Another California Water Crisis

It’s no secret that a vast amount of American infrastructure is in great need of upgrades, repairs or replacements. The repairs that are desperately needed will come, and they will come in one of two ways. Either proactive repairs can be made when problems are first discovered, or repairs can be made at considerably greater cost after catastrophic failures have occurred. As was the case with the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, we often pay in lives as well. Part of the problem is that infrastructure isn’t very exciting or newsworthy to many people outside of the civil engineering community which leads to complacency and apathy. As a result, it’s likely that you may not have heard about the latest struggle currently playing out in California even though it involves the largest dam in the United States and its potential failure.

Surprisingly enough, the largest dam in the US isn’t the famous Hoover Dam but the Oroville Dam at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. At 235 meters, it is almost 15 meters taller than the Hoover Dam. It can store over four cubic kilometers of water but whether or not it will keep storing that water into the future is currently under question. In February of this year during a flood control operation damage was observed on the dam’s spillway where a massive hole had formed which only got larger as the dam was forced to continue releasing water. The hole quickly grew, and the floodwaters eroded much of the lower half of the spillway embankment, forming a canyon.

Spillway damage as seen on 2/27/17 [via

The greater threat to the dam itself wasn’t simply the damage to the main spillway, but the use of the dam’s emergency spillway. It was used for the first time after the main spillway had to be shut down, but once the water started flowing, the amount of erosion behind the emergency spillway was much higher than anticipated. It was thought at one point that the erosion might undermine the strength of the dam itself which would have let loose a 9-meter-high wall of water down the Feather River, destroying many communities in its path. An evacuation order was issued for residents of the area during these series of events, but luckily the main spillway stabilized (although heavily damaged) and was able to allow Lake Oroville to drain enough to alleviate concerns of a total dam failure. The snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada isn’t finished yet, however, so the dam and the engineers working on it aren’t quite out of the woods.

As of…

Mystery Of Antarctica’s Blood Falls Is Finally Solved

Take A Peek at NASA’s Massive James Webb Space Telescope

Blood Falls at the mouth of Taylor Glacier in East Antarctica
Blood Falls at the mouth of Taylor Glacier in East Antarctica

Credit: Wikipedia.org

Blood Falls at the mouth of Taylor Glacier in East Antarctica

The longstanding mystery surrounding Antarctica’s Blood Falls has finally been solved. The deep red falls were first discovered in Antarctica in 1911 where scientists noticed a river had stained the surrounding cliff of ice with a dark red color. Previously, they had believed it was due to algae discoloring the water, however that hypothesis was never verified.

Now, thanks to research by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, we know the true origin of the Blood Falls flowing from the Taylor Glacier. The deep red coloring is due to oxidized iron in brine saltwater, the same process that gives iron a dark red color when it rusts. When the iron bearing saltwater comes into contact with oxygen the iron oxidizes and takes on a red coloring, in effect dying the water to a deep red color.

The research team transected the glacier in a grid using radio-echo sounding (RES) to map out the features below the glacier. Thankfully, the super saturated brine that makes up the river allows for a stark density contrast in RES compared to the non-saline (fresh) ice. The research team calculates that the brine water takes approximately 1.5 million years to finally reach the Blood Falls as it makes its way through fissures and channels in…

Put Down Your Sugary Fizzy Drinks And Get Seltzer Water Instead!

Seltzer Water. You either love it or you hate it. But is it actually good for you? After all, it is water. It just happens to be fizzy. This is the result of carbonation, or the process of pressurizing carbon dioxide gas. It turns out, Seltzer Water does have its pros, but it also has cons; some fizzy water contains carbonic acid (this is what creates the bubbles) that has been rumored to eat away your tooth enamel. But do not misunderstand: if you are choosing between Seltzer and Soda, that acidic water is still going to be a better choice.

How much do Americans spend on soft drinks?

While we all know how expensive our coffee habits can be, it is just as important to monitor what we spend on other things, such as soft drinks. The average American household spends about $850 a year for soft drinks. This adds up to an unbelievable $65 billion on soft drinks alone! Now remember that, on average, a can of soda (12 oz) contains about 39 grams of sugar. Spending billions and billions on soft drinks equates to spending billions and billions on our own poor health and deteriorating teeth.

