A Twenty-First Century Water War Erupts in Texas
Gary Cheatwood grew up near the town of Cuthand, in far northeast Texas, and he always found peace along the wooded banks of Little Mustang Creek. His grandfather had bought 100 acres in 1917 and now Gary’s family owns 600 acres of bottomland near where the creek’s clear waters meet the Sulphur River. He especially loves the woods around the creek—some 70 species of hardwood trees, including a massive Texas honey locust that ranks as official state champion. “This forest is not making money,” says Cheatwood, a retired surveyor and construction manager. “But a lot of things are more important than money. The trees give me pleasure.”
Everything about the land pleases Cheatwood. Still wiry and lean at 75, he walks it every week, always wearing his standard outfit of lace-up work boots, jeans, plaid flannel shirt, and baseball cap. He collects finely crafted Caddo and Cherokee Indian arrowheads. In the spring, blue and yellow wildflowers bloom. He takes pleasure, too, in looking for rare creatures—the American burying beetle, a certain obscure shrew, even the eastern timber rattlesnake.
Yet as he stood on the creek bank this January, he knew his family could have their homestead taken by the state of Texas. If Texas Water Development Board planners have their way, sometime in the next 20 years or so Cheatwood’s land will disappear under Marvin Nichols Reservoir, a proposed 72,000-acre lake meant to provide water to the Dallas-Ft. Worth “Metroplex” 135 miles to the west. Some 4,000 of his neighbors (a few estimates go as high as 10,000 people) will also become refugees, driven off their lands, either for lake bottom or for the hundreds of thousands of acres to be taken as “mitigation.”
All over rural Texas, large swaths of farmland and ranchland and coastal estuaries face a similarly precarious future. A convergence of extended drought, supply-side water policy, and relentless economic and population growth has led to bitter fights over how water is to be used.
The current drought began in 2006 and, with the exception of occasional years of what was once considered near-normal rain, has never really gone away. By far the state’s greatest climatic trauma occurred in 2011, when a full 85 percent of the state qualified as suffering from “exceptional drought,” the most severe category listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Hot, dry winds blew across the state from early spring through the summer and fall. For weeks temperatures ranged well over 100 degrees, and reached 110 degrees in places. Texas dried out so much that it literally caught fire: 31,453 wildfires burned more than 6,000 square miles. Gary Cheatwood’s tiny Cuthand Volunteer Fire Department fought 18 blazes by itself and cooperated with other agencies in fighting dozens more. “We were afraid to leave our homes to get groceries,” Cheatwood says. “If we weren’t at home when the fires came, no one could call for help.” An estimated 300 million trees died from lack of water. People bought feed to keep birds and deer alive. Reservoirs in West Texas ran dry.
Three years later, drought still prevails in 70 percent of the state. And although a predicted El Niño will, hopefully, bring rains, people still fear that the extended drought might become permanent, the new normal. But rather than recognizing the state’s erratic rains and limited water supplies—and recommending dramatic conservation measures—the Texas state water plan calls for building more dams and pipelines and drilling more aquifers to bring water to the growing cities.
Meanwhile, the Texas establishment, aroused by the recent oil and gas industry boom, predicts an 82 percent population increase in the next 50 years, leading to a state with 46 million residents. Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston rank among the 20 fastest growing cities in the country. All these people coming to Texas will need water.
Texas cities are trying to grab water from the state’s rural areas, using the state’s existing planning process that for decades has favored urban/suburban development. If the cities succeed, they will inflict terrible damages on the environment and the ranching and agriculture that sustain rural communities. Along the Colorado River south of Austin, rice farmers near the town of Eagle Lake, whose land has been in production since 1893, may lose vital irrigation water. The rare, endangered whooping cranes that spend winters in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near the town of Rockport could die from lack of freshwater. Already one major die-off has occurred. In the winter of 2008-2009, at least 23 of 270 cranes died because Texas managers took too much water from the Guadalupe River and didn’t leave enough flowing into the bay to keep it brackish enough for the cranes’ food—the blue crab—to survive.
