mm465: Toilet to tap — coming soon to a glass near you?

August 11, 2008

toilettotap

MUDGE’s Musings

Water shortages are a growing fact of life in many parts of the U.S. It’s a source of growing friction between states, as noted earlier this year here.

The answer for those parched yet populous regions of the country, especially in the desert West, has often taken the form of routing fresh water from formerly underused sources, such as the Colorado River.

Lately, though, whether an artifact of cyclical climate change, or as a result of permanent crisis, such remote resources are becoming scarce, and ever more hotly fought over.

So, rather than dumping its sewage, Orange County, south of Los Angeles in Southern California, has taken the radical step for this part of the world to seriously recycle its water, for reuse in every way. We have noted this water filtration initiative previously in this space.

The technicians call the process “indirect potable reuse.”

Don’t you just love euphemisms?

Let’s call it what it is, shall we? Toilet to tap.

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm367: It’s not just a bad idea, it’s a crime

May 2, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

The more you know about ethanol as a petroleum substitute, the more there is to dislike. This has been a continuing story in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, as you can see:

Fuel from Food: Just a bad idea all around

mm367: It’s not just a bad idea, it’s a crime
mm298: Nutty Richard Branson flies to Holland on biofuel
mm282: If it sounds too good to be true…
mm260: The other oil shock
mm233: Corn in the news – and not just in Iowa!
mm194: Friedman: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
mm193: Fuel without oil, or corn
mm084: Food versus fools – Salon.com
mm053: The case for turning crops into fuel – Saletan

We have spent some time in this space on the subject of water, and its scarcity.

Water, water, anywhere?

mm317: Water, the theme — part two
mm269: Water: Accept no substitutes!
mm253: Water: casus belli for a new civil war
mm206: It’s 10:30pm — Where’s your water been?
mm101: Technology / Water — It’s a theme!

Now, the two concepts: the wrong-headed use for fuel of a key foodstuff; and the menace of the growing shortage of water in the U.S; come together courtesy of a new member of Left-Handed Complement‘s blogroll, fellow WordPress.com blog Optimal Functioning.

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mm317: Water — the theme — part 2

March 16, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Yr (justifiably) humble svt always considered himself the curmudgeonly anti-environmentalist.

MUDGE’s reaction to soft-headed hand-wringing over pollution, water shortages, spotted owls and the like was: guys, the human species is going to use this planet up; there’s no going back. So stop wasting time looking backward (golden age for environmentalists: the year 1700? — when the average Western European lived to the ripe old age of 25), and start looking outward, toward new planets to discover and migrate to.

That’s what I used to say. It still may be correct, in a macro way, but it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, I reluctantly conclude, so I’d best pay more attention to what I breathe, eat and absorb, or that lifetime might be shortened drastically. Not to speak of the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren.

But, oh,  the final frontier

We’ve commented frequently on topics such as alternative energy for transportation (none too soon, paid $3.26/gallon the other day); alternative energy for electric utilities; and the safety and continuity of our food supplies.

And water (here and here and, the source of today’s title, here).

A couple of environmentally discomforting stories hit this week, obscured perhaps in the shadows cast by the unseemly fall of hubris filled governor (political hypocrisy, THE story of the week, disquiets us pretty much every week), and water is the theme.

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mm269: Water – accept no substitutes!

January 29, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Water remains high up in U.S. consciousness. Ongoing shortages were a hot topic here two weeks ago.

The other day we pointed toward a picture story highlighting the opening of a new sewage to tap water facility in Southern California.

Turns out that this wasn’t this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s first cut at the story. Two months ago we riffed extensively on this new facility.

Eileen Zimmerman has a detailed analysis that appeared at Slate.com recently; worth checking out.

Today, we look at water supplies for Southern California from a northern (California) perspective.

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mm266: Follow-ups and other voices heard

January 26, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Responding to some internal and, interestingly, external disquiet regarding this space’s latest experiment with themes available here at the incomparable WordPress.com, we have, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, changed again.

Our latest choice is less visually jarring, at the cost of some blandness. Our critics might tell us that bland is beautiful, compared to the mess we left behind, and we apparently agreed. Responsiveness to the audience – what a concept!

Let us know whether you think we’re in a better place.

And, lest you, as does yr (justifiably) humble svt, miss our logo, as the new theme doesn’t allow header customization, here’s a fix.

l-hc780x95

Okay, let’s move on, shall we?

It’s a big planet, and there are a multiplicity of viewpoints and a waterfall of information pouring into this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© every nanosecond.

So, we’re taking a breath, and taking an alternate look at a couple of topics covered earlier.

