Tuesday, December 1, 2009

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers May Reopen Flood Study for Passaic River

A news article appeared in today's edition of The Record, the newspaper for northern New Jersey, titled "Corps may revisit flooding study."

I was interviewed by the reporter, Andrea Alexander, and cited by her in the article.

Some paragraphs from the article follow:

"Since 1936, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has wrestled with how to reduce flooding in the 983-square-mile Passaic River Basin — one of the most densely developed flood plains along the Eastern Seaboard. However, no comprehensive plan has ever come to fruition since a proposal was shelved in the mid-1990s for a $1.8 billion, 21-mile tunnel to divert floodwaters to Newark Bay."

"But the corps might be getting ready to tackle the question again in response to urging by members of a task force spearheaded by state Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne, and a request from the state Department of Environmental Protection."

"Any project or series of projects that gets recommended would have to compensate for the natural characteristics of the Passaic River system. Damage from floods in the Passaic basin has been staggering over the years. The latest, in April 2007, was the worst in decades: 5,000 people evacuated and $686 million in damage."

"The basin is unique because two major rivers, the Pompton and Passaic, converge in a low-lying area that naturally does not have sufficient drainage, explained Qizhong Guo, a water resources engineer at Rutgers University."

"He compared the river system to a bathroom drain that is not large enough, so when there is too much water, it overflows. And, adding to the problem are the nearly 550 homes built in the floodwaters' immediate path. According to the DEP, there are 20,000 homes, businesses, and public buildings in areas that are susceptible to flooding in the Passaic River Basin."

"Development that takes away land that can absorb floodwaters makes the problem worse, but Guo said it's not the major factor. Historical data back him up: The worst flood to hit the area in 100 years occurred in 1903, when North Jersey was a lot less developed. The Passaic River crested at 17.5 feet, about 5.5 feet higher than during the 2007 flood."

"Any flood mitigation project would not be able to stop the type of flood seen once in a 100 years, but Rumana said something is needed that would 'take the teeth out the tiger and minimize that severe impact.' "

The article source: The Record www.northjersey.com

The map source: upload.wikimedia.org

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New Green Building at Yale

Kroon Hall is the new home for the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. It is a truly sustainable building: a showcase of the latest developments in green building technology. The most interesting part to me is the rainwater harvesting system and cleansing pond outside the building (photo to the left).

The Sustainable/Climate Neutral features include:

•Demolition and construction waste was recycled
•Geothermal benefit from the underground placement of the north side of the lowest level
•Solar heat gain in winter and natural lighting year round along the long unobstructed south-facing wall
•Rooftop solar panels facing south
•Solar hot water heaters
•Geothermal energy system
•Natural light and ventilation
•Natural light is augmented with artificial light to maintain a constant lighting level; the latter is also controlled by sensors that shut off automatically if no one is present
•Manually operable windows utilize natural air circulation
•Green construction materials including “thermally inactive” concrete and low-E glass and insulation, waterless urinals and low-impact paint
•Recycled, recyclable, sustainably harvested or manufactured nontoxic materials
•Sustainably harvested wood
•Exterior stone quarried within 500 miles of campus
•Rainwater harvesting system and cleansing pond

The pond pictured above is an integral portion of a rain water re-use system which is part of the Kroon Hall project. The system collects runoff from the building's roof and from portions of the grounds. Once collected, the water is held in a settling tank which allows the majority of the sediment to settle out. From there, the water is moved to a storage tank, combined with any excess water from the geothermal wells, and slowly recirculated through the surface treatment pond (shown above). The pond employs aquatic plants to further cleanse the water, while also providing an enjoyable and relaxing area for the whole community. Finally, after the water is filtered and disenfected, it can be used for toilet flushing in the building, and for landscape irrigation.

My album contains additional photos on exterior as well as interior of the building.

Info credit: Yale University website

Thursday, April 30, 2009

ANNOUNCEMENT: Henry Hudson New Generation Water Competition

Henry Hudson 400 Foundation invites undergraduates, including 2009 graduates, in marine and environmental studies, engineering, oceanography, urban design and planning, policy planning, public health, and any other related major to submit proposals on the topic Sustainability for Coastal Cities. See below for details.

