The Flint Water Crisis

January 25, 2016

What happened:

  • Flint switches from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River to save money,
  • E. coli bacteria show up in water (E.coli can make you sick) so the water system adds chlorine to kill the bacteria,
  • Trichloromethane shows up in the water (trichloromethane is a carcinogen)
  • Water from the Flint River is more corrosive compared to Detroit’s because it has higher levels of chlorine ions (Cl),
  • Chlorine dissolves lead from old water pipes — the lead goes into solution in the water (lead causes issues with mental development in kids, among other things),


Detailed article from Mashable: The poisoning of a city

A timeline from Michigan Radio: TIMELINE: Here’s how the Flint water crisis unfolded

An excellent, detailed program from Reveal: Do not drink: The water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The second part in particular is a good summary of the science issues.

A NPR summary from September 29th, 2015: High Lead Levels In Michigan Kids After City Switches Water Source

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2016. The Flint Water Crisis, Retrieved February 26th, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Conflict over water

April 21, 2013

One of the articles my students brought to our Environmental Science discussion was about the growing fears about wars over water. Even within the U.S.A. there are significant conflicts, as demonstrated by this NPR article.

Texas has tried to buy Oklahoma water from the state, its cities and towns, and its Native American tribes. But Oklahoma lawmakers have blocked those efforts with a string of laws restricting out-of-state water exports.

The view in Texas is that Oklahoma isn’t even using its full allocation of Red River water. Oklahomans respond that Texas hasn’t gotten serious enough about conservation.

“Our poor, poor thirsty people in Dallas, Texas,” muses state Sen. Jerry Ellis, a Democrat who represents southeastern Oklahoma. “There’s nobody thirsty in Dallas, Texas.”

— Wertz,J., 2013: Thirsty States Take Water Battle To Supreme Court on NPR.

The full article:

P.S. Lauren Markham has an article about environmental “refugees” forced to leave Ethiopia because of the changing rainfall patterns over the last eight years.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Conflict over water, Retrieved February 26th, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Drought on the Mississippi

December 18, 2012

Last summer’s drought, and more weather extremes probably due to large-scale global climate change, is having dire effects on shipping on the Mississippi River. Suzanne Goldenberg has an excellent article in the Guardian.

Students look upstream at the Missouri River from the Melvin Price lock and dam, just north of St. Louis, and close to its confluence with the Mississippi River. The dam is tasked with maintaining about 9ft of water in the river for shipping.

Shipping companies say the economic consequences of a shutdown on the Mississippi would be devastating. About $7bn (£4.3bn) in vital commodities – typically grain, coal, heating oil, and cement – moves on the river at this time of year. Cutting off the transport route would have an impact across the mid-west and beyond.

Farmers in the area lost up to three-quarters of their corn and soya bean crops to this year’s drought. … Now, however, [they] are facing the prospect of not being able to sell their grain at all because they can’t get it to market. The farmers may also struggle to find other bulk items, such as fertiliser, that are typically shipped by barge.

— Goldenberg (2012): Mississippi river faces shipping freeze as water levels drop in The Guardian.

The proposed solution is to release more water from the Missouri, however there would be a steep price to pay.

The shipping industry in St Louis wants the White House to order the release of more water from the Missouri river, which flows into the Mississippi, to keep waters high enough for the long barges to float down the river to New Orleans.

Sending out more water from the Missouri would doom states upstream, such as Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota, which depend on water from the Missouri and are also caught in the drought.

“There are farmers and ranchers up there with livestock that don’t have water to stay alive. They don’t have enough fodder. They don’t have enough irrigation water,” said Robert Criss, a hydrologist at Washington University in St Louis, who has spent his career studying the Mississippi. “What a dumb way to use water during a drought.”

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Drought on the Mississippi, Retrieved February 26th, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Water for life; for civilization

December 4, 2010

The Nile and its delta (image from NASA).

This nighttime photograph of the Nile River and its delta from the International Space Station beautifully illustrate the importance of water for life and civilization. The city of Cairo is at the neck of the delta; the brighter spot where the distributaries diverge.

Spaceflight Now has other really cool photos. Bad Astronomy has an interesting post on the logistics of this particular photo, while Heather Pringle has a very interesting post on how the desert may have aided the ancient Egyptian’s civilization.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Water for life; for civilization, Retrieved February 26th, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Finite resources

August 27, 2010

When will we run out of natural resources, either from depletion of non-renewables or overuse of renewables? Scientific American has a great interactive graph charting How Much Is Left that would tie in really well to our cycle on natural resources.

How Much Is Left? interactive graph. from Scientific American

The caveat is that it is notoriously difficult to really figure out how much of a resource is left. For one thing, there might be undiscovered deposits, or we could find ways of using it more efficiently to extend its lifetime. As resources get more scarce their price goes up which gets people more interested in discovering more or coming up with better, more efficient, methods of extracting things like minerals from alternative sources. If we start to run out of Lithium for batteries maybe someone will develop a process to extract it from seawater. Or, as oil gets harder to extract and its price goes up, perhaps there will be more investment in alternative energy technologies like wind farms, tidal generators and solar convection towers.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Finite resources, Retrieved February 26th, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Pickwick Landing Hydroelectric Dam

April 9, 2010

The hydroelectric dam at Pickwick Landing on the Tennessee River is an almost ideal place to observe electricity generation and transmission. It was a serendipitous discovery though. After our failure to arrange a tour of a dam in Arkansas on the last immersion, we did not even try with this one.

The dam is right next to Pickwick Landing State Park where we camp when visiting the Shiloh National Battlefield. We’d arrived early at the park on the day before our visit to Shiloh, and having seen the dam and its locks on Google Maps’ satellite image (click the satellite button on the map above), I thought it might be useful if we drove over.

Turbine for hydroelectric dam. High voltage power lines in the background.

Coming around the northern side of the dam we spotted, right next to a parking lot, an old turbine from the dam that had been set up for display. It is amazing how big these things are, but what was really neat is the fact that if you listened, you could hear the whine of the modern turbines coming from the generators deep inside the dam.

Standing over the old turbine was an enormous high-voltage wire tower, sparse metal frame and truncated arms like a benevolent grandparent leaning over a plump, but scared child. The line of towers are connected to the generation station in the dam by power substation just across the street from the old turbine. The substation’s large transformer drums were obvious even from across the road.

Crossing southward over the dam, there is a road that runs westward along the edge of the river that allows a good view of the downriver side of the locks. We were lucky enough to see a barge passing through, although with the traffic on the river the locks are probably always busy.

Barge exiting the lock.

When we got back to the park the students draw a diagrams of the dam. They don’t do nearly enough diagrams given the importance of drawing in connecting the body and the mind (something I plan on rectifying in the next cycle) so this was a good experience for them. It was also a reminder to always keep their writer’s notebooks with them because then they could have drawn their diagram while they were at the dam looking at the thing.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Pickwick Landing Hydroelectric Dam, Retrieved February 26th, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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