Sunday, September 25, 2022

Camp Lejeune

Prince William County is home of Quantico. For months a TV commercial has been playing where a lawyers are seeking victims to represent to bring a Camp Lejeune lawsuit for injuries and deaths from toxic chemicals and water contamination in the water supply at the marine corp base. In case you don't know what that is about, the story began in 1980.

At that time when in compliance with brand new regulations from the young U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PA, the base began testing the water for trihalomehtanes. That same year, a laboratory from the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency began finding contamination from halogenated hydrocarbons in the water. In March 1981 one of the lab's reports, which was delivered to U.S. Marine officials, informed them that the drinking water was highly contaminated with other chlorinated hydrocarbons (solvents).

Possible sources of the contamination were identified as solvents from a nearby, off-base dry cleaning company, from on-base units using solvent to degrease motors and other military equipment, and leaks from underground fuel storage tanks.

In 1982 the USMC hired a private company, Grainger Laboratories, to examine the problem. They provided the base commander with a report showing that the drinking water wells supplying water for the base were contaminated with PCE and TCE, the solvents used in drycleaning and equipment maintenance. The contractor delivered repeated warnings to base officials and was fired after delivering written warnings in December 1982, March 1983, and September 1983.

In a spring 1983 report to the EPA, Lejeune officials stated that there were no environmental problems at the base- they knowingly lied. In June 1983, North Carolina's water supply agency asked Lejeune officials for the lab’s reports on the water testing. Marine officials declined to provide the reports to the state agency.

In July 1984, a different company contracted by the U.S. EPA under the Superfund review of Lejeune and other military sites found benzene in the base's water, along with PCE and TCE. Marine officials shut down one of the contaminated wells at Camp Legeune in November 1984 and the others in early 1985. The Marines notified North Carolina of the contamination in December 1984. At this time the Marines did not disclose that benzene had been discovered in the water and stated to the media that the EPA did not mandate unacceptable levels of PCE and TCE.

Ultimately, it all came out as it always does. People were hurt, exposed to chemical contamination over an additional period of years after the contamination was discovered while the Camp Lejeune denied the existence of the problem. EPA did develop limits for PCE and TCE as they are now doing with other chemicals (for example PFAS’s). The water contamination probable began in the 1950’s long before anyone was aware of it, but continued on for decades even after the problem was known by some. That is a sin.

We are far more aware of the potential for contamination now and are aware that new concerns do emerge as we learn more. People, I am afraid do not change. The current analogy for the data centers in Prince William County is that they will impact the Occoquan Watershed which is the drinking water supply for over a million people and the most urbanized watershed in the nation. No significant change should take place without performing careful study first. That is not the plan of Prince William County. Fairfax Water has taken the unusual step to ask that Prince William County convene the Occoquan Basin Policy Board and oversee a Comprehensive Study of the proposed PW Digital Gateway CPA and the 2040 Comprehensive Plan Update to evaluate their impact on water quality and quantity in the Occoquan Reservoir before any action is taken. The cost to restore the basin and treat the water is in the billions of dollars that will be borne by all of us, the residents who remain- not those who get the windfall from the sale of their land and dash off with their millions. However, Prince William County has chosen to move ahead without performing any studies first. That is malfeasance. Shana tova.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

California begins testing drinking water for Micro Plastics

The ubiquitous use of plastic in our modern world and inadequate management of plastic waste has led to increased contamination of freshwater, estuary and marine environments. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that in between 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons (tonnes) of plastic waste each year.  Research on pollution from small plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size, called micro plastics, has long focused on ocean pollution where most of the plastic residue ends up.

However, in the last decade, scientists have begun to study the microplastics in freshwater and land. It was first reported that microplastics were found in freshwater lakes in 2013. Though oceans represent the largest sink of persistent plastic waste, an estimated 80% of the microplastics pollution in the oceans comes from the land. The plastics flow to the oceans and lakes from our rivers. Microplastics contamination as seen in marine animals has also been found in freshwater organisms.

