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The American Water Works Association recently released their annual State of the Industry report for water utilities.

I wasn’t surprised at the results of this annual checkup, where over 1,800 leaders in the industry identify key challenges. Their concerns about the future of the water industry are the same as mine.

  • Water supply – We’re not running out of water . . . we’re just running out of the less expensive water. As population increases, we’ll be looking more and more at costly treatment methods like desalination. Conservation and reuse are other parts of the puzzle that will be an important part of quenching our thirst.
  • Aging infrastructure – Much of our infrastructure is not only aging, but in many cases reaching the point of failure. There’s a shortfall of funds to adequately maintain and replace old pipes and treatment equipment that runs into the billions of dollars. Starting this month, public television stations will be showing Liquid Assets, the story of our water infrastructure. Don’t miss it!
  • Increasing regulatory requirements – As we gain the capability to measure constituents in smaller and smaller amounts, agencies develop more stringent requirements for removing those compounds. Costs for treatment rise geometrically as we try to remove contaminants down to parts per trillion.
  • Workforce deficit – Most of us baby-boomers will be retiring in the next decade, resulting in a shortage of experienced utility folks. In addition, the number of young people getting into the field is declining.
  • Money – Operating costs continue to climb. As always, there’s much competition for limited funds.

I’m hoping some economic stimulus packages will be forthcoming after the election. Building treatment plant upgrades is a great way to create jobs–at least in my opinion. After all, Water is Life.

EPA's Energy Star at Work Launchpad

EPA

I have to admit, I may be the Logical Ecologist but I do get tired of hearing about everything “green” multiple times a day, every day.

I shouldn’t complain, though. It’s really a good thing that people are more concerned about all aspects of our environment. And now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a new online tool to help us green-up the workplace.

Our commercial and industrial workplaces account for almost half the energy use nationwide–and nearly half the greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s Energy Star at Work tool takes you on an interactive tour of a typical office, with small steps employees can take to make a big difference in the overall energy use at work–everything from using a power strip to turn off all your equipment at the end of the day to creating a Green Team with coworkers.

You can also sign up for the Energy Star Challenge, a national call-to-action to reduce workplace energy consumption by 10% or more.

Energy Star is a joint EPA and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program to help the environment through energy efficiency. In 2007, Americans prevented 40 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by using Energy Star practices and products.

And the other big benefit of going green at work?  We all save money.

I just returned from the Florida Water Resources Conference in Tampa.

Important water issues abound.  Everything from droughts and water shortages–to microconstituents–to nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in the waterways–to sea water desalinization.

One of the first sessions I attended contested the theory that Florida is running out of fresh water.  Computer models predict declining levels in Florida’s underground aquifers.  But some of the actual data shows that water levels have stabilized.

Many Florida cities have water restrictions in place–and reclaimed water is used in many areas for both residential and agricultural irrigation.  So it makes sense that we might not be in as bad of shape as the models predict.

Regulatory agencies allocate water to users based on computer models, more so than current data.  After all, they are responsible for making sure we have water years into the future, not just today.  But are they “crying wolf?”  Or protecting us from ourselves?

Northeast Florida’s St. Johns River is listed as #6 in the America’s Most Endangered Rivers Report 2008. 

American Rivers‘™ annual report highlights U.S. rivers facing critical junctures–decisions that could determine their future–within the year.  Rivers on the list aren’t necessarily polluted, but can be threatened by development or other potential dangers.

The St. Johns River was listed because the thirsty and rapidly-growing Central Florida area wants to tap into the river and use it as a drinking water supply source.  Seminole County already has a permit application that was recommended for approval by the St. Johns River Water Management District to use about 5 million gallons per day from the river to supply the Yankee Lake Regional Water Facility.  Withdrawals totaling up to 155 million gallons per day are planned for the Central Florida region. 

Concerns about changing the salinity and increasing pollutant concentrations put the St. Johns on the endangered list.  America’s Rivers™ recommends action–and their suggestion is to contact the St. Johns River Water Management District and encourage them to deny permits for using the St. Johns River as a potable water source. 

