By Andrea Germanos
President Joe Biden is being called on to back newly reintroduced legislation that seeks to remedy the nation's drinking water injustices with boosts to infrastructure and the creation of a water trust fund.
"From the plague of water shutoffs due to unaffordable bills during a pandemic, to the recent heartbreaking scenes across the South of frozen pipes leaving millions without water, it has become desperately clear that our country is in a water crisis," said Food & Water Action executive director Wenonah Hauter in a statement Thursday.
"Grave crises require robust solutions, and this is just what the WATER Act provides," said Hauter.
The WATER Act — the acronym for the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability Act of 2021 — was reintroduced Thursday by Democratic Reps. Brenda L. Lawrence (Mich.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced the companion legislation in the Senate.
Supporting the measure is a diverse collection of over 500 organizations including Corporate Accountability, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Food & Water Watch, and the NAACP. Seventy-four lawmakers in the House and Senate are co-sponsors.
It’s no coincidence the communities with the highest rates of coronavirus infections are the same ones with dirty w… https://t.co/LFSqgPaSN8— Rep. Ro Khanna (@Rep. Ro Khanna)1614274075.0
Echoing Hauter, Lawrence said in a statement that we "have a water crisis in the United States that affects every corner of our country." And waiting to act on the issue, she added, is simply not an option.
"Access to clean and safe drinking water is a basic human right," said Lawrence.
According to a summary from the Michigan Democrat's office, the WATER Act:
- Provides $34.85 billion a year to drinking water and wastewater improvements;
- Creates a water trust fund;
- Creates up to nearly one million jobs across the economy and protect American workers;
- Prioritizes disadvantaged communities with grants and additional support;
- Expands funding for technical assistance to small, rural, and Indigenous communities;
- Funds projects to address water contamination from PFAS;
- Requires U.S. EPA to study water affordability, shutoffs, discrimination, and civil rights violations by water providers;
- Upgrades household wells and septic systems;
- Helps homeowners replace lead service lines; and
- Provides more than $1 billion a year to update water infrastructure in public schools.
Assets for the trust fund would be created by "rolling back a small portion of the Trump administration's corporate tax cuts by increasing the corporate income tax rate by 3.5 percentage points."
Affordability has long been a drinking water-related concern in communities across the U.S. — as have other issues including the presence of a class of chemicals known as PFAS and privatization woes. The Flint, Michigan water crisis also punctuated concerns about the management of water systems and drinking water safety.
Events over the past year have only underscored the need for public investment in the nation's water systems, WATER Act supporters say.
"The crisis in Texas illuminated how vital access to running water is for human survival. And the Covid-19 pandemic has put on display the unjust reality of America's water affordability, reliability, and equity crisis," said Brittany Alston, deputy research director of Action Center on Race & the Economy (ARCE).
Alston said that the WATER Act represented "a real solution" to those problems. She added, "The only way to combat America's water crisis is with this type of bold, reparative change that both challenges corporate power and addresses water affordability, accessibility, and quality across the entire country, especially in low-income and BIPOC communities."
In a June op-ed at The Guardian, Sanders and Lawrence — who also teamed up last year to introduce the WATER Act — detailed the nation's water crisis, writing, in part:
Unbelievably, when it comes to water infrastructure, America's challenges resemble those of a developing country. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our drinking water infrastructure a "D" grade and our wastewater infrastructure a "D+." The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that raw sewage overflows at least 23,000 times each year. Up to 1.7 million Americans lack access to basic plumbing facilities such as a toilet, tub, shower, or basic running water. Almost 200,000 households have absolutely no wastewater system. Up to 10 [million] homes across America get water through lead pipes. Six years since the start of its water crisis, Flint still does not have clean water. Meanwhile, in Denmark, South Carolina, families are forced to travel 20 miles each month in order to collect clean drinking water.
Not only do Americans have to deal with poor-quality and often toxic drinking water, we have the "privilege" of paying an arm and a leg for it. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, nearly 14 [million] households were unable to afford their water bills, whose prices increased more than 40% since 2010. At this rate, more than a third of American households may not be able to afford their water bills five years from now. Furthermore, due to the economic meltdown caused by the coronavirus, millions of Americans who don't know where their next paycheck will come from are now at risk of losing their water service. As public health officials warn that this deadly disease will be with us for quite some time, how are families supposed to wash their hands regularly when their utility company is shutting off their water?
According to Food & Water Watch's Hauter, the need for swift action is clear.
"The time for Congress and the Biden administration to make this critical legislation a priority has very clearly come," she said. "Our country can't wait any longer for a functional, safe, and affordable water system for every community."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Andrew J. Whelton
More than 58,000 fires scorched the United States last year, and 2021 is on track to be even drier. What many people don't realize is that these wildfires can do lasting damage beyond the reach of the flames – they can contaminate entire drinking water systems with carcinogens that last for months after the blaze. That water flows to homes, contaminating the plumbing, too.
Over the past four years, wildfires have contaminated drinking water distribution networks and building plumbing for more than 240,000 people.
Small water systems serving housing developments, mobile home parks, businesses and small towns have been particularly hard-hit. Most didn't realize their water was unsafe until weeks to months after the fire.
The problem starts when wildfire smoke gets into the system or plastic in water systems heats up. Heating can cause plastics to release harmful chemicals, like benzene, which can contaminate drinking water and permeate the system.
As an environmental engineer, I and my colleagues work with communities recovering from wildfires and other natural disasters. Last year, at least seven water systems were found to be contaminated, suggesting drinking water contamination may be a more widespread problem than people realize.
Our new study identifies critical issues that households and businesses should consider after a wildfire. Failing to address them can harm people's health – mental, physical and financial.
Wildfires Make Drinking Water Unsafe
When wildfires damage water distribution pipes, wells and the plumbing in homes and other buildings, they can create immediate health risks. A building's plumbing can become contaminated by smoke getting sucked into water systems, by heat damaging plastic pipes – or contamination penetrating into the plumbing and leaching out slowly over time.
Since 2017, multiple fires have rendered drinking water systems unsafe, including the Echo Mountain, Lionshead and Almeda fires in Oregon, and the CZU Lightning Complex, Camp and Tubbs fires in California. Thousands of private wells have been affected too.
Being exposed to contaminated water can cause immediate harm, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. Short-term exposure to 26 parts per billion or more of benzene, a carcinogen, may cause a decrease in white blood cells that protect the body from infectious disease. Multiple fires have caused drinking water to exceed this level. A variety of other chemicals can exceed safe drinking water exposure limits too in the absence of benzene.
Households Are Not Being Adequately Warned
In a survey of 233 households affected by water contamination, we found people reported high levels of anxiety and stress linked to the water problems. Nearly half had installed in-home water treatment because of uncertainty about the water. Eighty-five percent had looked for other water sources, such as bottled water.
In some cases, we found that advice from government agencies placed households at greater risk of harm. It has sometimes left people exposed to chemicals, caused them to needlessly spend money and given them a false sense of security. Certified in-home water treatment devices, for example, are tested only to bring down 15 parts per billion of benzene to less than 5 parts per billion, the federal standard. These devices are not tested to treat hazardous waste-scale contaminated water that's been found after wildfires.
Following the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire near Santa Cruz, California, a local health department correctly warned private well owners not to use their water and to test it, but a nearby damaged water system and the state did not warn 17,000 people against bathing in the contaminated water. It was only after test results proved the water had been unsafe all along that the system owner and state advised against bathing in it.
In Oregon, some damaged systems encouraged people to boil their drinking water, later finding that the water had benzene in it.
