Water and climate

 Climate change is commonly described as having a coastal consequence, namely rising sea levels.

But there are impacts on and around inland waters, too. Among other things, they include where rain falls, when it falls and how hard it falls – variables that bring floods, droughts and all their associated costs and disruptions.

In the Northeast, where much of my fieldwork has taken place, the frequency of extreme weather events is up, as illustrated in the accompanying photo that was shot not far from where I live in New Hampshire.

Harrisville 2018 Dublin Fire Chief Thomas Vanderbilt.jpg

Heavy rains that carve roads to pieces, sweep away bridges and damage culverts aren’t the only disruptions that are tied to a changing climate, however.

Ice-outs on lakes in the region are occurring earlier, shortening the seasons for recreation industries such as ice-fishing. The phenomenon is widespread; earlier this year The New York Times reported that thousands of northern lakes across the globe that previously iced up are going ice-free through winters.

Meanwhile, rising temperatures are affecting what lives in rivers and lakes,since some fish prefer cold waters and others prefer warm.

Even if you aren’t into fishing, I recommend this recent study of salmon and climate change by a Copenhagen for its easy-to-digest report on the many ways that changes in temperature can affect a single species of fish that migrates between marine waters and freshwater streams –  changes to how they migrate, when they spawn, what they eat, what infects them, and what preys on them.

That report leaves unanswered some questions regarding climate change on fish life. There are knowledge gaps that need to be filled, and that shortcoming isn’t likely limited to impacts of rising temperatures on fish.

Still, in some quarters, enough is known about climate change and water to stake out hard positions.  But even among those who value science and scientific inquiry, differences can exist.

Consider, for example, the subject of dams.

International Rivers, a California-based research and advocacy group, argues that dams – particularly large dams – are part of the climate change problem and should be taken down. “River-wrecking dams are the wrong choice for a warming world,” the organization says, partly for the greenhouse gasses that they produce.

From the precisely opposite side is the argument that the storage capacity of large dams is what, in fact, is needed to assure adequate water supplies in a period of rainfall instability. The argument is made in a paper published in the Journal of Hydrology.

Bottom line: The subject of climate change and water isn’t only about sea levels rising; it’s about a great many dimensions of Nature, and it’s also about us.

Water as a battery

Water’s a substance of many uses. We use it to irrigate gardens, boil potatoes, bathe the dog, wash the car, put out fires, swim in, fish in and generate power. Add to the list: act as a battery.

We store energy with compressed air, flywheels, electrochemical capacitors and lead or lithium batteries, but none of these technologies does the job in such volume in the United States as pumped storage.

Second pumped storage.jpg

Huh?

It works this way: water’s sucked out of a river or a lake and pumped up to a reservoir, where the water sits until a certain moment when this same water is sent rushing back down the same pipes through which it came where it turns turbines.

The energy storage part of this equation is the lake at the top, to be drained only when the marketplace needs more electricity.

There are about 40 pumped storage plants in the nation today, and more coming. The industry behind them is facing two big changes – one involving the electricity that pumps water up to the elevated reservoir and the other involving environmental sensitivities about where the water comes from.

More than a few pumped storage plants were built decades ago when nuclear power plants first went into service. Nuclear power plants, like coal-fired power plants, run steadily day and night, leaving the question what to do with all their output when market demand for power is slack, say at 2 o’clock in the morning?

Answer: use the excess electricity at that hour to pump water from down below to up above. Later, when factories are running and people are up and demand for power is peaking, release the water in the elevated reservoir to generate electricity for the marketplace.

It’s a supply-and-demand economic equation: electricity is way cheaper at 2 a.m. when it’s purchased to run the pumps than it is at 2 p.m. when demand for electricity is high and pumped-storage operators can charge high prices.

What happens, then, when the source of electricity to power the pumps changes, as it has been happening when nuclear power plants with their steady production shut down and electricity increasingly comes from intermittent producers such as solar and wind? How might that change affect the daily operations of these plants?

