Here’s a summary of recent WRI activities:
1. Brian Rahm interviewed by WSKG/Innovation Trail on Marcellus Shale:
Brian Rahm of Cornell’s Water Research Institute says these sorts of systems are likely to be used in New York if hydrofracking moves here. And the water that can’t be recycled will probably be shipped to disposal plants in Pennsylvania.
“To truck the waste from Broome County down to Williamsport is probably not that big of a deal. I think they’ll probably use that capacity,” says Rahm.
He says that the most important thing isn’t whether or not wastewater can be treated. It’s whether the Department of Environmental Conservation can enforce the rules they’ve spent the last five years creating.
“That to me seems the biggest problem right now is not being quite sure how New York DEC is going to undertake all the things they say they’re going to undertake,” says Rahm.
According to Rahm, there needs to be a lot of drilling before water treatment plant operators, which need permits from the state and the federal government, start building new plants in New York.
2. Homeowner education workshops in Chautauqua County: Workshop on wastewater management for lakeshore communities was conducted in Ashville, NY on March 6. This was the second of the four workshops planned for communities around Chautauqua and Canadarago lakes. See coverage of the event from The Post-Journal pre- and post-event.
3. Our comment on an article that was published last year comparing a small decentralized wastewater treatment system with a large centralized system was accepted and published in the Environmental Research Letters. From the abstract:
In the article ‘Energy and air emission implications of a decentralized wastewater system’ published in Environmental Research Letters (2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 024007), Shehabi et al compared a decentralized and a centralized system on the basis of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, and claimed that economies of scale lower the environmental impacts from a centralized system on a per-volume basis. In this comment, we present literature and data from New York State, USA to argue that the authors’ comparison between a small decentralized system (0.015 MGD) and a large centralized system (66.5 MGD) is unconventional and inappropriate.
4. Estuary Resilience Project website: A partnership effort between NYSWRI, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Hudson River Estuary program of the NYSDEC, this project is a combination of research, outreach and education efforts to address the challenges of flooding and extreme weather. More details will be added to the page over time.
Cornell University will host a homeowner education workshop (see flyer) on septic systems in Otsego County next Saturday, Feb 2, 2013. This workshop is one of 4 workshops to be hosted in Otsego and Chautauqua counties in Winter 2013, facilitated by a grant obtained from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. More details on WRI website. Topics include components and maintenance of basic septic systems, indications of failure, advanced treatment options, to name a few. The workshop will also feature talks on local issues such as the septic management plan implemented in Otsego Lake and resources available to homeowners. Speakers include:
1. Eric Murdock and Bob Eichinger, Onsite Engineering LLC
2. Holly Waterfield, SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station
3. Scott Fickbohm, Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District
Workshop will be held at at:
Richfield Springs Community Center
6 Ann St, Richfield Springs, NY 13439
Time: 1-4 pm
WRI recently released a working paper* on the management of wastewater arising out of the Marcellus Shale gas development. The paper, led by Dr. Brian Rahm (WRI), is available for download at the SSRN.
Extraction of natural gas from tight shale formations, which occur globally, has been made possible by recent technological advances, including hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. Shale gas development is being lauded as a potential energy and geopolitical “game-changer.” However, widespread concern exists with respect to possible environmental consequences of this development, particularly impacts on water resources. In the United States, where most shale gas extraction has occurred thus far, the Marcellus Shale is now the largest natural gas producing play. To date, over 6,000,000 m3 of wastewater has been generated in the process of extracting natural gas from this shale in the state on Pennsylvania (PA) alone. Here we examine wastewater management practices and trends for this shale play, as well as the tracking and transport of shale gas liquid waste streams in PA. Between 2008 and 2011, state regulations and policies, along with low natural gas prices, have led to increased wastewater reuse, decreased POTW use, and more complete data tracking, while the average distance traveled by wastewater has decreased by over 30%. Regional differences in wastewater management are influenced by industrial treatment capacity, as well as proximity to injection disposal capacity. Using lessons from the Marcellus Shale, we suggest that nations, states, and regulatory agencies facing new unconventional shale development implement wastewater reporting and tracking systems, assess local and regional wastewater treatment infrastructure in terms of capacity and capability, promote well-regulated on-site treatment technologies, and review and update wastewater management regulations and policies.
* The study is currently under peer-review.
A utility crew working on a water main break (source: The Baltimore Sun)
Baltimore joins the growing list of Northeastern/Midwest cities that are staring at the issue of aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Giving voice to that issue are Mr. Ben Cardin, U.S. Senator from Maryland and Ms. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore in a recent op-ed in the The Baltimore Sun.
