Tulsa, 1921. You will hear about this all weekend if you haven’t already. Tulsa happened and we need to acknowledge that it did. It was not one of our finer moments. In fact just the opposite. Tulsa is what hate can bring. It is what demonizing other people can cause. In a short span of time over 300 innocent people died, hundreds injured, hundreds rounded up like cattle. Why? Because they were black and successful. This is why we should not tolerate hate speech. And why there should be consequences for same. Remember the past so we can avoid it in the future.
The concept of regulations is to address problems. All regulations are based on trying to correct a problem that has already occurred. We have rules that were developed to try to address contaminants in water, and rules designed to address a variety of potential threat to water supplies. In a blog over a year ago I asked the question, in light of the mess in West Virginia, why do we permit power companies to store coal ash next to streams? This is a huge potential health impact to water customers, as well as to the ecosystem that we rely on to protect water supplies in natural areas. A 20 year old Congressional Act did sorta prohibit the discharge of coal ash to streams from mining, but did not address storage where the accidents actually occur. So we have rules that didn’t remove the piles from the banks, and didn’t offer a solution to remove it which would have been the appropriate regulatory response. We should all be on the bandwagon that urges Congress to require power companies to properly dispose of this stuff, and to provide a means to do so.
However, in classic “Failure to Learn from the Past” mode, instead we get a directive in Washington to review the rollback of the stream rule that was developed to address a 20 year old lawsuit over stream protections and “waters of the US.” That revised stream rule got held up in 2015 by litigation (EPA Secretary Pruitt led one of those suits), and while the directive is not exactly allowing coal ash into streams as noted in the media, it does give you the sense that there will not be any effort to address this problem. That should concern water industry leaders.
Welcome to Kansas, the bastion of how not to run a state, but claim things are just dandy. I noted in a prior blog that Kansas has no reserves. And apparently a $350 million deficit in 2016, a continuing trend for a number of years now. And bigger deficits to come. Kansas is the poster child of why cutting taxes a lot does not work.
How did they get here? The state governor and legislature decided that cutting taxes spurs economic growth. So if you cut a lot of taxes, you get lots of growth. They cite the Laffer curve, a totally discredited economic tool drawn on the back of a napkin by Arthur Laffer at a 1974 dinner to argue why Gerald Ford should not raise taxes. On the face of it it makes no sense but that has not stopped supply side politicians from using it for nearly 40 years to cut taxes. The problem, it is wrong.
Cutting taxes does not spur enough economic growth to make up for the loss in taxes when you go down the Kansas role. If you s cut them too much, it is really hard to raise them if you run short. The result is that economic growth in most of Kansas will be stunted for years due to the lack of investment in Kansans. Now you would think that Kansans would be up in arms about the poor stewardship by elected officials. But no. See if you get constant bad news, just stop reporting revenues and deficits. No news is good news right? Welcome to Kansas!
This is an interesting article from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Should we be designing for climate change within our infrastructure systems? The obvious answer, and the one that the ASCE code of ethics suggests for engineers, is yes. If you live in a coastal area like me, and where sea level rise is your enemy, the solutions are somewhat clearer. But what if you are in one of those areas where the future is far less certain? How do you plan for uncertain, uncertainty? A new area to study and maybe find a means to address things by thinking outside the proverbial box?
The most important parameters regulating algal growth are nutrient quantity and quality, light, pH, turbulence, salinity and temperature. Light is the most limiting factor for algal growth, followed by nitrogen and phosphorus limitations, but other nutrients are required including carbon. Biomass is usually measured by the amount of chlorophyll a in the water column. Water temperature influences the metabolic and reproductive rates of algae. Most species grow best at a salinity that is slightly lower than that of their native habitat, The pH range for most cultured algal species is between 7 and 9, with the optimum range being 8.2-8.7. Through photosynthesis, algae produce oxygen in excess of respiratory requirements during daylight hours. Conversely, during low light or nighttime periods algae respire (consume) dissolved oxygen, sometimes depleting water column concentrations. Thus, high algae concentrations may lead to low dissolved oxygen concentrations.
A common solution for algae is copper sulfate. Copper Sulfate works to kill the algae, but when it dies, it settles to the bottom of the water body where it becomes a carbon source for bacteria and future algae. One will often see shallow ponds with rising algae. But there is significant concern about copper in coastal water bodies. Copper is toxic to marine organisms so USEPA and other regulatory bodies are considering the limits on copper use. Such a limitation would severely limit options in dealing with algal blooms near coastal waters.
Mixing is necessary to prevent sedimentation of the algae, to ensure that all cells of the population are equally exposed to the light and nutrients. So oxygenation can help (it also mixes the water. The depth of south Florida water bodies is problematic (shallow and therefore warmer than normal). But oxygen will help microorganisms on the bottom consume the carbon source on the bottom, which might slow algal growth. Analysis is ongoing.
