5 Things You Never Knew About Rainbows

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! With festivities in full swing, we thought now would be a good time to discuss one thing frequently associated with the Irish holiday. No, not four-leaf clovers. We’re talking about the breathtaking optical trick that cannot exist without water: a rainbow!

Did you know it’s impossible to reach the end of a rainbow? We’ll explain all that and more.

 

Connection to St. Patrick’s Day

Why are leprechauns and rainbows commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day and Irish culture, anyway? In Irish folklore, leprechauns are often seen urging people to seek out the pot of gold they’ve left at the end of a rainbow.

Here’s the thing, though: The end of a rainbow in unreachable, because whenever you move, the rainbow moves with you! Despite the fact that a leprechaun’s gold is unattainable, rainbows remain a staple of St. Patrick’s Day and the luck of the Irish.

 

A Complex Science of Water and Light

Every rainbow is made up of two simple ingredients: water and sunlight. However, the process of creating a rainbow isn’t as simple as merely mixing water with light and expecting a colorful arc. The sun’s rays are made up of many different colors, but we most often perceive them as white light. When the colorful rays of light hit raindrops at a specific angle, the light both reflects and refracts through each individual raindrop as it passes through. This allows the beautiful colors of the rainbow to disperse and become visible to the human eye. Yay, science!

 

Double Rainbow? Triple Rainbow? Quadruple Rainbow

Double rainbows occur when the light passing through a raindrop refracts more than once. It’s even possible for three or four refractions to occur within a single drop, resulting in multiple rainbows. This is incredibly rare, though, so consider yourself extremely lucky if you witness one.

 

You Can Make Your Own! 

If you don’t feel like waiting for a rainstorm to pass in order to see a rainbow, you’re in luck. As mentioned earlier, all it takes to create a brilliant rainbow is a bit of water and sunlight. Grab your garden hose on a sunny day, face away from the sun and spray a fine mist—a rainbow is more than likely to form before your eyes!

 

Exclusively Earthly Wonder…Maybe?

Arguably one of the coolest and most unique facts about rainbows is that only Earth’s atmosphere is capable of creating and sustaining the optical visual of a rainbow. Some scientists think Saturn’s moon, Titan, is wet and humid enough for the creation of rainbows, but there likely isn’t enough direct sunlight for it to happen. For the time being, us Earthlings have some serious solar system bragging rights.

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us at Aqua! Wherever you are, we hope you catch a glimpse of a rainbow very soon. Just remember: Don’t go chasing it and expecting to find gold!

 

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Snow Storms, Road Salt and Drinking Water Quality – What’s the Connection?

Most people don’t make a connection between salting their sidewalks, driveways and roads, and their drinking water, but there is a connection.

Believe it or not, road salts were not used in the U.S. until after 1942. Prior to then, abrasives (ash and cinders, sand) were typically used. After World War II, the expansion of the federal highway system helped facilitate the widespread use of road salts in highway safety. Today, 8 to 12 million tons of road salts are applied on highways every year. In 2016 alone, highway deicing consumed about 44 percent of the 42 million tons of total salt produced in the U.S.  


So, what does the salt placed on roads, highways and sidewalks have to do with drinking water? Well, it’s simple. When the snow melts, the road salt eventually runs off into storm drains and ends up in a local stream or river. As a result, sometimes water might taste a little salty immediately after the snow melts. It can also eventually make its way into the groundwater.

Over the past several decades, there has been an increasing trend in the levels of sodium and chloride in fresh water streams and rivers. Salt is very difficult to remove from water without using desalination equipment, which is not a practical technology for most water supplies that are not in desert areas. Salt in streams and other fresh water sources has a major impact on the fish and other aquatic life that cannot tolerate the salt levels. Salt actually sticks around in the streams and rivers and gradually makes them more salty over time.

