Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Protections are needed for the Occoquan

This week is Source Water Protection Week. While scrolling through local news reports, I came across this news report in the Potomac Local:

“According to the airport’s operations manager Richard Allabaugh, about 11:53 p.m. on August 24, there was an accidental discharge of fire-retardant foam at the Leidos Hangar facility on Frank Marshall Lane. There had been no fire in the hanger, which is when such a system would have gone off as designed.” (Rick Horner, Potomac Local)

Mr. Allabaugh, himself, was kind enough to send me the pictures below.

The release took place at night

The berms were place to prevent the foam from leaving the site

The next morning

For the second time in less than two years Manassas Airport has had a significant release of fire suppression foam unrelated to fires. Aqueous film-forming foam, which is known as AFFF, is a firefighting foam widely used in the aviation industry because it quickly extinguishes fuel fires by spreading across the surface, depriving the fire of oxygen. This also makes a spill hard to control. The foam contains chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are persistent in the environment and bioaccumulate.

This time the foam did not reach the waterway and according to Mr. Allabaugh was fully contained on-site by the cleanup crew. DEQ, the County HazMat team, and Fairfax Water were appropriately notified of incident. The Manassas Airport is upstream from the Occoquan Reservoir along Cannon Branch which flows into Long Branch, and accidents do happen.  The response by the airport operations was by the book.

from Google maps

The Occoquan Reservoir consists of 1,400 acres containing 8.5 billion gallons of water that provides 40% of the daily water supply for Fairfax Water which in turn supplies Prince William Service Authority and a significant portion of Loudoun County. The reservoir’s water quality is a reflection of its watershed; spills, roadway runoff, stormwater carrying oil, salt and dirt are all carried into the Occoquan Reservoir. The water from the reservoir is then treated by the Griffith Water Treatment Plant and piped out to customers.

Forty percent of the 570 square miles of the Occoquan Watershed including the headwaters of the Occoquan are in Prince William County. When the Occoquan Reservoir was first built 1957 it was located in a rural and forested area and the water was pristine. The unrelenting growth and development in this region has changed that.  Without additional treatment lines there are limits to what contaminants the Griffith Water Treatment Plant can remove from the raw water.  Because they are water soluble, traditional water treatment technologies used by Fairfax Water are not able to remove PFAF from the raw water.

Reportedly, testing was done after the February 2020 spill of fire suppression foam that was not fully contained on site. The Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory did not find significant PFAS contamination in the Reservoir. The 8.33 billion gallons would have diluted the PFAS present if it was carried to the Reservoir, but PFAS is known as the forever chemicals because they take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade and accumulate in people and the environment. Traces of these chemicals have become ubiquitous in our environment.  The levels of PFAS found were all below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health advisory level of 70 ppt. The EPA has not yet established a health based MCL.  

Still, the water quality of the Occoquan Reservoir is of concern. Last fall, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors issued Directive No. 20-86 for county staff to develop a protection overlay district for the Occoquan Reservoir. County staff reports that they have reviewed a recent report prepared by the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Lab of the Occoquan Watershed and the Reservoir System water quality. The county staff has discussed the report-findings with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. 

Staff is also reviewing reports and recommendations from local committees and environmental groups and evaluating current design standards and development practices, in relation to water quality trends in the Reservoir. An overlay district could be used to limit the types and amount of development on land within the watershed to protect the Occoquan Reservoir to control non-point source contamination, it could also be ineffective if too loose or constantly overridden by the Board of Supervisors. Further development is a very real threat to our drinking water supply for more information see the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Lab report.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

EPA Bans Hydrofluorocarbons

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule establishing a comprehensive program to cap and phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the United States. HFCs are potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, as well as foams and many other applications.

This final rule will phase down the U.S. production and consumption of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years, as mandated by the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act that was enacted  by the U.S. Congress in December 2020. The AIM Act not only phases down HFCs, but  also ushers in the use of more climate friendly and energy efficient alternatives. American companies are at the forefront of developing HFC alternatives and the technologies that use them. If there were a  global phasedown of HFCs, it could  avoid up to 0.5 °C of global warming by 2100. 

