The Lechuguilla Waste Question

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Postby Bobatnathrop » Apr 21, 2007 9:22 pm

Moved from the thread I newbishly posted...

All,
In addition to the Lechuguilla contamination article in the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, there was also a follow up article questioning some of the original techniques and whether they demonstrated contamination. The real problem appeared to be plastic hosing in the pools that was leading to microbial growth, these were removed and replaced by the park with tubing that did not support such growth.



I remember that, but I also remember something was said about some sort of fecal coliform. Was the subject ever brought up that maybe the waste dumps could have contributed? Someone stepped insomething they shouldnt have, then took their boot off with with the same hand that the scooped water/ held hoes which sucked water?


The original posting regarding the urine issue in Lech was only posted a couple of months ago - this has been an issue for the park for almost two decades, so I doubt it will be resolved in a fairly short timeframe.


Hm more like 2 days ago...In this thread..Sorry about that again, I should have seen this thread, but I didnt.

quote]
None of the options proposed by posters was technically feasible or chemically possible. Nonetheless, all ideas are welcome.[/quote]

How about just not doing it? That seems feasible enough. In this thread there are afew people that said they carried their own waste out. I can imagine it isnt very pleasent hauling 20lbs of your own pee out of a cave, but I think it would be worth the discomfort instead of damageing the caev by dumping it.

I was shocked and I still am shocked by this practice. It seems to go against all of the conservation and caving standards that most of the caving comunity abides by.
Just doing alittle math her, lets just say that each person produces 2 gallons every 7 days under ground, multiply that by 5-12 people on each trip and 9 aproved expiditions this year...The is around 215 GALLONS per year of urine dumped it to a cave that is supposedly one of the most protected caves in the world?
This just isnt adding up for me.

Has the idea ever been tossed around about just extending each expidition by one day. That one day could be used for the extra time it would take to haul the larger loads out of the cave? This doesnt seem like a very complicated problem to me, but it does seem like a problem that should have been adressed before thousands of gallons of liquid waste was dumped into the cave.

-Jeremy Anderson
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Postby Bobatnathrop » Apr 21, 2007 11:27 pm

William Tucker wrote:
The problems are manifold: the pressure at the vessel would approach 500 PSI; the tubes would be miles long; and probably other problems I haven't thought of.


There would be miles of tubes, but maybe there could be just one "Pee Station" at a central intersection that could be used. I have never been to Lech, but I really dont think cavers would mind walking for a few hours to get to a central location.

As far as the preasure thing goes I have no idea what kinda of device would be used to get the pee headed up the tube, but wouldnt it work better to have the sources of the preasure at the surface? The average compressor wont handle that kinda of preasure, but there are some paintball/scuba compressors that will charge 10-100lb tanks to 4500psi in about 4 hours. I dont know about yall but I think that would more than handle anything I can put out...

I just hope I get the chance to see this problem...and cave.. first hand here in the next few years. :grin:

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Postby William Tucker » Apr 23, 2007 12:41 pm

Bobatnathrop wrote:There would be miles of tubes, but maybe there could be just one "Pee Station" at a central intersection that could be used. I have never been to Lech, but I really dont think cavers would mind walking for a few hours to get to a central location.


That's what I had in mind but when the idea was communicated to the park service, they came back thinking about the possibility of multiple stations -- one at each camp. I don't care -- I just want that pee outathere.

Bobatnathrop wrote:As far as the preasure thing goes I have no idea what kinda of device would be used to get the pee headed up the tube, but wouldnt it work better to have the sources of the preasure at the surface? The average compressor wont handle that kinda of preasure, but there are some paintball/scuba compressors that will charge 10-100lb tanks to 4500psi in about 4 hours. I dont know about yall but I think that would more than handle anything I can put out...


