Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Water, No Water Around the World

I subscribe to and read a lot of newspapers and magazines. Water seems to be everywhere in the news lately. According to the Los Angeles Times:

“Downtown Los Angeles recorded 0.12 inch of rain on Monday, three times the previous daily record set in 2013 and enough to make it the area’s third-wettest July on record. The wettest July ever in the city was in 2015, when 0.38 inch of rain fell...”

The rain brought a bit of relief but did little to alleviate the drought’s impact on the state’s reservoirs and overall dryness feeding the wildfires in California.

The New York Times attributes the unusual rain in Los Angeles to  a distortion of the summer monsoon pattern. The Southwest monsoon has arrived and carried with it welcome moisture to the drought-plagued region; however, the monsoon also unleashed flash flooding in Arizona and blinding sandstorms that struck Utah.

From the Egypt Independent:

Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province are suffering from drought and water shortages and the poor population is growing desperate. Residents have taken to the street angry with the government and its poor management of water resources. “The Karun River, which flows through Khuzestan, is Iran’s largest and only navigable river — in theory, that is. It has now dried up... Thousands of years ago, the surrounding province was the source of the Persian culture due to its abundance of water. Now the whole province is parched.”

“Environmental experts have said the current water shortage is also the consequence of a mistaken understanding of agriculture development and progress. The government has been promoting agriculture and allowing the uncontrolled proliferation of groundwater wells, which have exhausted the available water resources. The traditional crops in Khuzestan are rice and sugar cane, both require large amounts of water. Around 90% of Iran’s total water consumption is used up by agriculture.”

From the New York Times:

“This spring, Oakley, about an hour’s drive east of Salt Lake City, imposed a construction moratorium on new homes that would connect to the town’s water system. It is one of the first towns in the United States to purposely stall growth for want of water in a new era of megadroughts.”

Also, from the New York Times:

The storm that flooded Zhengzhou and other cities in central China last week, ...reflects a global trend of extreme weather. The flooding in China engulfed subway lines, washed away roads and cut off villages. Zhengzhou was once “a mere crossroads south of a bend in the Yellow River, the city has expanded exponentially...Today, skyscrapers and apartments towers stretch into the distance. The city’s population has reached 12.6 million...”

According to the NY Times in their rapid development in the last 40 years China had turned to designs from the West that had evolved a century earlier and were ill suited to the climate extremes that China was already experiencing. Cities were covered in cement.

Earlier this month saw flooding in Europe in those older cities as they were inundated with rain. In part this is the cost of building beyond the historical margins of the city into areas never before covered with impervious surfaces, building beyond the margin of safety. In the west we have continued to develop and build into areas that are clearly unsafe if you bothered to think about it. This is the disease of prosperity.  

It is not just how many people, but putting buildings, road and people in places that were never occupied before. Much of the historic development in cities makes flooding from intense storms worse especially as the building continues into the margins of the city and wetlands. All cities are built near water sources susceptible to flooding. Local topography, the amount of impervious cover, stormwater infrastructure all can impact the amount of flooding which can disrupt transportation, water and sewer and other utilities. 

Though a portion of flooding can be attributed to climate change, weather variability is also a factor.  Scientists tell us the impacts of a changing climate are arriving. Heat waves, droughts, increased storm intensity and intense cold snaps are all predicted to increase. Yet, we have continued to expand our cities and communities beyond the margin of safety.

Building, population growth and expansion pushes us beyond the safe limits and encroaches on shared resources. The drought caused wildfires burning millions of acres in California and the Pacific Northwest are an emerging and worsening trend because we built too much for the local and regional water resources. The State Water Project (SWP), developed in the 1960s, is the largest state-built, multi-benefit water delivery system in the United States. The SWP is a system of, 36 damns and reservoirs, 21 pumping plants, five hydroelectric power plants, four pumping-generating plants, and approximately 700 miles of canals, tunnels, and pipelines engineered to store and deliver water. There is no longer enough water stored in wet years to supply all needs during droughts and yet, the state continues to build too far into the woodland/city interface where wildfires are a greater risk.

