Water in the News

We share insights about current events around the world that involve our favorite subject.

Lead in Drinking Water - Another Reason for Point Of Use Water Treatment

by Keith B Published 2.10.2016

There is much coverage in all the media lately regarding lead in the water in Flint, Michigan and now in Sebring, Ohio.  We can also remember the same issue in Washington DC about 12 years ago.  According to the Mayo Clinic's website Lead poisoning is a serious subject and one where elevated lead levels in children and pregnant women can cause learning disabilities and other health problems.  The symptoms of lead poisoning in children are varied and may seem similar to other common juvenile ailments, such as irritability, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and hearing loss, just to name a few.

It is also fully understood that lead in the water supply is only one of many causes of elevated lead levels.  Others being lead paint, lead in soil, lead in toys, pottery etc. 

In almost all cases, lead in a water supply comes from exposure to lead in the plumbing, either in lead used to solder copper pipe together or from actual lead pipes, once commonly used as the feed lines to homes in older city water systems.  Naturally aggressive waters can dissolve the lead in contact with the water and add it to the water.  Even at elevated levels the lead is odorless, tasteless, and adds no color to the water.  The chemistry of lead in water is complex and lead can be found in many forms in water, both soluble and particulate. 

In June of 1991, the EPA published the Lead and Copper Rule which set new lower limits for lead (15 parts per billion) and set new sampling guidelines with a regulated number of actual "in home" samples now being part of the requirements based on the number of people the water system serves.  This rule also offered treatment techniques such as corrosion control as a means of controlling the possible lead content in those regions where the risks existed.  It is the results of these types of tests and the state and local government's reaction to them that has fueled much of the controversy in both Flint and Sebring.

As with many water contaminant issues, the lead problem is one where the use of a "Final Barrier" Point of Use (POU) drinking water system may make a lot of sense.  First, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that drinking lead contaminated water leads to the elevated lead levels in the bloodstream.  Bathing in lead contaminated water is not a source, as lead is not absorbed by the skin.  Therefore a POU device treating only the drinking water is an acceptable option.  Second, if there is lead present in your water, why not remove as much of it as you can?  If I am advised not to use tap water that has 16 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in it (over the EPA limit), should I be comfortable using water with 13 ppb?  Especially if I am making formula for an infant.

If you agree that taking on this responsibility for the quality of your (and your family's) water seems prudent and logical, then the Final Barrier product you choose should be certified by an ANSI approved laboratory to meet ANSI/NSF standards covering the removal of the contaminant(s) in question.  (Std 53 for filters and Std 58 for reverse osmosis (RO) systems).  The technologies that will work effectively for lead reduction are RO, adsorptive media filters, distillation, and ion exchange.  Keeping in mind the complexity of the chemistry, a best choice for a treatment product might be one that can handle both the particulate and dissolved forms, like a RO membrane.  Kinetico's certified products for lead reduction include the K-5 Drinking Water Station, the a 200 Drinking Water System, the MACguard Model 7500 Drinking Water Filter, and the Kube model Kube 14 Advanced Water Filtration System.  To learn more about these products and where to find them visit our website www.kinetico.com.  Further information about lead in drinking water can be found at the Water Quality Association's website at https://www.wqa.org/Portals/0/Technical%20Fact%20Sheets/2014_Lead.pdf



Dwindling Fresh Water Supply

by Keith B Published 6.17.2015

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has recently issued several news releases that continue to reinforce worries about our fresh water supply.  In a May 8th release they confirm that “Across most of the West, snowpack isn’t just low, it’s gone” and they add that for most of the West the snow pack at their monitoring stations is at or near the lowest on record.  “Snowmelt inflow into the Lake Powell Reservoir is forecast at 34% of normal.” Lake Powell Reservoir supplies water to much of the Southwest, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles and southern Arizona. 

Then on May 14th they announced increased funding for conservation efforts related to the Ogallala Aquifer, which is reportedly “being depleted at an unsustainable rate.” The Ogallala Aquifer was formed over 1 million years ago and covers about 174,000 square miles in several central states as shown in the map below.

Ogallala Aquifer

Natural Resources Conservation Service - Ogallala Aquifer Initiative

The lack of snowpack and depleting aquifers (the Ogallala is just one of many documented)  offer further reinforcement and evidence that we are experiencing and will continue to experience fresh water supply problems across much of the United States and around the world. While this is by no means “breaking news”, what is somewhat out of the ordinary is the state of California’s recently announced Executive Order B-29-15 where Governor Brown has challenged (imposed restrictions on) the urban potable water users to decrease their consumption by 25% over their 2013 volumes through February 2016. This order is quite broad and includes incentives to promote more water efficient appliances, removal of turf lawns in favor of drought compatible landscape designs, new technologies for reuse, among others. 

