Global water risk map released

20 July 2013


WRI's Aqueduct water risk mapping project

WRI’s Aqueduct water risk mapping project (

The World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Aqueduct Project has released an interactive map of various categories of water risk around the world.  Per the launch information,

The project, created with an alliance of companies including GE, Goldman Sachs, Shell, and Procter & Gamble, is the highest high-resolution map of global water stress available today. It’s also the first water-risk mapping tool to include a layer for groundwater data. WRI’s free map uses 2010 data (the most current data available) to measure a number of categories of water risk around the world: physical risk; variability in available water from year to year, which looks at flood occurrences (how often and how intense); severity of droughts (how long and how severe), groundwater stress, pollution pressure, demand for water treatment, media coverage about water issues (meaning how much attention is given to water in a given area), and more. Read more »

Florida concerned about un-controlled pollution and algal blooms

30 June 2013

While Barack Obama is holidaying in South Africa, here are some end-of-month notices about algal blooms in North America:

Users of Taylorsville Lake (Canada) have been warned about increasing levels of toxicity. In Oklahoma, the US Army Corps of Engineers have increased the list of potentially- toxic lakes to include Keystone Lake, Lake Tenkiller, Lake Eufaula and Skiatook Lake.  A separate report has Green County Lake added to the Oklahoma list.  Fernan Lake in Idaho is today’s addition to the list.  The Dorothy State has the following lakes on warning

  • Logan City Lake – Logan, Phillips County
  • Marion Reservoir – Marion County
  • Memorial Park Lake (Veterans Lake) – Great Bend, Barton Count

and Milford Reservoir on an advisory notice.

In Florida, algal blooms are being associated with a number of problems, including (see report) the death of manatees. Read more »

Water pollution warnings made half a century ago still entirely valid

28 June 2013

Here’s an excerpt from Wisconsin’s Wausau Daily that would be as valid today as it was 46 years ago.  Oh, that people had listened back then (or now for that matter!):

“Eutrophication.” That word was in the news this week in a release from the University of Wisconsin news service. Dr. Jack Bregman, assistant deputy for water pollution control of the Department of Interior told the International Symposium on Eutrophication that “Until now, we have not adequately controlled these causes which speed the eutrophication process (the natural aging of lakes). As a result, changes in our lakes which normally would have taken thousands of years may now be achieved in mere decades.” We in this beautiful area of a beautiful state must be concerned about adding excessive nutrients to our lakes and streams because, within a few years, a lake can become a marsh — and then dry land. … Read more »

Canadian report on water contamination from fracking released

25 June 2013

Alberta’s version of South Africa’s Mariette Liefferink has published a detailed report on the downside of fracking and what it can do to water supplies!  Well worth reading and to watch the actions that will be taken to discredit it.

Jessica Ernst, a high-profile, Alberta-based environmental consultant, has released a comprehensive summary of science, facts and documents relating to groundwater contamination from the controversial practice of natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

The culmination of ten years of research, the 93-page report is sure to cause a stir with the energy sector and its critics. Groundwater contamination has been a key concern surrounding the booming fracking industry.

“Jessica Ernst has made a strong case,” says Will Koop, BC Tapwater AllianceCoordinator. “Her collection provides excellent and technically friendly working tools, enabling the public to draw their own conclusions from the critical information. This is not just an invaluable document for North Americans, but for the world.”

Anyone not yet seen the movie Gasland??  If not, do so.

Report only downloadable here.

Thames Water gets a (financial) slap on the wrist for pollution

23 June 2013

Last week Thames Water back-washed a whole lot of algal biomass out of their filters into a river in Shepperton – causing the deaths of a whole lot of fish.  For this misdemeanour a paltry fine of £17500.00 was levied.  Ouch!   The European Commission may be a bit tougher when it takes Greece to task for not doing all it could about last years complaints regarding nitrate pollution of water sources (I think attention in Greece has been taken up by a whole lot of other things in recent months).

Lake Attitash is once again back in the news with yet another algal bloom.  Ditto Lost Creek Lake.  At least these locations are still reporting problems.  There appears to have been a drop-off in algal bloom reporting – which may mean there are less blooms or that it may have something to do with last years financial losses when lakes were closed.  Lone Star Lake (in Omaha) also has a bloom warning in place, while a monitoring program for problematical filamentous algae is in place for two rivers in Cumberland (Maryland) (Potomac and Cacapon Rivers).

The USA needs to spend big to keep their water safe!

21 June 2013

The US Dept of Drinking Water Safety has announced that they need to find $384 Billion in order to maintain the provision of safe drinking water!

The 2011 Needs Assessment found that the total national need is $384.2 billion (Table 1). This estimate represents the needs of the approximately 52,000 community water systems and 21,400 not-for-profit non-community water systems that are eligible to receive DWSRF program assistance. These systems are found in all 50 States, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia; in the Virgin Island and Pacific Island territories; and on American Indian lands and in Alaska Native Villages.

This rounds off to around $1300 per consumer!

Streams stressed by pharmaceutical pollution

2 May 2013

Millbrook, NY – Pharmaceuticals commonly found in the environment are disrupting streams, with unknown impacts on aquatic life and water quality. So reports a new Ecological Applications paper, which highlights the ecological cost of pharmaceutical waste and the need for more research into environmental impacts. Read more »

The importance of stream slime

24 April 2013

As anyone one who has slipped and fallen into a running stream knows — and that includes me, many times — those rocks aren’t just wet.

They’re slimy.

That coating is called a biofilm. And if there’s start in a riverine food chain, it’s there.

“It’s got bacteria, algae and fungi,” said Emma Rosi-Marshall, a research scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.

