Teenager’s innovation may help determine water quality with a cell phone

Allison Bick was recently awarded the 2011 Stockholm Junior Water Prize award for a project involving using cell phones to measure water quality. The award was presented to Miss Bick by H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden during the World of Water Week in Stockholm. Miss Bick’s project combines cell phones with indicator chemicals, such as Colilert-18 to measure the quality of water. This innovative project stood out against the others because it uses readily available and affordable technology, such as cell phones, to test water quality. The process developed by Miss Bick takes 18 fewer hours for results and costs 1/200th the price of standard tests. These new and improved tests can be implemented both developing as well as developed countries to test for water quality.

To read more about Allison Bick’s award or her project, visit: http://www.siwi.org/sa/node.asp?node=1253

Or, download: http://www.siwi.org/documents/Resources/Prize_Nominating/SJWP_Finalistkatalog_2011_web.pdf

Brian O’Neill

What is the NHL doing to conserve water?

800,000 Gallons can either grow you one acre of cotton, brew 500 barrels of beer, or supply enough water to support seven NHL playoff games. Since this is such a large amount of water, the NHL wants to reduce their demand on water supplies. The NHL Green is the National Hockey League’s sustainability initiative. This initiative is working together with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation for the NHL Water Restoration Project
The Bonneville Environmental Foundation wants to reduce water usage in the Pacific Northwest and is currently looking to expand to include states such as Washington, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. This organization aims to conserve water by encouraging water certificates. Each of these certificates is “worth” 1,000 gallons of water, and has it’s own serial number. Each certificate is then sold to individuals and businesses for one dollar. The money is then spent to encourage consumers to reduce their water use. The NHL recently incorporated use of these water certificates for their 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, which is the first “water neutral” series in the history of the NHL.
This new program will be used to restore almost one million gallons of water to the Deschutes River, located between Bend, Oregon and Lake Billy Chinook. This is a world-class destination for various sportsmen and tourists. Unfortunately for the aquatic organisms as well as potential recreationalists, a significant volume of the water that would flow down the Deschutes River is diverted for “commercial” and “economic” use. As a result of the excess withdrawals, there has been a significant decrease in water quality as well as the health of aquatic organisms.
The NHL is proud to be the first major sports entity to participate in the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s certificate program, as well as the first such organization to make a large push towards water conservation and sustainability. Many players in the NHL began playing hockey on ice ponds, so they feel the need to promote environmental sustainability or the future generations will only read about ice ponds in books, and hear about them in stories from their parents.
Brian O’Neill

Where does groundwater come from, and where does it go?

Simply put, groundwater is water that is stored underground in aquifers—dirt, sand, and rock. This water is stored between the particles of matter underground. These moist areas can be found close to the Earth’s surface or as many as thousands of feet underground.

Then you discover a spring or other form of water seemingly coming from nowhere, the source is often groundwater. This underground water makes its way into natural lakes and rivers and is often pumped out by wells for drinking and irrigation supply.

Over half of U.S. residents get their drinking water from groundwater.

As more residents populate the United States, more water is pumped out of underground aquifers. One of the problems arise when runoff from agricultural and industrial waste infiltrates and pollutes our groundwater. However, the biggest and most dangerous threat is over-drawing this limited resource.

Over-drawing our groundwater is such a dangerous problem because farmers are given subsidized water at low prices. This in turn negates the push to conserve water and save water. As a result, many farmers use inefficient irrigation techniques simply because they are easier and cheaper than retrofitting their equipment and saving money.
Brian O’Neill

What are some common sources of water pollution?

Although just about any substance can pollute water, there are a few sources of pollution that create the greatest risk—or add the greatest volume of pollutants to our waterways. These sources include: runoff, wastewater, air pollution, and eroded soil and nutrients. Each of these sources contribute different pollutants to our waterways, and they all have differing affects.
Runoff: Runoff can flow from both residential/developed and agricultural or farmlands. This occurs when a pollutant or contaminant gathers on the ground substrate and is carried to nearby waterways by rainwater. Sometimes the sheer volume of pollutant is enough to transport it to waterways, in the case of leaking oil drums or other liquid substance.
Wastewater: This is a growing problem as more industries generate products that require water to be used in the manufacturing process. Wastewater can be anything from water used to cool machinery to chemical and water slurries used to erode metals or other substances in high-tech industries. This is most commonly piped directly into local waterways, where it flows into streams or lakes and has a direct (and usually fast) affect on the surroundings.
Air pollution: This is a threat that is not commonly thought of in terms of water pollution. However, air pollution causes pollutants to enter our waterways. For example, a manufacturing plant can release a certain amount of pollutants into the air, and those pollutants are carried by the wind. Either the pollutants can settle out of the air over time, or rain can hasten the process and carry the pollutants directly into waterways.
Eroded soil and nutrients: Some might ask: “What is the problem of soil entering out waterways? It is naturally found in lakes and other bodies of water.” While this is true, the problem arises when excess soil and nutrients are introduced to our waterways. Natural cycles already incorporate soil and nutrients entering our waterways—over time, these nutrients and soils are either washed away, or they build up and a lake might become a field in time. The problem with too much soil matter is that it causes excess plant growth which takes nutrients away from fish, which are needed to maintain healthy hydrological systems
For more information on water-related issues, visit http://www.waterwise-consulting.com
Brian O’Neill

