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  • 23 Apr 2022 7:55 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Happy Earth Day!!  But what is Earth Day really?  The first Earth Day goes back to 1970 and starts with the organization of campus teach-ins to raise awareness about air and water pollution. The day of choice was April 22nd which fell in between spring break and final exams in order to achieve maximum student participation. The effort expanded nationally across a number of organizations and the day was officially deemed Earth Day. At the time, 20 million Americans were inspired to demonstrate against the deterioration of the environment and all across the nation, rallies and protests were organized. By the end of 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) was created from which environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act were written and passed by Congress. In 1990, Earth Day became a global phenomenon which further increased the focus to address environmental issues such as enhancing the efforts towards recycling.


    As the years went by, Earth Day continued to provide a stage for many environmental campaigns and further bolstered the environmental movement all over the world. Today, Earth Day has evolved into a day of action that engages more than a billion people every year to improve the health of our planet. With the growing urgency for a clean environment made apparent by the growing adverse effects of climate change, Earth Day has become more important than ever. For more on Earth Day and what you can do to help build a healthier planet for generations to come, Earthday.org is a great resource to keep engaged within the environmental community and provides volunteer and donation opportunities in support of a more sustainable and green future.

    Link to the website:     https://www.earthday.org


    Image from Pixabay.com

    Ashley Romero is the Laboratory Manager at GEI Consultants, Inc. and has a background in ecotoxicology.


  • 24 Mar 2022 9:53 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Spring has sprung!  Like many gardeners, I am spending my weekends starting seeds, purchasing compost, and readying my beds for the upcoming growing season.  Before entering the wastewater field, I had not anticipated that this hobby could be so closely tied together with my profession.  While I was familiar with using animal manure as a garden amendment, I hadn’t realized that a byproduct from wastewater treatment could also be used to enrich my soil.




    During the wastewater treatment process, liquids get separated from solids during primary and secondary treatment.  Those solids are treated physically, chemically, and biologically to produce a nutrient-rich “sewage sludge” or “biosolid”.  The solids can be disposed of as a waste, or they can be further processed, tested, and used as a source of nutrients for agricultural land and reclamation sites.  This has many benefits, including:

    • Adding nutrients without the use of synthetic fertilizers
    • Improving soil structure and preventing erosion
    • Diverting solid waste from landfills

    For biosolids to be used for land application, they must meet federal and state requirements.  This includes limiting concentrations of pathogens and pollutants such as heavy metals, as well as reducing the material’s attractiveness to vectors such as flies and mosquitoes.  The biosolids are classified as Class A or Class B.  The different classes have different treatment methods (e.g., digestion, composting, drying) and different requirements for contaminant levels and land application. 

    • Class A Biosolids are treated in a way that significantly reduces fecal coliforms, along with other bacteria and viruses.  Class A’s strict limits must be met for the biosolids to be publicly available.  Exceptional Quality (EQ) Class A biosolids can be bagged and sold to the public and can be applied to home lawns and gardens.
    • Class B Biosolids have higher contaminant limits compared to Class A.  As a result, site restrictions are necessary.  Public access must be limited for a time period after land application.  On agricultural land, there are also “resting periods” after application before harvesting and/or grazing can occur.


    The EPA annual biosolids reports estimates that over 4.75 million dry metric tons of biosolids were produced in the U.S. in 2019.  Over half of this (~2.4 million dry metric tons) was beneficially used for land application.   A survey from the National Biosolids Data Project breaks down biosolids use for each state and estimates that Colorado beneficially reuses a larger portion of our biosolids – with 86% going to land application.


    Buying Biosolids

    Some wastewater treatment facilities sell their Class A compost directly to consumers.  The City of Santa Fe mixes biosolids from their wastewater treatment plant with other material to create their “Santa Fe Biosolids Compost”.  Others send their biosolids to commercial composters.  In Colorado, A1 Organics advertises that their compost product BioComp® contains biosolids and other organic material that might otherwise be disposed of in landfills (such as brewery and food waste).



    PFAS and Steps Forward

    While the positives of land application of biosolids are plentiful, it’s probably no surprise that the “forever chemicals” PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are an upcoming concern for biosolids – just as they are everywhere else in the industry.  These persistent chemicals have been used since the 1940s and are found in many common products such as household cleaners, floss, food packaging, and clothing.  PFAS are not utilized in the wastewater treatment process, but may be present in the waste stream received by the facilities. 


    New studies have identified trace levels of PFAS in biosolids, which has sparked fear in some.  However, biosolids have not been found to be a primary exposure pathway for PFAS. The concentrations being reported are generally very small, below the most stringent direct contact standards for soils. 


    While the PFAS spotlight is largely on drinking water, much research is still being done on the impact of PFAS in biosolids.  The EPA plans to complete a risk assessment of PFAS in biosolids by winter of 2024, which will serve as the basis for determining whether regulation of PFAS in biosolids is appropriate. 


