Supporting community involvement for projects that help directly impact or drive awareness for water issues is an integral role for the water industry to take part in. Our Environmental Grant Program has funded many initiatives in the past, and we are once again accepting applicants for 2014. The program provides funding for projects that cater to water cleanup and protection throughout various communities. Not only do the funded programs seek to improve the water supply of the communities, but they are also educating and informing of any number of water related issues on a local level.
The Environmental Grant Program provides up to $10,000 worth of funding for each project selected, and last year, awarded over $200,000 dollars to 55 deserving groups in 12 states. The funded programs are encouraged to have a goal that will create a long term impact on the environment, and create relationships between communities and organizations by enabling them to work towards a common goal.
The deadline for this year’s Environmental Grant Program is March 31, 2014, and we are thrilled to view this year’s applications and project ideas. Source water protection projects are activities that result in the protection or improvement of the community’s drinking water supplies. Watershed protection projects should focus on activities that improve, restore, or protect one or more watersheds.
Examples of activities include:
- Biodiversity Projects (habitat restoration, wildlife protection)
- Reforestation Efforts
- Hazardous Waste Collection Efforts
- Streamside Buffer Restoration Projects
- Watershed Cleanup
- Surface or Groundwater Protection Education (i.e., designing and providing workshops for citizens and local officials)
- Wellhead Protection Initiatives
To be considered for the Environmental Grant funding, a project must be located within an American Water service area, be completed between May and November of the grant-funding year, and be a new or innovative community program or significantly expand on an existing program.
The waterways that provide water to the communities we live in are beneficial to every individual. Everyone has the ability to restore and preserve the environment, and we are proud to offer our Environmental Grant Program to help.
We can’t let February pass by without a salute to Thomas A. Edison and what is perhaps his biggest contribution to our world… the spirit of innovation as an interdependent dynamic. The Wizard of Menlo Park would have been 167 years old this February 11. American Water proudly still possesses a work order signed by Edison himself hiring the company (at the time, The West Orange Water Company) to install cast iron water pipe in his lab.
Back then, the 45¢ per foot of pipe and $20 work fee Edison paid us was a good deal! However, it is not the honor of installing pipe for a man of Edison’s greatness that we celebrate when we think of Edison. We celebrate the way in which this one project demonstrates a great intellectual infrastructure that provides stability, fuels progress and enhances our lives every day.
We’re all familiar with the physical infrastructures that define our world – the water mains, power grids, pipelines, and roadways. But have you ever stopped to think about the most powerful infrastructure of them all? The ideas, innovations and improvements that all interconnect to create the world as we know it?
Edison’s inventions drove so much. His ideas and creations are credited with establishing and/or contributing to everything from major worldwide industries such as power utilities and motion pictures, to mass communications and modern research labs. With 1,093 U.S. patents, it is with good reason we consider Edison “the great one.” Yet, one of my favorite Edison quote shows just how humble and not so ‘independent’ he really was:
“I readily absorb ideas from every source, frequently starting where the last person left off.”
In these few words Edison establishes the critical power of this intellectual infrastructure, stating that no one working to better the world can operate in a vacuum tube (invented by John Ambrose Flemming on the basis of work done by Edison!). He teaches us that no idea is the big idea, but instead the start of something even bigger. He teaches us that ideas never die; they simply connect to each other to create a continuum of progress. And he teaches that the ability to make an impact on this fabulous network of ideas and growth is possessed by every individual.
And so, as we celebrate Thomas Edison, we hope everyone takes his lessons to heart, and we look forward to seeing what the evolution of intellectual infrastructure has in store for each of us!
Drought Presents A Challenge That Only Integrated Solutions Can Overcome
Drought in many regions of the country has continued to be the subject of much recent news, covering every type of concern from the impact on agriculture, to infrastructure, to politics, to ecosystems, and on and on. Adding to the drought itself, we are up against challenges including climate change, reduced snow pack in many areas, and the historical record of water variation itself (the oldest ongoing documenting of rainfall is only about 150 years old). And while this is a serious problem for states as varied as California, Texas, and parts of the South East, it is not an insurmountable one.
When I wrote about the need for infrastructure updates amidst drought before, I touched upon how the concept of Total Water Management (TWM) is a major part of answering this problem. Also known as One Water Management and Integrated Water Resources Management, TWM is essentially the idea of water stewardship applying to all water services – supply, quality, agriculture, energy/hydropower, flow management, and security against floods. The expectation is that this will lead to a better use of resources for adapting to tightening economic resources, population growth, aging infrastructure and climate change.