We watch from the sidelines as we continue to imprudently expand, even here in Prince William County, Virginia. Two proposals that potentially will eliminate the Rural Area are moving forward towards a Board of County Supervisors vote. The first proposal is the revival of the Bi-County parkway, this time called the Va. 234 Bypass. The second proposal is from Maryanne Gahaban and Page Snyder. The two Rural Area large landowners are pushing a proposal to convert almost 800 acres of agriculture zoned land (in which they each have significant ownership) to industrial data centers. They are calling their proposal the PWC Digital Gateway and would add up to an additional 20 million square feet of data center space and untold miles of impervious surface.

Any changes in land use has the potential to negatively impact groundwater, the watershed and the Occoquan Reservoir and significantly increase demand for water. If these proposals pass, this  will set a dangerous precedent and will eliminate the protections that the Rural Crescent provides to our regional water resources and the protection from flooding Rural Crescent provides to the Prince William County. We should know better and indeed, 3 years ago Virginia law was amended to require counties to plan for adequate, sustainable, good quality water. Prince William is not even giving lip service to that.  We are about to destroy our margin of safety with a proposal cloaked in fairness to landowners- in fact a windfall to the few- the project will move forward delivering hundreds of millions of dollars to the developers and landowners. Developing the rural area is like taking life boats off a ship to accommodate more passengers.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Once More Toxic Algae Spotted in Virginia

The Virginia Department of Health has issued a “Harmful Algae Bloom Advisory” where the Public is Advised to Avoid Water Contact for North Anna Upper and Middle Branches of Lake Anna, and the Upper Pamunkey Branch.  In addition, a Harmful Algae Bloom Advisory has been issued for the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

Toxic blue green algae has been found in Lake Anna in Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties in the North Anna Upper and Middle Branches in addition to the Upper Pamunkey Branch as well as the North Fork of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah County. The VDH announced that these areas are “experiencing a harmful algal bloom (HAB) and advised the public to avoid contact with the lake in these areas until algae concentrations return to acceptable levels. These warnings seem to be more frequent in recent years.

Algae blooms form in summers when higher temperatures reduce the oxygen holding capacity of the water, the air is still and especially in years of heavy rains that carry excess nutrient pollution from cities, suburban lawns and farms. The excess nutrient pollution combined with mild weather encourages the explosive growth of algae fed by excessive nutrient pollution.

Not all algal blooms are toxic or hazardous. Only certain species of blue-green algae form the toxin, for reasons that aren't fully understood. Toxic bacteria were not a problem until the 21st century, though algae blooms have been a problem on Lake Erie, the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay and other areas for over half a century. Only algae that contains microcystine or cyanobacteria, a toxin produced by microcystis, a type of blue-green algae that spreads in the summer algae bloom are hazardous.

In the 21st century toxic or hazardous algal blooms have become a global concern in lakes, rivers and oceans. They occur when algae grow out of control under favorable environmental conditions. Hazardous algal blooms, the ones that contain microcystis algae produce microcystine or cyanobacteria toxins, that can lead to the poisoning of fish, shellfish, birds, livestock, pets and others that can lead to human health impact from eating fish or shellfish exposed to toxins as well as drinking water contaminated by toxins.

Some of the most commonly occurring genera of algae are Microcystis, Dolichospermum (previously Anabaena), and Planktothrix. Microcystis is the most common bloom-forming genus and is almost always toxic. According to the U.S. EPA climate change along with nutrient pollution, might be additive factors that combine to cause harmful algal blooms to occur more frequently and in more waterbodies and to be more intense. According to the EPA:

  • Harmful algae usually bloom during the warm summer season or when water temperatures are warmer than usual. Warmer waters due to climate change might favor harmful algae growth.
  • Climate change might affect rainfall patterns, leading to alternating periods of drought and intense storms. This can cause more nutrient runoff into waterbodies, feeding more algal blooms.
  • Algae need carbon dioxide to survive. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air and water can lead to rapid growth of algae, especially toxic blue-green algae that can float to the surface of the water.

