3 Sustainable Clean Water Ideas for a Warming World

3 Sustainable Clean Water Ideas for a Warming World

Climate Change Brings New Innovation to the Water Environment

The summer of 2018 saw devastating fires blazing all over the world. Nearly 100 people died in raging fires across the southern coast of Greece. More than 50 wildfires scorched Sweden where the temperature north of the Arctic Circle soared into the 90’s causing drought conditions. Record breaking temperatures across the globe from Montreal to Great Britain topped 98 degrees this summer.  In Japan, 22,000 people were hospitalized when temps climbed to 106 degrees. And, in normally cool Oslo, the thermometer climbed to 86 degrees for 16 consecutive days. From Southern California and Arizona to India and Pakistan, withering heat reached a deadly 110 degrees that parched the environment.

ThermometerThe most alarming news is the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded reached 124.3 degrees in Algeria this July.

Fires, heat and drought of this scope and scale seem to be becoming the new normal. These extreme events point to a planet that is warming and perhaps faster than scientists have predicted.

Although the effects of climate change may vary widely in different geographic regions, those areas already hardest hit with drought and arid conditions may be in the most critical need of clean drinking water.

This crisis will only get worse as the earth’s population conceivably could grow exponentially in the next 50 years and adequate supplies of water become even more scarce. In addition to supplying all these thirsty people with clean water, the chilling paradox is the increased demand on already-scarce resources means there is a greater chance that existing water sources will become polluted by human waste, industrial toxins, and contaminated agricultural runoff.

It is human nature to postpone change and sacrifice as long as possible. But it is clear that public service announcements warning residents to save water, take shorter showers, plant resilient gardens, and conserve, is not going to be enough to help avoid a global water shortage.  Fortunately, scientists and researchers are working diligently to solve some very complex problems to provide innovative and sustainable clean water solutions for the future.

Here are three cutting edge ideas for sustainable water supplies that just may help a warming world.

Ancient Bacteria for Modern Water Purification

Anaerobic or oxygen-averse bacteria to treat wastewater is back in vogue… after a billion years. When the earth was a toxic primordial goo, anaerobic bacteria thrived in the oxygen deprived world forming the first signs of life.  Environmental engineers at Stamford University are now bringing back these ancient microorganisms as a more cost-effective wastewater treatment process.

Primordial-bacteriaWastewater treatment plants that use aerobic bacteria must provide oxygen with huge and costly electrically powered blowers for these microorganisms to survive. Anaerobic bacteria treatment processes do not need oxygen and use considerably less energy, making the wastewater treatment process more economical to operate. In addition to saving money, engineers believe these anaerobes can filter household and industrial chemicals better than conventional treatment plants.

Full-scale plants utilizing anaerobic bacteria may soon be capable of processing millions of gallons of wastewater per day into refreshing clean water.

Mega Scale Desalination

Desalination plants may not have been around as long as ancient bacteria, but this technology is not a new concept either.  What is news however, is the increasing role desalination will have in the future. Israel’s Sorek desalination plant is the largest seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant in the world providing 627,000 cubic meters per day (m3/d) or the equivalent to about 166,000,000 gallons of water per day (gpd) to Israelis.

desalination-plant
Shawaikh Reverse Osmosis (RO) desalination plant in Saudi Arabia.

Desalination plants which were notoriously expensive energy hogs have become less energy-intensive as technologies have improved. Using renewable energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal along with advanced technologies including thin-film nanocomposite membranes, captive deionization (most suitable for brackish water), forward osmosis, and metal–organic framework (MOF) biological cell membranes that requires very little water pressure, water desalination is becoming more efficient and cost effective. The new cutting-edge membranes can even filter out precious metals such as lithium used in batteries.

Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of desalinated water in the world with its 32 desalination plants and growing, will soon be producing a historic 5 million m3/d or the equivalent of about 1,321,000,000 gpd, a global record of desalinated water. Benefiting from this leading-edge technology, Cape Town South Africa may have averted a catastrophic “Day Zero” when the City’s first desalination plant went online, preventing a water doomsday for its residents.With the world’s oceans holding about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water and with more innovation, desalination may prove to be this thirsty world’s salvation.

