Jimmy Fallon and Bill Gates together make an interesting
combination. One is about finding new ways to solve serious world
problems, while the other is looking for new ways to surprise and
Bill gates recently challenged Jimmy Fallon to the “ultimate
taste test” involving two glasses of water. Jimmy would try to tell
the difference between bottled water and sewage effluent from an
innovative treatment plant built in Sedro Woolley, south of
Bellingham. As you’ll see from the video, there was a bit of
In his blog,
“Gates Notes,” Bill Gates describes the Omniprocessor, designed
by Janicki Bioenergy of Washington state. A video on that page
(shown here) demonstrates how the processor works, with an ending
in which Gates drinks water that had been in the form of human
feces just minutes before.
Gates makes the most of this humorous but deadly serious issue,
knowing that one of the greatest health threats in the developing
world is contaminated drinking water — and that a machine could
help solve the problem.
The Omniprocessor burns dried human waste as fuel to dry more
waste as it comes into the plant, providing an endless supply of
fuel that can be burned at a very high temperature, thus
controlling air emissions. The drying process produces steam, which
can run a generator for electricity. The water vapor is cooled and
goes through a final filter to produce clean drinking water.
I’ve read many articles written about the Omniprocessor over the
past month, but Mark Stayton of the
Skagit Valley Herald wrote the most informative piece I’ve
A working prototype is scheduled to be fabricated this spring in
Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, and go into use soon after. Graphics
and photos are available on the Omniprocessor home
I’ll be interested to see how this entire operation works in
practice. Not much is said about getting the waste to the machine.
Apparently, some locations have trucks that pump out latrines and
then dump the untreated waste someplace else, risking contamination
to groundwater or surface water. Transportation of the waste/fuel
might be less of an issue in cities with inadequate
sewage-treatment plants, but I don’t know how efficient trucks
would be in rural areas, where roads are often a problem.
Anyway, I will try to keep you informed about the Omniprocessor
and similar technology in the months to come.
Kingston’s sewage treatment plant could provide irrigation water
for the nearby White Horse Golf Course and possibly other uses
under a plan now in development.
Kitsap County commissioners recently signed a $325,000
“predesign” contract with Brown and Caldwell engineers. The firm
was hired to answer a host of questions about the feasibility of
producing high-quality effluent at the plant and then putting the
clean water to good use.
“We’re just starting to look at the whole project,” said Barbara
Zaroff of Kitsap County’s Wastewater Division. “We just had our
kickoff meeting two weeks ago, and now Brown and Caldwell will be
going out to collect data.”
I peppered Barbara with questions that she could not answer at
this point, because the detail work is yet to be done. But we know
from a previous study by
Golder Associates (PDF 18.2 mb) that producing high-quality
effluent in Kingston is more than a random thought.
Golder found benefits from using the water for supplementing
flows in nearby Grover’s Creek while recharging much-needed
groundwater in that area of the county. The Suquamish Tribe, which
owns White Horse Golf Course, has expressed interest in acquiring
the water if various issues can be resolved.
The Kingston treatment plant, completed in 2005, produces an
average of 150,000 gallons of effluent per day, currently
discharged into Appletree Cove. As population grows, the plant can
be expanded to about 300,000 gallons per day.
It appears it would be cost-effective to treat the water to
tertiary standards with sand filters, although other technologies
will be explored. A pond could be built on or near the golf course,
which would store the water for irrigation and allow infiltration
into the ground. The available water should provide the needs of
the course with plenty of water left over.
Discharging into a wetland that feeds into Grover’s Creek is
another idea, along with providing irrigation at the county’s North
Kitsap Heritage Park. Unused water might still be discharged into
Puget Sound, particularly in winter months when irrigation water is
One question that always arises with reclaimed water is what
happens to trace amounts of chemicals that pass through the
treatment process, such as pharmaceutical drugs that mimic
hormones. We know from studies that some of these chemicals can
affect the growth, development and metabolism of fish in some
An analysis by
Golder Associates (PDF 18.2 mb) concluded that future treatment
processes in the Kingston plant would remove between 80 and 97
percent of endocrine disrupting compounds coming into the plant.
Environmental conditions where reclaimed water is discharged would
degrade the chemicals further, so the overall risk would be low for
salmon and other fish, according to the report.
The new study is expected to look further into the risks.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Ecology is continuing to work on
reclaimed-water rule that could improve permitting and
monitoring by producers of reclaimed water.
The Kingston project would be similar to what is happening at
the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant near Brownsville,
where construction is adding sand filters as part of an overall
upgrade to the plant.
