Tag Archives: nature

Let’s start with the basic premise of this conversation – fracking is here to stay!  It doesn’t matter how many petitions you get in the mail, fracking is going to continue because the potential for gas production from fracking and the potential to fundamentally change our energy future, near or long-term, far outweighs the risk or economic and security disruptions from abandoning fracking efforts.  It looks like there is a lot of trapped gas, even if the well exponentially decay production in the first three years, although many well can be recovered by refracking.  It is an issue that residents and utilities need to accept.  The question is really how to assess the risks to water supplies from fracking and what is what can we do about it?

There are a number of immediate regulatory issues that should be pursued, none of which Vikram Rao (2010) suggests are truly deal killers.  They start with the disclosure of the fracking fluids, which for most legitimate companies that are fracking are relatively benign (and do not include diesel fuel).  Baseline and ongoing monitoring of formations above the extraction zones, and especially in water production zones is needed.  Research on water quality treatment solutions is needed because t may be impossible to completely eliminate escaping gas is needed.  Requirements to improve and verify well construction and cementing of formation is needed in all states (they are not now) and recycling frack water and brine should be pursued to avoid impacts on streams and wastewater plants, which limits the loss of water due to fracking operation and the potential for contamination of surface water bodies.  It will be important to push for these types of regulations in states like Ohio and West Virginia that need jobs and are likely places for fracking to occur, but they are also likely places where there will be political pushback that is afraid of discouraging job investments, but in reality this is unfounded.  The gas is there, so the fracking will follow. The question is will the states implement needed regulations to protect the public.

More interesting will be the ancillary issues associated with gas and wet gas.  A lot of by products come from wet gas, like polyethylene which can be used as stock for a host of plastics.  “Crakers” are chemical processing plants that are needed to separate the methane and other products.  Where will those facilities be located, is an issue.  Right now they are on the Gulf coast, which does not help the Midwest.  Do we really need to ship the gas to Louisiana for processing or do we locate facilities where the gas and byproducts are needed (in the Midwest)?  The Midwest is a prime candidate for cracker location, which will create both jobs as well as potential exports.  Also stripping the gas impurities like ethane, DEM and others needs to occur.

So what do utilities need to look at the potential impacts on their water supplies and monitor.  If the states will not make the fracking industry do it, we need to.  Finding a problem from fracking after the fact is not helpful.  We need to look at potential competition for water supplies, which is in part why recycling frack water brine is needed.  Eliminating highly salty brine from going to a treatment plant or a water supply are imperatives.  Sharing solutions to help treat some of these wastes may be useful – something we can help the industry with is treating water.

We also need to look at the processing plants.  We need to be looking at the impact of these facilities in light of water and sewer demands (and limitations). Wet gas facilities will require water as will plastics and chemical plants. Historically a lot of these facilities were in the Midwest and the research and skill sets may still be present.  How can these industries can be merged into current water/sewer scenarios without adverse impacts.  Communities will compete for these facilities, but good decisions may dictate that vying is not the best way to locate a plant. 

But there is another impact to utilities and that affects green technologies. The cost of gas is low and looks like it will remain low in the near future.  Low gas prices mean that renewable solutions like solar and wind will be less attractive, especially if federal subsidies disappear.  Wind is the largest addition to the power generation profile in the last 5 years, while many oil facilities changed to gas.  Cheap gas may frustrate efforts to create distributed power options at water and wastewater treatment plants throughout the country which can directly benefit utilities, not just where fracking occurs. So we need to be cognizant of these cost issues as well.  And you thought the fracking discussion might not affect you….


