SEWAGE  

A scheme to manage human waste in a way more beneficial to the environment is to be launched in Beijing in time for the Olympic games. So far, trials of ecological sanitation, Ecosan, have not received high prominence, although a 3 year project has seen some aspects installed in 19 different urban areas in Mali.
But by 2006, the entire suburb of Yangsong, a newly built area of the Chinese capital, will use Ecosan as its waste treatment system. Ecosan techniques include the separation of urine from faeces, the use of "biogas" as fuel, and the re-use of "greywater", the waste water from showers, baths and clothes washing.

Ecosan promoters at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan, are hopeful that the media attention that will focus on Beijing for the Olympics will enable the idea of Ecosan to become part of mainstream thinking on sewage treatment. There are economic benefits to a more effective use of human waste too, the forum heard.
"There are 12 billion kidneys working 24 hours a day," Arno Rosemarin, of the Ecosan programme in Sweden, said. "We have not tapped this resource."
In particular, urine is rich is the element phosphorous, an essential component of fertiliser. The bulk of current phosphorous reserves are located in one place, border between Morocco & Western Sahara, and aggressive mining of the element is rapidly reducing the stocks. They are expected to run out by 2100.
A study at Kyoto University has found that a simple application of magnesium to urine extracts 97% of the phosphorous present in it. Small amounts of the dye indigo are also present, which likewise can be extracted & used.

Furthermore, urine does not even have to be treated to provide great advantages. Experiments in U.S. found corn grown using substantial quantities of urine grew 50% bigger than corn grown using none at all. But these benefits can only be realised if urine is separated from other waste material at source.
The pioneering of Ecosan in Beijing, following successful trials in 50 villages in China's Yongning County, is no coincidence. China's problems in human waste disposal are massive, and the country is seen by the UN as crucial to helping it meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the world's population without access to basic sanitation.

In addition, many of the country's rivers are badly polluted as raw sewage often gets only basic treatment at best. The problems of sewage in rivers are well documented, ranging from the spread of disease to the testes of male trout having been found to contain female eggs. This, believes Professor Saburo Matsui of Kyoto University, is due to the amount of the female hormone oestrogen that leaks into the water from human urine.
But even Ecosan's promoters expect that it will take a long time for Ecosan to become accepted as an alternative to conventional thinking. "The problem in industrial countries is that we have spent so much on sewers that it is difficult to change," Christine Werner, head of Ecosan in Germany, told the forum.

Meanwhile, Walter Stottmann, of the World Bank, said that Ecosan had to be considered as only one of a number of different approaches to sewage treatment. He warned that it was important to "Avoid the 'Ecosan club' being a biased promoter of a single technical solution as a cure for all."

It's a dirty job, but they do it, secretly, in Iraq
6.18.04   James Glanz NY Times

Baghdad, Iraq   It was an engineering success on the order of stringing the first cables for the Brooklyn Bridge or coaxing the first glimmer of starlight through some giant telescope to unravel the structure of the universe. But when it occurred late last month, the achievement remained cloaked in absolute secrecy, marked only by a quiet celebration among participants who may remain forever unknown to history. Raw sewage was treated in Baghdad.
The stream of treated water that eventually found its way into the Tigris River was hardly more than a trickle, roughly 20 million gallons a day from a city that produces raw sewage at something like 10 times that rate or more. But the accomplishment is all but epoch-making in a city where the sewage plants are in such disrepair that for the last 10 to 15 years, every drop of that muck was poured untreated into the river, fouling everything from boat landings to drinking water systems downstream.

Successes like this one were just what Congress envisioned when it appropriated billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq, hoping the improvements would convince Iraqis of America's good will. But for what those in charge of the work, U.S. Agency for Intl Development & its major contractor Bechtel, called security reasons, the sewage breakthrough remained secret. A NY Times reporter agreed not to give the location of the plant in exchange for receiving a general description of the work from the engineers involved. The reporter also agreed not to use the names of the engineers and to print no photographs of their faces.

AID & Bechtel say the breakthrough occurred in a dangerous part of Baghdad where any publicity could make the project a target for saboteurs, who struck again on Wednesday, killing a sr Oil Ministry official and damaging another oil pipeline. That argument and the bizarre concept of a secret sewage project have generated frustration among some of the engineers, who say secrecy defeats the original purpose of the work. "This is the first sewage treatment in Baghdad in 15 years but "we can't get the word out," said one American govt engineer on the project. To the suggestion that publicity could lead to bombings and the like, the engineer said, "Well, guess what , we're getting bombed anyway."
Just 3 days before, he said, terrorists had lobbed a concussion grenade at a car carrying an electrical engineer working on one of 3 huge sewage treatment plants being rehabilitated in Baghdad. 2 have not yet started processing sewage. Sewage plants are hard to hide, a fact that complicates the effort to keep them secret from those who would like to destroy them. Probably not by accident, though, they do tend to be on less populated outskirts. Except for the big tanks where anaerobic bacteria munch away on sludge, there are few structures that poke very far above the perimeter walls.

To date, Congress has set aside roughly $24 billion for rebuilding Iraq's electrical, water, sewage, oil, transportation and security installations, among other areas, according to an analysis by the George Soros-backed Iraq Revenue Watch. In a desert land where water is society's lifeblood, the need for the work is unquestioned. Civil engineer Ghazi J. Maghak, 68, whose mind is a vast compendium of detail on the Baghdad sewers, which he has worked on for 3 decades, said in an interview that there were 4,000 miles of sewer lines, most overstressed and falling apart.
Parts are receiving a thousand times more waste than they were designed for, creating the rivers of sewage that stream through the streets in many neighborhoods, Maghak said. Under Saddam Hussein, who was no friend to civil infrastructure that did not have a palace sitting on it, repairs were undertaken capriciously and always with the dark threat of punishment.

Crumbling sewer lines feed Baghdad's 3 great sewage plants, which fared even worse. In the last decade or two they became so decrepit that engineers simply shunted the raw sewage through jury-rigged pipes and dumped it into the Tigris with no treatment whatever. Then, after the American-led invasion last year, the plants were looted to the ground. Left behind were grotesquely dysfunctional graveyards of sludge and ransacked buildings. Initial work to clean them up, largely with shovels & wheelbarrows, began late last year.
A 6.13.04 trip approved by Bechtel and the development agency to one of the plants gave some insight into the parlous security situation that has given rise to the secrecy. As a car carrying a reporter, an interpreter and a driver approached the plant, it became apparent that a huge bomb had gone off a short time before, probably intended for a line of cars, now charred & crumpled, that had been waiting for gasoline in front of a nearby station.
A group of agitated Iraqi civilians tried to direct the car away, then relented, before blue-shirted Iraqi police officers waved their handguns to get the car to stop again. Finally, heavily armed American soldiers who were clustered around an armored vehicle told the driver to go through.

Inside the plant, the big round clarification tanks had been cleaned out and were ready for sewage, new filtration screens were soon to be put in place and augurlike screw pumps were lifting sample sewer water into the air for its ride through the system. At one point a sand-blasting machine was suddenly turned on somewhere and two of the people in the party, incl the American govt engineer, hit the deck, thinking it was a mortar attack.
The plant was all quite impressive, but somehow unsatisfying, since nothing was actually being treated yet. The company and the development agency said the other plants were in areas too dangerous to visit. But the next day First Cavalry Div., charged with guarding sites like the sewage plants around Baghdad, agreed to transport 2 visitors to another plant, using a 3 vehicle convoy laden with weaponry.
Inside, under the blazing afternoon sun, was a scene that perhaps only the combination of occupied Iraq and a secret sewage plant could produce, a Turkish site manager who did not seem to speak either English or Arabic, Iraqi engineers with strict orders not to show anyone the treated sewage without permission from the front office, and a compound mostly deserted except for some low-level staff members and managers and the few engineers.

After some hasty cellphone calls, the permission came through. Accompanied closely by the soldiers, their rifles at the ready, the visitors walked past the blue-gray murk spilling over a ledge in clarification ponds, above scum- covered holding pools toward 3 little concrete canals that merged at one corner of the site. There, near an empty guard tower and some sparse plants called adgal, was a strange but tangible glint of hope on the outskirts of Baghdad: treated sewage, swirling around a corner and out of sight into a pair of mismatched tunnels on its way to the Tigris.



  «~   Tips   Drink responsibly
7.26.05   Linda Marsa L.A. Times

There are many places in the Sierra where you can safely drink the water, but choose carefully. "If you have a question, then treat it," says Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks wilderness manager Gregg Fauth. But if you have a hankering for fresh water and don't want to lug a pump or disinfectants that make the water unappetizing, drinking smart can minimize risks of getting sick.

Don't drink untreated water in places downstream from livestock pastures and large backpacker camps. "Humans and cattle are the worst offenders," Fauth says.

Water at higher elevations is safer because there's less risk of pollution by humans or wildlife. As water travels to lower elevations, it can pick up contaminants along the way.

Lake water, especially the top few inches, has less bacteria than running streams because the rays of the sun act as a disinfectant. And big lakes are better than smaller, shallow lakes because there's more of a surface to sanitize.

Clean melted snow is less risky than ice from the surface of a lake or stream because hardy diarrhea-causing bacteria can survive for months on ice.

Deep well water is considered safe because the water is filtered when passing through the soil, which removes giardia cysts. Springs bubbling from the side of a mountain are generally safe too.

Avoid drinking untreated water from stagnant ponds or slow-moving streams.

Don't leave home without them: Alcohol hand gels, which are available in drug stores, are incredibly effective at inactivating bacteria on your hands. "Washing your hands," says Dr. Howard Backer, a water purification expert, "will prevent you from spreading bacteria to your fellow camper when you prepare the food."


'Ideological battle' over world's water
3.18.03   Tim Hirsch BBC

Kyoto   Pressure groups have claimed that private companies are unlikely to provide the solutions for the millions of poor people without adequate clean water & decent sanitation. Speaking on the third day of the Third World Water Forum in Japan, Water Aid & Tearfund hit out at intl lending institutions such as the World Bank for their "obsession" with the private sector.
The groups launched a report showing, they say, that intl companies are not interested in working in very poor countries; they argue that policy-makers need instead to focus on enabling local & central govts to serve the poor through working with local communities.

Eric Gutierrez of Water Aid said: "The intl private sector currently only provides 5% of all the water services in the world, very largely in richer & more developed countries. The obsession with the private sector to provide clean water to those most in need is a total distraction. We must move on to stop the millions of needless deaths from water-related diseases."
Joanne Green from Tearfund added: "Intl policy-makers & institutions like the World Bank are misguided in thinking that the private sector will have any real impact on reaching the 1.2 billion poorest people in the world who lack access to safe water. The intl community must stop arm-twisting countries to give access to private sector companies as a condition for receiving development aid, grants and loans."

The World Bank itself has hit back at its critics, claiming that it simply wished to encourage the most effective methods of delivering water services to the poor. The bank's vice-president for sustainable development, Ian Johnson, told BBC News Online: "We have discussions with govts who have to determine what the right mix of public and private sector roles should be in delivering services, and then we work with them. We do not have an ideological prima facie position that says that we must force privatisation on anyone. We are not religious zealots when it comes to privatisation."

A province is dying of thirst, and cries robbery
3.17.03   Erik Eckholm
NY Times

Gharo, Pakistan   Dispute over water between Sindh & Punjab provinces in SE Pakistan has caused rising tensions during drought of past 3 years, and is prime example of ethnic & regional fissures that weaken Pakistan beyond better-known intl issues.
Farmers & politicians in Sindh accuse Punjab of water robbery for allegedly violating internal agreements and taking more than legal share of water from Indus River and its tributaries. Residents of Punjab tend to dominate country's military & govt bureaucracies.
The life-and-death matter that has provoked hundreds of irate demonstrations in Sind Province in the last 3 years is water. Farmers & politicians alike here charge ''water robbery'' by Punjab, more powerful Pakistani province upstream.

