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Letters / ‘Time to Put a Close to the Closed Loop Myth’ Regarding New River Advocates on Boone Water Intake

Sept. 12, 2014. So today your local oracle and newly appointed town apologist (or am I a stooge now? so many titles…) has a question for those who grew up in that magical time known as the ’80s. Before all the video games and smartphones did you ever enjoy the pleasure that was playing with food coloring and glasses of water?

Why do I bring this childhood anecdote up? Because of a favorite piece of misinformation being pushed by New River Advocates. (abbreviated as NRA for the rest of this letter just to make sure no one gets them mixed up with other groups, after all we wouldn’t want that)

And the claim? That the stretch of river from the waste water treatment plant in Boone to the proposed intake will become a “closed loop system”. Where the town of Boone will create pollution the WWTP will discharge into the river, the intake will suck up the pollution, this pollution will somehow again escape the WWTP process, be released with still more pollution, then even more pollution is sucked up by the intake, pumped back to town again, and so on till the river is destroyed.

First off let’s define the fact of what a closed loop system is. Break out the ol google machine and you get links about systems for artificial reefs or water coolant systems for computers. But regardless of type they all have one thing in common. “Closed” means free from any outside interference, and no water escaping from the loop. Which raises two questions.

#1 At the Boone WWTP on the South Fork is there a magical wall that keeps any water upstream of the effluent discharge site from flowing past, and entering this “closed loop”?

#2 At the proposed intake site is there another magical wall that keeps the river from flowing past the where the intake would be, and letting water escape from the “closed loop”?

As we all know the answer to both is no. So question one for NRA, how can an open waterway be a closed loop?

And this is also where my childhood comes into play. Here’s a trio of fun 4th grade experiments for people to try.

#1 Take a glass of water and add red food coloring (we’ll call that our “polluted” effluent discharge) into it. Now dump part of that glass out. (Downstream flow) And fill the glass back to where it was. Do you have red now, or do you have pink? As your food coloring has been diluted by additional water introduced into the “closed” loop?

#2 Take a second glass of matching red, pour it down a chute, and have a friend with a straw try to “intake” up a portion of that water as it flows past. Is he capable of getting every bit of that red, or is some escaping past him and right out of a “closed” loop?

#3 Combine these two to make your loop system. Take any red sucked out by the straw, pour it back in at the top with a fresh glass of “red” effluent discharge, see how much red is sucked out this time, and repeat enough times to get a visual or measurable result.

Of course I would hope people would be quick to point out (as I noticed myself after typing the above) the two flaws in those experiments.

#1 You’re also adding more effluent as more water flows by. So after pouring half the glass out you’d be adding more water AND more food coloring.

#2 I would seem to be making NRA’s case for them. Any red sucked out of the river is being reintroduced at the start of the loop and added to the effluent discharge. Therefore the intake would be introducing more pollution into the system. So more red will be sucked up to be put back in, and so on till the experimental river is all red.

Of course both of these arguments like the claim in general have countless flaws of their own.

Starting with the simple math that NRA ignores or is unaware of, which is a matter of ratios. The town WWTP is currently discharging an average 2.4 MGD (million gallons per day) of effluent into the South Fork. For the water to stay the same amount of red in experiment #1 all the way downstream you would need to be adding equal parts water and food coloring. A 1:1 ratio. And this isn’t the case. One need only look at the source material NRA likes to cite (yet is oddly missing from their website) by Dr. Shea Tuberty. A paper which you can find here. (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0JVnYEw3lscc1QyajNfMDFKUmc/edit?usp=sharing)

Flow of the South Fork at the WWTP? 6.12 MGD per day. So question two for NRA, if we have a constant introduction of that much clear water mixed with our food coloring (or discharge site) where is your closed loop?

And for that matter, let’s add basic county geography to our basic math.

Q: What river does Meat Camp Creek and Howards Creek feed into? Amongst countless other smaller tributaries?

A: The South Fork before the intake site.

So question three to NRA: if we have even more clear water from outside sources added — water which is further diluting our already diluted red food coloring coming downstream — where is your closed loop? Or does the New River just somehow magically swell (using numbers provided to me by New River Conservancy) to an estimated 48.5 MGD at Fleetwood without any help?

