water

Kayak for Conservation in the Chicago River

Months ago, I signed up to be a citizen scientist with the Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program, and on Saturday, I finally got to be one!

We met near Chicago’s Goose Island for a quick discussion about paddling and what we would be looking out for.

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Before I knew it, myself and about 10 other citizen scientists, slid into the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River with a representative from the Shedd and one from Urban Rivers. 

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We visited Shedd’s River Island and Urban River’s floating islands to do some wildlife monitoring. We jotted down the date, temperature, and weather conditions and were then each assigned wildlife to look out for along the vegetation.

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I had the chance to monitor pollinators, which meant we sat for 2 minutes and counted the number of pollinators that flew by. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a breezy day so many of the pollinators were hunkered down.

Other volunteers checked fish traps and counted turtles – which we saw 4 of!

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This data will help scientist learn more about restoring the ecology of the Chicago River and other urban rivers. Shedd’s River Island is only a few months old, while Urban River’s island was installed last year (remember, I helped put them together!), providing a great opportunity to compare their productivity over time.

Even though Shedd’s River Island is relatively young, the vegetation was growing nice and tall due to all the nutrients the plants pull from the river.

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It was an amazing opportunity to get to see the very islands I helped plant become fruitful homes to river wildlife. It also was my first time kayaking on the river and admittedly it was actually really nice.

Sure, there was a bunch of trash mingling along the sides of the seawall, but there were birds flying overhead, bugs buzzing, and turtles sunbathing.

It felt like progress to me.

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Testing Our Water for Lead

If you live in an old building in Chicago have you ever wondered if your water service lines are made of lead?

Good news is that you can test it for free with a water quality test kit from the Chicago Department of Water Management.

I requested my free kit about 2 months ago and it finally arrived on my doorstep not too long ago. I had originally requested one for my previous apartment building, but it did not arrive in time before we moved out (if it arrived at all).

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Testing our water was easy peasy. All I had to do was follow the instructions and put the box back out on the porch for pickup.

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Before testing, you cannot run water for at least 6 hours. This allows your water to settle in the pipes and will give a more accurate reading. So no toilet flushing, showering, laundry, nothing. I completed the test right when I got home from work or you can do it in the morning after waking up.

 

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There were three different sample bottles to fill while the sink was flushing. One for when you immediately turn on the tap, one for three minutes later, and one for five minutes since turning on the tap.

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I then filled out a form marking the dates and times the samples were taken and any additional information about our building. I didn’t know when our pipes were last replaced, but I was able to put down that our building is 130 years old.

After that, I packed the bottles back up in the box, scheduled a pickup, and then set it back out on my doorstep.

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I will be contacted by the Department of Water Quality with the results via phone or email and the results will be provided to the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, as well as posted here.

So our results are TBD and I will let you know when I hear back! If you are interested in testing your water quality, fill out this form.

Your Single-Use Water Bottle Probably Isn’t Recycled & If It Is, It’s Not Helping

Once a single-serve plastic water bottle is consumed it does not just disappear when it is tossed into a garbage can.

 

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Source: Treehugger

 

Of the 80 million single-serve bottles of water consumed daily, 30 million end up in landfills. That stat is old data as of 2009. As of 2018, I can assure that it is much much more.

If those > than 30 million bottles do not make their final resting place in a landfill, they could either be incinerated or become a disturbance in natural ecosystems. I see them all the time!

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be so reliant on bottled water, but we are.

We are wasting valuable space in landfills by filling it with bottles that are perfectly recyclable.  While not purchasing bottled water is the best option, recycling the bottles is the second best option because it reduces demand for landfill space.

Unfortunately, it does not help reduce the demand for oil because bottlers are not using recycling content anyway (Royte, 2008). Ironically, it is cheaper for bottlers to use virgin PET than recycled PET.

Great…

In an effort to combat criticism of high environmental and energy costs, some companies have turned to a new approach. The new approach, called ‘lightweighting,’ reduces the cost of production, the energy required for shipping, and the mass of plastic in landfills (Gleick, 2010).

These are the new eco-friendly water bottles with the flimsier plastic and smaller shape.

Regrettably, lightweighting does not increase recycling rates or reduce the number of bottles in landfills (Gleick, 2010). It definitely does not decrease the amount of bottles American purchase; it only helps them feel less guilty about it.

Bottled Water is Dumb

I love water. It is basically all I drink.