The St. Johns River Water Management District has decided to conduct a more detailed study on the effects of removing water from the river.  In the meantime, the District is preparing even more stringent rules to promote water conservation. 

The St. Johns Riverkeeper submitted the nomination in the hopes that an endangered designation would attract the attention of Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist

Using rivers and other surface waters for drinking water supply is nothing new.  The EPA notes that most of the large cities in the United States get their drinking water from surface water sources. 

As I noted in my earlier blog about our Infrastructure Report Card, our underground pipes are getting old and breaking down.  The Water is Life site has a copy of a recent AP Article about our breaking water lines and the billions of gallons of water lost–not to mention the damage to roadways and buildings. 

Replacing old lines is costly but will become more critical as time goes by.  Nobody wants to hear about rate increases, but we have to keep our water lines intact to protect our water supply. 

The New York Times published an interesting article by  CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH summarizing an interview with Nestle Waters’ chief executive, Kim E. Jeffrey.  Mr. Jeffrey answers some environmental concerns.  He explained that the competition for bottled water is other canned and bottled beverages–not tap water. 

I think Mr. Jeffrey is right in his assessment that people will continue to buy bottled water no matter how much criticism they get from environmentalists. 

According to an article by Ivan Penn, Nestle lucked out when the State of Florida continued a permit allowing the company to take up to 1.47 million gallons of water per day from Madison Blue Springs until 2018. 

Nestle purchased the land near Madison Blue Springs with an existing bottling permit and will pay no fees or taxes for the water, except for a $230 permit.  The Suwanee River Water Management District staff recommended lowering the permit limit to 400,000 gallons per day.  Due to drought conditions, the flow from the springs had dropped from 55 to 34 million gallons per day. 

But Nestle had the support of Florida’s economic development entity, Enterprise Florida, Inc.–based on Nestle’s promise to create 300 jobs.

Nestle is an eco-friendly company.  And bottled water is certainly a good, healthy product.  But is it right for a company to make big bucks while using millions of gallons of water–when local citizens are under water restrictions and paying ever higher rates?   

Economic development is important, especially in this area of the state.  But water supply is getting to be a critical problem. 

 

The Georgia-Florida-Alabama water war has been going on for 18 years–and it looked like the three states might have a meeting of the minds at one point recently.  Especially considering this year’s record-setting drought.  But negotiations failed to resolve the battle over water rights in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins. 

Georgia wants to hold more water in Lake Lanier to serve their burgeoning population. But Florida and Alabama claim that doing so causes downstream environmental damage and hurts commercial fishing, industry, and power plants.

Georgia’s Governor, Sony Perdue, says his state’s problems are more critical.  Florida and Alabama disagree. 

Bottom line for now–the Army Corps of Engineers and other feds will forcing their own water sharing plan on the region, according to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.  Water Webster has posted Kempthorne’s letter to the governors.

Wouldn’t it have been better for the states to come to an agreement so they could be in charge of their own water program? 

We all know that water is essential to life–and the Museum of Natural History in New York is celebrating that fact with their exhibit, H2O = Life. 

From the physical properties of water, to waterworks, to contamination and regeneration . . . the exhibit explores every aspect of water.  And the ways we mistreat this critical resource. 

Science on a Sphere projects actual moving images of the Earth from space onto a six-foot-diameter globe

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to see the exhibit.  But just reading through the website is an education in itself.  H2O = Life is in New York at the American Museum of Natural History until May 26.  I understand through the Water Environment Federation that the exhibit will be traveling to various parts of the country, so keep an eye out for it.

There’s a new website that will let you calculate how much water you use per day.  Not how much water goes through your meter–but how much water it takes to maintain your normal daily activities.  Remember, it takes water to manufacture the goods you buy, to grow the food you eat, to provide electricity and fuel. 

It’s H2O Conserve and it’s a joint project of Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, GRACE, Food & Water Watch, and The John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

My individual water use was 1,132.17 gallons per day and for our household, my husband and I use 2,264.35 gallons per day.  In comparison, the average American uses 1,189.3 gallons each day–so I’m not too far off track. 

The site also contains tips on water conservation and some interesting articles.  Check it out and see how you and your family compare, then try to put some of the water conservation tips to work.

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