And again, that’s assuming any pollution even reaches the intake site. As Dr. Tuberty told me in a conversation on campus, one of the main reasons Boone picked a site so far from town?

“To prevent the very thing these people are trying to complain about.”

Which would make for a “sweet spot” indeed if not polluting the river is your goal.

But finding out things like the above is standard practice when dealing with the misinformation, misquotes, and claims lacking any scientific proof that NRA puts out. It’s Three-card Monte, so follow the lady. But like that classic gambling game, the trick is to not look at what they want you to see. The trick is to find what they are hiding.

If you want an opinion from me? The main reason you won’t find Tuberty’s paper on their website is because of their anathema to actual facts, and what it also includes. While NRA cites it as proof the WWTP/Boone is polluting the South Fork at the discharge site (estrogen chemicals among other things), the problem with that claim is the fact that nowhere in that paper does Dr. Tuberty specifically blame Boone at all. And in fact he told me in the same campus conversation the paper was written specifically to, “Prevent people like Mike Williams (associate of former NRA board member Frank Packard) from recreating the truth using my data.”

Additional quotes from the same comment paper show the actual truth.

“Although preliminary tests have shown that pharmaceutical estrogens in the river just below the WWTP are right at levels known to cause feminization (> 0.1 parts per trillion = ng/L), it is unlikely that these levels persist very far downstream due to dilution, adsorption to organic matter, and breakdown by microbes and sunlight.”

“Although the release of some of these compounds from every WWTPs is undeniable, the long distance persistence in the water downstream, and thus their possible adverse effect, is in question. Results of several studies on the persistence of OWCs in rivers have indicated that natural degradation by microbial action and photolysis can result in significant decreases in concentrations of wastewater-derived contaminants in rivers”

An opinion also backed up in conversations with New River Conservancy. From an email exchange with their president when I asked them about the closed loop claim and the persistence of chemicals downstream:

“As you indicate later, these pollutants that they reference have not been proven to migrate far or live long. I would say that much more studies on this topic need to happen.”

“Yes there is validity to the claims that estrogen and estrogen like compounds and other pollutants are discharged into the South Fork. The impacts from estrogen have been documented close to the WWTP. Studies need to be done downstream. We don’t know how far downstream these compounds have effects.”

So we have on one side the professor of Biology with the PhD, and a group that has made a career of actual advocacy to protect the river saying there’s no proof that these compounds can make it downstream, versus “advocates” for the river that seem rather factually challenged once again when it comes to providing one bit of actual hard evidence for the claim they are making.

Unless, of course, they have a couple biologists along with the missing engineers we don’t know about doing their “analysis” work?

And not that it stops them from laying all the blame at Boone’s feet if it suits their obviously partisan political agenda.

Even if any pollution did reach the intake site? Let’s look at the math. And assuming the most favorable conditions for a “closed loop”? Even if 100% of the “polluted” 2.4 MGD discharge made it to the intake (not that NRA has any proof it does) that is still just under 5% of the total river volume at this point. Which would flow past an intake (again using numbers from New River Conservancy) that at its max draw of 4.0 MGD (which Boone wouldn’t even be doing till decades down the line) would only be pulling up 8.23% of the river flow.

So now NRA is asking us to assume that any appreciable amount of the 5% “polluted” water is going to be in the 8% pulled up by the intake?

Asking us to assume the amount of “pollution” pulled would be mathematically consistent across any kind of time frame?

Asking us to believe the natural means rivers have to remove pollution wouldn’t do so even if more was added by a closed loop system.

And asking us to assume that a mathematically constant amount of “pollution” even makes it to the intake site in the first place?

