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  • Adapting Soil Conservation Strategies is Vital if we Wish to Improve Water Quality

    Despite concerted efforts to minimize soil erosion by improving farmland management for the production of crops, water quality in our freshwater systems is still being degraded by harmful inputs of soluble phosphorus.

    A study conducted by an international research team led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), a UK-based research unit, has revealed that elevated concentrations of soluble phosphorus in rivers flowing into Lake Erie may be the result of conservation measures being implemented to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss resulting from storm water runoff that carry away topsoil and particulate organic matter rich in nutrients.

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    The study, whose findings were recently published in Journal of Environmental Quality, shows that soluble phosphorus inputs originating from rivers flowing into the Western Lake Erie Basin has increased over the last 15-16 years. Soluble phosphorus is thought to be an important driver of harmful algal blooms that are occurring more frequently and with greater severity in Lake Erie.

    Phosphorus is an important nutrient for plant growth — both in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; consequently, it is widely use to boost crop production. However, when phosphorus enters freshwater bodies such as rivers and lakes it also stimulates algal growth, including growth of harmful algae that release toxins which are detrimental to fish and other aquatic organisms and plants, and which can impair the quality of water used as a source of drinking water for humans.

    According to Professor Helen Jarvie, a Principal Scientist in Water Quality at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and lead author of the paper:

    "We accounted for changing weather and rainfall patterns, and found increases in river flows alone contributed about one third of the marked increase in soluble phosphorus entering Lake Erie since 2002, despite reductions in fertilizer use and amounts of phosphorus stored in soil. The remaining two thirds must arise from other changes within the watershed," she points out.

    "We noted that, over time, conservation tillage - where fields are not ploughed, and crop residues remain on the fields before and after planting the next crop, to reduce soil erosion and runoff - has continued an increased trend of adoption since the mid-1980s. It is plausible that the transition from conventional to conservation tillage, along with less incorporation into the soil of broadcast phosphorus fertilizer applications, may have inadvertently caused accumulation of highly-soluble phosphorus at the soil surface," Jarvie explains.

    "This can increase losses of soluble phosphorus during rainfall-induced runoff events, and may also have been compounded by installation of subsurface drainage, which can rapidly transmit the soluble phosphorus from fields to rivers."

    According to the authors, the implications of these findings are important for conservation management and planning — not only for the Lake Erie Basin, but for watershed management on a much broader scale, as conservation tillage is generally accepted and recommended as a good soil management strategy to reduce erosion and loss of nutrients in croplands in the United States, the United Kingdom, as well as in countries across Europe.

    Towards the end of last century we saw a drastic improvement in water quality in Lake Erie largely due to the implementation of the Clean Water Act — which resulted in a reduction in nutrient inputs from sewage effluent — and improved farm management practices that reduced fertilizer runoff and soil loss, and the associated particulate phosphorus adhering to soil particles. But at the turn of the century this began to change, and over the last 15 years or so water quality has declined, with algal blooms occurring more frequently in the Western Lake Erie Basin, due to the increasing inputs of soluble rather than particulate phosphorus, which has a more damaging ecological impact than the particulate form.

    These inputs also affect drinking water quality. In 2014 residents of Toledo in Ohio where issued with a health advisory not to drink their water, affecting over 400,000 consumers. As a result, officials in both the US and Canada set a target of reducing phosphorus levels flowing into Lake Erie by 40%.

    According to Professor Andrew Sharpley, Professor of Soils and Water Quality at the University of Arkansas, and co-author of the paper, the take home message from this study is that when changing farm conservation management practices there may be unforeseen consequences, which need to be recognized. Reducing tillage of soils may have dramatically reduced soil erosion, but with fertilizer applications remaining unchanged, phosphorus essentially became trapped on the soil surface rather than being incorporated into the soils. As a result, phosphorus in its soluble form enters waterways via storm water runoff.

    So in this case we eventually see that rather than serving as a sink for phosphorus, the soil becomes a source of phosphorus entering freshwater drainage basins.

