Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bring on the smelly water!

2006 update: this wasn't a sincere request, really. Please bring the good water back.
On Eurekalert yesterday, Natural compound from 'pond scum' shows potential activity against Alzheimer's:
A compound isolated from a cyanobacterium, a type of blue-green algae known as Nostoc, shows promise of becoming a natural drug candidate for fighting Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases...

Cyanobacteria being the blue-green algae, which are the ones in your energy pills and the ones responsible for hepatotoxins* and neurotoxins in drinking water.

So, is the glass half empty or half full*?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

water project status update, temp. post

Dec. 23 update:
Finally put up the interview with Chris over at NCDocuments, apologies for the delay. And you might want to put the eye back in for now, since the below-mentioned bit of interest doesn't seem to have morphed into anything substantive.

But the story's not over yet.


Just to let you know, there's been a bit of interest in the story so keep an eye out...

Big thanks to Chris for long phone interview this morning (and for recent water quality, which has been great, at my place at least) and to Mark for the "high priority" designation that made Chris's time available.

No bombshells; still digesting the Q&A, and need to do some research, and hear back from Mark on some quick questions; don't expect a post on it until Friday at the very earliest.

According to Chris, the smell is from Volvox and Chlamydomonas algae.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

'Fishy water' collaborative journalism project update - 2 days later

[Early a.m. update: edited, with removal of some gratuitous commentary.]

Well, the experiment is not off to a roaring start. Right after publishing the original 'fishy water' post, I emailed Yubanet, The Union, NCTV(I think) and KVMR about it and about my suggestion/plea that they contribute some reporting energy to the subject; and while KVMR might possibly have done something,* the entire deluge of email-and-website replies I've received is reprinted here:

I did get one phone call from a friend pondering who at NCTV might be interested. And the water treatment plant manager and I managed to make phone contact this morning; he said he still had not received the questions which I emailed to the city manager* two weeks ago.

Fellow citizens have been forthcoming, offering information and additional questions, and generally passing the word along.

One of the most sorely afflicted by the fishy water - living further "upstream" than me - has shared what he knows in a comment on the original post.
(His neighbors don't have any problem with the water though. When asked why not, they explained* "we have a whole-house water filter.")

For reference, here's a scanned copy (PDF, big - 1.5MB) of an article on the Thanksgiving 2001 "fishy water" incident; also the Feb 2002 (pre- and post-City Council meeting) articles.

Monday, December 05, 2005

In-depth reporting on Nevada City's fishy water - an experiment in open source journalism

During at least the last 15 years, Nevada City has repeatedly suffered from poor drinking water quality. When our new city manager came onboard several years ago, he seemed to have gotten the problem under control somehow, but in the last year or so the water has reverted to its previous occasional foulness. The yearly water quality reports sent to all city residents typically report excellent water quality, and do not mention or explain the recurrent problem.*

So far, efforts to obtain a satisfactory explanation have not yielded satisfactory results. (partly due to my not following through, partly due to general busy-ness of city staff, partly due to the general entropy of communications...the point isn't to assign blame, it's to get answers.)

Hence - and in a general spirit of inquiry - I offer an open source journalism experiment and invite your participation:

Below I've laid out what I think I know and what I'd like to know. Do you have further questions? Perhaps a local weblog or newspaper or other news outlet could help to flesh out this information?

If you have questions or investigative/reporting skills to contribute, please, get to work...

Occasionally, Nevada City's drinking water develops a problem - a "fishy" smell, an odd/bitter taste, discoloration, and (it seems to me) a strange "greasy" texture.

The problem is worst in the neighborhood around Pioneer Park (served by the water tank nearest the drinking water treatment plant?), and typically worst after a dry spell following the first rains, e.g. around Thanksgiving.

The contamination is said
(by whom? )
(and with what level of confidence? from 0% to 100%)

to be due to "cold water algae", that grow primarily in
our reservoir? the water tanks? Little Deer Creek? somewhere else enroute?
(what is the name of our reservoir?)

Has the alga responsible been identified?
(if so, when and by whom, and what's the species?)

if not -
  • What attempts have been made, when and by whom?
  • What would it cost, roughly, to get an identification?
  • if cost unknown, how could we get a rough estimate of the cost?

Other questions:
  • Are growths of the algae more visible, at the times when the water has this problem?
  • On the phone, I've been told that the water treatment process gets rid of the odor by "oxidizing the compound" that causes it.
    By what means is this done?
  • Is the problem addressed in other ways as well?
  • if not, are there other ways that it could it be addressed? (eg. by increasing the reservoir inflow/outflow?)
  • Is there any documentation on the web that you'd recommend, that covers the "cold water alga" issue?
  • Have other communities encountered the problem, and if so, have they solved it or does it periodically come back to haunt them too?
  • Would it be possible for a citizen journalist or paid reporter (and perhaps Alan Stahler,* if he's in town) to be shown the reservoir, (drinking) water treatment plant, etc?
  • Where is the water intake location in the reservoir - does it vary, in distance from top, in different seasons?
  • Has the raw water (when foul) been measured for microcystins?
  • What other questions should we be asking, if we want to acquire a full understanding of the problem?

If you can help to get answers, we who drink and bathe in the problem will thank you.