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Imagine a Day Without Water

Posted on October 8, 2017 by | Comments Off

Our Water SystemsWe’ve had a very active hurricane season this year and so far Hampton Roads has been spared. But you don’t have to look far to see what life without water services would look like. For those with hurricane damage in the most remote areas, like Puerto Rico or Key West, the recovery effort to restore everyday utility services may be a long road. And as our thoughts are with those recovering from these catastrophic storms, we recognize the “Imagine a Day Without Water” campaign on Thursday, Oct. 12, to express our gratitude for the robust water and wastewater infrastructures that keep Hampton Roads flowing.

Imagine waking up in the morning to find the tap has gone dry. What would you miss most? Your morning cup of coffee? A hot shower? Cooking your favorite meal? How about the pitiful look on your pets’ faces when they realize there’s nothing for their water bowl? Whatever you’d miss most, the reality is that for the 1.7 million residents of Hampton Roads, access to clean, reliable tap water is as simple as turning on the tap. Water and wastewater services are one of the most reliable public services and we depend on these systems for growing our food, running our schools and hospitals, and fueling the economy and local entrepreneurship.

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Photo credit: Virginia Beach Public Utilities

Our region’s hard-working water and wastewater systems bring clean water to us and take sewage away to be treated before it is released safely back into the environment. But it’s not just water that you support with your monthly water and wastewater bill. While water falls from the sky and flows through our rivers, it is far from free. Collecting, storing, treating, and bringing water to and from our homes and businesses cost millions of dollars each year. Here in Hampton Roads, our public water systems are supported by 12 drinking water treatment plants with over 50 wells and 21 reservoirs storing over 34 billion gallons of water. And once we’ve used that water, more than 1,500 pump stations carry our sewage to the 10 wastewater treatment plants across the region. Just like our transportation routes, our region’s 6,500 miles of water distribution pipelines and over 5,800 miles of sanitary sewer lines need ongoing maintenance so that the reliable services they provide can continue uninterrupted.

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Photo credit: Virginia Beach Public Utilities

Investments in infrastructure range from smaller replacement project to large scale initiatives. HRSD’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) will take highly treated water that is normally discharged into local rivers and put it through additional treatment to raise it to drinking water standards. The water can then be injected into the Potomac Aquifer, creating a sustainable water resource for future generations, while simultaneously addressing land subsidence and saltwater intrusion. Smaller projects, like the Beach Road replacement project in the Fox Hill area of Hampton, focus on replacing aging water mains with new lines that reduce the potential for leaks and breaks.

While our region’s water and wastewater systems may be out of sight, they should not be out of mind. On Oct. 12, join askHRgreen.org, your local water utilities and groups across the country as we recognize the “Imagine a Day Without Water” campaign and the important role our underground water and wastewater systems play in delivering water services that fuel our economy, quality of life and vital health and public safety services. We invite you to join us in this effort by:  

  1. Giving up one activity that day that involves water and see what it’s like to go without. 
  2. Going  to www.shareH2o.org and consider a gift to the Help 2 Others (H2O) Program, a local 501(c)3 organization that assists families in danger of losing residential water service because of an unexpected crisis.
  3. Visiting one of our local water reservoirs to see firsthand where your water comes from and the trip it must make to be delivered to your home.  
  4. Discussing the importance of our region’s ongoing investment in this critical infrastructure by joining the conversation at facebook.com/askHRgreen.

 An investment that ensures our region’s public health, safety and economic vitality is one that should be maintained. It’s hard to imagine living without it.

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Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Community events, HR Green campaign updates, Using water wisely

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Suffolk School Takes Recycling Beyond The Bin

Posted on June 30, 2017 by | Comments Off

The Recycling Club at John Yeates Middle School in Suffolk is impressive to say the least. The club formed in the fall of 2016 when the school received an askHRgreen.org environmental education mini grant to start a recycling program. Made up of 12 students, with guidance from teachers, Ms. Sabrina Hayes and Ms. Lauren Rubash, they have been busy rolling out and managing the school’s recycling program. They have also given a recycling presentation to a manager at a local fast food chain that isn’t currently recycling, they’ve raised funds for their program, and now they are managing and maintaining a school garden complete with compost area and a rain barrel. Assistant Principal Dr. Wendy Van Housen has been instrumental in all of these activities, including applying for the mini grant. For her leadership and efforts, Dr. Van Housen won the askHRgreen Environmental Action Award back in February. As the Regional Recycling and Beautification Committee representative for Suffolk, I stopped by the school to see the newly-installed garden and catch up with Dr. Van Housen as the students are out on summer break.

