Friday, September 15, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere, sort of . . .

At the CSD Water Workshop, held on Sept 14, that nice Mr. Spencer Harris of Cleath & Associates gave a report on Task 3 part of the 9 part water use plans for Los Osos. Task 3 was to take a look at the upper aquifer and characterize the water quality and look for other stuff, i.e. the Title 22 “emerging contaminants,” other than nitrates.

Harris’ report and some of the Q&As at the meeting indicate an interesting mixed bag of information. From my notes:

--The good news is that the upper aquifer meets drinking water standards, except for nitrates. There are a few contaminants, but nothing “reportable,”. i.e. at such a level as to violate State standards for that item. Some of the upper aquifer water is already being used from at least one of the wells, and more water, properly monitored and “blended” with lower aquifer water, could be used to help reduce pumping from the lower aquifer which would help reduce salt water intrusion.

--The bad news is that, like almost all water sources, “emerging contaminants” are present. These are a whole list of chemicals/drugs/hormones/pesticide/herbicide/personal products/etc that have only been recently been looked for in increasingly smaller and smaller amounts, amounts so small that their presence can often be the result of sample contamination in handling or in lab error or, weirdly, elements can show up in the “Blank” or “control” samples but not in the tested water, for no explainable reason. (There was one dry cleaning chemical that showed up in a well sample even though there are no dry cleaning establishments in Los Osos and there is no explanation as to why or how or what would account for that trace element showing up much of anywhere. Thus re the vagaries of testing for minute amounts of anything: Hard to say what the “normal” level is, especially since the field is so new that few norms have even been established in the U.S. anyway.)

There are presently no State or Federal standards for many emerging contaminants. Europe has set levels, but the whole field is too new and the U.S. is only recently trying to play catch up. The reason why they’re of concern is because at this point we don’t know if they pose a long-term threat to health or not. So prudence would support more study and monitoring.

--The upper aquifer water can be used for irrigation with no problem. (Part of the Ripley Plan involves the “ag exchange” using not only treated wastewater but also the possibility of drawing down the upper aquifer water for ag use which would mean the farmers wouldn’t need to pump their deep aquifer water, which could then be used for drinking & etc.)

--Harris also noted that his study is, perhaps, the very first done in the County. When the Tribune first briefly touched on this report some months ago, it gave no context for the result – i.e. a comparison between L.O. water and Morro Bay or SloTown. I thought, at the time, this was odd since the idea of some minute contaminants in your drinking water is scary until you take a look at what other people are drinking. At that point, it then slides into perspective. Now I know why there was no context . . . . there were no other studies done by other communities for comparison.

--Standard sewer treatment plants don’t treat or remove many of these trace elements. Some of the newer treatment plants may be starting to add on a final “polish” treatment that could help. Ag exchange/irrigation use is o.k. though once again, the placement of the irrigation water is crucial since time & distance for eventual recharge are crical – one site, heavy direct “recharge” can simply end up polluting a clean source whereas slow, ag-use dispersal allows for more soil/time for the ultimate polish and removal via biological processes of many of these contaminants. The bad news still remains that much of the stuff we use and consume nowadays contains chemicals that NEVER go away. In most cases, they break down into harmless by-products. But some simply remain no matter what, which is what makes the whole field of “emerging contaminants” something the whole world needs to pay attention to, since we live in an entirely closed Spaceship Earth system – nothing leaves, it just moves around in one form or another.

--Irony. (What would Los Osos & Nitrates & Water be without Irony?) Santa Maria’s drinking water exceeds state levels for nitrates and exceeds the levels of nitrate found in many of the Los Osos upper aquifer wells that were tested. Santa Maria is sewered, though their sewer plant uses direct ground dispersal, which may make the problem worse, depending on what amount of nitrates they’re allowed to discharge.

So, where are all the “polluting” nitrates are coming from? Why, all the ag land. So, have the farmers received ACL fines and are they now under threat by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and issued CDOs, as are the home owners here in Los Osos? Nope. The RWQCB only requires them to attend “workshops” to learn ways to reduce nitrate runoff & etc. Go figure.

