Coffee Day 2015: Coffee, the Environment, and Sustainability

national coffee day 2015This week, we celebrate coffee. Tuesday, September 29, is National Coffee Day, a beloved American holiday where coffee powerhouses such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Peet’s, Starbucks, and Wawa offer freebies and discounts. As an added coffee bonus this year, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) has designated October 1 as the first annual International Coffee Day. This special day will celebrate all things coffee and will be launched in Milan, Italy as part of the city’s 2015 World Fair.

Global Coffee Consumption

After only crude oil, coffee is the most sought commodity in the world, and is worth over $100 billion globally. Sugar, corn, natural gas, and even gold all take a back seat to coffee. The global population drinks over 500 billion cups of coffee every year and more than half of all Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every single day. Coffee farms, 67% of which are in the Americas and 90% of which are in developing countries, provide the economic livelihood for over 25 million people. And while developing nations grow and produce the world’s coffee, industrialized nations drink it. After water, coffee is actually the most consumed beverage in the world. Finland drinks the most coffee per capita in the world, and America consumes the most coffee overall. Brazil, the top coffee producing nation in the world, ranks a distant 13th per capita consumer.

Environmental Impact

deforestation coffeeAs demand has increased, coffee producing countries have been responsible for a significant amount of global deforestation and watershed damage. Coffee was historically a shade-grown crop, intolerant of direct sunlight. Shade trees provide a habitat for birds that provide natural insect control, and they also enhance soil and encourage water retention in the soil, resulting in shade-grown coffee requiring little to no pesticides or fertilizers.

Unfortunately, only 24% of today’s coffee is actually shade-grown. Newer techniques that call for clear-cutting forests and applying chemicals have been found to greatly increase yields — but at great environmental and health cost. 60% of the six million acres of coffee lands have been completely stripped of shade trees since 1972, and coffee is now the third most pesticide-laden crop in the world, behind only tobacco and cotton. Bird populations have decreased by 20% in the last ten years alone, and soil erosion and depletion resulted in producers searching for new land on which to plant their coffee crops, and further deforestation, particularly of rainforests. Rainforests act as the world’s thermostat by regulating temperatures and weather patterns and are also critical in maintaining Earth’s finite supply of fresh water. Now understood to be unsustainable, this “new” method of growing coffee also damages watersheds and affects the health and livelihood of local populations.

Excessive nitrogen or coffee wastewater from wet mills both contribute to algae blooms in coffee-growing nations

Because the land is clear-cut and coffee is typically grown in highlands, soil erosion and agrochemical runoff are major problems in coffee production. The excessive amount of pesticides and fertilizers needed to grow conventional coffee runs unhindered and unfiltered into lakes and streams downhill from the coffee shrubs. Very often, these lakes and streams are the main water supply for the local community. More and more frequently, water supplies in coffee-growing nations are becoming severely contaminated due to runoff from fertilizer, which adds nitrogen to the depleted soil, and, in turn, the local water. And since nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plants and encourages plant growth, it also encourages the growth of algae in bodies of water. Excessive algae in water bodies, called “blooms”, makes the water unfit for consumption and causes foul odors and tastes. When the algae finally dies and starts to decompose, it removes all oxygen from the water, causing ammonias to form, and results in the widespread die-off of fish and other aquatic organisms. Groundwater beneath coffee farms can also become contaminated with excess nitrogen, causing a health threat to humans.

Pesticide usage in coffee growing also contaminates water supplies. Whether entering the water supply through aerial spraying or from soil erosion and runoff, pesticides are known to be toxic to human and aquatic health. Many of the pesticides used in coffee growing nations have long been banned in the United States, and are known to bio-accumulate, disrupt hormones, and cause cancer.

Wet mill coffee processing uses an exorbitant amount of water and produces wastewater that can harm ecosystems in coffee-growing communities
Wet mill coffee processing uses an exorbitant amount of water and produces wastewater that can harm ecosystems in coffee-growing communities

And that’s just the growing. Add coffee harvesting and processing, and the outlook is grim. Conventional coffee is strip harvested, meaning all berries, ripe or not, are stripped off the vine, and sorted and depulped using a wet mill. Water-intensive mills, or wet mills, use water to sort and strip the beans of their mucilage, or protective coating. The beans are then allowed to ferment before they are washed, again utilizing an exorbitant amount of water, to ensure that all of the mucilage has been removed. Even small coffee mills utilize millions of gallons of water over a season, oftentimes depleting local water supplies and causing die-off of aquatic organisms. In addition, the wastewater produced by these wet mills contains nitrates, carbohydrates, proteins, fibers, fat, and many other substances, and these substances end up contaminating the local water supply. In fact, coffee wastewater is one of the largest contributors to water supply contamination in coffee-growing communities. Bacteria that break down the sugars and pectins in coffee wastewater require excessive oxygen, resulting in the same oxygen depletion and subsequent die-off caused by excessive nitrogen as described above. Many times, streams or other bodies of water contaminated in this way are effectively killed, requiring significant treatment that costs more than most of these communities can afford.