    The report concludes that in order to tackle this issue effectively we need to implement water quality and soil management practices that address both particulate and soluble phosphorus inputs from croplands, with additional conservation management measures needed to tackle phosphorus in its soluble form.

    Journal reference

    Helen P. Jarvie, Laura T. Johnson, Andrew N. Sharpley, Douglas R. Smith, David B. Baker, Tom W. Bruulsema and Remegio Confesor, 2017, 'Increased Soluble Phosphorus Loads to Lake Erie: Unintended Consequences of Conservation Practices?' Journal of Environmental Quality. Doi: 10.2134/jeq2016.07.0248

  • A Closer Analysis of What Caused Flint's Water Woes

    As water officials at Flint, Michigan continue to deal with the unfolding health crisis associated with elevated lead levels in the town's drinking water, scientists who initially discovered lead in the tap water of a Flint household have analyzed galvanized iron water pipes that were removed from the "ground zero" home — where the first child with high levels of lead in their blood was identified — for testing.

    These tests confirm that the lead particles that had built up on the internal surface of the galvanized iron pipes was in all probability the source of lead contaminants in the water.

    Lead levels in Flint's tap water spiked following a switch in the town's water supply in April 2014, when the city opted for the Flint River as its drinking water source. After the switch, water officials failed to treat the water line with a corrosion-control remedy to keep the lead-containing layers of rust stable within the water pipelines.

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    Soon thereafter, residents began complaining that their water looked and smelled odd. Then, when LeeAnne Walters' family fell ill, she contacted Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineer requesting that he come and test their water.

    Thirty-two water samples were collected from the Walters' residence, all of which contained lead at levels that exceeded the 14 microgram per liter actionable standard set by the EPA. Four of the samples had lead concentrations that exceeded 5,000 micrograms per liter — the threshold at which lead is declared hazardous waste, and one sample had lead concentrations of 13,200 micrograms per liter.

    Edwards and his research team have since analyzed the galvanized iron water pipes that connected the lead pipes from the service line to the Walters' home. Their findings, which were recently published in the American Chemical Society journal and Environmental Science & Technology, show that high concentrations of lead in the household's tap water correlated with levels of zinc, tin and cadmium — components used in the internal lining of the pipes.

    According to the authors, the results suggest that because no corrosion inhibitors were added to the water extracted from the Flint River, the water caused the layers of rust (including the lead attached to it) to be released from the internal wall of the iron pipes.

    The scientists conclude that the combination of lead service pipes followed by galvanized iron water pipes supplying the home, is very likely to pose a health risk to residents living in other towns and cities that have this type of configuration.

    They recommend replacing the lead service pipes as a good first step, but suggest that lead accumulation on aging galvanized iron water pipes potentially poses both a short- and long-term health concern.

    Journal Reference:

    Kelsey J. Pieper, Min Tang, and Marc A. Edwards. Flint Water Crisis Caused By Interrupted Corrosion Control: Investigating "Ground Zero" Home Environ. Sci. Technol. (Feb 1, 2017), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04034

  • Eco-friendly Eco-tourism

    Eco-tourism is a popular form of travel. It combines elements of travel with outdoor adventure, giving us the privilege to explore beautiful wild, unspoiled natural places, and to connect with nature, which is good for our soul. But is getting back to nature good for nature? Yes, it is!... But, sometimes you need to prepare properly.

    When we travel to far flung places, we need to take precautionary measures when drinking the local water. In developing nations sanitation is typically poor, and in many countries may even be lacking completely. Consequently water borne diseases are rife, and travelers are often struck with stomach bugs, which can put a dampener on their travels or even land them in hospital. While this is never pleasant, it can be life threatening if you are touring a remote destination, hundreds of miles away from the nearest hospital or medical doctor.

    The Problem with Bottled Water

    In many cases travelers opt for bottled water, believing this is the safest option. Yet, while bottled water may be safer than the local tap water – very often it is simply bottled local water, and therefore is not – it is particularly damaging to the environment.

