Tuesday, October 28, 2014

GLWA, Subwatersheds & Water Quality

With the creation this year of the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), succeeding the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) in the management of regional potable water and wastewater services, imagine the opportunities now to emphasize water quality in the uplands of the system that got short shrift under the old regime.

I’m talking about the small tributaries or subwatersheds of the Clinton, Huron and Rouge rivers.  This long-ignored constituency on the outer fringes has a special place in the relationship between pipes and natural bodies of water, between water chaos and water quality.  

Leaky sewer lines, stormwater overflows, malfunctioning septic tanks and agricultural runoff are all within the purview of GLWA board members, managers and technicians, if not always within their direct authority and control.

In order to better understand the downstream water quality consequences of small, remote ditches and creeks, perhaps GLWA should establish a committee to update (or complete) subwatershed management plans in coordination with the pertinent Area of Concern Public Advisory Councils and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Turbidity and Suspended Solids

One measure of water quality in our lakes and streams is turbidity.  Turbid is a characteristic or condition of fluid that is opaque, murky or cloudy, deficient in clarity.  It is caused by fine particles or solids suspended in the fluid.

Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
Sediment is a common component of solids suspended in natural bodies of water, often originating from soil loosened and exposed by human activity, such as construction or farming. Weakness in laws for the control of erosion and runoff, as well as lax enforcement, are ongoing causes of impairments to our surface water resources.

Sediment (along with toxins and pathogens) is transported to lakes and streams by runoff after heavy rains. Some of that runoff becomes overflow from storm or combined storm/sanitary sewers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlines the negative effects of turbidity as follows: 

Higher turbidity increases water temperatures because suspended particles absorb more heat. This, in turn, reduces the concentration of dissolved oxygen (DO) because warm water holds less DO than cold. Higher turbidity also reduces the amount of light penetrating the water, which reduces photosynthesis and the production of DO. Suspended materials can clog fish gills, reducing resistance to disease in fish, lowering growth rates, and affecting egg and larval development. As the particles settle, they can blanket the stream bottom, especially in slower waters, and smother fish eggs and benthic macroinvertebrates.
There is an aesthetic value in water clarity as well.

Christine Kemker has written a comprehensive treatise on turbidity. [Kemker, Christine. “Turbidity, Total Suspended Solids and Water Clarity.” Fundamentals of Environmental Measurements. Fondriest Environmental, Inc. 13 Jun. 2014. Web. < http://www.fondriest.com/environmental-measurements/parameters/water-quality/turbidity-total-suspended-solids-water-clarity/ >.]

A few excerpts will serve as an introduction:

Total suspended solids (TSS) are particles that are larger than 2 microns found in the water column. Anything smaller than 2 microns (average filter size) is considered a dissolved solid...
The turbidity of water is based on the amount of light scattered by particles in the water column 2. The more particles that are present, the more light that will be scattered. As such, turbidity and total suspended solids are related. However, turbidity is not a direct measurement of the total suspended materials in water...
Total suspended solids, on the other hand, are a total quantity measurement of solid material per volume of water 6. This means that TSS is a specific measurement of all suspended solids, organic and inorganic, by mass. TSS includes settleable solids, and is the direct measurement of the total solids present in a water body. As such, TSS can be used to calculate sedimentation rates, while turbidity cannot 1,6...
Pollutants such as dissolved metals and pathogens can attach to suspended particles and enter the water 2. This is why an increase in turbidity can often indicate potential pollution, not just a decrease in water quality. Contaminants include bacteria, protozoa, nutrients (e.g. nitrates and phosphorus), pesticides, mercury, lead and other metals 17. Several of these pollutants, especially heavy metals, can be detrimental and often toxic to aquatic life 26...
For those concerned about water quality, Kemker’s piece is worth reading in its entirety.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Removing Sediment from Stormwater Runoff

A Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) document cited by Oakland County states, in part, “Sediment is the greatest pollutant by volume entering our lakes and streams…” and “Construction is one of the major causes of erosion in Michigan.”
Are chemical clumping agents (flocculants) used in the preparation of potable water also suitable to remove sediment in stormwater runoff?  That question led to research under the direction of Professor Steve Druschel at Mankato State University in Minnesota.

Three such agents of 21 tested held promise in treating a wide range of sediment types.

The research was focused on runoff from road construction sites at the behest of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).  An MnDOT spokesman said that they’re hoping to come up with a portable water treatment plant.

Environmental impacts haven’t been determined yet.

Doesn't it seem likely that the same chemical agents could be introduced to remove sediment in combined sewers or at Retention/Treatment Basins?

Shannon Fiecke wrote about the development in Crossroads, the Minnesota Transportation Research Blog, September 15, 2014.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GLWA, Clinton River Watershed, EPA Superfund, Ten-Mile Drain

Much of the northern portion of the new Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is within Oakland and Macomb counties and the Clinton River watershed.  The entire watershed, 760 square miles, is designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an Area of Concern (AOC).

“The U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Annex 2 of the 1987 Protocol) defines AOCs as ‘geographic areas that fail to meet the general or specific objectives of the agreement where such failure has caused or is likely to cause impairment of beneficial use of the area's ability to support aquatic life.’ More simply put, an AOC is a location that has experienced environmental degradation.”

