Monday, December 31, 2018

Check the Sewer Line Before You Buy the House

from Fairfax City

Replacing the sewer line running from your house to the sewer main in the street can end up costing from $3,000 to $25,000: $50 to $275 per foot for the pipe replacement and if you have to trench additional costs to repair damaged landscaping and any hardscapes (driveways, walkways, patios etc.) that were impacted. These costs are borne by the homeowner, not the sewer utility or county. So, before you consider buying an older home, have the sewer line inspected.

A sewer line inspection is not included as part of the home inspection. A sewer line can be inspected by inserting a special camera into the sewer line and viewing the viewing the resulting Closed Circuit Television Video (CCTV). This typically costs $300 to $400 and allows a plumber or rooter company to see the complete system. A trained professional will be able to identify any blockage within the pipe, tree root infiltration and broken pipes or joints and view the general condition of the pipe. Make sure that you get a copy of the video.

The sanitary sewer lateral is the pipe that carries waste water from the house to the public sanitary sewer main. The sanitary sewer lateral is located on private property and crosses the right of way, and its maintenance and repair is entirely the responsibility of the property owner. Sanitary sewer laterals are typically 4” in diameter. The public sewer mains are typically 8” and larger in diameter.

The building lateral is part of the home. Maintenance repair, and replacement of laterals is the responsibility of the owner and is enforceable by law in most jurisdictions, because a failed sewer lateral is a threat to public health. Many of the sewer laterals installed in this part of the country before the 1980’s were essentially made of cardboard and pitch a product known as Orangeburg pipe which was used for both water pipe and sewer pipes from the 1860's through the 1970's. After 1980 PVC was used for water pipes and ABS pipe for sewer pipes.

Some of the signs that a sewer lateral may require repair include: Frequently clogged drains, Odor of sewage, and basement sewer backups during rain. Sewer backups in the basement can be caused by a variety of factors including a blockage in the sewer lateral. Most sewer laterals can be cleaned by accessing the sanitary clean-
out and this is the service of the “rooter” companies and plumbers. If they occur during heavy rain storms, then it is likely due to the fact that sewer system is being inundated and indicates that rainwater is entering the sewer pipe.

There are three basic methods of repairing/replacing a sewer lateral; Excavating from sewer main to house and replacing the pipe, CIPP (Cured-in-place-pipe) lining of the pipe, and the pipe-bursting method. CIPP involves inserting a fiberglass or polyester sleeve that is saturated with an epoxy resin inside a pipe that has been cleaned out. The sleeve is then inflated and cured. This is typically done on Orangeburg pipe and when appropriate is very effective. Taking this route allows you to keep more of your property intact. The pipe-bursting method a pneumatic or hydraulic head is fed into the sewer pipe to break up existing brittle clay or iron piping. At the same time, a new, flexible line is drawn through the original space. CIPP and pipe bursting are not options for all repairs.

CIPP and Pipe Bursting can only be used on pipes where the tuberculation (mounding and corrosion) of the pipe inner surface is not too excessive to prevent a thorough cleaning and preparation. Joints of the pipe must not be offset and the pipe does not sag (this is seen during the inspection if the video camera goes underwater). The bottom of the pipe, the invert, must be round and straight and in Orangeburg pipe the bottom must not be raised in the middle of the pipe signifying that the pipe is failing. The pipe must not have already collapsed, and there are no turns greater than 15-degrees. If you repair the pipe before complete pipe failure, then these methods can be used.

In Northern Virginia, NOVAC and Dominion Power sell sewer line insurance, while not a perfect solution- they only pay to repair breaks not prevention or maintenance, the insurance is reasonably priced. In Fairfax City, there is a cost share program that will pay up to 75% of $5,000 to replace the entire lateral line.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Scott Surovell’s Push to Remove Coal Ash from Possum Point

There is a whole lot of coal ash in Prince William County-3.7 million tons of the stuff. It is all sitting on a peninsula where Quantico Creek meets the Potomac River in eastern Prince William County, known as Possum Point. All this coal ash was produced by Dominion Power at their Possum Point power plant. Coal ash is the remainder left after coal is burned to generate electricity. Dominion Power is proposing to “close in place” all that coal ash by capping an existing surface impoundment.

State Senator Scott Surovell is fighting that plan and plans to draft legislation for the next session of the General Assembly prohibiting that. Senator Surovell whose district includes Possum Point wants the coal ash to be recycled or hauled away. Recycling the coal ash is also the option favored by the Southern Environmental Law Center and me.

If you recall, in 2017 Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill that required Dominion Power to study and report on the costs and benefits, risks and recycling options for the 30million tons of coal ash now stored in lagoons at the company’s power plants across the state. Governor McAuliffe amended the bill to include a moratorium until 2018 on any new permits for coal ash disposal until a study of its risks and possible alternatives for coal ash disposal could be completed.

The consultant for Dominion Power prepared a report that examines the expenses and time frames for the three methods of disposal or recycling the coal ash: recycling for use in concrete, cinder block or wallboard; hauling it to a modern, lined landfill by truck, barge or rail; and Dominion’s original plan of consolidating all of the on-site coal ash into one impoundment , dewatering and closing in place. According to a report in the Prince William Times, Dominion Power obtained bids for recycling the coal ash at between $126-$942 million and costs for closing the coal ash ponds in place at between $137 to $418 million.

For decades the millions of cubic yards of coal ash has sat in open ponds at Possum Point. Today there is estimated to be 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash there that Dominion Power has consolidated into one pond. 

The groundwater monitoring at Possum Point has found occasional instances where tests of downgradient wells showed elevated levels of heavy metals associated with coal ash. Monitoring has found traces of arsenic, boron, cadmium, calcium, chloride, cobalt, hardness, iron, lithium, manganese, nickel, phenol, sodium, sulfate, total dissolved solids (TDS), and zinc down gradient of the coal ash pond where all the coal ash had been consolidate, Pond D; however, the concentrations found were below the federal Safe Drinking Water Standards for those substances that have them (lithium does not have a drinking water standard). 

Dominion Power has only tested the shallow aquifer up-gradient and down-gradient of Pond D. Groundwater impacts were observed. As Dominion Points out no impact to human health or the environment was found, but it was not looked for, either. You do not find what is not tested for. It is clear by the presence of contaminants in the surrounding aquifer that the coal ash ponds at Possum Point were not adequately lined or had a functioning barrier (there is some question if there was a slurry wall installed to prevent impact to the groundwater in 1988) there is clearly hydraulic communication between Pond D and the surrounding groundwater.

The coal ash has been impacting groundwater for decades. Pond D does not appear to have adequate containment for the coal ash to be permanently disposed in. Additional groundwater monitoring is needed to determine what corrective measures are needed to restore the groundwater. As Senator Surovell argues the best option even at a high cost that will ultimately be borne by electric rate payers is recycling of the coal ash into concrete and road base.

I disagree with Senator Srovell and believe that the next best option is properly disposing the coal ash on site. However, to do this properly, Dominion Power needs to build a new disposal pond with a synthetic impermeable liner and comply with all the monitoring requirements of modern landfills. All physical barriers fail over time. This risk is best controlled by monitoring and maintenance; and Possum Point is downstream from most drinking water supplies and residents. Moving the coal ash would only make sure that ultimately more locations in Virginia will be impacted.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Governor's Budget Proposals

Last week our Governor, Ralph Northam, presented his proposed amendments to the state’s 2018-2020 biennial budget in an address to the Joint Money Committees of the state General Assembly. You can read the entire speech at this link or the excellent review and summary in the Richmond Virginian Pilot.