The cost of preventing infrastructure failures like the ones on Lombard and East Monument Streets is far less than the expense of dealing with structural damage, flooding, and business disruption after a break occurs. And even beyond catastrophic failures, small leaks and breaks take a major toll. Each day, the United States wastes billions of gallons of drinking water due to leaks, according to a recent environmental report published by Green For All; this is water that has already been subjected to expensive treatment. These costs will only increase unless we act now to reinvest in this infrastructure.
While there has been some focus of late on rebuilding infrastructure in the US, the conversation has largely stuck to roads and bridges. Emphasis on sub-surface water infrastructure by a U.S. Senator is really a shot in the arm for the issue, even if it (sadly) comes after a couple of major incidents in the city.
In other news, The Cornell Daily Sun covers a resolution from the Town of Ithaca opposing the Cornell-DEC agreement on Lake Source Cooling and a forum held yesterday on hydraulic fracturing.
Last week, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, NJ. Atlantic County and Cape May County (see map) were under mandatory evacuation orders. Cape May County is home to the city of Cape May and the first desalination plant in Northeastern U.S. Here is a little primer on Cape May from Vedachalam and Riha (2012):
Cape May (38°56′24″N 74°54′19″W) is a coastal town on the southern tip of New Jersey and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. Although the population of the town is only 7000 during much of the year, the summer population swells to around 45,000. Cape May has historically depended on the Cohansey Aquifer for its water supply
Although there were no reports of damage to the desalination plant, this is an issue worth considering. All the desalination plants, for obvious reasons, are located either on the coast or in brackish waters close to the coast. Large storms like Sandy can potentially knock off these plants (even temporarily) and render nearby regions water-deficient in the short-term. Another long-term concern would be the safety of these plants due to the rise in the sea levels. It is not clear if the 3 desalination projects in the Northeast considered the storm surges in their construction plans, but new/forthcoming* projects will have to do so.
*I think the Haverstraw plant in Rockland County, NY has included some climate change scenarios in its DEIS.
Hurricane Sandy is headed towards the East Coast. The New York Governor’s office is making preparations for emergency management.
The Crisis Response team at Google Maps has an excellent storm tracker that provides information on the current location, projected path and other advisories along the path of Hurricane Sandy. The eye of the storm will pass through near Ithaca in the next couple of days.
For coastal areas, watch the Storm Surge Warning System from Stevens Institute of Technology. Water level at Cape May, NJ has already crossed the flood mark, even though Sandy is yet to make landfall.
1. Cornell received a draft permit from NYSDEC for the continued operation of the Lake Source Cooling in exchange for a $2.1 million study of phosphorus entering the southern end of Cayuga Lake.
The NYS Water Resources Institute at Cornell will work with local and regional stakeholders in developing sound science and community-based action agendas using the best tools and practices for protecting Cayuga Lake to be included in the updated plan.
Susan Riha, director of the Water Resources Institute, said, “This collaborative effort is something we in the Cayuga Lake watershed have all wanted for a long time. With the support of DEC, Cornell faculty, staff and students have been engaged in research to help implement watershed protection action agendas in the Hudson and, more recently, in the Mohawk River basins.”
2. The proposed Haverstraw desalination plant continues to be on the Rockland County Legislature’s agenda.
The Rockland County Legislature approved two resolutions in regards to United Water’s proposed desalination plant in Haverstraw.
The first resolution supports the request of Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its proceedings from 2006 on Rockland’s water supply. The second resolution requests the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) require an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Haverstraw desalination plant.
3. Meanwhile in neighboring Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA averages 750 water main breaks per year. The city has about 3,100 miles of water mains, so that’s about 221 breaks/leaks per 1000 miles of mains. The same figure for Boston, MA is 192 breaks per 100 miles as per data from MassDEP (2008). A recent break in a 36-inch transmission pipe in Philadelphia released 5-6 million gallons of water. Officials realize that these incidents are due to the aging infrastructure.
“There’s really no consistency from one water-main break to the next,” said Nutter, who visited the site. “Some of it certainly is aging infrastructure, but sometimes they get a hairline crack because of the amount of water and pressure, which could blow a part of it out.”
WRI is now accepting proposals under the water resources research grant program, which is administered by the US Geological Survey and the Hudson River Estuary program of the NYSDEC. The primary objective of this program is to bring innovative science to watershed planning and management. Proposals that support the strategic goals of the DEC HREP are encouraged since HREP helps fund the WRI grants program. In particular, proposals should address one or more of the related topics of water infrastructure, environmental water quality, and economic vitality as it pertains to watershed planning and management.
