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
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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.

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Brian O’Neill

Feasibility of collecting rainwater

Rainwater harvesting is a practice that has been used by environmentalists for many years, but has only recently become more popular. By connecting underground cisterns or above-ground containers, people can collect up to 0.6 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on one square-foot of roof. In other words, if it rains one inch, and you have a 1,000 square-foot roof, you can collect about 600 gallons of water. With two inches of rain, you can collect up to 1,200 gallons.

The problem, however, arises with mosquitoes and other harmful vectors. Since mosquitoes with harmful parasites and diseases have recently been spreading, it is crucial to ensure a biologically sealed rain capturing system. This is often done by having a series of filters or screens that seal the water from the open-air. By doing so, the mosquitoes cannot access the water to lay their eggs, and must find elsewhere to breed.

This method of “recycling” rainwater is seen as much safer than reusing greywater because rainwater is often much cleaner than greywater. There are, however, systems to recycle greywater. These systems are often very expensive because they sometimes must filter out soaps or other biological contamination.

Getting the most out of every drop

It is without doubt that Americans must reduce their demand on natural water sources. Our population is increasing every second, but our water sources are not. As a matter of fact, some water sources are actually shrinking on a daily basis. So, how can we get the most out of our water? What if your house or business already has efficient fixtures? To answer this problem, we will look at the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. You reduce consumption by implementing efficient fixtures, such as showerheads, faucet aerators, and toilets.
In order to reuse water, we must figure out ways to capture water after we use it once, and harness it again to use a second¬¬ or even third time. Luckily engineers and environmental advocates have been working on this problem for many years. There are water catchment systems available that capture water once it has been used, and contain it for use at a later time.
For example, some people have small water containment systems under their sink that hold water from hand-washing , and pump it into toilets for a second use. Other systems may be significantly larger-they can be connected to shower drains, washing machines, and even dishwashers. As a result, these systems must have much larger tanks and sometimes pumps depending on the location.
These devices essentially are a large bin or tank in the plumbing line that contain water before it flows out to the sewer. Depending on the location, some of these systems are zero-energy systems; meaning they use gravity to push water into other locations or devices. The most common systems are under-sink systems that pump water into toilets, and larger versions to contain shower and washing machine water. Often these systems are connected to a series of large barrels to contain large amounts of water. This stored water can then be used to water landscape or fill toilets, etc.
However, it must be noted that special biodegradable soaps and detergents must be used if the water will be used to irrigate plants. Traditional soaps and detergents are typically chemical-based and are very harmful to plants. Biodegradable soaps are easily decomposed and broken down by microbes and bacteria in the soil.
To read more about innovative ways you can save water, visit
Brian O’Neill

Some little-known facts about bottled water

Did you know…
That the average price of tap water is $0.0015 per gallon, whereas bottled water is on average $10.00 per gallon.
Over 20% of tested bottled water contained chemicals above health limits.
Tap water is tested for e. coli, and is required to state the source, and provide quality reports. Bottled water isn’t.
17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the World’s supply of bottled drinking water. That is enough oil to fuel 1,000,000 cars for an entire year.
It takes 3 times as much water to create a bottle as it does to fill it. That means it takes 3 gallons of water to make every 1-gallon water jug.
Only one in every five water bottles are ever recycled.
40% of bottled water is taken from municipal water supplies. In other words, 40% of bottled water is bottled tap water. Why pay the difference?
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Brian O’Neill

How do aquifers work?

Since a significant portion of the U.S. drinking water is pumped from aquifers, it is important to understand what an aquifer is and how it works. Aquifers are underground basins that hold water. Aquifers are full of sediment such as silt, or larger material such as gravel and rocks. The water in aquifers is what fills the spaces between tiny silt particles or larger gravel pores. Aquifers are similar to bowls of cereal: the aquifer itself is like a giant bowl, that is full of “stuff” (rocks or sediment instead of cereal), with water filling the space between each piece of the sediment.
Aquifers are usually good options for water supplies because in natural systems, the water must first pass through hundreds—sometimes thousands—of feet of dirt and sediment before it enters the aquifer and is usable. Water often cannot be pumped out of the ground until it reaches the aquifers because it is not concentrated enough. In other words, there is not enough water per unit of sediment to efficiently pump it out. However, the water can easily be pumped out once it reaches an aquifer because it saturates the sediment.
The largest aquifer in the continental United States is the Ogalalla Aquifer. It reaches from South Dakota all the way south to Texas. The Ogalalla Aquifer held approximately 3,250 million acre-feet of water in 1980. As a result of over-drafting (pumping out more water than re-enters), the Ogalalla Aquifer has been steadily draining. Consequently, it becomes more energy-intensive to pump out water as the levels drop, and can create other problems such as sinkholes. In some places, the water level in the Ogalalla Aquifer has dropped more than 100 feet. The annual drop in water level from 1980 to 1999 was 3.2 feet. Without implementing water conservation measures, only time will tell how long our natural water sources will last.
Brian O’Neill
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Conserving water while preparing food

Debatably one of the most water-intensive aspects of modern human life is that of food. Food takes massive amounts of water to produce; and even more to prepare for consumption. While the production of food is very water intensive, I am going to focus on the preparation (cooking) of food today.
Three of the most common categories of food preparation are cooking appliances, refrigeration systems, and sanitation systems. Cooking appliances are those used to cook food-such as steamers or other appliances. Refrigeration systems include freezers and refrigerators that use water to function, mainly ice machines. Lastly, sanitation systems are those used to clean cooking items as well as hand washing.
Cooking Appliances:
Steamers use immense amounts of water because of their functioning principles: they heat water until it turns into steam, and then harnesses the steam to cook foods. There are two types of steamers: “standard” steamers with large boilers to convert water into steam as well as connectionless steamers which use very little water to cook the same amount of food. Connectionless steamers are much more efficient that standard steamers because they are not connected to a water supply line. These connectionless food steamers require a portion of water to be added to a small tank before use, and then the unit effectively uses less water to create steam, and cook the same portions of food. These units are also more convenient because they can be moved anywhere-even if there is no plumbed water line.
Chinese ranges or Woks use water to cool the stove unit. As a result of the high heat output, these units must be cooled to prevent damage to themselves. Some units use water at rates as high as 5 to 6 gallons per minute. These units should be replaced with efficient models, or other technologies to significantly reduce the amount of water used.
Refrigeration systems:
The two most common types of refrigeration systems are water-cooled and air-cooled ice machines. Both units are available in energy-efficient models, but only air-cooled ice machines are water efficient. Water-cooled ice machines use water to transport heat away from the refrigeration unit’s inner components used to freeze water into ice; whereas air-cooled ice machines simply use air to complete the same task. Some water-cooled ice machines use as much as 100,000 gallons of water per year more than their air-cooled equivalents.
Sanitation systems:
Two most common sanitation systems are pre-rinse spray valves, and dishwashing units. Pre-rinse spray valves are small units attached to faucets or hoses that clean large particles off of plats and other kitchen components. Dishwashing units are those that automatically sanitize kitchen components such as plates and utensils. These both are available in “standard” and efficient models, but the most crucial thing to consider when sanitizing kitchenware is that you only use units when they are full. For example, it is extremely wasteful to wash one dish at a time. Instead, wait until you can fill the dishwasher with utensils and plates before running the unit.
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Brian O’Neill