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How it Was 25 Years Ago – HRWET to Water Awareness

Posted on March 3, 2017 by | Comments Off

HR WET Logo - OriginalOn a typical, cold, rainy February morning in 1992 at the General McArthur Memorial conference room, regional water utility representatives came together for the initial meeting of what would become the askHRgreen.org Water Awareness Committee. Coffee, donuts and bagels on the table provided sustenance to about 75 water utility directors, planners, administrative and budget employees from cities and counties throughout the Hampton Roads region while they discussed how to promote water conservation and wise water usage.

It just seemed ludicrous because the region is surrounded by water from the ocean on one side, to the bay, rivers and creeks on the other.  Isn’t that plenty of water?  The short answer is, no.  Salt water doesn’t do it. The Hampton Roads region was growing rapidly at the time. While new water resources were being sought, current usage needed to be “stretched.”  In a word, conserved.

Event2Event16 cities and counties under the umbrella of the Hampton Roads Planning District made the fateful decision 25 years ago to pool resources and form an educational team to create the conservation education program known as the Hampton Roads Water Efficiency Team or HRWET for short.  Our logo was the sun – Saving Today’s Water for Tomorrow’s Hampton Roads.

Today, HRWET is known as the askHRgreen.org Water Awareness Committee, one of four environmental educational groups – Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG), Recycling & Beautification, and Stormwater Education – that make up askHRgreen.org.

We’ve gotten a lot done in 25 years and look forward to continuing our efforts to education Hampton Roads about the value, quality and availability of Hampton Roads tap water. Enjoy this trip down memory lane!

Blog post contributed by Jerry Hoddinott, Chesapeake Public Utilities and original member of the HRWET team!

  11th Anniversary

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Posted in: HR Green campaign updates, Using water wisely

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How to Shop for a Greenhouse

Posted on February 16, 2017 by | Comments Off

Green HouseDeciding to buy a greenhouse catapults the novice gardener into the big leagues. Even a small model provides the space and the conditions to extend the gardening season and try new techniques, such as starting seeds early, that just are not possible in most gardens. Here are four questions to ask yourself when deciding on a greenhouse that meets your needs.

1.       How will I use the greenhouse?

The answer to this will help determine the size and the features you may want. Walk-in greenhouse kits designed for residential use range in size from 5×5 feet up to 8×20 feet. You can find smaller, portable kits for about $100, but more permanent kits can cost from several hundred up to several thousand dollars, depending on the size and features.

Smaller models are great for getting a jump on spring planting by starting seeds early, but if you want to grow plants to maturity, you will need a bigger model. Your plans for the greenhouse will also determine the “extras” you will need (see below). Of course, you will have to balance your gardening needs with your budget and the available space for constructing the greenhouse.

2.       Where will I put it?

If you plan on growing plants to maturity or using the greenhouse over the winter, you will want maximum sun exposure—at least six hours a day. It’s best to situate the greenhouse so that its longest dimension faces south, which means most of the space will receive direct sunlight. This is especially true in the winter when the sun appears lower in the sky.

Select a spot that is convenient to get to and has access to water. You may also want access to electricity.

Before you purchase a greenhouse, check with the local building department to ask about zoning requirements, such as how close you can erect the greenhouse to the property line, and whether you need a building permit. In some locales, any structure on a foundation requires a permit, and some kits require a concrete slab or a wooden foundation.

3.       What are my options in materials?

Greenhouse frames are available in a number of different materials:

  • Aluminum and galvanized steel. These provide the strongest greenhouses, but they are the most expensive.
  • PVC pipe. These don’t provide the structural heft of an aluminum or steel frame, but they are relatively inexpensive. PVC structures are often used for portable greenhouses.
  • Wood. These provide a rustic, classic look and are usually made of insect-resistant woods such as redwood or cedar. Be aware that wood components will require periodic sealing or staining.

While glass may be the traditional glazing material, greenhouse kit manufacturers are now turning to plastics such as polyethylene and polycarbonate panels because they are lighter and easier to handle. Polycarbonate panels can provide either direct sunlight or diffused light to the plants. They also come in a variety of thicknesses, making them a better insulator than glass. Look for panels that are treated to block the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

4.       What extras will I need?

There are a lot of extras available to make your gardening experience more enjoyable:

  • Shelves and benches. Some kits come with shelves, but not all do. They make caring for plants easier. Make sure the frame can support the shelves and the plants.
  • Ventilation. Greenhouses get hot, so you will need at least one operable vent in the roof. Some kits feature vents that open automatically when the greenhouse becomes too hot. Larger models can accommodate ventilation fans.
  • Watering system. You can pull the garden hose into the greenhouse to water the plants, but automatic watering and misting systems are available. Some greenhouses include gutter systems that allow you to collect rainwater.
  • Heaters. Greenhouses placed in cold climates will need a heater for year-round use.
  • Sensors and controls. Keep the greenhouse functioning properly with controls that track the temperature and humidity levels and can automatically operate watering and ventilation systems.

A greenhouse kit can enhance your gardening experience, and the right kit will provide years of gardening pleasure.

