Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dominion Power will go with the I-66 Hybrid Route

Thanks to our state Delegate Tim Hugo, who never stopped working for our communities’ interests the Haymarket 230kV Line and Substation project will use the I-66 Hybrid Route, which buries approximately 3.2 miles of the power line underground along I-66 and was the preferred route of our community. The cost to bury the lines is estimated to be $167,000,000 that will ultimately be borne by all the Dominion Power rate payers. Delegate Hugo inserted language that contains a pilot program that allows this into SB 966  "Electric utility regulation; grid modernization, energy efficiency" that was signed by the Governor. This is great news for western Prince William residents who have consistently stated that the I-66/Hybrid route is the only acceptable option for new power lines.

For more than three years Haymarket residents have fought the Haymarket 230kV Line. Thought the SCC found that the Haymarket 230kV Line and Substation project was necessary for Dominion Power to comply with mandatory reliability standards, the community and Supervisor Pete Candland maintained that a single customer was driving the need for the line. Dominion Power and the SCC maintained that the Haymarket project would permit Dominion Power to maintain reliable electric service to its other customers and support overall growth in the area.

Gainesville District Supervisor Candland and Protect Prince William community group maintained that the increased energy demand is not for future growth of the Haymarket area and the Rural Crescent of Prince William County, but rather for a single customer with the equivalent demand for power of 700,000 homes. This entire project was necessary to deliver power to a data centers for Amazon. Dominion and the SCC state that this will also strengthen electric reliability for the local area by providing a new source of power and a double circuit line or "loop" provides a networked source, but the locating of a data center outside of the industrial corridor is what drove the need for the project. The Rural Crescent is not a growth area, or at least not intended to be.

Last spring the SCC determined that the Railroad and Carver Road routes both met the statutory criteria, but that the Railroad Route is preferable. Their justification is that these options will "minimize adverse impacts.” The Railroad Route was the only route that impacts zero residences within 200 feet of the centerline, though the power towers wouldl clearly be visible from nearby homes and homes 500 feet from the center line could be impacted. The heavily wooded area along this route will provide significant screening reducing the visual impacts of the line. However the woods and hydrology will be irreparably impacted.

After last year’s ruling by the SCC Protect Prince William filed a legal motion that the power-line was not necessary because the data center project was still under review by state authorities. Now, Dominion Power has agreed to pursue the I-66 Hybrid Route, with 3.2 miles of the line buried underground and the community will drop their legal opposition to the project.

Now Virginians will pay increased power rates to protect the property values of existing residents and deliver cheaper power to Amazon and other data centers. There is little value to having these energy hogs here where we lack the infrastructure to support them. Nonetheless, thank you to Delegate Tim Hugo and Supervisor Candland who kept fighting for our community.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Maryland Approves the Potomac Pipeline

On March 16th the Maryland Department of the Environment last week issued a state wetlands and waterways permit for the proposed Columbia Gas pipeline in Western Maryland that includes customized conditions specific to the project and its location to ensure protection of public health and the environment.

The head of Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Secretary Ben Grumbles said the state is holding the project to almost two dozen environmental conditions that he said “go above and beyond” requirements already imposed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They include the following:
  • To protect both private and public drinking water wells, MDE included a requirement that all work must be carried out in a manner that does not damage or degrade any wells during construction. 
  • The MDE approved a horizontal directional drilling plan, which TransCanada claims will minimise environmental impacts of construction. Safeguards are included, with limits of allowable drilling fluids to water and bentonite clay, with no additives without prior approval. 
  • Visual monitoring is required of the Potomac River by boat from sunrise to sunset for early detection of any pollution. 
  • MDE prohibited blasting without prior department approval. 

As you recall, Columbia Gas Transmission is proposing a new 3.9 mile, 8-inch diameter pipeline to connect Mountaineer Gas (the West Virginia consumer gas distribution company) to gas supplies in Pennsylvania. The proposed pipeline will be run about 72 feet below the river bed. The new pipeline will bring gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and Ohio to a new proposed Mountaineer Gas pipeline, The Mountaineer Xpress project.