A man hand strips coffee in Indonesia

Because of growing knowledge and concern over the detrimental environmental effects of coffee production, solutions have been increasing. Dry mills are one example. Dry mills utilize mechanical demucilagers, do not require fermentation or washing processes at all, and use less than three gallons of water per pound of dry coffee. For wet mills, a solution lies in wetland engineering. For example, TechnoServe and Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee have joined forces to install Vetiver grass wetlands at wet mills. These wetlands, which are a low-cost but sustainable wastewater treatment option, contain deep-rooted Vetiver grass that drinks in wastewater and slows infiltration. Any remaining effluent enters a small pond at the bottom of the wetland where it evaporates.

Table courtesy of Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida/IFAS Extension,
Table courtesy of Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida/IFAS Extension,

But there are still plenty of conventional coffee producers, simply because conventional coffee processes are cheaper. Therefore, some forward-thinking companies have taken it upon themselves to require better practices. Mega-coffee chain Starbucks, the third largest restaurant chain in the world, implemented one of the industry’s first sets of sustainability standards, called Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices. Verified by third-party experts, this set of standards is more stringent than even Organic Certification or Fair Trade Certification, and focuses on both environmentalism as well as social responsibility. Peet’s Coffee & Tea works with certification organizations such as Rainforest Alliance Certification and UTZ Certified — which is on par with Starbucks C.A.F.E. practices — to ensure that every bean they purchase is fair trade as well as sustainably grown. But the San Francisco Bay-based company takes it one step further: they roast all their beans in the nation’s first LEED Gold certified coffee roasting plant, opened in 2007. Other coffee certifications include 4C Certification and Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird-Friendly Certification.


coffee loveCoffee is a beloved beverage, enjoyed worldwide throughout different cultures, but it has come under scrutiny for its negative environmental and humanitarian impact in recent years. There are ways to reduce and even remove the detrimental effects associated with coffee production, and some forward-thinking coffee companies have implemented buying standards in an effort to improve both our environment as well as the livelihood of coffee farmers, while many other small coffee companies sell only fair trade or organic coffees. This week, as we celebrate both National Coffee Day on Tuesday, September 29, and the first annual International Coffee Day on Thursday, October 1, we can choose to support coffee companies who grow responsibly, which means helping to protect our world’s most precious resource — water. Now that’s something to celebrate. Happy Coffee Week!

Pollution Prevention Week 2015

pollution prevention week logoPollution Prevention Week 2015, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention (P2) Act, was held September 21-27, 2015. The P2 Act was implemented in 1990 in an effort to address the significant impact that pollution has on our environment. It is inordinately easier to prevent a problem from happening than to fix an already existing problem, and below we’ve compiled a list of some practical steps we can all take to reduce pollution as well as our individual and collective environmental footprints.


recycle arrows from clothThe average American generates over four pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year, 75% of which is recyclable. The EPA estimates that we only recycle 30% of it, even though over 87% of Americans have access to a curbside recycling program. In a single year, Americans throw out about 28 billion bottles and jars as well as about 36 billion aluminum cans, the scrap value of which is estimated to be an astonishing $600 million. Glass containers and cans can go from the recycling bin to a store shelf in just 30-60 days, and 20 recycled cans can be made with the energy needed to produce one new can. Recycling takes little effort yet yields significant impact. Here are some ways to recycle:

  • Participate in an office recycling program for paper, toner cartridges, and kitchen waste
  • Recycle all plastics, glass, metals, and paper with a single stream recycling program
  • Recycle used motor oil, eyeglasses, cell phones, electronics, mattresses, and other household waste at appropriate disposal sites
  • Donate used clothing, furniture, household items, and books to charitable organizations
  • Start a compost pile for kitchen waste, or better yet…

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting food waste

food waste
Environmental activist Rob Greenfield displays one of his “Food Waste Fiascos”, or the edible food he found in dumpsters in one city

In the United States, food waste is the largest single source of waste, with 30-40% of the food supply wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, about a third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide — about 1.3 billion metric tons — is wasted, accounting for the equivalent of about 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. To put it into perspective, that’s about twice the amount of carbon emitted from America’s transportation sector and close to twice the annual emissions of the entire country of India. And all that wasted food equates to a lot of wasted water, as raising and growing food requires an exorbitant amount of water. To produce one pound of beef takes about 1,800 gallons of water, and to produce a pound of rice takes about 400 gallons. In fact, the amount of food we waste also wastes about 250 cubic kilometers worth of ground and surface water — an amount about three and a half times the volume of Lake Mead when full.

