It’s ALIVE!!!

Happy New Year!

A lot has been going on the past couple months, leading to a temporary hiatus from the blogosphere. But it’s a new year, and the world of water issues has been incredibly active, so we are back, and in order to fulfill at least one resolution, I will be posting at least one new blog a week in 2011!

Between floods in Australia, record snowstorms in the east and downpours in the west, paralyzing weather in Europe, cyanobacteria in China, and your usual pollution, shortages, and abuses, I really don’t know where to begin. But today it is back to the real world after much holiday fun, and I promise to have something (hopefully) interesting to get the ball rolling on the hydro forum for the year.

Look for a new post by Wednesday. Please let me know if there is anything in particular you would like to hear about, discuss, and certainly keep me in the loop regarding less publicized water issues in your neck of the woods, and beyond!

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Science (again) explains a biblical event?

Charlton Heston did it!

A new study conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)  at the University of Colorado, Boulder is shedding some additional light on a possible explanation for the ‘parting’ of the Red Sea some 3000 years ago. Although evidence to support the occurrence of the event as told in Exodus is still scarce, new models suggest that a phenomena known as ‘wind setdown’ could create the conditions necessary for a temporary land bridge to form along the shores of a narrow waterway.

Other models have produced similar results using various locations. A 1992 paper published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society focused on the northern part of the Gulf of Suez. Wind setdown events have been known to occur in recent history, including an event in 1882 near the Suez Canal.

Not everyone is convinced, though. There are obviously still questions to whether the event even happened. There are also suggestions that a lower sea level 3000 years ago would result in the described region already being void of water. Others just claim that this is a weak attempt to burst another miracle-bubble.

I would just love to witness such a spectacle. The thought that we still have a lot to learn gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Some people believe in miracles; I just think the world is a fantastic, wonderful, never-ending source of questions and answers, here to satisfy our curiosity.

A summary of the NCAR research can be found at

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Arsenic on Tap

New batch: Apricot Wheat, Socorro Springs Brewery

Ask anyone who’s attempted to home brew (successfully or not) and you will likely hear that making the perfect beer is part art and part science. Just the right mix of hops and malt, proper timing, a suitable temperature, and adequate amounts of tasting, of course. Even the experts differ on what they consider the most important variable. Many will claim that it’s all about the water.

So it was no surprise when, a few weeks ago, when that was the answer given by the brew master at Socorro Springs Brewery. I just happened to drop by when he was explaining that it’s difficult to recreate the taste of many of his creations elsewhere because the water is perfect here.

Let me mention that as I pedaled through Socorro and beyond, never have I passed a stream or an ephemeral pond and had a flashback to a refreshing Rocky Mountain stream. I doubt Pete Coors would be impressed with our turbid flows.

Sure, buddy. “Pretty weak”, I thought.

“It’s the arsenic”, he continued. Okay. Now you have my attention.

In the early nineties the EPA amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to decrease the concentration of arsenic in drinking water from 50 ppb to 10 ppb (which is the same standard set by the WHO). Under the old standards, most, if not all, of the springs and wells in Socorro County would be in compliance. Much to the dismay of the ‘below-average income’ residents here, almost all of their sources were soon deemed ‘contaminated’. Millions would have to be spent to remedy the situation, and those struggling just to pay rent worried they would find themselves paying double or triple their previous water bills.

Socorro did not meet the deadline for compliance, and as of last year, the city was still testing their options. A concise breakdown of remediation choices that were being considered can be found at

Unlike most of the groundwater contaminants that are cause for concern, arsenic’s primary sources are natural. Arsenic-rich minerals such as arsenopyrite and orpiment are common in the Southwest. Volcanic material with high silica content is also to blame. Finally, hydrothermal processes and long recharge times, especially in the Jemez Mountain region, lead to a more complete breakdown of arsenic-rich minerals resulting in increasing concentrations at distant springs.

So how much is too much arsenic? Is there really a health risk associated with consuming water two or four times the EPA limit, given there were no real long-term observations of the US populations’ reaction to the 50 ppb limit that existed for decades? More importantly, does my liver go into overdrive trying to remove the additional toxin from my IPA?

Opinions vary.

In Bangladesh thousands have died each year from arsenic poisoning since wells were installed throughout the country to provide an alternative to the bacteria-laden surface water that served as the primary source of drinking water. A failure to test the wells for arsenic resulted in mass poisonings. Many of the wells still contain arsenic levels above 50 ppb.

Evidence supporting a link between cancer and increased arsenic intake is less conclusive. In Taiwan the magic level seems to be 150 ppb before cancer rates increase. In the US there has been some correlation between skin cancer and arsenic levels below the EPA limit. Many studies have shown increased mortality in people with other health conditions that have also been exposed to higher than normal arsenic levels. Perhaps the most disturbing effect of increased arsenic intake is the havoc it wreaks on the immune system.

Maybe moderate levels of arsenic are just more damaging to populations with poor nutrition (whether it be malnutrition or obesity).
The verdict is still out on long term effects of arsenic in the United States. I would love to hear from someone with more knowledge on the subject.

Until then, I am looking into a reverse-osmosis filtering system for my place. I drink a lot of water. And occasionally I like to enjoy a microbrew or two. Apparently I am in the right place for that. New Mexico now has almost 20 microbreweries. Maybe word has gotten out about the delicious role arsenic plays in the perfect brew. Hopefully there is a more reasonable explanation.

Either way, I think some Nut Brown Ale from Sante Fe Brewing Company would be perfect for the BBQ tonight…

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Hello world!

Jump right in: the water’s fine!

Alright, I will make a concerted effort not to be so cheesy in the future, but the current atmosphere surrounding the world of water is pretty tense, so why not start off on the lighter side.

Over the next few years I will be studying water like it’s my job. Well, it is, and it will be, for a long time to come. I hope to come away from this experience in the desert (Master’s program in Hydrology at New Mexico Tech) with as much knowledge, respect, and enthusiasm, for the the most important natural resource on the planet.

The appearance of water over 3.5 billion years ago made our existence possible, and our abuse, misuse, and overuse of this incredible molecule may be  our greatest misstep as a species. And last.

As my fellow hydrology grad students and I plunge into derivations and models, theories and methods, I hope this blog can keep us, and everyone, focused on the big-picture. It’s easy to forget that there are real consequences of pumping, polluting, and attempting to manipulate water above, upon, and within the Earth. Billions of people scattered across the globe suffer from shortages, floods, displacement, disease, famine and other heart-breaking conditions directly related to hydrologic processes and anthropogenic modifications .

I look forward to being a small part of this discussion. Along the way I can only hope that the input of the readers, their insight and concerns, will bring us closer to being part of the solution.

Whether it’s the science, the history, the politics, or the miscellaneous fun facts about water, I’m hydro-ecstatic! I hope you are, too…

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