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Big Berkey Water Filters

  • How is Drinking Water Delivered to Homes?

    A Study of Public Perceptions of Water Infrustructure

    A new study conducted by researchers from Indiana University indicates that the average American does not fully understand how clean drinking water is supplied to their home, nor what happens to wastewater that is flushed away. This is concerning considering that this knowledge and information is crucial to addressing some of the water related challenges we are currently facing, including prolonged drought, and water contamination due to failing water infrastructure.

    For the study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Judgment and Decision Making, 500 university students were asked to sketch diagrams depicting how water is delivered to the taps in their home and how it makes its way back into the natural environment. Only 71% of the participants drew a water treatment plant (29% did not include water treatment as part of their water supply system), while only 36% included a wastewater treatment plant into their water system (64% failed to include a wastewater treatment facility in their plan).

    Lead author, Shahzeen Attari of IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) warns that climate change is likely to increase both the competition for water as well as the risks associated with the water supply. "Water infrastructure is increasingly fragile," said Attari. "It's going to take political will and public support to respond to new and old risks, and we may not support the adaptation strategies we need if we take our water systems for granted. Whether it's in schools or through other means, public environmental education must address these gaps."

    Attari together with Kelsey Hinton and Kelsey Poinsatte-Jones, two former graduate students of the SPEA, conducted the research in two phases. For the first phase of the project, they asked water experts to provide a sketch of a domestic water supply system.

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    The students were then asked the following question:

    "Please draw a diagram illustrating your understanding of the processes by which clean water reaches the tap in the average home in the United States. Please draw how water reaches the home from its original source(s) and is then returned to the natural environment. Show all the processes that the water goes through."

    Only 7% of the students had a good understanding of how a water system worked, while many students drew an idealized "magic" version of a water system (below).

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    The student's lack of awareness doesn't mean that they don't care. Over a third of them indicated that they considered water quantity on a weekly- or sometimes even daily basis. Their primary concerns are water cleanliness, limited water supply or failures in the water infrastructure system that result in water contamination.

    Of all our resources, drinking water is the most essential of all, Poinsatte-Jones points out. Most people take access to safe drinking water for granted, however the complex behind-the-scenes water network infrastructure which makes this possible is obscure and therefore very often not fully understood.

    Considering all the water related risks we are currently facing, it is vitally important that we are able to make informed decisions regarding our water supplies, management and policies, stressed Hinton, who indicates that their study suggests we are currently not in a position to do that.

    Journal Reference

    Shahzeen Z. Attari, Kelsey Poinsatte-Jones, Kelsey Hinton. Perceptions of water systems. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 12, No. 3, May 2017, pp. 314-327

  • Prevention is Better than Cure: Filter Drinking Water to Remove Disease Causing Microbial Cysts

    All living things require water for their survival. Humans are no exception. We all require a supply of clean, unpolluted drinking water, as it is essential for our health and well being. However, drinking water very often contains a myriad of contaminants, many of which can pose serious health risks to human health, therefore proper water treatment is essential to remove pollutants.

    Cryptosporidium and Giardia, both of which the berkey water filters filter out from the water, are two parasites commonly found in drinking water that can cause disease. Cryptosporidium and Giardia have developed life strategies that enable them to survive long intervals in the environment between hosts. When they exit the host they enter a dormant phase, where they are protected by a tough exterior shell. During this dormant phase of their life cycle they a known as microbial cysts. Microbial cysts are resistant to chemical treatment processes, and often mechanical filtering is required to remove them from drinking water. When microbial cysts are ingested, the gastric juices in the intestine break down the hard exterior coating, releasing the parasites, which quickly become active and rapidly multiply.

    Cryptosporidiosis_01 How infection can take place

    Infection with Cryptosporidium and Giardia can occur through exposure to infected animals, or to contact with the feces of infected animals. Very often the cysts are carried into waterways by runoff, where a person can become infected by ingesting contaminated drinking water, or by ingesting water that contains the cysts while swimming or boating.

    Cryptosporidium and Giardia infection are common in the developed world, but are even more prevalent in third world countries, where water treatment infrastructure and water quality measures are lacking.

