Sargassum on the Move

Over the past several years, Sargassum has been spreading in record numbers due to a combination of factors. New tracking methods are being developed to forecast its movement around the world to coastal communities. Water pollution prevention products can help mitigate the effects to shorelines.

Sargassum is an aquatic weed that forms in the Sargasso Sea. Spanning over 2 million square miles of ocean, it is the only sea without a land boundary, and is defined by its ocean currents. Without land boundaries, the algae are able to freely float around the ocean and reproduce on the high seas. This allows a further and wider spread of the sargassum.

Sargassum often washes up on shores, imperiling navigation, impeding tourism, and affecting coastal commercial fishing.  It can also be unpleasant. As large quantities accumulate and decompose it naturally gives off hydrogen sulfide gas, an odor similar to rotten eggs. Prolonged exposure to this off-gassing can even cause nausea, headaches, asthma problems and eye irritation.

However, Sargassum also serves a vital role. It is important to aquatic life, including crabs and shrimp. They hide in and under the weeds from bigger predatory fish, and they forage it for food.  It’s environmentally illegal to remove the seaweed in some coastal areas because of this. If it’s illegal to remove it, what can be done?

Keeping Sargassum at Bay with Debris Boom

One solution is to deflect the Sargassum to keep it offshore. A floating aquatic plant and debris boom forms a barrier to stop the spread of the sargassum. “If it’s done properly, booms can be very useful. We need to provide some triage. We clearly have to have BMPs in place to prevent the sargassum from hitting the beach,” said Brian LaPointe, a marine biologist researcher and professor  at FAU Harbor Branch Institute in Fort Pierce. The seaweed bumps up against this barrier, collects and then moves away with the tide to other areas. 

The Orion Aquatic Weed Control Boom offered by GEI Works can contain, deflect, or exclude sargassum in a variety of conditions. The debris booms can be used seasonally, long term, or permanently depending on the circumstances. Long-term options are mildew and UV-resistant with stronger PVC, a thicker ballast chain, and are temperature tolerant. The permanent boom is rugged with a molded foam-filled shell, steel weights, urethane coating, and heavy duty aluminum sliding connectors. 

The Past, Present and Future of Sargassum Seaweed

Brain LaPointe, a marine biologist, holding sargassum off shore.
The largest quantities of floating sargassum occurred recently in 2015. Many theories point to human intervention for the dramatic increase in sargassum.  In an interview with GEI Works, Brian LaPointe said, “Climate change is playing a role in this.” Warmer waters allow the sargassum to grow at a faster rate. 

He added that the 2010 BP oil spill cleanup may have also played a role. Corexit, a compound used in water to stop the spread of oil, may have dramatically increased the nitrogen levels in the Gulf of Mexico. The nitrogen acts as a fertilizer for sargassum causing the seaweed to bloom at faster rates. Also, toxic waste coming from sewage systems gets dumped into the rivers and that further adds to the nitrogen levels. 

However, this is partly speculation, and we aren’t fully able to pinpoint the cause and solutions with certainty. “We need to do more research,” LaPointe added. While some is known, a lot is still unknown. He also said that time will tell. A shift in sargassum patterns and cycles can reveal some about the causes. For instance, if sargassum begins to steadily decrease, then the BP Oil spill might have been a bigger factor than we even realized. Ongoing research is a vital tool for understanding sargassum and its future role in our aquatic ecosystem.

Governments and non-profit agencies are finding ways to track the seaweed and predict its spread and movement. One example is Texas A&M’s Sargassum Early Advisory System (SEAS), which uses satellite imagery to predict the levels of sargassum in different locations. It forecasts for: the Gulf Coast, Mexico, the Grand Caymans, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and many other Caribbean islands. The SEAS system identifies the path and factors of the sargassum cycle, understanding the nature of sargassum to create a more accurate forecasting model. It can help communities be prepared before it shows up on their shores.

Research and planning are important for communities in the path of sargassum. Learning to mitigate the effects with solutions such as our Orion Aquatic Boom can keep tourism alive, waters navigable, and communities healthy. 

If you need help with sargassum, contact GEI Works, and we can develop a solution for you.

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Call us at +1-772-646-0597 or Request a Quote

Fighting Fires with Portable Water Tanks

Controlling a fire is of the utmost importance when firefighters first arrive on scene. Portable water tanks are an affordable and practical solution to making sure that water is readily available for fire fighting efforts.

Fighting Fires
Fire engines typically carry about 500 gallons of water in the truck to a fire.  This allows firefighters to start fighting the fire upon arrival.  Meanwhile, others can set up access to the local water supply. For most fires, firefighters will attach fire hoses to a nearby fire hydrant to draw from local water mains. Once the hoses are attached to the hydrant, water is pumped to the truck where it is pressurized to supply water for multiple fire hoses. In addition to allowing for quick attachment, modern fire hydrants access water underground and below the freeze line, ensuring the water doesn’t freeze in cold temperatures when needed.