After the 2018 Camp Fire that devastated Paradise, California, the local health department correctly warned the entire county not to use or try to treat the drinking water, which had contamination above EPA's hazardous waste limit. But one water system and the state encouraged 13,000 people to try to treat it themselves.
In all of these cases, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chose not to compel water utilities to explicitly notify customers about the water contamination and its risk.
Communities have received other bad information:
- Commercial labs and government officials recommended flushing faucets for 5 to 15 minutes before collecting a water sample, thereby dumping out the contaminated plumbing water meant for testing.
- Homeowners were led to believe a single cold water sample at the kitchen sink would determine if the hot water system and property service line was contaminated. It cannot.
- People were led to believe that benzene water testing would determine if any other chemicals were present above safe limits. This is not possible.
What to look for after a nearby fire
Signs of potential contamination after a nearby wildfire could be loss of water pressure, discolored water, heat damage to water systems inside and outside buildings, and broken and leaking pipes, valves and hydrants.
Drinking water should be assumed to be chemically unsafe until proven otherwise.
Once a system is contaminated, cleanup can take months. The water system will have to be flushed and tested regularly to track down contamination. Health departments should also issue guidance on how to test private wells and plumbing.
When testing plumbing, include the property service line as well as the hot and cold water lines. Before collecting a water sample, the water must sit long enough in the plumbing so contamination can be found – 72 hours was the Tubbs Fire and Camp Fire standard. Tests should look for more than benzene.
Who can help?
Many of the critical public health risks identified in our new study can be addressed by public health departments with financial support from state and local agencies.
Public health departments often have experience responding to water problems, such as legionella outbreaks, and can provide technical advice about both chemical exposures, building plumbing and private drinking water wells.
Disclosure statement: Andrew J. Whelton received funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Paradise Irrigation District, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Paradise Rotary Foundation, and Water Research Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. Learn about the importance of organic hemp oil, why it's better for the environment, and which CBD companies actually make trustworthy products with sustainable farming processes. Use our curated list to find the best organic CBD oil that's better for you and the environment.
What is Organic CBD Oil?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it's one of the hundreds of cannabinoids found within cannabis sativa plants. This plant compound is believed to have many potential health and wellness benefits, including support for anxiety, stress, sleep, and chronic pain.
Since CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, it contains only trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis plants). Instead, the effects of CBD are much more subtle and promote a general sense of calm and relaxation in most users.
The most important (and prominent) certification for organic products comes from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). What exactly does this certification entail? Essentially, a label indicating that a product is "USDA Organic" or "Certified Organic" means that at least 95% of the ingredients are obtained from organic sources.
For hemp to be considered organic by the USDA, it must be grown without the use of industrial solvents, irradiation, genetic engineering (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, or chemical fertilizer. Instead, farmers rely on natural substances and mechanical, physical, or biologically based farming techniques to cultivate healthy and organic crops.
Choosing an organic CBD oil without additives is important because it indicates that a product is both safe to use and better for the environment. CBD extracted from an organic hemp plant is more likely to be free from pesticides, heavy metals, and other harmful toxins. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of the plant extract without worrying about any additional and unwanted compounds. Organic CBD is also a better choice for the environment, as it is grown using more sustainable farming practices that help preserve and protect land and water resources.
Our Top Organic CBD Oils
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall Organic - Spruce Lab Grade CBD Oil
- Best Organic Full Spectrum - Charlotte's Web Original Formula
- Best USDA Organic - Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil
- Best Organic Flavor - R+R Medicinals Fresh Mint CBD Tincture
- Best Organic Broad Spectrum - Joy Organics CBD Oil
- Best Organic CBD for Stress - Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body
- Best Organic CBD for Sleep - NuLeaf Naturals CBD Oil
- Best Organic Satisfaction Guarantee - CBDistillery Relief + Relax
How We Chose the Best Organic CBD Oils
To create our list of the best organic CBD oil, we compared brands and products on a number of different criteria. These included:
- Hemp Source - We chose brands that use organic hemp grown in the U.S. and that follow natural and organic farming practices.
- Natural Ingredients - Each of the products on our list were examined to see if they used organic and natural ingredients for things like flavoring and carrier oils.
- Strengths - We looked for organic CBD oils that provide different concentrations of CBD to choose from, depending on your needs.
- Lab Testing - All of the CBD products we recommend must undergo independent third-party lab testing and provide access to those results.
- Certifications - In addition to USDA organic certification, we also looked for seals from the U.S. Hemp Authority, U.S. Hemp Roundtable, B-Corp, and other industry standards.
A note about USDA organic certification: before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, no hemp-derived products could be dubbed as "certified organic" as the hemp plant and its extracts were still categorized as a Schedule I Controlled Substance.
Due to the fact that industrial hemp has only recently become an agricultural crop, very few CBD oils are USDA certified organic. Many CBD products contain hemp extracts from plants that were grown organically, but may not be federally certified yet. Where necessary, we researched each brand's growing and harvesting practices to determine if they follow organic and natural cultivation methods, even if they are not fully certified by the USDA.
8 Best Organic CBD Oils of 2021
Best Overall: Spruce Lab Grade CBD Oil
Spruce CBD is well-known for its potent full spectrum CBD oils that provide many of the additional beneficial phytocannabinoids found in hemp. This brand works with two family-owned, sustainably focused farms in the USA (one located in Kentucky and one in North Carolina) to create its organic, small product batches. This tincture contains 750mg of CBD, but they also offer a max potency Spruce CBD oil that contains 2400mg of full-spectrum CBD extract.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 25 mg CBD per serving
- Source - North Carolina and Kentucky
Best Full Spectrum: Charlotte's Web Original Formula
One of the most well-known brands in the CBD landscape, Charlotte's Web has been growing sustainable hemp plants for years. The company is currently in the process of achieving USDA Organic Certification, but it already practices organic and sustainable cultivation techniques to enhance the overall health of the soil and the hemp plants themselves, which creates some of the highest quality CBD extracts.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 50 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: Charlotte's Web offers CBD oils in a range of different concentration options, and some even come in a few flavors like chocolate mint, orange blossom, and lemon twist. We love Charlotte's Web Original Original Formula because it is made with U.S. Hemp Authority Certified CBD and organic extra virgin olive oil.
Best USDA Organic: Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil
Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD Oil uses USDA organic hemp grown on Kentucky farms and USDA organic MCT coconut oil. What makes Cornbread Hemp unique is that they only use hemp flower to create their CBD extract, resulting in a cleaner, purer product. Vegan and non-GMO, this organic CBD oil provides all of the secondary cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids of hemp without any preservatives, flavorings, seeds, or stems.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 50 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Kentucky
Why buy: We love Cornbread Hemp Whole Flower CBD oil because it is made using USDA certified organic hemp flowers to create a top-notch CBD oil packed with beneficial plant compounds. Use this oil in the evening to relax and to help you fall asleep.
Best Organic Flavor: R+R Medicinals Fresh Mint CBD Tincture
R+R Medicinals Organic Full Spectrum Hemp Extract comes in a great introductory strength for new CBD users and a delicious fresh mint flavor. Made with organic full spectrum hemp extract, organic MCT coconut oil, and organic mint flavoring, this CBD oil is USDA certified organic for a product you can trust. It also contains over 2 mg of the secondary cannabinoids, like CBC, CBG, THC, CBN, and CBDv, that can help provide the fullest effect.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 16.67 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Best Organic Broad Spectrum: Joy Organics CBD Oil
For those concerned about THC, Joy Organics CBD oil makes a great option. This formula is USDA certified organic and is made with organic broad spectrum hemp extract and organic olive oil for a natural, THC-free product. It's also certified by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable and third-party lab tested for purity. If you prefer, you can also find Joy Organics CBD Oil in several additional flavors, including Tranquil Mint, Summer Lemon, and Orange Bliss.