    Life Cycle of Cryptosporidium and Giardia

    After the Cryptosporidium or Giardia cysts are swallowed, they enter the digestive tract, where digestive juices break down the exterior shell, releasing the parasites. Before being excreted from the body, the parasites once again form a protective outer shell to aid their survival outside the host. Once they are excreted from the host they can be transmitted to another victim by person-to-person contact or through unhygienic or unsanitary conditions, where the cycle is repeated in the next host.

    Cryptosporidium under the microscope. Cryptosporidium under the microscope.

    Symptoms of Disease from Microbial Cysts

    Ingestion of Cryptosporidium or Giardia cysts, and consequent infection by these parasites, causes the diseases cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis respectively. Symptoms of these diseases include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, and fever. These symptoms usually last for a week or two, but can last for as long as a month, and often recur. People suffering from immune deficiencies, including AIDS, cancer, and transplant patients that are being treated with medication that may compromise the immune system, are most at risk of infection. Giardiasis may also effect the rate of growth and development in children, and can cause malnutrition.

    Preventing Infection

    • In order prevent infection from these water borne parasites, the following precautionary measures are advised:
    • Practice good hygiene: wash hands before eating or preparing meals; after using the restroom, changing a babies diaper, or assisting a child or infirm person on the toilet; and after touching animals, or handling animal waste.
    • Try to avoid ingesting water that may potentially be contaminated. Don't swallow water when swimming in public swimming pools. Don't drink untreated water from rivers, streams or lakes, no matter how pure it may look, as microbial cysts may be washed into theses systems from the faeces of infected animals. Always take precautionary measures when travelling, particularly in undeveloped regions – boil water, filter water, or buy bottled water to be on the safe side.
    • Home drinking water filters are recommended to filter out tap water that may be contaminated with Cryptosporidium and/or Giardia. When choosing a filter look for one that will purify the water of these bacteria like the Berkey does.

  • Drinking Water Advisory Issued for Airway Heights Residents

    Airway Heights city officials issues an advisory warning residents not to use tap water for drinking or cooking as chemical contaminants originating from Fairchild Air Force Base have been found in the city's drinking water wells. However, according to a joint statement released by the Air Force and city officials, the water "is safe for activities where water will not be ingested, such as bathing, doing laundry and washing dishes," stressing that the advisory was issued "out of an abundance of caution."

    Residents have been supplied with packs of bottled water to meet their drinking and cooking requirements while the affected drinking water wells are flushed — which could take as long as ten days.

    Industrial chemical contaminants known as perfluorinated chemicals (or more commonly as PFOS or PFOA), which were identified as hazardous contaminants by the EPA las year, were initially found in several private wells on the eastern side of Fairchild. The chemicals are thought to have originated from firefighting foam used on the Air Force base from 1970 through to last year for fire training exercises, and at two aircraft crash sites.

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    Fairchild city officials initially began testing groundwater samples collected from the base in February this year, and followed up by testing water samples outside the base at the beginning of April. They recently expanded their search for these contaminants to include areas further to the east and south of the Air Force Base, and found concerning levels of PFOS/PFOA contaminants in water from 17 or more wells. Out of four wells supplying Airway Heights' residents with drinking water, three were found to be contaminated.

    According to Airway Heights mayor, Kevin Ritchey, the city will cease pumping water from the contaminated wells and link up with the water system supplying the city of Spokane, which is typically utilized during summer to help meet the extra demand for water during this period. The city has begun flushing affected wells to reduce the concentrations of the PFOS/PFOA chemicals to safer levels, and while this should take affect within 3-4 days, test results to confirm this will only be available later.

    "The problem is the test results take about a week, so we're talking seven to 10 days to be completely sure" the contamination is reduced, Ritchey said.

    According to the EPA, most of us have low levels of PFOS chemicals in our bodies due to exposure to these chemicals in everyday consumer products. However, scientific research has shown that high concentrations of these chemicals are associated with adverse health issues in animals.

    "We care about the health and well-being of our families, neighbors and community partners, and we understand those impacted, or potentially impacted, by this emerging issue have legitimate concerns," Air Force Col. Ryan Samuelson said in the statement.

