City Scrambles After Traces Of Oil Found In Water Supply Following Yellowstone River Pipeline Spill

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A second large oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River in less than four years is reviving questions about oversight of the nation’s aging pipeline network.

Investigators and company officials on Wednesday were trying to determine the cause of the 40,000-gallon spill that contaminated downstream water supplies in the city of Glendive.

Sen. Jon Tester said Saturday’s spill from the decades-old Poplar Pipeline was avoidable, but “we just didn’t have the folks on the ground” to prevent it.

The Montana Democrat told The Associated Press more frequent inspections by regulators are needed, and older pipelines should face stricter safety standards.

“We need to take a look at some of these pipelines that have been in the ground for half a century and say, ‘Are they still doing a good job?'” Tester said.

The latest spill comes as Republicans and some Democrats, including Tester, want the Obama administration to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf.

Keystone would cross the Yellowstone roughly 20 miles upstream of the Poplar Pipeline spill.

In 2011, an ExxonMobil pipeline break spilled 63,000 gallons of oil during flooding on the Yellowstone near Billings. The break was blamed on scouring of the river bottom that exposed the company’s Silvertip line to floodwaters.

Officials involved in the Poplar Pipeline spill have said it’s too soon to say if that line also was exposed.

Poplar, owned by Wyoming-based Bridger Pipeline, was constructed in the 1950s. The breached section beneath the Yellowstone was replaced at least four decades ago, in the late 1960s or early 1970s, according to the company.

Based on the number of miles of pipelines in the U.S. that carry oil, gasoline and other hazardous liquids, just over half were installed prior to 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The agency’s Office of Pipeline Safety has roughly 150 inspectors overseeing 2.6 million miles of gas, oil and other pipelines.

That number is slated to increase by another 100 inspectors under a $27 million budget increase approved last year. That would still leave inspectors stretched thin given the mileage of pipelines.

Dena Hoff, a farmer and rancher whose land borders the site of the Poplar accident, said she’s had a good working relationship with Bridger Pipeline, and she commended the company for taking responsibility for the spill.

But Hoff said the spill should spur second thoughts about Keystone and whether it’s a good idea to have pipelines that cross beneath surface waters.

“It’s the nature of the beast. Pipelines leak and pipelines break. We’re never going to get around that,” she said. “We have to decide if water is more valuable than oil.”

Authorities continue work to clean up Glendive’s public water supply after cancer-causing benzene was detected in water coming from the city’s treatment plant. The plant draws directly from the Yellowstone.

Bridger Pipeline has committed to providing bottled water for Glendive’s roughly 6,000 residents until the treatment plant is running again.

Workers late Tuesday recovered about 10,000 gallons of oil that was still in the Poplar line after it was shut down because of the breach.

Bridger Pipeline Co. spokesman Bill Salvin said Wednesday only a “very small” amount of oil has been siphoned from the river itself.

Company officials and government regulators say most of the oil is thought to be within the first 6 miles of the spill site. That includes the stretch of the river through Glendive.

“What we’re working on is identifying places where we can collect more oil,” Salvin said. “The cleanup could extend for a while.”

Oil sheens have been reported as far away as Williston, North Dakota, below the Yellowstone’s confluence with the Missouri River, officials said.

The farthest downstream that free-floating oil has been seen was at an intake dam about 28 miles from the spill site, officials said.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director Tom Livers said he was concerned that when the ice breaks up in the spring, oil will spread farther downstream.

original article


8 Ways to Recycle Water Around Your House

Are your water bills on the rise? Many cities are seeing higher water prices than ever as governments deal with repairing water systems and with water shortages. Check out these ways to recycle water around your house to save money and conserve this precious, non-renewable resource.

Here in Atlanta we have some of the highest water rates in the country. Thanks to some past government corruption, our water and sewage lines are a mess, and now that the city is finally getting around to repairing them, they’ve had to hike our water prices yet again. Since 2006, I’ve seen our water bills more than double, and we are not using twice as much water at home.

Atlanta has also had a drought on and off (mostly on) for years, so conserving water at home is extremely important to me.

Cutting back water use is critical to conserving water, but on top of things like turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, you can collect and recycle water to save even more. Water recycling can range from very simple methods that don’t require anything but a little forethought to complicated systems. Some of the conservation tips here are ones that I’ve been using for a long time and some are things I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had the time or cash to implement.

