Seeing Red over a Sea of Blue-Green

From California to the Great Lakes and down to the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. is being plagued by a rapidly growing and very toxic environmental hazard – Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).  In 2016 alone, over 20 states have had serious outbreaks. What causes these blooms and how can we prevent future occurrences?

NYS DEC -grpaint1
Photo Source: New York State Department of Conservation – Harmful Algal Bloom Photo Gallery

HABs are commonly known as blue-green algae but they really aren’t algae at all. They are a primitive life form called cyanobacteria which are closely related to bacteria, but they photosynthesize like green algae. Cyanobacteria can occur as single cells, in colonies or in a filamentous state.

These cyanobacteria are very different than the more familiar green algae we often see in ponds, lakes and streams. Green algae are the “good guys” of the algal world. Being a primary producer, green algae is a food source for zooplankton, young frogs, fish and aquatic insects.

Cyanobacteria are the “bad boys” of the water world. They tend to grow in environments that are out of balance and are often associated with excessive nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizer run-off. They kill with impunity, destroying aquatic life, pets, livestock and sickening humans.

Researchers and citizens across the country are concerned by the dramatic increase in the intensity and toxicity of HAB incidents over the last few years.  Typical toxins in these blooms may include hepatotoxins (microcystins, cylindrospermopsins), neurotoxins (anatoxins, saxitoxins), dermatoxins (lipopolysaccharides, lyngbyatoxin) and others.

Recent events highlight the need for concern and more control. For example, in 2014 Toledo Ohio shut down water supplies for nearly half a million-people due to the most intense toxic algae bloom ever recorded in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

In a September 6, 2016 article on EcoWatch.com, algal blooms were reported in at least 30 California lakes and reservoirs. Bev Anderson, a scientist with the California Water Resources Control Board, expressed concern about the sheer number of outbreaks as well as the level of toxins they contained. She stated toxicity levels of “twenty micrograms per liter would cause concern, but these blooms are reporting readings as high as 15,000 micrograms per liter.”

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott declared local states of emergency in St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach and Lee counties in June 2016, shutting-down beaches in south Florida which had been covered by toxic algae for months.

One of the largest areas of concern is the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website reported on August 2, 2017 that the “Gulf of Mexico “dead zone,” an area of low oxygen that can kill fish and marine life, is 8,776 square miles, an area about the size of New Jersey” – the largest measured reported “dead zone” in that area since mapping began in 1985.

NOAA acknowledges the dead zone is the result of excessive nutrients, “primarily from agriculture and developed land runoff in the Mississippi River watershed” that stimulates “massive algal growth”. When the algal growth decomposes, it robs oxygen from Gulf waters and causes loss of fish habitat. It also decreases reproduction in various fish species and reduces the average size of shrimp caught for market.

So, what can be done? Well for now, not much. Researchers have been working with farmers to change tillage patterns to prevent excess fertilizers from leaving crop land and entering waterways. They have also endorsed creating a buffer zone between farm land to help control run-off.

If effective, such measures would be a win-win for everyone and especially the environment. Farmers would rather keep fertilizers on their crops as opposed to having them flushed down a stream. Unfortunately, the results suggest these measures aren’t really having the intended effect.

To further complicate the excess nutrient problem, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and other animal production facilities are not required to treat their animal waste before releasing it into the environment. Animal waste is high in nitrogen and often ends up in streams which eventually flow into larger waterways and initiate harmful blooms.

This is a significant problem when you consider 1 dairy cow produces the waste (total solids) equivalent of 50 humans every day and 1 feeder pig produces the waste (total solids) equivalent of almost 4 humans every day.

Currently, there are approximately 9.3 million dairy cows and almost 72 million hogs and pigs in the United States.  That’s roughly the waste equivalent of 753 million people every day – more than double the 2017 population of the United States at 324.4 million! AND this figure doesn’t include beef cattle, poultry and other livestock.