IThe order also attempts to include in the reduction analyses a “per capita” use review so that those areas where good conservation efforts are already being practiced won’t be affected as much as those areas where the use is less efficient. While I tend to be one who is not in favor of allot of big government intervention, I think these efforts are very important and needed. We can’t continue to just put our heads in the sand and wait until we turn on the tap and get no water. It remains to be seen how effective this order will be and how efficiently the policing of such an order can be carried out. But any efforts that move us towards water conservation and increased use of water recycling technologies are very necessary steps in the right direction.

Contact Keith B.

Pea Soup: Algae Blooms, Cyanobacteria, and Other Nasty Things in the Water

by Ed R Published 2.17.2015

Given the fact that many of us are deep in the throes of “Old Man Winter” the following has probably been forgotten and is not currently on our radar—for now! The threat of what occurred last summer could again, and probably will be a reality.

close up of algae bloomPhoto Credit: Jeff Reutter

Last August something happened to us here on the north coast. Toledo, the fourth largest city in the state of Ohio, had to issue a “don’t drink or boil the water” alert. This affected some 400,000 people in and around the surrounding area for two days. The reason for this was that the city detected a high level of a substance called Microcystin-LR in the water. The cause of this substance was a very heavy algal bloom in the Western Basin. Lake Erie, you see, is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and is especially shallow in the Western Basin. The late spring was unusually wet, and then by mid-summer very dry. This made for a perfect combination for algae to grow. But that’s not the real reason why the algae took off. I forgot to mention that the western part of the state is heavily agricultural. You can guess what that means. In early spring farmers are preparing their fields and planting their crops, which involves adding nutrients to the soil to promote plant growth. We know this as “fertilizing.” Fertilizer primarily consists of three major components, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—NPK (the chemical symbol for potassium is K). That’s what the numbers stand for when you pick up a bag at the store. For example, 10-10-10 means it’s 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium. Collectively these are termed “primary nutrients.” Of these, nitrogen and phosphorus are considered as the most significant for good plant growth. These same nutrients that promote crop growth also serve to promote algal growth.

When fields are fertilized (like in the early spring) and we have a heavy rainfall, some of the nutrients that aren’t absorbed by the soil can get washed off into streams and rivers which eventually end up in lakes. In dry periods, these nutrients concentrate (think evaporation). This has the effect of creating a “super juice” for algae to grow. If this occurs in the middle of the lake it’s not really a problem for us, but that’s another topic. But if this occurs near the intake to a water treatment plant, then it’s serious. Certain forms of algae can manufacture a class of compounds called “cyanotoxins.” A subclass of these are Microcystins. Microcystins have been found to pose a health concern for humans and animals. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a drinking water guideline of 1 ppb for Microcystin-LR. They have been found to affect the nervous system, the liver and the skin. These algal toxins can be in solution (soluble), associated with sediment or in the algae themselves, which makes treatment difficult.

Now I must note that agricultural run-off is not the only source of nutrients getting into our water supplies. There are others. But it has been identified as “point source.” A point source simply means that you can identify it as a causal factor. You can point at it. There are “non-point sources” which can also contribute but are hard to definitively identify. This is a complex problem and a complex subject. What I just wrote merely serves as an introduction. Much has been written about it, and it is the subject of intense study, corrective actions, and international involvement. For more in depth information go to the EPA’s web site.

In future blogs we’ll get into the nutrients themselves. As an aside, I have motored through this stuff, it’s just like pea soup. Talk about a “yuck” factor.

Contact Ed R.

Sustainable Energy Stored in the Oceans

by Keith B Published 5.22.2014

R&D Magazine published an article on their website on April 7th describing some very interesting work underway at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Materials Science and Technology Division. They “have recently demonstrated proof-of-concept of novel NRL technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.” They went on to demonstrate the viability of the fuel by using it to fly a model airplane. All this is very interesting and very important to the ongoing concerns of the buildup of man produced (anthropogenic) CO2, and the related issues of global warming and ocean acidification.

Photo of the ocean

Photo courtesy of Anita Berghoef.

