Sunday, April 28, 2024

Fauquier and PFAS

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) do not occur in nature, they are an entirely synthetic substance. Yet, most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood, especially perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). 

There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial, and industrial products. This category of chemical has been widely used for over 80 years mainly for their ability to repel oil, grease, water, and heat. PFOS and PFOA found in Scotch Guard and an ingredient in Teflon and traditional Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) - the foam used to fight aviation and other chemical fires -were the first to become widely commercially successful.

But PFAS  has been widely used in consumer products. Spray coatings to cans and food packaging, flame retardants, waterproof coatings and on and on. PFAS are resistant to degradation and because they are so soluble in water simply flow through the wastewater treatment plant or septic leach field. PFAS remained in the biosolids and effluent. Biosolids were used as organic fertilizer and picked up by crops and grazing animals.

The reach and spread of PFAS was increased because effluent from wastewater treatment is released to rivers and used as source water for drinking water. Out it went to rivers and streams ultimately to the oceans. Fish and seafood were exposed to PFAS through the waste water effluent as were we. 

Ob April 10th 2024 the U.S. EPA finalized the national primary drinking water standards for six types of PFAS.

For PFOA and PFOS the U.S. EPA is setting enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) at 4.0 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, individually.  This standard will reduce exposure from these PFAS in our drinking water to the lowest levels that are feasible for effective implementation -a level they can be reliably measured.

  • In addition, for PFOA and PFOS, EPA is setting a non-enforceable health-based goal of zero. This is called a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG).  This reflects the official position that the latest science shows that there is no level of exposure to these two PFAS without risk of health impacts.
  • For PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA (GenX Chemicals), EPA is setting MCLGs of 10 parts per trillion
  • PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.

According to the EPA, public water systems have five years (by 2029) to implement solutions that reduce these PFAS if monitoring shows that drinking water levels exceed these MCLs.

Fauquier County Water and Sanitation Authority ( FCWSA) consists of 15 local water systems that are supplied by wells. There are more than 50 wells in total. FCWSA began testing their wells for PFAS in their largest water system, the New Baltimore Regional Waterworks and has continued testing all water sources. FCWSA has found a range of results both above and below the EPA’s final regulations. As additional results are received FCWSA will update the results below (click on the image link to check). These results exclude the Town of Warrenton and Vint Hill Waterworks which is the old U.S. Army base at Vint Hill water system now operated by Buckland Water and Sanitation Assets Corporation. It is not known if there is PFAS contamination in Warrenton, but the Vint Hill Waterworks has a very significant PFAS contamination problem.

from FCWSA

As you can see, FCWSA will likely have to address the PFAS contamination issues in the New Baltimore Regional, Bealeton Regional, Marshall, Waterloo Estates, Bethel Academy, and Fauquier County Botha systems. In addition, it is clear that the groundwater in several parts of Fauquier County contains traces of PFAS above the EPA safe drinking water act MCL. Private well owners will have to address this problem on their own. Until a reliable and affordable PFAS test is available to well owners (hopefully through the Rural Household Water Quality Program run out of VA Tech and the Extension Office) concerned well owners or water system consumers should by a filter tested by the Environmental Working Group.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Path to Solving PFAS in Chelmsford MA

My younger brother lives in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. In 2020, the Massachusetts department of environmental protection (MassDEP) published its PFAS public drinking water standard or Massachusetts Maximum Contaminant Level (MMCL) of 20 nanograms per liter (ng/L), or parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of the concentrations of six specific PFAS. The six PFAS are: PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA. MassDEP abbreviates this set of six PFAS as “PFAS6” and has all public water systems test for them. 