To many Texans living in the state’s large cities, places like Cuthand, Eagle Lake and Rockport are invisible—neither the cow towns imagined from Western movies nor contemporary urban sprawls. Instead, they are farming areas or coastal fishing villages. In Cuthand, families pass their acreage down to their children, and almost everyone works a second job to keep the farm or ranch going. In Eagle Lake, farmers harvest rice and supplement their incomes by working as guides for duck and geese hunters who lease their flooded rice paddies.
The state’s growth machine—summed up by Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) ad campaign, “Texas Wide Open for Business”—sees these places as expendable. But the people who live in these sacrifice zones, along with Texas environmentalists, aren’t willing to go away quietly. They are fighting back to protect their lands, water and the state’s wildlife—what they collectively call their heritage. Rural residents and their environmental allies are vastly outnumbered and outfunded, but they are mobilizing for a long conflict. Their various local fights may buy time for Texas to create an alternative water paradigm, another path to the future in the increasingly volatile climatic era ahead.
Gary Cheatwood joined the Sulphur Oversight Society (SOS) in 2003, when he learned that the Dallas-Ft. Worth area had moved forward longstanding claims to the river as the site for a dam. A Cuthand area rancher, Shirley Shumake, founded SOS with a handful of other locals to sound the alarm. Armed with contour maps that traced the footprint of the proposed reservoir, they contacted everyone who might lose their land. Within a few years SOS grew to hundreds of members—a big number for a sparsely populated region—and garnered 8,000 signatures for a petition to the Texas State Water Board protesting the reservoir.
Shumake and Cheatwood’s group, joined by a local timber company, filed a lawsuit against the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), claiming the state’s plan for Marvin Nichols Reservoir violated Texas state water laws protecting agricultural and natural resources. SOS won, and again won an appeals hearing. But then the TWDB attempted an end run around the courts and is now seeking to put Marvin Nichols Reservoir into a regional water plan. “The board just went ahead and did what they wanted to do,” Shumake said. Cheatwood sighed, “We got the weight of the Texas Water Board on us now. We’ll have Marvin Nichols hanging over us forever. It’s not right. People down here feel like they’ve been run over.”
At the most basic level, the sheer greed motivating plans for Marvin Nichols Reservoir galls rural residents. “Building the lake is not about getting the water,” Shumake said. “It’s about money.” Dallas-Ft. Worth can indeed get its water elsewhere. Many reservoirs built for flood control between 1960 and 1980 have never been tapped for water supply. Texas also calculates lake capacity conservatively; dams can be safely filled to higher levels or the dams themselves raised to increase capacity. But if Dallas-Ft. Worth follows this approach, Shumake said, “They’d have to buy the water from some other agency. They wouldn’t own it and control it.”
Another financial incentive to build the reservoir comes from the money to be made by construction. Calculated in 2013 dollars, building Marvin Nichols Reservoir will cost more than $3.8 billion for the reservoir itself, and $2 billion for pipelines. Texas Water Development Board guidelines allow the supervising engineering and construction management firm, together with legal and financial consultants, to take 35 percent of the total costs for reservoirs and 30 percent for pipelines as their commission. The engineering and construction management firm that serves as consultants to the Dallas-Ft. Worth water planning group—a company called Freese and Nichols Inc.—is the same firm doing the preliminary design work for Marvin Nichols Reservoir. “The consulting firms work for the planning groups cheap,” explains Rick Lowerre, an Austin environmental attorney who represented Cheatwood and Shumake in court. “They do it to promote projects where they can make much more money.” In fact, the proposed lake is named after the man who cofounded the firm in 1922 and designed Texas’s plan in the 1960s for large-scale reservoir construction.
Then there’s the money to be made selling the water from Marvin Nichols Reservoir. Dallas-Ft. Worth sits atop the Barnett Shale, which since 1981 has been drilled and fracked for natural gas. Economic geologists from the University of Texas estimate that from 1981 to 2012 hydraulic fracturing took 55 billion gallons in this region alone. Water from Marvin Nichols Reservoir could be sold for drilling and fracking all over Texas. Or it could be sold as bottled water. Already, private businesses bottle and sell municipal water, and make a nice profit in the process. The bottled water Cheatwood buys at Walmart carries this label: “Bottled in Fort Worth by Cott Beverage. City of Fort Worth Municipal Water.”