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    Carrying an adequate supply of fresh water to quench your thirst and keep you re-hydrated while touring remote destinations is problematic in itself – more so if you are backpacking and have to physically lug sufficient water on your person. Very few people take the trouble to repack empty water bottles back into their backpack to dispose of later. Invariably the empty plastic bottles simply get turfed. If there are refuse bins available, the well-meaning traveler may discard their used bottle in a bin, but it still ends up on a landfill site somewhere if it doesn't blow out of the bin beforehand.

    Plastics take thousands of years to biodegrade, and because they break down in sunlight, may never break down completely when buried in a landfill. Even when plastics do eventually break down, they don't decompose in the same manner as natural products do – they don't add any nutrients to the soil, but rather break up into tiny pieces that can't be seen, contaminating soils with chemicals in the process. Plastic bottles may blow into rivers and eventually flow into the sea. Plastic pellets wreak havoc in the marine environment where they are ingested by marine animals, such as turtles and seabirds, that mistake them for food.

    Mountains of Plastic

    Then, there is litter associated with plastic bottles. An ecotourism experience can be totally ruined when you are hiking the road you believed was less traveled, only to discover a mountain of litter and waste from eco-tourists that traveled down that same road before you.
    The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, South America is hailed at one of the top five treks in the world. This popular ecotourism trail is known for its breathtaking mountain scenery, cloud forests, sub-tropical jungle and its famous historic ruins. Although the government has now limited the number of daily visitors allowed on the trail to 500, this still generates large amounts of waste, which unfortunately is evident when trekking to Machu Picchu.

    Mount Everest is another landmark that not many of us get the opportunity to visit. One would think that the world's highest mountain, which commands respect, would get just that. But no, it too is littered with waste from climbers that struggled their own personal battles to make it up and down the mountain alive. Understandably, litter is no doubt the last thing on a climber's mind when they are solely focused on survival. Consequently, Mount Everest is strewn with old tents and ropes, discarded oxygen cylinders, camping stoves, food packaging and plastic bottles.

    Eco-friendly Solution

    So how does one keep rehydrated with a healthy supply of pure water in an eco-friendly manner when touring remote places?

    The answer is to carry a reusable personal water filter bottle, such as the Sport Berkey, that is capable of filtering any water supply to render pure healthy drinking water, wherever you may be in the world.

    The Go Berkey Kit is a robust, yet lightweight water purifying solution for travelers on the go. The combined water bottle/water purifier removes pathogenic microorganisms, heavy metals, chemicals, and sediment from any water supply, assuring you a safe supply of drinking water wherever there is water – no matter how suspect the quality, without generating any waste in the process. The Go Berkey Kit provides a healthy, eco-friendly solution for rehydrating in remote locations that prevents plastic water bottles from being discarded into the environment or landfills. Simply refill wherever there is water. (New for Jan 2017 - This kit now contains a primer tool)

    Travel safe without harming the environment by investing in your Go Berkey Kit today.

  • Health Concerns Related to Using Harvested Rainwater for Drinking

    There are usually two key issues that are often raised regarding the safety risks associated with using harvested rainwater as a source of drinking water: 1) Lead contamination; 2) Sludge/biofilm contamination.

    Lead Contamination

    The type of roofing material, particularly the use of lead flashing on roof structures, may result in water that is harvested from the roof surface becoming contaminated with toxic heavy metals that may be harmful to your health.

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    A scientific study conducted by Magyar et al, titled 'Influence of roofing material and lead flashing on rainwater tank contamination by metals', which was published in the Australian Journal of Water Resources (2014), found that lead contamination in rainwater harvesting storage tanks is widespread. The main contributor to this contamination is from lead flashings on rooftops, which prevent water from penetrating into the cracks and crevices of a roof junction. Consequently, it is recommended that if a roof surface is used for rainwater collection for drinking water, any lead flashing that is present should be painted with a non-toxic sealant to prevent lead from leaching into the harvested rainwater supply, or better still, it should be removed and replaced with a lead-free alternative.