Columbia Pipeline Group, Inc. (Columbia) is planning to construct and operate approximately 165 miles of pipeline and three new compressor stations in addition to upgrading three existing compressor stations and one regulating station. The project called the Mountaineer XPress project (MXP) would be able to move an additional 2.7 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale production areas to commercial and consumer markets on the Columbia Gas Transmission system, including markets in western West Virginia. West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection approved a permit for the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project last month.

The abundance of shale natural gas coming from the Marcellus is expected to keep prices for natural gas low for the foreseeable future and has created a glut in natural gas. 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.

The new plants use a gas and steam turbine together to produce more electricity per gas BTU. Coal plants generate about twice the CO2 per megawatt of power and have higher particulate pollution than gas fired electrical power plants. Though electric demand is not growing nationally, the closing of aging coal plants has left the PJM (Pennsylvania, Jersey, Maryland) power grid short of power. In the past three years 9.3 gigawatts of coal generating capacity has been retired while 8.7 gigawatts have been added so far, but currently there is 8.6 gigawatts of natural-gas electrical power plants under construction in Pennsylvania and Ohio. This could utilize  more of the natural gas in Pennsylvania.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spring Maintenance of the Water Distribution Systems

On March 26th, 2018 DC Water, Fairfax Water, Loudoun Water and the Arlington Department of Environmental Services will begin flushing their water distribution systems. Each spring for about 6 weeks in Washington DC and Arlington and 12 weeks for Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water flush their water mains by opening fire hydrants and allowing them to flow freely for a short period of time. In addition, the Washington Aqueduct, Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water temporary change how the water is disinfected.

For most of the year, chloramines, also known as combined chlorine, is added to the water as the primary disinfectant. During the spring the Washington Aqueduct and Fairfax water treatment plants switch back to chlorine in an uncombined state, commonly referred to as free chlorine. This free chlorine reacts with sediments suspended during flushing and kills bacteria that may be in the bio-film that forms on the pipe walls. Many water chemistry experts believe this short exposure to a different type of disinfectant maintains a low microbial growth in the bio-film and improves the quality and safety of the water. For the Washington Aqueduct this change ran from March 26 and ended on May 7th 2018. For Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water customers this began on March 26 and will last through June 17, 2018.

This change in disinfection is an annual program to clean the water distribution pipes and maintain high water quality throughout the year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Washington Aqueduct provides water to the District of Columbia, Arlington County, and other areas in Virginia. Fairfax Water provides water to Fairfax county and parts of both Loudoun and Prince William County. Both Fairfax Water and the Aqueduct switch from chloramine to chlorine during this period. DC Water is completing their pipe flushing. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) abolished its preventative flushing program years ago to save money. In recent years WSSC has been plagued with discolored water complaints.

Those of you in the Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington service areas may notice a slight chlorine taste and smell in your drinking water during this time, this is not harmful and the water remains safe to drink. If you are a coffee and tea lover like me, use filtered water or leave an open container of water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow the smell to dissipate. Water customers who normally take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water, such as dialysis centers, medical facilities and aquarium owners, should continue to take the same precautions during the temporary switch to chlorine. Most methods for removing chloramine from tap water are effective in removing chlorine. The annual chlorination is important step to remove residue from the water distribution system.

Flushing the water system entails sending a rapid flow of chlorinated water through the water mains. As part of the flushing program, fire hydrants are checked and operated in a coordinated pattern to help ensure their operation and adequate flushing of the system. The flushing removes sediments made up of minerals which have accumulated over time in the pipes as well as bacteria on the bio-film. An annual flushing program helps to keep fresh and clear water throughout the distribution system. Removing the residue ensures that when the water arrives in your home, it is the same high quality as when it left the water treatment plant.

During the spring flushing program your water may look or taste different. Free chlorine is quicker acting than chloramines, which allows it to react with sediments suspended during the flushing which may result in temporary discoloration and the presence of sediment in your water. These conditions should be of very short duration and the water is reported to be safe. Though, remember you still need to treat tap water before using it in a fish aquarium. Disinfectants can harm fish. Check with a local pet store to learn what types of chemicals you need to add to the tank to neutralize the effects of the disinfectant.