Study: saving forests best way to cheap, clean water   9.1.03   Reuters

Geneva   Major cities should focus efforts & funds on conserving forests that naturally purify their drinking water, saving them from spending billions of dollars on water treatment facilities, a study published Monday showed. The study of 105 big cities by World Bank & World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF- International) ecology organization showed one-third, incl New York, Tokyo, Barcelona and Melbourne, get much of their water via protected forests.
Preserving these forests, which reduce landslides, erosion and sediment; improve water purity by filtering pollutants, and in some cases capture & store water, is a cost-effective way to provide clean drinking water, the study "Running Pure" said. "For many cities, time is running out. Protecting forests around water catchment areas is no longer a luxury but a necessity," said World Bank sr environmental specialist for forest resources David Cassells. "When they are gone, the costs of providing clean safe drinking water to urban areas will increase dramatically."

WWF's Forests for Life Pgm dir. Chris Elliot highlighted the stark case of New York, whose 9 million residents get much of their water from the Catskill/Delaware watersheds in upstate New York. Recent evaluation showed it would cost $7 billion to build a water treatment plant against a $1 billion bill for actively managing the forest catchment area by raising water taxes and paying farmers to use less fertilizer and reduce grazing.
Melbourne, dubbed "Smellbourne" in the 18th century because of its poor water quality, took measures to protect the mountainous forest catchments to its north & east. Today these supply 90% of the drinking water in Melbourne, now recognized as having the highest quality water of any Australian city.

Cassels argued that managing the forests should not be at the expense of people living in the areas, and end users who benefit from the forests should pay toward conserving them. Authorities face tough choices between building houses for growing populations, chopping down forests for timber or conserving them to help secure the water supply, Elliot said.
Given World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water and that water-borne diseases claim 5 million lives each year, WWF is calling on govts to boost their conservation efforts in water catchment areas.

WWF-International's Living Waters pgm dir. Jamie Pittock argued protection would help countries achieve their aim of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015. "These global targets can be most effectively achieved, in part, by investing in the health of these forest water catchments," he said. "By securing the source of the water, by investing in the health of the environment through these protected areas we can make a big difference to people's lives."

A new emergency employment generation program is helping to save fresh rainwater in the Gaza Strip. Funded by USAID and implemented by Catholic Relief Services, this program will build 257 water catchments for greenhouse agricultural use. Target areas will be poor & marginalized sections of Gaza, as well as those areas which suffer from low annual rainfall rates.

How the catchment works is quite simple: rainwater falling on the greenhouse roof is then gathered inside the adjacent catchment, which has the capacity to contain 10 hours of steady rainwater. As needed, the rainwater is then released into the greenhouse irrigation system, contributing much needed and cost-free source of water.
Average cost of building each catchment is low, approximately $3,000, with the farmer or greenhouse owner contributing 10% of this cost. Construction of each catchment has an additional benefit: the creation of paid workdays for unemployed Palestinian breadwinners. Overall, the project will create more than 19,000 workdays of employment for 1,200 skilled & unskilled Gazan Palestinians.

Inca Trail welcomes the PETT
Fall 2004   Paddle Dealer

… PETT (Portable Environmental Toilet) co-inventor of portable toilet system that uses WAGS BAGS to biodegrade human waste by organic means & co. president Brian Phillips has been working with land management agencies in the Inca Trail region of Peru for 5 years developing a means to protect the local environment from the massive amounts of human waste left by visitors.

With 50,000 people making the 3 to 4 day trek annually and with no toilet facilities present along the trail, human waste was becoming a problem. But now the PETT system is required equipt for all tour operators & their clients on the trail. The agreement was set forth in a meeting at Maccu Picchu this spring, with several Peruvian dignitaries present.
"The Macchu Picchu meeting was the culmination of this expedition and years of work", says Phillips. "We hope to provide this service to many more sensitive areas around the world and help protect them."

Going below the surface
It's been a rule in the backcountry for decades: Unfiltered water is unsafe. Now, research of remote Sierra sites shifts the blame for illnesses.
7.26.05   Linda Marsa L.A. Times

Bob Derlet drinks his water straight without fancy filters or chemical treatments. He leans face down into Delaney Creek, which flows directly down into Tuolumne Meadows from the Sierra Crest, taking healthy gulps from the rushing stream, and then fills his water bottle. It's nearly noon on an early summer day, and temperatures are hovering in the mid-80s. After a rigorous 2 mile ascent in altitudes around 9,500 ft, the pristine mountain water is indescribably refreshing: no chemical aftertaste of tap water and chilled to perfection by the Sierra's melting snowpack.

"No one camps above here. There's no livestock or park animals so there's little chance of contamination," says Derlet, gesturing toward Mt. Dana in the distance and the lush, grassy alpine meadow surrounding the creek.
Derlet should know. The emergency room physician and professor at UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento has spent part of the last 5 summers hiking about 2,000 miles throughout the Sierra and stopping at spots such as Bubbs Creek in Kings Canyon and Vogelsang Lake in Yosemite to test the water at 100 sites each year for the presence of microscopic miscreants.

It's a Herculean task, but he's driven by a desire to meld his lifelong passion for the outdoors with his expertise as a scientist. Because half of California's fresh water comes from the Sierra Nevada, Derlet is curious about pollution levels in the wilderness and what that would mean for the future of a state whose growth is dependent on clean water.
Funded by grants from the Wilderness Medical Society, Derlet's field work is part of a projected 20-year water quality study.

But what he's uncovered already is surprising, both for the seasoned wilderness traveler as well as the day hiker who stares longingly at a gushing river and wonders whether it's safe to take a slug. At many trails and backcountry camps throughout California, signs warn visitors off casual sipping. But are the dangers of Giardia lamblia, E. coli, Cryptosporidium and other bugs that wreak intestinal havoc grossly exaggerated?
Derlet thinks so, and his research reveals that the water is much cleaner than most people believe. His findings thrust him into the middle of a long-simmering controversy that's blatantly at odds with what many state biologists preach and what wilderness classes teach: Purify water before drinking. But is that really necessary? Do those high-priced pumps, chemical disinfectants and elaborate filtration gadgets truly merit a place in the backpack?

"It's a huge debate," says Ryan Jordan, a biofilm engineer at Montana State University in Bozeman who has studied pollution in wilderness areas.
The available scientific evidence, which is admittedly limited because of the scarcity of funding for testing wilderness water quality, confirms Derlet's findings. The threat is comparable to the chances of beachgoers being attacked by a shark, according to University of Cincinnati researchers who studied the danger giardia poses to backpackers, namely "an extraordinarily rare event to which the public and the press have seemingly devoted inappropriate attention."

And yet, some doctors say that backcountry water is not safe to drink, even if it looks clear as glass. Defecating wildlife and encroaching hordes of campers who aren't environmentally savvy have spoiled the lakes, rivers and streams of the pristine wilderness. "Infectious agents don't change the water's appearance. You can't taste, smell or see them," says Dr. Paul Auerbach, an emergency room physician at Stanford University in Palo Alto and author of the standard text "Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine." "All it takes is a few beavers upstream, and you're in big trouble."
The National Park System and the U.S. Forest Service urge backpackers not to drink untreated water, and it has become an accepted article of faith among wilderness travelers that a water cleanser is as indispensable as a tent, compass and boots. Veteran backpackers like Jim Metropulos, who handles water quality issues for the Sierra Club in Sacramento, view water purification devices as an insurance policy that "provides a backup layer of security."

Little wonder people are convinced that drinking untreated water these days is inviting trouble. A bad case of the runs can ruin a backpacking trek, and you can end up chained to the bathroom for weeks if you contract giardiasis, the intestinal scourge that ignited the water purification debate more than two decades ago. "The issue was first widely publicized in the early 1980s," says Derlet. "Because it only takes a small dose, 10 to 25 giardia cysts [infectious particles of the parasite], to become sickened, people were alarmed."
Some point the finger at pump makers for inflating the risks and making backpackers ultra-vigilant about purifying water. "The advent of affordable water filters kick-started this whole debate," says Jordan, who is also editor of Backpacking Light magazine. "There's a lot of money in water filters: They cost anywhere from $40 to $100 a pop, and there are several million backpackers in the United States, so do the math. The water filter industry has instilled in people a mantra of 'you just never know,' rather than trying to educate them about the differences between good water sources and bad ones."

The results of a study conducted in 1993 by researchers at the University of Nevada in Reno and the U.S. Geological Survey in Sacramento were eye-opening. Of 41 backpackers who trekked to the Desolation Wilderness in Eldorado National Forest west of Lake Tahoe, six of them were stricken with cramping, diarrhea, nausea and bloating. Yet lab tests revealed that none of them was infected with giardiasis. Researchers didn't determine exactly which bugs were sickening the backpackers, but they think the culprits were the usual suspects, E. coli, salmonella or Campylobacter jejuni, which they might not have contracted from drinking water.
Taking this research one step further, the scientists analyzed the backcountry water for giardia. The bug was indeed present, but at such low levels of concentration, just a few cysts per 100 gallons, that backpackers, on average, would have to drink 250 gallons a day to become ill.

"People tell me they went on a five-day backpacking trip and when they got back they got diarrhea, so they assume they had giardia," says Derlet. "But when I ask them if they've been tested for it, they haven't. But they're still convinced that it has to be that. The fact is that if someone develops diarrhea after a wilderness trip, they most likely got the bug before they entered the wilderness or from someone while they were on the trip, not from the water."
The 1995 University of Cincinnati survey of 48 of the 50 state health departments in the United States came to similar conclusions. Only two of the agencies considered giardia a problem for backpackers, and even then, they had no data to support this concern. Although giardia sickens about 20,000 Americans each year, outbreaks have been linked to contaminated drinking water in small towns, food handlers and child-care workers who are infected when they change diapers, the researchers didn't find any evidence that wilderness water is a cause. "Neither health department surveillance nor the medical literature," they note, "support the widely held perception that [giardia] is a significant risk to backpackers."

The reality is that poor personal hygiene, not contaminated water, "is to blame for people getting sick in the backcountry," says Gregg Fauth, wilderness manager for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. Diarrhea-causing bugs, such as giardia and its cousin, Cryptosporidium, two parasites that live in the intestines of animals and humans, are transmitted through fecal matter, primarily by people who don't practice good sanitary habits, such as washing their hands or properly disposing of their feces, which should be buried at least 10 ft away from the water.
The typical chain of events is that hikers or backpackers go to the bathroom, then don't wash their hands thoroughly, if at all. Afterward they make dinner or even share a snack and contaminate the food with fecal matter, along with any disease-causing germs that were hitching a ride in their intestines. Giardia can even be spread by touching surfaces, eating utensils, camping gear, water filtration pumps, that are contaminated with feces from an infected person.

"We are so dependent on convenient sanitation that when people go out in the wilderness," says Dr. Howard Backer, a water purification expert and a past president of the Wilderness Medical Society, "they fall apart, and their habits drop to Third World standards."
In light of this growing evidence, Derlet decided to do some testing of his own, not only to debunk some myths, but also to figure out ways to preserve wilderness water for future generations. Starting in early May until the first snowfall in October or November, Derlet shoehorns wilderness forays into his busy schedule of teaching, research and stints in the emergency room, racking up 24 miles on a day hike, during which he hits about 10 places, or taking three-day backpacking trips to visit more than 20 spots. In the process, he's become intimately acquainted with the terrain of nearly every lake, creek and tributary off the hiking trails in the Sierra.

