Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Rare Earth Minerals in the U.S.

Rare earth elements are critical for advanced technologies such as cell phones, supermagnets, computers, medical apparatus, renewable energies, EV batteries and advanced defense systems. Currently, the U.S. depends on imports for rare earth minerals because we no longer mine them. In the 1990’s China became the world's dominant producer of rare earth minerals. China sold rare earth minerals at very low prices and other mines throughout the world were unable to compete and closed down. China is not our friend and we can no longer depend on China for these critical minerals

However, now the U.S. Geological Survey reports in newly published research and a press release (from which this article is derived) this week that waste rock from long-closed mines in the eastern Adirondack Mountains, New York, contains rare earth elements that may prove useable.

The eastern Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York were heavily mined for iron in the 1800s and 1900s and played an important role in industrialization of the Northeast prior to and during World War II. The mining activities resulted in piles of waste rock and mill tailings (the residuals of ore processing) in various areas throughout the region. In 2015 USGS scientists were able to detect both mineral deposits and larger mill tailings piles from airplane surveys of old iron mines. They then analyzed samples that they took and found rare earth minerals in the deposits, waste and mill tailings.

“The possibility of accessing rare earth elements from mine waste and mill tailings is attractive partly because the minerals have already been excavated from the ground,” said USGS scientist Ryan Taylor, who led analyses of rock samples from the region. “This would reduce mining costs by making it easier to access the minerals. It also allows ‘recycling’ of discarded materials, which could help to remediate these mined areas,” he said.

The rare earth elements are mostly contained in millimeter-size crystals known as fluorapatite that are found in deposits of iron ore. When the iron was mined, the fluorapatite was left behind as waste because it was considered an unwanted impurity. Times and technology change and now the fluorapatite is may prove valuable. The fluorapatite has elevated levels of heavy rare earth elements such as gadolinium, which is used in medical imaging; terbium, which is used in cell phones; and yttrium, which is used in lasers.

The amount of total rare earth elements varies from deposit to deposit, but each deposit is enriched in the heavy rare earth elements, which are far less common than the light rare earth elements. Total rare earth elements range from zero to nearly 2.2% for the waste and tailings piles and zero to nearly 4.8% for ore. Although seemingly low, these concentrations actually indicate significant potential, with the higher grades even comparable to other heavy rare earth element deposits, such as the clay deposits in South China, which are one of the primary sources for China’s rare earth elements and the primary source of the world’s heavy rare earth elements. These grades are also higher than those reported for coal fly ash, a residual of coal combustion that has also been considered a potential source of rare earth elements.

“There may be some challenges to processing the tailings for rare earth elements,” said USGS scientist and project chief Anji Shah. “While the fluorapatite contains recoverable rare earth elements, it also contains thorium, a weakly radioactive element which has economic uses but also requires careful handling."

That thorium, however, makes mill tailings easier to locate by airplane surveys since natural, low-level radioactivity can be seen on the images, Shah explained. The airplane surveys were also helpful for detecting the iron ore bodies themselves because the iron is contained in highly magnetic crystals of magnetite. By measuring subtle variations in Earth’s magnetic field from the sky, the researchers created 3D models showing the size and shape of the deposits beneath Earth’s surface. 

Mill tailings pile outside Town of Moriah,  (Anji Shah, USGS. Public domain.)

Mill tailings pile Essex County, New York.( Anji Shah, USGS. Public domain.)

In addition to mine tailings in the Adirondacks, the USGS is looking into rare earth element occurrences elsewhere in the country, such as in clays in the Southeast or phosphate rocks throughout the U.S. Efforts to map rare earth-bearing formations are also ongoing at the rare earth mine in Mountain Pass, California which closed due to competition from cheap Chinese imports.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Figuring Out Why there is No Water from the Well

There are a number of reasons why a well might suddenly stop producing water, but basically they all break down into:
  • Equipment failure,
  • Piping Leak
  • Depletion of the aquifer or other groundwater problems
  • Failing well,
  • Frozen pipes or well
Equipment problems are the most common so we will start there. The first thing to check for an electrical problem:
  • Circuit breaker tripped
  • Burned out fuse
  • Short, broken or loose wire in the well (may have caused the problem)
If your well stopped working right after a thunder storm, check to see if the well was struck by lightning. This is fairly common in the south and Texas. If there is a short in the pump electrical system it will blow the circuit and if there was a power surge as the pump was turning on a circuit could have blown. To make sure a circuit breaker is not tripped, turn off and on the pump’s circuit breakers or change the fuses. Pumps generally have two circuits tied together because an immersion pump draws a lot of power (240 volts). Make sure both circuits are on- a small water drizzle is one sign of a 240 volt pump getting only 120 volts. If the pump keeps turning off and it is not because of dry well, then there might be a short. A trickle of water or no water could also be frozen pipes. If it’s really cold outside (below zero) check that first.