Problems with Fire Hydrants
Unfortunately, fire hydrants aren’t always reliable as an emergency source of water.  For starters, fire hydrants accesses public water mains, the same source used by local residents for daily tasks, such as drinking, bathing, irrigation, and garden watering. With so many people drawing water from one source, the hydrant’s available water pressure can impacted. As a result, firefighters may have to find a hydrant much further away, wasting valuable time.

After arriving on the scene, there are several reasons why a fire hydrant may not produce water. It may not have been properly maintained, a water pipe may be broken, or a below-ground valve may be closed. The access to the hydrant may also be blocked by parked or first responder vehicles. Any of these situations will force the need to hook up to a different hydrant or an alternative water supply. 

Fire fighters may also find that there isn’t a fire hydrant located in the area. While many rural fire companies are equipped to haul a larger quantity of water to handle a fire, there are situations, such as wildfires, where urban fire companies are called in for support. When this occurs, the trucks may lack the necessary amount of water to extinguish or control the fire.

The Water Tender
As one solution, the fire engine may be accompanied by a water tender. Also known as a tanker, the water tender is a truck specifically designed to carry large amounts of water. With the ability to draw from a variety of sources, such as swimming pools, ponds, creeks, rivers, and lakes, these trucks can carry between 2,000 and 4,000 gallons of water.

The decision of when to deploy a water tender usually depends on the location of the fire. If the fire is located near a fire hydrant, a water tender may not be called unless the water supply begins to run low. For rural areas where a fire hydrant may not be available, the water tender may accompany the fire engine to the scene.

Portable Water Tanks
When a water tender is called into action, it will usually carry a portable water tank with it. These tanks have a capacity between 1,000 and 2,500 gallons. When the water tender discharges water into a portable tank, it can do so at a rate of about 1,000 gallons per minute, allowing for a quick switch from hydrant to tank or to quickly begin the fight if a hydrant is not available. Once the portable tank is filled with water, the process is similar to using a fire hydrant. The water is drawn into the fire engine where it is pressurized and sent through the fire hoses to extinguish the flames.

There are two types of portable tanks that are typically used for additional water availability.
  1. The most common type of portable tank for fire fighting usage is a frame tank, which is flexible and supported by an aluminum frame. All of these tanks are both easy and quick to set up, since time is critical in fire fighting.
  2. A self-supporting tank, such as an onion tank , has the ability to support the water inside the tank itself. A high-sided foldout tank is a bucket built specifically to be transported by a helicopter, often used for wildfires. 
With these tanks on hand, firefighters are assured they have enough water to put out the fire, saving property and lives.

GEI Works manufactures a wide selection of standard and custom portable water tanks. Known for quality and durability, we supply water tanks throughout the nation, and worldwide.  

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Wildfire Part Three...

The Impacts to Water from Wildfire

Wildfires cause devastating heat, fire, and burning destruction. After the wildfire’s ash settles and the rain pours, mudslides quickly erode the burned land, carrying a swath of debris and muddy sludge downhill. As runoff pours downhill, it enters into waterways such as streams and lakes, degrading the water quality. This impact to water is the focus of part three in our wildfire series.

We will discuss where our water supply comes from, how wildfire affects it, what contaminates it, and water pollution solutions for preventing and treating it. We will demonstrate how the Thomas Fire in southern California has affected the water supply in the county of Ventura, and how they are responding. Part one, which focuses on water storage preparation, is here. Part Two, which focuses on erosion control, is here.

The Importance of Clean Water
Clear and clean water is one of the most basic of human necessities. We need it to drink and replenish our bodies. We need it to irrigate crops to grow food. Aquatic life needs it to breathe, and to swim freely and see clearly. Clean water matters and enables us to function and flourish.

Where Does Our Water Supply Come From?
The majority of our water sources originate from forested land. Since forests provide so much of our water supply, it’s important to protect the forests’ watersheds .

According to the U.S. Geological Survey:

  • 50% of southwestern U.S. water supply comes from forests
  • 80% of freshwater in the U.S. begins in forest lands
  • 3,400 public drinking water systems are in national forest watersheds
Over 70 million acres have burned in the U.S. in the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Unhealthy forests can negatively affect our water quality, so there is reason to have concern, particularly after big wildfires. Generally, the water quality is better coming from a forest area than elsewhere, but after a mega wildfire, such as the Thomas Fire, that natural water supply can be severely affected and contaminated.