Hence the idea of using two parallel tubes. The recharge tube would supply the pressure needed to push the material up the discharge tube and provide fresh water replacement as well. The idea of using a pressurized container like a CO2 cartridge came up this weekend. I had not thought of that and I don't know if the pressure and volume are high enough to work but it is an interesting idea. If the cavers took with them enough CO2 cartidges to push their pee out to the surface, only one tube would be required. That is an interesting twist on this crazy idea.

The park is worried about the problems of the tubes feeding microbes and such like that -- this is way beyond my experience. I did read the NSS articles on the problem with the water tubes in Lech. and a fellow caver, who is an expert on this, discounted the first report as being a probable misdiagnosis and that appears to be the case from my understanding, limited as it is. But, the worry persists.
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Postby Bobatnathrop » Apr 23, 2007 8:03 pm

William Tucker wrote:
Bobatnathrop wrote:There would be miles of tubes, but maybe there could be just one "Pee Station" at a central intersection that could be used. I have never been to Lech, but I really dont think cavers would mind walking for a few hours to get to a central location.


That's what I had in mind but when the idea was communicated to the park service, they came back thinking about the possibility of multiple stations -- one at each camp. I don't care -- I just want that pee outathere.

Bobatnathrop wrote:As far as the preasure thing goes I have no idea what kinda of device would be used to get the pee headed up the tube, but wouldnt it work better to have the sources of the preasure at the surface? The average compressor wont handle that kinda of preasure, but there are some paintball/scuba compressors that will charge 10-100lb tanks to 4500psi in about 4 hours. I dont know about yall but I think that would more than handle anything I can put out...


Hence the idea of using two parallel tubes. The recharge tube would supply the pressure needed to push the material up the discharge tube and provide fresh water replacement as well. The idea of using a pressurized container like a CO2 cartridge came up this weekend. I had not thought of that and I don't know if the pressure and volume are high enough to work but it is an interesting idea. If the cavers took with them enough CO2 cartidges to push their pee out to the surface, only one tube would be required. That is an interesting twist on this crazy idea.

The park is worried about the problems of the tubes feeding microbes and such like that -- this is way beyond my experience. I did read the NSS articles on the problem with the water tubes in Lech. and a fellow caver, who is an expert on this, discounted the first report as being a probable misdiagnosis and that appears to be the case from my understanding, limited as it is. But, the worry persists.


CO2 might work. CO2 only has about 900psi behind it though, and the average tank is only about 20oz, so I am not sure if that would be a problem or not. As far as feeding the microbes go, dont they think that hundreds of gallons of pee is feeding more microbes than a mile of hoseing?
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Postby ron_miller » Apr 23, 2007 9:39 pm

I, for one, would certainly welcome any long-term solution that does not involve anyone packing out urine, as long as it's very well thought out and "caver-proof".

With the tubing idea, as with any of the solutions proposed or tried previously, the devil is in the details. When thinking about a tubing solution, below are a few potentially devilish details to consider. There may very well may be easy solutions to each of the concerns below. There may however, also very well be other potentially major engineering/physics challenges not included in this list.

If there are folks out there reading this who have a better understanding of fluid dynamics or other relevant areas than I do, please feel free to chime in.

1. Friction loss - liquids flowing through a filled pipe lose head (pressure) due to friction against the pipe walls. Friction loss (expressed as feet of water or psi per linear foot of tubing) increases as tubing diameter becomes smaller. Friction loss also increases with increasing flow rates. There are standard equations and lookup tables for this, although the flow rates in this type of system are likely to be able to be lower than what you'll find on standard tables, due to the small total volume of liquid to be moved.

2. Leak potential, especially at any fittings. This falls under the "first, do no harm" principle. Any tubing route would have to traverse pristine, high aesthetic value areas, pools, etc., where a release of urine would be REALLY unacceptable.

