Monday, June 29, 2020


Cicadas, probably both Magicicada septendecim and Magicicada cassinii have arrived in southwestern Virginia. In Virginia there are eleven primary broods of the 17-year cicada and two primary broods of the 13-year cicada. Every year they will emerge somewhere in the state, but Brood X due in 2021 is one of the largest and impacts our area in Northern Virginia including Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Fauquier counties.

It is not until next spring that we will hear the “song” which is the mating call of the males. For most people, the droning song of the cicada is nothing more than a slight annoyance, which only appears ocassionally. To me the “song” sounds like wind on a cell phone connection, but you can listen to the actual chorus on the u-Tube video. Male cicadas sing quite loudly by vibrating membranes on the sides of their abdominal segment. Male songs and choruses are a courtship ritual to attract females for mating. If you hear the cicadas chorus in the spring report the finding to Most people are more familiar with the dogday cicada that is prevalent annually in mid summer. Their song is later in the summer and not as persistant.

The annual dogday cicada is a mottled, dark green color. The 17 year or 13 year periodical cicada is black, with red eyes and orange legs. “Adults have clear wings with distinctive orange veins. When viewed from the front the wings form an inverted "V" and meet at the top like a roof.”

Both the 17-and 13-year cicadas damage many ornamental and hardwood trees. Oaks are commonly attacked but the most seriously damaged are newly planted fruit and ornamental trees such as apple, dogwood, peach, hickory, cherry, and pear. Pines and other conifers are not commonly attacked. This fall will not be a good time to plant any of these trees in our region as they may be damaged next spring when Brood X emerges. 

Brood X due next in 2021

Cicadas do not pose a danger to these plants through feeding, but instead through their egg-laying habits. Cicada females select pencil-width branches or vines, then implant their eggs into them using a sharp egg laying tube called an ovipositor. The nymphs then hatch from the eggs and drop down to burrow into the soil where they begin harmlessly feeding on the plants’ roots. The egg implantation causes the branch or vine to split and wither, a phenomenon known as “flagging” where a group of leaves on an otherwise healthy part of the plant turn brown and die. For a small tree or young vine, too many flagging sections can stunt their growth or even kill them outright.
Damage from Cicidas 

Cicidas  Image from VA Tech

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Earthquake Strikes Mexico

At 11:29 AM last Tuesday a strong earthquake struck the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. This quake was preceded by two milder earthquakes that stuck the area a 4.9 magnitude quake struck a 9:17 PM the evening before and a 4.3 magnitude quake struck at 5:07 AM. The big earthquake was followed by a series of aftershocks that measured at 4.6 magnitude earthquake at 12:31 PM and 5.0 magnitude two hours later, 4.6 magnitude a couple of hours after that. Tuesday night there was a 5.4 magnitude and 4.5 magnitude. Wednesday morning a 4.1 magnitude earthquake was recorded. Those are just the greater than 4 magnitude earthquakes that have been recorded an unknown number of unknown mild tremors have also occurred.

The severity of an earthquake is expressed in whole numbers and decimal fractions, and have evolved over time. The magnitude of an earthquake, usually expressed by the Richter Scale, is a measure of the amplitude of the seismic waves, but does not effectively describe the destructive power of large earthquakes. The moment magnitude of an earthquake is a measure of the amount of energy released - an amount that can be estimated from seismograph readings. The intensity, as expressed by the Modified Mercalli Scale, is a subjective measure that describes how strong a shock was felt at a particular location, which is why the USGS collects comments and location from people who felt the earthquake.

The Richter Scale, named after Dr. Charles F. Richter of the California Institute of Technology, is still the best known scale for measuring the magnitude of earthquakes. The scale is logarithmic so that a magnitude 7 earthquake is 10 times as large as a magnitude 6. Earthquakes with a Richter value of 6 or more are commonly considered major; great earthquakes have magnitude of 8 or more on the Richter scale. This earthquake falls in between major earthquake and great earthquake at 7.4 magnitude.

This is a very seismically active area. In 2017 an earthquake with a magnitude 8.2 struck the area. Historically, several significant earthquakes have occurred along the southern coast of Mexico. Located on top of three tectonic plates, Mexico is one of the world's most seismically active regions. Most of Mexico sits on the westward moving North American plate, but this area is also a subduction zone where two plates converge, and one plate is thrust beneath the other. This process results in earthquakes and volcanoes. The largest earthquakes on Earth occur in these areas.