Contaminants in Runoff from Wildfire

Contaminants from post-wildfire runoff harm aquatic life in ecosystems, killing fish and plants. They also compromise water quality in water district municipalities, causing boil water alerts and a diversion of water sources which leads to unsafe low water pressure. The severity of the wildfire determines the degree to which the water quality degrades. It is based on several factors: post-wildfire precipitation, watershed topography and ecology of the local region.

Some of the common contaminants found in water runoff are elevated heavy metals (including iron, lead, nickel, and zinc), phosphorous and nitrates, pesticides, remnants from flame retardant, and chemicals. Ash and debris can also contaminate water bodies. The debris accumulates and travels in stormwater runoff to new locations. It can also be blown by the wind into water sources. The communities surrounding the Thomas Fire burn area understand this contamination all too well.

The Thomas Wildfire’s Effect on Water Quality

On January 9th, torrential rains fell in Ventura County, close to the southern California Thomas Fire burn area. The recent fires burned at such high temperatures through the upper watershed that it left behind a significant amount of ash and debris. The muddy runoff gathered debris as it rolled downhill and into the water ways. It overwhelmed the Matilija Dam, which flows into the main tributary of the Ventura River. This caused the Casitas Municipal Water District to stop pumping water from the river to prevent potential water quality impacts to their Lake Casitas reservoir.

While this prevented contamination, it also decreased the available water supply. The water pressure and supply had already been lower from power outages and from firefighters drawing water to fight the Thomas wildfire. This pollution only made the problem worse.

The Matilija Dam Webcam on January 9th.
             Severe turbidity entering the water supply.              

A normal day for the Matilija Dam

The Casitas Municipal Water District has plans to use water pollution prevention products to help. The products will clean up and filter the ash and debris, allowing the water district to begin pumping again from formerly polluted waterways, such as the Ventura River. According to Ron Merckling, a spokesperson for the water district, turbidity curtains will block sediment from flowing downriver and drop it to the surface. They are being placed on Santa Ana and Coyote Creeks and near an intake structure for Castaic Dam. Booms that are up to 20 feet wide will skim the surface and will block floating material such as wood and brush. 

Ventura County is just one of the many communities facing these challenges. Neighboring communities such as Montecito have also had water breaks, power outages, and disruptions to their water supply. Fixes for these water quality issues can take weeks or even months. Fortunately, there are many options for minimizing the effects to water quality.

Solutions for Improving or Maintaining Water Quality after a Wildfire 
There are several solutions to minimize your contribution to contaminated stormwater runoff. These products can be used either before or after a rain event. 

Erosion Control to Minimize Impact to Water Quality

The first solution is to prevent the sediment, debris and contaminants from entering the waterways. Soil erosion control products slow and filter the spread of the runoff before it enters water bodies.
  • Straw Wattles can help prevent toxic urban runoff from entering water streams. They are placed perpendicular to the flow of the water. 
  • Straw or coir mats replace the hardened, burned earth with an absorbent ground cover. 
  • Silt fences collect sediment and slow the speed of water.
Protecting Stormwater Drains and Other BMPs

Another solution is to use stormwater best management practices (BMPs), such as drain guards and ditch checks. These filter or stop the flow of water. If the stormwater drains are not maintained, it can lead to costly cleanup. Avoid expensive fixes by maintaining the drains.

Water Pollution Prevention: Turbidity Curtains and Debris Booms

Another effective preventative solution for water-side property owners, associations and municipalities is the use of turbidity barriers. Turbidity curtains and booms are used as a last resort, once the turbidity and sediment has already entered the waterways. They float in the water, containing and slowing the settle of the sediment as it passes through the water.

We have many variations of turbidity curtains and booms depending on needs and situation.
  • Turbidity Curtains slow the spread of sediment so it has time to settle to the bottom. Several types are available depending on water conditions.
  • Debris Booms collect floating branches and trash debris.
  • Staked Silt Barriers can be placed in shallow water (30” deep or less) to collect sediment and redirect the flow of water.

An Investment for the Future
The government is also finding ways to help. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced recently on January 17th that it’s investing almost $32 million this year to mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality, and restore healthy forest ecosystems. It will include supporting important watersheds, and reconnecting ecosystems that are vital reservoirs of biodiversity. The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the USDA.

The Future of Wildfire

Wildfires are a complicated and dangerous phenomenon. They can swiftly burn thousands of acres leaving behind charred earth and destroying communities, properties and lives. They can lead to massive mudslides and flooding, steep erosion of hillsides, and polluted runoff. They can affect the water supply and contaminate public and private water sources. 

Understanding the process of wildfires can help us in the future. Using preventative measures before, during, and after the wildfire can help control and mitigate its effects. Working together as a community, we can become more knowledgeable and better prepared for the future of wildfire.

If you have questions about any of the wildfire solutions we discussed, please contact us at 772-646-0597 or visit us at GEI Works.