- CBD - Broad Spectrum
- Strength - 30 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Best Organic CBD for Stress: Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body
Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body CBD oil offers an organic, natural supplement that could help support your body's response to stress and inflammation. USDA certified organic, non-GMO, vegan, and gluten-free, this CBD oil is also doctor-formulated using 100% organic hemp grown in Colorado. It can provide 21 mg of cannabinoids like CBD, CBL, and CBG per serving. Plus, Plant People is a certified B-corp and certified Climate Neutral as they plant a tree for every sale.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 21 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We love Plant People Drops+ Mind + Body formula because it provides a doctor-formulated and USDA organic way to help you manage stress and inflammation while promoting overall wellness. We especially like that the brand is Climate Neutral certified, making this organic CBD oil good for you and the earth.
Best Organic CBD for Sleep: NuLeaf Naturals CBD Oil
NuLeaf Naturals sources its CBD extract from organic hemp plants grown on licensed farms in Colorado. Their CBD oils contain only two ingredients: USDA certified organic hemp seed oil and full spectrum hemp extract. NuLeaf Naturals uses the same proprietary CBD oil formula for all of its products, so you get the same CBD potency in every tincture (30 mg per mL), but can purchase different bottle sizes depending on your needs.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 30 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We love NuLeaf Naturals CBD oil because of its simplicity. With only two ingredients and one consistent strength, this oil makes it easy to know exactly what is in it and how much CBD you will get with each serving. Take NuLeaf Naturals CBD oil in the evenings to relax and enjoy a full night's sleep.
Best Organic Satisfaction Guarantee: CBDistillery Relief + Relax
All CBDistillery products use non-GMO and pesticide-free industrial hemp that's grown using natural farming practices on Colorado farms. Their hemp oils are some of the most affordable CBD products on the market, yet they still maintain a high standard of quality. CBDistillery has a wide variety of CBD potencies across its product line. We also love that they offer a 60 day money back guarantee so that you can try their CBD oil risk free.
- CBD - Full Spectrum
- Strength - 33 mg CBD per serving
- Source - Colorado
Why buy: We recommend CBDistillery Relief + Relax CBD oil as a great way to start your day and promote a sense of calm and wellness throughout. The brand is certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority, the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, and the National Hemp Association for their natural, reliable CBD extracts.
The Research on Organic Hemp Oil
What does the science say about organic CBD oil? There is evidence that CBD can help for certain conditions, specifically things like anxiety, sleeplessness, and pain. In fact, CBD taken for anxiety may have fewer side effects than certain prescription anxiety medications. However, as hemp and CBD remain unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it is vitally important to do your research and choose high-quality and safe products.
Using organic CBD oil is an easy way to help ensure that you can enjoy the health and wellness benefits of CBD while avoiding any potential toxins or synthetic chemicals.
Hemp is a unique plant, not only for its rich cannabinoid content, but because it is a bioaccumulator, and has the ability to absorb a wide variety of components in the soil. This trait means that hemp can help the environment through the remediation of green spaces, but it poses great risks when it comes to the creation of CBD products derived from hemp.
Because hemp has a high capacity for compound uptake, this means that the plants can retain harmful chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals, and other residual solvents. This is especially true when it comes to synthetic chemicals that are more toxic to humans, and difficult to remove once they have been absorbed by the hemp plant.
Organic farming practices help reduce the risk of hemp crops absorbing harsh chemicals that may later end up in CBD oil after extraction. When you're taking CBD as a wellness supplement to help alleviate your symptoms or improve your overall well-being, the last thing you want is to ingest compounds that might negatively outweigh the benefits of CBD. This is an important reason to look for third party lab test results when shopping for CBD products since these certificates of analysis can show the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of a hemp extract, as well as test results that search for the presence of any residual solvents. If you choose a non-organic CBD oil, you will need to rely even more on the independent lab test results to make sure the product is safe.
In addition to creating a better end product, organic farming practices are also better for the environment. Sustainable and organic farming methods may reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. The use of natural pest deterrents as opposed to chemical pesticides is also better for nearby animal populations and ecosystems.
How to Choose CBD Oil for You
When shopping for an organic CBD oil, you can look for certain key ingredients and certifications to find the best options. Here are some tips on how to compare and choose the right organic CBD oil.
What to Look For
Start by looking for the following pieces of information when considering any CBD product:
Make sure you know if the product uses full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate hemp extract. Full spectrum CBD contains all of the natural phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and fatty acids found in the hemp plant, including THC. This may produce a fuller result through the entourage effect. However, if you are concerned about THC, or are subject to a drug test, broad spectrum and CBD isolate products offer a great alternative.
Always check to see how much CBD the product contains. This is measured in milligrams per container and milligrams per serving. A single serving for CBD oil is typically 1 mL, and most brands offer recommendations for measuring and dosages.
The source of the hemp used to extract CBD is vitally important. We recommend choosing brands that use organic and naturally-grown hemp raised in the U.S.A. for safety standards. This is the quickest way to ensure that the CBD itself is pure and free from pesticides or other harmful compounds.
We only recommend CBD oils and products that are subject to independent third-party lab testing. This is a crucial step that verifies both the safety and purity of the oil as well as the potency of the CBD per serving. Look for brands that give you easy access to the lab test results for every product they sell.
How to Read Labels
Here are the primary things to look for when reading the label on a CBD oil or product:
- Type of CBD - The label should clearly state whether the product contains full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate hemp extract. If it is broad spectrum or isolate, look for a mark that tells you it is "THC-free."
- Certifications - Certain brands will include seals of approval to show that their product is USDA-certified organic, non-GMO, made in the U.S.A., or U.S. Hemp Authority certified.
- Other Ingredients - Check the ingredients list for anything in the product besides the CBD extract. This typically includes a carrier oil, like MCT or hemp seed oil, but can also include flavorings or botanicals. Make sure they are all-natural and that you are not allergic to any of them.
- Test Results - Most brands include a QR code on the packaging or the label of their CBD product that you can scan to view the third-party test results. This is a key way to know if a brand is trustworthy and whether their CBD is safe to use.
How to Use
Organic CBD oil is used just like any other CBD oil tincture, and is primarily ingested using a dropper to measure out the correct dose. Many brands recommend that you take the CBD oil sublingually by placing the CBD tincture under your tongue for 30 seconds or so before swallowing to aid in absorption. You can also add CBD to food and beverages, though some argue that this lessens the effect.
Some of the most common wellness advantages that people seek from organic CBD include:
- Chronic pain relief
- Anti-anxiety effects
- Better sleep
- Improvements in mood
- Internal balance and regulation
If you take organic CBD for help with sleep, take the recommended amount about an hour before bed. If you are taking it for anxiety, you can take one dose in the morning and another in the evening to help promote a sense of calm throughout the day. As with all CBD products, we recommend that you start with a lower dose and gradually increase it to achieve the desired effects rather than starting with a high dose.
Safety and Side Effects
CBD, while generally well-tolerated and safe for adults, can produce side effects in certain people. These are generally very mild, but can include things like nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, and irritability. CBD may also interact with certain prescription drugs, especially blood thinners and statins. If you take a prescription medication, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting CBD.
CBD has the potential to help with a number of health and wellness concerns, especially anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. To make sure that you choose the right option, go with the best organic CBD oil without additives from a brand you trust. Use our list to help you get started and find the natural relief you need.
Melena Gurganus is the Reviews Editor at EcoWatch. She is passionate health and wellness and her writing aims to help others find products they can trust. Her work has been featured in publications such as Health, Shape, Huffington Post, Cannabis Business Times, and Bustle.
Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is referred to as the doomsday glacier because every year it contributes four percent to global sea level rise and acts as a stopper for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the glacier were to collapse and take the sheet with it, that would raise global sea levels by around 10 feet. Now, a study published in Science Advances on April 9 warns that there is more warm water circling below the glacier than previously believed, making that collapse more likely.
"Our observations show warm water impinging from all sides on pinning points critical to ice-shelf stability, a scenario that may lead to unpinning and retreat," the study authors wrote. Pinning points are areas where the ice connects with the bedrock that provides stability, Earther explained.
The new paper is based on a 2019 expedition where an autonomous submarine named Ran explored the area beneath the glacier in order to measure the strength, salinity, oxygen content and temperature of the ocean currents that move beneath it, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration explained in a press release.
"These were the first measurements ever performed beneath the ice front of Thwaites glacier," Anna Wåhlin, lead author and University of Gothenburg oceanography professor, explained in the press release. "Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet."
This isn't the first instance revealing the presence of warm water beneath the glacier. In January 2020, researchers drilled a bore hole through the glacier and recorded temperature readings of more than two degrees Celsius above freezing, EcoWatch reported at the time.
However, Ran's measurements were taken earlier and allow scientists to understand the warmer water's movement in more detail. Scientists now know that water as warm as 1.05 degrees Celsius is circulating around the glacier's vulnerable pinning points.
"The worry is that this water is coming into direct contact with the underside of the ice shelf at the point where the ice tongue and shallow seafloor meet," Alastair Graham, study co-author and University of Southern Florida associate professor of geological oceanography, told Earther. "This is the last stronghold for Thwaites and once it unpins from the sea bed at its very front, there is nothing else for the ice shelf to hold onto. That warm water is also likely mixing in and around the grounding line, deep into the cavity, and that means the glacier is also being attacked at its feet where it is resting on solid rock."
While this sounds grim, the fact that researchers were able to obtain the data is crucial for understanding and predicting the impacts of the climate crisis.
"The good news is that we are now, for the first time, collecting data that will enable us to model the dynamics of Thwaite's glacier. This data will help us better calculate ice melting in the future. With the help of new technology, we can improve the models and reduce the great uncertainty that now prevails around global sea level variations," Wåhlin said in the press release.
- Scientists Identify Tipping Points for Antarctica Glacier - EcoWatch ›
- Record Warm Water Measured Beneath Antarctica's 'Doomsday ... ›
- Antarctica's 'Doomsday Glacier' Is Starting to Crack - EcoWatch ›
Maine State Senator Chloe Maxmin doesn't identify as a "traditional Democrat."
She has a good reason for this: "I don't really trust the government," she told EcoWatch. "I haven't trusted our government throughout how it's responded to COVID and I don't trust it in terms of how it's going to respond to the climate crisis."
Sen. Maxmin was elected to represent Maine's 13th Senate District this past November. Two years prior, she was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, serving as the 88th District's first-ever Democrat, where she won by canvassing the historically conservative district and talking to people regardless of their political affiliation.
Sen. Maxmin's love for home on her family's farm in Nobleboro, Maine, inspires her work in community organizing, climate advocacy and uplifting the rural voice in electoral politics — a perspective she believes the left abandoned, she wrote in The Nation during her first campaign.
But in a politically divided state that is warming faster than most parts of the U.S., Sen. Maxmin works to implement climate policy that both sides of the political spectrum can get behind. In early March, she introduced the Pine Tree Amendment, which would secure state citizens the right to a healthy environment in Maine's constitution.
The amendment's introduction follows a growing movement that's led by Maya K. van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and founder of the Green Amendments For The Generations, a nonprofit organization that inspires states to amend their constitutions to give every person inalienable rights to "pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments."
In 2019, two constituents brought the idea for a green amendment to Sen. Maxmin, who liked the idea of including the rights to clean air and water in the state's constitution because it was "much more foundational" than the volatile environmental laws being discussed in the state's capital.
So far, Montana and Pennsylvania are the only states to include green amendments in their state constitutions, but popularity around the movement is growing and similar amendments are being proposed in various states, including New York, New Mexico and Oregon. While the movement's goal is to build enough momentum to implement environmental rights at a federal level, van Rossum said the movement requires the foundation of multiple building blocks — first starting at the local level.
"If we can go state by state, not only are we going to be educating and organizing and building the foundation for the successful passage of a federal amendment at the right time, but in the interim, we will be harnessing the power of the bill of rights section of our state constitutions for the benefit of environmental protection and the people," van Rossum told EcoWatch.
The movement hasn't avoided critics, however, who will ask van Rossum, "What does it mean to have clean water?" since the terminology can be broad. Van Rossum explained that the green amendments put the rights to clean air, water and a healthy environment on par with the rights to free speech and religious freedom.
"Broad language is a characteristic of the bill of rights amendments," she told EcoWatch, adding that the language must provide both a level of guidance and enough flexibility for government officials and courts.
In 2013, van Rossum and her team used Pennsylvania's green amendment to win a legal battle against a pro-fracking law. The victory proved the amendment worked, "even in a pro-fracking state with a very conservative court in place, at the time," van Rossum told EcoWatch. And in Montana, the green amendment has been used to rescind a permit for industrial gold mining.
But the amendments do more than protect basic rights to clean air and water, van Rossum explained, adding that they can also empower communities to take ownership over their natural resources. When people's environmental rights are written into the constitution, rural communities that have a deep personal relationship with natural resources can raise their expectations of the government's ability to protect those rights. "This is really returning the power to the people, because we always have to remember that fundamentally the constitution is about the people telling government how they want them to behave," van Rossum said.
This is especially valuable for rural Mainers who are increasingly impacted by climate change but may be resistant to environmental legislation for "really good reasons," Sen. Maxmin added.
"The legacy of climate policy in rural communities has been kind of a heavy-handed government ideology that does not reflect the realities of our rural lives," Sen. Maxmin told EcoWatch, referencing current offshore wind development projects being proposed off of the Gulf of Maine. Fishing communities consider the projects to be controversial, claiming they would jeopardize lobster fishing zones.
Bills such as the Pine Tree Amendment are unique since they don't "impact one person more than the other," Sen. Maxmin said, adding that the amendment is a valuable stepping-off point for future climate policy.
In Maine, the amendment has received bipartisan support from the Legislature's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. It now faces votes in both the Maine Senate and House of Representatives, where it requires a two-thirds majority approval and approval from the majority of Maine voters.
At the very least, van Rossum stressed how green amendments can encourage important conversations across states and local communities. "There is something intellectually and emotionally very deeply empowering and touching for people when you are talking about their water and their air," she told EcoWatch. "It's just so personal."
Senator Maxmin hopes that the Pine Tree Amendment can encourage further discussion on what a fair clean energy transition will look like, specifically for the frontline communities who would traditionally be displaced from an energy transition. "No matter what, the Pine Tree Amendment gives us all the equal rights, the equal foundation and the equal footing to have these conversations," she concluded.
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By Anthony Richardson, Chhaya Chaudhary, David Schoeman, and Mark John Costello
The tropical water at the equator is renowned for having the richest diversity of marine life on Earth, with vibrant coral reefs and large aggregations of tunas, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks. The number of marine species naturally tapers off as you head towards the poles.
Ecologists have assumed this global pattern has remained stable over recent centuries — until now. Our recent study found the ocean around the equator has already become too hot for many species to survive, and that global warming is responsible.
In other words, the global pattern is rapidly changing. And as species flee to cooler water towards the poles, it's likely to have profound implications for marine ecosystems and human livelihoods. When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90% of all marine species died.
