Posts Tagged ‘california drought’

Widespread pollution, intersex and kudzu

September 14, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to where they originally were published.

500,000 pollution violations in five years

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from residents’ taps.

Follow the New York Times link to look up pollution in Minnesota and other states.

– The New York Times

USGS study finds widespread intersex in fish

Intersex in smallmouth and largemouth bass is widespread in numerous river basins throughout the United States is the major finding of the most comprehensive and large-scale evaluation of the condition, according to U.S. Geological Survey research published online in Aquatic Toxicology.

Of the 16 fish species researchers examined from 1995 to 2004, the condition was most common by far in smallmouth and largemouth bass: a third of all male smallmouth bass and a fifth of all male largemouth bass were intersex. This condition is primarily revealed in male fish that have immature female egg cells in their testes, but occasionally female fish will have male characteristics as well.

“Although the USGS has already documented the severity of intersex in individual basins such as the Potomac, this study reveals the prevalence of intersex is more widespread than anyone anticipated, said Sue Haseltine, associate director for biology at the U.S. Geological Survey. “This research sends the clear message that we need to learn more about the hormonal and environmental factors that cause this condition in fish, as well as the number of fish afflicted with this condition.”

The study, said Hinck, presents the observed occurrence of intersex in a variety of freshwater fish species, but not potential causes. “This study adds a lot to our knowledge of this phenomena, but we still don’t know why certain species seem more prone to this condition or exactly what is causing it. In fact, the causes for intersex may vary by location, and we suspect it will be unlikely that a single human activity or kind of contaminant will explain intersex in all species or regions,” she said.

–USGS News Release

Texas speculators invest in water

In a scorching cow pasture silent save the lowing of cattle, Terry Gilmore picks up a stick and draws in the sand a simple map: divots in the ground for a handful of water wells, then a long scratch for a pipeline to deliver water to Austin’s eastern flank.

About 2,000 feet below him sits an underground reservoir, known as the Simsboro formation, that he and others hope will fuel development everywhere from Georgetown to San Antonio.

Gilmore, 60, the chief investor in a water development company called Sustainable Water Resources, has spent millions of dollars to try to make his lines in the sand a brick-and-mortar reality.

–The Austin American-Statesman

New York braces for higher seas

When major ice sheets thaw, they release enough fresh water to disrupt ocean currents world-wide and make the planet wobble with the uneven weight of so much meltwater on the move. Studying these effects more closely, scientists are discovering local variations in rising sea levels — and some signs pointing to higher seas around metropolitan New York.

Sea level may rise faster near New York than at most other densely populated ports due to local effects of gravity, water density and ocean currents, according to four new forecasts of melting ice sheets. The forecasts are the work of international research teams that included the University of Toronto, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., Florida State University and the University of Bristol in the U.K., among others.

Scientists are laboring to make their predictions more reliable. While they do, New York has become an urban experiment in the ways that seaboard cities can adapt to climate change over the next century.

–The Wall Street Journal

Satellites measure water use

Water management is serious business in the American West, where precipitation is scarce, irrigated agriculture is a major industry, new housing subdivisions spread across arid landscapes.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” water officials are fond of saying.

But measurement — trying to determine how much water is diverted from rivers and how much is pumped from hundreds of thousands of wells — has been an inexact and expensive science.

Now a tool developed by the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the University of Idaho is changing the face of water management and conservation by efficiently offering specific measurements of the water consumed across a large region or single field.

–The Washington Post

EPA seeks to ban lead tire weights

It’s no secret that cars pollute the environment, but not all of that pollution comes out of the tailpipe.

The Environmental Protection Agency says 2,000 tons of lead tire weights —used in wheel balancing — are “lost from vehicles and ultimately end up in the environment each year.” Exposure to lead, the E.P.A. said, has a variety of health effects, including brain and nervous system disorders, high blood pressure, reproductive problems and hypertension.

Recently, the E.P.A. reversed previous decisions and agreed to follow Europe’s lead and seek to ban the manufacture and sale of  lead tire weights.

–The New York Times

Water managers eye  Mexican wetland

The Southwest drought has reached the point where even drain water is coveted.

Beginning nearly 40 years ago, the briny runoff from the “salad bowl” of southern Arizona, some of the most productive farmland in the nation, has been channeled into an arid plain of the Sonoran desert in Mexico.

It is an engineered solution to the vexing problem of keeping the nearby Colorado River free of agricultural wastewater too heavy in salt compounds for drinking water and other uses. An accidental result south of the border has been a thriving man-made wetland, the largest in the river’s delta, a key stopover for migratory birds and home to a bounty of endangered and threatened species.

But now the protracted drought in the Southwest has led water managers to rethink the possibilities for the wastewater, placing the preservation of the wetland, the Ciénega de Santa Clara, at the center of a delicate balancing act between the growing thirst of California, Nevada and Arizona and the delta’s ecology.

–The New York Times

Jordan-Israel embark on massive water project

An acute water shortage has prompted Jordan and Israel to embark on water-supply projects that supporters say will prevent an impending regional crisis but environmentalists have criticized as ill-advised attempts to rewire nature.

