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  • Water Monitoring Goes High Tech

    As the global human population continues to grow, along with its increasing demand for precious water, it is vital that water resources are appropriately monitored to ensure our continued survival in the future ahead. New technologies could improve the way water resources are monitored, making it easier to identify changes in flow rates of rivers.

    Now, researchers from the Utah State University have come up with a method to do just that. A study that was recently published in the scientific journal Water Resources Research, shows that aerial imagery captured from drones and helicopters offers a cost effective and accurate alternative to conventional field methods typically used to monitor rivers.

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    "We are headed into uncharted territory as climate change alters water supply and population growth increases demand," said lead-author, Tyler King, a PhD candidate at Utah State University. "In the face of these challenges, scientists, engineers and managers around the world are asked to perform the increasingly difficult task of managing water resources with less and less information."

    The number of sites where river discharge is monitored directly from gauging stations is limited and declining. It is both time consuming and expensive to establish and maintain these stations. Consequently, large rivers that are economically and/or socially important are typically given preference. Furthermore, additional remote sensing methods that depend on data collected from satellites have also been developed, however the data provided is less detailed and again tends to focus on larger rivers across the world. Due to the lack of detailed information on the state of smaller rivers, scientist have very limited knowledge of the processes controlling the quality and quantity of river water in these smaller drainage basins.

    The approach presented in this study strives to fill the current data gaps by gathering information from high-res aerial images and using this to estimate flow rates at sites along smaller streams and rivers that would typically be overlooked. The information collected fills in the gaps left by conventional gauging stations that monitor specific sites along larger rivers and satellite remote sensing that scientists use to estimate flow rates of larger rivers.

    The authors new method makes use of a combination of techniques, including image processing and hydraulic modeling, that limits the amount of data needed to estimate river flow. By overlapping aerial images they are able to produce 3-D digital elevation models of the river channels they wish to monitor. The information garnered from these 3-D digital elevation models is then entered into a hydraulic model, which estimates the relationship between river width and river discharge. Once the models have been developed, any observations of river width — including ground observations, satellite imagery and aerial imagery — can be used to estimate river discharge.

    "Remote sensing methods like these can significantly improve our ability to understand hydrologic responses to a changing climate in small, ungauged watersheds around the world," said Bethany Neilson, an associate professor at USU and co-author of the study.

    Journal Reference

    Tyler V. King , Bethany T. Neilson , Mitchell T. Rasmussen. Estimating Discharge in Low‐Order Rivers With High‐Resolution Aerial Imagery. Water Resources Research. (Feb 2018). DOI: 10.1002/2017WR021868

  • Is Organic Raw Water as Healthy as it's Made Out to Be?

    Raw water seems to be the latest organic health food trend for those wishing to pursue a more natural diet. But water treatment officials are more than just a little concerned.

    According to a recent report in the The New York Times, raw water being sold under the brand name 'Live Water' by Rainbow Grocery — a coop based in Mission District, San Fransisco — is so popular it literally flies off the supermarket shelves. When the grocery does have stock, the untreated, unfiltered, unsterilized bottles of raw spring water sell for $36.99 each, while a refill costs $14.99.

    Collecting raw water froma   stream. Collecting raw water from a stream.

    Besides the usual criticisms that bottled water face, such as high prices and the environmental issue of more plastic bottles entering the waste stream, the notion of untreated and unfiltered raw water being sold as a healthy drinking water option poses some potentially serious health risks. Which begs the question: why are consumers choosing to put their health at risk by opting for an unsafe, albeit organic, source of drinking water?

    According to The Verge, "Proponents claim that raw water's health benefits include naturally occurring minerals and microbes. But the reality for any inadequately treated water from the tap or a spring is that those minerals can sometimes include arsenic, and those microbes can be deadly."

    While officials within the water treatment industry, who would consider this to be common sense, no doubt shake their heads in disbelief, the raw water trend seems to have been born as a result of public mistrust of water treatment institutions responsible for supplying drinking water to their homes, as well as a distrust of the companies that sell conventional bottled water, for two reasons: they either remove beneficial constituents from the water or they add harmful ones.