The bottom line is that it appears that Virginia could have an extra $2.2 billion in revenue in the next two years. Changes to federal tax law will result in additional $1.2 billion from taxpayers forced to take the Virginia standard deduction because they took the new higher federal standard deduction and the remainder from Virginians’ higher incomes, higher sales taxes, rising business taxes- the booming economy in addition to a larger-than-expected surplus from last year. There is some question of the anticipated sales tax increase will be as large as projected; however, the fight during the next session of the General Assembly will be how to allocate it or return it to tax payers- increase the standard deduction in Virginia or earned income tax credit for the poor.

From the Virginian-Pilot I picked up this excellent summary:”Northam’s budget proposes one-time spending of:
  • $180 million in water quality, clean energy and environmental protection; 
  • $75 million for transportation projects; 
  • $80 million to free up funds for school construction loans; 
  • $46 million for expanded broadband services; 
  • $40 million for a 1 percent bonus for state employees and local officials whose salaries are supported by the state; and 
  • $20 million to acquire sites for economic development projects. 
The biggest jump in recurring expenses is a more than $200 million a year increase in the Medicaid budget, needed because the state underestimated the cost of the Medicaid program last year when it was approved.

Other proposed additions to recurring spending include:
  • $87.6 million over the next two years for the teacher salary increase 
  • $36 million to increase the number of school counselors, a recommendation of the House of Delegates’ special committee on school safety; 
  • $24 million for programs to cut overcrowding at state mental hospitals; 
  • $18.9 million for medical care at state prisons; 
  • $15.5 million for financial aid for students at state colleges and universities; and 
  • $9.7 million more for state efforts to expand access to preschools.” 
The plan Northam presented included money for Natural Resources with the following impacts for soil and water conservation districts :
  • Maintains current levels of essential operational funding for the 47 Soil and Water Conservation Districts. 
  • The Governor’s budget includes an additional $20 million; $7 million to finish the remaining SL-6 (stream exclusion fencing) backlog and $11 million to jump start Watershed Implementation Plane III (WIP3) to achieve the 2025 pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay, $1.5 million for CREP, and $500,000 for nonpoint source projects such as poultry liter transport and RMPs. 
  • The Governor’s budget includes the mandatory deposit to the Water Quality Improvement Fund (WQIF) associated with the FY19 year-end surplus of $73,757,699. 
  • The Governor also included an additional $15,031,151 from general funds. These funds would translate into $14,531,151 for Ag BMPs and technical assistance. 
  • The Governor additionally designated over $8.2 million from surplus dollars for the WQIF Reserve. 
While the Governor’s proposed budget demonstrates strong support of the agricultural cost share program and Soil and Water Conservation Districts, this is only the Governor’s proposal and the beginning of budget negotiations. Like all members of the Conservation Districts Legislative Committee I will be meeting with local legislators to inform them of the importance of our work in hopes that these funds remain in the budget. You could help by voicing your support of our mission.

Additionally, per our legislative agenda passed by the membership, we are seeking patrons for budget amendments for items not included in the Governor’s budget– additional operational funding, environmental education funding, dam rehabilitation, dam monitoring or a DCR urban nutrient management specialist to support equine nutrient pollution reduction for recreational animals.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Climate Talks in Poland End on a Mixed Note

For the first two weeks in December negotiators from 196 countries and the European Union worked on a Climate Package to implement the Paris Agreement. You might be surprised that the United States was not only present, but reportedly paid a significant role in the negotiations. While the President of the United States said he intends to withdraw from the Paris Accord, that cannot be done until 2020.

The United States was present at the talks and participated in discussions to secure the deal. At the Katowice, Poland climate change conference called COP24 Katowice. The conference was intended to approve technical rules to govern how nations will put into action the soft goals they set in the Paris Agreement of 2015, when the world agreed to hold global warming to no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration to limit temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees C.

They made enough progress to continue moving forward; however, on a critical but complicated issue involving how countries trade and account for certain pollution they were not able to come to an agreement. Nonetheless, mankind is nowhere near on track to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases to meet the goal of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 degrees C. In order to avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees C of warming, the recent The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ,the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, says carbon pollution must be cut almost in half by 2030, less than 12 years away, and then reach "net zero" by mid-century. New research shows that global emissions of CO2 equivalents continue to rise, despite the Paris accord. Total annual greenhouse gases emissions, including from land-use change, reached a record high of 53.5 Gigatons of CO2 equivalents in 2017, an increase of 0.7 from 2016.

The problem is that under the Paris Agreement China has only agreed to stop growing their CO2 emissions by 2030 and the reduction in emissions pledged so far are nowhere near sufficient to hold temperature change to 2 degrees C according to the climate models. With China in 2016 as the largest CO2 emitter at slightly more than 26% of the total- twice the United States level, the goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be met without reductions in China and the other nations still growing their emissions and all other nations must increase the level of emissions cut pledged to even meet the 2 degree C goal, let along the aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees C.

The technical rules to govern how nations will put into action the promises or soft goals they set in the Paris Agreement; but were unable to settle on rules for the monitoring and trading of carbon credits.
from Oliver et. al 
For more information see the link below to read the entire reports.

Olivier J.G.J. et al. (2017), Trends in globalCO2 and total greenhouse gas emissions: 2017 report. PBL NetherlandsEnvironmental Assessment Agency, The Hague.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Hits a Delay in Virginia

At the recent annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts one of the speakers was Virginia State Senator John Edwards of Roanoke. Senator Edwards wanted to discuss his concerns about the Atlantic Coast pipeline, which many environmentalists and rural Virginians oppose for various reasons. Our group was concerned about stabilizing soils and preventing erosion of the slopes and sedimentation of the rivers after removal of the trees. Last Thursday the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond stopped the project (at least for the moment).

Judge Stephanie D. Thacker of West Virginia writing the opinion for a three judge panel of the 4th circuit court of appeals vacated the permit that the U.S. Forest Service had issued 14 months ago to allow construction of the pipeline. In her opinion Judge Thacker stated that the judges concluded that the Forest Service’s decisions violated the National Forest Management Act and National Environment Policy Act, and that the Forest Service lacked statutory authority pursuant to the Mineral Leasing Act to grant a pipeline right of way across the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The court vacated the Special Use Permit and Record of Decision authorizing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be built through parts of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests; an remanded the Forest Service for “further proceeding consistent with (the) opinion.”

Dominion Energy, lead developer of the $7 billion project, immediately released a statement that they would appeal the panel’s ruling to the full 4th Circuit Court. This underground natural gas transmission pipeline will transport natural gas from West Virginia to communities in Virginia and North Carolina. The 600-mile underground Atlantic Coast Pipeline will originate in West Virginia, travel through Virginia with a lateral extending to Chesapeake, VA, and then continue south into eastern North Carolina, ending in Robeson County. Two additional, shorter laterals will connect to two Dominion Energy electric generating facilities in Brunswick and Greensville Counties. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide a consistent supply of natural gas to the power plants in the region as well as other uses, in addition bring natural gas to the coast for export.