    Reducing PFAS in biosolids will best done by preventing their introduction to the waste stream in the first place.  Reducing the commercial use of PFAS and stopping their discharge through industrial pretreatment programs will significantly reduce the PFAS received by wastewater reclamation facilities, and will therefore reduce their concentrations in biosolids.


    References:


    Jessica DeHerrera is an Analyst II at Metro Water Recovery, where she is responsible for the laboratory’s metals analyses.  She has 10 years of experience working in the water quality field.  She enjoys hiking, cuddling her dog Pearl, and leading her neighborhood community garden.

  • 24 Feb 2022 7:39 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Anyone working in an environmental laboratory can tell you that the work occasionally feels more detrimental to the environment than helpful. It’s difficult to feel like you’re working in favor of the Earth when ending a task means throwing away plastic pipettes and tips, cups, sample containers, and of course, nitrile gloves. This feeling isn’t unjustified either; the wide-spread use of single-use plastics and nitriles in laboratory work create an estimated 5.5 million tons of plastic waste in a single year [1]. This equates to almost 2% of all plastic waste created annually across the globe, despite researchers and scientists making up only 0.1% of the population [2]. Between plastic pipettes, pipette tips, tubing, plastic cups, disposable sample containers, and nitrile gloves, it can seem that there is little used in daily lab life that isn’t single-use, but how did the research field come to rely on these materials so heavily, and how can we steer toward a greener, more eco-friendly future?


    It is difficult to deny that plastic is a convenient, reliable material that works well for many scientific purposes. Plastics gained popularity in lab settings due to their low cost, durability, sterility, and disposability, and in many labs single-use plastics continue to make up a majority of equipment. Plastic beakers and cylinders will not shatter when dropped, plastic pipettes do not need sterilization before and after use, plastic sample containers are lightweight and easily disposed of, and yet it’s hard to ignore that throwing all of these things away feels, and is, bad. In pursuit of a more eco-friendly field, we as scientists are beginning to seek out ways that we can implement ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ in our daily activities.


    Reduction of single-use plastics is the clearest way to ensure that labs create less pollution. One option for this is to replace disposable plastic equipment with reusable glassware. Our WET testing lab has become more reliant on plastic over the last five years and is currently in the process of switching back from 12 oz. disposable plastic cups to 300 ml glass bowls for our Pimephales promelas tests, saving at least 30 plastic cups from the energy-intensive recycling process each time we run a test with the bowls instead. Sure, 30 cups may not seem like a substantial amount but we run up to 6 of these tests a week, every week of the year.


    Even if only two P. promelas tests are run every week of the year, a total of 3,120 cups would be saved by using bowls. When plastic-ware cannot be replaced it can often be optimized to create the least amount of waste. Making these sort of changes isn’t necessarily easy or convenient (for example, the plastic cups are easier to decant effluent from and don’t require washing at the end of a test like the bowls do), and it certainly costs more initially to outfit a lab with glassware rather than plastics, but the reduced cost on the environment makes the monetary cost and effort well worth it.


    Reuse of plastics in laboratory settings is often not feasible or safe due to the threat of contamination. Often times laboratory samples must be kept separate and sterile, and any cross-contamination could jeopardize the integrity of tests or experiments. That being said, keeping some materials, such as plastic pipettes, to be used multiple times with the same sample is an easy way to reduce single-use plastics while maintaining sample integrity.


    Not all laboratory plastics can, or should be recycled, however, every step should be taken to properly dispose of the ones that can. Educating laboratory technicians on which of their materials are recyclable and not, as well as providing any necessary instruction on their disposal is a key part of ensuring a more environmentally-friendly lab. Keeping handy reference lists or guides for what materials can be recycled can be helpful in empowering employees to be more confident about their disposal decisions.


    The responsibility of making these changes to create a more eco-friendly field lies on all of our shoulders. We can all make conscious choices in the designs of our experiments, our use of materials, and our allocation of funds to create workplaces that maintain efficiency and credibility while also becoming more sustainable.


    [1] Urbina, M. A., Watts, A. J., & Reardon, E. E. (2015). Labs should cut plastic waste too. Nature, 528(7583), 479–479. https://doi.org/10.1038/528479c


    [2] Facts and figures: Human resources. UNESCO. (2015, December 8). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://en.unesco.org/node/252277


    [3] Niraula, A., Gautam, K., Gazda, M. A., & Krause, M. (2020, May 5). Reducing plastic waste in the lab. Chemistry World. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://www.chemistryworld.com/opinion/reducing-plastic-waste-in-the-lab/4011550.article


    Ivy Sklenar Murphy is a laboratory technician at GEI Consultants, Inc., where she helps conduct Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) testing for clients across the United States. She lives in the Denver area with her family and a myriad of animals, and enjoys spending time camping, foraging, and looking at things under her microscope.