Proposals should seek to address one or more of the following:
1) Water-related infrastructure including water supply and wastewater treatment facilities; distribution networks; decentralized treatment installations; dams; culverts and bridges; constructed wetlands; etc., and their current state and effectiveness at providing water services regionally at reasonable cost
2) Regional economic vitality with respect to water infrastructure and its effect on private and public investment and industrial development
3) Integration of scientific, economic, planning/governmental and/or social expertise to build comprehensive strategies for public asset and watershed management
4) Smart growth and its implications for water related infrastructure development, regional water quality, and regional economy
5) Novel outreach methods that enhance the communication and impact of science-based innovation to water resource managers, policy makers, and the public.
6) The economics and benefits of source watershed protection strategies and the use of ecological services to meet water supply and quality needs, as opposed to treatment at point of delivery.
The entire RFP is available here. The deadline for submissions is November 20, 2012.
Lansing (town), NY is located just north of Ithaca in Tompkins County and borders the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. The Town of Lansing, NY is considering a proposal to replace septic systems with a sewered connection to a new centralized wastewater treatment plant. The proposed treatment plant would be built on land donated by local employer Cargill, Inc. The plant would have a capacity of 150,000 gallons per day (0.15 MGD), and along with the collection system is estimated to cost $10.2 million. The plant is part of a larger plan to create a new sewer district, and build a town center with housing, businesses and recreation. In addition, this proposal is a response to the 2 failing septic systems in the Lansing School District.
The Town of Lansing has provided details of the proposal on its website. The proposal argues that development in the town center would attract businesses and real estate, and raise revenue for the town. Cost comparisons (questionable to some extent) provided by the Town show that the replacement of septic systems with sewered connections at the Lansing School District will not lead to any additional costs over a 15 year period (when the standard procedure is to use a 30-year life cycle). In addition, it is estimated that revenue from enhanced real estate values will bring in an additional $3 million to the School District during the same 15-year period. The Town has submitted a grant proposal to the Southern Tier Economic Development Council for $3 million. A financing request to the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC), the state’s public financing body was turned down. Sending its wastewater to the nearby Cayuga Heights Treatment Plant was an option, but looks like the Town wanted its own treatment facility.
The proposed Lansing treatment plant will be one of many small centralized treatment plants currently operational in New York. Research at WRI shows that 28% of the public treatment plants in New York are smaller than 0.1 MGD. Small plants tend to have higher effluent violations, are more expensive to operate (on a per-volume basis) and cost a lot of money for small communities that don’t have either an exceptionally strong bond rating or a wide tax base. Instead, well-managed decentralized systems (ranging from basic septic tank-leach fields to sand filters and everything in between) can be an effective wastewater management plan for small communities. They may also satisfy the state’s new smart growth initiative. We are currently doing some work to identify conditions that make decentralized options viable for small communities.
Some Lansing residents are not too happy with this proposal. One such resident is Dr. Larry Cathles, Professor of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell. He writes,
Many would be happy if the Town of Lansing developed in European style as a charming Village surrounded by farmland and trails. Few would be happy if the southern portion of the Town of Lansing developed in an uninterrupted Los Angeles style sprawl of shops, houses, gas stations and roads.
We are not in a race, and there is no urgency to act quickly. We have only one chance to get this planning right. A few years of planning can produce decades of town pride. Proceeding without a development roadmap and control strategy is likely to produce a suburban sprawl in which any Town Center is accidental and unremarkable.
He has developed an itemized list of various facts about the proposal and his own thoughts. Read the whole document here.
Debates may not be the only way Presidential candidates express their views or present policy positions. Leading scientific organizations such as AAAS, IEEE, National Academy of Sciences and several others jointly developed a set of science questions and asked both Presidential candidates to respond. Head over to ScienceDebate to see a side-by-side comparison of the candidates’ answers. Here is their (partial) response on the topic of fresh water:
8. Fresh Water. Less than one percent of the world’s water is liquid fresh water, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global fresh water is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution. What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant fresh water for all Americans?
One might argue that the President is not the only one shaping science/environmental policies at the national level. Lawrence Goldstein writes in Nature that researchers must talk to lawmakers about science.
Some of my colleagues prefer not to interact with members of Congress — they think that one scientist’s voice doesn’t carry much weight amid the cacophony that assails most officials. Yes, the executive branch of the US government receives considerable formal advice on science policy1. But the president can get very little done without the support of Congress.
Members of Congress determine the amount of money available for science, and they often pass major laws affecting science policy. Many of them have never met a working scientist. It is here that individual scientists can have great personal and scientific impact.
This is true at the state level as well.
It’s hard not to agree with the author on this issue. WRI has been engaging with lawmakers in Congress, their staffers and state representatives to emphasize the importance of policies related to water infrastructure and their funding. Golstein ends by saying,
As scientists, it is a mistake for us to say we are too busy to reach out to lawmakers. If we do not try, science funding will continue to decrease in the coming years; lawmakers will enact restrictive policies that are not informed by the best scientific information available; and society will be poorer for our absence.