Who Makes a Difference


Faucet Water Org

Trip Date: 2016 March & 2016 December
Field Trips #35 & 48

In the wake of the #Flint Water Crisis,  Green Spiral Tours hosted two “Drinking Water Tours” to the water intake & treatment facility at Hog Hollow.

Most drinking water in America, including the city of Saint Louis, is managed by city municipalities, but the facility at Hog Hollow is operated by Missouri American Water, a private company.

Hog Hollow

This facility provides water to the County, and thus about 80% of the region’s population.  Here’s the good news and the bad news:  we have an abundant supply of fresh clean water coming down the Missouri River, with no urgent threat, except for the serious situation at the the West Lake Landfill.

Great Rivers Greenway

Saint Louis is defined by its rivers: the Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi Rivers meet just upstream from the city, and the Meramec River meets the Mississippi just south of the city. (Map courtesy of Great Rivers Greenway.)

There are four water treatment facilities on the Missouri River and two on the Meramec; these six facilities supply all the drinking water to the Saint Louis region. In this day and age, everyone should know where their water comes from.

About  80% of the region’s water comes from the Hog Hollow location, which is located near Chesterfield on the Missouri River:  this facility feeds the County system which includes Saint Charles, Chesterfield, Webster Groves, Clayton, University City,  and some parts of South Saint Louis. North Saint Louis, including Bridgeton, receives water mixed from both the Hog Hollow intake, and the water intake downstream at Charbonnier.

The Missouri River is a fast, deep and fairly clean water source.  In just eleven minutes, we can pull enough water out of the river to supply Saint Louis with a year’s worth of drinking water. Upstream are CAFO farms, industrial facilities,  coal ash ponds, and a handful of nuke plants. The greatest water threat seems to be coming from “nonpoint” sources, including springtime nitrates, nutrient pollution from farm inputs,  and industrial pollution like oil in the parking lot not coming from a pipe.  Interestingly, large pipeline and chemical spills are a valid threat to clean water. All things considered, and relative to the rest of the country, Saint Louis has an abundant supply of fresh clean water,  because we sit on the banks of a fast, clean flowing river. Here’s a nifty new tool that allows you to trace the Missouri river upstream:  Slate.com

2016 Flint Water Crisis

If you’ve been following the Flint Water Crisis, you’ve been watching a catastrophic failure of government at every level, and a lot of finger pointing, as residents muddle through the days (and now years) on bottled water.  Clearly, there is no easy fix in sight, and the story has turned a spotlight on aging infrastructure, corruption in government and weakening water regulations across the country. Here’s what Erin Brokovich had to say about Flint in March 2016, and the situation is getting worse:   We Are All Flint

Indeed, the Flint situation prompted the testing of local Saint Louis schools, and many of them popped up with lead troubles before school started in 2016.  We all know that lead is damaging to young brains;  it enters the water supply at the end point, where the house pipes meet the water main, for example, or where the drinking fountain meets the child. Lead is easily handled and not an issue for our water supply, per se. stl today Aug 2016

west lake landfill overlay

For those just tuning in, we have a landfill loaded with a huge amount of nuclear waste in Saint Louis, and an unstoppable fire now within “hundreds of feet”, so there’s quite a lot of concern about radioactivity slipping into the drinking water supply.  We know from the EPA that radioactivity is currently leaching into the groundwater, and that the groundwater under the landfill is now it’s own Superfund site. The groundwater is expected to seep into the Missouri River by ? 2030? If it’s not escaping into the river already.

Missouri American Water Tower

In March 2016, and again in December 2016, Green Spiral Tours took twenty reasonable and skeptical citizens on tours of the county facility at Hog Hollow, operated by Missouri American Water.  This facility is located upstream from the landfill and the tours were informative and interesting.  Our hosts were clearly professionals who take great pride in their work, and their transparency and candor were comforting. After both tours, Green Spiral participants had not big concerns, and pretty much agreed that the water supply from the County facility is mostly “safe”.

