Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Do You Know What's in your Well Water?


Public water supplies are tested daily for contaminants.  Private wells are tested when you do it, and you should do it every year. Prince William County Extension will be having a test your well water clinic next week.  Sign up now online BSE-VAHWQP-PW 2023 Prince William County Virginia Household Water Quality Program | Virginia Cooperative Extension (vt.edu)

Water samples will be tested for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. Sample kits will be $65  this year. Registration and pre-payment must be online by going to https://tinyurl.com/VCE-PW-VAHWQP before March 16th 2024. I had no trouble following the link and prepaying. Be aware they will send  a receipt and confirmation of registration from the VCEPrograms  and a payment receipt from the Bursar at VA Tech.

 The Prince William Drinking Water Clinic has 3 parts:

1. Attend a Kick-Off Meeting and Collect Testing Kit Materials, the online registration lets you select from 3 Kick-Off Options:

Option 1: In Person, Woodbridge: Board Chambers, McCoart Administration Building (1 County Complex Ct, Woodbridge, VA 22192):  Saturday, March 23rd 10:00am - 11:00am. 
Option 2: In Person, Manassas: Jean McCoy Conference Room (Sudley Government Center, 7987 Ashton Ave, Manassas, VA 20109): Tuesday, March 19th 6:00pm - 7:00pm.
Option 3: 
Online, through ZoomWednesday, March 20th 11:00am - 12:00pm. If you choose this option, you must also register for the Zoom meeting through this link: https://bit.ly/PWCVAHWQP
*Test kits for Option 3 (Zoom meeting) must be picked up at VCE-PW Office (8033 Ashton Ave., Suite 105, Manassas, VA 20109): March 21st - 22nd or March 25th - 26th, 9:00am - 4:00pm

2. The Sample Drop Off: Wednesday, March 27th from 6:00am - 10:00am ONLY at the VCE-PW Office, 8033 Ashton Ave., Suite 105, Manassas 20109.

3. Results Interpretation Meeting through (Zoom) on Tuesday, May 7th, 6:00pm - 7:00pm. There will be a live Zoom interpretation meeting co-hosted by VCE Household Water QualityCoordinator Erin Ling and VCE-PW staff to explain the report, include a discussion, and questions and answers. Zoom link and details will be emailed to all registrants.

The number of kits is limited. Pre-payment online is the only way to pay and guarantee you will get a kit. You must pay and register by March 16th 2024. No refunds will be available. Household water quality is driven by geology, well construction and condition, nearby sources of groundwater contamination, and any water treatment devices and the condition and materials of construction of the household plumbing. To ensure safe drinking water it is important to maintain your well, test it regularly and understand your system and geology. If you have water treatment equipment in your home you might want to get two test kits to test the water before and after the treatment equipment to make sure you have the right equipment for your water and that it is working properly. All participant information is kept strictly confidential

The chart below shows what was found in the  private wells tested test of testing  in Prince William County in 2023 (kindly ignore the error in my column titles).

 


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Salt in the Reservoir

This article is excerpted from the article cited below and the Virginia Tech news release.  

Bhide, Shantanu & Grant, Stanley & Parker, Emily & Rippy, Megan & Godrej, Adil & Kaushal, Sujay & Prelewicz, Greg & Saji, Niffy & Curtis, Shannon & Vikesland, Peter & Maile-Moskowitz, Ayella & Edwards, Marc & Lopez, Kathryn & Birkland, Thomas & Schenk, Todd. (2021). Addressing the contribution of indirect potable reuse to inland freshwater salinization. Nature Sustainability. 10.1038/s41893-021-00713-7.

Inland freshwater salinization historically was once thought to be a problem only in areas with arid and semi-arid climates, poor agricultural drainage practices, sodic soils and saline shallow groundwater. However, today we know that inland freshwater salinization is on the rise across many cold and temperate regions of the United States.  Inland freshwater salinization is particularly notable in the densely populated Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and agricultural Midwest regions of the country like here in Northern Virginia.

Freshwater salinization threatens freshwater ecosystem health and human water security. Chloride enrichment of streams is associated with declines in pollution sensitive benthic invertebrates and loss of critical freshwater habitat. Stream-borne salts can mobilize, nutrients and heavy metals that were previously sequestered into sensitive ecosystems and drinking-water supplies. Salinization of drinking-water supplies can mobilize lead, copper and other heavy metals from ageing drinking-water infrastructure through cation exchange and corrosion. It can also alter the perception of the quality of the water, a high enough concentrations, sodium and other salts degrade the taste of drinking water (coffee and tea).

Inland freshwater salinity is rising worldwide and is now called the freshwater salinization syndrome (FSS). Though increasing salinization is commonly attributed to winter deicing operations, winter application of brine and salt are only a part of the problem. Chronic salinization is primarily a result of increasing population and indirect potable reuse of wastewater-the practice of augmenting water supplies through the addition of highly treated wastewater and down river use of our freshwater resources. Releasing treated wastewater to surface waters and groundwaters has been growing and is encouraged by the EPA along with other forms of water reuse in their Water Reuse Action Plan.

In our own region, both indirect potable reuse of waste water from the Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA) and human activities in the Bull Run and Occoquan River watersheds contribute to salinization of the Occoquan Reservoir in Northern Virginia. More than 95% of freshwater inflow to the reservoir is from the Occoquan River and Bull Run, which drain mixed undeveloped, agriculture, ex urban and urban and increasingly industrial landscapes.

Water from Bull Run includes baseflow (including from groundwater) and storm water runoff from the Bull Run watershed (34% of annual flow) together with highly treated wastewater discharged from UOSA (6% of annual flow) located just over a mile upstream of Bull Run’s confluence with the reservoir. Conceived and built in the 1970s, UOSA was the United States’ first planned application of indirect potable reuse and a model for the design and construction of similar reclamation facilities worldwide. Water discharged from the Occoquan River comes primarily from baseflow and stormwater runoff from the Occoquan River watershed (60% of annual flow).

