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Employees of the Matunuck Oyster Bar farm at work on Potters Pond in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, Photo credit: Sea Grant

NOAA's Sea Grant Program on Trump's Chopping Block

By Mandy Sackett

As has been reported, the Trump administration is proposing massive cuts to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), budget. Included in those cuts is the complete elimination of the Sea Grant program.

As a former California Sea Grant fellow with the California Natural Resources Agency, I take personal offense to this assault. The fellowship program has been invaluable to me, giving me a vital role in the state's efforts to address marine litter and waste management issues, teaching me to critically evaluate and craft policy solutions, as well as how to interpret and translate science for policy and communications.

Sea Grant's state and federal fellowships provide recent graduates with an opportunity to participate in research and policy using a science-based approach. The program trains the next generation of decision makers and policy professionals to ensure balanced management of our marine resources.

California Sea Grant and University of Southern California Sea Grant programs are both highly successful beyond the state fellowship program. Check out some of their accomplishments here:

Indeed, the fellowship program is only a small fraction of the vital work that the Sea Grant program contributes nationwide each year.

For 50 years, Sea Grant has been at the forefront of creating economic opportunities, enhancing food and water security, and reducing risks from natural hazards and extreme events facing coastal communities through research and outreach efforts. Sea Grant's research has been critical to making smart decisions about how we manage, protect, and use the resources from our nation's coastal, marine, and Great Lakes environments.

In fiscal year 2015-16 alone, Sea Grant used its $67.3 million federal appropriation to generate an estimated $575 million in economic impacts around the country; created or sustained nearly 21,000 jobs and almost 3,000 businesses; helped 534 coastal communities implement sustainable development practices or policies so they are more resilient to hazards like flooding and hurricanes; and helped more than 40,000 fishermen adopt sustainable harvesting techniques.

Sea Grant is a key partner in:

  • developing sufficient capabilities to sustain ocean-based economies;
  • growing our marine food sector;
  • diversifying our energy sources;
  • protecting critical ocean and coastal infrastructure and related natural resources;
  • and training the next generation of scientists, managers, and stakeholders.

These are all necessary components of a more resilient ocean, coastal and Great Lakes. For more information, check out some of Sea Grant's national-level accomplishments.

Let's make our voices heard and make sure Sea Grant is here to stay! Here are four simple steps you can take to help save this important program:

1. Spread the word—share this blog with your friends and family on social media.

2. Join the Surfrider Foundation and support our efforts to #SaveNOAA.

3. Volunteer at a local chapter and get involved!

4. Contact your representatives—a quick phone call is best! Find your representative's contact information here. Here are a few talking points you can use:

  • I'm calling today to let (elected official) know that I oppose the president's proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), specifically the elimination of the Sea Grant program.
  • Sea Grant directly contributes to job creation and economic development, the core functions of the Department of Commerce.
  • Federal funding of Sea Grant goes a long way. Each dollar Sea Grant receives in federal funds is multiplied threefold through strategic partnerships with academic and grant funders.
  • I personally value (name Sea Grant program or service that is important to you). (Click here for more information about Sea Grant's workshops, trainings and programs in your area.)
  • Again, I urge (elected official) to maintain funding for Sea Grant in NOAA's 2017 and 2018 budgets. Thank you for your time.
Health

2 Billion People Drink Contaminated Water, Says WHO

The World Health Organization urges cleaner sanitation practices after new data reveals that at least two billion people do not have access to clean water.

The drinking water that is causing nearly 500,000 deaths a year is contaminated with feces, causing cholera, dysentery, intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma, typhoid and polio.

The most serious threats are in impoverished and developing areas. Although there has been a push for safe drinking water by the UN General Assembly, which led to a 4.9 percent increase in budgets worldwide, most countries say it is not enough.

The report found that 80 percent of countries are not adequately meeting the UN standards. In a statement WHO said when people can't provide the most basic necessities, like repairing infrastructure, water safety and reliability is sacrificed first.

