Water Briefs

News from the nation


Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration in Gulf supported by USDA, NFWF partnership

A new partnership has been established between the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to provide additional support for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem in response to impacts that occurred as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

The new partnership will significantly expand conservation efforts with private landowners and operators who might not otherwise be eligible to participate in existing recovery programs. The partnership will begin with a $20-million investment from NFWF, matched by a $20-million investment from NRCS. Additional commitments of up to $30 million from each partner are possible over the next four years.

NFWF, NRCS and other partners will focus on working on private lands to implement conservation projects that will enhance the existing recovery efforts in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas. Potential projects include: wetlands conservation, stream and riparian buffer restoration, and farm and ranch land protection.

California Coastal Commission approves test slant well for desalination project

In a unanimous decision made during a recent meeting, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) approved California American Water's application to construct a test slant well for its proposed desalination project.

"This approval represents a tremendous step forward for the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project," said California American Water President Rob MacLean. "We now have the opportunity to study the feasibility of the preferred intake location and method, as selected by a broad group of stakeholders, and to confirm modeling work that supports that selection."

The CCC heard from dozens of supporters representing environmental, business and community-based groups. Speakers emphasized the need for progress on a water supply project for the Monterey Peninsula, given the state-imposed cutback schedule the community faces on its primary source of water, the Carmel River.

Also discussed was the need to conduct research on sub-surface intakes, such as slant wells, since they are the preferred desalination intake method of state and federal regulators.

The test well project is temporary, permitted to collect up to two years of data. The well is designed to draw seawater through the sand, avoiding impacts to marine life. It will be constructed on an already disturbed area of the beach, within an active sand mine located in North Marina.

Craft brewers support CWA safeguards for national waters

Weighing in on the national debate over clean water protections, 32 members of the "Brewers for Clean Water" campaign signed onto a comment letter in support of safeguards under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The campaign is a partnership between the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and beermakers aimed at protecting America's bedrock water law and helping to advance the Clean Water Protection Rule that would return protections to American streams, wetlands and headwaters, which in turn impact larger waterbodies.

Whether drawn from lakes, rivers, groundwater, or a local water system, breweries are dependent on their local water supplies and rely on CWA protections to ensure the quality of their ingredients.

The letter states support for the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft policy, noting the importance of strong clean water protections for their businesses and communities, as well as other significant benefits to the environment and flood control.

NRDC announced the Brewers for Clean Water partnership last year to leverage the compelling business voice of dozens of the nation's most respected craft beer makers in advocacy around water protections.

New Belgium Brewing Company, another Brewers for Clean Water campaign member, also submitted its own supportive comments on the rule.

National industrial water use at lowest levels in over 40 years

According to a new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report, water use across the U.S. has reached its lowest recorded level in nearly 45 years. About 355 billion gallons of water per day (BGD) were withdrawn for use during 2010 -- a 13-percent reduction from 2005 when roughly 410 BGD were withdrawn.

In 2010, more than 50 percent of the total withdrawals were accounted for by 12 states in order of withdrawal amounts: California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Alabama, and Ohio.

Water withdrawn for thermoelectric power was the largest use nationally, with the other leading uses being irrigation, public supply and self-supplied industrial water, respectively.

A number of factors can be attributed to a 20-percent decline in thermoelectric-power withdrawals, including an increase in the number of power plants built or converted since the 1970s that use more efficient cooling-system technologies; declines in withdrawals to protect aquatic habitat and environments, power plant closures; and a decline in the use of coal to fuel power plants.

Declines in industrial withdrawals (12 percent) can be attributed to greater efficiencies in industrial processes, more emphasis on water reuse and recycling, and the 2008 U.S. recession, resulting in lower industrial production in major water-using industries.

Critical U.S. infrastructure at risk from software breach

In early November, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that much of the critical infrastructure in the U.S., including major water and wastewater systems, has been jeopardized by a destructive computer malware program.

The "BlackEnergy" virus -- allegedly carried out by Russian-affiliated hackers, according to authorities -- stems from a 2011 hacking campaign and was also used earlier last year against NATO and other organizations in a similar cyber-attack.

ABC News noted that the Trojan horse breached integral software used to operate a variety of national industrial processes that include water distribution networks, water and wastewater treatment systems, oil and gas pipelines, wind turbines, power grids, and nuclear plants.

The malware, although not yet live, can activate anytime and leave these processes susceptible to failure or malfunctioning. For example, it can cause water facilities to flood, generators to power down or pipelines to shut off, posing a high economic and environmental risk to the nation.

In addition to potentially controlling infrastructure software, ABC News indicated that the advanced network hack can also allow private or confidential information to be easily shared through a computer, iPad or smartphone.

ExxonMobil pays $1.4M penalty in settlement to resolve CWA violation from 2012 oil spill

The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced that ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (ExxonMobil) agreed to pay a civil penalty totaling $1.4 million for an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) stemming from a crude oil spill from the company's "North Line" pipeline near the town of Torbert, La., in 2012.