    Officials are currently assessing alternative options for the city's water supply and are also considering installing water filtration systems onto wells affected by contamination. If you are affected by this or other water quality issues, you can be proactive and take measures to ensure your water is free from contaminants and safe to drink by investing in a good quality drinking water filter like a Berkey that is capable of removing harmful chemicals and other hazardous contaminants.

  • Consumer Guide to Safe Drinking Water

    The average American tends to take safe drinking water for granted; that is until a new drinking, water crisis such as the Flint lead contamination saga, surfaces, leading everyone to wonder what contaminants might be lurking in the water that flows from their taps.

    The Flint water crisis was certainly a wake-up call for American consumers, and according to Erik Olson, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council's Health program, when it comes to water safety issues, Flint is not an isolated case. Millions of Americans living in other towns and cities around the country are supplied with water contaminated with lead or other pollutants.

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    The NRDC together with the NGO Clean Water Action have been hard at work trying to enforce the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, serving as a public watchdog during every stage of the process. While these organizations have realized many victories in their fight for clean water, consumers should still be cautious about potential pollutants that may be present in their water supply or distribution network.

    Lead is Not the Only Issue

    All water suppliers providing drinking water to consumers in the US must ensure that the water they supply meets drinking water safety standards. If these standards are met, consumers can safely drink the water that flows from their taps. However, violations are widespread, and very often water supplied to consumers contains pollutants that are not regulated by the EPA.

    A recent NRDC report shows that in 2015, around 77 million US consumers received drinking water from water systems that were in violation of federal protections, and more than 30% of these consumers were dependent on water supplies that failed to meet federal health standards. Furthermore, water suppliers serving millions of other US consumers either didn't conduct adequate water safety tests or failed to warn consumers or report the results of these tests to the health authorities. Considering that many pollutants are not even regulated or monitored, these figures are likely to be an understatement rather than a true reflection of how widespread the problem is. For example, pollutants such as PFOA/PFOS and perchlorate occur in tap water across America, but they are not regulated and therefore are not included in the already staggeringly high figures mentioned above.

    Children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems face a higher health risk when exposed to the following pollutants:

    • Lead - a heavy metal that can leach into water from lead water pipes, fixtures and fittings, particularly when corrosive water is moving through the system, can cause behavioral and neurological problems in children and also pose a health risk to adults.

    "It's a more common problem in cities with older water systems," explains Kristi Pullen Fedinick a scientist with NRDC Health program, "but what a lot of people don't realize is that even relatively new brass fixtures and faucets can still contain significant amounts of lead. Just because your home is less than 20 years old doesn't necessarily mean you're lead-free."

    • Atrazine - an endocrine-disrupting pesticide that is widespread in US freshwaters, as well as drinking water supplied to homes across the Midwest and southern states.

    • Pathogens - disease causing parasites, bacteria and viruses can make their way into drinking water supplies that are not properly treated to kill these pathogens.

    • Chlorine treatment by-products - when present in high concentrations, by-products of the water disinfection process may pose a health risk, including a risk of cancer and a reproductive health risk.

    • Other contaminants - arsenic, nitrates, radioactive contaminants, vinyl chloride, perchlorate and pharmaceuticals are other potentially hazardous contaminants found in drinking water across the country.

    To ensure that you water is free from these contaminants we highly recommend that you filter your drinking water with a good quality drinking water filter from our range of Berkey filters.

  • Fossil Groundwater, a Source of Drinking Water for Billions of People, Contaminated with Nuclear Radiation

    Some of the world's deepest wells tap into underground aquifers that store water believed to be over 12,000 years old. Yet, while that fossil groundwater is stored deep below the Earth's surface, it is not immune to contamination by modern day practices, as previously assumed.

    Groundwater is the term given to all forms of water that are stored below the surface of the Earth in spaces between soil particles and within fractures in underground rock formations. Groundwater provides an important source of water used for irrigation purposes, as well as drinking water serving billions of people globally.

    A recent study conducted by Scott Jasechko, a hydro-geologist at the University of Calgary, together with a team of international researchers, which was recently published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, has revealed the presence of radioactive nuclear material in fossil water stored in deep wells.