    Contamination by Sludge and Biofilm

    While water diverters and sediment strainers can play a role in removing unwanted debris, particulate matter will still accumulate in the water storage tank over time. This debris will eventually form a layer of sludge at the base of the tank, which can potentially provide ideal conditions for harmful bacteria to breed (Magyar et al). However, others (Coombes & Spinks) argue that this sludge can be beneficial to the quality of harvested rainwater, helping to eliminate both lead and harmful pathogens. In an article aptly titled "Rainwater Health Debate", Smit & Coombes discuss the various arguments. According to the authors, who studied water quality of harvested rainwater across Australia over a 15 year period:

    "It turns out that a decade of independent research confirms the rainwater treatment train that includes the natural processes of flocculation, settlement, biofilms (including the sludge) and competitive exclusion of bacteria (where more resilient environmental bacteria eliminate more fragile potential pathogens)."

    According to the authors, biofilm that forms in rainwater storage tanks can be very effective at removing contaminants such as lead from the water stored in the tank. Their research shows that the layer of sludge is bound together by a tacky substance consisting of polysaccharides, which effectively absorbs lead and other pollutants from the water column. They recommend that rather than cleaning this layer of sludge out regularly, this biofilm layer should be left undisturbed so that it can continue to serve as a natural filtering agent.

    A well maintained rainwater harvesting system that is fitted with water diverters and mesh strainers is unlikely to have a thick growth of green or black slime with a foul odor as one would commonly find in a pond. Coombes points out that the communities of microbes present in biofilms are typically harmless bacteria commonly found in soils and the environment, which feed on nutrients, chemicals and other bacteria. Since nutrient levels in rainwater storage tanks are low, these microbes are essentially hungry and will readily consume whatever comes their way, including harmful bacteria and chemicals, improving water quality within the tank as they do so.

    Ensuring Rainwater is Safe to Drink

    However, besides lead and bacteria, other airborne pollutants such as industrial chemicals or pesticides can settle onto your roof surface and get washed into your water storage tank. To be on the safe side it is best to err on the side of caution. We recommend filtering any stored water using a good quality drinking water filter, such as a Berkey Filter, that is capable of removing bacteria, heavy metals such as lead, as well as industrial chemicals, pesticides and a wide range of other pollutants that could potentially contaminate your harvested water.

  • Water Reductions Responsible for Foul Tasting Water in California

    (This article was written per-California record rainfalls.) Water reductions at one of California's major reservoirs has resulted in consumers experiencing foul-tasting water.

    According to a statement by Catherine Alvert, Utilities spokesperson for the City of Palo Alto, which was recently published in Palo Alto Online: "Palo Alto and other local cities' residents who have been complaining about nasty-tasting water coming from their taps can blame it on water reductions from the Hetch Hetchy supply and blending from other sources." The Hetch Hetchy resevoir supplies drinking water to consumers in San Francisco Bay and surrounding areas, including residents of Palo Alto.

    According to Evert, the volume of water supplying the Hetch Hetchy dam has been reduced to 105 million gallons per day from its previous supply of 145 million gallons per day, and is being sourced from water held in surface reservoirs. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission didn't warn residents that this may affect the taste or smell of their water supply, but have since received several complaints in this regard, with many consumers questioning what was the situation with their water.

    According to James Keene, a City Manager for Palo Alto, using blended water sourced from local surface water supplies resulted in sediment being stirred up within a water pipeline, which has resulted in the unpleasant musty taste and smell of the water, which could potentially last for a few days while the water moves through the distribution network from the reservoirs and storage tanks to consumers in Palo Alto.

    Some residents in San Francisco also reported foul tasting water earlier this month according to a report in San Francisco News.

    While officials assured consumers that the strange taste and odor was not indicative of inferior water quality, they did issue a health advisory warning for highly sensitive consumers:

    "Some highly sensitive customers, such as those with compromised immune systems, can be affected by minor water-quality fluctuations, and they should consult with their physician to determine in general if they should be taking precautionary measures such as adding filtration devices, the city utilities department noted on its website."