Reducing the amount of food we throw away starts at the individual level. Plan meals for the week and make a shopping list — and stick to it. Be sure to eat any leftovers for lunch the next day, which will also save money (and calories!) when compared with eating out. Donate any unused food to food banks and shelters. Request “doggie bags” from restaurants, freeze fresh foods before they spoil, and use aging fruits in smoothies and baking. These are all simple yet effective ways to greatly reduce the amount of food we waste.

waste hierarchy recycleReduce usage and carbon footprint

In one year, Americans fill landfills with trash equivalent to the weight of 88 million cars and produce enough trash to circle the earth 24 times. We have the highest per capita water usage in the world, and we use 26% of the world’s energy. In addition, we produce a significant amount of hazardous waste, which is any liquid, solid, or gas that may cause significant threats to human health or the environment if improperly managed. Sources of hazardous waste include industry, research, medical, household, chemical producers, agriculture, and mining, as well as many others. Hazardous waste is often disposed of in landfills or injection wells, where the toxic substances can leak into surrounding groundwater. Groundwater is a major source of drinking water and, once it is contaminated, it is extremely difficult, costly, and sometimes even impossible to remove pollutants. Recycling and waste minimization is the best — and easiest — way to deal with hazardous waste. Changing our daily habits is a simple way to reduce our usage and environmental impact, and to lessen the amount of pollution we produce.

  • Use reusable grocery and shopping bags
  • Install programmable thermostats to automatically turn down the heat or air conditioning at night
  • Replace incandescent lights with fluorescents or LEDs
  • Install water-efficient toilets, faucets, and shower heads
  • Fix all household leaks
  • Plant drought-resistant grass and plants to reduce water needs
  • fix a leak weekOnly run washing machines and dishwashers when they are full
  • Power down and unplug electronics when not in use
  • Print double-sided on recycled paper, and implement a “think before you print” mindset
  • Dispose of all household hazardous waste including batteries, cleaning fluids, paint thinners, pesticides, and mercury items at a dedicated collection site
  • Purchase non-toxic products with minimal packaging
  • Use little to no fertilizer or pesticides, especially near rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds
  • Buy locally, including from farmers, businesses, and manufacturers, as it reduces fuel needs and transportation emissions and supports the local economy
  • Carpool, bike, walk, or take public transportation to work when possible

Protect our water supply — careful what you flush!

r_702-wet-wipe-manufacturers-issue-new-guidelinesSpeaking of water contamination, there is another source of potential water pollutant that is in every American’s home: the toilet. It seems like the perfect place to dispose of all things unsightly. Unfortunately, after the whoosh and the swirl, the item doesn’t simply disappear. In fact, it travels a complex path. What we flush down our toilets travels through sewer pipes to wastewater treatment plants, where it is treated and piped back into our lakes and streams. Therefore, we need to be mindful of protecting not only our pipes and sewer systems, but also our environment. Private septic systems are also at risk for clogging, failing, and for leaching toxins back into the water supply. The only items that should ever be flushed down a toilet are human excretions and plain old toilet paper. To show some concrete reasons why the toilet shouldn’t be considered a garbage disposal, we’ve made a list of commonly flushed items that wreak havoc on wastewater systems and our ecosystem.

  • Disposable Diapers
    Not only do they cause instant clogging, but they also are loaded with toxic coagulating chemicals that simply shouldn’t be in our water supply.
  • Feminine Products
    Feminine products are akin to diapers and contain chemicals as well as non-biodegradable parts, and they are responsible for the majority of household clogs. All of these items should go in the trash – including the applicators.
  • Band-Aids 
    They are non-biodegradable and a biohazard and should be thrown in the trash.
  • Automotive Fluids, Paint, Solvents, Sealants, and Thinners
    All of these items contain toxic chemicals that contaminate water. Please dispose of them in an appropriate manner, not down the toilet.
  • PPCPs-in-Water-300x193Unused Medications
    While flushing seems like a great idea for unused meds – after all, we don’t want them getting into the wrong hands – it is actually extremely dangerous. Flushed meds negatively impact ecosystems by seriously disrupting reproductive cycles of fish, and flushed antibiotics encourage the evolution of drug-resistant microbes. Water treatment facilities do not filter meds, and they are entering our water supply at an alarming rate. Medications should be disposed of safely in the garbage or through an approved take-back site. Please check for more info.
  • Cigarette Butts
    Cigarettes are loaded with toxic chemicals that end up in our water supply when the butts are flushed. Don’t flush, or better yet, don’t smoke!
  • Cat litter
    Most cat litter is made from clay and sand, which should absolutely never be flushed down any toilet, and cat feces contains toxins and parasites that shouldn’t be in our water supply.
  • Pets
    Give the goldfish, mouse, or gerbil a good old-fashioned burial. Decomposing animals cause blockages and release toxins into our water supply.
  • Other items of note: wipes (even if they say flushable!), cooking fats, paper towels, cotton balls, hair, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, food, and chewing gum. When in doubt, throw it out!