So, what can we do? We need salt to keep our roads, highways and sidewalks safe. Balancing the need for safety with protecting drinking water supplies has been a challenge water suppliers, environmental organizations, and highway administrators, from the Great Lakes to New England, have been working to solve for some time now. Here are a couple of things you can do because every spoonful of salt counts. 

  • Use salt brine application prior to a snow event. Many highway organizations already do this, which saves money and makes roads safer.
  • Do not dump deicing salts onto storm drains to unblock a frozen drain. If you can’t clear them by hand, use hot water instead.
  • Don’t dump left over rock salt and deicing chemicals onto the ground or down storm drains. Talk to your local municipality about the best way to dispose these leftover chemicals.
  • Consider alternatives, such as beet juice, to salt pavements and driveways when possible. The sugars in beet juice have been used for deicing in areas around the Great Lakes. These are also typically pet-friendly as well, although, you should always check the label to confirm.
  • Try shoveling your sidewalk or driveway first, and let the sun to melt the sidewalk. Use salt on hard-to-melt areas.

The following articles by Steve Corsi from United States Geological Survey provide a more in-depth look at the science of road salt and its impact on streams, rivers and aquatic organisms:

Evaluating chloride trends due to road-salt use and its impacts on water quality and aquatic organisms

River chloride trends in snow-affected urban watersheds: increasing concentrations outpace urban growth rate and are common among all seasons

 

 

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QUIZ: How Well Do You Know the Water Cycle?

How much do you remember about the water cycle? The process is vital to life on Earth, yet we often only think of the water cycle when weather gets in the way of our plans. The water cycle also plays a major part in long-term climate change and global economics.

To test your knowledge of the process, we put a little quiz together. And if you have little ones at home, you can take this quiz with them for added fun, especially since the water cycle is typically taught in elementary school.

 

For the title of Aqua Expert:

1. Water covers approximately how much of the Earth’s surface?

a. The whole thing

b. One half

c. Three quarters

d. Two thirds

2. Clouds form during which step of the water cycle?

a. Melting

b. Evaporation

c. Condensation

d. Fluffing

3. Why is ocean water so salty?

a. So that boats can float

b. Salt cannot evaporate with water

c. A chef seasoned it that way

d. There are large natural salt blocks along the ocean floor

4. What is the proper name for the process of water evaporating from plants?

a. Transpiration

b. Perspiration

c. A temperate tantrum

d. Sweating greens

5. Which of the following is NOT a form of precipitation?

a. Sleet

b. Drought

c. Rain

d. Snow

 

Answers

 

Image via NASA

 

1. (c) Three quarters. Water covers about 71 percent of Earth, or just under three quarters. It’s no wonder most evaporation occurs on ocean surfaces!

 

2. (c) Condensation. Clouds form when water vapor condenses back into a liquid. The water droplets gather in the sky until they become too heavy, then fall back to earth as precipitation.

 

3. (b) Salt cannot evaporate with water. Small amounts of salt are released into fresh water rivers that naturally flow out to oceans and seas. The salt is left behind when water evaporates or freezes. Therefore, the ocean is always getting saltier!

 

4. (a) Transpiration. Humans lose water through breathing, and so do plants. In fact, 10 percent of water in the atmosphere is believed to come from transpiration.

 

5. (b) Drought. Drought refers to a lack of precipitation. While drought doesn’t immediately threaten us like other natural disasters, it can be one of the most expensive weather-related events to affect an area.

 

How did you do? Which questions did you find simple or surprising? Let us know!

 

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Aqua Illinois Awarded Recognition for Excellence … Twice!

The team at the Kankakee Water Treatment Plant.

By Aqua Illinois President Craig Blanchette


Congratulations to our
Aqua Illinois team for being recognized for excellence in both water quality and water protection! Local industry organizations have awarded Aqua Illinois with the distinction of best-tasting water in Kankakee, and recognized us for our source water protection program in Danville.

I am very
proud of the team, and the product we produce, and want to thank you for everything you do to make us such a success.