The goal of meeting demand even amidst drought is certainly attainable and is a daily preoccupation of the water industry. Focusing on delivering viable services to various communities, the industry has developed a set of innovative solutions to supply water, including:
Water reuse is one solution, and in understanding its significance, consider first the break-down of water usage. In Southern California, for example, about 70 percent of water is used for agriculture, 20 percent for golf courses, and 10 percent for businesses and homes. While proportions will vary across states, the principle is the same. The majority of water is used for agricultural and commercial ends, and does not need to be equal to drinking water.
Furthermore, wastewater, long since considered a problem and pollutant, can be treated and reused to meet the needs of our largest consumers: those in the agriculture and commercial industries. This would significantly ease the strain on rivers, lakes, and aquifers that provide us with clean and safe drinking water.
Reclaimed water need not only be confined to wastewater; highly saline sources, such as ocean or deep groundwater can also be treated. The process of water reuse can involve desalination, where the salt content is removed, and membrane filtration, where contaminants are removed via a membrane process. Furthermore, these technologies are continuously being streamlined, becoming more cost effective and energy efficient. We’re currently seeing this put to work alongside partner groups in the Monterey Water Supply Project, a solution to the Monterey Peninsula’s water supply shortage.
In addition to water reuse, I can’t stress how important good-old planning can be as a solution. We’ve seen growing populations across the west that have built entire communities without fully taking water supply into consideration. Arizona, as an example, demonstrates the value of planning and has done better than other states in maintaining a steady water supply.
Developing a sophisticated infrastructure system and working with water industry experts on planning, Arizona has developed a more efficient method for meeting demand, as well as a method for anticipating it. By analyzing climate patterns it can provide water to residents during droughts and thus avoid severe water shortages. In this sense, Arizona demonstrates that even when a state has a less than adequate natural supply of water, successful management is still possible.
Smaller communities can also benefit from planning. The dozens, if not hundreds, of individual communities that have sprung up in the arid regions of the West and South West rely on their own water systems, to the detriment of water efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and quality. Often times, the solution is as simple as linking these small communities together to a common water system. By centralizing their services to a larger plant, people can benefit from lower costs, greater water conservation, and better service and quality.
Proper water management stems not simply from technology and planning but from linking opportunities together in ways that are innovative and effective. For example, leak detection technology, whereby an acoustic monitor attached to a pipe can “listen” to pipe sounds and transmit this information back to a service person, can be combined with meter reading technology so that both forms of information can be collected, transmitted, and processed at once, saving energy, time, and money.
Likewise, developments in solar energy can significantly reduce the energy needed to treat water and wastewater. In sunny states like Nevada, New Mexico, California, and Arizona, the incentives are even greater.
Before our known recorded climate history, it’s likely that California and other states have been through droughts for much longer periods of time than the last few year’s we’ve been experiencing, but obviously not with the populations and needs for quality and reliable water that exist today. We have the means and methods to prepare for and react to this type of climate change, but being proactive is the key element for successfully managing the issue, rather than waiting and reacting when a problem is at the door. By working together with partners and applying TWM solutions we can make sure that future water needs are met.
It’s an ironic truth most of us have been advised to heed at least once in our lives: sometimes you have to view a situation from a distance to more clearly see what’s right in front of you. In the case of ‘seeing’ our water resources, that distance was approximately 220 miles, viewed from the International Space Station (ISS) by astronaut Chris Hadfield. Among many fascinating observations in his article We Should Treat Earth as Kindly as We Treat Spacecraft, Hadfield offers several I find particularly interesting:
“It was remarkable to see from space how predictable people are. Our homes and towns are almost all in places with moderate temperatures, and they generally have the same shape—a thinly occupied outer shell of suburb surrounding a densely populated core, all based around a ready source of water… Also visible from the ISS is the fact that all of the really good spots to live are taken. In our 70,000 years of wandering, our ancestors have had a look at pretty much everyplace on Earth, and the first arrivals put down roots in the best locations Now those spots are full; living anywhere else requires modification of the local environment. And that takes energy. The farther we get from the heat/water sweet spot, the more energy it takes.”
When we live in water-centric communities it can be difficult to seriously consider the possibility of ‘running out’ of water. Sure, at times we entertain the idea of ‘roughing it’ with the heart of an adventurer and find ourselves camping for a weekend in the woods, crossing the country in an RV, or even traveling to outer space. We welcome these ideas because we know they are short-lived, and we can always return to ‘normal life’ and bounteous water whenever the romanticism wears off. Or can we?!?