During the spring flushing you may notice a white of bubbly appearance or a chlorine taste and odor in your drinking water. The bubbly appearance is simply a result of the oxygen in the water being stirred up during flushing causing visible air bubbles. Let the water sit for a few seconds and you will see the bubbles clear from bottom to top. The chlorine taste can be removed by filter or by simply letting the water sit in an open container in your refrigerator. If you are especially sensitive to the taste and odor of chlorine, filters commonly used in refrigerators are very effective at removing chlorine- change your filter.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Keep the Water Flowing in the U.S.

In the United States drinking water is delivered to homes and bussinesses through what is estimated to be a million miles of water pipes across the nation. Many of these pipes were laid in the early to mid-20th century with a lifespan of 75-100 years. The pipes are old and have not been adequately maintained. There are about 240,000 water main failures annually in the United States- almost 660 water mains break a day.

The sad condition of many of our highways, bridges, and transit systems is very evident to our eyes. However, water and sewage infrastructure is literally buried underground, out of sight and, usually, out of mind. It is often only when failures occur that we are reminded of how much we take for granted our access to safe drinking water. Nonetheless, the quality of drinking water in the United States remains high and the safest in the world. 

The U.S.EPA sets legal limits for over 90 contaminants in drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) allows states to set their own drinking water standards as long as the standards meet or exceed the EPA minimum. Smaller systems that serve under 10,000 people report that a lack of resources and personnel can limit the frequency of testing, monitoring, maintenance, and technical capability in their systems. Without sufficient funding and proper oversight water quality is threatened in these communities.

Water main breaks disrupt traffic and are expensive to fix, but also pose a health hazard. The positive pressure in water pipes is what keeps the bacteria from the soil and leaking sewer systems out of the water pipes. Drinking water and waste water pipes were generally run together in our cities and suburbs are crumbling and contributing to disease outbreaks and water supply disruptions. The National Institute of Health (NIH) believes that 36,700 infections and 18,400 illnesses occur each year due to contamination in public water systems; 2,200 infections and 1,100 illnesses occur each year from private wells. A review of reports of outbreaks the United States found that approximately 50% of all waterborne diseases occurred in small drinking water systems.

The last U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment was released in 2013. The survey showed that $384 billion in improvements are needed for the nation’s drinking water infrastructure through 2030 for systems to continue providing safe unlimited drinking water 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week to the 297 million Americans who depend on them. (It is estimated that 16 million households depend on private water supplies. Getting households to properly test and maintain their wells and septic systems is also a problem.) The lion’s share of the costs estimated by the EPA is for treatment ($72.5 billion to expand or rehabilitate infrastructure to reduce contamination) and distribution ($247.5 billion to replace or refurbish aging or deteriorating water mains). Using different methodology the American Water Works estimates that approximately a trillion dollars are needed to maintain, expand and improve our nation's water systems through 2050.

The majority of funding for drinking water infrastructure comes from the revenue generated by water rate payers. In the nation’s largest 50 cities, the rate users pay varies greatly from and average of $14.74 per month in Memphis, to $61.43 per month in Seattle. In our own region, water rates range from$25.26 in Arlington to $68.50 per month in Manassas Park. This large gap exemplifies the varied approaches to rate structure, as well as the contrast of need and investment across the country and in our regions.

Drinking water infrastructure is funded primarily through the rate‐based system, but water use has been falling and the investment has been inadequate for decades and will continue to be underfunded without significant changes to the rates charged. The quantity of drinking water sold for public supply in the United States has been relatively flat since 1985 even as the population has increased by approximately 70 million people over the same period. Water conservation efforts, including through water efficient fixtures, have had a significant impact in reducing per capita water usage. Water systems need to be funded and maintained. 