You guessed it: another episode of SASB: Short Attention Span Blogging!©

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Culling the planet’s herd

A couple of days ago, we explored some of the implications of the FDA’s approval to introduce cloned meat and dairy products into the marketplace. The concern is that as producers go for the easy, repetitive score, i.e., clone what works and eliminate the rest, the planet will permanently lose something important: species diversity.

This week’s NYTimes Magazine explores the issue from a different direction (and continent!), selective breeding rather than cloning (two sides of the same coin, actually).

nytimesmagazine

herdextinct

A Dying Breed

By ANDREW RICE | Published: January 27, 2008

GERSHOM MUGIRA COMES from a long line of cattle-keepers. His people, the Bahima, are thought to have migrated into the hilly grasslands of western Uganda more than a thousand years ago, alongside a hardy breed of longhorns known as the Ankole. For centuries, man and beast subsisted there in a tight symbiotic embrace. Mugira’s nomadic ancestors wandered in search of fresh pasture for their cattle, which in turn provided them with milk. It is only within the last few generations that most Bahima have accepted the concept of private property. Mugira’s family lives on a 500-acre ranch, and one sunny day in November, the wiry 26-year-old showed me around, explaining, with some sadness but more pragmatism, why the Ankole breed that sustained his forebears for so many generations is now being driven to extinction….

In recent decades, global trade, sophisticated marketing, artificial insemination and the demands of agricultural economics have transformed the Holstein into the world’s predominant dairy breed. Indigenous animals like East Africa’s sinewy Ankole, the product of centuries of selection for traits adapted to harsh conditions, are struggling to compete with foreign imports bred for maximal production. This worries some scientists. The world’s food supply is increasingly dependent on a small and narrowing list of highly engineered breeds: the Holstein, the Large White pig and the Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens. There’s a risk that future diseases could ravage these homogeneous animal populations. Poor countries, which possess much of the world’s vanishing biodiversity, may also be discarding breeds that possess undiscovered genetic advantages. But farmers like Mugira say they can’t afford to wait for science. And so, on the African savanna, a competition for survival is underway….

The Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recently reported that at least 20 percent of the world’s estimated 7,600 livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Experts are warning of a potential “meltdown” in global genetic diversity. Yet the plight of the Ankole illustrates the difficulty of balancing the conflicting goals of animal conservation and human prosperity. An estimated 70 percent of the world’s rural poor, some 630 million people, derive a substantial percentage of their income from livestock. Increase the productivity of these animals, development specialists say, and you improve dire living standards. The World Bank recently published a report saying it was time to place farming “afresh at the center of the development agenda.” Highly productive livestock breeds, the World Bank asserts, are playing an important role in alleviating poverty.

As controlled interbreeding takes place, Africa’s indigenous cattle are gradually converting into distinctly highly productive Holsteins.

One additional advantage of the imported genetic stock: Ankole cattle require huge swaths of grassland; Holsteins can be penned. Writer Andrew Rice quotes some experts who say that “ethnic” warfare in Rwanda and Darfur as “really a fight over grass.”

The diversity the planet is losing is dire:

Many tropical breeds may possess unique adaptive traits. The problem is, we don’t know what is being lost. Earlier this year, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization released its first-ever global assessment of biodiversity in livestock. While data on many breeds are scant, the report found that over the last six years, an average of one breed a month has gone extinct. “The threat is imminent,” says Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental group. “Just getting milk and meat into people’s mouths is not the answer.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

A Dying Breed – New York Times

A lengthy, but most worthwhile read. The law of unintended consequences is one that will never be repealed.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Ultimately, it’s ALL recycled, isn’t it?

The water crisis in the Southeast and Western U.S. was approached a couple of weeks ago here.

Wired magazine has an intriguing update.

wired

waterpurification

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

By Dave Bullock | 01.25.08 | 8:00 PM

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, California — As Southern California faces a worsening water crisis, Orange County has implemented a $480 million microfiltration system so advanced it can turn waste water into drinking water.

Fewer words than intriguing pix in this story.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

Facilities like this one are going to have to become the norm if people insist on living in the desert.

Not as cheap as piping it in from the Great Lakes, Orange County, but that’s not on the table anyway.

All the water on the planet has been here since the catalytic cataclysm that created it in the first place. We’ve been drinking recycled water forever.

Thanks to this Fountain Valley facility and others soon to follow elsewhere, engineers have simply shortened the recycling time.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Democracy, it’s a virus

… and it could be catching on in China.

Several months ago, monks in Burma led massive demonstrations noted here, against the government which were ultimately suppressed, as usual, by the oppressive regime.

In Shanghai, people have been massing to demonstrate against expansion of a maglev high-speed rail line. The Washington Post has the story.