It may seem absurd at first, but what Commander Hadfield points out is that conserving water, food, energy, or any vital resource on earth is no different than the conservation required in any of those ‘romantic’ situations. Planet Earth is, in essence, an ISS, an RV, a tent in the woods… the water resources are finite.
Moreover, what makes the situation on earth direr is that, unlike a short-lived water-limited adventure, the demand for water is increasing as the population and industries grow. The ISS sustains six astronauts, and they always know how many people they have at any one time. Therefore, they know what the demand will be and how best to allocate their resources in order to also conserve their resources for survival. On Earth, we are not sure how to calculate the demand, nor how far the water will have to be transported from the “sweet spots” in order to meet the demand.
So how do we make sure there is, and will be, enough water to go around? The answer is: with awareness of the situation and careful balance, with respect for the systems already in place to conserve water and maximize the efficiency of its usage, by being visionaries who see challenges before it’s too late and act proactively, and with a concentrated effort to evolve our water technology and capabilities in a way that outpaces demand. With an astronaut’s perspective, perhaps we can become better passengers on spaceship earth.
As many states face the first harsh winter storm of 2014, I wanted to offer a reminder for folks to be prepared for freezing winter temperatures both inside and outside your homes. I lived in Montana for five years, so some of these tips come first hand! Whether you’re contending with the polar vortex, or just plain cold, snow, ice and wind, there are easy steps you can take to ensure your safety and comfort.
Precipitously dropping temperatures can cause frozen water pipes inside your home, and costly plumbing repairs along with them. By insulating pipes and weatherproofing, you can save money on your winter energy bills and also guard against potential breaks and leaks in your plumbing.
Here’s how you can prepare for ongoing cold weather:
Before frigid weather sets in
- Know the location of your main water shut-off valve. If a pipe freezes or bursts, shut the water off immediately.
- Protect your pipes and water meter. Wrap exposed pipes with insulation or use electrical heat tracing wire. For outside meters, keep the lid to the meter pit closed tightly and let any snow that falls cover it. Snow acts as insulation, so don’t disturb it.
- Know which areas in your home, such as basements, crawl spaces, unheated rooms and outside walls, are most vulnerable to freezing.
- Eliminate cold air sources near water lines by repairing broken windows, insulating walls, closing off crawl spaces and eliminating drafts near doors.
When temperatures are consistently at or below freezing
- If you have pipes that are vulnerable to freezing, allow a small trickle of water to run overnight to keep pipes from freezing. The cost of the extra water is low compared to the cost to repair a broken pipe.
- Open cabinet doors to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures to help keep them from freezing, although be careful to not create a tripping hazard.
If your pipes do freeze
- Shut your water off immediately. Don’t attempt to thaw frozen pipes unless the water is shut off, as freezing can often cause unseen cracks in pipes or joints.
- Apply heat to the frozen pipe by warming the air around it, or by applying heat directly to a pipe. Use of a heating wire is effective.
- If a space heater is used, be sure not to leave it unattended, and avoid the use of kerosene heaters or open flames.
- Once the pipes have thawed, turn the water back on slowly and check for cracks and leaks.
If you’re lucky enough to be going away for a warm vacation
- Have a friend, relative or neighbor regularly check your property to ensure that the heat is working and the pipes have not frozen.
- Also, a freeze alarm can be purchased for less than $100 and will call a user-selected phone number if the inside temperature drops below 45 degrees.
And remember that the holidays aren’t the only time we should be thinking of others. Help protect your friends’ and neighbors’ homes and from extreme winter weather by keeping fire hydrants clear of snow. Substantial snow accumulations combined with the after-effects of plowing roads and parking lots can leave fire hydrants partially or completely buried in snow. You can help firefighters easily locate them and access water quickly, saving valuable time to possibly save lives and structures.
Finally, be sure to report leaking pipes or disrupted water service immediately to your water company. Sub-freezing temperatures can hasten aging water mains to break and cause unsafe driving conditions. Taking care of your home in weather like this is a long-term investment and a good measure of general safety. Stay warm and stay safe this winter!
Everything in moderation…that’s always been a guiding motto in my household, no matter what season it is, but especially so around the holidays. It’s easy to go overboard on eating, shopping, hosting, or any number of activities this time of year, and it can really take a toll on a person. Similarly, moderation is a key component of wise water use, and shouldn’t be something that takes a vacation just because you do.
Having friends/family over for a party? When you’re cleaning up, don’t forget to run dishwashers and clothes washers only when they are full, and if you have a water-saver cycle, to use it. Of course, filling these appliances up after a shindig may not be a problem as much as how many loads you’re doing.
