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ME Water Talk

March 26, 2019

Leaks Can Cost You!

June Thomas, Yarmouth Water District

Household plumbing leaks can waste huge amounts of water.  According to the EPA, 10,000 gallons per household are year wasted due to plumbing leaks.  An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure or a costly water bill.  Here are some tips to help find leaks and DIYs to fix them.

Faucets – One of the biggest offenders is your Faucet.  Up to 3,000 gallons of water per year are wasted from a slow drip, as slow as one drip per second.  For less than $20, you can purchase a faucet repair kit at your local hardware store.  YouTube it at: How To Fix A Dripping or Leaky Faucet

Bathtubs and Showerheads – Does your showerhead or bathtubs drip?  You may be over looking this common leak.  Look up if you see water stains on the ceiling directly below the tubs, you could possibly have a leak from the pipes in the wall that feed the shower.  The following web site is a great DIY site for finding and repairing hidden plumbing leaks.  Find and Repair Hidden Plumbing Leaks

Toilets – Do you hear that?  Some toilet leaks you will never hear.  You may be losing hundreds of gallons of water and not realizing it.  You can do several things to check a toilet leak.  Replacing your supply line and shut-off valve connections for the toilet if you find moisture on the connections and valves.  Check the flapper to see if the flapper is leaking, here is a simple test: Put a few drops of food coloring in the tank.  Let it sit for 25 minutes.  If the color leaks into the toilet bowl, then there is a leak.  YouTube it at: How To Indicate A Leaking Toilet

Appliances – Did you ever think about the water heater, dishwasher, or washing machine might be a likely suspect?  By sealing the threads on the inlet hoses with new gaskets and Teflon tape you can easily leak-proof these appliances.  With the water heater, you will need to check both the inlet and outlet pipes for leaks.  Do not forget the drain and pressure relief valves when you’re checking for leaks.  This website will help Water Heater Leaking?

Outdoor Leaks – The fluctuation in temperatures can damage the outdoor hose connections and nozzles.  You may need to repair your hoses and nozzles even though your outdoor fixtures did not freeze.  By replacing the rubber gaskets in the connectors, you can easily repair the nozzles.  Do you have an irrigation system and are you developing wet areas or low spot in your lawn?  This could be a leak.  Buried water lines develop leaks and you can sometimes locate these by listening to a water line or you may see an exposed section of pipe.  This YouTube video may help: Finding leaks in your in-ground sprinkler system

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January 9, 2019

How to Prevent Freezing Pipes and the Destruction They Can Cause

From the EJP Blog

Uh oh! It’s looking like it may be a cold winter this year. One of the biggest concerns homeowners frequently run into over the winter is frozen pipes. When the water in your pipes freezes, they can burst under the pressure from the ice as it freezes or thaws. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can get around the problem to prevent frozen pipes and water damage this winter. Here are a few tips to help get you started.

  • Wrap It Up:  The first step to prevent frozen pipes is to add insulation to the outside of your supply lines. This can come in the form of foam that is slit down the side to fit around the pipes or fiberglass insulation which spirals around the pipe and is held in place by plastic or tape. Adding insulation to the pipes allows the water’s thermal mass to keep them from freezing.
  • Heat It Up: If adding insulation isn’t sufficient to keep the pipes from freezing, as is a common problem in our own farmhouse crawlspace, try adding heat tape to the pipe. This is a long loop of electrical resistance wire that can attach to your pipes, keeping them warm enough to prevent them from freezing. Look for a model that includes a built-in thermostat for ease of use.
  • Shut It Off: If you don’t need water running to a particularly cold part of your home or an outbuilding, turn the water off at the shutoff valve if one is available, then open a valve on the other side of the shutoff valve to allow any standing water to drain out of the lines as the cold strikes. Just remember, if you shut it off and the lines freeze, it may be a while before you can restore water to that area.
  • Open your cabinets: If you have sinks on the exterior walls of your home, open the cabinets underneath those sinks to help encourage air flow to keep the supply lines warm and thawed. If your home temperature drops due to a furnace issue, consider adding a heat lamp or lamp with an incandescent or CFL bulb under the sink to keep it warm.
  • Keep It Running: It’s much harder for running water to freeze than still water, partially because the water coming into your home is at ground temperature. Keep a steady drip of hot and cold water running in your fixtures to prevent your pipes from freezing up. Running the hot water keeps your hot water heater from overheating due to lack of water supply.
  • Open The Valves: If the pipes haven’t frozen too badly, leaving the valves open for your faucets and fixtures provides a place for the pressure to shift as the pipes thaw. As the thawing water can flow out of the fixture, it doesn’t build up the pressure in the pipes, causing a potential pipe break and preventing damage.

