January 2009, Vol. 21, No.1


‘Liquid Assets’ Brings Infrastructure Issues to Light

A 90-minute documentary, “Liquid Assets: The Story of Our Water Infrastructure,” began airing on Public Broadcasting System channels in October. The film was the brainchild of Sunil Sinha, an associate professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech; Blacksburg) College of Engineering, who wanted to call attention to the aging water and sewer infrastructure in the United States.

“We wanted to provide a tool so that people can get a picture on what was going on with our water infrastructure and sewer infrastructure,” said Stephanie Ayanian, lead producer and co-director of the documentary.

Sinha brought the idea for the documentary to the Pennsylvania State University (University Park) Public Broadcasting Station in 2004 and, during production, picked interview subjects, helped lay out the structure, and appeared on camera as an expert representing Virginia Tech.

The film examines the replacement and maintenance necessary for the more than 3 million km (2 million mi) of buried water and wastewater pipelines across the United States. Filmmakers hope the documentary will raise public awareness about infrastructure issues and the need to fund water and wastewater services adequately.

To find a scheduled local broadcast or more information, see www.liquidassets.psu.edu.

U.N. Publishes First World Map of Shared Aquifers

The first world map of shared aquifers has been published by the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). According to a UNESCO press release, the map’s publication coincided with the submission of a draft Convention on Transboundary Aquifers to the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 27.

The new map of transboundary aquifers shows the delineations of aquifers that are shared by at least two countries and provides information about the quality of water and rate of replenishment. Included on the map’s inventory are 273 shared aquifers, with 68 in North and South America, 65 in Eastern Europe, 90 in Western Europe, and 12 in Asia.

Globally, 65% of aquifer utilization is devoted to irrigation, 25% is devoted to drinking water supply, and 10% is devoted to industry, according to the press release. Many arid and semiarid regions rely on underground aquifers for almost all of their water supply, such as aquifers supplying Saudi Arabia and Malta with 100% of their water, Tunisia with 95% of its water, and Morocco with 75% of its water.

The draft convention is meant to fill a gap in international law by calling for states not to harm existing aquifers, to cooperate, and to prevent and control their pollution.

For more information, see typo38.unesco.org/index.php?id=240.

Nutrient Delivery to Gulf of Mexico Highest in Decades

Nutrient delivery to the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi–Atchafalaya River Basin has been estimated to be among the highest in the last three decades, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) news release.

High nutrient delivery can be attributed to streamflows that were about 50% higher this past spring (April to June 2008) in the Mississippi River Basin, compared to average flows since 1980, according to USGS. USGS also found that runoff from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers in spring 2008 was about 51% above the average for the period between 1979 and 2007.

The source of flow affects nutrient levels because average spring streamwater nutrient concentrations can vary significantly by subbasin. Preliminary streamflow estimates indicate that runoff in spring 2008 was 70% above average for the upper Mississippi subbasin, 23% above average for the Missouri subbasin, and 71% above average for the combined lower Mississippi and Arkansas–Red subbasins, according to USGS.

According to USGS, total phosphorus levels recorded at 75,000 Mg (83,000 ton) are about 60% higher than the average, and total orthophosphate levels recorded at 24,000 Mg (26,000 ton) are about 85% higher than the average for a 30-year period. The phosphorus fluxes were the highest on USGS record. In addition, nitrogen contributions during the 3-month period were estimated to be 742,000 Mg (817,000 ton) and 35% higher than the average. The dissolved nitrate levels were estimated to be about 525,000 Mg (578,000 ton), which is about 41% above the average.

To access USGS data for streams and rivers nationwide, see water.usgs.gov/waterwatch.

New Hampshire Introduces Biodiesel Train

A new biodiesel train has taken the rails at the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire.

The train, named Wajo Nanatasis, which is Abenaki for “Mountain Hummingbird,” is equipped with a 460-kW (617-hp) John Deere (Moline, Ill.) internal-combustion diesel engine controlled by a computer system that monitors the train and track. According to a press release from the railway, the new train will reduce the time of a round trip to the top of Mount Washington and back from 3 hours to 2 hours.
The first train to climb the railroad in 1869 was powered by wood-fired boilers and used a toothed cogwheel to engage the rack between the rails, the press release explains. About 1910, the railway’s trains became powered by coal. Each 10-km (6-mi) round trip up and down the 1917-m (6288-ft) summit consumes 0.9 Mg (1 ton) of coal and 3785 L (1000 gal) of water. The new biodiesel-powered locomotive signals an effort to supplement the coal-fueled fleet with several biodiesel engines to reduce emissions and conserve fossil fuels, the press release says.

According to Joel Bedor, owner of the railway since 1983, another recent improvement has been the installation of solar-powered switches used to direct trains to different tracks along the Waumbek Tank, where trains stop to fill up on water needed to complete the ascent.

For more information, see www.thecog.com.

©2009 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.