Vitally Precious

Drinking Water

Water !! There is nothing more precious to life on Earth. Almost as precious however are the youth who will inherit the Earth when their elders are no longer the driving force of progress and evolution.

I stumbled upon the story of one such young man, Steven McDowell, with a vision for helping to alleviate the drought conditions that have become frequent news items in the southwest over to the west coast. California is currently in one of it’s worst drought cycles ever. Steven realizes that – “With climate change affecting our rain patterns we must now plan for the possibility of living with far less annual rainfall, so saving every drop could be essential.”

As this 14 year old began doing research for his science fair project, using California’s drought as his subject and how to help solve it with a focus on how each person could do their share by preserving and storing as much water as possible, he was not able to find suitable storage options already existing that would fulfill his personal goals.

So, he started thinking outside of the box to come up with a completely different solution. He took a walk around his neighborhood. What did every house have in common ? In a moment of inspiration, the answer to that question became the seed for his new idea. Every house had a fence around their yard and “for the most part they all were made of the same thing…wood”. Steven goes on to say – “I had an idea; what if the fence around my yard could be used to collect runoff rainwater!”

So he did an internet search for an existing fence product that could accomplish that goal but he found nothing like it at all. He started doing his theoretical calculations using his own yard’s fence which was 80 feet by 70 feet by 80 feet. At six feet high by seven feet long and making his “idea” fence slightly wider than his actual, 12 inches, he determined that each fence section could hold approximately 320 gallons.

Next Steven calculated how much rainwater run-off he could capture from a 2,000 sq ft roof surface area using a rainfall total of 1 inch times his conversion factor. He determined the rainwater run-off would equal around 1,200 gallons of water. The fence would capture and evenly spread that run-off water to each storage unit whenever it rained. Thus he realized that he could theoretically hold almost 13 thousand gallons of fresh pure rain water in such a fence structure.

Steven McDowell with his science project

Steven McDowell
with his science project

It is not surprising to learn that Steven won 1st Prize at his science fair with the mock-up of his working Water Fence idea. Steven explains how he realized that he was onto a truly important product idea – “My engineering teacher stated it was the best original idea he had seen in 14 years of science fairs and my science professor told me to patent the idea right away, which I did. Three of the judges approached me as well and asked me to install it in their homes immediately.”

Steven McDowell has gone on to win many other prizes with his Water Fence idea as well including the U.S Stockholm Junior Water Prize Regional Award and the American Meteorological Society’s “Certificate of Outstanding Achievement”. Even as he is very excited that his incredible Water Fence system made of HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) which is 100% recyclable (yes, Steven is saving trees that would have been wooden fences as well as conserving fresh water !!) will soon be available for purchase, he also encourages others to create sustainable options for water conservation. The importance of water can not be over-stated.

2006 Water Scarcity by Country Both Physical & Economic

2006 Water Scarcity by Country
Both Physical & Economic

Scientist’s predict that by 2050 half of the world’s population will be impacted by a scarcity of fresh water. Environmental refugees will be forced to migrate away from areas without the necessary resource of water. The current mismanagement and misuse of increasingly scarce water resources threatens to plunge most of the global population into extreme water poverty according to the world’s leading water scientists.

The draining of rivers and underground aquifers as well as pollution and erosion along with climate change pose a long-term threat to human welfare. The increasing use globally of water combined with the permanent degradation of quality in existing water supplies is on an “unsustainable trajectory” according to scientists who feel it is fast approaching a global tipping point.

Our world needs more kids like Steven McDowell and I believe they are out there dreaming up solutions to the challenges that face mankind as we move into a future we can only theorize about now. I remain optimistic that the vitally precious resource of imaginative kids will not only find solutions to a potential scarcity of fresh water but the other pressing issues to affect everyone’s quality of life.

~ Information Resources

Steven McDowell/Water Fence – http://www.waterfence.com/about-the-inventor

“Lack of fresh water could hit half the world’s population by 2050” posted by Steve Connor on May 24, 2013 at The Independent – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/lack-of-fresh-water-could-hit-half-the-worlds-population-by-2050-8631613.html

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Not Without A Fight

Governor Jerry Brown of California recently signed into law the ban of one-time use, disposable thin plastic grocery bags. But that is not the end of it. Yep, the bag people are going to fight it all the way into a public referendum.