Late last fall my brother received a notice from his water company, the Chelmsford Water District, that they had found a PFAS6 result that exceeded the Massachusetts Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for drinking water in the third quarter of 2023.  The Chelmsford Water District will need to build treatment facilities to address PFAS contamination that is beyond the limit deemed safe by the State and the newly finalized PFAS limits under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Testing conducted in Chelmsford in 2023 found PFAS levels exceeding MassDEP guidelines of 20 ppt in one of the three treatment plants that serves District customers.  Under the January 2020 Massachusetts guideline for PFAS Water District is mandated to submit quarterly PFAS results to DEP. The District has “triggered” quarterly levels above the guideline in the 3rd quarter of 2023, but since then has remained below the guideline in the 10-20 ppt range.  Regardless, the District must move forward with a solution to provide water to their customers with PFAS levels below State guidelines and also comply with the new federal limits.

Chelmsford Water District is small. It draws all its water from a series of water wells in two watersheds. There are two primary treatment plants and a backup plant. Crooked Spring Treatment Plant handles water from nine wells across the district. This plant utilizes aeration and greensand filtration techniques to remove elevated levels of iron and manganese from these wells and his plant has emergency redundancy built into it by the inclusion of a back up UV Disinfection System. The Riverneck Treatment Plant drawn from the other nine wells in the eastern area of the district and is also sent through the Greensand filtration system to remove elevated levels of iron and manganese from these wells. The Riverneck Road Treatment Plant can treat up to three million gallons of water daily. The Crooked Spring Treatment Plant, can treat up to four million gallons per day. This is a tiny water system compared to our own Fairfax Water that can treat hundreds of millions of gallons of water a day.

The Smith Street Treatment Plant and Wells was inactive from  1999 to 2012. The district refurbished the two wells and upgraded the treatment system. The  Smith Street Treatment Plant uses an aeration and membrane filtration system. This plant, along with its wells, serves as a relief system during times of withdrawal stress and an emergency backup for both the Crooked Spring and Riverneck Road Treatment Plants.

The Chelmsford Water District contracted with AECOM, a National engineering firm with a Chelmsford office, to design two treatment plants and a transmission line to remove the PFAS for all water customers.  AECOM is currently at the 30% design phase and is working with the District to communicate plans to the Town of Chelmsford public officials and District residents.  AECOM also submitted, on behalf of the District, an application to the Massachusetts DEP 2024 Draft Intended Use Plan for Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund.

The project completion is expected June, 2028 ahead of the federal deadline of 2029 for compliance with the federal PFAS rule. Chelmsford has always used the waste streams from their water treatment to recharge the groundwater. Waste streams from PFAS filtration should not be reintroduced to the environment. I look forward to learning how AECOM proposes to address this issue.

 At District meeting in this month the Chelmsford Water District will seek approval to accept assistance in the form of a loan in the amount of $43million from the state revolving loan fund. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law  dedicates $9 billion specifically to invest in communities with drinking water impacted by PFAS and other emerging contaminants. $1B of these funds can be used to help private well owners. The funds per estimated impacted water systems (if evenly given out) would come to about a million dollars, which as you can see does not go very far even at the smallest of water companies.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Today is Earth Day

Today, April 22 marks the 54th Earth Day. The first U.S. celebration of Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. Many organizations have taken on the mantle of Earthday. Most encourage community events and providing a theme and slogans. Our communities also have outdoor events and observances.

I see Earth Day is a way to remind ourselves that we are citizens of the earth and we need to live gently upon her. Small little efforts add up and begin with you. Today and every day we need to live our values and engage our children so that we all may step back from our lives (or handheld devices) and see how our actions and choices can impact our immediate environment and the greater earth beyond. Saving the earth starts with you and a series of small changes, behaviors, and expectations will make a big difference especially if we all do it. So, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the little habits and behaviors that make a big difference and leave others to promote global action and sweeping regulations.

Conserve Energy. We use too much energy and are wasteful with it. Despite promises the carbon footprint of earth from burning carbon fuels has continued to grow despite a considerable increase in “renewable energy.” Begin by replacing your most frequently used light fixtures or simply the light bulbs in them with more efficient fixtures- LED and Energy Star certified products. This is a simple and relatively inexpensive first step.