The second big change has to do with where the water for pumped storage comes from. All 40 plants in the United States today suck water out of rivers or lakes that are fed by rivers. That means that the water level in those sources can rise and fall by many feet over the course of a day.

Who cares about that? Answer: Most people who care about fish life and riverbank erosion. They say that pumped storage operators are harming the environment by constantly sucking water out of rivers and later shooting it back in.

In response, the industry is increasingly looking at what are called “closed loop” systems in which water simply recycles between a contained lower reservoir and a contained upper reservoir, meaning no intrusion on the flow of rivers or river-fed lakes. In some parts of the country pumped storage promoters are looking at filling up abandoned coal mines with water to use as reservoirs.

That would be an interesting and pleasing turn of events – using the remnants of a polluting fossil-fuel operation to sustain the operations of a renewable-energy generation.

More on the topic:

Energy Storage Association

Energy Storage News

Subsurface pumped storage projects

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing

A study of environmental impacts of pumped storage

Studying water

 Among our many fascinating activities around water is all the research that we put into it.

We study the science of water treatment. We examine how streams relate to their surroundings. We investigate how aquatic organisms respond to chemical pollutants. We analyze the environmental impact of increasingly hard rains.

A particularly impressive player is the Water Research Foundation, a not-for-profit outfit in Colorado that serves water utilities and manufacturers.

Z - Lake Sunapee buoy.jpg

Since 1966 the organization has directed more than $700 million to scientific studies of drinking water, wastewater, the reuse of water, lead in the water, and so on.

The range of research topics runs wide, but one of the more interesting recent developments in water research isn’t about the subject of study but the method of it. The innovation involves the pooling of research from different places. It’s network science.

A striking example is the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network – GLEON for short – that remotely collects data from more than 100 buoys on lakes in six continents. The buoys send information into a shared body of knowledge about such things as how winds can variously roil the waters of deep lakes, shallow lakes, big lakes and small lakes.

One early GLEON participant was the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, a member-supported nonprofit that since 1898 has been looking out for the lake – a 6.5 square mile vacationer’s paradise in western New Hampshire. Its buoy is the one pictured with this post.

The buoy collects data every 10 minutes around the clock on such subjects as air temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, sunlight energy, water temperature at various depths, water conductivity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen in the water.

The data is accessible by researchers anywhere. And also, promisingly, the data is also of use to a student group whose leaders – profiled in a recent blog posting -- might well be important contributors to water science down the line.

The book arrives!

Rousmaniere_WaterConnections.small.jpg

I’m very happy to report that the book has arrived!

 It’s Water Connections – now available at the click of a link to the publishers.

 And see what people are saying!

Physically the book arrived from Versa Press, Inc., a printer in Peoria, Illinois.  But in fact Water Connections arrived from multiple places. Such is the nature of a book.

The introduction says that Water Connections got its start in 2012 when I went looking into how watershed protections around two drinking water reservoirs and a federal flood control dam had helped keep my tiny town of Roxbury, New Hampshire permanently green.

That inquiry was for a short article for the town’s bicentennial booklet. But I stayed with the subject afterwards to scout out other ways that water has influenced human society; I looked into water power, floods and flood control, pollution, water technology, water terrorism and so on.

So, it would also be fair to say that Water Connections arrived from the water’s edge.

But philosophically there was yet another point of origin. It was a high school classroom in Keene, New Hampshire about 15 years ago.

The occasion was a writing project for American Studies students that entailed getting the students (they were juniors) out of the classroom and into the community to research and write about local aspects of the built and unbuilt environment.

At the time I was editor of the local daily newspaper, and I agreed to print the best essays in the paper after they’d been edited by a group of collaborators principally from Antioch New England Graduate School and the Historical Society of Cheshire County, both in Keene, and the Monadnock Institute of Nature, Place and Culture at Franklin Pierce University in nearby Rindge.

