Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Toilet Science

With all of the exposure I have had over the past few weeks to the areas of water resources management and waste water treatment, it has gotten me to think about an activity that I have been doing for the past few years, and that is water conservation via the toilet. Before I go any farther, I would like to mention that I am not exactly what you would necessarily call a water resource conscious person. For example, I like my showers long and hot to wake me up in the morning and I know that is one of the main areas of domestic water use. But, what I am about to describe is so passive and easy that even I can do it.

Don't flush the toilet after every use. Now, I understand that most of you that read this are probably going to initially shake your heads and say "ah gross, no way," but just hear me out on this one. Personally, I am almost always consuming a fluid of some kind or another whether it's soda, beer, water, coffee, you name it. That leads to, of course, a rather active bladder and I think you can see where I am going with this now. When your plumbing is in what you can call an "active state," most of what is excreted is pure water and when mixed with the water already in the basin, does it really warrant a flush? Obviously, there will be a point that it is just too...rank to not flush, but I'll get to that in a moment.

There are several standards in the United States for gallons per flush. Before 1994, the typical toilet used 3.4 gallons of water or more but since Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 1992, the new standard is 1.6 gallons per flush or less. Let's take our "unpleasant" value to five uses before a flush and let's assume just for the sake of argument that every toilet in the city of Fargo meets the 1994 standards (which is doubtful). For five uses, that's a savings of 6.4 gallons and let's say that all 95,000 or so residents do this once a day. That equates to about 608,000 gallons of water saved every day and the city of Fargo treats about 11 million gallons per day. That 608,000 gallons would make up over 5% of the city's water usage every day; that's 222 million gallons per year.

At this point you may be thinking "So what? Water is a renewable resource." It is, but you may not have considered what happens to impurities in the water that get filtered out at the treatment plant. At least in Fargo, the separated sludge goes into the landfill never to be seen again and it costs money to treat as well. Besides, water is a renewable resource only for as long as we manage it properly.

Now I am not saying that leaving the toilet un-flushed is going to solve all of our water resource problems, but it's a simple thing that even the most undetermined of people can do to lessen environmental impact.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Congress, the EPA, and Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells has been a controversial issue over the years and it has caused quite a bit of debate again recently because of alleged contamination of groundwater resources by drilling companies. Hydraulic fracturing is the process of pumping a fluid, or drilling mud, into a well in progress and pressurizing it in order to break apart certain porous rock formations and increase the efficiency of a well by allowing more oil and gas to flow to the main shaft. The "drilling mud" is usually mostly comprised of water and sand or clay in a low concentration that produces a slurry with a consistency similar to that of a milk shake, but sometimes additives are used to achieve different characteristics.

Where the EPA comes into play in this particular issue is that 12 out of 14 drilling services companies have admitted to using diesel fuel as an additive in 19 states, including North Dakota, and diesel fuel is outlawed in wells within some proximity to groundwater because the risk of contamination is too high. All of the companies claim they are using it within the restrictions of the environmental laws.

Aside from this story, hydraulic fracturing has come under so much scrutiny that some members of the public and government agencies have tried to outright universally ban it in the past. This is very relevant to those of us in North Dakota because all of the new oil and gas development here is in the formations known as the Bakken and Sanish/Three Forks which are oil shale formations and the reason oil activity has accelerated so rapidly in the past five years or so is because the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is a fairly new technology and the current economic success of North Dakota depends on fracturing, in general, being allowed. As far as I know, there haven't been any problems linked to fracturing in ND, but other states have had legitimate problems with it. Seeing as there are a variety of geologic formations, I feel that it is probably best if the federal government takes an advisory stance on this issue and leaves the ultimate decisions up to state governments.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EPA will limit rocket fuel chemical in tap water

"The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will develop the first standard to limit tap water's amount of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women and young children."

Apparently, traces of a chemical, in the perchlorate family and linked to thyroid problems in children and pregnant women, can be found in concentrations exceeding 4 ppb in 4% of US public water sources that serve about 17.6 million people.

Here in North Dakota, we don't have much to worry about because this chart claims that this chemical exists in quantities of less than 4 ppb in our water supplies, but some states have concentrations exceeding 500,000 ppb. This article makes no mention of chemical removal, if that is even necessary, but either way, this is probably a good first step in regards to this issue.