Do I need to drink water from commercially produced disposable plastic bottles to stay hydrated? Uh, No.

I have access to high-quality Lake Michigan water flowing out of my faucet, but some people don’t have this luxury and bottled water is the only safe drinking water option for them. In that case, bottled water is OK.

Water is not something I am willing to pay the marked up $6.00 for at a sporting event. The water fountain is fine, thank you.

But there needs to be a water fountain…and it should not be full of lead

Anyway, this is not the first time I have taken to writing about bottled water. I wrote my senior honors thesis about it in college a whole 8 years ago (That is terrifying). I remember sitting at my desk, letting the words flow out, but they sounded too casual, too informal, too dare I say, like a blog.

My advisor made me lose the conversational tone and it made my thesis seem less like me. I didn’t want to talk at people with loads of science jargon about what makes bottled water a threat to our health, environment, and our wallets. I wanted to talk with people and engage with them about it.

So here I am. Eight years later. With a blog. That some people read.

Therefore, it is finally the time I discuss this topic how I wanted it to be discussed in the first place.

Each purchase and consumption of bottled water could be dangerous to one’s health, damaging to the environment, and adds up to water that is 1,900 times more expensive than tap water.

It doesn’t seem like common sense to continue purchasing bottled water due to the enormous ramifications it causes, but millions upon millions of people keep buying, keep drinking, and keep polluting every single day.

Stay tuned for more fun facts that I learned while writing my thesis!

Where Does that Water Go When it Rains A Lot?

I did something super nerdy yesterday.

I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago‘s McCook Reservoir and Mainstream Pumping Station.

 

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The circular entrance of MWRD is approximately the same size as the tunnels

 

Have I bored you already? Just wait.

The Mainstream Pumping Station is one of three stations designed to capture combined sewer overflows (where both sanitary and storm flow go through the same pipes) from an area of 375 square miles. Remember when I wrote about all the poop in the Chicago River? This would help alleviate that from happening.

When it rains a decent amount, all of the impervious surfaces of the city (roads, sidewalks, buildings) keep the rain from seeping back into the ground, causing it to run off into the city’s combined sewers.

The station is part of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan which is designed to eliminate waterway pollution caused by combined sewer overflows and provide an outlet for flood waters. Phase I of TARP, intended primarily for pollution control, is made up of four distinct tunnel systems including Mainstream.

It consists of 31 miles of tunnels 240 to 300 feet below ground.  Sewage and stormwater entering the tunnels are carried to the Mainstream Pumping Station, where it is pumped to Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, the largest wastewater treatment plant

IN THE WORLD.

The McCook Reservoir is currently under construction and, when completed,  will have a total capacity of 10 billion gallons. It will be as long as 17 Soldier Fields stacked side by side (or it was 11, can’t recall exactly what the tour guide said!). When fully completed in 2029, the McCook Reservoir will provide more than $143 million per year in flood damage reduction benefits to 3,100,000 people in 37 communities.

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McCook Reservoir will be ready to handle stormwater by the end of 2017.

 

So here is an easier explanation of how this works:

  1. It rains a lot
  2. The rain runs over sidewalks and roads and into the sewers
  3. When enough stormwater enters the sewers it can combine with the sewage sewer, resulting in a combined sewer overflow
  4. To prevent this, the stormwater drops into deep underground tunnels
  5. The water travels to a reservoir like McCook
  6.  The reservoir acts as a giant holding tank where stormwater is held until the water treatment plant has the capacity to handle it
  7. When it does, the Mainstream Pumping Station will pump the water to the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant
  8. The water is treated
  9. The treated water is released into the waterway
  10. Flooding and CSOs are prevented

That’s it!

Have You Heard of Floating Gardens?

I’ve been on a volunteering kick lately.

After two beach cleanups in one week, I switched gears and spent Saturday morning with Urban Rivers planting floating gardens.

We planted a variety of native Illinois wetland plants into floating garden structures, which were then filled in with mulch.

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Basically, the goal of these “plant rafts” is to bring life back to the Chicago River.

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Once the structures are bolted together and placed in the Chicago River, they will create a cozy habitat for fish, birds, mammals, insects, and amphibians.

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Although I didn’t get to actually do any installing of the floating gardens via kayak, I am so excited to see them grow and flourish.

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There will be plenty more volunteer opportunities available once they are all in the water.