The Pacific Ocean floor south of Mexico is being carried northeastward by the underlying Cocos plate at a geologically rapid pace of about 50 millimetres a year. Because oceanic crust is relatively dense, when the Pacific Ocean floor encounters the lighter continental crust of the Mexican landmass, the ocean floor is subducted beneath the North American plate creating the deep Middle American trench along Mexico's southern coast.

Monday, June 22, 2020

EPA Decides Not to Regulate Perchlorate Under SDWA

Last Thursday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final decision not to regulate perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Perchlorate is commonly used in solid rocket propellants, munitions, fireworks, airbag initiators for vehicles, matches, and signal flares. Perchlorate may occur naturally, particularly in arid regions such as the southwestern U.S. and can be found as a byproduct in hypochlorite solutions used for treating drinking water and nitrate salts used to produce fertilizers, explosives, and other products.

At certain levels, perchlorate can prevent the thyroid gland from getting enough iodine, which can affect thyroid hormone production. For pregnant women with low iodine levels, sufficient changes in thyroid hormone levels may cause changes in the child’s brain development. For infants, changes to thyroid hormone function can also impact brain development.

In the Federal Register February 2011 it stated: “EPA has determined that perchlorate meets SDWA's criteria for regulating a contaminant—that is, perchlorate may have an adverse effect on the health of persons; perchlorate is known to occur or there is a substantial likelihood that perchlorate will occur in public water systems with a frequency and at levels of public health concern; and in the sole judgment of the Administrator, regulation of perchlorate in drinking water systems presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public water systems. Therefore, EPA will initiate the process of proposing a national primary drinking water regulation (NPDWR) for perchlorate.”

However, in June 2019 EPA presented an updated occurrence analysis collected using the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) to collect data that demonstrated that the levels of perchlorate in drinking water and sources of drinking water have decreased since first group of data was collected for the 2011 determination.

The EPA now states that there has been a decrease in perchlorate levels which include due to:
  1. The promulgation of a drinking water regulations for perchlorate in California and Massachusetts; and
  2. The ongoing remediation efforts in the state of Nevada to address perchlorate contamination in groundwater adjacent to the lower Colorado River upstream of Lake Mead.
The above actions have effectively reduced the occurrence of perchlorate in public water supplies; and now perchlorate doesn’t appear in enough public water systems, or at high enough levels, to cause concern for the general population.

EPA had been considering regulating perchlorate at 56 part per billion (ppb). For comparison, Massachusetts' current regulatory standard is 2 ppb, while California is considering lowering its current regulatory standard of 6 ppb to 1 ppb. EPA decided that it should not regulate perchlorate at all under the SDWA, given that it would result in monitoring at 60,000 public water systems and only a handful had been impacted. According to the most recent monitoring data if EPA had regulated perchlorate at a maximum contaminant level of 56 ppb as originally proposed, only two systems would exceed the regulatory threshold. The ongoing analysis costs to all public water supply systems could not be justified.

In other words the steps that EPA, states and public water systems have taken in the past decade had successfully reduced the occurrence of perchlorate to the impacted drinking water companies that the agency determined perchlorate does not meet the criteria for regulation as a drinking water contaminant under the SDWA. Therefore, the agency withdrew the 2011 regulatory determination and is making a final determination to not issue a national regulation for perchlorate at this time.

Stand by for legal challenges from environmental groups especially the Natural Resources Defense Council. There is great concern about perchlorate, it has known significant health impacts, but does not appear to be widespread in drinking water supplies. It does leave you feeling uneasy, though.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, (SDWA), is the Federal law that protects the public from drinking water contaminants that pose a known health concern. Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the SDWA, yet according to the EPA, more than 80,000 chemicals are used within the United States. Not every drinking water contaminant with health consequence gets regulated because they may not be widely present in source waters. And not every regulated contaminant has health consequence. Some contaminants are regulated to control taste and odor. Though the SDWA was adopted in 1974, it has had significant amendments in 1986 and 1996 that added explicit health goals, risk management approaches and methods of gathering data to allow the SDWA to continue to evolve and ensure the public water supply systems in the United States remains among the safest in the world.