• Topic: Sustainability for Coastal Cities
• Instructions: Submit a one-page description of an innovative solution to the challenges of Sustainability for Coastal Cities.
• For more information and application: http://www.henryhudson400.com/hh400_project.php?id=32
• Deadline May 29, 2009

Winners receive
• Cash prizes
• Internships at major companies
• All expenses paid invitation to international H209 Forum on September 9-10 at Liberty Science Center.
• Awards presented by Prince of Orange of The Netherlands, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., members of Obama’s environmental team, and top NY/NJ officials.

New Generation Competition is the centerpiece of the H209 Forum for business leaders, policy and decision makers, and environmental and planning experts. H209 Forum celebrates the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s pioneering voyage that led to the settlement of what is now New York City. For more information, visit www.henryhudson400.com

I was asked by the organizer to help publicize the competition.

Photo: New York Harbor near Jersey City, New Jersey, from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sustainable Path (Soft Path) to Water Future

I attended a seminar given by Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute earlier today at Rutgers University. Dr. Gleick offered six soft paths to the water future. I took quick notes of the six paths as follow:

1) Invest in decentralized infrastructure
2) Match water quality requirements with water designated uses
3) Do not take the demand for granted (i.e., Do more with less water)
4) Expand definition of water supply
5) Price water properly
6) Expand concepts of regulation and institutions

I was a part of the team that organized the seminar.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Very High Sewer Fee?

I recently received a sewer bill from my township and my household was charged an annual fee of approximately one thousand dollars! Could it be called the "money down the drain?"

Township of Montgomery, New Jersey has just instituted a new usage-based sewer fee schedule. I applaud the township's change that would provide fairness as well as encourage water conservation.

But the expensive part of the sewer service also caught my attention. It was about twice the water fee! That is, it costs about twice as much to get rid of the wastewater as to receive the potable water.

The sewer fee is being calculated by the township as follows:

Base Fee = $200 per unit

Usage Fee = $6.88 per ccf* of water used

* 1 ccf per year = 100 cubic feet of water per year = 2.05 gallons per day

For example, if 50 gallons of water is used per person per day (in winter and spring seasons), the annual sewer fee for a household of 4 would be 871 dollars.

Mayor Louis Wilson, quoted in an article published in the February 10, 2009 edition of Montgomery News, provided two explanations for why the sewer fee is so high in the township:

(1) The township owns and operates eight small sewage treatment plants, and thus there is no economy of scale that we could get by being part of a regional sewer system.

(2) Our plants discharge into local streams and brooks rather than into a larger river, and thus they must meet a very high water quality standard for the (treatment plant) effluent.

The Mayor's explanations are reasonable.

The township population was only 23,023 based on the 2007 census estimate. That is, each treatment plant, in average, is serving a community of less than 3,000 people. Average capacity of the treatment plants is probably only about 0.2 million gallons per day (MGD), while capacity of a regional treatment plant would be from tens to hundreds MGD. According to a State of Wisconsin survey, the sewer fee for small communities (population less than 2,000) is approximately twice that for large communities (population greater than 50,000).

With an average household of $840, the sewer fee charged by Montgomery Township is actually not very high in comparison to other small communities in the US.

Nevertheless, I need to start checking how my family could consume less water. Although consuming less water would be good for the environment, I do not expect a significant sewer fee reduction since the township would need to operate and maintain the same infrastructure, and replacing the existing infrastructure would be costly.

It would also be interesting to find out how the township could reduce the treatment cost, if possible at all. To reduce the treatment cost, control of specific pollutant sources as well as use of innovative technologies could be explored. But cost of the treatment itself, e.g., chemicals, is typically a small fraction of the total O&M cost.

Credit: The image above of "Pike Brook (Sewage) Treatment Plant" was located and cropped from Virtual Earth.

My album contains additional photos of the Pike Brook Sewage Treatment Plant and its effluent receiving water.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dye the Chicago River Green

In celebration of Saint Patrick's Day, the Chicago River has been turned green for about a day for the past 40 years.

On February 14, forty (40) pounds of vegetable-based, non-toxic dye was poured into the Chicago River in downtown Chicago, turning the water green. The green color would typically last for about a day, depending on the flow conditions. By the way, the exact dye ingredients remain a secret.

I think it is a lot of fun, and it is great that residents are enjoying their river!

Photo credit: Xinhua News Agency (Hu Guangyao)

Info source: www.greenchicagoriver.com