The abundance of shale natural gas coming from the Marcellus is expected to keep prices for natural gas relatively low into the foreseeable future and has created a glut in natural gas that can now be exported. In Pennsylvania and Ohio power companies are building new generation gas fired power plants using the Marcelles shale natural gas to replace coal fired plants. In the past several years 9.3 gigawatts of coal generating capacity has been retired while 8.7 gigawatts have been added so far, and currently there is an addition 8.6 gigawatts of natural-gas fired generation under construction. The gas fired generation can serve as swing power, rather than base supply.

Coal plants generate about twice the CO2 per megawatt of power as gas fired generation plants. In addition, coal plants have higher particulate pollution than gas fired electrical power plants. Though electric demand is not growing nationally, the sources of power generation are changing. Though the Clean Power Plan regulation was replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, that gives states more authority to make their own plans for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Virginia has moved forward to reduce CO2 emissions. The U.S. overall, has seen a decline in CO2 emissions from power plants, as growth in renewable energy and abundant and relatively cheap natural gas have changed the makeup of power generation in the U.S.

A lot of people feel very passionately about the pipeline (both for and against). Our association has questions about the route selection and mitigations to negative impacts on soils and waters of the Commonwealth. Stay tuned to see how this goes.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Winter's Coming are you Ready?

Winter is upon us. There a few things that you should take care of in the waning days of fall to avoid bigger problems later on. All these problems have to do with water and cold. The first thing you should do is turn off the water to your outside hoses, there should be a valve for each in the basement next to the main water line. In older homes this is not always true. Next, unscrew the hoses. Most modern homes have frost-free sillcocks (hose bibs) installed, and if they are properly installed with a correct angel to drain the water back they should be fine all winter; however, I found out the hard way that sometimes they are simply not installed right or leaving the hose connected that winter may have caused the problem. My frost free sillcock in the back of the house had the pipe in the inside wall split a few years back. I replaced both sillcocks in the spring and now turn off the water in the winter. This should prevent problems in the future.

Next, you need to clear out your gutters. Clogged gutters can accumulate water in the gutter and around the house. In addition, a clogged gutter can contribute to creating ice dam. Coming from New England I worry about ice dams that form above the gutters at the edge of the roof. These dams or ice prevent melting snow from draining off the roof and instead may allow the water to back up behind the dam which can both leak into the home and lift the edge of the roof. Fortunately, in Northern Virginia we do not often have to worry about ice dams on the roof, usually it’s only a few days after a snow that the region warms up enough to melt the roof snow. In snow country it’s essential to insulate to keep the heated area out of the attic. The back side of my house faces south and is covered in solar panels. I’ve found that snow just slides off the solar panels. It’s more a danger to the glass door to my deck which always needs to be cleared away.

Also, you need to prevent frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can happen in your supply line or other parts of the house. If your well supply line or the water main is not frozen, you may have water in part of the house, but frozen pipes elsewhere. There are some things you can do to prevent frozen pipes. A couple of ceramic electric heat cubes, thermocouple, electric blanket and a little strategy can prevent frozen pipes.

The likely pipes to freeze are against exterior walls of the home, or are exposed to the cold, like outdoor hose bibs, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing. It is easier to prevent pipes from freezing than to unfreeze them.

In sub-zero weather wells with and without separate well houses can freeze. Keeping the temperature in a well house above freezing or your well pipe insulated can prevent this. It used to be that an inefficient 100 watt incandescent bulb gave off enough heat to do the job, but now with more efficient bulbs insulation and other sources of heat have to be used. An electric blanket can do the job. Deep wells are unlikely to freeze, it’s usually a supply line that was not buried deep enough. Abnormally cold snaps can identify many a private well line that was not buried deep enough at its most vulnerable point where it connects to the foundation.

Because of the usually mild winters here in Virginia, bathrooms are often build above garages or have pipes run through a dormer. If you have a bathroom above a garage keep a small ceramic electric heater ($40) connected to a thermocouple that turns it on when the temperature in the garage falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn on the heating cube in the garage and check it functioning when you turn off the hoses in late fall.

When the weather is forecast to fall into the single digits or lower open the cabinet doors below sinks located on outside walls or against attic dormers, and in the most extreme weather run an extra ceramic electric heater overnight keeping that bathroom toasty while the rest of the house is at an energy saving 62-65 degrees.

Letting the water run in very cold weather can work, but can also create other problems. While running water may prevent the water supply pipes from freezing, in the coldest weather the slowly running water might cause the drain pipe to the septic system to freeze and block the flow or even burst, and it can overwhelm a septic system. If you are on city water and sewer letting water trickle can prevent frozen pipes at a price.

Now is a good time to prepare for winter. Also, you might want to change your furnace and or heat pump filters so that the systems will work their best through the cold months ahead. Remember if we have snow to dig out your heat pump and make sure all furnace vents are clear and unblocked.

Monday, December 10, 2018

WSSC Getting Ready for Winter

After a November that saw more than 200 water main breaks and leaks, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which supplies drinking water to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties held a news conference to release details of WSSC’s #WinterReady plans. (I still don’t get why they do this with a hashtag.)

As you can see below, there is a direct connection between dropping water temperatures in the Potomac River and the increase in water main breaks. When the temperature drops the incidence of water main breaks rise. Of the 5,700 miles of water mains in their distribution system, approximately 2,900 miles are cast iron pipe, which were used from 1916 to through 1976. These pipes are prone to breaks because cast iron is a brittle material and the break rate for pipes increases after 60 years. Nearly 40% of WSSC water mains are more than 50 years old.
Water main breaks from 2015 -2018
Water main breaks can leave hundreds of people without service and can also cause serious traffic problems, making the daily commutes even more challenging. so WSSC takes winter preparations very seriously. “Winter is water main break season, and WSSC crews are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us,” said Carla Reid CEO of WSSC. “We keep a close eye on the temperature of the Potomac River, knowing that when the water temps drop, we see an increase in breaks. Our crews are ready to repair these breaks 24/7, and restore service to our customers as quickly as possible.”

According to the WSSC, they typically see an increase in breaks a few days after the Potomac River temperature hits a new low. The dropping water temperature can “shock” water mains, and though the pipes become accustomed to the cold water; whenever water temperatures hit a new low, there is a spike in breaks. As seen in the chart above the cold snap last January lead to an all-time-record 802 water main breaks and leaks in January 2018.

On average, WSSC crews repair more than 1,800 water main breaks and leaks each year, with the vast majority of them, approximately 1,200, occurring between November and February. WSSC has already repaired approximately 200 breaks and leaks in November this year and last winter as seen below, the total number of breaks was above average. 
2017-2018 winter water main breaks
According to WSSC Utility Services Director Damion Lampley. “When we experience a high volume of breaks, we prioritize repairs based on factors such as number of customers affected and impact to major roadways. Because some breaks may take longer to repair, we ask customers for their patience and understanding.”