Treating water for drinking is both a mechanical and chemical process. The water is drawn from the river, and then delivered by pipe to settling ponds.  Chemically sticky positive ions, (like lime softening agents and carbon) are added, which cause large particles to clump together as colloidals, and sink to the bottom. This is how most of the heavy metals and radionuclides are removed from the water: they clump together and  “settle” as sediment.

2016-12-02-drinking-water-map

2016 Best Photo

After leaving the settling ponds, the water is treated with chlorine and ammonia to kill microbes and pathogens, and then disturbed with aerating paddles, again to cause particles to knock together, clump, and fall to the bottom as sediment. Fluoride is added thanks to standards that has not been updated since 1950, and the young mothers were keen to know we have relatively more fluoride in Saint Louis (at .6mg/L) than other cities.  (By the way, fluoride is a tiny molecule, which can be removed by reverse osmosis; the Lancet Journal has come out with this not so great news about the damaging effects of fluoride).

2016-12-09-anthraciteIn the final stage, water passes through a final filter (of anthracite, sand and pebbles) to remove the smallest particles before moving by pipe directly to the consumer.  A dense network of pipes runs beneath the streets of Saint Louis, and the county has the ability to swap water with the city in order to handle the “Super Bowl Flush Rush” or the filling of too many swimming pools in early summer. The county water pipes interface with city water pipes somewhere around Skinker Blvd. As a final note: Missouri American Water adds extra carbon for taste, odor and color, and probably due to a high mineral county,  Saint Louis wins awards for having great tasting water!

West Lake MapWhile Missouri American Water operates the county water intake facility upstream from the landfill, the city of Saint Louis operates two intake facilities downstream from the landfill (and also one intake facility upstream from the landfill). Refer to the hand-drawn map. It’s all a little confusing, but the point is that the city and county can switch pipes and swap water at any time, and thus, we all drink the same water.  The city has denied Green Spiral Tours a visit for security and safety reasons.

Water is Life

This brings us down to test results, as well as the question of what is being tested, and what is not being tested for.  For example, drinking water is not being tested for a variety of pharmaceuticals, which are known to be there. Safe Water Standards are set by the EPA and enforced by the State.  Lots can be written about the EPA and the MDNR (Missouri Department of Natural Resources), and you could spend your life lobbying for clean water; thankfully, many people do.  Bear in mind, for context, that the biggest threat to safe drinking water (by far) is e.coli, also known as “poop”.

2014-01-19 Water towersHere are some of the specific questions from our December group, along with answers:  What about testing for specific radioactive isotopes associated with the West Lake Landfill, like radium 226 or thorium 230? Answer: The water tested in 2015 at the downstream Charbonnier facility revealed no detectable gross alpha or gross beta results. Water was also retrieved from the point where Cold Water Creek enters the Missouri River and no gross alpha or gross beta were detected. What about gylphosate? Answer: according to testing results, no glyphosate was detected in the raw water. What about radioactive particles leaking into the pipes? Answer: low emitter radioactive particles cannot penetrate pipes, and the water supply is a closed system. Which water system serves InBev and thus Budweiser Beer? Answer: County water, the Missouri American water treatment facility we visited at Hog Hollow. Question: How much of a problem are pipeline spills, as highlighted by Standing Rock situation, for example? Answer: Actually, kind of a problem.  What about chloramines? Answer: Chlorine and chloramines seem to be a necessary evil.  What about Chromium 6? Answer: Health standards are no feasibly attainable, but clean drinking water standards are met. Like I said, a person could spend a lifetime looking at test results and lobbying for clean water, and thankfully, many people do.  Take a moment to look through the test results of your drinking water by entering your zipcode here: Water Quality Reports

Testing for radionuclides is required every nine years by the EPA, but due to the unique situation at the West Lake Landfill, all four water facilities on the Missouri River were tested in 2015, and here are the results: http://www.amwater.com/ccr/STLSTC_rads.pdf

It is my understanding that the Missouri River is now being tested every year for radionuclides.

Water Gives Me Potatoes

Here are a few articles you may or may not want to read:

Erin Brokovich in Time Magazine: Feb 2016

Half of all US Rivers too polluted: The Wire 2013

MegaBanks: Buying up the World’s Water

 

DOE dumps radioactivity in Missouri River 1993: First Secret City

Water beyond America; Thank you Water.org:  Water.org

Shut Down the Dakota Pipeline on the Missouri River: Before it Spills

Surprisingly, after long insisting that fracking does not contaminate groundwater, the EPA has now come out and said, “actually, it does”: Eco-Watch

i-am-the-riverIn the end,  we all live downstream, and I encourage citizens to learn by doing, by organizing your own “Drinking Water” field trips.


This is a good field trip for middle school students,  high school students, and scout troops. Take about 12-20 people with you when you go, and make sure they are over age 10; names must be submitted for security reasons. Call the main number at Missouri American Water and ask for a tour: 314-469-6050. The tour takes about 2 hours and there is some driving out to the river.  Go in March, when the leaves are just starting to turn green, or go in November, saving your best weather for planting in your garden or exploring the green world with kids. Tell them Green Spiral Tours sent you, and bring Saint Louis chocolates, or other suitable gifts when you go. Now here’s your homework:

Visit your Drinking Water Treatment Facility: Create your own tour or follow Green Spiral Tours.  Visiting a place in real life is entirely different than reading about it on the internet.  You’ll be surprised at what you learn, and what sticks with you. Bring friends who will ask questions you would never think to ask.  Take a moment to blog out or reflect on your experience to integrate the learning into your understanding of the way things work.

Use less fertilizer:  Everything you put on your lawn, garden or driveway eventually ends up in the river, and over-fertilizing lawns is a major offender. Use native plants, which require far fewer fertilizers and almost no pesticides.

Salt is a problem –  lobby your school or government to use salt wisely, and investigate new spray applications, which use a fraction of the amount of salt.

Clean up pet waste – Interestingly, dog poop creates an e.coli problem, so if you want to drink clean water, clean up after your dog.

Eat Local and Organic. Yep, it always seems to keep coming back to that. Farm policy matters a lot, because nitrogen and phosphorous inputs run off the land, into the wetlands and rivers, and ultimately into the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, (which is already quite large and  getting larger). It’s sad, because the degraded habitat kills so many fish and animals.

Sign PetitionsHere’s a bunch of petitions you can sign from Food & Water Watch.  Yes, petitions and phone calls do matter!

Comment below – put your questions below and I will write to Missouri American Water to see if they can be answered.  Here’s a picture of me, Jessie, with an American bald eagle at the water intake facility next to the river.

2014-06-01-jzika-water-eagle

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After one of the coldest winters on record, Green Spiral families ventured forth on a warm day in April to visit the famous “Chicken Ranch” in Kirkwood.
Fresh Eggs!

Ranch Fresh Eggs!

The Chicken Ranch is simply the fun name that Bill and Joan Ruppert have given their backyard hobby and chicken house — the complex is big enough to hold 50 chickens, and includes a second story look-out post! It’s quite famous in chicken circles, and if you ask to be on Bill’s email list, you’ll get an informative email about chicken happenings about town from time to time.
Let's go see the chickens!

Let’s go see the chickens!

It was super fun for the kids to feed the chickens, mingle with the chickens and even collect some eggs. After a mink came through a few years ago (yes a mink) and wantonly killed many of the chickens, the Rupperts are in the process of rebuilding the flock, now numbering about 23. They have all sorts of chickens including Americanas, Speckled Sussexes, Barred Rock Plymouths and Rhode Islands.  They also have a rooster, called Ike, who came with a hen called Tina. See if you can spy Ike, the fancy white rooster below:
So many chickens so little time

So many chickens so little time

Fond childhood memories of rural chickens was a theme and the link between generations; who will keep backyard chickens in the future without fond childhood memories to draw upon?  Would a factory farm allow Green Spiral Families to tour their chickens?  How exactly to you check a chicken to see if it’s about to lay an egg in time for dinner?  These are the kinds of questions that rise up when you join an adventure learning group together.
checking the chickens

checking the chickens

Many Green Spiral field trips involve something unexpected. Sadly, or not, there was no misadventure associated with this trip; only a pleasant outing on a warm spring day. The only surprise was that we got to buy fresh eggs at the end of our field trip!