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    For their study, the scientists dated groundwater samples collected from over 6,000 wells around the world. The researchers were able to determine how old the water was by measuring the radioactive carbon content in the samples. They learned that most of the groundwater stored below the Earth's surface (42-85% of all the freshwater held in soil and rock within a kilometer below the Earth's surface) consists of fossil groundwater resulting from precipitation that fell to Earth over 12,000 years ago.

    Prior to this study, scientists believed that fossil groundwater was immune from modern contaminants. However, this study has shown that this is not the case.

    "The unfortunate finding is that even though deep wells pump mostly fossil groundwater, many still contain some recent rain and snow melt, which is vulnerable to modern contamination," explains Jasechko. "Our results imply that water quality in deep wells can be impacted by the land management decisions we make today."

    Jasechko explains that precipitation that fell to Earth since the 1950s contains traces of tritium — a radioactive material that is found around the globe due to testing of nuclear weapons. Shockingly, traces of radioactive tritium were found in waters within deep wells, indicating that recent rainwater and snow melt can potentially mix with the ancient groundwater stored deep underground, and in so doing has the potential to contaminate fossil water believed to be untainted and pure.

    "Roughly half of the wells contained some fraction of recent groundwater less than 50 or 60 years old," Co-author James Kirchner, a Professor at of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who uses the analogy of grandkids visiting their grandparents to explain the consequences: "It is a bit like going to a giant old people's home and suddenly realizing there are lots of kids running around. That is great, except if the little kids have the flu!"

    According to Jasechko, the results of this study have important ramifications on how humans should use groundwater stored deep below the Earth in future.

    "The upshot is that when we use fossil groundwater we should consider water quality risk in addition to sustainable use," says Jasechko. "We may do well to develop land management plans that protect fossil groundwaters from pollutants so that these resources are available for future generations."

    Journal Reference

    Scott Jasechko, et al. Global aquifers dominated by fossil groundwaters but wells vulnerable to modern contamination. Nature Geoscience (25 April, 2017). DOI:10.1038/ngeo2943

  • Controlling Lead Spread in Drinking Water Supplies

    Even though lead water pipes were banned in the US several decades ago, they are still used in water distribution networks that supply drinking water to millions of households across the country. Corrosion of these aging lead pipes risks leaching lead into the water supply, putting children at risk of neurological and developmental disorders resulting from exposure to this hazardous contaminant.

    The commonly proposed solution of digging up these old lead pipelines and replacing sections of them with pipes made from other metals, for example copper, risks dislodging lead particles from the walls of the pipes and releasing them into the drinking water supply. Also, replacing only a portion of the lead pipes connecting a home to the water mains instead of exchanging the connection entirely poses a further risk of lead contamination.

    DC_WASA_Lead_Service_Replacement_Notice

    Now, in an effort to maintain a safe drinking water supply, a team of water engineers from Washington University in St. Louis have developed a modeling tool that allows water technicians to track the path along which lead particles may be carried when water pipes are partially replaced in the supply line.

    "We all know lead is not safe, it needs to go," said Assistant Vice Chancellor of International Programs Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor and the chair of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. "This is the first comprehensive model that works as a tool to help drinking-water utility companies and others to predict the outcome of an action. If they have the necessary information of a potential action, they can run this model and it can advise them on how best to proceed with a pipe replacement to ensure there are no adverse effects."

    The study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology, the authors outline how their model is able to predict how far particles of lead and other dissolved substances might travel along the pipeline after they have been disturbed. Expanding on water-quality computer models they had developed for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier, Biswas and his research team developed a new model that is able to predict the release of lead particulates while taking factors such as the age and the dimensions of the pipe, patterns of water usage, water chemistry, as well as any previous disturbances to the water pipe.

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    After running several computer simulations to test their predictions, Biswas and his colleagues are now ready to make the model more widely available so that water utilities and even water consumers can make use of the tool. According to Biswas, a water utility can enter information pertaining to their water distribution system and receive recommendations as to how to proceed with a partial pipe replacement without compromising drinking water quality.

    The researchers have also developed a number of other models related to drinking water quality in water distribution networks, including models that enable utilities to accurately predict the concentration of disinfectants used in the water treatment process along the water distribution network, particularly in systems where there are dead-ends. They plan to make these models available for water utilities to download so that they can receive recommendations that will help them make decisions to ensure that the drinking water they supply to their consumers is safe to drink.