Invertebrates feed on the elements in the biofilm. Small fish feed on the invertebrates. Bigger fish, wading birds and mammals feed on those fish. A healthy biofilm means a healthy stream. Read more »

Condition of major supply dams in South Africa’s KZN province getting worse

17 April 2013

This article appeared, interestingly, in a Chinese press article (!) and is reproduced verbatim here:

KZN dam pollution to push up water costs

Durban – Three of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest water storage dams are in danger of becoming so green and smelly just six years from now that Umgeni Water and Durban’s water department will have to invest more money to get rid of the foul taste and odour of rotting algae in tap water.

This is the warning from environmental scientists in a report to the uMgungundlovu District Municipality about the increasing load of sewage and agricultural pollution flowing into the Albert Falls, Midmar and Nagle dams, which supply drinking water to Durban, Pietermaritzburg and other urban areas.

The report, by Kevan Zunckel and Roger Davis of Isikhungusethu Environmental Services, says the volume of nutrients and phosphorous from municipal sewage treatment plants and overflowing sewers in informal settlements has increased dramatically over the past 10 years.

Phosphorous loads had increased by 85 percent at Midmar Dam, by 132 percent at Albert Falls and 668 percent at Nagle Dam in the past 10 years.

If these trends continued, Midmar and Albert Falls would be classified as eutrophic by 2019, while the water in Nagle Dam could reach hypertrophic levels.

Eutrophic describes visibly green water bodies with high levels of nutrient pollution, where algae proliferate and then rot.

If phosphorous and chlorophyll levels continue to rise in these dams, this could also lead to the occurrence of “problem species” of algae – such as toxic blue-green algae – that create taste, odour and filter-clogging problems and push up the cost of purifying the water so it is fit to drink.

“It is predicted that by 2019 raw water abstracted from the critical water supply of the Durban Heights water treatment plant will show an 89 percent dominance by these problematic algal species.”

Some early signs of nutrient pollution levels could be seen in the uMngeni and Msunduzi rivers, where water hyacinth and other water weeds had choked up parts of the rivers and every year the organisers of the Dusi Canoe Marathon had to spend more time and money clearing paths through the weeds.

Midmar Dam was also polluted with sewage from the nearby Mpophomeni low-cost housing settlement.

Although Mpophomeni occupied less than 3 percent of the dam’s catchment area, it produced about 51 percent of the Escherichia coli (E coli) and 15 percent of the phosphorous load in Midmar Dam.

“This impact was predominantly the result of defective and surcharging municipal sewer systems within settlement areas,” says the report, which is part of a draft strategic environmental assessment of the vast uMgungundlovu District Municipality. Four years ago, a study showed E coli levels as high as 660 000 units flowing into Midmar Dam, way more than the safe target level of 130 units of E coli.

These problems were likely to get worse if the proposed Khayalisha low-cost housing development was built near Midmar Dam.

In the Umgeni and Mooi river catchment areas, excessive nutrients were also pouring into water storage dams from farm fertilisers and the dung from dairies, piggeries and cattle feedlots.

Municipalities were another major source of water pollution because of poor sewage management. For example, the sewage treatment plant at Howick was operating close to full capacity, with the result that raw sewage had to be dumped and diverted into the uMngeni River during storms and high rainfall to avoid overwhelming the treatment works.

The Darvill treatment works in Pietermaritzburg were also operating close to full capacity, which created sewage pollution problems in the Msunduzi River when it rained heavily.

There were similar problems at the Mooi River and Albert Falls sewage treatment plants.

Almost half the land in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality had been transformed and degraded by farming, industry and human settlement.

Zunckel and Davis make the point that water was a strategically important resource and the Durban-Pietermaritzburg region was the country’s second most important economic complex.

Water was in short supply and the region faced a looming crisis. The imminent completion of the new Spring Grove Dam near Mooi River would provide only a temporary solution.

The time had come for municipal planners in the 9 500km² uMgungundlovu hinterland to pay more attention to protecting the province’s vital “water factory” in the Drakensberg-uKhahlamba mountain range.

Rather than investing in huge new dams, decision-makers should first protect the province’s vital water catchment areas from degradation, Zunckel and Davis said.

The costs of building a dam, a sea-water desalination plant, a water-diversion scheme or a recycling plant would translate into about R10 for a cubic metre of water, compared with only about R2 for the same amount of water if catchment areas were properly maintained and protected.


Streams Stressed by Pharmaceutical Pollution

2 April 2013

This article appeared on 1 April 2013 in the EcoFocus newsletter of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.  The subject matter augments concerns previously raised by Droplets regarding the ecosystem and human health threats posed by pharmaceuticals in wastewater effluents.

Antihistamines alter sensitive and essential habitat

Millbrook, NY – Pharmaceuticals commonly found in the environment are disrupting streams, with unknown impacts on aquatic life and water quality. So reports a new Ecological Applications paper, which highlights the ecological cost of pharmaceutical waste and the need for more research into environmental impacts.

Life in the Biofilm Close Up, Andrew Dopheide and Gillian Lewis, University of Auckland

Life in the Biofilm Close Up, Andrew Dopheide and Gillian Lewis, University of Auckland

Lead author Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, comments: “Pharmaceutical pollution is now detected in waters throughout the world. Causes include aging infrastructure, sewage overflows, and agricultural runoff. Even when waste water makes it to sewage treatment facilities, they aren’t equipped to remove pharmaceuticals. As a result, our streams and rivers are exposed to a cocktail of synthetic compounds, from stimulants and antibiotics to analgesics and antihistamines.” Read more »