Each a different color.

Each a different color.

 

Of course, the real prize was getting to talk to Bill Ruppert in person.  As a purveyor of wholesale plants, he’s an expert in horticulture and a major player in the movement towards native landscaping; he’s recently worked on the Citygarden, Novus International, and the MICDS projects.  If you get a chance to hear him speak, I would recommend it. Here’s Bill, plus a few links:

Here's Bill

Here’s Bill

About the Ruppert Chicken Ranch: http://www.nnpstl.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/home.showpage/pageID/7/index.htm

Best Plant Ideas: http://www.nnpstl.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/plants.main/index.htm

Bill’s Speaking Calendar: http://www.nnpstl.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/calendar.main/index.htm

More chickens!

want more chickens!?

In the future, you can tour the “Chicken Ranch” by watching for it to be featured on the annual Sustainable Backyard Tour:

http://www.sustainablebackyardtour.com/grassrootsgreenstl.com/Tour.html

Weds Nov 13, 2013

Let's have a party!

Let’s have a party!

(#6) Red Solo Cups are not really recyclable, which is so sad, because the Red Solo Cup song is really fun.  Here’s the “bad boy” version of the song, in case you’ve not seen it:

Now, what we need to do is create a good green cup, and make up a great new song to go with it!

At 22 million views, “red cup living” is culturally drubbing those of us drinking from the “good green cup” — it’s just so much more fun to be naughty than nice! At some point, however, we’ll going to have to learn to be nice to ourselves and to our mother earth.

Yet, I digress from the central topic of green and sustainable field trips in the Saint Louis area.

Here’s a terrific field trip for teens, scouts, and greenies of all ages (except for little kids) — a trip to the recycling facility at Resource Management Company in Earth City.  Ask for Gary Gilliam. 314-770-9898, or send him an email at Gary_g@rmcrecycle.com.  Gary’s happy to offer field trips at any time, as field trips are good for growing the recycle business.  And here’s the really good news, not only is this field trip quite interesting, it’s absolutely free!

Many people are surprised to learn that Saint Louis has one of the most progressive recycling ecosystems in the country, and Gary is one of the “solutionaries” who helped figure out how to do it.

"All Together Now"

“All Together Now”

The short answer to recycling success is the rise of the “single stream” process, which means “throw it all in and let the recycling facility sort it out later”.

Gone are the days of sorting bottles from cans into little blue bins. Volume makes the economics work, and switching from little blue sorting bins to big green carts on wheels brings enough volume into the recycling game to make recycling sustainably profitable.

Less than 30% of Saint Louis households currently recycle their trash, so every field trip to a recycling center builds “customers,” thus bringing all of us, earth’s creatures included, into ever greater stability, success, and sustainability.

The original cave man

The original cave man

Our waste stream is valuable; and Gary is emphatic about it:  “There’s Treasure in Your Trash”!  While it’s important to understand the economics of sustainability from a macro-view, most people on this field trip will want to know exactly what can be recycled, and what cannot.

Here’s a link to the Saint Louis County Health Dept ‘Recycling Becomes Me’ website.  Download it, bookmark it, Facebook it, or pin it so you can find it when you want it, as these reference guides can be surprisingly hard to find.

2013-11-13 Recycling Becomes Me graphic.pdf

http://www.recyclingbecomesme.com/

When it doubt, throw it in.  That’s the beauty of single stream!2013-11-13 Whats in your Trash Infographic

Back to the economics for a minute:  aluminum cans are “infinitely recyclable”, and represent lots of ‘embodied energy’, thus they are the most valuable of recyclables. Metals like aluminum foil and tin cans are the “treasure in the trash”.  Because aluminum cans are made from bauxite, a finite mineral  strip-mined from the earth’s crust, it’s especially important to recycle them always.