By collecting enough information so that pollution patterns become strikingly apparent, he hopes to identify the reasons why some areas become contaminated while others remain pristine. That way, effective steps can be taken to keep all the waters clean. "Initially, this was instigated by the backpacking water quality debate," he says. "But I also want to come up with some conclusions about which water is always pure, which water is subject to pollution and why that is and what we can do about it."
Lean and lanky, the 56-year-old physician, with his shock of thick, dark hair and long unlined face, is a poster boy for the benefits of clean living. He nimbly climbs up the steep 700-foot incline from the trailhead off of Tioga Road, the two-lane blacktop that traverses Yosemite, to his first stop of the day: Dog Lake in Tuolumne Meadows near Lembert Dome, at the eastern edge of Yosemite. He walks in long loping strides past the lodgepole pines, and the profusion of yellow and red wildflowers that burst into life in the early summer, and kneels at the edge of the water.

"Lake water is better," he says, glancing up. "Most people think the water is better from a nice, running stream because it's so fresh and churned up. But the top few inches of lake water are zapped with ultraviolet rays from the sun, which are a very powerful disinfectant."
Despite his lofty goals, Derlet's testing methods are decidedly low-tech. He carries his equipment in a fanny pack strapped around his waist that is about the size and heft of a tool belt. His routine is virtually the same at each of the sites where he takes samples: He snaps on a pair of blue latex gloves to avoid contamination and then skims a plastic test tube along the surface of the water, collecting just enough to fill the 2-inch rectangular container, which he stores neatly in an ice chest that he stows in his SUV. He dips a thermometer in the water, and then jots down the time, water temperature and altitude on a log to record each visit. The samples will be taken back to his laboratory at UC Davis and tested for such bugs as giardia.

After making the late morning ascent to Dog Lake, he drives along Tioga Road to do a series of hikes into other places in the park, ranging from the highlands of Tioga Pass, where he clambers through packed snow in altitudes that climb to 10,000 feet, to boulder-strewn trails in the lower elevations around Tenaya Lake closer to Yosemite Valley. He finishes up in the early evening after treks along Gaylor, Budd, Snow and Yosemite creeks to collect samples in designated wilderness areas that aren't heavily trafficked.
It's an arduous day, but what his research reveals so far is encouraging: High Sierra waters are not nearly as polluted as was thought 15 or 20 years ago and contain about 10,000 normal aquatic bacteria per quart, which is not harmful at all. Derlet has mostly found low levels of E. coli, primarily in regions below cattle grazing tracts and popular campgrounds, and Yersinia enterocolitica, a bacteria from the droppings of migrating flocks of birds, in high country alpine lakes. The most fecal matter he's unearthed has been in the runoff from the melting snow in the spring, when it washes the ground, and sweeps everything, including manure, into the streams. The only situation in which Derlet treats water is below sheep and cattle pastures, and in slow-flowing warm streams immediately below heavily used campsites. Otherwise, most of the water is clean enough to drink "I've felt at home in the wilderness for the past 50 years," he reflects, perched on a log near the trailhead leading to Gaylor Lakes in between bites of a tuna salad, fruit and crackers. "I want to do whatever I can to ensure that 100 years from now, we have clean water and clean forests. That why I'm doing this — to contribute to the science to help preserve it and to distill the true science from rumor."

Recycling gray water a better way to greener lawns
9.4.05   James Dulley
SD UT

Q   Considering a watering system for landscaping our yard, our water & sewage bills are already high. Will a gray water system to water our trees lower our water bills?

gray water systems, components, kits, plans
Rewater
Oasis Design
Clivus Multrum
NutricycleSystems
A   Gray water for landscaping is money-saving. Before you design and install a system, first check with your local codes for approval. An excellent 50-page background book on designing a gray water system is "Create an Oasis with Greywater" ($15). ¹

Gray water is the drain water from bathing, dishwashing, clothes washing, cooking, etc. in a house. Waste water from toilets is called black water and should always go into a sanitary sewer or approved septic system. In a typical home, about 20 to 40 gallons of gray water are produced per person each day.

A gray water system can be as simple as rinsing your hands over a pan and using this to water plants. Full-featured automatic gray water systems, costing several thousand dollars, will water your landscaping or an entire section of lawn. Determine the scope of your system and your budget initially because it can be involved to expand a system at a later time.
The soil in your yard is an excellent water purifier, better than a sewage plant that uses chemicals. The plant roots and micro-organisms in the soil consume the food and other waste particles in the gray water. Once through the soil surface, water moves slowly, often only 1 inch per day. When this water finally reaches aquifers and springs underground, it is very clean.

Installing an Envirosink is a simple way to start. This is a small plastic secondary sink that you mount by your existing kitchen sink. When you are rinsing off foods, dishes or your hands, swing the faucet over the Envirosink. Its downspout drain can be attached to a removable large jug or tank under the sink. In a complete system, it will be attached to the gray water piping.
A branched gray water system is a good design for watering trees and shrubs. The main gray water outdoor drain is divided into two using a Y connector. Each of these is further subdivided several more times to lead to many trees and shrubs. During wet weather when the ground is already saturated with water, bypass the gray water system to avoid having the gray water run off into nearby streams, lakes or storm sewers.

For conserving water, here's a flood of tips
5.19.06   Morris & James Carey AP

Water can be easily wasted during any of numerous activities, from landscape irrigation to showering. To conserve water it's crucial to cut down on landscape irrigation and vehicle washing. At least in drought conditions, eliminate all washing of exterior surfaces of the house and around the house.
Dishwashing and rinsing should be done in containers or plugged sinks, but not with running water. If you have a dishwasher, prewash your dishes if possible, and don't use secondary rinse cycles. Never, never run a load unless the machine is completely full.

For clothes washing, cut down on recommended detergent levels (about 20 percent), and eliminate extra rinses. Use completely full loads or adjust the water level (if your machine allows).
Swimming pools are big water-wasters, primarily because of surface evaporation caused by a combination of warm water and wind. This can be reduced by turning off the pool heater and by using a pool cover. The pool cover diminishes the rate of evaporation and will keep the pool comfortably warm as well. You will not only conserve water, but cut the energy used by your pool heater as well.

Toilet-flushing is another water-waster. New toilet tanks are constructed to use about 3-1/2 gallons of water per flush, as opposed to the old ones that used as many as 4 gallons. The old brick-in-the-tank trick solved tank water waste, but, in some cases the brick dissolved slightly, causing clogs in the siphon holes at the inside of the rim. Ensuring that the siphon jets remain open and clear is very important (mineral salts from water can clog them too). Clear jets will deliver optimum performance with a minimum of water. Also, if you hear water running in your tank, it may be time to adjust the float or replace the "flapper" at the tank throat.

Showering can be done military-style: Wet down, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water on, rinse off. But less radical water-saving measures are available. Modern shower heads are inexpensive, easy to install, and contain flow regulators which disperse less water more efficiently. You also might investigate a flow-control lever for your shower head in addition to the typical spray control lever.

Water heating is important. The hotter the water in your heater, the more cold water it will take to cool it in a mixing situation (i.e., clothes washer, shower, etc.). Bleed your water heater every 6 months or so. Air in the tank will cause overheating, and may result in water being lost through the pressure overflow valve. The easiest way to bleed the water heater is to open the drain valve at the bottom until the water coming out stops sputtering. Usually two to three gallons are lost. A bucket, eye protection, rain gear and heavy rubber gloves will help. Remember, the water that will burst out is hot.

Another wonderful way to save water is to precisely control water pressure as it enters your home. This, appropriately enough, is done with a water pressure regulator. If you have a regulator, adjust it so that the pressure does not exceed 60 pounds. If you don't, buy a water pressure gauge ($12) with a garden-hose fitting. Hand-screw it onto the faucet closest to where the main water line enters your home. Turn the faucet on with the gauge in place and read the number behind the needle. Regulator or not, it is wise to make this pressure check.
High water pressure is not only wasteful, but can damage dishwashers and washing machines. Many appliance warranties are voided when pressure exceeds 100 pounds. Unfortunately, hiring out the installation of a water pressure regulator can cost several hundred dollars.


Gray water's red tape   Homeowners who want to recycle water from sinks and bathtubs for irrigation jump through governmental hoops first.
3.29.07   Nancy Yoshihara L.A. Times

Western red bud trees, ceanothus, island snapdragon and other native flora have been planted with care and precision in front of a new Santa Monica house. Good thing they're not thirsty plants, because not one drop of water has flowed from a special irrigation system installed last June.
Homeowner Steve Glenn is frustrated. He's still waiting for the Los Angeles County Dept of Public Health to sign off in order to turn on the underground drip system, which will recycle water from his bathroom sinks, showers, laundry sink and clothes washer.

Using so-called gray water during what may be a record dry year seems like a no-brainer, but Glenn is finding otherwise. Residents who want to conserve a precious natural resource encounter road blocks, often in the form of red tape.
"I knew there weren't many residential gray-water systems," Glenn says of the drawn-out procedure to get his final certificate of occupancy. "I knew the process was not refined, but I didn't realize it would be this hard."

California authorized the use of gray water statewide for single-family homes in 1992. The state Dept of Water Resources developed standards and provided a Graywater Guide for homeowners and others (www.owue.water.ca.gov/docs/graywater_guide_book.pdf).
But particulars such as permit and inspection requirements were left to local jurisdictions. In Santa Monica and Los Angeles, for example, the building and safety departments oversee gray-water construction. Both cities also require approval from the L.A. County health dept.

The agencies often have different requirements, which can ratchet up a homeowner's cost to install a gray-water system.
"The policy makers desperately need to vertically integrate this process: bring in inspectors, building and safety people and others so everyone is on the same page, so the process is simplified for the homeowner," says Mill Valley environmental planning and engineering consultant Bill Wilson who installed many systems including Glenn's. He says he has encountered similar bureaucratic delays in other California cities.

Wilson says some people will pay a premium to have an ecologically savvy system. "There are people who are motivated and don't want to pay the price, doing it anyway," he says. "There are not a lot of permits, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of systems."
IN 1991 the city of Los Angeles, in response to the drought from 1987 to 1992, conducted a pilot gray-water test involving 8 homes. Mary Nichols of Hancock Park and Ruth Galanter of Venice were among the early pioneers.
"I had a wonderful system," says Dept of Water & Power commission member then and now Nichols. "I loved it," she says of the automated system that was the Cadillac of its time. Former City Council member Galanter had a different system, one she flipped on manually and liked for the savings on her water bill.
Results of this pilot project helped persuade Sacramento lawmakers to approve gray water for residential use. But as interest was increasing, "some idiot proclaimed the drought was over," Galanter recalls. The effect of that declaration, she says, was to put the kibosh on this conservation effort.

Today neither Galanter nor Nichols has a working system because, both say, they have been unable to find anyone who can fix it. "The valves needed to be replaced," Nichols says, "but the company that made them went out of business."
Maintenance was an issue that arose following the test study, says Los Angeles environmental group TreePeople president Andy Lipkis.
"The installed pilot systems worked until they needed support/maintenance, and once they needed it, years after deployment, the installers were out of business and left no documentation that anyone could find, making maintenance even more difficult."