Microplastics end up in the soil environment from sewage sludge that is widely applied to agricultural lands. Fibers from laundry end up in the sewage sludge and it is spread on the land. Other sources of microplastics are weathering and disintegration of plastic sheeting used in agriculture, the fragmentation of plastic litter and plastic items both litter and in landfills. 

In September 2018, Senate Bill No. 1422 was filed with the Secretary of State in California , adding section 116376 to the Health and Safety Code, and requiring the State Water Board to adopt a definition of microplastics in drinking water,and adopt a standard methodology to be used in the testing of drinking waterfor microplastics and requirements for four years of testing and reporting ofmicroplastics in drinking water, including public disclosure of those results.

A year later than originally planned, the California Water Resource Control Board (Water Board) last week approved the world’s first requirements for testing microplastics in drinking water sources. This is the first step towards regulating the micro plastics that are ubiquitous in the environment. 

California Water Board unanimously approved a policy handbook for testing water supplies for microplastics over four years as required under the law. Under the plan up to 30 of the state’s largest water providers will be ordered to start quarterly testing for two years, beginning in the fall of 2023 to determine how widespread microplastics are in drinking water. It is anticipated that this data will be used to develop guidelines establishing the levels that are safe to drink. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Data Centers will Increase Salinity in the Occoquan

Salt contamination to drinking water sources is an area of emerging concern. There are currently no restrictions on the salt content in water sent to UOSA nor are there hard limits on salt content for drinking water. As usual research is just being undertaken to identify all the sources of the problem as salt contamination to the Occoquan Reservoir has reached the taste level.


The salinity in the reservoir has been rising over time and several times a year has reached the level that can be tasted.  The rising salt in the reservoir is primarily from watershed runoff during wet weather and reclaimed water from UOSA during dry weather. Sodium concentration in the UOSA water  is higher than in outflow from the watersheds and will continue to rise with the increase in blowdown water from data center cooling. However, increasing paved areas will also increases the salt content in the storm runoff in the watershed.

Increased development in the Bull Run and Occoquan watershed as outlined in the PW Digital Gateway CPA just approved last week by our PW Planning Commission  will increase paved surfaces and runoff and decrease forested and agricultural land. The result will be to increase runoff and increase salinity and chemical and sediment contamination flowing into the runoff. When generally open rural area is developed stormwater runoff increases in quantity and velocity washing away stream banks, flooding roads and buildings carrying fertilizers, oil and grease, and road salt to the Occoquan Reservoir.

Data centers will also increase the salinity in the wastewater discharged to the Occoquan Reservoir. Data centers consume water directly for cooling.  A lot of water. According to a report from Dr. Venkatesh Uddameri of the Water Resource Center at Texas Tech, the typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day. That is about as much water as 30,000-50,000 people.

To keep operating data centers need to keep their equipment cool and most commonly use cooling towers to reject heat from the computer equipment. Cooling towers reject heat by transferring heat from the water source to the atmosphere through evaporation and sensible heat transfer. As coolant water evaporates, total dissolved solids (TDS), salts and scaling ions accumulate in the cooling system, resulting in the need to ‘blow down’ the remaining water and replace it with freshwater. Water sources that are used in cooling towers often contains salts (such as chlorine, sulphates and carbonates and metal ions (such as iron and manganese) and these are concentrated through evaporation. In addition, water softeners using brine (salt water) solutions are used to prevent mineral scale from building up.

The only way to remove salt from the drinking water supply is to invest billions of dollars (from your water rates) in building and installing desalination equipment in the region’s water treatment plants which are not currently capable of removing salt from the source water. There is no other source of water to supply our area. The costs to add treatment lines at Fairfax Water to keep the Occoquan Potable is estimated to cost between $1 and $2 billion. This is a cost that will be borne by the water rate payers including the 350,000 in Prince William County.

In Summary, there are two ways that data center will increase the salt in the Occoquan:

  1. Pavement.  In winter all that pavement in parking lots around backup generators and roads will be sprayed with brine solution or salted and increase the salt content in the runoff.
  2. Cooling. Cooling evaporates some of the water concentrating the salt that is already in the water. In addition to increase the efficiency and life of cooling equipment they soften it (which means they add brine, salt water). The minerals and salt build up in the cooling tower and are blown out. The cooling tower blow down contains high salt levels and is sent to the wastewater treatment plant which has no ability to remove salt.

