California, crypto and carbon

The past few months have been rather occupied with a new addition to our family so you’ll forgive me but I’m going to catch up a bit here by combining a few posts into one.

California drought cont’d: P.I. evidence to accuse ‘Magnum P.I.’

Photo: Tom Selleck. Source: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo: Tom Selleck. Source: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Following on from my recent post on dipping into the California water drought I was bemused to see a 9 July 2015 BBC news story about actor Tom Selleck accused by the Calleguas Municipal Water DistrictVentura County ‘of stealing water for his [60-acre avocado] ranch in parched California by raiding a public hydrant‘.

A day earlier The Daily Mail had stated that Selleck and his wife were ‘accused of dispatching a white truck to a neighboring valley at least 12 times since 2013 to retrieve gallons of precious water, which is in short supply during the historic drought … even after they were issued with a cease-and-desist notice‘ and that ‘the Sellecks continued to swipe tankloads from Thousand Oaks to bring back to Hidden Valley in Westlake Village‘.

Surprisingly the Mail seemingly did not pick up the irony that the former Magnum P.I. star was being asked to pay ‘$21,685.55 to cover the cost of their [Calleguas’] private investigator, plus legal costs and an injunction‘! The P.I. to ‘catch’ ‘Magnum P.I.’ had been brought in after ‘Ventura County Sheriff’s Department also investigated and was unable to establish a crime occurred‘ according to the BBC’s story.

Typically, reports from 10 July 2015 onwards that Selleck had reached an agreement over the matter were not given the same ‘headline’ treatment as were the original accusations. A few days later (16 July 2015) the at first confidential details of that agreement were revealed: Selleck would pay back the full amount after a ‘3-0 vote, taken in a closed session, was held [by Calleguas Municipal Water District] with two board members absent‘ to accept this reparative action.

Throughout the reporting there were multiple references to the irony of Selleck having said of avocadoes, back in People magazine in 2012, that ‘I don’t eat ’em … Honestly, they make me gag. But it’s just as well. I’ll sell my portion.’

(This story sitting squarely in the ‘entertainment’ section for most news outlets also meant being ‘treated’ to some glitzy details about the 70-year old actor’s nearly 90-year old ranch that he’d apparently bought ‘in the late 1980s‘ and had been ‘previously owned by Dean Martin‘ before Selleck renovated it by ‘installing a seven-car garage, helicopter pad, putting green, tennis and volleyball courts and a playhouse for his daughter … with running water and electricity‘!)

Crypto outbreak: Boil water notices in Lancashire, England

On the less ostentatious side of the water news United Utilities made the BBC headlines last week (7 August 2015) after their ‘[r]outine tests … found traces of cryptosporidium at Franklaw water treatment works outside Preston‘ following which UU ‘used BBC Radio Lancashire, automated phone and text messages, social media, and even leaflet drops to warn its customers‘ spread across ~300,000 households in the area to boil their drinking water. The BBC/UU map of the affected area is shown below:

Photo: Lancashire area affected by the August 2015 UU crypto outbreak. Source: UU/BBC.
Photo: Lancashire area affected by the August 2015 UU crypto outbreak. Source: UU/BBC.

Yesterday the boiled water notice was still in force according to UU’s site, which confirmed that there were still traces of crypto ‘throughout the 2,500 miles of pipework in the affected area‘, and noted that UU’s actions were being coordinated with the Drinking Water Inspectorate and Public Health England. UU also explained that:

‘Franklaw water treatment works is now continuing to put its usual high quality water in to the local supply. As this clean water is entering the network, we are also continuing our work to clear every trace of the bug from the extensive network that serves the area. This network is around 2,500 miles in length and includes several storage reservoirs holding 500 million litres of water, so it takes time to refresh this huge amount.’

As picked up by the BBC, UU has committed to compensating its affected customers:

‘We will be compensating all homes and businesses who have been affected by the boil water advice notice, and once this advice is lifted, we will be contacting you. We’re looking at how we can make the compensation payments as easy as possible for all of our customers. Compensation for businesses will be looked at on a case by case basis.’