The total emission reductions under this rule from 2022 to 2050 are projected to amount to the equivalent of 4.6 billion metric tons of CO2. EPA used the social costs of HFCs to monetize the benefits of this rule. EPA estimates that in 2022, the annual net benefits of this action are $1.7 billion, rising to $16.4 billion in 2036 when the final phasedown step is reached. The present value of the cumulative net benefits of this action is $272.7 billion from 2022 through 2050. The benefits are calculated over the 29-year period from 2022–2050 to account for the years that emissions will be reduced following the consumption reductions from 2022–2036.

The press release says that the Biden-Harris Administration is marshalling a whole-of-government approach to prevent the illegal trade, production, use or sale of HFCs; support the transition to HFC alternatives and encourage the reclamation and recycling of HFCs from retired equipment.  “To help ensure the integrity of the program and a rigorous and timely phasedown, EPA will work with the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the illegal import and trade of HFCs through an interagency task force. The task force will be led by experts from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations and EPA to detect, deter, and disrupt any attempt to illegally import HFCs into the United States.”

They believe that it will be necessary to make the U.S. Boarder somehow impervious to illegal trade of these substance.  Despite the economic benefit to society due to the reduction of 4.6 metric tons of CO2 equivalents, there is a significant cost to homeowners and businesses to replace refrigeration and cooling equipment. I look forward to seeing how effective these plans are because boarder control has not been the administration's strong suit. This element was deemed important enough in the Administration’s planning to be called out in the press release. So there must be considerable profit to be made by smuggling HFCs into the U.S.

The plans to phase down the use of HFC's began in July 2016 when then Secretary Kerry attended the “Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol,” which took  place in Vienna, Austria to discuss the utilizing the Montreal Protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  At the time the parties created the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. According to a report at the time from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, HFCs had become one of the fastest growing greenhouse gases, with atmospheric concentrations growing every year. HFC had replaced chloroflurocarboncs (CFCs) under the Montreal Protocol.

In the 1980’s when Scientists identified and documented the growing hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica, the nations were alarmed. Then the NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory postulated the mechanism that created the Antarctic ozone hole. According to their work, the hole in the ozone was created by a reaction of ozone and chlorofluorocarbons free radicals on the surface of ice particles in the high altitude clouds that form over Antarctica.

The nations met and finally were able to negotiate the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out the manufacture and use of ozone-depleting substances in 1987. The Montreal Protocol was ratified by all nations and is always cited as the most successful multilateral environmental treaty to-date. The Montreal Protocol forced the phase-out of ozone-depleting gases chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and later hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). In 2016 at the Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties the signatories met to negotiate the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that had replaced CFCs and HCFCs. While HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer they are a potent greenhouse gas and using the framework of the Montreal Protocol seem expedient. 

According to climate scientists, HFC currently used in the air conditioning and refrigeration industry have global warming potentials thousands of times greater than CO2, though their current impact is limited. Air conditioner sales in many emerging high population economies such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia are growing at 10-15% per year. Scientists now believe that it is essential to phase out HFCs (and natural gas) to mitigate climate change.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Occoquan Reservoir and Development in the Rural Crescent

 Last Monday the Prince William Conservation Alliance sponsored Protecting the Occoquan Reservoir: Our Shared Water Source! with special guest Stephen Souza PhD, past president of the North American Lake Management Society, the article below is based on his presentation.  Dr. Souza addressed how development of the Rural Crescent and essential portion of the Occoquan Reservoir watershed will negatively affect the reservoir and drinking water in our region.

The Occoquan Reservoir is 1,400 acres containing 8.5 billion gallons of water that provides 40% of the daily water supply for Fairfax Water which in turn supplies Prince William Service Authority and a significant portion of Loudoun County. The reservoir is a reflection of its watershed.  The Occoquan Watershed is 590 square miles two thirds of which is in Prince William County including the all important headwaters of the Occoquan.