Most of the press we are exposed to relating to mankind’s increasing release of CO2 from fossil fuel consumption ties it to atmospheric driven global warming and all the associated problems. However, another result effectively described on the US Department of Commerce—National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) web site is the concern over the gradual decrease in pH in the ocean. The drop in pH (increase in acidity) is caused by water’s ability to absorb CO2 and the resulting carbonic acid that is produced. The NOAA-PMEL, National Geographic and other sources state that of all the CO2 produced by fossil fuel consumption, the oceans absorb 25%–50%. The remaining amount may be consumed by plants, or may end up in the atmosphere or elsewhere.

The drop in pH of the ocean, reported to be accelerating since the beginning of the industrial revolution and its associated increase in fossil fuel consumption, could have a significant negative effect on the marine ecosystem. We would expect to see significant effects on corals, crustaceans and mollusks, on vertebrates such as fishes and on echinoderms like starfish and sea urchins. Naturally, all other species that relied on them for food would also be affected, including man.

Some of these consequences can be substantiated by looking at ocean sediment from 55 and 250 million years ago when there were also increased levels of CO2 in the ocean from volcanic activity. Also, there are some specific localized shallow ocean waters near volcanoes that can be studied today, where CO2 is released into the water from underground sources. These locations have demonstrated many of the negative effects we may see if the ocean’s pH continues to fall.

So if we step back and dream about the further development of the work started by the NRL, is there a glimpse of a sustainable solution in there somewhere? If we can “harvest” CO2 from the ocean and use it to produce a liquid hydrocarbon fuel, when that fuel is consumed, it again produces some CO2, a portion of which gets reabsorbed back into the ocean. It isn’t a perfect closed loop, but together with real efforts to reduce our use of fossil fuels, it might be a path towards improvement. Obviously, there is much more work to be done, but the article in R&D seems optimistic and one might imagine that in the eventual processing of copious quantities of sea water, there will be opportunities for filtration and separation technologies to play an important role.

Contact Keith B.

Standards for Bottled Water vs. Standards for Tap Water

by Ed R Published 2.13.2014

“The elephant in the room” is probably one of the most overused phrases in the last several years. It is basically meant to call attention to an impending situation which we know is looming but choose to ignore in the hope that it goes away. A current example of this elephant is the overall health of our drinking water. A recently published report by the DWRF (Drinking Water Research Foundation) is a must read. Entitled “Microbial Health Risks of Regulated Drinking Waters in the United States”, this report provides a comparative assessment of health risks associated with drinking tap water vs. drinking bottled water. It was authored by Dr. Stephen Edberg of Yale University who is an internationally recognized expert in the field of public health especially as it pertains to water and water treatment. (I had the opportunity to meet him in 2002 at the World Health Organization symposium on HPC Bacteria in Drinking Water in Geneva, but that’s another story.) The purpose of Dr. Edberg’s report is to help educate the public with regard to the risk of contracting a waterborne illness from a public water supply by contrasting it to bottled water. It does so by focusing on the differences in the following areas: regulations, standards, monitoring, advisories and distribution. For those of you that are not going to read the report (although I urge you to, it’s actually a pretty quick read), here is the “CliffsNotes” version with some commentary at the end.

Read the full report

Regulations: Both public drinking water and bottled water are heavily regulated. Public drinking water is regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Bottled water is regulated by the FDA under The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) as it is considered a food product.

Standards: “Federal law requires that FDA’s regulations for bottled water must be at least as protective of public health as EPA standards for tap water.” Where these two differ is in microbial contaminants. EPA currently has no standards for total coliform or E. coli in source waters, only in finished water. In contrast, if a bottler is drawing water from a source other than a public water supply then both the source water and the finished water are subject to the standards.

Monitoring: It is in this section that the author shows the greatest discrepancy of the two. On a gallon for gallon basis the report shows that bottlers are required to test on a far greater frequency than public suppliers.

Advisories: What happens when the water fails to meet either EPA or FDA Microbiological Standards? Under the SDWA this typically involves issuance of a “Boil Alert”. Two things trigger a boil alert, 1.) Detection of E. coli or any other pathogenic organism, 2.) Loss of system pressure, such as in the case of a water main break. Under the FDA Standards, contaminated water is prohibited from entering the food supply, and is subject to a recall. Public notification in both cases is required.

Distribution: Bottled water is processed, monitored, packaged under sanitary conditions, held and transported with no further outside influence of potential contamination. Tap water is processed, monitored, disinfected and delivered to consumers through a system of underground piping. (You should start to see the elephant now.)

