Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brett Walton
Use of Colorado River water in the three states of the river's lower basin fell to a 33-year low in 2019, amid growing awareness of the precarity of the region's water supply in a drying and warming climate.
Raising Lake Mead<p>Just five years ago, in 2015, the three states were making use of their entire 7.5-million-acre-foot allotment. By statute and tradition, the basin is divided into a lower basin, where use is higher, and an upper basin, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The basins have different water allocation systems and rules governing its use.</p><p>In the lower basin, Arizona's annual allocation is 2.8 million acre-feet, but last year it used just 2.5 million. Nevada used 233,000 of its 300,000 acre-feet. The big savings were in California, which used only 3.8 million of its 4.4 million acre-feet. California hasn't used that little water from the Colorado since the 1950s, Fleck said.</p><p>The drop in California last year is due in large part to Metropolitan Water District, which consumed only 537,000 acre-feet. Five years ago, the district's tally was around 1 million acre-feet per year. Urban conservation and development of local water sources have played a large role in the decline, but the district's Colorado River water use is also influenced by snow levels in the Sierra Nevada mountains. When more water is available to be imported from the northern part of the state, as it was last year, the district leans less heavily on the Colorado River.</p>
Total Lower Colorado Basin Consumptive Use<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQxMTU1OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzM0NDYxM30.RVr3Rzi1jqZHweILfonMU8SWs_LGJBGqg9lMiQ-jrVY/img.png?width=980" id="d31ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="15ef390e64a1be66991bfd26b0f0fee5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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By Peter Yeung
A pair of pink Amazon river dolphins emerges for just a moment, arcing above the chocolate brown waters inside the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development, a research facility at the tropical heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Powerful jets of water spray out of their blowholes as these freshwater mammals take in air before submerging.
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By Paul Bierman and Amanda H. Schmidt
For most of the past 60 years, the United States and Cuba have had very limited diplomatic ties. President Barack Obama started the process of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, but the Trump administration reversed this policy, sharply reducing interactions between the two countries.
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A Test Case in Sustainable Farming<p>Cuban rivers run from the mountains to the ocean through cow-filled pastures, fields of sugar cane and rice paddies, <a href="https://doi.org/10.5343/bms.2017.1026" target="_blank">forests, wetlands and mangroves</a>. Along the way, groundwater seeps into river channels from below. When heavy thunderstorms strike, water pours off the land.</p><p>These flows carry soil and dissolved material into streams, which deliver this load to the coast. Cuba's coastlines have abundant mangrove thickets, underwater seagrass beds and some of the Caribbean's <a href="https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/cuba/cuba-s-coral-reefs" target="_blank">best-preserved coral reefs</a>.</p><p>We became interested in teaming with Cuban scientists because of their nation's country-wide experiment in organic agriculture dating back to the late 1980s. When the Soviet Union, Cuba's former trading partner, broke apart, Cuban farmers lost access to fertilizers, pesticides and heavy equipment, and had to <a href="https://theconversation.com/cubas-sustainable-agriculture-at-risk-in-u-s-thaw-56773" target="_blank">adopt a more ecologically based aproach</a>. Could their experience provide a blueprint for more sustainable approaches to feeding the world?</p><p>We used the <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/" target="_blank">ResearchGate</a> network to find Cuban collaborators. Supported by the <a href="http://nsf.gov/" target="_blank">U.S. National Science Foundation</a> and the <a href="https://www.ceac.cu/" target="_blank">Centro de Estudios Ambientales de Cienfuegos</a>, the research we are doing in Cuba builds on measurements we have done all over the world.</p>
Less Fertilizer Runoff in Cuba<p>For this study we analyzed water samples from each of 25 rivers in central Cuba, looking for elements from across the periodic table and for bacteria. Our <a href="https://doi.org/10.1130/GSATG419A.1" target="_blank">first results</a> show that Cuba's sustainable agricultural practices minimize the impact of agriculture on river water quality by reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that washes off from fields into local waters.</p><p>Cuban farmers use about half as much fertilizer for each acre of farmland than their U.S. counterparts (3 versus 6 tons per square kilometer per year in 2016). As a result, rivers in central Cuba contain much lower concentrations of dissolved nitrogen than the Mississippi River, which drains <a href="https://www.nps.gov/miss/riverfacts.htm" target="_blank">more than 1 million square miles</a> of America's agricultural heartland. On average, the Cuban rivers we analyzed contained 0.76 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of water, compared to 1.3 milligrams per liter in the Mississippi River from 2012-2019.</p><p>American crop yields per acre are higher than Cuba's, thanks partly to fertilizer use, but the trade-off is stark. Nutrients that pour off U.S. farm fields and flow down the Mississippi River create the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-forecasts-very-large-dead-zone-for-gulf-of-mexico" target="_blank">Gulf of Mexico dead zone</a>, a patch of ocean where oxygen levels are so low that almost no marine life survives. The dead zone forms every summer, fed by spring rainfall, and has covered an <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/large-dead-zone-measured-in-gulf-of-mexico" target="_blank">average of 6,000 square miles</a> in recent years.