    A good quality drinking water filter, such as the Berkey range of filters fitted with carbon or ceramic filter cartridges will be able to filter out the sediment that is causing the problem. Carbon filters are very effective at removing sediment as well as taste and odors that affect water aesthetics and make it unpleasant to drink.

    With the current drought and water shortage situation (which has improved significantly very recently), these kinds of issues may become more common. Investing in a water filter will alleviate any such issues that may arise from water reductions and blending of surface water sources. California residents can purchase either the Berkey Light or the Travel Berkey from the Berkey range of water filters for direct delivery to their door. Both of these water filters will effectively remove sediment as well as musty taste and odor from water, leaving consumers with pleasant tasting and smelling drinking water that is more appealing to consume. They will also remove a host of other contaminants commonly found in drinking water, which pose a health risk to humans.

  • Muddy Waters: Climate Change Could Lead to Murkier Lakes

    An assessment of over 5000 lakes in Wisconsin revealed that nearly 25% of them have gotten more murky over the last twenty years. The study also indicates that things could get worse as a result of increased precipitation due to climate change.

    The study, which was conducted by scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, also suggests measures that can be taken to improve water quality, such as increasing the riparian buffer zone by restricting agriculture on land immediately bordering Wisconsin's rivers and lakes, which would limit nutrient runoff and thus improve the clarity of the water.

    "In the face of increasing precipitation, this analysis provides empirical support for the fact that adapting our landscape is going to be important into the future," says co-author Monica Turner, a UW-Madison professor of zoology.

    The authors suggest farming should be limited to within 10% of the riparian buffer zone surrounding lakes and rivers or streams that flow into those lakes. Leaving natural vegetation on the banks of rivers and lakes would reduce nutrient and sediment runoff during heavy rains, and would also benefit farmers who often suffer extensive damages to crops when rivers rise.

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    While the study shows that water clarity has remained unchanged for most of the lakes studied, with 6% actually showing an improvement in water clarity, the number of lakes where water clarity is getting worse is concerning, and indicates that preventative action needs to be taken to maintain water quality.

    "If we want to maintain or improve water clarity, we need to think about trends in precipitation," says lead author Kevin Rose, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at UW-Madison and now an assistant professor of freshwater ecology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

    The studies findings, which were recently published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications, shows that water clarity in lakes that generally have clear water deteriorates during wetter years. Lakes with good water clarity tend to be more vulnerable to the torrent of nutrients and debris that flows in after heavy rainfall, which can result in the water turning murky or brown due to the increased sediment and debris, or even green due to an increase in algal growth fueled by excessive nutrients.

    According to Turner, the study's results provide concrete evidence of what computer models predict, reflecting that water clarity in Wisconsin Lakes could decline as precipitation increases in the future unless measures are taken to improve landscape management, particularly in riparian buffer zones.

    The study highlights the need to look ahead so that we can anticipate how changes to the landscape and climate may affect our lakes, Turner explains, which will in turn allow us to implement measures to protect both Wisconsin's lakes and farmers.

    "It absolutely provides evidence for the importance of continuing to look for solutions to sustain the economy of Wisconsin without sacrificing the quality of our water," she says.

    Journal Reference

    Kevin C Rose, Steven R. Greb, Matthew Diebel, Monica G. Turner. Annual precipitation regulates spatial and temporal drivers of lake water clarity. Ecological Applications, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/eap.1471

  • Going Off-grid with Water

    With the ongoing droughts, water shortages and rising cost of water supplies, many homeowners are considering rainwater harvesting and storage to tide them over the dry spells, or in some cases, even going off-grid with water completely, in order to lead a self-sufficient lifestyle.

    Regardless of whether you are hoping to cut down on your water bill, be completely self-sufficient, or simply conserve water due to environmental issues, going off-grid with water while living in an urban area is completely feasible — even in areas that do not receive lots of rain.