JohnYeatesBefore&AfterDr. Van Housen and the school principal, Dr. Shawn Green, led me to their beautiful new courtyard garden. It was very impressive, and when Dr. Van Housen showed me how it looked before the makeover, I was curious to know how they did such a wonderful job in the middle of a busy school semester. 

As part of the school’s Earth Day (week) celebrations, Dr. Van Housen reached out to two businesses known for their community involvement, Lowes and Smuckers. She asked them for help with rejuvenating their school courtyard which she referred to as, “an eyesore.” The manager of Lowes, Steve Poole, agreed to help with the project by supplying tools and lending 12 employees. In addition, they supplied 400 bags of soil, 300 bags of mulch, and 200 bags of marble rock. More than 30 planks of wood were cut to build benches and lay the foundation for a rock path. Smuckers manager, Keith Hightower, also agreed to help and organized 9 employees to join the effort and contributed Chick-fil-A lunches for everyone involved. It took only two days to turn the courtyard around, installing three raised beds, a variety of benches, and a composting area. A remarkable team effort! 

JohnBYeates4Now that it’s built, The Recycling Club is managing and maintaining it. They are already harvesting cucumbers with peppers, carrots, and tomatoes on the way. Over the course of the summer, some of the teachers and supporting staff will help with maintenance until the students return. Dr. Van Housen told me how the cooking teacher had already visited the garden to teach the students about fresh food and in the new school year, there will be plenty of opportunities for other teachers to use the garden as a learning experience. Next year, they are planning to begin composting, install their rain barrel, and paint the benches with their school colors.

JohnYeatesAfterIt is amazing to think that a year ago the school did not have a recycling program or a recycling club and now they are looking to harvest rain water and begin composting. Before I left, I asked Dr. Van Housen if everybody at the school was recycling to which she replied, “Many students are recycling but not everybody just yet; however, everybody is aware of recycling. The school is making progress and we are excited to encourage our students to think about their environmental impact.”

 Blog post contributed by Wayne Jones, Litter Control Coordinator with the City of Suffolk.

Posted in: For educators, Gardening, Going Green, Lawn and landscape, Reduce reuse and recycle, Uncategorized, Using water wisely

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When Bottled Water Reigns, Our Environment Loses

Posted on March 10, 2017 by | Comments Off

water-bottle-910787_960_720I’m reminded of a Beatles song this morning…”I read the news today, oh boy!”

And, oh boy, the news is not good. Business Insider reports that bottled water sales have now surpassed the sale of carbonated soft drinks. Now that’s great for our country’s health and our collective waistlines but it’s oh so bad for our environment. Bottled water consumption grew by 9 percent to 12.8 billion gallons in 2016. The most frustrating part of the bottled water trend might be the fact that half of bottled water is not from a mountain spring in a pristine forest somewhere in the Pacific Northwest or a remote tropical island. Nope. Bottled water is often regular municipal tap water, pumped through a filter and into a bottle at 2,000 times the cost of filling up a reusable bottle. Bottled water is even produced in drought-plagued areas of our country contributing to local water crises in places like California and Maine. Other baffling facts surrounding the bottled water trend include:

  • Bottled water is not held to the same quality standards as municipal tap water. Municipal tap water is constantly monitored by a local lab with standards set through the EPA. Bottled water has only moderate monitoring standards set through the FDA . For example, coliform bacteria testing is done once per week for bottled water and more than 100 times per month for municipal tap water.
  • It takes three times the amount of water to produce a plastic water bottle than it does to fill it. That’s 36 ounces of water used per 12 ounce bottle of water.
  • An estimated 17 million barrels of oil are consumed each year to produce and transport bottled water. That’s enough to power 1 million cars for a year!
  • 22 billion water bottles end up in landfills each year and will take hundreds of years to decompose.
  • You can refill a 20 ounce refillable water bottle at any tap in Hampton Roads 1,500 times for the same cost as a single container of bottled water.

So don’t be a sucker. Don’t fall prey to the hype. Instead, pick up a reusable water bottle to fill with tap water to make a healthy choice for your body and our environment.

To learn even more about the true cost of bottled water, check out the documentary Tapped.

 

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Don't litter!, Reduce reuse and recycle, Using water wisely

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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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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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