The scientists found that possible sources of rising sodium concentration in the reservoir include deicer use in the rapidly urbanizing Occoquan River and Bull Run watersheds. Over the past 20 years salt has been added to UOSA’s sewer water from its >350,000 residential and commercial connections. Possible sources of sodium within UOSA’s sewershed include the down-drain disposal of sodium-containing drinking water and sodium-containing household products, use of water softeners in commercial and residential locations, and permitted and non-permitted sodium discharges from industrial and commercial customers.

from Bhide et al

The sodium concentration in UOSA’s effluent are consistently higher than sodium concentrations measured in Bull Run and the Occoquan Reservoir. Using probability analysis of the sodium mass load for the period 2010–2018 confirms that UOSA’s reclaimed water though small in volume dominates the sodium mass load entering the reservoir from the Occoquan River and Bull Run during dry and median weather conditions. UOSA’s contributes 60% to 80% of the sodium loading during dry periods, 30% to 50% during median and 5% to 25% during wet conditions. The Occoquan River and Bull Run watersheds exhibit the opposite pattern, contributing a greater percentage of the overall sodium load during wet weather periods. During wet weather, sodium mass loading from the Bull Run watershed is, on average, higher than sodium mass loading from the Occoquan River watershed, but both are dwarfed by UOSA. Across all timescales evaluated, sodium concentration in the treated wastewater is higher than in outflow from the two watersheds.

from Bhide et al
It begs the question, where does the sodium in UOSA’s reclaimed water come from? The scientists believe that the sodium in UOSA’s water comes from a variety of sources -watershed deicers, water treatment processes, household products, commercial and industrial discharges, drinking water treatment, and wastewater treatment. On the basis of data provided by UOSA they estimate that, on an annual average, 46.5% of the daily sodium mass load in UOSA’s reclaimed water is from chemicals used in water and wastewater treatment (for pH adjustment, chlorination, dechlorination and odor control), a single permitted discharge from the Micron Semiconductor facility and human excretion (our diets are salty). The source of the remaining 53.5% is unknown but the scientist believe it  includes contributions from the down-drain disposal of sodium-containing drinking water from Lake Manassas, the Potomac River and the Occoquan Reservoir, as well as sodium-containing house hold products that eventually end up in the sanitary sewer system.

Fairfax water has been exploring options to address the slowly rising sodium concentration in the reservoir, including the possible construction of a reverse osmosis treatment upgrade. Desalinating fresh water was estimated cost at least $1 billion, not including operating and maintenance costs and a vastly higher carbon footprint. This would include a tremendous loss of volume. Reverse osmosis looses about three quarters of the water. Which is the real problem.

The researchers envision at least four ways in which salt pollution can be reduced: limit watershed sources of sodium that enter the water supply (such as from deicer use), enforce more stringent pre-treatment requirements on industrial and commercial dischargers, switch to low-sodium water and wastewater treatment methods, and encourage households to adopt low-sodium products. 

"Addressing salinization of the Occoquan Reservoir requires working across many different water sectors, including the local drinking water utility (Fairfax Water), the wastewater reclamation facility (Upper Occoquan Service Authority), the state transportation agency (Virginia Department of Transportation), and city and county departments in six jurisdictions responsible for winter road maintenance, including the City of Manassas, City of Manassas Park, Prince William County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Fauquier County," said Dr. Stanley Grant  the director of the Occoquan Waster Quality Laboratory and one of the paper’s authors.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Prince William Volunteers are Making a Difference

 

from PWSWCD

Year after year volunteers in Prince William County and throughout the region clean our roadways, streams, rivers, and streambeds of trash that started as litter and got carried along by stormwater and wind into our waterways and parks. The volunteers also remove items that were illegally dumped in the woods or carried by off by storms. This trash does not magically disappear, but finds its way carried by stormwater to our waterways and parklands disrupting the natural water flow and beauty of our natural world.

The Prince William County Soil and Water Conservation District (the District) reports that in 2023, their Adopt-A-Stream/Pond/ River Program held 61 cleanup events, where  they had over 1,260 people come out to volunteer. These volunteers did great job removing over 1,300 trash/ litter bags, and 50 tires among other materials were collected (one tire was an old white-wall tire I had found by Chestnut Lick). Combined, all these cleanup events prevented a total of over 26,500 pounds of trash and debris from reaching Chesapeake Bay. These volunteers recorded over 3,000 hours of volunteer time, which would equal over $98,000 in labor costs that the taxpayers did not have to pay.  These events covered a total of over 61 miles of waterways out of the 1,100 miles of streams in Prince William County.

Volunteers under the District’s Chemical Monitoring Program collected data on conductivity, ‘pH, Dissolved Oxygen, Turbidity, Depth/clarity, and temperature. These volunteers conducted 420 monitoring events from 89 sites and recorded over 530 hours of volunteer time. It is worth noting that the chemical data collected supports the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on its over 100,000 miles of streams in Virginia that its staff cannot monitor. This data goes to DEQ through the Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Cooperative (CMC) as Tier II data.

from PWSWCD water monitoring program

Volunteers under the Biological Monitoring Program collect benthic macroinvertebrate data. This data goes to DEQ under the Virginia Save Our Stream (VASOS) Program.

Right now the District is gearing up for the annual spring cleanup events. You can join in as a single time volunteer at any of these events. The first few are:

Your group can also join the Adopt-a-Stream program and select an area to keep clean. Locate any site (point) on this map or propose any waterway/body close to home and contact waterquality@pwswcd.org for more information.




Sunday, February 18, 2024

Safe Drinking Water for Pennies

 


In 2010 the United Nations General Assembly found that : “Safe drinking water and sanitation are human rights. Access to these services, including water and soap for handwashing, is fundamental to human health and well-being. They are essential to improving nutrition, preventing disease and enabling health care…”

From the recent update, U.N. Report, SUMMARY PROGRESS UPDATE 2021  WATER AND SANITATION FOR ALL:

 Since 2015, over 600 million people have gained access to safely managed drinking water services. Globally, three out of four people used safely managed drinking water services in 2020. However, that means that 2 billion people still lacked available drinking water when needed and free from contamination in 2020. The number of city inhabitants lacking safely managed drinking water has increased nearly doubling since 2000 to 771 million people. Each year more than 1 million people are estimated to die from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation and hand hygiene. In addition, another 250,000 to 500,000 die from schistosomiasis and other waterborne diseases.


from UN Report

Even in the United States not everyone has accessible and safe drinking water. According to a 2022 report from DigDeep, around 2 million Americans lack access to running water and/or a flush toilet. This number includes the estimated 560,000 homeless population in our cities and communities that we see every day (and has increased with the influx of undocumented immigrants to our cities), but there are over 1,400,000 mostly rural Americans who are housed but lack running water and basic indoor plumbing. These are the invisible poor that include poor populations located in the rural south and West Virginia, undocumented immigrant communities along the Mexico-United States border, poor communities in the central valley of California and Native American communities in the Navajo Nation.