 Virginia Tech Extension and the Virginia Department of Health advise:

  • Avoid contact with any area of a lake or pond where water is green or an advisory sign is posted. WHEN IN DOUBT, STAY OUT!
  • Waters that are discolored or have foam, scums or mats that are green or blueish-green should be avoided because they likely contain toxins.  Harmful algae can also be brown or red, and can resemble paint floating on the water.  Toxic algae can stink, smelling nauseating to people, but can be attractive to animals like dogs.
  • Do not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water.
  • Keep children and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algae bloom and quickly wash them off with plenty of fresh, clean water after coming into contact with algae scum or bloom water.
  •  If you, your kids or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom, seek immediate medical/veterinarian care.

Symptoms: Human contact with HABs can cause rashes, stomach upset, diarrhea and vomiting.  Dogs can show symptoms including staggering, drooling, breathing difficulty, convulsions or seizures.

To ensure fish fillets are safe to eat, properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature.

For keep abreast of the areas to avoid Virginia Department of Health maintains an interactive map at

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Air Quality in Haymarket Impacted


This morning at 5 am this was the air quality at Long Park in Haymarket. This happens to be one of the higher levels I have seen at this monitoring station, though still within the U.S. EPA standard for only moderate pollution. In 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the reduction in the fine particle pollution, PM2.5, average annual allowed level to 12 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) or an AQI of 39. The 24-hr standard was recently revised to a level of 35 ug/m3 (an AQI of 99) and in truth not all cities in the United States currently meet that standard. Usually Long Park is around 15-25 AQI.

According to the U.S. EPA the air quality is acceptable but some sensitive induvials may be impacted. So, if you need to mask up when outdoors for the next few days. The forecast is for air quality to remain impacted from the wildfires in California through the weekend.

The US EPA established the AQI for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act. Each of these pollutants has a national air quality standard set by EPA to protect public health:

  • ground-level ozone
  • particle pollution (also known as particulate matter, including PM2.5 and PM10)
  • carbon monoxide
  • sulfur dioxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
According to the California Air Quality Control Board the data from recent wildfires showen increases in the metal composition of PM2.5 as well. Several recent fires saw significant increases in both lead and zinc. So take care and keep your eye on the air quality

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Below Average Dead Zone Forecast for 2021


from VIMS

The “Dead Zone” of the Chesapeake Bay refers to a volume of hypoxic water that is characterized by dissolved oxygen concentrations less than 2 mg/L, which is too low for aquatic organisms such as fish and blue crabs to thrive. Within the hypoxic area life of the bay dies and a “Dead Zone” forms. The Chesapeake Bay experiences hypoxic conditions every year, with the severity varying from year to year, depending on nutrient and freshwater flows into the bay, wind, and temperature.

In late-June, the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, United StatesGeological Survey, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science andUniversity of Michigan scientists released their prediction for a smaller thanaverage 2021 Dead Zone. This prediction was based on lower than average water and nitrogen flows into the bay from January – May 2021. Though different types of nutrients contribute to the annual dead zone, history has shown that the amount of nitrogen that enters the Bay from January-May is a key driver in the size of the dead zone.  In spring 2021, river flows entering the Bay were 13% below average, but still fell within the normal range.

That’s the forecast and at various times each summer the Maryland Department of Natural Resources will measure the actual dissolved oxygen in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay main stem and the size of the Dead Zone. While the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Anchor QEA and collaborators at UMCES, operate a real-time three-dimensional hypoxia forecast model using measured inputs that predicts daily dissolved oxygen concentrations throughout the Bay ( using the National Weather Service wind monitoring data.

