Can Texas Stop Its Taps From Running Dry?
By Keith Schneider
In many ways, the story of Texas over the last century is the state's devout allegiance to the principle that mankind has dominion over nature.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down that idea in 2020. By 11 October, nearly 800,000 people had been infected in Texas and over 16,000 died.
The sharp and irrepressible rise in virus cases and mortality adds to the intensifying view among Texans that far from living in a place distant from the vagaries of nature, Texas has become a national and global epicenter of natural calamity.
More people and businesses in Texas are in the way, as booming population and economic growth this century have written a much different story of vulnerability – to nature's bullying and to government's uncertain capacity to adjust. The state's principal water research agency projects that demand for fresh water will increase dramatically by mid-century as supplies steadily drop, precipitating what looks like an inevitable supply crisis. In short, the second- largest American state and one of the world's largest economies looks a lot like China, India, Australia, South Africa and every other place in the world contending with the confrontation between diminishing water supply and increasing demand.
"Texas does not understand shortages," said Dr. Larry McKinney, one of the state's top water researchers and the former director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, a unit of Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. "It's the Texas mentality. Texas is so big we've had a hard time coming to grips that resources are finite. We really never had to deal with that. Frankly, we're reaching that point."
Rising Demand Confronts Lower Supplies
There are a couple of ways to examine the coming hardship. The first is in numbers. The Texas Water Development Board found that by 2070 the state's population will grow to 51 million people, 22 million more than today. The state's annual demand for water, the State Water Board projects, will climb to 21.6 million acre-feet (27 trillion liters), up from 18.4 million.
At the same time, a severe drought will bring increasing constraint. State authorities project that in a drought comparable to the most severe on record, water supplies will fall over the next 50 years from 15.2 million acre-feet to 13.6 million acre-feet (17 trillion liters). During the driest periods, more people will have considerably less water.
Here's how that confrontation is playing out in the Hill Country, a region of rapid population growth and uncertain water supply west of Austin, Texas' capital city.
Two generations ago, about 40,000 people made their homes in Hays County, an epic, rural, rolling masterpiece of space and sky close to Austin and San Antonio. Authorities in Hays counted 14,000 homes that were supplied with water from the Trinity Aquifer, a giant freshwater reserve that lay below. In both wet years and dry, water was readily available.
Four decades later, Hays County has grown to 222,000 residents and 75,000 housing units. The Trinity Aquifer is tapped out. Since 2003, a pipeline from Lake Travis, a reservoir near Austin, has provided developers with sufficient water to continue building big subdivisions.
But a study by the Hill Country Alliance and the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University in San Marcos found that the piped water encouraged more drilling fo water wells into the aquifer. In one area, they found that pumping jumped from just over 3 million gallons annually to 90 million gallons (409 million liters).
The idea of the sanctity of economic expansion produces all manner of conflict and turmoil about water throughout Texas. The annual $1.89 trillion Texas economy, the second-largest state economy and ninth-largest in the world, is entirely dependent on access to adequate supplies of water.
The 2011 drought caused more than $7 billion in agricultural losses, and indirect costs of $16.9 billion. From 1980 to 2018, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas also led all states, by far, in losses from severe storms and flooding. In 2017 alone, Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that stalled near Houston, caused $125 billion in damages.
"Water is the economy in Texas," said McKinney. "It drives everything, particularly as you get less of it."
Sound familiar? It should. Struggles over water occurring across Texas are essentially the same as those unfolding in places where growth is highest and water resources are under the most stress. In the United States that means California, the Southwest and the Rocky Mountain West.
The same two trends are unfolding around the planet, most notably in China and India. In 2011, China discovered that its program of energy development, grain production, and construction of new cities was using so much water that by 2020 it would be 20 to 25 trillion liters in deficit, a shortage so dire it could wreck China's booming economy.
A command-and-control society, China aggressively set out to shrink the deficit by quickly acting on three big initiatives. It moved much of its grain production from the dry Yellow River Basin to the wet northeast provinces. It closed water-thirsty coal mines, coal-washing stations, and water-cooled coal-fired power stations. And it built the largest water-conserving solar and wind electrical generating industry on Earth.
India is having less success. Groundwater levels are steadily declining in the northwest states that produce much of country's rice, wheat, and sugarcane. But the state and national governments encourage the trend. In a nation that has known pervasive hunger, food production is a paramount cultural objective. Keeping the 700 million Indians who are involved in agriculture happy is another prime objective. That's why farmers pay nothing for water. They can use what they like. And they pay nothing for electricity to run ever-more powerful pumps needed to pull water to the surface that lies ever-deeper below ground.
Texas is Texas. Texas is big, rich, growing, impulsive and impressive. The significant question Texas hasn't answered is where it will find enough water by 2070 – 10 trillion liters, according to the Texas Water Development Board, or about half the Chinese water deficit – to keep over 50 million people safe, satisfied and thriving during deepening droughts.
There are two ways to look at the challenge. The most optimistic view is so Texas. The Water Board, with its process of reviewing and revising the State Water Plan every five years, lays out steps that are meant to give Texas guidance and time to figure it out. The more realistic and accurate assessment is that as Texas pursues its steep growth vector, the hardships of serious droughts will grow worse.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.