Intermittent episodes of severe water pressure loss or even no water is usually a sign of a problem with the water supply. If you have water first thing in the morning and again when you get home from work, but the supply seems to run out especially when doing laundry or taking a shower, then the well may be drying out. Diminished flow that is not related to use can be caused by reduced flow through pipes either due to a blockage or cracked pipe. If the water suddenly stops completely that is usually a sign of a mechanical problem.

There is a lot of parts of well system and well design does vary depending on geology, weather, local custom, and age. These days deeper drilled wells are more common, to be less impacted by drought and contamination. The essential components of a modern drilled well system are:
  • a submersible pump,
  • a check valve or foot valve (and additional valve every 100 feet),
  • a pitless adaptor,
  • electrical wiring including a control box if the starter is not in the pump itself
  • pressure switch
  • a pressure tank unless you have a constant pressure pump
  • and interior water delivery system.
To keep the home supplied with water each component in the system and well must remain operational. The most common equipment failure to cause sudden loss of water are:
  • Failed motor on the pump
  • Failed starter for the pump (can either be part of the pump or a separate unit in the basement)
  • Defective pressure switch
The components that are usually in the basement are the pressure tank and pressure switch and potentially the starter. These provide consistent water pressure at the fixtures in the house and the electrical switch that turns on the pump. Most water treatment equipment will also be in the basement, but does not usually affect whether or not you have water. The pump moves water to the basement water pressure tank (unless you have a constant pressure pump), inside the tank is usually an air bladder that becomes compressed as water is pumped into the tank. The pressure in the tank moves the water through the house pipes so that the pump does not have to run every time you open a faucet. Reduced water pressure could be due to a water logged or leaking pressure tank.

Read the pressure gauge on your pressure tank. If it is not showing a pressure of 40-60 psi (or 30-50 psi) that could be a sign that the pump is not turning on. The question is why. The pump could have failed, the well could be dry or not have enough water to operate (there is a cut off on the pump to protect it when the water level is low), the pressure switch could have failed. Pressure switch problems are easy to fix. Many models have a manual bypass lever. If yours does you can force the pump on using the lever. If the pressure starts to rise when you press the lever then you need a new pressure switch. The last one I bought was $25.

If the pressure on the gauge was in the desired range, it could be several things. First let’s make sure the pressure gauge is actually working- tap the gauge with the back of a screwdriver (gently) and see if the gauge moves. Both the gauge and pressure switch can clog with sediment. Yes, the gauge on my last pressure switch failed and I did not see it until I was looking for another problem.

If the pump cannot be heard or measured with a voltmeter to turn on when you manually turn on the pressure control switch, then it is either the starter or the motor. The pump is the piece of equipment subject to the most wear and tear and most likely to fail.

There are two types of pumps; a jet pump and a submersible pump. Most modern drilled wells are built with a submersible pump. In shallow wells and dug wells, above ground jet pumps were often used. Dug wells tend to be older and have concrete lids or other large lid. The pump for a dug well is sometimes in a pit next to the well, a well house, or it will be located in the basement. Jet pumps are easier to check since they are not in the well and you can pretty much see if they are running. A jet pump can lose its prime. So if you have a jet pump check that first. You need water to prime the pump. If you do not have a hand pump you can connect to your system and draw water up, run a hose from the hot water heater. If a jet pump continually looses prime, you probably have a leak either in the foot valve, check valve or a line. Look for it.

Most modern well installations are drilled wells with a submersible pump. A drilled well generally has a 6 inch diameter pipe sticking out of the lawn somewhere. A submersible pump can be checked for in the basement with a voltmeter if you cannot hear it operating. The safety switch and control box for the pump should be in the basement on the wall near your pressure switch.

