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Meat Water: Not A Thing

Posted on June 28, 2017 by | Comments Off

There comes a time in every educator’s life when you question if you are really making a difference. Am I reaching people? Am I molding the next generation of world changers? Will they remember any of this? 

I’ve been a Community Educator with HRSD for about 5 years and I love what I do. I get to teach people how HRSD cleans dirty water and why clean water is important, create interactive activities to bring to schools, and blog about my experiences right here on “Let’s Talk Green.” At this point, most of my friends and family know what not to flush because it’s one of my favorite soap boxes to stand on. Encouraging civic engagement is my jam. I even convinced my brother to stop hurling his used turkey fryer oil over the fence. Community Educator win.

But then, it happened. One ordinary night my husband and I were going through the post-dinner motions of cleaning up and getting the kids clean and in bed with enough efficiency to allow for a TV show and an adult beverage before turning into pumpkins. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him leaning over the kitchen sink with the pan he had cooked the beef in that night. No, I thought. He can’t be. He wouldn’t…

Fats Oils Grease Disposal

This is not “meat water.” It is FOG.

Me:  What are you doing?

Husband:  Huh?  Just…

Me:  Are you pouring that grease into our sink?! 

Husband:  What? No, it’s not grease, it’s meat water.

Me:  MEAT WATER?! Meat water is not a thing. There is no such thing as meat water. 

Husband:  Yes, this is meat water. It’s not grease. Bacon makes grease. This is more like water.

Me:  HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?! You can’t pour that down the drain. Do you ever listen to anything I say? I spend a lot of time telling people to keep FOG out of their drains, and now you, my own husband, my sink. That clogs pipes, causes sewage spills…Ahhhhhhhh!  *Throws hands in air*

Husband:  It’s MEAT WATER! Meat water doesn’t clog pipes.

Me:  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MEAT WATER! 

I could continue but we just started to talk in circles at this point. 

Community Educator FAIL. Apparently, my messages are sometimes lost on the ones closest to me. And this is the same sink I have blogged about in the past, a sink that my husband installed WITHOUT a garbage disposal because garbage disposals send too much gunk into the pipes and contribute to clogs and sewage spills. He knows that part. He scrapes his leftovers into the trashcan and compost bin like a champ.   

I guess I need one of these above my sink.

I guess I need one of these above my sink.

So here goes.  For my husband and everyone else I have failed to reach. Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) DO NOT GO DOWN THE DRAIN. That includes any leftover residue from cooking meat. Even if it looks “watery.” It’s not meat water. Meat water does not exist. Google it. 

It turns out, I’m not alone. My coworker, Molly, is also a Community Educator, guest blogger, and environmental steward with a green thumb (check out her composting tips). She realized recently that her husband was not using the strainer in their kitchen sink. He didn’t think he needed to since he scrapes all of the large pieces of food in the trash. But what about the teeny tiny pieces? If our husbands lived together, they would have some hefty bills from the plumber. The FOG sent down the drain would cling to the pipe walls and catch all of those teeny tiny pieces and eventually make a big ol’ clog. And there’s more. She also caught her husband (why is it always the husbands?) leaving grass clippings on the sidewalk because “the rain will wash it away into the storm drain.” And not just any storm drain. A storm drain that resides on the worst hit street in the state of Virginia by Hurricane Matthew. Their house flooded, their floors floated, they evacuated in the middle of the night. Everyone on their street is all too familiar with the stormwater system and how important it is to keep things flowing. PLUS, grass clippings pollute our waterways with excess nutrients. Our husbands are both smart people, but it seems we’ve overlooked them in our quest to save the world. 

We all need reminders now and then, so please, take this home with you today:

Meat water is not real. Fatbergs are real. 

Google it. Then educate your spouses.

Posted in: Fats, oils and grease disposal, For educators, Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Keeping storm drains free, Lawn and landscape, Lawncare, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized, Waterways

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Composting: A Lazy Gardener’s Guide

Posted on June 13, 2017 by | Comments Off

If you’re an avid gardener, you’re probably familiar with home composting. The premise is simple; mix kitchen scraps with a bunch of leaves or straw in a bin to make a rich, organic fertilizer for your plants. It’s green! It’s economical! It’s easy! Or so they say.

