Authorized for the Unauthorized 

Last week we were able to tour the Torres Bermejas at the Alhambra. The Torres Bermejas is a military barrack just outside the wall of the Alhambra. It has not had any restoration attempts since the 1960s, so most of what you see in this video is about 450-500 years old. The aqua duct system was most intriguing to me (see pics). The system seemed so modern for such the time period. I am very grateful to Prof. Javier Gallego Roca and the team from the New York Institute of Technology for allowing me to be a part of this once in a lifetime opportunity! ​

Granada and Alhambra Welcomed Me with Open Arms

My arrival to Granada was one that I will never forget. The people (for the most part) are kind and willing to help the often, directionally-challenged, tourists and students. The streets are steep, narrow and made of river rock. Now, imagine me carrying a 30lb back pack and a 45lb over-sized suitcase down/up the aforementioned streets and alley ways; you now understand why Arabic Baths will be on the site-seeing list in the near future!

On Monday afternoon, I met with my internship professor, Rafael Garcia. He’s one of the head professors for the school of Architecure here at the University of Granada. Pictured below is Rafael and our student assistant, Marisol. We discussed the importance of water and how Granada receives its water and electricity. I explained how important the use of water flow and velocity are in water recirculation and reuse. Both to determine pressure potential and energy conservation, as well as resource conservation. I also explained to them why we, in the southeastern United States, require water extraction from below ground aquifers – a concept they knew nothing about. Our second meeting went more in depth on the above mentioned topics. It was a learning experience for both sides!

This morning, Marisol took me to the library (bibliotheca) at the Alhambra to conduct research. The archivists were on hand to answer questions and help in any way possible. We found quite a bit of books and articles regarding water, its importance and how the systems at the Alhambra operate.

After I spent a couple of hours looking through books and articles for my final paper, we took a walk through the Generalife section of the Alhambra. Below, you will see a selection of pictures from the Alhambra and my experience here in Granada so far. Ciao!

Me on la escalera de agua

Bittersweet Endings…

I would like to begin this final blog entry by thanking everyone involved in my graduate schooling-career and everyone at the EPCHC. The support and guidance has provided me with the tools needed for success, and brought me to where I am today. Thank you!!

The featured image is a Deionized (DI) Water system from the 1980’s which is still in use today for field blanks. This method is the most sensitive form of pure water for sample collection.

Due to my 2+years of experience working in environmental testing laboratories, I have been given the task to make standards for Total Phosphorus and TKN analyses throughout my internship. These standards are made with a first and second source of quality control (QC) solutions. The QC is an important part of each analysis and determines the validity of the analysis, since the QCs have a specific known range for their results.


The image is my bench-space where I made the standards (in the smaller beakers) using the first and second source solutions – which are usually bought externally. I used the volumetric glass to measure out each solution and diluted them into 100nL of DI water – type 1 (taken from the laboratory sink, treated with UV).

Working in a laboratory setting is my passion, especially with environmental samples! It brings a sense of purpose, that the work I contribute is helping the environment and protecting our common resource. Everyone at the EPCHC is extremely warm and friendly and though I’ve spent only the past two months there, I feel like an adopted relative into their wonderful family. Their work and dedication has made the Tampa Bay estuary a role-model for the nation, as our Tampa Bay has completely recovered our seagrass populations to levels before the industrialism impact of the 1950s- late 1980s. Our story of success brings hope and guidance of sustainability to all sensitive estuary ecosystems shared with our fellow human beings.

Nutrients, a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life.

Nutrients are an essential component for life. Though, sometimes nutrient loading (an excess of nutrients within an ecosystem in a period of time) occurs due to animal fecal excrements, fertilizer runoff, and other anthropogenic factors. An increase in nutrients are harmful and toxic to our ecosystems. When soil and water cycles are not able to keep-up and maintain the natural filtration of nutrients, it can be detrimental to all living organisms in the area (including humans).

