Thursday, August 04, 2005

Rural Buyer Beware: Examine Your Private Well and Wastewater System

Many people dream of one day owning a place in the country. However this could turn into a nightmare if you know little or nothing about the private well and wastewater system in your purchase. Is the water adequate or of poor quality? How will you dispose of your wastewater safely? Unlike city dwellers, rural homeowners are usually responsible for their water and wastewater systems.

Prospective buyers must become aware about the terrain, the proximity of the house to other structures, and the condition of the existing well and septic system. Building foundations may become unstable from high ground water levels or from excess surface runoff. Therefore, it makes good sense to investigate all aspects of the property. Many rural counties may not have such building codes, so an existing dwelling may not meet standards or may never have been inspected during its construction.

I have heard a few horror stories from homeowners about their purchase of a country home. After moving to their new home, they find that their well and/or wastewater system needs to be replaced, costing them tens of thousands of dollars. One friend of mine bought a house where a sinkhole later appeared. After several years of problems, he was lucky to sell the property at a loss of many thousands of dollars. There have even been instances where the house was subdivided from a larger tract, and the well and wastewater system were not included.

A trend is emerging in today's rural real estate market. Buyers are beginning to assess environmental conditions, including both private drinking water and their wastewater systems as well as such problems as sinkholes or abandoned wells, before investing in property.

In response to consumers' concerns, numerous states are beginning to require various types of inspections for property transactions. Failure of a seller to disclose known problems can be grounds for legal action by the buyer. Both seller and realtor can become liable if they do not fully mention such problems. With that thought in mind, all statements and evaluations must be committed to paper, signed, and kept for future reference.

If you are a buyer, you must carefully examine what you are purchasing. An assessment protects your investment so that when you sell your property you have no rude surprises. In years to come such property transfer assessments will likely be the rule rather than the exception. It is critical you make an accurate evaluation before you buy.

Most people buying a house with private water supply and wastewater system have no clue about what to expect. This applies particularly to those who have always lived with municipal water and sewer services. Even though an assessment may have taken place and been completed, in the flurry of closing sometimes the report is not presented until the last minute, and buyers do not fully understand the ramifications of the report. If the buyer has a savvy real estate agent, familiar with rural properties, the agent should read the report and advise his client before closing. Without such counsel, the new owner may have to pay a lot of money for a new well or a septic system, or to properly plug an old well.

Researching the status of the property's water and wastewater system is in your best interest. Avoidance of liability by full disclosure, protection of property value and identifying environmental impacts are all reasons to inspect your systems. In the inspection process, homeowner education becomes essential so you understand not only what kinds of systems are in place, yet how they operate and must be maintain.

The need for inspections prompted by legal action as forced numerous states to adopt either training program for inspectors, specific certification and third party review. Plumbers, home inspectors, onsite designers and/or installers, engineers, and septic system pumpers are these third party inspectors. Because of liability concerns, twenty states provide inspectors working with local, state environmental and health agencies. However, there is no national uniform or consistent inspection process.

These are just a few examples of what some states are doing regarding inspections of water and wastewater systems during the transfer of property.

Caveat Emptor

As more and more people purchase rural property, the need to evaluate both the water supply and wastewater systems becomes more important. This is especially true as people invest their savings in property instead of the stock market.

More and more consumers are demanding increased accountability of what is being bought. Banks and lending institutions are becoming proactive in requiring property examination of private water and wastewater systems since it is in their best interest. If you, as a buyer, wish some comfort level with your purchase, investigate some sort of environmental property assessment or escrow account options. While they are no standards procedures for inspection of rural homes, more uniform approaches are warranted to identify the environmental and public health aspects of such property transfer. This may result as more consumers demand such environmental clarification.

"Caveat emptor" – you may be buying some future liabilities. Protect your assets when you purchase rural property by finding out exactly what you're paying for.

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Why Facilitate?

An emerging profession called facilitation is improving how groups run. This process helps organizations and individuals work better together. Facilitation builds a drawbridge: where once a wall blocked success,it can now be lowered as a bridge linking people across the troubled waters of misdirection.

How we relate in groups, how we relate in our working life, and how we relate in all other aspects of our life is fundamental. Facilitation renders group relations dynamic, not only do people improve their interpersonal communication skills, they become engaged to support in a common group process. Facilitators help direct groups toward intended outcomes by challenging them through a range of synergistic exercises. They foster collaborative learning and problem-solving methods. Facilitators cultivate a healthier thinking process and use many creative techniques to enhance meetings and organizational development. These group directors tap the power of team building and group wisdom.