    Consumers are becoming increasing wary of tap water. Contaminants such as fluoride, which many utilities routinely add to drinking water, as well as lead that leaches from water distribution pipes as water flows through, are issues of concern. Adherents of raw water believe that filtration methods employed by water treatment facilities remove components that are beneficial to our health, While companies that supply conventional bottled water use ozone or ultraviolet light to kill algae and then filter it to remove algal cells. They maintain that these processes kill beneficial bacteria, or probiotics.

    A woman drinking raw unfiltered water. A woman drinking raw unfiltered water.

    However, as healthy as this alternative may seem for those seeking a more natural, organic source of water, consumers should seriously think twice before jumping off the conventional water supply bandwagon and simply opting for yet another unregulated, potentially unsafe, money-grabbing scheme. Consumers who have concerns regarding the quality of drinking water supplied to their homes may be better off voicing their concerns to municipalities in an effort to improve water treatment practices, and put pressure on them to supply water that is healthy and safe to drink.

    Another alternative is to simply filter your tap water with drinking water filter that is capable of removing fluoride, lead, and any other potentially harmful contaminants you are concerned about. For those that truly believe in the health benefits of raw water — and there arguably are several benefits — it would be advisable to filter raw water with a good quality home drinking water filter to ensure all the nasty naturally occurring elements, such as bacteria, viruses, arsenic, etc are removed, without adding any harmful chemicals in the process.

  • California Wildfires Highlight Threat to Drinking Water Quality

    With California still reeling in the aftermath of devastating fires that forced thousands of residents to flee their homes and destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of land, the threat is still not over. Now that the fires have been quelled, authorities are trying to deal with the impact on local drinking water sources and water supply systems.

    Fires not only contaminate water sources with ash, silt and sediment, they also cause power outages that can affect water treatment plant's ability to treat water properly. This is exacerbated when water pressures drop as large volumes of water are used for fighting the fires. When mountain slopes are left bare after a fire, ash and sediment can be washed or blown into streams where it can clog up reservoirs, smother aquatic life and disrupt local water supplies.

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    The latest Californian fires demonstrate just how disruptive forest fires can be to local water supplies. According to a report in High Country News, long after the Californian blaze was extinguished, heavy rainstorms continued to wash silt and other debris downstream, causing disruptions to water treatment facilities that forced local water utilities to stop drawing water.

    In forested watersheds — which provide nearly two-thirds of the West's water — trees, leaf litter and soil act as a sponge, soaking up rainfall and slowly releasing it to underground aquifers and waterways. Wildfires destroy that mechanism by baking the upper layers of soil, forming a compact, water-repellant layer, while at the same time burning plant roots that stabilize the soil. So when rain falls, instead of being absorbed by leaf litter, soil and roots, the water simply runs off, carrying sediment, debris and nutrients along with it, transporting them further downstream. This can result in devastating mudslides that can bury roads and destroy homes. It can also cause river beds, wetlands and reservoirs to become overloaded with silt, often requiring some form of intervention, such as dredging, to fix the problem. This silt and debris can make its way into water supplies, where it can compromise water quality.

    While sediment in drinking water is primarily an aesthetic issue — i.e. murky water — smaller particles can also clog filters. Organic matter can also react with chemicals used in the water treatment process to produce harmful compounds such as chloroform. Spikes in nutrient levels can fuel algal blooms that can affect both the taste and smell of drinking water.

    It is anticipated that huge fires such as these will occur more and more frequently in future, fueled by increasingly hot and dry conditions associated with climate change. While the onus rests on federal regulators and water managers to ensure that these events do not disrupt water services, you can take steps to ensure your family has access to safe drinking water should the authorities fail to do so. By investing in a good quality drinking water filter you will be able to filter out silt, sediment and potentially dangerous nutrients such as nitrates, as well as other common toxins, including bacteria. This will allow you to tap into practically any water source in the event that your water supply is disrupted.

  • Well Water Containing Artificial Sweeteners Likely Contaminated by Septic Wastewater

    If that natural spring water tastes refreshingly sweet it may not be as pure and healthy as it seems. A recent study conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Waterloo shows that artificial sweeteners are a good indicator of contamination by wastewater seeping from a septic sewage system.