    All Berkey systems equipped with the black berkey filters will remove lead from the water.

    Journal Reference

    Ahmed A. Abokifa and Pratim Biswas. Modeling Soluble and Particulate Lead Release into Drinking Water from Full and Partially Replaced Lead Service Lines. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (6), pp 3318–3326 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04994

  • Neonic Pesticides Found in US Tap Water

    A new study conducted on US drinking water has found traces of insecticides that are widely used around the world in tap water supplied to US homes. This is the first time scientists have detected neonicotinoids — a commonly used type of pesticide — in drinking water.

    Previous studies have found neonicotinoid contamination in US streams and rivers, but this latest study — which was recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters — reveals that these highly toxic chemicals are finding their way into water sources that provide drinking water to US homes.

    neonic pesticides

    Water samples obtained by researchers from Iowa have revealed that concentrations of some toxic neonic chemicals remain unchanged even after treatment. However, they point out that drinking water supplies treated with a different filtration method saw neonic levels diminish substantially. The researchers say that they cannot currently comment on the potential health impact this may have on humans, but argue that additional studies are needed in this regard.

    Neonicotinoid pesticides, first introduced in the 1990s and now widely used across the globe, consist of systemic chemicals that are typically applied as a seed coating which kills insects but not other species. In the ten years between 2004-2014 sales of neonic pre-treated seeds tripled in the United States. However, while they have been touted to be harmless to other species, there is growing concern over the negative impact they are having on the environment, particularly their impact on bees. As a result, the European Union have placed a moratorium on the use of neonic pesticides on flowering crops since 2013.

    A 2015 study conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS) revealed that neonic chemicals were widespread in water samples taken from 48 different US streams and rivers. This latest study, conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Iowa and the USGS, assessed drinking water treated by two different filtration plants. Water samples treated at the University of Iowa's treatment plant removed hardly any of the three primary neonic chemical contaminants: thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin, while water samples treated at the Iowa City water treatment plant removed a substantially higher amount of these contaminants, removing 85%, 94% and 100% of these chemicals respectively. Drinking water treated by the less effective water filtration system had between 0.24-57.3 nanograms of individual neonic chemicals per liter.

    "These are very low levels, these are nanograms per litre which means parts per trillion, a very low concentration," said Prof Gregory LeFevre, a contributing author of the paper, in an interview with BBC News. "But at the same time there are concerns about what those low levels might do from an exposure standpoint."

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for regulating drinking water contaminants in the US, but currently neonic pesticides are not listed as a potential threat or cause for concern.

    Prof LeFevre points out that these results don't necessarily point to a violation of the system, but it is important that we are aware that they are present in drinking water, regardless of whether these levels are safe or not.

    The authors are more concerned that neonic insecticides may be transformed into other harmful products during the filtration process, which could pose a larger health threat to humans than direct exposure to neonic insecticides that are designed to selectively target insects.

     

    But the study does present evidence that filtration of drinking water using activated carbon filters is an effective and economical method of removing neonics from drinking water.

    "We were pleasantly surprised to see how well the activated carbon worked," said Prof LeFevre.

    The researchers believe that considering the extent of research that's been conducted focusing on the impacts of neonics on pollinators, particularly bees, as well as other species, it is vital that further research is conducted on neonic presence in drinking water in order to determine the level of human exposure globally.

    "Without really good toxicity data it is hard to ascertain the scale of this, but whenever we have pesticides in the drinking water that is something that raises a flag no matter what type of concentration it is," said Prof LeFevre.

    The Berkey water filter has not yet been tested for neonicatinoid removal, but is confirmed to be on the testing schedule.

    Journal Reference

    KL Klarich, NC Pflug, EM DeWald, ML Hladik, DW Kolpin, DM Cwiertny, and GH LeFevre. Occurance of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Finished Drinking Water and Fate during Drinking Water Treatment. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., April 5, 2017. DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00081

  • Streams Across the US Contain Potentially Harmful Mix of Chemical Toxins

    Many waterways across America contain a varied mix of contaminants, but we currently have very little understanding of how these chemical combinations are composed or what effect they may have on both ecological and human health.