This water-industrial complex—choked with conflicts of interest and driven more by avarice than necessity—seems like a Lone Start State remake of Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s 1974 film about Los Angeles’s water grab in the Owens Valley. William Mulholland, Los Angeles’s water czar at the turn of the twentieth century (and the villain in Chinatown), once explained his motive for swindling valley residents to support LA’s growth with the remark: “If you don’t get the water, you won’t need it.” In other words: supply will drive the demand.
Sulphur River bottom residents are also upset that their lands will become drowned for a very shallow lake—virtually a swamp. “Here the lake will be just three to four feet deep,” Cheatwood pointed out. “Over there it will be only one to two feet deep. Marvin Nichols will destroy this whole country for a foot or so of water.” It’s questionable how much of its shallow water will remain after the Texas sun takes its toll. Water engineers calculate that evaporation across all of Texas’s reservoirs totaled 129 percent of municipal use in 2010.
Lastly, “aggravating us no end,” Cheatwood said, water from Marvin Nichols will end up sprinkling lawns. Texas municipalities currently use 35 percent to 50 percent of their water for landscaping. Cities vary enormously in terms of daily water use, what’s called gallons of water per day per capita (gpcd). Dallas took 198 gpcd in 2013, and its surrounding suburbs—where large lawns rule and golf courses and water parks proliferate—used even more.
In contrast, the Sulphur River region in northeast Texas used 140 gpcd. “We conserve our resources. We don’t water our grass at all,” said Cheatwood’s son, Gary Jr., a software engineer who drives back and forth to Dallas-Ft. Worth frequently. “The developers go out there on the prairie and strip out the top soil and prairie grass, and plant St. Augustine sod—it was never meant for St. Augustine! The suburbs and cities are addicted to an unlimited water supply. Must we give up our land for their addiction to a lifestyle? … Those folks in Dallas think we’re hillbillies and they’re doing us a favor by getting us out of the woods.”
But the Cheatwoods have no intention of abandoning their property. “We’ll never leave here,” Gary Sr. said.
Three hundred and fifty miles to the south, Ronald Gertson, a fourth generation rice farmer, faces another kind of water crisis. Standing in a dry rice paddy this January, he looked at the $350,000 well his family had just installed to help them get through another year without river water and grimaced, wondering just how long they could keep going.
Each year in February, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), a state regulatory agency, makes a decision on whether to release water from the Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis reservoirs. Below Austin, along 150 miles of the Colorado, the river supports 50,000 acres in rice irrigation, cooling waters for rural electrical plants and ultimately, water for the river ecosystem and its outlet on the Gulf at Matagorda Bay.
Gertson rightly predicted the LCRA would not release water in the spring of 2014. Because of the drought the levels behind the dams were far below 850,000 acre-feet, what in recent years had become the LCRA’s trigger. It would mark the third year of no river water for irrigation. Gertson whipped out a calculator. “If all 50,000 acres of rice paddies stay dry,” he said, “a minimum of 500 million pounds of rice will not get produced, full calories to feed 1.8 million people.” In 2012 and 2013, the rice farmers in the region survived through a U.S. government-subsidized program of crop insurance called “preventive planting,” meaning they received the market value for their rice even though they planted nothing.
Agricultural support businesses, though, just went under. “The bank closed up on December 31, 2013,” explained Mary Parr, mayor of Eagle Lake, population 3,000. “They handed over the building to the city—they didn’t even try to sell it. A rice drying facility closed, as did the local branch of John Deere. We’re getting deeper into the hole.”
As the drought continued, the city of Austin and the affluent suburban communities that had developed around the reservoirs began to lobby the LCRA to raise the “trigger” even more—65 percent higher, to 1.4 million acre-feet. Such a trigger would basically doom the rice farmers, but it was billed as a necessity for the lakeside communities. They wanted to preserve the water levels in the lakes so that residents could keep their views, readily reach their boat docks, and retain home values. The city of Austin—the fastest growing city in the U.S. in 2013—wanted to have a saved supply of water for future expansion. Such “water banking” is not uncommon. The phrase is revealing: Water in Texas is a commodity as valuable and as fungible as money itself.