 

Drinking Water from the Air

Another old idea that is gaining favor is converting fog into drinking water. Super-sized moisture collection systems could allow people living in coastal or mountainous areas to convert fog into safe drinking water. Collection traps are made from a 3D mesh that can withstand high wind speeds, while still retaining and accumulating water in storage tanks. With a variety of sizes available, these fog systems can be used for individual needs or supplying water for entire villages.

fog-nets
Super-sized fog nets can capture moisture in coastal or mountainous areas to convert fog into safe drinking water.

Combine this idea with giant Atmosphere Water Generators (AWG), which takes moisture or humidity directly out of the air and converts it into potable water.  Even in the driest of lands, the air is loaded with water molecules and enough drinking water converted from AWG’s could provide communities with a continuous and sustainable source of clean water.

On a large scale, the AWG units can be mounted on the roof-tops of commercial or residential buildings.  When powered by renewable energy, these systems can create safe local drinking water efficiently and economically. Water districts and municipalities managing these units, can provide as much as 55 m3 /d or about 14,500 gallons per day, enough to service each building independently with water.

AWG Towers
Large scale Atmosphere Water Generators can be installed on roof tops.

Collected water from both fog collection systems or AWG’s may seem farfetched. But consider this, 80 percent of California’s water goes to irrigate farms and the other 20 percent of water use goes to urban use. Collected water from the air could be used to irrigate crops or other commercial watering needs.

Water conservation and alternative technologies such as fog collection systems and AWG units can supplement our increasing demand for clean water and these ideas just might may make a difference.

 

The Future is for Innovation

Combating climate change and managing our depleting water resources is a reality we can’t ignore. The devasting fires, drought and heat from 2018, is a reminder that our actions today may help avert a global catastrophe in the future. These innovative ideas and others still in development are one step forward to a more sustainable world.

Our future depends on it!

PFAS – Emerging Contaminants in Drinking Water

PFAS – Emerging Contaminants in Drinking Water

Health Advisory Guidelines for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl Substances Detected in Public Water Systems

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced in early June, and through the Office of Research and Standards (ORS), its recommendations on the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 (UCMR 3) for emerging contaminants-specifically Perflourinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS).

PFAS or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of man-made compounds that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perffluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perflouroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS).

US map of PFASAccording the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all these UCMR 3 PFAS compounds have been detected in public water supplies across the US. Since PFAS are considered emerging contaminants, there are currently no established regulatory limits for levels in drinking water. However, in 2016, the EPA set Health Advisory levels (HA) of 0.07 micrograms per liter (µg/L) or 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for the combined concentrations of two PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA.

MassDEP’s ORS established drinking water guidelines that follows the EPA’s recommendations for health advisory levels at 70 ppt, which applies to the sum total of five PFAS chemicals – PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHXS, and PFHpA.  And, if the level of contamination poses unacceptable health risks to its customers, Public Water Systems (PWS) must take action to achieve safe levels. They also must provide public notice.

The EPA and MassDEP’s recommended guidelines for PFAS include:

  • Public Water Suppliers take immediate action to reduce levels of the five PFAS to be below 70 ppt for all consumers.
  • Susceptible health-risk groups (pregnant women, infants, and nursing mothers) should stop consuming water when the level is above 70 ppt.
  • Public Water Systems must provide a public Health Advisory notice.

Water testingThe EPA also recommends that treatment be implemented for all five PFAS when one or more of these compounds are present.

Although, PFAS are no longer manufactured in the United States, PFAS are still produced internationally and can be imported in to the country1.  PFAS have been in use since the 1940’s and are persistent chemicals that don’t breakdown, accumulate over time in the environment and in the human body.  Evidence shows that prolonged exposure PFAS can have adverse effects on human health and the ecology.