The most serious degradation is the result of toxic waste at sites in the watershed that EPA has included on its Superfund National Priorities List.  “Superfund is the name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites. It is also the name of the fund established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, as amended (CERCLA statute, CERCLA overview)."

“The National Priorities List is a published list of hazardous waste sites in the country that are eligible for extensive, long-term clean-up actions under the Superfund program.”

One of the Superfund sites in the Clinton River watershed is the Ten-Mile Drain.

The Ten-Mile Drain Site is located near the intersection of Bon Brae Street and Harper Avenue in St. Clair Shores, Macomb County, Michigan. It includes a portion of the Ten Mile drain storm sewer system, which consists of the concrete sewer pipes and soil surrounding the pipes in [a] utility corridor approximately 15 feet underground. The site encompasses a several block area where polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been documented to be present in significant quantities in the underground utility. The PCBs are migrating into the storm sewer which empties into two canals, known as the Lange and Revere Street canals, connected to Lake St Clair.”

“Following the discovery of PCBs at the site, EPA conducted removal actions to address the contamination that had been identified. EPA dredged the canals and cleaned out the underground storm sewer drain system, but the contamination returned. As a result, in September 2010, EPA's work at the Ten-Mile Drain site shifted from the removal portion of EPA's Superfund program to the remedial portion, which focuses on long-term cleanup projects.”

The work is ongoing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Toxic Urban Gardens, Bioremediation & Clean Water

Urban stormwater runoff is a significant source of contamination in lakes and streams, not only from hard surfaces like streets, parking lots and roofs, but also after percolating through the contaminated soil of former industrial sites and abandoned homes.

Bioremediation... involves the use of organisms to eliminate [or] neutralise (sic) pollutants from a contaminated site. Traditionally, naturally-occurring organisms have been used to achieve this end. One such example is the use of fungi in mycoremediation, which utilises (sic) the fungal mycelia and capitalises (sic) on its decompositional properties.”

Before planting an urban garden, the soil should be tested.  Andrew Bernier reported on Phoenix Radio KJZZ, October 2, 2014:

We sift out rocks to prep the soil for chemical testing, which is then mixed with reagents, or substances that start a chemical reaction. Those reactions reveal the amount of nutrients in the soil and detect for contaminants, like heavy metals lead and arsenic, or possible solvents and oils...

But decades of urban development has changed the soil. It now needs to be cleaned with nutrients and organic life restored through a process known as bioremediation. This is done by adding compost rich with little living things like bugs and fungi, collectively called microbes...

“Microbes can bioremediate most toxins and pollutants. They’ll take everything down and break it into fractions. And this is a cross-section of what microbes should be in healthy compost,” [farmer Ken] Singh said...

Singh also stresses how time helps restore the health of soil.

Time, plus some combination of (1) a carefully chosen (additional) fungus, (2) symbiotic bacteria, (3) heat, (4) oxygen and (5) a supporting medium like sawdust, straw or corncobs will combine to hasten the demise of toxins in soil.

Even plastic isn’t safe from a fungal onslaught.  

“Upon collecting multiple plant samples from the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest containing endophytic fungi (fungi that live inside a plant) and culturing the fungi, the group discovered that certain strains of Pestalotiopsis microspora could degrade polyurethane (PUR).  Polyurethane is a commonly used plastic—it is in everything from building insulation to furniture to footwear.  This is a unique discovery not only because it is a plastic “eating” fungus but also because it is also the first endophytic fungus found to have these properties.  The fungus uses the PUR as a carbon source to grow in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions.”

Professor Mohamed Hijri at the University of Montreal “...has collected a biological clean-up team that can turn what’s basically a moonscape into something habitable (at least by some species) over the course of just a few years. First, willow trees are planted in dense stands to soak up the heavy metal contamination and store it in the plant’s cells. Then, each season, the trees’ stems and leaves are burned, creating an ash residue full of heavy metals. Finally, specially selected (but naturally occurring) fungi and bacteria are released to metabolize the petrochemical waste. Even a highly contaminated soil, says Hiri, can be cleaned within a few seasons.”

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow wrote in Next City, July 29, 2014:

In Albany, New York, staff members of the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center grow oyster mushrooms in straw. After harvesting the mushrooms, they take the straw, which is replete with mushroom enzymes, and spread it on contaminated soil. These enzymes, according to the center’s educational director, Scott Kellogg, break down pollutants, helping to detoxify the soil…

In recent years, community gardens and urban farming have grown increasingly popular. But alongside that growing popularity are concerns about safety. Just a couple of months ago, reports emerged that 70 percent of New York City’s community gardens had toxic soil. A recent study of urban gardeners in Baltimore found that few were well-informed about the hazards of soil contamination or the best practices for mitigating them. Gardening aside, mere proximity to tainted dirt can pose health risks, especially for children who might play in it.