Why Seltzer is a better choice than Soda?

First, let’s start with sugar. While 12 fluid ounces of soda has nearly 40 grams of sugar, the same amount of Seltzer has 0. There are also zero calories, while soda cannot say the same. It’s also a more economical option. With Americans spending almost $900 a year on soda, Seltzer can help save some of that money for more important things. In fact, Seltzer was first introduced specifically as a cheap alternative to mineral water (more on this later) and is still chosen for its price tag, time after time.

Even if you love regular, non bubbly water, you may find yourself craving the little bubbles found in soft drinks and carbonated water. Some people crave carbonated drinks and immediately grab one without questioning where that craving came from. It turns out, when our bodies want food and our blood sugar is low, our brain signals to us that we want something carbonated because we know it has lots of sugar. However, we would be better off eating something with natural sugar and some fiber , like an orange or even an apple, because it would gradually increase our blood sugar rather than a dangerous spike, and it would fill us up more successfully than all those empty calories. Regardless, if you just can’t shake the craving for a fizzy drink, a clear, bubbly, zero calorie Seltzer would be a better choice than a dark, unhealthy, syrupy soda.

When it comes to the label, Seltzer Water looks exactly like regular bottled water, showing zeros across the board. But if you’re looking for a fizzy water with vitamins, you want to find mineral water.

Sparkling Mineral Water also comes from a natural spring, so it automatically contains various minerals like salts. The bubbles are naturally occurring (unless the specific bottler adds more, such as San Pellegrino). While Seltzer Water can be added to alcohol, think Vodka Soda, Mineral Water would be enjoyed on its own.

Additionally, Mineral Water will give you a little more nutritional bang for your buck . A 6.5 oz of Sparkling Mineral Water has 0 calories and sugars, but contains 2mg of sodium and 26.9 mg of calcium 1.

Why Seltzer Water can be considered as healthy?

While regular water…

‘Fossil’ groundwater is not immune to modern-day pollution

Scott Jasechko
DEEP WATER Deep groundwater wells, such as this hand-pumped well in Uganda being operated by water resources scientist Scott Jasechko, can contain mixes of old and young water and traces of pollution.

Groundwater that has lingered in Earth’s depths for more than 12,000 years is surprisingly vulnerable to modern pollution from human activities. Once in place, that pollution could stick around for thousands of years, researchers report online April 25 in Nature Geoscience. Scientists previously assumed such deep waters were largely immune to contamination from the surface.

“We can’t just drill deep and expect to run away from contaminants on the land surface,” says Scott Jasechko, a study coauthor and water resources scientist at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Groundwater quenches the thirst of billions of people worldwide and accounts for roughly 40 percent of the water used in agriculture. Water percolating from the surface into underground aquifers can carry pollutants such as pesticides and salt along for the ride.

Jasechko and colleagues weren’t looking for contamination when they tested water from 6,455 water wells around the world. Their goal was to use carbon dating to identify how much of that deep water was “fossil” groundwater formed more than 12,000 years ago. Previous studies had looked at average water age, rather than the age…

This Organization Lets You Pay the Water Bill for a Family in Need

It’s usually not until water stops flowing from domestic faucets that we realize how much we take it for granted. Sometimes, that’s due to a temporary plumbing emergency. But for a large number of low-income households, it’s because past due bills have forced the hand of utility companies.

A lack of running water can have a huge effect on a person’s quality of life, which is why The Human Utility—formerly known as the Detroit Water Project—has stepped in to help. The organization addresses delinquent water bill accounts piling up in Detroit and Baltimore…

This Organization Lets You Pay the Water Bill for a Family in Need

It’s usually not until water stops flowing from domestic faucets that we realize how much we take it for granted. Sometimes, that’s due to a temporary plumbing emergency. But for a large number of low-income households, it’s because past due bills have forced the hand of utility companies.

A lack of running water can have a huge effect on a person’s quality of life, which is why The Human Utility—formerly known as the Detroit Water Project—has stepped in to help. The organization addresses delinquent water bill accounts piling up in Detroit and Baltimore…

Antarctica Is Covered in Rivers, Lakes, and Waterfalls. That Might Not Be Good.