The next step is to look for Energy Star products when burying new appliances and equipment for your home. When my air heat exchanges failed I looked into purchasing a geothermal heat pump, but as a retrofit to my home wa tens of thousands of dollars beyond my budget. Instead, I bought a multi-speed, high efficiency, Energy Star certified air heat pump, and upgraded my ducting and insulation. I ended up with a more comfortable house and a lower electric bill.

Heating and cooling costs are almost half of most energy bills. Replacing heating and cooling equipment and upgrading ducts is not the only way to save money. There are a lot of little steps you can take. Simple steps like changing air filters regularly, properly using a programmable thermostat, and having your heating and cooling equipment maintained at least annually by a heating and cooling technician.

Also, you can seal and insulate your home to avoid waste. Thermography using infrared cameras that show surface heat variations can be used to detect heat losses and air leakage in building envelopes and identify where insulation will be most effective. Seal and insulate your home and reduce air leaks and stop drafts by using caulk, weather stripping, and insulation to seal your home's envelope and add more insulation to your attic to block out heat and cold and prevent you from spending money to cool your attic in the summer and heat your attic in the winter.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reducing, reusing, and recycling in your home helps conserve money, energy, and reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and manufacturing. And for goodness sake, don’t litter.

Use water efficiently. It takes energy to pump, treat, and heat water, so saving water reduces greenhouse gas emissions. According to the EPA, 3% of the nation's energy is used to pump and treat water. For those on public water, saving water reduces your water bill. For those of us on a well saving water reduces my electric bill and ensures that my well can provide a reliable source of water. Saving water around the home is simple.

The typical American uses the most water (indoors)  for flushing, showering, washing hands and brushing teeth, and laundry. Buying water efficient appliances and fixtures, maintaining the fixtures and repairing any leaks can significantly reduce our water use inside the house.

Low flow faucets and shower heads and behavior modification (not running the water while you brush your teeth or shorter showers can save about a third of the water typically used for personal hygiene. Laundry is the largest or second largest use of water. A top loading washing machine uses 43-51 gallons per load while a full size front load machine uses 27 gallons per load and some machines have low volume cycles for small loads that use less. A standard dishwasher uses 7-14 gallons per load while a water efficient dishwasher uses 4.5 gallons per load and getting more and more efficient.

Outdoor water use is a significant use of water. Eliminating the watering of our ornamental gardens would significantly reduce water use especially in the most arid parts of the country where up to 75% of household water use is for the outdoors and there is the most pressure on water supply. Be green in your yard; work with nature to have a low maintenance and healthier garden.

Travel less. Americans use a significant amount of energy for transportation- all kinds. We need to reduce this by not only choosing the cleanest, most fuel-efficient, hybrid or electric vehicle that meets your needs, but by reducing the amount we drive and fly. I will not tell you how to reduce your driving or flying, these are actions determined by career choices and life choices- what you do for a living, where you live how you get to work and the kind of vacations you take. Think about it and make the best choices you can. Make your choices consistent with your values.

Finally, you might want to consider purchasing some green power to power your home. Green power is environmentally friendly electricity that is generated from renewable energy sources such as landfill gas, hydro power, wind and the sun. You can purchase some through your electric company (they all have programs) or you could go the expensive route and install solar panels

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Fairfax Water 2024 Grant Program is OPEN


Every year Fairfax Water offers Watershed and Water Supply Education Grants. Local and state government educational and environmental agencies, homeowners and HOAs, civic groups and not-for-profit organizations may apply for funding, technical services or a combination of these, up to a total of $10,000. Grant Applications must be postmarked by May 15th, 2024 to be considered. Grant Awards will be announced later in the summer.

Grant requests must address water supply or watershed issues within Fairfax Water’s service area or watershed area in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, or Fauquier Counties. The project or activity for which the funding is requested shall address water supply and/or watershed issues within areas served by Fairfax Water, including wholesale customers, or within the portions of the watershed providing source water to Fairfax Water’s customers lying in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, or Fauquier Counties; the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park, Falls Church, Fairfax, or Alexandria; and the towns of Herndon and Vienna.