At the new conference, WSSC crews demonstrated how to repair a typical break in a pipe and displayed the leak detection equipment used to pinpoint water main leaks. WSSC has teams of skilled workers and contractors on standby, along with trucks, heavy equipment, and the latest technology ready to roll for the winter to restore water flow after water main breaks.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2016

From the “Trends in global CO2 and total greenhouse gas emissions: 2017 Report” by Olivier J.G.J. et al. (1) it is reported : “In 2016, total global greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase slowly by about 0.5% (±1%), to about 49.3 gigatonnes in CO2 equivalent (Gt CO2 eq)... the 2016 emission increase was the slowest since the early 1990s, except for global recession years.” This slowdown in growth of carbon dioxide is primarily the result of changing to natural gas from coal for electrical generation and increases in wind and solar power adoption. “Most of the emissions (about 72%) consist of CO2, but methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases account for 19%, 6% and 3%, respectively.(1)

As you can see below the United States represented about 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2016; the United States’ emissions fell (-2.0%) along with the Russian Federation (-2.1%), Brazil (-6.1%), and, within the European Union, the United Kingdom (-6.4%). China’s emissions were essentially flat at (-0.3%). In contrast, the largest absolute increases were seen in India (+4.7%) and Indonesia (+6.4%) and smaller increases in Malaysia, Philippines, Turkey and Ukraine.(1)

The US now represent 13% of World GHG emissions

US fossil-fuel emission are declining
It should be clear from the data that mankind is nowhere near on track to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases to meet the goal of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 degrees C. For more information see the link below to read the entire report. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

How Safe is Our Water

The United States has for the most part, safe drinking water available to all. Incidents that I have written about, Flint Michigan, Charleston WV, Toledo, OH and the frequent “Boil Water Alerts” that are occurring in towns and cities highlight the challenge for our community and city water systems to provide 24/7 safe drinking water with aging infrastructure and the reluctance to prioritize spending to maintain our water infrastructure while our source water (both groundwater and surface water) continues to be impacted by all the chemicals our modern life uses.

In Flint, potentially 98,000 residents were exposed to elevated levels of lead, disinfection by-products, E. coli and Legionella bacteria. In Charleston, a leaking above ground chemical storage tank released 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) mixed with 5.6% propylene glycol phenyl ethers (PPH) into the Elk River, the source water for Charleston, West Virginia. In Toledo, Ohio unregulated toxins formed during algal blooms though to have been caused by agricultural runoff into Lake Erie forced the community to close the water intake for the city.

In the United States approximately 86% of the population obtains their water from public water supply. Over the past decades, the frequency of water quality violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act have increased. In a paper published early this year in the National Academy of Sciences, Maura Allaire, Haowei Wu and Upmanu Lall examined the national trends in violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. As you can see below in the chart from their paper. 

from Allaire et al.
The authors found that “in 2015, 9% of community water systems had health-based violations of water quality standards. This affected nearly 21 million people in 2015. During the years 1984-2015 the authors found that 9–45 million people were affected in each year, representing 4–28% of U.S. population. “Drinking water contaminants pose a harm to public health. Some can cause immediate illness, such as the 16 million cases of acute gastroenteritis that occur each year at US community water systems. ..Health-based drinking water quality violations are widespread, with 9–45 million people possibly affected during each of the past 34 years...Though, relatively few community water systems (3–10%) incur health-based violations in a given year.”

From the U.S. EPA website the total number of serious violations for the past  four years has been decreasing slightly since 2014. Note though that the total number of "serious violations" from the EPA data charting tool appears higher. The number of water systems with any violation is more than 10 times higher.  
from US EPA

If you want to read more about concentration and location of water system violations the full paper cited below can be read at the link. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Explore Climate Projections on a Local Level

The following are excerpts from Volume I and II, of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Volume I released last year, provides a detailed analysis of how climate change is affecting the physical earth system across the United States and provides the science that the assessment of impacts in in Volume II is based.
Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, B. DeAngelo, S. Doherty, K. Hayhoe, R. Horton, J.P. Kossin, P.C. Taylor, A.M. Waple, and C.P. Weaver, 2017: Executive summary. In: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 12-34, doi: 10.7930/J0DJ5CTG.

“Our world is warming overall, but temperatures are not increasing at the same rate everywhere. The average global temperature is projected to continue increasing throughout the remainder of this century due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities; however, high latitudes are expected to continue warming more than lower latitudes; coastal and island regions are expected to warm less than interior continent regions.”

“Climate models differ in the way they represent various processes (for example, cloud properties, ocean circulation, and aerosol effects). Additionally, climate sensitivity, or how much the climate will warm with a given increase in GHGs (often a doubling of GHG from preindustrial levels), is still a major source of uncertainty. As a result, different models produce small differences in projections of global average change. Scientists often use multiple models to account for the variability and represent this as a range of projected outcomes. Finally, there is always the possibility that there are processes and feedbacks not yet being included in projections of climate in the future.”

“The figure below from the shows the Fourth National Climate Assessment shows annual average surface temperature for the contiguous U.S. (black line) from 1960 to 2017, and the long-term warming trend (red line).”

 However, as you can see in the chart from the same report the warming has not been uniform across the nation. 

“Because warmer air can hold more moisture, heavy rainfall events have become more frequent and severe in some areas and are projected to increase in frequency and severity as the world continues to warm. Both the intensity and rainfall rates of Atlantic hurricanes are projected to increase with the strongest storms getting stronger in a warming climate. Recent research has shown how global warming can alter atmospheric circulation and weather patterns such as the jet stream, affecting the location, frequency, and duration of these and other extremes.”

The bottom line here is no matter what mankind does, in the next couple of decades the expected impacts from climate change and are going to happen. The only future mankind actions can impact at this point are in the second half of the 21st century.

“Because Earth’s climate system still has more energy entering than leaving, global warming has not yet equilibrated to the load of increased greenhouse gases that have already accumulated in the atmosphere (for example, the oceans are still warming over many layers from surface to depth). Some greenhouse gases have long lifetimes (for example, carbon dioxide can reside in the atmosphere for a century or more). Thus, even if the emissions of greenhouse gases were to be sharply curtailed to bring them back to natural levels, it is estimated that Earth will continue warming more than an additional 1°F by 2100.”

So, this brings me to the really cool aspect of the Fourth National Climate Assessment- Climate Explorer. "With advances in computing power, the future effects of climate change can be projected more accurately for local communities down to the county level or you can look at the projected future on a state level. You simply hit this link and the click on the state you are interested in. "Local high-resolution (downscaled) climate modeling was used to produce data at a scale of 1–20 miles. These projections show climate-related impacts at the local level and can be an important tool for community planners, decision-makers, or for choosing where you want to live. The “Climate Explorer, projection data are derived from the global climate modeling experiments known as the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). In the updated version, graphs and maps will display county-scale data generated using a new statistical downscaling technique called Localized Constructed Analogs (LOCA).”

When we were choosing a community to retire in, I had to manually extrapolate to climate projections available and simply guess at what the future might bring to any location. We chose a location in Virginia and the new Climate Explorer tool produced a very satisfying report for our location. You might want to look at the climate forecasts for your location and make sure that you make a well informed decision of where to live.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Climate Science Special Report

Every four years the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) delivers a report to Congress and the President that “1) integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program…; 2) analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and 3) analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”.

On Friday the federal government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II. In 2017 volume I, of the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released. Volume I released last year, provides a detailed analysis of how climate change is affecting the physical earth system across the United States and provides the science that the assessment of impacts in in Volume II is based. Volume II focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and examines the variability in observed and projected risks, impacts, and implications under different mitigation pathways. The report contains many examples of actions underway in communities across the United States to reduce the risks associated with climate change, increase resilience, and improve livelihoods that made me feel good.