Within a few years, the rice growers will run out of federally subsidized crop insurance, driving them bankrupt. Facing bankruptcy, rice farmers will have no other choice other than to plow and break up the near water-tight clay pans that keep water in the rice paddies; destroying the pans will be necessary to convert the land to cattle pasture, the only other agricultural use for the area. In effect, raising the trigger to 1.4 million acre-feet before releasing water downstream will destroy rice farming on the lower Colorado forever.
The suburban lake communities claimed that raising the levels was absolutely necessary because the old level of 850,000 acre-feet represents “an imminent threat to public health and safety.” Their arguments rested on an imagined series of events: If 1.) it rains in the spring and 2.) the LCRA releases some water to the farmers, and 3.) after that release there are no more rains and 4.) evaporation lowers the lake levels, then the intake pipes would be left high and dry above the water line. (Ronald Gertson calls this line of thinking a “once in a hundred year scenario.”) The Austin Water Utility added to the drama, claiming that its water system was designed to function at high demand levels: “As flow decreases, AWU system’s ability to handle peak demands and fire flows may be affected.” In short: Austin might burn down! Just as dangerous, Austin officials said, if state agencies did not hold 1.4 million acre-feet in the lakes, then diseases might generate in the water pipes.
Finally, Austin raised the specter of what might happen if the city reduced or banned lawn watering. “With deepening watering restrictions, there is increased risk of illegal cross connections.” Austin’s citizens might jury-rig “graywater” drains to their yards, “which carries health risks.” And if watering did not continue, trees might die and home foundations would crack. (Requests to the Austin Water Utility for documents and interviews to back these claims were ignored.)
“It does not make sense to cut off food production for watering lawns,” Gertson said. “We’re a small group down here and we’re pitted against millions in Central Texas who want to continue a wasting-water lifestyle.”
But the rice growers found allies in the environmental community. “People in Austin are still watering their yards. Does this sound like an emergency to you?” asked Jennifer Walker, a water resource specialist for the Texas Living Waters Project, a joint National Wildlife Federation-Sierra Club effort to create a water policy for both people and wildlife. Kirby Brown, a wildlife biologist with the national hunting group Ducks Unlimited, helped put together the Colorado Water Issues Committee, a partnership between downriver businesses, environmental groups, and hunters. “We describe the rice-growing region around Eagle Lake a ‘rice prairie wetland ecosystem,’” Brown explained. Eagle Lake calls itself “The Goose Hunting Capital of the World.” But since the LCRA cut off water in 2012 and 2013, more than 80 percent of the snow geese quit coming. Brown explained the stark mathematics of duck food requirements: “Half of a duck’s energy is rice. We calculate that every 10,000 acres of rice supports 120,000 ducks and geese.” If Texas agencies end water releases down the Colorado, then ducks and geese, like the rice farmers, will vanish.
The showdown came in late February. Austin and the Highland Lake communities convinced the LCRA and two state administrative judges to boost the release level to 1.4 million acre-feet. But when the issue came before the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ), its commissioners ignored the cities’ claims about threats to public health and safety. Instead, the TCEQ did not set a trigger level at all, saying that, given the extended drought, no agricultural water releases were pending in the next 120 days anyway. Limited releases, called “environmental flows,” to sustain the river and bay ecosystems will continue for the time being. This was exactly the direction recommended by the farmer-hunter-environmentalist coalition. Ronald Gertson, elated at winning his most important battle in 26 years of water politics, said: “I am doing pretty darn good.”
Down in the coastal communities near the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, where the Guadalupe River reaches San Antonio Bay, birders, fishermen and the tourist industry anxiously await the outcome of another case, now before a federal appeals court, that will determine their future.
In response to 2008-2009 whooping crane deaths, the communities formed a new foundation, The Aransas Project, and hired Jim Blackburn, a Houston-based environmental attorney. Blackburn, whose 2004 work, The Book of Texas Bays, describes the Texas coast as “in its natural state a metaphorical Garden of Eden,” developed a bold legal strategy. He alleges the state violated the Endangered Species Act for years by not properly managing freshwater inflow into San Antonio Bay. The collapse of the blue crab population thus led to the birds’ deaths. The state of Texas was legally responsible since its water agencies decide how water is allocated. A federal judge in Corpus Christi ruled in favor of The Aransas Project in 2012. The state of Texas appealed the case to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans; a decision is expected imminently.