The submersible pump consists of the sealed pump motor connected to a series of impellers separated by a diffuser that drives the water up the pipe (a flexible tube) to the plumbing system through the pitless adaptor and a pipe that runs from the well beneath the ground to the basement. The starter can be either part of the pump or separately housed in the basement. Either the motor or starter can fail. Submersible pumps should last 14-17 years or more, but silt, sand, iron bacteria and excessive mineral content can impact their life. Any impact to the well -hitting the well pipe with a car or lawn tractor, or a bit of gravel broken loose from the formation can damage the pump.

If you can hear or measure that the pump turns on, yet you have no water or only a little the problem might be a failure of the pipe leading from the well to the house. Depending on the distance to the house this can involve quite a bit of excavating to dig up the pipe and replace it. Look for a waterlogged area. Replacing this pipe has to be carefully done and should not be pieced. If the horizontal well piping between well and building does not slope continually upwards or if it has a high spot, an air lock can form in the piping.

If the temperature outside is below zero and you turn on a faucet and either get nothing or just a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe, first. If your well supply line or the water main is not frozen, you may have water in part of the house, but not others. The most likely pipes to freeze are against exterior walls of the home, or are exposed to the cold, like outdoor hose bibs, and water 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. In sub-zero weather wells with separate well houses can freeze. Keeping the temperature in a well house above freezing will prevent this.

There is no quick way to fix frozen pipes and calling a plumber does not help until the pipes warm up and you can see if any pipes burst. Make sure you know how to turn off the water in case you have a burst pipe (cutting the well power switch will do it). Turn the heat up, open cabinets under the sinks in the frozen bathrooms and kitchens and use ceramic heating cubes if you have them to warm up the area where the pipes are frozen. Plastic piping is considerably more tolerant of freezing than copper pipes. There is a real shot that a plastic pipe can freeze without bursting if all the connections and elbows are sound.

If you need help with a well problem, the Wellcare® Hotline is staffed by the Water Systems Council (WSC), the only non-profit organization solely focused on private wells and small well-based drinking water systems. The Hotline operates Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time, and can be reached at 888-395-1033.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

EPA’s proposed Lead and Copper Rule

 In the waning days of this administration the White House is preparing to sign the U.S.EPA's first updates to the nation's lead and copper standards for drinking water rules since the lead action level was lowered. The update to the rule is seen as strengthening lead monitoring and notifications, and includes the first-ever requirement for testing of drinking water in schools and day cares. So it looks like it is a win for people.  

 Lead in drinking water is a national problem. That lead is predominately coming from the pipes. Lead does not exist in in most groundwater, rivers and lakes- the source water for most municipal and private water supplies. Instead, lead in drinking water is picked up from the pipes on its journey into a home. In older homes the water service lines delivering water from the water main in the street into each home were commonly made of lead. This practice began to fade by the 1950’s but was legal until 1988. Lead was also used to solder copper pipes together before 1988 (when the 1986 ban on lead in paint and solder went into effect). Also, until very recently (2011 Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act) almost all drinking water fixtures were made from brass containing up to 8% lead, even if they were sold as "lead-free." So even homes built with PVC piping in the 2000’s may have some lead in most of the faucets.

 The U.S. EPA regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water known as the Lead and Copper Rule (also referred to as the LCR) has undergone various revisions since it was first passed in 1991, but currently requires that:

  • Water utilities optimize their treatment system to control corrosion in customers plumbing;
  • Determine the tap water levels of lead and copper for customers who have lead service lines or lead-based solder in their plumbing systems;
  • Rule out the source water as the source of significant lead levels;
  • If lead levels exceed action levels (0.010 mg/L) the supplier is required to educate their customers about lead and actions they can take to reduce their exposure to lead.
  • If corrosion control treatment plan continues to fail to reduce lead below lead action level it must begin replacing the lead service lines under its ownership.
  • The cities distribution system usually stops at the property line when the homeowner or building owner becomes responsible. In some cities and communities (like Fairfax, VA) the property owner is responsible for the entire service line from the water main to the house (or other building). 