Of course this has not been the case with all gray-water users. Sol Fingold has been nurturing the native plant garden in front of his Beverly Hills home with gray water since 1998. The octogenarian's only complaint: The city water agency won't give him a credit for saving water. Still, he plans to put in a gray-water system in his backyard.
Few will argue with the water and money savings. Meanwhile, advances in technology have led to more satisfied users. But from the start there have been concerns about gray water's effect, if any, on soil, plants and humans.

"The biggest concern is public well-being and public health," says American Institute of Architects' L.A. chapter committee on the environment chair Christine Magar. The group works with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council members on water issues. "With gray water, the concern is what kind of filtration requirements are good enough for nonpotable uses and potable uses," she says. "If every house has its own gray-water system, who is going to regulate and enforce it?"

State standards do not address health issues. They stipulate only that a system use subsurface irrigation, have a surge tank and filter, and be permitted. Cities such as Santa Monica and Los Angeles require separate gray-water permits and inspections. So does the county public health department. Glenn has been waiting for the county to approve his design, at which point a county inspector will be dispatched. It took 3 weeks to get a call back to learn where to send the plans.
The county receives few gray-water requests, according to environmental protection bureau dir. Alfonso Medina, which oversees land use and water quality. Although toilets flush to a sewer line and not a home's gray-water system, the county classifies the gray-water holding tanks as a septic system, which is handled by mountain and rural inspectors.

"Most septic systems are in rural areas of the county," Medina explains. "We don't have an inspector of that type connected with Santa Monica." There is one for Malibu, Calabasas and other rural areas. "That may be part of the glitch if I can say there is one," Medina says of Glenn's difficulty getting approval.
The county's biggest concern, he says, is gray-water contamination to the groundwater.
The L.A. pilot project found no negative effects on plant growth and quality of landscape plants. A 2006 study on the "Long Term Effects of Landscape Irrigation Using Household Graywater" identified knowledge gaps in the long-term effects of residential gray water on plants, groundwater and health of humans. The report, by the Water Environment Research Foundation and the Soap and Detergent Assn., recommends further research.

Glenn is a 21st century gray-water pioneer. His prefabricated home is the first house in Santa Monica to go through a gray-water permitting process. Before the home was built, its water conservation package, gray-water system and a separate cistern for rainwater and runoff, was awarded a $20,000 grant from the city. As with any new construction, there have been some delays.
Since the house was completed last April and after an extended city building review, Glenn lives there under a temporary permit for occupancy. The county's plan review includes an inspection; if the system is approved, Santa Monica would give the final occupancy permit.

In the meantime, he shows the property to prospective clients interested in the steel-framed, prefabricated house, which was designed by architect Ray Kappe and built by Glenn's company, Living Homes.
"We're helping to pave the way," for gray water, says Living Homes project architect Amy Sims. "But there are a lot of gray areas."

Ruling to cut into water flow to region
Judge's order will protect fish, but cause shortages
9.1.07   Michael Gardner
SD UT

Sacramento   A federal judge yesterday ordered a dramatic slowdown in pumping water to Southern California, an unprecedented decision aimed at protecting a tiny fish in the Sacramento delta, but one that will have widespread economic and political repercussions across the state.
U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger's extraordinary ruling to save the endangered delta smelt could cost California as much as 2 million acre-feet of water a year, enough for 4 million people, and raises the prospects of rationing and thousands of acres of idled farmland.

The San Diego County Water Authority expects to be squeezed. The Sacramento delta is the source of nearly 40 percent of the region's annual supply, and local officials are studying their options.
“Supply shortages and mandatory water-use restrictions are a very real possibility,” said water authority board chair Fern Steiner.
Longer term, the loss of urban and farm deliveries will pile more water woes on an already parched state. California is in the throes of a deepening dry spell, from the Colorado River to the Sierra. Climate change is expected to make Mother Nature more fickle. Booming growth will only increase demand.
Solutions will be costly and polarizing, from building reservoirs to resurrecting the once-rejected Peripheral Canal to move water around the delta. Wanger's decision in a Fresno courtroom drew a sharp rebuke from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is aggressively pressing for delta restoration.
“Today's federal court ruling to drastically cut delta water exports is further proof that our water system is broken, unreliable and in crisis,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “This decision is also going to have a devastating impact on the state's economy and the 25 million Californians who depend on delta water".

State water suppliers agreed that the decision is the most far-reaching of its kind in the history of California's well-documented water wars.
“It will have a significant impact on our economy and quality of life,” said the water authority general manager Maureen Stapleton.
The Sacramento delta is the hub of California's water supply. Two-thirds of the state's drinking water and irrigation supplies to more than 1 million acres of farmland flow through the 1,100-mile maze of waterways.
In his ruling, Wanger sided with environmentalists who say the 3-inch smelt are sucked down the delta and killed by the water pumps. The smelt also is an indicator of the overall health of the delta's valuable ecosystem, they say.
“The evidence is uncontradicted that these project operations move the fish,” Wanger said, according to The Associated Press. “It happens, and the law says something has to be done about it.”

State and federal officials, as well as many farmers and businesses that rely on supplies, counter that other factors such as pollution and predators are also to blame.
Officials were still sorting out the ruling Wagner made from the bench, but late yesterday they estimated that the smelt safeguards will prevent state and federal pumps from delivering 14 percent to 37 percent of normal capacity. That amounts to 800,000 acre-feet to 2 million acre-feet a year.
The judge did not set a precise figure. The final amount, as interpreted by state water officials, depends on how close the smelt are to the pumps and at what time of the year.

The order will stay in effect from December until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopts a new plan to safeguard the fish, probably in spring. By all accounts, that plan will also require a large amount of water. In effect, water officials say, the smelt will compound California's water shortages for years to come.
At the same time, agencies will have to scramble to find water from willing sellers, potentially creating a bidding war. However, it might be difficult for those securing supplies to find a time when the pumps will be free to ship additional supplies.

San Diego might be 450 miles from the pumps near Tracy, but what happens in the delta will have a lasting effect on the region's water supply and economy. The region's 2007 water-supply figures clearly show its precarious position.
The water authority is counting on the delta for 288,580 acre-feet. That's 39 percent of its total deliveries of 748,000 acre-feet and enough to serve about 577,000 households for a year. An acre-foot is enough to meet the annual needs of two households.
Still undetermined is whether the fallout will mean drought like rationing or continuing less-onerous voluntary conservation. But water managers statewide say rationing is more likely now.

San Diego battled its wholesaler, the giant Metropolitan Water District, over scarce allocations at the height of the 1987-92 drought. While relations between the two agencies have improved, Metropolitan still controls deliveries. The water authority contracts with Metropolitan for 614,000 acre-feet a year, or 82 percent of its annual need.
A decision on how much and how soon the cuts will carve into the region's supply will be debated in the Metropolitan board room this fall. How much San Diego County residents and business will be squeezed also “depends on how kind Mother Nature is to us,” Stapleton said.

The longe-range forecast for drought-busting storms is not promising, said National Weather Service drought specialist Doug Le Conte. “The news is not good,” he said. Le Conte forecasts below-average snowfall throughout the Colorado River Basin this winter. This would extend the dry spell along the river into a ninth year.
Heavy snows in the Sierra may not materialize, compounding shortages in the Delta. The Sierra snowpack was about 30 percent of normal last season. Only brimming reservoirs forestalled immediate and more painful reductions.

Le Conte predicts a normal weather pattern, at best, for the Sierra. In response to the deepening supply crisis, water districts across California have launched a series of voluntary water conservation programs. The San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan are calling for a 10 percent reduction.
County water authority officials are searching to buy up to 50,000 acre-feet water to store in Kern County. They also are moving forward with plans to enlarge San Vicente Reservoir by 52,000 acre-feet and may consider adding another 100,000 acre-feet of capacity later.

In Sacramento, the judge's decision may increase pressure on lawmakers to act on proposals to approve reservoirs and build a new fish-friendly plumbing system to deliver water through the delta. Schwarzenegger has endorsed a $5.9 billion bond to pay for two reservoirs, study a water conveyance system, open more groundwater aquifers and improve the delta.
But key Democrats were leaning against the governor's proposal, not convinced of the need to build reservoirs and wary of a new aqueduct.

Stay out of the water? No way   Some surfers are so devoted to their sport that they ignore sewage-related beach closures, but the risks of infection are real. 1.30.06   Hugo Martín L.A. Times

In Southern California, surfing … Paddle out of almost any beach and there's a chance you'll come in contact with a sewage spill, big-city runoff, a red tide or, sometimes, floating cattle.
The 2-million-gallon sewage spill that closed an 11-mile stretch of South Bay beaches earlier this month was the latest blow to the local surfing scene. The seepage came a few months after the environmental group Heal the Bay reported that L.A. County beaches last summer had the worst water quality in 5 years. The main ingredient of the pollution: fecal bacteria.

But some surfers can't keep their feet on dry land when great waves kick up. To the more common surfing perils of wipeouts and face plants, they add the risk of liver damage, diarrhea and eye infections. This roll-the-dice attitude was evident on a recent Friday at Manhattan Beach before lifeguards reopened the shores. Half a dozen surfers had ignored closure signs and jumped into the surf not far from several bulldozers that were burying tons of contaminated sand.
"I think I'll live," said 56-year-old fitness trainer Don Benson after climbing out of the surf, his wet suit glistening with salt water. He had been surfing just outside the spill zone for three days and had felt no ill effects. So on that day, he decided to chance it. After all, the water was a tempting 54 degrees, the waves crested at about 5 ft and the sky was a flawless blue. "We'll see what happens tomorrow. But I think I'll be OK," he said.

Besides, he pointed out, although he has surfed nearly his entire life, his only affliction came when he got a staph infection after surfing with an open cut in Hawaii.
Even those surfers who monitor water test results conducted by public health officials and avoid closed beaches can be caught off guard by a spill, surfer Balin Hewitt pointed out while changing out of his wet suit recently at Will Rogers State Beach, about 10 miles north of the Manhattan Beach spill site.
"Your eyes will burn, and the water smells like diesel fuel," the Santa Monica film production supervisor said of his past run-ins with polluted surf. The result, he said, feels like 24-hour flu, including nausea and diarrhea.

Contact with contaminated water can lead to a variety of nasty waterborne ailments. Ear, nose and eye infections are the most common illnesses, health officials say, as are skin rashes. Gastroenteritis (which can cause several days of vomiting and diarrhea) and staph infections that only antibiotics can clear up are also possible.
Huntington Beach surfing legend Timmy Turner recently survived two brain surgeries to treat complications from a severe staph infection caused by an infected surfing wound.
A less frequent but also potentially serious illness caused by exposure to contaminated ocean water is hepatitis A, an inflammation of the liver. The condition, which requires rest and hydration, has no quick drug treatment.

Public health officials don't keep track of the number of Southern Californians who become ill from swimming or surfing in the ocean. But lifeguards suspect that number is on the rise based on the legions of surfers they see ignoring beach closure signs and venturing into the waves shortly after a rainstorm. Health experts suggest surfers stay out of the water for 72 hours after a rain to avoid the trash, oil and other muck that rainwater carries into the sea.
Viruses and bacteria in the water attack surfers and other beachgoers by entering through the mouth, ears, eyes and open wounds, said Dr. Eric Savitsky, a longtime surfer and a UCLA associate professor of emergency medicine. Wet suits don't protect against skin rashes because the suits are designed to keep a warm layer of water between the skin and the suit. Some surfers try to cut their risks by wearing earplugs or shutting their eyes and mouths while ducking under waves, but Savitsky says such precautions are virtually useless.

