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Green movement turns sage

Going green is all about preserving the blue, so it’s no wonder that water agencies are jumping into the Earth Day fray. This year the Water News team asked readers via Twitter and e-mail to tell us about their Earth Day plans. Here are some of the responses.

The Vallejo Watershed Alliance is rallying volunteers to clean up Rindler Creek, one of the major waterways in the California city, and following that up with an Earth Day event April 25 at Lake Chabot. Participants will get hands-on experience, learning about the lake and meeting some of the creatures that live there.

In Glendora, Calif., the city hosted an Earth Day festival April 17 with an emphasis on water conservation. The star of the show was a Drip Irrigation Workshop, meant to teach people how to outfit their garden with the most efficient way of delivering water to plant roots, while maintaining favorable air-water balance and soil moisture. The water division had an educational booth set up, where they gave away low-flow shower heads and information on rebates for water-efficient appliances.

In Pierce County, Wash., the Fifth Biennial Livable Communities Fair went green at the Spring Fair April 15-18. Workshops and exhibits included Raingardens in the Pacific Northwest, Rain Water Harvesting, Why America Needs Solar Now and Working Together for Clean Air.

The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County in Whittier celebrated with water reclamation plant tours April 17, in addition to more than 50 green exhibitors and earth-friendly arts and crafts for the kids.

At the eighth annual Community Water Conservation Festival in Hemet, Calif., on April 24, the motto is “Every Drop Counts.” This free festival features an Aqua Smart puppet program and lots of other activities for kids, plus water wise demonstrations throughout the day. It’s sponsored by several private companies and a host of water districts, including the Eastern Municipal Water District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District, the Western Municipal Water District, and the State of California Department of Water Resources.

The Inland Empire Utilities Agency has partnered with the City of Chino, Calif., to celebrate Earth Day at the Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational Park on April 22. “It is an opportunity to invite the community to learn about the environment with a strong focus on water conservation,” said Andrea Schuette, community outreach and education coordinator for the IEUA. “It is a day for the community to be able to understand and recognize the effect each individual has on the environment.”

The Tahoe Water Suppliers Association provides sponsorship for a large community celebration on April 24, the Tahoe Truckee Earth Day Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A “Drink Tahoe Tap” water tasting will be held.

The MDC, which provides water and sewer services to the Hartford, Conn., region, is celebrating Earth Day on April 25 at the West Hartford Reservoir. On deck is free entertainment, hands-on activities, live animals, games and more.

Santa Cruz, Calif., had its community Earth Day event April 17. It was sponsored by the County of Santa Cruz Department of Public Works and City of Santa Cruz, along with local non-profits. A waste-free and solar-powered festival, organizers included a river cleanup sponsored by Save Our Shores.

By Jana Ballinger
BC Water News
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Before the Environmental Protection Agency had been established, before the Clean Water Act existed, before the first Earth Day, wastewater pioneer Ron Crites was already working toward a healthier world.

Crites, a 40-year industry veteran and Brown and Caldwell chief engineer, has been at the forefront of efforts to recycle and reuse water, and was recognized for his career in wastewater treatment with the 2009 Thomas R. Camp Medal for Applied Research from the Water Environment Federation.

WEFTEC is the largest water quality event in North America, and the award ceremony in Florida last fall was attended by more than 16,000 of the world’s leading water quality experts and 900 companies showcasing the latest in water quality technology.

“When I started out in the wastewater field we were really just trying to eliminate the large sources of pollution,” Ron said from his office in Davis, Calif. “We’ve raised the bar quite a bit, to not just avoiding disease and pollution, but looking at nutrients and chemicals in water.”

In the 1970s, secondary treatment was the goal, he said. “Today, we’re looking at tertiary treatment. We’re looking at recycling and reuse. So we want to get pathogen-free water.”

He sees a similar evolution taking place in the broader environmental movement. Earth Day began 40 years ago as an awareness campaign primarily about preventing pollution. "It has evolved into broader, large-scale efforts. People are becoming aware of their footprints — not just carbon, but water, too. We're trying to look at everything we're doing to affect the environment," Ron said.

Of course, when Earth Day began it was nothing new to him. As a child, growing up on a farm in the ’50s, Ron’s parents taught him about organic gardening and recycling. This is what led him to the field of environmental engineering.