    The researchers analyzed water samples collected from private groundwater wells in a rural area within the Nottawasaga River Watershed, testing for the presence of four artificial sweeteners, which if present, would indicate that human wastewater originating from local septic tanks had seeped into the groundwater.

    800px-Nottawasaga_River_tributary

    Because artificial sweeteners leave our bodies relatively unchanged and do not get completely removed when wastewater is treated, they serve as an ideal marker for the presence of human wastewater, which typically contains artificial sweeteners in high concentrations.

    While the artificial sweeteners are themselves pretty harmless to humans, wastewater can contain harmful contaminants such as viruses, E. Coli, ammonium and nitrate, as well as pharmaceuticals and personal care products that can contain potentially hazardous toxins. Also, it is not known whether artificial sweeteners can be harmful to aquatic life.

    For the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, the researchers tested 59 private drinking water wells. They found that 30% of the wells tested had a least one of the artificial sweeteners present, indicating contamination with human wastewater. It is estimated that between 3-13% of drinking water wells could consist of at least 1% septic wastewater effluent.

    The researchers also analyzed groundwater samples seeping from the banks of the Nottawasaga River. They found 32% of the samples had sweeteners present, indicating that groundwater flowing into the Nottawasaga River is impacted to some degree by human effluent from septic wastewater systems.

    Septic tanks are a common form of wastewater treatment for homes in rural areas where no municipal sewage system is available. A septic tank separates the solid waste into a chamber where it undergoes treatment by bacteria, after which the liquid effluent seeps through a septic drainage field that breaks down the waste further.

    An earlier study conducted by the research group found artificial sweeteners in the Grand River and also in treated drinking water supplied from this source.

    "We were not really surprised by the most recent results given what we've found in past studies," said lead author John Spoelstra, an adjunct professor in earth and environmental sciences at Waterloo and a Research Scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. "Septic systems are designed to discharge effluent to groundwater as part of the wastewater treatment process. Therefore, contamination of the shallow groundwater is a common problem when it comes to septic systems."

    Journal Reference

    Spoelstra, J., N.D. Senger, S.L. Schiff. (2017) Artificial sweeteners reveal septic system effluent in rural groundwater. Journal of Environmental Quality. doi: 10.2134/jeq2017.06.0233.

  • Water Pollution Included Among the Top 10 Things Americans Fear Most

    Researchers at Chapman University have completed their fourth annual survey to determine what Americans fear most. For the survey, respondents were presented with a questionnaire covering a broad spectrum of fears including fears related to the environment, health, finances, natural disasters, the government and terrorism, as well as personal anxieties such as fear of ghosts, spiders, public speaking or heights, amongst others.

    Besides the usual fears surveyed in previous years, the 2017 Chapman University Survey of American Fears also looks more closely at the extent to which American people fear extremism.

    Top-10-Fears-of-2017-768x593

    The 2017 survey, which surveyed 1,207 American adults from diverse backgrounds from all around the country, consists of four main categories: personal fears, paranormal fears, natural disasters, and fears related to extremism.

    According to the results of the 2017 survey, the top 10 fears that American's face are:

    1.  Corruption of government officials (was also top fear for 2015 and 2016)
    2.  American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare (new fear)
    3.  Pollution of rivers, lakes and the ocean (new to the top 10)
    4.  Contamination of drinking water (new to the top 10)
    5.  Financial insecurity in the future
    6.  High medical expenses
    7.  America will be drawn into a third world war (new fear)
    8.  Atmospheric warming and climate change impacts
    9.  North Korea firing missiles (new fear)
    10.  Air pollution

    Environmental Fears Predominate

    Surprisingly, four environmental fears are included on the top 10 fears for 2017, including pollution of freshwater and marine systems (ranked 3rd overall) and fear of contamination of drinking water (ranked 4th), which are both new to the top 10, as well as fear of global warming and climate change (ranked 8th) and air pollution (ranked at number 10).

    "The 2017 survey data shows us that while some of the top fears have remained, there has also been a pronounced shift to environmental fears," said Christopher Bader, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Chapman University, who led the team effort. "We are beginning to see trends that people tend to fear what they are exposed to in the media. Many of the top 10 fears this year can be directly correlated to the top media stories of the past year."

