Drip Drop Water Talk

Separating the sales pitch from science

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Friday Five, 2015-08-14


1) Whole Foods’ decision to sell water with asparagus stalks was hilariously ridiculed on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

2) Uranium is naturally present in underground water aquifers that millions of people around the world rely on for drinking water.  New research demonstrates that nitrate, an important component of fertilizer, may promote the release of uranium in two major aquifers in the United States.

3) The last 20,000 of 96 million “shadeballs” were rolled into a water reservoir in Los Angeles in order to minimize evaporation, reduce the growth of algae, and block the formation of disinfection-by-products from the sun reacting with chlorine.

4) The quantities of heavy metals in the Animas River, which turned mustard yellow after last week’s spill of toxic mine waste in Colorado, have returned to pre-event levels. 

5) A San Francisco based startup claiming to reduce water use by up to 70% through atomizing the water into tiny droplets has raised more than $1.6 million in four days on Kickstarter.

(Photo credit: Kristen Brastad, taken at Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland)

Five Bottled Water Claims that are All Wet

Bottled Water Aisle at Whole FoodsThe Whole Foods Bottled Water Aisle

The bottled water industry is huge and growing every year.  Here are five outrageous claims manufacturers are using to sell more bottled water that you should not believe.

1) “88% more hydrating” – Essentia Water

2) “Our proprietary Microstructuring process is designed to break up these large clusters resulting in a water which is believed to create a smoother, ‘wetter’ water where the water is now able to pass into the cells of the body more easily.” – Perfect Water

3) “Penta is the first patented bottled water in the world for its process and composition that may be absorbed into the body’s cells more quickly for superior hydration and health.” – Penta

4) “Neo’s unique antioxidants neutralize free radicals the body releases when under exertion, helping protect your cells from being damaged. Combined with its other benefits, Neo detoxifies, protects and returns the body to vitality faster.” – Neo Superwater

5) “With the proprietary E2-Electron Energized Technology Real Water is beyond alkalinity…it is infused with negative (-) ions. Compare this to most purified waters which are acidic and positive (+) ionized.  Many health professionals believe that an acidic body can be unhealthy.  Since Real Water is alkalized and negative ionized, it can help your body to become more alkalized to improve your health.” – Real Water

Which ridiculous marketing claim is your favorite?

(Photo credit: Kristen Brastad)

New Trend: Bespoke Water

With the growing trend of buying more local, hand made (or both!) consumer goods, it’s probably not that hard to imagine a world where it’s possible to buy artisan water.

This video produced by filmmaker Paul Riccio pokes fun at the growing desirability of handmade products.

A short look at the Timmy Brothers, Brooklyn–based makers of bespoke drinking water.

Bill and Terry Timmy are introducing handcrafted water to the world with an almost pathological attention to craftsmanship and a thirst for helping people become less thirsty.

The Timmy Brothers. They make water.

While this video is intended as satire, it’s not that hard to imagine a world where water is crafted to reflect water from a sacred or sentimental area. Today many bottled water manufacturers will strip the water of existing minerals through processes such as reverse osmosis and distillation, then add minerals back into the water.  This ensures that the water produced with two vastly different incoming water sources will taste the same.

Water from various regions in the world will taste significantly different.  Water from Iceland for example is mostly glacial runoff with very little minerals present in the water.  Water from underground aquifers in the United States on the other hand will typically contain much higher amounts of minerals due to the dissolution of limestone rock over thousands of years.

Capitalizing on this information is Ray’s and Stark Bar in Los Angeles, California.  This gourmet farm-to-table restaurant employs a water sommelier to help select the perfect water to accompany your meal. Here a water menu details the taste profiles of bottled water from 20 different locations around the world, rating the water from sweet to salty as well as smooth to complex.

Instead of buying bottled water harvested from a specific region, it’s likely that in a few years it will be possible to buy a bottle of faux-Iceland water, water designed to taste exactly like that which you can only obtain in Iceland.  Water could be purified then remineralized to mimic water from other areas like Norway (Voss) or Greenland (Berg) to name a couple.  This would bring down the cost of water that was previously expensive to import while providing specialty crafted water.

Friday Five, 2015-08-07


1) Last week the Associated Press found that the water in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, had incredibly high counts of bacteria and viruses which may cause illness for the Olympic athletes competing in next year’s Summer Olympics.  This week the International Olympic Committee, after consulting with the World Health Organization, has ruled that the waters must now also be tested for viruses, breaking their long held bacteria only test policy.

2) Scientists are predicting another algae bloom for Lake Erie.  Last year’s bloom disrupted the water supply for 400,000 people in Michigan and Ohio and this year’s bloom is expected to be more severe.

3) Does your local beach have a no swimming sign posted?  If so you should also avoid spending time on the sand.  New research published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology suggests that microbial communities decay more slowly in the sand than in the water, which is why more fecal bacteria is found on the shore than in the waves.  Fecal bacteria can be 10 to 100 times higher in the sand contaminated by wastewater than in the nearby water.

4) Bespoke Water, while intended to be a joke, is probably not that far off from reality.  There are water sommeliers after all.