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Drinking toilet water: The science (and psychology) of wastewater recycling

Would you drink water that came from a toilet? The imagery isn’t appealing. Even knowing that the water, once treated, may be cleaner than what comes out of most faucets, many people are disgusted by the idea. But in places like Singapore and Namibia, limited supplies of freshwater are being augmented by adding highly treated wastewater to their drinking water. As climate change and population growth strain freshwater resources, such strategies are likely to become more common around the world, and in the United States.

A Limited Resource

Freshwater is a more precious commodity than many people in the developed world recognize. More than 97 percent of Earth’s water is saline, unfit for drinking. Of the remainder, more than two-thirds is frozen in glaciers and icecaps, leaving just 1 percent of all the water on our planet fresh. About one one-hundredth of that 1 percent resides in lakes, rivers and other waterways; the rest is in aquifers beneath the surface or trapped in soil. It’s a wonder that so many of us take limitless, on-demand clean water for granted.

Pressure on this invaluable resource is growing. Over the last several decades, regional and local water shortages are becoming increasingly common. Australia saw the worst droughts in its settled history between 1995 and 2009. Droughts across the U.S. last summer crippled farm crops. And people are adding to that burden: Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix are located in some of the driest parts of the U.S.; they are also among the metro regions experiencing the highest rates of population growth.

Control of water resources is also a point of friction along already-contentious borders between Israel and Jordan, India and Pakistan, and Turkey and Syria, for example. And some experts think that water may supplant oil as a major spark of future conflicts.

“Water is becoming a geopolitical conflict,” says David Feldman, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine. “When we talk about reclaimed wastewater, we’re not talking about something that’s simply at the level of convenience. We’re really dealing with an issue that is going to be affecting every country, every society.” Avoiding future clashes over water, he says, will mean having to drink treated wastewater.

With only a finite amount of water on the planet, chances are good that the water you drink passed through a person or animal at some point. More directly, many cities use rivers like the Colorado, Mississippi and Thames as their source for drinking water, while at the same time other cities upriver are discharging treated waste into them.

Down the Drain

Understanding the process of water treatment can help to make wastewater recycling more palatable, say scientists and activists working to promote its adoption. In most Western cities, when a person flushes a toilet, waste is carried by sewers to a municipal wastewater plant. There, large solid material is separated from liquid with grates or screens. In a settling tank, smaller solids fall out of solution while oils rise to the surface and are skimmed off. The wastewater next moves to an aeration tank, where microbes feed on the waste and break it down. After a final settling step, the clarified water is treated with ultraviolet light, chemicals like chlorine, or other processes to kill any remaining germs before the water is released back into the environment. Many of these steps are then repeated when water for consumption is drawn from the same river, lake or reservoir where the treated wastewater was released.

In essence, advocates of recycling wastewater for human consumption merely want to shorten this pathway, by reintroducing highly treated wastewater into water supplies without first depositing it in an intervening lake or river. Several cities around the world are already showing that it’s possible.
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Rivers of water in the air provide much of California’s rain

Atmospheric rivers are bands of warm temperatures and strong winds that push large amounts of water vapor, often for thousands of miles. Scientists from government and university research institutions have deployed a force of research aircraft and an oceangoing vessel to better understand the phenomenon and how it results in precipitation for California.

Scientists said that too little is known about atmospheric rivers and that better understanding would aid meteorologists’ ability to predict weather.

“We don’t understand enough about how atmospheric rivers transport water vapor and how the water vapor comes together in them. We also don’t know enough about how aerosols can change the amount of precipitation that can come out of an atmospheric river when it hits shore,” said Marty Ralph, a research meteorologist and director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The need to understand atmospheric rivers is made apparent by the realization of how much water vapor exists in one at a given time. Ralph said that early estimates of the water vapor in atmospheric rivers put the equivalent at 10 times the amount of water emptied into the Gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi River. He said refined estimates have put that amount even higher.

“We had thought it was 10 Mississippis, as an average value for atmospheric rivers, but the average of cases we have now is 20 Mississippis,” Ralph said. “A handful of atmospheric rivers each year, provide about 30-50 percent of all the precipitation in Northern California.”

Over the next month, four research aircraft from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy and NASA will fly into atmospheric rivers hundreds of miles off the coast of California, taking a host of readings. A NOAA ship will also take measurements as part of the coordinated effort.

“This experiment will double the number of samples we have, so we’ll have a much more accurate measure of how strong the atmospheric rivers are,” Ralph said.

