Monthly Archives: June 2021

My yard is a certified NWF nature areas – I have lots of butterfly plants to encourage them to come for the flowers and endlessly eat the milkweed and other plants.  We spend hundreds each year feeding caterpillars to get butterflies, which he hope avoid the lizards. Its ok.  I have ospreys, sparrow hawks, red shouldered hawks and a variety oof cool birds that frequent the lot.  Ospreys eat fish, but the other two will eat small rodents.  I am cool with that.  I have not seen the owls, but I think I have heard them.  Night-time rodent removal. 

My land in Colorado, Wyoming and Michigan are just open – no one there.  Nothing happens.  Let nature do its thing.  And that is ok.  I could lease those lands for windmills, oil and gas, but money isn’t everything.  Let it lay. Feel free coyotes.  Ultimately nature will balance itself   Huge change occurred in Yellowstone after the wolves were introduced.  Hawks, eagles, beaver sand other wildlife that have been lost for nearly 100 years returned.  La because the wolves do not let the elks eat everything in sight near the streams (they are like cows that way).

Protecting public lands is actually a benefit on other ways. It helps property values, lowers transportation costs, protects drinking water sources.  Protected lands have huge value for tourism.  Think about Zion National park – nearly 4 million people go there like I did in May.  They stay 2 days – that is probably 3 to 4 million hotel nights, 8-10 million meals, and incidental shopping when they show up with the wrong equipment or need a souvenir.  The economic engine of Zion in the middle of the desert is huge.  We often forget the economic value of tourists. 

Working with tribal nations, ranchers, and farmers to protect lands will benefit us long-term. It helps our water supplies.   The Great Outdoors Act passed in August 2000 added $9.5 billion over 5 years to address the backlog of maintenance in our national parks.  That is a huge start – thank you Congress.  But more is needed.

It has been over 50 years since the Cuyahoga river burned for the last time in 1969.  The early 1970s saw a wave of environmental protection designed to avoid this kind of thing form happening in the future.  The Cuyahoga has fish in it today.  Bald eagles and wolves are more common.  Drinking water is more reliable, our air is better and our rivers and lakes are cleaner.  That is progress.  But challenges still exist.

For reasons I still do not understand, the best place to store coal ash is next to rivers.  What can possibly go wrong (every 4 years it seems).  North Carolina is the only state I am aware of to address the problem and more this stuff.  But this is a huge water quality liability.  Ask the folks in West Virginia.  Mining has the same issue.  EPA cleaned up Leadville in the early 2000s before it contaminated the Arkansas and Rio Grande Rivers.  Yet we keep seeing new mines proposed alone rivers.  We learned mothering from the Animis River incident in 2015?

Animis River spill

Wild places are good for us. They provide clean air and clean water.  They provide a place for wildlife to be wild as opposed to in your attic.  The less the impact them the better those systems are.  It is why there is so much fighting over roads in Utah – the Mining Act of 11866 (yes you read that right), granted rights of way across public lands to encourage homesteading.  Problem is on deserts, those trails are still there (from 1 wagon).  That is not a road.  Opening these would bring a host of challenges – bikers, ATVs, trucks etc. that would impact those desert systems. 

Oh, but the Biden infrastructure plan does have money to maybe address some of this….  Let’s see if t makes it through Congress.  We all would benefit!

Discharges into surface waters is one of the oldest methods of disposing of waste because surface waters remove the waste from the point of generation.  Downstream, reduction of the waste occurs due to dilution and natural degradation processes (due to bacteria in the water).  Failure to treat adequately will overload the natural attenuation ability of the water body, resulting in noticeable pollution. 

Other potential environmental impacts of surface discharge arise from the precipitation of metals and other heavy compounds on the bottom of the receiving water body, downstream of discharge.  Heavy metal accumulation among benthic populations and the possible recycling of these metals through the food chain is a subject of current research.  Industrial processes like mining are notorious for leaching metals.  Old mining areas that have not been active for nearly 100 years are still out there, releasing bright red to the environment.  That cannot be good right?

