Monday, June 22, 2015

The Fiction of ASR (aquifer storage and recovery) ... by gimleteye

Sydney Bacchus is the most determined scientist of our generation, where it comes to exposing the deliberate false assumptions routinely used by water management in Florida; namely, through the use of industrial wells to mask instead of solve widespread pollution by large industries and cities.

She is frequently called to testify in state and federal courts on behalf of civic and environmental groups fighting to protect their springs, rivers and communities from industrial developments like phosphate mines, sewerage systems, and "de-watering" of wetlands, and as a result of her steadfast advocacy for sound science, she has endured decades of outright harassment by special interests.

A paper she co-authored on ASR, recently published in an esteemed academic journal, ought to garner attention; especially since the topic of the paper -- aquifer storage and recovery -- is once more being touted by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the context of remedying south Florida's highly stressed water supply.

The idea of ASR is to provide "elasticity" to the water supply by using deep underground cavities as parking lots for excess rainwater. It sounds like an easy plan for solving drought problems: just take all that rainfall that is flushed to tide, one way or another, and store it in the earth for later retrieval by pumps and water infrastructure.

But it is not so simple. The caverns and cavities underground, throughout much of Florida, make "storage" an illusion and using well-established well drilling technologies for a dubious public purpose makes money -- and a lot of money -- for engineering and consulting companies who turn out, through no coincidence, to also fund political campaigns.

ASR, as Miami-Dade County, can work but its long term operating costs are subject to change, based on the declining productivity of the wells, and significant questions persist about the chemistry of water and applicability for return to the environment or peoples' drinking water taps, after retrieval. (Although ASR and its companion technology, underground injection control wells used for disposing billions of gallons per day of municipal wastewater in Florida, had been around a long time, it was during the Jeb Bush terms that the applications really took flight in Florida; largely corresponding to the simple idea that water management engineering contracts would be very large and open spigots for campaign cash.)

The conclusions of the Bacchus paper also have profound implications for hydraulic fracking in the state of Florida. Bacchus documents the fragile underpinnings of Florida's limestone geology.

Reading between the lines does not require imagination:
Initial attempts by the senior author to conduct an independent scientific review of ASR and other aquifer injections and the associated adverse environmental impacts of those injections in Florida were delayed for more than five years because much of the information regarding aquifer injections in Florida is unpublished or contained in grey literature and extremely difficult to obtain. Even when such unpublished literature was part of the public record of agencies that are permitting, funding, evaluating and/or engaged in aquifer injections in Florida, many of the documents that were requested to conduct a thorough review of aquifer injections could not be obtained after months or years following the initial requests. Repeated attempts to obtain copies of selected ASR and other aquifer injection permits and related documents often resulted in no response from the agencies, even when formal records requests were made for public documents. Those efforts also were hindered by the fact that regulatory agencies provided only limited data related to ASR wells, such as the maps provided by FDEP in Figure 1. Additionally, there was no comprehensive map, database or list of all ASR locations in conjunction with a comprehensive depiction of all other aquifer injections in Florida under the authority of federal, state or county agencies (Joan Harrigan-Farrelly, USEPA; Richard Deuerling, FDEP; and Mark Hooks, Florida Department of Health (DOH), pers. comm.).

How big is this issue? Look at the following graphic and make your own observation:

Paper Claims ASR Science is Incomplete and Incorrect
Published Saturday, June 20, 2015 12:10 am
by John Rehill

Bradenton Times
News Section: Opinion
Paper Claims ASR Science is Incomplete and Incorrect
Published Saturday, June 20, 2015 12:10 am
by John Rehill

Florida officials continue to sell taxpayers on their proposal to construct aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells, but a new peer-reviewed study published in The Journal of Geography and Geology calls the entire science into question and suggests that ASR wells might be little more than big, expensive holes in the ground.

As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This seems to be the case supporting the science—or lack thereof—surrounding ASR wells, which have become increasingly popular throughout the freshwater-challenged state of Florida as a method to purportedly store water for future use. Hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars have already been spent, and there are billions more in the pipeline to construct a plethora of ASRs throughout southern Florida and other regions of the state. The preposterous cost of constructing hundreds of ASRs is real, but much of the hype behind them seems to be fiction.