The students picked all sorts of topics – a statue, a pond, a park, an abandoned mansion, etc. -- as the writing project continued over the course of three years. The first year we asked the students to pick a name for the project. They came up with “Tracing Places in the Monadnock Region.”

The name resonated. Academically, the project fell under the umbrella of what’s called “place-based education” – a practice that immerses students in their community surroundings.

I have friends who are at the forefront of this discipline, some of whom are associated with a master’s degree program at Antioch university in Keene.

The underlying idea is that we become better citizens if we understand our surroundings, and what better way to improve that understanding than to get out of the classroom and into the real world.

Back to the first words of this blog post. They were about where Water Connections came from. You could safely say that some of Water Connections arrived from an educational innovation that had nothing explicitly to do with water at all. The innovation had to do with becoming aware of – and actively interested in – your surroundings.

Make sense? Now, about that river that you cross on the way to work every day…

 

Water personhood

 In all the readings that helped inform “Water Connections,” one of the more interesting included a statement by a Native American headman who lived along the Presumpscot River in Maine.

The setting was a hearing before British authorities in Boston in 1739. The headman, who is identified in the transcript simply as Chief Polin, had traveled to Boston to complain about a water power dam that had been built on the river that blocked the passage of migrating fish.

Tahoe.JPG

It was the first documented dispute regarding a dam in North America.

Here’s how the chief introduced his complaint:  “I have something to say concerning the river which I belong to. It is barred over in sundry places…”

That he would “belong to” a river shed important light on indigenous thinking. A European would say that the river belongs to humans, not the other way around; a European would say that a river is an object to be used.

This story is all the more interesting today due to some relatively new thinking about the status of rivers and other water bodies.  In this new thinking, rivers and lakes are people, and therefore are due the legal rights and protections of persons.

Interest in formally assigning personhood to water bodies is growing around the world. Among others, scholars at Yale have stayed on top of the movement.

 Here’s more from the American Indian Law Review.

 The move toward assigning rights to rivers isn’t limited to any one country. The Christian Science Monitor recently reprinted an account of water personhood in New Zealand and Ecuador.

The point of all this is to grant water bodies (and their designated representatives) legal standing to pursue claims against polluters and challenge plans to build dams on rivers.

The reasoning behind this rights-of-nature movement is that, if corporations in the United States can have personhood status, why not water bodies?

 Earlier this year voters in Toledo, Ohio passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. The action is being challenged in court by people who fear the consequences including farmers whose fertilizer run-off has been blamed for recent massive algae blooms in the lake. What would Chief Polin say to all this? I suspect that that he’d say, “About time!”

Staying on top of water

 Safe water doesn’t come easy.  How else to explain the crowds at an annual conference about what it takes to assure clean drinking water?

Each spring upwards of 200 water works superintendents, well water managers, hydrology consultants, emergency management directors, conservation commission people, teachers and federal and state experts from around New England show up to talk safe water in Concord, NH.

Drinking water glass.jpg

The setting is the annual Drinking Water Source Protection Conference put on by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the Concord-based American Ground Water Trust, a nonprofit with a national reach that aims to supply independent scientific perspectives on such issues as contamination.

Here’s a sampling of workshop topics at the next session, which is slated for May 16:

  •  A report about a new program that samples 500 wells in New Hampshire for more than 100 potentially harmful chemicals.

  • A presentation about a new approach to reduce in-lake loading of phosphorous, thereby reducing cyanobacteria blooms.

  • A discussion about emergency planning for when something goes wrong with a local public water supply.

  • Updates on steps to conserve land in watersheds around public water supplies.

I’ve attended more than a few of these Source Protection conferences, and I can report that the educational benefit isn’t limited to the workshops and speeches. I’ve picked up more than a few insights about water supplies at the coffee breaks and lunch sessions just by talking to other attendees.

