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Freshwater Sustainability Challenges

Freshwater Sustainability Challenges Shared By Southwest And Southeast, Researchers Find
December 14, 2010

Water scarcity in the western U.S. has long been an issue of concern. Now, a team of researchers studying freshwater sustainability in the U.S. have found that the Southeast, with the exception of Florida, does not have enough water capacity to meet its own needs.

Twenty-five years ago, environmentalist Marc Reisner published Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, which predicted that water resources in the West would be unable to support the growing demand of cities, agriculture and industry. A paper co-authored by a University of Georgia researcher and just published in a special issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new support for most of Reisner’s conclusions, using data and methods unavailable to him in 1986.

Although the paper focuses on freshwater sustainability in the Southwest, co-authors Tushar Sinha, a postdoctoral scientist at North Carolina State University; John Kominoski, a postdoctoral associate at the UGA Odum School of Ecology; and William Graf, a professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, said that the findings have important implications for the Southeast as well. “It turns out that the Southeast has a relatively low capacity for water storage,” said Graf.

In order for water supply to be considered sustainable, the researchers calculated that no more than 40 percent of freshwater resources can be appropriated for human use, to ensure that streamflow variability, navigation, recreation and ecosystem use are accommodated. They also determined how much water a region would need to meet all its municipal, agricultural and industrial needs—its virtual water footprint. The VWF includes the water needed if a region were to grow enough food to support its own population.

The researchers found that neither the Southwest nor the Southeast have enough water capacity to meet all their own needs; both these regions virtually import water from other parts of the country, in the form of food. “The Southeast has virtually no positive, inland VWFs,” said Kominoski, who earned his doctoral degree from the Odum School. “The largest population centers in southeastern states, with the exception of Florida, are inland. Piedmont cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Birmingham rely on small watersheds, which may be why our VWFs are negative.”

Study lead author John Sabo, associate professor at Arizona State University, added that the Southeast’s municipal and industrial water demands are higher than supported by locally generated streamflow.

Reisner also predicted the loss of reservoir capacity. The researchers found that both eastern and western reservoirs have lost storage capacity to sedimentation, although not at the rate predicted by Reisner. “The good news is that the minimum life span of most of the dams in the Southeast is greater than two centuries, which is much longer than what Reisner anticipated,” said Graf.

The researchers also found that reservoirs lose enormous amounts of water to evaporation each year, resulting in a drop in reliable water yield. “The Eastern U.S. has a higher density of reservoirs, but similar water losses as the West,” Graf said, adding that although there are more reservoirs in the East, they are smaller than their Western counterparts. The researchers found that smaller reservoirs are more susceptible to evaporation losses than larger ones are.

Sinha added that most of these smaller reservoirs in the Southeast are designed to capture precipitation that falls within a year, as opposed to larger western reservoirs which carry water surplus or deficit over multiple years. Furthermore, changes in precipitation in the Southeast rapidly influence reservoir water levels. “The recent droughts in the Southeast during the summers of 2002, 2005 and 2007 clearly indicate severe water shortages due to very low rainfall, and water supply is dependent upon precipitation, which is likely to be more uncertain in the near future,” said Sinha.

Loss of storage capacity and lack of enough water to support human needs is not the only freshwater sustainability issue in the Southeast. “The fragmentation of river networks threatens the level of aquatic biodiversity of the Southeast, which is the highest in North America, in terms of both native and non-native species,” Kominoski said. “Our current system doesn’t support the needs of people, let alone ecosystems.”

The authors also cautioned that the paper’s estimates are conservative. “The data we used is from 1950-99,” Sinha said. “The last decade, which had some of the highest recorded temperatures and most extreme droughts, as well as higher population figures, was not included. Also, the estimates don’t take climate change into account. We expect to have less precipitation in the summer, during the growing season, and more severe droughts.”

Kominoski agreed, and added that the 2000 Census predicts continuing population growth in the sunbelt. “As population grows, so does demand for water,” he said.

The paper’s conclusion that the Southwest is near its limit in terms of water capacity holds true for the Southeast as well. “We need a new strategy for water storage and conservation in the U.S., including the Southeast,” said Kominoski. “Because we have mostly inland metropolitan areas in small watersheds, we need to use less water. Less water comes to us, and our ability to store water is challenged by our climate and geographic location.”

Graf added that demand for water is already an issue of major disagreement among Southeastern states. “We hope that these findings and recommendations will inform the debate and help lead to workable solutions,” he said.

Besides Sinha, Kominoski, and Graf, the paper’s authors are John Sabo, Arizona State University (lead author); Laura Bowling, Purdue University; Gerrit Schoups, Delft University of Technology; Wesley Wallender, University of California, Davis; Michael Campana, Oregon State University; Keith Cherkauer, Purdue University; Pam Fuller, U.S. Geological Survey; Jan Hopmans, University of California, Davis; Carissa Taylor, Arizona State University; Stanley Trimble, University of California, Los Angeles; Robert Webb, U.S. Geological Survey; and Ellen Wohl, Warner College of Natural Resources.