PFAS can be found in:

  • Agricultural products grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water, and/or handled with PFAS-containing equipment and materials.
  • Drinking water contaminated from chemical groundwater pollution from stormwater runoff near landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and firefighter training facilities2.
  • Household products, including nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and stain and water-repellent fabrics.
  • Firefighting foams2, which is a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs.
  • Industrial facilities that manufactured chrome plating, electronics, and oil recovery that use PFAS.
  • Environmental contamination where PFAS have built-up and persisted over time – including in fish, animals and humans.

While most states are relying on the EPA’s Health Advisory levels (including Massachusetts), some, such as Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Arizona, and Colorado have addressed other UCMR 3 PFAS pollutants as well.

Boy drinking waterMost research on the effects of PFAS on human health is based on animal studies. And, although there is no conclusive evidence that PFAS cause cancer, animal studies have shown there are possible links. However, PFAS ill-health effects are associated with changes in thyroid, kidney and liver function, as well as affects to the immune system.  These chemicals have also caused fetal development effects during pregnancy and low birth weights.

PFAS are found at low levels throughout our environment—in foods we consume and in household products we use daily. PFAS in drinking water at levels higher than the EPA’s recommendations does not necessarily mean health risks are likely. Routine showering and bathing are not considered significant sources of exposure. And, while it is nearly impossible to eliminate all exposure to these chemicals, the risk for adverse health effects would likely be of concern if an individual continuously consumed higher levels of PFAS than the guidelines established by the EPA’s Health Advisory.

MassDEP is continuing its research and testing for PFAS in Public Water Systems.  Large Public Drinking Water Systems have already been tested and sampling indicated that approximately 3% had levels of PFAS detected. MassDEP is currently working with smaller Public Water Systems to identify areas where PFAS may have been used or discharged to the environment.

As more information and regulations develop on this emerging contaminant, MassDEP will continue to communicate their findings. Tata & Howard is also available for any questions that may arise, as well as, assist with testing and recommend treatment options for our clients.

 

1 In 2006, the EPA and the PFA industry formed the PFOA Stewardship program to end the production of PFAs.

2 MassDEP in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (MassDFS), announced in May a take-back program to remove hazardous pre-2003 firefighting foam stockpiles and be neutralized. Manufacturers stopped making PFAS foam in 2002 and have since developed fluorine-free and more fluorine stable foams that are safer to the environment.

Climate Change and Stormwater: The Perfect Storm

stormwater-runoffStormwater runoff is a concern year-round, but even more so in the spring when snow is melting and rain is abundant, particularly in humid continental climates. Stormwater starts as precipitation such as snow, sleet, and rain, which lands on natural ground cover such as forests, grass, or gardens. In a natural environment, stormwater soaks into the ground and is filtered by layers of dirt and rock, then finds its way to our groundwater and drinking water supply. Due to urbanization, stormwater in developed areas does not land on natural ground cover but instead washes off roads, driveways, parking lots, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces, becoming stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff picks up road salt, chemicals, oil, bacteria, sewage, sediment, and garbage, then washes these pollutants into ditches and storm drains, contaminating our streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. To make matters worse, climate change exacerbates stormwater runoff and contributes greatly to the impairment of surface water supplies.

How Climate Change Exacerbates Stormwater Runoff

flash-flood-stormwater
Climate change will likely bring more intense storms to all areas of the country.

A study by scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado published in December 2016 indicates that climate change will likely bring more intense, frequent, damaging storms to all areas of the country, particularly to the Northeast and the Gulf Coast. In fact, studies show that storms in these areas could become up to five times as frequent and bring 70% more rain if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. Storms of this magnitude will likely cause flash floods, landslides, and an overabundance of stormwater runoff – far more than current municipal stormwater systems are designed to handle.

California has recently been experiencing severe drought combined with intense storms.

