Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Green Streets and Storm Sewers a Tourist Attraction?

Eco-friendly tourists flock to Portland, Oregon to understand how the city's innovative system of curbs, gutters, roofs and rain gardens sharply cuts water pollution.

So popular is the Green Streets program that the city publishes a map on its website directing tourists to the most exciting storm sewer sites.

USA Today article

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

April 7, Info Forum on Water Legislation

The Association of California Water Agencies is holding an informational forum, on Water Legislation and the bond issue to be considered by the voters in November 2o10, at Balboa Park on April 7, 2010. See an excerpt of the official announcement below and register (you won't be able to register using the Safari browser).

Informational Forum on Water Legislation and Water Bond to be held April 7 in Balboa Park

The Association of California Water Agencies is hosting a series of statewide informational forums that will discuss the comprehensive package of water bills that was passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in 2009. The package contains four policy bills along with an $11.14 billion general obligation bond proposal that voters will consider on the November 2010 ballot.

A forum will be held in San Diego on April 7 at the Balboa Park Club (2150 West Pan American Rd., 92101) from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The event is free and open to the public.

The forums are being coordinated to help build understanding for the many legislative aspects of the comprehensive water package. Speakers will include representatives from ACWA and other California water experts.

For additional locations and dates in Southern California, click here.

Please register online by clicking here.

Forum hosts include the Association of California Water Agencies, California Latino Water Coalition, and State of California.

For more information, please call (916) 503-1411 or
You may also visit the sponsor websites

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Waste(water)ing Away in California

Coastal communities throughout California flush away more than a billion gallons of fresh water every day by discharging wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, according to a report released yesterday by local nonprofit Heal the Ocean.

Essentially a detailed survey of wastewater dumped into ocean waters along the entire coast of California, the report highlights concerns about untreated chemical contaminants and the need to move toward reclaimed wastewater.

“Wastewater really is a waste of water,” said Hillary Hauser, executive director of Heal the Ocean. “We’re using drinking water in a really bad way.”

By adapting treatment plants to focus on reclaiming water, Heal the Ocean officials believe the state could solve two problems: stop widespread pollution of the ocean and address the lack of potable water needed to sustain the state’s future.


Also see Down the Drain

Monday, March 15, 2010

Antiquated Water & Sewer Systems

The latest article in a New York Times series on Toxic Water, discusses the current crisis with this country's overburdened and antiquated drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. It would take over $25 billion per year to fix our leaking pipes. The below article suggests water and sewage rate hikes to pay for these repairs, but there is a new bill that has been introduced to Congress that proposes to create a trust fund for this purpose. Support the Water Protection & Reinvestment Act of 2009 by clicking here.

WASHINGTON — One recent morning, George S. Hawkins, a long-haired environmentalist who now leads one of the largest and most prominent water and sewer systems, trudged to a street corner here where water was gushing into the air.

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

As head of Washington's water department, George Hawkins, left, is on the scene every time a major sewer or water line breaks.

Toxic Waters

The Breaking Point

Articles in this series are examining the worsening pollution in America’s waters and regulators’ responses.

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Mr. Hawkins's goal is to replace, within the next century, the pipes that were installed in Washington a hundred years ago.

Readers' Comments

"I am willing to pay higher rates if it is for upgrading our sewer/water system. American cities are decaying. Upkeep of the infrastructure has been put off too long."
Jim Harrington, San Diego, CA

A cold snap had ruptured a major pipe installed the same year the light bulb was invented. Homes near the fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood were quickly going dry, and Mr. Hawkins, who had recentlytaken over the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority despite having no experience running a major utility, was responsible for fixing the problem.

As city employees searched for underground valves, a growing crowd started asking angry questions. Pipes were breaking across town, and fire hydrants weren’t working, they complained. Why couldn’t the city deliver water, one man yelled at Mr. Hawkins.

Such questions are becoming common across the nation as water and sewer systems break down. Today, a significant water line bursts on average every two minutes somewhere in the country, according to a New York Times analysis ofEnvironmental Protection Agency data.