Two other conditions work against controlling blue-green algae outbreaks: climate change and political/regulatory decision-making. Lake Okeechobee has routine algal blooms from the nutrients introduced from agriculture and runoff around the lake, which encouraged an artificial eutrophication of the lake years ago. It continues today. Warmer weather will encourage the algal blooms in the future. The decisions to discharge the water without treatment is a political one. From a regulatory perspective, algae is seen as a nuisance issue, not a public health or environmental issue. But algal blooms consume oxygen and kill fish, so the ecosystem impact is considerable – it is not a nuisance .
We have all seen the stories about land in the Everglades agricultural Area thissummer. I was asked to give a presentation at a national conference in Orlando recently about water management in Florida. It was a fun paper and most of the people there were not from Florida, so it was useful for them to understand the land of water. Florida has always been a land shaped by water. Initially it was too much, which frustrated federal soldiers trying to hunt down Native Americans in the 1830s. In 1881, real estate developer Hamilton Disston first tried to drain the swamps with canals. He was not successful, but Henry Flagler came through a decade later and constructed the east coast railroad in the 1890s. It is still there, 2 miles off the coast, on the high ground. However water limited development so in 1904, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward campaigned to drain the everglades. Broward’s efforts initiated the first land boom in Florida, although it was interrupted in the 1920s by hurricanes (1926 and 1928) that sloshed water out of Lake Okeechobee killing people and severely damaging property in Miami and around Lake Okeechobee. A dike was built (the Hover dike – it is still there). However, an extended drought occurred in the 1930s. With the dike preventing water from leaving Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades became parched. Peat turned to dust, and saltwater entered Miami’s wells. When the city brought in an expert to investigate, he found that the water in the Everglades was the recharge area for the Biscayne aquifer, the City’s water supply. Hence water from the lake needed to move south.
Resiliency has always been one of Florida’s best attributes. So while the hurricanes created a lot of damage, it was only a decade or two later before the boom returned. But in the late 1940s, additional hurricanes hit Florida, causing damage and flooding from Lake Okeechobee prompting Congress to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to build 1800 miles of canals, dozens of pump stations and other structures to drain the area south of Lake Okeechobee. It is truly one of the great wonders of the world – they drained half a state by lowering the groundwater table by gravity canals. To improve resiliency, between 1952 and 1954, the Corps, in cooperation with the state of Florida, built a levee 100 miles long between the eastern Everglades and the developing coastal area of southeast Florida to prevent the swamp from impacting the area primed for development.
As a part of the canal construction after 1940, 470,000 acres of the Everglades was set aside for farming on the south side of Lake Okeechobee and designated as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). However water is inconsistent, so there are ongoing flood/drought cycles in agriculture. Irrigation in the EAA is fed by a series of canals that are connected to larger ones through which water is pumped in or out depending on the needs of the sugar cane and vegetables, the predominant crops. Hence water is pumped out of the EAA, laden with nutrients. Backpumping to Lake Okeechobee and pumping the water conservation areas was a practice used to address the flooding problem.
There was an initial benefit to Lake Okeechobee receiving nutrients. Older folks will recall that in the 1980s , the lake was the prime place for catching lunker bass. That was because the lake was traditionally nutrient poor. That changed with the backpumping which stimulated the biosystem productivity. More production led to more biota and more large fish. This works as long as the system is in balance e- i.e. the nutrients need to be growth limiting at the lower end of the food chain. Otherwise the runaway nutrients overwhelm the natural production and eutrophication results. Lake Okeechobee is a runaway system – the algae now overwhelm the rest of the biota. Lunker bass have been gone for 20 years.
The backpumped water is usually low in oxygen and high in phosphorus and nitrogen, which triggers algal progressions, leading to toxic blue-green algae blooms and threaten lake drinking water supplies. Think Toledo. Prolonged back pumping can lead to dead zones in the lake, which currently exist. The nutrient cycle and algal growth is predictable.
The Hoover Dike is nearly 100 years old and while it sit on top of the land (19 ft according to the Army Corps of Engineers), there is concern about it being breached by sloshing or washouts. Undermining appears in places where the water moves out of the lake flooding nearby property. So the Corps tries to keep the water level below 15.5 ft. During the rainy season, or a rainy winter as in 2016, that can become difficult. If the lake is full, that nutrient laden water needs to go somewhere. The only options are the Caloosahatchee, St. Lucie River or the everglades. The Everglades is not the answer for untreated water – the upper Everglades has thousands of acres of cattails to testify to the problem with discharges to the Everglades. So the water gets discharged east and west via the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River.
