Category Archives: Environment

Our Poop Problem

Anyone else feel like we missed a huge opportunity when we didn't use the economic crisis as a reason to put people back to work by engaging them in massive public works projects? Seeing reports about our aging and crumbling infrastructure you can't help but think, "Why didn't we take some of those billions (trillions?) of dollars we spent bailing out various industries and dedicate them to upgrading our roads, bridges and sewers?" Wait…sewers? Yep. Apparently our concrete sewers aren't being eaten by the very stuff they transport:

“The veins of our cities are in serious trouble, and they’re in serious trouble because of corrosion, and this corrosion has been unanticipated and it’s accelerating,” said Mark Hernandez at a symposium on the microbiology of the built environment in Washington DC yesterday. Hernandez is a civil engineer, but he’s meeting with microbiologists because this problem is bacterial. Essentially, it’s an infection of the nation’s sewage system.

Here’s what’s going on. One set of microbes emits hydrogen sulfide, the gas that is also responsible for raw sewage’s unpleasant smell. This gas fills the empty space between the top of the pipe and the water flow. Another set of microbes living in this headspace turns hydrogen sulfide to sulfuric acid, which eats away at concrete, leaving behind gypsum, the powdery stuff you find in drywall.

“Essentially what we’re ending up with is wet drywall,” said Hernandez. This is one reason the American Society of Civil Engineers has gave our wastewater infrastructure a D grade.

Thinking About Water

Update 2/4/14 – Fast on the heels of posting this yesterday I came across this article about a coal ash spill from a shuttered Duke Energy plant into the Dan River on Sunday. That hits very close to home.

Over at Head Butler there's an interview with one of the co-authors of Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource and it's eye opening:

JK: As the book explains — with unusual restrain and modesty — you did. Now that you’re an expert witness, tell me: Which is the bigger crisis, oil or water?

SL: Water, definitely. When I talk to people, I start by saying, ‘You know, it’s the same water since the beginning of time.’ They ask: ‘What do you mean?’ I say: ‘We’re using the same water — just recycled. Water is finite. How we treat it affects the quality of all of our water in the future.’ And I go on to say: ‘There is no substitute for water. Solar or alternative energies might replace oil, but there’s no alternative to water.’ At which point, someone says: ‘Desalinization.’ I say: ‘Do you have any idea of the cost, the energy, the environmental impact?’ They say: “But Israel…’ I say: ‘Israel is a small country.’ And then they start to get it…

JK: Sounds almost like we’re going backwards.

SL: The basic problem: People get 30-year mortgages — but they don’t know if they’ll have water for 30 years. And they don’t think to ask. We’re on a collision course between the increasing demand of a growing population and a finite amount of water. To make matters more complicated, we pollute the water we have and then you can add climate change into the mix. We already see the effects of climate change in the West with decreased snowpack and water shortages. On the East coast, climate change means storm surges that overwhelm the aging waste water treatment plants…

JK: In some California counties, water companies are paying customers to remove their lawns. How about golf courses?

SL: Golf courses should be using recycled waste, and we’re seeing a trend toward that. A greater concern for me is how little individuals understand that they have a water footprint that is much larger than their daily household use. Most of us think we use 80-100 gallons a day. Wrong. Our water footprint is about 1,800 gallons a day. Like me. I love steak — and we need 630 gallons of water for one 8 ounce steak! But now that I know that, I am a much more conscious consumer of beef and other water-intensive foods. (Emphasis mine- JL)

I'm thinking about getting the Kindle version of the book, but part of me is resistant since I really have enough to worry about these days without adding water to the mix. 


Talking Trash

Last night I attended the Lewisville Town Council meeting to see the swearing in of several new Council members, and that was fun, but what was most interesting was what I learned during a presentation by a representative of Waste Management to the new Council.  It seems that Waste Management is going to open a new single stream recycling operation in Forsyth County some time between May and July of 2012. What that means is that Waste Management's customers will be getting a new container that is the same size as their regular trash containter, but will be intended for recyclables.  In that container they'll be able to put all recycling materials (paper, plastic, metal, etc.) without sorting them and putting them in smaller containers as they do now.  It also means that recycling pickups will only happen every other week.