Talk about straining credulity past its breaking point…

And again: don’t look at what’s being said, follow the lady. In the NRA version, you would think water goes right from the intake site back to the WWTP plant, and into the river right after. However, what’s missing from their “closed loop”, and not mentioned once? The town of Boone water treatment facility. Not to be confused with the waste water plant. Also known as the facility that, for four years running now, has done what? Produced water for the town of Boone three times cleaner than EPA standards. Most notability for our water’s turbidity (fun term to google), or how clear it is. So even if any of that 5% in that 8% was sucked up what ends up back at the WWTP? Water cleaner and clearer than what was pulled out. Water which wouldn’t have a speck of red in it. Something else you can discover if you take the time to do an actual records request, do a little research, and get actual facts like the town’s annual water quality reports.  Such as the 2013 version. (http://www.townofboone.net/departments/pu/pdfs/Consumer%20Confidence%20rpts/Consumer%20Confidence%20Report%20-%202013%20brochure.pdf)

Another thing oddly missing from the website of a group trying to tell us how the town is such a horrible river wrecker…

So, question four. What exactly is the town dumping back into a closed loop if there’s nothing at the end of the loop to dump? Where are your facts that would say otherwise? Where’s your “analysis” of that?

For that matter, if the WWTP is such a source of pollution in the river, why hasn’t NRA (if they believe in facts) requested the actual effluent discharge logs from the plant? Why not put those on their website if the town is destroying the river as they claim, and offer some hard proof once again about what is going into the river?

Maybe because actual facts would counter the continued misinformation they enjoy putting out? I’ve got sitting next to me (thanks to an actual records request, and actually talking with the town instead of at them) 2012 and 2013 effluent discharge logs from the treatment plant. Unlike NRA, I’ll offer actual information over “analysis” as propaganda to anyone who wants it, including their group if they want a copy. Only issue is that I lack a scanner at this time (hence no pdf link). But the short version? Using the trademarked ALL CAPS!!! style of fear mongers everywhere (and one of my favorite old comments back on the Democrat):

BACTERIA! (http://inspectapedia.com/septic/BOD5_Wastewater_Test.php)

In all of 2013 there was only 6 days where the town exceeded the < 2.0 mark.

For 11 out of 12 months (except Dec) the average BOD was either 0.1 or 0.0

MERCURY!  (http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/)

The town had 4 releases across 2013, at  <.001, .00102, <.0001, and <.001  ug/l

That’s measurement is a microgram. Or one millionth of a gram. Or added up to equal 3 thousandths of a millionth across all of 2013. Or 0.000000003 of a gram.

HEAVY METALS! (http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/)

If you added up every discharge of zinc? Not an average across the entire year but every documented discharge of 2013? You would have a combined 1.1 mg/L of zinc in the water. Or just over 1/5 of what the EPA considers an unsafe level by their National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (5 mg/L) Which while not enforceable by the EPA, states may choose to adopt them as enforceable standards.

If you used an average? The highest monthly was a discharge of 65 micrograms. Or .0000065 g/L

Or 1.3% of the EPA recommended secondary regulations.


The highest monthly average was 15 micrograms. Or .015 milligrams vs the 1.3mg/L EPA MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) guidelines.

UNSAFE pH LEVELS! (http://wupcenter.mtu.edu/education/stream/watercheminfo.htm)

(From the link) “A pH of 6.5 to 8.2 is optimal for most organisms.”

6.5 to 8.5 is the EPA secondary regulation standard..

Across all of 2013 the pH varied from a low of 6.8 to a high of 7.8

NO DISSOLVED OXYGEN! (http://www.lenntech.com/why_the_oxygen_dissolved_is_important.htm and http://www.milwaukeeinstruments.com/pdf/mg%20per%20liter%20and%20ppm.pdf)

(From the first link) “Numerous scientific studies suggest that 4-5 parts per million (ppm) of DO is the minimum amount that will support a large, diverse fish population. The DO level in good fishing waters generally averages about 9.0 parts per million (ppm)”

Keeping in mind ppm for all intents = mg/l (second link) the lowest average in 2013 was 7.3 mg/l. Still well above levels that would stress any aquatic life. 6 months out of 12 had averages higher than 8 mg/l as well.

So question five to NRA, where exactly is all this pollution from a WWTP that you claim is destroying the river? It would hardly seem to be the “open sewage dump” or other various colorful insults it was called at the one meeting of yours I did attend. And if the WWTP was or is polluting the river why didn’t your group or any other such as New River Conservancy or the Watauga Riverkeepers inform the EPA or DENR about a possible violation?