SOURCE: University of Georgia

Brighton firm capitalizes on near disaster

Remember the Miracle on the Hudson? Everybody recalls that day in January, 2009, when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed his U.S. Airways jet safely in the Hudson River, in the heart of New York City, after birds got sucked into the engine upon takeoff.
But Joe Miskovich might be the only person who has been able to use Sullenberger’s challenge to help his business. His Brighton, Mich.-based Triton Stormwater Solutions builds underground water-retention and –management systems across the United States and around the world.
They help alleviate airliner “bird strikes” by allowing airports to meet the stormwater mandates without building water-retention ponds on the premises, which harbor geese and other fowl that aren’t compatible with the intakes of airline engines.
“We’re getting more and more inquiries about how we can help meet the stormwater standards mandated for airports and get rid of the potential hazards of these open ponds which attract large birds and geese ,” said the 41-year-old Miskovich.
Many other large building projects also have requirements for on-premises management of stormwater runoff, such as retail developments and apartment complexes. Triton makes and installs underground “chamber systems” out of environmentally friendly reinforced soy resins material that makes their products 10 times stronger than other like products while it is less expensive and provides a safer alternative to traditional retention ponds and other underground systems.
The first step to install the Triton system is to dig a trench, install a layer of crushed stone at the bottom of the trench and then install the individual chambers – which range up to 36 inches tall by 59 inches wide – like interlocking Lincoln logs, then the chambers are backfilled with crushed stone or recycled concrete to create an underground water-retention system that allows the water to slowly infiltrate back through the stone base and the soil column or it can be reused for irrigation purposes. Many of the systems can be as large as several football fields depending on the requirements. To view some of Triton’s installations please visit this website link:
The company has grown steadily since its founding in 2007 and now employs 45 people.
Miskovich was an auto-industry design engineer when he leapt into this business. He encountered a water-runoff problem with his own house and, when he tried to solve it using other underground products Miskovich was told that they would not work because of issues like they cannot be maintained and that the strength of the products were questionable. That is when Miskovich relying on his design engineering background designed a system that addressed all these issues and formed Triton Stormwater Solutions.
“I saw where the auto industry was going,” he recalled. “And when I had the [runoff] problem with my house, that’s when the light bulb went off. I knew that with my background I could make a better product.”
Miskovich raised money from family members, investors and friends by presenting them with detailed, data-driven investment presentations about his plans for Triton and how they addressed new government regulations and other dynamics that were shaping the market.
He brought in civil engineers to attest to the direction of the marketplace. He made the same presentation to potential manufacturing partners. “It’s pretty easy to see where the market was going and the merits of my approach,” Miskovich said. “We can live much longer without oil than we can without water.”
Miskovich is happy that he has been able to build Triton quickly and steadily in the area. “You look at the talent and the engineering and manufacturing capabilities in Michigan, and – though we’ve taken it on the chin – you’d be hard-pressed to find that level of talent and capability anywhere else,” he said. “In order for Michigan to get back on its feet it is vital for those business that are still here to band together and do business together so we can show the rest of country how innovative and progressive Michigan is by implementing state of art products to solve very serious issues along with water runoff and water shortage issues in our communities and around the world”.

Triton Stormwater Solutions founder's stormwater problems spurred invention

When Joe Miskovich moved into a new house five years ago, he quickly realized he had a drainage problem when a torrential downpour wreaked havoc on his property.

“It looked like someone was pouring chocolate milk into my lake,” he said.

Miskovich, an automotive engineer at the time, decided against looking into existing commercial stormwater management systems. Instead, he designed his own.

In August 2007, Miskovich’s new company, Triton Stormwater Solutions, started selling his new stormwater management system. The Brighton-based firm has completed 16 commercial projects and 10 residential projects.

Miskovich’s engineering background with local auto suppliers such as Hella North America gave him the experience necessary to design his new system.

It’s the kind of entrepreneurial transition that Michigan is hoping its strong base of engineers can make.

“It really didn’t matter if I was making a stormwater chamber or if I was making an accelerator pedal or a truck bed box,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter as long as you know what the parameters need to be and what is required of the product in the field.”

Triton is supported by a sales team in Brighton with a manufacturing operation in Ohio. Miskovich declined to reveal revenue figures, but one published report indicated the figure could reach $1 million over a 12-month period. Miskovich said he’s expecting growth of between 20 percent to 25 percent this year.

Miskovich started experimenting with a new design for his system after experiencing his own run-off problems. Over the course of three years, he developed a system that stores water in underground chambers, which allow collected water to seep through the ground in a controlled process. His system – which costs about $5 per installed cubic foot – eliminates the need for retention ponds.

Retention ponds offer a cheap option to developers of commercial or residential projects. But Miskovich said the cost of cleaning retention ponds every five years can range from $5,000 to $25,000 per acre. The added cost of yearly maintenance activities and the ponds’ cultivation of mosquitoes are additional reasons to reconsider retention ponds, he said.

The stormwater chambers are delivered to project contractors, which handle the actual installation.

Miskovich said he decided it was important to develop environmentally friendly products. His stormwater chambers “use a soy resin to offset the petroleum that’s in our product.”

“That way our price is more stable,” he said. “It’s less expensive and it’s not tied to the fluctuation in the price of oil.”

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Triton Stormwater Solutions, LLC
7600 Grand River Rd, Suite 195
Brighton, Michigan 48114
Phone: (810) 222-7652 - Fax: (810) 222-1769