2 Million Americans Lack Clean Water Access, Especially Native Americans
Native Americans are disproportionately without access to clean water, according to a new report, "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan," to be released this afternoon, which shows that more than two million Americans do not have access to running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater services.
The report is the result of a collaboration from two national non-profit groups, DigDeep and the US Water Alliance. It found that 58 out of every 1,000 Native American households lack plumbing, compared with three out of every 1,000 white people.
The report noted that an estimated 30 percent of people on the Navajo Nation lack access to running water and must haul water, but local officials report that the actual number may be even higher.
"We knew the problem was much bigger, but when we went out to look at the data, it didn't exist," said George McGraw, the founder of DigDeep, a nonprofit that has helped build water systems on the Navajo Nation, as NPR reported.
The paper found that many people in the Navajo Nation around Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico had to drive more than 40 miles every few days just to haul home water for drinking, cooking and bathing. That's some of the better access.
Some Navajo residents drive four or five hours just to fill metal barrels. One study participant spends over $200 month in gas just to fetch water. In Red Mesa, Arizona, residents told researchers that the groundwater supplies are so low in some areas that they have to visit four or five locations to collect the water they need. Female elders reported stockpiling water for emergencies and for the winter, when freezing temperatures make hauling water difficult, according to the report.
The paper noted that many study participants in the Navajo Nation in the Southwest have under 10 gallons of water at home at any given time. Many use as little as two or three gallons per day, which stands in stark contrast to the 88 gallons per day used by the average American, according to the report. That minimal water use means people in the Navajo nation have to make difficult choices between hygiene and water needed for food.
"It's hard to imagine that in America today, people are living without basics like safe and reliable water service," said Radhika Fox, CEO, US Water Alliance in a press release.
NPR profiled Darlene Yazzie, an elderly woman who is a member of the Navajo nation. She needs to fill two 50-gallon barrels with water and then drive to a windmill to fetch water for her sheep. The water from the windmill is not fit for human consumption since it has unhealthy levels of arsenic and uranium.
"A lot of people died of cancer around here," Yazzie said to NPR. "I noticed that more are being diagnosed. I'm pretty sure it's because of the environment and the water."
The new report and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have both confirmed her hunch. The ground water in the Four Corners area is contaminated by 521 abandoned uranium mines. When uranium mining was at its peak in the 1990s, gastric cancer rates in the area doubled, according to the new paper, as NPR reported. The EPA says that unregulated drinking water sources are the greatest public health risk to the Navajo Nation, according to NPR.
The report noted that Navajo tribe members are two to four times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than white people. One of the reasons is that sugar-heavy drinks are more readily available than clean water.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.