The best way to avoid waterborne illnesses is to stay out of the surf after a sewage spill or a downpour and rinse off with fresh water after each venture into the ocean, he said.
"I think the lure of good surf weighs heavily on the minds of the surfers," said Mike Silvestri, a lifeguard supervisor at San Diego's Carlsbad beach who is well accustomed to surfers' indifference toward health warnings. "We try to do the best we can to explain that we've had lifeguards get sick from going out on rescues," he said.

At Manhattan Beach, a thirtysomething surfer in a full-length wet suit pulled his board from the water and sauntered past a bright yellow sign in the sand warning "Keep Out. Sewage contaminated water." Although the conditions were great for surfing, a whiff of sewage drifted through the air.
The die-hard surfer, who identified himself only as Blake, said he has been surfing South Bay beaches for 15 years and has never been ill from water contamination. Maybe he's built up an immunity to it, he said. "I figure I'm in it every day, so it's all good," he said before rinsing off at a nearby public bathroom.

Up the coast about 10 miles away, Michael Sweeney, an electrician from Carpinteria, was squeezing out of his wet suit after surfing at Will Rogers State Beach. He says he looks for beach closure signs but usually lets his nose be his guide on hazardous surf conditions.
"If it totally doesn't pass the smell test, no matter what, you just don't go out," he said. But Sweeney's technique has not always served him well. He recalled surfing several years ago off San Diego County's Imperial Beach, after a sewage spill in Tijuana, when a dead cow floated by his surfboard.
"That is when I said, 'I'm outta here!' " Sweeney said.

Undetected sewage leaks suspected in dirty beaches   4.20.03   Kathryn Balint Union Tribune

Often the 15 million people who swarm the San Diego shoreline each year encounter filthy water instead of sparkling surf. The pollution has long been blamed on urban runoff and spills from the city's crumbling sewer system. Now there's an elusive, new suspect: sewage leaking furtively from thousands of miles of public & private pipelines.
Sewage from a manhole into a storm drain or creek is the obvious culprit. These spills account for 1 out of 8 cases of San Diego's beach contamination, according to city records. The rest of the contamination is attributed to urban runoff, motor oil, fertilizers, animal feces and everything else that collects on streets and is washed into storm drains by irrigation water or rain.

But water quality regulators have only recently begun wondering whether undetected leaks could be adding to the city's beach pollution problems. Subterranean lines could leak for weeks, months, even years, before being detected. Some have. "This is everybody's problem," said sewage discharge regulatory agency SD Regional Water Quality Control Board exec. dir. John Robertus. No one knows how big the problem is.

In a lawsuit against the city of San Diego, environmental activists contend that "illegal discharges of millions of gallons of sewage" caused 3,000 days' worth of contamination at beaches between 1996 & 2001. "We have thousands of beach closures, and the great majority probably come from leaking sewage pipes," said Surfrider Fdtn atty Rory Wicks for one of the plaintiffs in the pending suit.
San Diego city officials say stealth leaks aren't that big a problem. "Is it an epidemic, in which our whole sewer system is leaking? I highly doubt that," said city's Metropolitan Wastewater Dept environmental monitoring deputy dir. Alan Langworthy. "But it would be naive to say that leaks never happen and could never contribute to water contamination." Langworthy and his team 3 years ago found one such leak that had been polluting the waters at Windansea Beach in La Jolla for years. They discovered a crack in an old city sewer pipe had trickled sewage into a storm sewer and on into the ocean.

Other documented cases incl last summer, when city biologist Garret Williams discovered sewage overflowing from a sewer line at a home in La Jolla then flowing into a storm drain and out to La Jolla Shores Beach near Kellogg Park. Toilet paper & other wastes spilling from a clean-out drain in a remote corner of the home's yard went unnoticed for more than 3 weeks.

In the summer of 2000, a city contractor found that a house in City Heights had never been connected to the city sewer system. Instead, the home's toilets & drains flushed directly into a nearby canyon. Regularly, sewer pipes throughout the city simply disintegrate from age and exposure to sewer gases. The pipes finally disappear, leaving nothing but dirt. It happens often enough that city sewer workers have a joke for it: "Who stole my pipe?"

Private sewer lines at homes & businesses corrode as well. Veteran plumber Harold Shelton said he often sees leaking cast-iron sewer lines at neighborhood bars "with the whole bottom of the pipe eaten away" by booze & chemicals flushed down their drains.
It's quite possible small leaks go undetected for long periods of time, since huge overflows from city sewer lines have gone unnoticed for days. In 2000, a clogged sewer at Adobe Falls on Alvarado Creek spilled 34 million gallons of sewage for a week before a city employee in the waste water dept's billing division noticed a huge drop in flow in the line. In 2001, a clogged line overflowed at least 1.5 million gallons into Tecolote Canyon for 10 days, even after the spill was called in to the city's sewage-leak hotline. A city employee had accidentally erased the message from the answering machine. Sewage continued to bubble out of the manhole until the original caller phoned the city again.

City & county test for contamination by taking about 1,200 water samples along San Diego's coast every year. These samples are tested for bacteria. Problem is, the basic tests can't distinguish between bacteria from human waste and that from birds, dogs or other animals. Extremely high counts of fecal bacteria, measuring in the hundreds of thousands of parts per million, though, are generally a tip-off that sewage is present.
City biologist Williams suspected sewage last year when he found 16x the usual amount of fecal bacteria in the storm drain near Kellogg Park in La Jolla. He traced the contaminated water through the city's storm drain system to the La Jolla home, where the owners had no idea their sewer line had been overflowing in the back yard. Seldom is the source of water contamination that easy to find.

Increasingly, DNA tests are being done on the bacteria found in the water to distinguish whether it comes from humans or animals. It's necessary to know what, exactly, is fouling the waters to stop the contamination at the source. DNA testing is expensive, though. It typically costs more than $200,000 to test a section of beach, and testing can take weeks. Furthermore, unlike those done at crime scenes, these DNA tests are far less accurate because there are no exact matches to compare. Scientists at the S.Calif. Coastal Water Research Project estimate that these tests are, at best, about 75% accurate.
Even so, 4 years ago, DNA tests done on 4 SD beaches found human waste at 3 of them. At Windansea Beach, almost half of the effluent coming out of a storm drain was human waste. That discovery eventually led Langworthy and his team to the leaking city sewer line. The tests found that human wastes made up 40% of the contamination in a storm drain at La Jolla Shores and 32% in a drain at Tourmaline Surf Park in Pacific Beach.

Leaking sewer lines are just one way human sewage can end up at city beaches. Homeless people defecating on the street and toilet waste illegally dumped from recreation vehicles could wash into storm drains and wind up in coastal waters. Swimmers could also urinate in the ocean. At Tourmaline & La Jolla Shores, city of San Diego never figured out where the human waste was coming from.
To keep the water clean at those beaches, the city collects waste water from the storm drains and sends it to Pt Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant. City studies show the effluent is discharged far enough and deep enough from the plant that it does not wash back up on the beaches. The treated sewage is disposed of 4.5 miles off Pt Loma. There are 7 such diversion projects along the San Diego coastline, and 29 more are planned.

Environmental group San Diego Baykeeper atty Marco Gonzalez calls the diversions "just a Band-Aid." He said he would rather the city conduct DNA tests at all its beaches at least once a year.
City waste water officials say DNA tests shouldn't be necessary since, under an EPA order, the city is spending $1 billion over the next 10 years to fix its aging sewer lines. One-third of the city's 2,894 miles of sewer lines are more than 50 years old.
The city is using closed-circuit tv cameras to assess the condition of 1,800 miles of its lines. And instead of replacing or repairing just 15 or 20 miles of pipeline each year, as it did in the past, it's replacing 44 miles this year and 60 each year after that.
The number of obvious sewage spills has been reduced by 41% over the past 2 years. The undertaking should, as Langworthy put it, make the city's sewer system "tighter than a drum," plugging any undetected, underground leaks from the public pipelines. Still, it won't address whatever problems are lurking beneath the surface in privately owned sewer lines, such as those at homes.

"Who the heck ever worries about their sewage lines as long as they're not backing up?" asked Robertus, of the water quality board. He wants local cities to enact laws that would require an inspection of sewer lines upon sale of a home, just as termite inspections are required. Environmental activists want such legislation statewide. Fixing the leaky private lines won't entirely rid the coastal waters of potentially illness-causing bacteria. But water quality regulators say it could help.
"For the most part, public sewage collection agencies have a pretty good handle on their systems, and they're checking the lines and finding places where they leak," said SD water quality board sr engineer Brian Kelley. "The next level of effort is checking the residential sewer lines."

Drugs in the environment
Tests of raw & treated sewage at L.A. County Whittier Narrows Reclamation Plant show some pharmaceuticals are resistant even to advanced treatment and are released into the San Gabriel Valley's groundwater basin in ultra-low levels.

drug parts per trillion
entering
plant
discharged into
groundwater
Estrogens
(female sex
hormones)
69.6 4.6
Triclosan
(antibiotic)
610-667 51-74
Acetaminophen
(analgesic)
20,300-35,200 under 10
Naproxen
(analgesic)
3,780-5,100 35-74
Ibuprofen
(analgesic)
4,720-6,630 43-52
Hydrocodone
(pain killer)
31-52 34-50
Sulfamethoxazole
(antiobiotic)
320-882 742-919
Meprobamate
(anti-anxiety)
194-241 219-294
Dilantin
(anti-convulsant)
39-48 98-120
Carbamazepine
(anti-seizure,
analgesic)
58-95 93-133
Diclofenac
(arthritis)
22-30 40-63
Trimethoprim
(antibiotic)
178-591 231-337
Erythromycin
(antibiotic)
205-299 419-517
Gemfibrozil
(anti-cholesterol)
2,300-3,020 733-1,110
Fluoxetine
(anti-depressant)
under 10 13-18
  * Tests of incoming sewage & outgoing waste made different times,
hence some effluent more contaminated than incoming waste.
source   L.A. County sanitation districts 11.05
Traces of prescription drugs found in southland aquifers   Various medications are detected in drinking water that has been derived from treated sewage. The health risk, if any, is unknown.
1.30.06   Marla Cone L.A. Times

Behind a tangle of willows, every second of every day for almost half a century, recycled sewage has gushed into an El Monte creek and nourished one of L.A. County's most precious resources: the drinking water stored beneath the San Gabriel Valley. Cleansed so thoroughly that it is considered pure enough to drink, this flow from the Whittier Narrows reclamation plant meets all govt standards. Yet county officials now report that they have found some potent, and until recent months undetected, ingredients in the treated waste: prescription drugs.

As new technology enables detection of infinitesimally smaller doses of chemicals in the environment, Southern California water-quality officials have learned that an array of hardy pharmaceuticals are defying even the most sophisticated sewage treatments in use. Around the world, waterways and groundwater basins are virtual drugstores, awash in low doses of hundreds of prescription drugs excreted by people and flushed down drains.
Wherever there is sewage, there are traces of whatever pills people have popped: antibiotics and antipsychotics, birth-control hormones and beta blockers, Viagra and Valium.
"There is no place on Earth exempted from having pharmaceuticals and steroids in its wastewater," said Las Vegas' water provider Southern Nevada Water Authority head toxicologist Shane Snyder, one of the nation's leading experts on pharmaceuticals in water. "This is clearly an issue that is global, and we're going to see more and more of these chemicals in the environment; no doubt about it."

Locally, small amounts of medicines for depression, seizures, high cholesterol, anxiety, infections, inflammation and pain, among other ailments, have been detected in the wastewater that flows into California streams and seeps into drinking-water aquifers. The contamination raises questions about the safety of reclaimed water consumed by the public and the health of wild creatures that inhabit waterways.
The concentrations are so minuscule, in parts per trillion, or a few drops in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, that scientists suspect there is little or no human danger. They acknowledge, however, that no one knows the effects of ingesting tiny doses of multiple drugs continuously over a lifetime.