  • 22 Jan 2022 1:40 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    As water treatment facilities are faced with ever-increasing challenges, it is important for utility staff to proactively evaluate treatment plant performance and implement actions to improve operations, energy efficiency, and treated water quality. The jar test is recognized throughout the water industry as a valuable and proven tool for treatment process optimization. Jar tests are routinely conducted by water treatment plant operators, laboratory staff, consultants, and chemical suppliers. The jar test is conducted in the laboratory and is used to simulate full-scale conventional treatment processes. Laboratory staff can work together with operators in conducting these tests, particularly in the preparation of stock solutions, in which operators may have little or no experience.

     

    Jar testing may be carried out for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the following: 1) to optimize chemical dosages and / or points of application, 2) to determine the effectiveness of alternative coagulants or coagulant aids, 3) to optimize mixing times and intensities, or 4) to evaluate the impact of other changes in water chemistry and conditions. A typical jar test apparatus (Figure 1) consists of four to six jars with sample ports and paddle mixers,   

    which can be programmed to stir at particular speeds for particular amounts of time, to simulate the coagulation, flocculation, and sedimentation processes. Stock solutions of treatment chemicals are prepared ahead of time and added to the jars in the same sequence and dosage as they are added in the full-scale plant (additionally, the plant dosage is typically bracketed by higher and lower dosages during the jar tests to determine the optimal dosage).


    Figure 1: Northglenn Jar Test Apparatus


    It is critical that the conditions used in the jar test accurately simulate the full-scale plant. This requires knowledge of the hydraulic characteristics of the plant as well as the properties and dosages of any chemical additions. However, even when theoretical conditions (e.g., velocity gradient, detention times, and surface loading rates) are matched closely, there is often a need to empirically tweak the parameters to make the jar test results match the full-scale results. Therefore, customizing a jar testing procedure so it can yield results indicative of plant performance is iterative and can be time consuming. Facilities with successful jar testing procedures have often used the theoretical parameters as a starting point and then made minor adjustments by trial and error until the full-scale plant results are accurately simulated by the jar test1.


    The City of Northglenn Water Treatment Facility (WTF) is in the process of calibrating their jar test procedure. Once the jar testing procedure has been successfully dialed in, the tests will be used to optimize the dosage of chemical coagulants (i.e., alum and polymer) and oxidants (i.e., sodium permanganate). Optimal coagulant dosages are critical to proper floc formation and filter performance. Higher coagulant dosages do not necessarily provide more effective removal of contaminants, such as particles and organic compounds. In fact, a law of diminishing returns often applies with the addition of coagulants (Figure 2), where further increases in coagulant dosage can reduce total organic carbon (TOC) removal. In addition, coagulant dosages that are too high can result in the production of excess sludge, which increases the cost of sludge disposal. It should also be noted that the coagulant dosage which results in the best turbidity removal does not always correspond to the best TOC removal (Figure 3). Therefore, jar tests can provide comprehensive insight into the relationship between particle and organics removal, and how it relates to chemical dosage, cost, and sludge production.



    Figure 2: Law of Diminishing Returns with Coagulant Dosage2



    Figure 3: Turbidity and TOC Removal by Coagulant Dosage2


    Once successful, the jar testing procedure will be used to optimize the addition of other treatment chemicals used at the Northglenn WTF, such as sodium permanganate. Sodium permanganate is a chemical oxidant used to remove iron and manganese, and to control taste and odor compounds. It can also help to reduce the formation of disinfection byproducts (DBPs) by oxidizing precursors and reducing the demand for disinfectants, such as chlorine. High dosages of sodium permanganate can result in pink water, which can be avoided through dosage optimization with jar tests.


    The processes downstream of pretreatment will also operate more efficiently when pretreatment processes are optimized. For example, filters succeeding an optimized pretreatment process will have longer filter run times between backwashes, which results in less energy and finished water use. Further, enhanced TOC removal due to pretreatment optimization helps water plants meet DBP regulations, since organic material is a precursor to DBP formation.


    In addition to the potential to dramatically improve treatment process operations, energy efficiency, and treated water quality, the total cost savings associated with optimized treatment can be significant. The City of Englewood saved greater than $100,000 in one year in chemical and sludge disposal costs by optimizing their pretreatment process with jar testing results2. Armed with the knowledge gained from conducting jar tests, water plants can ensure the plant is optimized to the fullest extent possible and deliver the highest quality water to customers.


    References

    [1] American Water Works Association. 2011. Operational Control of Coagulation and Filtration Processes.


    [2] American Water Works Association California-Nevada Section. Improved Jar Testing Optimization with TOC Analysis. https://ca-nv-awwa.org/CANV/downloads/2015/afc15presentations/ImprovedJarTesting.pdf. Accessed: January 19, 2022.


    Emily von Hagen is the Laboratory Technician at the Northglenn Water Treatment Facility. She has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering and a Class C Water Treatment Plant Operator license in Colorado. She is passionate about everything water and lives in Denver with her parrot, Zappa.