The 1996 amendments to the SDWA created the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, UCMR. This is the tool the EPA uses to determine if there are contaminants likely to pose a risk to the health of the nation. A contaminant is identified as being of a possible health concern in drinking water, by states, water systems, scientists or other sources. Health information is collected and if deemed appropriate, occurrence and exposure information are collected using the UCMR data collection program for preliminary risk assessment then a determination is then made on whether there exists an opportunity to reduce public health risks by regulation and the contaminant is then added to the Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List. The costs of the data collection are born by water supply companies that serve more than 10,000 people. The 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments require that once every five years, EPA issue a new list of no more than 30 unregulated contaminants to be monitored by public water systems. The national sampling program provides the EPA with a scientifically valid database on the occurrence of these emerging contaminants in drinking water supplies.

The emerging contaminants lack human health standards so the first step is to identify what substances are present at what levels in the environment using the UCMR list to identify substances with widespread exposure. The next step would be to identify the acceptable human exposure level and need for regulation based on presence in the environment. Much of the environmental work in the past has been done on what are called the persistent priority pollutants, such as trace metals, pesticides, PCBs and PAHs, substances that persist in the environment. Many of the emerging contaminants are environmentally non-persistent, but still may have health impacts. A non-persistent chemical breaks down and these breakdown products may be widely present in the environment.

UCMR 4 is currently underway. Monitoring which began in 2018 will continue to the end of the year and includes monitoring for a total of 30 chemical contaminants: 10 cyanotoxins (nine cyanotoxins and one cyanotoxin group) and 20 additional contaminants (two metals, eight pesticides plus one pesticide manufacturing byproduct, three brominated haloacetic acid [HAA] disinfection byproducts groups, three alcohols, and three semivolatile organic chemicals [SVOCs]).

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Supreme Court allows Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross Appalachian Trail

Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC is a partnership between Dominion Energy and Duke Energy. They are trying to build a 604-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina along a route that crossed 16 miles of land within the George Washington National Forest. Atlantic Coast Pipeline secured a special use permit from the United States Forest Service in 2017, obtaining a right-of-way for a 0.1-mile segment of pipe approximately 600 feet below the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Appalachian Trail or Trail), where it also crosses the National Forest.

In December 2018, the Fourth Circuit vacated the permit that the U.S. Forest Service had issued. In the 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.

Now the Supreme Court in a 7-2 opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday, overturned that ruling. The Supreme court found that the Forest Service had the authority to issue the special use permit. The Court found that the Forest Service, with authority granted by the Secretary of Agriculture, has jurisdiction over the National Forest System, including the George Washington National Forest. The National Trails System Act (Trails Act) establishes national scenic and national historic trails, including the Appalachian Trail. The Trails Act also empowers the Secretary of the Interior to establish the Trail’s location and width by entering into “rights-of-way” agreements with other federal agencies, States, local governments, and private landowners.

The Supreme Court found that a right-of-way is a type of easement. And easements grant only non-possessory rights of use limited to the purposes specified in the easement agreement: They are not land; they merely burden land that continues to be owned by another. Thus, the Forest Service maintained ownership of the land and could grant a right of way easement to the pipeline.

If it goes forward the 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 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. The gas fired generation can serve as swing power, rather than base supply for Virginia during the transition away from fossil fuels. Virginia is now subject to the Virginia Clean Economy Act which was signed by Governor Northam on April 12, 2020 requires Dominion Energy Virginia to be 100% carbon-free by 2045 and Appalachian Power to be 100% carbon-free by 2050. It requires nearly all coal-fired plants to close by the end of 2024.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act also establishes a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions from power plants, in compliance with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The Department of Environmental Quality will establish and operate an auction program to sell allowances into a market-based trading program. Cap-and-trade system can be very complex to operate. Cap-and-trade also requires the establishment of an emissions trading market that has not always proven efficient in practice and they can become expensive to operate and monitor. I have long supported a carbon tax instead.

