5 Top Water Stories on World Water Day

As we celebrate World Water Day, we’re taking a look at the 5 top water stories that have broken in the past year. While World Water Day is meant to highlight the fact that many of the world’s people don’t have clean, fresh drinking water, these stories also remind us that we can’t take our water resources for granted.

Lead in the water
It’s hard to believe that in 2016, a major American city is dealing with lead, copper and iron contamination in the water supply, but that’s just what’s happening in Flint, MI. Flint failed to add anti-corrosion measures to its water when it switched water sources in 2013, and destroyed the city’s fresh water infrastructure in the process. Cities around the nation are watching Flint and Michigan to see how they’ll deal with the looming self-inflicted public health crisis.

While we remain relatively wet in the Northeast, much of the country is suffering from drought conditions. California is entering its second year of restricted water use as nearly 100% of the state copes with severe drought. Some experts predict that the drought pattern will last as many as 25 years, and Western states are scrambling to enact water conservation measures.

One of President Obama’s last acts of 2015 was to ban microbeads in consumer products. A microbead is any solid plastic particle that is less than 5 millimeters, and you can find them in cleansers, toothpaste, shampoos and soaps. They’re meant to scrub, clean and exfoliate, but they’re accumulating in alarming numbers in the nation’s lakes and rivers. They’re also accumulating in fish and other marine life. As it turns out, we’re not really sure what their cumulative effect is on the ecosystem. Companies have until July 1, 2017 to get the beads out of their products.

Water quality
Flint’s misfortune has caused cities around the country, including Boston, to redouble their efforts to test water quality in the homes still served by lead water lines and ultimately replace those pipes. The MWRA has established a $100M fund to help homeowners in their service area replace their lead water lines via zero-interest loans.

Algae blooms
In 2014, Toledo and surrounding communities famously dealt with a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie that shut down the city’s municipal water supply for several days. Agricultural runoff was targeted as the cause of the algae bloom, but Toledo isn’t the only city doing battle with algae. The EPA has indicated that it will order communities along the Charles River to adopt sweeping changes designed to inhibit the toxic algae blooms that have affected the area annually for the past decade. The measures are expected to boost some local water bills by as much as $25 per month and require communities to treat more water to make sure enough is available to meet demand. The new regulations will require communities to remove at least 54% of all phosphorus that currently enters the Charles River. The major sources of phosphorus are agricultural and include animal waste and fertilizers. Auto exhaust is also a major contributor to phosphorus contamination.

At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we strive to provide clean safe water to homes and businesses in the Boston area. While we don’t treat the water, we can make sure that your home’s water infrastructure is in excellent condition! Give us a call at (617) 288-2911 any time of the day or night and let us take care of your plumbing, heating and cooling needs!

Photo Credit: Johanna Ljungblom, via

Boston's Water Source Cleans Up Nicely!

The Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday that the Charles River, the source of Boston’s municipal water, is the cleanest the river has been since the agency started performing regular water quality tests in 1995. That’s good news for Boston residents, and the announcement comes during World Water Week.

The testing measures the percentage of time during a year that the water is deemed to be safe for swimming and boating. In 2013, the last year for which complete sample data is available, the Charles River was given an A-. Previously, the river’s best grade was a B+. According to the 2013 samples, the river was found to be safe for recreational boating 96% of the time, and recreational swimming 70% of the time. Comparatively, the first water samples, taken in 1995, showed that the river was safe for boating only 39% of the time, and safe for swimming just 19% of the time.

According to the EPA, most of the contaminants that enter the river today come from improperly connected sewer drains. Previously, industrial pollutants had been the largest source of drinking water contamination. In the early 1970’s, the EPA began to regulate industrial waste disposal, and prohibited it from being discharged into rivers and streams.

Additionally, there has been a local push to eliminate improper sewer connections that dump untreated waste directly into the river. In 2013 alone, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission prevented nearly 3 million gallons of raw sewage from entering its storm water management system by eliminating illegal sewer hookups throughout the area.

Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association cautions that the high grades don’t mean that the river is in the clear. He emphasizes that the river is still vulnerable to other conditions, like toxic algal blooms, polluted storm water runoff, and the impacts of climate change. In August, the City of Toledo, OH had to shut down its municipal water system for two days to prevent toxic blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) from entering the city’s water supply. Ohio’s fourth-largest city also supplies water to surrounding communities in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan.