The report is long!! I have only looked at a couple of chapters, and I believe that the two report together with the appendixes total more than 1,600 pages. You have three choices here go to your favorite news source and read their opinion to confirm whatever point of view you have. Or you could read the 196 page summary of findings  at the link below. I do, however recommend reading the 18 page summary of impacts.

Finally, if you might want to read the 62 page Frequently Asked Questions in Appendix 5 of Volume II which is an amazing summary of the entire topic of climate change and its implications. In 62 pages you are caught up with the entire field of study and are prepared to have opinions and make informed decisions in your life and talk intelligently at social gatherings. Topics covered are:
  • Introduction to climate change 
  • Temperature and Climate Projections 
  • Climate, Weather, and Extreme Events 
  • Societal Effects 
  • Ecological Effects

Volume I Citation:
Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, B. DeAngelo, S. Doherty, K. Hayhoe, R. Horton, J.P. Kossin, P.C. Taylor, A.M. Waple, and C.P. Weaver, 2017: Executive summary. In: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 12-34, doi: 10.7930/J0DJ5CTG.

Volume II Citation:
USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Rules for Septic Systems

  1. Only toilet paper and human waste should go down the toilet. Do not flush wipes, facial tissues, paper towels, floss, cotton swabs or other items such as coffee grinds, kitty litter. 
  2. Do not use the garbage disposal to dispose of food scraps. A garbage disposal adds solids, grease and increases the biological load on a septic system. (Don’t ask me why they installed it, I use mine to break up soap bubbles.) 
  3. Do not put hazardous household wastes down the drain or in the toilet EVER. Do not wash paint brushes or containers in the sink. 
  4. Minimize the use of bleach, chemical disinfectants and antibacterial agents. As little as of 1.85 gallons of liquid bleach added to a 1,000-gallon septic tank can cause a die-off of the bacteria in a septic tank. 
  5. Never do more than two laundry loads a day. Laundry uses a lot of water and too much water in a single day will stir up to solids and scum and push them through the system. 
  6. Service your septic system regularly. At a minimum pump your septic tank every 3-5 years it will extend the life of your system.
The septic system is designed so that with proper maintenance it will last 20 to 30 years, but only if you treat it properly. Replacing a septic system is reported to cost $20,000-$40,000. The functioning of a septic system is based on natural ecological cycles. It needs to be treated kindly and kept in balance. When a system is that is not pumped out on a regular basis has an excessive demand put on it, sludge (solid material) flows into the leach (absorption) field, potentially clogging it beyond repair. Excessive load from toilets and garbage disposal, putting grease, coffee grinds, kitty litter or any kind of trash down the drain will effectively decrease the size of the tank and the time that the solids have to settle out. This will decrease the life of and potentially overload the system. Even with proper use and maintenance the system will wear out. A garbage disposal adds solids, grease and increases the biological load on a septic system.

A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a leach field (alternative systems might have drip fields, sand mounds or peat tanks where a leach field is not possible or has failed), and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. Many systems also have pumps to move the liquids from the home to the septic tank or from the septic tank to the drain field. There are also Alternative systems that have additional components such as; float switches, pumps, and other electrical or mechanical components including additional treatment tanks.

The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid fecal materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank are intended to prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the leach field area. Some newer systems have screens and filters to keep solids from entering the leach field.

The basic design of a septic tank will only work if the sludge is not too thick on the bottom and the grease and scum is not too thick on top, and if the flow to the tank is not excessive. If there is too much waste on the bottom of the tank or too much water flowing to the tank (multiple laundry loads or every relative you have taking a shower at the same time), there will not be enough time for the solids and liquids to settle out before the tank starts releasing waste. Water containing large amounts of fecal waste will be released to the drain field. Also, if there is too much grease and scum floating on top, the scum will be released to the leach field.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Flooding from Hurricane Florence

The U.S. Geological Survey has released their report: "Preliminary Peak Stage and Streamflow Data at Selected U.S. Geological Survey Streamgaging Stations in North and South Carolina for Flooding Following Hurricane Florence, September 2018." The report is by Toby D. Feaster, J. Curtis Weaver, Anthony J. Gotvald, and Katharine R. Kolb. The article below is from that report and the news release.
Area of Study for the report USGS

Early Friday morning on September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina (North Carolina Department of Public Safety, 2018). The storm was reported to be nearly 400 miles wide. Once over land, the forward motion of the hurricane slowed to about 2 to 3 miles per hour; and over the next several days, the hurricane drenched the Carolinas,  delivering historic amounts of rainfall across North and South Carolina. In many communities in both states this caused substantial flooding (Feaster and others USGS 2018).

The maximum 4-day rainfall total reached almost 36 inches in some areas of North Carolina and almost 24 inches in some areas of South Carolina, resulting in historic flooding in many communities within both States. In addition to the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Florence, the coastal and central parts of North and South Carolina experienced previous catastrophic flooding over the years and recently in 2016 and 2015 from two other storm events. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew brought heavy rainfall to the eastern and central parts of the Carolinas (Weaver and others, 2016). In October 2015 a low-pressure system over the Southeast funneled tropical moisture from Hurricane Joaquin into South Carolina causing historic rainfall amounts (Feaster and others, 2015), which resulted in historic flooding in the central and coastal parts of the State. The scientists at the USGS looked at stream flow data for gauges that had at least 10 years of data to look at both the magnitude of the flooding from Hurricane Florence and the probability of future flooding.
from USGS Feaster and others 2018
“Many of the new peaks of record set by Hurricane Florence broke previous records set by Hurricane Matthew in 2016,” said Toby Feaster, USGS Hydrologist and lead author of the study. “...Several of the 28 streamgage sites we analyzed had more than 30 years of historical data ..., it was interesting that a majority of the number one and two records were from back-to-back flooding events.”

There were some sites with more than 70 years of historical data that set new flood records, but there were others where the peak flood event was more than a hundred years ago. In North Carolina, French Broad River at Asheville, N.C., has one of the longest records with peak streamflows going back to 1896 (fig. 16 id from Feaster and others USGS 2018). The peak of record was recorded on July 16, 1916, at 23.1 ft and a peak streamflow of 110,000 ft3/second, which is about two and one-half times larger than the second largest peak that occurred on September 8, 2004. Historic information indicates the 1916 peak was likely the largest peak since at least 1791(Feaster and others USGS 2018). 

The new report analyzed the estimated annual exceedance probability for the Hurricane Florence peak streamflow to determine how likely a reoccurance at the 28 streamgages studied. They found that 9 of the streamgages was less than 0.2 percent, which in terms of recurrence intervals is greater than a 500-year flood event. At three streamgages, the estimated annual exceedance probability was equal to 0.2 percent, and at six streamgages, it was between 0.2 and 1 percent (between a 500- and 100-year recurrence interval, respectively). For the remaining 10 streamgages, the estimated annual exceedance probability was between 1.5 and 7.1 percent, which in terms of recurrence intervals is approximately a 67- to 14-year event, respectively (Feaster and others USGS 2018). Frequent flooding events is a given for the region and often these events occur with back to back storms. This would explain a real estate requirement that my husband learned from his father- that you should always live on high ground- My father-in-law's people were from North Carolina.