Historical records indicate that the regulations or standards required for water systems were generally not applied until late in the 19th century.  Up until that point, the basic philosophy was that water should be free of any organisms that cause disease and high quantities of minerals and such other substances that could produce adverse physiological impacts.  Even the ancient civilizations realized that certain waters were healthful while others were not, the latter being water that contained some unseen contaminant that caused death or disease.   With the realization that numerous epidemics, typically typhoid and cholera, were caused by water-borne diseases, people came to realize that the quality of drinking water could not be discerned simply by looking at it, tasting it or smelling it.  As a result, more stringent quality criteria were required to protect the public health.

The first formal set of standards was adopted in 1914.  It focused on limitations on the number of fecal coliforms (chosen as an indicator microorganism), that were permissible within water system.  The initial federal public health rule required that fecal coliform counts be below 2 per 100 milliliters.  By the 1920s, chlorination had become routine in many water systems because of its ability to eliminate water-borne diseases.  1925 saw a reduction in the limit of coliforms to one per milliliter due to increasing use of chlorine and the ease with which most large utility systems were able to meet regulations

In the 1940’s, metallic contamination, primarily in the form of lead and chromium, were identified as creating problems with brain development in children.  In 1942, a federal advisory committee presented a series of drinking water regulations that established the number of water samples to be taken each month, the procedures for examining those samples, the maximum permissible concentrations for lead, fluoride, arsenic and selenium (as well as heavy metals that had deleterious physiological effects) that became the primary drinking water standards.  In 1946, a minor addition added hexavalent chromium and several other metals to the drinking water standards. 

While the 1942 standards were primarily oriented toward lead paint, the fact that lead and chromium were in water supplies demanded that these issues be addressed.  As of the early 1960’s, over 19,000 water systems had been identified.  The public Health Service found that only 60 percent of the systems surveyed met all drinking water standards and that small systems had the most deficiencies (EPA, 2009a).  The public was becoming aware of the chemical and industrial wastes that were polluting many of the surficial water sources for the systems.  In addition, concerns about radioactive pollutants arose. 

In 1962, maximum concentrations for a series of substances such as cyanide, nitrate, silver and some language on radioactivity were added to the regulations. The 1962 the U.S. Public Health Service standards set the stage for the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.  But first it was starting the cleanup of surface water – fires on the Cuyahoga River seem crazy, but I have photos.  The clean water act was passed first because surface waters are the source of many drinking water systems.  Clean up the source waters – less treatment might be required. 

As late as 1974, the major cause of polluted rivers and streams was wastewater/industrial pollution.  Utilities and the federal and state governments have invested over $250 billion in the past 40 years to address this issue, and aside from certain nutrients, the effort that been successful.  That was the focus of the clean water act, but it was not the only focus.  Agriculture and stormwater were both issues that were identified in the law as pollution but not prioritized.  Stormwater came next, but as the Mississippi river delta has demonstrates, farm runoff is a major source of nutrient pollution in America’s waterways, way more than wastewater today.  The challenge however is while utilities had a pipe that could easily be sample and regulated, pipes are not typical for farms.  Instead, overland flow, or non-point discharges are the norm. 

The problem is which to address first (in the face of a fierce lobby to do nothing).  Keep in mind, the Milwaukee and Walkerton incidents that we talk about were both agriculture driven. Agriculture can be split into two arena – crops and animal operations.  Cropland floods and contaminates waterways.  The large scale challenge must be dealt with by creating and enforcing a means to capture water quality, and limit water quantity from farm fields.  That is a tall order, but with large scale agribusiness operations, should be obtainable aside from the heavy lobbying resistance that would occur in Congress.

The animal operations are actually easier, but will encounter the same lobbyist resistance.  Many animal operations have centralized areas where manure and runoff are treated.  This is not unlike wastewater treatment operations except the budgets are smaller and the waste concentrations are much higher.  However, there is value in that manure.  Gas, biosolids and nutrients are recoverable from animal operations, assuming there was a means to pay for the cost.  Enter subsidies.  If Congress wants to provide agri-business subsidies, a quid pro quo could be to require animal operations to secure a means via a wastewater operation to treat the waste.  The solution is not cheap but would achieve two goal at once -improved stream quality and renewable power. 

Just a thought….

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