“No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.” Sigmund Freud

In fact, our water supply's biggest threat could actually come from the construction and use of those multi-million dollar ASR wells, according to Fractures as Preferential Flowpaths for Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Injections and Withdrawals, a research paper by three University of Georgia scientists and a NASA Fellow. Consider this excerpt:

A previous analysis of ASR by the ACOE, with its consultants (Mirecki et al., 2013), was flawed because that study: (1) failed to consider preferential flow through fractures or other karst conduits that it and others had identified; (2) did not design the monitoring locations to detect preferential flow (e.g., fracture flow) or subsurface discharges to and withdrawals from the Kissimmee River and other surface waters, including coastal waters; (3) did not include the chloride concentrations of “recovered” water from the cycle tests in that study; (4) did not include scientific analyses of the ambient receiving ground water, injected water or “recovered” water (e.g., isotopic analysis, trilinear chemical analysis or tracer analysis); (5) implied that it is possible to “recover” more water than was injected, instead of acknowledging the ASR well simply is another water supply well; and (6) suggested that “attenuation” of arsenic mobilized by aquifer-injections occurred, without addressing the probability that the arsenic-contaminated water flowed rapidly away from the site of the ASR well and monitoring wells.

Consequently, that study provides no scientific support for the stated overall objective of CERP ASR pilot system operations to evaluate ASR feasibility at representative locations in south Florida, including: “(1) percent recovery of recharged surface water; (2) regulatory compliance with all state and Federal water-quality criteria; and (3) cost effective subsurface storage.”

The available evidence, including comparisons of chloride concentrations for injected and “recovered” water, confirm that ASR has not fulfilled ASR proponents’ claims as a means of “storing” or “recovering” water injected into the aquifer, a “new water supply” and groundwater “recharge” alternative, or a potential solution to the eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

The initial federal-agency summary of ASR data from southern Florida (Reese, 2002) primarily was based on data collected from private industry sources that benefit financially from constructing, monitoring and maintaining ASR wells or municipal water “alternatives” required after sources of municipal water are jeopardized by “ASR” injections and withdrawals.

Is this the story, in a nutshell? Are ASR wells only a water supply well, sometimes thousands of feet deep, susceptible to any infraction a bored hole may encounter? Could the public be convinced that ASRs are some kind of underground water tower just because they were told so? Billions in public dollars are being spent on the idea that ASRs can provide improved water quality in some futuristic underground water bank, earmarked for later use, despite an absence of proof that it's actually possible to effectively do so.

“Fog is more dangerous than dark, as it gives the illusion of seeing.” Aleksandra Ninkovic

More from the report:
There were multiple objectives of our scientific review and analysis. The first objective was to evaluate published literature and agency documents related to “storage” and “recovery” of water injected into ASR wells. The second objective was to evaluate published literature and agency documents related to factors, such as fractures, that could result in preferential flow of ASR injections and withdrawals. The final objective was to consider various adverse environmental impacts that can be associated with these types of aquifer injections and implications of these adverse impacts for the Everglades restoration effort. The provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), rather than the SDWA, were the focus of our review and analysis. Our evaluation of the basin includes analyses of the proximity of ASR wells and other injection and withdrawal wells to geo-referenced and transformed lineaments representing fractures from three independent sources (ACOE, 2004c; FDOT, 1973; Vernon, 1951) as an explanation for the low actual “recovery” from ASR cycle tests and adverse environmental impacts.

5.1 Reported vs. Actual “Recovery” from ASR Wells
Chloride is a component of the water in the aquifer zone where the ASR fluids are injected and is used to determine if water is brackish, saline or hypersaline. Therefore, chloride concentrations provide a readily available means of determining whether the nonsaline ASR fluids that are injected into an aquifer zone remain in an intact “bubble,” as claimed in unpublished and published documents by agencies (e.g., Reese, 2002; 2004; Reese & Alvarez-Zarikian, 2007) and other proponents of ASR (e.g., Brown, 2005; and the powerpoint presentation by R. David G. Pyne, ASR Systems LLC at the American GroundWater Trust IV convention in Tampa, Florida, April 15-16, 2004), or whether the injected fluids co-mingle with and/or displace the aquifer water. In cycle tests where the chloride concentrations were not recorded, actual “recovery” cannot be determined. For example, in the cycle tests where CH2M Hill did not provide the chloride concentration of the canal water that was injected during the ASR cycle test, the actual “recovery” of the cycle test that CH2M Hill conducted could not be determined. That type of omission in the available ASR data reflects the lack of basic scientific constraints at both the regulatory level and consultant/private industry level regarding ASR.