The study also indicated that regions such as the Pacific Northwest and central United States will likely become drier, but with more intense, extreme rainfall. We have already seen this in northern California, where the Oroville Dam suffered serious damage after drenching rains in February. Prior to these rains, the state had been plagued by severe drought. Rising temperatures increase atmospheric humidity, causing extreme precipitation and an increased risk of flash flooding. And while it may seem counterintuitive, drought only intensifies the problem. Drought leads to less vegetation and more firmly packed soil, both of which inhibit infiltration. When heavy rains follow drought, soil tends to erode, washing remaining plants away as well. Regular, gentle rain is the key to restoring soil, and without it, soil degradation will only intensify.

Managing Increased Stormwater Runoff

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned factors will likely lead to an increase in stormwater runoff and its accompanying problems. Municipal stormwater systems, already faced with increased nutrient regulations, will likely become overwhelmed, resulting in backups, localized flooding, and increased runoff of contaminants such as bacteria and nutrients into waterways.  Also, combined stormwater and wastewater systems overwhelmed by extreme precipitation will release more combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into our rivers, lakes, and streams, degrading water quality and affecting aquatic life. At the same time, drought exacerbates the problem by lowering water levels, leading to more concentrated levels of pollutants in our waterways. These combined factors cause water quality deterioration and create major problems for water treatment plants. Already facing dwindling budgets, municipalities will have difficulty meeting water quality standards if stormwater runoff continues to increase unabated.

Fortunately, successfully managing stormwater runoff is a realistic goal with proper planning and incorporation of best management practices (BMPs). Systems that proactively develop strategies to address stormwater runoff will find themselves far better prepared to manage both increased stormwater and more stringent regulations. Stormwater management strategies include the following:

  1. Rain gardens are a beautiful and sustainable way to manage stormwater.

    Increase the use of Low Impact Development. Low Impact Development (LID), also known as green infrastructure, is a stormwater management approach that maintains natural hydrology during site development. LID minimizes impervious surfaces and utilizes existing natural site features along with conservational controls to manage stormwater. Examples of LID design include bioretention basins, grassed swales, and rain gardens.

  2. Minimize impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and rooftops prevent infiltration. Install pervious pavements on driveways and walkways, stormwater bumpouts on streets, and tree boxes on sidewalks. Also, disconnect impervious surfaces by installing grass or gravel buffer zones. Lastly, plant green roofs and roof gardens to greatly reduce stormwater runoff while enhancing the environment.
  3. Protect and create wetlands. Wetlands are of great value due to their ability to retain water and recharge groundwater. Constructed wetlands provide the same benefit as natural wetlands and help to mitigate water pollution.
  4. White clover is native to New England, drought resistant, and soft under the feet.

    Landscape with native flora. Native trees and plants provide habitat for and attract birds, butterflies, and other beneficial local wildlife, and are acclimated to local rainfall amounts and climate. Unlike turf grass, native plants require very little maintenance because they are naturally resistant to local pests and disease. Because they do not need fertilizers, pesticides, or supplemental watering, they are easy and inexpensive to maintain and are environmentally friendly.

  5. Plant trees. Trees help to manage stormwater by reducing erosion and runoff along streams and waterways. They also help to cool urban areas and improve the air quality.
  6. Separate combined sewer overflows. By separating the collection of sewage and stormwater, overflow of sewer systems and treatment plants during rainy periods prevents the mixing of the surface runoff, which is lightly polluted, with municipal wastewater, which is highly polluted.


In Conclusion

Climate change and stormwater runoff together create the perfect storm for water quality degradation. We are already seeing the effects of climate change on our nation’s infrastructure, and unless we address these complications now, we will likely find ourselves increasingly burdened by boil water orders and expensive water treatment projects. Fortunately, by proactively making some simple and largely inexpensive environmental improvements, we can protect our nation’s water bodies for future generations.

GIS Day 2016 – Meet Maya Rhinehart!

T&H Engineer Maya Rhinehart
T&H Engineer Maya Rhinehart

GIS Day has been celebrated mid-November each year since 1999, this year falling on November 16, 2016. Per their website, GIS Day provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real world applications that are making a difference in our society. We here at Tata & Howard utilize GIS on a daily basis, so we decided to conduct a brief interview with one of our engineers, Maya Rhinehart, to showcase the criticality of GIS in environmental engineering.