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shanghaicitizensprotest

Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt

By Maureen Fan | Washington Post Foreign Service | Saturday, January 26, 2008

SHANGHAI — Bundled against the cold, the businessman made his way down the steps. Coming toward him in blue mittens was a middle-aged woman.

“Do you know that we’re going to take a stroll this weekend?” she whispered, using the latest euphemism for the unofficial protests that have unnerved authorities in Shanghai over the past month.

He nodded.

Behind her, protest banners streamed from the windows of high-rise apartment blocks, signs of middle-class discontent over a planned extension of the city’s magnetic levitation, or maglev, train through residential neighborhoods.

They live in China’s most Western mainland city, and they’ve learned the advanced Western concept of NIMBY (Not in my back yard). And they’ve taken to the streets.

And Shanghai’s government has been forced to pay attention.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt – washingtonpost.com

The single most relentless enemy of authoritarian governments is the middle class. Even George III’s Venezuelan nemesis, Hugo Chavez, failed in his attempt to modify the constitution.

Citizens who have attained middle class status by dint of hard work, and loosened societal constraints, can embrace artifacts of civilization available to those living above the subsistence level.

Such as education.

Satellite television (Ronald Reagan and CNN both helped end the Cold War, to MUDGE’s generation’s eternal surprise).

The Internet and its blogs and bulletin boards (those portions that the Chinese government can’t censor).

Cellular telephones with text messaging.

Don’t think there’s much of a middle class in Burma as yet. So that 2007 effort was doomed. Like Chicago Cubs fans everywhere, one can only say, “wait until next year!”

Short Attention Span Blogging

… is only short for the reader, not, for heaven’s sake, the blogger! But kudos to faithful reader for getting this far!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm206: It’s 10:30pm — Do you know where your tap water has been?

November 27, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

While most of the world frets about the $100/barrel cost of petroleum, another resource shortage has been looming at the outskirts of our attention.

Water.

Our SUVs will grind to a halt without the former.

Life will grind to a halt without the latter.

In many parts of the world the growing shortage [note to self: as a writer, can you live with the contradiction in terms?] of water for agriculture and drinking purposes is already a critical issue. Governments can print money, but the planet’s supply of water is apparently finite, especially the fresh variety.

Which leads us, as in many instances, to California. You’ll remember California, the home of huge redwood forests, spectacular ocean vistas, and once arid deserts now populated by tens of millions of people.

Water is imported into this residential desert from as far away as Colorado, and as the population, and agricultural activity that supports it grows, the potable supply in many cities is insufficient.

Which leads us to today’s story, courtesy as so many are, of the NYTimes.

November 27, 2007

From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — It used to be so final: flush the toilet, and waste be gone.

But on Nov. 30, for millions of people here in Orange County, pulling the lever will be the start of a long, intense process to purify the sewage into drinking water — after a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals and ultraviolet light and the passage of time underground.

On that Friday, the Orange County Water District will turn on what industry experts say is the world’s largest plant devoted to purifying sewer water to increase drinking water supplies. They and others hope it serves as a model for authorities worldwide facing persistent drought, predicted water shortages and projected growth.

The process, called by proponents “indirect potable water reuse” and “toilet to tap” by the wary, is getting a close look in several cities.

It’s a clever system, actually, not directly sending the output of the reclamation project to the taps.

groundwater

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

From Sewage, Added Water for Drinking – New York Times

Water. We’ve covered it here before. It’s a universal theme.

Anyone remember the amazing Polanski/Nicholson/Huston/Dunaway film “Chinatown“? Its plot driver was the 1930s surreptitious provision of irrigation water for the orange groves of the San Fernando valley, now the northern bedroom suburbs of Los Angeles.

In the past, MUDGE was always grateful for living quite near one of the Great Lakes, a seemingly reliable and endless resource.

That was then. Now, between wrestling with states and cities in the dry West that would love to get hold of some of that lovely stuff, and fending off the likes of Nestlé, largest marketer of bottled water in the world, whose facility in Michigan has begun to deplete bottomless Lake Michigan, our Great Lakes-adjacent location is not looking so comfortable.

So, technology might provide an answer, as it might for so many of civilization’s issues.

One solution that out of desperation has been tried in many parts of the world is desalinization, the conversion of salt water (¾ of the planet’s surface, or so we’re told) to fresh. After all, California (the state in question) has many hundreds of miles of oceanfront. However, desalinization turns out to be frightfully expensive, both in dollar terms, as well as, I was interested to learn, in environmental terms as well.

Impacts of desalination include brine build-up, increased greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of prized coastal areas and reduced emphasis on conservation of rivers and wetlands. Many of the areas of most intensive desalination activity also have a history of damaging natural water resources, particularly groundwater.