So far, concerns have focused mostly on the ecological threat. Biologists studying frogs on Prozac, insects dosed with anti-seizure drugs, algae killed by antibiotics and fish feminized by birth-control pills have discovered that some streams contain pharmaceuticals and synthetic estrogen at levels harmful to aquatic life.
"All the data we have compiled indicates these concentrations are trivial to public health. Even putting massive safety factors on this, it still wouldn't have a [human] impact," Snyder said. "Now for wastewater, that's a different story. When you have a fish or endangered species that is exposed 24 hours a day, we do need to look at this."

With thousands of varieties of prescription and over-the-counter drugs being sold, there are no govt standards restricting any of them in drinking water or in effluent released into streams or lakes. Water and sewage agencies aren't even required to look for them, and most don't. Testing of drinking water for drugs has been so infrequent that no one knows how much people are ingesting. A national association of wastewater agencies warned in November that pharmaceuticals are a "potential sleeping giant."
L.A. and Orange counties are among the world's leaders in recycling sewage to replenish water supplies, and officials there worry that the public's perception of the water supply will be tainted. The Whittier Narrows plant, which has operated in El Monte since 1962, was the nation's first reclamation plant. Since then, nearly half a trillion gallons of treated sewage from Whittier Narrows and two other county plants have replenished the Central Basin aquifer beneath the San Gabriel Valley, which supplies water to 4 million people.

Sewage in Southern California undergoes some of the world's most rigorous cleansing, tertiary treatment, to protect rivers and streams from bacteria and nitrogen. Much of the wastewater then is routed into aquifers, where it remains for at least six months so soil can filter out more contaminants before potable water is pumped.
In November, the L.A. County Sanitation Districts reported at a scientific conference that they found high levels of ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen in raw sewage coming into its Whittier Narrows plant, and very small concentrations going out.

In waste that had undergone treatment, the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole and anti-cholesterol medication gemfibrozil were found at fairly high levels of around one part per billion. The antidepressant fluoxetine, the arthritis drug diclofenac, anti-anxiety and anti-seizure drugs, three more antibiotics and others were detected at lower levels, in parts per trillion. Estrogens also were measured in low levels.
Similar findings from two L.A. County reclamation plants will be published later this year by Colorado School of Mines environmental science & engineering asst prof. Jorg Drewes.

Districts technical services dir. Robert Horvath said tiny doses of over-the-counter drugs aren't that worrisome, but other less common medications can amount to an involuntary though "extremely low" public exposure. The agency, which operates 10 reclamation plants, is one of a few with the ability to test for pharmaceuticals.
"It's such a large list of compounds that even the testing is a lot of work, just teasing out which ones are important. So far, we have no [federal or state] goals to shoot for," Horvath said.

Orange County is spending $500 million to build the world's most advanced sewage-recycling plant. When operating in 2007, it is expected to bring pharmaceuticals and other contaminants to undetectable levels.
EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory Las Vegas branch environmental chemistry chief Christian Daughton said that drugs rival pesticides but unlike such conventional pollutants, they are unregulated and flow continuously into waterways from sewage treatment plants. The U.S. Geological Survey found one or more pharmaceuticals in 80% of 139 streams tested in 2002.

In a 1999 report, Daughton warned that medications "could lead to cumulative, insidious, adverse impacts" on aquatic ecosystems, such as declining reproduction and survival rates, that "can accumulate over time to ultimately yield truly profound changes," even in protected areas such as national parks.

Fish, frogs and other creatures live, feed and breed in waterways, exposed to the drugs from birth to death. Collecting carp and other fish in a Dallas stream fed by treated sewage, Baylor University toxicologist Bryan Brooks found fluoxetine, an ingredient of Prozac and other antidepressants, in all fish sampled.
In laboratory frogs, Prozac slows growth and metamorphosis, leaving tadpoles more vulnerable to predation, according to research by University of Georgia ecotoxicologist Marsha Black. In fish, it causes lethargy and delays reproduction, and in crustaceans and shellfish, reproductive rates drop.

The most striking discovery is feminized fish. Male fish in British rivers, Nevada's Lake Mead, the Potomac River and elsewhere are growing female ovarian tissues from continuous exposure to birth-control estrogens and natural hormone excretions in treated sewage.
Many popular medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, are eliminated during sewage treatment. But some pass out of the plants unaltered and are released into streams, oceans and groundwater basins.
"Most pharmaceuticals are designed to be tough because they have to get through your body to have a therapeutic effect," said environmental consultant Margaret Nellor who specializes in reclaimed water.

Two widely used anti-epileptic medications, carbamazepine and primidone, survive not only Arizona's advanced, tertiary treatment but also filtration through aquifers' soil. Even after 8 years underground, they still contaminate well water used to irrigate parks in Mesa and Tucson, Drewes said.
Yet experts suspect that the millions of Americans who drink reclaimed water, which includes virtually everyone in L.A. County, would experience no effects. Drugs in wastewater are detected in nanograms though they usually are administered by doctors in milligrams, a unit 1 million times larger.
"People would have to drink the water for many hundreds of years to get a dose of a pharmaceutical equivalent to therapy," said Drewes.

Still, the public exposure is widespread, and some drugs share a common mode of action. When combined, they could lead to significant exposure. Because some pills are intentionally flushed down toilets, L.A. and Orange counties will begin distributing cards to pharmacies in March advising customers to take unwanted drugs to hazardous waste roundups or wrap them and put them in the trash.
Water agencies predict that soon they will have to tackle this new generation of contaminants. The EPA is likely to add a few pharmaceuticals to a new candidates list, which could initiate monitoring of water in 2008.

In the meantime, the newest technology can detect chemicals in parts per quintillion, equivalent to one tablespoon in the Mississippi River.
"The analytical capability has really, really outstripped our ability to understand what it means," said Orange County Water Dist. Michael Wehner, which taps a basin replenished by the Santa Ana River, composed almost entirely of treated sewage. "There's a question of which pharmaceuticals may be persistent in the environment, which have the greatest potential for adverse effects," he said. "The information is still sketchy compared to the traditional contaminants. There's some good work going on to help us get a handle on it, but it's still early."


Gas kills 3 crewmen on ship
Sewage bursts from a pipe during repair on a cruise liner at the Port of L.A. Twenty others are injured, but no passengers are hurt.
9.3.05   Hector Becerra & David Pierson L.A. Times

3 crew members were killed and 20 others injured after sewage gushed from a pipe being repaired inside a crowded Royal Caribbean cruise ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles, releasing deadly levels of hydrogen sulfide gas. Crew members aboard the Monarch of the Seas were trying to fix the pipe in a roughly 10- by 12-foot portion of a propeller shaft tunnel on the starboard side of the ship about 9 a.m. when the accident occurred, officials said.
The workers thought the pipe would be empty, but when they opened it, gas-laden sludge burst out of a 5-gallon sewage container, firefighters said. Their deaths were "almost instantaneous," said Barbara Yu of the Los Angeles County Fire Dept. "Hydrogen sulfide is a deadly gas, and it's heavier than air."
The amount of gas the crewmen inhaled was believed to have been four times the lethal level, Yu added.

Hydrogen sulfide is a sewage byproduct generated by decaying organic material. Also known as sewer gas, it smells like rotten eggs. At low levels, it can irritate the eyes and throat, but at high concentrations, even a few breaths can cause sudden death.
Officials do not know what triggered the malfunction. The 3 workers were not wearing protective gear or breathing equipment during the repair effort. U.S. Coast Guard inspectors had checked the ship's sewage system as part of a routine examination in March and found no problem, a Coast Guard spokesman said. The Monarch of the Seas had just docked at the port after a four-day voyage to Ensenada and had 2,649 passengers on board when the rupture occurred. They were all evacuated, and none were hurt.

Among the injured were two ship physicians and a nurse who responded immediately after the accident but were felled while they were administering CPR to their shipmates, said Melissa Kelley, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Fire Dept. None were seriously hurt, said Fire Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli.
The injured were aided by the ship's on-board fire team, whose members wore breathing apparatus and pulled some of the crew to safety, officials said. A spokesman for Royal Caribbean Cruises declined to name the dead.

Dennis Lindoff, a passenger from British Columbia, said he was sitting with his wife on the fourth deck with his luggage when he heard an announcement on the public address system asking certain crew members to go to the starboard engine side.
"I really thought, 'Maybe this is a drill,' but it turns out it is not," said Lindoff, who has taken the same cruise several times. "I'm very upset about it. The crew members, you get to know them, and they're really great people. You really get to know a few of them quite well."
Shawn Dailey and Angela Hodge, friends who took the cruise together, said the stench was inescapable. "We didn't know anything," said Dailey, 35, of Mission Viejo. "We had no idea what was going on. But it smelled like a sewer."
Hodge, a 32-year-old Long Beach resident, said, "I just smelled a bunch of funky stuff. … I seen them taking some people in an ambulance. I've seen them give people oxygen. And I was like, 'What's going on?' "

Coast Guard spokesman Tony Migliorini said it was normal for a ship's crew to carry out maintenance while in the port but that clearly sewage should not have been in the pipe when it was being replaced.
"Of course, clearing the lines before they made repairs would have been the No. 1 thing to do," he said. "And, of course, if they knew there was something in the line, having some kind of breathing apparatus. Hopefully, from the lessons learned in this case, the next time somebody goes to repair a sewer line, they'll ensure there are some safety precautions taken," Migliorini said. "The fact that there was sewage in the line was obviously the problem, but we don't know why it was there."
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dennis Miller, chief of the inspection division in Los Angeles, said ship sanitation systems are examined as part of the Coast Guard's regular vessel inspections, conducted at least every 6 months. Although he would not disclose the results of the ship's March checkup, he said there were no outstanding problems with the sewage system.
"We do know the vessel doesn't have any deficiencies with their sewage system prior to today," he said.

Inspectors look for leaks, either of liquids or methane and hydrogen sulfide. Ships such as the Monarch, which have enough passengers to fill a small village, have their own simple sewage treatment systems, typically consisting of several marine sanitation devices in the hold.
Wastewater is piped to tanks, where it is exposed to air and bacteria, which break down the pollutants. It is then disinfected with chlorine before discharge, which California bars within 3 miles of shore.
The Monarch of the Seas is a 74,000-ton luxury liner that journeys along the Baja coast. It can carry up to 2,744 passengers and made its maiden voyage in 1991 for Royal Caribbean, the nation's second-largest cruise line behind Carnival Cruise Lines.

The accident Friday was believed to be the first deadly mishap on a cruise ship since a 2003 explosion on the Norway in the Port of Miami killed eight seafarers and injured 17 others. In 1986, a methane and sulfide gas leak from a sewage tank killed four crew members in Jacksonville, FL, aboard the Scandinavian Sky.
Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, said cruise ships were still one of the safest modes of transportation, adding that no passengers had been killed on a cruise line in recent memory.
"It's a very, very safe vacationing experience," Crye said. "We're shocked and very much saddened by this. We hope that everyone concerned with the industry takes this issue very seriously."

The industry has drawn criticism in recent years for hiring seamen from poorer countries, having them work long hours and live in cramped quarters, and paying them wages well below American standards. Royal Caribbean spokesman Michael Sheehan declined to say Friday what nationality the dead crew members were. Local authorities said the ship's officers were Norwegian.
The injured were taken to several area hospitals. 4 were treated at Little Company of Mary San Pedro Hospital and released. One injured crew member, still dressed in his hospital gown, declined to discuss the incident as he walked out of that hospital Friday afternoon. Another patient was treated at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance. A spokeswoman declined to disclose that patient's condition.
"Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims of this accident," said Capt. William Wright, senior vice president of marine operations for Royal Caribbean International, in a statement.