Throughout this report the author purposely calls attention to the differences in the two most common forms of water used for human consumption, with the goal of pointing out to the reader where the source of the problem lies…the distribution system elephant. It’s not at the water treatment plant that we have a problem. The personnel there do a fantastic job of taking water from all kinds of sources and qualities to provide us with a clean, abundant and safe supply. Many of us absolutely take it for granted. When we turn on the tap we expect clear, cold, clean water and we expect it now. The report addresses some of the causal factors for the loss of quality as it pertains to the distribution system, things like source protection, cross connection, backflow prevention, and leaks. Let’s face it; some of the pipes have been in the ground for a hundred years. All of this is considered infrastructure. Numerous reports have identified the need to repair and replace our aging Infrastructure. So why are we ignoring it? There are only 300-500 billion reasons. You guessed it, dollars. But, there may be an alternative solution, and mark my words, you will be hearing more about it, it’s the final barrier concept. Take some time to read the report; it’s not too long or too technical.

Contact Ed R.

A Rare Agreement in the Middle East, Over Water

by Keith B Published 2.6.2014

Over the last 20 years, we have read predictions that the next great war will be fought over water and not riches, oil or geography. Some think water scarcity all over the world will bring on conflict between nations. In my blog entitled “Water Issues' Effect on Conflict and Civil Unrest” I discussed how water scarcity and changes have caused civil unrest and conflicts, but in a recent article published by both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, we read of water being the driving force behind an agreement between Israel, Jordan and Palestine. These nations are not known for their cooperation and peaceful relations; however, fresh water scarcity and changes brought on by attempts to address this scarcity have moved them to an agreement.

It turns out the water level of the Dead Sea, known and visited by tourists for its high salt content, has been dropping by more than 3 feet a year. This has primarily been caused by Jordan, Israel and Syria diverting the Jordan River, the Dead Sea’s main feeder, to meet increasing needs for irrigation and/or domestic use. This change in the Dead Sea coupled with increasing water scarcity in several areas of these countries, has brought about some unique solutions to these problems. A new desalination plant—using reverse osmosis technology—will be built in Aqaba, Jordan, taking its source from the Red Sea and the highly saline reject stream will be piped across Jordan to the Dead Sea to add back volume. Normally the reject stream produced by a desalination plant is an unwanted byproduct of the process, but in this case it may become part of a win-win solution. There are still some environmental concerns over the salt make up of the reject and how it will affect the differing salt content of the Dead Sea, but those issues will be monitored and reviewed.

An illustrated map of the Dead Sea showing its reduction over time

This application reminds us that many of the technologies used in water treatment are really “separation” technologies—technologies that effectively separate something from water. Reverse Osmosis (RO) membranes are most commonly used to separate unwanted ions and/or contaminants from water. The water that passes through the membrane (permeate) is “pure,” and is generally the desired product of such a system. In some cases, however, it is the concentrated solution that has the value, not the permeate. An example of this is using membranes for the concentration and production of maple syrup. In the case of the desalination plant being built at Aqaba, both the permeate and concentrate are going to have value, making it unique.

I can’t help but think about how this, on a grand scale, is another example of man beginning to get involved in areas we long took for granted, to think about sustainability. In our homes, towns and cities, we will have to find uses for all of our “reject streams.” Maybe some of them can find end uses that benefit all of us rather than creating more problems. Certainly we can find a water more suitable than drinking water to flush our toilets, water our lawns, or wash or cars…right?

Is drinking water your home's only water safety concern?

by Keith B Published 10.24.2013

As water treatment professionals, most of our time is spent thinking about improving the quality of either drinking water or working water. (Working water is water used for cleaning, washing clothes, cars, dishes etc.) For drinking water, we often focus on aesthetics and health concerns, and for working water we typically just focus on the aesthetics. However, there is a third category when considering water used for bathing, swimming or playing where aesthetics and some unique health effects are of concern.

Recently several articles have been written, including one by Matthew Hamilton on latimes.com, about the “Brain Eating Amoeba” found in the drinking water supply of a parish in Louisiana. The amoeba is said to cause a fatal brain infection called Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) by being introduced into the sinus through the nose. Infections created by this amoeba are quite rare with CBS Houston reporting a total of 32 cases in the US from 2001 to 2010. Of concern is an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which is found quite frequently in warm, relatively stagnant waters throughout the southern United States. Louisiana state health officials report that drinking the water containing the amoeba does not cause illness, since stomach acid kills it. Most previous infections have been contracted by people swimming in these warm waters, getting water in their nose in the process. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Naegleria fowleri is commonly found around the world in warm fresh water, the number of reported cases is surprisingly low.