The peak of oxygen depletion typically occurs in July or August. Water temperatures are highest during these months and the days are longest accelerating the growth of phytoplankton that ultimately consumes all the dissolved oxygen. The dead zone is typically gone by late fall. Cooler air temperatures at that time of year chill the surface waters, while the deeper water remains warm and allows more mixing of the layers during storms. Cooler water also will hold more oxygen. The size and shape of the dead zone is variable from month to month during the summer.

At the end of the season the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Anchor QEA and collaborators at UMCES compile all the collected data to report the actual results. Though last year’s prediction was that the Dead Zone in 2020 would similarly be slightly less than average, the actual Dead Zone experienced last year was significantly smaller and or shorter duration than expected.  Springtime nitrogen inflows in 2020 were 17% below the long-term average, resulting in the original forecast.  The actual ChesapeakeBay Dead Zone report from VIMS says: “However, cool windy weather helped mix and aerate Bay water in the spring, resulting in hypoxia starting later than usual. As summer arrived, weak winds and very high temperatures allowed hypoxia to increase considerably, resulting in a very large dead zone in late July... In 2020, hypoxia decreased quickly in early August in response to Hurricane Isaias; however, hypoxia returned in early September until stronger winds and cooler temperatures prevailed, ending hypoxia in the mainstem of the Bay earlier than in previous years.”

from VIMS

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Rain, Drought and Climate Change

Wildfires are burning in California and the Pacific Northwest.  Last week Europe was inundated with rain, and it is believed that hundreds may have been killed in the flooding in Germany alone. Though each extreme event needs to be studied by scientists before it can be determined how much is attributed to weather variability or climate change, Scientists tell us the impacts of a changing climate are arriving. Heat waves, droughts, increased storm intensity and intense cold snaps are all predicted to increase.

The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to the current 417 parts per million in the last 150 years and will continue to rise. Scientists believe the human-produced greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the 1-degree Celsius increase in Earth's temperatures since 1880. Unfortunately, scientists also believe that we have passed the tipping point which was 400 parts per million of CO2 equivalents in the atmosphere.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change created by the World Meteorological Organization) considers some additional warming of the planet to be irreversible. According to the IPPC, “Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.” The expected impacts are continued warming of the planet, rainfall pattern changes and significant rising of sea level.

According to NASA: “Current climate models indicate thatrising temperatures will intensify the Earth’s water cycle, increasingevaporation. Increased evaporation will result in more frequent and intensestorms; but will also contribute to drying over some land areas. As a result,storm-affected areas are likely to experience increases in precipitation and increasedrisk of flooding, while areas located far away from storm tracks are likely toexperience less precipitation and increased risk of drought.

There is not going to be less precipitation, warmer air can hold more moisture and rainstorms on a global scale may increase. There will be less snow and rain patterns and location will change. We must prepare for that. The flooding in Europe was caused by a storm that stalled out for hours as seven inches of rain fell. This was a fraction of the 40 inches of rain some areas of Texas received when Hurricane Harvey stalled out for four days but may be an indication of future events.  It is postulated that the warming in the Artic is weakening the jet stream that would result in storms moving more slowly. A study from the Earth Institute ofColumbia University indicates that weather events could become more extreme andwould linger longer. Longer heat waves, cold snaps and slower moving storms.

We are past the point where we can try to stop or reverse climate change and hope the climate will return to what it had been. It is a couple of decades too late for that. We now need to prepare. Much of the historic development in cities makes flooding from intense storms worse. Local topography, the amount of impervious cover, stormwater infrastructure all can impact the amount of flooding which can disrupt transportation, water and sewer and other utilities. This was demonstrated in Europe this past week; however, while the Germans were being inundated, the Dutch were not.

