Poor Farming Practices Foul Drinking Water at the Source
A new Environmental Working Group (EWG) report—Troubled Waters: Farm Pollution Threatens Drinking Water—examines water pollution caused by farm runoff and details how treating the problem after the fact is increasingly expensive, difficult and, if current trends continue, ultimately unsustainable.
Water that runs off poorly managed fields that have been treated with chemical fertilizers and manure is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus. These two potent pollutants set off a cascade of harmful consequences, threatening the drinking water used by millions of Americans.
Nitrate, the most common form of nitrogen in surface and groundwater, is directly toxic to human health. Infants who drink water with high nitrate levels can develop an acute, life-threatening blood disorder called blue baby syndrome. High nitrate levels in water can also affect thyroid function in adults and increase the risk of thyroid cancer.
Phosphorus stimulates explosive blooms of aquatic algae, including the especially dangerous cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that produce toxins that can be deadly to pets, livestock, wildlife—and people. Toxins produced by cyanobacteria can harm the nervous system, cause stomach and intestinal illness and kidney disease, trigger allergic responses and damage the liver.
“Access to clean and healthy drinking water is a critical issue for Americans and the rest of the planet. The only solution to preserve clean water is to tackle the problem of polluted agricultural runoff at the source,” said EWG senior scientist Olga Naidenko PhD, lead author of the report.
“A strong conservation title in the new farm bill is our best opportunity to help farmers protect drinking water,” said co-author Craig Cox, EWG senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources. “We can’t afford anymore cuts to conservation programs, and Congress must bring crop and revenue insurance programs back under the conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers.”
The so-called “conservation compliance” provisions Congress wrote into the 1985 farm bill established the compact. Farmers agreed to undertake common sense measures to limit pollution, cut soil erosion and protect wetlands in return for generous farm subsidies. The heavily subsidized crop and revenue insurance program has become the single most expensive farm subsidy—and has no conservation requirements attached.
Every year, farm operators apply more than 12 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer and 8 million tons of phosphorus fertilizer to agricultural land in the U.S. Unless carefully managed, nitrates and phosphates are carried off their fields by runoff water or percolates into drainage systems, eventually ending up in streams, rivers, lakes and underground aquifers.
Many American farmers engage in responsible land and water stewardship. But the list of American waters imperiled by agricultural pollution grows daily and now includes the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers estimate that on two-thirds of the nation’s agricultural land, fertilizer use does not conform to science-based best management practices. Growers spread too much, spread it at the wrong times and use methods that are prone to losing nutrients into runoff. In addition, installation of “tile drainage,” which is common across the Midwest, promotes the movement of nutrients into streams.
National studies and regional assessments of waterways in the Mississippi River Basin consistently point to chemical fertilizers and manure spreading on fields as the main sources of nutrient pollution. U.S. Department of Agriculture economists estimate that the national costs of removing nitrate alone from drinking water total more than $4.8 billion a year. Water treatment to address nutrient-fueled algal and cyanobacterial blooms and cyanotoxins can carry a total capital cost can range between $12 million and $56 million for a town of 100,000 people.
Most farm operations are exempt from the pollution control requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, and few states have little authority to compel farmers to reduce water contamination.
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A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
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More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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