3. Tubing strength (working pressure). The pressure necessary to push up the liquid could be greater than the tubing can withstand at the point of pressure application. For example, pushing water up from the Far East camp to the entrance, a net rise of about 800 feet, would require at least 350 psi at the camp location, not including the additional pressure necessary to overcome friction losses. Typical 3/8" and 1/2" ID LDPE and LLDPE tubing working pressures that I've seen are on the order of 100-200 psi, which, of course, would be problematic. Intermediate pumping stations might be possible, but these create their own set of problems (eg., #2 and #9, plus powering the pumps, turning them on and off at the appropriate times, and what to do with them between expeditions, remembering that the Lech atmosphere has proven to be pretty unfriendly to many metals).

4. Tubing strength (tear or abrasion). There's lots of sharp and/or abrasive surfaces in Lech. See #2.

5. Degradation of tubing over time. If the tubing material becomes brittle with age or due to long-term exposure to urine, for example, that would be bad. See #2.

6. Volume of urine relative to volume of tubing between station and surface. You would NOT want stagnant urine in the system between expeditions. Every 1,000 feet of 3/8" ID tubing would contain on the order of 5.6 gallons of liquid (1/2" would be about 10.4 gal). The Far East camp is roughly 11,000 feet from the entrance, according to Compass (this is not a trade route distance, it's the distance following original survey lines; the actual distance could be somewhat more or less). That's 61 gallons of liquid. Double that if you try to use a loop from the surface down to camp and back. The entrance is a mile away from the nearest road.

7. Potential for air locks to form in tubing. Given the up and down nature of passages in Lech, I would anticipate that it could be very difficult to keep all sections of tubing completely liquid filled at all times. These air locks at high points would make fluid flow much more challenging, if not impossible.

8. Potential for residual urine along tubing walls to facilitate microbial growth inside tubing, fouling the tubing and eventually obstructing flow.

9. Federal wilderness area prohibition on the use of "motorized equipment". There is a procedure for getting exemptions from this prohibition, but it is an issue that would have to be addressed.

Ron
Last edited by ron_miller on Apr 24, 2007 12:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Bobatnathrop » Apr 23, 2007 9:59 pm

Hm when it is all in one post it doesnt seem like a very good idea.

I still think that stock pileing and sending quick trips in to get it would be a better idea. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but arent the main trade routes to the main camps allready as beat down as they are going to get? I mean you have like 50-100 people a year or so walking the same 14 inch wide trail, I would imagine that the trails to the main camps look like highways compared to other parts of the cave.
Would a few more people walking the trails really do more damge than dumping hundreds of gallons of pee a year?
Walking the waste out would take out two birds with one stone, first it would take care of the contamination issue, but it would also be a good way to get some new people into the cave who are still good cavers but wouldnt have chance of getting in otherwise. I mean with only the few trips that are going in currently, wouldnt it be a good idea to get some new blood in there to start helping out and takeing the place of the old timers?

Oo and I have seen a few post talking about disturbing the microbes in the lakes and by putting tubes in the cave, but has there ever been a study to see how much damage is down to the local wildlife by the dumping of urine?
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Postby ron_miller » Apr 24, 2007 4:16 am

First, a request. I know that cavers on this forum have a deep and abiding concern for cave-related conservation issues. That's awesome! However, please remember that we're in a very public forum, and what we say here may have unintended consequences. So my request is for posters to keep the focus on discussing ideas toward achieving a solution, and refrain if possible from what could easily be perceived as attacks on current National Park Service (NPS) management practices.

The NPS staff responsible for managing Lechuguilla Cave care deeply, probably more than anyone else on the planet, about this cave; as others have noted, they've been dealing with this issue for 20 years, so you can bet that they are at least as frustrated at not having a perfect solution as those who have learned about it through this forum during the last month. As managers, they are making the best choices they can with the information and options they have available; given that there's no evidence of significant impact to the cave ecosystem, they've chosen to keep the cave open for exploration, survey and science while continuing to actively seek out better solutions. Considering that the 2006 version of the cave management plan does not propose any changes to the current urine-disposal practice, it would seem apparent that they believe that the current practice represents the best management practice currently available.