The floating ice shelves that buttress Antarctica are less icy than we thought, it turns out. They’re filled with flowing water. New research published in the scientific journal Nature maps the extensive network of meltwater from Antarctica’s ice sheets and found that, contrary to previous understanding, lakes and rivers—even waterfalls—created by melting have been common for at least seven decades.

Two new papers analyze satellite imagery of Antarctica dating back to 1973 and aerial photography dating back to 1947 for evidence of meltwater. Warming oceans melt ice shelves around from the bottom up, while warming air temperatures melt them from the top down, creating pools and rivers of liquid water on the continent’s surface.

Researchers found that over the last 70 years, a system of meltwater drainage has transported water from the continent of Antarctica across the floating ice shelves that surround it, traveling up to 75 miles and creating ponds up to 50 miles long.

This isn’t great news for the stability of the ice shelf. Water is heavy, and the weight can cause the ice below these lakes to crack. As…

‘River piracy’ on a high glacier lets one waterway rob another

Kluane Lake
HIGH-WATER ROBBERY The melting of Kaskawulsh Glacier in northwestern Canada diverted water flow from one river into another, plummeting water levels in the waterway that once fed Kluane Lake (shown).

The diversion of headwaters from one stream into another

Ahoy! There be liquid booty on the move in the high mountains. Since May 2016, a channel carved through one of northwestern Canada’s largest glaciers has allowed one river to pillage water from another, new observations reveal. This phenomenon, almost certainly the result of climate change, is the first modern record…

New tech harvests drinking water from (relatively) dry air using only sunlight

water from air prototype converter
WATER FROM AIR This prototype device captures water from air. Then, when exposed to sunlight, the black-painted layer (top) heats up and releases captured moisture as vapor into a container. A condenser then cools the vapor, converting the water to liquid form.

A new device the size of a coffee mug can generate drinkable water from desert air using nothing but sunlight.

“With this device, you can harvest the equivalent of a Coke can’s worth of water in an hour,” says cocreator Omar Yaghi, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. “That’s about how much water a person needs to survive in the desert.”

Though that may not sound like much, its designers say the current device is just a prototype. But the technology could be scaled up to supply fresh water to some of the most parched and remote regions of the globe, such as the Middle East and North Africa, they say.

Previous attempts at low-energy water collection struggled to function below 50 percent relative humidity (roughly the average afternoon humidity of Augusta, Ga.). Thanks to a special material, the new device pulled water from air with as low as 20 percent relative humidity, Yaghi and colleagues report online April 13 in Science. That’s like conjuring water in Las Vegas, where the average afternoon relative humidity is 21 percent.

Drinking water supplies can’t keep up with the rising demands of a growing human population, and shifts in rainfall caused by climate…

Would You Drink Sewage Beer? New Brew Uses Treated Sewage Water.

Article Image

Bottoms up! A Southern Calfornia brewery is taking its beer from toilet to tap.

San Diego’s Stone Brewing has started making a beer using treated sewage water. The beer, called Full Circle Pale Ale, was recently unveiled for a tasting at their brewery. The beer was made using the recycled water from Pure Water San Diego, a program that has set out to provide one-third of San Diego’s water supply through its treatment system by 2035.

Stone Brewing logo, Fair Use usage
Stone Brewing logo, Fair Use usage

Stone Brewery is one of the largest (top 10) craft breweries in the United States and has made a concerted effort towards environmental sustainability. By brewing Ful Circle Pale Ale, which will be available for sale soon, the brewery is testing consumer demand for a process with clear environmental benefits. The result, however, may be less about taste buds (water doesn’t dramatically change the flavor of beer) and more about human psychology.

Would You Drink the Beer?

When you read that the Full Circle Pale Ale was made using treated sewage water, your first reaction was probably not, “That sounds delicious!” As earlier pieces in Big Think have discussed (“Our Sense of Disgust Is Holding Back Life-Saving Innovation“), the thought of drinking treated sewage water often triggers a sense of disgust–even though…