When the Occoquan Reservoir was first built 1957 it was located in a rural and forested area and the water was pristine. The unrelenting growth and development in this region has changed that.  In 1982 to protect the Occoquan from contamination, Fairfax County turned 5,000 acres bordering the reservoir into parkland and down zoned 41,000 acres. Today in Fairfax there are 51 homes on the shore of the Reservoir. In Prince William County there are 450 homes along the shore of the Occoquan Reservoir and Reservoir and watershed are under threat from the development of the Rural Crescent  as development pressures have moved further out with urbanization of the region. 

 Development in the watershed triggers a number of problems that begin with storm water runoff as the primary driver, though waste water point sources and non-point sources also contribute to the deterioration of the water quality. Pollution from runoff, called non-point source pollution is threatening the health of the Occoquan Reservoir and our drinking water supply. As you can see in the diagram below which originally came from the U.S. EPA and Dr. Souza used in his presentation, the hydrology of an area changes with development.

US EPA 2003

One acre of wooded area produces 1,360 gallons of stormwater runoff. While one ace of parking lot and roadways produces 25,800 gallons of stormwater runoff. According to Dr. Souza, the typical suburban lawn is almost as compacted as a parking lot and produces similar runoff. This increased runoff not only reduces groundwater recharge and stream base flow to the region, but also increases flooding, scour and erosion of the stream banks.

Increased runoff reduces water quality and increases the costs to treat the water to meet drinking water standards. Stormwater can also impact groundwater quality. Contaminants are mobilized by runoff and can infiltrate into the surficial groundwater and the fractured rock system that predominates the northwestern portion of the Rural Crescent. This can carry road salt, petroleum hydrocarbons and heavy metals into the groundwater which is the drinking water supply for the Rural Crescent.

Development of the watershed impacts stream flow and health, water quality, the regional ecology and stability of water supply to our region. Prince William County is in the very early stages of studying whether an “Occoquan overlay district” is needed to help protect the reservoir from becoming further polluted, although the County Board of Supervisors is much further along in planning to develop the rural area that is an essential protection and buffer for the Occoquan. 

According to Dr. Souza, development of the rural area of the county could push the Occoquan Reservoir to a water quality tipping point and the next generation will have to address eutrophication of the Occoquan Reservoir. A memorable legacy.  

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Saving the Occoquan Reservoir

Prince William County is considering instituting restrictions in an Occoquan Overlay District. How this planning tool is used and implemented will have long term consequences for the Occoquan Reservoir and our drinking water supply. Fairfax Water supplies drinking water to around two million people in Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Prince William County. An essential portion of the Fairfax Water supply especially during times of drought is the Occoquan Reservoir which supplies the source water to the Griffith water treatment plant. The Occoquan Reservoir holds 8.3 billion gallons of water.

When the Occoquan Reservoir was first built 1957 it was located in a rural and forested area and the water was pristine. Now, however; the Occoquan Reservoir is under threat from the urbanization of the region. Pollution from runoff, called non-point source pollution is threatening the health of the Occoquan Reservoir and our drinking water supply.

Non-point source pollution is fertilizer and herbicides from agricultural land and suburban lawns. The largest crop in Virginia is suburban lawns. Pollution form urban and suburban stormwater runoff carrying oil, grease, solvents and tire rubber; septic systems, pet and recreational animal waste bacteria, nutrients and sediment from improperly managed landscaping; and finally, salt.

Development increases impervious surface area. The physical condition of the Watershed's tributaries has been measured to fall with development. Increased stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces flows into streams and creeks at a higher volume and velocity. The result is increased erosion of stream banks that leaves a degraded ecosystem. However, these roads, sidewalks, parking lots all have to be cleared of snow and ice. Over time this has meant an increasing level of salt.

 According to the Virginia Department of the Environment (DEQ) analyses from three different studies at multiple locations have found increasing freshwater salinization in Northern Virginia. According to Fairfax Water, salt contamination in the source water is becoming a generational problem.

from Fairfax Water presentation

While salts are very effective at deicing roads, when the snow or sleet melts the salts are washed off into local waterways or seep through soils into groundwater systems with negative impacts on water quality and the environment. Salts pollute drinking water sources and are very costly to remove. The current water treatment plants cannot remove the salt. The only available technology to remove salt from the source water is reverse osmosis which is cost prohibitive and requires a significant amount of energy to run. This will significantly increase the cost of water in the region.