There are myriad ways to improve our environment by reducing the pollution we produce, and the above ideas are a small sampling of how we can be greener in our daily lives. P2 Week is the ideal time to take a look at our daily habits and patterns and to see what steps we can take to lessen our environmental impact. If every person made even a small effort to be more eco-conscious, the total impact would be staggering. Whether it is protecting our water supply, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or using fewer toxic products, let’s all implement a few small changes this week to protect our environment and reduce pollution. Happy P2 Week!

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is September 26

drugs in drinking waterThe United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is hosting its 10th National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on September 26th from 10am-2pm local time in every state except Pennsylvania and Delaware, where the event took place on September 12. Sites will be set up throughout communities nationwide so local residents can return their unwanted, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs for safe disposal.

Collection sites in every local community can be found by going to . This site will be continuously updated with new take-back locations.

While National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day addresses the vital public safety and public health issue of prescription drug abuse, it also addresses the recently recognized problem of prescription medications found in our nation’s water supply. Many Americans do not know how to properly dispose of their unused medicines, often flushing them down the toilet, which causes a significant public health hazard.

In the previous nine Take-Back events nationwide from 2010-2014, 4,823,251 pounds, or 2,411 tons of drugs were collected.

WMA Permits and SWMI: What You Need to Know

Water Management Act/Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI) Summary

Water Management Act (WMA) permits that expired between 2010 and 2015 were extended for four years by two Legislative Permit Extension Acts. Permit renewals are currently proceeding based on MassDEP’s schedule, although delays are expected. Basins with renewal applications on file will likely be extended, and correspondence will be sent. For renewals not yet on file, and particularly those not scheduled for renewal for several years, no determination has been made for extension.

Sustainable Water Management Initiative (SWMI) Requirements

Hydrologist measuring streamflow

SWMI Sustainable Management Practices:

  • Natural streamflow estimates
  • Cumulative water balance picture
  • Baseline water use
  • Streamflow criteria, biological categories, and groundwater withdrawal categories

Demand Projections: 

  • MassDEP and DCR developed demand projections to be used as the basis for new permitted volumes for each PWS.
  • In many cases, allowable withdrawal volumes are being reduced.

WMA Permit Conditions

Existing — Requirements All Based on Water Conservation

  • Residential Gallons Per Capita Per Day (RGPCD) water use: 65 RGPCD
  • Unaccounted-for-Water (UAW): 10%
  • Leak Detection and Metering: 100% metering; annual master meter calibration; program to test all meters over 10 years old
  • Pricing: Pricing system should reflect the full cost of supplying water; water supply system operations should be fully funded by water supply system revenues
  • Plumbing: Enforcement of the March 1, 1989 plumbing code; retrofit all public buildings with water saving devices; make retrofit devices available to customers if RGPCD water use exceeds performance standard
  • Education: Develop a public education program; include bill stuffers with water conservation tips or water saving messages to customers

New, Additional Requirements

swmi map
To access MassDEP’s interactive SWMI map, please click on the photo above.

Baseline defined by MassDEP = higher of 2003-2005 average use plus 5%, or 2005 use plus 5%, provided that baseline cannot exceed the previous maximum authorized volume.

Mitigation programs required for systems using or requesting volumes greater than Baseline based on Tier classification of basin.

  • Mitigation credits will be determined by MassDEP but recently watershed groups played a major role in approving credits allowed for Mitigation programs.
  • Tier 2 and Tier 3 permittees must undertake mitigation commensurate with the impact of their increased withdrawals.
  • Applicants that cannot avoid changing the Biological Category or Groundwater Withdrawal Category of a sub basin (backsliding) that have no feasible alternative sources will be required to implement the highest level of mitigation.
  • A mitigation plan should estimate the required volume of mitigation, identify feasible mitigation options, and include a timeline for the implementation of the mitigation options.

Minimization: All tiers of permittees with withdrawals in subbasins having August net groundwater depletion of 25% or greater must minimize the impact of their withdrawals in those subbasins. The minimization plan must be approved by DEP and should reflect the following three analyses:

  • Desktop Optimization: Evaluate whether the applicant’s existing sources, or any available alternative sources, could be utilized or operated at prescribed rates or times in a way that could reduce environmental impacts while still meeting water demands.
  • Water Releases and Returns: Evaluate releases from surface water supply impoundments and measures that could return water to the subbasin or basin to improve flow.
  • Additional Conservation Measures: Evaluate reasonable and cost-effective indoor and outdoor conservation measures consistent with public health and safety that go beyond standard WMA permit conditions.

water restrictionsColdwater Fishery Resource (CFR) Protection: All tiers of permittees with withdrawals that impact streamflow at a CFR must evaluate reducing impacts to CFRs through a desktop optimization. Tier 2 and Tier 3 applicants must evaluate further protection of their CFRs as part of their required mitigation planning.