    Pollution of Freshwater and Marine Waters

    According to the survey, fifty three percent of Americans fear the pollution of streams, rivers and oceans. The sudden increase in people citing this as a fear during the 2017 survey is attributed to the recent reversal of many environmental policies that were introduced by the Obama Administration.

    Concerns Related to Quality of Drinking Water

    Half of the respondents (50.4%) fear drinking water contamination, which may be partly attributed to lead poisoning of Flint residents due to drinking water contamination, which received extensive coverage by the media, but may also be due to widespread contamination by hazardous chemicals such as PFCs.

    Fear of Climate Change & Atmospheric Pollution

    Forty eight percent of respondents interviewed are fearful of climate change, while nearly forty-five percent fear air pollution — which not only poses a health risk, but also contributes to global warming and climate change. The dramatic increase in the number of respondents who now fear climate change and air pollution may be due to President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

    A detailed overview of the survey including a comprehensive list of the things Americans currently fear most is available on The Chapman University website.

    Video below:

  • Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich Takes on Corporates Over Water Contamination Issues

    Environmental activist Erin Brockovich met with residents of West Michigan last month to encourage those who have been affected by water contamination to join a class action lawsuit that is being filed against the companies that have caused the contamination.

    When it comes to taking on the big guys, Erin Brockovich has proved her mettle. In 1991 she investigated and reported on the effect of water contamination on the health of residents of Hinkley, a small Californian town. The groundbreaking story was made into a thrilling Hollywood movie, named after her, with the lead role played by Julia Roberts.

    Erin Brockovich Erin Brockovich

    "I got involved in a situation many years ago in Hinckley with people," Brockovich said in an interview with Fox News. "I believed them I did not think they were making up stories, my common sense was telling me something wasn't right."

    After conducting a lengthy investigation, Brockovich exposed the extent and impact of groundwater contamination, and ultimately helped the residents of Hinkley win a staggering $333 million lawsuit — the largest in US history.

    So what got Brockovich so interested in West Michigan?

    "I was home and fired up my morning computer because I get emails from 126 countries and territories and I had over 50 the first go-around coming from different sections of the county but they were all about Wolverine and PFAs," Brockovich told Fox News.

    Many West Michigan residents who have been adversely affected by hazardous PFA chemicals (Berkey PFA Removal Tests), that have seeped into their drinking water supply from Wolverine's chemical disposal sites have sought Brockovich's help. And Brockovich, who is aware of the scope and scale of the problem, is keen to assist them with their fight.

    "In Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Minnesota, now Michigan, Colorado, California. It`s a bad actor and it`s a big problem and it`s wide spread," she explains in the Fox interview.

    Concerned West Michigan residents affected by water contamination hope that Brockovich's input with a lawsuit filed on the 1st December 2017 will provide them with answers they so desperately seek.

    "When they have the truth they at least have something tangible that they can work with, that they can talk to doctors about, that they can learn about and that is how we best protest ourselves - through information and awareness," explains Brockovich.

    But the question remains, will a big payout from Wolverine Worldwide and 3M resolve the issue? It's not going to make people better and it's not going to bring back loved ones who have succumbed to illnesses linked to the contamination.

    But Brockovich stands firm. For her, it's not about the money, it's largely about companies taking accountability for their actions or lack thereof, and compensating victims to some degree. Brockovich has fought this battle before and won, and plans to stand beside the residents of West Michigan as they take on the big corporations in their David versus Goliath quest.

    It's time that residents take a stand against corporations that pollute critical water sources and endanger people's health. And even though no amount of money in the world will bring back deceased loved ones, it can force polluters to clean up their act. Hitting corporations with hefty law suits is not only bad for public relations but more importantly it hits them where it hurts them most — it hurts them financially, and ultimately affects their profits.

    Videos:

     

  • Simple Color-changing Water Test Could Keep Kids Safe from Fluoride

    A simple water test that utilizes visual color change to detect whether fluoride is present in drinking water could help prevent skeletal fluorosis, a debilitating bone disease that is common in developing countries in Africa and Asia.

    While low levels of fluoride are toted as being beneficial for dental health, exposure to fluoride at higher levels can lead to skeletal fluorosis — a disease that results in irreversible crippling deformities of the joints and spine, particularly in children, as their skeletons are still developing.