There are about 75 million homes across the country built before 1980, and are likely to contain some lead plumbing, though homes built until 2011 can contain some lead containing plumbing fixtures. That’s half of the housing. In addition, there are an estimated 7.3 million homes connected to their utility's water mains by individual lead service lines. These homes and buildings are mostly in older cities. These lead service lines are owned in part or whole by the property owner and should have been replaced decades ago. The cities distribution system usually stops at the property line when the homeowner or building owner becomes responsible. In some cities and communities (like Fairfax, VA) the property owner is responsible for the entire service line from the water main to home.

The new rule will tighten the requirements for lead service line replacement. Though the existing rule’s has a 7% replacement rate, it rarely happens because of provisions in the current rule allows partial line replacement which may make lead exposure worse.

Here are some of the changes in the update:

For Large Community Water Systems (serving >10,000 customers)

  • Lead Service Line (LSL) removal begins at 10 part per billions (ppb) versus 15 ppb.
  • More stringent sampling will better find the high lead levels that compel
  • replacement.
  • Systems must replace the entire lead service line when doing a replacement. If a customer replaces their portion the water systems must replace the water system-owned portion of a lead service line.
  • The replacement rate is reduced to 3%. However, systems will no longer be able to “test out” lines. The current rule allows system to count the line as replaced towards their 7% removal if a sample taken from an individual line is below 15 ppb — even when not replaced. This has been a major problem with the current rule.

Currently, water systems can stop the 7% removal of lead service lines if after one year or less once they are below the action level. The proposed rule requires water systems that fall under the rule’s mandatory 3% replacement program to have lead levels less than the 15 ppb action level for two years prior to ending the replacement program. In addition, water systems must make their LSL inventory publicly available, and must notify occupants of homes with LSL every year about the presence of their LSL. This is to allow neighborhood to be informed and take local action. Hopefully, these two steps will keep water systems in the program and get the lead service lines replaced

Finally, in  Small Community Water Systems (serving <10,000 customers) that select LSL replacement as their compliance option would have to replace LSLs on a schedule not to exceed 15 years if they exceed the action level.

Overall, this appears to be an improvement in the Lead and Copper rule that will better protect our inner city communities that are most impacted by lead in drinking water. However, “testing out” of replacement should be eliminated. All lead service lines should be replaced. Those of us on public water need to push to have all lead service lines in our communities replaced. After that the next step is to address the problem of lead in down well equipment.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Grant allows small Community to Connect to Public Water

Washington County Service Authority in southwest Virginia received an Excellence in Community Engagement Award from the U.S. EPA under the 2020 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) AQUARIUS RecognitionProgram.

Residents in the Rattle Creek Road Community using private wells and springs for their drinking water supply approached the Washington County Service Authority (WCSA) and asked to connect to their water system after experiencing years of diminished water quality as more residents moved in and the residents’ wells and springs tested positive for bacteria. The effort was begun by Laura Morrison, a longtime resident.

The Washington County Service Authority partnered with this disadvantaged community to plan and design a solution and assist in the search of funding options. The residents and Service Authority worked together to collect user agreements, water quality data, and other funding application information. Additionally, the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission, which serves counties in southwest Virginia, assisted in the reviews for the Davis Bacon requirements. The Virginia Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Community Development Block Grant programs partnered with the Service Authority to fund this $420,000 project, which included the construction of 6,000 linear feet (LF) of water main, laterals and related appurtenances and provided drinking water to 15 homes and a church.

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program paid for the construction of the water main, the Community Development Block Grant program paid for the installation of the laterals, service lines between the water meters and the homes , and the Service Authority funded the project planning and design. This project was completed in late 2019 and is was a great example of community engagement resulting in public health protection.

For 48 years, Laura Morrison and her husband, Roger, had relied on a spring to provide their home in the Rattle Creek Road community with water.

“The spring has supplied us well throughout the decades,” Mrs.Morrison said last year. “However, more people have moved into the community over the years and also draw from the spring, and we’ve also noticed that the water has become murkier when it rains and isn’t as good to drink.”

She went on: “Whenever the electricity goes out, so does the pump from the holding tank in our basement. We have to go to the spring or to a neighbor on the water system and fill up cans and buckets to use at our house. As we’ve gotten older, it’s become harder for us to deal with that.”

In late 2015, the Morrison family approached the Washington County Service Authority about the possibility of bringing water to the Rattle Creek Road community. Mrs. Morrison oversaw the process of getting paperwork to all of her neighbors who were also interested in being connected and returned those to the Service Authority, who then embarked on the long process of bacteriological testing of the water supplies for those residences, soliciting user agreements for a potential water line extension project to serve those homes, and applying for funding to support the project costs because the residents could not afford to pay for the extension of the Service Authority water mains and the lateral pipes for each home.