Alternative Source Analysis: Tier 3 permittees must show that they have no feasible alternative source that is less environmentally harmful.

Outdoor Water Use Restrictions: New outdoor water use restrictions will be required based on streamflow and or groundwater conditions, basin criteria and PWS compliance with performance standards. Limits include watering one or two days per week, no watering 9am to 5pm.

For more information on the SWMI final framework, please visit MassDEP’s website here. For questions or assistance with SWMI or WMA, please contact us.

Desalination: a viable option?

iceberg for water supply
Some people have suggested towing icebergs to places that need freshwater. Photo: SERPENT Project

Drought. Scarcity. Pollution. Climate change. Demand. Overpopulation. These are all issues with our nation’s water supply with which we have become all too familiar. Engineers and water systems are scrambling for solutions, and countless possibilities — some as basic as conservation and water bans and some as complicated as water reclamation and transporting icebergs — have been considered. Communities struggle to meet demand with dwindling supply and a limited budget, and many have begun to give desalination serious consideration.

Desalination, or the process of removing salt from water, used to be summarily dismissed as a supply option due to its expense and energy consumption. However, in light of the increase in water scarcity, desalination has become a feasible option for many water-stressed communities. Already commonplace throughout the Middle East, desalination plants are now popping up all over southern California and Texas. Let’s look at some facts about global desalination:

  • carlsbad desalination plant
    When complete, the Carlsbad, CA desalination plant will be the largest in the western hemisphere

    Dubai sources over 98% of its potable water supply from desalination

  • Global leaders in desalination are Saudi Arabia with 17% of global output, United Arab Emirates with 13.4%, and the United States with 13%
  • Nearly 70% of Israel’s domestic water consumption comes from desalination
  • Most desalination plants are in the Middle East, where energy is less expensive and environmental regulations are less stringent
  • Currently under construction, the $1 billion, 50 mgd Carlsbad desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA will be the largest in the western hemisphere when completed
  • Costing $2 billion, the Sydney, Australia desalination plant has not produced any water since 2012 due to high dam levels

desalination diagramThe most commonly utilized desalination technology is reverse osmosis (RO), which was invented in California in the 1950s. RO uses high pressure to force water through fine membranes that leave the salt behind. For every two gallons of salty water, only one gallon is made available as freshwater. The whole process utilizes an exorbitant amount of energy, with energy accounting for up to half the total cost of desalination. In fact, desalinated water costs about $2,000 per acre-foot, which is approximately the amount of water used by a family of four in six months. Because less salty water requires less energy for processing, the most cost-effective desalination plants treat brackish, or slightly salty, water rather than seawater.

desalination fish
Impinged fish

There are some environmental concerns surrounding desalination as well. The highly concentrated salt brine left behind requires disposal. However, because it is twice as dense as seawater, it sinks to the ocean floor and spreads, suffocating bottom-dwelling marine life. Therefore, the brine byproduct must be mixed with freshwater, typically in the form of treated wastewater or cooling water from a power plant, prior to being released into the ocean. In addition, fish and other marine life are often sucked toward the intake pipes where they are killed on the intake screens (impingement), and smaller marine life, such as plankton, larvae, and fish eggs, pass through the screens and are killed during the desalination process itself (entrainment). Fortunately, there have been some recent innovations to address these concerns. For example, subsurface intakes pull seawater from beneath the seafloor, virtually eliminating impingement and entrainment. An added bonus to subsurface intakes is the fact that the sand acts as a natural filter that pre-filters the water, reducing the plant’s chemical and energy usage.

California’s Central Valley is largely agricultural and relies heavily on irrigation

This summer, HydroRevolution, a subsidiary of San Francisco-based agricultural and commercial water producer WaterFX, announced its plans to build California’s first commercial solar desalination plant in the state’s heavily agricultural Central Valley. The plant will run solely off solar thermal energy and will utilize Aqua4, a new desalination technology that produces only solid salt and freshwater, with zero excess discharge. In addition, it will utilize unusable irrigation water from a 7,000-acre ditch rather than seawater. The plant will provide the necessary freshwater for the area’s irrigation needs without the energy consumption or concentrated briny discharge of traditional desalination plants. Admittedly, having the 7,000-acre ditch from which to draw the water helps immeasurably, and isn’t an option for most other areas.

But desalination isn’t only being used in the southwestern part of the country. In Massachusetts, the Town of Swansea recently opened the first publicly held desalination facility in the Northeast. A coastal town, Swansea experienced a population boom that led to groundwater supplies running low, which in turn allowed seawater to seep into the aquifers. The result was a water crisis that forced the enactment of water bans, steep fines – and even left 30% of the town without water for a brief period one summer.