Monday, June 15, 2020

World Energy Use 2018

Energy is the basis of the world economy. In 2018 primary energy consumption grew at a rate of 2.9%, almost double its 10-year average of 1.5% per year. Natural gas, accounted for over 40% of the growth in primary energy. The use of fossil fuels to produce energy releases greenhouse gases which grew by 2.0%, the fastest growth for seven years. Happily, renewable power led by wind and solar power, continued to grow far more rapidly than any other form of energy at 14.5%.
from BP
So let’s take a look at energy consumed world wide during 2018 (the most recent data analyzed). According to data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy (published annually) and the U.S. Energy Information Agency world consumption of fuel for energy production (as measured in millions of tonnes of oil equivalents) has increased by about 60% over the last 25 years. Over that time the mix of fuels has changed. Oil remains the most used fuel in the energy mix. Coal is still the second largest fuel despite continuing to lose share in 2018 down to 27% of all fuels. Natural gas increased its share to 24%. The contribution of hydro and nuclear power remained relatively flat in 2018 at 7% and 4%, respectively. Strong growth pushed up solar and wind share to 4% of the energy produced.
from BP showing fuel consumption by region 
Nonetheless, the world is on an unsustainable path: the longer carbon emissions continue to rise, the harder and more costly will be the eventual adjustment to net-zero carbon emissions. Decarbonizing the power sector while also meeting the rapidly expanding demand for power, particularly in the developing world, is perhaps the single most important challenge facing the global energy system over the next 20 years.

Despite the continuing rapid growth in renewable energy last year, it provided only a third of the required increase in power generation, with coal providing a broadly similar contribution. The increasing use of coal within the power sector in rapidly growing economies is estimated to have more than accounted for the entire growth of global coal consumption last year. Take a look at what the energy consumption per capita variation is from highest to lowest is. Remember this is total energy consumed and is not necessarily indicative of CO2 equivalents because it includes various types of energy, coal, natural gas (which has half the CO2 emissions of coal), petroleum, renewable energy etc. The total energy consumed and the mix of energy types together determine the CO2 equivalents emitted.

"Driven by higher energy demand in 2018, global energy-related CO2 emissions rose 1.7% to a historic high of 33.1 Gt CO2. While emissions from all fossil fuels increased, the power sector accounted for nearly two-thirds of emissions growth. Coal use in power alone surpassed 10 Gt CO2, mostly in Asia." In 2018 China emitted 9.5 Gt of CO2 or 29% of all emissions, the United States emitted 5.1 Gt of CO2 or 15% of all emissions and India emitted 2.2 Gt of CO2 or 7% of all emissions. CO2 in the atmosphere continues to climb. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

All of Virginia is now in Phase Two

On Friday, Governor Ralph Northam allowed Northern Virginia and Richmond join the rest of Virginia in the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan, easing public health restrictions.

Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring people to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering is now 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures.

Under Phase Two restaurant, bars, breweries and wineries may offer indoor dining/ drinking at 50% of occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30% occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

U.S.Energy Use 2019

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the statistics branch of the Department of Energy, the US used 100.2 quadrillion Btu. last year. Energy sources are measured in different physical units depending on the type of energy source: barrels of oil, cubic feet of natural gas, tons of coal, kilowatt hours of electricity. In the United States, British thermal units (Btu), a measure of heat energy, is a commonly used unit for comparing different types of energy.

In 2019, U.S. primary energy use equaled 100.2 quadrillion (=E15, or one thousand trillion) Btu. If it helps to visualize this any better, that is equivalent to about 2,500 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent) the energy measurement standard used by the International Energy Agency, IEA, the keeper of world statistics. In a world with 7.8 billion people the United States is estimated to have 328 million people, about 4% of the world’s population, 7% of the land mass and use about 16% of the energy (according to 2018 data from BP).

In the United States the US Energy Information Administration collects and reports the energy statistics in quadrillion BTUs and has recently reported the summary data for 2019. These statistics paint a picture of who we are today. The major energy sources in the United States are petroleum-gas and oil (37%), natural gas (32%), coal (11%), nuclear (8%), and renewable energy primarily biomass and hydro power generation (11%). For the first time since 1957 the United States produced more energy we consume. The United States produced 101.0 quadrillion BTUs of energy and consumed 100.2 quadrillion BTUs. U.S. energy production grew 5.7% in 2019 and energy consumption decreased by 0.9% in 2019.

The major users are heating and electric power for residential (16%) and commercial buildings (12%), industry (35%), transportation including cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships (37%). Electric power generation is an intermediate use that ultimately serves other sectors.
from EIA
The slightly complicated chart above shows the types of fuel and the sector that consumes it. Looking at petroleum, you can see that it supplies almost 37% of our energy needs. Transportation, cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships, uses 70% of petroleum and that petroleum provides 91% of the total energy used in transportation. Industry uses 24% of the total petroleum consumed by the United States to supply 34% of the energy used by industry. Studying all the details of the chart tells you a lot about the United States in 2019. It will also allow you to understand the impact that policies, regulation and scientific advances might have on the country.