As you may know, the “Best Tasting Water in the South Suburbs” is an award our Kankakee Water Treatment Plant has received in the past, and as of last month, we successfully defended our title. This is determined during the South Suburban Water Works Association's annual taste test competition, and we won for the second year in a row.

The judges evaluated finished drinking water from the Kankakee facility and compared it to water from the Village of Park Forest, as they also use the lime softening process to treat water. The water was judged by three criteria, including clarity, odor and taste. Our Kankakee Plant will now move on to the American Water Works Association's statewide contest this month, competing for top honors throughout the state of Illinois. 

 

Receiving the Best Tasting Water award from SSWWA Taste Test Committee Chair Chuck Lawrence are Mike Stone, Aqua Illinois production manager and Don Denault, water treatment technician.

 

Also happening later this month, on March 23, Aqua Illinois’ Danville area will receive the Source Water Protection Award from the Illinois Section American Water Works Association. The award will be presented to Production Manager Dave Cronk.

We are being recognized for the efforts made by our team to spread public awareness and promote the protection of the watershed. As part of our program, Aqua Illinois works with the local farming community to reduce the nutrient load into Lake Vermilion to a point that nitrate concentrations do not exceed 10 mg/l at any time throughout the year, and we provide education on the impact nutrient runoff has on drinking water. Along with this, we host an annual Lake Vermilion cleanup day, which brings the community together, promotes watershed awareness and helps enhance the natural beauty of the lake.

It is always wonderful to be recognized for hard work and dedication, and the Aqua Illinois team highly deserves these awards. Thank you for making the whole Aqua family proud, and for making the work you do each and every day, something that is worthy of being called, and is externally recognized as…excellence!

 

 

 

 

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DIY Terrariums: Put Some Spring in Your Step!

Happy March! We’ve entered the final stretch of winter—some areas are still experiencing cold temperatures, but spring officially begins this month.

 

Now is the time to reintroduce green to your life by building your own terrarium. This simple and low-maintenance indoor garden will freshen up your home and spirit for the upcoming season.

 

What You’ll Need:

  • Sturdy, clear container
  • Pebbles for drainage
  • Potting soil or sand (no fertilizer)
  • Plants (succulents or mosses work well)
  • Decorations (optional)
  • Water and spray bottle for maintenance

 

What to Do:

 1. Consider using fun, unique containers to house your terrarium. Unexpected displays such as a domed glass cake tray, large conch shell or even a hollowed lightbulb can make your mini-garden reflect your style and fit in wherever you need more greenery.

 

2. Layer the bottom of your container with pebbles. This creates a drainage system for plant roots in case of overwatering. Adding potting charcoal can also be beneficial to some terrarium styles. This layer will help keep water free of impurities and prevent mold growth.

 

3. Fill your container with soil or sand, leaving enough space to house your plants or any decorations you plan on using. Fertilizer is not recommended for terrariums, since plants need to adjust to permanent soil and have limited space to grow.

 

4. Pick your plants. While many types of plants can thrive inside a terrarium, they have vastly different needs in soil, sunlight and water. It’s important to pick plants that best suit your living environment for stress-free care.


5. Make it your own! There’s an endless amount of accessories that can bring some personality to your new terrarium. Consider a woodland fantasy or Easter theme for spring. 

Aquatic Tips and Tricks

 

Keep a spray bottle full of water nearby to hydrate and refresh your plants. The force of water can easily disturb terrarium settings when it is poured from above.

Closed terrariums thrive in a humid environment. While some plant varieties can be fully self-sustaining, it’s important to keep an eye out for mold and occasionally allow the container to air out.

For a more aquatic look, plants like Anubias can be planted in tall vases and submerged in water. Once spring flowers begin to bloom, you can also preserve them in water and bring their beauty inside.

 

How will you personalize your spring terrarium? Share your homemade ecosystems with us!

 

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