Crypto was a big issue for UU back when I was last talking in-depth with their staff around 2000, during my PhD research. Some technical people were advocating greater use of membrane filtration, to reduce the possibility of any outbreak in the first place. The alternative, or parallel approach was for better monitoring of crypto – i.e. more frequent tests and/or development of quicker diagnostic approaches to get a faster turnaround on samples. Quicker confirmation that you have crypto in your water samples of course is rather an after-the-horse-has-bolted approach. I do wonder what eventually happened… and its bearing on the current outbreak? (Note to self to check with Roger ASAP.)

Here’s hoping the situation improves soon and that the promised compensation satisfies all those unfortunately affected.

Carbon emission curiosities

A third matter that tied me up a little these past few weeks was looking at the carbon emissions of the UK water industry. Back in 2009 I posted about this topic here. I haven’t really revisited it – other than in our MOOC last year where I was mainly concerned about the general direction of travel based on projections in the 2010 Cave/Severn Trent Changing Course report, and some implications of the 2010/11 annual energy use of the sector (a staggering ~9,016 GWh!) as reported in the (now defunct?) Water UK Sustainability Indicators series.

Trying to find out more current and comprehensive details led me on to two useful reports, in particular. First, was the July 2010 Playing Our Part report from Ofwat. The framing here is the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Ofwat estimates the UK water industry is responsible for about 1.1% of UK emissions (that probably being equated to ~5.01 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent in 2010/11 according to the above Water UK data). This apparently further breaks down into:

  • 0.7% from operational emissions (‘made directly or indirectly by the company in the day-to-day business of delivering drinking water and removing wastewater. For example, emissions resulting from burning diesel or purchasing electricity to pump water around a company’s distribution network‘); and
  • 0.4% from so-called ’embedded’ emissions (‘from the materials and activities related to the construction of the infrastructure companies need to deliver services, such as building a treatment works‘).

The Ofwat report also considers ‘other greenhouse gas emissions that the companies can influence but do not manage‘ like ‘emissions that arise in their supply chains or from the way that consumers use services‘ including ‘from a manufacturer producing the chemicals used in water treatment‘ and ‘as a result of consumers heating water in the home‘ (this latter domestic heating chunk I’ve seen fairly widely quoted as representing a further 4-5% of UK carbon emissions, about 24 MtCO2e).

There seems to have been a bit of a barren period following this Ofwat report – perhaps linked to the 2010 UK Coalition Government’s priority set – then in 2013 a very useful CIWEM report came out called A Blueprint For Carbon Emissions Reduction In The UK Water Industry. This built on the Ofwat work, further distinguishing and discussing various direct and indirect, regulatory and non-regulatory scope, operational and embedded carbon, and non-carbon emissions matters. (In it there’s a 2006/07 example for Anglian Water that – if my sums and understanding are correct – seems to suggest Anglian’s indirect emissions may be ~10 times higher than its direct ones, which is rather worrying!)

The CIWEM report also draws upon work by Professor Charles Ainger to show a desired trajectory for UK water industry carbon emission reductions, with a 3-4% a year total reduction needed to meet the Climate Change Act’s target for 2050:

Photo: Illustrated carbon emission reductions strategy for the UK water industry. Source: CIWEM 2013, p.36, after work by Charles Ainger.
Photo: Illustrated carbon emission reductions strategy for the UK water industry. Source: CIWEM 2013, p.36, after work by Prof. Charles Ainger.

UKWIR has also been active in looking at carbon, with a programme of work seemingly since 2004 on handbooks for operational and embodied carbon, and non-carbon emissions accounting. One particularly chilling point stressed in UKWIR research from 2009 though is that at that point so-called ’emission factors’ (EFs):

associated with methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from wastewater and sludge management dominate the overall uncertainty and true values might be up to 3 times higher or lower than the estimate.

In other words at that point there was significant accounting uncertainty about non-carbon emissions from the UK water industry (setting aside for a moment various broader concerns about the possible impact of these emissions on the climate system). Hopefully UKWIR’s ongoing programme has by now reduced this uncertainty somewhat…

Finally, there’s an upcoming WWT conference on water industry energy and carbon management next month that will hopefully keep these threads of interest and activity alive. Interestingly, the conference blurb states, ‘The UK water industry is a large consumer of energy and is responsible for 3% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions‘. So that’s either a misprint or else the sector’s emissions profile has trebled in the past three years…?

So that’s my recap and wrap-up on some water happenings of the past few months. Hopefully things will settle a bit in the coming weeks and I’ll be able to get back to my usual posting rhythm… Thanks for reading and stay posted!

Duncan Thomas

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