Water Canada : Diagnosis: Stream Sickness

Via: Water Canada 

Posted on December 16, 2013
Written by Angela Wallace

Are Toronto’s streams sick? Yes, many of them are. They are suffering from an “illness” known as urban stream syndrome (USS), which results from changes associated with urban development. The hardening of surfaces, such as roads and roofs, creates a landscape that makes it difficult to absorb rainfall. In areas without proper stormwater management, the volume of stormwater is high and runoff collects sediment, nutrients, and contaminants as it travels across hard surfaces, causing streams to function more like sewers. Symptoms include changes in the aquatic community, hydrology, and water chemistry.

The Greater Toronto Area has approximately 5.5 million people. This has put pressure on its approximately 3,654 kilometres of streams and watercourses. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), one of 36 conservation authorities in the province, has been tasked with protecting and managing water and other natural resources in partnership with government, landowners, and other agencies.

TRCA operates a long-term, large-scale Regional Watershed Monitoring Program (RWMP), which tracks aquatic habitat and species, surface water quality, stream flow, precipitation, groundwater quality and quantity, and terrestrial natural heritage in nine watersheds across 3,467 square kilometres. Data from the RWMP was recently used to show that streams in the Toronto region have USS. Road density (used as a surrogate of urbanization) was shown to be related to the USS symptoms. Both fish and benthic-macroinvertebrate (aquatic “bugs” that inhabit stream bottoms) communities were negatively related to road density. Higher road density was also linked to decreases in aquatic ecosystem health (biotic diversity), higher stream water temperature and discharge, lower amounts of forest, and higher levels of contaminants.

In fact, concentrations of nutrients, metals, and bacteria were all higher in catchments with higher road density; several contaminants, including chloride, copper, E. coli, sodium, and zinc, had very strong relationships with road density, suggesting they are more abundant in urban areas and that impervious cover may serve to concentrate and convey these variables quickly to local waterways.

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AJ: Centralized systems vulnerable to climate change conditions

via: Alternatives Journal, Jan. 2013 / Lifecycles 39.1

Best in Flow

by Stu Campana

YOU JUST TOOK A WATER BALLOON TO THE FACE. The good news is that, as a Canadian, you are rarely so pressed to think about the quality and abundance of your water. Globally, there is enough clean and fresh water for everyone. Nevertheless, huge shortages remain in many parts of the world due to the naturally uneven distribution of the water cycle (among other factors). Even more problematic, the cycle is easily disrupted: small climatic shifts can quickly bring too much or too little, wreaking havoc on conventional water management systems.

These systems are proving inadequate to the challenges created by climate change. Because Canada has been spared the harshest impacts (so far), we are largely unprepared for major water cycle shifts. Fortunately for us, there are lessons to be learned from many communities (including a few homegrown examples) that have already adopted decentralized water management strategies. What we need to absorb are not the designs themselves, but the principles of resilience and low-impact development, which are essential to building a water system that can withstand shocks.

To clarify, the concept of decentralized systems is intended as a geographical distinction rather than a political one. In this context, both centralized and decentralized systems can refer to public or private and municipal or federal initiatives.

Most Canadian cities use water from a single source and dispose of it in a single location. The system works well enough under normal circumstances; there’s no real need to recycle when freshwater remains in ready supply. This centralized structure, however, is like an 18-wheeler on a treacherous highway, struggling to cope with changes in speed and direction. Enough of both, and it might crash.

Increases in the intensity of flooding, droughts and storms are all expected impacts of climate change on water cycles. “New patterns of wind, humidity, and ambient temperature are already dramatically altering the weather map,” wrote Chris Wood, author of Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, in a 2005 article. “Some parts of the country are receiving more rain than ever before; other regions are drying up.” Moreover, Wood argues that “Canada’s multibillion-dollar investment in water infrastructure” is already outdated: “It will not be able to either contain the massive floods or ameliorate the droughts of the future.”

No, perhaps not. An anecdote from our nation’s capital may help explain why.

For most of one day in early September 2012, it rained heavily in Ottawa – not an uncommon event for the time of year, or one likely to raise alarms. Yet the capital region’s residents were unpleasantly surprised to find that the rainfall had caused 63.5 million litres of diluted sewage to overflow into the Ottawa River. Ottawa’s stormwater system is typical of a mid-sized Canadian city: made up of no less than 1500 kilometres of pipes, including some overlap with the sewage system. The labyrinth of pipes is not designed to handle large influxes of water, and the results are more or less catastrophic when it happens.