    Now, a comprehensive new study funded by the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, which was recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, is shedding some insight, showing that these chemical mixtures are in fact much more complex than previously thought and contain chemical compounds that are potentially harmful to both aquatic life and human health.

    Contaminants are being found in streams at alarming rates. Contaminants are being found in streams at alarming rates.

    Earlier studies conducted by researchers at the US Geological Survey (USGS) testing waterways across America for organic contaminants, or contaminants containing carbon, revealed evidence that US streams were contaminated with a complex blend of pollutants. In the latest report, Paul M. Bradley and his colleagues have released results from a more extensive follow-up study where scientists from the USGS and EPA analyzed water samples collected from 38 different streams for the presence of 719 organic chemicals.

    More than 50% of these chemical compounds were found in the stream waters tested, with each stream — even streams in pristine regions that were neither developed or inhabited — containing at least one organic compounds being tested for, with some containing as many as 162 organic contaminants. The researchers found caffeine; pesticides including glyphosate and byproducts associated with their breakdown; triclosan and other antibacterial products; and pharmaceutical products such as metformin — commonly used to treat diabetes — and antihistamines, as well as other chemical compounds.

    The study revealed that certain compounds found in this mix, which are biologically active by design, often occur together in stream waters. The scientists are concerned that complex interactions between these organic compounds could potentially pose a risk to aquatic organisms and food-webs, as well as humans, and therefore warrants further research to determine the extent of the threat. They have outlined some of the biological effects they observed in these water samples in a separate research paper, also published in Environmental Science & Technology.

    These two related studies highlight the consequences — both in terms of ecological and human health risks — posed by everyday contaminants entering streams and rivers. To reduce your exposure to many of the contaminants commonly found in drinking water sources, we highly recommend investing in a good quality drinking water filter that is able to remove many of these potentially harmful pollutants.

    Journal Reference

    Paul M. Bradley, et al. Expanded Target-Chemical Analysis Reveals Extensive Mixed-Organic-Contaminant Exposure in U.S. Streams. Environ. Sci. Technol, (April 12, 2017) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00012

    Justin M. Conley, et al. Occurrence and In Vitro Bioactivity of Estrogen, Androgen, and Glucocorticoid Compounds in a Nationwide Screen of United States Stream Waters. Environ. Sci. Technol, (April 12, 2017) DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b06515

  • Climate Change Will Degrade Drinking Water Quality in the Midwest

    Climate change has many different consequences, one of which is the likelihood that there will be more extreme shifts between droughts and floods — a weather pattern typically referred to as 'weather whiplash' by climatologists.

    A new study conducted by scientists from the University of Kansas, which was recently published in the scientific journal Biogeochemistry, reveals how weather whiplash in the agricultural regions of the American Midwest will cause drinking water quality to deteriorate, which will in turn force municipalities to find costly water treatment solutions in order to provide consumers with safe drinking water.

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    According to the study, due to the predicted climate change related change in rainfall patterns, it is anticipated that in future the frequency of droughts and flooding will increase. The extreme seesawing between periods of extremely low rainfall and periods of extremely high rainfall changes how nutrients are stored in agricultural soils — particularly nitrogen used in fertilizers applied to agricultural crops.

    "Farmers put on their normal amount of fertilizer, but when we have a drought, plants don't grow as big and don't take up as much nitrogen," said Terry Loecke, assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Kansas and lead author of the study.

    Rather than being taken up by plants, which are then harvested, the nitrogen remains in soils as there is no water to flush it away. Then when heavy rains fall, the soil — which acts like a sponge — releases nitrogen, which flows into streams and rivers with runoff.

    As many of these freshwater systems serve as an important source of drinking water for many communities across the Midwest, taxpayers are going to have to dig deeper into their pockets as the cost of building additional remedial treatment facilities to address high nitrogen levels is going to be high.

    The research team analyzed data from the 2012-2013 drought/flood cycle that impacted most of the American Midwest, resulting in elevated nitrogen levels in rivers and lakes in the region. They found the link between high nitrate levels and extreme fluctuations in rainfall was quite common.

    Due to the rapid rise in nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers , the Des Moines Water Works was forced to build a new nitrate removal facility at a cost of US$4.1 million, which costs a further $7,000 a day to run.