Facilitation has numerous applications─ from conflict resolution to strategic planning. Facilitation is popular in other areas including; total quality improvement; organization development; and creative problem solving exercises. Typically, a facilitator helps a group meet and operate or even come to some common resolutions. There are numerous factors that contribute to successful facilitation: securing a collaborative client relation; planning and designing the group process; creating and sustaining the participatory process; guiding the group to useful outcomes; building and applying professional knowledge; and developing models in positive interactions.

Development of this collaborative process takes place when a client meets with a facilitator to develop consensus on tasks, deliverables, roles and responsibilities. By clarifying mutual commitments, the beginning of a co-facilitated agreement can be designed and customized to meet the client needs. This pre-planning and analysis of the organizational meeting determines possible outcomes and helps in establishing a clear context for a holding a facilitated meeting. An action plan is also drawn up by the facilitator with the client to best manage time, space and resources available.

The involvement of everyone is essential to good facilitation. A facilitator applies new processes to improve meeting productivity through open participation that encourages active listening. A facilitator brings everyone into one common dialogue. Asking the group’s buy-in to a basic set of group rules develops consensus right from the beginning. Some facilitators find that a “light and lively” approach—having fun in a constructive atmosphere -- helps in getting people to begin feel safe in the group. Developing a relaxed meeting ambiance is essential to discouraging defensiveness and fostering creativity and a sense of exploration. By developing rapport with participants, a facilitator ensures inclusiveness and honors diversity. Positive feedback is given to the shared experience of all participants. Facilitators stimulate participants to identify, participate, awaken, or even take ownership in what comes up. Sustaining stakeholders’ involvement is essential for the group to work and ultimately take theory into practice. Good facilitators quickly ground concepts with active and practical exercises that demonstrate that experience is the best teacher.

Organizations function effectively when they are skillfully directed. Facilitators act as guides to educate groups in more effective avenues of social interaction. For example, facilitators will transform group conflict by identifying underlying assumptions and acknowledging any emerging conflict. By managing group disruptive behavior, facilitators may transform this into a learning opportunity to benefit the group. Such guidance creates heightened sensitivity to resolving other matters in addition to building greater group trust.

Facilitators know how professional knowledge builds group skills. With today’s knowledge explosion, wisely developing and identifying different forms of group dynamics allows the members of the group to more effectively work together. Understanding different problem-solving and decision-making models is helpful. Nevertheless, knowing the consequences of misusing group methods is an invaluable lesson that cannot be ignored.

A facilitator’s success comes from creating enjoyable learning environments. An ideal facilitated group is when people feel comfortable, and safe. They now are ready to explore collaborative decision making, address conflicts and identify problems. The atmosphere itself makes individuals feel empowered. Facilitation is about improving the work place. Hopefully a good facilitator can create the beginnings of an attitude where work is performed more by inspiration than desperation. Facilitators try to lead meetings as educational growth experiences. As people become more aware, organizations can become self actualized. Facilitation is about aligning individuals with organizations to become more functional.

There are many factors that contribute to a dynamic collaborate meeting of people. First, it is important to understand the context surrounding the meeting in order to establish a well thought-out agenda. Second, it is important to identify and acknowledge the various personalities and agendas of the participants. Even if participants are required to attend such a session, there are many good facilitators who can transform an atmosphere from “what is in it for me?” to a “we can all benefit” environment. Finally, a seasoned facilitator directs many groups that are log- jammed towards a free flow of ideas, information and a new sense of interpersonal freedom. Remaining as neutral as possible, these professionals can nurture meaningful group interaction in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

A fascinating facet of this process is how the facilitator knows when to stands back throughout this process. Watching such an individual start a group meeting and then slowly disengage so that the wisdom of the group takes over is a powerful experience. Sensitivity, timing and an instinct to best resolve conflicts are the outstanding attributes of great facilitators. Savvy facilitators act as meeting wizards—understanding not just techniques but also the dynamics of group development-- to allow the group to lead themselves. Since each group has differing personalities, those more skillful facilitators understand how to best perform a balancing act by minimizing the difficulties and maximizing the opportunities that arise. Finally, expert facilitators know how to draw healthy boundaries while encouraging trust in the experience of others.

Simply put, a facilitator coaches a group in a direction and knows how to maximize a group flow by directing it forward on its merits. Facilitation is both a process and an experience. This process sharpens people’s relationship skills. How we individually and collectively interact has a direct bearing on how well a group may functions or not. Facilitators make effective projects or workshops happen.