I didn't take good notes during the meeting, but if I remember correctly the Waste Management representative said that in other parts of the country where the single stream recycling has been introduced they've seen a significant increase in recycling and a significant reduction in solid waste going to the landfill.  All of that's good news as far as I'm concerned.

The Waste Management rep also showed a six minute video of one of their single stream recycling operations in Florida.  I couldn't find that one online, but I did find another of their videos about the process:

It will be interesting to see what kind of impact this facility has in Forsyth County. At a minimum I hope it lengthens the life span of our landfill, and really I hope it's the first step in getting us to the point where technology eliminates the need for a landfill altogether, or the need to truck our garbage somewhere else when our landfill is at capacity (Yeah, I'm a big dreamer).

Cool News from a Friend

I met Steve Cavanaugh several years ago when we were both coaching our daughters' Challenge soccer teams for Twin City.  Not long after that he and the boys on the White Lightning made the mistake of letting me join their over-40 soccer team in the PASL, a dubious decision for which they continue to pay.  Let's just say I've seen Mr. Cavanaugh on many a green field around Winston-Salem, so it seemed kind of appropriate when I received an email about the recognition his firm received from Google for a green-initiative project they were involved with here in North Carolina.  Below is a video about Google's program – the swine farm project in Yadkin County that Cavanaugh & Associates designed starts at about the 2:20 mark – and below that is the text of the press release from Cavanaugh & Associates.

Google Inc., Endorses Bio-Energy System on NC Hog Farm

Winston-Salem, NC -Yesterday on YouTube, Jolanka Nickerman, Google's director of carbon offsets, announced Internet giant, Google, will invest in high-quality carbon offset credits generated from a swine farm that was transformed into a green-energy animal waste treatment facility designed by Cavanaugh & Associates, P. A. Headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Cavanaugh, in partnership with Duke University and Duke Energy, developed this $1.2 million prototype system at Loyd Ray Farms, a 9,000-head hog finishing operation northwest of Yadkinville, N.C.

In an effort to bolster sustainable agriculture by reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions and creating alternate revenue sources, Cavanaugh was commissioned by Duke University to develop a biomass renewable energy project that generates electricity from the methane gases produced and captured by the innovative swine waste management system.  Methane is captured from a digester and used to fuel a microturbine to generate electricity. Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, as a green house gas, and this project is designed to capture and combust all the methane generated by the farm's waste treatment system. In keeping with the innovative approach to managing waste produced on this hog farm, Loyd Ray Farm is the first swine facility in North Carolina to generate REC credits and produce enough electricity to power over 35 homes a year. 

Like Duke, who credits the greenhouse gas emission reductions (otherwise known as carbon offsets) toward its voluntary carbon neutrality goal, Google is a proponent of green energy and investing in alternative energy projects like the one found at Loyd Ray Farms. Google announced today that it is purchasing carbon offsets from this project.  Both Duke University and Cavanaugh hope this is the first of many swine farm biomass energy projects in the Southeast.

"Loyd Ray Farms is a testament to the importance of  creating sustainable agriculture and Cavanaugh's commitment to Stewardship through Innovation when it comes to finding ways to keep North Carolina moving forward," said Cavanaugh's CEO, Steve Cavanaugh. "Because this is our home too, Cavanaugh welcomes creative partnerships with companies like Google who support the idea of using animal "waste" as an alternative fuel source. It's truly a win-win scenario for us and our environment."

For more information on the Loyd Ray Farm project or to obtain a detailed description of the project in PDF form, please contact: Gus Simmons, PE, Principal in Charge/ or 910-392-4462.  