Q. How crucial is GIS to your profession?

A. As an environmental engineer who works specifically in the water and wastewater industry, I’d say a basic understanding of GIS is pretty crucial. GIS layers allow the user to gain a better understanding of the different conditions of a particular area. For example, by turning on the layer that has mapped out wetlands, the user can see if a potential project may need to acquire specific permits or take extra precautions due to the nearby wetlands.

Q. Where did you learn your GIS mapping skills? 

A. I learned the majority of my GIS mapping skills here at Tata & Howard. I had an introduction to it in college [at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA] but it wasn’t something that was used often or with specific instruction. Getting a better understanding of GIS before entering the workforce would have been beneficial for sure.

Q. Which programs do you use?

A. I’ve used GIS in conjunction with the program WaterGEMS. WaterGEMS is a hydraulic modeling software and I’ve use WaterGEMS to map out and test scenarios on a town’s/city’s water distribution system.  For example, you can model the effects of a fire in a particular area in WaterGEMS and then show that same affected area on a GIS map. You can add or subtract layers within GIS to show things like streets, parcels, town boundaries, rivers, lakes, soil types, endangered species habitats, and railroads. By showing the WaterGEMS model within a GIS map, you can find correlations between location and the types of conditions within that area.

Q. How do you personally use GIS in your current project work?

A. I personally use GIS at Tata & Howard to learn more about the areas surrounding the projects I’m working on. By creating maps with different layers turned on/off, it reduces the number of surprises that may arise during the construction process. If you know that wetlands or an endangered species habitat is nearby, you can plan ahead.

Q. What types of critical information does GIS provide to you and your team members?

A. GIS and the online version that is usually located on a Town/City website provide critical information like parcel numbers, parcel sizes, railroad crossings, and drinking water sources, to name a few. Anything you can think of regarding the characteristic of a certain area can be provided through GIS. The plethora of knowledge that has been cataloged thus far is extremely valuable.

Q. How do you envision GIS evolving in the future?

A. I envision the “library” of GIS layers continuing to grow over time. Hopefully it will become more and more detailed as better tracking and evaluating technologies arise.  I think GIS will also be helpful in tracking things like climate change on the micro scale. The terrain and other characteristics will change as the temperatures continue to rise.  By continuously updating layers over time, GIS could potentially highlight those changes on the local level. This could make the idea of climate change more personal and obvious to see.

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Climate Change and Water Conflict — Keeping the Wolf at Bay

The crisis of our diminishing water resources is just as severe any wartime crisis we have ever faced. —Jim Wright, U.S. Representative, The Coming Water Famine, 1966

water punchWater is life. No truer words were ever spoken, for without freshwater, life simply cannot exist. The first civilization in recorded history settled in Mesopotamia, or the “cradle of civilization” which is now modern day Iraq, Iran, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkey, due to its location between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. And since the dawn of history, water conflict has erupted when supply has become scarce.

worldpopThe first recorded water conflict took place in the “Gu’edena” region, known as the “edge of paradise.” King Urlama, who ruled Lagash from 2450 to 2400 BC, diverted regional water to boundary canals, which dried up boundary ditches and deprived Umma of water. Furthering his father’s work, King Urlama’s son cut off the water supply to Girsu, a city in Umma. Since this first recorded water war, water conflict has erupted regularly on planet Earth, with a high percentage of the conflict occurring in the Middle East.

Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the vast majority of water conflict came about as a result of a pre-existing war; that is, water was diverted or targeted as a military tactic. However, since the 1950s, targeted disputes over water access have increased exponentially, which should come as no surprise. After all, global population has nearly tripled in that time, from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7.3 billion in 2015. And it continues to grow.

At the same time, climate change has begun to wreak havoc on global water supplies. Since 1950, the planet has warmed by approximately 1°, resulting in about 5.7% of the Earth’s total land area shifting toward warmer and drier climate types from 1950–2010. These warmer climates include expansion of arid climate zones and reduction in polar ice caps. And that’s just from one single degree. Experts predict that the earth’s temperature will increase five times that amount during this century alone, and unless we globally commit to taking climate action, at least one-third of the globe will fall into a state of near permanent drought by 2050.

