Must water be an evaporating asset?

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

As Climate Week drew to a close last month, the media and sustainability experts lauded the private sector for its can-do attitude towards addressing climate change. That level of action is especially welcome coming from the thousands of companies calling for a global price on carbon.

That increasing level of commitment and action from companies must also be applied to water scarcity challenges. From droughts in California and Ohio to the continuing water shortages in India, water scarcity will become only more pressing and affect billions more people with each passing year.

The World Economic Forum has identified “water crises” as one of the top 10 issues (PDF) of greatest concern to the global economy in 2014, two steps above “failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation” and the third highest risk ranked overall.

A 2012 study found that from 1995-2005 at least 2.67 billion people — over one third of the world’s population — already were living in water basins that experience severe water scarcity at least one month a year. Population growth will exacerbate stress placed on existing basins to meet the demands of agriculture, energy and industry, and a growing urban population that expects abundant and clean flows of water every time it turns on the tap.

In SustainAbility’s September report, Evaporating Asset: Water Scarcity and Innovations for the Future, developed with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, we explored the urgency of water scarcity and some of the most innovative approaches to address it. While there is no silver bullet for what Deloitte’s enterprise water strategy director, Will Sarni, so aptly describes as a “wicked problem,” there is a critical need to find better solutions and pursue smarter collaborations to stay a step ahead.

Review of Operational Water Consumption and Withdrawal Factors for Electricity Generating Technologies

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This report provides estimates of operational water withdrawal and water consumption factors for electricity generating technologies in the United States. Estimates of water factors were collected from published primary literature and were not modified except for unit conversions. The presented water factors may be useful in modeling and policy analyses where reliable power plant level data are not available.

Drinking Water: Characterization of Injected Fluids Associated with Oil and Gas Production

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What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, including oversight and regulation of injection wells associated with oil and gas production called class II wells. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, these wells are subject to regulation to protect underground drinking water sources. EPA has approved 39 states to manage their own class II well programs and EPA regions are responsible for managing the programs in remaining states.

Information collected by EPA and select states on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells varies. Class II programs in seven of the eight states GAO reviewed require permit applicants to provide some information on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells prior to permitting, but the specificity and frequency of the information applicants are required to provide varies from state to state. Specifically, all of the states GAO selected except for Ohio require applicants to provide some information on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells, but the specific constituents to be reported differ by state. While Ohio’s regulations do not require operators to provide information on the characteristics of fluids injected, the regulations narrowly define what fluids can be injected into class II wells. According to state officials, Ohio also conducted research on the characteristics of produced water in the state’s oil and gas producing formations, and samples fluids injected into class II wells during well inspections. In addition, while all of the states GAO reviewed but Ohio require applicants to provide information on fluid characteristics when the well is permitted, five of the programs in eight states GAO reviewed require that well operators conduct additional analyses of fluids injected into class II wells after the well has been permitted.

According to EPA officials, fluid characterization requirements for class II wells are designed to ensure that no chemicals are injected that could potentially damage the wells. In addition, EPA officials told GAO that the agency does not prescribe a set list of constituents that state and EPA-managed class II programs should monitor. As a result, state programs and programs managed by EPA regions have discretion to monitor the injection fluid constituents that they deem critical to protect underground sources of drinking water in their respective states or regions.

Why GAO Did This Study

Every day in the United States, at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into underground formations to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources. Water that is injected underground for disposal or to enhance recovery is regulated under EPA’s UIC program and approved state programs. EPA developed safeguards to prevent fluids that are injected into underground formations from endangering underground drinking water sources, including monitoring of the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells. Domestic production of oil and gas has increased dramatically in the last several years, with corresponding increases in the wastewater resulting from production processes. Because a significant percentage of the population gets its drinking water from underground aquifers, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

GAO was asked to describe the information that EPA and states require injection well operators to provide on the characteristics of fluids injected into class II wells. GAO reviewed and summarized state class II fluid characterization requirements from a nongeneralizable sample of eight states–California, Colorado, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas–selected on the basis of shale oil and gas regions and the highest number of class II wells. GAO also interviewed EPA and state officials.

Delta Backwaters Can Capture Field Runoff Pollutants

Read the full story from the Agricultural Research Service.

In the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta, sediment accumulation can cut off segments of meandering river channels from the main channel. These isolated segments eventually become the oxbow lakes and backwater wetlands that are scattered across the Delta landscape. Agricultural Research Service ecologist Richard Lizotte believes these oxbow lakes are more than just a fisherman’s retreat or an alligator’s lair; he thinks they help improve water quality by trapping and removing agricultural pollutants lost from adjacent croplands.

Results from his research have been published in River Research and Applications, Science of the Total Environment, and Ecohydrology.

Microplastic Pollution Discovered in St. Lawrence River Sediments

Read the full story from McGill University.

A team of researchers from McGill University and the Quebec government have discovered microplastics (in the form of polyethylene ‘microbeads,’ less than 2 mm in diameter) widely distributed across the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, the first time such pollutants have been found in freshwater sediments.

The microbeads likely originate from cosmetics, household cleansers, or industrial cleansers – all products in which they are commonly used as abrasives. Owing to their small size and buoyancy, they may readily pass through sewage treatment plants. Microplastics are a global contaminant in the world’s oceans, but have only recently been detected in the surface waters of lakes and rivers…

To access the full article: R.A. Castañeda, S. Avlijas, M.A. Simard, A. Ricciardi. 2014. “Microplastic pollution in St. Lawrence River sediments”. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/cjfas-2014-0281

Promoting the Use of Green Roofs on Street – Level Surfaces to Improve Public Awareness about Stormwater Management in Boston

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Stormwater runoff is a problem in the City of Boston due to the urbanization of the area. The goal of our project was to determine the technical and financial feasibility of installing green roofs on street-level surfaces in the City of Boston with the purpose of raising public awareness and encouraging a change in the public’s behavior with respect to stormwater runoff. We conducted interviews with representatives from similar projects in other cities and performed an observational study to determine the possibility of installing green roofs on bus stops for the purpose of raising public awareness. Our research led to a set of recommendations involving the technical, financial, informational, and visual aspects for the design of street-level green roofs on bus stops.

Environmental Engineers to Study Clean Air, Water, Energy with NSF Grants

Read the full story from Washington University in St. Louis.

Six faculty in Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering from the School of Engineering & Applied Science have received nearly $1.8 million in three-year grants from the National Science Foundation to create a cleaner, safer environment.

Young-Shin Jun, PhD, associate professor, received $340,576 to study how arsenic can be mobilized in aquifers during a water reuse technique;

Brent Williams, PhD, the Raymond R. Tucker Distinguished I-CARES Career Development Assistant Professor, and Pratim Biswas, PhD, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the department, received $331,438 to study emissions and aerosol formation from coal combustion and co-firing of coal and biomass;

John Fortner, PhD, the I-CARES Career Development Assistant Professor, and Daniel Giammar, PhD, the Harold D. Jolley Career Development Professor, received $329,835 to study nanoscale sorbents to recover contaminants in water;

Yinjie Tang, PhD, the Francis Ahmann Career Development Assistant Professor, received a $486,510 grant to use a new type of analysis to decipher microbial mechanisms, and is co-investigator on a $299,997 grant to use corn stover, or switchgrass, as a feedstock for producing biofuel.

Young-Shin Jun, PhD
Jun, also director of graduate studies in Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, will study how water and arsenic-containing iron pyrite interactions affect the fate and transport of arsenic during managed aquifer recharge (MAR), a process in which excess water is returned to underground storage then recovered in times of high demand.