Protecting Our Waterways When Disaster Strikes
In 2014 alone, there have been a series of unprecedented disasters on our waterways. A climate of lax government regulations including the recent weak rule for the disposal of toxic coal ash from coal-fired power plants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, makes it critical for us to find a way to protect communities and the integrity of our waterways when a water emergency strikes.
When a chemical used to wash coal (4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM) leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia from a storage facility in January 2014, more than 300,000 residents were suddenly left without water to drink. As MCHM is not listed in EPA's public database of toxic chemicals and is not federally regulated, this incident showcased just how vulnerable we all are to facing a similar fate.
The rapidly increasing volume of toxic, volatile crude oil by rail and barge has upped the ante on the risk of future accidents even more.
And this past February, a collapsed stormwater pipe released 140,000 tons of toxic coal ash sludge and wastewater into the Dan River in North Carolina, a public drinking water supply for downstream communities like Danville, Virginia. State regulators and Duke Energy, the company responsible for the spill, waited more than 24 hours before notifying the public that it had happened. And just weeks after this catastrophic spill, Waterkeeper Alliance discovered that Duke Energy had deliberately and illegally dumped 61 million gallons of coal ash into the Cape Fear River.
Waterkeeper Alliance is taking action to be part of the solution by launching a rapid response program based on its proven protocol in responding to and remediating some of the nation's worst waterway disasters. Waterkeeper Alliance staff and local Waterkeepers provided on-the-ground support, water quality testing, and advocacy for the Dan River incident and in Lynchburg, Virginia, when a train carrying volatile Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded, spilling an estimated 50,000 gallons of oil into the James River. In past years, Waterkeepers have responded to Hurricanes Floyd and Sandy and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Deploying a highly-trained team of advocates and experts by boat and aircraft to assess a situation, test the water, document the impact and rapidly share information with the media and the public allows Waterkeeper Alliance to work quickly to amplify the voice of affected communities, dispersing the truth about the impacts and dangers in real time and ensuring that polluters and government officials don't have the opportunity to downplay or cover up the threat. The response team then advocates for the waterway and affected communities until a cleanup plan is implemented. This requires a myriad of advocacy actions, including filing lawsuits and pursuing legislative remedies.
As a result of rapid response work by Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Waterkeepers on the Dan River, Duke Energy has agreed to clean up not only the spill site but also three other sites with leaking coal ash ponds in Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington.
Throughout history, the biggest wins for our environment have been the result of citizens advocating for their rights. As always, people are the last line of defense when communities are under assault from polluters. Please join us in helping to defend communities across the country and around the world.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.