That said, I see that posters to this thread continue to suggest variations on the theme of carrying out the week-long expedition quantities of urine, so I'll try to give a more comprehensive summary of my perspective regarding the feasibility of this concept. I started out trying to cover every permutation that had been proposed, but that quickly grew unmanageable. If anyone feels that their particular idea was given short shrift, or if you have a new permutation that hasn't even been discussed yet, let me know.

Please understand that these represent only my personal opinions; other than as an occasional volunteer, I have no relationship with the National Park Service.

1. Other than the obvious localized impact in the dumps themselves, there's no evidence of any impact to the overall cave ecosystem associated with current urine-disposal practice. Yes, it's not ideal, we all know that. Let's move on.

2. When you add it all up, the pack weight associated with a day trip into the cave to remove a week's worth of one person's urine on is on the order of 52 lbs. Human urine output varies widely, but I came up with this number as follows: average human daily urine output=2 liters/day=2 Kg/day=4.4 lbs/day. Multiply by 7 days = 31 lbs, or nearly four gallons. I added 21 lbs for cave-proof urine containers, large-volume pack, verti-gear, water, food, and urine output from whoever is making the day trip.

3. Considering the day-trip pack weight, overnight trips are not feasible. The extra 8+ lbs of pack-out weight associated with an overnight trip (sleeping bag, pad, groundsheet, stove, and another day's urine) would bump that pack weight up to a really unacceptable 60+ lbs.

4. Regardless of whether done by "pee sherpas" or by the expedition cavers themselves, a day trip into Lech that includes a trip out of the cave with a 52+ lb pack creates significant risk of caver injury and/or cave damage due to fatigue and/or self-imposed dehydration (due to a desire to minimize self-generated amount of urine to be carried out).

5. Regardless of the number of expeditions going into the cave, having either group haul out a week's worth of urine of an equal number of people doubles the impact to trade routes. Although the trade routes are more impacted than the rest of the cave, they nevertheless pass over or very close to many delicate and pristine features (including aragonite bushes, long soda straws, gypsum flowers, hydromagnesite balloons, pools, flowstone, etc.). This practice would thus also create significant risk of a major release of urine in a sensitive area.

6. The concept of "pee sherpa" expeditions has at least one other serious potential problem - long-term volunteer supply. Yes, there are probably several very qualified cavers who would volunteer to be a pee sherpa. Maybe they'd volunteer once to each branch. However, given the unglamorous nature of this type of trip, as well as the significant time and travel expense associated with getting to Lech for most of the world's caving population, I just don't see there being a long-term sustainable supply of a sufficient number of pee sherpas, or, frankly, of Lech-experienced trip leaders that the Park would certainly require to lead such trips. In the latter days of LEARN, cancellations even on exploration/survey expeditions became increasingly frequent and last-minute, to the point where it was a major challenge to actually field a full roster of cavers possessing the necessary experience and qualifications. I would anticipate that the same problem would develop over time with the pee sherpa trips.

As always, new ideas are welcome.

Ron
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Postby William Tucker » Apr 24, 2007 8:24 am

I will try to answer some of these concerns as I have thought of most of them.
ron_miller wrote:1. Friction loss

This is why I am estimating the pressure at the vessel somewhat higher than I calculated just from the water height itself. I don't really know how to calculate the friction loss -- I know it is there but do not really know its magnitude. Anyone?

ron_miller wrote:2. Leak potential, especially at any fittings.
3. Tubing strength (working pressure).

Right! But, I am not suggesting hardware store fittings nor tubing. There is nylon tubing available from labratory tubing manufacturers in small diameters which can take pressures of 1500 PSI or even much higher. I am suggesting a minimum pressure rating of 1500 PSI to give a 3 to 1 safety margin - higher if it is available for the entire system including the vessel. 1 foot of water = .4336 PSI.
ron_miller wrote:4. Tubing strength (tear or abrasion).

The tubing would have to be installed to minimize this.
ron_miller wrote:5. Degradation of tubing over time.