"It wasn't too much of a transformation to use the ethic that my parents taught me for water recycling," he said. "On the farm, I saw irrigation practices and found out that wastewater could be used beneficially on crops, and to avoid stream pollution."

• Chief Engineer and Natural Systems Service Leader at Brown and Caldwell (joined firm in 1997)

• Engineer’s Degree, Sanitary Engineering, Stanford University, 1970
• M.S., Sanitary Engineering, Stanford University, 1968
• B.S., Civil Engineering, California State University, Chico, 1967

• 2009 WEF Thomas R. Camp Medal for Basic Research Contributions to Wastewater

• Wetlands evaluation and design
• Wastewater reclamation reuse
• Alternative wastewater and sludge treatment technologies
• Land application
• Regional Water Quality Control
• Board permitting
• Industrial wastewater processing


Ron is known for his cutting-edge natural systems, decidedly low-tech processes that direct partially treated effluent through soil and plants where microbes, bacteria and gravity combine to purify it for reuse or local ecosystems. Popular with smaller municipalities that lack the resources to build and operate large treatment facilities, he says they can also be designed to treat stormwater, landfill leachate and agricultural wastewater.

"A tomato processor in California can irrigate 800 acres of farmland with wastewater from its canning operations," Ron said. "It's much more sustainable, and with soaring water costs, helps keep them in business."

April 22 isn’t much different from other days for someone in this business, he said.

"Every day is Earth Day to us," said Ron, who still enjoys organic gardening and always tries to plant something new around this time of year. "Our work is front and center in that arena."

Being honored for that work with the Thomas R. Camp Medal was "humbling," he said, especially when he took a look at the list of past recipients. "I saw some of my heroes," Ron said. "It's very nice to be on the same list with them."

These days, he’s become something of a hero to others, although he’d never put it that way.

Ron, who has authored four books, has a new passion — mentoring younger engineers. "I'd like to bring this next generation of bright young students forward from where I started and give them the benefit of my experience," he said.

And what's next for the water industry? "There are a lot of challenges," Ron said. "It's kind of big picture now. Do we build more dams, or recycle other sources of water, or make better use of the water we have?"

Given his upbringing, it’s not hard to guess where he stands on the issue. "Growing up on a farm, I learned to conserve and work with what nature gives you," Ron said.

A grant from the Federal Water Pollution Control Act helped him study at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., where he earned his master’s degree. Then the EPA got going, the CWA was passed and Ron and his colleagues set about working on some of the first wastewater treatment and disposal plants in places such as Bakersfield and San Francisco.

The eco-awareness that spurred such government action was also being seen on a more personal level, with 20 million people participating in the first Earth Day in 1970. This year, 1.5 billion are expected to take part. Concern for the environment has grown sharply in 40 years, and water is front and center.

And Ron’s been there every step of the way.

Proposal to convert Center Street in Berkeley, Calif., from an asphalt thoroughfare to a park-like promenade is the latest twist in the interesting and controversial story of the Bay Area's heavily-modified waterways. (Streetsblog SF)

Four architects from Ohio share their designs for greener, more environmentally conscious and sustainable homes. All shared a common challenge: Rethink and change how we live today. (Cincinnati Inquirer)

The man tapped by Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day says the world has passed the tipping point to slow global warming. (Idaho Statesman)

News Roundup

The U.S. can hit "reset" on one of its greatest environmental mistakes: the destruction of the woodland that once canopied the continent. New forests are a test for environmentalism
40 years into the Earth Day era.
(Washington Post)

As the economy overshadows environmental issues and climate-change skeptics score points from scandals, many young voters seem as committed to saving the planet as the protesters of the 1970s were. (Arizona Republic)

Since its founding 40 years ago, the University of Colorado's Environmental Center has been the green heart of one of the most eco-friendly colleges in the country. (Boulder Daily Camera)

Veterans of the first Earth Day — once considered by many to be rebellious students and hippies — now are more likely to be serving on governmental committees, boards and commissions than protesting in the streets. (TC Palm)

Charlotte, N.C., loves its lawns. But a new aesthetic is slowly taking root, spread first by environmentalists and now public agencies. Use hardy native plants that need less water. Turn away from chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Shrink lawns and grow natural areas that lure wildlife. (Charlotte Observer)

Whether you are already dedicated to an eco-friendly lifestyle or are just making small changes, experts recommend a few simple tips that will not only benefit the environment, but also will help you stay healthy and save money. (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)