Certainly, this whole situation is food for thought…

***** 

References:

  • “Algal Blooms Can be Deadly to Your Dogs”, EcoWatch – Top News of the Day, Website Post, July 28, 2017, Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • D’Anglada, Lesley V., US EPA, “Editorial on the Special Issue – Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and Public Health: Progress and Current Challenges”, in Toxins 2015, 7, 4437-4441; doi:10.3390/toxins7114437, Website article, Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • Fleming, Ron and Marcy Ford. “Human versus Animals – Comparison of Waste Properties”, Ridgetown College – University of Guelph, July 4, 2001. Website PDF article. Accessed December 11, 2017.
  • Flesher, John and Angeliki Kastanis, “As algae worsens, farmers are asked to join anti-runoff effort”, AZCentral.com, November 23, 2017, as reported in The Arizona Republic, p. 36A.
  • Gallagher, Shana. “Tyson Foods Linked to Largest Toxic Dead Zone in U.S. History”, AlterNet. Org, Reposted by Ecowatch, Web article, No date, Accessed October 31, 2017.
  • Jacobsen, Jax. “Toxic Algae Blooms Threaten People and Waterways in More Than 20 States”, EcoWatch, September 6, 2016 Website article. Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • Kaspersen, Janice, “Surprising Results in Ag Runoff”, Forester Network Featured Story, February 8, 2016, Website blog, Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • Kaspersen, Janice. “An Awful Lot of Money May Go Someplace Else”, Forester Network Featured Story, October 10, 2017, Website blog, Accessed October 17, 2017.
  • Kaspersen, Janice. “Nobody Wants to Swim in This”, Forester Network Featured Story, July 18, 2017, Website blog, Accessed July 28, 2017.
  • Neuhaus, Les., “Reeking, Oozing Algae Closes South Florida Beaches”, New York Times, Web article, July 2, 2016, Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • Peeples, Ernest B., University of South Florida, “Why toxic algae blooms like Florida’s are so dangerous to people and wildlife”, July 19, 2016, Website article, Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • “Quarterly Hogs and Pigs September 28, 2017 – Executive Report”, United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, September 28, 2017, Website PDF, Accessed December 11, 2017.
  • Scavia, Donald. “Nutrient pollution: Voluntary steps are failing to shrink algae blooms and dead zones”, University of Michigan, July 31, 2017. Website article. Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • Schlossberg, Tatiana. “Fertilizers, a Boon to Agriculture, Pose Growing Threat to U.S. Waterways”, New York Times, Web article, July 27, 2016, Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • Trevino-Garrison, Ingrid, et al.,Kansas Department of Health and Environment, “Human Illnesses and Animal Deaths Associated with Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms—Kansas”, in Toxins 2015, 7, 353-366; doi:10.3390/toxins7020353, Website article, Accessed December 9, 2017.
  • Turner, Eugene R and Nancy N. Rabalais, “2017 Forecast: Summer Hypoxic Zone Size Northern Gulf of Mexico”, Louisiana State University, Website PDF article. Accessed December 11, 2017.
  • S. EPA Webinar. “An Overview of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and Their Impacts in Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems – Part 1: Summer Webinar Series to Build Awareness About Harmful Algal Blooms and Nutrient Pollution”, Presented June 25, 2013, Various Speakers, Webinar PDF. Accessed December 11, 2017.
  • “U.S dairy cow numbers up, but replacement heifer numbers lower”, Dairy Herd Management, Website article, July 29, 2014, Accessed December 11, 2017.
  • “What are Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria)? State of Washington, Department of Ecology. Website article. Accessed December 11, 2017.
  • Wynne, Timothy T., et al. “NOAA Forecasts and Monitors Blooms of Toxic Cyanobacteria in Lake Erie”, Clear Waters Summer 2015, pp. 21-23, Website PDF article, Accessed July 28, 2017.

From Pesky to Pestilent

A pesky, purple cartoon mosquito adorned T-shirts given out by the Massachusetts General Hospital blood donor program in the 1990s, encouraging participants to “Starve a Mosquito – Donate Blood.” This whimsical, uplifting logo once used to promote blood donation might be given second thought today as a plethora of mosquito-caused diseases have been spreading around the world.