In Washington alone there is a pipe break every day, on average, and this weekend’s intense rains overwhelmed the city’s system, causing untreated sewage to flow into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

State and federal studies indicate that thousands of water and sewer systems may be too old to function properly.

For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.

Mr. Hawkins’s answer to such problems will not please a lot of citizens. Like many of his counterparts in cities like Detroit, Cincinnati, Atlanta and elsewhere, his job is partly to persuade the public to accept higher water rates, so that the utility can replace more antiquated pipes.

“People pay more for their cellphones and cable television than for water,” said Mr. Hawkins, who before taking over Washington’s water system ran environmental groups and attended Princeton and Harvard, where he never thought he would end up running a sewer system.

“You can go a day without a phone or TV,” he added. “You can’t go a day without water.”

But in many cities, residents have protested loudly when asked to pay more for water and sewer services. In Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Sacramento — and before Mr. Hawkins arrived, Washington — proposed rate increases have been scaled back or canceled after virulent ratepayer dissent.

So when Mr. Hawkins confronted the upset crowd near Dupont Circle, he sensed an opportunity to explain why things needed to change. It was a snowy day, and while water from the broken pipe mixed with slush, he began cheerily explaining that the rupture was a symptom of a nationwide disease, according to people present.

Mr. Hawkins — who at 49 has the bubbling energy of a toddler and the physique of an aging professor — told the crowd that the average age of the city’s water pipes was 76, nearly four times that of the oldest city bus. With a smile, he described how old pipes have spilled untreated sewage into rivers near homes.

“I don’t care why these pipes aren’t working!” one of the residents yelled. “I pay $60 a month for water! I just want my toilet to flush! Why do I need to know how it works?”

Mr. Hawkins smiled, quit the lecture, and retreated back to watching his crew.

On Capitol Hill, the plight of Mr. Hawkins and other utility managers has become a hot topic. In the last year, federal lawmakers have allocated more than $10 billion for water infrastructure programs, one of the largest such commitments in history.

But Mr. Hawkins and others say that even those outlays are almost insignificant compared with the problems they are supposed to fix. An E.P.A. study last year estimated that $335 billion would be needed simply to maintain the nation’s tap water systems in coming decades. In states like New York, officials estimate that $36 billion is needed in the next 20 years just for municipal wastewater systems.

As these discussions unfold, particular attention is being paid to Mr. Hawkins. Washington’s water and sewer system serves the White House, many members of Congress, and two million other residents, and so it surprised some when Mr. Hawkins was hired to head the agency last September, since he did not have an engineering background or the résumé of a utility chief.

In fact, after he had graduated from Harvard Law School in 1987, he spent a few years helping companies apply for permits to pollute rivers and lakes. (At night — without his firm’s knowledge — he had a second career as a professional break dancer. He met his wife, a nurse, when he fell off a platform at a dance club and landed on his head.)

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority can monitor flow from a pump station.

Toxic Waters

The Breaking Point

Articles in this series are examining the worsening pollution in America’s waters and regulators’ responses.

Readers' Comments

"I am willing to pay higher rates if it is for upgrading our sewer/water system. American cities are decaying. Upkeep of the infrastructure has been put off too long."
Jim Harrington, San Diego, CA

But he quickly became disenchanted with corporate law. He moved to the E.P.A., where he fought polluters, and then the White House, and eventually relocated his family to a farm in New Jersey where they shoveled the manure of 35 sheep and kept watch over 175 chickens, and Mr. Hawkins began running a series of environmental groups.

The mayor of Washington, Adrian M. Fenty, asked Mr. Hawkins to move to the city in 2007 to lead the Department of the Environment. He quickly became a prominent figure, admired for his ability to communicate with residents and lawmakers. When the Water and Sewer Authority needed a new leader, board members wanted someone familiar with public relations campaigns. Mr. Hawkins’s mandate was to persuade residents to pay for updating the city’s antiquated pipes.