Planning to protect the Occoquan Reservoir is planning to maintain forested areas, not build more roads, homes or businesses in the Occoquan Reservoir. If we fail to plan for the future and protect the Occoquan Watershed and source water we will have failed the next generation.  To learn more watchthe linked video of Greg Prelewicz and Nicki Bellezza from Fairfax Watertalking about water supply and water protection in the Occoquan Watershed andthe Occoquan Overlay District under consideration in Prince William County.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Sustainable and Equitable Water

This past spring, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) welcomed Renee Hoyos as director of the agency’s new environmental justice office. Ms Hoyos will direct efforts on the continued development – with community and stakeholder input – of the environmental justice program at DEQ. Recently, Ms Hoyos gave a Webinar “Water Equality: Sustainability and Access for All.” You can watch the recoding at Water Equity Sustainability and Accessibility for All - YouTube.

Our actions are making changes to our water environment and we need to consider the impact of our actions on all members of our communities. The minute you begin using a water resource you change its equilibrium and the local hydrology. Pumping groundwater often reduces discharge to streams and rivers.  Yet, historically water has been consumed in our region as an inexhaustible natural resource with little concern for costs, pollution, sustainability, purification , or transport of water. The availability of water is generally taken for granted, especially in our water-rich Commonwealth of Virginia. For generations water supply managers and local leaders have believed there is not a shortage of water, only a need to get the available water to where it is needed at low cost.

However, now, we have seen the results of the growth, irrigated agriculture, increasing population density, commercial and industrial development urban water sources have became the receptacles of sewage, urban and industrial runoff and wastes. Continued development is accompanied by increased waste discharges and more pollution from surface runoff. These are now threatening our Occoquan Reservoir and Potomac River. It all boils down to growing populations and economies lead to a continually increasing demand for what is after all a fixed resource: high quality water.

Environmental justice research documents disproportionate environmental burdens facing low-income communities and communities of color, ranging from landfills, industrial operations, to contaminated groundwater from agricultural activities due to shallow existing wells. Environmental justice contextualizes the environmental conditions that threaten the physical, social, economic, or environmental health and well-being of these communities within overall patterns of racism, classism, and other forms of discrimination. Water justice is one piece of the larger issue of environmental justice, but a foundation element of the problem.

Though, some communities feel environmental justice requires that water be free for low-income communities, but clean safe water is not free. First and most importantly the water utility imust maintain a source of water.  The  water can be supplied by surface water source such as a lake or river or from groundwater sources. These are precious resources, and without proper management of  surrounding and overlying land these water sources can be polluted. Water in its natural state can be unsafe for human consumption. It may contain naturally occurring bacteria, inorganic material and man-made contaminants such as pesticides and pollutants.

To make water safe for drinking, it must be treated. The water utility must filter and disinfect the water to remove impurities. Water treatment protects consumers from diseases like typhoid, hepatitis, and cholera, and remove harmful contaminants like nitrate, which can cause health problems. Finally, an adequate supply of water must reach homes and businesses via a water storage and distribution system. All this must be constantly maintained and improved. For those with access to public water supplies in Virginia we all have the same quality of water.

Lack of financial resources, however, often impacts private well and spring owners ability to provide clean, safe and reliable drinking water to their families. Just having the financial resources to maintain a safe drinking water from a private supply can be challenging. This is seen throughout Virginia. Residents in small rural communities after the surrounding areas develop find that their private wells and springs providing their drinking water supply experience diminished water quality and reliability. Cost to connect to the local water utility is often a problem with disadvantaged communities.  To plan and design a solution and identify funding options can be an insurmountable hurdle.  Planning to add low income housing to rural communities without public water and sewer connections simply piles challenges on theses residents that they do not have the financial resources to meet these challenges.

Under natural conditions…previous to the development of wells, aquifers are in a state of approximate equilibrium. Discharge by wells is thus a new discharge superimposed over a previously stable system, and it must be balanced by and increase in recharge of the aquifer, or by a decrease in the old natural discharge, or by a loss of storage in the aquifer, or by a combination of these.”