    Water Sources

    But before you can cut ties with your water utility, you will have to find a water source to tap into. If you have a dam or a stream on your property, you can use this as your water supply, or you can drill a well to tap into groundwater. For properties that don't have access to water onsite, rainwater harvesting is the only option, and for most urban residential areas this is the most feasible water source. An additional benefit of using harvested rainwater for drinking purposes compared to other sources of water is that rainwater is pure and contains no contaminants or pathogens that can be harmful to our health. By comparison, groundwater and surface water often contains a wide range of pollutants that need to be removed before the water can be used for drinking purposes.

    Rainwater Collection and Storage Options

    Any structure with a roof surface can be used to collect, harvest and channel rainwater to a storage tank so that it can be used as needed. The stored rainwater can be used for a wide range of household uses, including domestic use, irrigating plants, washing your vehicle, topping up the pool, or providing drinking water for livestock, pets and even human residents.

    A rainwater harvesting system consists of the following components:

    • Catchment surface — typically a roof, but decks and other surfaces can also be used as a catchment
    • Diversion system — this channels the collected rainwater to your storage system
    • Storage system — rainwater barrel/s or cistern/s that store the collected water for you to use when you need it in the future
    • Distribution system — water pipe network that distributes the stored water to your home, garden, swimming pool, etc
    • Treatment system — the system you use to filter or treat the water to render it suitable for the purpose you intent to use it for

     

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    When choosing rainwater barrels or cisterns for your storage system you must ensure that they are safe. Rainwater tanks must seal securely to prevent pets or children from falling into them. They should also be constructed from food-grade material so that harmful chemicals do not leach into the water stored within them, particularly if this water is going to be used for drinking purposes.

    Rainwater Tanks

    Above-ground rainwater tanks offer a popular water storage solution for urban residential areas as they are available in a variety of different sizes, shapes and colors to enable the homeowner to find an aesthetically pleasing solution that will fit into any space on their property.

    Cisterns

    Cisterns are another option for storing a large volume of water either above or below the ground. Cisterns designed for use below the ground are usually quite bulky, but they are able to store large volumes of water without taking up space in your garden that can be used for other purposes. Cisterns designed for use above the ground tend to be smaller, and consequently lighter. This makes them more portable as they are easy to move around.

    Water Treatment

    If you plan on using the harvested rainwater for drinking, it is advisable to treat it beforehand to ensure any potential contaminants are removed. While the risk of contamination is much less than that of other water sources, bacteria, as well as sediment, debris and other particulate matter together any chemicals on the roof surface, can flow into your storage barrels and contaminate your water.  To prevent this, it is essential that you have a pre-storage treatment mechanism installed to remove some of these pollutants before the water flows into the storage tank, followed by an after-storage filtration system such as a Berkey water filter that will remove any contaminants that may be present and render your water safe to drink.

  • Blended Wastewater, An Alternative and Affordable Source for Drought Stricken California?

    Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, have developed an economic model which shows how using a combination of different wastewater treatment processes may provide an affordable source of irrigation water that benefits crops.

    Recycling wastewater for use in crop irrigation is increasingly considered an important solution to addressing California's water crisis during periods of extended drought. However, this comes with its own set of challenges, as the treatment processes required in order for the water to comply with state regulated health standards and to reduce levels of crop damaging salt is costly.

    Courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/agrilifetoday/5012314598 Courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/agrilifetoday/5012314598

    An economic model developed by researchers from UC Riverside demonstrates how blending wastewater that has been treated with different treatment processes can be used to produce an affordable supply of irrigation water that meets, if not surpasses, a wide range of water quality standards. The researchers outline the framework in a paper that was recently published in the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology.

    "While the reuse of treated wastewater is not a new concept, concerns over the rising demand for water from population growth, coupled with both economic and environmental challenges, have made this option more attractive," explain the authors.

    The wastewater reuse model developed by the researchers assumes that the treated wastewater meets state regulated health standards for pathogen removal and aims to produce irrigation water that has a chemical composition specifically tailored to the crops and/or grasses that it will be used to irrigate. According to the researchers, blending wastewater that has been treated by different treatment processes is likely to produce irrigation water that contains nutrients that will benefit specific crops. This would reduce the need for fertilizers and the associated costs, which would then make recycling wastewater more affordable and viable.
    Raw untreated wastewater is usually high in nutrients, including nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, which are important for plant growth.