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    When water flows over certain naturally occurring minerals in soil or rocks, it may dissolve fluoride. As a result, high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride are found in some drinking water sources in certain parts of China, East Africa, India and North America.

    In developed countries, fluoride concentrations in drinking water are checked and controlled by water treatment facilities before it is piped to households. However, in undeveloped countries where water treatment and distribution networks are lacking, people depend on untreated well water, which very often is tainted with fluoride at levels that are deemed unsafe.

    Fluoride concentrations in groundwater tend to fluctuate widely according to the weather, with higher concentrations typically occurring after periods of high rainfall.

    Now, a team of researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath, together with scientists from the university's Innovation and Research Centre (WIRC), have developed a quick, simple and selective color-changing test that is able to detect high levels of fluoride in drinking water. The researchers hope to develop the color-change test into a low-cost disposable test strip that is accessible, accurate and easy for anyone to use. The team believe that in the future this could make a real difference to the health and welfare of people who are routinely exposed to fluoride.

    The Bath research team have partnered with the Nasio Trust — an NGO that protects and supports at risk children in Eastern Africa — to develop their water testing system to make it easier to use on the ground.

    "For decades, people living in Oldonyosambu area of Arusha Tanzania East Africa, have been drinking water with naturally occurring levels of fluoride that can reach over sixty times the US recommended level. This has had a severe impact on the lives of people in this poor community, causing crippling skeletal fluorosis, chronic pain and poor cognitive development in children," said Director of the Nasio Trust, Nancy Hunt, who hopes that the newly formed partnership will help them identify water sources with high fluoride levels so that they can take measures to make the water safe for people of Oldonyosambu to drink, and in so doing, ultimately improve the long-term health outlook of this community.

    The researchers are also seeking additional partners who can assist them with taking this technology to the next level and help develop the test. The team also plan to adapt the technology so that it can be used to detect other hazardous water contaminants such as cadmium, lead and mercury in the future.

    Journal Reference

    Carlos M. López-Alled, Adrian Sanchez-Fernandez, Karen J. Edler, Adam C. Sedgwick, Steven D. Bull, Claire L. McMullin, Gabriele Kociok-Köhn, Tony D. James, Jannis Wenk and Simon E. Lewis "Azulene–boronate esters: colorimetric indicators for fluoride in drinking water", Chemical Communications, (2017) DOI: 10.1039/c7cc07416f

  • Half of all fracking sites are located close to private drinking water wells

    A new study has revealed that almost half of all fracking wells are located less than 3 kilometers from a groundwater well supplying drinking water to domestic households.

    Given this finding, you may want to question whether your drinking water is safe for consumption. If you are one of the 45 million Americans who rely on groundwater supplied by private drinking water wells rather than treated water supplied by a public drinking water utility you should really be asking this question. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulations in place to ensure that water supplied by public water utilities is safe, these rules don't apply to private drinking wells. Instead the onus rests on owners of private wells to ensure that their drinking water is free from harmful contaminants.

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    A 2016 report on the impact of fracking sites on public water supplies conducted by the EPA found that a drinking water supply sited near a fracking site was more likely to be negatively impacted by a contamination event, yet until now, the impact on private drinking wells had not been assessed.

    Two researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara set out to rectify that by compiling an extensive database of privately owned drinking wells, then compared the locations of these wells to fracking sites. After scientifically analyzing fifteen years of data (2000-2014) that included 27,000 wells across 14 different states, the researchers discovered that around half of all fracking wells operating in 2014 were located within 2-3 kilometers of a privately owned groundwater well. These findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "This co-location emphasizes the need to determine the frequency that hydraulic fracturing activities impact groundwater well water quality. This knowledge is important to maintaining high-quality water in many domestic wells," said Scott Jasechko, an assistant professor at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and co-author of the paper. "Our results underscore the importance of increased water monitoring efforts near both hydraulically fractured and conventional oil and gas wells in ascertaining the risk of contamination and in protecting water well quality."

    The researchers mapped out the locations of wells and fracking sites on a series of maps, including one that tracked hot spots — areas that were more vulnerable to contamination. According to the authors, to be more effective and efficient, the limited resources that are available for assessing and addressing contamination should be channeled to these hotspots, which also include conventional oil and gas wells as well as fracking wells at some sites.