Regardless of who wins, further appeals are likely, perhaps all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. If The Aransas Project prevails, Texas will be pressured into sustaining freshwater inflows. A victory for the whooping cranes would also set a crucial legal precedent for additional Endangered Species Act lawsuits to protect estuaries, such as Matagorda Bay, that serve as habitat for another blue-crab-eating endangered species, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.
Blackburn stresses that lawsuits blocking existing state water practices and plans will not by themselves create viable policy: “To win in Texas you have to solve the [demand] problem as well. “ But changing how people and cities use water takes years.” Myron Hess, an Austin-based attorney for the National Wildlife Federation and expert on Texas rivers and estuaries, thinks that at the very earliest, Texas’s environmental advocates cannot expect to make major changes in the state’s water plans (which are issued every five years) until 2022.
In the fight against Marvin Nichols Reservoir, the struggle to secure water for the Lower Colorado, and in the whooping crane lawsuit, water activists are simply buying time to make those cultural changes in water use, trying to push back the Texas growth machine long enough for conservation ethics and technologies to take hold across the state. “It’s a tough environment, but we have to do it,” Hess said. “If we can win changes here in Texas on a large scale, it would be a big signal to the rest of the country.”
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Google's New Timelapse Shows 37 Years of Climate Change Anywhere on Earth, Including Your Neighborhood
Google Earth's latest feature allows you to watch the climate change in four dimensions.
The new feature, called Timelapse, is the biggest update to Google Earth since 2017. It is also, as far as its developers know, the largest video taken of Earth on Earth. The feature compiles 24 million satellite photos taken between 1984 and 2020 to show how human activity has transformed the planet over the past 37 years.
"Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone," Google Earth Director Rebecca Moore wrote in a blog post Thursday.
Moore herself has been directly impacted by the climate crisis. She was one of many Californians evacuated because of wildfires last year. However, the new feature allows people to witness more remote changes, such as the melting of ice caps.
"With Timelapse in Google Earth, we have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips — one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerizingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades," she wrote.
Some climate impacts that viewers can witness include the melting of 12 miles of Alaska's Columbia Glacier between 1984 and 2020, Fortune reported. They can also watch the disintegration of the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. The changes are not limited to the impacts of global warming, however.
Moore said the developers had identified five themes, and Google Earth offers a guided tour for each of them. They are:
- Forest change, such as deforestation in Bolivia for soybean farming
- Urban growth, such as the quintupling of Las Vegas sprawl
- Warming temperatures, such as melting glaciers and ice sheets
- Sources of energy, such as the impacts of coal mining on Wyoming's landscape
- Fragile beauty, such as the flow of Bolivia's Mamoré River
However, the feature also allows you to see smaller-scale change. You can enter any location into the search bar, including your local neighborhood, CNN explained. The feature does not offer the detail of Street View, Gizmodo noted. It is intended to show large changes over time, rather than smaller details like the construction of a road or home.
The images for Timelapse were made possible through collaboration with NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey's Landsat satellites and the European Union's Copernicus program and Sentinel satellites. Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab helped develop the technology.
To use Timelapse, you can either visit g.co/Timelapse directly or click on the Ship's Wheel icon in Google Earth, then select Timelapse. Moore said the feature would be updated annually with new images of Earth's alterations.
"We hope that this perspective of the planet will ground debates, encourage discovery and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues," she wrote.
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By Asher Rosinger
Imagine seeing a news report about lead contamination in drinking water in a community that looks like yours. It might make you think twice about whether to drink your tap water or serve it to your kids – especially if you also have experienced tap water problems in the past.
In a new study, my colleagues Anisha Patel, Francesca Weaks and I estimate that approximately 61.4 million people in the U.S. did not drink their tap water as of 2017-2018. Our research, which was released in preprint format on April 8, 2021, and has not yet been peer reviewed, found that this number has grown sharply in the past several years.