The Oil Spill You Probably Haven’t Heard About

Let's file this in the "it's a huge small world category."  I have family member that's on a National Geographic cruise that departed from South America and is making stops at a variety of remote locations including the Tristan Da Cunha island group.  Yesterday I receieved an email from her with an update on the trip, and in it she mentioned an oil spill on Nightingale Island that they were seeing first hand and that I'd not heard about at all. Here's part of her update and a picture she sent with it:

Not sure how much news has been generated in the US, but the wreck of the cargo ship that dumped diesel fuel (not crude, as reported by the NY Times) and a shipful of soybeans into the ocean was at Nightingale Island, which is where we spent the day.  It is more than a little unsettling to see penguins and baby seals black and shiny with oil.  The penguins are rock hoppers, which are the ones who look under normal circumstances as if they have a perpetual bad hair day, with bright orange topknots and slanty eyes.  There is a photo of some of them trying to get rid of the oil attached.  Nightingale is uninhabited, but full of birds – buntings, albatross, petrels, etc.  We had a zodiac tour around the base, and then headed toward Inaccessible Island, where the seas were simply too rough even for that.  We then headed back to Tristan de Cunha, the island we visited yesterday, to drop off some of the conservation staff we’d picked up and to refuel.  As I write this, the refueling is going on.  It was delayed because the ship from which the fuel is coming had been pressed into service to bring 750 penguins here so that the Tristaners can go about cleaning them up.  The little orange boat you see in one of the photos is the fishing boat from Tristan that brought these people out, so that they could round up the penguins.

Today I came across this post at the National Geographic Travel & Cultures site.  Kind of wild that I have family traveling with the author of the post, but also kind of scary what a "minor" oil spill can do:

A week ago today, (March 16), the MV Oliva (Valetta) crashed on the rocks of Nightingale Island, spilling its cargo of soybeans and some 800 tons of fuel oil onto the coast. The ship was crossing the Atlantic from Brazil to Singapore when for reasons still unknown, it hit the island’s coast at a speed of 14 knots.

The captain and all crew escaped the vessel, but by last Saturday the ship had begun to break up in the heavy surf. The oil slick had spread around the island and then out to sea in the direction of Inaccessible Island.

Our ship, the MV National Geographic Explorer arrived at Tristan Da Cunha yesterday and sailed to Nightingale Island this morning, as intended on our original itinerary with Lindblad Expeditions. Instead of mere bird watching, we were met with the disturbing sight of penguins and seals coated in sticky black oil.

Nightingale Island is home to some 20,000 of the endangered sub-species of Northern Rockhopper Penguin. Sadly, these are the birds that were hit the hardest—thousands are expected to die from the effects of the oil spill. While this spill is relatively minor in comparison to so many in the world today, it represents a major calamity for the fragile birdlife on pristine Nightingale Island and a heavy blow to the small group of islanders of nearby Tristan da Cunha…

A crisis response team had arrived by tugboat from South Africa—a four-day journey by sea. Commercial divers were on the scene to help dismantle the shipwreck and attempt to prevent further fuel from spilling out into the sea.

Another fear is the introduction of rats from the ship to the island, which could decimate the local bird population, including several endemics to the Tristan Island group. Three different types of rat traps had been laid on the island, and according to Tristan’s conservation officer Trevor Glass, no rats have been seen or trapped so far.



This Story Is Oh So Onion-y

Truth really is stranger than fiction, and this story that I would swear came from The Onion (but apparently didn't) is proof:

Enter "Waterworld" star Kevin Costner, who has invented a device that cleans oil from sea water.

British Petroleum - desperate for ideas – gave the okay to test six of Costner's gizmos Wednesday, after the Army Corps of Engineers gave the machine a thumbs-up.

Costner's $24 million centrifuge machine has a Los Angeles-perfect name, "Ocean Therapy."

Placed on a barge, it sucks in oily water, separates out the oil and spits back clean water.