The costs of ignoring water pollution creates Bad Rivers

28 February 2013

Any South African who claims to be informed about our Water Crisis, yet is unaware of  the central issue of pollution in our dams and the singular failure to address it, has a skewed perception of reality.  Such individuals exist, more than you might realize – and many of them in positions of influence.  Some have been in positions of influence for a very long time – which might explain the position the country is in.  Ignoring the problem – and the associated costs – is an issue that I have addressed in numerous posts, for example here and here (otherwise just search this blog for the term ‘eutrophication’). Read more »

Ghana’s true State of the Nation address (SONA)

28 February 2013

South Africans recently listened to yet another ho-hum State of (our) Nation Address (SONA) – an utterly boring and inept re-run of vague promises and intentions, all of which have been heard before, remain in limbo and did nothing to invigorate the nation.  Opposition party criticism devolved to the usual critiques, lacking in any rigorous substance but providing an opportunity to do some flag-waving.  The fact that so many of the opposition party members saw fit to dress up in fantasy ball outfits to attend the annual parliamentary opening made me shudder.

Ghana is often mentioned as the most dynamic country in Africa, rapidly eclipsing South Africa’s long-unchallened but now rapidly decaying claim to this title.  At least they have an opposition party that has the chutzpah to come out with a detailed and unemotional response to their SONA, in the form of the Ghanaian NPP’s True State of the Nation (TSONA) (see full statement). Read more »

And the Oscar goes to…gross ineptitude

24 February 2013

Last week saw South Africa, and various parts of the world, wallowing in the schadenfreude surrounding the case of Oscar Pistorius.  National productivity must have taken a dip, with the only growth area being a temporary surge in Twitter followings.

South Africa is a country with very real and substantial problems – splashed across news dailies here and abroad.  Many of these problems are the result of ineptitude, the latter being generally defined as unskillfulness resulting from a lack of training or experience – across a range of levels from moral to procedural.  The Oscar Pistorius bail hearing highlighted, in my opinion, quite a few unfortunate problem areas. Read more »

Pollution-eating islands: the latest farming tool

23 February 2013

Newly-planted BioHaven floating island

Newly-planted BioHaven floating island

Not all floating islands are “floating islands”.  Many are just floating rafts that support some plants, providing only just a small fraction of the pollution-guzzling capabilities of truly-biomimicking approaches such as BioHavens, created by Floating Islands International in Montana, USA.  This report details yet another example of where BioHavens are being put to effective use. Read more »

Will China’s efforts to save water resources be too late?

22 February 2013

Droplets has reported on many occasions about the efforts being made in China to reverse the ravages of eutrophication (= nutrient enrichment from wastewater, industry and agriculture) in its lakes and rivers.  More than 70% of China’s lakes are seriously impaired, with water quality in some not even fit for industrial use.  Massive supplies of water, such as are stored in Lake Taihu, are a continuous health hazard. Read more »

$162 million proposed for priority clean water projects also creates jobs

22 February 2013

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has selected 72 clean water projects to receive a share of approximately $162 million in loans and grants starting in the state’s next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013.

The funding helps protect clean water, an irreplaceable asset and it provides jobs.  State financial managers calculate that 11 jobs in Washington are created for every $1 million spent on construction and design funding. So this proposed round of funding would support approximately 1,782 jobs. Over half of these are likely to be local construction jobs. Read more »

Drugs used for anxiety making fish angry

17 February 2013

This article continues Droplets blogs dealing with unwanted chemicals and pharmaceuticals in our surface waters and water supplies:

Drugs used for anxiety in humans have been making freshwater fish more aggressive. But this is only the latest in a growing list of common drugs that are affecting our freshwater ecosystems.

Photo: Creative commons

Photo: Creative commons

An article in Science this week showed that a common anti-anxiety medication, which has been ending up in rivers from wastewater as patients on the medication pass it through their urine, is also affecting the mood of the European Perch (Perca fluviatilis), a species of freshwater water. Even tiny amounts of the drug has been found to make the timid fish more bold, anti-social and voracious, according to the recent study.