  

To read more about data center and water and rising salinity in the Occoquan Reservoir:

Will data centers imperil drinking water in Northern Virginia? | Pollution & Solutions | bayjournal.com

Salt in a Data Centre (ritel.co.uk)

Salt in fresh water sources becoming worrisome in D.C. region, experts say - The Washington Post

Data center water usage remains hidden - DCD (datacenterdynamics.com)

(13) Water Considerations for Data Center Site Development | LinkedIn

Data Center Cooling | Saltworks Technologies

(Saltworks Technologies is the name of the company that sells water treatments for the cooling towers. Obvious right?)

The staggering ecological impacts of computation and the cloud - MIT Schwarzman College of Computing

The Problem of Salt in Wastewater - The Salt Miner

Continuous Monitoring and Partial Water Softening for Cooling Tower Water Treatment (gsa.gov)

Freshwater salt pollution threatens ecosystem and human water security (phys.org)

 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Wildfires Still Burning

A couple of weeks ago (before the recent rains) I was driving to the grocery and for the first time in over a decade I heard the Smokey Bear public service announcement - the distinctive voice of Sam Elliot saying: “Only you can prevent wildfires.” It had been a relatively dry August at the time here in Virginia, and the grass (or the green weeds) were a bit dry and crispy. But I realized, that the wildfires in the west are still burning.


According to the National Interagency Fire Center there are still 93 large fires and complexes that have not been fully contained burning 813,066 acres in several western states. Since January 1, of this year 49,820 wildfires have burned 6,726,028 acres in the United States. People have caused 43,452 wildfires this year that burned 2.8 million acres. Lightning caused 6,341 wildfires and 3.9 million acres were burned. The states with the most human-caused wildfires are: Texas, California, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. More than 19,500 wildland firefighters and support personnel are out, assigned to fires across the country. However, when it comes to protecting homes and communities from wildfires, firefighters can not do it alone. You need to do your part to prevent wildfires.

In Prince William County (and most of Virginia) you can burn dry, natural vegetation, grown on the property, but only during certain times of the year. Burning is allowed February 15 through April 30 and may only take place between 4 p.m. and 12 midnight. This is due to State Forest Laws that are in effect during this time. During these times winds are usually calmer and the relative humidity is increased. (VA code 10.1-1142) Please see www.dof.virginia.gov for more information.

From May through September only recreational fires and bonfires are permitted. Bonfires require a special permit. There’s nothing quite like enjoying the great outdoors with a roaring fire, gooey s’mores and a night sky full of stars. It’s  important to learn how to be safe with your campfire. Check out the tips from Smokey Bear at this site.

Though a natural part of the landscape, wildfire conditions across the west have intensified due to increasing temperatures and dryness that we are told is the result of climate change. The fire season across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year. The length of fire season is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierras and seems to correspond with an increase in the extent of wildfires across the state.

Fire can also be an important part of maintaining diverse and healthy ecosystems. Nearly every region in the country has some kind of fire-dependent plant or tree. Many plants have evolved adaptations that protect them as a species against the effects of fire, and some are even strengthened by it. When fires burn in intervals appropriate to their ecosystem, they consume leaf litter and other ground vegetation like dead wood. This can trigger a rebirth of forests, helping to maintain native plant species.

Ecosystems that are dependent on fire to thin the forest canopy and cultivate the forest floor are slowly transformed without enough natural fire. Sunlight-dependent native plant species are overtaken by those that like shade, and the whole ecosystem becomes less diverse, more dense from undergrowth, and littered with dead plant material which makes them more susceptible to wildfires.

As more of us live in the urban interface where homes and communities meet the wildlands, wildfire prevention and protection become everyone’s responsibility. Simple Firewise steps can help you and your neighbors minimize your risk from wildfire and maximize your safety, even here in Virginia. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has runs the national Firewise USA®  oversees a grassroots program to provide a framework to help neighbors get organized, find direction, and take action to increase the ignition resistance of their homes and community and to reduce wildfire risks at the local level. Communities that fully embrace the Firewise principles have successfully protected their homes from the threat of a wildfire.
 
