The Obama administration is expected to announce a new Clean Water Rule later this week which will allow governmental regulation of smaller bodies of water than it currently can. The E.P.A. and Army Corps of Engineers first jointly proposed this rule known as Waters of the U.S., under the Clean Water Act of 1972. The E.P.A has held more than 400 public meetings with outside groups and read over one million public comments while finalizing the language. Despite strong support from environmentalists, the new rule already faces fierce opposition.
New York City, like other older urban communities, is largely serviced by a combined sewer system where storm water and wastewater are carried through a single sewer line to the city’s 14 treatment plants. These facilities can manage and treat all the wastewater produced in the city on a dry weather day (1.3 billion gallons on average) and also have the capacity to clean more than twice the dry weather flows on a rainy day. But during intense precipitation events, the storm water exceeds this capacity and overflows can be discharged into local waterways. In an effort to improve water quality, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is building rain gardens, designed to absorb polluted storm water that would otherwise end up into the sewer system.
Engineers at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom have been using the seemingly unconventional method of tracking glowing tampons in a water body to identify areas of pollution from wastewater. Often, tampons soak up the optical brighteners, chemicals added to detergents and other cleaners to enhance whites and bright colors - the same stuff that makes your white t-shirt glow in the black light of a bowling alley. The tampons then glow under ultraviolet light. Because the natural, untreated cotton in tampons readily absorbs the chemicals, they have the potential to be a convenient and inexpensive indicator of pollution in rivers and streams.
As water scarcity becomes an ever larger problem, Felipe de Barros, assistant professor at the University of Southern California, is working to find new methods of predicting pollution in groundwater. He aims in providing reliable predictions of how chemical pollutants in subsurface water has staggering implications for human health and sustainability. His research aims to create a model of subsurface flow and determine how chemicals move in subterranean conditions.
A recent report links high salinity in Seneca Lake, the largest of New York State’s Finger Lakes, to the storage of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) in nearby salt caverns. The lake, which holds 4.2 trillion gallons of water, has for decades seen levels of salt concentrations greater than those regulated by the state for sensitive populations such as infants and those on low-salt diets. The highest concentration, in the village of Waterloo, has concentrations nearly four times the state limit.