Category Archives: Keep it clean

Cities and town sewer plants, development, farm, and ranch runoff runs back to the river for use of downstream users before (hopefully) ending up in Pyramid lake. Sometimes that returned water isn’t as clean as it should be

Draft TMWA 2020-40 Plan: Leaves Out Water Efficiency…Again

Water Wasted

Conservation and drought management ranked high by 90% of respondents to TMWA’s (Truckee Meadows Water Authority) survey of topics of importance to be addressed in the 2020-2040 TMWA Plan 5 year update. And, as before, TMWA talks generally about conservation but has no definitive goals and no new actions to achieve water efficiency to reduce per capita demand for its customers.

Fly fisherman on Truckee River in mid-November 2018
Fly fisherman on Truckee River in mid-November 2018

TMWA’s update, like the previous plan, doesn’t look to water efficiency instead calling for “enhanced conservation” by its customers only during drought. TMWA’s “Enhanced conservation” asks customers to reduce water use by 10% during level “2” to “4” droughts for between 3 months to a maximum of 5 months. In a level 1 drought or non-drought, TMWA’s plan update calls for “standard conservation”. But standard conservation offers no incentives, strategies or goals to reduce per person water use and appears to rely exclusively on an even-odd address, 3 days per week outdoor watering. TMWA has no plan to implement programs to help its customers be more water efficient over the next 20 years of the plan during all conditions. Hardly forward looking for a desert community with less than 7″ average annual precipitation, long, hot, dry summers, and rising temperatures year-after-year.

This year Reno saw just 3.81 inches of precipitation in the form of rain and snow since October 1, 2019 – over 10 months. And, Reno’s summer temperatures are hot and likely for overall average annual temperature to approach or even top those of the past. Indeed, we live in a desert and need to be efficient and conserve the little water the region has to support people and the environment.

A Chart in TMWA’s plan update shows that for the past five years water use in its service area has been right around 150 gallons per person per day (GPD). That’s more than many other western cities including Las Vegas where customer water use has declined to 120 GPD. And, Las Vegas expects to continue to lower the GPD through its water efficiency programs. TMWA should be doing the same to lower its need for expensive engineering solutions and new groundwater sources.

water runs down gutter from lawn sprinklers
water runs down gutter from lawn sprinklers

Too often water runs down the gutter from over-watering and inefficient or broken outdoor sprinkler systems. Once water is running down the gutter it will eventually end back up in the Truckee River with contaminants of all kinds – discarded waste and oil being common. Water waste becomes more common with ineffective incentives for customers to conserve. People-unfriendly, grass-fronted roads in business districts send water spraying into adjacent streets. These water wasteful spaces offer little to the public and could and should be replaced with appropriate water conserving landscapes, instead. With proper water efficiency incentives adopted, TMWA’s plan update could encourage appropriate low-water landscaping that offers more interesting plantings that offer more shade and function. TMWA needs a plan update that identifies implementing better options for customers to save water and lower overall demand.

The 2020-2040 TMWA Plan update doesn’t contain any new initiatives or changes to its water pricing structure. While TMWA’s website promotes the plan as an call to action, the plan update contains no new direction regarding water use.

Of the customer insights collected so far, the top concerns are related to two topics: population growth and extreme climate variation. TMWA’s approach to these issues are woven throughout this plan.

(https://tmwa.com/article/tmwa-seeks-public-input-for-draft-2020-2040-water-resource-plan/)

TMWA, however, continues its past approach of drilling wells, diverting more water, and pumping water underground just like its previous plan. Other cities have consistently seen the error in this approach and have found customer friendly ways to reduce demand and delay or eliminate the need for expensive new water infrastructure. Further, TMWA’s own projections show that its approach will lead to shortages under climate change scenarios. Nevertheless, the plan essentially ignores these results saying that the problem will only occur in-the-future and outside of the planning horizon. Such an approach lacks credibility and puts the entire plan in doubt.

Dry time along the Truckee River walk
Low flows along the Truckee River Trail near Idlewild Park

You can still comment on the plan here. Or write to your Reno or Sparks City Council Representative or Washoe County Commissioner.

Quitting the bottled water habit (save $ and the planet)

Cascade of plastic water-filled bottles

Plastic water-filled bottles are everywhere. They line grocery and convenience store isles and wait for you at checkout stands. From ski hills to ocean beaches to executive board rooms, people haul around their no-calorie elixir wrapped in plastic. The stats tell us just how addicted we are to our bottled ounces of the essential liquid in shiny clear plastic containers wrapped helpfully with plastic brand labels – DaSani™, Aquafina™, Fiji™, Evian™, Nestle™, etc. According to a recent analysis in Consumer Reports (https://www.consumerreports.org), water bottled in plastic containers is the #1 consumer beverage – 42 gallons per average American a year or 336 sixteen ounce bottles – at an annual consumer cost of $31 billion and growing.