  • 16 Dec 2021 9:40 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    I was once called to a meeting with a high management-level supervisor and I asked what I should do to be prepared for this meeting (I didn’t know what I was being called in for). His answer was no need to prepare but “Wear your square shoulders”.  Well, I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant so Google helped me:  to prepare to deal with something difficult in a determined way, or to show that you are prepared to do this. In the end, I wasn’t in trouble, exactly, but I was asked to do things differently and he knew I wasn’t going to like it. The rest of that story isn’t important, but the phrase has stuck with me.


    I think preparing for a sanitary survey or any audit fits this phrase perfectly. Do something difficult in a determined way and show you are prepared to do this.

    A sanitary survey is usually associated with a drinking water system and it is essentially an audit of everything you do in a water system. This type of audit is basically the same as a lab audit or inspection for a discharge permit. No matter what you call it, an audit can be scary and very stressful. There are things you can do to prepare yourself and your organization to help alleviate this stress, albeit not all of it!


    First, every aspect of our work requires documentation. If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. You must do the documentation required every day, day in and day out! You can’t put this off. When you are preparing for an audit, you can check the documentation, know where it is kept and make sure any cross-outs are done correctly (ONE line, date and initials). If you find the documentation is not in order, make sure it is done correctly from that point on. You can’t go back and re-create documentation. You can write a memo to clarify that your entity made procedural changes to correct the issue, but that’s really about all you can do. When the auditor finds it – because let’s face it – they ALWAYS do! Then you explain, yes, we found that as well. Here is our corrective action memo (yes, write it down) and as you can see, from the date of this memo forward, we have been documenting this properly.


    Second, clean and then clean some more. I’m talking white glove style, like your in-laws are coming to visit. I really believe auditors have a sixth sense. They can find things you never would have even considered. The thing is, if your plant, lab, etc. are clean then the perception is you have your act together. Now that doesn’t mean they won’t come across something you’ve let slip or have an observation of a different way to do things, but it leaves a good impression. Just like when the in-laws visit! An oil stain could lead them to ask about what kind of oil you use, which could lead to asking if it is NSF approved and if it isn’t, that could lead to a significant deficiency or violation. Clean.


    Control the audit as much as possible. Set the schedule so you can have the appropriate people available for the auditor to talk to. Plan this out and make sure everyone knows they will be participating. I like to send an agenda with the appointment (or follow up to their appointment) along with specific meeting place maps. One time I didn’t do this and the auditor was waiting at the hand pump instead of the office. Not a big deal but wasted some time for sure. You know they will want to see just about everything in your system so plan the routes and time it will take to tour the sites.


    Next, talk to your friends and neighbors. See what challenges they have faced during recent audits. There’s usually something auditors focus on every year. When a new rule is implemented, for instance, they will be making sure you have met the requirements of the rule. Speaking of your friends and neighbors – maybe ask someone to do a “pre-survey” of your system. This can really help point out things you may have been overlooking for years.


    Prepare people or yourself to talk to auditors. I’m not suggesting you hide anything; however, you also don’t have to point out things you know you could do better. When an auditor asks a question, make sure you understand what they are asking then answer it concisely. This isn’t the time to tell stories or add extra information. If you don’t understand the question, ask the auditor to re-phrase it. If you don’t know the answer, do not pretend like you do. It is ok to not know the answer! You could say, "I don’t know, I would have to look at my SOP or ask my supervisor". Then the auditor can choose to ask for the SOP or ask your supervisor. That’s OK! Silence…prepare for the auditor to leave very awkward pauses and silence. Don’t try to fill in the silence. Politely wait for them to get to their next question. You can also move the tour along by asking if they would like to go to whatever the next stop is. It is uncomfortable to stand there and wait for them to ask the next question. It’s a tactic. I’m not suggesting that auditors are mean and nasty, but it is a trained tactic of auditing to get you to keep talking and tell them something which will lead them down another path.  


    Also, make sure people are respectful to the auditors. Do NOT argue with them. If you disagree, you can ask them to show you the regulation they are referring to so you can understand their point of view. If at that point, you still disagree, you can discuss it after the report comes out and go from there. It is rarely to your benefit to argue with them. Say thank you. Yes, basic manners but you’d be surprised.

    An audit should be approached as a learning experience. Improving what we do to protect public health is a good thing. I know we all take a lot of pride in our work, so it hurts when someone says we are doing it wrong. Learn from it and make corrections – “Wear you square shoulders”!


    If anyone would like more information or help with an upcoming audit – let me know – I’d be happy to help!


    Sherry Scaggiari is the Environmental Compliance Principal at the City of Aurora. Sherry has a chemistry degree from CSU and made her start in environmental contract labs over 30 years ago. She has worked for the city of Aurora for 14 years. She is responsible for compliance for Aurora Water including supervising the Quality Control Laboratory.