The efforts include a pipeline to Amman from the Dissi Reservoir in Jordan’s southern desert and an extensive network of desalination plants Israel is building along the Mediterranean coast. The Dissi is an ancient, nonrenewable, underground pool of water that, once tapped, will run dry in an estimated 50 years.

Most controversially, the two countries are pushing for action on the long-standing idea of cutting a 110-mile path north from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Nearly 2 billion cubic meters of water — about half a trillion gallons — would be sent through a network of pipelines or tunnels each year, with some of it desalinated en route and some used to reverse decades of decline in the Dead Sea’s water level.

–The Washington Post

Eden Prairie seeks erosion advice

Eden Prairie has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to diagnose a severe riverbank erosion problem on the city’s southern limits along the Minnesota River — one that could eventually threaten homes along the bluff above if not corrected, officials say.

Since 1937, the river has cut 300 feet into a point on its north bank in Eden Prairie, forming a sharp bend in the river and even washing away a chunk of old Riverview Road, a historic gravel road now used for hiking along the riverbanks. The erosion is occurring about a mile and a half west of Hwy. 169 at the base of a tall bluff lined by about a dozen homes overlooking the river valley.

–The Star Tribune

Dams drive California water debate

The stalemate over water reform in California these days swirls around a single word that for decades has ignited conflict among ideological opposites: dams.

Conservatives, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, insist on building new dams, believing that pooling water in a canyon will end California’s thirst.

Liberals first want legal assurances that California will make better use of the water it has – a plea for more regulation that seems pointless to the thirsty.

–The Sacramento Bee

Devastating drought parches Kenya

The sun somehow feels closer here, more intense, more personal. As Philip Lolua waits under a tree for a scoop of food, heat waves dance up from the desert floor, blurring the dead animal carcasses sprawled in front of him.

So much of his green pasture land has turned to dust. His once mighty herd of goats, sheep and camels have died of thirst. He says his 3-year-old son recently died of hunger.

A devastating drought is sweeping across Kenya, killing livestock, crops and children. It is stirring up tensions in the ramshackle slums where the water taps have run dry, and spawning ethnic conflict in the hinterland as communities fight over the last remaining pieces of fertile grazing land.

–The New York Times

Mexico suffers drought, too

In the parched Mexican countryside, the corn is wilting, the wheat stunted. And here in this vast and thirsty capital, officials are rationing water and threatening worse cuts as Mexico endures one of the driest spells in more than half a century.

A months-long drought has affected broad swaths of the country, from the U.S. border to the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving crop fields parched and many reservoirs low. The need for rain is so dire that water officials have been rooting openly for a hurricane or two to provide a good drenching.

–The Los Angeles Times

Finally, a kind word for invasive kudzu

Kudzu, the wild vine that has overtaken almost 10 million acres in the southeastern U.S., may be more nutrient than nuisance. Previous studies have suggested a chemical in kudzu may help alcoholics curb addiction. Now a study shows it can help regulate blood pressure, glucose metabolism and cholesterol levels.

Kudzu root contains polyphenols, and is already available in health food stores as a dietary supplement. In the new study, researchers gave half of a rat population kudzu root extract and compared them with rats that didn’t receive the extract. The findings, the authors wrote, “suggest that polyphenols in kudzu root may provide a nonpharmacological complement to traditional approaches for treating hypertension.” The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

–The Baltimore Sun

Drought, economic stimulus and bottled tap water

March 2, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

California drought now officially an emergency
Citing a third consecutive year of drought conditions, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Friday declared a state of emergency and called on urban residents to cut their water usage by 20 percent.

The announcement could intensify talks in the Capitol about upgrading the state’s water infrastructure — a contentious debate that has pitted environmentalists who favor conservation against proponents of building new dams to boost supplies. Negotiations in the Legislature have stalled repeatedly in recent years over the issue of dams.
–San Jose Mercury News

Tap water in a bottle? Don’t laugh. It sells
Two teachers on their lunch break scanned a refrigerated shelf inside a Manhattan coffee shop lined with drink bottles: Naked Juice, Perrier, Smartwater, New York City tap water.

“Tap water?” said Alison Szeli, 26, picking up the clear plastic bottle with orange letters: “Tap’d NY. Purified New York City tap water.”

She studied the description: “No glaciers were harmed in making this water.” She compared prices: Smartwater cost $1.85. Tap’d NY was 35 cents less.
–The Los Angeles Times

Supreme Court clears way for coal emission rules
The Supreme Court cleared the way for the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new regulations on emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic and other pollutants from the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

Environmental groups hailed the action as a final blow to Bush administration efforts to frustrate tight regulation of the emissions, but any new Obama administration rules may draw their own court challenges.
–The New York Times

Gas drilling boom spurs water worries
On a snowy hillside in rural southwest Pennsylvania, Larry Grimm drives his truck up a steep gravel track to a hilltop reservoir surrounded by orange plastic fencing and “keep out” signs.