The latest salvo I found rather humorous – “What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags ?” I can appreciate this statement because I did come of age at the tail end of the 1960s. Enough said. I don’t believe the analogy is appropriate however.

Marijuana law map - U.S.

Anyone with even the most modest awareness realizes that several states have decriminalized the possession, even the growing and the sale of marijuana even though all of that remains illegal at the federal level. Don Loepp of Plastics News references an article and some comments in the Missourian newspaper from Columbia, MO. It seems that not only was the Columbia City Council deciding on more relaxed laws and policy towards marijuana but they were also presented with a single-use plastic bag ban petition that would encourage the use of paper or reusable bags by a representative of the Sierra Club and a University of Missouri at Columbia biology professor.

One commentor to the Missourian newspaper article shares my perspective and my behavior – “re-usable tote bags …, which are typically neither paper nor plastic (they’re fabric) and are re-usable AND can be laundered. Some such bags carry no cost, because they have ads for grocery stores, wineries and such on them. This method appears to be very ecological when grocery shopping, because you aren’t sending ANY bags to the landfill”. My bags have either been purchased from Whole Foods and given to me by the St Louis Zoo or other non-profit organizations as a kind of perk. I also have an awesomely large and strong bag from LL Bean that I received as a monogrammed gift from my brother and sister-in-law one Christmas.

LL Bean Extra-Large  Boat and Tote Bag,  Open-Top

LL Bean Extra-Large
Boat and Tote Bag,
Open-Top

However, I will also admit to recycling literally thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of PE grocery bags, mostly from WalMart who maintains a fixture for returning them. So, I am aware that these bags are recyclable and I can understand as a business person that they are a very fast and efficient way for the store to check people out. I am also aware of at least one woman’s death when an overloaded plastic bag broke in the parking lot sending a heavy canned good onto her foot resulting in more than one hospitalization, an infection and ultimately her death.

All of this to say that I do personally support bag bans. In California, the law has funds built into it to help manufacturers re-tool their factories to produce a multi-use bag. Even though the new law goes into effect in July 2015 banning single use plastic bags in California that hasn’t stopped an effort to repeal the law. The plastic bag industry has contracted with the American Progressive Bag Alliance to gather enough signatures for a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to repeal Senate Bill 270.

The ban involves excluding petroleum and biobased plastic bags that are light in weight and tend to “take flight” when not disposed of properly, according to Narcisa Untal, senior planner for Integrated Waste Management with Santa Clara county in California.

Establishments such as grocery and convenience stores will place a 10 cent fee on the paper bags or plastic bags that are made up of a high percentage of post consumer content. Shoppers can also bring in their own bag and avoid the fee.

Untal said revenue generated by the fee goes back to the businesses to recoup costs for purchasing the bags, promotion and marketing, and to help with regulatory reporting. The legislation also requires an operator of a store to establish an at-store recycling program that provides to customers the opportunity to return clean plastic carryout bags to that store. Plastic bags that are exempt include those for fruit and vegetables as well as those from the dry cleaners.

This law seems very reasonable to me !! The American Progressive Bag Alliance contends that the new law threatens nearly 2,000 well-paying California jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry and also represents a government-sponsored, billion-dollar transfer of wealth from working families to grocers in the form of fees on paper and thicker plastic bags; no money collected from bag fees will be used for environmental programs or for any public purpose.

It probably isn’t hard to determine – I’m on the side of the Bag Ban being upheld by the public will for the good of all of us !!

Photo by Kate TerHaar

Photo by Kate TerHaar

~ Information Resources

“What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags?” posted by Don Loepp at PlasticsNews on 10/22/14 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20141022/BLOG01/141029974/whats-more-controversial-legalizing-pot-or-criminalizing-plastic

“Columbia City Council says no to marijuana, yes to new buildings” posted on 10/21/14 in The Missourian – http://www.columbiamissourian.com/a/180559/columbia-city-council-says-no-to-marijuana-yes-to-new-buildings/

“Group seeks signatures for referendum to repeal California’s plastic bag ban” posted by Melissa Murphy in the San Jose Mercury News – http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_26778357/group-seeks-signatures-referendum-repeal-californias-plastic-bag

LL Bean Boat and Tote Bag – http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/33381?page=boat-and-tote-bag-open-top

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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