The nearby Silverdale Water District has installed about 15,000
feet of “purple pipe” for reclaimed water on the major arterials of
Silverdale, including Silverdale Way. The project is part of the
water district’s major pipe-replacement project. Another 2,000 feet
will be added as part of the Bucklin Hill Bridge project, General
Manager Morgan Johnson told me.
Much of the new commercial construction in Silverdale is being
designed to use reclaimed water for irrigation, and some buildings
are being plumbed to use reclaimed water for flushing toilets and
other secondary uses. Ballfields in the area could get some of the
A public-outreach program is being planned to educate the public
about reclaimed water and to answer questions that people may have.
Under the current schedule, the reclaimed-water valve would be
turned on in 2020, but that date may be pushed back, Morgan
In Kingston, it will take about a year to put the information
together and identify a preferred alternative, Barbara told me.
Final engineering and design will follow under a new contract if
things go as expected.
The current contract will examine pipeline routes to convey the
water to the potential users. Costs for building and operating the
system will be explored.
Yet to be determined is how costs and benefits of the reclaimed
water will be shared between the county, which owns the treatment
facilities, and those who will use the water. That goes for both
Kingston and Central Kitsap.
Many golf courses across the country — especially in the arid
Southwest — are using reclaimed water for irrigation. In a few
places where water is in extremely short supply, water systems have
begun adding the clean effluent straight into their drinking water.
Check out reporter Emily Schmall’s story for
the Associated Press.
While water is still somewhat plentiful in the Puget Sound area,
it only makes sense to find uses for freshwater that would
otherwise be dumped into salty Puget Sound.
Last year, Washington state experienced its fifth-hottest year
in 120 years of records maintained by the National Oceanic and
Meanwhile, records for average temperatures were broken in
California, Arizona and Nevada, which lived through the highest
averages in 120 years. Oregon had just one hotter year on record,
while Idaho had three years with higher averages.
In Washington, the average temperature for the year was 48.4
degrees Fahrenheit, or 2.3 degrees above the long-term average.
Hotter years were 1934 with 49.1 degrees; 1958, 49.0 degrees; 1992,
48.7 degrees; and 1998, 48.6 degrees. In 2004, the average
temperature was 48.4, the same as this year.
California’s record high was based on an average temperature of
61.5 degrees, with Arizona at 62.3 and Nevada at 53.1. Oregon’s
average of 49.5 degrees was exceeded only in 1934, when the annual
average was 49.9 degrees.
For the nation as a whole, the average temperature in 2014 was
tempered by some fairly extreme low temperatures in the Midwest,
stretching into the Mississippi Valley. For the contiguous United
States, the average temperature was 52.6 degrees — 0.5 degrees
higher than the long-term average and tied with 1977 as the 34th
warmest year on record, according to information from NOAA’s National
Climatic Data Center.
Despite several months of record and near-record lows across the
middle of the country, no state had an annual average that set a
record for cold or even ranked among their five coolest years.
For the contiguous U.S. as a whole, last year was the 18th year
in a row with an average temperature above the 120-year average.
The last year with a below-average temperature was 1996. Since
1895, the temperature has risen an average of 0.13 degrees F per
Precipitation across the contiguous U.S. was 30.76 inches last
year, or 0.82 inch above the 120-year average. That makes it the
40th wettest year on record. On average, precipitation has
increased by 0.14 inch per decade.
For Washington state, 2014 was the 16th wettest year on record.
The average across the state was 48.73 inches, some 6.7 inches
above the 120-year average.
Above-average precipitation occurred across the northern states
last year, while the Southern Plains and Central Appalachians
experienced below-average conditions.
Drought conditions continue in California, despite near-average
annual precipitation. Exacerbating the problem is a three-year
rainfall deficit combined with record-high temperatures this past
Meanwhile, drought conditions improved across the Midwest and
Central Plains, though both improvements and declines were observed
in various parts of the Southern Plains, Southwest and
Washington state had its fourth-wettest spring on record, while
Kansas had its third-driest spring. Other seasonal conditions can
be found on the NCDC’s “National
Overview” for 2014. The “Climate at a Glance” page can
help you break down the data by state and time period.
Global data and analyses from NCDC are scheduled to be released
I never realized how many water towers across the United States
have been disguised as other objects.
Take the giant catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, for
example. The water tower, built in 1949, stands 170 feet tall and
holds 100,000 gallons.
It was originally built for the G.S. Suppinger Company, which
bottled Brooks old original rich and tangy catsup in the town.
Today, the brand is owned by Birds Eye Foods, which produces the
catsup in Canada.