  • 15 Nov 2021 10:22 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    We’ve had a major success in our Milfoil Weevil program.  Some of the preliminary results are shown in cute pictures from Bob Krugmire – see below!


    When we talk about the Standley Lake Weevils – it’s often with a lighthearted tone. They’ve got names like Wilber and Wilma Weevil. We joke about our new job titles of weevil farmers – definitely atypical water utilities work.  And a couple of us even have stuffed animal weevils. (Note – if anyone is looking for a good Christmas present for me…I want one.)


    But in truth, this is so much more than a fun pastime. This program represents what our Westy team excels at: Seeing the big picture, getting to the root of a problem, and finding the right solution – even if it’s far outside the box.  And – we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty and try new things in the process.


    Mature Weevil on Fingertip

    Figure 1 - Mature Weevil on fingertip.


    Many entities treat their water supplies with chemicals to keep algae and other unwanted contaminants at bay. Here at Westminster though, we have an entirely different approach.  We work hard to keep our water supply clean and healthy to begin with – so that those expensive and unhealthy chemical treatments aren’t necessary.  The health of Standley Lake’s ecosystem is the basis of our raw water supply program - Mother Nature is one of our best tools in the effort to maintain exceptional water quality.  And through decades of hard work, Standley Lake is now one of the best source waters in the State. Seriously.

    A healthy lake ecosystem results in cleaner source water. Clean source water results in substantially reduced water treatment costs. It reduces unhealthy treatment residuals in our drinking water and results in better tasting water for our customers.  


    But Standley Lake does have a health issue that staff works hard to mitigate - an invasive species called Eurasian Milfoil. This milfoil chokes out native plants, reduces biodiversity, and ultimately increases the potential for blue-green algae blooms (which can cause taste/odor issues and can release cyanotoxins which are extremely dangerous).  Additionally, beds of milfoil will create areas of low oxygen that can increase the release of nutrients, sulfur, and even metals from the soils.


    Use of chemicals to treat for milfoil can be extraordinarily expensive (think $1M+ per treatment) and they run the potential of killing a lot more than milfoil - even causing fish kills.  (Yum yum! Who wants to drink that water?)  Instead of using chemicals, Westminster developed one of the only sustained Milfoil Weevil populations in the West – a program that started back in 2002.  These weevils eat the invasive milfoil and keep it under control naturally.  The program has worked fantastically and has had a measurable impact on the health of the lake.


    But the population isn’t as big as it could be.  And there isn’t a vendor that can provide us with more weevils…the last vendor closed back in 2011.  


    Figure 2 - Weevil on Eurasian Milfoil Plants


    So, our water quality staff went to work to find an alternative solution, and started piloting a program to harvest existing weevils in the lake and put them in safe enclosures where they can grow and thrive with less fear of predation. (They are tasty fish snacks.)  Yesterday – we had our first look into the success of the pilot – and we are so excited to share that we have a lot of weevils!  Staff identified at least three healthy, adult weevils in that enclosure – which is more direct observations of adult weevils than we’ve seen in years of observations across the lake.  (There are many more weevils that aren’t directly visible.) Our pilot enclosures have had their first significant success, and it is looking promising that we will be able to successfully increase our weevil population – ultimately resulting in an even healthier lake!


    The grand total cost of this water quality solution?  Less than $500 plus staff time.

    Finally, we would like to give a big shout out to Kelly Cline, John Conor Creber, and the rest of the water quality team for their ingenuity, curiosity, and willingness to go the extra mile for the benefit of our community.  But truly – the shout out goes to the team across PWU.  This is one program of many that sets Westminster apart as a leader in our respective fields.


    This month’s blog post was written by Sarah Borgers, with photos by Bob Krugmire, and was provided by Lindie Aragon, all of whom are with the City of Westminster.


  • 19 Oct 2021 8:38 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    The month of October is always a scary time of the year. It’s a time to binge scary movies, visit all the haunted houses and decorate your house as spooky as possible. However, if you’re looking for something truly scary this month, look no further than the Colorado River Basin shortage.


    On August 16, 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation declared the first-ever water shortage for the Colorado River Basin.  An exceptionally dry spring in the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming) and low runoff conditions have left Lake Mead and Lake Powell at record low reservoir levels.


    Five-year projections released from the Bureau of Reclamation (https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html) show Lake Mead with a 66% chance of dipping below 1,025 feet of elevation in 2025. When reservoir elevations start dropping, the government will enact mandatory water cuts. This is scary for states on the Lower Basin (Nevada, Arizona, California) who rely on these reservoirs for drinking water. With a water shortage declared with Lake Mead dropping below 1,075 feet in elevation, Arizona and Nevada can expect water allocation slashes starting in 2022. The next set of federal cuts would come once the reservoir hits 1,050 feet in elevation and could realistically happen next year.


    This graph taken from http://mead.uslakes.info/level.asp shows Lake Mead’s water level for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021 up until October 18.