"This is a challenge we have the ability to solve," Guy Ryder, chair of UN-Water and director-general of the International Labour Organization, said. "Increased investments in water and sanitation can yield substantial benefits for human health and development, generate employment and make sure that we leave no one behind."

This is a heavy burden on local communities, but as Ryder said, it is possible. To really meet UN standards, the world budget for drinking water would have to triple, that's $114 billion annually, to provide underserved areas. Governments can also step up their game by increasing and sustaining WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) access for vulnerable groups, especially in rural areas.

This graphic shows budget for WASH funding worldwide. Photo credit: World Health Organization

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BP Global

BP Arctic Oil Well Still Leaking, Too Unstable to Shut Down

BP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials spent the holiday weekend trying to repair a leaking oil well on Alaska's North Slope. Officials said the well is too unstable to shut down because of frigid temps in the high Arctic, but have released the pressure on one of the main leaks.

It appears that 1.5 acres of the remote area near Deadhorse, Alaska have been affected by the spill. Native communities were notified and non-essential workers were forced to evacuate. However, no injuries to crew or wildlife have been reported.

"Crews are on the scene and are developing plans to bring the well under control," said BP spokesperson Brett Clanton, in a release on Saturday. "Safety will remain our top priority as we move through this process."

There were initially two main leaks, one near the top of the rig that was releasing methane and the other down the assembly line spraying crude oil in a mist over the ice. Officials were able to detect both leaks using infrared cameras.

"Based on an overflight with infrared cameras, the release appears to be contained to the gravel pad surrounding the wellhead and has not reached the tundra," Clanton said.

Crews are still getting the situation under control and no updates have been reported in the last 12 hours.

As natural gas operations have begun taking shape in Alaska, reports of leaks have become more frequent. There had been an ongoing, very large leak occurring at Cook Inlet, which was spewing 210,000 cubic feet of gas per day for nearly four months, but finally Hilcorp Alaska announced Friday that a temporary repair has stopped the leak. However, the effects on marine life, including critically endangered beluga whales, is still unknown.

"Oil companies continue to treat Alaska with reckless abandonment, threatening its pristine waters, wildlife and communities," said Dan Ritzman, director of Sierra Club's Alaska Program.

"Big Oil has repeatedly proven it can't drill for fossil fuels safely, it has repeatedly proven they can't transport it safely, and it has repeatedly proven they can't be trusted with the safety and well-being of the state and its habitat. It's past time that Donald Trump and his friends in the fossil fuel industry put Alaska ahead of corporate polluter's profits which only threaten the state's beauty and environment."

This device can pull liters of water from arid air. Photo credit: MIT photo from laboratory of Evelyn Wang

Solar-Powered Device Can Pull Water Out of Thin Air, Even in Deserts

As a worldwide water crisis looms, engineers have invented a solar-powered harvester that can pull water out of thin air—even in dry, desert environments.

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley have created a device using a specially designed metal-organic framework (MOF) capable of pulling liters of water in conditions where humidity is as low as 20 percent, a level common in arid areas. Impressively, it only needs the power of the sun to operate.

This breakthrough was published in a paper Thursday in the journal Science.

There are already dehumidifiers and other products out there that can collect water from humid air. The process, however, can be energy-intensive and essentially leave you with "very expensive water," as senior author Omar Yaghi of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory put it in a statement.

The new device, however, "is capable of harvesting 2.8 liters of water per kilogram of MOF daily at relative humidity levels as low as 20 percent, and requires no additional input of energy," the authors state in their paper. That's about 2.8 liters of water in 12 hours.

"We wanted to demonstrate that if you are cut off somewhere in the desert, you could survive because of this device," Yaghi said. "A person needs about a Coke can of water per day. That is something one could collect in less than an hour with this system."

The Berkeley professor invented metal-organic frameworks more than 20 years ago. MOFs combine metals such as magnesium or aluminum with organic molecules to form rigid, porous structures that can store gases and liquids. More than 20,000 different MOFs have been created by researchers worldwide.