The Firewise USA® program is administered by NFPA® and is co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. Communities participate on a voluntary basis. Locally, Bull Run Mountain Estates is a participating Firewise Community since 2007. You can get more information on how to reduce your fire risks and help our firefighters by becoming fire adaptive and Firewise here.


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Power Stayed on (mostly) in California

For ten days in a row California was under a Flex Alert, issued when extremely hot weather drives up electricity use, making the available power supply scarce. This typically happens in the evening hours when solar generation is going offline and consumers are returning home and switching on air conditioners, lights, and appliances. In the middle of this around 5:30 p.m. pacific time on Wednesday last week, California's grid operator, CISO, ordered its highest level of emergency, warning that blackouts were imminent.

A dispatcher in northern California misinterpreted CISO’s order to prepare to cut power and immediately cut 46 megawatts in the cities of Alameda and Palo Alto. Though not intended this did help cut demand.  Then, shortly thereafter, the state's Office of Emergency Services sent out a text alert to people in targeted counties, asking them to conserve power if they could.

The following text message was sent in Spanish and English through the Wireless Emergency Alert system to 27 million cell phone users in California: “Conserve energy now to protect public health and safety. Extreme heat is straining the state energy grid. Power interruptions may occur unless you take action. Turn off or reduce nonessential power if health allows, now until 9 p.m.”

Within five minutes the grid emergency was all but over. Power demand plunged. Governor Newsom’s staff had also been calling industrial and commercial electric customers to ask them (or pay them) to cut back on power consumption during high-stress hours. That’s on top of the Flex Alerts CISO has issued every day during the heat wave, asking all Californians to use less electricity during the crucial hours of 4-9 p.m.

The California Public Utilities Commission had previously created an incentive, the Emergency Load Reduction program, that pays consumers who reduce their electricity use when a Flex Alert is in effect. For consumers who sign up for the program, smart thermostats automatically have their temperature set to 78 degrees and water heaters are turned down. Pacific, Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) each manage their program slightly differently for their customers. 

For ten days the vast energy network that includes power plants, solar farms, and a web of transmission lines strained under record-setting demand driven by the need for air conditioners. Californians responded by conserving enough energy to avoid rolling blackouts or grid failure, though thousands of customers did lose power at various times for other reasons. On Friday, with smoke from wildfires potentially interfering with solar power generation, the tenth and hopefully final Flex Alert was issued by CISO.

The long-awaited cooling trend finally arrived across the state Friday with temperatures falling through the weekend as the remains of a tropical storm brought relief. Temperatures are also set to steadily drop in the Sierra Nevada, where firefighters are still fighting wild fires.

In addition, Governor Newsom had been busy issuing emergency declarations and executive orders to secure additional energy supplies — including starting up natural gas fired plants and diesel backup generators. Officials reported peak demand of 52,061 megawatts on the state’s main power grid — nearly 1,800 megawatts above the old mark on Wednesday of last week. The future when 24/7 electricity and 24/7 water and sewer are no longer guaranteed is upon us.  We need better plans and load management.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Volunteers Need for the Upper Occoquan River Cleanup



The 13th annual Upper Occoquan cleanup will be Saturday, September 24th 2022 and will run from 9 am to 2 pm. (The rain date is Saturday, October 1, 2022.) This massive collection of trash from the Occoquan River happens every year and 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.  Come on out and help. Trash bags, gloves,  refreshments and supplies to grab trash from the river will be provided to all participants.

This is a true river cleanup. As in previous years, the cleanup will be staged from multiple sites along the river, from the canoe/kayak launch area below Lake Jackson dam, down to Lake Ridge / Hooes Run. This cleanup is done primarily by boat – volunteers with canoes, kayaks or jon boats are needed. The signup has all the launch and take-out locations. The cleanup runs from 9 am to 2 pm and there are five different sites to volunteer. It is a great single day volunteer opportunity.


