Lack of Federal Water Policy Jeopardizes Our Most Precious Resource
The Midwest is in the midst of the most intense drought since the 1950s, with nearly 1,400 counties declared disaster areas—on the heels of recent devastating droughts in California and Texas. Conflicts among states sharing water resources are growing. Climate changes are increasingly apparent and affecting water supply and demand. New contaminants threaten the nation’s water quality. Old water infrastructure is in need of repair and upgrading. Yet politicians and policymakers are not focusing on the nation’s water problems. It is more critical than ever before that the U.S. develop a cohesive national water policy to manage our most vital resource.
In the new book from Oxford University Press, A Twenty-First Century U.S. Water Policy, leading thinkers at the Pacific Institute, the world-renowned water research institution, present clear and readable analysis and recommendations for a new federal water policy to confront our national and global challenges.
“The inability of national policymakers to safeguard our water jeopardizes something crucial that most of us take for granted: affordable, reliable and safe water,” said Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith, lead author of the work.
“In writing this book, we worked with communities suffering the consequences of ineffective and under-enforced water policies. We highlight their stories—from communities exposed to nitrate-contaminated drinking water in California’s Central Valley to communities lacking access to basic drinking water services in Detroit, Michigan to communities uniting for better stormwater management in Syracuse, New York.”
“The nation desperately needs a coherent and consistent national water policy. Water is a local resource, yet it has major implications for the economy and security of the nation,” according to Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and a co-author of the book.
“While most water management typically occurs at the local or regional level, the federal government must play a more effective role in setting consistent national standards and regulations, providing funding for basic research on issues of national interest, intervening in legal disputes among the states, participating in international water policy, and helping to ensure that states and municipalities are able to meet future water challenges.”
William K. Reilly, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush, calls the new book “a blueprint for reform. Those who care about the country’s water resource policy in all its manifestations would do well to take the themes to heart.” Reilly provided the Foreword to the book.
A Twenty-First Century U.S. Water Policy argues that the responsibility for properly protecting and managing the nation’s freshwater is not being adequately fulfilled by the diverse federal agencies responsible for them. In some cases, agencies have overlapping and conflicting authorities. In other instances, the executive branch has failed to request sufficient funds to protect and manage our water resources, or the legislative branch has failed to appropriate and allocate those funds.
As Gleick notes, “Our water policies have not been updated to account for advances in our scientific and technical understanding of both water problems and solutions. All of this leads to the need for a new 21st century water policy.”
The book offers key recommendations for a new national water policy, including:
- Updating current federal water laws and expanding measurement, monitoring, and enforcement.
- Combining and coordinating fragmented federal water agencies and programs into a national strategy for water resources.
- Eliminating inappropriate subsidies and inappropriate federal pricing policies for water.
- Applying environmental justice principles comprehensively in federal water policies to ensure equitable access to water.
- Integrating the risks of climate change into all federal water facility planning, design, and operation, as well as emergency planning for droughts and floods.
- Integrating U.S. water policy with other federal resource policies, especially energy, disaster response, and land management.
- Reviving River Basin Commissions and requiring river basin planning on rivers shared by two or more states.
A Twenty-First Century U.S. Water Policy provides the first independent assessment of water issues and water management in the United States in many decades, addressing emerging and persistent water challenges from the perspectives of science, public policy, environmental justice, economics, and law. With case studies and first-person accounts of what helps and hinders good water management, the Pacific Institute frames challenges that define our current water issues and offers solutions.
The coauthors, with Juliet Christian-Smith and Peter Gleick, are Heather Cooley, Lucy Allen, Amy Vanderwarker and Kate A. Berry. The Introduction and Chapter 3: Water and Environmental Justice are available on the Pacific Institute website as are a video with the lead authors and a Curriculum Guide. The book is available through Oxford University Press, on Amazon, and through your local bookstore.
The Pacific Institute is one of the world’s leading nonprofit research organizations working to create a healthier planet and sustainable communities. Based in Oakland, Calif., the Institute staff conduct interdisciplinary research and partner with stakeholders to produce solutions that advance environmental protection, economic development, and social equity—in California, nationally, and internationally.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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