As an alternative to maintaining and improving our water treatment and distribution system, social scientists suggest that the future of water is “off-grid” water treatment. This might be a strategy for the global poor, not one we should find acceptable in the United States. As one of their products, Folia Materials a small business in Boston has developed an easy to use paper water filter that could help solve this problem. Theresa Dankovich while working on her PhD in Chemistry at McGill University in Montreal invented a method to synthetize silver nanoparticle within blotting paper, which could be directly used as powerful antibacterial filters.

Dr. Dankovich utilized that technology to co-found (with environmental scientist Jonathan Levine PhD) Folia Materials, a Boston-based small business, to commercialize the coating technology. Folia spent years inventing and patenting the world’s cheapest and most effective process for coating ordinary paper that transforms it into an extraordinary useful products. It can be used to replace plastic, filter out germs and viruses in face masks and to purify water.

The fundamental technology is a food-safe, green-chemistry process that forms silver nanoparticles ionically bonded to cellulosic fibers. The company holds the patents on the industrial coating process and aqueous paper coating formulation, which consists of metal salts and catalysts that reduce the silver and bond it to the cellulosic fibers during the coating process.

According to Chemical Engineering Progress: "Manufacturing costs for all products are minimized by using plant-based food ingredients as green chemistry catalysts and silver nanoparticles to minimize the amount of silver required, as well as being able to directly utilize existing paper, coating and packing equipment with no capital modifications required."

from FWG website

The water filtration product was placed in a separate subsidiary, Folia Water Global, to focus on solving the global safe drinking water problem.  Their product  can  filter  20 liters of water for $0.20. This will make the filter an inexpensive grocery shelf product that can deliver safe drinking water. This is possible because manufacturing process uses commodity inputs and standard industrial coating machinery. This is a miracle that is being piloted in Bangladesh . The commercial scale-up is expected to generate enough business and sales data to attract a national distributor. Once they have a national distributor in Bangladesh, they plan to expand in India, Nepal, Kenya, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Folia Water Global and their partners hope to scale the product to $1 billion a year by 2032.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

River Renew Project Extension Expected to Pass

On Tuesday, the 2024 Virginia General Assembly session in Richmond reached Crossover. One of the bills to pass the house in a block vote was HB 71 Combined sewer overflow outfalls; compliance with regulations, Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This bill would extend the deadline to fix the Alexandria’s combined sewer system to July 1, 2026 from July 1, 2024. It is expected to pass the Senate.

In 2017 the state legislature mandated that Alexanderia eliminate sewage overflows from the combined sewer system in Old Towne by 2025. This not only created a major challenge for the city, but was in response to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL mandate. In 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other plaintiffs settled their lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that included a Clean Water Act TMDL, with, enforceable limits on the amount of pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay from the federal impaired waters list. To accomplish this, the six Bay states and the District of Columbia agreed to develop individual plans to achieve those limits by 2025, and EPA committed to holding them accountable and imposing consequences for failure if necessary.

Part of Virginia’s plan requires the elimination of the sewage overflows in Alexandria. The area of Alexandria around Old Town had a Combined Sewer System which is a piped sewer system where there is one pipe that carries both sanitary sewage and stormwater to the local wastewater treatment plant, AlexRenew. This was how sewer systems were often built in the days when sanitation was simply moving sewage out of the city to the rivers and streams. Back then one piping system was cheaper and adequate for the job.

Today when sewage is treated by wastewater treatment plants that is no longer adequate.
When it rains, water that falls in the streets, enters the storm water drains and is combined with the sanitary wastewater entering the sewers from homes and businesses. The combined flow of the sewage and rain can overwhelm the wastewater treatment plant. So, to protect the sewage system as a whole, the combined sewage and rainfall is released into the local creeks from one of the “Combined Sewer Overflows” which are release locations permitted and monitored by the regulators. Though it’s monitored it increases nutrient and bacterial contamination to the streams and rivers and prevents Virginia from meeting its Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals.

When the original legislation passed in 2017, it was an incredibly tight time frame. However,  based partially on the experience of Washington DC in addressing their combined sewer problem, AlexRenew was confident that they could meet this challenge for Alexandria.  The city and AlexRenew submitted a long term control plan to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) that was approved on  July 1, 2018.

Then the pandemic hit and caused supply chain issues. These impacts have resulted in a 90-day delay that will put AlexRenew in conflict with the program’s statutory deadline enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 2017. The deadline established in the legislation to complete the planning, design, procurement, and construction of RiverRenew by July 1, 2025 to meet the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load plan requirement.

To date, AlexRenew has expended $388 million of the budgeted $615 million for the RiverRenew, but they are reportedly a bit over 90 days behind schedule. AlexRenew, in partnership with the City of Alexandria, worked with David Bulova, their legislator, to sponsor an extension to the 2025 statutory deadline. It is expected to pass. DEQ does not expect any regulatory consequences from the EPA in missing this deadline since the project will continue until completion.  

For a really informative video and project updates go to : RiverRenew | Investing in Healthier Waterways for Alexandria






Sunday, February 11, 2024

EPA tightens standard for Particulates

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA)  Michael S. Regan announced last week that the EPA had finalized strengthening the primary annual PM2.5 standard by lowering the level from 12.0 μg/m3 to 9.0 μg/m3. Fine particle pollution PM 2.5, also known as soot lodges in the lungs which can aggravate other conditions both immediately and long term –cutting months off of lives. According to the EPA, the updated standard will prevent 800,000 cases of asthma, 4,500 premature deaths, and 290,000 lost workdays by 2032. Saying in the press release:

“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and overburdened communities,” said EPA Administrator Regan. “Cleaner air means that our children have brighter futures, and people can live more productive and active lives, improving our ability to grow and develop as a nation. EPA looks forward to continuing our decades of success in working with states, counties, Tribes, and industry to ensure this critical health standard is implemented effectively to improve the long-term health and productivity of our nation.” 