40% of Israel's drinking water comes from desalination, like this IDE seawater desalination plant in Ashkelon
40% of Israel’s drinking water comes from desalination, like this IDE seawater desalination plant in Ashkelon

So what is the solution? Fortunately, global populations are taking notice, and nations have begun to work cooperatively towards a sustainable future. At the Paris Climate Conference held in December of 2015, water was of particular focus: the Paris Pact on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Basins of Rivers, Lakes, and Aquifers was signed, and The Paris Call for Actions was officially launched. In addition, individual nations are implementing regulations and guidelines to provide for a more sustainable future. Many nations in the arid Middle East, including Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, have embraced desalination as a viable technology for years, and are now looking to reclaimed water to augment their water supply. British Columbia, Canada recently passed The Water Sustainability Act, which allows the government to manage surface water and groundwater as one resource, provide water users with greater certainty regarding their water rights, and establish clear rules about managing water during times of scarcity. The Act, which goes into effect early this year, was enacted to ensure that water stays healthy and secure for future generations of British Columbians.

Purple pipes and signs indicate reclaimed water, which is more frequently being used for irrigation in arid areas like California
Purple pipes and signs indicate reclaimed water, which is more frequently being used for irrigation in arid areas like California

In the United States, water conservation has been brought to the forefront of the public eye, and the EPA has implemented its Sustainable Water Infrastructure program to provide technical support and financial resources to states to increase water and energy efficiency in water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. The goal of the program is to assist water and wastewater facilities in saving water and energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Recycled wastewater is being used to recharge groundwater supplies and to irrigate crops, and the western hemisphere’s largest ocean desalination plant is currently under construction in California. Stormwater is now being viewed as a resource rather than a waste product, with Low Impact Development and sustainable stormwater management practices now commonplace. Engineers are working diligently to innovate energy efficient water conservation technologies, while municipal and governmental entities have been educating the public on the value of water and conservation techniques.

If climate change is allowed to continue uninhibited, people and nations will be forced to compete for water. As is evidenced by the unrest and violence in Syria and the resulting socio-economic devasation, drought and water scarcity exacerbate tensions and contribute to conflict. With increasing population and decreasing supply, there simply won’t be enough water to go around. Even water-rich communities will feel the effects of climate change. While parts of the planet dry up, high latitudes will experience extremely heavy rainfall that increases the level of pollutants, sediment, and nutrients in water, resulting in degraded water quality. Unless climate change is addressed, the global population faces a water crisis that will reach every corner of the globe. As Jean Chrétien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council so eloquently stated,“The future political impact of water scarcity may be devastating. Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”Subscribe-to-our-newsletter1

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Does west coast drought affect east coast life? You bet.

USGS drought monitor week of 8.4.15
USGS drought monitor week of 8.4.15

Drought. Every day, there are multiple news stories about the historic drought affecting America’s west and south. In April, Governor Jerry Brown mandated that Californians cut their water usage by 25%. Almond growers are being lambasted for growing a thirsty crop, golf courses are allowing their greens to turn into browns, and aquifers are being depleted at a rate far greater than they are being replenished. The outlook is bleak. Seven states are literally running out of water, and scientists are scrambling to try to address the unprecedented drought.

Yet in the midst of all of this, New Englanders are rather lackadaisical. After all, Lowell, Massachusetts just experienced the snowiest winter on record with an unprecedented 120.6 inches, earning the city the title of “snowiest city in the United States” for the 2014-2015 winter, and the summer has been fairly mild. On August 6, the USGS drought monitor showed a couple of areas of mild drought, but New Englanders have come to expect regular, soaking rains, and nobody seems too concerned. After all, New England isn’t affected by the exceptional drought of the west coast. Or is it?