    Amy Burgin, co-author of the study, points out that nitrates pose a considerable problem in drinking water, particularly in Des Moines, home to probably the most costly nitrate removal plant around. Over the last few years the plant has been operating anywhere between 25 to 150 days or more each year, which is proving to be extremely expensive as they don't have the funds available in their budget allocated for getting clean drinking water to consumers.

    In an attempt to recoup some of these additional denitrifications costs, the water utility recently sued several intensely farmed Iowa counties further upstream from city.  But Loecke and Burgin believe that surges in surface water nitrate levels like the ones affecting cities in Iowa will become more widespread across the agricultural Midwest due to the phenomenon of weather whiplash as this occurs more regularly in the future.

    Loecke believes that consumers across the Midwest will soon have to pay more for safe drinking water, like those from Des Moines. Cities aren't able to determine how often they will need to operate a nitrate-removal plant. When it's run a lot, it's a knocks their budget hard, and they have to pass these costs on to their consumers, and this is likely to spread out across the rest of the Midwestern region. Midwestern consumers must therefore anticipate paying more for clean drinking water in future.

    The authors hope that this study will help inform all those concerned, including the farming community, policymakers and municipal water departments, as well as consumers.

    "Municipal water services should be paying attention," Burgin said. "Iowa is the bull's-eye of this problem, and it's going to spread out from there -- this might not be at the forefront of a lot of Kansas minds right now. But given it's an agricultural state, it's a matter of time before we're in same boat. In Iowa, now it's hitting smaller municipalities. According to analysis by the Des Moines Register, 30% of them will have this problem -- and most don't have the tax bases to support huge nitrate-removal facilities."

    Journal Reference

    Loecke, T.D., Burgin, A.J., Riveros-Iregui, D.A. et al. Biogeochemistry (2017) 133: 7. doi:10.1007/s10533-017-0315-z

  • Can Your Drinking Water Get Hacked?

    Cyber attacks are a growing concern, that could potentially affect both commercial and governmental enterprises globally. Now government officials are cautioning water utilities to focus more attention on this rising threat.

    With more and more water utilities trying to cut down on their operating expenses by opting for fully automated systems, the threat is likely to increase in the years to come, BNA Bloomberg reports.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) together with input from the Dept of Homeland Security (DHS) are busy developing training manuals to help smaller, rural water systems that lack the necessary resources to defend themselves against threat posed by cyber hackers.

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    According to Helen Jackson from the DHS's Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, these threats to water distribution networks can come in various guises. For example, one type of threat is ransomeware — where computer hackers hijack and take control of computer controlled equipment and demand payment of a ransom to give back control of the equipment. Insider threats — where a computer system is compromised by someone who has access to the utility — is another. According to Jackson, a 2015 survey conducted by computer giant IBM revealed that more than 50% of all cyber security incidents in the corporate world involved insider threats.

    Once hackers gain access to a water utility's computer system, they have the ability to control factors such as chlorine flow rates as well as ratios of other chemical additives added to drinking water during the treatment process.

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    David Travers, director of water security at the EPA, feels that as water utilities become more automated they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats and need to be more vigilant to protect themselves from potential hackers.

    "As we rely on a fully automated system, I think there's a certain degree of expertise that's lost", said Travers. "Now you have operators who may not know how to run the system" in the event of an outage.

    Travers urges water utilities to prepare for cyber threats by running hands-on tabletop simulation exercises that would increase the capacity of technicians to handle any such threat. Jackson echoes his sentiments, pointing to industry resources that can help utilities assess their cyber security risk.

    Water distribution networks have faced cyber security attacks before. More than 10 years ago in 2006, a computer hacker gained access to the computer system at a water filtration plant located near Harrisburg, PA, and attempted to use the computers network to distribute pirated software and emails. Upon investigation the FBI found that the computer in question controlled a vital system of the water plant and had the attack caused it to malfunction, service to consumers would have been disrupted. Then 10 years later, in 2016, hackers gained access to a water treatment plant and were able to manipulate chlorine levels.

    In this day and age, cyber security is a real threat, and needs to be taken seriously by water utilities. Should the security of your local water utility be breached, do you have a contingency plan to ensure you have access to safe drinking water?

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