Following the completion of the Rattle Creek Water Line Extension Project earlier this year, 15 homes and a Chruch in the Rattle Creek Road community were connected to WCSA’s water service, providing them with clean and dependable access to clean drinking water for the very first time. This all started with Mrs. Morrison who sadly died this past spring, though not until after the project was completed. May her memory be a blessing. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

2020 California Wildfires

The Sanderson fire in Riverside County that started last weekend has been contained. Let us pray that this will be the ending of this dreadful California wildfire season. In 2020 according to Cal Fire the tragic toll of the wildfires was: 9,639 fire incidents that burned 4,177,856 acres of land, destroyed or damaged 10,488 buildings and killed 31 people. The December fires are the latest episodes (and hopefully the last) in what has been a brutal fire season for California and much of the western United States.

Five of the California’s six largest fires on record have occurred in 2020, including the August Complex, the largest fire by area on record for California. It alone burned over 1 million acres in Northern California. The North Complex Fire that destroyed 2,315 structures, was the fifth most destructive in dollar value on record. The Glass Fire that destroyed several vineyards, blanketed the Bay Area with smoke for weeks. 

Smoke over western U.S. from NASA Sept 2020

Wildfire smoke contains a potent mixture of particulates and gases that can pose a serious health hazard. According to researchers with Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, poor air quality from fires in August and September 2020 likely contributed to more than 1,200 excess deaths and 4,800 additional hospital visits in California. This on top of the pandemic.

Wildfires are a natural part of California. However, the fire season in California and across much of the West is starting earlier and ending later each year. Warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and earlier spring snowmelt create longer and more intense dry seasons that make forests more susceptible to severe wildfire. The length of fire season is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierras.

Meanwhile, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service of the European Union reported that in the rest of the world 2020 had one of the lowest level of active fires on the global level. So, while there were fewer wildfires in the rest of the world, the U.S. was hammered by a brutal and unrelenting fire season.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

You Should Regularly Chlorinate Your Well

 It is common practice to “clean” public supply wells on a regular basis. This is often because of an observed decrease or loss of chlorine residual in treated wells which can allow contaminant entry into the well system. This is often caused by sediment or biofilm build-up within the well. Preventive maintenance is to chemically treat and flush the production well.  This need to regularly treat a well to prevent biofilm buildup and mineral encrustation has been well known and practiced for decades in small systems. However, this has not been the practice in private water well. That is beginning to change.

The last time I heard Brad White a groundwater geologist from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Office of Ground Water Characterization give a talk on the work DEQ was doing in Fauquier County, he happened to mention that in every well he put a camera down he had observed iron bacteria.

From Penn State Extension: “As a water well ages, the rate at which water may be pumped tends to decrease.” Penn State attributes this decrease in performance of a well to incrustations and biofouling of well screens and rock fractures or borehole, saying: “In severe cases, the obstruction to flowing water can render the well useless. Major forms of incrustations can occur from build-up of calcium and magnesium salts, iron and manganese compounds, or plugging caused by slime producing iron bacteria or other similar organisms (bio-fouling).”

The Provincial Government of Alberta (Canada) says indescribing iron bacteria: “This slime will coat the inside of the well casing, water piping and equipment, creating problems such as reduced well yield, restricted water flow and red staining of plumbing fixtures and laundry. However, all iron- staining problems are not necessarily caused by iron bacteria. The iron naturally present in the water can also cause significant problems.” There are all sorts of odd problems that are caused by iron bacteria. Over time many wells develop these problems. These harmless bacteria can foul a well, damage pumps, stain plumbing fixtures, clog pipes, faucets, showerheads, and produce unpleasant tastes and odors in drinking water. Yet, water is very rarely tested for iron bacteria since very few certified laboratories conduct the test. 

Yet, private well owners typically try to treat the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. Elimination of iron bacteria once a well is heavily infested can be difficult. Iron bacteria cannot be eliminated by most common water filtration methods or water softeners. Iron bacteria will foul that equipment.  However, though it is difficult to eliminate, it is actually very easy to control – just oxidize the heck out of the well. This is accomplished by chlorine shocking of the well with adequate chlorine concentration and several hours of mixing accomplished by recirculation.  