Coal use has trended down since its peak of 24.0 quadrillion BTUs in 1998, mainly as a result of declining use of coal for U.S. electricity generation. In 2019, coal production was 14.3 quadrillion BTUs. Coal consumption was 11.3 quadrillion BTUs in 2019 in the United States mostly to generate electricity. The difference between production and consumption was exported. Regulations like the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule affecting electricity generation have reduced the use of coal in the United States over the last 10 years from 21% of energy down to 11% of energy used.

Nuclear energy is entirely used in one sector, electrical generation. Even though there were fewer operating nuclear reactors in 2019 than in 2000, the amount of nuclear energy produced in 2019 was the highest on record at 8.46 quadrillion BTUs, mainly because of a combination of increased capacity from power plant upgrades and shorter refueling and maintenance cycles.

Natural gas production reached a record high of 34.9 quadrillion BTUs in 2019. Natural gas is the source of 32% of the energy consumed in the United States and in 2019 was used almost equally for industry, electrical generations and residential and commercial heating. The natural gas consumed in the United States is produced in the United States. U.S. natural gas production and consumption were nearly in balance through 1986. From 1986 to 2006 consumption of natural gas outpaced production, and imports rose. Then in 2006 U.S. production of natural gas began to increase as a result of the development of more efficient and cost effective hydraulic fracturing techniques. U.S. natural gas production has exceeded U.S. natural gas consumption since 2017. Going forward regulations and planning will impact the cost, amount and mix of energy consumed by the nation.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Middleburg Preserve

The Army Corp of Engineers is accepting comments on the Mojax LLC proposal for a residential development north of Snake Hill Road and west of its intersection with McQuay Lane in Loudoun County, Virginia. This area is northwest of the Salamander Resort near Mt. Zion Baptist Church of St. Louis.

Mojax LLC proposes to build a clustered residential subdivision of 30 homes and associated infrastructure. The project is one part of a development called Middleburg Preserve I & II and will impact 1.71 acres of palustrine forested wetlands and 0.12 acre of palustrine emergent wetlands. The expected environmental impacts to the area are associated with 30 residential buildings, driveways, walkways, patios, utilities and a stormwater-management facility. The proposed homes will all be on sewer, but obtain their water from private wells.

The developer proposes that they will avoid and minimize impacts to the maximum extent practicable, and mitigation for all wetland impacts will be provided by credit purchase from approved wetland and stream banks or the Virginia Aquatic Restoration Trust Fund.

Changing the character of the rural area of Loudoun County to include cluster development houses  could impact future water availability to the existing residents and impact sustainability of groundwater and base flow to our rivers. The developer drilled a series of test wells; two drew 50 gallons per minute and others drew 40, 35, 20 and 15 gallons per minute, flow rate in this geology does not in any way show that the wells will be sustainable in the long run. Nor does it demonstrate that these new wells will not impact existing nearby wells. The increase in ground cover by the development would reduce recharge of the groundwater while the 30 additional households would increase demand for water.

The USGS and NASA tells us that the groundwater basin is under stress. In a study published in 2013 in Science, "Water in the Balance," researchers looked at the ten year trend in groundwater in the United States. The lead author was Jay Famiglietti, at the time he was a professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, and Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM). The co-author was Matt Rodell, Chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Using data from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites collected over a 10 year period they were able to track changing groundwater availability all over the United States and the world. The GRACE satellites were launched in 2002 and were replaced in 2018 with the second mission satellites. The data set was for 2003 through 2013. Their data found that the groundwater mass in the Virginia Piedmont region decreased over the ten years of the study.

The U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, maintains a group of groundwater monitoring wells in Virginia that measure groundwater conditions. Only three of the Virginia wells are within Loudoun County and none are in the area of concern. Loudoun County maintains 17 groundwater monitoring wells most that had 6 years of data at the last report and not enough to yet view a trend. There are more than 14,500 active water supply wells in Loudoun County. The median depth of wells drilled in Loudoun County has increased from 150 feet in the 1960’s to the current median of 410 feet. The increase has allowed wells to be drilled cheaper, quicker and deeper to provide increased water storage and wells less subject to drought, but trends in water recharge become harder to see.