While lowering the annual standard to 9.0 μg/m3 EPA decided to keep the current 24 h standard of 35 μg/m3, saying it didn’t see sufficient evidence to revise it. EPA also retained the current primary 24-hour standard for PM10, which provides protection against coarse particles. EPA is also not changing the secondary (welfare-based) standards for fine particles and coarse particles at this time.

Air pollution in the form of fine particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns, called PM 2.5, lodge in the lungs which can aggravate other conditions both immediately and long term –cutting months off of lives. This fine particulate matter can have immediate health impacts: itchy, watery eyes, increased respiratory symptoms such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing and aggravated asthma. Research has connected long term health effects to both short-term and long-term exposure to particulate pollution.

PM 2.5 is either directly emitted or formed in the atmosphere. Directly-emitted particles come from a variety of sources such as cars, trucks, buses, industrial facilities, coal power plants, diesel engines, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and burning of wood and the vast forest fires. Other particles are formed indirectly when gases produced by fossil fuel combustion react with sunlight and water vapor. Combustion from motor vehicles, diesel generators, power plants, and refineries emit particles directly and emit precursor pollutants that form secondary particulates. 

from EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, requires states to monitor air quality and ensure that it meets minimum air quality standards. The US EPA has established both annual and 24-hour PM2.5 air quality standards (as well as standards for other pollutants). Since 2000 on average PM2.5 pollution has decreased as you can see in the chart above. However, there are still significant locations where the current air quality goal has not been met. The dark green areas in the map are areas of non-compliance with the current standard. Virginia is in compliance, and hopefully will remain so even with the proliferation of diesel backup generators for the data centers.

from EPA- dark green are the non-attainment areas

According to their press release: “Due to the efforts that states, Tribes, industry, communities, and EPA have already taken to reduce dangerous pollution in communities across the country, 99% of U.S. counties are projected to meet the more protective standard in 2032, likely the earliest year that states would need to meet the revised standard.”

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Global Groundwater Decline

This article highlights the important work that has been done in this area by Professors Jasecchko and Perrone of U.C, Santa Barabara and has been excerpted from the research of the study cited below. All footnotes for the statement of facts can be found in the original article.

Jasechko, S., Seybold, H., Perrone, D. et al. Rapid groundwater decline and some cases of recovery in aquifers globally. Nature 625, 715–721 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06879-8

 

In many parts of the world groundwater serves as the primary or a significant source of water for many homes, farms, industries and cities. Unsustainable groundwater use and changes in rainfall can cause groundwater levels to fall, indicating depletion of groundwater resources. Groundwater depletion can threaten ecosystems and economies. Specifically, groundwater depletion can damage infrastructure through land subsidence, impair ecosystems through streamflow depletion, jeopardize agricultural productivity, and compromise water supplies as wells run dry. Groundwater is both used for water supply and serves to support steam flow between rain storms. Groundwater comes from rainwater and snow melt percolating into the ground.

The authors analyzed groundwater-level trends for 170,000 monitoring wells and 1,693 aquifer systems in countries that encompass approximately 75% of global groundwater withdrawals. (Note that our own Virginia aquifer systems were comparatively stable over the time period.)  The authors complemented measurements from monitoring wells with data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). The GRACE mission consists of twin satellites that precisely measure the distance between them as they orbit the Earth. In this way, the satellites detect small fluctuations in the planet’s gravity, which can at large scales be translated to changes in aquifers.

The authors findings provide the most comprehensive analysis of global groundwater levels to date. The work revealed that groundwater is dropping in 71% of the aquifers. And this depletion is accelerating in many places: the rates of groundwater decline in the 1980s and ’90s has increased since 2000 to the present.  The accelerating declines are occurring in nearly three times as many places as they would expect by chance.

They found that rapid groundwater-level declines (>0.5 meter per year) are widespread in the twenty-first century, especially in dry regions with extensive croplands. Though I should note that irrigation is only necessary to make food for people.  Critically, they found that groundwater-level declines have accelerated over the past four decades in 30% of the world’s regional aquifers. This widespread acceleration in groundwater-level deepening highlights an urgent need for more effective measures to address groundwater depletion.

Their analysis also reveals specific cases in which depletion trends have been reversed following policy changes, managed aquifer recharge and surface-water diversions, demonstrating the potential for depleted aquifer systems to recover if appropriate action is taken. This should serve as a warning that our groundwater resources need to be managed sustainability. The Trends in groundwater levels were found to differ from well to well, and groundwater decline can be found even in regions in which nearby groundwater levels are stable or rising, and vice versa.  This observation highlights the importance of analyzing groundwater-level trends at the scales defined by the boundaries of individual aquifer systems.

The authors also analyzed precipitation variability over the past four decades for almost a third of the aquifers. Within this group they found that 90% of aquifers where declines were accelerating are in places where conditions have gotten drier over the last 40 years. These trends have likely reduced groundwater recharge and increased demand. They state that on the other hand, climate variability can also enable groundwater to rebound where conditions become wetter.

Their work indicates that climatic trends, hydrogeologic conditions, groundwater withdrawal rates, land uses and management approaches have resulted in widespread, rapid and accelerating groundwater-level declines. Nevertheless, the compiled in situ observations also capture numerous cases in which declines in groundwater levels have slowed, stopped or reversed following intervention.   They found that in 265 of the  aquifer systems in the analysis, groundwater-level declines have slowed or reversed, or groundwater levels have risen.

In general, rates of groundwater-level increasing are much slower than rates of groundwater-level decline. Of the aquifer systems with rising twenty-first century groundwater levels, only 6% are rising faster than −0.2 meters per year. By contrast, of the aquifer systems with deepening twenty-first century groundwater levels, 25% are falling faster than 0.2 meters per year. Furthermore, across these aquifer systems, the average rate of twenty-first century deepening exceeds the average rate of shallowing by a factor of four. Thus, rapidly rising groundwater levels are rare, but they demonstrate that aquifer recovery is possible, especially following policy changes, managed aquifer recharge, and inter-basin surface water-transfers. What this study says is we need to actively manage the groundwater (in conjunction with surface water) for a sustainable future. Remember, Of all the water on earth only about  3% is fresh; however, only ½% of the water on earth is available for mankind to use. The rest of the fresh water is locked away in ice, super deep groundwater or polluted beyond redemption.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Restoration Continues in the Woodland

path within the woodland

First it snowed then snowed again. Next was rain and even more rain. January had been a tough weather month in my garden. But finally, late last week, the woodland restoration work for the year began. Quite appropriately Friday was Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil, the renowned groundhog predicted an early spring is on the way.

