How do Hurricanes Affect Water Quality?

How do Hurricanes Affect Water Quality?

Hurricane season is upon us, and we know that this time of extreme winds, heavy rainfall and massive flooding can be devastating. Hurricanes destroy infrastructure and homes as well as create dangerous situations for those living there. In addition to these effects, there are some hidden issues that might not surface until the rains and wind stop. One of these issues is the lack of clean and safe water.

Three Effects of Hurricanes

There are a few ways that hurricanes affect freshwater supplies. First, we need to think of the water that is being pulled into the hurricane. As hurricanes churn over the ocean, they can bring rain that contains chemicals and undrinkable salt water. This rain then falls in rural areas where fertilizers and pesticides can quickly contaminate private wells.

In the urban areas, city fresh water sources can also become contaminated, making the water not safe to use or drink. This contamination is a result of the heavy rains and flooding. As the flood waters move, they bring with them enormous amounts of contaminants like chemicals, sewage, and other debris. Flooding waters can breach water reservoirs causing contamination that water treatment systems cannot keep up with. These waters will also contaminate surrounding lakes, streams and well water supply, meaning there is potential for overgrowth of bacteria.

In addition to the floods, high winds can result in falling trees and other infrastructure damage. This can cause water pipes to be broken, allowing for the water to be exposed to contaminants. The broken pipes will then take the contaminated water directly into water mains and lines into individual homes. This contaminated water poses great health risks to communities as it can carry diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, e. Coli and dysentery. The repairs on the water systems can be very costly and the contamination issues can last for years to come.

Historic Water Quality After Hurricanes

In 2012 as a result of Hurricane Sandy, more than 690 wastewater and drinking water utilities in 11 states were compromised. Within a few days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that more than 1,220 drinking water systems and more than 200 wastewater treatment facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had been affected. This caused a large outbreak of gastrointestinal diseases triggered by e. Coli due to the lack of safe water. 

How to Be Prepared

If you find yourself in the aftermath of a hurricane, avoid using your well water or tap water. It is important to get your water tested to ensure you are drinking safe water. If you are unsure of the safety of your water, be sure to boil the water or use a filter that will remove the contaminants. Check out Business Connect, one of our partners, to learn more about various water filtration and treatment options. Stay safe!

Water Filter Benefits to the Environment

Water Filter Benefits to the Environment

Happy Earth Day! Today is a day that we celebrate the beautiful world we live in. We all have found little places of the world that we enjoy, whether it’s a beautiful sandy beach, the mountains, or a wooded trail. At Connect for Water, we often champion projects that bring clean water to those in need for health reasons, but did you know that water filters also help the environment? We’ve pulled together four different benefits of water filters to the environment and outlined them below. 

Less Plastic Waste

A key benefit of water filtration is that it cuts down on plastic waste because bottled water is not needed. According to the Container Recycling Institute, each day in the US more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Even if one tries to recycle plastic bottles, only certain types of plastic bottles are recycled in certain areas. The rest of the plastic bottles end up in landfills. As they are made of polyethylene terephalate (PET) plastics, they break down into small pieces as they decompose and contaminate soil, pollute groundwater and make animals sick. These bottles can take hundreds of years to decompose in the landfills, continuing to release toxins into the environment. If one water filter can provide clean drinking water for a family for 5 years, that is 4,175 water bottles saved from landfills.

Reduces the Carbon Footprint of Bottled Water Production

Another benefit of water filtration to the environment is a reduction in the carbon footprint of bottled water production. Since water bottles are made from polyethylene terephalate (PET), they require fossil fuels to be produced. In 2006, the US water bottle consumption levels required the equivalent of around 17 million barrels of oil. This is enough energy to fuel one million American cars for one year (Pacific Institute, 2007). This means that drinking bottled water is also depleting the earth of other natural resources.

Save Scarce Water Resources by Reuse

Did you know that you can also save scarce water resources with water filtration? With a water filter, it is possible to reuse water which reduces stress on the freshwater supply. Many areas where pure water is plentiful are delicate ecosystems that suffer when their water is removed like rivers and wetlands. Wastewater is typically the water targeted for recycling. Instead of sending the wastewater directly to the nearest river or ocean where it spreads contaminants, it is recycled and used for irrigating crops. 