Although source water protection, education and water quality monitoring projects are eligible for grants, preference will be given to Occoquan Reservoir shoreline stabilization projects. Shoreline stabilization projects must have demonstrable water quality benefits to Fairfax Water. These grants may be in the form of funding, technical services or a combination not to exceed a total of $10,000. Grants for erosion control projects on private property along the Occoquan Reservoir may not exceed a total of $5,000 per property.

The type of projects that are eligible are:

Education. This would include seminars, programs, or tours aimed at educating the public on water supply issues. Topics may include, but are not limited to, hydrology, water treatment processes, water distribution, watersheds, non-point source pollution, erosion and sediment control, and water quality monitoring.

Source Water Protection Projects. Including stream restoration projects, non-point source pollution management projects, or other activities aimed at improving water quality within the Occoquan Watershed or Potomac River Basin.

Water Quality Monitoring Projects. Including stream flow measurement, water quality constituent concentration, biological health, or erosion.

Occoquan Reservoir Shoreline Stabilization Projects. Property owners may apply for a grant to support stabilization projects aimed at restoring the shoreline along the Occoquan Reservoir.

 Applications are available online. Along with instructions for project submissions here. For further information contact the Watershed Protection Specialist by phone at 703-289-6303 or by e-mail at Fairfax Water needs all their stakeholders to work with them to maintain the quality of all our source water.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

EPA finalizes its PFAS Rule

Last Wednesday the U.S. EPA finalized the national primary drinking water standards for six types of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances commonly called PFAS, commonly referred to as forever chemicals because they do not beak down in nature.  PFAS do not occur in nature, they are an entirely synthetic substance. Yet, most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood, especially perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

  • For PFOA and PFOS the U.S. EPA is setting enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) at 4.0 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, individually.  This standard will reduce exposure from these PFAS in our drinking water to the lowest levels that are feasible for effective implementation -a level they can be reliably measured.
  • In addition, for PFOA and PFOS, EPA is setting a non-enforceable health-based goal of zero. This is called a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG).  This reflects the official position that the latest science shows that there is no level of exposure to these two PFAS without risk of health impacts.
  • For PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA (GenX Chemicals), EPA is setting MCLGs of 10 parts per trillion
  • PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.

According to the EPA, public water systems have five years (by 2029) to implement solutions that reduce these PFAS if monitoring shows that drinking water levels exceed these MCLs.

Within three years of rule promulgation (2024 – 2027) the regulated water utilities must complete the initial monitoring for PFAS.

Then over the next two years (2027 – 2029) results of initial monitoring must be included in Consumer Confidence Reports, compliance monitoring must begin, and the Public must be notified of levels that exceed the regulatory limit.

Starting in 2029, five years after this rule promulgation all water utilities must comply with all MCLs and the public notified of any MCL violation. There are 66,000 public drinking water systems subject to this rule. EPA estimates that only between 6% and 10% of the 66,000 public drinking water systems subject to this rule may have to take action to reduce PFAS to meet these new standards. Compliance with this rule is estimated to cost approximately $1.5 billion annually for hose water systems.

The final PFAS rule does not dictate how water systems remove these contaminants. This allows the water utilities to determine the best solutions for their community and there are several treatment options that the EPA reports are proven to work. These treatment options are;  granular activated carbon, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange systems. In some cases, EPA suggests that water utilities can close contaminated wells or obtain new uncontaminated source of drinking water.

Our own Fairfax Water that supplies Prince William County as a water wholesaler to American Water and Prince William Service Authority says: “Due to decades of use, PFAS are everywhere in the environment. Industrial sites might release PFAS into the water or air. Consumer and household products containing PFAS enter landfills and are washed down the drain. Because of their chemical composition, PFAS do not break down naturally and can be found throughout the environment in surface water, groundwater, air, and soil. They build up in the environment over time, eventually entering our bodies through food and drinking water.

