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The residents of Flint, Mich., received some welcome news this week: Researchers released the results of a new round of water tests, showing lead levels in that city's water system falling just below the Environmental Protection Agency action level.

Too many water samples above that level is a red flag for utilities, a sign that they may have a broader lead problem.

Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards, who leads the team documenting Flint's water problems, called the new results the "beginning of the end," a turning point in the city's saga with corrosive water.

Lead problems with the water in Flint, Mich., have prompted people across the country to ask whether they or their families have been exposed to the toxic metal in their drinking water, too.

When it comes to assessing the risk, it's important to look in the right places.

Even when municipal water systems' lead levels are considered perfectly fine by federal standards, the metal can leach into tap water from lead plumbing.

A study of drinking water supplies throughout the U.S. shows that numerous sources are contaminated with firefighting chemicals.

A team of scientists examined government data from thousands of public drinking water supplies. The water samples had been collected by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The scientists were looking for several types of chemicals from a class of fluorinated substances used commonly in firefighting foam.

Nestle’s plans to build a commercial water bottling plant in another Northwest town is stirring up more controversy. Waitsburg, Washington's mayor resigned this week amid accusations of backroom deals and protests of the plan by many area residents.

Nestle wants to build a water bottling plant in the Northwest. It first looked to Cascade Locks, Oregon, but voters in Hood County effectively blocked that plan.

Washington environmental regulators will soon find out if their new water-quality rule is good enough for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The fish consumption rule, as it’s called, sets tougher limits on how much toxic pollution cities and businesses can discharge into lakes, rivers and marine waters.

A recent independent investigation into Portland Public Schools’ handling of high lead levels in school drinking water forced Superintendent Carole Smith’s retirement. But it also revealed deeper problems: a school district where management practices were even more deficient than the aging schools kids attend every day.

It's a problem all-too-familiar to the people responsible for making sure our schools are safe, every day.

When a Union Pacific oil train derailed and burst into fire in Mosier, Oregon, in June, the initial damage was in plain view, as dark smoke billowed into the sky.

Now OPB has learned about invisible damage: elevated concentrations of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in groundwater near the derailment site.

Greg McMillan peered into the Metolius River on a chilly May morning. As he does three times a month, the president of the Deschutes River Alliance dropped a water collection device off the side of his powerboat.

“The water clarity here is just amazing,” McMillan said as he retrieved a sample.

He measured temperature, pH and turbidity of the river water. Meanwhile, an osprey flew overhead, clutching a small fish in its talons. Every few minutes, a silvery kokanee flung itself above the surface of the river.

A few years back, while working in Benin, environmental health specialist Jay Graham saw an elderly woman in line at a pump to get water. She looked far too old to carry the water home herself, so he was relieved to see other people helping her — until he realized they were just making sure she had successfully balanced the 40-pound can on her head.

In parts of the world without running water, people must rely on an alternative: walking [to] water.

The condition of watersheds in Washington state continues to decline. That’s according to the the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. The organization delivered the news to the National Congress of American Indians Wednesday.

California’s prolonged drought has led to millions of dead trees that could make tinder boxes of huge swaths of the state as it heads into fire season. But the American West isn’t the only place coming to grips with chronic drought.

The World Resources Institute mapped water stress around the world and found major regions of every inhabited continent have serious issues with water. Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd gets an overview of drought crises around the world from Betsy Otto, director of the World Resources Institute’s Global Water Program.

Early this winter, skiers in the Northwest were excited. But then after about Christmas things turned dour. The once-epic snowpack is now long gone. In Washington state, it melted down in record time to less than half of average for early June.

And there hasn’t been much rain this spring either. The Cascades, Olympics and Blues are all hurting.

We often associate climate change with too much water — the melting ice caps triggering a rise in sea levels. Now a new World Bank report says we also need to think about too little water — the potable sort.

More than two-thirds of voters in Oregon's Hood River County passed a local ban on commercial water bottling in Tuesday’s election.

The measure was designed to block Nestle’s plans to build a $50 million water bottling plant in the city of Cascade Locks.

Backers of the measure are calling their victory a landslide, and a triumph of David over Goliath. But so far, Nestle and its supporters say they're ready to accept that narrative.

File Photo of an old water fountain.
Flickr Photo/Paul Domenick (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/dqusC4

Washington lawmakers want to step up efforts to keep lead out of school drinking water. But the state won't pay for school water quality tests until at least fall of 2017.