    "We can use these hotspot analyses9 to focus resources, so that we can learn more about oil and gas contamination mechanisms: How often do they occur, and do they have an impact on groundwater?" explained Debra Perrone, an assistant professor of environmental studies at UCSB.

    According to Jasechko, the results of this study highlights the need to expand monitoring of private drinking wells in order to identify private water supplies that could potentially be impacted and to proactively contain, isolate and remediate any water that has been potentially contaminated before it can harm people using this supply. He recommends that stronger policies, including regular quality testing, are put in place to protect private groundwater wells located in close proximity to fracking wells.

    In many cases, these types of studies are limited by the amount of data that is available. This was not the case for this study, however, the researchers acknowledge that the lack of consistent data proved problematic, as there were huge differences in the methods used to collect data across both states and industries.

    To this end, Perrone suggests that one recommendation they have in terms of policy is to introduce a national standard for collecting data pertaining to construction of groundwater wells. She also recommends that a national standard for collecting data from both conventional oil and gas wells and unconventional gas extraction wells be implemented to increase transparency across jurisdictional boundaries.

    Journal Reference

    Scott Jasechkoa & Debra Perrone. Hydraulic fracturing near domestic groundwater wells. PNAS. (2017) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1701682114

  • It's Time to Re-evaluate How we Value Water

    A new study led by researchers from the University of Oxford highlights the rapidly mounting pressure to measure, monitor and manage water on both a local and global scale, and proposes a new four-tiered approach to valuing water to ensure sustainable development and to help improve policy and water usage.

    Water is recognized as a valuable and vital resource for people and cultures, as well as industry, agriculture and the environment. Having access to safe drinking water is essential for human survival and for the long term survival of civilizations. This is reflected in the huge global financial investments in water treatment and sanitation, which is estimated to be approximately US$114 billion annually in capital expenditure alone.

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    However, there is a growing need to re-assess the value of water. Not only is water essential for sustaining all forms of life on Earth, it also plays a key role in ensuring sustainable development. For example, all 17 of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals recognize the importance of water in achieving the sustainability objectives. These include developing sustainable cities, achieving peace and justice, and alleviating poverty and world hunger.

    Yet, global water security is increasingly becoming an area of growing concern. Droughts, floods and pollution all have a negative impact on water resources and communities. The World Economic Forum has listed water related threats within the top five global risks for a number of years now. A 2015 water security study conducted by Oxford researchers estimated costs associated with flooding, inadequate water supply, water shortages and poor sanitation to be around US$500 billion annually. The World Bank recently highlighted the economic and social impact of water scarcity, demonstrating that a drought costs a city four times as much as a flood event, while in rural Africa, a just one drought can trigger a downward spiral resulting in ongoing poverty and deprivation across generations.

    As economists, scientists and humanitarian aid groups recognize these trends, it is time for us to re-assess the value of water globally. Recognizing that the value of water extends far beyond the monetary value, the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water recently launched the Valuing Water initiative, which aims to guide policy and investment decision-making and encourage better governance in terms of managing water resources.

    The paper, which was recently published in Science, outlines a framework that places a value on water according to the Sustainable Development Goals rather than simply placing a monetary value on water or recognizing the cultural benefits of this precious natural resource. To this end, they recommend that water should be valued and managed through a four-prong approach that simultaneously highlights the need for measurement, valuation, trade-offs and capable institutions for allocating and financing water.

    "Our paper responds to a global call to action: the cascading negative impacts of scarcity, shocks and inadequate water services underscore the need to value water better", said Dustin Garrick, a researcher at Oxford University's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, who is the lead author of the paper. "There may not be any silver bullets, but there are clear steps to take. We argue that valuing water is fundamentally about navigating trade-offs. The objective of our research is to show why we need to rethink the value of water, and how to go about it, by leveraging technology, science and incentives to punch through stubborn governance barriers. Valuing water requires that we value institutions."

    According to Richard Damania, Global Lead Economist with the World Bank Water Practice and co-author of the paper, the study shows that water is key to development and therefore it is a resource that needs to be managed sustainably. He points out that multiple water management policies will be required in order to achieve multiple goals, and that current policies are outdated and inadequate for meeting current and future water related challenges.