C.V. Theis, “Source of Water Derived from Wells: Essential Factors Controlling the Response of an Aquifer to Development, “  Civil Engineering 10(5) (1940): 277-80.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Solar in the President’s Climate Plan

In 2009 when then President Barack Obama promised that U.S. emissions in 2050 will be 0ver 80% below 2005 levels it seemed like such a far reach. It meant that 2050 emissions will equal those in 1910, when there were 92 million Americans. This past week when President Joseph Biden’s administration released some details of his sweeping climate plan, it seemed less of a reach though their goal is even more ambitious. Solar is an essential part of President Biden’s 2035 clean electricity goal –  carbon-free electricity. This will be accomplished using solar, onshore and offshore wind, existing power plants retrofitted with carbon capture or green hydrogen, geothermal, hydropower, and nuclear. The President proposes that wind and solar combined will provide 75% of electricity by 2035 and 90% by 2050. Renewable power will grow from 30 GW today to nearly 400 GW in 2035 and 1,700 GW in 2050. 

From the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Futures Studydetailing the significant role solar will play in decarbonizing the nation’s power grid. The study shows that by 2035, solar energy will power 40% of the nation’s electricity. DOE goes on to state that deployment of power storage will enable more flexibility and resilience in the power grid.

“A clean grid requires massive, equitable deployment of diverse, sustainable energy sources.” DOE says that the U.S. must install an average of 30 GW of solar capacity per year between now and 2025 and 60 GW per year from 2025-2030. The model the DOE used  shows that the remainder of a carbon-free grid largely supplied by wind (36%), nuclear (11%-13%), hydroelectric (5%-6%) and biopower/geothermal (1%).

In their deployment of solar the DOE includes a large amount of roof top solar, pointing out that solar costs have declined 70 %to 80  % since 2010 – lowering the price of a typical 6 kW residential system by almost $30,000. Utility scale solar requires that thousands of miles of power lines be built to move electricity to urban centers from distant solar and wind farms located in rural areas with favorable weather. The bipartisan infrastructure bill has $73 billion for building thousands of miles of new power lines. Control of the electrical grid would belong to the utilities.

More progressive environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar  panels, batteries and local wind turbines. They believe in building a distributed electrical grid. They argue that solar panels, batteries and other local energy sources should be emphasized because they would be more resilient and could be built more quickly. However, a distributed grid requires an infrastructure of sorts to maintain the individual components. 

As an example let’s take a look at the economics of my system after 11 years. The solar panels cost me almost as much in repairs, module replacement and roof leak repairs as the total value in electricity they produced. That is not a good reliability record.

There are several components to the cost and return of a solar system. The first cost is the cost of the system and the second cost is the design, permits and installation cost. The market cost of solar panels and installation costs have been falling for years. When I signed the contract to purchase my roof mounted solar system at the end of 2009 (though it was not installed until May 2010) the cost per kilowatt for the Sharp (made in America) panels I bought was about $6,700 plus permits and installation. DOE says the cost has fallen by more than $30,000. So that the same system that cost me $58,540 installed would cost less than $30,000,

Back in 2009 I was able to obtain a state rebate of $12,000 which is no longer available in Virginia. Also, as you can see from the chart above that a significant source of revenue is something called a SREC or  Solar Renewable Energy Certificates.  SRECs, are not real, but merely a credit for having made one megawatt hour of solar electricity that was used elsewhere. SRECS have no intrinsic value. In other words, if there is no buyer for the SREC, it is worthless. Like most consumer rooftop solar arrays I use l the power produced by the panels in my own home, nonetheless, my system generates around 9 salable  SRECs a year. Because SRECs are not physical items their value depends entirely on regulation which can change over time and are not planned to continue into the future.

While it lasts, for older systems like mine, the revenue from the sale of SRECs is higher than the value of the electricity the solar panels make and made the economics of my system favorable. Today’s pricing with the still available federal tax credit makes the return on investment in a solar photovoltaic system reasonable in almost all locations. There are other locations where various rebates and incentives and higher electricity rates make the return rich enough to support a market in financing alternatives, but it takes time and some level of expertise to optimize the solar incentives markets. Also, the incentives need to be paid for with either tax dollars, national debt, or higher electricity rates.