Like most of the world, Canada’s cities are ill equipped to handle sweeping problems such as contaminated water supplies and widespread flooding. Ottawa’s sewer system can’t cope with an enormous rain deluge any more than India’s water reserves can withstand weeks of drought. Centralized systems are vulnerable to climate change conditions because the size and nature of the infrastructure makes adaptation difficult. Breaking water management structures down into discrete, independent and decentralized systems builds resilience against fluctuation.

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NDRC: Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at U.S. Vacation Beaches

via: Grist: Here’s just how dirty that beach water is

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released its annual “Testing the Waters” report, an overview of the nation’s beaches.

You’ll want to read this before taking a dip.

Over the 22 years the NRDC has created the report, 2011 saw the third-highest levels of beach closings and advisory days. What does that mean? What, exactly, would you be swimming in?

Most beach closings are issued because beachwater monitoring detects unsafe levels of bacteria. These unsafe levels indicate the presence of pathogens — microscopic organisms from human and animal waste that pose a threat to human health. The key reported contributors of these contaminants are (1) stormwater runoff, (2) sewage overflows and inadequately treated sewage, (3) agricultural runoff, and (4) other sources, such as beachgoers themselves, wildlife, septic systems, and boating waste.

Oh, neat. Here’s how that pollution has varied as a cause of beach closures over the years:

Click to embiggen.

The organization also compiled a list of the worst-offending beaches, those that repeatedly had bad, polluted water. That data includes this caveat:

It is important to note that while a high percent exceedance rate is a clear indication of contaminated coastal recreational waters, it is not necessarily an indication that the state’s beachwater quality monitoring program is deficient or fails to protect public health when beachwater quality is poor.

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EMC News: Brighter future for Tay River, Perth initiative is all about green

EMC News – The future of the Tay River looks brighter thanks to a three-pronged initiative by the Town of Perth that will lead to significant improvements in water quality over the next decade.

The town’s strategic plan, “Community Plan 2022,” includes specific initiatives over the next 10 years that will help remove contaminants entering the river from Perth’s water treatment plant and sewage lagoon, as well as run-off from storm sewers.

Some of the innovative solutions Perth will use to accomplish these goals should serve as a model for other small communities to follow, said Trish Johnson, senior environmental consultant with the town’s engineering consulting firm, R.V. Anderson Associates. “This integrated concept is really the kind of thing that makes a green community. They’re not only leading by example, they are actually challenging existing practices and creating new best practices.”

Ordered by the provincial Ministry of the Environment to begin treating waste water discharged from its water treatment plant, Perth was faced with the prospect of having to construct a multi-million dollar treatment plant. Instead, the town has chosen what Johnson described as a low cost, low-tech solution to the problem. This summer the town will call for bids to install a geotube to filter the water being discharged from the water treatment plant. The geotube, a textile membrane, will filter solids from the water before it is returned to the river. These solids include alum, a chemical used in the purification of drinking water.

Geotubes are already being used to treat sewage in other communities, including Eganville, but Perth will be the first municipality to use the technology to purify run-off from its water treatment plant, said Johnson.

The environmental consultant credits the town with having the vision to pursue this lower cost option rather than building an expensive treatment plant. With government grants for such projects no longer available, Johnson said, “I’m beginning to see the end of an era of big, shiny plants.”

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National Post: Caffeine helps find sewer pipe leaks

Montreal’s coffee and Red Bull habit is giving scientists a new way to look for wayward sewage, according to a new University of Montreal report.

After testing 120 brooks, collectors and outfalls in Montreal, researchers discovered that samples containing human urine and feces were also lightly caffeinated. Their conclusion: If there’s an abundance of caffeine in the water, “it means you have a leaky sewage pipe somewhere,” lead researcher Sébastien Sauvé told the Post on Monday.

Traditionally, researchers analyze sewer leakage by testing for fecal coliforms, a family of bacteria that includes E.coli. The test is unable to gauge the presence of human sewage because fecal coliforms could just as easily come from pigeons, raccoons or a nearby dairy farm. Caffeine, by contrast, is human-specific.

“Cows don’t drink coffee,” said Mr. Sauvé.

Unlike many other chemicals in human waste, caffeine is also unlikely to have bled into the water from a nearby farm or industrial facility. Montreal’s aging sewer system is apparently far from watertight. Mr. Sauvé’s team collected water samples throughout the spring and fall of 2008 — and always after a particularly heavy rain.

In every sample collected, Mr. Sauvé’s team found traces of caffeine, leading the team to conclude that Montreal’s storm drains are “widely contaminated” by leaking human sewage.