    Projections are not only scary for Lake Mead but also for Lake Powell which shows a 3 percent chance of dropping to levels next year where the Glen Canyon Dam cannot generate power. While 3 percent may seem unlikely, the projections show a jump to 34 percent in 2023. The Glen Canyon Dam produces around five billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually and provides power to a Western population that is rapidly growing.


    This graph taken from http://powell.uslakes.info/level.asp shows Lake Powell’s water level for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021 up until October 18.


    The Colorado River’s existing management guidelines are set to expire in 2026 with very important negotiations looming. Can a balance be agreed upon that provides enough inflow to the Lower Basin but still leaves enough for the Upper?  With so many parties interesting in securing water, the future of the Colorado River Basin is indeed enough of a scare to get you through this Halloween season.


    Danny McCausland is an Analyst II at Metro Water Recovery. He has 8 years experience working in the water quality field.


  • 21 Sep 2021 11:28 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    During a recent road trip to Utah, I found myself having to navigate around the I-70 road closures due to the recent mudslides the state has seen. This got me thinking of how these mudslides are not only having an impact on infrastructure but also the environmental impact they have on things such as water quality.

     

    But what exactly is a mudslide? A mudslide is a type of landslide that is the fast-moving flow of debris, earth, or rock that moves down a slope. As defined by the CDC, ”Mudslides develop when water rapidly accumulates in the ground and results in a surge of water-saturated rock, earth, and debris”. This debris then flows down the slope, often with such a force that it destroys anything in its path. Depending on the location of the mudslide it can often cause damage to things from roads to rivers. These natural disasters are often seen in areas that have had wildfires, previous landslides, steep slopes, recent downpours, and high exposure to surface runoff.




    As seen from the recent road closures in Colorado, these natural disasters can cause some serious damage. But where do the mudslides stop? These slides have a difficult time crossing rivers and this often leads to the contents of the slide flowing through the river. As a result, we see major increases in the amount of sediment (or turbidity) in these rivers which leads to less clear water. This increase in turbidity tends to increase temperature and decrease dissolved oxygen levels which can often harm aquatic life. 


    With high turbidity, there is also a decrease in UV exposure which can potentially lead to the growth of harmful algae blooms such as cyanobacteria. During my trip, I had some direct experience with high cyanobacteria blooms at Zion National Park. Though this was caused by a monsoon rather than a mudslide, it was interesting seeing the impact that these blooms have on the water. These toxic blooms create a film on top of the water that can contribute to the decrease in UV exposure in the river as well as a decrease in oxygen and nutrients that are needed for aquatic life. It is also toxic to ingest and will often leave any person or animal that drinks the water very sick. There are no known remedies for curing these effects and in severe cases can lead to death.


    The environmental impacts of mudslides are large, and we can see their dramatic effects anywhere in the world, including here in Colorado. With mudslides comes an increase in turbidity, which can lead to an increase in water temperatures, a decrease in dissolved oxygen, and potentially a decrease in UV exposure. All these factors can cause harm to aquatic life in our natural water systems. All this said, while mudslides often feel like a nuisance with the various road closures they can cause, mudslides also have a detrimental impact on our ecosystem that I believe is important to be aware of.


    References

    https://www.aquasana.com/info/how-mudslides-contaminate-your-water-supply-pd.html


    https://www.cdc.gov/habs/general.html


    https://www.analyticaltechnology.com/analyticaltechnology/gas-water-monitors/blog.aspx?ID=1324&Title=What%20Happens%20if%20Water%20Turbidity%20Gets%20Too%20High


    https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/toxic-cyanobacteria-bloom-in-the-virgin-river-and-the-streams-of-zion-national-park.htm


    https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/landslides.html


    https://www.denverpost.com/2021/06/27/glenwood-canyon-mudslide-i70-closure/


    This blog was written by Michael Hendricks, a Water Quality Supervisor for GEI Consultants He has 7 years of experience in the industry and holds a BA in Biological Science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.



  • 25 Aug 2021 9:42 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    After studying fire ecology, I decided to abandon pre-med to pursue a career in Ecology. I never knew there were species of plants that needed forest fires for their seeds to germinate. I learned that a truly healthy forest is often only possible after the clearing of undergrowth from fire. Fascinating facts of fire ecology drive home the importance of fire. But the drying out of once-wet places (i.e the Pacific Northwest) combined with human encroachment have resulted in devastation. In many paces this is becoming the norm. Fires are more intense and spread larger than ever due in part to years of fire suppression. In Colorado we’ve had a wetter than usual start to 2021. I was curious about the forecast for our regional fire season.


    Before I dive into the data, I want to say that this was a “quick and dirty” search. I make a lot of generalizations and recognize that there isn’t always a perfect comparison between location and precipitation/fires. To keep it broad, I started by googling current fires in Colorado and found a map showing all 2021 fires. I overlaid it with a precipitation map showing 2021 rainfall (Figure 1). I was curious whether areas where fires occurred were drier than the rest of the state.