Maybe because the WWTP isn’t polluting the river how you would like others to believe?

So, let’s recap. The so called “closed loop” claim NRA would have us believe…

– has water which is diluting any pollutants entering from one end as the river flows downstream.

– has “polluted” water (if any even reaches 25 miles downstream) escaping from the other end.

– has additional water entering it from various sources in the middle diluting things further.

-has zero proof that pollution can even travel the length of the loop.

-has zero proof that a measurable constant of pollution would even be pulled by the intake.

-has zero proof that even if pollution makes it to the intake then the water treatment plant wouldn’t filter it out.

-willfully ignores the fact that the WWTP they claim to be one of the main sources of pollution meets every single EPA and environmental standard to maintain a healthy river, and that the estrogenic compounds in the river at the discharge site can not be directly linked to the WWTP or the town of Boone, despite their constant attempts to lay the blame on the town.

Even though the President of New River Conservancy points out (brackets are mine):

“These challenges are not unique to Boone. Every WWTP has the same issues. Currently there are no cost effective methods to remove many of these compounds and there are no regulatory requirements. Boone, like all municipalities, [does not generate these pollutants] but they’re forced to deal with them.”

So one final question to NRA, given the overwhelming evidence from my own research and talking with various experts: Why should anyone believe the patently ridiculous claim you are trying to make?
Not that I expect an answer, mind you. After all, NRA president Donald Wilson has already said he refuses to answer any more of my questions. When of course he wasn’t busy engaging in 4th grade name calling such as “Town apologist” or  “One of the 3 Stooges frothing at the mouth” (can I be Moe?)

Which is perfectly fine if that’s his idea of having a real debate. As my father is fond of saying and it’s one I’ve taken to heart, “If you can’t agree on the facts, you can’t have a debate.”

Problem is, though, no matter how many questions his group refuses to answer (http://www.wataugademocrat.com/news/article_6ddcba94-2d85-11e4-b56c-001a4bcf887a.html.) Like Mr Wilson’s refusal to respond when called out on misquoting the EA here.  Stopping his quotes before sentences that would invalidate them. And trying to hide the fact he was using a quote describing the riffle downstream of the intake to invalidate plans at the intake location, it doesn’t make the questions go away.

To quote Neil Degrasse Tyson (cause why not?) “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

And (caps and all of course) “DO WE HAVE TO BUILD IT TO FIND OUT HOW OTHER USES ARE IMPACTED?” as NRA would ask is not science. It’s an appeal to fear and ignorance.

But it doesn’t matter anyway. Those who do matter and those making the decisions know the science no matter how much NRA tries to deny it, misquote it, selectively quote only that which makes their anti-Boone case, or continue a witch hunt full of fabricated anti-Boone scandals. Including taking a sarcastic quip by Patrick Beville about the town needing a PR firm or to hire him for the job, and attempting to use it as another allegation of corruption. (http://nebula.wsimg.com/335de7f6cbe9dab37aa2140968c2d6c7?AccessKeyId=0923C3C437BCDC7225A8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1)

If anything NRA owes Mr Beville an apology for such a blatantly deceitful misquoting of what he said. Not to mention an attempted impugning of both his and Quint David’s character bordering on outright slander. Either way when they have to resort to such baseless personal attacks over actual facts it just further shows how little of a case they have.

This is on top of NRA displaying the hypocrisy of the EA being 100% accurate when they are busy quoting it (or misquoting as the case may be). But it’s totally wrong and in no way shape or form should be trusted when others would use it a source of information…

Not to mention the constantly spouted nonsensical assertion (again without one shred of proof) that somehow Boone is engaged in a nefarious plan to trick every engineering and environmental expert in multiple state agencies into “rubber stamping” the project? And this was only revealed when the good folks at Mystery Inc. “flushed” Mayor Ball out?

“I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you darn advocates!”


And when it comes to their claims about the environmental damage Boone will cause with the proposed intake? Or how a closed loop could even exist given every piece of evidence to the contrary?

Well it just goes to show how New River Advocates is indeed factually challenged as ever. And as Patrick Beville aptly put it, in a fashion the reflects what he actually said, “Way out of their league.”

Jesse Steele