Our data shows that the PFNA, HFPO-DA (commonly known as GenX chemicals), PFHxS, and PFBS levels in our water are all below the MCLs and HI. PFOA and PFOS results for Potomac treated water are less than the MCL of4.0 parts per trillion (ppt). PFOA and PFOS results for the Griffith Water Treatment Plant, which treats water from the Occoquan Reservoir, are slightly above the MCL of 4.0 ppt. Fairfax Water is evaluating treatment processes to ensure that our water will meet these standards.

Fairfax Water is a large water utility, the largest in Virginia. PFAS contamination can have a disproportionate impact on small, disadvantaged, and rural communities, and there is federal funding available specifically for these water systems. The EPA points out that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law  dedicates $9 billion specifically to invest in communities with drinking water impacted by PFAS and other emerging contaminants. $1B of these funds can be used to help private well owners. Unfortunately there are over millions of private wells in the United States serving about 14% of the population owners and that funding will not go very far.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

George Washington Regional Commission and Urban Heat Islands

In 1968 under the Regional Cooperation Act , Virginia was divided into planning districts based on the proximity and common interests among its counties, cities and towns. There are 21 regional commissions in Virginia. They are made up of elected officials and citizens appointed to the Commission by the member local governments. The Commission selects an Executive Director responsible for managing daily operations and has staff. Commission offices are located generally in a central location for the region as determined by the Commission charter. 

We in Prince William are part of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission that consists of Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun along with their independent cities and incorporated towns in these counties. Adjacent to the eastern part of Prince William County  is the George Washington Regional Commission which encompasses; Caroline County, City of Fredericksburg, King George County, Spotsylvania County, and Stafford County.

At the last Potomac Watershed Roundtable meeting, Meredith Keppel, the Environmental Planner at the George Washington Regional commission told us about some of their environmental work. Their region has several ongoing environmental programs intended to help the region use land wisely. Some of these programs are a septic relief program that pulls together various resources and funding to facilitate septic repairs for citizens. A native plant campaign and funding sources for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan funding sources. However, the program with the most fascinating story was the Green Infrastructure program.

The George Washington Regional Commission is hosting a Green Infrastructure charette to “collaboratively explore and envision how green infrastructure can address stormwater and urban heat island issues in the region.” This charette will take place on  Friday, April 26, 2024 starting at noon at the Howell Library Branch in Fredericksburg, VA. You can got to the GW Commission website for more information.

One of the best definitions I’ve seen of green infrastructure comes from the American Rivers Association What is Green Infrastructure? ( edited below:

Green infrastructure is an approach to water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle. Green infrastructure means planting trees and restoring wetlands, choosing water efficiency, instead of building more water supply dams, restoring floodplains instead of building taller levees. Green infrastructure incorporates both the natural environment and engineered systems to provide clean water, conserve ecosystem functions, and provide a wide array of benefits to people and wildlife.

Green infrastructure solutions can be applied on different scales. On the local level, green infrastructure practices include rain gardens, permeable pavements, green roofs, infiltration planters, trees, and tree boxes, and rainwater harvesting systems. At the largest scale, the preservation and restoration of natural landscapes (such as forests, floodplains, and wetlands) are critical components of green infrastructure.

In its simplest terms green infrastructure is changing the way you live and build to capture rainwater where it falls and allowing it to absorb into the earth or be taken up by plants. Plants use the sun's energy and do not reflect it back. What is really interesting about this program at the George Washington Regional commission is its origin. The green infrastructure is intended to address flooding and the urban heat island effect.