The pond supplies water pumped from a local creek to the natural gas wells that are springing up throughout Mount Pleasant Township, where Grimm is the municipal supervisor.
–Reuters

EPA promises new look at rules on invasives
The Obama administration’s top environmental official indicated that she will consider tougher rules to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species that hitch rides into the region aboard oceangoing vessels.

Newly appointed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said she will take a fresh look at her agency’s new policy that requires oceangoing vessels to flush their ship-steadying ballast tanks in mid-ocean to expel any unwanted organisms.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Rising water in mine pit worries Bovey residents
Water has been rising in a huge abandoned mine pit near Bovey for about 15 years, and residents’ concerns are rising along with it. The high water is already finding its way into basements, and some residents think it could spill out of the pit some day, inundating the small town.

While there’s money available to try to fix the problem, there’s little agreement how to do that.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Firms urged to disclose ‘water footprint’
Corporations’ “water footprint” — assessing their water use and pollution — should be disclosed in SEC financial reports along with companies’ strategies for dealing with expected growth in water-related costs, according a report by Ceres and the Pacific Institute.

“Investors also have a significant interest and role” in encouraging companies “to look more closely at their potential risk exposure to water-related challenges,” according to the 60-page report issued today. Investors should be aware of potential financial, regulatory and reputational risks corporations face related to water usage and availability that could drive up costs, the report said.
–Pension & Investments

Obama budget would benefit Great Lakes
The budget President Obama revealed would send $475 million to the Midwest to clean up and restore the Great Lakes.

The money would go toward combating invasive species, runoff pollution and contaminated sediment. When he was running for president, Obama committed to making restoration of the Great Lakes a priority.
–The Daily Cardinal

Heavy metal mine cleanup could provide economic boost
One of the nation’s longest-running environmental eyesores is poised to become a critical jobs engine for the rural West under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Together, the Interior and Agriculture departments expect to set off a hiring boom among idled industry and agricultural workers whose charge will be to clean up thousands of abandoned hardrock mines that once formed the backbone of the region’s economy, but whose greater legacy is one of toxic wastes and thousands of miles of contaminated rivers, creeks and streams.
-The New York Times

Satellite crash sets back carbon research
NASA and climate researchers are weighing their options after the crash of a new satellite designed to monitor atmospheric carbon dioxide with unprecedented accuracy. A malfunction during the rocket ride toward space sent the Orbiting Carbon Observatory plummeting into the Indian Ocean near Antarctica.

“To say that it’s extremely disappointing would be an understatement. This was a really important science mission,” said a dismayed Edward J. Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for science.
–The Washington Post

Texas governor wants to spend to meet water demand
Gov. Rick Perry says it’s time for Texas to put some money into water.

The Republican governor told the Texas Water Conservation Association on Wednesday that lawmakers should spend $260 million to help speed the building of water reservoirs.

The 2007 Texas state water plan projects that population and the demand for water will increase dramatically over the next 50 years.
–Associated Press

New type of toilet promises to save water, money
In the industrialized world, most of us (except those who have septic tanks) rely on wastewater-treatment plants to remove our excrement from the drinking-water supply, in great volumes. (Toilets can use up to 30 percent of a household’s water supply.) This paradigm is rarely questioned, and I understand why: flush toilets, sewers and wastewater-treatment plants do a fine job of separating us from our potentially toxic waste, and eliminating cholera and other waterborne diseases. Without them, cities wouldn’t work.

But the paradigm is flawed. For a start, cleaning sewage guzzles energy. Sewage treatment in Britain uses a quarter of the energy generated by the country’s largest coal-fired power station.
-The New York Times

Levees in 16 states flunk inspections
More than 100 levees in 16 states flunked maintenance inspections in the last two years and are so neglected that they could fail to stem a major flood, records from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show.

The 114 levees received “unacceptable” maintenance ratings in corps inspections, meaning their deficiencies are so severe that it can be “reasonably foreseen” that they will not perform properly in a major flood, according to the records, which were requested by USA TODAY. As a result, the corps is advising state and local levee authorities that the levees no longer qualify for federal rehabilitation aid if damaged by floodwaters.
–USA Today

DNR to combine divisions
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to create a new division focused on watershed management.

Assistant DNR commissioner Larry Kramka says in the past, conservation efforts have been more focused on problem areas. Now, the new division, which combines the Waters and Ecological Resources Divisions, will approach conservation by addressing the root causes of problems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

New Berlin, Wis., to get Lake Michigan water
Lake Michigan water may start flowing across the subcontinental divide in New Berlin by July, the first such diversion since the Great Lakes compact was approved.

New Berlin recently sent its one-time $1.5 million payment for the water to the City of Milwaukee, even though the western suburb is still waiting for the state Department of Natural Resources to approve the diversion.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Mathematicians model snowflakes
The random, symmetrical beauty of snowflakes has been recreated in a computer program, U.S. researchers said.

It took four years for two mathematicians from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of California, Davis, to develop the computer model’s theory and perform the computations.

“Even though we’ve artfully stripped down the model over several years so that it’s as simple and efficient as possible, it still takes us a day to grow one of these things,” Wisconsin researcher David Griffeath said in a statement.
–Reuters


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