Environmental Issues · Local Issues · Water

Sewer Systems: Not just for Ninja Turtles

Combined Sewer Overflow

The availability of clean water is essential to support the health and economy of every nation in the world. A major source of water pollution is the failing infrastructure we use to control and maintain the water we use. Hidden beneath cities is an underground maze of pipes and tunnels that not only carries the water we consume, but also carries waste water, storm water, and the water used to power and drive our everyday lives.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that it could cost the nation $700 billion to $1 trillion to replace the physical water infrastructure. Not only that, but cities would have to be torn apart, causing major disruptions for upwards of 10 years. To make these kinds of major improvements, there must be agreements between political, social, and economic forces, which often bring discussion of water infrastructure to a dead halt.

The 2012 Xylem Value of Water Index, a nationwide poll detailing what US voters think should be done about the country’s water infrastructure and who should pay for it, is a great info-graphic report that provides a visual on what a sample of the population is thinking. This report is interactive, allowing you to navigate through the most important aspects of the study.

In the Mill Creek Watershed, located in the City of Cincinnati, the sewer infrastructure is a topic of major concern. Every time we get a heavy rain event, the combined sewer overflow system dumps the excess stormwater/raw sewage mix directly into the Mill Creek. This stream then makes its ways to the Ohio River, where many residents get their drinking water.

It is important to not only look at making infrastructure improvements in the future, but to also reduce the amount of runoff that makes its way into our sewer structures right now. We can do this by installing rain gardens, creating wetlands, using rain barrels, planting trees, and anything else that allows water to absorb and infiltrate back into the ground slowly. The more impervious surfaces (aka streets, buildings, parking lots, etc) we have, the more taxed our sewer system is during rain events.

Environmental Issues · Local Issues · The Great Lakes · Uncategorized

Frack Attack

With most introductions to the newest trend in “clean energy” the public response is explosive. In the Midwest we are seeing this with hydrologic fracturing (or “fracking”), a process used to extract natural gas from deep in the ground.

Pictured right is a shale map from U.S. Energy Information Administration.

With nationwide reports of water contamination and earth quakes allegedly tied to fracking, we find that impact studies and regulations are a few steps behind.

For Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stated in a report in May 2011:  “The DEQ has not found any cases where hydraulic fracturing has caused adverse impacts to the environment or public health in Michigan.” The major concerns listed by the DEQ are as follows:

  1. Keeping the gas contained once it is fracked from the ground to protect aquifers (water reserves)
  2. Deciding where and how much water is withdrawn (A single fracture treatment for a typical Antrim well requires 50,000 gallons of water while a deeper Marcellus gas well needs about 500,000 gallons of water – Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council-National Wildlife Federation)
  3. Making sure the produced water (or the water that was used and mixed with chemicals) is disposed of properly.
  4. Managing flowback water (or water that comes back up through the piping)
  5. Identifying the chemicals added to the water during the fracking process (Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council does list a few of the known chemicals, Click Here to link to their fact sheet, but many are still undisclosed.)

Other states however, are experiencing adverse impacts. Recently Ohio experienced a 4.0 earthquake, the 11th earthquake to occur near a 9,200 foot deep disposal well where liquid waste from hydrofracking was injected, according to a New York Times report on January 3, 2012. In Texas, 4.8 magnitude earthquake occurred in a “center point for natural gas and oil production,” as stated in a KUT news, National Public Radio report.

Near hydraulic fracking sites in Wisconsin there have been concerns about water quality, prompting the EPA to conduct a study of ground water contamination. In the Draft Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming the EPA states “A lines of reasoning approach utilized at this site best supports an explanation that inorganic and organic constituents associated with hydraulic fracturing have contaminated ground water at and below the depth used for domestic water supply. However, further investigation would be needed to determine if organic compounds associated with hydraulic fracturing have migrated to domestic wells in the area of investigation.”

The report also emphasizes a need for future study, believing that there is a “need for collection of baseline data, greater transparency on chemical composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids, and greater emphasis on well construction and integrity requirements and testing.”

While these findings help to pinpoint the problems, they unfortunately arrive after the fact. Regulation is too often behind the curve.

Luckily in Michigan the DEQ has set standards and permit requirements for fracking. As of September 2011, the DEQ implemented a Water Withdrawl Analysis for High Volume Hydraulic-fracturing with a two-phase permitting process to decide if there is any potential for Adverse Resource Impacts (ARI). These evaluations will decide if the area is fit for high volume fracking.

Great Michigan is an effort among environmental, conservation, and public health groups across Michigan to address environmental issues across the state. With the issue of hydraulic fracking wells they state: “At present, these wells are not subject to the highest monitoring and testing requirements because the fluids are designated as oil and gas waste, and this designation results in less protective requirements. There are no requirements to analyze the constituents in the fluids prior to injection.”