Other adjacent areas in Fauquier and Prince William in fractured rock systems of the Culpeper groundwater basin have shown that water level is slowly falling after allowing for the seasonality of groundwater recharge. The decline observed has been modest in most rural areas, but will continue and get worse over time especially if demand for groundwater is increased and impervious surfaces continue to grow, reducing recharge. The USGS and VA DEQ are engaged in a multiyear study of groundwater resources in Fauquier County due to the problems they have been having with the availability and quality of their groundwater.

Middleburg Preserve is a by-right-use of the slightly over 19 acres, and does not need a special use permit. However, a portion of the property is wetlands so the Army Corp of Engineers permit is required. Work began on the site about two years ago, starting with clearing of land and more recently, the drilling of test wells. The land clearing caused Loudoun County to issue a stop work order because a permit had not been obtained.

The Corps of Engineers states that Preliminary review indicates:

(1) no Environmental Impact Statement will be required;
(2) after conducting an Endangered Species Act Review, though the northern long-eared bat may be affected, but no further action is required;
(3) known properties eligible for inclusion or included in the National Register of Historic Places are in or near the permit area and would likely be affected by the proposal.

If you have any comments on this project, you can make them in writing. They can be sent by email to, or regular mail, addressed to: Norfolk District, Corps of Engineers, Northern Virginia Field Office, 18139 Triangle Plaza, Suite 213, Dumfries, Virginia 22026. All comments should be received by close of business June 13.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Most of Virginia enters Phase Two on Friday

On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam signed Executive Order 65 and presented the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue easing public health restrictions while trying to containing the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also amended Executive Order 61 directing Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond to remain in Phase One.

Most of Virginia is expected to enter Phase Two on Friday, June 5, as he reports that key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures.

Under Phase Two restaurant, bars, breweries and wineries may offer indoor dining/ drinking at 50% of occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30% occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond will remain in Phase One. Hopefully, we will not see a hotspot outbreaks in the locations of the protests and rioting that took place over the weekend and in the early part of this week; and we can safely move forward into Phase Two in two weeks.

After the Shut Down Disinfect Plumbing Systems

When the orders to stay at home were issued and many offices, restaurants and other commercial businesses closed their plumbing systems became a breeding ground for bacteria warns the CDC. Stagnant or standing water in a plumbing system can increase the risk for growth and spread of Legionella and other biofilm-associated bacteria. Stagnant water can also lead to low or undetectable levels of disinfectants. The CDC advises all businesses to ensure that their water system is safe to use after a prolonged shutdown to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water.

Legionnaires’ disease causes pneumonia and can be lethal and mistaken for Covid-19. Legionnaires’ disease is caused by contracted by inhaling airborne water droplets containing viable Legionella bacteria. Such droplets can be created, by the spray from hot and cold water taps; atomisers; wet air conditioning systems, showers; and whirlpools, water fountains, etc.. Anyone can develop Legionnaires’ disease, but the elderly, smokers, alcoholics and those with cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory or kidney disease are at more risk.

Recent research has found that Legionella bacteria not only thrive in stagnant water, but also thrive on rust from water pipes and corroding taps and plumbing components. Though most reported cases of Legionnaires’ Disease come from cooling towers and large buildings such as hotels and hospitals, offices, gyms, and even residences are possible sources

To reduce the risk you should flush out plumbing systems that have not been used for some time, (including showerheads and taps), clean and de-scale shower heads and hoses. Cold-water storage tanks should be cleaned and disinfected and water should be drained from hot water heaters, the tanks refilled and heater to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, check for debris or signs of corrosion in the water system. Cold water should be stored below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Legionella bacteria thrives between 68-115 degrees Fahrenheit and cannot survive above 140 degrees.

Water utilities, the Department of Health and other groups are trying to spread the word that the temporary shutdown of a building and reductions in normal water use can create health hazards for returning occupants. Two potential microbial hazards that should be considered prior to reopening  are mold and Legionella (the cause of Legionnaires’ disease). See the CDC and EPA guidance on reopening.