About 15 years ago the Dutch Government began the development of the “Room for the River Program.” The main strategy was to reduce flooding (always a problem for the Dutch) and manage higher water levels in rivers by lowering the levels of flood plains, creating water buffers, relocating levees, increasing the depth of side channels, and the construction of flood bypasses. This program involved over 30 coordinated projects that were completed at the end of 2018. While there was a breach in one dike last week that caused some flooding briefly until it was repaired, the program prevented major flooding.

 We need to emulatethe Dutch and protect our cities and communities from climate change. We cannot stop it, that ship sailed. If we are to survive as a first world nation and protect our most vulnerable, we must face the facts. We cannot throw away our financial flexibility on feel good programs and aggressive carbon reduction schemes that are too late to make a difference.  We need to plan and build for the future we are going to have. Realistic preparation for the future is what we need to do. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Out of Time: Egypt and Sudan will Fight for the Nile

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is located in the headwaters of the Blue Nile the major tributary to the Nile River. It is at the center of an escalating dispute between Egypt and Sudan on one side and Ethiopia on the other.  The hydroelectric dam will produce 6,400 megawatts of electricity once the 74 billion cubic meter reservoir is filled. The Renaissance Dam will be Africa's largest hydroelectric power plant enabling Ethiopia to export renewable power and boost the economy and influence of Ethiopia, but also allowing Ethiopia to control water flow to Egypt.

Ethiopia began filling the reservoir behind the dam in 2020. Egypt is rightly worried the dam will affect the overall flow of the Nile River and together with Sudan which is also located downriver brought the issue to the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council did not see itself as an appropriate forum for discussion of a water issue since the council is designed to focus on security matters. If Egypt had really been hoping to force negotiations, they were disappointed last Thursday. However, this was political theatre to show how Egypt offered good will and time and again involved multiple parties to mediate. The optics of the situation were a little blurred by Egypt and Sudan holding joint military maneuvers last May, but the show of power was also important. Egypt has vowed not to allow the dam to impede its water supply.

African Union-mediated negotiations failed to bring an agreement where Ethiopia believes the water resources that originate in their country are theirs and Egypt and Sudan were guaranteed the water rights by the British, a quirk of the colonial history of the region.   The 1920’s Anglo-Egyptian Treaty amongst other things granted Egypt an annual water allocation of 48 billion cubic meters and Sudan 4 billion cubic meters out of an estimated average annual yield of 84 billion cubic meters. The 1959 agreement increased water allocations to both Egypt and Sudan 75% and 25% of the Nile’s water respectively, with none allocated to the source nations.  

Some 280 million people in 11 countries in the basin depend on the Nile River which has been the primary source of irrigation for more than 5,000 years. Egypt and Sudan are dependent on the Nile water for 98.26% and 96.13% of their annual water need, respectively (FAO 2015).  Few nations rely so completely on a single river, and 80% of the water that flows into the Nile originates in Ethiopia. Water rights along the Nile have been disputed since the 1959 agreement which allocated all the remaining waters of the Nile; today, the conflict threatens to escalate to war. Egypt and Sudan feel their survival is threatened. Scientific studies done at the University of Southern California show the dire water situation that will result downstream from Ethiopia’s continued actions. This is forecasted to be the largest water dispute in human history.

Egypt is largely a desert; but is the most populous Arab state with a large segment of its population dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, not to mention the food security. Any reduction in water flow to Egypt would impact political and economic stability and cause a humanitarian crisis as Egypt is already experiencing extreme water stress with less than 600 cubic meters of water per capita per year. 

Cairo University has estimated Egypt would lose over half of its farmland if the reservoir is filled in three years, as Ethiopia is doing- they are just entering the second year. Once the fill is completed, the Nile flow would in theory return to normal, but control of the Nile flow would belong to Ethiopia. They claim that the impact from filling the reservoir will be far smaller. Egypt could suffer less damage if Ethiopia and Egypt work together adjusting the rate of filling the reservoir to ensure that Egypt's own reservoir, Lake Nasser, stays full enough to meet its needs during the fill. Nonetheless, this may be the biggest treat to Egypt’s existence in 5,000 years.