Gifted facilitators know how to listen to the pulse of a group. They know the power of involving each member into a greater whole in the course of a meeting. Facilitators guide groups toward useful outcomes while building professional knowledge. This process initiates inquiry into models of positive professional attitudes further stimulating organizational growth. If we wish to improve in our jobs, we all need to sharpen our group skills. Facilitation guides people into a more holistic process where walls drop and bridges unfold.

Harmful Household Chemicals

Every American must beware of harmful chemical products we may use. Mixing certain cleaners (i.e. bleach and ammonia) together can result in a killer gas by-product. Each year, we generate 1.6 million tons of hazardous household waste including, paints, cleaners, oils, batteries,and pesticides that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable and reactive ingredients. There is little information on how this impacts our health. Improper disposal of these toxins threatens public health and our environment. Especially if you live in a karst area where sinkholes, caves, caverns, and other holes act as direct conduits for contaminants to enter our wells and spring water when these products are disposed of on the ground or in other ways.

Increased consumer awareness on the safe use and disposal will lessen these toxic products from spoiling our land. We all profit from preventing this pollution to our water, land and air. For example the improper disposal of one gallon of used oil can impact 50 peoples water supply for one year. Do-it-yourselfers who change their own oil in Virginia throw out every four years─one Exxon Valdez. Hazardous contaminants may enter surface water, ground water, and soil from leaking containers, sewers, drains, spills, and other sources. Pouring hazardous liquids down drains or into plumbing systems also can damage both septic systems and wastewater treatment plants.

Recent studies document that toxic chemicals pose an elevated cancer risk to two-thirds of Americans. Roughly 200 million people are exposed to 32 toxic chemicals where the EPA documents concerns regarding these toxins. We may be involved in a different type of war on terrorism where we as consumers may endanger ourselves. Let’s exercise both prudence and wise purchasing so that we do not poison our own drinking water. We as consumers of harmful products must be active on many fronts to safeguard our family and community’s health. Let’s reduce the amount of harmful stuff we buy, recycle used oil and paints and safely disposed of our toxins from becoming tomorrow’s health problems.

Let’s Get the Facts Straight Regarding Bottle Water vs. Tap Water?*

The fastest growing segment in the worldwide beverage industry is bottled water. This universal solvent will exceed sales of milk and coffee becoming the second most consumed beverage next to soft drinks by 2004. However, this product may contain impurities and may not live up to many of the brand labels pristine sounding names.

Bottled water is big business. In 2002 worldwide sales of bottled water were $35 billion dollars. In 2002 the United States sold 7.7 billion dollars worth of bottled water showing an increase in sales of 11 percent from 2001.

While the people think this water is better than tap water this is not the case. While the names on the bottles may sound wonderful they can be misleading. According to Coop America 40 percent of bottled water comes from the tap. Also, this water may or may not be further purified depending upon the independent bottler. In 1997, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization stated that bottled water does not have greater nutritional value than tap water.

Ironically, municipal water system do a much more extensive job in testing water for contaminants mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency or state regulatory agencies. However, bottle water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and has very relaxed regulations if any. Such industry standards, monitoring and even enforcement for bottled water is largely self-regulated. This radically differs with controls placed on tap water requirements. For example if bottled water is sold within the same state it is produced then FDA does not regulate it. Most bottled water brand are sold in a single state operation and the majority states have very modest if any enforcement activity. Also testing of bottle water is significantly less than tap water. There are exceptions to this rule since states like California, New York and Texas have mandatory programs for disinfection standards to reduce possible contaminants. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment tested 80 bottled water samples from manufacturers and stores. They found that all 80 samples had detectable levels of chlorine, fluoride and sodium. 78 contained some nitrates which in large concentrations can cause blue baby syndrome. In another type of test done by a private firm, Idaho Pure Health Solutions, found that certain bacteria will grow in bottled waters after several weeks.

Another concern is that bottled water generates a lot of plastic waste. Each year 1.5 million tons of plastic are used in bottled water according to the World Wildlife Fund. It is estimated only ten percent of these plastic bottles are recycled in the US. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that American water bottles yearly consume 1.5 million barrels of oil, or enough to generate electricity to a quarter million homes for a year. Worldwide some 22 million tons of bottled water is transported from country to country impacting our air.

Public drinking water supply advocates wish to address the challenges confronted by existing aged tap water infrastructure. United States EPA has accounted that 527 small water systems exist today serving 25 to 3,300 people. It estimates that the price tag to maintain these systems will cost $138 billion by 2014.

Some environmental advocates say the government must focus their limited resources on protecting groundwater and watersheds. However, most consumers are unaware about the quality of the expensive bottled water they purchased compared to the cost and quality of their tap water.