The United States' complaint, which was also filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, alleges that ExxonMobil discharged at least 2,800 barrels (or 117,000 gallons) of crude oil in violation of Section 311 of the CWA. On April 28, 2012, ExxonMobil's 20/22-inch-diamater pipeline ruptured near Torbert, about 20 miles west of Baton Rouge, and crude oil spilled into the surrounding area and flowed into an unnamed tributary connected to Bayou Cholpe.

The penalty is in addition to the costs incurred by ExxonMobil to respond to the oil spill and to replace the segment of ruptured pipeline. ExxonMobil is completing cleanup actions pursuant to an administrative order issued by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

The penalty paid for this spill will be deposited in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund managed by the National Pollution Fund Center. The Fund is used to pay for federal response activities and to compensate for damages when there is a discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the U.S. or adjoining shorelines.

Researchers monitor Ohio fracking groundwater

A new University of Cincinnati (UC) research project is taking a proactive approach to monitoring groundwater resources near fracking sites in Ohio. Conducted by Claire Botner, a UC graduate student in geology, the research is part of UC Groundwater Research of Ohio (GRO), a collaborative research project based out of the university to examine the effects of fracking on groundwater in the Utica Shale region of the eastern part of the state.

The GRO team of researchers is examining methane levels and origins of methane in private wells and springs before, during and after the onset of fracking. The team takes water samples four times a year, which are being analyzed for concentrations of methane as well as other hydrocarbons and salt pulled up in the fracking water mixture from the shales.

Botner's study involves testing on 22 private wells in Carroll County between November 2012 and last May. So far, results indicate that any methane readings in groundwater wells came from organic matter. In less than a handful of cases, the natural methane levels were relatively high -- above 10 milligrams per liter. However, most of the wells carried low levels of methane.

GE to build advanced manufacturing plant in SC

GE recently announced the construction of a new state-of-the-art Power & Water (P&W) advanced manufacturing facility to be built in the city of Greenville, S.C.

The plant -- GE P&W's first advanced manufacturing facility -- will serve as an incubator for innovative advanced manufacturing process development and rapid prototyping for P&W businesses, including water processing as well as wind turbines, heavy duty gas engines, distributed power gas engines, and nuclear power services.

GE plans to invest $400 million over the next 10 years in Greenville to expand its advanced manufacturing capabilities. The new facility is expected to open in 2015 and create more than 80 jobs. By developing new techniques and production processes, the GE P&W business will be able to design, test, iterate, and bring its products to market for customers quickly.

GE started in Greenville more than 40 years ago with a 340,000-square-foot site. It has since grown into more than 1.5 MM square feet of factory and offices, manufacturing products for customers worldwide.

double-digit growth projected for worldwide Plastic pipe market

Speaking at the Plastic Pipes XVII conference and exhibition held on Sept. 22-24 in Chicago, Ill., Stephen Boros, chairman of the event's organizing committee, noted that four major factors -- development of the shale oil and gas industry, regional market expansion, innovation, and awareness in the field of lifecycle assessment (LCA) -- will potentially lead to double-digit growth in the global demand for plastic pipe systems over the next 10 years.

Boros, who is also VP Engineering for Pipelines Plastics, LLC, explained that plastic pipe systems continue to gain market share through supplanting competing pipe materials such as copper, concrete and steel due to easy and low-cost installation as well as long-term performance.

"In North America, these inherent advantages are now further supported by the development of the shale oil and gas industry," he said. "This development not only benefits the energy market but also represents a more secure long-term supply and cost advantage from a power costs to raw materials standpoint. Technology transfer will undoubtedly propel the growth of demand for plastic pipe systems in other world markets."

ConocoPhillips conducts water treatment study for oil, gas production

ConocoPhillips (COP), in collaboration with industry partners under the Petroleum Environment Research Forum (PERF), recently formulated a study out of its Water Centre in the city of Doha, Qatar, to identify and explore the application of new and more sustainable, cost-efficient water treatment technologies used in the production of oil and gas.

The project -- The Cost-Effective Reverse Osmosis Concentrate Treatment and Brine Management Study -- evaluated and compared applicable treatment technologies for making produced water available for beneficial reuse. Completed in December 2014, the study was led by CH2M HILL, a global full-service consulting, design, construction, program management, and operations firm.

Following detailed analysis, including lifecycle cost estimation, CH2M HILL provided a list of recommendations that the industry can implement in the near term and over a longer time to improve water discharge management.

Presently, a gap exists in the industry to cost-effectively treat produced water for reuse. COP and its partners developed the study as a way to identify and implement new technologies that will improve total water management within the industry.

To complete the study, CH2M HILL gathered a fully integrated team with international and nationally acclaimed academic and private industry researchers who have made significant contributions to the understanding and application of traditional and new technologies for reverse osmosis concentrate and brine management in both public and industrial sectors.

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