Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Routine and a Tribute to Ignaz Semmelweis

Last weekend I made another trip down to Bear Creek. This time, Rich walked me through his usual routine (performed every 2-4 days in the winter) and I recorded everything as we went. First we went to the lower well and had to change the six filters that the water runs through right after in is pumped from the ground. The water runs through three ultra-fine filters followed by three fine filters. This process took about 20 minutes as we had to shut off the pump, close the valves, drain some of the water from the filter casings, change each filter individually (and carefully), and turn the pump back on (also very carefully). It is important to easy the valve open after the pump is turned back on so that you do not get a "knocking" effect from the water rushing back in and compressing the air that is in the system. This can damage the pipes greatly and cause huge problems in the system. The filters are changed after a certain amount of water is pumped through them to maintain a specific turbidity level which is monitored by a computer in the pump house. If the turbidity or chlorine meter exceeds a certain threshold, this is considered a violation and must be reported to the state water board.

Next we recorded these levels as well as the total water that had been pumped and then went up to the upper well. At the upper well, we had to record the same data as well as take a sample to test the chlorine level using a colorimeter to test the actual chlorine level and refill the SeaQuest tank. Then we went back down to the lower well to test the chlorine level there now that the water had been running through the new filters for a sufficient amount of time. Finally before we left we took a water sample to drop of at the Sangre De Cristo Lab in Alamosa to verify that the water was safe for distribution. When taking the sample, we had to be extremely careful not to get a contaminated sample. If the sample was contaminated by some outside source before the time it got tested, the water in the system would be contaminated which could lead to fines as well as other complications. There is more finesse to the regular duties of a water operator than one might imagine!

As an interesting side note, when we were driving down to Bear Creek, Rich told me an interesting story about a man named Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. In the mid 1800s perpetual fever that often resulted in death was common in hospitals, in fact it almost seemed as if more people were getting sick from hospitals than were being healed. Semmelweis accidentally stumbled upon chlorine solution as a cleaning agent for doctors and their tools. It turned out that for some reason, the use of a chlorinated lime solution reduced the sickness and infections that were the result of medical procedures greatly. He had discovered chlorine as the ultimate disinfectant but he could not make this connection between the reduced mortality and the use of chlorine. He eventually published a book on his findings. But alas, Semmelwies' findings contradicted the prominent scientific and medical opinions of the time and pointed to the doctors as the culprits (when unknowingly, they were) and he was declared insane.  He was committed to an insane asylum and died at the age of 47 after being beaten by the guards. After his death the significance of his findings was realized and continues to save millions of lives around the world to this day and even held to distribute safe drinkable water. Thanks Ignaz!

An engraved portrait of Semmelweis: a mustachioed, balding man in formal attire, pictured from the chest up.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelwies (1860)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Entering the Water World

I am a few weeks into my internship now and finally getting to the blogging aspect. It's been a busy semester already! I am interning with the Bear Creek Land Owners Association for whom my dad, Richard Basinger, is the water operator and will be my internship supervisor. The area is about three hours South and slightly East of Gunnison in the beautiful Conejos Canyon down near the Colorado New Mexico Border. As an environmental studies student with a water emphasis I have always been fascinated with all aspects of water. Whether it is the ecological, political, physical, distributional, or recreational aspect I can never learn enough!. During my internship, I plan to travel down to Bear Creek about once every two weeks and learn all the necessary skills required of a water operator. Also, in the time that I am not down in the canyon, I will be updating system operating procedures, evaluating necessary upcoming changes to the system to address recommendations by the Colorado Department of Public Health, and studying for the class D water operator certification exam.

I made the trip down for the first time about two weeks ago. It was quite the exciting drive down as I drove through some of the thickest fog I've ever been in and almost hit an elk. But I made it safely and it is always a beautiful drive down to the area. When I made it down, Rich explained to me what exactly he does (or more like what exactly I will be doing) and gave me a general overview of the water system. It is a community public water system. The operator is required to have a Class C water treatment certification as well as a Class D distribution certification (a sewage treatment cert. is not required because the cabins that are served have individual septic systems). The system currently serves 87 households and distributes approximately 2 million gallons of finished water per year. There are two wells. The first well is located right by the Conejos River and is designated as a ground water under direct influence of surface water sight. This well pumps around 35-60 gal/minute. The other is a groundwater well which is up the hill a ways from the lower well. This well is drilled straight into the bedrock but was not drilled in a very good place and only pumps 1 gal/minute. Water from both wells is pumped into two 5,000 gallon storage tanks which distribute the water to the households using gravity. Two insure that the water is safe to drink two chemicals are added to it as soon as it comes out of the well. Sodium Chloride (a liquid) is added as a disinfectant and a solution called SeaQuest (NaBSHEPZBO85 also a liquid) which is used for pipe corrosion control.

Well, That is a basic overview of what I will be doing throughout the course of the semester. I am looking forward to developing the skills I will need for my upcoming career in the water field and thanks to Rich Basinger, Jeff Sellen, WSCU, and the Bear Creek Land Owners Association for this opportunity!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Composting Fingernails, Homemade Toothpaste, and Other Fun New Things...

Well, I made it through week one, can I get a hallelujah! After 8 days of having to consciously think about waste before every decision, I have found some semblance of a routine that works for me. Bea Johnson, waste-free goddess and blogger at zero waste home(here), and her family of four have managed to end up with only a quart of waste every year. Let me repeat myself; ONE. QUART. EVERY. YEAR. It's incredible and it's also taken her years of trial and error to perfect. As I realize there is no truly 'zero waste' of any sort in any system, I've decided to strive for a quart of trash per month. It is more reasonable and de-stresses the pressure of analyzing every piece of food or product that comes my way. I have gone from this ugly waste full trash can
to this! A beautiful, simple, small mason jar. If I could only figure out what to do with receipts!

My very first piece of trash happened on the very first day at 7 in the morning. Really off to a great start, huh? I woke up feeling nervous and excited and began to boil water for tea. I happily reached into my tea canister and pulled out a tea bag in an individually wrapper bag. The instant I heard the rip as I tore away the packaging, I realized my mistake! I guiltily drank the tea and placed the bag into my new trash jar. Luckily, I saved the tea bag and was able to put it into my new compost bucket! The food has been by far the challenging aspect. Since I'm so mobile, I have to prepare to bring jars full of snacks and food to tide me over until I return home for dinner. I've even become quite the suzy homemaker, with little far. I presoaked dried black beans overnight, which never fully got soft even after 8 hours of cooking! How did I mess up beans?! I also tried to make homemade all bulk ingredient Corn Tortillas. I'm too embarrassed to post pictures of those, but trust me it wasn't pretty. I will say my food has stretched so much farther and I have spent significantly less on groceries. It also looks very pretty:
You can really see your food for what it is. It isn't hidden behind shiny packaging like the picture below. 

The bathroom has also gone under the knife so to speak. I now wash my hair with shampoo out of a jar (No conditioner, eek!!) and use my own concoction of baking soda and coconut oil to brush my teeth. It really doesn't taste too bad at all! Q-tips are a thing of the past and my fingernails now go in the compost instead of down the drain. It's been highly entertaining trying to explain my project to other which leads to some great stores. Next blog post, I'l begin to discuss how my waste-free life works away from the home, because after all, zero waste begins outside the house!