Save on Soap and Other Cleaning Products

A final, and little known environmental benefit of water filtration is that it can help save on soap and other cleaning products. As many water sources are contaminated with oils and other minerals, filtering water before washing hands or cleaning surfaces will mean that less soap will be needed to wash away the dirt. Minerals like calcium and magnesium interfere with the cleaning action of soap. Soap is attracted to these minerals, producing fewer suds and being less effective (WaterTech, 2015). From this understanding, we can conclude that filtered water will also save soap and other cleaning products.

These are just a few of the filtered water benefits to the environment and they can just be added to the countless health benefits of clean water. This is why we continue to champion the cause for clean water around the world. Would you join us in this work to save the earth and help communities drink clean and safe water?

How Polluted Oceans Hurt Us and How We Can Protect Them

How Polluted Oceans Hurt Us and How We Can Protect Them

Oceans and the life they sustain are vital to humankind. Unfortunately, overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten these habitats.

The oceans are one connected body of salt water that covers more than 70 percent of the Earth, and we depend on these waters for human survival. They influence everything from the weather to the food supply to the health of seaside communities. Yet, we are the greatest offenders when it comes to pollution.

The oceans are also teeming with creatures that are critical to our ecosystems. Fish, dolphins, squid, octopuses, eels, and whales populate the open ocean, while lobsters, starfish, oysters, crabs, and snails scurry about the ocean bottom. Mammals like walruses, otters, and polar bears depend on the ocean for their survival as well. Coral reefs are a biome of colorful activity found in shallow, tropical waters.

All areas of the ocean are impacted by human activities. Lost or discarded nets, spilled oil and garbage, runoff, and sewage are all creating dead zones in the oceans. Excess carbon dioxide turns ocean waters acidic, and freshwater from melted glaciers will alter the weather-driving currents.

Heartbreaking Ocean Pollution Facts

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Scientists estimate how much floating garbage is out there, but not even oceanographers can tell us exactly how much –  the oceans are just too big. In 2002, Nature magazine reported that, “…during the 1990s, debris in the waters near Britain doubled; in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica the increase was a hundredfold. And depending on where they sample, oceanographers have found that between 60 and 95 percent of today’s marine debris is made of plastic.”

Where does all this garbage come from?

Plastic and other garbage enters the ocean when people throw it from ships, leave it in the path of the tide, when rivers carry it there, or when sewage systems and storm drains overflow. In spite of the Ocean Dumping Reform Act, “…the US still releases more than 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm runoff every year,” according to a 2004 EPA report.

This problem is significant because plastics do not degrade in seawater. Rather, they accumulate daily, and, thanks to ocean currents, the plastics travel thousands of miles.

As of April of 2017, scientists estimated that about 19 billion pounds of garbage are currently present in the world’s oceans.

“We’re being overwhelmed by our waste,” said Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer who led the 2015 study that determined this staggering number. According to Jambeck, ocean waste amounts will double by 2025 unless we do something on a global scale to reduce ocean waste.

Plastics are the top type of garbage found in the ocean. Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit that organizes an annual coastal cleanup event in more than 150 countries worldwide, estimate that plastic debris makes up around 85 percent of all the trash collected from beaches, waterways and oceans.

Because plastics don’t biodegrade, they simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces as they are exposed to sunlight. These microplastics are shorter than 5 millimeters long, and some are microbeads.

The United Nations Environment Program note that, “…there could be as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in our seas.” What is particularly alarming is the five, enormous swirling garbage convergences called “gyres”. These large garbage islands are the subject of new and innovative ocean cleaning efforts and technology.

One of the most troublesome sources of ocean garbage is litter from single-use plastic products ― plastic bags in particular. These plastics are threatening at least 600 marine life species, including leatherback turtles, whales, and seabirds. These animals mistake the plastics for food and cannot digest them, and the plastics eventually kill the animals.

People need to be educated about how widespread ocean pollution is and how it not only affects marine life, but people and the environment as well.

For example:

  • Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year.
  • The Mississippi River carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year, creating a “dead zone” in the Gulf each summer.
  • 40% of the freshwater lakes in the US are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming.
  • 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste are dumped into US water every year.
  • In 2010, recycling and composting prevented 85 million tons of pollution.
  • Cleanups can save animals lives and discourage people from littering in the future.