In the years ahead, rate payers will have to absorb the cost of infrastructure replacement and renewal, primarily through higher water bills. The amounts will vary depending on community size and geographic region, but American Water Works Association estimates that in some communities infrastructure costs alone could triple the size of a typical family’s water bills. While higher rates that reflect the true cost of service are important, public assistance programs should be considered for low income populations. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

California Decides to "Manage" Water Demand, Not Build Dams

California is subject to long droughts followed by torrential rains and flooding. Back in 2014 in the throes of the worst drought on record with almost all of the state in extreme drought conditions and mandatory water restrictions in place the California legislature, Governor and voters managed to pass a $7.5 billion water bond to expand the water storage within the state to withstand long droughts and improved flood control. Unfortunately, though sold to the public as increasing water storage, that is not what the water bond was for or being used for.

The water bond included:
  • $1.495 billion for ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration- repair and restore streams, wetlands and fish habitats. 
  • $ 810 million for projects to improve regional water self-reliance, security and adapt to the effects on water supply from climate change.
  • $725 million for grants or loans for water recycling for sewage and installation of advanced treatment technology projects for sewage treatment plants. 
  • $900 million for projects to restore or protect groundwater that serves as or has served as a drinking water supply.
  • $2.7 billion for water storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, are cost effective, and provide a net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions as determined by the California Water Commission. 
There were several proposals for water storage projects, including Sites reservoir, an off-stream reservoir in the hills west of the Sacramento Valley; a new dam on the upper San Joaquin River at Temperance Flat; and raising Shasta Dam. Collectively, these projects were projected to store an additional 3.6 million acre feet of water under optimum (i.e., very wet) scenarios at a cost of almost $8 billion. However, it  appears unlikely that any of these water storage projects will be built.

Even as southern California has fallen into drought, with two years of strong rains having filled the reservoirs and the Sierra Nevada mountains with a snow pack of 6 feet, the California Water Commission has determined that 11 of the water storage projects would not provide public benefit as defined by the law as improvements in the ecosystem, water quality, flood control, emergency response and recreation.

Water storage for the state to survive a much longer drought was not a consideration. All 11 projects identified to receive Investment Program money were predicted to receive less money than they requested, according to those initial reviews. Three of these projects were predicted to receive nothing. Based on comments to the Water Commission and protests in Sacramento, it appears that much of the resistance to the water project funding is the general resistance of Californian environmental groups to damns.

Meanwhile, the California State Water Resource Control Board another regulatory agency, recently proposed permanent restrictions on water use in the state. The proposal still under consideration would make California's drought water restrictions permanent under the state Constitution's prohibition on the "waste or unreasonable use" of water. This could allow the state to chip away at long-held water rights in an unprecedented grab of power and wealth in a state where water is money.

The water use restrictions will be punishable by a $500 fine for the first offense and include prohibitions on watering lawns, using a hose to wash down sidewalks or using a hose without an automatic shut-off nozzle to wash cars. Water officials expect neighbors to be responsible for detecting and reporting most of the wasteful water use, just like a Stasi police state. Holders of priority water rights are concerned that the expansion of the state Constitution's prohibition on the "waste or unreasonable use" of water would create a slippery slope, allowing the Water Resource Control Board to chip away at California's historic protection of water rights for landowners or invalidate them completely when the time was right.

Rather it is time for California to purchase or allow the sale of water rights and permanently retire some marginal farm land from production. Reducing irrigated land and instituting water saving irrigation technology are the biggest water savings that the state can adopt. That alone would allow California to reduce their annual use of water by more than 2 million acre feet just for retiring the marginal lands. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study in 2002 determined that about 5 million acres of the 9 million acres of the San Joaquin Valley in agricultural production are drainage-impaired land or otherwise marginal.

A 2015 study by the Environmental Water Caucus based on data collected from recent state water plans, the Pacific Institute and the Planning and Conservation League, concluded that 2 million acre feet of water a year could be saved by retiring impaired agricultural lands. Other measures, including improving agricultural and urban use efficiency and recycling, could increase that up to 13 million acre feet. Agriculture uses about 80% of the water in California. You need to reduce and improve the agricultural irrigation to extend the water supply they have available.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Dominion Releases Possum Point Groundwater Monitoring Report

If you recall, Dominion Power has the Possum Point Power Station in Prince William County. The Possum Point Power Station currently has four active power generating units that use natural gas and/or oil. Two of these operating units were converted from coal to natural gas in 2003. Historically, Possum Point stored the Coal Combustion Residuals (coal ash) in five surface impoundments. All the coal ash has been moved and placed in Pond D.