A sizable amount of the 39 page-report (click here for pdf) pivots on the absence of fractures incorporated into groundwater modeling data for existing and proposed ASR sites, and in the ASR studies used to support ASR programs. Indeed, it seems quite odd that such potentially game-changing critical data didn't even seem to be on the radar of proponents.

-- ASR Analysis and Groundwater Modeling
Previous analysis of ASR by the ACOE, with its consultants (Mirecki, Bennett & Lopez-Balaez, 2013), was scientifically flawed because it failed to consider preferential flow through fractures and did not even acknowledge the presence of fractures associated with that ASR site. This deficiency occurred despite the fact that two documents (ACOE, 2004c; 2014) produced by the agency of the senior author in that evaluation (Mirecki et al., 2013) identified multiple data sets of lineaments representing fractures in southern Florida, including the vicinity of the Kissimmee River. The influence of heterogeneous flow in the Floridan aquifer system influences ASR injections and withdrawals (Hutchings, Vacher, & Budd, 2004).

The ASR facilities that were reviewed by USGS primarily are considered as a supplemental water supply for municipalities that have exhausted existing water resources and cannot supply potable water to their current population or have no water resources to supply potable water for future development.

The USGS (Reese, 2002) relied on data collected and provided by the utility department staff and their consultants for the majority of the cycle tests and site information included in that inventory. Those data were not collected as part of a scientifically designed and executed study. Those inadequacies limited the inferences that could be drawn from the results. Another important factor to consider is the conflict of interest associated with the data collection effort, because both the utility departments and the engineering firms that produced the data evaluated in the USGS report were positioned for considerable financial gain from government grants, contracts and other forms of funding to implement and expand ASR if results of the tests appeared favorable. Despite the inadequacies of the described ASR tests, the results of those cycle tests and related peer-reviewed scientific published literature are sufficient to conclude that ASR pilot studies are not necessary to determine that ASR injections and withdrawals in southern Florida constitute unaddressed environmental threats to the Everglades and associated surface water ecosystems.
The questions keep coming, and we are left with little in the way of answers explaining just how we will know the surface water injected into the ASR well is actually the water we extract at a later date; and what the true cost to the public would be.

ASR wells are a primary component to the state's Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). CERP is a $750 million pilot project based on the ACOE's Final Technical Data Report. The original estimated number of wells were 333, as reported in my previous article, ASR Are Full Of Empty Promises. However, the science needed to qualify the CERP program never appeared, because it was never there.

(excerpts from: "Lessons Learned from Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Systems in the U.S.")

This paper focuses on the causes of failures associated with ASR projects and provides solutions to avoid some of the common pitfalls. While the wells at over 50 sites were technically abandoned, only one (Broward County) was reported as permanently plugged and abandoned…

Among the wells that are inactive, 10 wells were affected by water quality issues. Five of those are related to arsenic in Florida, and four are associated with arsenic, manganese, iron or a combination of metals…

The arsenic releases are all from limestone aquifers, and are associated with a range of injected water quality. Nevertheless, change in the geochemistry induced by injected water may lead to the release of arsenic from the geologic formations.

A total of 6 wells in Florida are all releasing arsenic from limestone formations. One of these wells (i.e., Bradenton), is actively looking at deploying ion exchange as a means to deal with arsenic in the recovered water. Recently, U.S. EPA and the state of Florida have entered into a memorandum of understanding on permitting issues associated with arsenic in re- covered water… Arsenic mobilization in limestone was reported in 11 of the Florida wells.

But this 'memorandum of understanding' does not eliminate the additional cost to taxpayers to remove the arsenic from our portable or our surface waters.