* Information from this paper came from “Why Bottle Water?”, Brian Howard, E Magazine, September/October 2003 pg 27-39

You and Your Water


When the well runs dry, we know the worth of water- Ben Franklin

The most fundamental thing in life is water. Increasingly, we are appreciating how we depend on H20. Just think─ three fourths of our brain consists of this essential compound. Ironically only 1% of the world’s water is available to meet our constantly growing human needs. We drink less than 1% of our treated water while we use 99% in other ways. Most household water goes to lawns, showers, toilets, etc. In our life time, we will see a radical shift in how we must better manage this universal solvent. The sales of bottled drinking water are the beginning signs.

In many parts of the world clean water is a luxury. Our public water systems produce more than 180 gallons per day per person. An average person can survive months without food, but only days without water. We flush an average of 27 gallons per person per day of drinking water down our toilets, 17 gallons per day through our laundry and 14 gallons per day in our showers. Another tremendous use is of this valuable drinking source is watering our lawns. How can we better use, not abuse, this universal solvent? Are the demands for clean water escalating and the supply for potable water declining?

One way to understand the value of water is to observe it in our own bodies. One-half to two-thirds of the human body contains water. An average adult contains roughly 40 quarts of water and loses several quarts of water per day through normal elimination, sweating and breathing. Water helps rid the body of wastes, metabolize stored fats, and maintains muscle tone. Muscle tissue contains mostly water while fat tissue contain virtually none. Also, water contains no calories or sugar. We must begin to emulate how our bodies and the earth cycle water if we wish to maintain good health and prosperity.

As in nature, we must recycle various forms of waste back into new forms of life. One thing’s waste is another being’s food. We must protect our hydrologic balance. By observing how the intricate web of life works we can discover how to better nurture this vital, self-sustaining process and waste less water. We must venture not to just tune our muscles, but also strengthen our hearts and minds into new ways that sustain and conserve our resources for future generations. Like our ancestors, we must explore how we can best work with, not struggle against, our environment. The water cycle is vital to survival. This essential natural resource is the fluid through whence all things depends on. Increased awareness to stimulate water conservation and quality is critical to preserving our quality of life. Let’s become well aware that without clean water, our quality of life will not continue.

The Do-it- yourself Oil Changer in the US

Used oil disposal for the American do-it-yourself oil changer (DIYer) can become a serious problem depending how it is managed. As with other pollutants, our greatest challenge is controlling non point sources to restore our water in the US. Simply reflect on the fact that one oil change contains four quarts which, when improperly disposed of, can ruin the taste of a million gallons or drinking water, the supply of 50 people for one year . Used oil can contain toxic substances such as benzene, lead zinc and cadmium that may impact public health and the environment.

Only 57 percent of this used oil is accounted for by recycling. Roughly 45 million people who change their own oil, the so called do-it-yourselfers (DIYers),are a major source of improper disposal of used oil. It is estimated between 193 to 400 million gallons of used oil are released into the environment each year in this manner.

The DIYer is an individual who removes used oil from a motor vehicle, utility engine orfarm equipment that he or she owns and operates—from blue collar workers to affluent car buffs—who change oil from their own vehicles. Often, however, other types of small quantity generators are not included in this category, making a precise accounting of this activity difficult. DIYers are, however, the major source of improper disposal of used oil (i.e., pouring or throwing out used oil). Roughly one gallon of used oil is yearly disposed for every person living in the United States.

In 1961, service stations accounted for about 70% of all sales of lubricating oil for passenger cars. In the late 1980s, retail outlets commanded this market, with DIYers purchasing roughly 60% of all lubricating oil sold. Many retailers sell oil at a loss to draw customers into their stores to purchase other merchandise. Today, the number of DIYers is decreasing because of the convenience, low cost, and abundance of the quick lube shops. Oil experts estimate that roughly 47% of consumers change their oil, while 53% have it done for them. However, proper disposal of DIY used oil is still a concern. Although DIYers may be decreasing, they still play a significant part in used oil impacting the environment since estimates range from two-thirds to three-fourths of their used oil is not collected for recycling

Also reducing the generation of used oil can be aggressively promoted for resource conservation reasons. Every American must become aware that they may not have to change their oil every 3000 miles, and newer cars mean that people can change their oil a few thousand miles more up to 7500 miles per oil change. This may result in cutting the used oil volume by half to one-third of today’s generation. However, extended oil change intervals depend both upon on specific driving habits and individual vehicle warranty provisions. Another conservation effort would be if motorists start using synthetic oils again, thus increasing the life span of their oil and decreasing the number of oil changes.