The EPCHC routinely collects samples around the Tampa Bay to ensure the levels of nutrients are within appropriate levels. When the samples are brought in, they are acidified in order to preserve the nutrient contents. As seen in the images, about 5-10mL of sample are filtered through a small circular attachment on the syringe. They are placed into the corresponding glass tube and covered with parafilm to place into storage until the analyst is ready to run the samples.

The acidity (pH) must be around 1.6-1.9pH in order to run the analysis accurately on the machine. Before filtration, each sample must be tested for the pH levels and if they are out of range (usually higher than 2.0pH), then one drop of hydrochloric acid is added to the sample, shaken, and the pH is tested again. Usually, one drop does the trick to bring the pH back down to 1.9pH, which is the ideal level.

Laboratory analysis of our environment is crucial to quantifying the sustainability of our ecosystems. This scientific approach provides quantified evidence on the levels of our ecosystem’s health. If the levels are out of range within specific analyses, then the area where the sample was retrieved is targeted to be recovered. Thus, providing guidance where our ecosystems need assistance to ensure the sustainability of our environments.

…and a River for Every Day of the Year

Interview with Bernard Ettinoffe – General Manager of DOWASCO

Managing Dominica’s Most Precious Resource – WATER



Though it is said that in Dominica “there is a river for everyday of the year” the Dominica Water and Sewerage Company (DOWASCO), does not want to take their abundance of water for granted. Mr. Bernard Ettinoffe, General Manager of DOWASCO knows all to well how finite and vulnerable the water resource is and how it can be negatively impacted by climate change, human activities and new development, quite easily.  Therefore, DOWASCO is determined to manage this precious resource appropriately and ensure the sustainability of water resources for all Dominicans now and into the future.

What is the current statistic on water provision throughout the country?

Presently over 97% of the islanders have potable water.  We would have been at 100% had it not been for Tropical Storm Erika in August of 2015.  At the time a new water system was set to be commissioned in the village of Belles by October of that year, but the storm wreaked havoc on our work there. 1,443,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD) have been requested to complete that project.



IMG_0059What efforts are in place to ensure that clean drinking water is supplied?

The way that DOWASCO maintains clean water systems is to obtain intakes from way up stream where the soil is not loose, where the rocks are more solid and where the water is not prone to silting.  Our best water sources are higher up and some  within the UNESCO World Heritage Site where people do not live and where agriculture and the felling of trees is not permitted.  Because there is no construction of any kind in that area, the water is very, very clean.  The water is pulled from those sites, chlorinated and delivered to the communities.  Depending on turbidity levels, others checks and treatments may include sedimentation, filtration, coagulation, and flocculation.  We always ensure that the water is very clean.  When cruise ships come into port, Dominica supplies the vessel with this same water which is double checked on board in the ship’s water testing labs.

The raw water quality is already very good, so most of the time chlorination is the only necessary treatment.  This is because we choose areas that are higher up in the mountains and have less interaction with people.  If we require a water intake in an area that has agriculture, the farmers in that area are paid a subsidy and are no longer allowed to utilize that land.  There is zero tolerance for the felling of trees and the planting of crops near a water intake area to ensure that no fertilizer or other runoff enters the water system.  In cases where turbidity can be high, for example with the Springfield/Antrim system that serves Roseau, (after the road was constructed, a lot of debris was dumped on the hillside), we have introduced coagulation and flocculation with that particular system.


I have noticed the Hydroelectric Complex near Trafalgar falls. How does water in Dominica help in the generation of electricity?

The Dominica Electricity Services Company (DOMLEC) uses some hydropower which is generated from water coming down Trafalgar Falls from Fresh Water Lake.  DOWASCO has a bulk waterline that extends from the mountain power plant all the way down to the seashore and which has the potential to load ships with six million gallons of water per day.  Our intention is to use that water to load the ships, but once no ship is loading, to use that water to generate hydropower and upload it onto DOMLEC’s grid. DOWASCO has a Power Purchase Agreement with DOMLEC for this process.  There is a trade-off from the electricity that DOWASCO utilizes and the balance which is uploaded to the grid.  More specifically, there is a designated price that DOMLEC would pay for the generated electricity, which is included in the Power Purchase Agreement.  If the water company uses more electricity than what is uploaded, then we pay the difference; if we use less, then the electric company will refund the difference based on the prearranged price.  Presently, less than 20% of the community is using hydropower.  The goal has always been to utilize more, but recently investment and focus has moved toward the development of geothermal energy.