Thanks to preservation efforts, the giant catsup bottle was
saved from demolition by the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group,
which restored the water tower in 1995. It was named to the
National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and is widely
recognized as a prime example of 20th Century roadside Americana,
according to a special
website all about the catsup bottle.
Then there is the Leaning Tower of Niles, located about 15
minutes north of O’Hare International Airport in Niles, Illinois.
The tower was built in 1934 by businessman Robert Ilg to disguise
water-filtration equipment for two swimming pools used by employees
of Ilg’s air-ventilation company, according to an article in the
Chicago Tribune. The story says the tower is in need of
additional restoration work. Photo courtesy of Lawrence
The “House in the Clouds,” as it is called, is a structure built
to disguise what residents considered to be a hideous 50,000-gallon
water tank on a hill in the community of Thorpeness, Suffolk,
England. The bottom of the steel structure also was enclosed to
provide living accommodations. In 1979, the metal tank inside the
structure was removed piece by piece and lowered to the ground,
according to the website “House in the
Clouds.” Today, the entire five-story
structure can be rented out as a vacation home. Photo courtesy
Several other websites show all sorts of crazy water towers. One
of the best is
“12 Weirdest Water Towers on Earth,” which gives a brief
history of each one. If you need more detail, an Internet search
will provide historical details for most of these.
Inspired by a book called
“Gifts of Unknown Things,” British artist Bruce Munro created
colorful towers made of water bottles, in which the colors shift
and change in response to the music emanating from within.
In his book, author Lyall Watson tells about meeting a young
maiden on an Indonesian island. She possesses the magical gift of
seeing sounds in color. Watson also describes a natural pulse of
the Earth, resonating at 69 beats per day, which is why Munro chose
to construct exactly 69 of his towers, as a tribute to the author.
Munro’s artwork was first put on display in 2010 at Salisbury
Cathedral, Wiltshire, England.
The six-foot towers, shown in the first video, are each made
from more than 200 water bottles stacked in a uniform array and
illuminated by optical fibers. Music is played on speakers within
the towers with a soundtrack created to show the musical diversity
of people throughout the world. You must watch these full-screen
for maximum effect.
Munro, 55, has embraced light as an art form, developing a
special knowledge of fiber optics and other technology. For nearly
20 years, he has taken his art to new levels, reflecting the
character of the world he sees around him and drawing inspiration
from music, literature and science.
shows off his work, from large-scale installations to small lighted
sculptures. His YouTube
chapter reveals many of the installations — including how they
are set up — in a video format.
In the second video on this page, Munro talks about his work in
relation to a 2013 exhibit at Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville. The
interview became part of the Creators’ Project, a
forum that celebrates the combination of art and technology. See
more images on the Creators
A shorter interview was conducted for the Virginia Pilot
when Munro opened an exhibit in October at the Hermitage Museum
& Gardens in Norfolk.
The video below is called “Field of Light,” which Munro has
changed several times for specific locations. This one was at
Holburne Museum, Bath, Somerset, England.
Gorst Creek is the place to go right now when looking for
migrating salmon — not only chum but also coho, all decked out in
their bright-red spawning colors, according to Jon Oleyar, who
surveys East Kitsap streams for the Suquamish Tribe.
Jon called me last night with the news the coho, which adds some
excitement to the salmon-watching experience.
Coho often hide along the stream edges, making them hard to
spot. That’s why I generally focus the attention of salmon watchers
on the more abundant chum, which race right up the middle of the
streams. But it’s great when coho add themselves to the mix.
Jon reported that the coho can be seen easily in Gorst Creek at
Otto Jarstad Park off Belfair Valley Road.
“There are a ton of fish in there,” he said, “and there are a
lot of coho, bright red.”
He said there were also plenty of chum, some that have been in
the stream awhile and others that have just arrived.
Bremerton Public Works officials, who manage the park, have not
objected to people parking outside the park gate and walking into
the park, where salmon-viewing platforms were built along the
stream by the Kitsap Poggie Club.
One good spot, Jon said, is near a pipe where water from the
nearby salmon-rearing operation pours out into the stream. Salmon
seem to get confused and try to jump up into the pipe before
heading on upstream.
Gorst Creek contains one of the latest chum runs on the Kitsap
Peninsula, and people may be able to see salmon there until the end
of the year. I often tell local residents that Jarstad Park is a
good place to take out-of-town visitors during the holidays.
That’s especially the case this year, when the chum run in the
Chico Creek system has basically run its course. The peak of the
run typically comes at Thanksgiving, but this year it was about two
weeks early, Jon tells me. While this year’s run was a decent size,
he said, the stream right now is mostly a “smelly graveyard.”