    Figure 1: Map of Colorado precipitation from January 1, 2021 through August 13, 2021 overlaid with Colorado’s 2021 fires from Coloradoan.com. The numbers correspond with the numbers in Table 1.


    The largest of the fires in Colorado this year was the June Oil Springs Fire which burned near the Utah border (Figure 1, #4). Based on the precipitation map, there were numerous green dots indicating less rainfall relatively close to the fire. The Western Slope clearly did not get as much rainfall as the mountains and Front Range early in 2021.


    The second largest fire in Colorado this year was the Morgan Creek Fire outside of Steamboat Springs in the Northeast-Central part of the state. Nearby precipitation totals were a lot higher than the Grand Junction area with some red dots indicating high rainfall relatively close the location of the fire. I had a hard time finding an update on the Morgan Creek fire. As of a few weeks ago, it was only 24% contained. Hopefully the higher precipitation is helping control that fire. Two very small fires also occurred in the southwest portion of the state where rainfall was moderate (Figure 1, #’s 6 and 7).  


    2020 was one of the most devastating wildfire years in Colorado history. I wanted to compare the 2020 fire season to 2021’s fire season. I tracked down monthly precipitation data for August 2019 through July 2020 and August 2020 through July 2021 for four different locations, 1) the Denver area, where tons of spring rain forced the cancellation of many of my kid’s soccer practices, 2) the Yampa weather station which is relatively close to the 2021 Morgan Creek Fire, 3) the Grand Lake Station which was relatively close to the extremely destructive 2020 Cameron Peak Fire (Colorado’s Largest in history) and East Troublesome Fire which burned a combined 402,725 acres or 520 square miles (9News 2021), and finally, 4) a weather station in Grand Junction which is close to 2020’s third largest fire, Pine Gulch which burned 139,007 acres and is also relatively close to the 2021 Oil Springs Fire.


    There are a few things that are apparent from these figures (Figures 2-5), 1) Denver received much more rain in early 2021 than any of the other three sites graphed. 2) Grand Junction was particularly dry in the graphed timeframe which explains the fires in both years. 3) The Grand Lake dataset is fairly interesting. February 2020 saw a relatively high amount of precipitation. While months leading up to the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fires were by no means wet, there was still some decent rainfall which would make you think that the extreme fires that occurred should not have been as bad as they were. However, none of the data tell the full picture on the rainfall patterns (all at once vs spread over time), which might help explain the extreme fire situation. The beetle kill was also a particularly destructive component of the 2020 fires.



    Figures 2-5: Monthly precipitation for four sites from August 2019 through July 2021. Data from Colorado State University's Colorado Climate Center.


    What does all this mean for the rest of the 2021 fire season? Well, based on the data I looked at, I have no idea. Clearly the Western Slope needs more rain. I turned to the experts for predictions for the rest of the fire season. According to the Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center (who knew there was such a thing!):


    “Above normal significant fire potential is predicted in August and September across the northwest corner of Colorado through much of Wyoming, South Dakota, and northwest Nebraska.”


    “Late June and July precipitation and moderating fire weather conditions resulted in a decrease in new significant fire activity as well as reduced growth on existing large fires.”  


    “The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) outlook for August indicates drier and warmer than normal conditions over northern portions of the Rocky Mountain Area. More extensive warming and drying is projected for the autumn period, especially west of the Continental Divide.”


    Check out the link in the references to read the full story, but it appears the wetter weather is helping reduce fire risk for parts of the state, but unfortunately the rain has not been reaching the entire state leaving many areas at risk for more fires.


    When compiling the data on the fires that have occurred in 2021 in Colorado (Table 1), I was surprised to find that all were either confirmed to have been started by lighting or are being investigated but likely started by lighting. After briefly discussing wildfires in California with a colleague, I learned that more than one of those extremely destructive fires was started by transmission lines rather than natural factors. While wildfires these days are becoming more and more destructive, it is frustrating to learn that some of California’s wildfires were preventable. Despite the benefits fire brings to forests, with the spread of people deeper into the forest, fires must be minimized and controlled.


    Table 1: Colorado’s 2021 wildfires as of August 23, 2021 from Coloradoan.com.

    Name of Fire

    Location on Map

    % Contained

    Date Started

    Cause

    # Acres Burned

    Morgan Creek Fire

    1

    24 as of 8/12/21

    7/9/21

    Lightning

    7,505

    Muddy Slide Fire

    2

    70 as of 8/6/21

    6/20/21

    Lightning

    4,093

    Sylvan Fire

    3

    90 as of 8/20/21

    6/20/21

    Lightning

    3,792

    Oil Springs Fire

    4

    99 as of 7/6/21

    6/18/21

    Lightning

    12,613

    Wild Cow Fire

    5

    100 as of 6/28/21

    6/21/21

    Lightning Suspected

    560

    Trail Canyon

    6

    90 as of 6/22/21

    6/18/21

    Lightning

    881

    Vosburg Pike

    7

    100 as of 7/17/21

    6/16/21

    Under Investigation

    67


    References


    9News. https://www.9news.com/article/news/local/wildfire/colorado-2020-historic-wildfire-season/73-c9458147-c945-45e6-bea9-a1d426cca102  Accessed August 23, 2021.