Dominion Power has been moving forward with a plan to “close in place” the 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash now in Pond D under the finalized U.S. EPA Coal Ash regulation. The plan for Possum Point was to dewater the coal ash, the cap Pond D with an impermeable membrane to prevent future infiltration of rain and “dispose” of the coal ash by leaving it on the Possum Point site.

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated rules for handling coal ash, which were then adopted in Virginia by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in the Virginia Solid Waste Management Regulations. This rule addresses the risks from structural failures of coal ash surface impoundments like Pond D, and includes location restrictions, design and operating criteria, groundwater monitoring and (if needed) corrective action, closure requirements and post‐closure care, and recordkeeping, and public disclosure.

Dominion Power was required to complete an initial annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action report by January 31, 2018, and annually thereafter. Dominion Power has just release the results of their first year of monitoring. This report identifies groundwater conditions at Pond D. Groundwater monitoring wells were installed around the pond, both upgradient (wells that should reflect background conditions) and downgradient (wells that that indicate if groundwater was impacted by the pond). There are two upgradient wells ED-24 and ED-1612 and six downgradient monitoring wells (ED-1D, ED-9R, ED-1605, ED-1606, SD-1603, and SD-1604). These wells are shallow and monitor the uppermost aquifer beneath the coal ash pond.
from Dominion Power

Possum Point and surrounding area are located entirely within the Coastal Plain physiographic province of Virginia. The geology is characterized by unconsolidated sediments that generally form broad terraces that slope towards the east. The terraces are transected by natural surface drainage channels, some of which were filled in. The unconsolidated sediments consist of clays, silts, sands, and gravel that exist as interbedded, discontinuous, horizontal layers across the site. The thickness of the sedimentary sequence ranges up to 600 feet as determined by well logs for the surrounding area.

The Potomac Confining Unit is considered to be a confining unit for the underlying Potomac Aquifer. It has always been assumed that the two aquifers are physically and hydrologically separated by the Potomac Confining Unit, but in recent years there has been observed some limited interchange between the uppermost aquifer which is within the overlaying sediments and the lower Potomac Aquifer and contaminants within the uppermost aquifer may be able to migrate into the drinking water supply in the lower aquifer.

The first groundwater monitoring report found occasional instances where tests of downgradient wells showed elevated levels of heavy metals associated with coal ash. The sampling 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 coal ash 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 pointed out that “The data in the 2017 Annual Groundwater Report do not indicate that groundwater from Pond D is impacting public drinking water supplies or presenting an environmental risk.” However, they only tested the quality of the groundwater around the edges of the coal ash Pond D which is not a drinking water supply. They only looked at the shallow aquifer upgradient and downgradient of Pond D, not in the area of any drinking water wells.

Groundwater impacts were observed. As Dominion Points out no impact to human health or the environment was found, but it was not looked 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 be and adequate containment for the coal ash to be permanently disposed in. Additional groundwater monitoring is needed to determine what corrective measures are needed to safely dispose of the coal ash in this way, though consideration should also be given to removal and recycling of the coal ash into concrete and road base.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Still Time to Register for the Prince William County 2018 Well Water Clinic

The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Office will be holding its annual drinking water clinic for well owners in Prince William County on March 28th 2018. To avoid  long lines and having too many people show up on the day of the clinic, this year you must register and prepay before the clinic. Sample kits are $55 each. Pre-payment can be made in person or by mail at the VCE office at 8033 Ashton Avenue, Suite 105, Manassas VA 20109. 
Make checks out to “Treasurer, Virginia Tech”. To register for this class, or to ask questions about the program, please call 703-792-7747 or

The Prince William Drinking Water Clinic has 3 parts:
1. The Kick-Off Meeting on March 26th from 7-8:30 pm at PWC Board Chambers in the McCoart Building, 1 County Complex, Woodbridge, VA 22192 introduces water quality concerns in our area and hands out the water sampling kits.