Extreme Weather on Both Coasts

Newton's Third Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
Newton’s Third Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; and while the law refers to motion, it can also be applied to weather. The severe drought and high heat of the west is directly related to the cold and snow in the northeast, and both extremes have been attrributed to global climate change. In the period of January to March of 2015, New England experienced its coldest winter on record. Providence, RI, Worcester, MA, and Hartford, CT broke all cold records during that time, while Boston, MA experienced its third coldest winter on record, with its top two coldest periods dating all the way back to the 1800s. On the opposite coast, Sacramento, CA experienced its hottest March on record, with temperatures rising to those that are more typical to May than March. Weather balances the atmosphere, so when an extreme takes place in one geographic location, the opposite extreme will occur somewhere else in the world.

“Ridiculously Resilient Ridge”

Photo Brett Albright/NWS San Diego
Photo Brett Albright/NWS San Diego

Stanford University Ph.D. candidate Daniel Swain, who writes The California Weather Blog, coined the alliterative nickname for the high-pressure area that sits over the eastern Pacific Ocean for months at a time. And, like the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge itself, the name has stuck. The ridge is basically a mountain of air that stalled off the coast of California and British Columbia, causing any storms that would typically hit California to trend farther north instead to the Alaskan panhandle and northward. The trough, just as alliteratively coined the “Terribly Tenacious Trough” by Jennifer Francis, Research Professor at Rutgers University, in turn sat over the east coast, bringing with it unusually cold, wet weather. This weather pattern, which would be typical if it lasted just a short period of time, has been extreme in that it has been incredibly persistent, developing for months at a time since 2012. In addition, climatologists are scratching their heads over it, as there is no clear reason why it has been so persistant.

Economic Impact

This car was almost completely covered after a blizzard in January 2015
This car in Massachusetts was almost completely covered after a blizzard in January 2015

New Englanders took a significant economic hit during the extreme winter of 2014-2015 due to exhausted snow removal budgets, damaged property, and high utility and heating bills. Ice dams and roof issues from the excessive amount of snow caused damage to many homes, and insurance companies are still reeling from the claims processed over the winter, which also included higher than average vehicle and accident claims. Many accidents were attributed to the severe winter and snowfall, and to the gargantuan snow piles that made driving and maneuvering in parking lots even more treacherous. And even more problems ensued when the snow began to melt in the spring.

Flooding

Flooding is not just caused by extreme rainfall but is in fact influenced by many factors, such as soil conditions and sea level. In the northeast, excessive precipitation, like the record snowfall experienced this past winter, increases soil moisture content, which in turn increases the potential for flooding. In addition, northeast sea levels have risen over a foot since last century, which already puts New Englanders at increased risk for flooding.

Food Supplies

It takes about 400 gallons of water to produce one pound of almonds
It takes about 400 gallons of water to produce one pound of almonds

California grows more food for consumption in the United States than any other state. In fact, nearly half of all the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the entire country are grown in California, and the state is the fifth largest supplier of food in the world. Growing over 450 different crops, California is the exclusive U.S. producer of many crops including almonds, artichokes, clover, dates, olives, pistachios, and raisins. In addition, California also produces almost all of the grapes, lemons, lettuce, and tomatoes grown in the nation.

Prices of these crops have already risen, and are expected to rise even more. 80% of the water used in California is used by farmers and ranchers, and with the exceptional drought, many farmers have had to leave their fields fallow or pay to pump water from the ground. The economic hits to farmers are passed onto consumers, resulting in higher priced produce and nuts for the rest of the nation. If the drought continues, California farmers may be forced out of business, resulting in national food shortages. And over on the opposite coast, Florida experienced freezing temperatures that affected the 2014-2015 orange crop, resulting in the smallest yield of oranges since the 1964-1965 season.