State set to tighten its septic tank rules
8.23.05   Mike Lee  
SD UT   new legacy

Tap water at Angela Lawton's home in Lake Morena Village is safe to drink, says the most recent notice she received. Lawton got the word more than a year ago, but the East County resident still imports her drinking water in 20-ounce bottles from Costco. Of the stuff coming from her house pipes, she says simply, "I don't trust it."
For more than a decade, the Lake Morena Oak Shores Mutual Water Company has struggled to limit high nitrate levels in its water. Nitrate, which can reduce the ability of blood to carry oxygen, has leached from local septic systems to the groundwater, county documents show.

It's just the kind of invisible threat that state water pollution officials hope to avert as they clamp down on how California's 1.2 million septic tanks are monitored, repaired and replaced. Their efforts began 5 years ago with legislation passed in Sacramento. The water officials are now evaluating changes that were suggested during a series of public meetings in July. They aim to complete environmental reviews of the septic regulations by early October for adoption of rules by the middle of next year.

Key elements of the controversial plan include mandating assessments of septic tanks and wells when properties are sold, compelling the use of high-end waste-treatment systems along nitrate-or bacteria-polluted waterways, and requiring owners of new septic systems to monitor them regularly.
Currently, there's no state monitoring requirement for residential wells or septic tanks.
While septics are most common on rural fringes, they also are the waste system of choice in Malibu and other posh places not served by sewer lines. San Diego County, home to the fourth-largest collection of septic systems in California, had more than 71,000 septic tanks in 2000. Today's total is likely about 80,000, and >about 1,500 new tanks are installed each year.

The county's largest septic concentrations are in rural communities such as Fallbrook, Valley Center, Ramona, Pine Valley and Alpine. But the tanks are common throughout the backcountry and most cities in the region, including San Diego, have pockets where septic systems remain.
Across the country, such tanks are the second-biggest source of groundwater pollution. Up to 20 percent of the septic systems nationwide don't function properly because of poor location, design or maintenance, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA launched an initiative in January to curb septic pollution.

California's water officials said they don't intend to require wholesale replacement of existing septic tanks. However, major breakdowns, such as wastewater leaking into a stream, could force installation of a new "supplemental" treatment system that can cost upwards of $30,000, plus fees for ongoing monitoring.
The proposed rules face opposition statewide. They create an unjustified financial burden on local agencies and landowners, said an 8.3.05 letter to the state from the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health. "Proposed regulations … are excessively prescriptive and … they do not focus the limited resources that are available on the systems or areas of greatest concern or risk," the association's leaders said.

San Diego County environmental health official Mark McPherson said the new monitoring and reporting mandates would require more county staffing. He said the new costs would be passed on to the public through additional fees for septic installations and annual operating permits.
The state's septic legislation envisioned financial assistance for private property owners, but that was when California's coffers were flush. It's a much different story today.
"There are generally no general funds laying on the table anywhere for these purposes," said State Water Board groundwater quality branch chief James Giannopoulos in Sacramento.

In addition, California's coalition of rural counties contends that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't make sense for such a geographically diverse state.
"We just don't think (state officials have) developed objective scientific data to back their assessment of what they believe to be a problem with failing septic systems," said Regional Council of Rural Counties president Brent Harrington in Sacramento.
A state report showed that California is one of only two states without statewide regulations for onsite waste treatment systems. It said California's patchwork of county-by-county rules creates many inconsistencies.

Historically, county regulators have mostly ignored septic systems after they were installed, except for the rare situations when raw waste floated to the surface and created an immediate public health threat. However, state water pollution officials are looking at a different problem these days: the leaking of septic waste products such as fecal bacteria and nitrates into surface water and groundwater, especially near wells.
"There is a misconception that if you don't see it surfacing, the environment is protected. And that's not necessarily true," Giannopoulos said.
The board's recent research highlighted the rapid and unpredictable movement of water through fractured rock and valley soils in Northern California. The state isn't sure that bacteria found in wells was from leaking septic systems, but Giannopoulos said the message was clear: "Wells are vulnerable."

He said other research confirms that septic wastewater plumes can travel much farther than previously thought. Local health and building codes around the state specify that wells must be placed at least 100 ft away from septic lines, but Giannopoulos said nitrates can travel more than 300 ft at dangerously elevated levels.
"When somebody says to us, 'Your regulations ought to be where there are problems,' we say 'How do you know that (septic systems) are not affecting nearby wells if those wells aren't monitored?' " Giannopoulos said.
But state officials lack studies comparable to those done in Northern California that would help define the threat of septic pollution in Southern California.
"Part of our challenge is that because this is new, we don't have a big handle on the situation," said State Water Board spokeswoman Liz Kanter.

Situations vary from county to county.Along Rainbow Creek near Fallbrook, San Diego County officials estimate that new rules could force a few hundred homeowners to install high-end, "onsite wastewater treatment systems." Their other option would be to pay for engineering tests to prove their systems aren't polluting the creek.
Rainbow Real Estate broker Craig Ohlson said the impact would be far smaller. By his count, just a handful of homes sit close enough to the waterway to be affected by the rules. Besides, he said, real estate lenders already demand checks of septic tanks before approving a property sale.

In the fast-growing outposts of Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley, developers commonly propose septic systems despite their risk of contaminating aquifers, said Jose Angel, a regional Water Quality Control Board official. Nitrate pollution of wells in the high desert has the agency concerned about the number and location of septic tanks. It says that nearly 7 million gallons of waste drains into regional septic systems each day and that only a small fraction of the tanks are regulated by the board.
"The system of checks and balances is not working very effectively," Angel said. "We want to be more proactive."

Malibu, a high-priced oceanfront town haunted by pollution allegedly from septic tanks, was the poster child for legislation in 2000 that mandated statewide requirements for septic systems. The legislation was prompted by the environmental advocacy group Heal the Bay.
"It struck us with a lot of the water quality problems at (Malibu's) Surfrider Beach that septic systems were largely unregulated in California, whereas sewage treatment plants were heavily regulated," said group exec. dir. Mark Gold.

AP probe finds drugs in drinking water
3.10.08   J.Donn, M.Mendoza, J.Pritchard AP

A vast array of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows. The concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Utilities insist their water is safe.
The presence of so many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.
Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. Most treatments do not remove all drug residue.
Researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals. Recent studies virtually unnoticed by the general public have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.
"We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation's 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.
Key test results obtained by the AP incl

    • Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. 63 pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

    • Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

    • Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

    • A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

    • The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

    • 3 medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP. Federal govt doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water.
Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven't: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people. Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

The AP's investigation also indicates that watersheds, natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28. Officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water: Fairfax VA, Montgomery County MD, Omaha NE, Oklahoma City; Santa Clara CA and New York City.

New York state health dept and USGS tested the source of the city's water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer. City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that "New York City's drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system", regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water.

Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque, Austin TX and Virginia Beach VA said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington TX acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.
AP also contacted 52 small water providers, one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas, that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia KS refused to answer AP's questions, also citing post-9/11 issues.

Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren't in the clear either, experts say. The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale PA has measured water samples from New York City's upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas.
He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. "Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail," Aufdenkampe said.

Bottled water and home filtration systems don't necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry's main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.
Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe, in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.

In Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found 9 different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at 7 different sites.
In the United States, the problem isn't confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs.

Americans have been taking drugs and flushing them unmetabolized or unused in growing amounts. Over the past 5 years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co.
"People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case," said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States.

Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. The EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals. One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.
There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.

Human waste isn't the only source of contamination. Cattle are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. Not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.
Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.
Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity, sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8 percent, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years, according to an analysis of data from the Animal Health Institute.

Pharmaceutical industry officials say contamination of water supplies is not a problem. "Based on what we now know, I would say we find there's little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health," said microbiologist Thomas White, consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
But at a conference last summer, drug maker Merck & Co. Inc dir. environmental technology Mary Buzby said: "There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms."

Recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.
Pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show.

Some scientists stress that the research is extremely limited, and there are too many unknowns. They say, though, that the documented health problems in wildlife are disconcerting.
"It brings a question to people's minds that if the fish were affected ... might there be a potential problem for humans?" EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson told the AP. "It could be that the fish are just exquisitely sensitive because of their physiology or something. We haven't gotten far enough along."

With limited research funds, said Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a greater emphasis should be put on studying the effects of drugs in water.
"I think it's a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health," said Snyder. "They need to just accept that these things are everywhere, every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It's time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental."

To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection. Grumbles acknowledged that just late last year the agency developed three new methods to "detect and quantify pharmaceuticals" in wastewater. "We realize that we have a limited amount of data on the concentrations," he said. "We're going to be able to learn a lot more."
While Grumbles said the EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. Nitroglycerin can be used as a drug for heart problems, but the key reason it's being considered is its widespread use in making explosives.

So much is unknown. Many independent scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans. Confidence about human safety is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts.
There's growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs or combinations of drugs may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day. Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very ill might be more sensitive.

Many concerns about chronic low-level exposure focus on certain drug classes: chemotherapy that can act as a powerful poison; hormones that can hamper reproduction or development; medicines for depression and epilepsy that can damage the brain or change behavior; antibiotics that can allow human germs to mutate into more dangerous forms; pain relievers and blood-pressure diuretics.
For several decades, federal environmental officials and nonprofit watchdog environmental groups have focused on regulated contaminants, pesticides, lead, PCBs, which are present in higher concentrations and clearly pose a health risk. Some experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body.

"These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That's what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects," says zoologist John Sumpter at Brunel University in London, who has studied trace hormones, heart medicine and other drugs.
Drugs are tested to be safe for humans, but the timeframe is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses. That's why, aside from therapeutic doses of fluoride injected into potable water supplies, pharmaceuticals are prescribed to people who need them, not delivered to everyone in their drinking water.

"We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good," says Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany.

1. Potrero Elementary School. Cited January 2006 for high levels of nitrates. Recent tests indicate the water is safe.

2. U.S. Forest Service, Descanso Fire Station. Water at the station did not meet required standards from July 2004 to Sept. 2005

3. Lux Inn. 17 unit motel was threatened with closure in November 2005 if contamination of its water persisted. Recent tests indicate the water is safe.

4. Borrego Springs Community Service District. The district, which serves the 100 room Borrego Resort, was fined $1000 after fecal coliform showed up in its water. The district was cited in Oct. 2005 for not having a reliable water supply, although its water is now safe to drink.

5. Phoenix House Academy. The drug rehabilitation center for teens was fined $1800 in Dec. 2005 after water samples showed the presence of total coliform and fecal bacteria. Its water is now safe.

6. Boulevard Springs. The system serving a restaurant, post office and video store was cited in May 2004 after fecal coliform was found in its water. It was cited again in January 2006 when samples showed the presence of total coliform.

7. Little Acres Mobile Home Park. The small park has had high nitrate levels in its water since 1991, and tests sporadically showed that total coliform was present. A compliance order was issued in November 2005.

8. Pauma Valley Mutual Water Co. The system serving 25 homes, an apartment complex and a taco shop was fined $1000 in May 2005 for failing to notify customers of fecal coliform.

9. Rancho L Abri. A compliance order was issued in February 2006 after a high level of nitrates was found in the water.

10. Freedom Ranch. A compliance order was issued in May 2005 for the drug and alcohol center after officials there failed to conduct a repeat test when total coliform bacteria was found in the water. The water also had a high level of nitrates.