Photo of water splashing on a child's hands

Tragically, these most recent articles recount the death of a 4 year old boy from this disease, which he contracted after playing on a “Slip 'n' Slide” fed with municipally-supplied water in that parish. Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist with the CDC, stated that this was the first time that Naegleria fowerli has been found in a treated water supply in the US. CBS Houston and several other news agencies are raising the question if Hurricane Katrina might be the cause of the contamination. Their thought process is that after Katrina, so many people left the parish that the water lay dormant in the supply pipes for longer periods than it had before the hurricane, when the system was serving more people. As a result, the chlorine residual may have dissipated, allowing the organisms to grow. Presently, the parish is increasing chlorine content and flushing the water lines, which has some residents complaining about the taste.

Once again, we find ourselves faced with questions about the quality of our tap water—not because of problems at the central treatment plant, but possibly because of conditions outside of its control. In this case, buying bottled water is of little help since taking a shower, bath or playing in the water would be the cause of infection. As a home owner, options for treatment might include a point of entry (POE) solution like ultraviolet (UV) treatment or whole house water filtration, sized properly by an authorized source. Or, if your municipality has increased chlorine content in your water, you could use a point of use (POU) treatment system to remove the taste of chlorine from your drinking water.

Even if you don’t live in a warm climate like Louisiana’s, it never hurts to get your water checked out. I have been in the water treatment industry for a long time, and I have seen how contaminants in your water can cause all kinds of problems for your family and home. As I wrote in an earlier post, I find that it’s best to be proactive and informed about my home’s water quality, just in case.

Contact Keith B.

Water Issues' Effect on Conflict and Civil Unrest

by Keith B Published 8.26.2013

In the May 18th Sunday Review of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote a very thought provoking article entitled “Without Water, Revolution.” It covers what is going on today in Syria and how water issues play a big role in the civil unrest that plagues that country today. He describes how the drought that hit the country from 2006 to 2011 significantly changed the distribution of the population, forcing small, independent, proud farmers to abandon their rural lands and move to cities to try and eke out an existence; and how many of the few jobs that did exist were given to favorites of the government. What I found interesting was that when previously I had thought about the unrest in Syria, I did not think about water, and also that one of the main issues some of the people had with the existing government was that they hadn't done enough in reaction to the drought.

Illustration of a modern Syrian man and a Dust Bowl era American man, both drinking water

Further research on this topic found the article recently published in Science Magazine by Hsiang, Burke and Miguel entitled “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict.” While most of this article (especially those parts relating to statistics) flew clearly over my head, it was easy to see that this subject has been studied in depth, and that with the many associated variables, coming up with a direct cause and effect is a challenge. Variables such as economic conditions, normal average temperature of a region, and interrelations between temperature and rainfall levels can all affect the data. There are even data presented linking high rainfall levels with unrest such as Hindu-Muslim riots. Hsiang et al state in their conclusions that “We do not conclude that climate is the sole—or even primary—driving force in conflict, but we do find that when large climate variations occur, they can have substantial effects on the incidence of conflict across a variety of contexts.”

In her review of this article, Rebecca Morelle of BBC News states “They estimate that a 2°C (3.6°F) rise in global temperature could see personal crimes increase by about 15%, and group conflicts rise by more than 50% in some regions.” She also found some opposing views where Dr. Halvard Buhaug, from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway finds that civil war in Africa was linked not to climate-related issues, but to other factors such as high infant mortality, proximity to international borders and high local population density. I might suggest that water quality could also play a role in the infant mortality issue and that the population density might be a product of previous drought conditions.

Refocusing from these studies covering centuries of change and human history to our lives in the USA today, I wonder what is going on right under our noses today that may someday become a blip in a future professor’s study. We know in American history, farms, towns, and cities were all built in close proximity to water supplies or areas with sufficient precipitation, or both. This was done for human consumption, irrigation or transportation needs. Immediate changes in the supply or quality of the water were readily apparent. Times in history like the famed Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the Great Plains saw major changes in populations and occupations. Farmers left the dried up land and headed for cities like Los Angeles. This was an obvious change. But slow changes in water availability, like a dropping water table or increasing contaminants, are harder to see and react to. And now that most of us rely on underground pipes to “magically” supply us with water, we really don't give it much of a thought—until the day when we open the faucet and nothing, or something not exactly like water, comes out. When that happens will we look to our government, just as many Syrians have, and ask, “how could you let this happen?” Will this be a type of climate change that will bring conflict?

