I remember the first fish that I caught with my dad on a small creek in rural Pennsylvania. Once he took care of cleaning the fish, we ate it for dinner. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for me to enjoy that rite of passage with my children is closing quickly, unless we act fast to save our fisheries and waterways. Even if you're not someone who fishes, the quality of our waterways affects the fish you and your family eat and virtually all other aspects of your diet; just listen to renowned chefs, Beau MacMillan (Elements) and Dave Pasternack (Esca).
A healthy fishery is more than a pastime, childhood memory, or the makings of a meal, it is a major indicator of the health of our waterways, watersheds and the economy. Recreational angling is one of the most popular outdoor activities and one of the most solid industries in the U.S. Each year, "nearly 40 million anglers generate more than $45 billion in retail sales, with a $125 billion impact on the nation's economy, creating employment for over one million people."
Unfortunately, our state and federal governments have given industrial polluters a free bar tab for polluting; only, the public suffers the hangover. Coal-fired power plants across the U.S. have poisoned our fish with mercury, industries have willfully dumped PCBs and chromium in our waters, and industrial aquaculture and other kinds of unsustainable fishing have depleted already stressed fish stocks.
For example, in August 2011, based on a citizen complaint, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper discovered that a paper mill on the Pearl River in Louisiana had discharged untreated and partially treated black liquor into the river, causing a massive kill of fish and other aquatic life. Water and mussel samples collected after the discharge revealed the presence of toxic chemicals in the mussels and water. These toxic substances are associated with the pulping process and flow freely in the wastewater from the offending paper mill. The concerned citizen's life revolves around the swamp. He makes his living there. In fact, he catfishes to raise extra money to help offset expenses incurred mentoring troubled youth in his community. The outlook for catfish in the Pearl River over the next couple of years is bleak. In response to this destruction, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network have filed a notice of intent to sue against the mill for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act, Louisiana state law and the Endangered Species Act.
These egregious acts aren't limited to the U.S. Across the globe, polluters and malfeasant governments are destroying our fisheries and threatening our health. Twenty-five years ago, Hann Bay in Senegal was one of the most pristine bays in the world. The bay also was one of Senegal's most important fisheries. Today, the bay suffers from numerous industrial discharges, urban wastewater pollution, illegal dumps, and more. Fishing is now prohibited in the bay and the government has failed to enforce clean water laws. Now, traditional fishermen are forced to practice their trade in the dangerous open ocean waters, raising the cost of fishing and endangering their lives. Hann Baykeeper is working to enforce the law and restore the bay.
Back in the U.S., our fisheries received some good news in December 2011 when U.S. EPA finalized national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants produced by coal-fired power plants. The rule was a result of years of advocacy and litigation by Waterkeeper Alliance and other partners. The rule will reduce U.S. mercury emissions by 91 percent from the dirtiest plants (that's 43 tons of this neurotoxin that would have entered our air and water every year, were it not for the rule).
In typical fashion, the utility and coal industries are engaging in a desperate scramble to thwart the new regulations. They have dispensed their long-time crony, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, to spearhead what they perceive as their right to pollute our waterways. Continuing the fallacious jobs vs. clean air/water argument, the senator has introduced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to prevent the mercury rule from moving forward.
According to U.S. EPA, if this attack succeeds it will, by 2016, result in as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and 540,000 days of missed work every year. U.S. EPA also estimates a cost of about $9.6 million to implement the new standards, while the rule is projected to save the public between $37 billion and $90 billion a year in human health costs alone. Additionally, U.S. EPA projects the rule will create 10,000 temporary construction jobs and 8,000 permanent utility jobs.
As the Clean Water Act heads toward its 40th anniversary, facing—along with other key environmental laws—attacks from industrial polluters and their cronies in Congress, we need to stand up for our right to clean air and water. Call your senators TODAY and ask them to oppose Sen. Inhofe's Congressional Review Act filing (S.J. Res. 37).
Waterkeeper Alliance is holding a Fishable Waters Action Day this Thursday. Let's make it a celebration by stopping Senator Inhofe's plan and ensuring that the mercury rule succeeds. If we don't act fast to protect our right to clean water, the age-old rite of spending a summer day fishing with your daughter or son will end with this generation. We cannot allow that to happen.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLEAN WATER ACT page for more related news on this topic.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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