The Bell Curve is Warping Dangerously
If you look at each line in this chart, you can see a slight dip in total species richness between 1955 and 1974. This deepens substantially in the following decades. Anthony Richardson, Author provided
This global pattern — where the number of species starts lower at the poles and peaks at the equator — results in a bell-shaped gradient of species richness. We looked at distribution records for nearly 50,000 marine species collected since 1955 and found a growing dip over time in this bell shape.
So, as our oceans warm, species have tracked their preferred temperatures by moving towards the poles. Although the warming at the equator of 0.6℃ over the past 50 years is relatively modest compared with warming at higher latitudes, tropical species have to move further to remain in their thermal niche compared with species elsewhere.
As ocean warming has accelerated over recent decades due to climate change, the dip around at the equator has deepened.
We predicted such a change five years ago using a modeling approach, and now we have observational evidence.
For each of the 10 major groups of species we studied (including pelagic fish, reef fish and molluscs) that live in the water or on the seafloor, their richness either plateaued or declined slightly at latitudes with mean annual sea-surface temperatures above 20℃.
Today, species richness is greatest in the northern hemisphere in latitudes around 30°N (off southern China and Mexico) and in the south around 20°S (off northern Australia and southern Brazil).
This Has Happened Before
We shouldn't be surprised global biodiversity has responded so rapidly to global warming. This has happened before, and with dramatic consequences.
252 million years ago…
At the end of the Permian geological period about 252 million years ago, global temperatures warmed by 10℃ over 30,000-60,000 years as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from volcano eruptions in Siberia.
A 2020 study of the fossils from that time shows the pronounced peak in biodiversity at the equator flattened and spread. During this mammoth rearranging of global biodiversity, 90% of all marine species were killed.
125,000 years ago…
A 2012 study showed that more recently, during the rapid warming around 125,000 years ago, there was a similar swift movement of reef corals away from the tropics, as documented in the fossil record. The result was a pattern similar to the one we describe, although there was no associated mass extinction.
Authors of the study suggested their results might foreshadow the effects of our current global warming, ominously warning there could be mass extinctions in the near future as species move into the subtropics, where they might struggle to compete and adapt.
During the last ice age, which ended around 15,000 years ago, the richness of forams (a type of hard-shelled, single-celled plankton) peaked at the equator and has been dropping there ever since. This is significant as plankton is a keystone species in the foodweb.
Our study shows that decline has accelerated in recent decades due to human-driven climate change.
The Profound Implications
Losing species in tropical ecosystems means ecological resilience to environmental changes is reduced, potentially compromising ecosystem persistence.
In subtropical ecosystems, species richness is increasing. This means there'll be species invaders, novel predator-prey interactions, and new competitive relationships. For example, tropical fish moving into Sydney Harbour compete with temperate species for food and habitat.
This could result in ecosystem collapse — as was seen at the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods — in which species go extinct and ecosystem services (such as food supplies) are permanently altered.
The changes we describe will also have profound implications for human livelihoods. For example, many tropical island nations depend on the revenue from tuna fishing fleets through the selling of licenses in their territorial waters. Highly mobile tuna species are likely to move rapidly toward the subtropics, potentially beyond sovereign waters of island nations.
Similarly, many reef species important for artisanal fishers — and highly mobile megafauna such as whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles that support tourism — are also likely to move toward the subtropics.
The movement of commercial and artisanal fish and marine megafauna could compromise the ability of tropical nations to meet the Sustainable Development Goals concerning zero hunger and marine life.
Is There Anything We Can Do?
One pathway is laid out in the Paris Climate Accords and involves aggressively reducing our emissions. Other opportunities are also emerging that could help safeguard biodiversity and hopefully minimise the worst impacts of it shifting away from the equator.
Currently 2.7% of the ocean is conserved in fully or highly protected reserves. This is well short of the 10% target by 2020 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
But a group of 41 nations is pushing to set a new target of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.
This "30 by 30" target could ban seafloor mining and remove fishing in reserves that can destroy habitats and release as much carbon dioxide as global aviation. These measures would remove pressures on biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.
Designing climate-smart reserves could further protect biodiversity from future changes. For example, reserves for marine life could be placed in refugia where the climate will be stable over the foreseeable future.
We now have evidence that climate change is impacting the best-known and strongest global pattern in ecology. We should not delay actions to try to mitigate this.
Anthony Richardson: Professor, The University of Queensland. Chhaya Chaudhary: University of Auckland, David Schoeman: Professor of Global-Change Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast, Mark John Costello: Professor, University of Auckland
Disclosure statement: Anthony Richardson receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Chhaya Chaudhary works for Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. During her PhD studies (2014- 2019), she received part- funding from the European Marine Observation Data Network (EMODnet) Biology project funded by the European Commission's Directorate—General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), and received U21 Doctoral Mobility Scholarship from the University of Auckland in 2016.
David Schoeman receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Mark John Costello does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Larry Brand
Millions of gallons of water laced with fertilizer ingredients are being pumped into Florida's Tampa Bay from a leaking reservoir at an abandoned phosphate plant at Piney Point. As the water spreads into the bay, it carries phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients that under the right conditions can fuel dangerous algae blooms that can suffocate sea grass beds and kill fish, dolphins and manatees.
It's the kind of risk no one wants to see, but officials believed the other options were worse.
About 300 homes sit downstream from the 480-million-gallon reservoir, which began leaking in late March 2021. State officials determined that pumping out the water was the only way to prevent the reservoir's walls from collapsing. They decided the safest location for all that water would be out through Port Manatee and into the bay.
Florida's coast is dotted with fragile marine sanctuaries and sea grass beds that help nurture the state's thriving marine and tourism economy. Those near Port Manatee now face a risk of algal blooms over the next few weeks. Once algae blooms get started, little can be done to clean them up.
The phosphate mining industry around Tampa is just one source of nutrients that can fuel dangerous algae blooms, which I study as a marine biologist. The sugarcane industry, cattle ranches, dairy farms and citrus groves all release nutrients that often flow into rivers and eventually into bays and the ocean. Sewage is another problem – Miami and Fort Lauderdale, for example, have old sewage treatment systems with frequent pipe breaks that leak sewage into canals and coastal waters.
Red tide in recent years has killed large numbers of Florida's manatees, a threatened species. David Hinkel/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Problem With Algae Blooms
Just down the coast from Port Manatee, the next three counties to the south have had algae blooms in recent weeks, including red tide, which produces a neurotoxin that feels like pepper spray if you breathe it in. Karenia brevis, a dinoflagellate, is the organism in red tide and produces the toxin.
This part of Florida's Gulf Coast is a hot spot for red tide, often fueled by agricultural runoff. A persistent red tide in 2017 and 2018 killed at least 177 manatees and left a trail of dead fish along the coast and into Tampa Bay. If the coastal currents carry today's red tide father north and into Tampa Bay, the toxic algae could thrive on the nutrients from Piney Point.
A map shows red tide reports just south of Tampa Bay. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Even blooms that are not toxic are still dangerous to ecosystems. They cloud the water, cutting off light and killing the plants below. A large enough bloom can also reduce oxygen in the water. A lack of oxygen can kill off everything in the water, including the fish.
This part of Florida has extensive sea grass meadows, about 2.2 million acres (8.9 billion square meters) in all, which are important habitat for lots of species and serve as nurseries for shrimp, crabs and fish. Scientists have argued that sea grass is also a major carbon sink – the grass sucks up carbon and pumps it down into the sediments.
Once the nutrients are in a large body of water, there isn't much that can be done to stop algae growth. Killing the algae would only release the nutrients again, putting the bay back where it started. Algae blooms can remain a problem for years, finally declining when a predator population develops to eats them, a viral disease spreads through the bloom or strong currents and mixing disperse the bloom.