Mr. Sauvé’s team tried testing water samples for carbamazepine, a common anti-seizure drug, but the researchers could find no correlation between the drug and the presence of fecal matter.

On the other hand, any water sample “containing more than the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee diluted in an Olympic-size swimming pool is definitely contaminated with fecal [bacteria],” according to a prepared release by the university.

Luckily, with the country’s coffee and energy drink consumption on the rise, caffeine levels in Canadian urine show no sign of diminishing. Tim Hortons, which holds an estimated 80% share of the Canadian coffee market, sells more than three million cups of coffee per day.

For now, Mr. Sauvé’s caffeine test may only be regionally effective. In South America, caffeine could just as easily be leached into the water system by coffee, tea and cola plantations.

Presumably, the test could also prove ineffective in heavily Mormon communities where the drinking of coffee and tea is frowned upon.

Mr. Sauvé says the caffeine test is a valuable tool in preventing municipalities from ducking responsibility for a leaky sewerage system.

“If there’s too much caffeine in the water, there’s no way a city can say it’s because there are too many dogs,” said Mr. Sauvé.

Scientific American: How the “Internet of Things” Is Turning Cities Into Living Organisms

When city services can autonomously go online and digest information from the cloud, they can reach a level of performance never before seen.

December 6, 2011

By Christopher Mims

When city services can autonomously go online and digest information from the cloud, they can reach a level of performance never before seen. First up, water systems that automatically know when it will rain and react accordingly.

With a little help from what’s called the Internet of Things, engineers are transforming cities from passive conduits for water into dynamic systems that store and manage it like the tissues of desert animals. By using the Internet to connect real-world sensors and control mechanisms to cloud-based control systems that can pull in streams from any other data source, including weather reports, these efforts enable conservation and money-saving measures that would have been impossible without this virtual nervous system.

Marcus Quigley, principal water engineer at the infrastructure engineering firm Geosyntec, has been tackling this problem using hardware from Internet of Things company ioBridge, whose Internet-connected sensors have been used in everything from location-aware home automation to tide gauges that tweet.

It may sound like a trivial problem, but the EPA estimates that the U.S. has $13 billion invested in wastewater infrastructure alone. More importantly, the majority of America’s largest cities–more than 700 in all–dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways every time it rains, because their sewer and stormwater systems were designed a century ago.

These overwhelmed cities include New York City, Detroit, Boston, Portland, St. Louis, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, many other cities, mostly in the Rust Belt and New England. With the notable exception of Los Angeles, almost every major urban center in the U.S. is in need of a way to soak up rainstorms rather than dump them straight down the drain in a desperate attempt to prevent flooding.

That’s where “high performance” infrastructure–infrastructure that can react to its environment like a living thing–comes in.

“The conventional way to build a city is you build what you want, and then you get rid of water as quickly as possible,” says Quigley. Historically, that’s meant massive projects to redirect all the water sluicing down impermeable streets and concrete and into the Moria-like recesses of a city’s sewer system. Green infrastructure tries to control runoff on-site, rather than sending it below, through the use of “bioretention cells” and rain gardens, which absorb and filter the water into collections of plants and artificial wetlands.

High-performance green infrastructure takes things a step further, by anticipating demand for water storage and preparing a system accordingly. For example, in seven projects deployed in St. Louis and one in New Bern, North Carolina, Geosyntec integrated a building’s rainwater catchment system with software that uses weather predictions from the Internet to know when a basin should be partly emptied to accommodate incoming stormwater.

Many more projects of this kind are on the way, including installations in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

“Instead of trying to use what I consider sub-optimal passive systems to control these … components of the urban environment, what we’re doing is making decisions in real time to achieve specific environmental goals,” says Quigley.

Dynamic control of a rainwater catchment allows these basins to be used to their maximum without fear that they’ll be overwhelmed by weather events. Giving building planners the assurance that they’ll always have access to a free water supply means they can actually use it. And putting these on enough buildings could go a long way to solving the problem of combined sewer and stormwater systems being overwhelmed when it rains.

It’s early days for these kinds of systems, and managing runoff is just one of the applications they could be put to use.

“The big picture is that we are able to take any piece of information that is Internet-accessible, any feed, and integrate it into the logic of how we operate these components of our city,” says Quigley.

Geosyntec’s cloud-based infrastructure is just as important as the physical infrastructure it puts into place on-site. Led by software developer Alex Bedig, the company has created a general-purpose platform for handling all the relevant inputs, sending instructions to valves and other control points, and never, ever failing in an emergency.

Taken together, these physical and virtual systems are explicitly biomimetic, says Quigley.

