Thirst for Clean Drinking Water…. Charles Fishman

Great fact-packed NPR interview of Charles Fishman, author of “The Big Thrust.” Below are some of the fun facts that opened the interview that caught my eye

  • Launch space shuttle: water on the take off platform absorbs sound so that the sound does not rip apart the space shuttle.
  • Microwave oven spins water molecules to about a billion per second to heat food (why microwave pizzas are soggy)
  • Power plants use five times as much water as all residents. The electricity used in homes is about 250 gallons per day while  individual water consumption is only 99 gallons a day. Roughly 10 gallons of water per 1 hour of coal-based energy. 1/6 liters of water goes to leakage
Sin City Case Study:
Patricia Mulroy took control of Las Vegas water usage after having to see that its main source of water was from Lake Mead, is restricted by federal law to extract 300,000 acre-feet of water (lowering Lake Meade by 2-3 feet). Therefore she attempted to change the culture of the inhabitants in Las Vegas by) replacing lawns with zero-scape, making it illegal to let your sprinkler spray on a sidewalk and made it illegal to drain your swimming pool or hot tub into a storm drain. Las Vegas will even pay you $40,000 an acre to remove your lawn (depending on scale). Incentivizing zero-scape (desert landscaping use little to know the water. As a result, Las Vegas has been able to recapture almost all of its water (94% water recycling returning water back to Lake Meade). Las Vegas uses the same amount of water today as it did in 2000 despite a 50% increase in size. The golf course now have water budgets (600 million gallon and decreased by 50%) but still each whole of golf with the new regulations requires 139 gallons of water in Las Vegas.
Turning Point:
Similar quantities of money are spent on bottled (questionable) water ($21 billion annually) as is on maintaining water systems ($29 billion annually). Orlando Florida (Orange County) 25 years ago implemented a grey water system (purple pipe system) for lawn watering, athletic fields, and construction sites. The City has grown by two percent, and the water consumption of water has not had to increase water use. 
Changing Company Mindsets:
IBM now uses water efficiency as a business tool. Ultra pure water uses a tremendous amount of water (12 steps of filtration past desalination) 2 million gallons of ultra-pure water is used per day in an IBM computer chip plant. Reconstructed their water usage in their plants and over ten years they reduced water consumption by a third but in that same period they increased chip production by a third. “The Big Thrust” is on my “to do” list just to see what other solutions and situations Charles Fishman has come across in his research on water. 

EcoTrip: Cell Phones Impact on the Environment

Sundance Channel’s new television series Eco Trip released a new episode on the Cellphone industries impact on the environment, and it was extremely frightening. Shelia Davis, an expert at Silicone Valley Toxic Coalition, shows how the semiconductor and chip resistors business, as well as underground storage of chemicals, impacts the environment through L.U.S.T. (Leaking Underground Storage Tanks). LUST contaminates not only the site in which these products are developed but the soils beneath them and the water that runs through them. Most of these industries shut down facilities and dismantle the buildings so that other development can move in, little did we know that these locations are Superfund sites. A Superfund site is where these LUST events occur, and there has been clear documentation of the contamination and little to know clean up. The EPA now must take over the clean up of theses sites and rank the site for its impact on water contamination and soil degradation. Many neighborhoods have these contaminated sites, homes, markets, schools, and small businesses are typically exposed. The indicator that the EPA takes into consideration increase in birth defects in comparison to regional standards.

The waste part of cellphones were some of the most shocking information because cell phones (toxic waste) are either incinerated or put in a landfill. These chemicals impact the groundwater beneath these waste sites with 50 different chemicals, and according to EPA they qualify as hazardous waste yet four out of five cell phones end up in waste sites. Cadmium, copper, beryllium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and brominated flame retardants in the cell phones have extreme harmful effects on not only the environment but upon humans as well. Lead accumulates and can cause extensive damage to central and peripheral nervous system, blood systems, and kidneys. Consumer electronics are responsible for 40% of Lead in landfills. When Mercury (used on printed circuit boards) sits in waterways, it can transform into methylated mercury in the sediments which leads to brain damage.  Brominated Flame Retardants used as plastic covers and cables increase the risk of digestive and lymphatic cancers, and it concentrates in food chains. These are just a few of the chemicals used to develop cell phones, we have yet to know the impact to know the impact of the use of cell phones on the human brain. However, earlier studies (not long term studies) done do show and impact on the brain function. 