Speaking of appliances, if you’re looking to make a purchase with all the holiday sales going on, be sure to look for water and energy-efficient models. The USEPA reports that EPA-certified Energy Star washing machines may use 35% less water per load. Look for the USEPA WaterSense label on water-saving devices like showerheads, toilets and faucet aerators to also help cut your water usage.
Before you have guests over for a party, don’t be embarrassed by a leaky toilet. Along with faucets and pipes, be sure to check your toilet for leaks. American Water offers leak detection kits, which are available by clicking here for a downloadable .pdf version. And if you find a leak, have it fixed as soon as possible.
Of course, I can’t leave you this week without sincerely wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season and New Year. Keep moderation in mind and remember that it’s our friends and family that truly make these days special.
The Dr. Water blog will resume during the first week of 2014.
This fall, it was my privilege to participate in the Business of Water Corporate Leaders Summit and hear this inspiring statement from Colorado Senator, Mark Udall. The summit, hosted by Protect the Flows, gathered more than 30 business leaders to share innovations and strategies for better water management in hopes of turning the tide of the immense challenges surrounding the Colorado River and threating the $26 billion dollar impact it has on the western economy.
It was a humbling experience to hear over and again, and in such profound ways, that this mighty river – the one everyone learns about in grade school history, the river that forged the wondrous Grand Canyon, the life-stream of the entire western U.S. and Mexico, the irrigator of 5.5 million acres of crops – is facing a very real threat of destruction. If the current patterns of population growth, drought and increasing demand continue, the needs being placed on the Colorado will outpace its ability to supply by 2060. In other words, at it stands now, the 1,450-mile Colorado River that has existed for tens-of-millions of years is unsustainable.
But the experience was also extremely empowering. As Senator Udall said, “Don’t underestimate the way in which you can influence what is going to happen.” Yes, at the time he was talking to the business leaders gathered, but as the Summit also addressed, the influence is in the hands of everyone. I was energized to hear how major corporations are making changes and looking for even better advances. And when it came time for me to share information on innovations that could contribute to the solution, I proudly explained the technology we’ve used to help reduce water consumption by 20% per customer over the past two decades.
There are so many lessons I took away from the Summit. But I will share just three I feel are most important with you now. First, while we all in our own ways recognize the need for responsible water use, very few probably ever think not acting on this knowledge could have such enormous repercussions. It bears repeating, we are looking at the destruction of the Colorado River. The commodity generations have taken for granted is looking at the reality of ceasing to exist.
Secondly, whether you are a small cattle farmer on a few acres, a water utility, or a huge international corporation… a national policy leader or an influencer in a small-town community… everyone has a responsibility – and every can make an impact.
Finally, because awareness is growing, the solutions are getting better, and the willingness to work together continues to grow stronger – there is much optimism in the Colorado River scenario, as well as the water threats in communities around the world.
I will venture to guess that as families go around the table on November 28 sharing what they are most thankful for, water will not be counted among the blessings – but it should be! In the spirit of the holiday, I’d like to give you some ‘food for thought’ before you enjoy your Thanksgiving feast.
Did you know?
- It takes approximately 330 gallons of water to produce a typical serving of turkey.
- The water footprint of a five-serving bowl of sweet potatoes is more than 103 gallons of water.
- Every acre of cranberry vines requires ten acres of water. On average, the United States harvests 40,000 acres of cranberry bogs, or 400,000 acres of water!
- The water footprint to produce the single loaf of bread used for your turkey stuffing is approximate 317 gallons of water.
- If you choose to wash your meal down with milk, you choose a water footprint of 67 gallons of water per one 8-oz. glass of milk.
- And when it’s time for cleanup, the typical dishwasher uses 15 gallons of water per load… and that doesn’t include what you use when you pre-rinse in the sink.
So this year, when you look at your Thanksgiving table, stop for a minute and consider how much water was invested in your feast. Certainly, from the growing of the cotton or flax used to produce your cloth napkins, to the cold-water-thaw method used to make sure the turkey is ready for the oven on time, water is everywhere… and essential at every level. When you consider this, accessible high-quality water is certainly something for which we can all be thankful.
By now, everyone’s familiar with the term carbon footprint. It’s been around for 20+ years, and, more importantly, influential in motivating an entire generation of corporations, communities and individuals to “clean up their act” to reduce emissions and protect the environment.
With carbon footprint awareness paving the way, the concept of a water footprint entered the green arena a decade ago – hoping to drive the same widespread elevation of water usage awareness and responsibility. Thanks to advocates such as the Water Footprint Network, corporations and society are beginning to consider water consumption beyond what they readily see. However, there is quite a way to go. For example, when you buy a bottle of water do you see water consumption beyond the 16 oz. of water it contains?
