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In the U.S., our infrastructure isn’t designed to handle the increased floods and droughts that come with global warming. Consider Florida, where coastal cities are spending billions of dollars on pumps and desalination plants to deal with flooding, or Denver, CO, which had to restrict residential lawn watering to two days a week throughout the spring due to drought.

Clearly, we need to be smarter about our precious water supply in the coming years. Many cities are already getting a jump start on smart water solutions and their work provides models for other places dealing with water challenges.

Bioswales

Bioswales—also known as rain gardens—absorb and filter runoff from nearby pavement. Not only do they keep polluted rainwater from reaching our rivers and lakes, they beautify our cities and prevent flooding.

A bioswale is installed along a new bike trail in Indianapolis, IN.

Porous/Permeable Pavement

Another way to ensure rainwater is filtered before it reaches our waterways is by letting it hit the ground rather than run along the top of pavement. Porous pavement like that pictured above has tiny gaps that allow the water to flow through.

Photo credit: JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons

Cisterns/Rain Barrels

About one-third of the clean drinking water in the U.S. is used to water lawns. One way to halt this waste is to encourage the use of cisterns and rain barrels which collect rainwater for things like gardening and flushing toilets. The town of Northfield, MN, rebates its residents 50 percent of the cost of installing such systems. Many other towns in the U.S. have similar programs, and rain barrels are readily available at most home improvement stores.

Solar Water Heaters

Rather than using solar panels to create electricity, solar water heaters use them to heat water. About 30 million homes in China use solar water heaters and many municipalities in the U.S., like Palo Alto, CA, Austin, TX, and Tallahassee, FL, offer rebates to their residents if they install them.

Australian homes with solar hot water heaters. Photo credit: Green MPs/Flickr

Riparian Buffers

Nothing manages water better than nature. Ensuring that our waterways are buffered from development by conserving the vegetation around it keeps them clean, provides vital habitat for plants and animals and guards against flooding. In just one project of its kind, EarthShare member Trust for Public Land helped protect nearly 600 acres of land near the LaPlatte River, which feeds into Lake Champlain. Because of this, the safety of the drinking water supply for 68,000 people is ensured.

Green Roofs

Green roofs have multiple benefits: they reduce the heat island effect in cities, filter air pollution, improve building efficiency and much more. They also reduce the volume of storm water flowing into sewer systems. Chicago, IL, leads the country in green roofs installed.

Photo credit: kcxd/Flickr

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.

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Shenandoah Riverkeeper

On Feb. 13, Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper officially settled their Federal Clean Water Act lawsuit with Ox Paperboard.

"We are pleased with the settlement," said Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble. "Ox Paperboard provides a green service to the community and the company’s leaders rescued a failing business several years ago and saved local jobs. Yet, before the settlement there remained an ongoing issue with toxic discharges to Flowing Springs Run which had continued in violation of the law for far too long."

In the settlement, Ox Paperboard is required to design and implement a biological treatment system to handle wastewater discharge as part of their planned facility upgrades, to pay more than $100,000 in fines to U.S. Department of Justice, and to fund a $50,000 supplemental environmental project within Flowing Springs run or the Shenandoah River.

After waiting over a year and a half for the promised upgrades to occur, the Riverkeepers filed in order to guarantee that the environmental harm being caused by the facility would be addressed prior to or during the plant’s planned expansion.

"We decided early on that our priority was to resolve the issues with the plant and avoid the courts, so we believed that a settlement was the most expeditious way forward," said Kelble.

The Riverkeepers even tried to diminish the fines levied against Ox Paperboard in favor of a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) that the company will fund.

Flowing Springs Run has the potential to be the jewel of the county. Near Ranson, seven feeder springs come bubbling out of the ground to form the stream. "Working with a number of local groups to implement environmental improvements upstream of the facility, we hope that we can lay the foundation to bring back native brook trout historically supported by this stream and undo some of the damage that has been done from years of excessive discharges,” Kelble said.

In addition, a restoration project upstream from the plant has the potential eventually benefit Ox Paperboard—improving the quality of the water used in its operations could lower operating costs for the facility.

For more information, click here.

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The Potomac and Shenandoah Riverkeepers are grateful for the work of their attorneys, Chris Stroech of Arnold & Bailey, PLLC in Shepherdstown, W.V. and Ken Kristl, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Widener University School of Law. Both attorneys diligently managed the sensitive case with flawless care.

Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. is a clean water 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit that, includes the Potomac Riverkeeper and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper. It stops pollution and restores clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and their tributaries through community engagement and enforcement of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. As a membership organization, it has offices in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

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