When establishing a new garden or farm... it is always a good practice to test the soil for lead. This is due to lead being present in paint and gasoline until the late 1970s. Land close to heavy traffic and sites of old homes that may have had lead paint in them are potential sites of lead deposition, and should be tested for lead as a precaution before growing food on these sites.

Soil lead testing is available through Michigan State University Extension and the soil test kits are available for purchase at the MSU Extension bookstore.

If the potential garden site was an industrial or commercial site, it may be necessary to find out what types of businesses were there in order to know what potential contaminants to test for. Testing for contaminants can become expensive. Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grants are available to provide money for your community to assess the property you’re interested in, but the process can be time consuming.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

2014 Southeast Michigan Stormwater Summit

Organized by the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner (OCWRC), the 2014 Regional Stormwater Summit was held on October 3, 2014 at Lawrence Technological University (LTU) in Southfield, Michigan.

This was a superb production.  The dominant themes were mitigating stormwater runoff and controlling combined sewer overflows (CSOs) by means of green infrastructure.  Moderators were OCWRC Jim Nash and LTU’s Dr. Don Carpenter.

Kevin Shafer, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, spoke about how his region overcame years of crippling water wars.  Milwaukee undertook long range, regional research and planning.  Management of stormwater runoff in metropolitan Milwaukee relies heavily on green infrastructure.

Michigan Governor Snyder’s Senior Policy Officer, Valerie Brader, indicated that the Governor  favors local stormwater utilities and a regional approach to stormwater projects.  She said the Governor supports green infrastructure so long as it is cost efficient.

Joel Brammeier of the Alliance for the Great Lakes discussed nutrient loading in Lake Erie, possible outcomes of the drinking water crisis in Toledo this past summer, EPA’s latest Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) action plan and building the cost of clean water into Big Ag’s plans to increase corn production in farmland adjacent to the Great Lakes.

Dr. Carpenter described the WaterTowns project of the Clinton River Watershed Council (CRWC) whereby riverside communities can exploit aesthetic, economic and recreational opportunities related to the water.

A panel consisting of Paul Kovalcik, Brent Brown and Ralph Reznick explained the intricacies of urban stream restoration, including “sunshining,” dam removal and wildlife habitat.  Kovalcik is a watershed specialist from northeast Ohio.  Brown is an engineer and hydrologist from Milwaukee. Reznick is an engineer and stream specialist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

Tree canopy analysis and the value of trees in stormwater control were topics addressed by William Ayersman, representing the Davey Resource Group.

Michael Pennington, a wetland mitigation specialist for MDEQ, outlined Michigan’s Wetlands Special Banking Fund, through which real estate developers can offset their destruction of wetlands by contributing in advance to the expansion of vast, contiguous, state-protected tracts of wetlands. [See also Nathan Inks, a Wayne State law student, in Michigan Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 32, No. 4, Summer 2014, Issue 96.]

An officer of the Erb Family Foundation, Jodee Raines, described new ways foundations can collaborate on green infrastructure projects.

Tips for homeowners who want to participate in sustainable water resource practices were discussed by Michele Arquette-Palermo, CRWC’s Program Director.

A video recording of the event is expected to be posted on OCWRC’s website and YouTube.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Regulatory Capture

Proof came to light recently that bank regulators were licking the boots of managers at Goldman Sachs as Goldman and other megabanks precipitated the economic crash of 2008 by their recklessness and greed.

The phenomenon is known as regulatory capture.  Bank examiners from the New York Federal Reserve have permanent offices in Goldman’s New York headquarters, as examiners do at all of the nation’s major banks.

Bank examiners had become subservient to Goldman’s managers, kowtowing to the bank’s insidious practices.*

All levels of federal, state and local oversight are susceptible to this phenomenon.

It might start as a seemingly innocuous attempt at flattery, as for example when the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) featured a flattering article in a water department house publication about the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s principal (and usually only) site inspector.

On August 22, 2012, DWSD Director Sue McCormick wrote to the Board of Water Commissioners, in part (p. 2), “...I received a letter from MDEQ after a visit from the Chief of the Water Resources Division...The letter (attached) notes the observed improvements and continued partnership between DWSD and the Division, as we work through issues.  Monthly calls with the Division continue to build on the partnership approach…”  (Emphasis added.)

Attached to McCormick’s letter was a copy of Chief of Water Resources Division (MDEQ) William Creal’s letter of July 19, 2012, which ended, “We appreciate the office you have provided to us for Ms. Jodi Peace [the site inspector] to use.  I expect this to further our partnership as we continue to work through the issues that we face.”  (Emphasis added.)
Let’s be absolutely clear.  Regulators are not supposed to be partners with the regulated.

To prevent the compromising of government regulators, two important requirements are obvious. First, the government agency should always be represented by at least two regulators at meetings, inspections and similar contacts.  Each regulator should write, sign and file a preliminary report, independently.  Second, regulators ought to be rotated in and out of regulatory settings routinely every year or two.

We need to be vigilant to ensure that regulatory capture and other perversions of the regulatory process don’t infect the anticipated regional water agency, the Great Lakes Water Authority.  Clean water matters.  Lax enforcement of clean water laws subverts the public interest.

*  Compare regulatory capture and the Stockholm syndrome.