Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014 Governor's Emerging Trader of the Year- Blue Future

Thursday evening, I attended the annual World Trade Club of Washington'sTrader of the Year event  to receive the 2014 Emerging Trader of the Year award and a beautiful crystal trophy. Below are my remarks at that time:

"I want to thank the World Trade Club for this prestigious honor. We have had a joke around the office that one of these days, after years and years of hard work and ups and downs, we would become an overnight success, and this honor is certainly an indicator that we’re getting there. Much credit goes to the vigorous state and federal trade agencies in Washington that have provided Blue Future with invaluable help.

 What does Blue Future do? Blue Future makes and supplies our proprietary low tech water treatment systems to customers throughout the US and, to date, to 22 countries.  It started from my graduate work with Mayan communities in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico in the early 90s and arose from a simple question.

“Is it possible to provide a reliable and safe drinking water system that will work for years, that takes water from surface sources, doesn’t require electricity, or chemicals, or replacement cartridges, and can be maintained by local people?

The answer was a 200 hundred year old biological technology called slow sand filtration, SSF. SSF removes high levels of bacteria, viruses, and cysts, making water safe. But, there’s a hitch. Traditionally slow sand filters are big, engineered, concrete and steel projects.

Blue Future solved this problem by putting the technology into new materials. This allows for a manufactured solution that amortizes the engineering over thousands of identical systems.  We supply systems that treat 450 gallons per day up to 200 gallons per minute, enough safe water for 31,000 people. The result is Blue Future can provide US standard drinking water to any community, anywhere in the world at reasonable cost.

Some of our projects over the years have included village filters for Sumatra after the 2005 Tsunami, rainforest indigenous communities in Peru, and for the last three years we have been supplying village sized filters to Safe Water Network for communities around Lake Volta, Ghana with funding from Newman’s Own Foundation and Hilton.

The bottom line for Blue Future is that 1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Two million people die every year from preventable water born disease. Blue Future’s vision is to reduce these numbers, and I wish to thank you for your recognition of our vision and efforts. "

Monday, September 8, 2014

Humboldt Bound

I'm heading to Humboldt in a week or so, my old stomping grounds. This time it is to deliver a slow sand filters system in Whitethorn, and to visit some folks along the way. If you are in Oregon, or that northern part of California, give me a nudge.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Coming up on the 20th of August is one of my favorite types of  activities- training of operators. This time it is for the Oregon Association of Water Utilities annual conference in beautiful Seaside Oregon. At these trainings, I have the opportunity of showing slow sand filters and roughing filters and their many advantages for small utilities. Small rural utilities face numerous problems in fulfilling their missions to provide safe water of the same quality as large cities. It's hard for them to attract the kind of operator who can operate a sophisticated treatment plant that requires constant maintenance and unique skills. Those operators want to live in and around cities where the big bucks are. Additionally, small utilities don't have the operating budgets to pay for disposable elements or chemicals.
Slow sand and roughing filtration answer these issues very effectively.
If your organization would like to arrange a brown bag seminar or presentation on how these technologies can work for you and save you money, please contact me to discuss-

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Revisiting Carrying Capacity

I think it's time for us to reconsider what carrying capacity is in terms of land use.  The website Biology On Line defines carrying capacity as the "largest number of individuals of a particular species that can survive over long periods of time in a given enviroment, this level depends on the effect of the limiting factors".

That is pretty much how we use it in animal husbandry- how many animals can we get onto a piece of land and have them survive from the available food. If we add suplimental feeding, then the carrying capacity goes up and we put more animals on the land. But there's a problem.

Recently I became aware of two facts here in Whatcom County, Washington, that are true in many areas. First, in looking at some aquifer maps, I saw that there are very high accumulations of Nitrate in groundwater around Lynden, a  highly agricultural area here. The second fact was visual. Driving last week across the county I saw in several places huge impulse sprinklers spraying manure slurry onto the fields. This is a common practice as a means of getting rid of the manure from dairy operations and improving the fertility of the land, so it can produce good grass for the herds.