Thus, routine maintenance of a private water well should include regular chlorination to control biofouling of the well and maintain water quality. Personally, I chlorinate my own well on even number years to prevent the buildup of a biofilm in my well and plumbing system and maintain the aesthetic quality of my water. I drain and flush the hot water heater annually to protect it from biofilm and mineral buildup and keep the temperature above 140 degrees.  If you have treatment equipment like a water softener, you might want to consider chlorinating your well annually and treating your media to prevent a bio mat from forming in the media tanks.

There are so many things that regular chlorination will solve or prevent that you might want to consider it a regular part of home maintenance. Even if you do not chlorinate your well regularly, you should chlorinate your well when:

  • the well is new
  • the well has been repaired
  • the well has been flooded
  • the well exposed to bacterial contamination in another manner, such as a crack in the well cap  

In addition, you should test your well for bacteria each year, usually in the spring (or the wet season), and if there is any change in the taste, color or odor of your drinking water. A confirmed positive test for coliform bacteria requires disinfection at the least.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Governor Announces More COVID-19 Restrictions

On Thursday, December 10th, 2020 Governor Ralph Northam announced a tightening of restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 as new cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in all areas of the Commonwealth. Executive Order Seventy-Two institutes a curfew requiring Virginians to stay at home between 12:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., requires all Virginian over the age of 5 to wear a mask when away from home- indoors and outdoors, and lowers the limit on social gatherings from 25 people to 10 people. The order will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, December 14 and remain in place through January 31, 2021. 

I was going to say Merry Christmas at the end of the above, but the truth is this has zero impact on my life and should on yours also if you are making good decisions. I am asleep before midnight and only get up around 5 am. I always wear a mask when I am away from home and would feel much more comfortable if you did also as well as keep your distance. We are celebrating everything virtually with extended family and friends; and IRL only with my household. Abiding by these requirements and the intent of the order will only make us all safer. Get with the program, peopleBy nature, I am a very conscientious and compliant person. So, why do I bristle at the Executive Orders?  Read the press release here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Wait Till After the Cicadas to Plant Trees

 I’ve lost my favorite ash tree to the destruction of the Emerald Ash Borer that was first found in Prince William County in 2010. In the last decade it spread across the county and my property. Early on the woods covering the back 7 acres of my land had become infested with Emerald Ash Borer and I lost many trees. When the Emerald Ash Borer reached the large ash trees in my ornamental garden, I contacted an arborist to see what could be done.

Pesticides can be applied to individual trees to protect them against Emerald Ash Borer and reportedly can save an ornamental lawn tree. For the pesticides to work the trees must be healthy and have at least 30% of their leaf canopy remaining. There was more than that on my ash. The trees in my wood were beyond hope, but I still held hope for the big ash on the side of the house.

The pesticie protocol in areas were groundwater is used for drinking water is for either emamectin benzoate or a specific formulation of imidacloprid to be injected directly into the base of the tree trunk. The insecticide is transported within the vascular system of the tree from the roots and trunk to the branches and leaves- if it works. This reduces hazards to groundwater and to other plants from drift and protects the applicator from exposure. 

Imidacloprid is not particularly soluble in water. The pesticide profile presented in the Extension Toxicology Network Pesticide Information guide concluded there is generally not a high risk of groundwater contamination when products are used as directed and appropriate precautions are taken. Similarly, the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life noted that when imidacloprid is used correctly, it does not characteristically leach into soil layers leaving the groundwater unimpacted. So, with hopes high and risks low engaged the arborist service to follow the protocol for treatment for the next few years. Unfortunately, despite the treatment, I watched over as the tree died.

This past summer the technician from the arborist came to the door to tell me what I already knew, the tree was effectively gone. I wanted to make arrangements (sounds like a funeral, huh?) to remove the tree before winter, but my husband was resistant. I was afraid of falling branches in winter storms, but my husband still held out some hope and did not want a hole in the yard, I had told him that I would not replant this year because of the cicadas.

 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.

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. Pines and other conifers are not commonly attacked. This fall is 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. Since I intended to replace the tree with an oak, tulip or possibly another species, I am going to wait till next year after the cicidas have risen and gone to plant.