The Nile River moves through Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Each country views the Nile as at least partly their own. Egypt receives the lion's share of Nile waters: more than 55 billion of the around 88 billion cubic meters of water that flow down the river each year. Still, Egypt has one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, some 600 cubic meters a person. Egypt's population was 19 million in 1947 and has reportedly reached more than 96 million today without any increase in water availability.

In its 2013 report, titled “Water Resources and Means to Rationalize their Use,” Egypt revealed that each Egyptian's annual share of water declined from a water surplus of 2,526 cubic meters in 1947 to a sufficient level of 1,972 cubic meters in 1970 (when their population was around 35 million), and then water poverty (U.N.’s threshold of water poverty) at less than 600 cubic meters today. The flow of the Nile has not increased and it has been the limiting factor in the growth of Egyptian population and their economy.

Official forecasts are that Egypt will double its population in 50 years without more water this is impossible. There is simply not enough water and control of the existing supply may now belong to Ethiopia. In a 2015 Declaration of Principles agreement, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to contract an independent study of the dam's impact and abide by it for filling the reservoir and operating the dam. However, the study was never completed.

Egypt and Sudan face not only the limitations on the flow of the Nile, but also the shifting of power now that Ethiopia will to a large extent control the flow of the Nile. The regional tensions are growing. Egypt and Sudan alliance may not be solid. Sudan’s could gain from a separate agreement with Ethiopia for electricity supply and flooding prevention during rainy seasons.

For Ethiopia, the $5 billion dam is the realization of a dream. Ethiopia's infrastructure was among the least developed in the world, leaving most of its 95 million people without access to electricity. The hydroelectric dam will have the capacity to generate over 6,400 Megawatts, a massive boost to the current production of 4,000 Megawatts. The electric power and water will shift the geopolitical forces of the region. Egypt may realize this is their one last chance as the locus of strength and power shifts with control of the water, no government can survive the loss of half their farmland.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan & Flood Mitigation Fund

Coastal Virginia is threatened by rising waters. High rates of land subsidence, combined with sea level rise, means Virginia is experiencing one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise in the United States. Virginia has experienced more than 18 inches of relative sea level rise in the past 100 years. More intense hurricanes and nor’easters, more frequent heavy rainfall events and increased frequency of tidal flooding from sea level rise are predicted from the changing climate.

Climate change is to a large extent attributed to human-produced carbon emissions. Though global energy-related CO2 emissions fell during the pandemic, this is expected to be temporary. Emissions of carbon dioxide have on average been rising by about 1% per year worldwide for the past decade despite the efforts of many nations to curtail fossil fuel use. Scientists tell us that increased CO2 in the atmosphere inflicts climate changes that will result in the continued rising sea level and more severe storms that threatens the property and livelihood of  Virginians who call the tidewater home.

The tidewater, Virginia’s coastal region, covers 8,950 square miles, approximately one quarter of the state. There are more than 10,000 miles of tidally influenced shoreline at risk of flooding. Recent estimates show that 250,000 acres of land, 1,469 miles of roads, and property valued at $17.4 billion lie less than five feet above the high tide line in Virginia. Joshua Saks, Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, came to speak to the virtual meeting of the Potomac Watershed Roundtable last Friday about the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan and the Flood Mitigation Fund.

The Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework lays out the Commonwealth’s approach to coastal protection and adaptation which is intended to make our coastal communities and economies more resilient to increased flooding expected from subsidence of the land and climate change. This Framework establishes the goals, objectives, guiding principles, and key actions the Commonwealth plans to take to enhance costal resilience, with an emphasis on protecting key assets, developing cost-effective natural strategies, conserving and enhancing natural flood controls, and ensuring equity for underserved communities. The Master Planning Framework was created by Executive Order 24, signed by the Governor in November of 2018.

The Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund was established to provide support for regions and localities across Virginia to reduce the impacts of flooding, including flooding driven by climate change. The first thing that was needed was a source of funding. In the 2020 legislative session Virginia passed the Clean Economy Act and it was signed into law in July 2020. Amongst other things the legislation had the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional cap-and-invest program for the electric sector in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

RGGI is a carbon-trading/ cap program that is already in place in ten New England states. The RGGI reduces carbon emissions from fuel fired power plants by putting a price on carbon. According to Deputy Secretary Saks, joining RGGI will create nearly $100 million in revenue each year. This money does not appear out of thin air, the actual source of the RGGI revenue will be increased power rates since the cost of the carbon allowances is part of the rate base for electricity and will be passed onto consumers. 

The Clean Economy Act created the Community Flood Preparedness Fund to invest the RGGI carbon fees into flood protection for vulnerable residents in Virginia, and energy efficiency gains for low-income residents (to mitigate the increased costs of power to low-income residents). The first round of Applications are due by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2021.They will begin collecting the next round of applications within days.

The fund will prioritize projects that are in concert with local, state and federal floodplain management standards, local resilience plans and the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan- that is a lot of regulatory coordination to navigate. Yet, the fund hopes to utilize existing infrastructure to put together  projects. The fund can be used for communities to complete vulnerability assessments and develop and implement action-oriented approaches to bolster flood preparedness and resilience. However, the fund cannot be used to pay for the management and tracking of the expenditures. 

The from DCR following conditions apply to the use of moneys allocated from the fund:

  1. Localities shall use money primarily for  implementing flood prevention and protection projects and studies in areas that are subject to recurrent flooding as confirmed by a locality-certified floodplain manager.
  2. Moneys in the fund may be used to mitigate future flood damage and to assist inland and coastal communities across the commonwealth that are subject to recurrent or repetitive flooding.
  3. No less than 25% of the moneys disbursed from the fund each year shall be used for projects in low-income geographic areas.
  4. Priority shall be given to projects that implement community-scale hazard mitigation activities that use nature-based solutions to reduce flood risk.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

CO2 Emissions take a Breather for Covid

from IEA

The International Energy Agency, IEA, has released its 2020 world CO2 emissions review. As you have probably heard or read the lock downs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic caused a significant economic slowdown and reduced global carbon emissions, albeit temporarily. Global energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8% according to IEA, this was the largest annual percentage decline since World War II. 

In different parts of the world, the pandemic impacted emissions in different ways. According to the IEA: "On average, advanced economies saw the steepest declines in annual emissions in 2020, averaging drops of almost 10%, while emissions from emerging market and developing economies fell by 4% relative to 2019." While most economies saw a decline of emissions. China was the only major economy to record an increase in annual CO2 emissions in 2020.

The IEA based in Paris was established in November 1974 in response to the global oil crisis created by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. Its primary mandate was to promote energy security amongst its member countries. Over the years the mission has evolved to include holding global warming at 1.5-2.0°C by providing policy recommendations for ways to ensure reliable, clean energy for its 28 member countries (which includes the United States). 

In all the years that the IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there have only been four times in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980's; 1992 and 2009 and now a pandemic. Many international borders were closed and populations were confined to their homes, which reduced the use of fuel for transportation and changed consumption patterns. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, emissions of carbon dioxide had been on average rising by about 1% per year world wide for the past decade (though there was no growth in 2019). Renewable energy use has been expanding rapidly, but much of the renewable energy is being deployed alongside existing fossil energy, not replacing it. Meanwhile CO2 emissions from transportation has continued to rise. (Le Quere, Jackson et al) 

In China, the world’s largest CO2 emitter and the first country to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, CO2 emissions dropped by 12% in February relative to the same month in 2019, as economic activity was curtailed. In April, China’s economic recovery lifted its monthly CO2 emissions above their 2019 level. For the remainder of the year, emissions in China were on average 5% higher than 2019 levels.