The nutrient and algae laden water manifests as a green slime that washed onto Florida beaches in the Treasure coast and southwest Florida this summer, algae is actually a regular visitor to the coasts. Unfortunately memories often fail in temporal situations. The summer 2016 occurrence is reportedly the eighth since 2004, and the most severe since 2013. The green slime looks bad, can smell bad, kills fish and the 2016 bloom was so large it spread through estuaries on both coasts killing at least one manatee. One can see if from the air – try this link:
A couple summer’s back we had the Animas River turn yellow because of materials stored on the edge of the river. A couple years before that, coal ash and the Charleston spill. Now the “red” river (but at in Russia)….So maybe legislators can help us understand why continuing to store this stuff on the edge of water supplies is ok? Or why we shouldn’t put a bunch of money toward removing this material so water supplies and ecosystem are less at risk?
As you probably know, the continuing saga in Flint has two state regulatory folks and an operator with the City of Flint under indictment. Where that goes remains to be seen, but the Attorney General Bill Schuette felt something needed to be done. But are the right people under indictment? The charges are “tampering with evidence, and misconduct in public office,” but these are employees that few know or see and they were the ones dealing with the symptoms since they did not create the problem. That means the harder question still is not addressed – there are engineers, managers and local officials who agreed to the change in water source for financial reasons, not public health reasons that precipitated this tragedy. Where is that responsibility since all indications are that the change in water sources created a situation that could not be managed easily? The question that those in Flint are likely is asking is whether the local officials going to skate on this? It is worth asking because these incidents occur every few years, and the reasons are similar – a decision gets made for financial reasons by public officials, a problem happens, and there is a series of events that is uncovered that precipitates the concern. The utility or City gets sued, but that simply means that the public (you and your neighbors) pay (and in Flint everyone was impacted, who do you collect from?). The local officials are rarely challenged about these decisions and often accountability is lacking. So the question is: is the Attorney General done, or are there bigger fish to fry in Flint? And who are those fish? Mayor? Council? Managers? Consultants? Legislators who cut regulatory funding?
Florida Atlantic University is hosting the first Arctic-Florida Symposium next week (May 3-5). This is a big event and should prove interesting I will be speaking. The idea is to evaluate the arctic and Florida and open some dialogue. Florida and Alaska would seem to be opposites when it comes to many things. Alaska is cold; Florida is the land of eternal summer. Alaska has snow and blizzards; Florida has tropical storms with pounding rain. Sea Level rise is a critical concern to much of Florida’s coast, but much of Alaska’s coast is mountains. Temperatures affect the permafrost in Alaska, but heat is not new in Florida, where permafrost has not existed in millions of years, if ever. So how are these two states, located over 5000 miles apart, similar? That was the question posed before the Arctic-Florida conference in 2016. The result was that Alaska and Florida share many commonalities, and there is much to learn from each other. For example, population migration is at hand in Alaska. It is in Florida’s future. Likewise diseases have impacted at risk areas in Alaska, portending a potential future condition for southeast Florida. Adaptation strategies are underway in Florida, which can help in Alaska. Roads, water supplies, water storage, wastewater and storm water are all issues that pose challenges to both states, so there are answers in infrastructure adaptation strategies. Many common problems can be solved by sharing information. The Florida–Alaska connection is an example of looking outside the box to find ideas that can be useful to those deemed to be far different. More to come on this….
Curtailed water use and conservation are common topics of conversation in areas with water supplies limitations. As drought conditions worsen, the need for action increases, so when creating a regulatory framework, or when trying to measure water use efficiency, water supply managers often look for easily applied metrics to determine where water use can be curtailed. Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all mentality comes with a potential price of failing to fully grasp the consequences decision-making based on such metrics.
One of the issues that water supply regulator like to use is per capita water use. Per capital water use is often used to show where there is “wasted” water use, such as excessive irrigation. However such a metric may not be truly applicable depending on other economic factors, and may even penalize successful communities with diverse economic bases. A heavy industrial area or dense downtown commercial center may add to apparent per capita use, but is actually the result of vibrant economic activity. Large employment centers tend to have higher per capital use than their neighbors as a result of attracting employees to downtown, which are not included in the population.
In south Florida, a recent project I was involved with with one of my students showed that while there was significant variability among utilities, but the general trend of increased economic activity was related to increased per capita use. Among the significant actors were health care, retail trade, food service and scientific and technical services. It appears to be these sectors that drive water use upward. As a result when evaluating the efficiency of a utility, an analysis should be conducted on the economic sectors to insure that water regulations do not stifle economic growth and jobs in a community. And conversely if you do not have these sectors, you water use should be lower. Something to think about when projecting or regulating water use. Limited water use may in fact be limiting economic activity in the area. Of course if you are water limited, limited new withdrawals may be perfectly acceptable if you want to encourage other options, like direct or indirect potable reuse, irrigation, etc.
It would be interesting to expand this study across the country to see what the national trends look like and how different tourism oriented South Florida might actually be.