Posts Tagged ‘drinking water’

So after years of diminishing water supplies made even worse by the second-most severe drought in state history, some West Texas communities are resorting to a plan to turn sewage into drinking water.

A water-reclamation plant believed to be the first in Texas will supply Big Spring, Midland, Odessa and Stanton and is currently under construction.

Officials have been working to dispel any fears people have that they will soon be drinking their neighbors’ urine.  They are promising the system will yield clean, safe water.

Similar plants have been operating for years in Tucson, Ariz., parts of California and in other countries. Water experts predict other American cities will follow suit as they confront growing populations, drought and other issues.

The Colorado River Municipal Water District in West Texas began considering a wastewater recycling plant back in 2000 and broke ground last month on the facility in Big Spring, about 100 miles southeast of Lubbock. When finished, it should supply 2 million gallons of water a day.

This year’s drought has made this dry region even drier, wreaking havoc on crops, ranch animals, wildlife and fish in the region.  At least one of the three reservoirs in West Texas may dry up if the drought persists through next year, as climatologists have predicted could happen, causing the district’s water supply to be reduced from 65 million gallons a day to 45 million.

The idea to recycle sewage isn’t new. Fort Worth and other cities across the nation have long used treated wastewater to water grass and trees and irrigate crops.

And you can be sure the proposed Tenaska coal plant in Abilene is hoping to cash in on that water after having been turned down by the city of Abilene.  However, after this year, this region might be reluctant to commit to providing that much water even if it is reclaimed from sewage.  Because power plants suck . . . lots and lots of water and they tend to get to do so before crops, livestock and even people.

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Back in November we blogged about a story that KHOU broke in Houston about radioactive contaminants in the Houston area drinking water. Revelations that came to light showed hundreds of water providers around the Gulf Coast region were providing their customers with drinking water that contains radioactive contaminants that raise health risks.  State tests by the Texas Department of State Health Services that were reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality showed utilities provided water that exceeded the EPA legal limit for exposure to alpha radiation.  But the kicker was that for more than 20 years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under-reported the amount of radiation found in drinking water provided by communities all across Texas by subtracting off the margin of error for all radiation readings it would receive (which was not in compliance with EPA rules that have been in place since Dec.  7, 2000).  Click here to see that post.  

It appears that TCEQ was using this method to help water systems escape formally violating federal limits for radiation in drinking water, maintaining their calculation procedure eliminated approximately 35 violations.  Without a formal violation, the water systems did not have to inform their residents of the increased health risk.

In this recent report by KHOU, newly-released e-mails from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show the agency’s top commissioners directed staff to continue lowering radiation test results, in defiance of federal EPA rules.  It goes on to revisit a Texas Water Advisory Council (comprised of some of the highest ranking public officials in Texas) meeting in June of 2004 where they reviewed and discussed TCEQ testimony regarding this issue, yet nothing seems to have changed in how TCEQ handled the under reporting, and they continued their policy of subtracting the margin of error from the result of each water-radiation test until an EPA audit caught them doing so in 2008.   The state has since complied with the EPA regulation.     So if you didn’t drink tap water in the Houston area before 2008, you’re probably good.  Click here to to see this most recent KHOU story.

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After residents report green and yellow-colored well water near an oilfield company’s operation in the spring of 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated and formally designated an area in Midland as a national Superfund site when the presence of the highly toxic solvent hexavalent chromium was found in groundwater supplies.  The Superfund list is made up of sites so contaminated that they require long-term, complex and expensive cleanups.

These reports from residents led to testing that found that 46 of the more than 230 wells in the area had levels of the toxin in them that were above safety limits. Filtration systems have been provided to the owners of the contaminated wells.

Breathing airborne hexavalent chromium may cause lung cancer, can irritate or damage the nose, throat and lungs, and can also damage eyes or skin. Exposure to hexavalent chromium in drinking water can lead to an increased risk of stomach tumors.

While Texas has been at war with the EPA over the last couple of years, cleaning up sites that pose such a major threat to public health is one of the most vital aspects of the agency’s mission, and I for one, would not like to see the agency hobbled so that they can no longer protect communities from dangers posed by chemical contamination.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality first confirmed hexavalent chromium at more than 50 times the acceptable federal levels in early April 2009 in a well near West County Road 112.

Since then, 234 water wells have been tested by the TCEQ; chromium was found at above safe levels in 34 of them. The plume extends 1.25 miles from the center of the site and it covers about 260 acres, according to the EPA.


Using the EPA document's description, this is about where the superfund site is centered

According to an EPA document, the Site consists of a contaminated ground water plume originating from an unidentified source. The contaminant plume is located along County Road 1290, between Interstate 20 to the south, and Interstate Business 20 to the north. The Trinity and Ogallala aquifer is the only ground water source for drinking water in the site area. The water table has been reported at depths as shallow as 30 feet below the ground surface and the base of the aquifer is approximately 95 – 105 feet below ground surface. The Triassic red beds form the base of the aquifer. Ground water flow in the aquifer is expected to be generally to the south-southeast.

As part of the National Priorities List, the EPA will take the lead at the site and federal funds will be available for identifying the source of contamination and providing a method of cleanup.

Until a source of contamination is identified, EPA officials said in a release sent out Tuesday that the plume of contamination will continue to grow and affect additional water wells.

City of Midland officials have said, at this time, the city is unable to provide water to residents in that area. A group is working to put together a water district that would serve county residents, including those in the contaminated area, but a source of water has yet to be identified.

If a water source were available, EPA staff have said they could consider funding pipelines as part of the remediation process.

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Halliburton offices on Bellaire Boulevard in W...

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, Halliburton unveiled a new website that offers some details about the mix of chemicals used in a natural gas drilling technique following the Environmental Protection Agency‘s (EPA) decision last week to subpoena Halliburton to force the company to turn over information about the chemicals it produces for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Halliburton has said the website is not a response to EPA’s actions or meant to satisfy the agency’s demands, but it does appear to be an attempt on the company’s part to allay public concerns about the impact of the practice on drinking water. (more…)

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A few days ago, Larry King interviewed T. Boone Pickens and if you were watching it, you heard him condemn the spill and the US dependence on oil then he raved about natural gas and how safe it is to drill for it.

Pickens is not the first. Many have claimed that natural gas is better, safer, and cheaper. Simply, that is not the case. I have written about a couple of natural gas blow outs and pipe fractures in Texas this month alone but this documentary examines several other elements of natural gas impact than just rigs blowing up.

Yesterday, HBO aired a documentary that is both eye-opening and disturbing. It is called GasLand, in which Josh Fox, the director travels across the United States to explore the damage and contamination that has resulted from drilling for natural gas. In the documentary, Fox points out the different impacts of natural gas; on our drinking water, the air we breathe, and the nature that surrounds us. If the pictures of evaporating water mixed gas into the air to get rid of the waste (process done by gas-drilling facilities) won’t tell how bad natural gas is, then I am pretty sure watching people lighting their contaminated faucet water on fire will.

Fox collects water samples from homes with contaminated water and sends them to a lab for examination. I will leave it to you to watch his outrageous findings in the documentary.

In case you missed it, Josh Fox’s GasLand will be airing on HBO at the following (central) times:

Thursday, June 24: 12:00PM

Thursday, June 24: 11:30PM

Saturday, June 26: 11:00AM

Wednesday, June 30: 08:45AM

For more information, visit the HBO schedule page or the webpage for GasLand.

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