Why would the average American spend hundreds of dollars for water when it is available at the tap for just pennies? Many people say it is convenience, but 40% of Americans believe that water bottled in plastic is “safer than tap” according to CR. Some of that concern comes from the nationally reported lead-contamination in Flint, Michigan in 2014. Flint, however, is an extreme exception and not the rule. Ninety percent of Americans get their water from municipal suppliers who provide their customers with exceptionally high quality water mandated by drinking water standards set by Federal and state laws. Those municipal suppliers (like TMWA and the Las Vegas Valley Water District) “have no reported health-based quality violations” according to the EPA as reported by CR. 

TMWA's Chalk Bluff Water Treatment Facility can treat 90 million gallons of water a day.
TMWA’s Chalk Bluff Water Treatment Facility can treat 90 million gallons of water a day.

That’s good news for bottled water buyers because 64% of the water sold in plastic containers comes from municipal water systems across the country. Drinking water standards for municipal supply are part of federal law and you can check the quality of your municipal supplied water in annual reports*. Drinking your 8 glasses of clean water a day needn’t include creating plastic waste. Drinking your 8 glasses of clean water a day needn’t include creating plastic waste.

*TMWA customers: https://tmwa.com/article/2019-water-quality-report-now-available/

The US Food and Drug Administration does inspect bottling facilities and requires quality testing by the company selling water in plastic containers. However, the water in plastic doesn’t have water quality standards in federal law and the FDA isn’t required to conduct its own water quality tests. And, there are concerns about the plastic container itself potentially contaminating the water – either prior to sale or afterward once purchased by the consumer.

Its such a waste …

What happens to all those plastic bottles emptied of their water? Unlike an aluminum can that can be recycled indefinitely into another can, plastic water bottles cannot be recycled into more plastic water bottles. Rather, recycled plastic bottles are mostly used for some other “down-cycle” product – like a plastic bag or pen¹. Inevitably, though, nearly all plastic ends up in a land fill (a better outcome) or finds its way into a water body near you. As consumers, we need to kick the plastic water bottle habit to help minimize the impact on the environment from plastic waste.

Microplastics-UC-Santa-Barbara-Image
Microplastics-UC-Santa-Barbara-Image

¹ https://www.headstuff.org/topical/science/plastic-bottle-oceans/

Plastic bottles and other plastic too often ends up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. Plastic gradually breaks down, but never goes away. Instead, plastic breaks up into pieces that get smaller and smaller over time eventually forming micro plastics that can be ingested by fish and other wildlife (humans too!). The problems created by discarded plastic containers extends beyond the ocean and also threatens water quality in lakes and rivers. Micro plastic has been found in Lake Tahoe2.

2 https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-08-26/lake-tahoe-microplastic-pollution-detected

So, what is a consumer trying to cut down on plastic going to land fills – or worse to the rivers and lakes and oceans – to do? Yup, buy a non-plastic container for water that you can fill from the tap and use that. Keep one in your car, your pack, and for your bike. Cutting out plastic water bottles makes both environmental and economic sense. 

Check out PBS’s “The Plastic Problem”: https://tinyurl.com/sf8eghk

Fluoridated water for Truckee Meadows not solution

A bill, AB 193, that just had a Nevada Assembly Committee hearing last Tuesday, would mandate that the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) add fluoride to our community’s high quality drinking water.  The bill should come again before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee; reports are that the committee members appeared favorable to the Legislation. The legislators appear willing to overrule the voters of Washoe County who rejected water fluoridation by a 58% to 42% vote in 2002. Continue reading

Rain welcome after long dry summer

Reno Thunderstorm August 11 2014

This Saturday, October 15 the rain intensified with the new storm. While the temperatures seem  unseasonably warm, rain is always welcome in the desert.  At 9:30 pm it is still raining and the temperature where I live in Reno is  50º F; not close to snowing, that’s for sure.

Rain, however, does result in rapid runoff from commercial and residential properties and parking lots and roads. Oil mobilized by rain in parking areas and roads runs off to adjacent streets, into the storm drains, and then into the Truckee River. Containing this toxic runoff requires a good storm drain plan that works to reduce and clean the runoff before it reaches the Truckee River. The community should focus more resources on cleaning pollution associated with rapid storm runoff.

A rain in Reno results in oil being mobilized and moving from parking lots to storm drains and into the Truckee River.

A rain in Reno results in oil being mobilized and moving from parking lots to storm drains and into the Truckee River.