Despite all the threats to water that come up in the formal and informal settings, the conference has an upbeat feel. It’s about solutions as much as it’s about problems; it’s about people staying on top of an immensely important topic. It’s a credit to the sponsors for putting on the show.

Floods and flood damage

This year’s devastating floods in the Midwest, followed by predictions that 25 states will see flooding through May bring to mind an oft-quoted statement by Gilbert White, a prominent geographer in Chicago in the 1930s who wrote that “floods are acts of God, but flood losses are acts of man.”

Based on recent news reports, the Creator has been busy: heavy rains last summer, frozen ground last winter and big snowmelt this spring have filled rivers to bursting.

Floodwaters image.jpg

At the same time, humans have lent a hand, according to a study of climate change by Yale.

As for damage from floods, White was right to blame humans. We’ve built homes too close to rivers, exposing them to danger. We’ve paved over floodplains and drained wetlands for various purposes, one effect of which has been to prevent rain from soaking into the ground and instead wash into streams and rivers – ultimately to channel stormwaters downstream to do damage there.

In the course of researching “Water Connections,” I came upon all sorts of ways that humans have invited floods. One of the more fascinating discoveries was an advertisement in American Farmer magazine in 1935 by E.I. duPont de Nemours, the chemical company, for a 48-page book  that was titled “Ditching with Dynamite.” Here was the pitch:

“Crooked streams are a menace to life and crops in the areas bordering their banks. The twisting and turning of the channel retards the flow and reduces the capacity of the stream to handle large volumes of water. Floods result. Crops are ruined. Lives are lost. Banks are undermined, causing cave-ins that steal valuable acreage… Dynamite may be used most effectively in taking out the kinks in a crooked stream.”

Most hydrologists and flood experts know that straightening a stream in one place merely speeds up the flow of water downstream to wash out roads, soak homes, and lift bridges off their footings. Meandering streams, on the other hand, check the rush of stormwaters. And floodplains, if they aren’t paved over, soak up floodwaters and then gradually release them later on, effectively checking the blunt force and effects of floods.

This fact – that, left to themselves, rivers and surrounding floodplains can handle heavy rains and snowmelt quite well – has been known for some time by some people, notably Paul Sears, an ecologist in the 1950s who chaired one of the country’s first graduate programs in conservation, at Yale.

In 1955 he presented an ambitiously titled paper at an international symposium in Princeton, N.J. -- “Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth” – that contained the following passage:

“Far greater funds are expended upon efforts to control flood after water has reached the river channels than are devoted to securing proper land use on the tributary uplands to retain the water where it falls. This is an interesting aspect of a technological culture where emphasis is on engineering rather than on biological controls.”

The floods this year may cause some people to go looking into what Professor Sears had to say, and then adjust their laws and flood-control practices accordingly.

Art comes to the drinking fountain

 In 2016 the lights were switched on in a giant cube in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that set the cube glowing. The installation was part of downtown renewal, but another purpose had to do with water. The structure is a public water filling station.

The Water Cube, a product of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, is environmentally friendly. The dispensers on the vertical sides invite the use of reusable water bottles, not the single-use plastic throwaways that litter our landscapes.

Water Cube in Pittsburgh.jpg

Further, the surrounding pavement is porous, meaning that any water that gets spilled percolates into the ground and doesn’t wind up in Pittsburgh’s stormwater system.

The design and environmental sensibilities of the Water Cube reflect a growing awareness that water fountains can be more sublime than the slobbered-over drinking appliances that you might associate with ball parks and school corridors.

There’s history here. Not all that long ago Fast Company offered a history of water fountains – from 19th century efforts to supply London’s public with safe water to today’s re-invention initiatives.

And the marketplace has responded with new levels of design, as this Pinterest gallery confirms.

I was introduced to the re-enlightenment of drinking fountains at a manufacturing plant in Keene, New Hampshire: the family-owned Filtrine Manufacturing Company. This versatile and imaginative 100-employee firm had a hand in the development of Pittsburgh’s Water Cube. The company had long set standards of innovation in the water field, so Filtrine was a natural for the Water Cube.