While the future of fracking is uncertain, we know it’s not going anywhere and we continue to learn more about the process every day. It is my hope that the industry take a hard look at the environmental impacts before continuing to move forward, or that regulations be put in place to make sure hydrofracking is a responsible and sustainable practice.

If you are interested in what fracking looks like, watch the 2 min video below:

Local Issues · Sustainability

Wrapping Up on Holiday Shopping

Facing the crowds this holiday season in local shops downtown I’ve encountered a certain whispered phrase time and time again, “don’t buy that here, we can find it cheaper online”.

In a time of recession it is comforting to see people flooding the streets and packing in stores during the weeks leading up to Christmas. However, with cell phone apps that allow consumers to scan bar codes to find a better deal, you wonder how many people are leaving stores empty handed only to do their shopping online.

According to USA Today, sales online from Nov. 1 to Dec. 1 are up 15% this year compared the same month last year. With many sites offering free shipping, and discounted prices, it’s easy to see why many consumers are opting to shop on their computer.

Being of Dutch heritage, I can understand a good deal. I’m the girl you seeing shifting through the sale rack of retail shops and buying the medium drink at a coffee shop instead of the small, just because you get more drink for your money. I also understand that many are strapped for cash these days, and want to be able to get their friends and family something special for the holidays.

In 2008, a study was conducted on the impact of local business on the economy of West Michigan. It was found that for every $100 a person spends at a local business $68 stays within the community, while when the same amount is spent at a non-local business, only $43 remains within the community.

Now think about the money you spend online at businesses that are not even within your community, or within your state or country for that matter. How much purchase revenue is your community missing out on with all the online sales?

Just some food for thought while you finish checking off the rest of the gifts on your list this holiday season. I can’t say that I’ve bought all my gifts at local businesses this year, but it’s nice to know for the ones I did I’m supporting my community in a big way.

Happy shopping!


USA today: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/story/2011-12-06/online-retail-sales-surge/51682896/1

 LOCAL WORKS! Examining the Impact of Local Business on the West Michigan Economy September 2008

Art · Environmental Issues · Local Issues · Sustainability

Trash to Treasure

Recycling enthusiast Nancy Judd has a unique way of spreading the word about conservation through public art and couture fashion.

“Waste does not exist, only wasted resources,” said Judd.

Judd was one of over 1500 artists featured at this year’s ArtPrize in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. ArtPrize is public art contest where the winning pieces are not chosen by professional art critics but instead through a public voting process.

Throughout the past three weeks, when you walked into the large open room of the annex in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts you might have found Judd sewing away at a red dress (pictured right). On the table surrounding the dress were hundreds of small red circles, cut out from recycled cardboard and painted red with recycled paint.

Anyone who walked by her table was encouraged to write out an “eco pledge” on the front or back of one of the circles. The idea of the “eco pledge” was for a person to make a commitment to change an aspect of their daily routine in order to decrease their environmental impact.

Some of Judd’s favorite pledges were “showering together”, “shop locally”, and “use less water bottles”.

When people came by Judd was happy when she heard them talking about their conservation efforts, especially when it was a parent talking to a child.

“When people make a commitment with a pledge, even if they don’t do it right away, every time they do that thing a little ping will go off in their head,” said Judd. “Maybe that’s what it’s all about.”

In order to reach out to millions of people about sustainability, her collection has appeared on fashion show runways, airports, malls, museums, and other public venues, as well as at hands-on workshops and presentations.

Judd said she likes to show how trash can be used in ways people wouldn’t expect.

“I like to inspire people to look at trash a different way,” said Judd. “Trash is resources, designated as garbage.”

Like many of her other pieces, the dress she made for ArtPrize was specific and unique to this particular event. The ArtPrize dress was titled Eco-Flamenco, and was made from parachute and canvas scraps, recycled cardboard, and recycled paint from Battle Creek, Mich.

Judd doesn’t refer to herself as a fashion designer or as an artist per say, her idea of creating unique clothing items out of recycled material mostly derived from her 20 year career in recycling and solid waste management.

When Judd was in college she saw how the trash near the vending machine would fill up with pop cans. Judd asked to gather up the cans for recycling, and that is how her recycling career began.

Since then Judd feels we have come a long way as a country.

“At this point most people have integrated recycling into their life,” said Judd. “It’s time for this country to dig deeper and starting thinking about how to live lighter on earth,” said Judd.


To learn more about Nancy Judd and her work as a public artist and environmental advocate, visit her website: http://recyclerunway.com/