So, I delayed taking down the tree, but it is shedding branches in each storm. Finally, my husband agrees, it’s time.  I have already contacted Wetland Studies and Solutions (who are owned by Davy Tree) and when they come out next month to work on the woodland they will address removal of the ash tree. A sad moment.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Solving Brown Water Problems

A gentleman contacted me through an associate. He seemed to have an unusual problem with his well water and was looking for some guidance on how to solve it. When he used lots of water from the well his water would turn dirty or brown.  The major causes of brownish or dirty water are:

  1. Surface infiltration or other contamination 
  2. Well collapsing or water level dropping 
  3. Iron (and/or manganese) in the water
  4. Iron Bacteria
  5. Earthquakes
  6. Rust or breakdown of the metals in in the well casing or house
  7.  Pollution of the groundwater from septic or other source  

In order to solve the problem, we need to figure out what was happening for the least amount of money. A well that was drying out or collapsing bring up brown water, but generally it would stop if you let the well rest for a few hours. This brown water would last for days at a time, but there was always plenty of water. First thing I needed to do was listen to the gentleman who called me. We talked for almost two hours as I heard his story. Slowly the information I needed to help him came out in little bits as he talked. He had gathered lots of information on his well from county files, the well service company, the water treatment company he had dealt with first.

His well was about 21 years old and was 320 feet deep. It was drilled through 150 feet of clay and sand then 170 feet through granite and sand stone. The well had a casing that ran to 180 feet below grade and was properly grouted. At completion the well had a yield of 30 gallons a minute without any measurable drawdown.  I know this geology it is only about 8 to 10 miles from my house. This is fractured rock it is unlikely that the well was going dry. The well was properly built and it was not likely to be collapsing. We would save hiring a company to use a camera to look at the well as a last resort. So what was going on?

As the gentleman spoke, I told him I would need more information. I needed some water analysis. That’s when he told me that he just had his water tested when he had replaced his water softener and the other equipment which turned out to be a neutralizer. This gave me an idea of what was going on. I had him test the water ahead of the water treatment system and after the treatment when the water turned brown again after using lots of water. 

Below are some of the test results (the rest of the test results only eliminated other possibilities and are not pertinent to our discussion): 

The test results tell a story: When the new water softener and neutralizer were installed they were adjusted properly to give neutral water and iron just at the EPA MCL. However, the untreated water has a combined iron and manganese level of 5.366 mg/L, beyond the ability of a water softener to effectively treat iron and manganese and  there is a lot of iron bacteria which could further reduce the effectiveness of the water softener to remove iron. At September the iron was already breaking out. The sample taken after the treatment system and using lots of water shows massive amounts of iron! The water softener became overwhelmed with too much iron and was allowing untreated water through and shedding excess iron. 

 His water is naturally slightly acid and soft. He never needed a water softener. What he needs is to first treat the well for iron bacteria to push it back and start with a "clean slate." Then remove the water softener and install a an iron aeration and filtration system. This system is not effective on water with iron/ manganese bacteria, but is very effective soluble iron and manganese that are present in this well. The neutralizer should be kept to maintain the pH in the operating range for the iron aeration and filtration system. That should solve the problem. I'll see if we can get this straightened out in the next couple of weeks. An iron aeration and filtration system can remove up to 15 mg/L of iron and manganese. 

Iron and manganese exist in many different chemical forms. Dissolved iron and manganese are easily oxidized to a solid form by mixing with air. In surface water, iron and manganese are most likely to be trapped within suspended organic matter particles. Groundwater tends to be an oxygen poor environment; the deeper the aquifer the less dissolved oxygen is present. Iron and manganese carbonates in an oxygen poor environment are relatively soluble and can cause high levels of dissolved iron and manganese to be carried from a deep well. If sulfur is present in the water then the iron will form iron sulfide rather than iron carbonate and the water may have the familiar unpleasant rotten egg smell. 

When the iron and manganese are oxidized reddish brown or black particles form and settle out as water stands. These particles are often found trapped in washing machine filters, water treatment equipment, in plumbing fixtures and on clothing, dishes and utensils. When he sampled the well for me he took two samples of the brown water and put them on the shelf. The next time he checked them they were clear with the brown particles settled on the bottom.