By taking the time to make sure your pipes are taken care of this winter, you can prevent inconvenient freeze-ups and the significant damage they can cause.

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December 10, 2018

Tiny Plastic Everywhere

Sophia Scott, Source Water Protection Coordinator, Maine CDC Drinking Water Program

A version of this article first appeared in the Drinking Water Program’s quarterly newsletter, the Service Connection (Volume 26, Issue 3).

Concern over plastic pollution is not breaking news. Plastic use is so widespread that some have dubbed our current era as the “Plastic Age.”  Global production is roughly 300 million tons annually and estimates suggest that 8 billion tons of plastics have been created since the 1950s.

Plastics provide many conveniences to people across the globe. We use and rely on plastics every day. However, unsustainable use and improper waste management have created catastrophic pollution worldwide. One infamous example of plastic pollution is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This floating mass of plastic debris is roughly the size of Texas.

Plastic pollution can come in many sizes. We have all seen plastic litter: a plastic bottle, cellophane wrappers, cigarette butts. These items are examples of macroplastic pollution. Microplastic pollution is less obvious but just as prevalent. Microplastics are defined as plastic debris under 5 millimeters in size, which includes plastics the size of a pencil eraser to particles that can only be seen under a microscope. These tiny plastic pieces have been found virtually everywhere: air, soil, salt water, brackish water, fresh water, bottled water, and tap water. Tiny plastic particles have been found in Arctic sea ice, a remote Mongolian lake, and the Gulf of Maine.

Microplastics, shown here on a penny, are microscopic plastic particles. Photo credit: Carolyn Box/AP/Courtesy 5gyers.org

These contaminants enter the environment as primary or secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are manufactured plastic particles. Secondary microplastics are created when larger pieces of plastic waste break down into smaller particles. Microplastics do not biodegrade and they remain in the environment for centuries. Some microplastics can release harmful chemicals into the environment. Others attract chemicals and act as vectors for pollutants. Despite their wide distribution, very little is known about the human health implications of microplastic pollution.

From a drinking water standpoint, microplastics have been found in both bottled and tap water across the globe. In the first study of its kind, researchers in the Czech Republic looked at how three water treatment plants performed in microplastic removal. Systems removed between 70% and 85% of microplastic particles. The details of the study are in the table below.

Data from Pivokonsky, M., et al., Occurrence of microplastics in raw and treated drinking water. Science of the Total Environment (2018) htpps://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.08.102

Does this mean we’ll see regulation for microplastics in the future? As we say here in Maine, “Hard tellin’, not knowin’.” Despite this uncertainty, it is a safe bet to say that we’re a ways off from any microplastic regulations in drinking water. Microplastics are not listed on the most recent Contaminant Candidate List and research on the implications of microplastic pollution in drinking water is only just beginning.

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April 30, 2018

Lessons learned from the largest waterborne outbreak in U.S. history

Carrie Lewis, General Manager at the Portland Water District and previous Superintendent at Milwaukee Water Works

Twenty-five years ago 400,000 people fell ill and 50 people died in one of the deadliest waterborne disease outbreaks in U.S. history.  This April marks the 25th anniversary of the Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee WI. Cryptosporidium is a parasite that can be found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals.

So what happened in April 1993? Deep snow had built up over the winter; it was all released into the watershed during a rainstorm early that spring.  The wastewater plant was overloaded and combined sewer overflows were pouring into Lake Michigan.  The discharge from the plant and the combined sewer overflows flowed over the intake to one of Milwaukee’s two drinking water treatment plants.  Because Cryptosporidium is resistant to chlorine, the pathogen was unaffected by the plant’s disinfectant.  Then, the filtration plant failed to remove the tiny microorganisms and the pathogen passed through the plant and into the distribution system.