Mosquito

In 2015 and 2016, news media covered numerous stories on the Zika virus transmitted by species of mosquitos called Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The primary concern being pregnant women infected with Zika having a higher probability of giving birth to children with a serious birth defect known as microcephaly, in which the brain and head are underdeveloped.

One of the areas hardest hit by Zika was Brazil. A July 14, 2017 article on the USA Today website noted a significant spike in microcephaly cases since the outbreak. Specifically, they stated “Brazilian health officials have confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly since the Zika outbreak began, about 10 times more than usual.”

This year, Brazil has been hit with yet another bout of mosquito-induced illness. This time Yellow Fever, a serious viral infection that can lead to organ failure, coma and possibly death. A June 8th, 2017 article in the Arizona Republic reported that at least 263 Brazilians had contracted Yellow Fever and that “the current outbreak is the nation’s worst on record.”

What was even more interesting is a possible link with climate change. According to the Arizona Republic article, the epicenter of the yellow fever outbreak “just recovered from their worst drought in 80 years.” A situation which can be taken advantage of by mosquitos whose “eggs can survive dry weather in a state of suspended animation” for years at a time.  Once the rains come, several years-worth of eggs may hatch at once, facilitating an outbreak.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that climate change is solely responsible for the Yellow Fever outbreak. Still, it does make you wonder what other diseases or disasters are waiting to be unleashed as environmental conditions fluctuate.

Fortunately, there are organizations studying scenarios where climate change and disease may coincide. One of these groups is the World Health Organization (WHO), whose primary role is to assist with international health issues for countries within the United Nations’ system.

WHO has been studying the connections between climate change and infectious disease for years. In 2003, WHO published a lengthy report on “Climate Change and Human Health – Risks and Responses.” Chapter 6 of the Report includes several “observed and predicted climate/infectious disease links”, which details how environmental changes may impact 14 different infectious diseases. (Much of their research can be found on their website at www.who.int.)

As the pendulum swings backward on climate change initiatives here in the United States, it’s good to know there are organizations and associations with a more progressive agenda.  At some point, our right-leaning government will have to come back to center and start acknowledging climate change is real. Our planet cannot afford to have one of the top industrialized nations in the world continue to favor the partisan interests of a few at the expense of the many.

Until commonsense prevails and public policy changes, pesky mosquitoes in some parts of the world will continue to be the source of pestilence around the world.

Are we collectively prepared to accept this outcome?

Recent Water Worries

A good mystery always entails intriguing circumstances and a circuitous pathway to its solution.  Whether it’s a deceptive villain intent on causing mayhem for the masses or a calculating killer, focusing single mindedly on his next victim, the goal is always the same – stay undetected and strike again.  This same objective may be true for a new genre of mysteries involving water borne illnesses. The solution, however, may not be as “elementary” as Sherlock implied.

Getting sick from ingesting or being in contact with contaminated water is nothing new. Nasty illnesses such as dysentery, cholera, botulism, and many others, have probably been impacting people since they first began gathering around the communal watering hole.

Historical records reveal water contamination problems have been around for centuries and offer basic solutions for dealing with them. Sometimes it was boiling water and other times it was replacing water with other beverages. For example, European sailor’s in the 1700’s were known to brew a beer with a higher alcohol and hops content, which acted like a preservative, for their long journeys to India.  It was referred to as India Pale Ale and has recently made quite a come-back in the burgeoning micro-brewery market.

It wasn’t until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that water treatment practices starting to take hold in the United States. Water experts figured out a combination of filtration and disinfection, typically by chlorination, would keep water sources safe for consumption. While this simple, yet effective, treatment technology has prevented countless outbreaks of water-borne illnesses over the last century, it may have met its match.

Strains of bacteria and protozoa are being found that are resistant to chlorination, making them extremely difficult to kill. Worse yet, only a small number of these germs are required to cause an illness. One parasite of concern is cryptosporidium; a protozoan originating from human and animal feces as well as seasonal run-off. “Crypto” is known to stick on water filter membranes and even high doses of chlorine have difficulty terminating this culprit.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently announced there were twice as many crypto outbreaks in 2016 as there were in 2014. States hardest hit on 2016 were Alabama, Arizona and Ohio.  Specifically, the CDC website reported “Arizona identified 352 people sick with Crypto for July–October 2016, compared with no more than 62 cases for any one year in 2011–2015. Ohio identified 1,940 people sick with Crypto in 2016, compared with no more than 571 cases for any one year in 2012–2015.”  The mystery here is whether the increase in outbreaks is due to increased reporting, better detection or simply more cases occurring.

