High school senior gets serious with environment

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wootton internBenjamin Bowman, a senior at Wootton High School, takes a water sample to test for chloride as part of his work as an intern at the Izaak Walton League of America. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAKThe road salt that makes it safer to drive in winter is causing the Muddy Branch Stream in Gaithersburg to register chloride levels above levels recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a Wootton High School senior who is spending this school year testing various chemical levels in that stream.

Benjamin Bowman has been interning 10 hours each week with the Izaak Walton League of America, a nonprofit environmental organization located along the banks of that stream.

The 17-year-old, who is a pitcher for the Wootton Patriots varsity baseball team, regularly gathers a water sample from the stream. For the first few months of his internship, the chloride level never rose above the recommended 230 parts per million levels for chloride, he said. The average readings he found between October and early December averaged around 145 parts per million.


WSSC battles “unusual” number of water main breaks

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WSSC LogoWashington Suburban Sanitary Commission members on Wednesday approved $12 million in funding to deal with the “unusual” number and pace of water mains breaks in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties this winter, which have put both jurisdictions on course to see a record number this winter.

“It is absolutely an unusual a high number of breaks,” said Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman Jerry Irvine. At least 1000 water mains across both counties have ruptured since Dec. 1, at great inconvenience not only to WSSC customers but to the repair crews who have had to remain on call for 24 hours.

The pace at which mains are breaking puts the area on course for a total much higher than the usual average of 1,200 breaks between December and March. WSSC saw an average of 100 breaks a day at the peak of the cold snap that gripped the area from late December through early January. But according to Irvine, as temperatures have warmed slightly the number of breaks per day is back down to the “more reasonable” 35 per day, because the number of breaks tends to level off when temperature remains constant and there are not rapid changes in temperature.

“Once the system has been shocked by the original blast of cold water we're kind of steady state,” he said.


Public weighs on WSSC rate structure

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WSSC LogoROCKVILLE – County residents weighed in on proposed changes to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s rate structure during a public hearing Oct. 19.

In March, members of the Maryland Public Service Commission ruled that WSSC’s rate structure unfairly discriminated against larger households, requiring the water utility to changes its rate structure.

WSSC has held public hearings on five proposed rate structures since the PSC’s ruling in seven months ago. The PSC held a public hearing on two of the five proposed rate structures. Three of the five options would increase the bill of the average WSSC customer, which is currently $205 a quarter for 165 gallons a day of water used. Option 3B and Option 4A would lower the water/sewer bill for residential customers using 165 gallons per day.

WSSC vice chairperson T. Eloise Foster said WSSC officials scheduled the public hearings as a way for the public to give feedback on the proposed changes in the rate structures.

“It was really clear to us from these meetings that we need to do a better job of building trust with our customers,” Foster said.


Council questions WSSC rate structure change

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LAUREL – A change in county water bills is almost certainly coming, but exactly how much more (or less) residents will pay is still to be determined.

On March 30, the Prince George’s County Council Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee (THE) held a joint meeting with their counterpart from the Montgomery County Council, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) committee to hear from Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission staff about progress on the utility’s rate structure study. WSSC has to change the rate structure to remain financially viable, officials say.

“There’s always this tension between having enough revenue to meet the needs for providing the services, both water and sewer, but also on the capital side,” said Council member Todd Turner, chair of THE. “People are consuming less water, so because the revenues aren’t coming in because of the consumption, what are you going to do? Unfortunately, nothing goes down in cost, it seems like, so in making that (increase) reasonable, there’s a balance that we have to find as part of this process.”


Gaithersburg gets legislative update

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Gaithersburg Govt logo

GAITHERSBURG—Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council were briefed Monday night about several issues of concern to the city in the current state legislative session. Monica Marquina, the city’s legislative affairs director, and Rob Garagiola, of the lobbying firm Alexander and Cleaver, which represents Gaithersburg, discussed their efforts working with the legislature thus far and their goals for the remaining third of the session where, Garagiola said, “90 percent of the work is still ahead.”


Public weighs in on WSSC rates

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ROCKVILLE – Last week was one of the final chances for the public to weigh in on the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission proposed rate increase for water.

As part of its proposed Fiscal Year $1.4 billion 2018 budget, WSSC plans to raise water and sewer rates by 3.5 percent. The budget covers both operating and capital costs. The increase would add an additional $1.46 to the monthly bill of the average WSSC ratepayer who uses 137 gallons of water per day.


Unknown chemicals may pose water supply risk

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As it turns out, the old adage may be right – what you don’t know can harm you.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates 83 contaminants as part of its primary standard on drinking water.

These contaminants include lead, trihalomethanes, asbestos, bacteria and viruses, which if above a certain level, are a risk to human health.

But the EPA also has another list of 30 contaminants that agency monitors but does not regulate.

For many of these contaminants the science is unclear whether they are a health risk to people, while others clearly pose a risk to people.

“The only concern is something we don’t already know, that just started coming up in the newspaper and we don’t know how to test for it or something some people may say it’s bad, but we don’t know whether it’s really bad,” said Jin Shin a water quality manager at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the primary water utility for people in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.


County Council weighs in on WSSC infrastructure

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With 1,800 breaks a year on average in the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's (WSSC) infrastructure system, members of the Montgomery County Council said there needs to be more investment in the utility’s infrastructure.

WSSC’s water mains and pipes are often susceptible to breaks. About 25 percent of WSSC’s water mains are 50 years are older.

To keep sediment and other containments out of the water mains, WSSC pumps water at a high pressure.

“I kind of look at it as the Metro of water,” said Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large).


Letters to the Editor, October 13, 2016

Robots and the school year?

To the editor;

“OK, robot waitress.  Your first recommendation was the slow baked salmon with lemon and thyme.    I’ll try that.  With the peas and carrots.  By the way, that is a snazzy outfit you’re wearing…. You’re welcome. ”  

In a few years conversations like this will become common.   More broadly, robots will increasingly perform many jobs now performed by humans.   We may expect that the robots generally will first be used to do repetitive physical jobs.   Jobs remaining available to humans will involve greater complexity and skill.  Less skilled humans will have a harder time finding work.   New kinds of human jobs will be created more slowly than traditional jobs disappear.


WSSC rates called "Unfair"

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ROCKVILLE – Calling the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s (WSSC) rates unfair, WSSC customer testified against the company’s rate structure last week during a Montgomery County Council public hearing on the utility’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

At the hearing, WSSC customers testified to the council about what they called an unfair rate structure, calling for the Council to restructure how WSSC charges its customers.

“The ball is now squarely in your court, and that of the (Prince George’s) County Council, to move ahead to assure a reasonable rate structure is implemented that treats all of WSSC’s residential ratepayers, your constituents, fairly” said Richard Boltuck, a resident of Bethesda.

“Perhaps that will not happen in FY ‘18, but there are simply no remaining excuses for it be delayed beyond FY ‘19. For that to happen, however, you must insist clearly and unequivocally to WSSC now that this council will not approve an unduly discriminatory rate structure next year.”

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