5) The US Environmental Protection Agency accidentally caused a spill of of heavy metals from a mine above Silverton, Colorado.  A million gallons of waste was estimated to have spill from the mine, turning the Animas River bright orange.

(Photo: Kristen Brastad)



Friday Five 2015-07-31


1) Naegleria fowleri, known to public as the brain eating amoeba, has been detected in the New Orleans drinking water, prompting officials to begin a 60 day chlorine burn to eradicate the microorganism.

2) Drought in the Pacific Northwest has caused the city of Seattle to issue a cry for help from its residents to conserve water.

3) There’s an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in South Bronx, New York.  What’s most interesting about this outbreak is that Legionnaires’ is usually a building plumbing issue (so all the victims will be in one location such as a hospital) whereas here it’s happening all over town. The water supplier is still investigating why this is happening.

4) Brazil is ripe with opportunity if you’re looking to sell municipal water treatment systems.  An investigation from the Associated Press has found that the water the athletes at near year’s Summer Olympics will be swimming and boating in is incredibly contaminated with human sewage.

5) Ultra light tiny robots that mimic water striders to use surface-tension dominated jumping have been created by researchers from Seul University and Harvard.  So far they can only jump but the researchers hope to extend the robot’s capabilities to completing more complex tasks.

(Photo: Kristen Brastad, taken in Iceland)

The Top 5 Drinking Water Contaminants and How to Remove Them

Now that you know how to find out what is in your water, here are the the top five most common contaminants in drinking water.

1) Hard water

Having hard water isn’t bad from a health perspective but it will wreak havoc on your appliances that use hot water. Hard water is comprised of calcium and magnesium which have dissolved into groundwater over the course of centuries. Having a low level of hardness is fine but once you start getting over 12 grains per gallon (205 parts per million) you may want to consider installing a water softener.

2) Iron

iron-water-stains culligan Tulsa
Iron is another common contaminant frequently present in drinking water.  Similar to hardness, iron is present in water due to the dissolution of minerals over the course of centuries. Again, having iron in your water is only bad from an aesthic effect. Iron exists in water in the ferrous form but once it comes into contact with oxygen iron changes form into ferric and becomes the bright red color most are familiar with.  On the bright side, most who suffer from high levels of iron also have very hard water and the water softener will also work to remove iron. Iron is a secondary contaminant for the EPA, who recommends that you keep your iron level below 0.3 ppm for optimum tasting water.

3) Lead

lead plumbing - certified home inspection

This contaminant is most frequently found in the drinking water for those who live in older cities such as Chicago and Washington DC.  Lead is introduced into the drinking water through the distribution system, picking up lead from pipes, solder, and fittings that all were once made with lead. Now the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires that products like fittings must have a weighted average of less than 0.25% lead.  The only way to know if your water has lead in it is to test the water and the most accurate way to accomplish this is to have your water analysed by a certified laboratory.  There is no safe level of lead in water, but there is an EPA action level of 15 parts per billion which means that once that level is reached the water authority must take action to replace 7% of the portion of lead service lines they control each year. If you have lead in your water an undersink reverse osmosis system is going to provide the most benefit to you.

4) Chlorine and chloramines

chlorine tabs - grand slam pools

Technically these are two separate contaminants but they act in many of the same ways.  In order to protect drinking water from microbiological contamination the drinking water treatment plant will frequently add a disinfectant such as chlorine or chloramine to the water.  This leads to drinking water typically having a concentration between 0.2 to 1 parts per million of chlorine.  The EPA has a maximum residual disinfectant level of 4 parts per million as an annual average.  If your water has a chlorine taste or odor, a simple carbon filtration system (such as a Brita filter) will be most effective at creating a more aesthetically pleasing water.

5) Disinfection Byproducts

water help disinfection by products

When water has high concentrations of total organic compounds (TOC) or other naturally-occurring matter in the water, disinfectants such as chlorine and chloramine themselves can react to form byproducts which may pose health risks.  It is widely understood that chlorination will produce chlorinated and brominated disinfection byproducts (DBPs) with potential carcinogenic effects on humans.  While there are 80+ known disinfection byproducts, the EPA only currently regulates 11 of them.  Other DBPs may be present in water at levels too low for detection, or the health effects may not be known.  Again, a simple carbon filtration system (such as a Brita filter) is useful for removing these organics from the water.

(Photo credits: Eagle Water, Culligan Tulsa, Plumbing Problems Today, Grand Slam Pools, and Water Help)

Friday Five 2015-07-24


1) More people than ever have access to safe drinking water, but a lag in access to sanitation has stunted the health benefits from this achievement. 

2) Good news from California – El Niño related precipitation in the coming months may help to alleviate some of the drought stricken areas.

3) Groundwater is being used to grow grains for almost 20% of the cereal in the US.

4) The spotting of two sharks off Long Island beach caused swimmers to be called out of the water on Thursday.

5)  MWH Global has been awarded the contract for the modernization of the Salto Grande hydro plant and the contract to serve as the detail designers for the Nestor Kirchner and Jorge Cepernic facilities in Argentina.