After metals, plastic is the second most valuable material for recyclers, especially #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE), which are recycled into furniture, playgrounds, puff clothing, and carpeting.

Now here’s where things get complicated, because I can’t help throwing children’s health into the economics mix. I think it’s so interesting that the most valuable recyclables, plastic #1 and #2, are also the safest for food. We don’t know much about plastic in our food supply, but what we do know isn’t good.  Of course true blue greenies reading this post will have been drinking from glass or metal containers for years.

Avoid plastic #3 PVC (sometimes called the ‘poison plastic’) as well as #6 and #7.

Back to that naughty red solo cup, which is polystyrene #6, a kind of styrofoam. Styrofoam has been listed by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen, and when it melts into your soup or coffee, you can taste the plastic.

Eco-Mama says: “Don’t drink plastic, kids”!  Try to avoid Styrofoam as graciously as possible so you don’t turn into one of those weird people with all sorts of annoying food rules that are impossible to follow.  Beyond health considerations, styrofoam is not recyclable.

The red solo cups, and other styrofoam pieces, are optically sorted out of the single stream process, and disposed of as true waste. Technically, red solo cups ARE recyclable, but you’ll have to organize your own field trip to find out for sure.

Do NOT throw grocery bags into the single stream receptacle (although the recycle facility will indeed sort them out later.)  Return your grocery bags to your friendly grocery store, or bring your own shopping bags to market, to market, to buy a fat pig.

Here’s a photo of a superior collapsible shopping “bag” you can buy at Schnucks for about $5.  As a bonus, the baggers in the check out line find the boxes much easier to load than bags, and if you keep to your grocery list and within the limits of the box, you will significantly reduce impulse purchases.

A box for your bagger

A box for your bagger

And to help you remember that plastic grocery bags have nowhere to go, here’s an amusing “mockumentary” about what happens to the “majestic plastic bag” as it searches for a home during it’s long lonely life:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLgh9h2ePYw

If you sneak a peak inside your own recycling bin, it comes as no surprise that paper and cardboard comprise the bulk of recycling waste stream by volume;  paper gets bundled and shipped to Iowa or deadheaded to China.  Bring on that dream of a truly paperless society!  Don’t make me upload pictures of clear-cut old growth forests turned into direct mail envelopes.

Enough about what to recycle, here are your tips for hosting a recycle field trip: A group of about 20 – 30 people seems to be the right number for this field trip; a smaller group works just as well.   It might be nice to team up with another organization to maximize numbers and enjoy the synergistic effects.

The first half of the field trip is a lecture by Gary in a nice conference room with video cameras, and the second half is a tour of the plant. Plan on spending about two hours, plus travel time to Earth City. The location is well marked on GPS maps: Resource Management Company; 4375 Ryder Trail North, Earth City, MO; 63045

Again, here’s the contact information for Gary Gilliam: 314-770-9898, Gary_g@rmcrecycle.com.

It’s fun to watch the bulldozers and dumpers come in; count the dumpers and turn it into a math exercise on volume.  Count the number of workmen pulling pieces from the line and make some calculations; labor is a big expense for recycling companies.  On the other hand, it also represents job creation in the new “green economy.”

Study each machine to fully understand its job, and challenge yourself to make a map of the assembly line after you come out.  Notice that the plastic grocery bags that have no place to go.  Look for red solo cups. Ponder the magnitude of our waste stream and wonder where it all comes from and where it all goes. Ask about the odd things that find their way into the recycle center. (hint: lots of eyeglasses and TV remote controls, which get recycled along with the newspapers!)

And for those of you who can’t make it out for a real field trip, here’s a nice arm-chair “film” trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf-cOs9JZc4

Again, there is something life-changing about real life experiences as opposed to watching video, so go in person if you can. If you go, be aware there is broken glass everywhere, and that a fine plastic dust fills the air; if you have asthma or are sensitive to respiratory issues, this may not be a good trip for you.  Bring sturdy shoes and maybe a N95 face mask.  The footing is fine, you will be walking on stairs with grates, sometimes covered with broken glass; but this is definitely not a place for high heels or fancy shoes.

