Russia and Japan.

While the latest data on emissions are encouraging, there remain more than 1.2 billion people without access to electricity, or adequate sanitation. If everyone on earth were to have access to electricity and adequate sanitation, CO2 emissions would jump. The IEA will release their full report on June 15th in London.
U.S. CO2 Emissions

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Climate Models and Drought

From NASA Video

NASA has just begun collecting data from the SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) mission satellite. The SMAP mission will map the entire globe every two to three days for at least three years and provide the most accurate and highest-resolution maps of soil moisture ever obtained. The spacecraft will orbit Earth once every 98.5 minutes and repeat the same ground track every eight days for at least three years.

This data will be used for weather forecasting, more accurate modeling and forecast of climate variability and change, planning and predicting agricultural productivity, effective water resources management, drought prediction, flood area mapping, and ecosystem health monitoring all require information on the status of soil moisture. Soil moisture affects plant growth and agricultural productivity, especially during times of drought or water shortages. This can improve our ability to monitor and forecast agricultural productivity and allow for a famine early warning in the most food insecure regions of the earth. Also it is hoped that the SMAP mission will provide missing data on the carbon cycle that has impacted the recent period accuracy of the climate models.

In the meantime Dr. Jason Smerdon from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Dr. Benjamin Cook from NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and others have just published an article in “Science Advances” that used the existing climate models and tree ring data to predict drought in the next century. The study is based on projections from several climate models, including the model sponsored by NASA. How global warming will affect specific regions of the country is not really known but is essential for planning to meet the future.

Climate scientists have in the past predicted that in a warming world existing weather patterns will intensify, causing wet regions of North America to get wetter and dry regions to become drier. With the Southwest experiencing a drought that has lasted more than four years this is a “hot” topic and seemingly can’t wait for the data from the SMAP mission. Instead the scientists used a drought reconstruction that had been created using tree rings over the past 1,000 years. Using a metric called the Palmer Drought Severity Index the scientists reconstructed the history of droughts in North America.

While the Palmer Index is widely used because it can assess and calculate droughts from precipitation and temperature measurement alone, the simplicity of the Palmer Index has raised doubts in its accuracy. The use of the Palmer Index has been hotly disputed among hydrologists and climatologists. Drs. Cook and Smerdon back tested the Palmer Index on the period 1931-1990 for which the tree ring data and drought data are most complete. They found that the Palmer Index was a more reliable measure of soil moisture than many believed. However, the Palmer Index was developed in 1965, so this may be a case of data fitting-at least during that period when it was developed.

The scientists used 17 different climate models and created two projections for each model using different levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) one at moderate emissions levels and one at high emission levels. The high emissions scenario projects the equivalent of an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 1,370 parts per million (ppm) by 2100, while the moderate emissions scenario projects the equivalent of 650 ppm by 2100. Currently, the atmosphere contains 400 ppm of CO2.

In nearly every climate model, the Southwest and Midwest are predicted to have severe drying. The models all predict that continued increases in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere drives up the risk of severe droughts in these regions. At the higher CO2 levels the droughts were forecast to last up to thirty years. The last period of mega droughts in North America was about 1,000 years ago and was caused by natural changes in climate.

As you will hear in the NASA video above, the models no doubt have weaknesses, but the fact that the models all yielded similar trends is worry some to California in the throes of a drought with no end in sight. The scientists say that there is an 80% likelihood that at least on multi-decade drought will hit the southwest between 2050 and 2100. Such severe droughts combined with poor management of limited water resources may end up driving people from their homes. Santa Barbara, California with its reservoirs falling below critical level is reopening their desalination plant. That was closed after the last drought passed. Desalination is expensive.