“It is one of the earliest runs I’ve seen here,” he said of the
Chico chum. “To have everything dead by Thanksgiving is very
Another possibility for seeing salmon is Dogfish Creek, which
runs through Poulsbo. “There might be a few stragglers in Dogfish
Creek,” Jon said.
It’s not too late to take a look at any of the viewing spots
listed on my salmon
viewing map of the Kitsap Peninsula, but don’t go in with high
hopes of seeing a lot of salmon at this time of year. Gorst, it
appears, is the one sure bet at the moment. (The map also contains
tips for observing salmon, which can be easily spooked.)
It’s worth noting that the rains this fall continue to be nearly
ideal for the salmon, coming in with just enough intensity and
frequency to keep the streams flowing at a good level without
flooding. I covered this issue in
Water Ways on Oct. 31.
“It has been perfect for salmon,” Jon told me yesterday. “Those
early storms brought up the streams, and the fish that were coming
in early had plenty of water.”
When the rains eventually dropped off, springs created by those
rains kept the streams flowing until the next rains arrived. As a
result, salmon were able to distribute themselves as far upstream
as they could go. That does not happen every year.
A torrential downpour could still cause flooding and disrupt
salmon eggs incubating in the gravel, but for now things look good
on the Kitsap Peninsula.
As for total rainfall, we were on a record pace for the month of
October across most of the Kitsap Peninsula, as I reported in
Water Ways at the end of last month. But, as you can see from
the charts below, we dropped off the record pace in early November
but remain above average for the water year, which begins Oct.
It’s one of the many sardonic lines in a new BuzzFeed video
called “If we cared about the environment the way we care about
sports,” which you can view below.
BuzzFeed is an
off-the-wall website that has somehow morphed into serious journalism while holding
onto its humorous and satiric side.
On YouTube, BuzzFeed Central is
where you will find at least four channels of odd and humorous
videos. I’m not sure how to sort through all these weird videos,
but I found several amusing clips that are related to our water
The on-and-off rains over the past two weeks are nearly perfect
for both spawning salmon and for recharging shallow groundwater
supplies, experts say.
For October, total rainfall ranges from about 5 inches at
Hansville to 12 inches at Holly, according to rain gauges managed
by the Kitsap Public
Utility District. Fortunately, those rains have not been
delivered to us in only a few days.
The intermittent nature of October rains has allowed the streams
to maintain their flows without flooding. They’ve also allowed
infiltration into the ground without excessive runoff.
“It is the good kind of rain,” said Bob Hunter, interim manager
of Kitsap PUD. “We’ve had a couple of days when we’ve had 2-plus
inches, but we haven’t seen the streams flash.”
In other words, the streams have not risen excessively fast. Bob
attributes that to how dry the ground was before the rains began.
Soils were able to absorb much of the early rainfall before
stormwater runoff began to increase. Pauses between the rainstorms
allowed more of the water to soak into the ground.
“It just goes to show you the variability that we have around
here,” Bob told me.
October marks the beginning of the 2015 “water year.” Although
we are just a month into the start of the year, the rainfall has
been closely tracking all-time highs at some rain gauges —
including Holly, which has been monitored since 1999. (See charts
Meanwhile, the rain pattern in October was nearly perfect for
salmon, said Jon Oleyar of the Suquamish Tribe, who walks the East
Kitsap streams to count migrating salmon as they arrive.
“It seems like we’ve had storms coming in every couple of days,
so they are not right on top of each other,” Jon said. “That gives
the streams some time to recede.”
When there is not adequate flow, the salmon often wait for the
streams to rise. On the other hand, too much flow can wash salmon
eggs out of the streambed.
Last week’s rains got the chum salmon moving into most of the
East Kitsap streams, Jon told me.
“I checked Chico Creek on Wednesday, and there were almost
11,000 fish in there and going up about as far as they can get,” he
A good escapement for the Chico Creek system is between 12,000
and 15,000 chum, and there is still more than a month left —
assuming a typical timing of the run, he said. But things are
looking a little different this year, he noted, and the bulk of the
run may have arrived already.
One indication that timing could be different this year is that
Gorst Creek already has a fair number of chum salmon — perhaps 500
— yet the Gorst Creek run usually comes in later and continues well
Is it possible that all or most of the salmon runs are coming in
early? It’s a question that only time will answer.
Jon told me that he’s a bit water-logged at the moment, trying
to count fish in the rain with the streams running high.
“I’m pretty happy about it,” Jon said. “I have my fish up where
they need to be, but it’s just hard to count them right now. If
you’re a fish, this is really working for you.”