According to Robert Marquis, who has acted as Swansea’s water manager for over 40 years, “We just couldn’t support a burgeoning population or commercial growth,” he said. “Anything that came into Swansea, we were objecting to it if it was going to be water intensive.”

Designed with the help of Tata & Howard’s own John Cordaro, P.E., the Swansea desalination facility has been online for over a year, and took home a third place global finish at the 2014 Global Water Awards, losing only to Dubai, Singapore, and Sorek, Israel.

reverse osmosis membrane
A semipermeable reverse osmosis membrane coil used in desalination

There is one matter with RO that, while a non-issue in sunny southern Californian, is a primary concern to the Northeast: RO filters are delicate and highly intolerant of ice, and cease being functional below 36°F. To address this issue, Swansea installed two miles of pipes in order to sufficiently heat the incoming river water prior to its entering the plant.

For water-stressed Swansea, desalination has been a successful solution. But nearby Brockton, Massachusetts has not realized the same benefit from their desalination facility. Costing roughly $120 million, the plant was constructed to utilize brackish river water as opposed to seawater, which Brockton officials believed would make the whole process affordable. However, seven years later, the water produced by the Brockton desalination plant is still too expensive, so the city has turned to a local lake as its source, leaving the costly desalination plant largely in disuse.

While desalination is heavily utilized throughout the Middle East, it has only recently come under serious consideration in the United States. As water scarcity increases due to population growth, climate change, and growing demand, alternative water source options are receiving close attention. Once not even considered due to energy costs and environmental concerns, desalination has become a frequent and sincere topic of conversation for meeting future needs. And with further advances in technology that address both energy usage and environmental impact, there remains a strong possibility that desalination could become a widely acceptable solution nationwide. Now if folks could just get on board with water reclamation

Tata & Howard donates over $2,000 to Navajo Water Project

Tata & Howard donates over $2,000 to Navajo Water Project

Charity provides clean, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation

navajo water project
Tata & Howard employee-owners from the Marlborough, MA corporate office helped support the Navajo Water Project

Tata & Howard donated $2,235 to Navajo Water Project, a subsidiary of DIGDEEP that works to provide safe, accessible drinking water to Native Americans living in Navajo Nation. Employee-owners donated $1,235 and the company matched $1,000.

“When we learned of the extreme water poverty in which people right here within the borders of the United States live, we knew we had to act,” stated Donald J. Tata, P.E., President of Tata & Howard. “The company asked employee-owners to make donations to Navajo Water Project and agreed to match up to $1,000. We weren’t at all surprised when the good people here easily surpassed that number.”

“Having worked on several projects in Arizona, I have seen first-hand the difficult and, frankly, heartbreaking conditions in which some Navajo live,” added Jack E. O’Connell, P.E., LEED AP, Senior Vice President of Tata & Howard. “Bringing safe, clean, and accessible drinking water to Navajo Nation should be an urgent priority of the American people, and we here at Tata & Howard are more than happy to do our part.”

While there are dozens of water charities supporting developing countries, including Tata & Howard’s own charity of choice Water For People, Navajo Water Project is the only water charity that serves people living in the United States. For more information on the Navajo Nation water crisis, please click here.

About DIGDEEP Water

Launched in 2011 by international human rights lawyer George McGraw, DIGDEEP Water is changing the way people think about water. By designing water access projects that go hand-in-hand with its education and advocacy programs, DIGDEEP focuses on solving water poverty in marginalized communities at home and abroad while promoting better water consumption and conservation practices globally. DIGDEEP collaborates with local communities in order to find appropriate, sustainable solutions to water poverty in places like South Sudan, Cameroon, and the United States. Since each community is unique, each one of DIGDEEP’s projects is also unique. 100% of all donations support projects. To learn more, visit