Desalination: Option Or Distraction For A Thirsty World?

Okay, so I understand it’s a closed system, this Spaceship Earth we all inhabit. Over the course of eons, water cycles through salt and fresh, and the Groundwater Replenishment System called out above is an attempt to provide some of that cyclic advantage, cosmetically at least.

We’ve long taken fresh potable water for granted in the Western world. Our desert west and its growing crisis is only a harbinger.

Like so many of our bedrock expectations, a planet heading for 9billion humans will seismically shift those watery assumptions.

Cheers!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm101: Technology / Water — It’s a theme!

August 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Two fascinating stories came our way today, courtesy at least in one case and possibly both, of reddit.com blogroll2.

[Don’t know what’s going on with Digg lately, but reddit just has better stuff, and Digg seems to be proving that its flavor of Web 2.0 doesn’t have a clue when it comes to news one can use, and MUDGE hereby expels it from the blogroll.]

So, they both involve water, in a micro and a macro way, with technological solutions to pressing and urgent global challenges.

Story the first:

Watercone – An Ingenious Way To Turn Salt Water Into Fresh Water

Written by The Naib

watercone

The Watercone is an ingenious device that can take salty water and turn it into fresh water using only the power of the sun. The nice thing about this device is it is bone simple, uses the sun instead of fossil fuel, and is cheap to make and easy to use.

water cone

So simple as to beg the question — can it possibly work? So simple as to beg the question — this costs $27.00???

But, take a look at the full story.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Watercone – Ingenious Way To Turn Salt Water Into Fresh Water

What’s utterly lovable about this concept is that it’s high tech in the service of low tech.

2. Absolutely, low concept and low tech.
As opposed to other types of solar stills which feature electronics, photo-voltaic cells, tubes, filters, many parts, etc. the Watercone concept is understood within seconds with absolutely no need for academic background. Additionally it (cone & pan) is made from Bayer Makrolon, a high-tech ultra-rugged and highly recyclable polycarbonate, virtually insensitive to UV exposure or breakage, an all too common result of rough transport.

They tell us that, for the 21st century, water is the new petroleum — highly valued (can’t live without it, until Nestle comes up with bottled synthetic water, manufactured from spent uranium or something!); limited supply.

So, we can provide a solar powered laptop to the children of the third world, and if they’re coast dwellers, solar created potable water to help them reach a thriving adulthood. Extraordinary.

On to story the second, also a technology story involving water.

East River Turbines Face Upstream Battle

2007_08_verdantturbine.JPG

The alternative energy company that has plans to install hundreds of turbines in the East River to harness tidal energy and generate zero-emission electrical power is running into trouble due to the massive amount of energy they are dealing with. The small number of turbines already placed in the East River by Verdant Power have been temporarily removed as the strong currents continue to overwhelm the physical construction of the underwater “windmills.” The six turbines that were placed in the water last December and were capable of supplying 1,000 daily kilowatt hours of power and serving the Gristedes supermarket on Roosevelt Island could not withstand currents.

turbinefield.jpgThe East River is not actually a river; it’s a tidal strait, and one can easily observe the current moving in opposite directions with the tides. Verdant Power’s plan is to install a field of turbines anchored to the bottom of the East River and use the currents to generate pollution-free electricity for the city. The currents have proven so strong, however, that the turbine propellers have been sheared off a third of the way down, and stronger replacements were hampered by insufficiently strong bolt connections to the turbine hubs.

So, when I first saw this post, I have to admit, I was skeptical — was MUDGE being punked? Does elderly MUDGE even know what punked means?

Yup, of course it’s real, this blog links to a story in yesterday’s NYTimes, which even mentions MUDGE‘s current presidential fixation, Michael Bloomberg. So, okay, I’ve just injected a bit of unreality, but bear with the story, please!

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!] Gothamist: East River Turbines Face Upstream Battle

So, here’s an example of cutting edge high tech overreaching. Or, shearing edge. Hard to imagine that the tidal currents are so strong as to incapacitate these water mills. Harder to imagine that they’ve spent a lot of time (and of course some public money) and couldn’t predict the power of water — exhibit A.

And there you have it, an example of MUDGE‘s weird penchant for tying together disparate threads into a unified theme. So, which do you think makes the liquid grade today? Drinking water from a $27 piece of plastic and the sun? Or, hydro power for NYC from a tidefarm that had better be made from materials stronger than granite?

An interesting race that we’ll watch with interest.

In our rush to improve the first and third worlds with all of this wonderful technology, let’s not forget to FIX ALL OF THOSE GODDAMN BRIDGES ALREADY!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE