Waterline Winter 2007-08 - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

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Waterline Winter 2007-2008 (PDF: 782KB/8 pages)

Stew Thornley

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Hoffbuhr a Hit at Minnesota AWWA Conference

Jack Hoffbuhr

Jack Hoffbuhr, the soon-to-be-retired executive director of American Water Works Association (AWWA), was the special guest at the Minnesota AWWA Conference in Duluth in September. One of the gifts given to Jack was a Gopher-on-a-Spit (not to commemorate the current University of Minnesota football season but to remind Jack of his days in the Peace Corps in Peru when often his best meal was guinea pig). See below for more pictures from the Minnesota AWWA conference.

Waterline Is Back in Print

After a brief hiatus, the Waterline newsletter is being produced in a paper copy and will be sent via the U. S. Mail to subscribers.

The Waterline will continue to be available on-line at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) website. Those wishing to receive a quarterly alert via e-mail when a new issue is posted to the site may sign up by clicking on the “Subscribe” link at the above web address.

Over the next two issues, some articles, including feature stories on performances on water being done by the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis and on water supply at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Red Wing, where residents learn a trade and basic job skills while working with the water system, will be rerun. These stories appeared in issues in the spring and summer of 2007 that were available only on-line.

Peterson Succeeds Clark at MDH

Karla Peterson

Karla Peterson has succeeded Dick Clark, who retired in July, as supervisor of the Community Water Supply Unit in the Minnesota Department of Health Section of Drinking Water Protection (DWP).

Karla came to MDH in June of 1994 after receiving her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota, taking over the duties of plan reviews, certification, and fluoridation. She later got her master’s degree in public administration from Hamline University in St. Paul. Karla has been the manager for a number of Safe Drinking Water Act rules and is also the chair of the Minnesota Section AWWA.

Good Ol’ Tap Water

Good Ol' Tap Water

At a recent event at the Minnesota Department of Health, the department's Section of Drinking Water Protection had the chance to serve tap water in lieu of bottled water, which is often handed out at events such as these. The section filled a jug with a sign on it reading, “Good Ol’ Tap Water, Brought to you by St. Paul Regional Water Services, monitored by Section of Drinking Water Protection, Minnesota Department of Health.” Handouts were available that explained how bottled water is no safer than tap water along with some of the problems bottled water can pose. The tap water was served in champagne glasses and was a hit with the participants.

Serving Good Ol' Tap Water

Images of the 91st Annual Minnesota AWWA Conference

Lift Bridge
Anchor and Lighthouse

The 91st annual Minnesota AWWA Conference was again held in the scenic Canal Park area of Duluth. Below (clockwise from top left), a group of AWWA anglers with their catch of the day; Incoming chair Karla Peterson flanked by outgoing chair Scott Anderson and Jack Hoffbuhr; John Thom receives the Leonard N. Thompson Award from Scott Anderson; Ben Mason receives the George Warren Fuller Award from Jack Hoffbuhr. At the bottom is Karl Streed receiving his Life Member Award from Jack Hoffbuhr.
(Photos by Dean Huschle.)

Anglers showing their catches
Scott Anderson, Karla Peterson, Jack Hoffbuhr
John Thom receiving L. N. Thompson Award from Scott Anderson
Ben Mason receiving George Fuller Award
Karl Streed

Module on Minnesota Drinking Water Receives Awards from AWWA, MAGC

MAGC Award

An interactive program on Minnesota drinking water being developed by the Hamline University Center for Global Environmental Education for the Minnesota Section American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), has received a pair of awards even though the project is not yet completed. American Water Works Association has bestowed its Section Education Award on the module, which will be available on a CD-ROM as well as on the Minnesota AWWA and MDH web sites when it is completed later this year. Karla Peterson, a member of the committee developing the module, will accept the award at the AWWA conference in Toronto. The program also received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators (MAGC) in May. In the photo above, MAGC president Jason Ziemer (far left) presents the award to Stew Thornley, who is flanked by another committee member, Dean Huschle of the City of Northfield, and John Shepard of Hamline University. The module will be incorporated into the award-winning Drinking Water Institute and can be used by teachers and students in classrooms as well as by water utilities for presentations on water to school groups or the general public.

The St. Paul Saints were on hand at the MAGC banquet. Below, one of the the Saints dignitaries, Mudonna, poses with the award recipients.


Minneapolis Theatre Focuses on Water in Series of Performances

Performance of Come to the Well“I love water—a lot,” says Sandy Spieler, the artistic director of the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) in Minneapolis.  Many echo her sentiments and realize the importance of water, but few convey it with the sense of spiritual reverence that Spieler displays.

After growing up in various places in the eastern United States, Spieler came to the Twin Cities during her college years and was a part of HOBT from nearly the time of its founding in 1973, when it was the Powderhorn Puppet Theatre and operating out of the basement of the Walker Community Church.  In 1988, HOBT moved into the nearby Avalon Theatre on Lake Street.  The Avalon started as a family-oriented movie house in 1937 but later became a porno theater.  When HOBT took over, it marked the transition with a sign on the marquee that said, “Bye Bye Porn, Hello Puppets.”

Even before the move, in the early 1980s, HOBT was focusing on water issues.  This was at a time when cities were starting to embrace their water sources after years of turning their backs on them.  The theater did a variety of shows, large and small, culminating in a Circle of Water Circus, a grand spectacle show (with 25 adults, 5 children, and 2 dogs) in which they spent four months traveling down the Mississippi River, from Brainerd to New Orleans.

Four years ago, Spieler’s interest in water was regenerated when she went to England for a sabbatical and had her course work revolve around water.  She developed a special concern about privatization of water in terms of people using it for economic gain, profiting from it.  “I hadn’t thought about ownership issues until that time,” she said.  “I always thought that water belongs to no one and yet belongs to everyone.”

To Spieler, connecting the words “water” and “ownership” feels like a “violation deep inside me, even into the cells of my body.”

While in England, she became enamored with the term “the commons.”  Beyond its meaning of referring to something of frequent occurrence, the word more often means “belonging equally to all” in England.  “That word entered into me,” said Spieler, who carried it with her on her return to the United States, particularly as it related to water.  “If water is essential to all of life, then access to healthy water is essential for all life, a ‘commons’ for all to share.”

Spieler’s experiences while abroad created a renewed desire to create an educational base and start a dialogue about water, a process that is more significant for the questions that are asked than in having the right answers.  “I wanted to connect people in their own homes, their own drinking water, and their own way that they use water with all the water in the world.  Because we use water, we are connected to these issues whether it’s on our doorstep or not.  Water has no boundaries.”

Spieler was pondering how to convey the messages on water through an artistic performance when she noticed a familiar site in the back of the lobby of the theater, a drinking fountain with an “Out of Order” sign on it.

Performance of Come to the Well
Performance of Come to the Well

Photos from the Come to the Well performance (including the one above, at the beginning of the story).

Photos from the performances are by Bruce Silcox. The photo of Sandy Spieler below, at the end of the story, is by Stew Thornley.

“We didn’t know why [it didn’t work], just never thought about it in the 19 years we’ve been here,” said Spieler.  With the drinking fountain out of commission, the theater had been selling bottled water to its patrons, thus engaging in its own profit of the sale of water.  “We had inadvertently stepped into the privatization of water through the sale of water that isn’t connected to a public system, isn’t giving back to a reciprocal relationship.

“Drinking fountains are a symbol of the public water.  They are the place where people can gather.  And if you know that the water in a fountain is good for you, you know that it’s good for the next person and the next person . . . But if you’re just getting a bottled water, you’re just thinking only of yourself.”

The broken drinking fountain became the inspiration for HOBT to create a series of performances on water called Invigorate the Common Well.

The title contains words with multiple meanings, Spieler explains.  “The invigoration is the opening of the questions.  It’s getting people to speak to each other.  Coming to the well.  Common is what we share.  The larger sense of the commons.  It’s bringing that word to the vernacular, that word which is a founding principle of democracy of the United States.  But we’ve forgotten that word; we don’t call things the commons.

“Drinking water is really right at the center of it because everyone understands water from their own thirsts.”

The three performances in Invigorate the Common Well revolve around the renovation of the drinking fountain.  “The performances are way bigger than the drinking fountain,” Spieler said, “but the process of doing that gave us opportunity to think about what it is we drink.  So the renovation of the fountain is like an emblematic action for a huge opening of awareness.”

The first performance, entitled Come to the Well, took place in March of 2007 with the focus on what happens when the water isn’t working.  In explaining the overriding theme in Come to the Well, Spieler cited a line from Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac: “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”

Spieler points out that in Minneapolis, as well as most parts of Minnesota, the well isn’t dry, and, as a result, people don’t know the worth of water.  “We live in a water privileged city and state.  So why should we care?  In a water-rich state, how does it matter if we conserve water?  At a very basic level, be mindful that you’re using water.  Someone pointed out that as soon as pipes were invented, that was the beginning of us not realizing the value of water.  Because that which has made it so convenient has also made us take it for granted.”

In Come to the Well, the audience makes a ceremonial entrance into the theater to be seated.  They are led through a maze of curtains with words and images related to water.  They are handed metal drinking cups and step up to the non-working fountain before going into the theater.  At the end of the performance, their cups are filled with water by members of the company.

The next episode, Beneath the Surface, will take place in the spring of 2008.  At this point, the wall around the drinking fountain will be open, revealing, Spieler says, “the pipes that connect it into the incredible system that is the Minneapolis Water Works, which of course connects us to the Mississippi River, which of course connects us to the entire Mississippi River basin, or the watershed of the Mississippi River, which connects us to the watershed of the world.”

The series will conclude in the summer of 2008 with Decorate the Well in Gratitude.  Spieler says by this time the fountain renovation will be complete “so every time [you drink from it] you’re reminded of your connection to all of life—to all who depend on the precious gift of water—and also reminded of the generosity and necessity of our public water works.  Thank you to the water!  Thank you to all who take care of our water!”

More information on the series and performances is available by contacting Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre at 612-721-2535 or on-line at http://www.hobt.org.

Sandy Spieler
Sandy Spieler by the drinking fountain that created the idea for the performances on water at the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.

HOBT Update:

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre has set the dates for the final episodes in the Invigorate the Common Well series:

  • Beneath the Surface, February 22 to March 14
  • Decorate the Well in Gratitude, 1-day event on Saturday, July 26

Ammonia in the Distribution System: First in a Series

By Dave Schultz
Minnesota Department of Health Engineer

This is the first in a series of articles that will bring a practical approach to understanding ammonia and the problems it can cause in our water distribution systems.

Many water systems in Minnesota already have ammonia in their water or add ammonia during their treatment process. Excess free ammonia in water distribution systems promotes biological growth and nitrification. If your system experiences isolated areas of water quality degradation that affect the aesthetic quality of the water (and generate customer complaints due to taste, odor, and particles in the water), or if your system has areas where it’s difficult to keep acceptable chlorine levels, this might be a direct result of biological growth and nitrification.

This first in the ammonia series, which will focus on understanding ammonia and nitrification, will help systems determine if the problems they are experiencing are associated with ammonia in their water.

Ammonia Diagram

Nitrogen Cycle
Nitrogen is essential to all living systems, which makes it one of Earth’s most important nutrient cycles. Eighty percent of Earth’s atmosphere is made up of nitrogen in its gaseous form.

Nitrogen is removed from the atmosphere by lightning. During electrical storms, large amounts of nitrogen are oxidized and united with water carried to the earth in rain-producing nitrates. Nitrates are taken up by plants and are converted to proteins. The nitrogen then passes through the food chain from plants to animals. When they eventually die, the nitrogen compounds are broken down, producing
ammonia. Some of the ammonia is taken up by the plants; some is dissolved in water or held in the soil where bacteria convert it to nitrates (nitrification).

  • Human activities cause increased nitrogen deposits in a variety of ways, including:
  • Burning of both fossil fuels and forests, which releases nitrogen into the atmosphere.
  • Fertilizing of crops with nitrogen-based fertilizers, which then enter the soil and water.
  • Ranching, during which livestock waste releases ammonia into the soil and water.
  • Leaching of sewage and septic tanks into streams, rivers, and groundwater.

Free chlorine and chloramines, disinfectants used in water systems, each has its advantages and disadvantages. Free chlorine provides a strong disinfectant residual but reacts with organic matter to form disinfection by-products (DBPs). Chloramines, produced when ammonia is combined with chlorine, have lower disinfection power than free chlorine but they provide a more stable residual and halt the formation of DBPs such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids.

Heterotrophic Plate Count (HPC)
Heterotrophs are broadly defined as microorganisms that require carbon for growth. They include bacteria, yeasts, and molds. The HPC analysis gives an indication of microbiological activity in drinking water supplies.

Nitrification and the Safe Drinking Water Act
The maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are 1 milligram per liter (mg/L) for nitrite and 10 mg/L for nitrate at the entry to the distribution system. There are currently no MCLs for nitrite or nitrate within the distribution system. If these MCLs were to be applied to locations in the distribution system, it is possible that the MCL for nitrite could be exceeded due to the conversion of ammonia to nitrite during nitrification.