The Peace River water treatment plant and ASR well cluster in DeSoto County, with reported fractures

The JGG ASR paper revealed the largest cluster of ASR wells in the U.S. sits just miles east of the Sarasota County line in western Desoto County. A total of 21 ASR wells have been built at the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority (PRMRWSA) over the last 20 years.

These wells are also located in the vicinity to the RV Griffin Reserve, which claims to have the capacity to hold 6 billion gallons of water in reserve. The ACOE and FDOT (Florida Department Of Transportation) have located fractures beneath this facility.

I contacted Mike Coates, P.G. Deputy Director of the PRMRWSA Facility, and asked him about the cost to operate the facility's ASR well system. Coates says there are currently 4.6 billion gallons being stored at the facility in the ASR system.

I asked Coates, "What is the cost-per million gallons to treat the ASR injected water?"

Coates replied: "The cost to produce drinking water at the Peace River Facility for injection into the ASR system is $0.74/1,000 gallons (or $740/1,000,000 gallons). That is the same cost charged to Authority Customers for each unit (1,000 gallons) of water they receive."

I then asked, "Is there anything other than surface river water injected into the ASR wells?"

Coates replied: "The water injected into the Peace River Facility ASR system is all surface water (harvested from the Peace River) that is treated to public drinking water standards prior to injection."

The cost of harvesting surface water, treating it to the standard of drinking water, and then pumping it back into the ground for use at a later date equates to over $3 million for the 4.5 billion gallons stored at the facility today; and the treatment cost will be repeated before the supposedly retrieved water can be sold as potable.

There is not one comprehensive scientific study that addresses the questions presented in the JGG paper.

"It is easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled." Mark Twain

ASR wells can cost upwards of $4 million each. This, plus the considerable operational costs, must have absolute sound and proven science to support the billions of dollars already spent and the billions more set to be spent in taxpayer revenue. Consider this: according to Coates' figures, every 1 billion gallons costs $740,000.00 to treat (to drinking standards) before it is injected back into the ground where a company like Mosaic then gets it for "free" when they pump it out by the billions of gallons per site for their phosphate mining operations. ASR proponents would seem to have a lot of questions that need answered before taxpayers concede to the enormous costs of moving forward with the highly-questionable technology.

Stay tuned for more in our ASR Wells series.


marty baum said...

Thanks Alan. This is PART ONE" of my post.

Indian Riverkeeper was involved in a court case involving the use of a deep injection well to dispose of chemicals left over from a bleach manufacturing plant in Ft. Pierce. Without going too deep into details, I was an observer, as the case predated my selection as Indian Riverkeeper. I have some background in drilling as I was once a registered rotary driller. As we were drilling monitor wells around a Reverse Osmosis plant deep injecting brine, much conversation was devoted to the potential of migration. Not one hydro-geologist I listened to was confident in the safety of this method of disposal in Florida. As the testimony in our bleach plant case proceeded, I was horrified to discover that the onus of proof was NOT on the entity deep injecting pollutants to prove it would NOT move, the legal onus was upon Indian Riverkeeper to prove it WOULD migrate. As the injection well was/is surrounded by municipal water supply wells I really think/thought there is a danger of contamination up the well annulus surrounding the well casing into potable water supplies. ALL well casings fail given enough time..and as such is my big fear on fracking.. another issue. As it stands, we lost the case on the issue of proving legal standing too late, but in a sense we won because the bleach plant has stopped injecting the chemical byproducts and is selling them to someone for reuse somehow. After the fact in conversation with Dr. Peter Barille, I learned he had conducted a study proving that Palm Beach County's deep well injection of sewage WAS migrating and re-entering the surficial ecosystem by spewing out of the continental shelf east of their County into the Gulfstream. IMO, because it is being leaked into the Gulfstream and being carried away, our State Government doesn't "have" to care... out of sight, out of mind.. AND controversy. When I see ASR as a solution in Florida, my very first thought is who's brother/uncle/friend is a driller because all ASR REALLY is in Florida with our karstic substrate, is a toxic tragedy waiting to resurface and/or migrate. Like the Alico water farming controversy, a tremendous waste of our dollars, enriching a few selected recipients at the expense of our Citizens. I would think that following the money would shed a SPOTLIGHT on why this has become so popular. One must remember that corporate Ag will do any and every thing they can to be exempt from the clean water act, in order to increase their corporate profits, and to NOT be held responsible for the pollution they are creating and illegally moving OFF their land.( Bobby Kennedy Jr a Founder of Waterkeeper Alliance to which Indian Riverkeeper belongs says that "show me a polluter, and I will show you a subsidy." /quote.

see part TWO below

marty baum said...