Check out their volunteer opportunities here.

What I am most excited for is kayaking the river for trash cleanups! 😉 Apparently, I love picking up trash everywhere. Ha!

Participating in A Climate Science Sweat Fest

Saturday, April 29th, I had the opportunity to be a part of the 200,000 people marching in solidarity with environmental regulations, climate protection, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Thousands joined in sister marches all over the world.

D.C., the home of the President (when not at Mar-a-Lago), and my home for 2 years was plastered with signs defying the administration’s 100 days of damage.

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I have never been a part of such a large-scale protest march before, even though it is now becoming the norm. We overheard another marcher saying they had not been to a protest since Vietnam.

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As the clouds parted, we gathered near the Capitol, trying to stay in the shade of the trees as long as possible, before lining up in the street. Once we were assembled, we baked in the sun, sweat pouring down our backs.

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Everyone we saw and met was kind and generous and strong-willed to be there in the heat. There were babies, dogs, kids, and grandparents marching for clean air and water for their grandchildren.

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It was an extremely peaceful march. I saw zero incidences of conflict or arrests, just concerned citizens. Everyone walked, holding up their signs, frying in the relentless sun.

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There were times when chants were shouted, especially when we passed the Trump International Hotel.

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The Newseum sits on Pennsylvania Avenue. On the outside of the building is a bold reminder of our first amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition the government.  How appropriate.

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The signs, the outfits, and yes, the puppets, were all creative. These people spent hours and days getting ready for their voice to be heard, even if the President was not physically in the District to bother to listen.

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We proceeded along towards the White House at a decent pace, only bottle-necking shortly in front of the hotel.

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The sidewalks were crowded with onlookers and marchers taking a quick break to sit in the shade.

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With the higher than normal temperatures, we had to be very diligent with our water, as we would not get a chance to refill until the end at the Washington Monument.

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Ironically, entrepreneurs were taking advantage of the thirsty by peddling water in disposable plastic bottles to the crowds. Most people had their own or wore CamelBaks (great idea), but sometimes thirst is too overpowering, an issue we are going to have to deal with more and more in the future.

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As we approached the White House, the crowd started to spill out into Lafayette Square to be rescued by the benches and shady trees.

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It was an experience I will never forget, even though it is only a blip on the radar of this administration.

No matter.

I am positive we won’t be backing down soon.

 

 

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The chants we repeated basically said it all.

“We won’t go away.

Welcome to your 100th day.” 

An Ode to That One Planet We Can Live On

Earth Day had always been my favorite “holiday” as a child. I am not even kidding.

I have vivid memories of my elementary school class going outside and planting a tree. We could buy t-shirts with endangered whales, swirling clouds, and towering trees on them.

Our planet Earth provides us with so much that no blog post could ever cover it all.

So instead of writing over and over again of how important this Earth Day is, I am just going to show you its beauty and just some of what it has provided, for me personally, in pictures from my everyday life.

Hey Planet Earth, you provide me with:

A place to play softball.

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National Mall, Washington DC

A forest to ride through.

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Cal-Sag Trail, Palos Park, IL

A place to take it all in.

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Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

The opportunity to enhance it.

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Casey Tree planting, Washington DC

Fond family memories. 

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Lake Wandawega, Elkhorn, WI

Somewhere to splash my toes in. 

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Lake Michigan, Chicago, IL

The reminder of nature in a concrete jungle.

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Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL

How amazing the tide is. 

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Sand flats, Duxbury, MA

Sunsets that are top notch. 

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New Buffalo, MI

And sunrises that are equally fantastic.

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Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

Fall colors make my heart melt. 

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Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

And breathtaking ocean views.

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Big Sur, CA

The power of water.

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Niagara Falls, NY

Planet Earth, you remind us of just how tiny we are.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

 

How are you celebrating Earth Day?

EPA Blog Re-Post #5

Due to certain political circumstances, I will be re-posting links to EPA blogs I wrote while I was working there.

Here is the fifth one. Originally posted October 21, 2014.*

*I apologize if some links are no longer active. This is a few year old. 


Turning Back Time: Repairing Water Infrastructure

By Marguerite Huber

I am about to turn 25 years old—the quarter century mark! Yikes! While I may start to feel “old” when I consider that number, I am in considerably better shape than some of the pipes and sewer mains that make up the country’s water infrastructure, some components of which are more than four times my age.