Free Ammonia
The term “free ammonia” is used when naturally occurring ammonia is present in water and/or when chloramines are used to disinfect water. During chloramination, chlorine and ammonia are added to water to form monochloramine. The portion of ammonia that has not combined with chlorine is called free ammonia, and exists as either NH4+ or NH3 depending on the pH and temperature of the water. At typical water pH of 7.0 to 7.8 and temperature of 12 to 24 degrees Celsius, more than 96 percent of ammonia is in the ionized form of ammonium (NH4+). As the pH and temperature increase, the amount of NH3 increases and the amount of NH4+ decreases.

Ammonia in Your Water System?
The only accurate way to determine if your water contains ammonia is to perform an ammonia analysis. We recommend that a system check its source water at each entry point for total ammonia. If ammonia is detected, additional sampling on the distribution system for free ammonia should be explored. We have detected ammonia levels of over 7 mg/L in groundwater in Minnesota. Many ground water systems in this state have ammonia levels ranging between 0.2 to 2.0 mg/L. Since ammonia is an unregulated compound, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not required a system to sample for it. Because of this, we have very little historical data on ammonia levels in ground waters in Minnesota.

Indicators of Ammonia and Nitrification
1) If your system uses chlorine as the disinfectant, the best indicator of whether your water contains ammonia is the difference between free-chlorine and total-chlorine residual levels. If you observe an increased difference between free and total chlorine, you may have ammonia in your water. For example, many systems that were tested that have ammonia in their water typically have total chlorine levels in the range of 1.2 to 1.5 mg/L and free chlorine levels in the range of 0.1 to 0.3 mg/L. The differences between the two results are significant as they indicate that something is combining with the chlorine; in most cases, it is ammonia. Beware of free chlorine level readings below 0.3 mg/L. Is it really a low reading? If free ammonia is present, this means breakpoint chlorination has not occurred. Therefore, only the combined chlorine is present, and there will be 0 mg/L of free chlorine. (MDH has contacted chlorine test equipment manufacturers, who acknowledge that there is an interference with the free chlorine test that will give you false readings if “free ammonia” is present. The manufacturers recommend using total chlorine, monochloramine, and free ammonia test kits when free ammonia is present. This will give a better understanding of where you are in the breakpoint chlorination curve.)

2) Low total chlorine levels may appear in isolated areas in the distribution system. Does your system have areas where it is difficult to maintain total chlorine residuals? Is this an area of your system that generates consumer complaints due to taste, odor, and particles in the water? Do you get complaints from a home on one side of the street but not homes on the other side? If so, you might have nitrification and microbiological growth in this area. Nitrification occurs more often in areas of low water usage. This may explain why certain residences may experience nitrification and others do not.

3) A pH drop may occur in isolated areas in the distribution system. Often a decrease in pH and alkalinity will happen during a nitrification episode. This reaction may affect U.S. EPA Lead and Copper Rule compliance resulting in increased lead and copper solubility.

4) An increase in HPC bacteria counts is an indicator of a nitrification episode.

If ammonia is detected in your source water, additional testing should be conducted at point of entry and on the distribution system. Monochloramine, “free ammonia,” total chlorine, pH, HPC, nitrite, and nitrate are some of the basic tests used to verify a nitrification episode. There are operator-friendly nitrification and denitrification specific tests available through manufacturers or nitrification tests can be requested from a private lab.

There have been many unexplained customer complaints due to taste, odor, and particles in the water. In many cases, we cannot explain why customers are experiencing these problems, and the remedy has been to flush a local hydrant to appease the customer, only to have the complaints come back over time. Are many of these unexplained complaints due to excess ammonia and nitrification in the distribution system? This article provides some basic understanding of ammonia and nitrification and lists some indicators to help you determine if the problems you are experiencing are due to excess ammonia in your water. Many systems in Minnesota have ammonia in their source water; some have tested for it but many have not. The purpose of this article is to help identify ammonia issues in your distribution system and understand that excess free ammonia is a food source for nitrifying bacteria.

The second part of this series will address the importance of understanding breakpoint chlorination and examine low-cost options of dealing with ammonia and nitrification control.

Headlines at High Noon

Actual Headlines from British Newspapers

  • Include Your Children when Baking Cookies
  • Never Withhold Herpes Infection from Loved One
  • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
  • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
  • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
  • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
  • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
  • Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
  • Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
  • Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
  • Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
  • British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
  • Teacher Strikes Idle Kids
  • Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told
  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death


Operator training sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota AWWA will be held in several locations this fall and next spring.

Upcoming water training

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Updated Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 07:47AM