Manganese in Water: Risks & Treatment


Manganese is an element that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust and is present in rocks, dirt, water, and particulate in the air. It is also used in the manufacture of steel, ceramics, glass, and fertilizer, and is found in low concentrations in 95% of public water supplies. An essential nutrient, manganese is required in healthy diets and can be found in plant-based foods such as nuts, grains, and beans. While studies suggest 2.5-5.0mg/day is considered a sufficient and safe intake for adults, recent reports have indicated that excessive exposure to manganese can potentially cause serious health issues.
Health Issues Surrounding Manganese in Drinking Water
There is conclusive evidence that long-term exposure to high concentrations of manganese in drinking water is associated with toxicity to the nervous system, producing a syndrome dubbed Manganism, or “manganese-induced Parkinsonism,” because of its symptomatic similarity to Parkinson’s disease. Some of these neurological symptoms include muscle tremor and rigidity, difficulty walking, impaired speech, and reduced motors skills. Also, manganese toxicity can produce neurobehavioral symptoms such as mood changes, short-term memory loss, and slowed reaction time. The elderly are particularly susceptible to manganese toxicity, likely because of normal nervous system decline combined with years of environmental toxin accumulation.
baby formula manganeseInfants and very young children are also particularly susceptible to manganese toxicity for different reasons. Their bodies do not break down manganese as easily as older children and adults, so they absorb more of the element. In addition, they excrete less of it, so excessive manganese concentrations affect them more. Formula-fed infants are most at risk since manganese-fortified baby formula is typically prepared with municipal well or tap water which also contains manganese. Therefore, these babies receive a higher concentration than does the rest of the family, while their small bodies requires less.
Recent studies on children who have been exposed to high levels of manganese in water indicate that brain development is affected. Results from these studies show that these children scored significantly lower on intellectual tests, suffered from learning difficulty and memory issues, and often exhibited hyperactivity and behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).
Although not necessarily caused by manganese in drinking water, high manganese exposure has been found to cause more significant problems. Interestingly enough, high manganese exposure has long been associated with violent behavior, and there have been many studies performed on prisoners with results indicating that manganese toxicity contributes to delinquent behavior. Three studies conducted in the California prison system on inmates incarcerated for violent behavior found that these inmates had much higher concentrations of manganese in their hair than did the control groups. Another study performed in Australia found significantly high levels of manganese to be a common factor in autopsies of several mass murderers. Excessive manganese decreases serotonin function and reduces dopamine levels, resulting in social withdrawal combined with increased depression and aggression. While these studies on criminal behavior are certainly disturbing, there is no need to panic. Manganese toxicity at these levels are more likely from manganese inhalation, which is far more toxic than manganese ingestion, as the liver is unable to filter out inhaled manganese.
Guidelines for Manganese in Drinking Water

map of manganese in groundwater
Map showing manganese concentrations in groundwater

Manganese is found throughout New England water supplies, and becomes evident in drinking water at concentrations over 0.05 mg/l by imparting an unpleasant odor, a sharply metallic taste, and brownish-yellow discoration. For this reason, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (SMCL) of 0.05 mg/l. In light of the recent studies indicating health risks, many states have chosen to regulate manganese. The Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH) has set an Action Level of 0.5 mg/l, whereas Massachusetts has set an even lower regulatory limit of 0.3 mg/l due to concerns over manganese exposure in formula-fed babies under one year of age.
Manganese Removal Options

manganese water treatment public
Tata & Howard completed pilot testing, design, permitting, bidding, and construction management services for the Town of Wayland’s Baldwin Pond Water Treatment Plant which included iron and manganese removal

For public water supplies, many treatment options are available, and the best treatment option for a particular water supply is fully dependent on a number of factors including manganese levels, the presence of other contaminants, and existing treatment methods. The most common treatment is oxidation followed by filtration. The oxidant converts soluble manganese to an insoluble, filterable form while killing any disease-causing bacteria, and the filter then removes the insoluble particles from the water. While the treatment technology seems simple, both the source water and treated water must be monitored to determine both proper oxidant dosage and if the oxidation was successful. The most common chemical oxidants utilized today are potassium permanganate, chlorine, and ozone. After the water is treated with a chemical oxidant, it must be filtered using media, membrane, or biological filtration. Media filtration technologies include GreensandPlus, LayneOx®, and Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC); membrane filtration technologies include microfiltration, ultrafiltration, and nanofiltration; and biological filtration technologies include Mangazur®.
filtered waterFor homes with private wells, a whole house treatment option is typically recommended in order to preserve plumbing fixtures. One treatment technology is oxidation-filtration and consists of permanganate or chlorine feed for either batch or continuous pre­oxidation along with a manganese dioxide-based catalytic filter. The other treatment, most often used when hardness is also present, is a softening system with a cation exchange. Both systems cost approximately $1,500-$3,000 for initial installation, with $100 annual maintenance. Oxidation-filtration maintenance includes the ongoing purchase of permanganate or chlorine pre-treatment, whereas softening systems require the ongoing purchase of salt pellets for backwashing.

Ten Eco-Friendly Fall Yard Tips

Save water, energy, time — and money — with these ten eco-friendly fall yard tips

The average American’s environmental footprint has increased exponentially over the past 100 years, with America currently having the highest per capita water consumption in the world. The average African uses about 5 gallons of water per day, an average European uses 50 gallons per day, and the average American uses over 100. In addition, chemicals, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and other toxins have been detected in some of our water supply resources. There are many simple, cost-effective methods of reducing our ecological footprint and of improving the environment in which we all live — and it starts right in our own backyard.

1 Direct downspouts onto lawn or garden

downspout gardenStormwater has become a major environmental concern, as it carries pollution, chemicals, and bacterial contamination into our waterways. One of the easiest ways to prevent stormwater from entering storm drains is to direct downspouts onto grassy areas or gardens. Downspouts should never drain onto impervious surfaces such as driveways or walkways where stormwater flows unfiltered into storm drains or waterways. Plants and soil act as a filter for stormwater so that it is cleaner when it enters our water supply.