</p><p>Cuba's rivers do contain other pollutants. We found high levels of bacteria and sediment in most of the rivers we sampled. DNA analysis suggests that at least some of these bacteria were from the guts of cows. We saw many cows during our field work in central Cuba, and those animals had free access to local streams. Simple solutions, like fencing river banks, could greatly lower bacteria levels in surface waters.</p><p>We also found naturally high levels of calcium, sodium and magnesium in Cuban river water. These materials come from rocks that are naturally dissolved by rainwater. None of them are hazardous to humans, although they might leave scale in tea kettles and alter the water's taste.</p>
Enabling More Scientific Cooperation<p>Although we've done field work on Greenland's ice sheet and in rice paddies of southwest China, this work in Cuba has been a uniquely valuable experience for us, both professionally and personally. We found Cuban culture to be warm and welcoming, even to Americans whose leaders for the most part have shunned the Cuban people for decades.</p><p>Sharing and teamwork are key parts of Cuban culture. When we brought out American snacks during our first visit to Cuba, our collaborators insisted these gifts must be shared with the entire lab staff. In the tropical January sunshine, scientists, technicians, secretaries and directors gathered outside to eat Vermont maple candies and blueberry jam.</p><p>We view this project as <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.367.6483.1274" target="_blank">science diplomacy</a> in action. But our Cuban partners cannot visit us until the United States agrees to grant visas to Cuban scientists. The Trump administration is going in the opposite direction: It has <a href="https://www.state.gov/united-states-further-restricts-air-travel-to-cuba/" target="_blank">suspended commercial and public charter flights</a> to Cuba from the U.S. and imposed sanctions that are designed to <a href="https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_fact_sheet_20190906.pdf" target="_blank">deny Cuba access to hard currency</a>.</p><p>As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps around the world, scientific cooperation is more important than ever. To us, it doesn't make sense to increase sanctions against a country that has more doctors per capita than any country on Earth and has <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-response-why-cuba-is-such-an-interesting-case-135749" target="_blank">responded more successfully than many nations</a> to COVID-19. We believe that science in the U.S. would gain from reopening communication with Cuba and sharing knowledge that could help heal the global community. </p>
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A 21,000 tonne (approximately 23,000 U.S. ton) oil spill that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare an emergency last week has now reached a pristine Arctic lake, and there are concerns it could contaminate the Arctic Ocean.
Environmentalists and local officials have raised alarms about the disaster, which they say is the worst of its kind in the Russian Arctic, according to BBC News. So far, the oil has spread 12 miles from the initial spill site, a fuel tank that collapsed May 29.
"The fuel has got into Pyasino as well. This is a beautiful lake about 70 kilometres (45 miles) long. Naturally, it has both fish and a good biosphere," Krasnoyarsk region governor Alexander Uss told Interfax news agency Tuesday, as AFP reported.
A catastrophe is taking place right before our eyes. The diesel spill in Norilsk has become the first accident of such a scale in the Arctic. 20 thousand tonnes of diesel fuel have been spilled in local rivers. pic.twitter.com/PXEXkTuACE— Greenpeace Russia (@greenpeaceru) June 4, 2020
Lake Pyasino flows into the Pyasina river, which in turn flows into the Arctic Ocean's Kara Sea, BBC News explained.
Greenpeace Russia director Vladimir Chuprov told AFP it would be a "disaster" if 10,000 tonnes (approximately 11,000 U.S. tons) of fuel or more had reached the lake. He said he feared it would reach the Kara Sea as well, which would have "harmful consequences."
Uss, however, was committed to preventing that from happening.
"Now it's important to prevent it from getting into the Pyasina river, which flows north. That should be possible," he said, as BBC News reported.
The news that the spill had reached the lake came a week after a spokeswoman for the team in charge of cleanup efforts told AFP the spill had been contained.
But regional officials told a different story.
"We can see a large concentration of diluted oil products beyond the booms," Krasnoyarsk region deputy environment minister Yulia Gumenyuk said, according to BBC News.
Norilsk Nickel, the company that ultimately owns the power plant where the tank collapsed, denied that any oil had reached the lake.
"Our samples at the Pyasino Lake show 0.0 percent contamination results," Sergei Dyachenko, the company's first vice-president and chief operating officer, said in a Tuesday video conference reported by AFP.
He also said it was unlikely the fuel would reach the ocean.
"The distance from Pyasino Lake to the Kara Sea is more than 5,000 kilometres (approximately 3,107 miles)," he said.
The spill has also contaminated rivers and soil. So far, cleanup efforts have removed 812,000 cubic feet of contaminated dirt, according to BBC News.
"[The spill] will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks," Vasily Yablokov of Greenpeace Russia said, according to BBC News.
The polluted Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers may take ten years to clean, The Guardian reported.