Homes, apartment buildings, and businesses in nearly every neighborhood and city across

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Aging water infrastructure: fixing old, leaking sewer pipes in downtown Washington, DC.

the country are connected to miles and miles of pipes carrying wastewater and drinking water. That’s a lot of pipes to take care of!

The estimated costs of fixing old, leaky, and cracked pipes through the traditional methods of digging them up and patching or replacing them could cost water utilities in excess of $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Innovative, lower cost technologies that could provide alternatives would have enormous impact, but how do utilities know where to turn before they make investments in long-term solutions?

To answer this question, scientists and engineers from EPA’s aging water infrastructure research program reported on innovative and emerging technologies in their study, Innovative Rehabilitation Technology Demonstration and Evaluation Program (Matthews, et. al., 2014). They and their partners conducted field demonstrations to test these new technologies, such as those that aim to repair existing pipes “from the inside out,” under real-world conditions.

EPA’s work with industry partners gathered reliable performance and cost data on technologies that line the inside of the aging pipes to fill in the holes and cracks, prolonging their life. They shared what they learned with water and wastewater utility owners, technology manufacturers, consultants, and service providers.

They tested two types of liner technologies. One was a cured-in-place method that essentially is a pipe-within-a-pipe. The second was a spray-in-place method that uses a computer-controlled robot to apply a new pipe liner.

The researchers provided reliable information on the performance and cost of the emerging technologies. Stakeholders can benefit from the work: water and wastewater utility owners can reduce the risk of trying out unproven technologies by using technologies that have undergone evaluation; manufacturers and developers will realize the opportunity to advance technology development and commercialization; and consultants and service providers will have the information they need to compare the performance and cost of similar products.

Overall, these innovative technologies can be efficient and economical alternatives to full-blown replacements of water infrastructure. I hope I have similar options when I pass the century mark myself!

Read the post in its original format here

Literature Cited: Matthews, J., A. Selvakumar, R. Sterling, AND W. Condit. Innovative Rehabilitation Technology Demonstration and Evaluation Program. Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology. Elsevier BV, AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, 39:73-81, (2014).


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EPA Blog Re-Post #4

Due to certain political circumstances, I will be re-posting links to EPA blogs I wrote while I was working there.

Here is the fourth one. Originally posted February 13, 2015.*

*I apologize if some links are no longer active. This is a few year old. 


Storm Water Management Model Gets Climate Update

By Marguerite Huber

Image of a flooded local park

EPA researchers are developing strategies and resources to help city planners, managers, and others address stormwater runoff problems, including those related to impervious surfaces and combined sewer overflows. One powerful tool available is the Stormwater Management Model, also known by its acronym, “SWMM.”

EPA’s Storm Water Management Model is a publically-available rainfall-runoff simulation model that provides a suite of information about urban water patterns. It is used for planning, analysis, and design related to stormwater runoff, combined sewers, sanitary sewers, and other drainage systems in urban areas, and is the basis for the National Stormwater Calculator.

SWMM has the ability to estimate the pollution loads associated with stormwater runoff. Various versions of the model have been in existence since 1971, and it has been used in thousands of hydrology and drainage system design projects around the world.

The tool is designed to be customizable, helping particular urban areas meet local watershed challenges. For example, municipalities and communities can use it to design and size drainage system components for flood control, to design control strategies for minimizing combined sewer overflows, and to control site runoff using low impact development practices.

The Storm Water Management Model Climate Adjustment Tool (SWMM-CAT) is a new addition to SWMM. It is a simple to use software utility that allows future climate change projections to be incorporated into SWMM.

SWMM-CAT provides a set of location-specific adjustments that derived from global climate change models run as part of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 3 (CMIP3) archive. These are the same climate change simulations that helped inform the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in preparing its Fourth Assessment report.

Both SWMM and the Stormwater Calculator are a part of the President’s Climate Action Plan.

“Climate change threatens our health, our economy, and our environment,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator. “As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, this tool will help us better prepare for climate impacts by helping build safer, sustainable, and more resilient water infrastructure.”

The continued development of predictive modeling tools such as SWMM will provide urban planners and other stakeholders with the resources they need to incorporate both traditional stormwater and wastewater system technologies with the emerging, innovative techniques of green infrastructure. The collective impact will be more sustainable urban areas and healthier waterways across the nation.

SWMM-CAT can be downloaded here.

Read the post in its original format here


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