Other research has shown that about 2 million Americans don't have access to clean water. Taking that into account, our findings suggest that about 59 million people have tap water access from either their municipality or private wells or cisterns, but don't drink it. While some may have contaminated water, others may be avoiding water that's actually safe.
Water insecurity is an underrecognized but growing problem in the U.S. Tap water distrust is part of the problem. And it's critical to understand what drives it, because people who don't trust their tap water shift to more expensive and often less healthy options, like bottled water or sugary drinks.
I'm a human biologist and have studied water and health for the past decade in places as diverse as Lowland Bolivia and northern Kenya. Now I run the Water, Health, and Nutrition Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. To understand water issues, I talk to people and use large datasets to see whether a problem is unique or widespread, and stable or growing.
An Epidemic of Distrust
According to our research, there's a growing epidemic of tap water distrust and disuse in the U.S. In a 2020 study, anthropologist Sera Young and I found that tap water avoidance was declining before the Flint water crisis that began in 2014. In 2015-2016, however, it started to increase again for children.
Our new study found that in 2017-2018, the number of Americans who didn't drink tap water increased at an alarmingly high rate, particularly for Black and Hispanic adults and children. Since 2013-2014 – just before the Flint water crisis began – the prevalence of adults who do not drink their tap water has increased by 40%. Among children, not consuming tap has risen by 63%.
To calculate this change, we used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey that releases data in two-year cycles. Sampling weights that use demographic characteristics ensure that the people being sampled are representative of the broader U.S. population.
Racial Disparities in Tap Water Consumption
Communities of color have long experienced environmental injustice across the U.S. Black, Hispanic and Native American residents are more likely to live in environmentally disadvantaged neighborhoods, with exposure to water that violates quality standards.
Our findings reflect these experiences. We calculated that Black and Hispanic children and adults are two to three times more likely to report not drinking their tap water than members of white households. In 2017-2018, roughly 3 out of 10 Black adults and children and nearly 4 of 10 Hispanic adults and children didn't drink their tap water. Approximately 2 of 10 Asian Americans didn't drink from their tap, while only 1 of 10 white Americans didn't drink their tap water.
When children don't drink any water on a given day, research shows that they consume twice as many calories from sugary drinks as children who drink water. Higher sugary drink consumption increases risk of cavities, obesity and cardiometabolic diseases. Drinking tap water provides fluoride, which lowers the risk of cavities. Relying on water alternatives is also much more expensive than drinking tap water.
A4: Choosing to drink fluoridated tap water over sugar-sweetened beverages to quench thirst is vital to protecting… https://t.co/3tm8wuWjeZ— Oral Health Watch (@Oral Health Watch)1600795750.0
What Erodes Trust
News reports – particularly high-visibility events like advisories to boil water – lead people to distrust their tap water even after the problem is fixed. For example, a 2019 study showed that water quality violations across the U.S. between 2006 and 2015 led to increases in bottled water purchases in affected counties as a way to avoid tap water, and purchase rates remained elevated after the violation.
The Flint water crisis drew national attention to water insecurity, even though state and federal regulators were slow to respond to residents' complaints there. Soon afterward, lead contamination was found in the water supply of Newark, New Jersey; the city is currently replacing all lead service lines under a legal settlement. Elsewhere, media outlets and advocacy groups have reported finding tap water samples contaminated with industrial chemicals, lead, arsenic and other contaminants.
Many other factors can cause people to distrust their water supply, including smell, taste and appearance, as well as lower income levels. Location is also an issue: Older U.S. cities with aging infrastructure are more prone to water shutoffs and water quality problems.
It's important not to blame people for distrusting what comes out of their tap, because those fears are rooted in history. In my view, addressing water insecurity requires a two-part strategy: ensuring that everyone has access to clean water, and increasing trust so people who have safe water will use it.
As part of his proposed infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden is asking Congress for $111 billion to improve water delivery systems, replace lead pipelines and tackle other contaminants. The plan also proposes improvements for small water systems and underserved communities.
These are critical steps to rebuild trust. Yet, in my view, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should also provide better public education about water quality testing and targeted interventions for vulnerable populations, such as children and underserved communities. Initiatives to simplify and improve water quality reports can help people understand what's in their water and what they can do if they think something is wrong with it.