If students from the University of South Florida had the opportunity to participate in an internship here, what kinds of water projects could they be involved with?

If university students were interested in water projects in Dominica, they could study the linkages between forestry, the water resources and the impact of climate change.  Some water resource studies have already been conducted by the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) of the University of the West Indies.  A team of students could follow up that work.  Presently Dominica is looking at a water audit to determine the quantity and quality of both surface water and underground water, along with the identification of the water recharge rate and an understanding of the water balance as a whole.  The country could also benefit from a study of the independent efforts at rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and water reuse and turning that study into a campaign that encourages the sustainable use of water island-wide.


With all of this water on the Nature Island, is there any opportunity for entrepreneurship?

Not all islands in the Caribbean are as blessed with the abundance of water like Dominica.  Water-scarcity is a problem for several countries in the region and there is an opportunity to leverage the existing capabilities of Dominica to meet that need.  Dominica is known as the Nature Island; building along that theme with the promotion of quality Nature Island water from the tropical forests of Dominica, we could be a supplier to water-stressed areas in the region like Antigua, Barbuda, and Barbados, among others.  Dominica has the highest per capita of water in the region.


At the Patel College of Global Sustainability we have learned about the Water-Energy-Food Nexus and how a change to one sector can significantly impact another.  How is this systems thinking approach considered in Dominica?


In Dominica, energy is used to provide water and water is used to generate energy.  As much as possible, gravity is used to deliver clean water to many of the residences and business on the island.  In some areas, however, we are obliged to use pumping stations to deliver water to communities that are above the waterline. Although the cost of that water is high, DOWASCO does not pass those costs on to the consumers in that area.  Instead, we make up some of the cost of energy used to deliver that water through earnings from the hydropower production and the power purchase agreement with the electric company.  More and more, demand for water is also required for the irrigation of agriculture.  In the minds of most people, gone are the days when gardens could rely solely on rainwater.  Certainly rainwater harvesting could provide some of this water requirement and productivity could increase significantly if people would simply learn how to better manage their water usage.  But for now, the food production levels are still heavily dependent on the water system.  This all contributes to the Water, Energy, Food Nexus in Dominica.

Even though it is believed that Dominica has 365 rivers, Mr. Ettinoffe is hopeful that best practices in water management will be utilized all over the country which will conserve this finite resource and contribute even more to their status as the Nature Island of the Caribbean.

Jerry John Comellas; University of South Florida; Patel College of Global Sustainability

All the World is a Laboratory to the Inquiring Mind -Martin H. Fischer

Part of the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPCHC) internship is to provide exploration for the intern into the other aspects/divisions which make up the whole of the EPCHC. During the 5th and 6th weeks of my volunteer internship, I shadowed the biological and solids analyst. In the microbiology area, I was able to witness a new form of Enterococcus verification of fecal samples. This analysis is a gram-positive bacterium that has the ability to grow in high concentrations of bile salts and sodium chloride which can be toxic, and life-threatening to humans and other animals.


My visit with another analyst involved the Total Organic Carbon analysis. His samples were in a solid form (rather than the typical aqueous) and he needed to crush the soils and other various samples in a mortar and pestle until the samples were finely ground (like sand). Each sample was placed into a boat and placed into the Solid Sample Machine analyzer which heated the samples up with a Hydrogen carrier gas. A carrier gas is a controlled gas that is pushed through and back in the machines tubing to ensure the samples have been completely removed from the machine once the analysis has completed. In this analysis, his QC and matrix spikes (MS) successfully passed, and proceeded with his 22 samples. Each sample takes about 5-7 minutes to complete its run, making the entire analysis a time-costly one.