Fran Donegan writes on home improvement for Home Depot. Fran is a longtime DIY author and has written several books, including Paint Your Home.

Posted in: Lawn and landscape, Lawncare

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Have you heard about SWIFT?

Posted on February 8, 2017 by | Comments Off

If I were to ask you what areas of the United States are facing water crises, your thoughts would probably veer toward drought-prone southern California or Texas. New Orleans might come to mind, with its flooding issues and precarious below-sea-level vantage point. But we’re ok in Hampton Roads! Nothing to worry about in our water-rich neck of the woods; we’re surrounded by bridges and tunnels and rivers galore! And we’re definitely not like New Orleans with a “too much water” problem, right? 

Sadly, Hampton Roads IS facing a water crisis- it’s just invisible. The Potomac aquifer, eastern Virginia’s largest water supply, is being overused and is shrinking beneath our feet. Groundwater-using industries are facing increasing regulations and new water-using industries are being told not to move to the region. The compacting aquifer is also contributing to land subsidence, which in turn is increasing the area’s susceptibility to the negative impacts of sea level rise. Hampton Roads is the second largest population at risk for the negative impacts of sea level rise, right behind infamous New Orleans. It’s not a pretty picture. 

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

So what do we do? How do we combat such an extensive, multi-faceted issue? Do we build flood walls? Elevate our homes on stilts? Move? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and there are many individuals and organizations working on the problem. HRSD is one of those organizations, and it’s tackling the situation head-on with an initiative that not only addresses the shrinking Potomac aquifer and land subsidence, but one that will help achieve Chesapeake Bay restoration goals and support our economy at the same time.

HRSD currently discharges approximately 150 million gallons of highly treated water into the waterways of Hampton Roads each day. Rather than continuing to waste this valuable resource, the Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) would take the water that would otherwise be discharged into the Elizabeth, James or York rivers and purify it through additional advanced water treatment to produce drinking-quality water. The purified water would then be treated to match the existing groundwater chemistry and added to the Potomac Aquifer. Hydraulic modeling suggests that this could reduce the effects of sea level rise by up to 25 percent and positively impact nearly the entire Potomac aquifer, as far north as Maryland and south beyond the North Carolina border.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

SWIFT would also benefit the Chesapeake Bay. Replenishing groundwater with HRSD’s purified water would effectively eliminate more than 90 percent of HRSD’s discharge to local waters – reducing the total amount of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen reaching the Bay. And the homes and industries in eastern Virginia that currently remove approximately 155 million gallons of groundwater from the Potomac aquifer every day would have a renewable source of groundwater to rely upon rather than an increasingly restricted one. 

Extensive environmental and economic benefits aside, why is HRSD pursuing SWIFT in the first place?  Its mission is to treat wastewater effectively, not to produce drinking-quality water and add it to the ground. Increasing regulations play a part. HRSD is continuously making process-level upgrades to its thirteen wastewater treatment plants to remove more and more nutrients and other contaminants from the highly treated water it discharges. By leaping forward under the assumption that the increasingly stringent regulations will continue, the next logical step would be to purify its water to the point that it’s clean enough to drink. Subsequently dumping such a valuable resource back into surface waters that don’t need it when technology exists to use it in a way that is regionally beneficial…well that just doesn’t make sense.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

Secondly, HRSD is pursuing SWIFT because it recognizes that it’s part of the big picture. Land subsidence, shrinking groundwater supplies and rising seas are problems that impact ALL Hampton Roads’ residents, not just a select few. They are not problems that will go away if they’re ignored, nor are they problems with easy solutions. HRSD’s mission may be treating wastewater, but its vision is that future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean. SWIFT boldly meets that vision by protecting the Chesapeake Bay,  securing future groundwater supplies, addressing land subsidence and helping the economy. Those are things I think we can all stand behind.

Blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator at HRSD.

 

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Using water wisely, Waterways

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Disposable diaper liners- to flush or not to flush?

Posted on January 10, 2017 by | Comments Off

Ah, diapers.  A staple of nurseries everywhere.  But as a parent, how do you decide what kind of diaper is right for your kiddo?  Gone are the days of only a handful of disposable diaper options or cloth diapers that are secured to your precious baby with terrifyingly-stabby safety pins.  Now you’re faced with so many choices!  If you decide to go with fully disposable diapers, should you buy off-brand or name-brand?  Organic?  Moisture-wicking?  Chlorine free?  Should you enter the realm of cloth diapering and, if so, should you purchase All In Ones, All In Twos, pocket diapers, or hybrids?  Inserts?  Cotton liners?  Disposable liners?

The answer to these questions depends on your personal preferences and what works for you and your family.  But having successfully navigated the mysterious world of diapering twice now, I’ve figured out a few things. 

1)      Your baby will ultimately have the final say (i.e., you’ll choose the type that doesn’t make him or her break out in a bum rash) 

2)      Occasional leaks are an inevitability

3)      Disposable diaper liners are not flushable

“Hold the phone, Molly; did you just say disposable diaper liners aren’t flushable??  But a lot of them state that they’re flushable right on the packaging!  How can this be?”  Well, I’ll tell you.  Much like “flushable” wipes, they’re misnamed.  Technically you CAN flush both wipes and liners, just like my son has recently shown me that you CAN flush ninja turtle action figures.  But should you flush them?  Definitely not.