Agriculture Runoff Poses Risks to Marine Life
The phosphate mining industry around Tampa is a large source of nutrient-rich waste. On average, more than 5 tons of phosphogypsum waste are produced for every ton of phosphoric acid created for fertilizer. In Florida, that adds up to over 1 billion tons of radioactive waste material that can't be used, so it's stacked up and turned into reservoirs like the one now leaking at Piney Point.
The reservoirs are obvious in satellite photos of the region, and they can be highly acidic. To get the phosphate out of the minerals, the industry uses sulfuric acid, and it leaves behind a highly acid wastewater. There have been at least two cases where it ate through the limestone below a reservoir, creating huge sinkholes hundreds of feet deep and draining wastewater into the aquifer.
Since saltwater had previously been pumped into the Piney Point reservoir, acidity is less of an issue. That's because the seawater would buffer the pH. There is some radioactivity, but only slightly above regulatory standards, according to state Department of Environmental Protection, and probably not much of a health hazard.
But the nutrients are a risk. In 2004, water releases from the Piney Point reservoir contributed to an algae bloom in Bishop Harbor, just south of the current release site. In 2011, it released over 170 million gallons into Bishop Harbor again after a liner broke.
Piney Point: Florida's Leaking Reservoir
Map: The Conversation/CC-BY-ND
Another significant source of algae-feeding nutrients is agriculture, particularly cattle ranching and the sugarcane industry. Nutrient runoff from cattle ranches and dairy farms north of Lake Okeechobee end up in the lake. South of the lake, much of the northern third of the Everglades was converted to sugarcane farms, and those fields back-pumped runoff into the lake for decades until the state started cracking down in the 1980s. Their legacy nutrients are still in the lake.
The nutrient-rich water in the lake then pours down the Caloosahatchee River and into the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers, south of Tampa. That's likely feeding the current red tide off the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.
When water from the Everglades region's agriculture is pumped south instead, huge blooms tend to appear in Florida Bay at the southern tip of the state. Some scientists believe it may be damaging coral reefs there, though there's debate about it. During times that flow of water from the farms increased, reefs throughout the Florida Keys have been harmed. Those reefs have become overgrown with algae.
With the current red tide, the coastal currents have carried it north as far as Sarasota already. If they carry it farther north, it will run into the Piney Point area.
Larry Brand is a Professor of Marine Biology and Ecology, University of Miami.
Disclosure statement: Larry Brand has received funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, National Park Service, Department of Energy, Office of Naval Research, Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Health, Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management, Cove Point Foundation, and Hoover Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Roger Bales and Brandi McKuin
Climate change and water scarcity are front and center in the western U.S. The region's climate is warming, a severe multi-year drought is underway and groundwater supplies are being overpumped in many locations.
Western states are pursuing many strategies to adapt to these stresses and prepare for the future. These include measures to promote renewable energy development, conserve water, and manage natural and working lands more sustainably.
As engineers working on climate-smart solutions, we've found an easy win-win for both water and climate in California with what we call the "solar canal solution." About 4,000 miles of canals transport water to some 35 million Californians and 5.7 million acres of farmland across the state. Covering these canals with solar panels would reduce evaporation of precious water – one of California's most critical resources – and help meet the state's renewable energy goals, while also saving money.
Column: Restrictions under California's groundwater law are being formulated, but it’s evident farmers will not be… https://t.co/7wRv1dN2qT— Ian James (@Ian James)1619463926.0
Conserving Water and Land
California is prone to drought, and water is a constant concern. Now, the changing climate is bringing hotter, drier weather.
Severe droughts over the past 10 to 30 years dried up wells, caused officials to implement water restrictions and fueled massive wildfires. As of mid-April 2021, the entire state was officially experiencing drought conditions.
At the same time, California has ambitious conservation goals. The state has a mandate to reduce groundwater pumping while maintaining reliable supplies to farms, cities, wildlife and ecosystems. As part of a broad climate change initiative, in October 2020 Gov. Gavin Newsom directed the California Natural Resources Agency to spearhead efforts to conserve 30% of land and coastal waters by 2030.
Most of California's rain and snow falls north of Sacramento during the winter, while 80% of its water use occurs in Southern California, mostly in summer. That's why canals snake across the state – it's the largest such system in the world. We estimate that about 1%-2% of the water they carry is lost to evaporation under the hot California sun.
In a recent study, we showed that covering all 4,000 miles of California's canals with solar panels would save more than 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation. That's enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people. By concentrating solar installations on land that is already being used, instead of building them on undeveloped land, this approach would help California meet its sustainable management goals for both water and land resources.
In Mendocino and Sonoma counties [drought conditions] are very acute. If you are in another part of the state you p… https://t.co/caAp22qCbH— CA - DWR (@CA - DWR)1619721780.0
Shading California's canals with solar panels would generate substantial amounts of electricity. Our estimates show that it could provide some 13 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, which is about half of the new sources the state needs to add to meet its clean electricity goals: 60% from carbon-free sources by 2030 and 100% renewable by 2045.
Installing solar panels over the canals makes both systems more efficient. The solar panels would reduce evaporation from the canals, especially during hot California summers. And because water heats up more slowly than land, the canal water flowing beneath the panels could cool them by 10 F, boosting production of electricity by up to 3%.
These panels could also generate electricity locally in many parts of California, lowering both transmission losses and costs for consumers. Combining solar power with battery storage can help build microgrids in rural areas and underserved communities, making the power system more efficient and resilient. This would mitigate the risk of power losses due to extreme weather, human error and wildfires.
We estimate that the cost to span canals with solar panels is higher than building ground-mounted systems. But when we added in some of the co-benefits, such as avoided land costs, water savings, aquatic weed mitigation and enhanced PV efficiency, we found that solar canals were a better investment and provided electricity that cost less over the life of the solar installations.
Solar panels installed over canals increase the efficiency of both systems. Brandi McKuin / CC BY-ND
Benefits to the Land
Solar canals are about much more than just generating renewable energy and saving water. Building these long, thin solar arrays could prevent more than 80,000 acres of farmland or natural habitat from being converted for solar farms.
California grows food for an ever-increasing global population and produces more than 50% of the fruits, nuts and vegetables that U.S. consumers eat. However, up to 50% of new renewable energy capacity to meet decarbonization goals could be sited in agricultural areas, including large swaths of prime farmland.
Solar canal installations will also protect wildlife, ecosystems and culturally important land. Large-scale solar developments can result in habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, which can harm threatened species such as the Mojave Desert tortoise.
They also can harm desert scrub plant communities, including plants that are culturally important to indigenous tribes. As an example, construction of the Genesis Solar Energy Center in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts in 2012-2014 destroyed trails and burial sites and damaged important cultural artifacts, spurring protracted legal conflict.
Clearing the Air
By generating clean electricity, solar canals can improve air quality – a serious problem in central California, which has some of the dirtiest air in the U.S. Solar electricity could help retire particulate-spewing diesel engines that pump water through California's agricultural valleys. It also could help charge growing numbers of electric light- and heavy-duty vehicles that move people and goods around the state.
Yet another benefit would be curbing aquatic weeds that choke canals. In India, where developers have been building solar canals since 2014, shade from the panels limits growth of weeds that block drains and restrict water flow.
Fighting these weeds with herbicide and mechanical equipment is expensive, and herbicides threaten human health and the environment. For large, 100-foot-wide canals in California, we estimate that shading canals would save about US$40,000 per mile. Statewide, savings could reach $69 million per year.
Artist rendering of a solar canal system for California. Solar Aquagrid LLC / CC BY-ND
Bringing Solar Canals to California
While India has built solar arrays over canals and the U.S. is developing floating solar projects, California lacks prototypes to study locally.