In the charts below, found on the Kitsap PUD’s website, you can
see that October’s rainfall has been tracking the record high
rainfall at these stations. Of course, the “water year” has barely
begun, so anything can happen. (Click on images to enlarge.)
“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting
This quote kept running through my mind as I completed the
eighth part of our series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” The
latest installment, published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, is about water
It seems from my interviews that we should have enough water in
the Puget Sound region to serve the needs of people while
maintaining streamflows for fish and other aquatic organisms. It’s
all about managing the resource, as I describe in the story.
What isn’t so clear to me is what we need to do about water
rights, and this is where the real hangup can come in. People,
governments and developers are allowed to reserve vast amounts of
water for various uses, then they simply need to “use it or lose
it.” That does not encourage conservation.
Water rights are considered a property right. Even if the
Legislature had a plan for clearing up all the conflicts, it would
not be easy. So far, the courts have been fairly strong in
upholding individual water rights, even when the needs of society
call for a new direction.
We’ve all encountered belligerent people who speak out loudly
about their property rights. They’ll say, “This is my property, and
I’ll be damned if I will have the government telling me what I can
and cannot do with my property.”
Well, I’m sorry. But that battle is over. Zoning laws have been
upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Reasonable restrictions can be
imposed on the use of property to protect the rights of the
neighbors and the entire community.
But water rights are fairly entrenched and inflexible. It may be
in the best interest of a community if a farmer could find ways to
grow his crops with less water and share the surplus with a growing
population. But is it fair to expect the farmer to give away his
water rights for free, or should he be paid a sizable amount of
money to set free the water he is holding hostage? Maybe he will
need that water in the future, given the uncertainties of climate
And then there is the groundwater-permit exemptions for single
family homes, allowing withdrawal of up to 5,000 gallons per day of
water from a well — even though most families use only a few
hundred gallons a day. In addition, the courts have ruled that
farmers may use an unlimited amount of groundwater for watering
livestock. All these water rights are recorded on the books,
competing with other water rights — including instream flows to
protect water in the streams for fish and other aquatic
Such water rights can be issued until there is no water left to
appropriate or until there is a real water shortage and people
generally agree that an adjudication is necessary. That’s when the
courts begin to sort out who is using what water and for how long,
trying to resolve the tangled claims and conflicts. While it may
seem like the most reasonable solution, the adjudication process
involves historical evidence and legal rulings that never seem to
end. Such an adjudication has been underway in the Yakima basin for
40 years, according to the Department
of Ecology website.
While water supplies in the Puget Sound region seem to be
generally adequate for years to come, it is unlikely that people
and governments will find a way to share this precious resource,
setting the stage for ongoing legal battles.
“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting
While this quote is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, there is
no evidence he ever said it. See the blog entry by Michael Doyle of
McClatchy Newspapers. Trying to prove that
Twain never said it, however, is virtually impossible. It reminds
me of the effort it may take to prove that one of our ancestors put
his water rights to “beneficial use,” thus guaranteeing a quantity
of water for all time.
Each year, the New York City Department of Environmental
Protection holds a student art and poetry contest on the theme of
water resources, including water conservation and wastewater
This year’s contest attracted 580 entries among students from 68
schools in the region. All participants received a “Water
Ambassadors” certificate, and 39 were named as this year’s “Water
“The Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest is an engaging way
to teach students about the infrastructure that supplies more than
half the state’s population with clean drinking water and has
helped dramatically improve the health of our waterways,” said DEP
Commissioner Emily Lloyd in a news
release, which includes a list of the 39 winners.
“DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing more than
one billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million
residents, including eight million in New York City.
“The water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than
125 miles from the city, comprising 19 reservoirs and three
controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels
and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the
five boroughs, and 7,500 miles of sewer lines and 96 pump stations
take wastewater to 14 in-city treatment plants.
“DEP has nearly 6,000 employees, including almost 1,000 in the
“In addition, DEP has a robust capital program, with nearly $14
billion in investments planned over the next 10 years that will
create up to 3,000 construction-related jobs per year. This capital
program is responsible for critical projects like City Water Tunnel
No. 3; the Staten Island Bluebelt program, an ecologically sound
and cost-effective stormwater management system; the city’s
Watershed Protection Program, which protects sensitive lands
upstate near the city’s reservoirs in order to maintain their high
water quality; and the installation of more than 820,000 Automated
Meter Reading devices, which will allow customers to track their
daily water use, more easily manage their accounts and be alerted
to potential leaks on their properties.”