We all need to continue to increase our attention to the wide variety of water issues that surround our neighborhoods, towns, cities, workplaces, counties, countries, and world. We must become more aware of changes in our fresh water supplies, learn to use those resources more efficiently, and embrace recycling concepts as often as possible. While we may not be able to affect climate temperature issues that drive conflict and unrest, it is possible that we can counteract somewhat those related to water changes.

Update February 6, 2014: I wrote another post about water and conflict…but this time it's about how water was part of a conflict's resolution!

Contact Keith B.

The Better Water Blog 1-Year Anniversary

by Kinetico Published 7.1.2013

Illustration of a tablet showing the blog, and a half-eaten slice of birthday cake

Time really does fly when you're having fun, doesn't it? Over the last year, we have tried to bring you posts that help you understand, value and respect life's most vital resource: water. We know some of you have been with us from the very beginning, and we're really grateful for that. But for those of you who are new to the Better Water Blog, here are some posts you could start with from this time last year.

Why are Boil Water Alerts So Important?

By Cathy J in The Science of Water

Have you ever had a Boil Water Alert (BWA) issued in your area? These public warnings can be worrisome if you've never heard them before. You may ask yourself, "Is my water really safe?" Cathy answers some common questions about BWA's in this informative first-ever Better Water Blog post.

How a Water Softener Works—Mystery Solved!

By Stuart P in Water Treatment Technology

Stuart's fascinating, lighthearted post clears up some of the mystery behind water softeners. Even if you already know all there is to know about ion exchange, water softeners, soap curds and electrons, you'll enjoy the fun, straightforward video presentation where we get to see how water softening works close-up, featuring Mr. Resin Bead! 

We All Have Our "Just In Case"...Mine Has To Do With My Drinking Water

By Keith B in Water in the News

Keith explains a few of the reasons why he and millions of others rely on reverse osmosis filtration for drinking and cooking water. "Better safe than sorry" is his philosophy as he illuminates some of the effects that fracking and PPCP's (Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products) might have on your water.

Kinetico, a Pioneer in Hydrokinetics?

by Keith B Published 4.25.2013

There was a very interesting article written by Mark Crawford in Mechanical Engineering recently titled “Waves, Currents & Electrical Potential.” In it he discusses the “relatively young” field of hydrokinetics, and covers its huge potential. The term hydrokinetics covers everything involving moving water, so it includes waves, ocean currents, flowing rivers and streams. He states “this form of energy tends to be more reliable than solar and wind, and is abundant in certain regions.” He quotes Christopher Mahoney, Communications Manager - Environment and Renewable Energy for the Electric Power Research Institute in Charlotte, N.C. as saying “technically recoverable wave energy alone could provide about 25% of U.S. electrical demand.”

Pretty impressive, but as a new technology, it faces challenges. The largest being how to get the energy from the source to a place where it can be either stored or distributed. Large ocean buoys with floats that rise and fall with each wave can use that motion to create electrical energy, but the necessary wire to get it back to land makes it difficult to apply. Crawford confirms “the most popular hydrokinetic device is the turbine.” Submerging these devices in a constantly flowing river can be effective. Also, the turbines can be designed to change orientation if the flow direction changes, making them capable of being positioned in a harbor, for instance, that may go through flows in both directions several times a day. Here are some examples:

Image of a turbineAnother image of a turbine

Photo credits: ANDRITZ HYDRO Hammerfest (left) and Kris Unger/Verdant Power, Inc. (right)

Image of Kinetico's turbine

And here is a picture of my favorite turbine, and the one Kinetico has been featuring for more than 40 years. We have been using these turbines to drive our water softener and filter valves through their regeneration for quite some time. We have studied their designs and have greatly decreased the amount of water needed to perform their work. As we look into the future, what other ways can we harness the energy of the water flowing into homes and businesses? The energy is there, we just need to learn how to use it effectively and efficiently. On a grander scale, as the power generation turbines and power collection systems evolve, will we see a growing use of that technology merge with the possible changing water flows brought on by climate changes?

 Should I put a turbine in my rain gutter? Maybe.


Contact Keith B.

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