Who delivers those messages is important. In areas like Flint, where former government officials have been indicted on charges including negligence and perjury in connection with the water crisis, the government's word alone won't rebuild trust. Instead, community members can fill this critical role.
Another priority is the 13%-15% of Americans who rely on private well water, which is not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These households are responsible for their own water quality testing. Public funding would help them test it regularly and address any problems.
Public distrust of tap water in the U.S. reflects decades of policies that have reduced access to reliable, safe drinking water in communities of color. Fixing water lines is important, but so is giving people confidence to turn on the tap.
Asher Rosinger is an assistant professor of biobehavioral health, anthropology, and demography and director of the Water, Health, and Nutrition Laboratory at Penn State University.
Disclosure statement: Asher Rosinger receives funding from the National Science Foundation on an unrelated project. This work was supported by the Ann Atherton Hertzler Early Career Professorship funds, and the Penn State Population Research Institute (NICHD P2CHD041025). The funders had no role in the research or interpretation of results.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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A new report promoting urgent climate action in Australia has stirred debate for claiming that global temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade.
Australia's Climate Council released the report on Thursday. The council is an independent organization of climate scientists and experts on health, renewable energy and policy who work to inform the Australian public on the climate crisis. But their latest claim is causing controversy.
"Multiple lines of evidence show that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above the preindustrial level, without significant overshoot and subsequent drawdown, is now out of reach due to past inaction," Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Prof. Christopher Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment wrote in the foreword. "The science is telling us that global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 2030s, and that long-term stabilization at warming at or below 1.5°C will be extremely challenging."
The report is titled "Aim high, go fast: Why emissions need to plummet this decade," and as the name suggests, it is ultimately concerned with urging more robust climate action on the part of the Australian government. The report calls for the country to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2035 in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris agreement, which means limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius.
"The world achieving net zero by 2050 is at least a decade too late and carries a strong risk of irreversible global climate disruption at levels inconsistent with maintaining well-functioning human societies," the authors wrote.
The report further argues that global temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2030s based on existing temperature increases; locked-in warming from emissions that have already occurred; evidence from past climate changes and the percentage of the carbon budget that has already been used.
The report isn't a call to give up on the Paris agreement. It is possible that global temperatures could swell past 1.5 degrees Celsius but still be reduced by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if temperatures do exceed 1.5 degrees, every degree of warming that can be prevented makes a difference.
"Basically we can still hold temperature rise to well below 2C and do that without overshoot and drawdown," Will Steffen, lead report author from the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, told Australia's ABC News. "Every tenth of a degree actually does matter — 1.8C is better than 1.9C, and is much better than 2C."
However, some outside scientists question both the accuracy and effectiveness of the report's claim. Both Adjunct Professor Bill Hare from Murdoch University and Dr. Carl-Freidrich Schleussner from Humboldt University told ABC News they have been trying to contact the Climate Council about its 1.5 overshoot claim for months. They said that it went against other major reports, including the UN Environment Program Gap Report and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5˚C.
"The big challenge their report reinforces is the need for urgent action to get on that 1.5C pathway, [so] it's very paradoxical to me that they've chosen to attack that target," Dr. Hare told ABC News.
However, Scientist Andy Pitman from the Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales told The Guardian that the report's assessment was correct.
"It's simply not possible to limit warming to 1.5C now," he said. "There's too much inertia in the system and even if you stopped greenhouse gas emissions today, you would still reach 1.5C [of heating]."
However, one aspect everyone agreed on involved the importance of lowering emissions as soon as possible.
"[There is] absolute fundamental agreement on the task at hand, which is to get emissions to plummet," Simon Bradshaw, report author and Climate Council head of research, told The Guardian.
French winemakers are facing devastating grape loss from the worst frost in decades, preceded by unusually warm temperatures, highlighting the dangers to the sector posed by climate change.
"An important share of the harvest has been lost. It's too early to give a percentage estimate, but in any case it's a tragedy for the winegrowers who have been hit," said Christophe Chateau, director of communications at the Bordeaux Wine Council, told CNN.