Solar systems do not last forever. All solar PV panels degrade and slowly over time produce less power. Solar photovoltaic panels have no moving parts , but there are things that can go wrong, wiring failures, snow lifting the solar panels and requiring a new rack and roof repairs to eliminate roof leaks, micro inverter failure and hale damage. Dirt buildup on the panels can reduce power production and the panels do degrade over time. All of these have gone wrong with my system. In all, over the last 11 years I have paid $12,782 out of pocket for repairs not covered under the system and component warranties and spend dozen of hours trying to get repairs scheduled and have warranties honored.  Before we deploy solar panels to every roof with a southern or western orientation, we need to have an equitable monitoring and maintenance plan for all systems or only the well to do will have reliable systems.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Bedrock to Atmosphere study of Colorado Watershed Begins

From a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) news release:

Last week Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory began the The Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL)  in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Over the course of two falls, two winters, two springs, and one summer, more than three dozen scientific instruments—including a variety of radars, lidars, cameras, balloons, and other state-of-the-art equipment—will collect data on precipitation, wind, clouds, aerosols, solar and thermal energy, temperature, humidity, ozone, and more.  Having this amount of data collected in the region over time will allow scientists to begin to understand the physical processes that may affect mountain hydrology and answer questions such as how dust, wildfire, hot drought, tree mortality, and other phenomena might affect the watershed. It may also let scientists understand why less of the regional precipitation has been ending up in the Colorado River. Ultimately, the data will be fed into Earth system models so they can finally “get the water balance right.”

Current models are not able to accurately predict what future water is going to be available in a watershed because they do not explain what is happening now. That's why this is exciting – scientists will be measuring the inputs and the outputs at a fundamental level to develop a benchmark dataset for the scientific community to improve their earth system models.

In close collaboration with DOE’s Atmospheric System Research (ASR) program the SAIL campaign will help the scientific community understand how mountains extract moisture from the atmosphere and then process the water all the way down to the bedrock beneath Earth’s surface. Ultimately, this will provide the tools for scientists to better predict the future availability of water for this essential river.

“The Upper Colorado River powers more than $1 trillion in economic activity and provides an immense amount of hydroelectric power, but it’s very understudied compared to how important it is,” said Berkeley Lab scientist Daniel Feldman, the lead SAIL investigator. “We’re starting to see really dramatic consequences from the changing water resources, but the details of what is actually going on in these places where the water’s coming from—those details matter, and that’s what SAIL is focused on.”

Mountain watersheds provide 60 to 90% of water resources worldwide, but there is still much that scientists don’t know about the physical processes and interactions that affect hydrology in these ecosystems. The ability to accurately  predict the timing and availability of water resources emanating from mountains could save lives and allow the most effective use of whatever water is available.

The importance of the Upper Colorado Watershed and mountain watersheds in general can be seen for the number of researchers from other federal agencies are undertaking field campaigns in the area with complementary research efforts:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched a project called SPLASH, or the Study of Precipitation, the Lower Atmosphere and Surface for Hydrometeorology, to improve weather and water prediction in the Colorado mountains and beyond. They will also be making detailed atmospheric co-observations in the SAIL study area.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed an Upper Colorado Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS) to provide real-time data on water quantity and quality in more affordable and rapid ways than previously possible, and in more locations.

The very scale of the challenge, and the prospect of a low- to no-snow future, calls for nothing less of a response. “Ultimately, this work will help us improve climate models so that they can be used to better understand, predict, and plan for threats to water resources in the arid West and globally” said Jeff Stehr, a DOE Program Manager for ASR

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Protect Our Groundwater

Tomorrow, September 7, 2021, is national Protect Your Groundwater Day. This annual event is sponsored by the National Groundwater Association to raise awareness of what you can do to prevent groundwater contamination. However, groundwater is also in danger from unsustainable use during droughts, changing rain and snowfall patterns or from overuse.