If you’re like everyone else, no you do not. In actuality, what you don’t see is more than what you do. It could take six times more water to manufacture the bottle vs. what is contained in it. If you consider the label on that bottle, packaging, distribution, obtaining the materials to make the plastic, etc., the water footprint becomes astronomical. For one bottle of water!
Granted, as individuals, we may not have much, if any, influence on how plastic water bottles are manufactured. But, if we have to purchase bottled water, some options are better than others in that they use less plastic and travel shorter distances from ‘source to shelf.’ Moreover, making smart choices on bottled water is far from all that can be done.
A sea of information exists to educate and guide people on how to measure and reduce their water footprint. (You may recall I wrote a blog about this last year, which included one such tool.) The information is quite fascinating … and it runs the gamut, from making lifestyle changes, to simply substituting chicken for steak once in awhile! Here are just a few insights to further demonstrate the variety of influences on one’s water footprint.
Male vs. Female: In the U.S., with the average yearly income and meat consumption being equal, the approximate water footprint for a male is 203,940 gallons/year; for a female it is 187,562 gallons/year.
Meat-eater vs. Vegetarian: In the U.S., with the average yearly income being equal, the approximate water footprint of a female consuming an average amount of meat is 187,562 gallons/year; for a female vegetarian it is 157,182 gallons/year.
Protein Consumption: From highest to lowest, the water footprint for common meats are: bovine, sheep/lamb, pork and chicken. In fact, portion size being equal, choosing steak over chicken for dinner could mean a 3.5 percent larger water footprint.
Beverage Consumption: To improve your water footprint, consider a cup of tea over a cup of coffee. Opt for soda over beer, which has approximately twice the water footprint. Stay away from hard alcohol, possessing a water footprint almost nine times larger than beer. And above all, go with plain water!
Textiles: Love your cotton stonewashed jeans? Approximately 500 gallons of water went into their making. To reduce your water footprint, those who know suggest choosing artificial fiber over cotton.
At home: Probably the most familiarity people have with reducing their water footprint starts at home. Using water-saving devices, taking faster showers, not releasing pollutants down the drain all can help.
The leaves are falling, and the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ is quickly approaching! But, for many homes, all that ‘wonderful’ can come to an abrupt end when pipes freeze, crack or outright burst, generating thousands of dollars in repair bills and cleanup. If only more property owners and renters would spend just a small percentage of the time preparing their water systems as the do preparing the presents, turkey and holiday parties!
Yes, this time of year most of us have many places to go, things to do, people to see. All the more reason to encourage everyone to take just a little time now to winterize your pipes to help make sure disaster doesn’t strike while you are out ‘going, doing and seeing.’ Also, remember, even if you plan on never leaving your home until the first crocus pops its head through in spring, frozen pipes can cause damage even while you’re nestled cozily in your house.
So, before the temperatures outside get any lower, please take time to prepare your home by following these tips.
- Look around your house for pipes that are not insulated and insulate them. This is especially important in unheated areas such as crawlspaces or attics. When I lived in Montana, I found electric heating tape to be an effective and inexpensive way to keep pipes above 32 degrees. You could also use premolded foam-rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at most hardware stores. No matter what method you use, please be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions to avoid a fire hazard.
- If you have already insulated pipes in the past, inspect insulation materials for cracks or fraying and making any necessary repairs.
- Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations, particularly where cable TV or phone lines enter the house. A quick once-over with a caulking gun can help keep cold away from pipes.
- Drain and shut off entirely the water to any unoccupied residence such as a summer or vacation home. A loss of power during a winter storm could cause pipes to freeze. If you intend to leave a property entirely without heat, be sure to drain all water to prevent the possibility of frozen pipes.
- Drain any hoses and air conditioner pipes, and check for excess water pooled in equipment. If your home is heated by a hot-water radiator, bleed the valves by opening them slightly. Close them when water appears.
- Clean out gutters and downspouts to remove debris that can freeze and cause clogs during cold weather.
- Add extra insulation to the attic to prevent warm air from creeping into your roof, causing ice damage to the roof and gutters.
- Consider turning off outside hose bibs. If left exposed, these faucets and pipes can freeze.
- Set the thermostat at 55 degrees if you’re going out of town. Although a lower temperature might be fine, this setting is considered to be safe to prevent pipe from damage.
- Consider wrapping your water heater in an insulation blanket. While not really at danger for freezing, this can lower your heating bills.