Isn't nylon the same stuff that the miles of permanently installed ropes in Lech are made of?
ron_miller wrote:6. Volume of urine relative to volume of tubing between station and surface. You would NOT want stagnant urine in the system between expeditions. Every 1,000 feet of 3/8" ID tubing would contain on the order of 800 gallons of liquid (1/2" would be about 1,500 gal).

I am suggesting .125 in. O.D. or smaller. And, the original suggestion was to only use it to lift the material over the most difficult verticals, not carry it throughout the cave. Also, I just want to get it to the surface, it can be handled by hand from that point. 1000 feet of 1/8 I.D. tubing = 46.875 cubic inches of water.

ron_miller wrote:7. Potential for air locks to form in tubing.

I don't think this is a problem -- it is completely gravity fed, not syphon.

ron_miller wrote:8. Potential for residual urine along tubing walls to facilitate microbial growth inside tubing, fouling the tubing and eventually obstructing flow.

I am worried about this.

ron_miller wrote:9. Federal wilderness area prohibition on the use of "motorized equipment".

No pumping involved in the orignal idea.

I know this is probably a crazy idea and the challenges are manifold but it is an idea which MIGHT have some merit and I am encouraged that people are thinking about the problem. Even if no solution is found, we are better off having considered the options, crazy as they may be.

Finally a comment.

If I, in any way, have come across as sounding critical of the park service officials, it was entirely unintentional. I have the greatest respect for every one of the cave resources people I have ever met. They are extremely knowledgable, extremely sensitive of the caves and very conservation minded and I have learned a lot from each and every one of them at every encounter I have ever had with them. I know that they do not like the situation at all but are in a difficult position.
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Postby William Tucker » Apr 24, 2007 10:20 am

I was in a hurry to get to a meeting this morning and I got some of my math wrong.

Please, let my try again.

Actually, I am suggesting .25 in. O.D. or smaller tubing (that was a typo).

The volume of 1000 feet of 1/8 I.D. tubing is completely wrong. So here, I will show my math.

.125 * .5 = .0625 in. (radius of the tubing)
.0625 * .0625 * PI = .01227 sq. in. (area of tubing)
.01227 * 12000 = 147.26 cu. in. (volume of tubing)
147.26 cu. in. = 0.637489 US Gallons

The volume of 1000 feet of 1/4 I.D. tubing (larger than suggested):
.25 * .5 = .125 (radius)
.125 * .125 * PI = .049 (area)
.049 * 12000 = 589.05 (volume)
almost 2.55 US gallons

Of course 1000 feet is a minimal length -- but it can be used as the basis for other calculations.

Thanks for your patience,
William
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Postby Anonymous_Coward » Apr 24, 2007 10:48 am

At the risk of becoming highly involved in this thread, I would like to offer two ideas to ponder.

First of all, I have been involved in the installation of medical grade, microbe resistant tubing in Lechuguilla and in Jewel Cave. Both caves use this tubing in systems at designated water sources. When simple soft drink fountain hose is used, it promotes the growth of (non-pathogenic) black slime. This type of hose has had to be removed from the caves. Last time I checked, the anti-microbial tubing costs about $125 per 25 feet. Given the reality of the NPS budget, I believe the cost alone would prohibit the kind of tubing system that has been discussed here. I also feel the logistical problems and potential for environmental disaster would be nightmarish. The maintenance and upkeep would be substantial to say the least.

Second, while the main routes are well-traveled, there is still potential for impact along the trails. The cave is impacted every time it is entered. The only reason that Lechuguilla is preserved as well as it is, is because every caver is slow and careful. A camp pack can still easily weigh 40 lbs. at the end of the week. Adding 20 more lbs of urine for the trip out is unmanagable for most people. While there is some walking involved, we are really talking about caving with a big pack, not walking. There is crawling, squeezing, canyoning, chimneying, and rope work involved in getting to all of the camps. The packs and the heat of the cave are what makes it difficult. The trip is even harder because you must manage the packs and heat while traversing delicate areas. Every additional trip and every additional pound increases the potential for impact.