--Irony or Plain Weirdness: According to Mr. Harris, viruses and bacteria do not travel far in the soil or water tables. State rules require a 200 foot setback between leach fields and any water source and almost all the literature Mr. Harris has reviewed, notes that bacterial contamination simply doesn’t travel far from septic tanks/leach fields. So, when somebody noted that the MBNEP’s monitoring of the “seeps” entering Morro Bay near Baywood Park come up with bacterial/coliform/etc counts, the claim is that they’re coming from our septic tanks, even though, apparently, the testing site is more than 200 feet from any known septic leach fields.. Mr. Harris said that would be a very interesting claim to try to substantiate since the literature says otherwise. Of course, since we never have had a Septic Maintenance District established, nobody has inspected any tanks near the Bay to know if they’re all in working order or whether some are broken and leaching directly into the soil or whatever might account for the seeps findings. As Mr. Harris noted, That would be an interesting claim to track down.

--Water softeners of the type that discharge into septic systems are Not Good. Too much salt loading into the groundwater. The type that use take-away tanks that are apparently cleaned and reused with the salt being dumped into the sea, are preferred and when a wastewater system is being considered, every effort should be made to have everyone in the community who has water softeners switch from onsite softeners to takeaways. Or just remove the softener and stick with good old natural hard water, which uses more detergent, so you’re back to another wastewater tradeoff: Salt or more suds?

The full report should be available in the CSD office. I would encourage everyone to go take a peek. Very interesting. Also, I had to leave about 9 p.m. so, alas, missed the other presentations, so will have to pick them up on TV via AGP Video.


Anonymous said...

Ann, here's some interesting stuff about water softeners...

How does a water softener work?

We call water "hard" if it contains a lot of calcium or magnesium dissolved in it. Hard water causes two problems:

1) It can cause "scale" to form on the inside of pipes, water heaters, tea kettles and so on. The calcium and magnesium precipitate out of the water and stick to things. The scale doesn't conduct heat well and it also reduces the flow through pipes. Eventually, pipes can become completely clogged.

2) It reacts with soap to form a sticky scum, and also reduces the soap's ability to lather. Since most of us like to wash with soap, hard water makes a bath or shower less productive.

The solution to hard water is either to filter the water by distillation or reverse osmosis to remove the calcium and magnesium, or to use a water softener. Filtration would be extremely expensive to use for all the water in a house, so a water softener is usually a less costly solution.

The idea behind a water softener is simple. The calcium and magnesium ions in the water are replaced with sodium ions. Since sodium does not precipitate out in pipes or react badly with soap, both of the problems of hard water are eliminated. To do the ion replacement, the water in the house runs through a bed of small plastic beads or through a chemical matrix called zeolite. The beads or zeolite are covered with sodium ions. As the water flows past the sodium ions, they swap places with the calcium and magnesium ions. Eventually, the beads or zeolite contain nothing but calcium and magnesium and no sodium, and at this point they stop softening the water. It is then time to regenerate the beads or zeolite.

Regeneration involves soaking the beads or zeolite in a stream of sodium ions. Salt is sodium chloride, so the water softener mixes up a very strong brine solution and flushes it through the zeolite or beads (this is why you load up a water softener with salt). The strong brine displaces all of the calcium and magnesium that has built up in the zeolite or beads and replaces it again with sodium. The remaining brine plus all of the calcium and magnesium is flushed out through a drain pipe. Regeneration can create a lot of salty water, by the way -- something like 25 gallons (95 liters).

Anonymous said...

Here's a good alternative to water softeners that everyone in Los Osos should consider...

(note: I am not affiliated with this company in any way, I just think it looks like a good product. I recommend you compare this to other filters from other reputable manufacturers.)

Are you guilty of wasting your hard-earned money on bottled waters and multiple combinations of water filters?

Are you tired of constantly replacing a variety of filters and struggling to remember when they have expired?

Save money, time and space with the Rhino Whole House Water Filtration System by Aquasana.

This highly beneficial water filter removes unwanted contaminates and leaves natural trace minerals, so you can drink, shower, wash clothes and more with healthy, clean water for only about 60 cents a day. Best of all, the Rhino Whole House Water Filter is designed to be virtually maintenance free for 3 years!

The unit costs approximately $850, and less than $19 per month to maintain.

Aquasana Whole House Water Filters are ideal for someone who...

* Wants to reduce chlorine, lead, synthetic chemicals, VOCs, THMs, MTBE, Turbidity and odors from water used in the entire house

* Wants excellent quality tap water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, showering and bathing purposes

* Would like a high capacity water filtration system that will not lose pressure

* Wants better tap water to use to water plants and fill fish tanks

* Prefers a whole house filtration system with virtually no maintenance, zero wasted water and no back flushing

* Wants a cheaper alternative to buying bottled water

Features of Aquasana Rhino Whole House Water Filters

* Reduces unwanted contaminants: effectively filters 99.99% of COPEPODS, chlorine, lead, VOCs, THMs, MTBE and over 100 common tap water contaminants and leaves in natural trace minerals!