European Perch (Perca fluviatilis). Photo: Wikimedia commons

European Perch (Perca fluviatilis). Photo: Wikimedia commons

The drug in question is Oxazepam, part of the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which are the most commonly used anxiety drugs. It acts on neurons that suppress brain activity and relaxing the patients. But the drug seemed to have to opposite effect on Perch. It is thought that in the fish the drug acts to reduce the level of fear the fish experience. Michael Jonsson, co-author of the paper, explains that “if the fish were anxious to begin with, perhaps the drug reduces anxiety and allows the fish to become more active.” In the lab, that led to medicated fish from natural populations being more adventurous, tending to spend less time with their fellow fish, and eating more zooplankton.

Oxazepam is the latest in a growing list of drugs that are significantly altering fish behaviour and escaping into our waterways. A type of contraceptive pill, which contains the chemical 17-β-estradiol, and the widely used antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) have both been detected in rivers and have been shown to change to behaviour of the fathead minnow, a common freshwater fish species in the US. In another study it was discovered that Ibuprofen, one of the most commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs, caused a reduction in male zebrafishes’ libido.

This is a cause for concern because these drugs may have a negative impact upon freshwater ecosystems. For example, young perch eat zooplankton, which in turn feed on algae. If medicated perch have bigger appetites, that may potentially lead to algal blooms. However, Jonsson cautions that it is difficult to extrapolate from laboratory setting and make definitive claims about the effects in natural habitats.

Previously, it was thought that drug pollution in waterways was only of concern when the level of toxicity became lethal to freshwater species. But these studies are important because they highlight the significance of non-lethal effects of pollution from medication and how they may affect freshwater species and ecosystems.

Reference: Brodin, T., Fick, J., Jonsson, M. & Klaminder (2013), ‘Dilute Concentrations of a Psychiatric Drug Alter Behaviour of Fish from Natural Populations’, Science, vol. 339, pp. 814–815.

Article republished with the permission of the Biofresh blog.

Can South African opposition parties really make a difference?

17 February 2013

It’s common knowledge that many South African government departments are in dire straits – suffering from skills losses, infrastructure decay, corruption and other challenges.  A question I often ask to members of opposition parties is “if you took over tomorrow, could you really make a difference to water resource management, given that you might be inheriting a dysfunctional operation?”.  I have yet to receive a response to this.  The DA does, however, have a better than half-decent strategy document that seems to have  been compiled circa 2008 or thereabouts.  This shows that they have been listening to some of the key issues that have been raised. Read more »

New Zealand plagued by blue-green algal blooms

16 February 2013

Lake Ngarato has been added to the list of Waikato lakes that are experiencing blue-green algal blooms – the others being Lakes Whangape and Waikare.  In the Nelson district, authorities have warned that the algal problems that have already resulted in the deaths of some dogs, are likely to get worse: Read more »

Floating islands at Nitida winery making a difference

12 February 2013

Four-month old islands at Nitida winery (Durbanville, Cape Town, South Africa) (Photo: Nitida)

Four-month old islands at Nitida winery (Durbanville, Cape Town, South Africa) (Photo: Nitida)

A small trial – just 12 square meters – of BioHaven floating islands, provided “on appro” to Durbanville’s Nitida winery, has settled in well. Of course, the 12 square meters provides the surface area that would be achieved by a wetland more than 100 times this size!   The islands, planted with Dietes and other irises, were installed late last year (2012) – into a dam that is topped up with treated effluent during the summer, i.e. a potential site for problematical algal blooms.  As is evident from the photo above, the water is nice and clear – and contains some highly-desirable pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus) and a small overgrowth of blanket weed (Cladophora species).  Bernhard Veller of Nitida has cleverly positioned a floating circulator next to the island in order to maximize the flow of water past the island and hence achieve the maximum level of water quality enhancement.

The picture below shows the plant growth as of October 2013 – approx. 10 months after installation.

Lush plant growth instead of lush algal growth!!

Lush plant growth instead of lush algal growth!!