Areas with a large amount of impervious surfaces (such as asphalt, concrete, buildings, etc.) not only are susceptible to flooding but are also susceptible to  higher ambient air temperatures because the man made roads, parking lots, concrete surfaces and buildings absorb and trap heat more heat than natural environments. Plants use the energy of the sun while man made surfaces absorb and radiate the energy of the sun. These clustering of heat absorbing manmade surfaces and structures create Urban Heat Islands that can impact a community’s environment and quality of life increasing energy consumption for cooling, increase emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, and impaired water quality.

Friends of the Rappahannock conducted a study of ambient temperatures a couple of years ago. Using  volunteers who obtained 320 air temperature measurements at 20 sample sites within the George Washington Region on July 10, 2022. These samples were then put into a Random Forest model in ArcGIS Pro (an ESRI product). The model was used to extrapolate temperatures across the region, ultimately identifying non-heat islands, heat islands, and urban heat islands. The data found that 3.57% of the landmass of the region (approximately 32,700 acres) was an EPA classified urban heat island.

 Geographically the heat island results were clustered in Fredericksburg and surrounding areas into Stafford and Spotsylvania. An area in north Stafford recorded the highest temperature in the study at 104. This temperature was a  17-degree Fahrenheit difference from forestland temperatures found. Other hotspots included the Route 17 corridor in Stafford County; Central Park and Celebrate Virginia South in Fredericksburg; the Spotsylvania Towne Center and Cosner’s Corner in Spotsylvania County; and Dahlgren and the King George Landfill/Birchwood Power complex in King George County.

This map is from the press release 

A 17℉ heat island effect was stunning to the George Washington Regional Commission and quite frankly, me. In the hottest days of summer, there is always a cooler breeze coming from the woodland behind my home in the evenings. With all the industrial development of data centers are we building urban heat islands, too. Maybe the Northern Virginia Regional Commission should take a look at that. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Fauquier Education Farm

Last week Jim Hankins the Executive Director (and only full time employee) of the Fauquier Education Farm came to speak at the Potomac Watershed Roundtable. Jim, who is no longer young, has been a lifelong gardener.  In 2001he started growing cut flowers commercially to sell to local florists and at farmers markets. In 2007 he was hired as Gardens Manager at Park Hill Orchard, an organic orchard and produce farm in Easthampton, Mass.

The original plan of establishing a community farm came from the Fauquier Community Action committee in 2009. In 2010, a new non-profit was established to develop a program of agricultural education and growing of fresh produce to be donated to food banks for lower income residents- the Fauquier Education Farm was created. Their mission is to advance agriculture and agriculture-related education through best-method demonstrations, classroom instruction, on-farm workshops, and hands-on learning. In addition, the farm supports the community by contributing all of its agricultural products to local food banks and by providing richly rewarding volunteer opportunities.

from FEF website

The Farm is on 10 acres off of Metz Road leased from Fauquier County for $1 per year. The Farm offers a broad range of activities to showcase how to plant, maintain and harvest fresh vegetables while also being good stewards of the land using sustainable farming and best practices. The Fauquier Education Farm also plays a role in support of the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Programs. These are two multi-week courses for folks who are new to, or dreaming of launching, a farming business. The Fauquier Education Farm Incubator Program is intended to offer real-world experience with small-scale farming to individuals who are ready to start commercial vegetable or cut flower production but do not own land and equipment.

Though  the farm has grown and donates over 100,000 pound of produce per year to several local area food banks, their fundraising had a significant setback last year with the local focus on fighting data centers. It seems that donors to the Fauquier Educational Farm and donors to the fight to limit data centers in Fauquier County are same and there are limits to dollars available.  

FEF website
So, spring is here, the high tunnels are filled with seedlings and planting will start soon. Grab you kids for a couple of hours of volunteering- they welcome all. There is no minimum or maximum age.  Young and old are welcome. The Farm only asks that parents of young children work closely with them to ensure that they are doing more good than harm. All minor age children must be accompanied by an adult. Volunteers assist with planting, harvesting, tending to crops and delivering to local food banks. The Volunteer Coordinator sends out a weekly email during the growing season detailing the tasks they will work on and hours each week. Sign up to receive the emails. Also, consider a donation to keep this worthy operation going!