As I’ve mentioned, my house sits on a bit over 10 acres, about three of them lawn and ornamental gardens. The remaining seven acres is woodland, and much of the woodland is part of the “resource protected area,” RPA of the Chesapeake Bay. The number of dead and dying trees had increased dramatically due to the emerald ash borer and a number of years ago it became obvious that the invasive vines especially the autumn olive and Japanese honeysuckle were choking out the natural renewal process.

After a couple of false starts and outrageous advise to plow down the woodland and vines, about six or seven years ago I consulted with an Urban and Community Forestry Specialist from the Virginia Department of Forestry. He came out and inspected the woodland and made some recommendations.  He felt that with hand removal of the invasive vines and the hanging dead trees the wood might begin to renew itself. Removal by hand is slow and expensive work. It takes years and years and must be continued.

The Forester put his recommendations in a short report for me to submit to Clay Morris, Natural Resources Section Chief, Environmental Services Division of Prince William County Public Works to approve the work in the RPA. Though the RPA covers just 2/3 of the woodland, I am treating all the wooded area in the same way. My proposal to Prince William County was hand removal of invasive species. So, five years ago with the guidance from the Forest Service and the Chesapeake Bay Act guidelines I began a project to restore my woodlands.  

On Thursday and Friday, the Wetland Studies and Solutions  team was out continuing the slow work of first tagging, cutting and then removing the invasive species in the woodland. On Friday, Clay Morris from Environmental Services Division of Prince William County Public Works came out to view our progress and I walked him around inside the woods, down the hill towards the creek, through the mud where there is a seep above Chestnut Lick creating vernal pools.

A seep is the low pressure twin of spring and occurs where groundwater discharges to the surface. In my case the groundwater is appearing where the hill cuts down to the creek. Usually, seeps are merely wet areas with vernal pools , and springs have flowing water. On Friday, while walking with Clay for the first time I saw the water flowing out of the ground. Groundwater discharge provides a constant supply of water to the seep.  Flows at many seeps persist even through the driest summer months. I did not see my own seep in August of last summer during the very dry two months, but there was lots of ground cover growth.

Typically, with seeps, the soil  remains saturated year round even during droughts. Seeps are often the headwaters of perennial streams and have traditionally been used as sites for the construction of spring boxes for household water supplies. Groundwater in our region is typically about 50 degrees Fahrenheit  and varies only a few degrees from this temperature. The constant gentle flow of water at this moderate temperature typically allows early spring development of grasses and sedges. This early spring vegetation can be an important source of food for wildlife. 

Both seeps and springs are considered types of wetlands and are an example of the hydraulic balance- groundwater flowing and surfacing on land. Sometimes springs and seeps flow after a deluge of rain, but here it was still flowing a week after the last rain in wet January. Typically, I do not walk the woods in winter, so I never looked before.  "Seeps and springs provide water to headwaterstreams, ultimately providing the water flow to create larger river systems." (Chestnut Lick is a headwater stream to Bull Run.) Seeps and springs create vernal pools that are also essential during the cold winter months because their movement often keeps water from freezing. This serves as a refuge or drinking water source for wildlife. So at least the deer and wild life have something to drink while consuming my garden and the cat kibble we put out for the strays dumped in our area.

Clay Morris seemed pleased with the progress we were making and was willing to allow a covered structure for sitting at the edge of the woodland to possibly intrude slightly into the RPA. I did not want to have to delineate the RPA and just wanted the covered seating at the end of the woodland trail. Clay saw no problem with that plan since the covered bench structure we plan is small. Frankly, it was very nice to have someone appreciate the very expensive restoration work we’re doing.  

After walking Clay through the woods, I checked on the progress of the Wetland Studies and Solutions team. We discussed the plans for this year’s work. I wanted to extend the path to the creek. We are going to end it at the vernal pools. It should be passible in the summer. Typically Virginia vernal pools have three phases each year: it is inundated in the winter with the vernal pool holding onto the water from for a month or two, it dries slowly during the spring, and it dries completely during the late July and August. In the wettest years it can hold onto the water for most of the year. The vernal pools have an entire ecology that is just beginning to be studied.

After Clay left,  my landscaper came by to discuss additional work. He has less work in the winter and his guys provide cheap labor ($30-$40/hour). This labor is only cheap compared to Wetland Studies and Solutions, but it's important that people are paid fairly.  Next week the landscaper will have his team remove sections of the old farm fence and work on the woodland path. This year he will be laying landscaping fabric the lower section of the path from the big tree at the bottom of the hill (just shy of the vernal pools) and up the hill to the turn in the path. Then they will cover the fabric with wood chips. We'll see how this goes and if it works out.

The vernal pools in front of the creek


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Since 1990 CO2 Emissions have Grown

 

from the Global Carbon Project

The 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, called COP-26 in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021 closed on a disappointing note. The last minute change by China and India to "phase down" the use of carbon fuels rather than "phase out" coal deflated the high hopes of many of the other participants. COP26 ended with a global agreement to “accelerate action on climate this decade.” Technically this left the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius on the table, but made it achievement far more difficult. The recent COP 28 made no further progress.

At COP 26 in 2021 India signed an agreement to reduce coal and increase its renewable energy generating capacity to 500 gigawatts by 2030 with the goal of reaching net-zero CO2 equivalent emissions by 2070. While China is the top emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, India comes in at number three and is the third largest producer of coal. India and China need to play important roles in global mitigation of CO2 equivalent emissions. However, it is not to be. It seem their action on the climate is going to be to continue to significantly increase CO2 emissions.

India is one of the largest consumers of coal in the world. The country consumed 906.08 million metric tons  of coal in 2020–21, of which 79.03% was produced domestically. Coal is the main source of energy in India. Coal generated over 73% of electricity produced in India 2021. Still, the natural fuel value of Indian coal is poor. On average, the Indian power plants using India's coal supply consume about 0.7 kg of coal to generate a kWh. Poor quality coal emits more air pollution.