Looking Ahead

"The blob" is a very large area of warm water that scientists are hoping may end the California drought
“The blob” is a very large area of warm water that scientists are hoping may end the California drought

At this time, forecasters are hoping that the extreme drought in California may be coming to an end. The combination of El Nino and “the blob” create a high possibility for a temperate, wet winter in the Pacific Northwest, and California residents and businesses are keeping their fingers crossed — as should New Englanders. Once again referring to Newton’s Third Law, we can safely assume that a mild, wet winter for California would likely produce a mild, dry winter for the east coast. And that is something the whole nation should celebrate.Subscribe-to-our-newsletter1

World Water Day 2015 — Sustainable Development and Its Criticality to Domestic Water Supplies

Public Water Supply“When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” – Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac 1733

World Water Day is March 22, 2015, and the theme is Sustainable Development. But what exactly IS sustainable development? It was first defined by the Brundtland Commission in 1983:

  1. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

More recently, University of Maryland School of Public Policy professor and former Chief Economist for the World Bank Herman E. Daly proposed the following three rules for sustainability:

  1. Renewable resources such as fish, soil, and groundwater must be used no faster than the rate at which they regenerate.
  2. Nonrenewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels must be used no faster than renewable substitutes for them can be put into place.
  3. Pollution and wastes must be emitted no faster than natural systems can absorb them, recycle them, or render them harmless.

While sustainable development always includes the global effort to provide clean water and sanitation to the world’s population, it also requires developed nations to implement efficient technologies and to protect existing resources by addressing threats and incorporating conservation strategies into daily life. Consider these facts:

  • Less than 1 percent of the world’s fresh water is usable in a renewable fashion
  • The average person requires 1.3 gallons of water per day just to survive, while the amount of water needed for all daily tasks – like drinking, cooking, bathing, and sanitation – is 13 gallons
  • The average American uses 65 to 78 gallons of water per day for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering their yard; the average Dutch uses only 27 gallons per day for the same tasks
  • The average Gambian uses only 1.17 gallons of water per day

sprinklerAmerica is one of the world’s largest consumers of water, and to do our part towards sustainable development, we must begin by modifying our domestic water usage.

Efficiency – the Most Effective Method of Conservation

By implementing indoor residential conversation techniques, we could meet the water needs of over five million people by the year 2020, and by incorporating efficient irrigation techniques, we could save enough water to meet the needs of an additional 3.6 million people. In addition, if we were to also invest in our nation’s water infrastructure and supply to incorporate efficient technologies to reduce water loss, we would be able to meet all of our domestic water needs — agricultural, industrial, and residential. This would result in easing the stress on our natural resources as well as saving enough water to guard against another concern: climate change.

Climate Change in the United States – An Imminent Threat

Rocky MountainClimate change increases the risk of extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, and alters the timing and location of precipitation. For example, climate change has the potential to alter snowfall and snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and Pacific Northwest. Any alteration in snowfall or snowmelt will cause changes in timing and volume of runoff, resulting in flooding in the winter and drought in the summer. In addition, coastal aquifers and water supplies in areas such as Cape Cod, Long Island, the coastal Carolinas, and central coastal California are extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Other products of climate change — such as higher water temperature in lakes and streams, melting permafrost, and reduced water clarity — have the potential to critically threaten fish and water-dwelling animals as well harm wetlands and other water habitats. Climate change has the potential to drastically alter our nation’s weather patterns and geological landscape, and any delays in addressing climate change and in planning effective strategies for the impending changes could severely threaten our nation’s water supplies. Clearly, addressing climate change now is one of the key components to sustainable development.

sunset over water smallWhile the global focus of sustainable development needs to be on providing access to clean water and sanitation for everyone, we also need to look within our own borders and change the way we think about water and our natural resources. Unless we institute positive change and focus on conservation by implementing efficient technologies and practices, we will likely find ourselves facing dire consequences. As Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, stated so eloquently, “The best way to solve emerging threats to the world’s fresh water is by rethinking how we use and manage our scarce resources. We must look at ways to increase our efficiency of use, instead of just building more dams and reservoirs. Improving the efficiency of our water systems, taking real steps to tackle global warming, and opening the policy debate over water to new voices can help turn the tide.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

REFERENCES:
www.awra.org
www.pacinst.org

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