According to a news release, here's how this new solar-powered, water-collecting MOF works:

In 2014, Yaghi and his UC Berkeley team synthesized a MOF—a combination of zirconium metal and adipic acid—that binds water vapor, and he suggested to Evelyn Wang, a mechanical engineer at MIT, that they join forces to turn the MOF into a water-collecting system.

The system Wang and her students designed consisted of more than two pounds of dust-sized MOF crystals compressed between a solar absorber and a condenser plate, placed inside a chamber open to the air. As ambient air diffuses through the porous MOF, water molecules preferentially attach to the interior surfaces. X-ray diffraction studies have shown that the water vapor molecules often gather in groups of eight to form cubes.

Sunlight entering through a window heats up the MOF and drives the bound water toward the condenser, which is at the temperature of the outside air. The vapor condenses as liquid water and drips into a collector.

When two-thirds of the world's population is experiencing water shortages, the water vapor and droplets in the atmosphere—estimated to be around 13,000 trillion liters—is a natural resource that could address the global water problem, the authors explained in Science.

The team noted that their harvester is proof of concept and has room for improvement. The current device can absorb only 20 percent of its weight in water. They hope to double that amount or tweak the invention so that it can be more effective at higher or lower humidity levels.

Still, as Yaghi pointed out, "this is a major breakthrough." This invention could enable people to have an off-grid water supply."

"One vision for the future is to have water off-grid, where you have a device at home running on ambient solar for delivering water that satisfies the needs of a household," Yaghi said. "To me, that will be made possible because of this experiment. I call it personalized water."

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Health

Chemical Spill Closes Four Lake Michigan Beaches

A U.S. Steel plant in Portage, Indiana has spilled wastewater containing a potentially cancer-causing chemical into Burns Waterway, a tributary about 100 yards from Lake Michigan.

The leak prompted the closure of four beaches and a riverwalk at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Indiana American Water in Ogden Dunes—the nearest municipal water source—to shut down its water intake and switch to a reserve water supply, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is overseeing the spill, announced.

U.S. Steel reported the leak on Tuesday morning. The company informed the EPA that its release has been stopped at the source. The amount of spilled wastewater is still unknown.

The wastewater discharge, apparently caused by a pipe failure, contains hexavalent chromium (chromium-6), which is used for industrial processes. The toxic chemical was made famous by the environmental activist and 2000 movie of the same name, "Erin Brockovich."

Incidentally, as Chicago Tribune pointed out, President Donald Trump's administration has proposed a budget that would quash efforts to crack down on the dangerous pollutant nationwide:

"Trump's proposed budget would abolish the Integrated Risk Information System, the EPA office working on hexavalent chromium standards in drinking water, as well as sharply reduce funding for scientific reviews of toxic chemicals and cut back on the agency's enforcement of environmental laws."

Low levels of the chemical were found in Lake Michigan near the mouth of Burns Waterway, Sam Borries, a branch chief for Region 5 of the EPA's emergency response program, told Chicago Tribune.

Borries said that it is unclear whether or how far the chemical has spread down the shoreline. He added that officials have taken 100 samples along the waterway east and west of its entry point to the lake and results are expected Thursday.

Wednesday morning footage from NBC Chicago's Sky5 shows a dark substance spreading into the Great Lake. The EPA says the substance is sediment, not chromium-6.

According to the Associated Press, a U.S. Steel preliminary investigation determined that an expansion joint failed Tuesday in a pipe at the Portage facility. This allowed wastewater from an electroplating treatment process containing chromium-6 to escape into the wrong wastewater treatment plant at the complex. That wastewater eventually flowed into the Burns Waterway.

Andy Maguire, the EPA's on-scene coordinator, told the AP that testing is continuing at the intake areas and other nearby points, but hexavalent chromium from the spill has so far not been found in Lake Michigan.