To read the full report see:

Feaster, T.D., Weaver, J.C., Gotvald, A.J., and Kolb, K.R., 2018, Preliminary peak stage and streamflow data for selected U.S. Geological Survey streamgaging stations in North and South Carolina for flooding following Hurricane Florence, September 2018: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1172, 36 p.,

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Michael’s Damage and the Future of Hurricanes in the Atlantic

This past October, the Florida panhandle was hit with hurricane Michael. Storm surge, coastal erosion and inland flooding are among the most dangerous natural hazards unleashed by hurricanes. The USGS, the National Hurricane Center and other agencies closely monitor hurricanes. The USGS has computer models for forecasting the storm’s impact, and sophisticated equipment for monitoring actual flood and tide conditions. In addition, the USGS compares the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration coastal photos taken in 2017  to NOAA photos collected the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall in order to document the hurricane’s impact on the coast, and to fine-tune coastal change forecasting models.
Mexico Beach before Michael from USGS

Mexico Beach after Michael from USGS

When a storm is about to strike the U.S. Atlantic or Gulf coast, the team forecasts the likelihood of coastal erosion and other changes, using a computer model that incorporates the National Hurricane Center’s storm surge predictions and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wave forecasts. The USGS model adds information about the beach slope and dune height to predict how high waves and surge will move up the beach. The model forecasts three types of storm impact to the dunes that protect coastal communities: erosion, overwash, and inundation, or flooding that reaches over and behind the dunes.

According to Kara Doran, the USGS Coastal Change Hazards team leader the low-altitude oblique photos give a clearer view of the beach and dunes. The USGS can see whether the storm surge and waves altered or eliminated that protective barrier, and what happened to the houses and roads behind the dunes. Though the destruction as seen above is shocking according to Doran the USGS’s preliminary analysis indicates that the forecasting models performed fairly well at predicating what areas would be affected by storm surge overtopped the dunes.

One area that saw significant coastal change that was not predicted by model was on T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. As seen in the photos below, Michael’s rough waves and surge carved a new breach into the peninsula, washing out the road and turning part of the park into an island as seen below in the USGS photos.

It is not known if this kind of damage is the future of the coastal areas as the climate warms. According to NOAA, observed records of Atlantic hurricane activity show some correlation, on multi-year time-scales, between local tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures and the power of the storms. "If this statistical relationship between Atlantic sea surface temperatures and hurricane activity is used to infer future changes in Atlantic hurricane activity, the implications are that the forecasted large increases in tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures projected for the late 21st century would imply very substantial increases in hurricane destructive potential–roughly a 300% increase by 2100."

On the other hand, Swanson (2008) and others noted that Atlantic hurricane power dissipation is also well-correlated with other Atlantic sea surface temperature indices besides tropical Atlantic sea surface temperature alone. "This a crucial distinction, because the alternative statistical relationship between the hurricane destructive potential and the relative sea surface temperature measure implies only modest future long-term trends of Atlantic hurricane activity with climate warming. So, we don't really know."

From Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey press release.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Life Expectancy of a Water Well

How long a well lasts depends on many factors; the geology and hydrology of the region, the amount of ground cover nearby, how the well was constructed, what equipment has been installed “down hole,” and what maintenance activities have been performed to date.

Prince William County first implemented county wide well construction regulations in 1970’s. Those regulations were very progressive for their time and quite similar to the current state wide regulation implemented in 1992 and still in effect today. When a well is drilled the well driller must fill out the “Water Well Completion Report.” This report is chock full of information about the well. Some of the information is : location, type and class of well, the well depth and diameter, the depth to bedrock, and total depth of casing, the presence and size of screen and or mesh, the location of water zones, the static water level (unpumped level measured) and the stabilized yield. The only water sampling that takes place under regulation is a coliform bacteria test after the well has been disinfected and the residual chlorine has dissipated.

As a water well ages, the rate at which water may be pumped referred to above as the well yield tends to decrease. The mechanical components and the well structure, screens and casing all age and deteriorate. Well maintenance and monitoring of the water and well’s performance is important in keeping the water flowing. A well owner must think about their well in terms of stewardship over the long term, long before your well fails.

To ensure water quality, well water should be tested annually for total coliform bacteria and E. coli bacteria by an accredited testing laboratory (states keep lists of accredited labs). Water wells should also be inspected annually for obvious signs of damage or contamination. Be sure the area within 100 feet around the well is clear of debris or items that might pollute the water supply. In addition, wells should have their static water level, pumping water level and flow rate tested and recorded when the well is new, and tracked occasionally over the years. Establishing benchmarks, for static and pumping water levels, flow rate, and specific capacity, is critical for tracking well performance and will help identify trouble long in advance of well failure. In most cases, the well owner will have several years to react to problems that are manifesting in the well and possibly take remedial action before it’s too late.

A well can last 50 years (I know of one well that did). However, a drop or complete loss of water production from a well can sometimes occur even in relatively young wells due to a lowered water level from persistent drought, nearby development, or over-pumping of the well which can dewater the water-bearing zones. More often, the fall in well yield over time can be caused by changes in the water well itself. According Penn State Extension these changes can include:
  • Encrustation by mineral deposits 
  • Bio-fouling by the growth of microorganisms 
  • Physical plugging of groundwater aquifer by sediment 
  • Well screen or casing corrosion 
  • Pump damage 
Monitoring of a well’s performance brings everything into view, good or bad, and should a well owner go for decades without major trouble, at monitoring over the years can give you peace of mind. Monitoring can prevent being surprised by well failure when, in a panic, patchwork or inappropriate work is done. Often the money spent on patchwork by the well owner is lost. Monitoring of the well’s performance allows for preventive maintenance.

Generally, a decrease of 25% or more in well yield indicates that rehabilitation of the well is needed. Delaying rehabilitation can significantly increase costs and in some cases make rehabilitation impossible. Measures taken to correct these problems are referred to as well rehabilitation or restoration. A successful well rehabilitation will maximize the flow of water from the well. The chances for successful rehabilitation are dependent on the cause or causes of poor well performance and the degree to which the problem has progressed.

The two most common methods to rehabilitate a water well are:
  • chemicals to dissolve the encrusting materials from the well 
  • physically cleaning the well 
Encrustation caused by mineral buildup or by bio-fouling are common causes of well failure. Encrustations are mineral deposits which buildup on well screens and in the rock fractures or openings that deliver water to the well. Mineral buildup is caused by minerals that fall out of solution depositing on the well screens and well fractures. The primary cause of bio-fouling, or biological clogging, of well screens and rock fractures is attributed to iron bacteria. These and other similar bacteria create a slimy bio-film. Avoiding this is why I regularly chlorine treat my well.

The usual methods for rehabilitation of chemical encrustation involves the use of strong acid solutions to dissolve encrusting materials combined with physical methods that include using a brush attached to a drilling rig, high pressure jetting, hydro fracturing of the well (hydrofracking), and well surging.

A portion of the loss in well performance over time can be caused by the accumulation of fine particles from the aquifer in the borehole and clogging the well screen. These particles can also cause pump damage, and result in short lifespan of replacement pumps. It may be necessary to replace the well screen or protect the pump. The most important preventative measure to avoid sediment from plugging a well is proper well development, as required by modern well regulations. A well developed and healthy well should not require a sediment filter.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Water Rates Increase Unevenly in the Region

Most water and sewer utilities in our region are a separate, government enterprise fund established to be self-supporting. That means that the majority of their revenue is from charges for services provided to customers, including service charges, account charges, new connection charges and the charges for water and sewage by the gallon. These charges, both variable and fixed, are to cover the costs of renewing the buried pipes and distribution networks as well as the costs to operate and maintain the treatment plants.