Norilsk Nickel has said the collapse that caused the spill was probably due to melting permafrost, but environmental groups have accused the company of using the climate crisis to downplay its own culpability.
"It's an attempt to write off Nornickel's failure in risk management and ecological safety on the fashionable topic of climate change," Alexey Knizhnikov of the World Wildlife Fund told The Guardian. "The main factor is mismanagement."
Greenpeace said it had reported on the threat posed by thawing permafrost to oil and gas infrastructure in the fast-warning Russian Arctic as far back as 2009. But Dyachenko said in a conference call Tuesday that the company had not been monitoring the permafrost before the accident.
"It's not possible that the company did not know about [thawing permafrost], but it is possible that the company used a dangerous facility irresponsibly," Greenpeace Russia's Yablokov told The Guardian.
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During summer in central New York, residents often enjoy a refreshing dip in the region's peaceful lakes.
But sometimes swimming is off-limits because of algae blooms that can make people sick.
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The gruesome images of whales and deer dying after mistaking plastic for food has helped put into perspective just how severe the plastic waste crisis is. Now, a new study finds that it is not just land and sea animals eating our plastic trash. It turns out that birds are eating hundreds of bits of plastic every day through the food they eat.
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For the first decade of the 2000s, the Missouri River, the nation's longest river, was drier than it's been in more than 1,200 years. The culprit is the climate crisis, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS.
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A case that has bounced around the lower courts for 13 years was finally settled yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision, finding oil giant Citgo liable for a clean up of a 2004 oil spill in the Delaware River, according to Reuters.
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Scars from large mining operations are permanently etched across the landscapes of the world. The environmental damage and human health hazards that these activities create may be both severe and irreversible.
Catastrophic Failures Renew Old Worries<p>Tailings dam failures range from the 1966 <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-150d11df-c541-44a9-9332-560a19828c47" target="_blank">Aberfan disaster</a> that buried a Welsh village to multiple spills over the past decade in <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/mine-tailings-dam-failures-major-cause-of-environmental-disasters-report/" target="_blank">Canada, China, Chile and the United States</a>. The <a href="https://www.icold-cigb.org/" target="_blank">International Commission on Large Dams</a>, a nongovernmental organization, warned in 2001 that the frequency and severity of tailings dam failures was <a href="http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/2891-TailingsDams.pdf" target="_blank">increasing globally</a>.</p><p>Two catastrophic and highly publicized failures at the <a href="https://www.mountpolleyreviewpanel.ca/" target="_blank">Mt. Polley dam in Canada</a> in 2014 and the <a href="https://theconversation.com/dam-collapse-at-brazilian-mine-exposes-grave-safety-problems-110666" target="_blank">Brumadinho dam in Brazil</a> in 2019 finally catalyzed a response. The <a href="https://www.icmm.com/" target="_blank">International Council on Mining and Metals</a>, the <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/" target="_blank">United Nations Environment Programme</a> and the independent organization <a href="https://www.unpri.org/" target="_blank">Principles for Responsible Investment</a> drafted a "global standard for the safe and secure <a href="https://globaltailingsreview.org/" target="_blank">management of mine tailings facilities</a>." The first public review of the standard was completed in December 2019, and its authors plan to finalize their recommendations by the end of March 2020.</p>
International Rivers at Risk<p>Today these decisions loom large in the Golden Triangle, home to the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers – three of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1111-9" target="_blank">longest undammed rivers in North America</a>. Salmon from these rivers have supported indigenous communities for millennia, generate <a href="https://www.mcdowellgroup.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/FINAL-Southeast-Alaska-Transboundary-Watershed-Economic-Impacts-10_10red.pdf" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars in economic activity annually</a> and provide a dependable source of food for organisms ranging from insects to brown bears.</p><p>We calculate that 19% of the total drainage area of these three rivers is staked with mineral mining claims or leases. This includes 59% of the Unuk River watershed, along with the entire Iskut River corridor, the largest tributary to the Stikine River.</p><p>We have identified <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ipseXInQJTFPt1wtac431c9AEmDHJqb05qqRwFTOlNU/edit#gid=0" target="_blank">dozens of mines in exploratory or production phases</a>. Some industry representatives call these statistics irrelevant because only a small portion of the claims will convert to economically viable projects. But from our perspective, the fact that vast areas of these watersheds are included in initial explorations implies that few rivers in this region are safe from potential mining development.</p>
Accurately Assessing Risk<p>Rivers are the arteries of coastal Alaska and northwestern Canada, draining pristine snow and ice-covered mountains and pumping out cold, clean water to support fish, wildlife and people. Here and elsewhere, we believe that regulators should take a measured and cautious view of current and planned tailings facilities.</p><p>Dam failures are <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/environments4040075" target="_blank">increasing in frequency</a>, and often are so large that true cleanup or reclamation is not possible. Before more are built, we see a need for independent science to provide a means of honestly assessing the risk of storing mining waste.</p>
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