Chromium-6 is used in chrome plating, wood and leather treatments, dyes and pigments and the water in cooling towers of electrical power plants.

The chemical has long been known to cause lung cancer when airborne particles are inhaled. Recent science has also shown that, when ingested, it can cause stomach cancer. A 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program found chromium-6 in drinking water caused cancer in rats and mice.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released an analysis last year finding that hexavalent chromium is in the tap water of more than 218 million Americans.

California is the only state that has set an enforceable legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water. The state's public health goal is 0.02 parts per billion of chromium-6 in drinking water, yet the state's legal limit is 500 times higher.

The current federal drinking water standard is 100 parts per billion for total chromium, a measurement that includes the toxic chromium-6 and chromium-3, which is an essential human dietary element.

Health groups are pushing for federal regulators to set national drinking water standards.

Lake Mead, which stores Colorado River water, shows a bath tub ring from low water levels. Photo credit: Bureau of Reclamation

America's 10 Most Endangered Rivers and Why They Are Threatened

Conservation group American Rivers released its annual "Most Endangered Rivers" list on Tuesday, highlighting how 2017 is a "critical year for rivers and clean water."

In the announcement of this year's top 10, the non-profit noted how the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts pose a threat to rivers and communities nationwide.

"President Trump has abandoned critical river protections including the Clean Water Rule, leaving small streams and wetlands—sources of drinking water for one in three Americans—vulnerable to harmful development and pollution," the organization stated.

According to the list, the Lower Colorado River—which runs through Arizona, Nevada and California—is the country's most endangered river.

Matt Rice, Colorado Basin director for American Rivers, told USA Today that "the Lower Colorado is the lifeblood of the region and grows food for Americans nationwide, but the river is at a breaking point."

The river provides drinking water for 30 million Americans, including those who live in major cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix, and helps grow 90 percent of the nation's winter vegetables.

Its main threats are water demand outstripping supply and climate change.

"Water is one of the most crucial conservation issues of our time," said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, in a statement. "The rivers Americans depend on for drinking water, jobs, food and quality of life are under attack from the Trump administration's rollbacks and proposed budget cuts."

"Americans must speak up and let their elected officials know that healthy rivers are essential to our families, our communities and our future," he continued. "We must take care of the rivers that take care of us."

The annual list was first created in 1984. The rivers are selected based upon the following criteria: A major decision (that the public can help influence) in the coming year on the proposed action; The significance of the river to human and natural communities; The magnitude of the threat to the river and associated communities, especially in light of a changing climate.

Here are America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2017 (via National Geographic):

1. Lower Colorado River, Arizona, California, Nevada

Threat: Water demand and climate change.

2. Bear River, California

Threat: new dam

3. South Fork Skykomish, Washington

Threat: new hydropower project

4. Mobile Bay Rivers, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi

Threat: poor water management

5. Rappahannock River, Virginia

Threat: fracking

6. Green-Toutle River, Washington

Threat: new mine

7. Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers, North Carolina

Threat: pollution from hog and chicken farms

8. Middle Fork Flathead River, Montana

Threat: oil transport by rail

9. Buffalo National River, Arkansas

Threat: pollution from massive hog farm

10: Menominee River, Michigan, Wisconsin

Threat: open pit sulfide mining

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Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, is hugged Monday by his son, Tom, a reporter for the newspaper, at the newspaper office. Art Cullen won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Photo credit: Dolores Cullen / Storm Lake Times

Family-Run Paper Wins Pulitzer for Exposing Big Ag Corruption

By Nika Knight

Prestigious Pulitzer Prizes on Monday were awarded to investigations that tackled President Donald Trump, Big Ag and international offshore tax havens, rewarding reporters that took on today's powers-that-be.

The Pulitzer Prizes this year came "in the face of a combative stance from President Trump, who has called the news media 'the enemy of the American people,'" as the New York Times noted.