The remainder of my 5th and 6th week in the EPCHC lab involved TKN digestion, nutrient filtration, a retirement, and the official announcement of the Governor’s Sterling Award to the EPCHC! The Governor’s Sterling Award is a high honor awarding the agency for its accuracy and dependability. As the EPCHC is a model for the rest of the nation due to the recovery and environmental monitoring accuracy of the Tampa Bay’s ecosystem.

When it Rains, it Pours… and samples are not collected. Then what?

Rain and thunderstorms (with lightning) are common in the Tampa Bay Area. When there is rainfall, environmental samples are not collected, and therefore, samples cannot be analyzed. During the 3rd and 4th weeks in the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPCHC) laboratory, there were many rainy days. So, when there are few analyses to be run, reagents and standards are made. The reagents and standards are the quality control (QC) solutions to ensure the analyses are processing correctly and producing accurate results. Laboratory Control Standards (LCS) are usually duplicated every 10-20 samples, depending on the analysis. The LCS is an important QC within every analysis as they provide an expected result per analysis and without an LCS, the run is not valid. These reagents and QCs have various expiration dates, and most commonly they need to be re-made weekly.

Standards for sulfate analysis was prepared by measuring out 0.237-0.240g (grams) of Potassium Persulfate into glass tubes on a highly sensitive scale, which is atop a marble table. The marble table and scale are calibrated and ensured to be balanced and evenly equal for accuracy. The Potassium Persulfate is kept in the glass tubes and sealed with a cap until the analyst is ready to prepare the solutions to make the QC standards.

Usually on Fridays, two runs (~35-60 samples) are combined for nutrient analysis. These samples need to be filtered before placed into the sample tubes to be analyzed. About 5-10mL (milliliters) of each nutrient sample is filtered into a glass tube, and once all the samples have been filtered then they are wrapped in this stretchable plastic called parafilm and placed into a sample refrigerator for storage until the analyst is ready to run the samples.

Another crucial portion in the laboratory is the cleanliness of workspace, tools, and collection containers. Every laboratory is different, and at the EPCHC, the containers are rinsed with UV-DI (Ultraviolet-Deionized) water 3-5 times without salt. UV-DI is pure water with little to no other materials, minerals, or contaminants. Every week, if it is helpful, I will rinse tubes, collection containers (glass and plastic), and volumetric pipettes with UV-DI then set them to dry overnight.

Every day when I leave my volunteering internship at the EPCHC laboratory, I am happy! I absolutely love working in the lab, especially within this one! I’ve never experienced such nice, down to earth people who all share a common passion for the environment.

The Other Dominicans

Tomorrow I begin my internship on the Nature Island of the Caribbean.  When I tell people that I will be working on the island of Dominica (Dom-min-EEKA), their responses are clear that they have never heard of the island nation. “Do you have to learn Spanish to go there? That’s the country that shares an island with Haiti, right? How come you pronounce it Dom-min-EEKA… isn’t it supposed to be Duh-min-ni-kah? Ohh, I have a friend that is from the Dominican Republic!”

After a quick geography lesson, I explain to them that the Commonwealth of Dominica is a Windward Isle located in the Lesser Antilles and they are closer to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe than they are to any Spanish speaking islands. The people of Dominica speak English and a version of French Creole called Patois. Dominica does not share an island with Haiti, Great Britain, France and not even the United States for that matter.

Truly, these “other Dominicans” do not like it so much that people have no idea that they exist. Cristopher Columbus sailed there too; and he encountered a tribe of Island Caribs, the Kalinagos, when he landed there. Slaves were brought to that island too and provided the work force for both French and British occupation. Dominica is the true quintessential volcanic, tropical paradise. The island has the second largest boiling lake in the world, the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean (the Waitikubuli) and beautiful coral reefs that are on the path of whale migration. Tropical fruit trees and coconuts are there in abundance. Green forests define the landscape along with magnificent waterfalls and a “river for every day of the year.” The only living species of Sisserou Parrots live in Dominica. The country has its own government, departments of government, education system, healthcare, seaport, airport, tourism and even an American Medical School.