In November 2023 India approve a plan that roughly double coal production, reaching 1.5 billion tons by 2030 and included more than quadrupling its underground coal production by 2030.  Underground mines generally affect the landscape less than surface mines, but according to the US EIA, the ground above mine tunnels can collapse, and acidic water can drain from abandoned underground mines. Methane gas that occurs in coal deposits can explode if it concentrates in underground mines. This coalbed methane must be vented out of mines to make mines safer places to work and prevent explosions and fires. Expanding underground coal mining expands methane gas releases.

  • Burning coal is responsible for air pollution that knows no borders:
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses
  • Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and lung disease
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)- the primary greenhouse gas produced from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)
  • Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals
  • Coal ash, which are residues created when power plants burn coal

Meanwhile the news from China is no better. Last fall China announced that coal-fired power capacity would rise by more than 200 Gigawatts by 2030. That increase is equivalent to the entire energy production of Canada. Lets be honest here despite promises made year after year the CO2 emissions of the planet have grown at a compounded annual rate of 1.8% per year since 1990. Our situation is worse not better. 

from the Global Carbon Project


Sunday, January 28, 2024

Deer and Black Walnut my Challenges in the Garden

The past few years I have been planting trees on my property to replace the emerald ash losses, evergreen losses and a red oak that failed. I have had intermittent luck with garden specimens. This past summer’s drought was a challenge to the new trees I bought, but I was quite pleased with how well this bunch of  trees had done with their Gator bags through the hot and very dry summer we had here. I thought this new group of trees had made it.

Then the artic weather and snow of the last two weeks hit and the small herd of deer denuded the bottom half of my row of nellie steven’s hollies. Right now I have lollypop trees and I’m wondering if they can ever recover from the assault. Deer are not supposed to eat holly, so they must have been very hungry in the snow and cold. Two years ago, the deer denuded and killed my shrubbery on the other side of the house. So, I am a little heartbroken at the thought of loosing my formerly beautiful and thriving hollies. Though I have acres of woodland ending in a stream, my ornamental garden is seemingly a deer buffet.  I am constantly replanting and estimating deer desirability of plants.  

lower part stripped of leaves

the corner bush stripped of leaves
Deer are not my only challenge. My garden also has another significant challenge- juglone.  This substance is found in the vegetative buds, leaves, stems, nut hulls, and roots of black walnut and hickory trees (and a few others). Black walnut (Juglans nigra) and hickory are the primary culprits. I thought it quaint that our neighborhood was once called hickory grove. That is until I face the challenges of trying to garden around stands of black walnut and hickory trees.

The production of juglone is a protective response by the black walnut and hickory to assure their survival and reproduction by inhibiting nearby competition. The most common symptoms of juglone sensitivity in garden plants is the yellowing and wilting of leaves, especially during the hot dry periods of the growing season, ultimately resulting in wilting and death of the plant.

the black walnuts all over the yard

Early wilting can often be reduced with additional watering, but trust me, this will not work for long. Later in the season wilting does not respond to additional water, leaves start to brown, and the plant dies. Basically, black walnut and hickory kill off the competition. Worse yet, as neighboring trees grow larger and their roots spread towards the black walnut, they go into decline. Coming to Virginia from California 17 years ago I had no clue. It cost me several thousands of dollars in dead plants to send me to the extension office and finally be educated in juglone. According to the extension office, juglone inhibits plant respiration, depriving sensitive plants of needed energy and cell division as well as water and nutrient uptake.

Various sources of information have published lists of plants that are tolerant to juglone. They are based on observation under various settings, but few plants have been experimentally tested for sensitivity to juglone. It turns out that many factors affect sensitivity, including level of contact, health of the plant, soil environment, and the overall site conditions. My most challenging area is the east side of my house which abuts a black walnut stand. I have replanted the beds along that area several times. Any stress seems to exacerbate the problem.

Right now, I have the nellie stevens, green giant, cryptomeria, forsythia, lilac (that is struggling), and hydrangea. I hear that nine bark might work. Various source have lists of plants that will survive- I have not had success with many of them, and some of them are totally deer candy for example the Hosta. Nonetheless, I recommend checking out the lists from Virginia Tech and Penn State Extension as you, too, test your garden by trial and error.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Cold Snap increased Water Main Breaks at WSSC

from WSSC

The artic temperature arrived in our region about two weeks ago and stayed long enough to impact us. The Potomac River temperature dropped about 13 degrees over the weekend from 46 to 33 degrees, triggering a significant increase in the number of water main breaks/leaks according to a news release from WSSC Water. They have experienced more than166 water main breaks/leaks in the past 12 days – with 82 over the weekend alone.

As you can see below, there is a direct connection between dropping water temperatures in the Potomac River and the increase in water main breaks. Water main breaks tend to increase a few days after the river temperature hits a new low because the colder water takes time to travel through approximately 5,900 miles of water distribution mains.

 
from WSSC


The aging infrastructure is a critical factor in breaks and leaks. The older pipes are more brittle and “shocked” by the colder water, causing them to break. Much of the WSSC’s service areas was built out in the building boom of 1960s and continuing through the late 1980s. Older pipes typically break at a higher rate than newer pipes. Though age alone is not the only factor that determines the likelihood of a pipe breaking it is a big one. Approximately 40 % of the water mains in WSSC Water’s systems are more than 50 years old despite an ongoing pipe replacement program.

WSSC Water spends approximately $17 million each year for emergency water main repairs alone, with about $10 million spent November through February. During a typical year, WSSC Water crews repair more than 1,800 water main breaks and leaks, approximately 65 % of which (1,152) occur between November and February.

Responding to these emergencies has slowed WSSC’s ability to replace the older water mains and WSSC continues to work to update the system. WSSC serves 1.9 million customers in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, with approximately 5,900 miles of water mains covering a 1,000-square-mile area. With such an extensive, aging distribution system spanning the two counties it is hard to keep up and very difficult to move forward to reduce the age of the system of pipes.