Beyond this one company’s accomplishments in chilling and dispensing water, the larger message here is that we can do better than rely on throw-away water bottles to keep ourselves hydrated. We can fill up at public filling stations with reusable containers. Good for the environment. And, while we’re at it, good for celebrating style and grace in unexpected ways.

Unseen danger

In the annals of efforts to assure that public drinking water is safe, the year 1993 stands out.

In the early spring of that year something got into the water system of Milwaukee, Wisconsin that sickened 400 people, killing more than 70 of them. It was the worst outbreak of water-borne disease in the United States since record-keeping began in 1920.

Crypto image.jpg

The culprit was found to be a contagious intestinal infection called cryptosporidium, a robust pathogen that for most of the 20th century was known mainly to veterinarians for the watery stools that it produced in animals, but now clearly humans were at risk.

This new vulnerability was explained partly by who had died: mostly people with weak immune systems, including people with AIDs or HIV – a new health dilemma at the time. Indeed the population of victims with weak immune systems was wider still thanks in part to recent advances in medicine: the victims included organ transplant recipients and patients whose immune systems had been impaired by chemotherapy.

All these years later cryptosporidium remains a real concern, and not only in the United States; it’s one of the biggest sources of gastrointestinal illness anywhere.

It can’t be knocked out by chlorine, the universal disinfectant, but there have been successes with ozone technology in Milwaukee through the Colorado-based Water Research Foundation.

Still, the pathogen is a mystery and therefore the subject of intense study around the globe. For example, this June, the 7th International Giardia and Cryptosporidium Conference in France.

Part of the problem is that the parasite is hard to detect before it gets into a body and starts doing damage. So a lot of effort is going into spotting it in water systems before it gets to people.

Bottom line: cryptosporidium remains a worry, and detections can put authorities on high alert. A few months ago the parasite was found in the water system of Portland, Oregon, and the city has put a lot of energy into keeping the public up to date on its response.

I can’t close this posting without noting how the threat of crypto eventually found its way beyond the fields of public health and water management to the territory of popular culture. About a dozen years ago an imaginative American video-game maker came up with a damage-doing protagonist from outer space who set foot on our planet. The character’s name: Cryptosporidium-137. The name of the game: “Destroy All Humans.”

Have your say about Trump's disregard for water

Over the years Washington has taken strong steps in the cause of clean water, starting with the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 that criminalized dirty discharges into public waters –-the nation’s first federal environmental law -- and then, notably in 1972, the Clean Water Act that set in motion rulemaking to restore and otherwise protect the quality of lakes, rivers and streams.

Based on Donald Trump’s public statements about the environment – consistently, that climate change has no human cause and, recently, that wind power causes cancer -- it’s fair to speculate that, were he president in 1899 or 1972, Trump would have demonized the proponents of those clean water bills and done everything he could do to block them.

What else to expect of a man who since his first weeks in office has been dead set on scrapping a sensible measure to protect public waters that was initiated by the Obama administration in 2015?

Wetland vertical.jpg

The measure, which is called the Waters of the United States, extends to small and intermittent streams and wetlands the same federal water quality protections that exist for large bodies of water..

The logic of the rule is that protections of large bodies of water — including sources of drinking water — are lacking if small streams are able to deliver pollution from whatever gets into them from farms, mines or property developers.

The Trump administration proposes substitute language for the Waters of the United States, principally to put small and intermittent streams under the purview of states whose standards of environmental control are far from uniform.

For background on the matter, I recommend two sources:

A column in The Hill online news service that’s negative on the Trump approach:

A statement by the Farm Bureau, which likes the proposed revisions:

Me, I like the Waters of the United States Rules as they were initially drafted. If you do, too, I recommend filing a comment to that effect with the EPA. Don’t put it off: the comment period for the proposed gutting of the law by the new administration ends April 15.