The prize shed light on a small family-run paper in Iowa that tenaciously challenged large agricultural corporations over water pollution. The Storm Lake Times forced documents to be released that showed powerful agricultural interests were funding a local county's attempt to quell a lawsuit over nitrogen runoff from farms contaminating drinking water.

Art Cullen, the paper's editor, slammed the close financial ties between Big Ag and county government in editorials described by the Pulitzer Committee as "impressive" and "engaging," while also highlighting the catastrophic effects of nitrogen pollution. In one editorial, for example, Cullen wrote:

Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion.

Everyone knows it's not the city sewer plant causing the problem. And most of us recognize that this is not just nature at work busily releasing nitrates into the water. Ninety-two percent of surface water pollution comes from row crop production.

The Washington Post's David A. Fahrenthold also won an award for his persistent investigations into President Donald Trump's claims of charity donations throughout the 2016 campaign. The Pulitzer Committee described Fahrenthold's reporting, which revealed that the president's charitable donations frequently fell far short of his claims, as "a model for transparent journalism."

In addition, an international collaboration between McClatchy, the Miami Herald and the International Consortion of Investigative Journalists that resulted in the landmark Panama Papers investigation into offshore tax havens was awarded the prize for Explanatory Reporting.

The Guardian listed the wide-ranging ramifications of the revelations contained in the Panama Papers:

Iceland's prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was forced to quit after it emerged that his family had sheltered cash offshore. There were demonstrations in Argentina and a small war in Azerbaijan, initiated—some believed—to distract from revelations concerning the president and his daughters.

In China, censors blocked the words "Panama Papers" and jammed the website of the Guardian. In Russia, aides to Vladimir Putin fumed about a western "spy" conspiracy after it emerged that Putin's oldest friend, the cellist Sergei Roldugin, had about $2bn flowing into a network of British Virgin Islands companies.

The founders of the Panamanian law firm, Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, were arrested in February. They are currently in jail on suspicion of money laundering following a coordinated swoop by prosecutors across Latin America.

Other notable prize winners include Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, for his investigative reporting on the state's opiod crisis and the pharmaceutical corporations fueling it; the staff of the East Bay Times in Oakland, California, for their coverage of the "Ghost Ship" fire and city officials' failure to take action that may have prevented the tragedy; and the New York Daily News and ProPublica for an investigation into the New York Police Department's abuse of eviction rules that led to calls for citywide reform.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Popular Farm Pesticide Found in Drinking Water

After evidence of pesticides killing off pollinators surfaced in 2016, scientists went on a quest to see if pesticides were seeping into anything else. Now, in an unprecedented study, the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Iowa reported findings of neonicotinoids—a class of pesticide used to kill off insects—in treated drinking water, marking the first time these chemicals have ever been identified.

The researchers behind the new study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, took samples from 48 streams that feed the Iowa River, a primary source for drinking water throughout the midwest, and found that 63 percent of the samples contained at least one neonicotinoid compound. The samples were taken shortly after corn and soy were planted in nearby fields.

Even more concerning, samples taken from local tap water and the water treatment plant at the University of Iowa showed three main neonicotinoids, proving that filtration practices are not enough to purify the drinking water. The water was collected over the course of seven weeks, but higher concentrations are likely to occur within one to three days of planting.

"Having these types of compounds present in water does have the potential to be concerning," Gregory LeFevre, a coauthor of the study told The Washington Post. "But we don't really know, at this point, what these levels might be."

There is not enough research on human health surrounding the ingestion of pesticides, especially over a prolonged period of time. But, in a 2015 study on the impacts of neonicotinoids on human health, scientists found that chronic exposure to high concentrations were not that harmful and showed weak findings. However, in smaller vertebrate animals, the effects can be severe. A 2015 study of the effects of neonicotinoids on wildlife concluded that they may cause neurological and developmental issues.

Though the study was exclusive to Iowa, it could have far-reaching effects on the entire U.S.

"Everything in the watershed is connected," LeFevre said. "This is one of many types of trace pollutants that might be present in rivers."

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