If your location has been closed or only minimally used during the shut down it is necessary to flush the entire plumbing system. Begin by draining the hot water tank and refill and bring up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove and clean all aerators (leave aerators off during flushing); clean all faucets and showerheads; discard any accumulated ice;
  • Flush hot and cold water through all points of use (e.g., showers and sink faucets, hand held sprayers, fountains);
  • Flushing may need to occur in segments in large buildings;
  • Perform flushing with proper ventilation and personal protective equipment. Now is the time to wear a proper respirator or N-95 mask. Care should be taken to avoid inhaling water droplets, especially from shower heads; and
  • Other water-using devices, such as water tanks, softeners etc. may require other cleaning steps in addition to flushing.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Well Test Results

The quality and safety of private or domestic wells are not regulated under Federal or, in most cases, state law. In Virginia and most states only construction of wells is regulated, and the absence of bacteria at well completion is the only water quality test required. Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their domestic well systems and for any routine water-quality monitoring that may take place. However, private well owners often lack a basic understanding of groundwater and wells and the mechanical components in private water systems and are often unaware of common issues with wells, and lack access to objective information and a framework for understanding their water quality.  Help is often available through State Extension offices or the Department of Health. In Virginia both can offer assistance.

Water quality is driven by geology, well construction and condition, nearby sources of contamination, and, within the home, water treatment devices and composition of plumbing materials. Though there are always anomalies in natural system, water often tells story. The other day someone emailed me to discuss their water test results. They had previously emailed to get help will their well water problems and I convinced them that having their water tested would help identify the solution.

Several months ago, our toilets, shower floor, and white dishes all started to become discolored with a pale reddish hue.  Water seems to taste ok and has no noticeable water discoloration when you hold a full glass up to the light.  I can let the glass sit for a long time and still nothing out of the ordinary.   I noticed on your blog that some people notice a bad odor or when the water meets the air it changes color.  We don’t experience that, at least not to the naked eye. No one is complaining and we feel fine. I think we will have our water tested and I would greatly appreciate it if you could confirm which tests we should get.  Also, another fact is that when I lift up the toilet tank lids, I can see there is a lot of sediment but I don’t think it’s slime.   Not sure what the problem is but it seems right to start with the tests. I’ve been cleaning the toilets a lot more often only to find the discoloration returns fairly quickly.  But I only recently looked into the tanks and as I said there is a lot of sediment so I will clean out the tanks and see what happens from there.”

They purchased a WaterCheck Deluxe package from National Testing Laboratories along with an Iron Bacteria and Glyphosate tests. They also have gotten a lead test through offered by their state.  The National Testing packages informational test packages targeted to be an affordable option for consumers. The WaterCheck Deluxe covers 15 heavy metals, 5 inorganic chemicals, 5 physical factors, 4 trihalo methanes, 43 volatile organic chemicals (solvents), and PCB’s. The Minimum Detection Levels, which are the lowest levels at which the laboratory detects that contaminant are below the levels established by the Safe Drinking Water Act, so this relatively affordable test will serve as a broad screen of drinking water. I had recommended the iron bacteria test because of their description of their problems. The glyphosate test was solely their choice. 

The WaterCheck test results showed detectable levels of calcium, copper, iron, lead, magnesium, manganese, potassium, silica, sodium, strontium, uranium zinc, alkalinity as CaCO3, chloride sulfate, turbidity, total dissolved solids, and hardness . All other substance tested for were non-detect (at the sensitivity of the test). Glyphosate was not detected in the sample, but the iron related bacteria was found to be Present with an estimated population of 9,000 cfu/mL.

In order to determine if there is a problem, water test results should be compared to a standard. The usual standard is the U.S.EPA Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) limits. Though private wells do not fall under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Safe Drinking Water Act, the SDWA has primary and secondary drinking water standards that can be used for comparison. Primary standards are ones that can impact health. Secondary standards impact taste or the perceived quality of the water.

The EPA primary contaminants found to be present were lead, copper, uranium, and turbidity. All these substances were below the EPA SDWA standard called the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) or Action Level in the case of lead and copper.  The presence of copper at 0.098 mg/L less than a tenth of the MCL with a neutral water pH spoke of at least some copper piping. Over time, even neutral water will wear away the pipes or water fixtures. The pH of the water was neutral at 7.5. Though the copper and lead levels were below action levels, I am one of those who believe there is not safe level of lead. Lead is either coming from the plumbing or fixtures.