I personally would not bring little kids on this field trip, due to the broken glass and air quality conditions.  This is a good tour to do when it’s too hot, or too cold, for comfortable outdoor adventures.  The work area is exposed; it was a cold day when we visited, and we were cold.  If you visit in summer, you will be hot.

I urge you to take a moment after the field trip to reflect on what you’ve learned, integrate it into your learning, and share that with those around you through blogging, Facebook, Instagram, graphic visuals, funny videos, etc.   Let me know if you go, by posting what I forgot to mention in the comment section below, thus helping future adventurers.

I leave you with this green coffee cup video by those smart and funny med students at Washington University:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj-J9aryVTA

 

Postnote 2014:  Want to supercharge your recycling efforts?  Look what IDEO is doing:

http://www.openideo.com/challenge/recycle-challenge/research

  

 

Sunday 15 July 2012 – EarthDance FARMs trip 

EarthDance FARMs is a celebrated urban farm

working to put the ‘culture’ back in agriculture.

Watch how EarthDance works with musicians,

artists, educators and non-profits to help cultivate

and create a vibrant food culture in Saint Louis.

Exciting news came out just before our field trip:

with the help of significant donor gifts, EarthDance

will now be able to purchase and develop the

Mueller Farm.   We love that, because now they

can build a toolshed, an educational center

and some restrooms!  For sure, Green Spiral will

be back for another visit, as lots of families

always ping in with interest.

The Mueller farm is one of the oldest organic

farms in the area, and preserving these fertile

farmlands is an important step in growing the food

movement.  We got to tour the farm with founder

Molly Rockamann and a large crowd; here is a photo

of Molly, and of the “three sisters garden”

created by one of the second year apprentices.

   

Want to get involved in the food movement?

Follow EarthDance FARMS and champion 

their work.  

 

Visit EarthDance on one of their tours,

typically held the third Sunday of each

month during the summer.

 

Support local farmers by 

shopping at local farmer’s markets and 

learning about local and seasonal foods.

 

Have friends over for dinner and share

food and recipes.  

 

Follow Green Spiral Tours 

as we spiral around the calendar to a 

new farm field trip every summer. 

St. Louis is home to one of the most cutting-edge

kitchen incubators in the country.

We played in the kitchen with pie maker Jane Callahan of “Pie Oh My!”

at the “Begin New Venture” kitchen incubator at St. Patrick’s Center.

Here’s a link to Jane’s business, you can order pies and she

will deliver them to your house for a party.

Pie Oh My! 

A kitchen incubator is a commercial kitchen complete

with support services designed to help new food companies

get launched.  What makes this kitchen unique is it’s focus

on creating meaningful work for the homeless and unemployed.

Here’s the link for St. Patrick’s Center, they are doing great stuff:

http://www.stpatrickcenter.org/programs/employment-training/begin/

After our field trip, our best nature girl came home

and made her very own little pies the very next day!

The Citygarden visit actually happened in

September of 2010 in between tornado storms,

but I’m posting it here while I recreate

historical data after Apple discontinued

supporting it’s web-site, and while I’m

creating a blog site starting at the beginning

of Green Spiral Tours.

Citygarden leads the way in creating naturescapes

for children, and their families, while demonstrating

the viability of economic rejuvenation.  If you build

outdoor places for families to connect with nature,

families will come, and bring their dollars for drinks,

trinkets and more major purchases.  There is pent-up

demand for friendly nature places that is not yet fully met.

You can bring your dog to the Citygarden

and the security officer will give them treats.

Citygarden is quite safe, and parking is easy.

We shall return in the summer to play

in the fountains and water.  Citygarden

is progressive and responsive for

hiring lifeguards and allowing children

to play in the water features.  So often,

beautiful parks are built, and then

children are forbidden from touching.

We applaud all involved with Citygarden

and families thank them deeply for

their wisdom and foresight.

Water is life, and every great garden must incorporate

water.  If you build a water feature, children will come,

and climb right into it.  You can plan on it.