    "However, to meet state and federal water quality regulations, most conventional wastewater treatment plants subject this raw effluent to primary, secondary, tertiary, and disinfection processes, which results in significant removal of nutrients," the team explained.

    The research team identified seven different technologies and eleven treatment trains — a sequence of wastewater treatments used in combination to meet a specific health standard — currently used to treat wastewater.

    The researchers tested the economic model on citrus trees and turf grass, estimating and comparing the costs and water quality chemistry of wastewater treated using various treatment combinations. Treatment combinations that were not able to produce irrigation water with an optimal blend of chemistry tailored for crop irrigation were considered unfeasible and eliminated. Other treatment combinations did produce blends that were chemically feasible, however, some were simply not cost-effective for smaller wastewater treatment facilities.

    This economic model shows how wastewater treatment trains can be used to deliver irrigation water optimized for use on a wide variety of crops that have varying degrees of salinity tolerance with much less of a negative impact on soil quality and crops than using recycled wastewater that is treated by conventional processes. Furthermore, pathogens, heavy metals and salinity were reduced to meet existing health standards and safe agricultural practices.

    According to the authors, this blending technique offers an alternative source of irrigation water for agriculture, which if utilized could take the pressure off freshwater resources that would be reserved and available as a coping mechanism during periods of drought-induced extreme water scarcity.

    Journal Reference

    Quynh K. Tran, Kurt Schwabe, and David Jassby. Wastewater Reuse for Agriculture: Development of a Regional Water Reuse Decision-Support Model (RWRM) for Cost-Effective Irrigation Sources. Environmental Science & Technology, (2016).

  • Brain-eating Amoeba, Naegleria Fowleri, a Deadly Emerging Water Contaminant

    A brain eating amoeba is responsible for a deadly emerging disease, that usually always claims the life of the victims it infects. The disease is caused by a parasite known as Naegleria fowleri, or more commonly as the 'brain-eating amoeba'.

    Although still relatively uncommon, the brain disease, known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), is typically fatal and is making news headlines the world over. The outbreaks of this deadly disease have resulted in cautionary warnings not to play or swim in waters that could potentially be infected, and to take precautions not to snort, sniff or squirt water up through the nasal passages, which is the parasite's primary passage of access to the brain.

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    While N. fowleri is relatively common in warm water environments, it doesn't appear to cause any harm when ingested. However, a study that was recently published in the Journal - American Water Works Association suggests that N. fowleri is an emerging drinking water pathogen in the US, as drinking water supplies are also used for bathing, showering, topping up swimming pools, etc. The study outlines methods that water utilities can be used to treat drinking water supplies in order to control this emerging contaminant.

    This emerging pathogen is included on the EPA's Contaminant Candidate List (CCL 3) — but what are utilities doing to deal with it?

    According to the Journal AWWA paper: "Few laboratories in the United States or worldwide are experienced with this organism." The methods most commonly used to detect the parasite, which were primarily developed in Australia, include sampling using membrane filtration or centrifugation, with samples then being analyzed in a laboratory. Samples can either be taken from the surface of freshwater bodies, or by collecting samples of biofilm scraped off water pipes or plumbing fittings and fixtures.

    Alarmingly, samples have shown that the brain-eating amoeba can occur in water heaters, sink drains and shower-heads — where it thrives in temperatures of between 25-42 degrees celsius. It can also survive cold winter temperatures and regrow when temperatures warm up again.Yet, while chemical disinfection can effectively remove and control N. Fowleri, utilities have very little control when it comes to maintaining water quality at the end of the distribution network — at the point where it enters a consumer's home.

    According to the Center for Disease Control a person cannot become infected by drinking contaminated water, only when water contaminated with the parasite goes up your nose. Consumers can take the following precautions to avoid becoming infected with the deadly parasite.