    Colorado State University; Colorado Climate Center. Precipitation map and precipitation data.  https://climate.colostate.edu/  Accessed August 13, 2021.


    Coloradoan.com. Hazard Mapping System: Fire and Smoke.  https://data.coloradoan.com/fires/ Accessed August 13, 2021.


    Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center. 2021. National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook. Issued: August 1, 2021.


    Natalie Love is the Laboratory Director at GEI Consultants, Inc. GEI conducts Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) Testing, low-level nutrient analysis, and benthic macroinvertebrate identifications. She lives in Denver with her husband, 2 daughters, and Belgian Malinois, Nacho.





  • 29 Jul 2021 8:45 AM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

    Do you ever feel like you’re in a Parks and Rec episode when dealing with resident water quality complaints?


    “There’s a sign in the park that says DO NOT DRINK the sprinkler water and I made some tea with it and now I have an infection” -Parks and Rec episode


    I got the idea for this month’s blog recently when I was asked by a resident, “Why does my washing machine smell like doo-doo water”. Easy fix, bleach and sanitize your washing machine for mold and mildew.


    It can always be tricky trying to diagnose water quality issues at a residence or business when there are multiple factors that can affect the taste and odor. As I am very confident in our water quality and take great pride in our water, I find it a fun challenge to be able to troubleshoot residents’ water quality issues and teach them about water quality and our treatment techniques. Many complaints start with water heater issues or old refrigerator filters. Yes, I’ve been asked multiple times to test resident’s ice cubes!


    If we can’t resolve a problem over the phone, we offer to test the resident’s tap water to compare any differences to our distribution lab data. Here are some of the questions to ask and ways to troubleshoot possible water quality issues to help you determine whether the issue is related to taste/odor problems from the water itself or something within the residence.

    • Make sure the water is always cold out of the kitchen tap when comparing water quality between sources; hot water chemistry can be completely different due to water heater conditions
    • Suggest annual or bi-annual water heater preventative maintenance to the resident to mitigate issues by flushing out iron and manganese sediment and keep the unit running efficiently
    • Recommend cleaning out tap diffusers, especially if new galvanized plumbing has been installed
    • Water softeners or any other separate treatment systems like reverse osmosis can cause issues if not properly maintained or cleaned regularly
    • New filters and water softener media should be flushed or seasoned when installed
    • Old refrigerator filters/water lines and scale build up on fridge water lines can cause taste and cloudiness issues
    • Clean scaling in small water lines with vinegar solution for different appliances; check out Youtube for instructions on specific brands
    • New residents to the area often have a different taste for the water and it takes time to acclimate to the taste
    • Taking new medications can alter you taste of drinking water and COVD symptoms has raised new issues with loss of taste
    • Is the glassware actually clean? Dishwasher performance or residual detergent left on glassware can create taste problems
    • Solar Water heaters on the top of the roof can also cause issues (yes, I’ve actually run across this issue)
    • If there is an odor coming from the sink, it is most likely coming from the drain and can be improved by cleaning with baking soda, vinegar, hot water, and even orange peels ground up with a garbage disposal
    • Chlorine taste/odor can be mitigated by filling a pitcher of water and storing it in the fridge overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate out
    • Cloudiness in the water often happens with temperature fluctuation and will also dissipate within 5 minutes
    • Color issues, often an orange or black tint, are most likely iron or manganese, potentially from hot water heaters
    • Compare the outside tap water quality with the kitchen tap water quality or nearby distribution sampling site to assess the location of the problem
    • There could also potentially be a change in water quality from the change in seasons that is messing with the chemistry in the water which should pass soon
    • Lastly, are staff flushing hydrants in the area or was there a watermain break that disrupted services?

    If all else fails, have the Distribution Department flush the area to bring in fresh water and hopefully resolve the issue. There are multiple issues than can occur that could potentially cause taste and odor issues so having a few questions in your pocket to help diagnose the problem can make the resident feel at-ease and be more willing to help and hopefully figure out the issue faster. It also helps to keep an ongoing list of water complaints to help with future issues and diagnosis if certain locations or neighborhoods experience similar problems.


    I figured this blog could help staff that deal with water complaints as well as distribution samplers that are asked questions by residents while sampling throughout the community. It is always fun working and troubleshooting with the public! Keep calm and Enjoy!


    John Winterton is the Laboratory Supervisor at the City of Northglenn. He’s been working with Northglenn for over 5 years in water treatment and water quality.


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