Monday, March 9, 2015

February's Number of Water Main Breaks

Spring is just around the corner, but the frigid February of 2015 was hard on the region. Last week the Potomac Patch reported that the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which supplies drinking water to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties (as well as waste water treatment), suffered 426 broken water mains this past February. This was the second worst February on record- in 2007 479 water mains broke. On average, February brings WSSC 132 water main breaks

WSSC pointed to its aging infrastructure and a bitter cold month as the cause of the unusually high number of water main breaks. According to their most recent infrastructure plan WSSC is trying to replace 55 miles of water pipe each year and exercise (turn) 430 valves a year. Though that sounds impressive it is inadequate especially after years of neglect and the size of the system. The WSSC system has almost 64,500 vales in almost 5,600 miles of water pipes. So, the newly increased replacement rate for the water mains is over 100 years and it will take 150 years to exercise all the valves. The valves are needed to shut off water to a section of piping and divert water flow for repairs or when a pipe fails. That is an improvement, but not good enough.

The typical life of a steel pipe is 80 years and replacing less than 1% of water pipe each year and exercising (turning 0.67% of the valves a year is not going to improve the reliability of the system in the foreseeable future. After years of neglect it will take more than 100 years to replace the system. In addition WSSC has more than 350 miles of defective concrete pipe mains serving as the trunk lines in the system. This type of pipe has not been used since the mid 1970’s when they were found to suffer from early failures. WSSC needs to pick up the pace of their pipe replacement program to match the life and age of the system.

DC Water suffers many of the same problems. Their system is older than WSSC and much smaller consisting of 1,350 miles of water pipes, 43,860 valves, and more than 9,510 fire hydrants. The system was mismanaged for years and by 1996 some portions of the water delivery system were 100 years old and the sewage system was almost the same age. The water and sewage rates in place in the Washington Metropolitan Area covered the costs to deliver the water and treat the sewage and replace 0.33% of the system each year, an unrealistic and irresponsible repair and replacement rate. In 2012 that began to change after increasing incidence of failures in the system and DC Water announced that they had tripled the replacement rate to 1% (with of course the increase in water rates) so that in 100 years the system will be replaced. It is likely, given the age of the water system in Washington DC the increase in replacement rate was probably necessary to address what was failing each year. Broken water mains in Washington DC region are so common they are only mentioned in traffic reports.

You hear less about the water main repairs by Fairfax Water, but the cold weather also caused broken water mains in Virginia. Fairfax Water has two Water Treatment Plants the older Griffith Plant drawing from the Occoquan Reservoir and the Corbalis plant drawing from the Potomac River. Water from Fairfax Water is distributed through approximately 3,200 miles of water mains to the county’s homes and businesses. The county replaces about 42 miles of water distribution pipe each year through its system is less than 60% the size of WSSC. Yet, Fairfax Water delivers water to their customers significantly below the national average cost of water, and has the lower retail water rates than either WSSC or DC Water and has a repair and replacement program that responds not only to the water main breaks, but is designed to replace the entire water supply and distribution system ever 75 years within the lifespan of the piping.

The maintenance of the last portion of the water delivery systems are the responsibility of home owners, but it is not the same for all water companies. Fairfax Water’s system ends at the pipe that runs underground from the meter or valve in the center of the street to the main water valve inside the house. It is the responsibility of the homeowner to repair the pipe, street and sidewalk if repairs are necessary. Though the water meters and their settings are owned and maintained by Fairfax Water. The homeowner’s plumbing includes all of the pipes and fixtures on the property, from the meter or valve near the street to the faucets and pipes inside the home. The responsibility for maintaining and repairing the plumbing system falls to the homeowner. DC Water and WSSC system responsibility ends at the property line. WSSC is responsible for maintaining the individual water service (lateral) from the main to the property line. Homeowners are responsible for the piping on their land and in their homes.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

2015 Water Clinic for Prince William and Loudoun Counties

 Get Your Well Tested

The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Office will be holding a drinking water clinic for well owners in Prince William and Loudoun Counties as part of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program. The Prince William VCE welcomes our well, spring and cistern owners in Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Fauquier (and anyone else in Virginia willing to drive to the clinic to join us) because it is a statewide grant from USDA Cooperative State Research, Extension and Education Service that allow Virginia to hold and subsidize the analysis cost of the analysis for the water clinics. To sign up for the program please call 703-792-7747 or email Please register as soon as possible so that the Prince William VCE can order enough test kits.