WSSC Water encourages customers to report water main breaks and leaks as quickly as possible. Do not assume that someone else has reported the break. There are three ways to report a break:

The “Report a Problem” feature on WSSC Water’s mobile app allows customers to easily snap a picture of a water or sewer problem and send it directly to the Emergency Call Center. The mobile app uses GPS to pinpoint the image’s location, allowing dispatchers to send an inspector to the location.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

January is National Radon Action Month

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named January as national Radon Action Month, in hopes of getting as many people as possible to test their homes for radon. The Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium, thorium, radium, and other radioactive elements that naturally occur in granites as well as some metamorphic and sedimentary rocks in soil, rock, and water and is widespread in the United States.

Radon is an odorless, clear radioactive gas that can cause cancer. Most people only test their home at purchase, but the It is a good idea to retest your home if you make any changes to the structure and every few years to be sure radon levels remain low. In addition, if your home has a radon mitigation system, it is important to monitor the system and retest at least every two years to make sure the system is functioning.

According to the EPA about 21,000 people die each year from lung cancer caused by long term exposure to elevated levels of radon in their homes. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the general population, and is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. As radon gas is released from bedrock, it migrates upward through the soil and can seep into the basements of houses and other buildings through dirt floors, cracks in concrete, and floor drains. Radon has a tendency to accumulate in enclosed spaces such as buildings. Air pressure inside your home is usually lower than pressure in the soil around your home's foundation. Because of this difference in pressure, your home acts like a vacuum, drawing radon in through foundation cracks and other openings. 

Radon from soil is the main cause of radon problems in homes, but sometimes radon enters the home through well water. You cannot see, taste or smell radon. The only way to detect radon is to test. Short term radon testing kits consist of a container of granular activated charcoal. The charcoal absorbs the radon gas entering the canister from the surrounding air. At the end of the radon gas test period, typically 3-7 days the canister is sealed and sent to the laboratory in the pre-paid mailer for analysis. There are also 90 day test kits.

Radon in air is ubiquitous- found in outdoor air and in the indoor air of buildings of all kinds.  The average indoor radon concentration for America’s homes is about 1.3 pCi/L. It is upon this national average indoor level that EPA based its estimate of 21,000 radon-related lung cancers a year. The average concentration of radon in outdoor air is .4 pCi/L or 1/10th of EPA's 4 pCi/L action level.

EPA recommends homes be fixed if the radon level is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or more. However, there is no known safe level of exposure to radon so, EPA also recommends that we consider fixing our home for radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.

According to the EPA, radon levels in most homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below using standard mitigation techniques.  Radon mitigation takes one of two approaches either preventing the radon from entering the home or reducing the radon levels by dilution after the radon has entered the home. There are several techniques that can be used depending on the type of foundation the home has. It is better to prevent radon from entering the home in the first place so I will discuss the preferred methods of prevention. The type of foundation, construction materials and condition will determine the kind of radon reduction system that will work best. Homes are built with some kind of foundation- a basement, slab-on-grade, a crawlspace, or a combination of the three. It is common to have a basement under part of the home and to have a slab-on-grade or crawlspace under the rest of the home. In these situations a combination of radon reduction techniques may be needed to reduce radon levels to below 4 pCi/L, which is the EPA regulated level. However, be aware that there is a synergistic risk from active smoking and radon exposure that increases the risk of getting lung cancer.

Soil suction techniques are the preferred method of mitigation and prevents radon from entering your home by drawing the radon from below the home and venting it through a pipe(s) to the air above the home or outside the house where it is diluted by the ambient air. An effective method to reduce radon levels homes with crawl spaces is covering the dirt floor of the crawl space with a high-density plastic sheet. A vent pipe and fan are then installed and used to draw the radon from under the sheet and vent it outdoors. This is called sub-membrane suction, and according to the EPA when properly installed is the most effective way to reduce radon levels home with crawlspaces.

In homes with concrete slab foundations or basements, sub-slab depressurization is the most reliable radon reduction method. One or more suction pipes are inserted through the floor slab into the crushed rock or soil underneath the home and a fan is used to draw the radon from under the slab or basement floor to a roof or wall vent. It is possible, and in many cases preferable, to install the suction pipe under the slab by running the pipe on the outside of the house. Another variation is to use the drain tiles or perforated pipe that are installed in modern homes to keep basements dry. Suction on these tiles or pipes can be effective in reducing radon levels. This system is most effective if the drain tiles are on the inside of the footer, sealed beneath the floor and form a complete loop around the foundation of the building. In homes that have sump pumps the sump can be capped so that it can continue to drain water and serve as the location for a radon suction pipe. There are kits that can be purchased for capping the sump pump. It is important that the sump cover lid is readily removable for service of the sump pump. Be aware that over time the perforated pipe can become clogged with silt.

There are several other techniques such as sealing cracks and passive methods that are often installed in new construction that are not as effective as active depressurization of the slab, basement or crawl space. As a temporary measure ventilation will reduce the radon levels by introducing more outside air, but it will increase your heating and cooling bills. After a mitigation system is installed do confirmation testing of radon levels before you make the last payment to the contractor to ensure that the mitigation system works. For more information of mitigation approaches and techniques see the EPA’s Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction .

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Solar Farms in Virginia


Scott Cameron, Vice-Chair of the NVSWCD Board of Directors, spoke to the Potomac Watershed Roundtable at our most recent meeting. His topic was the Environmental Considerations of Utility Scale Solar  “Farms.” The article below is a summary of his talk.

Virginia’s utility scale solar development was stimulated initially (as intended) by the statutory requirement of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA).  The 2020 VCEA is the state’s law outlining a path to decarbonize the electric grid by 2050. VCEA requires the Commonwealth to retire its natural gas power plants by 2045 (Dominion) and 2050 (Appalachian Power). It also requires utilities to develop more than 16,000MW of renewable energy by 2035. 

However, the demand for renewable energy grew exponentially due to the demands from data centers located primarily in Northern Virginia in the Potomac River Basin. In the stampede to build utility scale solar a series of issues have arisen. The developers of these utility scale solar came to Virginia from desert locations where the land was open and unused. In Virginia solar developers are cutting down forests and converting prime farmland. These lands had provided green infrastructure to manage stormwater, allowed groundwater to be recharged, provided water quality benefits, and fish and wildlife habitat.

