Tuesday, August 30, 2011

UK river quality continues to improve

The official figures for UK rivers have shown a significant improvement in overall quality with many famously polluted rivers now of good quality. There is no doubt that the new Water Framework Directive has given that extra impetus for the improvement with all agencies, landowners and other stakeholders working closely together to achieve good quality status or higher in all surface waters by 2015. Link In contrast, Irish rivers struggle to meet EU targets with EPA figures not revealing the true extent of the problem.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Otter populations in England make a comeback

The Otter (Lutra lutra)  almost become extinct in England from the mid 1950’s through to the early 1970’s due to river pollution and in particular organochlorine pesticides.  This month Environment Agency announced that the otter is now to once again to be found throughout England with 59% of traditional otter sites surveyed (2,940) now colonized compared to just 6% in 1979. Rivers in England are now the cleanest they have been for the past 20 years and with fish stocks improving recolonization of rivers by otters and salmon has been seen as the last step in the restoration of England’s rivers.  Link Otters are also very common on many Irish rivers, but as numbers of otters increase there are concerns from many fishing clubs that their restocking and restoration work is simply filling the otter’s larder!  This has led to some conflict between conservation and angling organizations.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

World Water Week

Each year the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) hosts World Water in Stockholm. Since 2009 the massive event which consists of a large range of seminars, workshops, lectures and visits has been dealing with the issues around Responding to Global Changes. This year the main theme is Water in an Urbanising World. You can be involved by using the extensive official website. Link

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Discarded larger cans and sewage fungus

Sewage fungus forms macroscopic growths of bacteria
and fungus that coat the entire substrate of rivers
affected by severe organic pollution
 I was doubly interested in a recent newspaper article this month concerning a company owned by Heineken UK.  It was recently fined for polluting a tributary of the River Leadon in Herefordshire. Leachate from apple waste had accidently found its way into the stream during site work causing a sewage fungus outbreak and also a fish kill.  The reason why this story caught my interest is that for many years I worked on sewage fungus here in Ireland, but over the years it has become a very rare site here in Ireland and also I suspect in England…which is a good thing unless it  happens  to be your research area!  The microbial ecology of sewage fungus is quite fascinating being largely comprised of filamentous heterotrophic bacteria, although there are three filamentous fungi which occasionally form part of the community.  The other reason why the story interested me was that I was sampling a section of river today and the bank was covered with discarded cans of Heineken larger, obviously a remnant of some summer party.  So I have made a new resolution and that is always to pack one plastic sack and a litter picker along with my sampling gear and make sure that at every site I visit I clear up any bank side litter before I leave and try to bring a full sack of litter/rubbish back each trip and recycle what I can. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ice on tap...icebergs as a source of drinking water?

Bulk transportation of water either by bulk tanker  or water storage balloons towed by tugs is now fairly common place, but the problem of finding sufficient water supplies to fill bulk containers remains problematic.  The idea of towing icebergs from the arctic or Antarctic has been a dream of many engineers since the 1970's Link, with a  relatively small 7 million tonne iceberg sufficient to supply 125,000 people for a whole year.  Using new 3D predictive technology it now appears feasible to transport icebergs up to 7 million tonnes by using a geotextile skirt placed around the iceberg to insulate it and collect melt water which is then towed by tugs using the sea’s natural currents to help.  Without employing sea currents then it is simply not feasible.  In theory this will produce a high quality water using far less energy hence saving money.  Trials are planned to start next year when smaller bergs will be towed from Antarctica to Australia. Link However, there remains many logistical problems to be solved in recovering the water from the iceberg once it arrives in Australia.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

SODIS Solar drinking water disinfection

Transparent PET bottles exposed to
sunlight to passivelytreat drinking water.
Copyright CNN
 SODIS is short for solar water disinfection and is perhaps one of the simplest and safest ways of treating water in developing countries. Transparent plastic bottles (PET) are filled with settled water and left in the sun for 6 hours. A mixture of temperature and UV-A rays inactivate viruses, bacteria and protozoa making the water safe for consumption. It also works in cloudy conditions although it is recommended that the bottles are exposed to light for 2 consecutive days. 5 million people rely on this method for safe water. Find out more about the SODIS project and how you can help. Link

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Successful PhD candidate

Congratulations to our colleague Donata Dubber for successfully defending her PhD thesis ‘The effect of anoxia and anaerobia on protozoan communities in activated sludge operation.’ Dr Dubber has already published a number of research papers on her study including
  • Enumeration of protozoan ciliates in activated sludge: Determination of replicate number using probability Water Research 43, 3443-52;
  • Replacement of chemical oxygen demand (COD) with total organic carbon (TOC) for monitoring wastewater treatment performance to minimize disposal of toxic analytical waste J. Journal of Environmental Science and Health Part A , 45, 1595-1600;
  • The effect of anoxia and anaerobia on ciliate community in biological nutrient removal systems using laboratory-scale sequencing batch reactors (SBRs). Water Research, 45, 2213-26;
  • The influence of fundamental design parameters on ciliates community structure in Irish activated sludge systems. European Journal of Protistology, In press.