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Water Contaminants on the East Coast

Water quality issues vary considerably across the United States, and depending on where your facility is located, different filters are required for what are considered to be “typical” problems. 

On the East Coast, the top three most common problems growers need to deal with are: 

  • Elevated sodium and chloride concentrations 
  • Presence of lead and heavy metals
  • Problematic water quality fluctuations
  • Wastewater regulatory compliance
Woman Cultivating Cannabis

Each of these, once properly diagnosed, require specific kinds of filtration to ensure the best possible water is always readily available, saving any professionally run operation time and money.

Elevated Sodium and Chloride levels

De-ice Truck

Elevated levels of sodium and chloride present in both city and well water is common on the East Coast due to “road salting,” used to melt the ice and snow from roadways during the winter months. 

By some estimations, this practice (popularized in the 1930’s) prevents up to 80% of all potential traffic accidents when freezing conditions affect travel mobility. Considering the massive damage costs avoided and the relatively inexpensive materials used, it’s no wonder the US dumps over 20 million tons of salt on frozen roads annually. 

However, there are major drawbacks. Once the salt makes its way into waterways, it can harm aquatic life, pollute groundwater, and cause corrosion problems. Furthermore, in a cannabis cultivation facility, high concentrations of sodium and chloride inhibit growth in plants and corrode and strip heavy metals in expensive equipment.

Sodium and Chloride Facts

  •  A multi-year study of privately owned wells used for drinking water in East Fishkill, New York showed that half of the wells tested higher than recommended for EPA sodium standards.
  • Road salt was determined to be the culprit when 84% of urban streams studied in a 2014 US Geological Survey had rising chloride levels. At certain times during the year, a whopping 29% of streams exceeded toxic levels of chloride.
  • Even in low amounts, chloride can damage fragile freshwater ecosystems and harm aquatic life. High chloride levels in ponds and lakes can inhibit aquatic reproduction, growth and food sources.
  • 40 percent of urban streams in the United States have chloride levels that surpass the safe recommendations for freshwater aquatic ecosystem health.
  • In Flint Michigan, one of the worst lead poisoning incidents in US history was caused when a water source was switched from low sodium chloride chemistry to high sodium chloride chemistry, without proper treatment to compensate for the difference. The levels were so high, in fact, the salty water decimated the biofilm that had been sequestering lead for decades, thus releasing massive amounts of lead into the municipal water supply.

A commercial reverse osmosis system is the most efficient and cost effective way to lower the amount of sodium and chloride in the water. Rejecting up to 97%+ of salts out of the water provides a consistent, pure water base to mix nutrients with.

Lead in the Water

Of all the heavy metals considered to be a public health problem, lead is the most concerning. No amount of lead is “ok.” Typically associated with lead poisoning are conditions such as brain, kidney and nervous system damage. Children are particularly vulnerable, as are pregnant women. The presence of lead in the bloodstream can do irreparable damage to the nervous system of a developing fetus.

When it comes to cannabis, water carried by lead pipes poses a formidable problem even if the grow is 100% indoor and hydroponic. It is estimated that there are currently over 6 million lead service lines in the USA (up to 1 million miles of total lead piping) much of which is nearing the end of its 75-100-year lifespan.

Lead Pipes

Product quality regulators in many states test cannabis products for lead, and have found CBD products with lead well over the limit considered safe for adult consumption. Additionally, even if low amounts of lead are present in cannabis plant tissue—which is used for concentrates—the concentrated amount of lead can cause the product to fail during testing.

The cannabis plant is widely regarded as a “hyperaccumulator,” in that it is capable of accumulating a number of different heavy metal compounds including lead. Since testing for lead on cannabis consumables varies from state to state, there is no consistent metric to evaluate what is and is not dangerous to consume. 

It is safe to say that eventually, given the nature of the plant itself, strict regulations for lead in cannabis will be put in place. For the wise cannabis professional, best practices in controlling all inputs and minimizing future problems by removing heavy metals from water prior to contact with the plant should be seriously considered.

Fluctuating water quality

Water drop

It is common for municipalities on the East Coast to source their water from multiple locations, often with varying water chemistries. Because of this, water quality from a single tap may fluctuate throughout the year or with the seasons. Even with wells, the EPA instructs private well owners to test their water annually as groundwater quality is also subject to change over time, especially in places like the East Coast where seasonal weather can be severe.

For professional cannabis growers, fluctuating water chemistries can throw off nutrient formula balances which creates an unnecessary variable in an otherwise highly controlled environment. When yields are inconsistent or in decline, water chemistry should never be suspect, since the technology to deal with these issues is readily available.

Wastewater regulatory compliance

Wastewater discharge regulations for cannabis cultivation facilities are starting to increase around the country due to problems caused to the treatment plants and drinking water supplies. These regulations are highly variable, and depend upon location and the applicable enforcement agencies.

HyperLogic offers wastewater treatment systems such as the Nutrient Runoff Filtration System and the Automated Reclamation Condensate System that can help facilities minimize wastewater discharge and removal expenses, conserve water, and come into compliance.