Scientists once hoped that CO2 emissions could be held below the “tipping point,” now the plan is to quickly reach peak emissions and then reverse course reducing global net human-caused CO2 emissions by about 45 % from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching ‘net zero’ emissions around 2050. (Forbes, 2019). Peak emissions will occur when China and India peak in their emissions. The United States and European Union emissions have been falling and are rapidly becoming irrelevant to controlling CO2 emissions, though the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still the key element that mankind can change.

 Global CO2 emissions have continued to grow and scientists are forecasting that atmospheric CO2 concentrations will reach 560 ppm by 2060. Science Magazine published an excellent review and summary by Paul Voosen at this link. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still the key element that mankind can change, but the climate change for the next 20-30 years is pretty much baked into the existing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has a long lifetime in the atmosphere. Thus, even if the emissions of greenhouse gases were to be sharply curtailed to bring them back to natural levels immediately,  Earth will continue warming for the rest of the century.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

HL Mooney Advanced Waste Water Treatment Plant

 It has been years since I’ve been down to visit the HL Mooney Advanced Waste Water Treatment Plant. This past week I attended a Zoom virtual tour of the operation. Since I was there the HL Mooney AWWTP has completed an expansion and now is licensed to operate at around 24 million gallons a day. Expanding as Prince William Counties’ population grows. In addition, to the HL Mooney plant, Prince William owns a share of the capacity of the UOSA plant in Fairfax. Prince William’s share of UOSA is 19.8 million gallon a day. HL Mooney serves the easter population of Prince William County. The UOSA plant serves the western portion.

From PW Water Academy

Sanitary sewers carry wastewater from homes and businesses to the raw wastewater pumping stations around the eastern portion of the county. From the pump stations, the waste is pumped tot the treatment plant. The wastewater flows by gravity, once it reaches the plant.

Solids go to the landfill

Bar Screens with three eights of an inch holes let water pass, but not trash (such as rags, diapers, wood, tires and other junk.). The trash is collected and properly disposed of. The screened wastewater is pumped to the Grit Chambers that are the primary settling basins.

The Grit Chambers or settling basins slow down the flow to allow smaller particles like coffee grinds and dirt to settle from wastewater by gravity. After the waste water has been screened and allowed grit to settle out, the primary wastewater flows onto the next stage of treatment. The next step is the equalization basins which aerate and control the flow. In the primary clarifiers settling is chemically enhanced. Scrapers collect the solid matter that remains (called "primary sludge"). A surface skimmer collects scum or grease floating on top of the basins.

The next step is the Aeration Basins supply large amounts of air to the mixture of primary wastewater and helpful bacteria and the other microorganisms that consume the harmful organic matter. The growth of the helpful microorganisms is sped up by vigorous mixing of air (aeration) with the concentrated microorganisms (activated sludge) and the wastewater. Adequate oxygen is supplied to support the biological process at a very active level. The ratio of food (organic matter) to organisms to oxygen is continually monitored and adjusted to meet daily variations in the wastewater. There are five parallel basins.

The secondary clarifiers allow the clumps of biological mass (the microorganisms) to settle from the water by gravity. 90-95 % of this mixture, called "activated sludge," is returned to the aeration basins to help maintain the needed amount of microorganisms. The waste stream passes through a series of filters where methanol and a carbon source are used to remove nitrogen.

The final step in the treatment is ultraviolet disinfection (which replaced chlorine disinfection). After disinfection, the water passes through a step aerator which looks like a set of cement steps and is discharged to Neabsco Creek, a Potomac River tributary. Currently, the water released to the creek contains 1 mg/l Total Suspended Solids (TSS), is non detect for Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), 0.1 mg/l phosphorus, and is currently 3 mg/l of nitrogen according to the permit. The water released meets the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) criteria. The final effluent is monitored daily.