    "Without policies to allocate finite supplies of water more efficiently, control the burgeoning demand for water and reduce wastage, water stress will intensify where water is already scarce and spread to regions of the world - with impacts on economic growth and the development of water-stressed nations," Damania warned.

    Earlier this month the University of Oxford hosted a one day forum, Valuing Water for Sustainable Development, where new approaches to how water is valued, financed and allocated were discussed. Conference presentations focused on several aspects of water management, including:

    1. Challenges to placing a value on water
    2. New tools to address these challenges
    3. Financial solutions to improve water infrastructure globally
    4. Making use of water markets to address water scarcity and shocks

    Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and Research have released several video interviews with researchers who made presentations at the conference, which can be viewed here.

    Journal Reference

    Garrick, D.E., Hall, J.W., Dobson, A., Damania, R., Grafton, R.Q., Hope, R., Hepburn, C., Bark, R., Boltz, F., De Stefano, L., O'Donnell, E., Matthews, N. and Money, A. (2017) Valuing Water for Sustainable Development. Science. Vol 358. Issue 6366

  • Climate Change May Diminish UV Penetration Allowing Pathogens to Thrive in Waterbodies

    One of the impacts of climate change is extreme weather events that often bring heavy rainfall and flooding to some areas. Heavy rainfall increases organic runoff into freshwater and coastal waters, and according to a study that was recently published in Scientific Reports, may inhibit the sun's ability to penetrate these waterbodies. As UV light is able to kill pathogens, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays provide important ecosystem services, ridding rivers, lakes and coastal waters of pathogens. If this ability is diminished, there is a greater likelihood of waterborne pathogens becoming more prolific.

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    Research has shown that globally aquatic systems are becoming browner due to the increase in organic material being washed into them from surrounding terrestrial systems — a phenomenon known as "browning". Using a model developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), this latest study is the first to quantify the impact that dissolved organic material has on limiting the sun's UV rays from disinfecting waterbodies and killing pathogens that lurk in them.

    This not only poses a potential health risk for people who are exposed to pathogens when using waterbodies for recreation, but also poses a potential drinking water safety risk — even if the water has been treated. According to Craig Williamson, an ecologist at Miami University and lead author of the paper, dissolved organic matter doesn't only inhibit the ability of the sun to disinfect water, it also renders the water treatment process less effective. Considering that every year between 12-19 million people already fall ill in the US alone due to exposure to waterborne pathogens, this will in all likelihood cause that figure to rise.

    For the study, the researchers analyzed water samples collected from lakes in the US and other countries to determine the level of dissolved organic matter present in each of the samples and the wavelengths of ultraviolet light absorbed by the organic matter present.

    Then using the Tropospheric Ultraviolet-Visible model — which simulates how UV light is scattered and absorbed as it passes through Earth's atmosphere — the scientists estimated how much of the sun's UV rays reaches the surface of these lakes at different times of the year. They also assessed the amount of reflection and refraction of light from the surface of each lake to determine how much UV light penetrates together with the depth it reaches.

    According to the report, "the Tropospheric Ultraviolet-Visible model also calculates the expected disinfecting power of UV light in a particular body of water based on its dissolved organic matter and other characteristics, a measurement known as 'solar inactivation potential (SIP)'. In some cases, researchers calculated the SIP across different parts of, or for different time periods in, the same lake."

    From there the researchers were able to quantify the impact that dissolved organic matter had on water quality of lakes, as well as drinking water supplies. For example, modeling of water samples collected prior to and following a severe storm from a site on Lake Michigan — a source of drinking water for over 10 million consumers — showed a 22% reduction in SIP due to the additional dissolved organic matter that flowed into the waterbody from just this one storm.

    "Water clarity is dropping in many regions due to factors such as browning, and this research demonstrates that this change is likely decreasing natural disinfection of potentially harmful pathogens," said Kevin Rose, a freshwater ecologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and coauthor of the paper.

    Journal Reference

    Craig E. Williamson et al. Climate change-induced increases in precipitation are reducing the potential for solar ultraviolet radiation to inactivate pathogens in surface waters. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 13033 (2017) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-13392-2

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