Another perpetrator guilty of recidivism is the bacteria Legionella. Different species of this bug are responsible for Pontiac Fever and the more well-known Legionaries’ Disease.  According to a June 6, 2016 Washington Post web article, Legionnaire’s outbreaks have quadrupled over the last 15 years. Recent large outbreaks occurred in Flint, Michigan and New York City.

Unfortunately, the health impacts of Legionella are more serious than Cryptosporidium. Crypto can cause nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea for up to three weeks but Legionella can kill.  Medical treatment costs are high. CDC Director Tom Frieden has stated “The annual cost of treating Legionnaires’ disease, based on hospital claims, is about $434 million…”

The mystery to be solved with Legionella is how to detect it before an outbreak occurs. Legionella can be eliminated with proper water treatment but often it goes undetected until it’s too late.  It can build up in older plumbing infrastructures and strike when people breathe in small droplets of water containing the bacteria.

Legionella is a more challenging culprit to arrest. It’s costly to replace antiquated water infrastructure and It’s not easy to check closed-systems for bacterial contamination. Still, the CDC recommends proper maintenance of building water systems as the key to prevention.

But for now, that key may have fallen into the wrong hands…

Arizona Water Pioneers – Jack Swilling

A fractured skull and a bullet lodged in the side would be enough to take down most men, but Jack Swilling wasn’t like most men. One of Arizona’s most colorful characters, Jack had a disposition that varied based upon who you talked to and the amount of opiate-laced painkiller he drank. Family members considered him a loving father, friends thought of him as a generous man and others felt he was a drunken desperado up to no good. At times, history would show he was all three. Yet, in spite of his tumultuous circumstances, Jack fostered a vision to bring water to the Salt River Valley of Arizona and helped put Phoenix on the map.

Jack Swilling

Jack was born in South Carolina on April 1st 1830, the eighth of ten children, but he was no fool. Historians would refer to him as a “Jack of all Trades” because of his diverse professions.  At one point or another he was a civil war veteran (for both sides) farmer, scout, teamster, postal express rider, mill manager and owner, justice-of-the-peace, post-master, business man, politician, contractor and miner. He had all the characteristics of a 19th century Renaissance man.

He exceled at finding gold and had a reputation of being one of the best placer miners of his time. His acquaintance with Colonel Jacob Snively, who discovered gold along the Gila River, would be one of the paradoxical events that led to both his wealth and ultimately his death.

Jack met Snively at the Gila City gold camp, east of Yuma, and would step-up to lead a 215 man expedition against the Yavapai Indians who were raiding the encampment. The Yavapai lived in uncharted territory north of Gila City. The expeditions led him as far north as modern day Prescott.

Becoming familiar with the northern territory, Jack would become a guide for several miners and ultimately help discover some of the most famous mining districts in Arizona history. His mining partners would include Pauline Weaver (Rich Hill), Joseph Walker (Lynx Creek) and Henry Wickenburg (Vulture Mine).

Arguably his biggest discovery would not be gold but water.  During the early to mid-1800s, Arizona primarily relied on river water for its needs. The problem was either too little or too much.  Sudden summer storms could cause rivers to swell and result in devastating floods.  Arizonans longed for a consistent and reliable source of water.

Jacks travels as an express rider and scout often took him though the Salt River valley.  During these trips, he noticed linear mounds of dirt leading from the Salt River to the valley floor. He somehow figured out these mounds were part of an extensive irrigation canal system previously used by ancient native peoples, now known as the Hohokam.

Jack and some business associates put a claim on Salt River water and began to excavate the canals with the intention of using them for irrigation purposes.  He founded the Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company in November of 1867 with seven other business partners.