“The intent of an active system is to take the built environment and have it perform as if it were natural. We’re fundamentally saying that passive systems are unable to do that in an optimal way. In many cases they are unable to do it at all.”

It’s a story we’ve heard in the energy industry for years–hence the notion that a dynamically managed “smart grid” is not only helpful, but absolutely essential for integrating our power-generating infrastructure with the natural world through renewables. The smart grid extends all the way down to the level of the individual through demand management for energy conservation, but these principles have yet to show up on the same scale in the management of physical resources like water.

Humanity has a sorry habit of neglecting its waste stream, whether its the 99% of precious rare earth elements we fail to recycle or the complete absence of curbside composting from most American cities. The handy thing about water is that, through evaporation, it recycles itself. Now all we have to do is make the best use of it we can while it’s coursing through our cities.

via: Fast Company

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Publications and Projects by Geosyntec:

NRDC Report: 14 Cities Prove That Green Infrastructure Cleans Waterways, Cuts Costs and Greens Cities

WASHINGTON, DC — (Marketwire) — 11/16/11 — Cities of all sizes are tackling their water pollution problems, such as stormwater runoff and sewage overflow, by employing green infrastructure and design — and they will save money as a result, according to a peer-reviewed report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report provides detailed case studies analyzing how 14 cities are using these methods and encourages the EPA to advance these solutions nationwide later this year.

‘Every single day, millions of gallons of good water needlessly drain away, filling our waterways with sewage and urban pollutants, rather than replenishing our water supply,’ said NRDC Water Program Director David Beckman. ‘But it doesn’t have to be that way. By making our communities literally greener, we can make our water sources cleaner too — and with much greater return than conventional solutions.’

‘Rooftops to Rivers II‘ details common water pollution problems and provides case studies for 14 geographically diverse cities that can all be considered leaders for employing green infrastructure solutions to address their pollution problems. The cities featured in the report have improved their ability to manage stormwater and reduce runoff pollution, saved money and beautified their cityscapes by capturing rain where it falls.

‘Cities of all sizes are recognizing that green infrastructure — which stops rain where it falls — is the smartest way to reduce water pollution from storms,’ said Karen Hobbs, NRDC senior policy analyst. ‘It often only takes a fraction of an inch to trigger this kind of pollution. And the extreme weather we’ve seen in much of the country this year — from drought to floods and hurricanes — drives home the need for smarter solutions to our water woes.’

The 14 cities featured in the report are all positioned on a six-point ‘Emerald City Scale’ to assess how each of these trailblazing leaders is doing. They are listed here from the highest to lowest points scored:

  • Philadelphia, PA (6)
  • Milwaukee, WI (5)
  • New York, NY (5)
  • Portland, OR (5)
  • Syracuse, NY (5)
  • Washington, D.C. (5)
  • Aurora, IL (4)
  • Toronto, Ontario, Canada (4)
  • Chicago, IL (3)
  • Kansas City, MO (3)
  • Nashville, TN (3)
  • Seattle, WA (3)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (1)
  • Detroit Metro Area & the Rouge River Watershed, MI (1)

The six-point scale identifies the primary actions every city can undertake to maximize their green infrastructure investment, including: a long term green infrastructure plan for the city, a retention standard, a requirement to reduce existing impervious surfaces using green infrastructure, incentives for private-party action, guidance or other assistance in deploying green infrastructure, and a dedicated funding source.

Only one city, Philadelphia, is undertaking all six actions, but each city featured in the report is undertaking at least one.

Green infrastructure — in contrast to paved and other impermeable surfaces — stops runoff pollution from the start, by capturing rainwater and either storing it for future consumer use or letting it filter back into the ground, replenishing vegetation and groundwater supplies. Examples include green roofs, street trees, increased green space, rain barrels, rain gardens, and permeable pavement. These design solutions have the added benefits of beautifying neighborhoods, cooling and cleansing the air, reducing asthma and heat-related illnesses, lowering heating and cooling energy costs, boosting economies, and supporting American jobs.

The report details how green infrastructure is frequently more cost-effective than traditional approaches to addressing runoff, like pipes and holding tanks. The City of Philadelphia estimates that a traditional approach to its sewage overflow problems would have cost billions more than its state-approved green infrastructure plan, which will achieve comparable results as it transforms 34 percent of the city’s impervious surfaces to ‘greened acres.’ The American Society of Landscape Architects recently surveyed its members and found that green infrastructure reduced or did not influence costs 75 percent of the time. EPA’s own analysis shows that green infrastructure approaches save money for developers, communities and, the vast majority of the time, for new development.

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via: Environmental Expert