The world population is expected to grow to over 9 billion by 2050, an exponential trend that has continued for several hundred years and see no end it site.  Megaregions as people flock to cities and industry will be commonplace.  The question is how will water supplies be impacted, or impact this trend.  Interestingly it varies everywhere.  For example, China and India are not expected to reap major benefits from climate changes, so their economies will grow as will populations.  They continue to construct coal fired power plants, and impact carbon dioxide and pollution levels, which does not help the climate issues.   Recall that Beijing was basically shut down for several days recent due to smog – seems like I recall the first air pollution regulations stemming from Henry the VIII decision to move the coal plants out of London during his reign 500 years ago because of pollution, but perhaps we need to relearn history J.  Of course China and India are expected to be less affected than the more historically developed countries in the northern latitudes that have been moving to renewable and less impactful power solutions with good reason.  Aside from these two economies, the rest of the northern latitudes are likely to see changes in temperature, variation in precipitation patterns and drought frequency changes.  That has major impacts for a billion people who will see water supply shortages occur much more often, and create a whole host of “winners” and “losers” in the water supply category.  Conflicts may result from the need to change increase water supplies as desperation kicks in.  Lawrence Smith, in his book 2050, suggests that while the far northern countries, the US, Russia, the Scandanavian countries, and Canada may see more land for agriculture and more water (at least in some areas), those warmer countries in the sub-Sahara, will become more desperate and dangerous to the world order.  Water will be the new oil, and the tipping point for sustainability, akin to peak oil, needs to be developed.  The cost will be significant, but the failure will be catastrophic to global economies.  This is part of why the global pursuit of renewable power, local solutions and green jobs.  It is why the definition of sustainable water supplies continues to evolve as we understand that the impacts, or the constraints of water supplies is far more reaching than most engineers and planners have traditionally dealt with.  AWWA published a Sustainable Water CD several years ago.  It was a series of papers of different aspects of sustainability as applied to water resources.  The last paper summarized the findings and compared it to the initial paper discussion.  The conclusion was the concept is evolving.  Climate, power, agriculture, natural systems, local economies, local economic contributions to regional and national economies and politics all impact pure science recommendations for water supply allocation.  The question is can we overcome the politics to create a optimized science solution to sustain water supplies and economies.  An old Native American proverb comes to mind:  We do not inherit the Earth from our grandparents, we borrow it from our grandchildren.

In our prior blog discussions the theme has been leadership.  Vision is needed from leaders.  In the water industry that vision has to do with sustainability in light of competing interests for water supplies, completion for funds, maintaining infrastructure and communicating the importance of water to customers.  The need to fully to optimize management of water resources has been identified.  The argument goes like this.  Changes to the terrestrial surface decrease available recharge to groundwater and increase runoff.  Urbanization increases runoff due to imperviousness from buildings, parking lots, and roads and highways that replace forest or grassland cover, leading to runoff at a faster rate (flooding) and the inability to capture the water as easily.  In rural areas, increased evapotranspiration (ET) is observed in areas with large-scale irrigation, which lowers runoff and alters regional precipitation patterns. At the same time there are four competing sectors for water:  agriculture (40% in the US), power (39% in the US), urban uses (12.7%) and other.  Note the ecosystem is not considered.

New water supplies often have lesser quality than existing supplies, simply because users try to pick the best water that minimizes treatment requirements. But where water supplies and/or water quality is limited, energy demands rise, often to treat that water as well as serve new customers. For many non-industrial communities, the local water and wastewater treatment facilities are among the largest power users in a community.  Confounding the situation is trying to site communities where there is not water because the power industry needs water and the residents will need water.  It is a viscous cycle.  When you have limited water supplies, that means your development should be limited.  Your population and commercial growth cannot exceed the carrying capacity of the water supply, or eventually, you will run out.  Drawing water from more distant place can work for a time, but what is the long-term impact.  Remember the Colorado River no longer meets the ocean.  Likewise the Rio Grande is a trickle when it hits the Gulf of Mexico  As engineers, we can be pretty creative in coming up with ways to transfer water, but few ask if it is a good idea.

Likewise we can come up with solutions to treat water that otherwise could not be drunk, but, that may not always be the best of ideas. Adding to the challenge is that planning by drinking water, wastewater, and electric utilities occurs separately and is not integrated. Both sectors need to manage supplies for changes in demands throughout the year, but because they are planned for and managed separately, their production and use are often at the expense of the natural environment.  Conflicts will inevitably occur because separate planning occurs (for a multitude of reasons, including tradition, regulatory limitations, ease, location, limited organizational resources, governance structure, and mandated requirements). However, as demands for limited water resources continue to grow in places that are water limited, and as pressures on financial resources increase, there are benefits and synergies that can be realized from integrated planning for both water and electric utilities and for their respective stakeholders and communities. The link between energy and water is important – water efficiency can provide a large savings for consumers and the utility.   As a result, there is a need to move toward long-term, integrated processes, in which these resources are recognized as all being interconnected .  Only then can the challenges to fully to optimize management of water resources for all purposes be identified.

Anybody have any good examples out there?

I had an interesting email exchange with a guy in north Florida who was trying to educate the Legislature on why planners are always wrong with their projections and their studies should be ignored as a result.  His specific issue was water supply, but it could have been any number of issues.  His argument was that the projections for water use made in 1976 were incorrect and in fact total water demands in the State had been basically flat over that period.  He’d be unhappy to know that Florida mimics the rest of the country.

Ok, I admit that in addition to being an engineer, I have a minor in planning and a degree in public administration.  I attempted to communicate with him about the purpose of planning, not that it helped.  Planners outline projections of what things will likely be IF not changes are made.  The reason is to prompt policy or behavioral changes prior to reaching critical tipping points.  The argument in 1976 was that Florida would run out of cheap water if current trends continued.  In the intervening years, there have been major efforts toward water conservation, low flow bathroom fixture and major changes to irrigation practices.  All of which made the water picture far better than the 1976 projection.  See the planners were not wrong – the projections indicated the problem if nothing was done, and acted in part as a catalyst for change.  This is what planners dealing with water supply needs, sea level rise and a host of other planning issues are supposed to do.  If we understand what the potential problems are, maybe we can take action to avoid tipping points.  This is not to say all projections are perfect or even correct, but the idea is to avoid reaching a point of no return.  Isn’t that what smart people should do?  Apparently not to the guy on the other end of the email.  Happy Halloween.  Er, no this was just scary because it was real!!


I recently spent time in Denali National Park and surrounding area.  60 in the day, 45 at night, and this time of year, rain.  Lots of rain.  Denali creates its own weather, so precipitation and clouds are common for much of the year.  But it was not all the water in the Denali area that interested me as much as some local discussions about methane release from the permafrost.  I was told that many of the native populations rely on storage below ground in the permafrost to freeze winter provisions.  But a curious thing has occurred in recent years – some of the provisions spoiled.  It seems the permafrost relied upon for generations as a natural freezer is no longer permanent in some areas and the soil, frozen for generations, is now suddenly soggy.  Once unfrozen, the soil appears to release copious amounts of methane that has been trapped for years (no smoking on the tunda!).  The issue is further complicated by the fact that some of the methane could potentially get into surface water supplies and without power, and with limited funds, the treatment becomes far more difficult.

2012-07-28 conversion-of-climate-change-skeptic  from the New York Times

July 28, 2012
The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic
Berkeley, Calif.
CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the
very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global
warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost
entirely the cause.
My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature
project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two
and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years.
Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.
These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the
scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming. In its 2007 report, the I.P.C.C. concluded only that most of the warming of the
prior 50 years could be attributed to humans. It was possible, according to the I.P.C.C. consensus statement, that the warming before
1956 could be because of changes in solar activity, and that even a substantial part of the more recent warming could be natural.
Our Berkeley Earth approach used sophisticated statistical methods developed largely by our lead scientist, Robert Rohde, which
allowed us to determine earth land temperature much further back in time. We carefully studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from
urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the
available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor
ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off). In our papers we
demonstrate that none of these potentially troublesome effects unduly biased our conclusions.
The historic temperature pattern we observed has abrupt dips that match the emissions of known explosive volcanic eruptions; the
particulates from such events reflect sunlight, make for beautiful sunsets and cool the earth’s surface for a few years. There are small,
rapid variations attributable to El Niño and other ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream; because of such oscillations, the “flattening”
of the recent temperature rise that some people claim is not, in our view, statistically significant. What has caused the gradual but
systematic rise of two and a half degrees? We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar
activity and even to rising functions like world population. By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide,
measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.
Just as important, our record is long enough that we could search for the fingerprint of solar variability, based on the historical record of
sunspots. That fingerprint is absent. Although the I.P.C.C. allowed for the possibility that variations in sunlight could have ended the
“Little Ice Age,” a period of cooling from the 14th century to about 1850, our data argues strongly that the temperature rise of the past
250 years cannot be attributed to solar changes. This conclusion is, in retrospect, not too surprising; we’ve learned from satellite
measurements that solar activity changes the brightness of the sun very little.
How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude
is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and
they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least
as well as carbon dioxide does. Adding methane, a second greenhouse gas, to our analysis doesn’t change the results. Moreover, our
analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden
assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed
temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.
It’s a scientist’s duty to be properly skeptical. I still find that much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative,
exaggerated or just plain wrong. I’ve analyzed some of the most alarmist claims, and my skepticism about them hasn’t changed.
Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down,
not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by
2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or
“Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent
warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is
weaker than tenuous.
The careful analysis by our team is laid out in five scientific papers now online at That site also shows our chart of
temperature from 1753 to the present, with its clear fingerprint of volcanoes and carbon dioxide, but containing no component that
matches solar activity. Four of our papers have undergone extensive scrutiny by the scientific community, and the newest, a paper with
the analysis of the human component, is now posted, along with the data and computer programs used. Such transparency is the heart
of the scientific method; if you find our conclusions implausible, tell us of any errors of data or analysis.
What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to
proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China
continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds
one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.
Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions
that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global
warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and
should be done.
Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former MacArthur Foundation fellow, is the
author, most recently, of “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.”

In the prior blog, the theme of It’s All One Water was discussed.  Our industry has operated with the concept that potable water, wastewater, storm water, runoff, navigable waters, etc are distinct from one another and are somehow different, creating a silo effect. The silo effect obfuscates the current program of drawing water from rivers, streams and lakes, and discharging our wastes to those same rivers, streams and lakes, downstream of our withdrawal point of course.  Our local perceptions generally to not allow us to acknowledge that our uses affect other users, one reason that conflicts occur in water basins.  Instead the focus is “unfunded mandates” from political circles, whereby utilities are required to meet increasing standards for water, wastewater and storm water treatment.  Much of the regulatory focus is on utilities because they are perceived to have deep pockets due to the populations they serve.  If everyone pays a little, then it won’t hurt is much is the philosophy.  But the reality is that treatment of dilute source waters is often made more difficult as a result of upstream releases.  It is easier to treat water before it gets released.  The solution to pollution is apparently not dilution.  So who should treating these waters?

Perhaps the question is better framed a different way.  The concept in the legislation is to have polluters pay the cost for their pollutions, but reality is that the urban users pay the bulk of the costs.  Agriculture may create a downstream impact of nutrients, pesticides and herbicides, but controlling runoff is a difficult issue, especially if there are heavy rains just after application of chemicals.  It is unclear how you cool water for cooling without extensive energy costs, which would increase energy demands further.  And of course rainfall creates runoff as a contribution form the natural system (mostly in the form of turbidity).  There is nothing much that utilities can do to control these issues aside from acquiring large tracts of land to control the source.  But that does not solve the regulatory needs.

So the responsibility for public health falls on us.  As we evaluate regulations, we need to think about responsibility and cause (not costs).  The public health issues is much clearer with wastewater plants, where discharge of wastewater could impact both aquatic species and downstream water users.   In this case, there are no unfunded mandates – it is local responsibility to insure that the public health is protected near and farfield.

With water plants, well it all depends on the raw water.  So cleaner upstream water and less adverse users are better, but most utilities don’t fully control their source basins.  So then the key is whether the regulatory mandates meet the public health tests, which may depend on who you ask.  Ask this question to women with kids:  How much arsenic in your water is ok?  You rarely get any answer other than “none.”  Why?  The public health perception.  Cost is rarely the issue, but public health always is a concern.  The public expects their utility to do what is needed to clean up the water and places that responsibility on us.  Hence there are no real unfunded mandates, although that sounds great to deflect the need for rate increases to other agencies.

So then the question is whether all this discussion of unfounded mandates is an abdication of our public health responsibility.  The perception might be reality.  If your customers think that meeting regulations or treatment upgrades are being forced on you by others, does that create the question “Is the utility is really putting public health first?”  Does it beg the question  “why isn’t our utility already doing this?”  While every region will be different, how your customers may view your responsibilities is good question to ponder….


It’s All One Water was the byline when this blog was announced.  As noted the point of the blog is to discuss water industry issues with the hope of developing new ways to approach industry problems as time develops.  Our industry has operated with the concept that potable water, wastewater, storm water, runoff, navigable waters, etc are distinct from one another and are somehow different.  Most utilities have separate departments, let’s call the silos, that separate these different waters.  One of the issues that arises when the silos are in place, is that within larger organizations is the all-to-common perception that “never should these different waters touch,” that they should always be kept separate.  From a public health perspective that has worked for the industry relatively well, to the point that over any given 25 year period, the number of waterborne disease outbreaks has been relatively consistent since 1950 (640 or so affecting 150,000 people, with the 1993 Milwaukee incident being the outlier).

But does this work from a water quantity perspective?  For many parts of theUSandCanada, water quantity is the big driver, or limitation of growth and development.  Throughout history, civilizations grew where sufficient quantities of healthful water could be secured, and the “dirty” water removed.  This cut disease outbreaks and allows people to be more productive (in part because they can work more).  The same holds today, although the advances in technology have allowed us to develop far more water sources than our ancestors.  We can mine water from deep aquifers in the desert and treat ocean water for drinking purposes for example.

So we have aquifer systems that are being “managed” to produce water for 50 or 100 years in the west (the aquifers are used because surface waters are either limited or unreliable), with limited consideration of what happens when the system is fully managed to depletion.  Where will the new supplies come from and how much time, effort and expense will be used to develop new sources?  There is an assumption that we can drill deeper, but that is not an option for many locales, according to USGS.  Their Circular 1323 paints a painful picture that groundwater is simply not sustainable.  So when the water runs dry, what is the local impact of the economy?  Industry?  Population?  Many of these water stressed areas are hubs for intense agricultural cultivation.  Without water…well, there simply is no answer for this problem as yet in too many places that are currently water limited.

The reality is that as we try to improve the sustainability of our water systems, new sources must be developed.  The costs for new water supplies is significant, so looking forward, the recapture of water sources that otherwise may be released, assuming there is not a regulatory requirement for return flows, provides utilities with opportunities to expand the size of the water “pie.”  Instead of relying only on the water sources, diversification to the “other” water sources permits increased self reliance and control.  This was one of the concepts of the integrated water resources planning activities in vogue by the American Water Works Association starting in the mid 1990s.

Aquifer recharge, stream augmentation, and storage projects will become more prevalent in the future.  Those who pursue these options early are likely to position themselves for longer term, sustainable development. Orange County,CAhas been using alternative technologies to capture and use waters of impaired quality like wastewater and storm water, for treatment and replenishment of the local aquifers, given new life to depleted systems.  The ability ofOrangeCountyleaders to demonstrate to the public the safety of recharge, the reliability of treatment and the long term benefits/sustainability of their aquifer recharge project has armored the areas water supply.  They have drawn down the silos.

Compare to southeastFlorida. Southeast Floridagets 60 inches per year of rainfall, 70% in the summer. The area is flat, has high evaporation rates, saltwater intrusion caused by drainage canals, $3.7 trillion in property values, a $300 billion/year economy and 5.5 million people.  Water supply would not appear to be a problem, but the drainage system moves over 25% of the precipitation to tides.  And the water is well siloed.  The silo effect limits our ability to persuade the public of the benefits of, or need for, ideas like wastewater for irrigation of lawns, wastewater treatment to potable standards for drinking, and the capture of dewatering activities for raw water supplies in many areas.Southeast Floridahas investigated used for reclaimed water for irrigation and targeted potable reuse, but both meet resistance form communities who object to the “yuck” factor.  Future impacts of sea level rise, will require storm water utilities to pump groundwater 24/7, but despite no permits in place for the discharge, and no obvious outlets, the use of these wellpoint systems as a potable source has yet to be considered. Southeast Florida’s long-term issue is too much water.  But at least there is money to be spent.

Compare to the Plains states and the west.  Limited water.  Limited precipitation.  Flat land.  Ground water with limited recharge. Limited population so reuse options are limited.  Agriculture uses the vast majority of water.  And when it runs out?  The need for reservoirs, runoff capture and treatment, revised agriculture practices, and more are costly considerations that agriculture is unlikely to afford, and impact downstream utilities.  The need to develop ideas to expand the water supply “pie” are needed.

Water supplies are storm water runoff and wastewater discharges.  Wastewater is used potable water from the built environment and groundwater infiltration.  Storm water washes the land, often carrying pollutants with it.  Agriculture uses the water for irrigation, but precipitation carries nutrients, fertilizers and animal husbandry wastes offsite.  Power heats the water.  And throughout, the natural environment relies on specific timing, quantity and quality parameters to provide natural resources and economic stimuli.  The key is how to manage these water options form a holistic perspective to meet the needs of all users, while insuring that current activities do not limit the future.  It’s all one water.


It’s all one water!

Welcome to the new Blog for water, sewer and other infrastructure managers.  The goal of this blog is to raise topics relevant to infrastructure professionals and offer advice on where people can find solutions to their issues.  Water and sewer folks are our primary target, but they are by no means the only target.   My goal will be to blog useful, topical management issues.  The full blog will be operational Memorial Day.  We will also be looking for commentary from folks in a variety of fields.  The key to innovation is learning from others, but we will also looking at the long-term vision of where organizations should go. Let’s get started!

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