When disaster strikes, people are scared and disorganized. They need resources — safe water and proper sanitation — that aren’t easy to come by in the aftermath. Without the help of humanitarian organizations to provide assistance, large populations of survivors are subject to epidemics of cholera, diarrhea, meningitis, and other diseases as they struggle to meet these basic needs.
Dr. Roddy Tempest, a leading designer and manufacturer of water purification systems has headed the efforts of public and private aid organizations, such as the United Nations and AmeriCares, in responding to people in crisis all over the world for over 15 years.
Dr. Tempest contributed his expertise and experience in such situ- ations as the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the Kosovar refugee crisis in the Balkans, the devastating earthquakes in Tur- key and the flood and mudslides that ravaged the coastal states of Venezuela in 1999. He has assisted in disaster relief efforts in Japan, Africa, Central America, and Taiwan, as well.
So when AmeriCares launched its water purification program for the inhabitants of Sri Lanka following the devastation of the tsunami on December 26, 2004, it turned to Dr. Tempest.
For this heroic effort, Dr. Tempest used two Ultrameter II 6P portable, handheld water testing instruments. Dr Tempest said the instruments gave him “a good, quick first-brush assessment of the possible water sources.”
The Ultrameter II reported and recorded instant precise measurements of Conductivity, Resistivity, TDS, ORP (REDOX), pH, and Temperature. But creating a livable situation for hundreds of thousands of displaced survivors wasn’t as easy as testing the water.
Water Doctor to the Rescue
From his offices in the United States, Dr. Tempest responded to the call for help by first reviewing satellite maps that showed the location of potential water sources in relation to groups of survivors, or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). He assessed the total situation of the potential water sources, trying at a glance to deter- mine possible contamination by flooding or infiltration of seawater. Upon his arrival in Sri Lanka, Dr. Tempest worked 24 hours a day to determine a suitable survival supply of water for the IDPs. As indicated in the World Health Organization’s Environmental Health in Emergencies and Disasters, the required water per person per day is 15 liters / 3.963 gallons.
Faced with this daunting task, Dr. Tempest surveyed the land via helicopter and fixed wing aircraft to record the extent of the damage, the location of IDPs, and the viability of potential water sources. Some of the photographs reveal the mammoth challenge he had ahead of him. Debris lay everywhere, indicating the likelihood of surface water and well contamination. Filtration was a must.
Dr. Tempest then combined satellite imagery, the photographs and sketches of water sources from his survey and a list of supplies to determine which water sources would be targeted for testing.
Following World Health Organization guidelines, Dr. Tempest considered as many potential water sources as possible, not just the most obvious ones. These included surface and groundwater near the groups of IDPs and tankered or bottled water brought in from a distance – though this would not be suitable for the long- term supply. The preferred source would have been groundwater, especially for the long-term.
Ultrameter II in Action
Dr. Tempest used the Ultrameter II 6P to screen these sources for their potential disinfection and filtering.
First, Dr. Tempest considered whether or not potential water sources could be protected from pollution and secured. Any potential source water had to be filterable and sanitizable. If the water was brackish, it would require a certain treatment method. If it was high in turbidity, then it would require another. If the pH needed adjusting, then yet another. If the source water was not easily treatable, then the source had to be discarded as an option and a better alternative found.
The Ultrameter II provided Dr. Tempest with fast, reliable, accurate initial information on whether or not to pursue further testing and treatment of a potential source. Dr. Tempest used a multiparameter approach and tested for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), pH, ORP (REDOX), and temperature (recorded with every reading taken.) He also tested for turbidity and bacteria using other instrumentation.
Initially, Dr. Tempest used a measurement of the mineral salt concentration using TDS calibrated to a sodium chloride solution and TDS calibrated to a natural water standard.
Right away Dr. Tempest knew whether or not the water was too saline or saturated to be filtered economically. If the TDS is too high, filtration systems that work by reverse osmosis can be overwhelmingly expensive to operate in a disaster area, especially considering electrical costs alone. At the very least, the systems become less efficient as the TDS increases and a burden in operation and maintenance costs. This is critical for the short-term disaster response, where Dr. Tempest has to get as much safe water to IDPs in as short amount of time as possible.