(Photo: Kristen Brastad, taken at the Silfra fissure in Iceland)

Determining Water Quality

Geothermal Field in Haukadalur

Geothermal Field in Haukadalur, Iceland

Water is one of the most fundamental, essential components of life. When it is pure, it is very simple: H2O. However, almost all of the available freshwater is no longer pure. It contains different physical, chemical, and microbiological contaminants which include bacteria, viruses, and toxic material such as heavy metals. This makes good water difficult to categorize and describe. In order to define the quality of water, especially drinking water, researchers or experts have developed many parameters to categorize the water and the various contamination levels within.  By doing so, people can now determine what water is clean and safe for drinking.

There are some general parameters such as temperature, color, total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity to describe the physical appearance of water but this does not tell the whole story.  There are many biological characteristics and chemical characteristics, such as hardness, total dissolved solids (TDS), and pH that help to complete the picture. Once these characteristics are known, it is possible to determine what water treatment options can be employed to make the water more drinkable.

There are several possible ways one can determine the quality of their drinking water.  The easiest method is to obtain a copy of the drinking water quality report water suppliers are required to send to their consumers.  The drinking water quality report will outline what contaminants are in the drinking water and if the contaminants would affect their health.  If nothing is available for the drinking water you have, the Environmental Working Group has created a database for tap water throughout the United States.  Another option is to find a local independant lab to test the water.  This can be done by calling around to the water bureaus in your area and/or surrounding areas to see who they’d recommend. It also possible to test the water yourself with a single use test kit, but this option should really just be used to see if the water should be further analysed by a professional.

It’s important to keep in mind that due to the advanced analytical techniques required to test for many contaminants, it’s not feasible to test the water for everything that could be present.  Instead the water is tested for common drinking water contaminants or those suspected to be present in the water.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) maintains a list of legally enforceable standards called the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.  These standards apply to public water systems and serve to protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water.  A National Secondary Drinking Water Regulation list is also maintained by the EPA to serve as a non-enforceable guideline for contaminants which cause aesthetic or cosmetic effects in drinking water.

Knowing what contaminants are present in your drinking water and where their levels fall in terms of the regulations, will help you determine what treatment methods (if any) are best for your situation.

(Photo: Kristen Brastad)

Friday Five 2015-07-17

Willamette WTP

1) Minneapolis is leading the charge in natural pool filtration.  The first public pool which filters its water using plants and microbes from a nearby regeneration pond is set to open on July 24th.

2) NASA scientists developed a technique using satellites in the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) to measure the mass of water underground and how the aquifers are changing over time.  The data is significantly improved over previous techniques but unfortunately the scientists found that aquifers all over the world are being depleted faster than previously thought.

3) Chicago’s Deep Tunnel, with a 2.3 million gallon capacity for storing water during storm events, has run out of room to help mitigate combined sewer overflows.  The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is converting a 160 year old open-pit limestone mine called Thorton Quarry into a holding tank which will have more than triple the capacity of the Deep Tunnel at 7.9 billion gallons when it’s put into operation later this year.

4) Biologists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) in Germany have optimized the use of a short characteristic segment of DNA to analyse fast moving water.  This will hopefully be a step towards real-time detection of biological contamination in water.

5) After significant debate, the state of New York has banned hydraulic fracking.

(Photo: Kristen Brastad)

What’s in my Brita filter?

Brita Filter 3 pack 2015-07-15 v2

Brita filters have become incredibly popular in the United States.  Available as faucet mounted filters or as cartridge filters for pitchers, these filters are an easy means of removing aesthetic contaminants from drinking water.  Two primary technologies exist inside of the filter: granular activated carbon and ion exchange resin.

The granular activated carbon (GAC) is derived from coconut shells and its primary purpose is to remove any taste and odor from the water.  Most people do not find the chlorine and chloramines that are added to drinking water by the water treatment plants to control the growth of microorganisms very palatable.  GAC is able to easily remove these contaminants as well as any disinfection by-products that are produced when the chlorine comes into contact with organic matter in the water.  As coconut carbon has a high surface area due to its microporous structure, the GAC is able to adsorb a high amount of contaminants from water.  Once all the adsorption sites are taken up by organics, the GAC will cease to function as intended.

The ion exchange (IX) resin is mixed into the GAC in order to remove heavy metals such as copper, cadmium, mercury, and lead.  These metals have a positive charge in water and are naturally attracted to the cation IX resin.  In other applications using IX such as water softening, the resin is recharged and is able to be reused over and over.  The Brita filter is designed to be disposable, and the IX resin inside is not meant to be recharged.  Once all the exchange sites are occupied by positively charged ions, the IX resin will also cease to work properly.

The Brita filters are a decent means of producing good tasting drinking water.  However, their capacity is limited and it’s one of the most expensive methods of polishing drinking water.  At its current price of $14.88 for a set of three replacement filters, each gallon of water through the filter will cost $0.12.  This is higher than the cost of using other types of filters (such as countertop or undersink) but still much cheaper than buying bottled water.

(Pictured at top: Brita filter 3 pack on Amazon, uploaded by Brita)

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