Here’s some background on how to make your views known

The problem of aquatic invasives

 Somewhere in the annual reports of most lake associations and river coalitions you’ll find something about vegetation that shouldn’t be in local waters.

The word is invasives. They can be a real nuisance. Take water chestnuts -- a nonnative plant that creates mats on the surface of waters to the effect of crowding out native plants, depriving fish of oxygen and spoiling canoe rides.

Water chestnuts aren’t the only invaders of local waters, as the sign to the right, near the water in Brattleboro, Vermont, makes clear.

New Invasives sign.jpg

But they’re worth a study if only to show how such invasions happen. Water chestnuts, native to Europe and Africa, where parasites keep them in check, got to North America in the 1870s. Among other things, they were introduced to the botanical gardens at Harvard, and then they got planted in some local ponds, exotic things that they were. Then, as happens, escape! They’re a common scourge now.

I was introduced to invasives during the course of researching “Water Connections.” Among other things, I found myself reading “The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants,” by the British zoologist Charles S. Elton, first published in 1958. The book is absorbing. It tells sobering stories about how plant and animal invasions are wrought by humans -- sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.

Equally interesting is what humans are doing in response.

For one, the Nashua River Watershed Association, a Massachusetts-based group, is on the case with a pretty aggressive eradication and prevention effort.

And in 2015 the Shadow Lake Association in Vermont began operating a high-pressure decontamination station that fires 140-degree water at the hulls of boats arriving on trailers – the first such operation in the state.

And two years later Vermont’s Act 67 became law; the Vermont Aquatic Invasive Species Transport Law sets forth a wide range of steps that boat-owners must take to assure that they aren’t carrying invasives from one body of water to another.

So, there have been some success stories in the fight against aquatic invasives. Those stories are rare, but let’s take heart. Heightened attention to the problem is helping make a difference, meaning: we need not be victims of our own carelessness about what gets into local waters.

When public lands are off limits to fun

What’s allowed on watershed lands around reservoirs? Not a whole lot says the sign to the right.

Posters such as these can be found in a lot of watersheds for reasons that make more than a little sense. That’s because people can threaten the quality of water that other people will eventually drink.

Consider, for example, the public access plan for the forested lands around the Wachusett Reservoir, a 4,000-acre lake in a densely populated area just west of Boston, Massachusetts.

 The rules there say no to: swimming, kayaking, snowmobiles, outdoor cooking, camping, dogs, paintball games, ice skating, ice fishing, snowshoeing on the ice, alcohol, large gatherings, target shooting, hunting in most places, bike riding in most places, all-terrain vehicles, metal detecting and so on.

Keene watershed sign.JPG

The prohibitions have come in for some criticism, and the Wachusett Reservoir managers don’t hide that fact. They’ve posted citizen complaints on their website including this suggestion: “Less signs that begin with the word no.”

The logic behind the prohibitions is grounded in economics: It costs less to limit the movement of humans on reservoir lands – indeed, it can cost less to buy up lands around reservoirs – than it can cost to filter or clean up contaminated waters.

Still, the economics of land conservation have changed during the last several decades as the cost of property has gone up. In more than a few cases municipal water departments have had to team up with nonprofit land trusts and recreation-minded agencies of state governments to assemble enough money to acquire watershed lands. That’s meant collisions of priorities. It’s meant outright conflict. In some cases it’s meant conservation negotiations that went nowhere.

On a more positive basis, it’s also meant greater public awareness of humans’ impact on their surroundings, and that’s not such a bad thing.