Among other things, the project, titled CalWater 2015, will explore the role of air particles, natural or human induced, in precipitation from atmospheric rivers. Research has indicated that some pollution may inhibit precipitation by keeping large water droplets from forming at the bottoms of clouds. However, researchers said more work needs to be done to better understand potential human impacts on rain and snowfall.

“We are only scratching the surface in terms of how aerosols influence the precipitation, because aerosols are of so many different types and so many different sizes,” said Ryan Spackman, flight operations scientist for CalWater 2015. “Every single water droplet or ice crystal, for instance snow, that falls from the sky has an aerosol particle at its center, so aerosols are key to understanding how much is going to fall, where it’s going to fall, how distributed the precipitation is, which is crucial for water supply understanding.”

Spackman said better understanding will allow water managers to anticipate where and when precipitation will fall, thus allowing them to make decisions to maximize preparedness.

“In the state of California, there’s tremendous amount of variability in when that precipitation falls. It’s feast or famine, and that’s a very challenging problem for water managers – how much water to keep, when to let it go, and are we going to have enough,” Spackman said. “This research is aimed at improving our abilities to forecast these events.”

original article

The 10 Most Important Water Stories in 2014

1. The California Drought Becomes an Emergency
California’s multi-year drought grew dire enough in 2014 to prompt Governor Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency in January. By the end of the year, California had experienced the driest and hottest 36 months in its 119-year instrumental record. Some researchers described the drought as 1) the worst in over 1200 years and 2) evidence of rising temperatures globally as climate changes accelerate. As of mid-January, the drought is continuing.

2. Tigris and Euphrates River Dams Influence Islamic State Expansion
Conflicts over water have a long history. In 2014, a new analysis described the links between drought, climate change, water management, and the Syrian civil war. By the end of the year, the region’s major dams were targeted for control by the Islamic State (IS) and used as weapons to flood parts of Iraq and to divert water away from some communities for political purposes. IS forces near these dams were also targets of allied air strikes because of the dams’ strategic importance.

3. U.S.-China Climate Agreement Includes Water-Energy Provisions
On November 12, 2014, the President of the United States reached a momentous accord with the President of China to cap greenhouse gas emissions and do a whole lot more for Mother Earth and its human inhabitants. The agreement encourages collaboration between the world’s two largest economies to much more quickly put into place new tools, practices, and especially markets to contend with radically different ecological and economic conditions. The agreement includes two provisions to secure freshwater supplies in energy production. The two nations are 1) investing in research to improve efficiency and conservation in water supply for energy generation and 2) developing a carbon-sequestration demonstration project in China to put to good use the water that is displaced from deep beneath the surface during CO2 storage.

4. The U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act Turns 40 Amid Mounting Safety Lapses
In the year that the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act turned 40, Toledo, Ohio, Charleston, West Virginia, and towns along North Carolina’s Dan River were the victims of pollution incidents that highlighted the continued challenges in safeguarding water supplies and protecting public health. Toledo shut down its water supply after poisonous algae toxins developed in Lake Erie. Charleston’s water supply was fouled by a chemical spill that prompted the Justice Department to indict the plant’s owners for water-quality violations and obstruction of justice. In North Carolina, a storage basin failure at a Duke Energy power plant sent more than 35,000 metric tons of coal ash, a noxious waste product, flowing into the Dan River, a drinking water source.

5. Evidence of the Link between Climate Change and Extreme Hydrologic Events Grows Stronger
The evidence of the links between climate change and extreme hydrologic events grew more powerful in 2014. A series of scientific reports addressed heat waves in Europe, coastal damages in the Eastern United States during extreme tides and storms, flooding in the UK from more intense rain storms, drastic loss of Arctic ice, and droughts in Australia and the Southwestern United States. Lloyd’s of Londonconcluded in May that the influence of rising sea levels increased the damages from Hurricane Sandy by $US 8 billion in New York alone. Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and located close to the water-rich Amazon Basin, suffered its worst drought.

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Toledo water crisis a wake-up call

If what happened in Toledo this month doesn’t scare you, it should.

In a modern U.S. city — on the Great Lakes, the nation’s most expansive freshwater resource — some 400,000 residents went days without water after an algae bloom turned the waters of Lake Erie into something resembling pea soup. Treated water was unsafe for human consumption, even if boiled, even for bathing or cleaning dishes.

Here’s the worst part: This crisis was almost entirely man-made. And unless something changes, it will keep happening.