2 Install a rain barrel

Rain barrels capture rainwater from gutters and downspouts for reuse in gardens and lawns, preventing unfiltered pollutants from entering our waterways. Installed easily, rain barrels come in an assortment of shapes and sizes, can be inexpensively built from readily obtained materials, and can even be decorative. A rain barrel is also a fun project for kids, and introduces them to the concepts of conservation and reuse. Note: rain barrels should not be allowed to freeze, as they could suffer damage or even break. Empty them and put them into storage when winter arrives.

3 Clean gutters

clogged gutterOne of the easiest ways to prevent stormwater runoff AND save your roof and siding is to clean the gutters on your home. Utilizing a ladder or a service, remove all dead leaves and debris from gutters and ensure that water flows freely from gutters to downspouts. If your gutters clog frequently or if your home is in a heavily wooded area, consider installing gutter guards.

4 Sweep driveways and walkways

Never use a hose to wash down driveways, walkways, and sidewalks! Hosing down these surfaces wastes water and also pushes pollution into storm drains and waterways. Instead, sweep away dirt and debris and dispose of it properly so that pollution doesn’t enter drains or our water supply.

5 Aerate your lawn

aeration lawn
Photo courtesy of Akron Lawn Care Services

Over time, lawns become compacted from use, preventing water and nutrients from reaching roots. Aerating removes small plugs of soil from the lawn, loosening the soil and allowing oxyten, nutrients, and water to more easily permeate the lawn. Aeration improves the health of soil and allows grass roots to grow more deeply, resulting in a more vibrant lawn. Consider sharing the cost of aerator rental from your local hardware store with a neighbor.

6 Apply natural fertilizer

Contrary to what most lawn maintenance companies profess, lawns only need to be fertilized once per year, ideally in the fall. Avoid using chemical or synthetic fertilizers as they contain water-soluble nitrogen, which dissolves during rain or lawn watering and can run into our water supply. Instead, opt for natural fertilizers, which typically contain insoluble nitrogen that is released slowly over time onto the lawn. Natural fertilizer stays in the lawn for a longer time period, providing better feeding, and prevents over-fertilizing and subsequent burning. Even better, the easiest, most affordable natural fertilizer can be found right in your own backyard…

7 Start composting

compost-bins_green_wasteRather than being bagged and hauled off to already overflowing landfills, grass clippings, dead leaves, and other organic yard waste can be turned into organic fertilizer rich in nutrients. Simply shred the waste using clippers or a mulcher, and then add it to a compost bin. Compost bins can be quickly constructed with a few items from the hardware store or can be bought pre-assembled. Green waste, such as grass clippings, is rich in nitrogen, whereas brown waste provides carbon energy for the organisms responsible for doing the decomposing. Be sure to add relatively equal amounts of both for the best possible results. Add water to the pile until it is just moist enough to wring a few drops of water from the waste, and then let it do its work! Add kitchen vegetable scraps and yard waste to the pile, keep it moist, and turn it once a month. By spring, you will have all natural, nutrient rich fertilizer — for free. Note: meat, ashes, pet waste, and pressure treated wood should never be composted.

8 Overseed

Fall is the best time to add grass seed to your lawn. Overseeding inhibits weed growth, improves lawn appearance, and increases drought tolerance. When overseeding, use native grass and groundcover seeds that require less maintenance and water and provide higher stress tolerance than traditional grass seed. Utilize a seed spreader to ensure uniform seeding.

9 Update outdoor lighting

solar lights
Solar lighting is an attractive, energy-efficient option for a walkway

Shorter days are upon us, which means longer nights — and outdoor lighting that stays on for an extended period of time. Replace outdated incandescent bulbs with LED or fluorscent bulbs to save energy and money. Also, install automatic shut-offs or timers on outdoor lights to avoid running lights when they aren’t needed. Enthusiastic environmentalists can consider purchasing and installing solar lights. Solar lights are energy efficient and eco-friendly, wire-free, automatically turn on at dusk and off at dawn, produce a warm and inviting glow, and are a snap to install. Solar lights are available in every shape and size and can be used for walkways, entry areas, driveways, sheds, pools, patios, and even holiday decorating.

10 Perform an exterior house check

To save water and energy this winter, be sure to perform an exterior house check this fall. Examine all windows and doors for gaps and cracks, and repair any areas that allow heat to escape. Also, remove all hoses from outdoor spigots and be sure the water is turned off. If you have a pool, winterize it properly to prevent any damage, and be sure to install a quality pool cover to minimize water evaporation. Since the average pool holds about 25,000 gallons of water, avoiding the need to refill the pool in the spring is an important step in household water conservation.