About three feet of snow covered the summit of Chinook Pass in 2015. That was an exceptionally light snow year for Washington.
WSDOT blog

The unusually warm spring has let gardeners do some early planting, but it signals problems ahead for Washington farmers. The warm weather is causing snow in the mountains to melt faster than normal.


Utility crews in Seattle and Tacoma are on the hunt for lead goosenecks.


"I will not rest, and I'm going to make sure that the leaders at every level of government don't rest until every drop of water that flows to your homes is safe to drink, and safe to cook with, and safe to bathe in," President Obama told an energetic audience in Flint, Mich. "Because that's part of the basic responsibilities of a government in the United States of America."

CASCADE LOCKS – Klairice Westley stoops at the edge of a spring in the woods above the Oxbow Fish Hatchery.

"Want to get a drink?" she asks.

She dips a cupped hand into the pool of water and takes a sip.

"Oh, that's good water,"she says. "That's the best."

Westley lives nearby in Cascade Locks and also belongs to the Grand Ronde and Warm Springs tribes. She says drinking from Oxbow Springs is more than a tradition among tribal members – it’s a religious rite.

Bill Radke talks with (Tacoma) News Tribune reporter Debbie Cafazzo about the presence of lead in the drinking water at six schools in the Tacoma School District. Radke also talks with Tacoma resident Elizabeth Rudge. Her home is one of 1,700 that may have lead in the water supply.

Seattle Public Utilities says its dams are about three-quarters full.
Flickr photo/Konstantin Stepanov (CC BY 2.0)

Recent, routine tests in Seattle Public Schools found that 49 schools had at least one faucet with lead levels above the district’s acceptable limit.

The district’s lead threshhold is stricter than federal standards: 10 parts per billion, compared to 20.

Screenshot of the water service map.
Seattle Public Utilities

Seattle Public Utilities staff explained their advice for residents to the Seattle City Council on Monday.

Here are the takeaways:

What's the problem? Is Seattle's drinking water safe?

File Photo of an old water fountain.
Flickr Photo/Paul Domenick (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/dqusC4

Utility officials in Seattle say residents should turn on the faucet for a few minutes if the water hasn't run for six hours. The precaution comes after high levels of lead were found in water lines connected to four Tacoma homes.

The early heat wave across most of the Northwest is forecast to start winding down Wednesday. It might have felt nice while it lasted, but the unusual warmth --record-setting, in some cases-- compounded the rapid melting of the Northwest's precious mountain snowpack.

When winter officially ended last month, snow measurements showed near normal to above normal snowpack across the Northwest. In four short weeks though, the snowpack in Oregon, Washington and Idaho has significantly eroded.

In the mornings, Jeff Mastrandea waits a good 30 seconds after turning on his faucet. He also makes sure to drink from a filter. He does this because his water is sometimes laced with unsafe levels of lead. He wants to let any water with the toxic metal drain out before he takes a drink.

When the famously pure water from Portland’s Bull Run Watershed sits overnight in the copper plumbing of his 1984 Gresham home, it corrodes the lead solder that fuses those pipes together.

April 1 is, on average, generally considered the date of the peak snowpack in the Northwest. And around now, is when many irrigation districts begin filling their canals to get ready for watering season.

There are grounds for optimism as well as caution.

Across the West, groundwater reserves are being depleted. Nature can’t replenish the aquifers as quickly as they’re being drawn down for irrigation, industry and drinking water.

Thirty-four water systems in Washington state were found to have unacceptable levels of lead. Most of those systems are now in compliance, although four of them are still working toward lower lead levels.
Flickr Photo/Christina Spicuzza (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Flint, Michigan, isn't the only place with lead in its drinking water: 34 water systems in Washington state have tested above acceptable levels of the toxic metal, according to a new investigation from USA Today.

The list includes water systems at five schools: Maple Valley Elementary, Griffin School near Olympia, Shelton Valley Christian School, Skamania Elementary and Washington State Patrol Academy.

In Flint, Mich., families are using bottled water to do everything — from cooking to bathing.

The tap water is still unsafe to drink after government officials allowed corroded lead pipes to poison the water.

People in Flint have lots of questions for those officials. Perhaps the biggest is the one Hattie Collins has.

"When are you gonna fix it? And I mean fix it right," she says.

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REUTERS/Henry Romero 

Mexico City is one of the world’s thirstiest places, with billions of liters consumed by the capital’s growing population of about 9 million, and a metropolitan area that tops 21 million. And this week, millions of the city’s residents got news that they should prepare for water cuts that will leave them without any water for days.

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