Depending upon the strain, blue-green algae can produce neurotoxins, and cause liver and endocrine system damage. Some blue-green algae by-products can be toxic on contact, resist traditional water purification techniques, and release higher concentrations of toxins when boiled. Exposure to high concentrations of some blue-green algae toxins has been implicated in the neurological disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Preventing uncontrolled sewage discharges into the river is key to controlling both E. coli levels in the river and preventing the conditions that can cause a blue-green algae bloom. Blue-green algae feeds on fertilizers and waste products in the water, so minimizing their presence is important. Several local communities are currently offering a sewer discharge “amnesty” program to encourage residents with illegal sewer-to-storm drain connections to correct those.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help. We can diagnose and correct your sewer connection issues, and help you determine whether your community has a storm drain amnesty program to reduce the cost of correcting your storm and/or sewage drains.

Please give us a call at (617) 288-2911 anytime for a consultation or an appointment.

Own property in Boston? Water usage disclosure may be required

Last month, Boston became the eighth US city to require property owners to disclose energy and water usage. The regulations apply only to medium- and large-sized properties. The City Council passed the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance on May 8. Following the passage of the ordinance, the City of Boston reported its 2012 energy usage data on May 15.

Commercial buildings with a gross area of 50,000 square feet must begin disclosing energy and water usage in 2014. Multi-family properties with 50 or more units must begin disclosing usage data to the City of Boston in 2015. Commercial units with 35,000 square feet of space or more will be required to report usage data starting in 2016. Residential buildings with more than 35 units will be required to report usage data starting in 2017.

The reporting requirements are part of Boston’s Climate Action Plan. The goal of this plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Boston by 25 percent by the year 2020. According to figures released by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s office, buildings currently account for 70% of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Private homeowners are not required to participate, but you can begin reducing your energy and water consumption right now! Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help in a number of ways. Replacing old, inefficient heating and cooling equipment makes a major difference in energy consumption, and the production of greenhouse gases! Older equipment is not at all energy efficient. Currently, we can help you take advantage of rebate programs through National Grid designed to reduce the cost of replacing working boilers that are 30 years old or more.

Mass Save offers 0% interest financing on many heating and cooling upgrades that will enable homeowners to swap low-efficiency units with high-efficiency replacement models. A side benefit of high efficiency units is that they cost less to operate, so you can start taking advantage of lower heating and cooling bills right away!

You can also claim federal tax credits to replace inefficient working or non-working water heating systems. These credits were initially offered in 2012, but have been extended through 2013.

All of these programs have different rules, and some programs require an audit as part of the process of filing a rebate request. We would be happy to discuss all available programs, and help you take advantage of these excellent money-saving and energy-saving opportunities. We can also inspect and diagnose leaks in your water system, and recommend or install water-saving appliances and fixtures for your home.

Contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation with a licensed plumber. Visit Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!

What's In Your Water Glass?

What do cows in Chicago have to do with water in Boston? As it turns out, cows in Chicago are behind the reason we chlorinate municipal water. Slightly more than 100 years ago, the cows in the Chicago Union stockyards weren’t gaining weight. In fact, the only time the cows would gain weight was when they drank Chicago city water.

The cows were watered from a source known as Bubbly Creek, so named because the water bubbled from the methane and hydrogen sulfide in the water. The creek was also polluted from meat waste from the slaughterhouses. Even though the water was filtered, the cows – which arrived in Chicago from all over the Midwest – couldn’t gain weight. At the time, the City of Chicago wasn’t willing to supply the stockyards with municipal water, so the stockyard operators had to do something.

The stockyards contracted a New York firm to test the water in Bubbly Creek. Although the freshly filtered water was of acceptable quality and was treated with copper to inhibit the growth of algae, the firm noted that the bacteria count in the samples exploded within a short time of being drawn. The firm began experimenting with sanitizers to reduce the bacteria count in the Bubbly Creek water. After testing with a powdered chlorine compound known as “chloride of lime,” the Bubbly Creek water cleared to such quality that it was actually cleaner than the Chicago municipal water supply!

Other major cities, including Boston, began to chlorinate their municipal water supplies in an effort to fight typhoid fever and other water-borne illnesses. The sanitization of municipal water was so successful at fighting certain diseases that chlorination has become a standard mechanism to treat both municipal water and water where organic or biological contamination is suspected.

Pathogens still account for notable contamination in 25%-50% of rivers, streams, creeks and costal areas, but thanks to simple water treatments, most otherwise harmful contaminants are neutralized before they hit our taps. If you don’t like the chlorine taste in municipal water, you can buy inexpensive water filtration systems that attach to your tap and will successfully remove the chlorine and other chemicals prior to drinking.

If you would like more information on chlorine filtration systems for your kitchen tap, whole house water filtration systems or reverse osmosis water filters, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. Don’t forget to friend Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!