His company would become incredibly successful irrigating crops of barley and wheat and selling them to the miners in Wickenburg. Others saw the success of “Swilling’s Ditch” and decided to settle in the area.  This settlement would ultimately be named Phoenix after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes.

There is some historical controversy over whether or not Jack came up with the name for Phoenix or whether his business partner, Darrel (Lord) Duppa coined it. Regardless, this new settlement would come to be associated with Swilling’s Ditch and Jack would become the most memorable founding father of Phoenix.

In the later part of his life, his addictions to opiates and alcohol were getting the best of him. His wife, Trinidad, decided to do an intervention which she hoped would sober him up. She convinced Jack to retrieve his friend Colonel Snively’s bones from where they lay near White Picacho and bring them home for a proper Christian burial. Snively had been killed by Indians several years earlier in March of 1871. Jack complied with his wife’s request and together with Andrew Kirby and George Monroe, went off to perform this noble deed for their former friend.

Upon their return, the threesome was accused of robbing a Wells Fargo stage coach outside of Wickenburg. There wasn’t much tangible evidence but Jack, in self-professed “crazy drunken talk”, basically admitted to the charge. All three were rounded up and sent to prison in Yuma. Jack would die in prison on August 18, 1878 before bail was met. Andrew and George were released shortly after his death when the US Marshall who brought them in recanted his allegations. Jack would be posthumously exonerated of this crime.

In the end, Jack made a hasty departure from the physical world. Yet, in spite of horrible pain, hangovers and an incessant hunger for opium, he managed to accomplish feats few other men could imagine. A visionary, Jack ushered in an era of reliable and consistent water that stimulated the explosive growth of Phoenix – now the sixth largest city in the United States. Anyone who has ever lived in this area should acknowledge this man’s success and be grateful for his foresight and incredible fortitude.

 

References:

Bates, Al. “Jack Swilling and the Walker Exploratory Party” – adapted from Bate’s published book “Jack Swilling, Arizona’s Most Lied About Pioneer.” Website. Accessed May 23rd, 2017.

Farish, Thomas Edwin. “History of Arizona – Volume II”. Chapter Xii. Early Pioneers And Settlers, pp. 251-257. The Filmer Brothers Electrotype Company Typographers and Stereotypers, San Francisco. Phoenix, Arizona, 1915. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

“Jack of All Trades: J. W. Swilling in the Arizona Territory”, River of Time Museum, Fountain Hills, AZ. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

Thompson, Clay. “Jack Swilling, the father of Phoenix”, Arizona Republic, May 12th 2011. Website article. Accessed May 17, 2017.

Zarbin, Earl. “The Swilling Legacy”, Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project (APCRP). Website accessed May 17, 2017.

Arizona Water Pioneers – Carl Hayden

Few people might equate silence with power but that’s just the sort of paradox that defined Carl Hayden. Known as the “Silent Senator”, on the occasions when Hayden spoke before Congress, it was always with brevity and impact. What little Hayden said usually spoke volumes to his colleagues. He was known as a man of “sterling character” and his solid reputation and modesty helped usher in an era of water projects which would tame the West. He will especially be remembered as a persistent, driving force behind the massive Central Arizona Project (CAP), which ultimately helped Arizona acquire the water resources needed to become the burgeoning state it is today.

Hayden had a natural understanding of the importance of water in the West. He knew early on that the West’s greatest challenge with water was there was either too little or too much. As a child he experienced the great flood of 1891; one of the largest floods known to hit the Phoenix area.  This flood was devastating to the frontier town which was cut it off from communication with the outside world for three months. Farms, homes, bridges and more were wiped out. Families were displaced and several people were killed by the raging torrent. Locals began to clamor more fervently for controlled sources of water.  Hayden saw the destruction first hand which provided him with valuable insight on Western water issues.

In addition to his understanding of water issues, Hayden also had the benefit of political longevity. He was so well regarded by the citizens of Arizona that his political career spanned an impressive sixty-seven years. He began his calling at the local level, serving in a number of local and county positions within territorial Arizona. When Arizona became a state in 1912, he was elected to the House of Representatives for seven terms.  He then became a U.S. Senator in 1926 and remained there until he retired in 1969.