An additional way to minimize used oil waste is to purchase reusable filers. In 1998 there were 450 million light-duty oil filters sold in the United States, while 778 million light-duty filters were purchased in 2002. An average used light-duty oil filter contains on the average six to eight ounces of oil. One innovative approach would be to promote reusable oil filters that are compatible with engines that use the one-piece sealed spin-on filter. No modifications or tools are required to install these filters on any engine that uses a spin-on filter, and they allow for the recovery of all used motor oil. The assembly housing is reused; only the paper element is replaced, and this can be easily recycled or burned for energy. Widespread adoption of these reusable filter systems would virtually eliminate used oil being trapped in filters and prevent steel filters entering landfills. If produced in volume, this filter could be manufactured for under a dollar . At the point of final sale, the filter would cost somewhat less than the current spin-on filter. Reusable filters were popular up to the early 1960s and are still widely used in the racing industry.

Nationally, an environmental information network, Earth 911 helps promote used motor oil recycling. This alliance will educate consumers about the importance of used motor oil recycling, providing localized information and resources such as recycling and as well as the proper way to do it.

The DIYers are a large source of used oil disposal. The extent of this pollution to our streams and rivers is currently unknown. Used oil does not only originate from the crankcase drainings of cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, lawn mowers, boats, and planes, but from all types of machinery and industrial applications as well which may make contamination more likely. Re-refining represents the best attempt to return used oil to its original state.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

American Resource Management

American Resource Management: Assets or Liabilities?
By Rob Arner

Each year Americans use, discard and recycle more than 11 billion tons of waste, not including nuclear and hazardous waste. Americans generate 1.6 million tons of hazardous household waste (HHW) including, paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable and reactive ingredients. Improved feedback in what we discard can stimulate a greater understanding on how we can either minimize and/or recover this waste. Americans are awaking to both future resource shortages and what we consume. How we best manage and sustain today’s resources has global security implications.

There are many types of waste generated in the US. Industrial facilities generate 7.6 billion tons of non-hazardous industrial waste each year, much which is water. This waste includes domestic sewage and wastewater treatment biosolids, demolition and construction wastes, agricultural and mining residues, combustion ash, and industrial process wastes.

Our increased living standard results in not just resource consumption but a serious question if sufficient resources can absorb the waste from our energy and material intensive lifestyles. Better tracking of the entire material cycle can provide us with a more holistic approach to management our limited resources. Some of the key issues facing us are;

• How to slow global warming from the 6 to 8 billion tons of carbon that humans yearly contribute to the atmosphere. We are 5% of the world’s population producing 22% of the climate altering CO2 added to the atmosphere. Major ecological, economic and social consequences may result in such things as increased storms, flooding, droughts and decreased food production.

• How to conserve water. Americans use three times more water each day than Europeans or 1,300 gallons each person here in the U.S. Each day we use 137 billion gallons of water to irrigate in the US. Power plants that use coal, oil, natural gas and uranium consume 131 billion gallons of water each day. Industry demands another 25 billion gallons a days. Overall the US withdraws 339 billion gallons of ground and surface water each day. According to the U.S. National Research Council, initial clean-up of contaminated groundwater at 300,000 sites in the United States could cost up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

• How to safely dispose of our radioactive waste. Each year in the United States 2,000 tons of spent fuel is generated by the nation’s 103 operating nuclear power plants that provide 20 percent of America’s electricity. Roughly 40,000 tons of waste has been generated by America’s commercial nuclear plants.

• How to manage the 3 billion tons oil and gas wastes generated yearly by oil and gas exploration and production. Each year America consumes more than 240 billion gallons of oil. Also, we produce 72% of the world’s hazardous waste, while yearly using 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides.

• How to promote green building. Buildings account for one of sixth of the world’s freshwater withdrawal, one-quarter of its wood harvest, and two-fifths of its materials and energy flow.

• Proper recycling of biosolids can reduce risks to our health and environment. Approximately eight million dry metric tons of biosolids are produced annually--that's about 70 pounds per person per year. Another 500 million tons of manure is produced yearly by agricultural animals.

• Roughly one-half of our solid waste is organic. Besides paper, yard and vegetative waste over 96 billion pounds of food a year or one quarter of America’s food that is lost. Compost both generates new soil and controls erosion. 2 billion tons of topsoil is lost through erosion every year.

Without comprehensive environmental management and integrated planning of the entire materials/by-products cycle we will be ineffective in transforming our liabilities into assets. Such new ventures can chart a course of action and conservation.