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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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Is Your Child’s Car Seat Unsafe?

Posted on February 1, 2017 by | Comments Off

baby-617411_960_720Did you know that an old or broken safety seat could be putting a child in danger?

Car seats that are over 8 years old, expired, purchased  secondhand or involved in a car accident all pose safety risks for young children. Unknown wear and tear or other damage to these car seats makes them less effective in protecting your most precious cargo. To help keep our young children as safe as possible, Drive Safe Hampton Roads, along with Walmart, AAA Tidewater Virginia, DMV: Virginia Highway Safety Office, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, WVEC Channel 13,  Hoffman Beverage,  and Waste Management of Virginia, Inc. have teamed up to conduct the 28th Annual Old, Used, Borrowed and Abused Child Safety Seat Round-Up.  During the month of February, the public is invited to bring old, used or abused car seats to a participating drop-off location for a $5 reward and the good feeling of knowing that you are helping keep kids safe while protecting the environment.

If you have any questions about the Round-Up or traffic safety issues, please call 757-498-2562 or email dshr@drivesafehr.org.

Download the event flyer

Download a list of drop-off locations.

Posted in: Community events, Reduce reuse and recycle

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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

Diaper Liners Blog 2

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

 

Diaper Liners Blog 3

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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Winter Storm Checklist

Posted on January 4, 2017 by | Comments Off

IMG_20140129_110644494Each winter we must battle Old Man winter to protect ourselves, our property and the environment! Cold temperatures bring the possibility of frozen water pipes, slippery sidewalks and lots of hazardous. This handy winter storm checklist will help you prepare for winter while being easy on the environment.

  • Prevent your pipes from freezing and causing costly damage to your home by:
    • Keeping doors and windows near your water pipes closed during cold weather.
    • Sealing air leaks and cracks in the crawl space or basement.
    • Closing crawl space air vents or covering them from the inside.
    • Checking to ensure pipes are insulated in unheated parts of the house. Wet insulation is worse than no insulation, so be sure to replace any you find.
    • Disconnecting garden hoses and storing them in a garage or shed.
    • When temps drop to the teens or lower, you may choose to drip your faucets to prevent pipes from freezing. Pick a single faucet at the highest level in your house and make sure droplets are about the size of the lead in a pencil. You’ll only waste money (and water) if you leave the faucet wide open.
  • Apply deicer before snow falls to prevent ice from forming on sidewalks, driveways and walkways. Look for deicers with magnesium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate because they are less likely to harm your pets, sidewalks, grass and plants. Never use lawn fertilizers as a substitute for deicers.
  • Stay off roads during winter storms. Most traffic crashes happen within the first two hours after a storm starts. Get road conditions by calling 511 or visiting www.511Virginia.org.
  • Get supplies before the storm. Have enough non-perishable foods, water, and batteries on hand for at least three days in case you become snowed in. Don’t forget other necessities as well – like baby supplies, medications, pet food, and toilet paper!
  • Never plug space heaters into extension cords. Always plug them directly into a wall outlet. Keep space heaters at least three feet from other objects, and turn off before going to bed.
  • Stay informed during power outages with a battery-powered and/or hand-crank radio. Get one with the NOAA Weather Radio band so you can hear winter weather reports directly from the National Weather Service as well as news reports from local radio stations. 
  • Don’t use candles during power outages. Many home fires in winter are caused by candles. Flashlights are much safer. 
  • Have a family emergency plan. If your family cannot return home because of severe weather or closed roads, you need to decide now on alternate locations for riding out the storm.

For more winter preparedness tips before, during, and after extreme cold, check out ReadyHamptonRoads.org.

Posted in: Household tips, Outdoor tips

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New Years Resolutions to Keep in 2017

Posted on January 2, 2017 by | Comments Off

2017Each year we all make a bunch of promises to ourselves at the turn of the new year. We promise to be healthier, start saving money, live life to the fullest and more. Unfortunately, reducing our collective environmental impact hasn’t yet made it to the top of the New Year’s resolutions list. But that’s OK. No, really, it’s fine. Most people don’t realize that going green is already a part of their goal for 2017…and that’s where we come in! Here are some of the most popular resolutions for the new year and a few tips on how green living can help you meet your goal.

A New Year Means a New (Greener) You

1. Lose Weight. Who hasn’t made this resolution? I’m pretty sure I make it every year! But losing weight and green living have a lot in common. For starters, if you’re ditching fast food and other convenience foods then you’re reducing the amount of waste you produce. In place of these wasteful (and unhealthy) convenience foods, you’ll likely be packing a lunch in reusable containers and cooking at home more often. You’ll also want to keep a refillable water bottle with you all the time to fill with tap water and keep your body hydrated. See, green living is so easy you didn’t even realize you were already doing it!

2. Get Organized. This is probably one resolution I should make, but let’s be honest, I’d never keep it! Being organized means getting rid of unnecessary clutter in your home. And that’s the perfect time to refresh your knowledge on what’s recyclable, what’s reusable and what’s plain old trash. Get out some boxes and label them: Keep, Donate, Recycle and Trash. Keep what you need, donate what can be reused, recycle everything your city/county will accept and make the landfill a last resort. And don’t underestimate the power of donation. Even items like old bedsheets/towels, worn out shoes and dinosaur electronics  have value to the charities that are able to reuse or resell them. For example, old towels and linens seem like trash but are actually an important part of caring for animals at local animal shelters.  

3. Spend Less, Save More. This one is easy. Green living  is all about saving money! Whether you are switching from bottled water to tap water, adjusting your thermostat up or down a couple degrees or starting a carpool, you’ll be saving money and reducing your environmental impact. Saving more is almost always the same as using less and that’s great for the environment as well as your wallet!

4. Learn Something New. Looking to add a new hobby to your life? Consider taking up composting, upcycling, refurbishment projects or gardening. You could even take on backyard chickens! Yes, there are plenty of other new skills to learn in 2017, but why not take on something that benefits you and your surrounding community?

5. Quit Smoking. Kicking the cigarette habit is a big deal and it’s not easy. In return for your hard work, you’ll receive multiple benefits. Non-smokers are healthier and have reduced risks for cancer and other health problems. Non-smokers are also known to litter less. Yep, that’s right. Most smokers are guilty of flicking cigarette butts out the car window, onto the sidewalk or wherever they find themselves without a proper ash receptacle. In fact, cigarette butts are the most commonly littered item in Virginia and across the world. Your community and your local waterways will thank you for not smoking!

We wish you much success as you tackle a new (greener) you in 2017. Happy New Year from all of us at askHRgreen.org!

Posted in: Going Green, Holidays

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