The program consists of two meetings- one to get instructions and pick up test kits, and the other a month later to get results and provide interpretation and recommendations. Samples will need to be dropped off at the VCE Prince William Office for analysis a day and a half after the first meeting. The samples will be analyzed for 14 chemical and bacteriological contaminants and cost only $49. Comparable analysis at a private commercial lab would cost $150-$200. Samples will be analyzed for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria.

The Kickoff Meeting will be on March 23, 2015 at 7 - 8:30 pm at the Old Courthouse, 9248 Lee Avenue in Manassas, VA 20110
A brief presentation will be given to discuss common water quality issues in your area and instructions for how to properly collect the water samples from your tap. Water sampling kits will be distributed with written sampling directions and a short survey about your water supply for data gathering purposes. Checks (or money orders) for $49 to cover the cost for the analysis and sampling kits will be collected. A friend or neighbor may drop off your check and pick up your sampling kit.

The samples should be taken early Wednesday morning and then dropped off on Wednesday March 25, 2015, between 6:30am and 10am at the VCE Prince William Office, at 8033 Ashton, Suite 105, Manassas 20109

Results Interpretation Meeting will be held on May 6, 2015 at 7 pm once more at the Old Courthouse 9248 Lee Avenue, Manassas, VA 20110
Participants will receive their confidential water test results. A presentation will be given that explains what the numbers on the test report mean and what possible options participants may consider to deal with water problems. Experts will be on hand to answer any specific questions you may have about your water and water system. I will be one of volunteers present to help with the program. Come join us. 

Just because your water appears clear doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to drink. You cannot taste bacterial contamination from human and animal waste, nor nitrate/ nitrite contamination which can in excessive levels be deadly to newborns and infants. 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. Testing is the only way to detect contamination in your water. Testing is not mandatory, but should be done to ensure your family’s safety. The Virginia Private Well Regulations only specify construction requirements. There are no requirements for maintenance or water testing after a well is approved. Maintenance and ensuring that water is safe to drink is the responsibility of the owner.

The goal of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program is to educate well owners, improve the water quality and protect the health of Virginians with private water supplies, such as wells, springs and cisterns. This all begins with testing and understanding your water and properly maintaining your water system. In 60 of Virginia’s 95 counties more than half the households rely on private wells, springs, and cisterns. In total there are more than 1,500,000 households in Virginia with private water supplies. Homeowners relying on private water supplies are responsible for all aspects of their water system’s management.  All wells should be routinely tested every 1-3 years. If there is a pregnant woman or infant in the home the water should be tested. If there is any change in the taste, appearance, odor of water or your system is serviced or repaired then water should be tested to confirm that no contaminants were introduced.

Most of the water quality issues with private wells are from naturally occurring contamination or impurities. 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 and be annoying and persistent problems and EPA has established secondary standards that can be used as guidance. Excessive levels of sodium, total dissolved solids, harness, can be an annoyance and impact appliances. Several of the naturally occurring contaminants that commonly appear in well water are primary contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act and can be a health hazard- nitrate, lead, arsenic, floride, and copper. The VCE Drinking Water Clinic will test for these. 

In addition running the drinking water clinics VCE has established the Virginia Master Well Owner Network (VAMWON), a group of Virginia Cooperative Extension educator/agents and screened volunteers trained in proper well construction and location, appropriate maintenance and protection of wells and springs, interpretation of water tests, and water treatment options. These educator/agents and volunteers form an excellent resource base for homeowners. If you are a private water system owner, consider contacting a Master Well Owner in your area if you cannot join us for the water clinic.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What You Should Eat-The Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Last Thursday the administration’s “Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee” issued their report that will be the basis for next year’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. As with previous reports the committee recommends some significant changes in what Americans should be eating, but also larger changes in how our lives are lived. According to the report, about half of all American adults (117 million) have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults (155 million) are overweight or obese. According to the report poor dietary patterns, eating too many calories, and lack of physical activity directly contribute to these disorders that have increased and worsened since the first set of Dietary Guideline for Americans were published in 1980.