Some types of bacteria react with soluble forms of iron and manganese and form persistent bacterial contamination in a water system. The reaction changes the iron and manganese from a soluble form into a less soluble form, thus causing precipitation and accumulation of black or reddish brown gelatinous material (slime). Masses of mucous, iron, and/or manganese can clog plumbing and impact the functioning of water treatment equipment. They also slough off in globs that become iron or manganese stains on laundry. Over time the bacteria in the well increases and precipitation caused by bacteria occurs faster and the slime tends to concentrate staining making it more annoying.

All systems of removing iron and manganese essentially involve oxidation of the soluble form or killing and removal of the iron bacteria. When the total combined iron and manganese concentration is less than 15 mg/l, an oxidizing filter also called an iron filter is recommended. These filters convert dissolved iron, manganese, or hydrogen sulfide into a solid form and then filters the solid particles from water. The device uses the same casing as other products by the manufacturer, but the media in the oxidizing filter is typically a manganese-treated greensand or manufactured silica gel zeolite coated with manganese dioxide, plastic resin beads, or other trade named media. With lots of dissolved iron it is necessary to have an iron filter with an air bubble or other air blown in. Maintenance typically involves periodically recharging media with an oxidizing agent and backwashing. Iron filters need to be selected to match the pH of the water. If pH is not in the range of any of the iron filters, then a neutralizer needs to be used or it is best to use chemical oxidation if that is undesirable.

Often when there is hard water and low levels of iron and manganese, a water softener can be utilized to remove both the hardness and the iron and manganese. When the iron and manganese present in a combined concentrations are less than 5 mg/L this will work.  It is important to check the manufacturer’s maximum iron removal level recommendations before purchasing a unit as they are more expensive than iron aeration and filtration systems. This strategy should only be used when the water is hard, otherwise it is a waste of money. However, in years past using a water softener to remove iron was standard practice and there are lots of unnecessary old water softeners out there. 

As you can see, turbidity the measure of the degree to which the water loses its transparency due to the presence of suspended particulates is a problem. The more total suspended solids in the water, the murkier it seems and the higher the turbidity. Turbidity can be caused by silica, soil finds, iron or iron bacteria. Generally, iron bacteria and other reducing bacteria are not problems in the first couple of years of a well. It takes time for the bacteria introduced during drilling to spread. Iron bacteria are present in most soils and can be introduced into a well or water system during drilling, repair, or service. The most common causes of turbidity in wells are dirt and colloidal solids like the iron that are too small and too fine to settle out properly. However, after the jars of water sat on the shelf for a while the water became clear. So, it should be okay. 


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

China Pledges Carbon Neutrality by 2060

President Xi Jinping announced in September at a virtual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly that China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, will become carbon neutral by 2060, and to begin cutting its emissions within 10 years when their population peaks. Under President Xi Jinping goal emissions would continue to rise, from 9.8 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2020 and continue to rise until around 2030 and reach net zero by 2060.

Several Chinese research groups have been working to develop proposals to achieve this goal. According to Nature magazine: “The plans differ in their details, but agree that China must first begin to generate most of its electricity from zero-emission sources, and then expand the use of this clean power wherever possible, for example switching from petrol-fuelled cars to electric ones. It will also need technologies that can capture CO2 released from burning fossil fuels or biomass and store it underground, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).”

Coal-fired power accounts for almost 65% of the country’s current electricity generation, with more than 200 new coal-fired power stations planned or under construction right now. How China plans to achieve this goal is not yet known, but officials are in the process of drafting the country’s next five-year plan which is expected to include policies to achieve neutrality when it is released in March.

Until now, China has claimed exemption from CO2 reduction requirements. It’s pledge under the Paris accord was to have its emissions peak by 2030 when its population is forecast to begin declining. It is assumed that CO2 neutrality will include reducing the other greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero, but that was not stated by President Xi Jinping.

One of the research groups, Tsingua University’s Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, proposed a route to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. In their plan electricity production would need to more than double, to 15,034 terawatt hours by 2060, largely from clean sources. This growth would be driven by an increase in renewable electricity generation including a 16-fold increase in solar and a 9-fold increase in wind, nuclear power would need to increase 6-fold, and hydroelectricity to double. In a centrally planned and controlled economy this level of change over a short period of time is possible. I look forward to China’s release of their plan for emissions reduction and changing their commitments under to Paris accord to reflect their new CO2 emissions goals.