I love home-grown vegetables. Specifically tomatoes, because I’ve found the ones available in grocery stores to be nothing short of inedible. I’m also known to grow epic corn, eggplants, artichokes, lettuces, kale, cucumbers, potatoes, watermelons, zucchini, blackberries, herbs and green beans. The point is this: I’m good at growing things. The secret to my success? Good soil and a laid-back (bordering on lazy) attitude. Unfortunately, home composting using a bin requires a certain level of attention to detail that just doesn’t jive with my “lazy gardening” philosophy.

Here’s how bin composting works:

1. Choose a bin. You can purchase a simple pre-made bin from a garden center or spring for a more expensive tumbler. You can even make your own from a large lidded trash can. I made my own by drilling a bunch of small holes in a hefty green trash can to let oxygen in.

2. Layer nitrogen-rich green waste (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, flowers) and carbon-rich brown waste (dead leaves, sawdust, shredded paper).  Each later should be about 2-4 inches thick. Make sure green waste from your kitchen is always covered by green or brown waste from your yard to keep it from attracting critters.

3. Turn it at least once a week. The decomposing microorganisms responsible for turning your waste into fertilizing compost need oxygen to survive, and turning the pile allows air to circulate and speeds things along. A tumbler makes this step easy (you just rotate the side handle a few times) but you can also use a pitchfork or shovel.

4. Be patient. Compost is ready to use when it no longer looks like raw materials and instead like rich soil. This may take a few months!

Once I completed my homemade compost bin, I was ready to roll. I kept dead leaves and topsoil nearby to sprinkle on top of any food scraps, mixed it up every week, threw in a bunch of worms to help out the decomposing microorganisms, and got… grubs. Lots and lots of grubs. So I dumped Trial 1 onto the lawn (the neighborhood songbirds had a heyday) and tried again. I figured I didn’t have enough brown waste, so I added more leaves and shredded paper and less food scraps. The result? More grubs. It was gross. And most of my food scraps were still completely recognizable! Ever the optimist, I tried again. Unfortunately, the third time was NOT the charm and I was once again thwarted by those pesky fly larvae.

Maybe my homemade compost bin was ineffective. Maybe I didn’t add enough leaves or have the right brown-to-green-waste ratio. Maybe I didn’t mix it enough, or mixed it too much. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough (this is likely true). Who knows. The point is, after three tries and way more grubs than I ever want to see again, I gave up. I figured I’d just have to be one of those people who buys fertilizer from the store each year.

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

A few months after quitting composting, I was dealing with the remnants of an ill-fated attempt at growing acorn squash and thinking to myself “I wish I still lived in Troutville and could just rake all this stuff into the woods.” And then, a light bulb! Just because I live in the city now doesn’t mean I have to use a bin to make compost! Like my country brethren of yore, I could just rake it into a pile, dump some dirt on top, and let nature do its thing. So I dug a hole in one of my raised beds, added the vines and exploded acorn squash, topped it with dirt, and went on my merry way. A few weeks later I dug the spot back up and found rich, beautiful soil. It was a Lazy Gardening miracle!

 

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

Two years later and that raised bed is my own personal dirt factory. It’s active about ten months out of the year (my commitment to sustainability doesn’t go so far as to dig through ice in the winter) and produces enough compost to fertilize all my produce and fill the small sinkholes in my yard. I add fruit and vegetable scraps, thin cardboard, shredded paper, grass clippings, leaves, dead plants, tea bags, spaghetti… pretty much anything biodegradable that isn’t meat or cheese. I literally just dig a hole in the ground and bury stuff. I don’t worry about layering brown and green waste, adding earth worms or mixing it; I just let the bugs and microorganisms in the soil do their magic. As a family of four, our big black curbside trashcan is rarely half-full and I’m able to avoid the dreaded clear plastic yard waste bags most of the time. All in all, it’s been a great success.  But I have learned a few things:

  • It turns out this method actually has a name: Trench Composting.
  • Although you can get away with burying large food scraps in your compost pile (I bury our jack-o-lanterns whole after Halloween), it does take longer for them to break down. So cut your kitchen scraps into small pieces if you’re in a compost-creating hurry.
  • The key is to success is ADEQUATE BURIAL. This gives easy-access to worms and microorganisms while repelling flies, ‘coons and other varmints.