The report states that healthy dietary patterns are low in saturate fat, low in added sugars, and low in salt. The committee recommends that less than 2,300 mg of salt a day, less than 10% of total calories be from saturated fat per day and less than 10% of calories from added sugars per day. The report also noted that there was a shortfall of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, fiber, potassium and for women iron in the American diet. Finally, the committee tells us that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat, and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and low in refined grains.

The committee acknowledges that in order for their policy recommendations to be fully implemented, they are going to have to change the way people eat and behave. “These include reducing screen time, reducing the frequency of eating out at fast food restaurants, increasing frequency of family shared meals, and self-monitoring of diet and body weight as well as effective food labeling to target healthy food choices. These strategies complement comprehensive lifestyle interventions and nutrition counseling by qualified nutrition professionals.”

Access to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food is an essential element of food security for the U.S. population. A sustainable diet ensures this access for both the current population and future generations. The report states that the recommended eating patterns are both healthier and have less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet. The dietary patterns recommended by the committee include the Healthy U.S.-style Pattern, the Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern, and the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern. The report tells us that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the preferred dietary patterns. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee bases their assumptions about the sustainability of red meat on a report prepared a few years ago by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations which stated that 26% of the earth’s surface is used as grazing land, 33% of all arable land is utilized to grow feed for animals, as much as 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from raising beef livestock, and it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. These estimates are  are the basis of the presumed size of the greenhouse gas footprint of beef and why beef and other livestock need to be reduced in the American dietary patterns as part of an overall reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Greenhouse gases, primarily methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, are produced by the animals during the digestion process in the gut. Additional greenhouse gas emissions are produced from animal waste lagoons and digesters used in industrial concentrated animal feed lots which also require large amounts of fossil fuels, industrial fertilizers, and other synthetic chemicals to produce and deliver animal feed.

What the committee calls “dietary patterns” are just the ways of cooking and eating. Americans need a rational plan of what and how much to eat. The meals I cook each day are much like the meals I ate growing up- I have eaten salmon every Thursday since I was a child, stews and soups are made all winter and I still tend to eat fruits and vegetables in season- lots of root vegetables (and the tomatoes I canned) in the winter and a wondrous variety of fruits and vegetables from the farm in the summer. Food is my heritage and it is second nature for me to know what we should be eating. Apparently, this is not common in much of America. The committee tells us that food insecurity makes it difficult for millions of Americans to have healthy diets. In addition, immigrants are at high risk of losing the healthy dietary patterns characteristic of their cultural background as they acculturate into mainstream America. It seems all the changes in the American eating pattern that have resulted from the changes in society and the various recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture have eliminated what was a good in the American diet.

So what can be done? The committee believes that adoption of their newest set of recommendations will ensure a healthier population and more sustainable and healthier environment. They state that to motivate and facilitate behavioral change at the individual level, will require changes at all levels of society. Coordination of programs among health care, educational and social changes and agricultural program changes will be necessary in their view of the future. The committee states that America must reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity and chronic disease risk across the U.S. population and reduce the disparities in obesity and chronic disease rates that exist in the United States for certain ethnic and racial groups and for those with lower incomes. Maybe they will give us all ration books appropriate for our approved and assigned dietary pattern. Or maybe teach America how to cook real food.

In summary, eggs and other forms of dietary cholesterol are back in the acceptable American diet (my husband is quite pleased that he insisted that I keep serving eggs, now fatatas, on the weekend). Coffee is also now good for you. Sugar is now that great evil that was occupied by fat in the 1980’s while processed grains and carbohydrates the foundation of the 1980's diet are to be limited. Now the guidelines advise people to eat fish, nuts, olive and vegetable oils -foods with unsaturated fat, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and moderate amounts of alcohol. Less red meat is recommended. Low fat dairy is still in as long as it is not high in sugar. No ice cream for you.