Jobs in the water sector

Think about water — think about jobs. The variety of work in what’s generally called the water sector is fascinating. There are the obvious job categories, of course — the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 16 percent increase in the number of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters between 2016 and 2026 to well more than half-a-million jobs. Then the less obvious: in most states there are workers today who track how much water is being lost to leaks, thefts, inaccurate billing and the like – understandable, given the relatively recent rises in reported shortages and the sheer costs of providing water to the public.

bls water worker.jpg

Soon enough I found myself talking with people in government offices that didn’t exist a generation ago. I mean staffers whose fields include, among others, regulating storm water, watching out for wetlands, monitoring groundwater withdrawals, overseeing lake water quality, helping finance watershed protection, and enforcing new laws that govern the repair of streams after floods sweep through.

The findings were consistent with a youtube report on Vermont’s Clean Water Initiative that highlighted a wide range of government action around water.

The takeaway message: water’s an expanding sector.

The growth is likely to pick up pace as the nation begins to grapple with the prospect of replacing old pipes and other infrastructure. That means new jobs.

Meanwhile, there’s an aging water workforce to take into account. A recent report from the Brookings Institution – “Renewing the Water Workforce” –scoped out a current workforce of 1.7 million Americans in more than 200 different job categories who at some point will need to be replaced.

In support of that finding, the Water Environment Federation, an industry group, recently predicted that in the next 10 years 37 percent of water utility workers and 31 percent of wastewater utility workers will retire.

So, whether its work in fields that have long been part of the economy such as plumbing and pipefitting or in emerging fields such as water recycling, work in the water workforce stands to grow.

Technology in the water sector

Water ram on pavement.jpg

Whatever is that contraption on the right?

It’s a hydraulic water ram, the history and function of which I’ll get to in a minute, but first a few words about technology and water

Truth: Water’s a patent office bonanza. Imagine all the invention that’s gone into water treatment, water power, water-saving devices, water testing, waste water processing, the design of toilets, even the technology around swimming pools and the functions of water parks.

Invention is spurred first by necessity, of course, but also by technology competitions. For example, to pick a behemoth, the George Barley Water Prize competition that in 2021 will award a mind-boggling $10 million to a team that comes up with a safe, effective and affordable way to remove phosphorus – a principal source of algae -- from water.

There are lesser competitions that run annually: the  Stockholm Water Prize from the Stockholm International Water Institute and various awards from the US Water Alliance, an association of industry and public sector utilities, to name a couple.

Then, too, the MIT Water Innovation Prize. Several years ago I began tracking a trio of Taiwanese graduate students who won accolades and money for finding a way to recycle water in washing machines. The pitch was that the device would “reinvent laundry” most meaningfully in places where washing machines are in constant use – hotels, for example. The students went on to  launch an enterprise called Aqua Fresco to test out the marketplace.

Interested in what other products can come out of such competitions? The next MIT Water Innovation Prize competition is April 18.

I tracked a water innovator of a different sort to international recognition. It was a company named Rentricity that designed and installed a power-in-a-pipe hydropower system in the water treatment plant of Keene, New Hampshire. The system generates electricity from the force of water flowing in by gravity from an upland reservoir. The design, which Rentricity later took to other treatment plants in North America, in 2012 won a prize from an organization called the Global Cleantech Cluster Association in Ireland.

Now, then, the hydraulic water ram that started this blog entry. It’s a device, invented in England and refined in France in the 1700s, that uses pressure created by the force of water flowing into a chamber to pump water uphill. In the late 1800s one was used in a stream near where I live in New Hampshire that sent water 100 feet up to a farm. Pumping water uphill – a miracle move in days before gasoline and electrical power. Here’s how a water ram works.

The water ram pictured here was recently rescued from an old warehouse in Connecticut. Its new owner hopes to install it in a stream that flows through his farm in New Hampshire.

There are modern low-cost versions, including a series of patented rams from a development outfit in the Philippines that’s been helping lift water to upland farms and villages all over the world.  Not long ago the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation won a prize for its design from Ashden, a British charity that promotes sustainable development.

Bottom line: water can set the inventive juices flowing. You’ll find more about the water ram and other technology breakthroughs in the new book “Water Connections.”