Customer complaints of dirty and smelly water started to trickle in. Symptoms begin to appear 2 to 10 days after ingestion, so soon there were many people out of work and school with gastrointestinal illnesses. Pharmacies couldn’t keep Imodium in stock. City and state health agencies conferred and concluded that the drinking water was the likely source of the illness. After the State Health Director said he would not drink Milwaukee water, the plant was shut down and a city-wide boil water advisory was issued.

In the years that followed, water quality monitoring was increased and SCADA controls were improved. Drinking water treatment processes and wastewater systems were upgraded, including the use of deep tunnel storage.  Green infrastructure was implemented to absorb storm water runoff, and the utility hired its first ever Water Quality Manager to help get things back on track.

The outbreak was a huge wake-up call for the drinking water profession and had lasting effects nationwide.  The crisis solidified the water industry’s understanding that we are in the business of protecting public health, not just treating and distributing water. We began to view operators as highly skilled positions and realized the importance of maintenance and reinvestment in our infrastructure. The importance of multiple barriers to prevent contamination came into focus. We also learned that regulations need to be considered in relation to each other, not in isolation, and optimal performance of wastewater systems is essential.  Federal rules were enacted to address the health effects associated with Cryptosporidium in surface water used as a drinking water supply and improved treatments were implemented across the country.  Today, water quality data and information are widely used to guide adjustments that better protect public health and the environment.

Twenty-five years later, the water industry is clear, the importance of quality drinking water to protect public health is a key component to the success of any community.

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April 10, 2018

Toilet-to-Tap

We hear about water crises every day from the South African city of Cape Town’s reserve running dry as of April 12th, to the severe droughts in California causing wildfires, to the Siberian winters that make it impossible for pipes not the freeze and provide water to Russian citizens. We are very lucky to have reliable clean potable water provided by streams, rivers, and lakes here in Maine. But what if there was another way to get large amounts of water. What if we could utilize our own waste to produce clean drinking water? A company in Northeast Ohio has done just that. “Our goal is to change the way the world thinks about water by changing how we treat it, use it, and manage it,” said Michelle Matty, sales and human resources manager at the Tangent Company. The 2,000-gallon Watercycle pilot project has been operational for the past four years at the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s headquarters in century home in Moreland Hills, OH. This on-site recycling system served multiple purposes for the conservancy, eventually eliminating the need for a well and septic system, said Rich Cochran, the conservancy’s CEO.  “Especially when people are in dire need of drinking water they get over that (“yuck factor”) pretty fast,” Matty said. “The whole concept of toilet-to-tap is something you might imagine that some people have a hard time with,” Ebie Holst, CEO of Splashlink, said. “But even our own utility-based municipal tap water is reused water. It just happens to pass through a body of water like Lake Erie first.” Water is Mother Nature’s most precious gift to us but it is not endless past a certain point. We need to use it wisely or find ways to better manage what we do have. Perhaps our own waste is the answer.

Diagram: How to reclaim, refine, and re-use (click to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learn more here:

Cleveland – Wastewater Recycling

Tangent Company Homepage

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January 22, 2018

What’s the deal with “raw” water?

Mary Jane Dillingham – Water Quality Manager, Lewiston Water Division, Auburn Water District

 

I wouldn’t approach a body of water and drink directly from it.

The recent uprising of the “raw” water fad is somewhat frightening.  “Raw” means the water has not been processed or purified.  While the raw water being sold, at a premium price, may be free of contamination, it is risky to assume that drinking any untested and untreated surface water or groundwater is safe.  The World Health Organization stated that more than 3.4 million people were dying each year as a result of water related diseases such as typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, dysentery and polio making it the leading cause of disease and death around the world.   Though it may look clean, many of the natural and man-made contaminants are completely invisible in water and water is an excellent medium for transporting these contaminants. Research human history and you will find that some of society’s greatest achievements were developed from combating illnesses and death resulting from drinking untreated water.  Our planet’s human population levels are the highest in history at 7.4 billion, primarily due to sanitation effectiveness.

What’s concerning about the “raw” water fad, is that it questions whether treated water is healthy. Water treatment is a barrier that protects us from contracting chemical and microbial disease. Invoking a distrust of our public water systems and steering people with misinformation to promote unsafe practices is certainly an action that needs to be questioned.    Consider 2.1 billion people on our planet lack access to safe water.  Many of these people only have access to “raw” water and it is unsafe and causing disease.  Our safely managed water treatment systems ensure that the people served by those systems have access to the most basic requirement to life.