* 4-stage filtration process:

* Stage 1: The pre-filter filters out contaminants over 5 microns large to maintain a high water flow rate and reduce the chance of clogging the main filter

* Stage 2: Uses zinc and copper mineral media to remove chlorine.

* Stage 3: Enhances taste and improves clarity with bituminous activated charcoal media.

* Stage 4: Filters out remaining contaminants with high grade coconut shell based activated carbon media

* High capacity filtration: Certified for a 300,000 gallon capacity at 8 gallons per minute. This means the pressure will not drop.

* Enhances taste and clarity: Bituminous charcoal enhances the taste and improves the clarity of your water.

* Virtually maintenance free: main filter needs to be replaced every 3 years, while pre-filters should to be replaced every 3-6 months

* Certification and standards: Unlike bottled water, water filters are required by law to document their purity. Aquasana stringently tests its water filtration systems. The whole house filtration system meets the NSF's (National Sanitation Foundation) standards.

* Includes: Installation kit, ball valve, main filter and pre-filter

* 1-year warranty: free from defects in materials and workmanship.

Normal installation requires 1-2 hours. We recommend using a licensed plumber to insure proper installation. The main filter should be replaced every 3 years. Pre-filters should be replaced every 3-6 months. Filter replacements do not require a licensed plumber.

Check it out at:

Anonymous said...

Ann either quotes or interjects her opinion:

"So, where are all the “polluting” nitrates are coming from? Why, all the ag land. So, have the farmers received ACL fines and are they now under threat by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and issued CDOs, as are the home owners here in Los Osos? Nope. The RWQCB only requires them to attend “workshops” to learn ways to reduce nitrate runoff & etc. Go figure."

All the ag land? Apparently the farmers have caused the nitrate problem. The nitrates just magically concentrate in areas where the greatest density of septic tanks are found. Pure magic.

Go figure? I figure that this is rediculous. HA HA great joke! Great comparison!

Anonymous said...

The aquasana multi media water system will give you good quality hard water. Very expensive! Good to use after a water softening system using potassium chloride. If you wonder why your houseplants do not do well using a sodium chloride water softener, just consider the addition of table salt into your water. House plants do great using potasium chloride in your water softener.

FBLeG said...

Just a FYI,

Look at the LAFCO agenda and especially the staff recommendation:

1. Deny the petition to dissolve LOCSD.
2. Deny petition for partial fee waiver for Taxpayers Waste.

Looks like the staff at LAFCO has some sense and Taxpayers Waste is gonna get the smackdown. On the other hand, nothing is final until LAFCO acts.

Read about it yourself.

LAFCO Website

FBLeG said...

Some great quotes from the LAFCO staff report:

"It is important to point out, however, that even if the legislation [referring to AB 2701] was not introduced and is not signed, in light of the transfer of liability issue, LAFCO staff would not recommend dissolution of the LOCSD."


"To pay for the processing of the proposal, Taxpayers Watch paid the initial fees of $12,500, which were established by the LAFCO fee schedule and signed a cost accounting agreement (Exhibit B). In the Cost Accounting Agreement, the applicant agrees to pay for costs associated with processing the application that exceed the initial fee deposit of $12,500. The current balance owed to LAFCO is $22,317.50. Three invoices have been sent to Taxpayers Watch and can be found in Exhibit C."

Can you believe it? $35K to try and get the LOCSD dissolved. What a waste of money - I could at least get my septic tank pumped 85 times with that kind of scratch.

These people really are totally out of their minds! I guess Taxpayers Waste really is the more fitting appellation.

Anonymous said...

I hardly see where this is a condemnation of Taxpayers Watch as you suggest. LAFCO will NOT dissolve the CSD because the county does NOT want the debts incurred by YOUR current CSD. Instead, LAFCO's "suggestion" that the CSD turn over the sewer project to the county becasue of their absolute incompetence has been achieved. The CSD exists only to provide basic servies (which I have no doubt they will succeed at when a new, responsible board is elected in November esentially castrating Tacker and Schicker). So you see, Taxpayers Watch has provided an extemely valuable service to all us homeowners by "forcing" the sewer project out of the hands of the incompetent. And you Anon 1:08, you can gloat and do your third grade cheering of a "smackdown." So everyone's happy, right?

FBLeG said...

Anon says,

"So everyone's happy, right?"

You bet!

Anonymous said...

Excellent!!! I think the healing has already begun!!!!!