Impact along the trails is real and can be witnessed. Impact from urine dumping in 4 discreet places is a little more nebulous in my opinion. While urine contains compounds that are alien to the cave, it is at least a sterile liquid. For that reason, I believe that a week-long trip has a better survey/impact ratio than a shorter trip. No one enjoys dumping urine in Lechuguilla, and most cavers try to carry out what they can. If there is a better solution, it would be welcomed. So far, the ideas of sherpa trips and urine pipelines are not as attractive as the current practice.

These are my opinions and not neccesarily those of the NPS.
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Postby William Tucker » Apr 24, 2007 12:52 pm

jaa45993 wrote:I would like to offer two ideas to ponder.

You are probably right on all counts. The cost may be prohibitive. The logistics are, debateably difficult to say the least. Minimizing impacts, of all kinds, is the concern.

jaa45993 wrote:While urine contains compounds that are alien to the cave, it is at least a sterile liquid.

While maybe technically true (I don't know, but it seems to be a commonly held belief), it is not sterile for long -- microbes and other biota love the stuff!
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Postby ron_miller » Apr 24, 2007 1:10 pm

I'm willing to discuss any ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem at first, as long as they don't require suspending the laws of physics, because you never know where they might lead.

I edited my earlier post to correct my late-night "forgot to convert inches to feet" error in calculating tubing volume. William's and my math now agree.

William, you can't dismiss air locks, because the passage in Lech goes up and down and up and down etc. If you are thinking of gravity flow in each downhill system, there will be air in the tubing, which will naturally migrate to the highest point. Air locks may very well be a "game over" problem.

When you start talking about really small diameter tubing, (1/4 inch or less) friction loss will go up dramatically. It's not rocket science, but it also could easily be a game-over issue if you need to build a water tower at the entrance to overcome it. If you want to pursue the tubing idea further, I suggest googling on "friction loss calculation" or some variation thereof to come up with some estimates.

As Andy mentioned, cost may also be a game-over issue. Unless the cost that Andy gave for anti-microbial tubing can be reduced by a factor of at least 10 (probably closer to 100), I don't see how tubing installation could be feasible.

Ron

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Postby barcelonacvr » Apr 24, 2007 1:47 pm

Ron has brought up many excellent points regarding any system of piping and the parameters they may bring.

The friction loss alone would be horrendous.
High pressure systems would need to meet so many power piping codes in regards to safety and to protect the cave,I cannot see how it would be even remotely viable.

Urine is enough grief in large bore gravity systems due to the calcium phosphates/uric acid not to mention being mildly corrosive.The constant problem of mineral deposits and corrosion would be insurmountable IMHO



I have installed many systems to pump hot lime/chemicals etc in slurry form utilizing diaphragm pumps such as Wilden makes.Pumps could be installed in series to overcome the friction and distance but the drive air need and impact on the cave would not be conducive.

http://wildenpump.com/catalog/product-d ... fm?pid=201


The installation and maintenance costs would be astronomical though.


I remember hearing of a waste treatment system that would reduce the waste to base compounds and dehydrate them.I have been unsuccessful in finding the company on the web though.I have only skimmed the thread,perhaps someone has mentioned this technology.I "believe" it was an electrolytic process, no compounds added just a change in state.It might be very power hungry though.I will attempt to find the system.


On the subject of urine sherpa trips.I would happily volunteer for semi annual trips.Being a Master plumber allows me the comfort of not being bothered by the medium.
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Postby caverdan » Apr 24, 2007 3:14 pm

How about trying to turn it into a solid so it can be hauled out in the future. I've been trying out this product locally. http://www.whennaturecalls.com/
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Postby ron_miller » Apr 24, 2007 4:11 pm

How about trying to turn it into a solid so it can be hauled out in the future. I've been trying out this product locally. http://www.whennaturecalls.com/


The real problem is one of weight, not phase. Adding material to convert the urine from liquid to solid (or gel) is just adding to the problem, unfortunately.
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