The point that people are unfamiliar with the island nation reveals the reality that Dominica has not received the development attention and investment that many of the other Caribbean Islands have received. Some might say this is both a blessing and a curse; others might say that it is both a problem and an opportunity. However one defines it, due to the lack of attention their economy is fragile and employment outside of subsistence farming or fishing is limited. Some innovative community leaders have done well and have created jobs for others. Ross Medical School also provides some jobs. Carnival Cruise Lines now comes into port there. Expatriates from Europe and the United States have also sought opportunity in Dominica. Eco-resorts, health tourism, and organic island living are becoming popular buzz words associated with the island.

In summary, because the natural beauty of the island has been preserved and because sustainability and ecotourism are now more frequently associated with travel destinations, and because the island has so much biodiversity, forests, mountains, fresh water and geothermal activity – the opportunity is there to help create a sustainable island that serves as a model to the world of successful green and blue economies that generate employment for its people. With some creativity, we can turn current problems into opportunities for university student research, social-entrepreneurship, poverty reduction, ecotourism, pesca-tourism, agri-tourism, renewable energy generation, all of which contribute to the goals in the country’s “Organic Island Initiative.”  Follow me on my journey as I unveil some of the sustainability practices already on the island and identify innovative ways for moving forward in their Green and Blue Economies.

Sustainability and the Nature Isle – by Jerry John Comellas

Water Research in Granada, Spain

This is obviously my first WordPress post, and I’m just trying to workout any and all kinks. Looking forward to documenting my highly anticipated internship in Spain in the coming months.

Grenada Spain

The topic for my research is, “Water re-circulation on evaporative systems. The Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra”. This research will check the importance of saving water, as well as an approach to thermal benefits in passive spaces. This research will underline the economic benefits in the aforementioned two lines on a water re-circulation system, saving water and saving cooling (energy).

I am over-joyed to announce that the final product will be published!

Please stay tuned for updates, pictures, and a glimpse into what will be – the best summer of my life!


Welcome to the laboratory!

At the beginning of April 2016 I began my internship with the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPC) in their water chemistry laboratory. The staff there is extremely welcoming and down to earth. As any newbie enters into any lab, the paperwork must be accomplished before anything else. I was given a tour of the facility and all of the departments that make up the EPC. Due to my previous laboratory experience (2+ years) in water quality, they informed me that I was the most experienced and qualified intern they’ve seen in years. Also, this meant that I was able to operate laboratory procedure portions on my own, such as, creating standards, filtering samples, and preparing reagents.

The program also supports interns visiting and shadowing other departments to see how the entire operation unfolds. Part of my internship project focuses on nutrient runoff and loading into the Tampa Bay, so I will go into the field, at least once to observe how samples are collected and how they assess on-site issues. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and EPC were already collaborating on nutrient management and runoff prevention, though now I believe the U.S.E.P.A. is now involved which makes my interaction (as an intern) more of a sensitive matter.

However, in the laboratory, I am learning new things every day and loving every moment! The lab already sets up my nutrient filtration station for me to go ahead and begin on my own. I filter the samples and then place parafilm over the tops of the samples that are ready to be analyzed by the machine, but stored in the fridge until needed.


I am learning how to operate the Lachat Machine which analyzes Total Phosphorous (TP), Ortho-phosphates, and Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN) as seen in the image above. I have digested samples, blanks, and standards in the hood (at 365 degrees Celcius), and each digested sample (20mL) goes into another tube to have at least 2mL pass through analysis. I prepared the reagents and standards for the method and all have passed. In order to have a passing analysis, there must be 50% passing on the matrix spikes and relative duplicates.

This laboratory is one of the best environments, I’ve ever had the pleasure & opportunity to participate and experience. I look forward to acquiring more knowledge about the lab and about the Tampa Bay, a place I moved to when I was little, my home, and a place I cherish.