What will come of our aging water infrastructure?

An article released by CNN.com today discusses the condition of water infrastructure systems in the United States. After reading a short story about a water main that erupted under a woman’s home, the author stated that this was “one of an average 700 water main breaks nationwide that experts say occur each day.” The author then proceeds to discuss how America’s water infrastructure is aging. In the 2009 Report Card of America’s Infrastructure (conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers), the nation’s water system was given a D-. In a nation with a growing population, what does this mean in terms of security and delivery?

Eric Goldstein of the National Resource Defense Council describes what could potentially happen “”Anytime you’re breaking the seal of the system that brings water into your homes and apartments, you’re risking contamination from bacteria and viruses.” In other words, every time you make a connection to an existing water supply, you risk contaminating it with outside pollutants or bacteria.

In systems that deliver water to 100,000 people or more, 30% of the pipes are 40 to 80 years old. Approximately 10% of the pipes are greater than 80 years old. To compound the problem, modern technology makes it increasingly difficult to maintain, repair, and retrofit water systems. “There’s now Verizon lines that didn’t used to be there, cable lines, fiber lines, electrical lines,” said District of Columbia water general manager George Hawkins. “So much has been added to the underworld, that each one of the these fixes is getting more and more complicated to get done properly.” The nation’s capital, Hawkins said, averages about one water pipe break each day.

To read more about our aging water infrastructure, visit http://edition.cnn.com/2011/US/01/20/water.main.infrastructure/

Brian O’Neill

Can we really use seaweed to purify our water?

Extractive aquaculture, or bioextraction as it is sometimes called, is an up-and-coming technique used to purify water and remove contaminants. This technique uses organisms that are innately good at removing the nutrients, such as algae, and even shellfish. For example, algae takes in nutrients to grow and reproduce. One of the most common and plentiful nutrients in wastewater is…well…human excrement. Excrement has high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous—just what the algae needs. Other organisms, like shellfish require other nutrients to grow. For example, shellfish often need calcium and other materials to grow shells and exoskeletons, so these organisms are better at filtering these “pollutants” out of the water.
One of the most important lessons we can learn from nature is that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. That being said, we simply need to find organisms that thrive on our “pollutants” and use them to do it for us. Instead of spending millions of dollars on costly chemical means, treatment plants could potentially create man-made ecosystems to filter pollutants out of water. By creating something similar to a natural ecosystem, various species would thrive on different nutrients or pollutants, and each specializes in a different type. What could be better than getting an organism to do our work for us…for free?

Brian O’Neill
Please visit us on the web at http://www.waterise-consulting.com

Save water by smart landscaping

Often the most wasteful areas of water use is that of landscaping. Irrigating landscape often uses immense amounts of water because many decorative plants have high water demands. Also, poor landscape design can lead to wasted water by causing excess runoff and even small-scale flooding in areas.

Landscape irrigation often requires immense amounts of water because of the non-native choices that many homeowners make when designing their landscape. In California, for example, many gardeners select ornamental plants for the colorful flowers that last only a few weeks at a time. In order to significantly reduce the amount of water used to irrigate your garden, you should consider planting native species in your garden. Many of these plants have beautiful flowers and attract native wildlife such as birds and various mammal species.

Another significant cause of wastewater in landscape is poor landscape design. Extensive areas of non-permeable hardscape cause small-scale flooding because the water often has nowhere to drain. In my own yard, for example, there is a section of cement approximately 10’ wide by 25’ long that was used as a patio by the previous owner, which now fills with water every time it rains. One of the easiest solutions to this problem is replacing non-permeable hardscape with a permeable version. You can buy cement pavers at local hardware stores, and these allow the water to pass between each piece, helping drain water and replenish underground storage basins. When water is unable to enter the ground, it is most often channeled into sewage systems where it must be treated and re-released into the environment.

For more information, visit http://www.waterwise-consulting.com
Brian O’Neill