11. Campo Elementary School. A compliance order was issued in January 2005 because the system did not have a certified operator, no consumer confidence report was filed as required and required water samples hadn't been taken. A high level of nitrates was found in the water in May 2004.

12. Live Oak Springs. The system with 138 customers has been plagued with leaks and water shortages since 1958. The owner was fined $5000 for failing to maintain the system and to hire a certified operator.

13. Lake Morena RV Park. An order to drink bottled water has been in effect since October 2005, when the system showed uranium contamination.

14. Clover Flat Elementary School. Cited in January 2006 for high levels of nitrates. The water is still unsafe to drink.


Rural California relies on about 4,000 small water systems, incl about 30,000 people in San Diego County's backcountry and countless others who visit parks and businesses there. Their water comes from a system that might be owned or operated by the neighbor down the street. Safety depends not on a dept of trained professionals, but on that neighbor's finances, know-how and willingness to act when contaminants turn up.
“For the most part, it's people who don't have the training and experience to run a system,” said county Environmental Health Dept land & water quality division chief Mark McPherson, which oversees the systems.

The county's 162 small water systems serve customers who live beyond the boundaries of a city or water district, but don't have private wells to draw from. About one-third of the systems are 30 to 50 years old, some with leaky pipes or overburdened storage tanks. Equipt repairs or replacement can cost thousands of dollars, money that the owners often don't have.
“The water pipes break. They're old. Then you're out of water until (the owner) can get them repaired,” said Live Oak Springs resident Sheila Hadsell who keeps 5 gallons of bottled water on hand for the times her community's troubled system breaks down.
“It gets expensive when it goes on for three days or a week,” Hadsell added. “You're flushing your toilets, feeding your animals and cooking with it.”

Each operator is required to regularly test water and submit the samples to an independent laboratory. County officials step in when the tests show contamination. A recent analysis by the county found 122 instances from August 2005 to February 2006 where tests indicated possible contamination.
Usually the problem is caused by a sampling error or is resolved quickly, and customers can again safely drink the water. The county has no record of illness caused by bad water from a small system, but owners of systems that repeatedly fail safety standards, like the one in Live Oak Springs, can be cited or fined.

Until a year ago, just one county inspector was responsible for overseeing all small water systems, covering hundreds of miles from Dulzura to Palomar Mountain to Borrego Springs. Now there are two.
McPherson said that until the second inspector was hired, only the most troublesome systems got the county's attention.
“We no longer are dealing with just the problems,” he said.

Small water systems, defined as those with fewer than 200 connections, dot the north and east stretches of the county. They serve small neighborhoods, parks, schools, mobile-home parks, restaurants and other businesses.
“Some of them are so small that the owner is out there digging ditches and putting pipe in the ground,” McPherson said.
The systems are typically managed by an owner or a volunteer board of directors. Generally, anyone can get a permit to start a system if they prove to the county they have the money, training, management skills and customers to warrant one. The environmental impact is also weighed.

Though the county has stepped up its oversight, much of the responsibility still rests with operators. They must keep the water clean, set rates, bill customers and notify them when the water is unsafe.
They also must learn about a plethora of laws and regulations. Federal law requires small systems that regularly supply drinking water to meet the same quality standards as those for a big city.

Most systems set their own rates, with little govt oversight. Borrego Springs Community Service District general manager Larry Linder said the cost of running the systems means “they are either going to have higher rates or they are going to fail.”
The average customer of the Borrego Springs system pays $45 a month, $5 less than the state average, but Linder said other services such as trash collection help balance the books.
In Guatay, a spot along Old Hwy 80 in East County, typical water bills run from $40 to $100 a month. The system's operator John Grisafi works as a right-of-way engineer for the California Dept of Transportation during the week, surveying the land owned by the state's highway system.
In his spare time, Grisafi maintains the 57-year-old system, which supplies water for his family and 32 neighbors. The system's board of directors oversees everything from billing to the monthly testing.

Grisafi got involved 5 years ago when he moved to Guatay. He started out as a board member. Then, when the system needed a new certified operator, he took the necessary courses at Cuyamaca College.
“It takes some dedicated people to run a system to keep it in shape,” he said. “You just can't let it sit there.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune  recently asked, through the state Public Records Act, for access to files for small water systems that have been cited by the county in the past 2 years. The county turned over files for 14 systems.

McPherson said county officials try to work with system owners, citing them only if their actions threaten public health or if repeated efforts at correction have failed. Even then, the county often sends out only a compliance order. Fines are a last resort.
A system could be placed in receivership in the most extreme cases, but that has never happened.

According to the files, some systems churned out contaminated water for months or even years before being cited by the county. 7 systems have chronic problems that are still unresolved.
By far, the most consistently troubled system is the one in Live Oak Springs, which was built before World War II and now serves 138 customers off Interstate 8 near the Golden Acorn Casino. Nazar Najor, who runs the system, was recently fined $5,600 by the county, the largest penalty ever issued against a small water system. County officials say the decades-old system is long overdue for an overhaul.

In 1958, Meredith Rankin, who then owned the system, blamed contamination on “Indians breaking into springs and people occupying dwellings which had not been occupied for some time.”
In 1973, residents complained they were getting dirty water or no water at all. In early 1982, an inspector noted that the 50-year-old piping in the system was thin and corroded. He said the system had 33 breaks in 1980, three of them major ruptures that shut down water delivery for up to three days.
Residents again complained they weren't getting water in 1991.

The problems continued, culminating in October, when county officials said the water was unsafe to drink and shut down a restaurant Najor operates. Prodded by the county, Najor hired a certified operator. The operator quit when he wasn't paid.
Najor didn't respond to requests for an interview, but has said he has spent thousands of dollars to repair the system. He also has questioned the county's testing methods, noting that results from other labs were clean.

Just a few miles from Live Oak Springs, the Boulevard Springs water system also has been plagued with problems. The water system is on land along Old Highway 80 that was bought in the 1970s by former state assemblyman and San Diego councilman Tom Hom and his family. The system supplies a Mexican restaurant, video store and post office.
The Tom Hom Group, which runs the system, was cited in May 2004 for pouring a quart of bleach into the well to disinfect it after fecal coliform was found there.
“The water system is NOT being operated in a conscientious manner that assures that the water will be safe for consumption,” a county inspector wrote.
The system hired a certified operator after tests in December 2005 again showed fecal bacteria. After improvements to the system and two months of clean tests, a test last month again showed bacteria.

Tom Hom Group president William Newbern said the partnership has spent more than $25,000 to repair the well and reimburse the restaurant owner.
“It really has become a concern of ours,” Newbern said. “It makes us very nervous.”
In Descanso, students and staff members at the Phoenix House Academy, a drug rehabilitation center for teens, drank bottled water for more than 2 years because of system problems after the October 2003 wildfires.
The private facility was cited in December 2005 after fecal coliform bacteria showed up in its water system. The bacteria comes from human or animal waste products and can cause gastroenteritis or other serious illnesses. The academy was fined $2,240, but has since made improvements, and its water is now safe to drink.
Phoenix House Academy attorney Edward Balsamo said in a letter to county officials that the water problems apparently were caused by a contractor during the rebuilding of fire-damaged structures.
“This isolated incident does not reflect Phoenix House's normal operational practices,” Balsamo wrote.

Because the systems rely on groundwater, volunteers and aging equipt, they can carry more of a health risk than a city-run water district. But they're still more closely monitored than private wells, which are tested only when they're installed.
Small systems are tested monthly or quarterly, depending on their type. Compare that with the Helix Water District, where weekly tests are conducted at 42 sites.
“It's a much more complex operation that ensures a consistent quality,” said Helix water quality dir. Mark Umphres. “It's highly regulated and highly monitored.”

The county now requires that most small water systems be run by a certified operator, someone who's trained to know what it takes to keep the system safe. The exceptions include RV parks, parks, campsites and other “transient” sites.
Also, new owners must have a financial plan to show how they plan to pay for improvements such as new pipes and pumps. To finance the new inspector and greater scrutiny, the county Board of Supervisors recently approved rate increases for small-water-system permits that will double fees for many of the owners this year. Fees will increase in smaller amounts over the next 3 years.

A water system serving a community, for example, now pays about $600 a year for a county permit. When the new county fees go into effect 7.1.06, that will increase to $1,290 a year, eventually rising to $2,880 by the 2009-10 fiscal year.
The permit-fee increases could ultimately be passed on to customers in the form of higher water rates.
Linder, of the Borrego Springs district, said vigilant govt oversight is vital because many system owners haven't been setting aside the money needed for repairs.
“If you've been ignoring your system for 30 or 40 years, you're not going to fix it overnight,” he said. SD county Environmental Health Dept monitors 162 small water systems. 14 systems have received citations since 2004.
The most common reasons for issuing citations are the presence of total coliform bacteria in the water, indicating contamination by fecal bacteria from animal or human wastes; high levels of nitrates, which are risky to infants; or high levels of uranium, which increase risk of kidney disease.
There can also be procedural violations such as improper record keeping or failing to conduct necessary tests. County officials typically issue a compliance order seeking to fix the problems. They rarely issue fines.

Pacific Gas and Electric on Friday agreed to pay $295 million to settle claims by more than 1,000 residents in several Mojave Desert towns who said they were harmed by groundwater contamination, a case made famous by the film "Erin Brockovich."
As part of the settlement, the utility apologized to affected residents in the towns where leaks from gas compressor plants in the 1950s through the 1970s polluted the groundwater basin with chromium.
"Clearly, this situation should never have happened, and we are sorry that it did. It is not the way we do business, and we believe it would not happen in our company today," the utility said.

The apology marked a bittersweet victory in Hinkley CA, where residents have blamed cancer deaths and birth defects on the polluted water.
"Well, I think it's great because a lot of [residents] do have health problems," said Brenda McIlvain, a bar owner whose ex-husband will benefit from the settlement. "I think it's great that the ones that signed up on the [lawsuit] will get a little bit of money to help them."

The settlement comes before the trial was supposed to begin and ends the majority of the claims from Hinkley and other towns, including Kettleman Hills, that said their groundwater was contaminated.
"This closes the books on almost all the claims," said Jon Tremayne, a spokesman for PG&E. "The settlement provides closure, and it allows us to focus on the future. We're hopeful it will provide closure for the plaintiffs and allow them to move forward."

The case dated to 1951, when spent chromium, added to cooling water to reduce corrosion, leaked from unlined retention ponds and seeped into the groundwater under Hinkley, making its way into community wells. The plaintiffs' attorneys claimed that some of the town's water supply was tainted with 140 times the amount of chromium allowed under government standards. They suggested that most of the cancers were caused when children played in the water and inhaled particles.
In July 1996, PG&E agreed to pay $333 million to about 650 people who blamed cancer and other diseases on polluted water leaking from a gas pumping station.

That settlement inspired the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich," in which Julia Roberts portrayed the feisty researcher and mother of three whose work helped cement the deal.
Tremayne said the Friday settlement covers about 1,100 cases. PG&E still faces about 150 cases, he said.
Gloria Darling, Barstow's mayor pro tem, lived in Hinkley from 1969 to 1984. She believes she developed various gynecological and gastrointestinal problems from chromium contamination but was disqualified from joining the lawsuit because of a statute of limitations.
"I think it's a very good thing for the community, especially for those who lived there and suffered," Darling said Friday. "When I was helping people fill out the questionnaires, there were people who called me with teenage daughters who'd already had hysterectomies…. All the people I've seen who suffered, all the teenagers and children, they could never pay enough."

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