Cleaning up Ocean Pollution

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It is critical that we, as residents on this planet, join together to fight ocean trash. There are multiple agencies, nonprofits, and corporations who are joining the fight, and we can support them.

The International Coastal Cleanup organization started more than 30 years ago, when communities came together to collect and document the trash along their Texas coastlines.

The organization connected with the Texas General Land Office, local businessmen and women, and other ocean-lovers, and planned what would be Ocean Conservancy’s first Cleanup. Volunteers didn’t just pick up trash; they recorded each item collected on a data card in order to help find ways to eradicate ocean trash moving forward.

The Cleanup has grown vastly in 30 years. Volunteers from states and territories across the US and more than 100 countries participate in a Cleanup event every year.

Renee Tuggle, the Texas State Coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup, said, “What I have learned from the Cleanup experience, is that even though the Cleanup started in Texas with a small number of 2,800 volunteers… it has grown into a massive cleanup that involves both national and international volunteers all pitching in for the same common goal of cleaning up our coastal waters and taking care of our beaches. I am proud to be a part of this global movement and I appreciate all of the help and support I get from the Ocean Conservancy staff.”

At a former naval air station in Alameda, California, across the bay from San Francisco, workers are welding a football field length black tube together. It is a single piece of a larger system designated to attack the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Boyan Slat, the innovator behind the idea, presented his science at a TEDx talk and The Ocean Cleanup idea began. At just 18-years-old, Slat had discovered that cleaning up microplastics and microbeads currently in the ocean could take almost 80,000 years. Now, his organization is poised to clean up a huge majority of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.

There are also things individuals or small groups can do to help:

Be Aware of your Carbon Footprint

Be conscious of your energy use at home and work. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, take the stairs, and avoid oversetting your thermostat.

Make Sustainable Seafood Choices

When you are grocery shopping or dining out, reduce the demand for overexploited species by choosing sustainably sourced seafood.

Use Less Plastic

Plastics kill tens of thousands of marine animals every year. Carry a reusable water bottle, use cloth totes for shopping, and always recycle whenever possible.

Help Care for the Beach

Always clean up after yourself and participate in a beach cleanup. Explore the ocean but don’t interfere with wildlife or remove rocks and coral.

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Don’t Buy Items that Exploit Marine Life

Avoid buying items like coral jewelry, tortoiseshell hair accessories, and shark products.

Be an Ocean Friendly Pet Owner

Read pet food labels and consider seafood sustainability when choosing food for your pet. Don’t stock your aquarium with wild-caught saltwater fish, and never release aquarium fish into natural bodies of water.

Support Organizations that Protect the Ocean

Consider giving financial support or offering your time at volunteering.

Be the Change in Your Community

Research the ocean conservation positions of public officials before voting. Patronize restaurants and markets that offer only sustainable seafood.

Be Responsible when Traveling the Ocean

Practice responsible kayaking, boating, kayaking, and other activities on the water. Don’t ever litter and be aware of marine life in the water.

Educate Yourself About Oceans and Marine Life

The more you learn about this critical system, the more you can share that knowledge to educate others.

What Else Can We Do To Help?

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The threats to our ocean ecosystems seem overwhelming. The oceans experience pollution, overfishing, climate change, and other issues. How can we make a difference as individuals? We can make a big difference starting here:

Connect

Learn about the ocean and how you impact the ecosystem. Read about conservancy and restoration – and then share what you have learned.

Be Water Wise

Reduce your family’s use of chemicals. Use fertilizer minimally, buy organic fruits and veggies, and choose non-toxic cleaning products.

Trim Down Trash

Trash doesn’t disappear. Moving water can carry loose trash to the ocean.

Don’t Live a Disposable Lifestyle

Invest in reusable bags, beverage cups, and non-plastic containers. Always recycle.

Litter Patrol

Never litter and be a part of the solution by participating in beach cleanups.

Be Fish Friendly

Only buy products that you can guarantee were sustainably harvested. Demand sustainable seafood at the grocery store and in at favorite dining spots.

Conclusion

On this little blue planet, we are but one species and we are the most dangerous to all the others. Our oceans and sea life are not replaceable. We can and must do our part to clean, conserve, and improve the conditions in our planet’s oceans.

Without the oceans, we put our lives in jeopardy. Let’s do the smart thing and take care of our oceans.

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