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December 21, 2017

Is your water bill getting you down? Plant a tree!

Sophia Scott – Source Water Protection Coordinator, ME CDC Drinking Water Program

 

While not as straight forward as planting a tree in your backyard, a new study from the U. S. Forest Service and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) highlights the influence of a forested watershed on keeping water treatment costs down. Lower water treatment costs at public water systems often translate to lower water bills for consumers like you.  This research will help to better inform communities and policy makers of the financial impact of green infrastructure in an effort to encourage watershed protection and keep consumer costs low. It adds to a growing body of research linking forested watersheds to high quality drinking water sources. The added savings of a protected drinking water source is not just true for surface waters such as lakes, ponds, and rivers; the EPA found that for groundwater, treating a contaminated supply can be 30-40 times more expensive than preventing contamination in the first place. The take home message here is that a protected drinking water source not only yields high quality drinking water, it also results in costs savings for water systems and their consumers.

Find the full report by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/treesnottreatment

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December 3, 2017

Where does American Stand? : Water Infrastructure Report 2017

Americans have the great privilege of drinking, utilizing, and reveling in safe, potable water. This drinking water often comes from the vast 1 million miles of pipe line maintained by municipalities, water districts, and privatized businesses alike. In June 2017 the Value of Water Campaign unveiled national poll results demonstrating the extreme importance of rebuilding the water industry infrastructure. 82% of Americans ranked rebuilding America’s water infrastructure as very important; more important than reforming the tax system, replacing Obamacare, or increasing the defense budget. The poll participants aggregated a diverse cross section of the American population. 87% of Americans strongly support an increase to the federal investment in water infrastructure.

The average American uses 176 gallons of water per day or 64,240 gallons a year. For every $1.00 spent on infrastructure improvement within the US, the US generates $6.00 in returns for the economy. Every job created within the water industry adds another 3.68 jobs to the national economy. The facts are endless and they support the need to face our infrastructure challenges with timeliness and poise. Every year the industry estimates 1.7 trillion gallons of drinking water are lost through aging or leaky pipes. The average pipe segment is 47 years old. With 1/3 of water sector employees currently eligible for retirement, it is critical that the water industry recruit quality personnel that will bring us into the next millennia of innovation and technology.

For more information on this issue please refer to the Value of Water Campaign, the Value of Water June 2017 Webinar, the US Water Alliance, the Infrastructure Report Card, and the USEPA.

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December 3, 2017

Lead in Water: What went wrong in Flint, MI and what does it mean for Maine?

While the media coverage of the Flint, Michigan crisis has started to die down the health concerns associated with elevated lead levels in water still exist. For more information about the true story associated with the Flint, MI tragedy the PBS, NOVA video, Poisoned Water provides an in depth view into how the lead in water contamination crisis unfolded.  

You may be wondering, how does this affect me as a Maine resident? The Maine Drinking Water Program has been actively working to assess the situation in Maine.  You can obtain more information about their efforts and additional educational materials through their website. Lead is not naturally found in water and while Maine’s public drinking water sources and systems provide lead-free drinking water, lead can dissolve into water from plumbing fixtures and piping that contain lead, such as brass faucets and lead solder.

If you are concerned that you have lead in your home drinking water you may reach out to your public water utility or a state certified laboratory for more information about sampling and analyzing your water. If you test your water and the sample results indicate elevated lead levels there are several options for reducing lead levels in your drinking water, including:

  • Running the water for several seconds before consuming: The more time water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.
  • Only use cold water for eating and drinking: Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula. Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead. Run cold water until it becomes as cold as it can get.
  • Installing an NSF certified filtration product: Many water filters and water treatment devices are certified by independent organizations for effective lead reduction. Devices that are not designed to remove lead will not work. Verify the claims of manufacturers by checking with independent certifying organizations that provide lists of treatment devices they have certified.
  • Removing/replacing plumbing pipes or fixtures that leach lead
  • Note that boiling water will NOT get rid of lead contamination.

For more information on this issue please refer to your local public water utility, the Maine Drinking Water Program, the Maine Water Utilities Association, the Maine Rural Water Association, the Maine Public Drinking Water Commission, and/or the USEPA.

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