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Cleaning the Water Distribution Systems

Beginning last week on March 25, 2024,  Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water  began flushing their water distribution systems. Because Prince William Service Authority purchases most of their water from Fairfax Water, they too, have embarked on the spring flushing of the water distribution system. The Washington Aqueduct which supplies water to D.C. and Arlington and a small area of Fairfax also began their annual program at the same time this year. Each spring for about 12 weeks in Washington DC,  Arlington , Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water flush their water mains by opening fire hydrants and allowing them to flow freely for a short period of time. In addition, the Washington Aqueduct, Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water temporary change how the water is disinfected.

For most of the year, chloramines, also known as combined chlorine, is added to the water as the primary disinfectant. During the spring the Washington Aqueduct and Fairfax water treatment plants switch back to chlorine in an uncombined state, commonly referred to as free chlorine. This free chlorine reacts with sediments suspended during flushing and kills bacteria that may be in the bio-film that forms on the pipe walls. Many water chemistry experts believe this short exposure to a different type of disinfectant maintains a low microbial growth in the bio-film and improves the quality and safety of the water. This change will last through May 6th 2024 for Fairfax Water,  Loudoun Water, Prince William Service Authority, and the Washington Aqueduct.

This change in disinfection is an annual program to clean the water distribution pipes and maintain high water quality throughout the year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Washington Aqueduct provides water to the District of Columbia, Arlington County, and Falls Church and McLean VA. Fairfax Water provides water to the Fairfax county (purchasing it from the Aqueduct for Falls Church and McLean) and parts of both Loudoun and Prince William County. Both Fairfax Water and the Aqueduct switch from chloramine to chlorine during this period. DC Water is completing their pipe flushing. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) abolished its preventative flushing program years ago to save money. In recent years WSSC has been plagued with discolored water complaints and will flush a hydrant on request.

Those of you in the Fairfax, Loudoun,  Arlington and Washington DC service areas may notice a slight chlorine taste and smell in your drinking water during this time, this is not harmful and the water remains safe to drink. If you are a coffee and tea lover like me, use filtered water or leave an open container of water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow the smell to dissipate. Water customers who normally take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water, such as dialysis centers, medical facilities and aquarium owners, should continue to take the same precautions during the temporary switch to chlorine. Most methods for removing chloramine from tap water are effective in removing chlorine. The annual chlorination is important step to remove residue from the water distribution system.

Flushing the water system entails sending a rapid flow of chlorinated water through the water mains. As part of the flushing program, fire hydrants are checked and operated in a coordinated pattern to help ensure their operation and adequate flushing of the system. Water pressure should not be significantly impacted during this process. The flushing removes sediments made up of minerals which have accumulated over time in the pipes as well as bacteria on the bio-film. An annual flushing program helps to keep fresh and clear water throughout the distribution system. Removing the residue ensures that when the water arrives in your home, it is the same high quality as when it left the water treatment plant.

During the spring flushing program your water may look or taste different. Free chlorine is quicker acting than chloramines, which allows it to react with sediments suspended during the flushing which may result in temporary discoloration and the presence of sediment in your water. These conditions should be of very short duration and the water is reported to be safe. Though, remember you still need to treat tap water before using it in a fish aquarium. Disinfectants can harm fish. Check with a local pet store to learn what types of chemicals you need to add to the tank to neutralize the effects of the disinfectant.

During the spring flushing you may notice a white of bubbly appearance or a chlorine taste and odor in your drinking water. The bubbly appearance is simply a result of the oxygen in the water being stirred up during flushing causing visible air bubbles. Let the water sit for a few seconds and you will see the bubbles clear from bottom to top. The chlorine taste can be removed by filter or by simply letting the water sit in an open container in your refrigerator. If you are especially sensitive to the taste and odor of chlorine, filters commonly used in refrigerators are very effective at removing chlorine- change your filter.