2. The Sample Drop Off on March 28th from 6:30am-10am ONLY at the VCE Office, 8033 Ashton Ave., Manassas 20109

3. The Results Interpretation Meeting on May 9th from 7-9 pm at PWC Board Chambers in the McCoart Building, 1 County Complex, Woodbridge, VA 22192 will explain the report, include a discussion and answer questions on dealing with water problems.

Water Samples must be dropped off on Wednesday March 28, between the hours of 6:30am and 10am at the VCE - Prince William Office, 8033 Ashton, Suite 105, Manassas, 20109. THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS for sample drop off. However, if you are unable to attend the kick off or results meetings arrangements can be made to pick up a test kit or your results at another time, please call 703-792-7747 or for assistance.

The samples will be analyzed for 14 chemical and bacteriological contaminants at the laboratory at Virginia Tech. Comparable analysis at a private commercial lab would cost $150-$200. Samples will be analyzed for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria.

Participants will receive their confidential water test results. A presentation will be given that shows the findings for the county and  explains what the numbers on the test report mean and what possible options participants may consider to deal with any water problems. Experts will be on hand to answer any specific questions you may have about your water and water system. I will be one of volunteers present to help with the program. Come join us.

Just because your water appears clear doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to drink. All drinking water wells should be tested at least annually for at least Coliform bacteria and E Coli. Testing is the only way to detect contamination in your water. Testing is not mandatory, but should be done to ensure your family’s safety. Maintenance and ensuring that water is safe to drink is the responsibility of the owner. If there is a pregnant woman or infant in the home the water should be tested. If there is any change in the taste, appearance, odor of water or your system is serviced or repaired then water should be tested to confirm that no contaminants were introduced.

Most of the water quality issues with private wells are from naturally occurring contamination or impurities. While many natural contaminants such as iron, sulfate, and manganese are not considered serious health hazards, they can give drinking water an unpleasant taste, odor, or color and be annoying and persistent problems and EPA has established secondary standards that can be used as guidance. Excessive levels of sodium, total dissolved solids, harness, can be an annoyance and impact appliances. Several of the naturally occurring contaminants that commonly appear in well water are primary contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act and can be a health hazard- nitrate, lead, arsenic, floride, and copper. The VCE Drinking Water Clinic will test for these.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Destruction of an Oasis

The Hamouns were once a wetland oasis on the Iran-Afghanistan border and consisting of three lakes: Hamoun-e Hirmand, which is entirely in Iran; Hamoun-e Sabari on the border; and Hamoun-e Puzak, almost entirely inside Afghanistan. The three lakes were linked and fed by water mainly from Afghanistan’s Helmand River. This area is a poor border region where dwindling water resources have left the area struggling for survival and beset by drug smugglers.

Twenty years ago, most of the area was green with a wide variety plants and animals living in the wetlands and lake area. The area was an oasis and way station for flamingos and other migratory birds, and a home for otter, deer and leopards. The delta would expand and contract seasonally. The lake teemed with fish and it was reported that the annual catch used to exceed 12,000 tons. The Hamouns once covered 500,000 hectares of land. Based on satellite images taken in spring 2005, 2009 and 2013, the Hamouns have all but disappeared.
From UNDP from Left Hamouns in 2005, 2009 and 2013
Now 70% of the southeastern Hamouns in Sistan-Baluchestan Province are drying up. Iran attributes this to Afghanistan's construction of dams on its tributaries. However, that was decades ago. The Kajaki Dam was built on the Helmand river in the mid 20th century upstream of Kandahar. The flow of the Helmand to the Hamouns was reduced but the oasis held until after Afghanistan dug irrigation canals in the 1990’s. Afgan officials place the blame on Iran’s water management and water diversions from the Helmand to supply four reservoirs built in the 1990’s and 2000’s to supply Zahedan and other towns.