Discussions are underway for both large and small demonstration projects in the Central Valley and Southern California. Building prototypes would help operators, developers and regulators refine designs, assess environmental impacts, measure project costs and benefits, and evaluate how these systems perform. With more data, planners can map out strategies for extending solar canals statewide, and potentially across the West.
It will take a dozen or more partners to plan, fund and carry out a solar canal project in California. Public-private partnerships will likely include federal, state and local government agencies, project developers and university researchers.
California's aging power infrastructure has contributed to catastrophic wildfires and multi-day outages. Building smart solar developments on canals and other disturbed land can make power and water infrastructure more resilient while saving water, reducing costs and helping to fight climate change. We believe it's a model that should be considered across the country – and the planet.
Roger Bales is a Distinguished Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced.
Brandi McKuin is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Disclosure statement: Nothing to disclose. Roger Bales does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Installing solar panels over California's network of water canals could save the state an estimated 63 billion gallons of water and produce 13 gigawatts of renewable power every year, according to a feasibility study published in Nature Sustainability.
California moves more water than any other system in the world, with 75% of the state's available water in its northern third and the southern two-thirds accounting for 80% of the state's demand.
Covering the canals with solar panels would reduce evaporation by shading the canals from the sun (along with the co-benefit of reducing canal-choking plant growth) and the cooling effects of the water could boost solar panel efficiency.
The final third of this win-win-win is the land elsewhere that won't need to be covered by a solar farm, Michael Kiparsky, director of the Wheeler Water Institute at the UC Berkeley School of Law, told Wired.
Kiparsky likened it to the obvious preference for putting solar panels on one's roof, instead of in the middle of the backyard.
"You're taking something that's already been altered by human activity and doubling up on the benefits it provides. That's the profound piece," he said.
For a deeper dive:
By Jessica Corbett
A new study is shedding light on just how much ice could be lost around Antarctica if the international community fails to urgently rein in planet-heating emissions, bolstering arguments for bolder climate policies.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that over a third of the area of all Antarctic ice shelves — including 67% of area on the Antarctic Peninsula — could be at risk of collapsing if global temperatures soar to 4°C above pre-industrial levels.
An ice shelf, as NASA explains, "is a thick, floating slab of ice that forms where a glacier or ice flows down a coastline." They are found only in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic—and play a key role in limiting sea level rise.
"Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise," explained Ella Gilbert, the study's lead author, in a statement. "When they collapse, it's like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea."
"We know that when melted ice accumulates on the surface of ice shelves, it can make them fracture and collapse spectacularly," added Gilbert, a research scientist at the University of Reading. "Previous research has given us the bigger picture in terms of predicting Antarctic ice shelf decline, but our new study uses the latest modelling techniques to fill in the finer detail and provide more precise projections."
Check out my piece for @ConversationUK on how & why #Antarctica's #IceShelves are at risk as global #temperatures r… https://t.co/YCMzgfliiR— Dr Ella Gilbert (@Dr Ella Gilbert)1617975049.0
Gilbert and co-author Christoph Kittel of Belgium's University of Liège conclude that limiting global temperature rise to 2°C rather than 4°C would cut the area at risk in half.
"At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica's ice shelf area would be at risk," Gilbert noted in The Conversation.
While the 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep temperature rise "well below" 2°C, with a more ambitious 1.5°C target, current emissions reduction plans are dramatically out of line with both goals, according to a United Nations analysis.
Gilbert said Thursday that the findings of their new study "highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris agreement if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including sea level rise."
"If temperatures continue to rise at current rates," she said, "we may lose more Antarctic ice shelves in the coming decades."
The researchers warn that Larsen C—the largest remaining ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula—as well as the Shackleton, Pine Island, and Wilkins ice shelves are most at risk under 4°C of warming because of their geography and runoff predictions.
"Limiting warming will not just be good for Antarctica—preserving ice shelves means less global sea level rise, and that's good for us all," Gilbert added.
All the more reason we need to push our leaders towards a quick end to the use of all fossil fuels! https://t.co/yrNUgjbkYG— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)1617915642.0
Low-lying coastal areas such as small island nations of Vanuatu and Tuvalu in the South Pacific Ocean face the greatest risk from sea level rise, Gilbert told CNN.
"However, coastal areas all over the world would be vulnerable," she warned, "and countries with fewer resources available to mitigate and adapt to sea level rise will see worse consequences."
Research published in February examining projections from the Fifth Assessment Report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as the body's Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate found that sea level rise forecasts for this century "are on the money when tested against satellite and tide-gauge observations."
A co-author of that study, John Church of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales, said at the time that "if we continue with large ongoing emissions as we are at present, we will commit the world to meters of sea level rise over coming centuries."
Parties to the Paris agreement are in the process of updating their emissions reduction commitments—called nationally determined contributions—ahead of November's United Nations climate summit, known as COP26.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.
Accessed by a long, winding road bordered by trees, the houses, built in the 1970s and 1980s, are mainly painted in pastel shades. Dotted among fruit trees in their sizeable backyards are huge water tanks, mounted on concrete slabs.
The tanks are evidence that even this affluent community is not insulated from the water stress experienced across the Caribbean.
Residents fill the tanks from the main pipes to use during scheduled outages by the water authority. But the supply is often unreliable and further impacted by low pressure for those living further up the hill.
Nunez says outages have become a regular occurrence, with water often shut off for all but a few hours during the night.
"Most of the time you have to buy food from outside or have food catered and buy bottles of water to drink," she said. "You use disposable dishes."
Patchy Infrastructure and Leaky Pipes
Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis are all classed as water scarce, which the UN defines as countries with less than 1000 cubic meters per capita of renewable water resources a year.
Barbados' situation, with only 350 cubic meters per capita, is especially grave, according to Keithroy Halliday, general manager of the Barbados Water Authority.
While most people outside of rural mountainous areas in the Caribbean are connected to the public water supply, they frequently face outdated infrastructure in need of repair, resulting in major losses of drinking water.
Alan Poon King, head of Trinidad and Tobago's Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), says the utility loses as much as 60 million gallons of water each day from leaking infrastructure — and that much again is wasted by problems like leaking taps on private properties.
The picture is similar in Jamaica, which Peter Clarke, managing director of the country's Water Resources Authority, says suffers from "a serious loss of water that has been produced and is supposed to be delivered, but it is not reaching the end user because of the aging infrastructure — it's leaky, it's perforated."
Climate Change Increases Pressure
If these structural problems are left unaddressed, things are only likely to deteriorate as the planet heats up.
"There are many other problems that are facing the water sector in the Caribbean and climate change is exacerbating those existing, underlying conditions," said Adrian Cashman, who sits on the global technical advisory committee for the Global Water Partnership.
Officials say drought conditions across the region over the past couple of years mean there just hasn't been enough rain to replenish aquifers at the usual rate.
"This past summer [in Jamaica] we went through a significant drought," said Clarke. "It really was challenging for the water supply providers."
In Trinidad and Tobago, Poon King said it was difficult to quantify the impacts of climate change, but that it was an ongoing challenge: "We've seen reduced precipitation that could be anywhere in the range of 10-20% in the dry season."
Halliday said climate change has already "significantly impacted" Barbados' water supply, too. All of Barbados' internal renewable water resources come from rainfall, he explained, and in 2019 the country saw its lowest recorded levels since 1947.
Climate Finance and Water-Wise Living
The Caribbean region enjoys relatively high standards of living, with most countries defined by the UN as "upper-middle income." This excludes them from much international development funding. At the same time, high levels of public debt combined with their vulnerability to climate change makes it difficult to secure investment in infrastructure.