Do you see the problem? That manure is the source of the Nitrate in the groundwater. So, the land may be able to feed the animals, but it can't process the waste.
Which leads to the conclusion that carrying capacity should not just be about how many animals you can feed on a piece of land, but also how can the land process the waste products of the animals without destroying water quality.

Another way to look at this is to look at true costs of agriculture. The true cost would include removing the nitrate from the water that the animals contributed.

One way or another, we pay. If we use present land use definitions of carrying capacity, we pay for the treatment to remove the pollutants. If we restrict the number of animals to more accurately represent carrying capacity, the price of meat will go up. We pay with tax, or we pay at the store. Of course, the meat producers would prefer not to talk about it. If they don't have to pay a true cost of production, then they look like they are selling a good value, and the costs to fix the damage are managed by those all time favorite bad guys- the government.

If meat prices reflected the true cost, we probably wouldn't buy so much, which is a worry for the producers, but would benefit our aquifers, and for that matter our hearts.

Mass production of meat is a little like the fossil fuels business. there are lots of subsidies, tax breaks,  and market tricks that camouflage the true cost. At the very least, we should push back the veils to see what our meat consumption really costs us in dollars and environmental impacts.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cherokee Nation Slow Sand Filter

Posting pictures and descriptions as they happen, scroll down for earlier photos.

September 29th, 2014. The chart below shows turbidity data following start up of the filter and covers about the first 30 days with measurements by Hach 1720e turbidimeters every 15 minutes. The upper curve is filter 1, the lower is filter 2. Filter 1 may have higher turbidity because it was the filter where sand was blown in resulting in lots of dust. Both filters trending downwards as we would expect and at this time are in the upper .1s. Constant flow and clean gravel result in start ups like this. The minor oscillations are interesting and may be a result of pump cycling on the supply effecting water level in the tanks, or finished water effecting back pressure on the control valve. There is also a longer term oscillation at work here.
Kenwood slow sand filter turbidity, the first month.

August 12th, 2014. Filters have been online for a couple of weeks now. Turbidity in filtered water continues to go down, latest around 2.5 NTU. Filters producing steady 65 gpm for the community. We expect chlorine demand to be significantly declining as well compared to how the system worked before the slow sand filters went in. That means reduced Trihalomethanes.

July 30th, 2014. Filter is online producing water of acceptable quality. I did a quick calculation on the cost per gallon of this project over the expected life of the system and it comes out to $.00065 gallon. That's a pretty good return on investment for the community.

July 7th, start up week. After a few delays dealing with media issues, sand was loaded in the filter tanks using super sacks. A previous effort using a blower resulted in a major dust storm in the building! The good news is, sand was loaded and water filled the tanks for commissioning.
 Loading and leveling sand.
 After filling the tanks from below, to eliminate air, water passes to the overflow weir and then the clearwell. Now comes the tuning to make adjustments for maximum performance, such as adjusting float rod arm length.
After initial filling to flood the media, influent flow shifts to above the sand, first hitting splash plates to dissipate energy and not dig into the sand. Harrowing inlets are the duller white forms center top of the picture. These are used for cleaning the sand when necessary. Initial turbidity measurements were .6 and .7, already in compliance with surface water treatment standards.
June 27. Side view of the newly installed stainless steel overflow weir/clearwell tank. This tank is placed between the filter tanks and protects the filters from being inadvertently dewatered as well as being a constant head device which maintains constant flow, adjusting for headloss in the filter. The 3" valve controls flow through the filter. A valve on the opposite side of the tank controls flow through the other filter.

June 27th. Prior to loading the sand, the gravel layers are covered with water and chlorinated to sanitize. Careful treatment of the gravel is critical to successful slow sand filter start up.

The Building goes up around the tanks, which are already loaded with gravel and have underdrain installed.

4/29 A view from the water tower showing the completed tanks with gravel and underdrains nearing completion. Next, the building will be built around the filters. When that is completed, the weir/clearwell tank, and plumbing will be completed and sand will be loaded. Getting close folks. Stay tuned!
4/22 Course gravel went in first, then the slotted underdrain pipe and connecting manifold. The gravel was washed multiple times to make sure that clean water will come out of the filter when it is started up.