Interested participants should register at www.pwtsc.org for any new information and cancellation updates.  Clean-up   points of contact are Bill McCarty (wmccarty@manassaslawyers.com) and Veronica Tangiri at waterquality@pwswcd.org (571-379-7514).  For cleanup supplies, data sheets to report cleanup data and to share pictures contact: waterquality@pwswcd.org  (571-379-7514).

Unfortunately, it is necessary to hold these river cleanups annually. 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 make our water ways free of trash.



Sunday, September 4, 2022

Jackson Mississippi has no running water

Pumps failed at the O.B. Curtis water treatment plant in Jackson, Mississippi in the latest flooding event. This plant is the city’s largest water-treatment facility and it’s failure has cause very low water pressure and poor-quality water throughout the city. The plant had operated for weeks on it backup pumps after its main pumps were damaged in July. Jackson’s water system has struggled over the years to hold up during severe weather. 

Jackson has roughly 150,000 residents and is the most populous city in Mississippi, but has been shrinking for decades.  A shrinking population and a disinclination to increase water rates to invest in infrastructure left a decaying water system. This is an extreme example at what has been happening in older shrinking cities throughout the nation. 

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure reviews and evaluates the condition and performance of American infrastructure. Below are highlights culled and clipped from the report on the nations Drinking Water infrastructure from the latest report.

Our nation’s drinking water infrastructure system is made up of 2.2 million miles of underground pipes that deliver drinking water to millions of people. Though there are more than 148,000 active drinking water systems in the nation, just 9% of all community water systems serve 78% of the population- over 257 million people. The rest of the nation is served by small water systems (about 8%) and private wells (about 14% of the population). There is a water main break every two minutes and an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated water is lost each day to leaks and water main breaks.

This sounds really bad, but the grade for water infrastructure has actually gone up in the past four years from a D+ to a C-. The ASCE tells us there are signs of progress as federal financing programs expand and water utilities raise rates to reinvest in their networks. This action was spurred in large part by the growing public awareness of water system problems like Flint, Michigan, increasing incidents of broken pipes, boil water advisories and others incidents that has made the public aware that water infrastructure cannot be ignored.

 The ASCE estimates less than 1% of the water pipes were planned for replacement in 2020. To maintain these systems properly around 1.3% of pipes should be replaced each and every year. In 2019, about a third of all utilities had a developed and implemented what they label a robust asset management program to help prioritize their capital and operations/maintenance investments, but not Jackson, Mississippi.

Funding for drinking water infrastructure has not kept pace with the growing need to address the aging infrastructure. Despite the growing need for drinking water infrastructure, the federal government’s share of capital spending in the water sector fell from 63% in 1977 to 9% of total capital spending in 2017.

A recent survey found that 47% of the maintenance work undertaken by utilities is in reaction to a failure or water main break and not part of a preventive maintenance plan. This is no way to maintain an essential system. The EPA has regulates public drinking water supply through the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The EPA sets national health-based standards and determines the enforceable maximum levels for contaminants in drinking water. In 2019, the number of public water systems with health-based violations was 15% lower than in 2017.

Water utilities face the increasing challenge of keeping pace with emerging contaminants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which would require additional treatment to remove, lead and copper in drinking water, and the regulatory requirements needed to remain in compliance with the SDWA. Utilities in more rural communities and shrinking urban areas like Jackson have a smaller rate-payer base, which results in less revenue and more difficulty in meeting the requirements of the SDWA and to maintain aging systems.

In addition, as the nation faces more frequent extreme weather events due to a changing climate. The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 required community water systems serving more than 3,300 people to develop or update risk assessments and emergency response plans. The law sets deadlines, all before December 2021, by which water systems must complete and submit the risk assessment and emergency response plans to the EPA.

Under the recently passed Infrastructure Bill, EPA will allocate $7.4 billion to states, Tribes, and territories for 2022, with nearly half of this funding available as grants or principal forgiveness loans that are intended to remove barriers to investing in essential water infrastructure in underserved communities across rural America and in urban centers. The states are just now being notified of the 2022 allocations which is the first of five years of $43 billion EPA funding that states will receive through the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” Jackson’s mayor has claimed that it will cost $1 billion to repair the Jackson water system.