I am one of the 13 million U.S. households whose water is supplied by a private well. In addition, there are 107,848 community supply groundwater wells that supply water to 40,301 community public water systems. The National Ground Water Association reports that 44 % of the U.S. population depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply from either a public source or private well. Since many public water system draw all or part of their supply from groundwater, protecting groundwater from contamination protects the water supply and impacts the costs for water purification and treatment. There was a time when groundwater was considered to be free from contamination, but that is no longer true. As population density increases and we use more and more chemicals, pesticides and drugs, there are more opportunities to contaminate our groundwater.

While community wells are required to test their water under the Safe Drinking Water Act, if you have your own well, then the responsibility for ensuring that your family and friends are drinking safe water rests with you. Just because your water appears clear doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to drink. You cannot taste bacterial contamination from human and animal waste, nor nitrate/ nitrite contamination. Many chemical contaminants cannot be tasted or smelled at levels that can impact your health. The National Groundwater Association recommends that all drinking water wells should be tested for Coliform bacteria and E Coli annually. Testing is the only way to detect contamination in your water. Testing is not mandatory, but should be done to ensure your family’s safety.

Groundwater comes from rain water and snow melt percolating into the ground. Typically, the deeper the well the further away is the water origination and the older the water. The groundwater age is a function of local geology, the amount of precipitation and the rate that water is pumped out of the aquifer. In the time before we began using the groundwater, it was in equilibrium. Mankind changed that in ways we do not fully understand. Groundwater is connected to surface water in ways we do not yet fully understand, but are beginning to study.

Geology is a major determinant of the ease with which water and contaminants can travel through an aquifer; microorganisms in the soil and from wildlife and spilled chemicals or contaminated runoff can travel into groundwater supplies through cracks, fissures, and other pathways of opportunity like fractured rock systems. The land surface through which groundwater is recharged must remain open and uncontaminated to maintain the quality and quantity of groundwater.

Nitrate concentrations are often elevated in shallow groundwater because of agricultural and suburban development. Bacteria and nitrate contamination to groundwater can be caused by human and animal waste. Poorly managed septic systems, horses, backyard poultry can cause contaminate groundwater by overwhelming the ability of the soil to filer these contaminants or finding an opportunistic pathway through a fissure or other geological entry. An emerging concern in recent years has been the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in septic waste water. Nitrate contamination can serve as a proxy for other trace contaminants in septic systems. Heavy local use of pesticides for ornamental gardens or farms, buried waste, and leaks from underground fuel tanks can be sources of contamination.

Households and businsesses can introduce solvents, motor oil, and paint; paint thinner, water treatment chemicals and others substances by spilling them, or pouring chemicals into the ground or down the drain into a septic system. Groundwater protection depends on the entire community. The National Groundwater Association recommends: That everyone store hazardous household substances safely in a sealed container in a secure place and use hazardous substances only according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Hazardous substances should be disposed of safely and properly. Be mindful of your water use, install WaterSense fixtures and limit exterior water use. If you own  water well, make sure that all possible contamination sources are a safe distance from the wellhead (50-100 feet), make sure your septic system is operating and maintained properly and is regularly inspected and the tank is regularly pumped. Also, test your water annually.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Free Pesticide Disposal Day

Jointly with the Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Cooperative Extension is offering a regional free pesticide collection day for agricultural producers, businesses, and homeowners. This event happens only every five years in our region and is a great opportunity to clean out that shelf in your shed or garage.

The local pesticide collections will take place from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Thursday, September 9 at the Fair Oaks location of Merrifield Garden Center in Fairfax and Friday, September 10 at James Long Park in Haymarket.

Anyone who wants to dispose of pesticides must complete and submit their brochure ahead of time and bring the unwanted items on the day of the event either to the Fairfax or Prince William locations. 

Since 1997, Virginia’s Pesticide Collection Program has collected and destroyed more than 1.5 million pounds of pesticides. Available at no cost to eligible participants, the program is supported by pesticide fees collected by VDACS. No general fund tax dollars are used to implement the program. Help keep our groundwater free of contamination and make your homes safer  by disposing of pesticides safely.

For more information or to download the forms necessary to participate in this event go to this link,
If you have questions, contact Virginia Cooperative Extension Prince William at 703-792-7747 or email