According to the United Nations Development Program that has tried to intermediate between Afgan and Iran, the truth is a combination of factors. more water abstraction from rivers and water resources;
  • Mismanagement of water resources in the basin; 
  • Expansion of agricultural lands and irrigation;
  • Reduced precipitation in the region apparently because of long-term climate change; 
  • Using traditional irrigation systems and low water efficiency; 
  • Using inappropriate cropping pattern; 
  • Water control in Afghanistan; 
  • Introduction of non-native species of aquatic plants; 
  • Over exploitation of pastures. 
The wetlands have faced intense pressure during the last decade and are currently in a state of ecological crisis. Because the wetland is mostly dried out during the year, dust and sandstorms have increased as fierce winds blow for half the year. The sandstorms carry the highest level fine particulates, so called PM2.5. According to the World Health Organization nearby towns had the highest mean concentration of PM2.5 of any city on earth exceeding New Delhi and Beijing. This has resulted in an increase in various diseases such as heart, respiratory, optic and cancer. Out migration and changing living patterns away from agriculture and increasing drug smuggling and drug addiction are have impacted both sides of the Iran/ Afgan border. Now communities are dependent on water from other areas, and there are increasing local conflicts for water.

The United Nations Development Program is trying to negotiate and implement a restoration plan with Afgan and Iran. Negotiating the details and funding are of course the problems. We live on a planet with limited water resources and changing climate while our water needs continue to grow.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Climate will Change-Virginia will have water

Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) is the global warming that would occur if the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration were instantly doubled and the climate were then brought to equilibrium with that new level of CO2. The actual warming that would occur remains one of the most important unknowns in climate change science. The current concentration of CO2 can be measured and the likely future concentrations of CO2 have been modeled, but the actual response of the planet to CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere has remained uncertain.

The ‘likely’ range of ECS assumed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has remained at 1.5–4.5 degrees Celsius for more than 25 years. Last month a group of scientists at Exerter University and the U.K.’s Center for Ecology and hydrology lead by Peter Cox published a paper where, using a new methodology, they have narrowed the probable temperature range: 2.2 Celsius to 3.4C, with a best estimate of 2.8C with 66 % confidence limits (equivalent to the IPCC ‘likely’ range. Good news for mankind.

The scientists used what they describe as an ensemble of climate models to define an emergent relationship between CO2 concentration and temperature. Possibility not taken into consideration by their new model is the possibility of rapid shifts in climate brought on by the planet itself. As Dr. Cox points out in a press release there is evidence in history that the planet climate system can undergo abrupt changes. Even with this good news, the plant is going to respond to the current and projected future CO2 concentrations.

The United States and other governments have worked to document the CO2 in the atmosphere, temperatures and climate patterns. Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding climate sensitivity to CO2 remains and how climate change will impact water availability. Unlike climate change water problems are shorter term. Without water we die, not in 2100, but in under a week. When water supplies are short as in Cape Town, South Africa, people work to find solutions; reduce water use, change behavior, find new sources of water- find solutions in real time. Nonetheless, water problems are very difficult to solve once they become a crisis.

The more than 6 million residents of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area rely on the Potomac River to supply approximately three-quarters of its water the rest comes from groundwater sources and the Occoquan River, a tributary of the Potomac River formed by the confluence of Broad Run and Cedar Run and joining with Bull Run before it meets the Potomac.

Regionally, there is a cooperative system of water supply management for the Potomac and Occoquan to share the water among the diverse users, all depending on the Potomac River, its tributaries, and associated land and groundwater resources. Sustainable management of the water resources across the multi-jurisdictional basin requires bridging social, political, and environmental differences. This can only be achieved through regional cooperation and encouragement of comprehensive planning to include providing adequate, quality and sustainable surface water and groundwater –together source water for public and private water supplies.

The Virginia Legislature has just passed SB 211ER- Comprehensive plans; groundwater and surface water. This law authorizes a locality to include in their comprehensive plan their long-range recommendations for groundwater and surface water availability, quality, and sustainability. The bill requires the local planning commission to survey and study groundwater and surface water availability, quality, and sustainability in the preparation of a comprehensive plan. In other words, Virginia will plan to provide adequate water for all.

Cox, Peter M., Huntingford, Chris, Williamson, Mark S.; “Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability” Journal Nature, 2018/01/17/ Volume 553.