The toxin microcystin was produced by a blue-green algae in Lake Erie. States don’t require testing for this toxin, and there are no state or federal regulation of acceptable standards of microcystin, which can cause health problems such as abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, liver inflammation and pneumonia. When coming in contact with skin, it can cause rashes, hives and blisters.

This type of algae needs warm temperatures, nitrogen and phosphorus to grow. Nitrogen and phosphorus arrive in lake waters via sewerage overflows and runoff that contains agricultural and residential fertilizers. Humankind is providing the warmer temperatures through climate change.

Ecologists suggest in a story by the Detroit Free Press’ Keith Matheny that the problem could occur again as blooms expand in late August and early September.

This isn’t the first time algae blooms have threatened Lake Erie. In 1960, the lake’s oxygen levels dropped so sharply that it was declared “dead” because of algae blooms. Its recovery is largely the product of standards put in place by the U.S. Clean Water Act. But in 1995, algae blooms began again, the Toledo Blade reports, as researchers tracked an increase in the amount of phosphorus deposited in the Maumee River.

If the impacts of pollution or climate change seem largely theoretical to you, what happened in Toledo should bring it all very, very close to home.

There are a number of practical policy steps any state with significant freshwater resources should be taking. First is to develop state safety standards to provide guidelines for acceptable quantities of nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus, something few states have,according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an important part of reversing the impacts of pollution. Ditto microcystin.

At the federal level, lawmakers should stand firm behind the Clean Water Act.

There’s no credible scientific counterweight to theprevailing opinion that climate change is happeningand that it is caused by human activity. Yet policymakers continue to wrangle over the reality of climate change as though it’s fringe science. There are sensible steps that can and should be taken to curb human behavior that causes climate change, but it’s a question lawmakers — particularly on the Republican side of the aisle — aren’t taking seriously.

Eleven million people rely on Lake Erie for drinking water, 26 million on the Great Lakes.

If the water crisis in Toledo doesn’t spur voters to demand response and lawmakers to take action, what will?

— Detroit Free Press (via

Indiana Chamber forecasts water shortages

Indiana isn’t facing the dramatic water shortages hitting California, but a new report from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce warns the state’s water supply won’t be adequate to meet future needs unless government better manages and distributes the valuable resource.

A study released today by the chamber’s foundation calls for the development of a statewide water resource plan to better conserve and manage the state’s water supply.

Without it, the chamber warns, “a large portion of the state likely won’t have the local water resources needed to meet growing needs.”

In Southern Indiana, specifically, local water supplies are insufficient for meeting future public needs, the study said. The report noted that few aquifers or perennial streams exist immediately south of Bloomington — a prime area for business development with the expansion of I-69 and continued work at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Kevin Brinegar, chamber president and CEO, said the state legislature needs to set aside least $10 million next year to make an initial investment to start collecting water resource data and begin work on a water resource plan.

Chamber officials and Bloomington-based Jack Wittman, geoscientist with INTERA Inc., which conducted the study this year for the chamber, released findings during a news conference this morning.

“This is definitely a jobs and economic development issue,” said Brinegar. “Our state’s economy is growing more diverse, but we always will make things. And it often takes large, reliable supplies of water to do so.”

He said a recent report out of Michigan found that Indiana is the most water dependent state in the country, as it relates to its impact on the economy.

Water resources and needs vary around the state, but chamber officials stressed the importance of cooperation of local governments and developing a new governance structure for managing water resources.

Northern Indiana has more water, but irrigation usage is fast increasing and more data needs to be collected on aquifers and streams.

Central Indiana could see an increase in demand of 50 million gallons used per day by 2050 due to continued population growth, the study finds. Although utilities have identified the need and taken initial steps, the report said “supplies are limited and, without new sources, economic growth is at risk.”

Chamber officials stressed that improving and managing water resources is a long-term issue that needs to begin to tackled now for the good of businesses and citizens alike.

“What this study does is set the stage for creation of a long-needed, long-range water plan for the state,” said Vince Griffin, the chamber’s vice president. A credible plan make take three to five years to put in place, he said.

Wittman said the state needs to plan now to be ready for needs 15 years from now. “It takes decades to build these (water) infrastructure systems,” he said.

In addition, he urged that more attention needs to be focused on water conservation by everyone.

“Conservation has to become a normal part of policy on water and has to be adopted across the state,” Wittman said.

The full study and county-by-county data on water usage and resources are available at