The following is a transcript of the October 31, 2011, edition of the WaterWorld Weekly Newscast.
Hi, I'm Angela Godwin, digital media editor for WaterWorld magazine, bringing you this week's water and wastewater news headlines. Coming up...
• Tap water servings at restaurants on the rise
• Tampa Bay water district to cut staff
• Lake Erie phosphorus levels reach 40-year high
• Monterey ramps up groundwater replenishment project
• PepsiCo donates $8 million to water charity
According to foodservice market research released this week by The NPD Group, tap water is one of the fastest growing beverages ordered at U.S. restaurants.
Over the past five years, tap water servings have increased by 2.8 billion and currently represent about 10 percent of the 50 billion beverage servings ordered at restaurants -- despite a general decrease in restaurant traffic of about 1 percent.
Consumers cited free refills as one reason for ordering tap water. The cost of other beverages, like carbonated soft drinks, was also a factor.
Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst and author of the report, said, "Although the economy and high unemployment are factors in tap water's upswing and beverage servings declines, some beverages, like carbonated soft drinks were declining prior to the recession."
A key takeaway from the report, she said, is the customer's perception of the price to value relationship.
Faced with the choice of cutting programs or cutting staff, Southwest Florida Water Management District, which oversees water supplies in 16 counties around Tampa Bay, plans to cut 130 to 150 of its 768 employees by early next year.
The plan was proposed by SFWMD's executive director Blake Guillory and approved by the board. It's expected to save the district more than $15 million a year.
The decision comes as the agency faces a potential $30 million budget shortfall by 2013, despite having already cut its budget to 44 percent of what it was last year.
The cutbacks are a result of Florida Governor Rick Scott's larger mandate to cut about $700 million from all five of Florida's water management districts. "First steps," he said, "in ensuring that Florida's precious water resources are protected and managed in the most fiscally responsible way possible."
Great Lakes expert Jeff Reutter told conference attendees at the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference in Erie, Pennsylvania, that phosphorus levels in Lake Erie are at their highest since the 1970s.
One of the biggest contributing factors, he said, is stormwater runoff, citing a connection between record-setting rainfall around Lake Erie and record-setting levels of phosphorous.
The excess phosphorus, combined with warmer waters, has created ideal conditions for algae blooms -- which no longer appear to be confined to warmer weather months. Blooms are being seen as early as April and as late as October.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, the Lake was impacted by the largest algae bloom it's seen in decades.
Because it's the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is particularly susceptible to blooms, which contribute to decreased oxygen levels that can cause fish kills and trigger dead zones.
Responding to state-ordered cutbacks on pumping water from the Carmel River, the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency said it will expand plans for its groundwater replenishment project to provide an additional 2,700 acre-feet of drinking water per year.
The project, which has been in the planning stages for years, uses highly treated wastewater to bolster drinking water supplies by combining it with groundwater and injecting it into a nearby aquifer.
The agency's estimates the expansion would cost $50-$70 million and would be ready by 2016.
The Monterey Peninsula is considering a number of alternative water supply options -- including a desalination plant.
But the water agency's General Manager Keith Israel said that regardless of what options are chosen, his agency plans to go ahead with its proposal.
In international news...
PepsiCo Foundation is donating $8 million to support access to clean water in India.
The grant will support Water.org, the nonprofit co-founded by celebrity Matt Damon.
Through the organization, the money will be used to provide micro-loans to families throughout India to get access to clean water -- for things like water taps in their homes to working toilets.
With this contribution, the PepsiCo Foundation's largest ever, it's estimated that roughly 800,000 people will be given access to safe water by 2016.
For WaterWorld magazine, I'm Angela Godwin. Thanks for watching.