Veolia: Water Impact Index


Laurent Auguste: President of Veolia Water (North America) presented Veolia’s new Water Impact Index at the 2010 Milwaukee Water Summit to show the new trend in water Sustainability. The Water Impact Index will assess the impact of the activity or a product upon a freshwater source through the impact on the quantity of  the water, stress on resources and quality. The Importance of the carbon footprint impact because there are alternatives of Gas and Coal. But unlike oil water does not have an alternative, 8 tons of oil is consumed per year while 2,140 tons of water is consumed per year (250 times more).  Water is consumed in two fashions withdraw and pollution. It is almost impossible to build a global calculation due to the local and regional difference of water resources. But locally this water footprint can show the efficiency and effectiveness of water conservation and infrastructure.
The 2010 April edition of National Geographic introduced the virtual contents of water in products; this issue introduced a form of awareness similar to how calories did for the food we consume. However, Veolia points out that yes this awareness is important but the National Geographic model failed to incorporate the component of water quality and water stress impact. For example, the National Geographic model states that Peanuts were six times more impactful then Tomatoes sauce. But when really looking at the life cycle to the two products it is vice versa, Impact of Tomato sauce: irrigated farm typically in water stressed areas, required fertilizer (pollution) while the impact of Peanuts: rain-fed agriculture.  This is important for how we understand basic consumer products. Therefore, we must look into more than just volume consumption, but also the level of stress and quality.
The Calculation that Veolia has developed has two basic stages indirect and direct impact. The indirect are typically added to regional and local differences while the direct is: Water Stress Index x ((Volume consumed by utility x Quality Index)– (Discharge water x quality index)).  This video below introduces a basic Case Study Veolia had done in Milwaukee using extensive data from Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage Districts, Milwaukee Water Works, North Shore Water Commission, Oak Creek Water and Sewer Utility, and Cudahy Water Utility.
The research broke down the Urban Water Cycle into: Raw Water Abstraction, Drinking Water Production, Drinking water distribution, wastewater collection, wastewater treatment, treated wastewater release, waste and sludge management, and network maintenance. Completed a cost benefits analysis on the efficiency of resources used across each and pinpointed inefficiencies through he Carbon Foot Print. The CFP of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Districts is around 230,000 tons of Co2, which are rough 15,500 people. 2/3 of the CFP of the Capital works are coming from the pipes material. The Milwaukee regional studies showed a 7x decrease in the scale of the water quantity over ten years and provided extensive improvements for the regional utilities.



Eco Trip: Bottled Water

Eco Trip a Television Series released in 2009 by the Sundance  Channel hosted by David De Rothschild gives a fresh and exciting perspective on common commodities such as gold rings, t-shirts, Paper Napkins, Cell Phones, and Chocolate. Approaching the perspective from development, environmental impact, consumer understand and scientific relevance these 30 minute episodes will increase your understanding of common daily commodities. 
Bottled water for instance was recent episode which compared Bottled water to Tap water, the impact of bottled water on the environment. In the last year alone bottled water annual sales were consuming 30 million liters of water. Over the last decade, annual sales increased 177%  that is roughly 9 billion gallons per year. 
What you don’t hear from bottled water companies is the difference in water quality and the life cycle of the product. 40% of all bottled water in the United States uses tap water to fill their products. Peter Gleick founder of Pacific Institute was interviewed and discussed that there is no difference in bottled water or tap water taste. Pay no attention to the advertisements on the label, the newspaper aids, and the billboards bottled water and tap water taste alike but are regulated differently. Tap water is more regularly regulated than most bottled water; 90% of US tap water meets EPA Standards for water quality.The Hetch Hetchy reservoir that provides 85% of San Francisco’s water  falls under EPA regulation and is required to completed 487 water samples of the entire source monthly (only source sampling). Bottled water falls under FDA regulation and is required to be tested once a week.
8 out of 10 Bottles end up in Landfills or incinerated, 98 million bottles per day and 37 billion bottles per year. Not to mention that each of those bottles takes 500 years to decompose. Most water bottles are sold in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. According to the Pacific Institute, the US water bottle industry requires 17 million barrels of oil per year. Recycling one plastic bottle can save enough energy to power 60 watt light bulb for six hours.  The energy cost associated with bottled water is even more interesting. The Beverage Marketing Corporation noted that the US bottling companies acquired 900,000 tons of PET Plastic last year alone (typically production is associated with natural gas and petroleum). Manufacturing/ production cost releases 2.5 million tons of Carbon Dioxide and requires 3 liters of water to produce on a liter of bottled water. The Plastic Manufacturing industry notes that it takes around 3.4 megajoules of energy to make a typical one liter bottle, cap, and packaging. One gallon of oil can generate 6,000 megajoules of energy. After manufacturing, packaging comes transportation and refrigeration. All energy used in the water bottle industry would consume around 50 billion barrels of oil per year, enough oil to run 3 million vehicles for a year. 
Bottled water is having a huge impact on the environment and ecosystems because it breaks down and contaminates natural environments. Birds (albatross) commonly mistakes plastic caps and wrappers as food and consumes the products and in turn the animal suffers a slow death. The Great Eastern Garbage Patch, is where ocean currents have redirected all of this waste into one area (twice the size of Texas) in the ocean.  Oakland California introduced the Continuous Deflection Separator sewer system that is a catchment design system that uses natural water energy to remove solid waste from waste streams before they can reach the ocean or other bodies of water. Also, Gavin Newson began a campaign at San Francisco City Hall to stop purchasing Bottled Water, and now his campaign has affected 12,000 other city halls across the US.
The financial cost of bottled water is 10,000 times more expensive than tap water; it is under-regulated, not properly labeled and is extremely harmful to the environment. The United States is the largest consumer of Bottled Water, in 2008 water bottles sales exceeded sales of all other beverages except carbonated soft drinks. The water bottle market is heard to stay, that being said we must require a labeling system to decipher the source and quality of the water so that you better understand what your purchasing. 

Water Quotes

  1. “For each ton of recycled paper you save 7000 gallons of water/ 17 trees/ 4200 Kilowatt-hours of energy/ 40 lbs of nitrogen emissions/ 3 cubic yards of landfill space.”
  2. “A person must consume 2.5 quarts of water per day from all sources (drinking, eating) to maintain health.” US EPA.
  3. “62,600 gallons of water are needed to produce one ton of steel.” US EPA.
  4. “The United States consumes water at twice the rate of other industrialized nations.” National Park Service.
  5. “75% of a living tree is water; 66% of human body is water; 75% of the human brain is water.” US EPA.
  6. “Americans flush 6.8 billion gallons of water down their toilets every day.” National Parks Service.
  7. “Alfalfa consumes almost 25% of California’s irrigation water, more water than any other crop in the state.” Natural Resource Defense Council.
  8. “The average 5-minute showers uses 15-25 gallons of water.” American Water Works Association.
  9. Preliminary estimates show that the total energy used to pump and treat water in California exceeds 15,00 GWH per year, or at least 6.5% of the total electricity used in the State per year.” California Department of Water Resources.
  10. “Leaks account for 12% of an average Californian’s daily water use.” The Pacific Institute.
  11. “Bottled water can cost 240-10,000 times more than tap water and may not be any more safe to drink. Around 25-35% of bottled water sold in the U.S. comes from a city or town’s tap water, sometimes further treated, sometimes note.” Natural Resources Defense Council.
  12. “It takes 39,090 gallons of water on average to manufacture a new car.” EPA
  13. “Agriculture accounts for 87% of all the freshwater consumed each year in the U.S.” Livestock Production: Energy Inputs and the Environment, by David Pimentel.
  14. “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”Benjamin Franklin.
  15. “Water sustains all.” Thales of Miletus, 600B.C