Climate change, caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, has pushed winegrowing seasons earlier, putting crops at higher risk of cold — and wildfires supercharged by climate change also threaten American vignerons and farmworkers as well.
"I think it's good for people to understand that this is nature, climate change is real, and to be conscious of the effort that goes into making wine and the heartbreak that is the loss of a crop," Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy's Côte de Nuits told Wine Enthusiast.
As reported by Wine Enthusiast:
Last week, images of candlelit French vineyards flooded social media. Across the country, winemakers installed bougies, or large wax-filled metal pots, among the vines to prevent cold air from settling in during an especially late frost.
With temperatures in early April as low as 22°F, and following an unseasonably warm March, this year's frost damage may be the worst in history for French winegrowers. Every corner of France reports considerable losses, from Champagne to Provence, and Côtes de Gascogne to Alsace. As a result, there will likely be very little French wine from the 2021 vintage reaching U.S. shores.
For a deeper dive:
- Climate Crisis Could Destroy Most Vineyards - EcoWatch ›
- Sustainable Wine Is Less Damaging to the Environment, But How ... ›
- In Europe, Climate Change Brings New Crops and Ideas - EcoWatch ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
Climate change could make it harder to find a good cup of coffee, new research finds. A changing climate might shrink suitable areas for specialty coffee production without adaptation, making coffee taste blander and impacting the livelihoods of small farms in the Global South.
Published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday, the study focused on regions in Ethiopia, Africa's largest coffee-producing nation. Although studies have previously documented the impact of climate change on coffee production, what's less understood is how varying climates could change the flavors of specialty coffee, the researchers wrote.
The team aimed to fill this gap. Their results provide a glimpse into how future climate change could impact local regions and economies that rely on coffee cultivation, underscoring the value of local adaptation measures.
Researchers analyzed how 19 different climate factors, such as mean temperatures and rainfall levels, would affect the cultivation of five distinct specialty coffee types in the future, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) reported. Although researchers found that areas suitable for growing "average quality coffee" may actually increase over time with climate change, regions where specialty coffee is grown will shrink — a pending problem in light of the global demand for high-quality coffee.
"This is an issue not just for coffee lovers, but for local agricultural value creation," Abel Chemura, the study's lead author, told the PIK.
Coffee profiles rely on specific climate patterns for their unique flavors, levels of acidity and fragrances. But in a warmer climate, the coffee cherry — the fruit picked from a coffee plant — matures faster than the bean inside, making for a lower quality cup of coffee, the PIK reported.
For example, the sought-after Yirgacheffe variety of coffee, which is cultivated in southwestern Ethiopia, could lose more than 40 percent of its suitable growth area by the end of the century, PIK reported. This could impact small farms and threaten Ethiopia's economy, the researchers noted.
"If one or more coffee regions lose their specialty status due to climate change this has potentially grave ramifications for the smallholder farmers in the region," Christoph Gornott, co-author of the study, told the PIK. "If they were forced to switch to growing conventional, less palatable and bitter coffee types, they would all of the sudden compete with industrial production systems elsewhere that are more efficient." In a country where coffee exports account for nearly a third of all agricultural exports, "this could prove fatal," Gornott added.
Climate change impacts on coffee production are not unique to Ethiopia. In Columbia's mountainous coffee-growing regions, temperatures are warming by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit every decade, according to Yale Environment 360. Extreme levels of precipitation, which are becoming more common, also impact production, as they spread insect and fungal diseases.
"In earlier times, the climate was perfect for coffee," one small farmer in Columbia told Yale Environment 360. "In the period of flowering, there was summer. During harvest, there was winter. But from 2008 onward, this changed and we now don't know when it will be summer, when the coffee will blossom."
But researchers say there are glimmers of hope, emphasizing the importance of local adaptation measures that are designed for particular climates and communities. For example, in regions where temperature is an important factor for specialty coffee cultivation, the researchers suggest improved agroforestry systems that could maintain canopy temperatures, a promising step toward sustaining the "availability and taste of one of the world's most beloved beverages and, more importantly, on economic opportunities in local communities of the Global South," Gornott concluded.