Until 2014 when the 2011 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act went into effect, almost all drinking water fixtures were made from brass that contained up to 8% lead, even if they carried a plated veneer of chrome, nickel or brushed aluminum and were sold as "lead free." So even home built with PVC piping in the 2000's may have some lead in most of the faucets. In addition, equipment in wells may be the source of lead. Galvanized iron is still commonly used for well casings and fittings and drop pipes in well deeper than 600 feet. Before 2014 Prime Western grade “lead free” galvanized steel zinc coating was required to contain between 0.5%-1.4% lead. After 2014, “lead free” galvanized steel have less than 0.25% lead in the surface coatings. Nonetheless, under corrosive conditions, any lead used in coatings can be easily released to the water and pumped to the household tap or accumulate in scale layers on the pipe surface or well bottom where scale can accumulate and be released or picked up and pumped with the water.

A proper lead test using a “first draw” and “flush” sample will tell whether the problem can be controlled by simply running the water, replacing a plumbing fixture or using a lead removing filter on the faucets. Lead is not a naturally occurring contaminant in groundwater. Meanwhile, there are excellent and point of use filters that remove lead including many refrigerator filters. Remember to change them as indicated.

The elevated level of salt can be attributed to a water softener that was turned off, but not bypassed. Though, the water was only a little hard without the water softener operating. The level of iron was about half of the EPA secondary standard, but the level of manganese was more than twice the EPA secondary standard. A water softener can control manganese and iron along with hardness, but can impact taste, elevate sodium level and complicate a reducing (or iron related) bacteria problem.The iron related bacteria test found Iron Related Bacteria present in this sample, with an estimated population of 9,000 cfu/mL. In the past the homeowner had an iron bacteria problem. 

 A well company came out and “ looked at our toilet tank slime (red slime) and recommended we have our well surged.  That was in July of 2017.  They brought a big truck and spent a day or so surging our well.  The slime didn’t return.  By the way, I think what we have now is sediment and not slime.” It may be that what they have is iron bacteria and hard water creating a hard orange crust. It happens.

Iron bacteria can be a huge nuisance. These harmless bacteria can foul a well, damage pumps, stain plumbing fixtures, clog pipes, faucets, shower heads, and produce unpleasant tastes and odors in drinking water. If the wall is fouled then physical removal is done as a first step in these heavily infected wells where the functioning of the pump and well production have already been impacted by the bacterial slime buildup. This is usually a job for a well contractor or pump installer as the home owner had done previously.

Physical removal is usually followed by chemical treatment with chlorine (or less commonly acids). Chlorine is inexpensive and easy to use, but may have limited effectiveness and may require repeated treatments to knock back the iron bacteria. Effective treatment requires sufficient chlorine strength and time in contact with the bacteria, and is often improved with agitation. Though typically a chlorine concentration of 100-200 parts per million for decontamination of a well, a higher concentration 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. In addition high concentrations of chlorine may affect water conditioning equipment, appliances such as dishwashers, and septic systems. You may want to check with the manufacturer of the appliances before chlorinating or have the work performed by a licensed well professional.

Though it is relatively easy to bypass equipment, iron bacteria may remain in the untreated units and reintroduce the iron bacteria into the plumbing system. The recommended strategy is to treat the well with a 500-1,000 parts per million of chlorine 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, and allow the natural recharge dilute the concentration 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. I use chlorine test strips to get an idea of the level of chlorine in the well.

At best this will only knock back the iron bacteria for a period of time. My own well has an iron bacteria problem.  I treat my well every other year.  I warned the homeowner that this treatment will oxidize all the manganese and the little grains of black manganese will have to be manually taken out of all the faucet aerators and the filter on the washing machine and dishwasher several times. This should solve at least for a time the initial problem identified by the well owner, and allow her to consider if she wants to turn on or bypass the water softener.

For a checklist on Chlorine shocking a well see

For more information on lead in well water see the articles below:
Elevated Lead in Water of Private Wells Poses Health Risks: Case Study in Macon County, North Carolina
Kelsey J. Pieper, Victoria E. Nystrom, Jeffrey Parks, Kyle Jennings, Harold Faircloth, Jane B. Morgan, Jim Bruckner, and Marc A. Edwards Environmental Science & Technology 2018 52 (7), 4350-4357 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b05812