August 2012, Vol. 24, No.8

Research Notes

Improved wastewater treatment credited with reducing metals

Substantial reductions of metals in Southern California’s coastal waters are attributed, in part, to cleaner wastewater, according to a University of Southern California (USC; Los Angeles) research team.

Water samples taken off the coast show a hundredfold decrease in lead and a four-hundredfold decrease in copper and cadmium. Concentrations of metals in surface waters off the Los Angeles coast are comparable to levels in surface waters along a remote stretch of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, according to a USC news release.

The research team, led by Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy, USC professor of biological and earth sciences, attributes the change both to wastewater treatment regulations instituted by the Clean Water Act and the phaseout of leaded gasoline. The team also included USC doctoral researcher Emily A. Small and associate professor Eric A. Webb.

The researchers compared water samples from 30 locations between Point Dume (north of Los Angeles) and Long Beach (south of Los Angeles) to samples taken in the same locations in 1976 by University of California–Santa Cruz researchers Kenneth Bruland and Robert Franks, the news release says.

Even though the population has increased, wastewater treatment has improved, and levels of metals in coastal waters have declined, Sañudo-Wilhelmy said. “We can see that if we remove the contaminants from wastewater, eventually the ocean responds and cleans itself,” he said in the news release. “The system is resilient to some extent.”

An article describing the research, which was funded by the USC Sea Grant program, was published in the March 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology (Emily A. Smail, Eric A. Webb, Robert P. Franks, Kenneth W. Bruland, and Sergio A. Sañudo-Wilhelmy, “Status of Metal Contamination in Surface Waters of the Coastal Ocean off Los Angeles, California since the Implementation of the Clean Water Act,” pp. 4304–4311).


 

NASA makes new algae-cultivation system available to biofuel community

A floating algae-cultivation system may be the next-generation technology to help generate biofuel.

Water samples taken off the coast show a hundredfold decrease in lead and a four-hundredfold decrease in copper and cadmium. Concentrations of metals in surface waters off the Los Angeles coast are comparable to levels in surface waters along a remote stretch of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, according to a USC news release.

The research team, led by Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy, USC professor of biological and earth sciences, attributes the change both to wastewater treatment regulations instituted by the Clean Water Act and the phaseout of leaded gasoline. The team also included USC doctoral researcher Emily A. Small and associate professor Eric A. Webb.

The researchers compared water samples from 30 locations between Point Dume (north of Los Angeles) and Long Beach (south of Los Angeles) to samples taken in the same locations in 1976 by University of California–Santa Cruz researchers Kenneth Bruland and Robert Franks, the news release says.

Even though the population has increased, wastewater treatment has improved, and levels of metals in coastal waters have declined, Sañudo-Wilhelmy said. “We can see that if we remove the contaminants from wastewater, eventually the ocean responds and cleans itself,” he said in the news release. “The system is resilient to some extent.”

An article describing the research, which was funded by the USC Sea Grant program, was published in the March 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology (Emily A. Smail, Eric A. Webb, Robert P. Franks, Kenneth W. Bruland, and Sergio A. Sañudo-Wilhelmy, “Status of Metal Contamination in Surface Waters of the Coastal Ocean off Los Angeles, California since the Implementation of the Clean Water Act,” pp. 4304–4311).

“OMEGA focuses on self-sustaining cycles that convert waste from one part of the system into assets for another part,” the news release says. “NASA used its unique expertise in life support systems to develop the OMEGA technology.”

“The hope is that other organizations and industries will realize the potential of the OMEGA technology for wastewater treatment and ultimately to produce sustainable biofuels,” said Jonathan Trent, OMEGA project scientist at NASA, in the news release.

More details about the system are available at www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/research/OMEGA/index.html.


 

Water trading plan may solve Colorado River shortages

Instituting an interstate cap-and-trade system may solve Colorado River water overuse. Consumers use more water than the total amount that flows down the river in an average year. A diminished supply in the river and Lake Mead, which is fed by the river and the largest reservoir in the United States, threatens water supply for agriculture and households, according to a Wiley–Blackwell (Hoboken, N.J.) news release.

The proposed solution was published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (Richard A. Wildman Jr. and Noelani A. Forde, “Management of Water Shortage in the Colorado River Basin: Evaluating Current Policy and the Viability of Interstate Water Trading,” pp. 411–422). It evaluates Colorado River Basin management policy and explores the viability of interstate water trading as a way to add flexibility during times of water shortage, the news release says. The proposal builds on the success of a similar initiative, the Murray–Darling Basin interstate water trading system in Australia.

Researchers explored features of Colorado River Basin law and culture that could act as barriers to creating a system similar to Australia’s, the news release says. Barriers described in the proposal include several needs, including standardizing laws across state boundaries, creating a central regulatory authority that can apply rules across all participants, states ceding control to this authority, overcoming resistance to change, and addressing participant concerns, the proposal says.

“We find that, despite substantial obstacles, an interstate water market is a compelling reform that could be used not only to adapt to increased water scarcity but also to preserve core elements of Colorado River Basin law,” the proposal abstract says.

See the full proposal, published in response to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s solicitation for comments and ideas from the public on how to solve the problem, at http://bit.ly/PmAXLg.

 

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