His support for consistent and reliable water resources in Arizona began with one of the first federal reclamation projects – the Salt River Project. The purpose of the newly founded Reclamation Service was to “reclaim” arid lands by providing a regular source of water for irrigation. At the time, the federal government believed that irrigation was at the heart of making land hospitable enough for settlers to move west. Without a reliable source of water, it was very tough for early pioneers to make a living.

Hayden was also successful in getting an engineering study completed for his Gila River constituents who wanted piece of the reclamation service pie. This ultimately led to the construction of the Coolidge Dam on the Gila River and the San Carlos Irrigation District.

In the 1970s, he wrote and secured passage of a provision which allowed local water-user associations to ultimately take over the maintenance and operations of federal reclamation projects. This seemed to make life easier for the locals as well as the feds.

His ultimate water resource accomplishment would culminate when the Central Arizona Project was finally authorized through the Colorado River Basin Project Act in 1968. He carried forward a collective vision from the 1920s for a centrally located Arizona water project but was unable to overcome continued resistance by various factions and special interests both inside and outside of the state.

The history of the Colorado River water allocations are far too complex to express in a couple of paragraphs. Suffice it is to say that it took decades of committees, meetings, negotiations and eventually multiple Supreme Court cases to work though some of the water rights issues pertaining to the Colorado River.

The finalized Central Arizona Project would provide much needed water for the rapidly growing state.  The CAP is now one of the nation’s largest and most expansive water resource projects. It flows an impressive 336 miles from the Colorado River’s entry point at Lake Havasu and ends about 14 miles south of Tucson. Its flow provides water to more than 5 million people.

Hayden’s support for western water projects also extended outside his home state of Arizona.  Hayden supported Oregon with the Bonneville Lock and Dam and other water projects seeking to control the Columbia Rivers.  He also backed some projects in California, Arizona’s water nemesis, mainly because he saw the greater good that could come from such an approach. He helped secure federal funding for northern California’s Central Valley Project and supported southern California’s Metropolitan Water District.

Bruce Babbitt, former U.S.  Secretary of the Interior and former Governor of Arizona may have summarized Hayden’s career contributions the best when he stated: “Westerners living in the modern era and those of future generations would always be indebted to Hayden for his help in bringing life-giving water to arid lands and the countless benefits that flow from multiple-use developments of the river resources of the western United States.”*

 

* Babbitt quote from the Introduction to “Vision in the Desert – Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest” by Jack August, Jr.; page 2.

Bibliography:

August, Jack L. Jr. “Vision in the Desert – Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest”. Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, 1999.

History of Central Arizona Project, Central Arizona Project website. http://www.cap-az.com/about-us/history. Accessed 5-March 2017.

Hundley, Norris Jr.  “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West.” University of California Press, Berkley, 1975.

Powell, James Lawrence. “Dead Pool – Lake Powell, global Warming and the Future of Water in the West”. University of California Press. Berkley, 2008.

“With a Crash – Fell Many Adobe Homes Last Night”, Arizona Republican, 20 February 1891, pp. 1, 4.

Arizona Water Pioneers – William Beardsley

beardsleys-crop
William Beardsley (left) and his son Robert Beardsley, around 1920. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, HAER ARIZ, 7 -PHEN.V, 5.8)

Like a late-blooming teenager, 19th century Arizona was still trying to define itself.  Soldiers, miners and rugged pioneers gradually made their way to Arizona to begin life anew in a challenging landscape. These early pioneers quickly realized water was both the key to their survival as well as a powerful force to reckon with. Water, in the Arizona territory, was a double edged sword – there was either too much or too little.

By the late 1800’s, entrepreneurs and visionaries realized Arizona needed consistent, reliable and controlled sources of water to kick-start its growth. In their mind, the best way to meet this goal was by damming rivers and building canals to deliver water where it was needed. Tens of thousands of men were involved in engineering and building dams and canals from one end of the state to the other. One man, unknown to many current Arizonans, devoted a large part of his life to ensuring central Arizona would have the water it needed.  This man was William Beardsley.