    1.  Do not let water enter through your nose when swimming in warm freshwater bodies or in small plastic or blow-up swimming pools. Wear a nose clip or keep your head above water.
    2.  Do not plunge into small pools or bathtubs or let you head go under the water. Rather lower yourself into the water, keeping your head above water.
    3.  Ensure that children are supervised when playing with garden sprinklers or hose pipes, as water can accidentally be squirted up their noses.
    4.  Take care not to let water go up your nose when taking a bath or shower, or when you wash your face.
    5.  Keep your head above water when swimming or bathing in hot springs or other thermal waters that are untreated.
    6.  Avoid water-sports or other water activities in freshwater bodies when water temperatures are exceptionally warm.
    7.  Avoid stirring up bottom sediments when partaking in water-related activities in warm, shallow freshwater bodies.

    Journal Reference

    Bartrand, Timothy A.; Causey, Jonathan Jake; Clancy, Jennifer L. Naegleria fowleri: An emerging drinking water pathogen. Journal - American Water Works Association. (October 2014). 106:10, E418-E432. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2014.106.0140

  • Getting the Balance Right: Managing Watershed Quality to Prevent Coastal Dead Zones

    Nitrate-rich agricultural runoff is considered one of the key factors contributing to harmful algal blooms in coastal zones. The Gulf of Mexico is particularly vulnerable to harmful algal blooms for two reasons:

    1) It is a large bay with slow water turnover rates, exacerbated by strong onshore winds; and

    2) Many of the watersheds feeding into it flow through agricultural lands.

    Now a new study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Ecology Letters, examines the link between agricultural runoff and harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, The study looks at how the silica:inorganic-nitrogen ratio in the water of 130 lakes that feed into the Gulf of Mexico influence nutrient levels in these coastal waters.

    4558031458_3f8eb334e6_z Satellite Image of Gulf of Mexico Algae Blooms

    The study is important, especially considering that during 2016 the Gulf experienced an above average sized dead zone as a result of a combination of agriculture, algae and weather patterns. Long-term records of water chemistry in the Gulf of Mexico show that the silica:inorganic-nitrogen ratio has changed dramatically over the last century, shifting more towards nitrogen. There are two potential explanations for this shift: 1) silica may be removed by reservoirs and dams dotted along the watershed; and 2) the input of nitrogen (from nitrate-rich fertilizers) from agricultural runoff is so high that it forces the ratio of silica:nitrogen downward. This new study shows that silica is not removed by dams and reservoirs, and that nitrogen levels increase dramatically when agriculture makes up more than 60% of the landscapes feeding into the system.

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    In coastal zones, such as the Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico, high concentrations of dissolved nitrogen fuel algal growth, which leads to oxygen depletion, or coastal dead zones. In normal conditions, where the ratio of silica:nitrogen is in balance, diatoms — which are effectively the lungs of the planet — are able to survive. Yet, when the chemical balance is tipped towards nitrogen, the phytoplankton community is altered. Diatoms — beneficial algae that we want to see in the Gulf of Mexico — thrive when the levels of silica and nitrogen are in balance. When conditions tend to be more nitrate-rich, other more harmful species of phytoplankton thrive.

    The research team found that an increase in nitrogen runoff from agricultural fields explains why the Gulf of Mexico is continually plagued by harmful algal blooms. The scientists also identified ways in which landscapes could be better managed to improve water quality in the watersheds and coastal zones they feed into. They recommend that landscapes be managed at watershed level to significantly enhance water quality, particularly during wet years. They also suggest that reservoirs and dams could be key areas to target to diminish nutrient loads without impacting silica concentrations of water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.

    "We need to be vigilant about our land use and water quality," said co-author John Downing, director of the University of Minnesota Sea Grant College Program and the study's principal investigator. "Climate change and increased storminess will likely exacerbate the skewed ratios we found and the extent of harmful blooms in coastal areas if we don't manage agricultural runoff more effectively. Harmful algae blooms cost the U.S. seafood, tourism and health industries over $80 million a year according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and we know we can do better."

    Journal Reference

    John A. Downing et al, Low ratios of silica to dissolved nitrogen supplied to rivers arise from agriculture not reservoirs, Ecology Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1111/ele.12689

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