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

 

If bin composting works for you, that’s great! But if you’re like me, have failed at it repeatedly, and have the space for a food scrap burial ground (a.k.a. Trench Composting) then try out my Lazy Gardening method. Your tomatoes and trash can will thank you.

Guest post submitted by Molly Bertsch, HRSD Community Educator.

 

 

 

Posted in: Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Lawn and landscape, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized

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Four Ways to Green Your Business

Posted on June 10, 2017 by | Comments Off

Green_business_suit_shutterstock_215636905More than likely you recognize that it’s important for everyone to be more eco-friendly and help to preserve the environment. But you may not have adopted green measures into your business. Most business owners have enough on their to-do list without leading environmental initiatives or spending profits on solar panels. However, companies that go green have some advantages in public relations, tax credits, and sustainability. Here are four simple changes you can make to your business to become more environmentally-friendly.

Upgrade Your lighting
Look into ditching the traditional incandescent and fluorescent bulbs and using LED lights. They’re slightly more expensive upfront, but they last far longer and use much less electricity than conventional lighting. Over time, you’ll actually save money, and keep those old bulbs out of the landfill. You might even look into upgrading to a smart lighting system that uses motion sensors and timers to automatically turn off lights when they aren’t needed.

Recycle Everything
Recycle as much as possible. If you don’t have one already, consider starting a company program for separating recyclables from trash. There are also any number of products made from recycled materials that you could be using every day, such as boxes, packing materials, toner cartridges, paper, electronics, and even furniture. Reusing and buying recycled goods puts less demand on the environment and generally saves you money. 

Green Cleaning Products
Maintaining a clean office is important not just to impress visitors, but to kill germs and stop the spread of illness that could cripple productivity. Unfortunately, many of those commercial products use harsh chemicals that could be just as harmful, especially if they build up on work surfaces or permeate the air you breathe. Cleaning with products that have lower levels of chemicals and more ingredients that naturally occur in the world can be a huge step in reducing your impact on the environment. Green cleaning products like these are healthier and sometimes entirely biodegradable, so you can be assured of a workspace that’s safe as well as clean.

Learn the Regulations
Green policies are not only the right thing to do, they are becoming a matter of legal obligation. Companies that improperly dispose of hazardous materials, risk worker health, or have polluting emissions may be subject to fines or even criminal charges. While every company is different, it’s essential to be familiar with and follow all environmental regulations for your industry to make sure your company is headed in the right direction.

It’s true that a single company won’t be able to change the world alone, but millions of people working together will become a movement driving change. The only way for that to happen is for you to set an example for both your customers and employees.

Guest blog contributed by Kara Masterson, a freelance writer from West Jordan, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah and enjoys writing and spending time with her dog, Max. Kara works with environment-conscious education programs like the Vermont Law School to help promote green business practices.

Posted in: Going Green

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Chesapeake Tap Water Wins People’s Choice Award

Posted on June 1, 2017 by | Comments Off

h2o-1610746_960_720The City of Chesapeake was recently declared the Peoples’ Choice in a Tap Water Taste Test conducted by the Virginia chapter of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). This was the fourth year the VA AWWA has held the taste test competition at their three-day Water Distribution Seminar and Utility Rodeo. The event is modeled after the National AWWA Distribution & Plant Operations Conference, a leading educational conference for water system operators nationwide. The tap water taste test is a non-scientific, friendly competition intended to highlight the importance of taste and quality in drinking water, a vital public health resource. A utility is only eligible to enter the competition if they have no violations of bacteriological, chemical or monitoring data. 

Here’s how the taste test works: Conference attendees are given numbered paper cups containing samples of tap water served at ambient temperature. After tasting all samples, they record their choice of the best tasting water. The city that receives the most votes is awarded the Peoples’ Choice.