At a meeting with board members last month, Mr. Hawkins pitched his radical solution. Clad in an agency uniform — his name on the breast and creases indicating it had been recently unfolded for the first time — Mr. Hawkins suggested raising water rates for the average resident by almost 17 percent, to about $60 a month per household. Over the coming six years, that rate would rise above $100.

With that additional money, Mr. Hawkins argued, the city could replace all of its pipes in 100 years. The previous budget would have replaced them in three centuries.

The board questioned him for hours. Others have attacked him for playing on false fears.

“This rate hike is outrageous,” said Jim Graham, a member of the city council. “Subway systems need repairs, and so do roads, but you don’t see fares or tolls skyrocketing. Providing inexpensive, reliable water is a fundamental obligation of government. If they can’t do that, they need to reform themselves, instead of just charging more.”

Similar battles have occurred around the nation. In Philadelphia, officials are set to start collecting $1.6 billion for programs to prevent rain water from overwhelming the sewer system, amid loud complaints. Communities surrounding Cleveland threatened to sue when the regional utility proposed charging homeowners for the water pollution running off their property. In central Florida, a $1.8 billion proposal to build a network of drinking water pipes has drawn organized protests.

“We’re relying on water systems built by our great-grandparents, and no one wants to pay for the decades we’ve spent ignoring them,” said Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a professor at Tufts University and a member of the E.P.A.’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council.

“There’s a lot of evidence that people are getting sick,” he added. “But because everything is out of sight, no one really understands how bad things have become.”

To bring those lapses into the light, Mr. Hawkins has become a cheerleader for rate increases. He has begun a media assault highlighting the city’s water woes. He has created a blog and aFacebook page that explain why pipes break. He regularly appears on newscasts and radio shows, and has filled a personal Web site with video clips of his appearances.

It’s an all-consuming job. Mr. Hawkins tries to show up at every major pipe break, no matter the hour. He often works late into the night, and for three years he has not lived with his wife and two teenage children, who remained in New Jersey.

“The kids really miss their father,” said his wife, Tamara. “When we take him to the train station after a visit, my daughter in particular will sometimes cry. He’s missing out on his kids’ childhoods.”

And even if Mr. Hawkins succeeds, the public might not realize it, or particularly care. Last month, the utility’s board approved Mr. Hawkins’s budget and started the process for raising rates. But even if the bigger budget reduces the frequency of water pipe breaks by half — a major accomplishment — many residents probably won’t notice. People tend to pay attention to water and sewer systems only when things go wrong.

“But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mr. Hawkins said recently, in between a meeting with local environmentalists and rushing home to do paperwork in his small, spartan apartment, near a place where he was once mugged at gunpoint.

“This is the fight of our lifetimes,” he added. “Water is tied into everything we should care about. Someday, people are going to talk about our sewers with a real sense of pride.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Future of Indirect Potable Reuse

Bruce Reznik, Executive Director of San Diego Coastkeeper, recently wrote a great article explaining the advantages of "indirect potable reuse" (IPR) and why this system makes so much sense for San Diego. It's the "recycle" part of the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. The article also has a 4 minute video of Bruce talking about how IPR fits into a portfolio of strategies that will make us more water independent and reduce pollution.

To learn more about how we can better use (and re-use) our water resources, come to the premiere of our new movie The Cycle of Insanity on World Water Day, March 22 at The Loft at UCSD.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reuse Champs: Eastern Municipal Water District

Hats off to Eastern Municipal Water District!

WateReuse California presented Eastern Municipal Water District with the Recycled Water Agency of the Year award Monday at their annual conference in San Diego. EMWD reuses approximately 70 percent of the wastewater that is treated and has more than 2 billion gallons of recycled water storage.

Click Here for the full press release.