4/17 Looking inside the tank with protective mastic applied and stainless steel nozzles for the inlet, outlet, harrowing, and overflow. Next- the gravel and underdrain piping going in.
4/16. here are the two filter tanks almost completed, The underdrain laterals are stacked in the foreground. Since this photo was taken, the a sealer was applied to the inside of the tanks to protect them from the gravel media. Next step will be placing course gravel in the bottom of the tank, followed by assembly of the slotted PVC underdrain piping, then the rest of the gravel layers. The brown tee shape is a drain system.  Later, a stainless steel clearwell/weir tank, being fabricated, will be installed between the two filters. Stay tuned!
This is exciting. The floor and starter rings for two 100 gpm slow sand filters using glass coated steel tanks were poured last weekend. The tank is being erected this week and soon the underdrain, gravel and sand will be installed. Culminating a three year effort, this state of the art slow sand filter will be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of conventional built in place concrete tanks. This is possible because of Blue Future's modular approach to slow sand filters, and the use of modern materials and methods.
Why build from scratch when you can go off the shelf?
Stay tuned for more pictures!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Drought, now what?

When I lived on the Sonoma coast of California during the mid 90s to 05, conditions were dry. Some planned communities could only get water permits if they built large reservoirs, and only took water from streams during high water in the winter. Some long time residents on wells were seeing their well water declining due to rapid vineyard development sucking the aquifers dry. Recently, a large food producer in Santa Rosa was having trouble getting a permit because the city wanted a lot of money to supply the water and sewer.

And now, we see California in a super drought. Northern California has 8% of normal snow pack. Stories from the Sonoma coast are of January with everything brown, when the hills should be green from December rains. Predictions are that this situation will likely become the new normal.
California residents and planners will have to take lessons from India and Africa about capturing and storing water when it is available for use when it's not.

A few years ago. I did some research and design for planned communities which could not use ground water or water from nearby ponds or streams. All water use had to be derived from captured rainwater. The above picture shows the result. massive underground reservoirs built from space age structural plastics, covered with permeable geo fabrics and permeable landscaping materials. Beautiful and functional year round supply. In India, a return to traditional rainwater catchment is happening. Small retention dams are built in swales and stream beds. The object is not to make ponds, but to slow the water down so it sinks into the soil and recharges the aquifers instead of running off to the sea.

Industry is going to have to forget about sewer systems, and focus on "0" discharge and recycle all their water and adjust their thinking about how they use water.

Arguing about water rights and rates is not the answer. A paradigm shift in how water is viewed, captured, and utilized is necessary from the large scale user all the way to the homeowner.

To read about progress in India that may relate to problems here-

Blue Future Filters rainwater filter systems

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Latest Scam- Beware!

A couple of days ago, I received an email from someone named

Bob Wilson
4002 Ronson Court,
San Diego, California 92111
United States

URGENTLY requesting information to order effluent filters. Usually when someone just wants to order product without any questions, I figure it's a scam especially if they want to pay by credit card. There are other clues, but I don't want to alert the scammers to their own vulnerabilities. This has happened before to us. Fortunately we saw through the veil before we processed an order. This one was a bit more sophisticated. I emailed the guy back asking for details of his application. He responded by asking for an link to see the units. A reasonable request. I sent him a link for our roughing filters. He replied "yes" and wanted a price on one of the units we offer. I sent him that price FOB.

Then came the long email saying he wanted me to get a quote for shipping using a particular shipping company in the Netherlands and he wanted a grand total so he could pay by credit card.

Now I new it was a RAT. I Googled the above mentioned name and address and got the following link-

link to others contacted by this scam

At this page, you will see a sad story of people trying to accommodate this person who is trying to scam them.

This would not have gone any further for us in any case, because we would require more verification before processing an order such as this, but nevertheless, I'm sure others, eager to make a sale in a bad economy, may fall for this.

Be forwarned. If it sounds too good to be true, start checking around.