What was notable about Beardsley was the fortitude with which he pursued his mission of building a dam and canals to store and divert water.  He would endure a series of setbacks over a 40+ year period that would culminate in a controversial, multiple-arch dam harnessing the Aqua Fria River. Such long term persistence and commitment is a rarely seen among men in any age.

Beardsley was part of a group of “speculative businessmen” who banded together to privately develop the Aqua Fria River. They wanted to harness the river by building a reservoir, diversion dam and series of distribution canals. Work on the diversion dam and canals began in 1892 but stopped 3 years later due to lack of funds. To make matters worse, in the fall of 1895 a flood tore away the west side of the preliminary dam. Things looked bleak. Beardsley was unable to raise money and legal complaints from unpaid contractors forced him into bankruptcy.

The story could have ended here but in a fairy-tale twist, a group of Beardsley’s associates from Ohio took possession of the assets and deeded them back to him so he could continue work on the project. For years he tried to restart the endeavor but the project remained stalled.

As 1902 approached, he started to run into issues with the federal government, specifically with the Department of Interior and the newly found Reclamation Service (now called the Bureau of Reclamation) who was the 800-pound gorilla in Arizona’s water world. Technicalities with surveys and public lands would hold the project up for another 17 years.

Finally in 1919, construction began on a multiple-arch dam designed by engineer Carl Pleasant. This style of dam was selected due to its strength and economy to build. William Beardsley died in 1925 and his son Robert would ultimately finish the project. The dam would be named the Carl Pleasant Dam in 1926 and then renamed the Waddell Dam in 1964 after an investor from New York.

More issues would follow the construction of the dam. Cracks appeared in the buttresses of the dam and much controversy loomed over its safety.  Several engineers poured over plans and reviewed the integrity of the dam. None seemed to agree on the significance of the cracks. Ultimately, modifications were made to ensure the dam’s safety. The required upgrades were completed in 1936.

Historically this dam was unique because it was the only Salt River Valley water storage project successfully completed by a private interest. All the other central Arizona water storage schemes were developed with federal government assistance.  It was also the world’s tallest multiple-arch dam; quite an accomplishment for a private outfit.

Today the project is known as the Maricopa Water District (MWD) which provides power and water service to 60 square mile area west of Phoenix. The new Waddell Dam (built in 1994 and successor to the original Waddell Dam) and resulting Lake Pleasant hold 157,600 acre-feet of water. Water is feed through the 33 mile Beardsley canal and diverted for use through a series of laterals and sub-lateral piping. This lateral piping system is almost 100 miles long. The MWD also has an “interconnect” with the Central Arizona Project (CAP) for collaborative use of the regions water.

What started out as a construction project with his brother George, turned into a multi-generational water business with his son, Robert. Thanks to the fortitude and sheer determination of William Beardsley, the Phoenix area will have water and power for generations to come as well as a beautiful lake for recreation.

Beardsley family – Arizona thanks you!

Bibliography:

  1. Waddell Dam (Pleasant Dam). “Photographs – Written Historical and Descriptive Data”, Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Western Region, Department of the Interior, San Francisco, California, HAER-ARIZ-7-PHEN.V.5.
  2. Giordano, Gerald. “Images of America – Lake Pleasant”. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2009.

Abracadabra – Water from Thin Air!

Technologies are now available which can create water from air – or so they say.  The idea may not be so far-fetched. After all, clouds are merely water vapor floating in the sky. But is this technology viable? Can the sky’s moisture really be harnessed in quantities large enough for human consumption? Let’s take a look.

abracadabra-pix

About a decade ago an Australian man, Max Whisson, garnered a lot of attention for his wind powered machine which could produce water from air. His contraption, initially called the “Whisson Windmill”, harnessed wind to turn vertically aligned blades on his uniquely designed windmill. The turning blades were cooled with refrigerant and had a special coating applied which allowed the condensate (water) to run-off the blades and be collected.  Whisson claimed his machine could produce 2600 gallons of water from the air per day.1