Recently, Fairfax Water announced its intention to raise their water rates next spring. There will be a public hearing on Thursday, December 13, 2018, on the proposed rate increase held at Fairfax Water’s main office at 8570 Executive Park Avenue in Fairfax. This rate increase is part of their ongoing program to ensure that the water infrastructure in Fairfax County is maintained. The proposed rate increase will go into effect April 1. 2019.

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

As they do every time they propose to raise water rates, Fairfax Water performed a comparison of the water costs throughout the Washington Metropolitan region. This comparison is based on rates as of July 1, 2018 and on 18,000 gallons of residential water use for an established account over a three month period. I also compared these rates to the comparison that was done in 2017.


Manassas Park continues to have the highest rates in the region, despite not have raised their rates last year. Manassas Park is a small utility system with fewer than 5,000 customers. In addition, tucked into that overhead is debt service for the city’s Enterprise Fund. Manassas Park is responsible for paying City utility bonds, and also to make the annual principal and interest payments on the bonds sold to build the City Schools, Police Station, and Fire Station & Community Center. While diverting water funds to other city needs, Manassas Park failed to properly maintain their water distribution system.

Water rates in Prince William from both the Service Authority and Virginia American Water have not increased in the past year and due to the method of calculating rates for comparison appear to have fallen slightly for Virginia American Water. The City of Manassas had a significant increase in rates as did the Town of Leesburg and Arlington. Customers should track their water utility to verify that rate increases are being appropriately applied to maintaining the infrastructure and operations and are not being diverted to other purposes as happened in Manassas Park. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Water Treatment Systems- What should I buy?

Before even considering treating your well water, get a fairly comprehensive water analysis and test for iron bacteria. This provides you with a full list of the contaminants in your water, pH, hardness and other characteristics that might impact taste or water quality and the effectiveness of any water treatment equipment. Water treatment equipment is a commitment, in money and maintenance. Not only is proper selection of treatment equipment or system essential, but proper maintenance is also key. Treatment adds complexity to your system, which increases the items that can go wrong and the time necessary to ensure it is working properly.

At best, improperly maintained treatment equipment may not do its job. At worst, it can cause other problems with your water system. Improper equipment selection may cause other problems that in turn need to be treated. Sometimes, you might need or want treatment for a particular contaminant, but there might be other, contaminants or constituents in the water that affect how well certain treatment devices work or might be trying to treat water for iron when iron bacteria is the problem.

Contaminants that indicate potential or are health risk need to be addressed. Contaminants that are likely to cause some sort of aesthetic problem can be ignored in some cases. . Before deciding on treatment, you should determine exactly where contaminants are coming from. Some sources of contamination are obvious, others are not so obvious. Coliform bacteria, for example, or high chloride, could come from any number of sources. It’s always best to eliminate the source first. If you are able to do that, then continued, long-term treatment might not be needed.

Home treatment is typically either Point of Use (POU) or Point of Entry (POE). POE treatment is at the point where water enters the home and provides whole home treatment. This type of treatment is generally more expensive because you are treating more water. It’s necessary, however, if you are treating for a contaminant that impacts health or renders the water aesthetically unusable (E. coli, hydrogen sulfate, radon come to mind). POU units are typically used to treat water for drinking and cooking at a specific tap or faucet. These systems are used to treat a contaminant that is a health risk if ingested, or that might cause taste issues. They only treat a portion of the water coming into your home.

Filters are a common water treatment device that can be used for a number of different applications. Some are membrane filters or tight media that prevent particles or contaminants that are over a certain size from passing through. Others include media or resins that help bind or adsorb certain contaminants that are attracted to the media. Most whole house model water filters are pressure filters, a fully enclosed tank type filter that operates at the same pressure as the water delivery system so that you do not need to buy a booster pump or re-pressurize the water.

These devices are used for a variety of water treatment purposes such as taste and odor improvement, iron and manganese removal and removal of suspended matter (turbidity) in water. The water treatment performed by a pressure filter is determined by the filter media that is inside the tank.

Reverse osmosis is a point of use filtration through a membrane. It works by forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane that lets some molecules through, but prevents the contaminants from going through. These systems can remove uranium contamination, any many other contaminants. The effectiveness of a reverse osmosis system depends the type of membrane, the pressure pushing the water, and the quality of the source water. These systems do not work for bacteria, but are excellent for other larger contaminants. Reverse osmosis are usually mounted under kitchen sinks and waste between 4 and 10 gallons of water for every gallon of water treated.

If you buy a home with a well and preexisting water treatment equipment, you need to determine what your raw water looks like and if any existing equipment is needed, appropriate and working. The best way to begin is to test the water before any treatment equipment and after any treatment. Groundwater is dynamic and can change over time and equipment available for the home market has changed over the years.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Fixing a Weird Smell or Oily Sheen in Well Water - why I regularly chlorinate my well

Some of the weirdest water problems turn out to be iron bacteria. Generally, iron bacteria produce unpleasant tastes and odors commonly reported as: "swampy," "oily or petroleum," "cucumber," "sewage," "rotten vegetation," or "musty." The taste or odor may be more noticeable after the water has not been used for some time and are not easily explained by other causes. There is often a discoloration of the water with the iron bacteria causing a slight yellow, orange, red or brown tint to the water. It is sometimes possible to see a rainbow colored, oil-like sheen on the water. Though the most classic symptom of iron bacteria is a rust colored slime, it may be yellow, brown, or grey. A quick screen for iron bacteria would be to feel the rubber flapper in your toilet tanks. The iron bacteria tends to accumulate there.

About six or seven years ago I tested my well water for iron bacteria. Though I test my well water each year during the annual water clinic the Prince William Extension Office hosts and every few years for all primary and secondary pollutants, iron bacteria is not part of those suite of tests. The standard bacteria tests do not test for iron bacteria. Iron bacteria assay test can be purchased from National Testing Laboratories for $59.99 these days (excluding shipping). My test found “Iron Related Bacteria” present with an estimated population of 2,300 cfu/mL.

Iron bacteria once introduced into the well will not get better, but continue to get worse destroying your pump and ultimately fouling the well. Iron bacteria can grow on pump intakes and screens openings causing plugging, corrosion, and reducing the yield and efficiency of the well. The iron bacteria can reduce well yield and damage well equipment. In addition, the slime produced by the iron bacteria reduces the ability of regular chlorine treatments to kill disease-causing organisms. Finally, though, there is no health risk associated with the bacteria, ultimately it will make the water unpleasant.

Iron bacteria can be introduced into a well during drilling, repair, or service if tools, equipment, or devices used during well drilling or pump servicing were not properly disinfected. It is believed that the bacteria must be introduced into the aquifer and cannot infect the water without human help.

Elimination of iron bacteria once a well is heavily infested can be extremely difficult. Iron bacteria cannot be eliminated by most common water filtration methods or water softeners. However, though it is difficult to eliminate, it is actually very easy to control – just oxidize the heck out of the well.