High TDS can also indicate an unacceptable level of specifically known inorganic contaminants caused by industrial pollution.
And though it is not a health consideration, high TDS water often has an unpleasant taste that deters people from using it. People may try to return to old wells or other sources of previously safe drinking water that have been contaminated in the disaster. The old source may be more trusted than one that tastes “polluted.” So even though TDS is a secondary water quality standard, it can profoundly impact whether or not the new source is acceptable.
Dr. Tempest also took instant electronic pH readings using the Ultrameter II. The pH directly affects the potential to disinfect the water. pH levels beyond 8 will require substantial increases in the amount of disinfectant required or the length of time the water must be disinfected before safe consumption. And at a pH beyond 9, a residual disinfectant is extremely difficult to maintain.
pH is also critical in the long-term disaster recovery planning. pH that is too low or too high affects water balance, as well, and can contribute to either corrosion or scaling of filtration and disinfection system components and plumbing. An electronic meter is the best choice in this application as compared to colored strips or solutions or other colorimetric methods that do not produce the accuracy required to consistently and correctly balance water and maintain proper disinfection levels. The more precisely the pH is maintained, the less costly safe water production is.
Dr. Tempest also took quick ORP (REDOX) measurements using the Ultrameter II. ORP (REDOX) is the oxidation reduction potential of the water and indicates the state of the water for gaining or losing electrons. Unlike pH, which measures the water’s ability to donate or receive hydrogen ions, ORP (REDOX) values reflect the presence of all oxidizing and reducing agents — not just acids and bases. Initially, the ORP (REDOX) value gave Dr. Tempest a rough idea of the organic load in the water. A reading of 650 mV or greater indicated good water quality that could effectively be sanitized by a minimal amount of free chlorine. A value like 250 mV indicated that the organic contaminants would significantly increase chlorine demand and thereby significantly increase operation and management costs.
ORP (REDOX) is not only a good first indicator about the viability of a water source, but it also is the best way of measuring the disinfectant present in the water after treatment has begun.
Putting It All Together
Using all of the results from these parameters and based on his knowledge of the location of IDPs in relation to potential water sources, Dr. Tempest decided which source would satisfy the needs of each specific location of groups of IDPs. Where possible, water treatment technology would be designed around the quality of the source waters tested where IDPs had gathered, since it was not practical to re-locate large groups of people to distant water sources. Unfortunately, in the case of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, oftentimes the water closest to IDPs could not be filtered and relocation was necessary.
Dr. Tempest found after his first quick assessment of potential water sources that it was not practical to supply the IDPs in parts of the Batticoloa and Ampara Districts along the eastern coast, because the source water was too saline from seawater intrusion. With limited electricity, this
made the use of reverse osmosis or desalination equipment impractical.
He ended up settling on sites that were more inland, using source waters from man-made reservoirs. IDPs were then settled inland near the cleaner water source.
However, the water in the man-made reservoirs was heavily contaminated with toxic blue-green algae.
Dr. Tempest chose microfiltration and ultrafiltration water treatment systems in the eastern district locations, taking algae-infested water over the salt-saturated, so that treatment and operation costs would be significantly less. Dr. Tempest designed, built and commissioned 4 large transportable water treatment systems, each capable of producing over 500,000 liters/day.
Plans then continued to follow through with long-term water treatment using the Tempest Environmental Systems equipment for the Sri Lankan Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply and their National Water Supply & Drain- age Board (NWSDB). The NWSDB has 14 Ultrameter II 6Ps in current use in Sri Lanka, which are providing continuing confidence checks to ensure system equipment remains up and running properly.
The Ultrameter II 6P is an excellent multiparameter water quality meter used by thousands of water treatment professionals. The instrument can test for pH, total dissolved solids, conductivity, resistivity, oxidation reduction potential, temperature, and has the capability of testing for free chlorine. This meter handles the job of SIX single parameter testers using one single water sample. Save 10% on the Ultrameter II 6P at MyronLMeters.com.