Some people discounted Whisson’s claims and calculations. On the “SkepticForum” website, blogger “Major Malfunction” contested Whisson’s production estimates of “around 7,000 liters per day, even in a light breeze”.2 Using math “which a 16-year-old school kid should be capable of doing in a matter of minutes”, Major Malfunction showed Whisson was off by three orders of magnitude in his production calculations.3

The skeptical blogger may have been onto something. In spite of the flurry of press Whisson received for his invention, he apparently never got any financial backing to bring his idea to fruition. The website related to his patented invention, MAX WATER at “waterunlimited.com” essentially goes nowhere and doesn’t provide any useful information. However, there is a wiki site (PESwiki.com) that offers some additional insight on Whisson’s patents and provides a listing of 2007 news reports on his windmill idea.4

Another water-from-air technology which made US headlines in 2006 is called AquaMagic. Jonathan Wright and David Richards developed “a machine that filters air, condenses the moisture in it, purifies the water and then dispenses it from a spigot on the side” of a trailer. 5 Their intention was to “help first responders and emergency personnel get the hydration they need to do their jobs” at large-scale events, such as Hurricane Katrina.6 The inventors toured 183 cities within the hurricane zone of the United States and also went to South Africa to see if there machine would work well in that environment.7

The AquaMagic machine is pricey with machines staring at $35,000. While they can produce about 120 gallons (1,000 16 oz bottles) of water per day, they use 50 gallons of diesel fuel during the process, making this technology less sustainable than Whisson’s Windmill which solely relies on wind power.8 Scientists and Public Health professionals pointed out that while the AquaMagic machine does have merit, “there are cheaper and easier ways to provide large-scale water purification if cleanliness is the main issue.”9

A broader online review of water-from-air technology shows very few viable options. Most of the designs referenced on the web went to non-functioning websites or broken links. The assumption being these ideas never got any traction. (See “The Conscious Media Network” referencing designs by airwatercorp.com, vapaire.com, globalrainbox.com and others.10)

However, could we have stumbled upon a new conspiracy theory? Maybe the designs were so innovative the patents were bought by international corporate water interests and squashed in perpetuity to maintain a worldwide strangle-hold on water markets. After all, financial projections for the bottled water industry expect the demand to reach $279.65 billion US dollars by 2020.11 Sounds almost believable, doesn’t it?

As it stands now, the only water-from-air technology which seems to have a current market is manufactured by Aqua Sciences of Florida. Their technology runs air over a salt compound which attracts and binds water molecules. A “proprietary hygroscopic water extraction process” removes the salt concentrate from the liquid to create pure water.12

A quick review of the Aqua Sciences website reveals award-winning technology which was field tested during the disastrous Haitian earthquake in 2010 and also in the Saudi Arabian deserts. Their website implies a contract with the US Military on their “Our Products” page and boasts of coverage by major television networks such as Fox News, CNN, NPR, ABC, NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

Could Aqua Sciences really be a viable and scalable option to pull water from the sky? Guess we’ll have to wait and see. While the Aqua Sciences website is still up and running, the most recent online news seems to be from 2015. Wonder if they’ll be bought out by global water interests too?

References

  1. Josh Clark “Why can’t we manufacture water?” Posted 2 November 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. Accessed 6 February 2017
  2. The Skeptic Forums Society. “Whisson’s Windmill” blog by “Major Malfunction.” Posted 11 June 2007. Accessed 6 February 2017.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Munsey, Andrew (editor). “Directory: Max Whisson’s Gust Water Trap Apparatus.” Posted 14 June 2016. PESWiki.com. Accessed 6 February 2017.
  5. Struglinski, Suzanne. “Make water out of air? Utahn goes with the flow” Posted 1 October 2006. Deseretnews.com. Accessed 7 February 2017.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Tresnor, Jules (web master). “The Conscious Media Network.” Posted 2007. Tesla3.com “Human > Water from Air”. Accessed 7 February 2017
  11. Transparency Market Research. “Bottled Water Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2016 – 2024.” Posted 13 October 2016. transparencymarketresearch.com. Accessed 7 February 2017
  12. “Aqua Sciences – Global Leader in Atmospheric Water Generation” Posted 2015. com. Accessed 7 February 2017