Normal treatment for a problem such as this would be to chlorine “shock,” but iron bacteria can be particularly persistent and chlorine treatment of the well may be only partly effective. Typically, a chlorine concentration of 50-200 parts per million is used for decontamination of a well impacted by coliform bacteria. A significantly higher concentration of chlorine is recommended by the literature for iron bacteria. Recommended concentrations are between 500-1,000 parts per million. Be warned that too high a concentration can make the well alkaline and reduce effectiveness, so don’t go crazy. In addition high concentrations of chlorine may affect water conditioning equipment, appliances such as dishwashers, and septic systems, so do not pull the heavily chlorinated water through equipment and the plumbing system.

The recommended strategy is to treat the well with a 500-1,000 parts per million chlorine hold for 12 hours and then dilute the remaining water in the well. This can be accomplished by allowing a significant amount of the water to runoff to a safe disposal location using hoses until the water runs clear. Use chlorine test strips to verify that there is still residual chlorine in the water and allow the well to refill and then introduce the water into the house water system to disinfect the household treatment units, appliances and piping with lower concentrations circulated through the water system and hold for an addition 12 hours. Flush the system completely using hoses not your drains and septic system.

The Idaho Water Resources Research Institute recommends an initial treatment at 1,000 ppm including scrubbing and disinfecting the pump and an annual maintenance disinfection of 500 ppm leaving the pump in place. My initial treatment was about 600-800 ppm with the pump in place for 12 hours and then running off the slimy rust colored crude that came out for a few hours, topping up the chlorine concentration to about 200 ppm and pulling the chlorinated water throughout the household plumbing system.

I chlorine treat the well ever couple of years to keep knocking back the iron bacteria. I gave up testing for the iron bacteria because it did not seem worth the expense. Because you never really get rid of iron bacteria, prevention is the best safeguard against the bacteria and their accompanying problems. The bacteria will eventually grow back so be prepared to repeat the shock treatments from time to time. With my well that translates to even years.

Chlorination for iron bacteria can also rehabilitate the well. As a water well ages, the rate at which water can be pumped (commonly referred to as the well yield) tends to fall. This can be caused by Incrustation from mineral deposits or bio-fouling by iron bacteria. The most common methods to rehabilitate a water well are: acids or chlorine to dissolve the encrusting materials and bacterial slime from the well; and physically cleaning the well.

Chlorination can dissolve the encrustations and extend pump function. These days regularly treating a well with chlorine is the recommended strategy to extend the life of a well and equipment and can improve the taste of the water. See well maintenance tips from Penn State University Extension. Last week with the help of someone who wanted to see how a well was chlorinated I chlorine shocked my well. Just in time before the cold weather.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Testing the Water in a Private Well

When you are considering buying a home with a well, you need to understand the well and the water chemistry. For purchase I would recommend a broad stroke water test that looks at all the primary and secondary contaminants regulated under the safe drinking water act as well as pesticides. No testing is required by the federal, state or local governments in Virginia; however, most lenders require testing for bacteria, and some for nitrate and lead in order to issue a mortgage. Comprehensive broad stroke tests exist and will ensure you are purchasing a house with good water. Buying a package reduces the cost though the drawback is these packages are performed at a lower sensitivity level.

A test like the WaterCheck Deluxe plus pesticides test kitfrom National Testing Laboratories which is an EPA certified laboratory would work. This is the most economical test I could find. It comes with sampling bottles, an ice pack that needs to be frozen and a cooler to use when you FedEx the water samples back. Time is of the essence when dealing with bacteria samples. If the home has any water treatment or filters it is important to test both the raw water coming from the well and the water after treatment. This allows you evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of any treatment. You will need two water test packages.

The WaterCheck Deluxe with pesticides is a broad stroke test, testing the water for 103 items including Bacteria (Total Coliform and E-Coli), 19 heavy metals and minerals including lead, iron, arsenic and copper (many which are naturally occurring, but can impact health); 6 other inorganic compounds including nitrates and nitrites (can indicate fertilizer residue or animal waste); 5 physical factors including pH, hardness, alkalinity; 4 Trihalomethanes (THMs) and 47 Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) including Benzene, Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE) and Trichloroethene (TCE). The pesticide option adds 20 pesticides, herbicides and PCBs. The package costs $229.99. You will also have to pay overnight shipping cost ($40-$70) to return the package. You may also have to purchase a local Bacteria test if there was a delay in the shipping.

The WaterCheck package compares their results to the The US EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act limits for the primary and secondary contaminants are a good standard to compare water to when testing a well. Since there are no regulation for private well water, that is a reasonable standard to compare the water test results to. Be alert to anything that should not be in groundwater. The presence of low levels of man made contaminants may be an indication of a bigger problem. Also, make sure you check for residual levels of chlorine. The presence of residual levels of chlorine could indicate that someone had recently chlorinated the well to try and cheat the bacteria test- not nice. So, be alert when you review your results. Not all of the impurities and contaminants in groundwater are bad, some make water taste good. However, any traces of solvents or hydrocarbons or contaminants that are not naturally occurring would be concerning. Penn State Extension has an online tool to compare testing results to EPA Safe Drinking Water Standards and offers some suggestions.

After the first test getting to know your water chemistry, then you should test your well annually for coliform bacteria and nitrate/nitrite. These are easy to test for and cheap. Coliform bacteria is not naturally found in groundwater, if it is found to be present, typically the lab tests for fecal bacteria. If the well is contaminated with coliform but not fecal coliform or E. coli, then you may have infiltration from the surface from rain or snow melt. Typical causes are improperly sealed well cap, well repairs performed without disinfecting the well, failed grouting or surface drainage to the well. The local department of health should have a list of local labs that are certified to perform the test.

As recently as 10 years ago it was uncommon for health departments to recommend regular annual testing of coliform, now it is almost universal. The U.S. Geological Survey has found increasing levels of contamination in groundwater in unconfined (water-table) aquifers. This is believed to be because they usually are within a few hundred feet of the land surface and lack an overlying confining layer to impede the movement of contaminants. In the United States almost half of all drinking water is supplied by wells only the public supply well are routinely tested. Domestic wells are not subject to the EPA Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.

In Virginia, testing of existing private wells is not required. However, the Virginia Household Water Quality Program has been running water clinics testing private wells at a bargain price in Virginia for over 10 years. Their program analyzes samples for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. Overall the statewide sampling has found that 41% of the wells have coliform bacteria, and 9% have E. coli bacteria. Though 28% of wells were found to have acidic water (low pH), only 17% of homes have first flush lead levels above the EPA safe drinking water standard maximum contaminant level of 0.015 Mg/L. Lead and copper leach into water primarily as a result of corrosion of plumbing and well components, but can also result from flaking of scale from brass fittings and well components unrelated to corrosion. This type of analysis would be appropriate to perform every few years. Over time a well wears out and deteriorates and this can impact water quality.

Domestic wells draw groundwater primarily from the area surrounding the well. Depending on the depth of the well and the local geology groundwater drawn into a private domestic drinking water well is typically young water-it could be weeks, months or several years old. Even though the ground is an excellent mechanism for filtering out particulate matter, such as leaves, soil, and bugs, dissolved chemicals and gases can still occur in large enough concentrations in groundwater to cause problems. Groundwater can get contaminated from industrial, domestic, and agricultural chemicals from the surface. This includes chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides that many homeowners apply to their lawns, improperly disposed of chemicals; animal wastes; failing septic systems; wastes disposed underground; and naturally-occurring substances can all contaminate drinking water and make it unsuitable for drinking or make the water unpleasant to drink. Groundwater is dynamic and can change over time. Regular monitoring of your water quality is important and entirely up to you.