However, one of the region's first major water projects financed by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was set up to help developing countries cope with the changing climate, is currently underway in Grenada.
Project head Hans-Werner Theisen says about half of the €45 million the GCF has allocated to the project will be spent improving infrastructure like water tanks, reservoirs and pipes. There will also be financial incentives to cut water waste from sectors like agriculture and tourism, which are among the biggest consumers of water.
Encouraging the public to use water more carefully is key to the project in Grenada, too. "What I think is very important is that everyone, every citizen, can contribute to water-saving measures, so we have to be water-wise in day-to-day living," Theisen said.
Elsewhere, Barbados has passed laws prohibiting the use of potable water for washing cars, gardening, filling swimming pools and similar activities. As in Jamaica, people are encouraged to use wastewater for such activities.
Water, Water Everywhere…
Despite day-to-day water outages, a 2017 UN Water report showed most people in the Caribbean have access to a safe — if irregular — water supply.
But in Trinidad, Nunez is infuriated living on an island with 360-views of the turquoise waters and nothing coming out of the tap.
"Water and air are things that humans need to live," she added. "I can't understand how on an island surrounded by water, they can't find some way of using — desalinating — the water."
According to 2019 figures, the region gets some 12% of its water supply from desalination. Poon King said in Trinidad and Tobago that figure is 20% but expanding this is problematic due to high energy costs.
For Nunez, water shortages are out of step with her country's development status. Trinidad and Tobago have profited from its oil reserves. Yet despite its high income, it struggles to adequately supply this most basic of necessities.
"There are glass buildings and universities and huge international airports and everything like this, but there is no water," she said. "We've got the latest architectural structures and homes and houses, but it seems like indoor sanitary ware and kitchens are just for show."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
As the death toll mounts, secondary effects of the Texas grid failure, driven primarily by the failure of gas, coal, and nuclear plants to handle the cold, are becoming apparent.
At least 16 people are dead and 2.6 million Texas customers were without power as of Wednesday evening.
Gov. Greg Abbott said he did not know when power would be restored and state regulators said as much generation was falling off the grid as was being added on. Food is also becoming scarce as the storm disrupted food distribution systems.
Meanwhile nearly 12 million Texans, approximately 40% of the state's population and more than the entire population of Michigan, live in one of the state's 590 public water systems that have reported service disruptions.
That includes St. David's South Austin Medical Center, which as of Thursday morning still lacked heat because of low water pressure, an issue affecting "a number of other hospitals in the area," according to its CEO.
Houston residents were expected to be required to boil their water even after pressure is restored — hopefully late Thursday, though more bad weather is expected — and burst pipes caused flooding in Dallas.
For a deeper dive:
Death toll and outages: Washington Post; Thermal plant failures: Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, NPR; Unknown restoration timeline: Texas Tribune, Houston Chronicle, AP; Food shortages: Texas Tribune; Statewide water disruptions: Texas Tribune; Hospitals: Austin American-Statesman; Houston: Houston Chronicle; Dallas: Dallas Morning News
By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
At issue wasn't any of the well-known and widely feared water infiltrators such as E. coli or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The culprit chemicals tainting taps from Cocoa, Florida, to the Finger Lakes of New York to a correctional facility in Only, Tennessee, are, in fact, less recognized yet more ubiquitous: disinfection by-products.
"Take a glass of water. You may or may not have pesticides, pharmaceuticals, PFAS and lead in it. Usually not," says Susan Richardson, a professor of biochemistry at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. "But there's always something that is in your drinking water, and that's disinfection by-products."
Aptly named, the chemicals form in water when disinfectants that are widely used to kill pathogens in municipal drinking water facilities react with organic compounds. These compounds may be present in the water as a result of natural processes such as the decay of leaves and animal matter, as well as human activities that may release solvents, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and industrial chemicals. Exposure to disinfection by-products through drinking, bathing or swimming has been linked to potential increased risks of low birthweight babies, birth defects, miscarriages and cancer.
"Disinfection is hugely important. We've got to kill those pathogens," says Richardson. "We had millions of people dying from waterborne illnesses before we started disinfecting water in the 1800s."
Cholera and typhoid fever were once deadly and pervasive threats. Still today, when concentrations of disinfectants fall too low, drinking water can become a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens such as Legionella, E. coli, even cholera.
"It's a trade-off between inactivating pathogens that are going to make people sick today versus the long-term, low-level risk of chemicals in the water," says Christy Remucal, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Striking a balance may be even more challenging today as waters become increasingly compromised due to population growth, wastewater intrusion, energy exploration, climate change — and now the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Richardson.
During the pandemic, many places have increased use of chlorine for disinfection in indoor and outdoor settings and during wastewater treatment, resulting in the potential for higher levels of disinfection by-products. Authors of a study published in October warn that this "upsurge and overuse of chlorine-based disinfectants" may pose a threat to human health "by impacting water quality."
Concentrations of harmful chemicals have also likely increased in buildings left vacant during Covid-19 shutdowns. The longer that water sits in pipes, explains Richardson, the longer it has to react with disinfectants and form more by-products.
Still, Gregory Korshin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, encourages perspective on the issue of disinfection by-products. The answer, he and others say, is not to stop disinfecting water, nor is it for everyone to buy bottled water.
"There is a dark side of disinfection," adds Korshin. "But this doesn't compromise the notion that drinking water in the U.S. is safe."
Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products.
Identification of disinfection by-products is incredibly difficult, she explains, because these chemicals are not simply flowing down a river from an industrial site or running off a farm. "They didn't exist before," she adds. "It's a complete unknown — there's no preconceived idea of what these chemicals look like."
Another research team recently discovered more previously unidentified disinfection by-products. As they described in a January 2020 study, potentially carcinogenic chemicals are formed through the interaction of chlorine and not only organic matter in the environment but also manmade materials that include phenols such as bisphenol A (BPA) and other plasticizers, as well as sunscreen agents and antimicrobials.
"These phenol compounds are incredibly widespread because of their properties," says Carsten Prasse, a coauthor on the study and an assistant professor of environmental health and environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He highlights their use in both plastic pipes and plastic bottles, which frequently carry drinking water.
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.
EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.
Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a two-day public meeting in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.
When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.
For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."
Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.
Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As desalination practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.
Other Hot Spots
Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on this reporting project).
The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."
Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.
Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.
Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."
If a drinking water facility fails to meet EPA regulations for disinfection by-products, one relatively easy and cheap modification is to add ammonia to the existing treatment, turning chlorine to chloramine. Many large community water systems in the U.S. now use chloramine. By doing so, according to Richardson, they have dropped levels of regulated disinfection by-products by up to as much as 90%.
However, there is one major drawback to this shift: the creation of potentially more harmful by-products. "It might push down on regulated disinfection by-products, but then other things pop up that are even more toxic," says Richardson, whose research team discovered previously unknown disinfection by-products in chloraminated drinking water. One of those finds, iodoacetic acid, is the most DNA-damaging disinfection by-product known to date.
Prasse underscored the concern: "From a regulatory perspective, we could say we're fine. But it's a false sense of security."
Rather than continuing on the toxic treadmill of replacing one potentially toxic chemical for another, a more effective solution may be to focus upstream in the treatment process — such as keeping organics out of the system in the first place. "That requires engineers, chemists, toxicologists and regulators to come together and figure something out," says Prasse.
When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.
In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, chlorine isn't used at all as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.
But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or ultraviolet light. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.
Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own.
Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.
Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a countertop carbon filter to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a 2019 paper that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.
Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.
While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including PFAS and disinfection by-product precursors.
"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."
Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.
Reposted with permission from Ensia.
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