The award-winning tap water was submitted from Chesapeake’s Northwest River Water Treatment Plant. The city uses the latest advances in water treatment processes such as reverse osmosis and microfiltration. As this recent recognition indicates, it is clear they know how to make excellent drinking water in Chesapeake. Cheers!

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water

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This Pump Station Runs on Innovation. And Coffee. Lots of Coffee.

Posted on May 22, 2017 by | Comments Off

If you live here, this will come as no surprise: Hampton Roads is really flat. It’s life at sea level, and the combination of past construction on wetlands, rising sea level and sinking ground (called relative sea level rise) has turned southeastern Virginia into a poster-child for sea level rise impacts. Hampton Roads is rated second only to New Orleans as the area most vulnerable to relative sea level rise in the United States. All eyes are on us and it’s got everyone talking “resiliency.” How do we prepare?  How do we adapt? One way HRSD is taking action is through SWIFT, an initiative to replenish the aquifer with purified water in an effort to stop the ground from sinking. 

But we’ve been living the low-lying life here for . . . well, forever. And some things we had to learn a long time ago.  For example, when you live sans elevation, you can’t rely on gravity to move water for you. It can’t flow downhill without a hill, so you’ve got to move it. Wastewater from homes and businesses needs to be moved to a wastewater treatment plant and cleaned, so we’ve got to pump it there. We do this with pump stations, and HRSD has over 100 of them. 

You need a birds-eye view when infrastructure goes 30 feet into the ground.

Construction at HRSD’s Bridge Street Pump Station.  You need a birds-eye view when infrastructure goes 30 feet into the ground.

These pump stations need to be maintained and they need to meet the needs of the population pumping to them, or else sewage spills out into the environment. More people = more flushes = more wastewater flowing through the pipes. Today, HRSD is 60% of the way through a project to replace a pump station in Hampton that is past its useful life in terms of age and capacity. This pump station is over 70 years old!  The new Bridge Street Pump Station incorporates the latest technology and will be able to handle the flushes, showers and dishwashing of a growing population in downtown Hampton. Without this investment in infrastructure, wastewater overflows would occur, spilling dirty water into our waterways. 

But this is not your run-of-the-mill pump station.  As HRSD’s General Manager, Ted Henifin, always says, “We reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow.” The new $12.4 million Bridge Street Pump Station is designed to pump up to 16.6 million gallons of wastewater per day and will be resistant to tidal flooding as well as the effects of long-term relative sea level rise. It’s also designed to look like a house and blend naturally with the surrounding neighborhood. Here’s what will lie beneath that homey-looking exterior:

  1. Walls that go down more than 30 feet into the ground.
  2. 5 pumps at the bottom of the pump station:  two 75-horsepower pumps and three 300-horsepower pumps.
  3. Pipes that range from eight to 48 inches in diameter.
  4. 2,700 cubic yards of concrete, grout and fill (to date).
  5. 14 concrete walls, each of them three-feet thick.

Designing for the future is not cheap, but our local economy is benefiting before this project is even complete. There is a wide range of contractors involved:  heavy equipment operators, pipe layers, electricians, plumbers, etc. The number of man hours between HRSD and the local engineering experts and local construction staff hired for this project, still with 10 months to go, is impressive. To date, this project has required approximately 1,400 man hours from HRSD, with HDR completing over 11,000 man hours and MEB General Contractors reaching almost 13,000 man hours. That’s TENS OF THOUSANDS of man hours for this one project in less than three years. HDR’s Inspector is also estimated to have downed 750 cups of coffee in order to keep pace with all this work, so the local economic impact from coffee consumption alone is surely noteworthy.

The Bridge Street Pump Station project and HRSD’s VIP project both take a proactive approach to address aging infrastructure. When completed, these projects will improve HRSD’s ability to handle more frequent peak flows as a result of sea level rise. Check out HRSD’s Time To Build Video to learn more about these efforts to invest in infrastructure, build our community, and grow our economy.

Posted in: Waterways

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