EMWD is the freshwater, wastewater service and recycled water provider to a 542-square mile area from Moreno Valley southward along the I-215 corridor to Temecula and eastward to Hemet and San Jacinto. Approximately 687,000 people live and work in this area. In addition to its own water customers, EMWD supplements water to eight local water agencies and municipalities that have their own water departments. EMWD operates four water reclamation facilities and treats some 46 million gallons of wastewater daily. More information can be found at EMWD’s website

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Water Protection & Reinvestment Act, HR 3202

The health and safety of our nation’s communities depend on the infrastructure that provides clean drinking water and wastewater disposal. Many of these critical facilities, however, are aging and in dire need of replacement or repair. If we are to protect our nation’s public health and environment, we’ll need to ensure that our drinking water and wastewater pipelines and treatment facilities meet the demands of the 21st century.

The Need for Legislation:

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure a grade of “D-” in their 2009 report card. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s most recent Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis estimates a $534 billion gap between current investment and projected needs over the next 20 years. Last year alone, American communities suffered more than 240,000 water main breaks and saw billions of gallons of overflowing combined sewer systems, causing contamination, property damage, disruptions in the water supply, and massive traffic jams. According to ASCE, an average of six billion gallons of potable water is lost per day in the US because of leaky pipes. This is enough to fill nearly 9,091 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

Learn more about this critical issue by watching the trailer for Liquid Assets, a documentary that tells the story of America's aging water infrastructure, go to the Water Environment Federation's Water is Life website, or read the NY Times coverage of this issue, As Sewers Fill, Waste Poisons Waterways.

The Trust Fund:

Our nation’s water infrastructure needs have grown while federal funding for clean water has declined. While the needs are estimated to be over $25 billion a year, appropriations for water infrastructure have averaged just over $2.3 billion a year since 2000. This pushes more and more costs on local governments and ratepayers, whose rates have grown at twice the rate of inflation in recent years. We need new sources of revenue to meet our communities’ water infrastructure and environmental restoration needs. A Water Protection and Reinvestment Trust Fund, funded by polluters and those who use our water systems for product disposal, will provide a deficit-neutral, consistent and protected source of revenue to help states replace, repair, and rehabilitate critical drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.

How it Would Work:

The Water Protection and Reinvestment Act would assess new taxes, or user fees, on: water-based beverages; items disposed of in wastewater (such as toothpaste and toilet paper); pharmaceuticals; and corporate income. These new revenue sources would raise approximately $10 billion a year. Most of the funding would be distributed as grants and loans through the existing Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds, giving states the authority to set project priorities and deliver funds directly to municipalities. The remaining funding would support new programs for research and development, green infrastructure, small water systems, combined sewer overflow reduction, global warming, and other state and local priorities.

The Water Protection and Reinvestment Act Will:

· Protect public health by providing the funding communities need to provide safe drinking water and sewer service.

· Restore the environment by providing incentives for green infrastructure that reduces energy use and withstands the impacts of global warming.

· Create jobs by investing in projects to repair and replace aging systems. A $10 billion investment would create between 200,000 and 267,000 new jobs in engineering, construction and other industries.

· Reduce pollution by decreasing the number and severity of combined sewer overflows, discouraging the over-use of pesticides and fertilizers, and reducing the amount of pharmaceuticals in our water supply.

Monday, March 1, 2010

You're Invited to Our Premiere Event

Well, it looks like we're finally close to launching our new film about the broken water cycle.  We blogged about the process some time ago when we went up to LA to record the narration with actress Zuleikha Robinson who plays Illana on Lost.

So, we are pleased to invite you to come see it.  The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water will open on March 22, 2010.  To help ensure that all of those interested have a chance to see the film, we are showing it at 4pm (press), 6pm, and 7:30pm.


Watch the trailer!

The event is free and open to all. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis, so please RSVP with number of people in your party and the Showing you plan to attend.   The event will be held at The Loft on campus at UCSD, inside Price Center.  Happy Hour specials will be served all evening. 

Parking is plentiful as school is on Spring Break. $1/45 min or purchase a $3.00 night permit and park in S, B or A spots after 4:30.