Diaper Liners Blog 1Disposable diaper liners are thin mesh-like cloths (usually made out of cotton or viscose rayon) that can be placed in diapers to conveniently catch solid waste.   The idea is that rather than removing the waste from and scrubbing the entire cloth diaper or insert, you can just remove and discard the liner and toss the rest into the washing machine.  But where should they be discarded?  Most are labeled “flushable,” although many specify that they are not “septic safe.”  Most I’ve found state this (or something similar) on the packaging:

Place liner inside diaper.  When diaper is soiled, simply remove and flush down toilet.  May cause blockage in old or damaged drains.  Not recommended for sensitive septic tanks.” 

Hm… suspicious!  So does that mean they’re safe to flush if your home has newer plumbing?  How do you determine whether or not your septic system is “sensitive?”  Talk about confusing packaging.

While there are plenty of first-hand accounts of the detriment of flushable wipes on our sewer systems, I couldn’t find enough out there in terms of disposable diaper liners to ease my uncertainty.  So, in order to decipher whether they’re truly safe to send down the drain, I put on my lab coat and did a bit of experimenting on my own.

Supplies:

1)      Three well-known brands of “flushable” diaper liners

2)      3 bowls of water

3)      1 washing machine

4)      1 mesh garment bag

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12 hours after being placed in water the diaper liners are going strong!

 

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A full 24 hours in water and the liners still haven’t changed.

First, I placed two sheets of each brand of diaper liner in a bowl of water, swished them around a bit, and let them sit overnight.  As you can see, all three survived completely unscathed.  I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and leave them in for another twelve hours.  Nope, still holding on strong!

Next, I figured I’d simulate the sloshing of our sewer lines by putting them through a round in my washing machine.  I placed them in a mesh garment bag to prevent them from wrapping around the agitator and then waited patiently.  The result….they survived!  I couldn’t find ANY signs of deterioration.

Diaper Liners Blog 4

24 hours in water plus a trip through my washing machine. These certainly aren’t going to breakdown any time soon!

Conclusion: Disposable diaper liners are great.  They make cleaning cloth diapers quicker and easier and can help prevent rash creams and ointments from ruining the fabric’s absorbency.  But remember, flushing things down the drain that don’t break down easily contributes to clogged pipes, which can in turn cause environmentally- harmful sewer system overflows.  Or, much like my own ninja turtle action figure incident, they can cause messy overflows in your own home.  So be a Sewer Steward and dispose of those helpful diaper liners in a trash can, NOT a toilet.  

 

Blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator at HRSD.

Posted in: Fats, oils and grease disposal, Household tips, What Not To Flush

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Engineering Responsible, Renewable Energy

Posted on December 14, 2016 by | Comments Off

curtains-1854110_960_720Traditionally, the fuel of choice for human beings has been carbon based. According to the EPA, over 5,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere every year. However, this pollution may also be the driving force behind global warming and climate change. If human beings are going to fend off challenges like climate change and pollution, we must engineer new sources of renewable energy. Here are a few examples of how engineering is leading to a more eco-friendly future.

Infrared Radiation as a Power Source

One recent discovery has been the possibility of using the earth’s own infrared radiation as a sustainable power source. According to mic.com, the earth releases over 100 million gigawatts of infrared radiation originating from the sun back into the atmosphere every day. Engineers believe that antennas placed into orbit may be able to harvest this radiation as a renewable energy source.

Nuclear Fusion Is the Power of the Future

While once a thing only explored in speculative science fiction, nuclear fusion as a high tech power source will soon be a reality. The first nuclear fusion power generator is in fact currently being constructed in France at the Cadarache scientific research center. The power will be generated by fusing two different kinds of hydrogen, tritium and deuterium, together. When finally activated, this fusion generator should be able to produce much more power than a traditional nuclear generator. In fact, it will produce ten times the energy that is required to operate the power plant.

Transparent Solar Panels

While solar panels are a renewable energy source that has been with us for many decades now, the tech is about to receive a significant boost that may greatly increase its use by consumers. Transparent solar panels that can be seen through exactly like glass are currently being developed by engineers and scientists. No longer will ugly solar panels have to be placed on a home’s roof. Instead, they could exist as its windows. The possibilities are great indeed.

Engineering Better Energy Usage Techniques

Engineers are constantly looking for new ways to improve technologies. Recently, a big push has been made towards increased energy efficiency in industrial equipment as well as consumer products. Appliances that use the Energy Star label, for example, consume far less energy than their predecessors. New exciting techniques are constantly being employed to get more than ever before out of far less energy.

Overall, the possibility of achieving an energy independent future free of fossil fuels is a distinct possibility. Thanks to the hard work of engineers and scientists, many different alternative fuels and energy efficient methods for powering devices will soon hit the market.

This guest post submitted by Rachelle Wilber, a freelance writer living in the San Diego, California area. She graduated from San Diego State University with her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. Rachelle recommends that those interested in engineering better energy usage, click here to get more information

Posted in: Going Green

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