According to Mr. Cameron, the acreage permitted for utility scale solar developments in Virginia is growing at an average of 77% per year based on a regression model. In real life it takes 5-12 acres to create 1 megawatt of solar generating capacity. So that under the VCEA that would 317,000 acres would be converted to solar by 2045. However, those solar farms only generate power when the sun shines and data centers, the driving force of the entire power structure in Virginia these days, operate a flat demand 24/7. Today, data centers represent 21% of Dominion Energy’s Virginia power demand and are forecast to be 40% by 2030.

To power data centers with renewable power, batter storage will have to be built to power the data centers at night and when it is overcast (remember it rains an average of 44 inches a year in Virginia). The charge the batteries additional solar developments will have to be built. According to an analysis by the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) the data center demand for power drives a loss of about 1,500,000 acres by 2050, assuming no additional nuclear or natural gas to keep the data centers operating after dark.

According to VCU, about 61% of the roughly 30,000 acres of agriculture land that has be used so far for solar projects is “highly suitable cropland.” In addition, as of 2023, more than 10,000 acres of forest land have already been lost to the utility scale solar. However, under the Chesapeake Bay Agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the other Chesapeake Bay states, Virginia owes the region 48,000 acres of new forest by 2025, but have only planted 6,600 acres of trees. On net,  we are 3,400 acres further from Virginia’s tree planting goal than we were in 2017. We are going backward in our environmental progress.

In addition, as rain storms intensify due to the changing climate, and green infrastructure of forests,  and open land are removed; storm water flooding and sediment flushing into streams, rivers and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay increases. This is all compounded by the fact that utility scale solar developers came to Virginia from the dessert with no experience handling stormwater. Our wet (and getting wetter) environment requires Virginia to have stormwater regulations. However,  according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) 69% of existing solar facilities had regulatory “issues” with stormwater and erosion control as of April 2023. Solar stormwater pollution undercuts the urban investment Virginia has made. Last year NOVA invested $135 million in stormwater management. Over the next five years Virginia is budgeted to spend a billion dollars on stormwater management.


 

Solar Project from ESE

Mr. Cameron suggests that Virginia needs to change the incentives in the state law. Virginia needs to implement disincentives in siting utility scale solar developments in forests and prime farmland. Promote “agro-voltaics” which are spacing the solar panels further apart and higher to allow sheep grazing and crop cultivation. (funny note in experiments with grazing only sheep were successful, the cows knocked down the solar panels and the goats climbed on them.)  Mr. Cameron went on to suggest that we need to incentive solar siting on brownfields, residential and commercial structures, an parking lots. Delegate Paul Krizek has bills in this legislative session: HB 197. HB 198, and HB 199.   

DEQ is also working on the problem. DEQ’s stormwater Guidance Memo 22-2012 issued in November 2022 goes into effect at the end of this year and requires more stringent stormwater controls for utility scale solar that has not yet been connected to the grid by 12/31/2024. In addition, DEQ established a work group as required by  HB 206 to assist with developing regulations under its small renewable energy permit-by-rule (PBR) program, addressing ways to avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate damage to prime agricultural soil and forest caused by the construction and operation of renewable energy solar projects. DEQ must promulgate these regulations no later than the end of 2024. Make sure to comment on the regulations.

Solar carports at METRO

Dominion Solar Development


 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Area 2 Farms- Vertical Farming in Arlington

On Friday, Andrew Borocco, Head of Plant Breeding at Area 2Farms spoke to the Potomac Watershed Roundtable virtually. Though after hearing his talk, I’m convinced that the trip to Shirlington to see their operation would be fun.

First, let me tell you a little bit about Area 2 Farms. First of all, right now there is only one farm. It is in the Shirlington neighborhood or Arlington, VA and it is a start up. The concept is that food should be grown within 10 miles of the people who consume it and that it should all be fresh and seasonal. Since most people live in urban areas, the way to accomplish this using a vertical method. In this way the footprint of food could be reduced. Though, truthfully I always thought the carbon footprint of food was due to the energy consumed in moving the inputs- seeds, fertilizer (not in this case), etc. Land clearing is also has a climate impact. 

Vertical farming is seen as another avenue for technological advancement that can spur improvements in yield/ reduction in land need, cropping intensity (the number of crop harvests per year), and protection from pests and pathogens, while reducing nutrient and water usage. Vertical farms either uses  hydroponics or aeroponics systems. “Studies have shown that soil-grown plants exhibit a more diverse and robust microbial community, which plays a crucial role in enhancing plant growth, health, and resilience against pests and diseases” 1.

Vertical farming system can vary in the extent to which the growing environment is controlled. The form of vertical farming practiced by Area 2 Farms is indoors in specifically created soil. That lets them grow without pesticides and herbicides and to control the environment to produce the most nutritious plants.  Area 2 Farms is certified USDA organic; a hydroponic system could not be. Andrew has a Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding and his job is doing just that. He is responsible for plant breeding to optimize the plants to taste good and grow in the shallow bins that Area 2 Farms stacks about a foot apart.

from Area 2 Farms


The soil and it’s structure is an important element of the plant health and taste. The soil created by using coconut husks, Area 2 makes compost from stems and roots that is added to the coconut husks soaked and rinsed in water several times to remove the natural salt, then organic fertilizer is added along with selected bacteria to create a proprietary soil biome. The soil continues to develop with addition over time of inhouse compost created by inhouse worms, stems and roots of the produce.  As soil develops, the plants toughen up and are less delicate.

hybrid sweet potatoes

Andrew makes cross breeding and creation of successful hybrids sound fascinating. He obviously loves his work. I have been a byer of hybrids for my garden, but I had given little thought to the process of creating one. One example he told us about was creating a sweet an delicious pea that would be short enough to fit the stacked totes by combining the tom thumb and royal snap pea. Another example was creating a dwarf tomato hybrid using the delicious green zebra tomato. I also learned that due to heterosis  hybrids tend to be larger, so that it is often necessary to keep planting the F1 generation.

Area 2 Farms sells CSA shares to people who live within 10 miles of their farm building. The shares are 5 items weekly for 10 weeks that are a mix of green, micro greens and shoots, herbs , roots (sweet potatoes etc.) and fruits. You should check them out.


  1. Chiaranunt P, White JF. Plant Beneficial Bacteria and Their Potential Applications in Vertical Farming Systems. Plants (Basel). 2023 Jan 15;12(2):400. doi: 10.3390/plants12020400. PMID: 36679113; PMCID: PMC9861093. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9861093/