This is PART TWO of my comments;

The TRUE cost of the product is not being payed, it is being carried by the citizens who DO have to pay for the clean up, thus, it is a subsidy) They procure permits from the FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Prostitution)to illegally backpump into the lake, they use their money and power to "influence" elected officials to legislate pollution LEGAL and invalidate lawsuits they KNOW they are losing.. like illegal 30 year leases. They try to make ANY corporate agricultural pollution control compliance "voluntary" (maybe because corporate ag is doing such a wonderful job of protecting our natural treasures, our safety and future. It must be so, because according to our illegally appointed Hershall Vineyard, former Director FDEP, who fired about half of FDEP's Attorneys in Tally because "industry is doing such a great job of compliance." When you Legislate pollution LEGAL, I guess you don't need enforcement Attorneys any more.) All they have to do is now claim they are using "best management practices" and they are immune. Over the years, our protections from polluting our children's future for corporate profits has been systematically disassembled.. starting with jeb, then onto crist, and now the coup de gras is rick scott. Bad times, and as the poisons accumulate, the damage will become irreversible, therefore the future and safety of our children and grandchildren is in REAL jeopardy. IMO, the BALLOT BOX is our only hope and recourse. Thanks for all you do Alan, this article is timely given the love, support and defense of ASR shown by Jim Stormer, retired environmental administrator for the Palm Beach County Health Department Saturday at our Big Sugar Summit put together by Florida Sierra Club. It seemed his entire presentation was designed to minimize the impact of sugars pollution to our land, water and air. Dilution is NOT a solution, and "deep injection" out of sight out of mind is not the answer. We ALL need to as you say "widen our circle" and somehow motivate people to get off their hands and VOTE. As a CITIZEN, not as Indian Riverkeeper I would put forth that we would lose nothing by going into the next election with the attitude of "re-elect" no one. Until our elected officials are more afraid of OUR wrath, rather than the very real threat of corporate money we will NEVER solve this takeover of our Government by giant corporate entities. DEMAND CLEAN WATER

Gimleteye said...

Great comments, Marty. Thank you. The ballot box is our only recourse.

cyndi said...

Thanks to both you!

Alexandria said...

ASR 333 wells surrounding Lake Okeechobee was a scam from jump. They would only take one acre per well. We save water and can build on the rest. That was the plan plain and simple. The theory the water would part like the red sea for Moses. I can show you a pan of dishwater and know better. Elected officials need their contributions exposed. I think other avenues are available FBI,FTC,and SEC to name a few. As for Deep Well Injection. DEP is issuing permits for Deep Well injection all over the place. In Dade county they are deep welling waste and storm water run-off seven wells, for one project for one condo just to drain the lot for the building and parking lot. In Palm Beach County FPL is injecting 21 Million Gallons of waste water a day and it can go no where but up. Vertical migration , out to the ocean, or the gulf is whats happening. Plus those wells are at high pressure God knows what it busts apart from the fact it is slamming the crap out of the bedrock full of fissures already. We no longer need compromise because that is what happened for quite a few years, the environmentalists stood in the hallway talking to the very people who were screwing them. When I read about the Sugar Summit I had to laugh since they have been burning since the 60's with wild abandon. Stating the Department of Health had only 16 complaints when if you call the DOH they will send you somewhere else with your complaint on the burn. They forgot to tell you that part. Water farming, Regional Availability Rule endless nightmares for everyone all blessed by everybody saying "its the best we can do." Follow the Money. Read the fine print. Encourage people to read instead of parroting someone else's words. That's a good start.