The Clean Water Act—A Story of Activism and Change
By Chris Wilke
The 1960s were a time of great change and upheaval in our society. Perhaps best known for the anti-war and civil rights movements, the decade also saw the birth of the modernenvironmental movement. With new knowledge about the dreadful effects of pesticides like DDT, and spurred by catastrophic events like the Cuyahoga River catching on fire and a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, citizens of the U.S. rose up and demanded change. At the first Earth Day in 1970—the largest demonstration in American history—20 million people took a stand in the face of increasing environmental destruction. As a direct result of this public outcry, the next three years saw rapid change in U.S. environmental policy. In this brief period, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act—a series of forward-thinking legislation that would become a beacon for the rest of the world.
When the Clean Water Act of 1972 was signed into law, its framers knew that our waters must be protected and restored for the good of the communities that depend on them. They recognized that clean water was a fundamental right of every citizen and that protection of swimmable, drinkable and fishable waters was in the best interest of everyone. In section 101 of the Act, Congress made it the “national goal to eliminate the discharge of pollution into the nation’s waters by 1985." Though we have yet to attain this goal, we have seen significant progress. Permits issued under the Act put in new requirements for modern sewage treatment technologies and industrial discharges became tightly regulated for the first time. Slowly but surely, successive five-year permits were “ratcheted down” to become more protective as facilities were required to employ “best available technologies."
The Act enshrined a long-held (but seldom enforced) value that is attributable to the emergence of English Common Law in the 12th century—the concept that the waters, fishes, the air and the birds are part of the commons which no one has the right to own or destroy, and which must be held in trust and protected for the common good.
Another important provision of the Act gave citizens the right to enforce its provisions. This was very important because implicit in this section is a recognition that local and state agencies are often the captive of special interests and lack the political will to enforce existing laws against powerful polluters. By empowering citizens as private attorneys general, those who were directly harmed by pollution could now enforce the law to ensure protection of the waters they relied upon for health, sustenance, recreation and enjoyment. Through this important provision, citizens are empowered to file cases against polluters in federal court to stop the pollution, recover legal expenses and secure a financial penalty—up to $37,500 per day—to deter future violations. The vast majority of penalties go to fund third-party supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) to mitigate the damage that occurred in the watershed. Throughout the years government entities and citizens alike have successfully used the Act to prevent pollution and clean up our nation’s waters.
Several local examples illustrate the success of the Act. As a local water quality advocate Puget Soundkeeper Alliance (Soundkeeper) has been at the forefront of ensuring the safety of our waters. Through a dual approach of citizen enforcement and improving regulations issued under the Act, this small citizen’s group has helped make our region a leader in water quality protection.
In 1992, wheels put in motion by Soundkeeper’s first citizen Clean Water Act settlement over uncontrolled sewage overflows in the City of Bremerton resulted in the implementation of a massive improvement of sewage infrastructure, the elimination of illegal overflows and the reopening of shellfish beds in the area.
For nearly 20 years since, Soundkeeper has a perfect record of more than 150 cases that have significantly reduced pollution from sewage treatment plants, sewage overflow points, industrial facilities and construction sites. In December 2011, Soundkeeper secured one of the largest citizen settlements in Clean Water Act history resulting in the dramatic improvement of stormwater management at a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway facility. The settlement addressed the toxic heavy metals, turbid water and frequent petroleum spills that fouled Elliott Bay, as well as created a $1.5 million restoration and mitigation fund as a SEP to pay for water quality improvement projects in Puget Sound. (As always, no settlement money goes to benefit Soundkeeper).
In addition to enforcement, the Clean Water Act also helps secure better regulations that protect our waters. In 2008 Soundkeeper and its partner organizations People for Puget Sound and Earthjustice secured a landmark decision requiring improvements to Municipal Stormwater Permits, changing the way that development will occur in cities and urbanizing areas in order to address the single-largest source of toxic pollution going into the Sound—polluted stormwater runoff. For the first time, green building techniques like raingardens and pervious pavement will be required in building codes as a best available technology to ensure that polluted stormwater runoff from roads, rooftops and parking lots will be treated and managed on site, like it is in nature.
The year 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Even as we celebrate the anniversary and the success of so many waterways that have been cleaned up as a result, some special interests feel that this is the time to weaken these very protections. Industry special interests in both the U.S. Congress and in the Washington State Legislature have proposed bills to rollback protections.
In celebration and in defense of the Clean Water Act, Soundkeeper proudly joins the Waterkeeper Alliance in coordinating Swimmable, Drinkable and Fishable Days around the nation and defending against misguided legislation that would unravel important protections. Waterkeeper Alliance, with nearly 200 member organizations around the world—each one a local Riverkeeper, Baykeeper, Coastkeeper, Soundkeeper, or Lakekeeper, based in the watershed they protect—is the fasted growing environmental movement in the World.
The Clean Water Act itself is extremely clear and powerful in its intent, however the trick is often in ensuring that specific regulations issued under the Act (i.e. National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits) are written in such a way that they actually protect water quality and don’t contain unnecessary loopholes, waivers or excessive compliance schedules. The next piece is ensuring that enforcement of NPDES permits is meaningful so as to bring about widespread compliance.
Educating polluters is extremely valuable to help facilities understand permit requirements and to provide technical assistance in helping them comply. Funding is a critical issue for large municipal projects in particular. For example, King County is finalizing a plan to get their combined sewage overflows (CSOs) under control at a cost of more than $700 million. Although the price tag is large, the environmental and human health cost for not doing the control work is higher and the cost to individual rate payers will only be around $7/month. The draft plan calls for the work to be completed by the year 2030. Considering that CSO standards were finalized in 1988, that is 42 years.
Get involved. Waterkeeper Alliance and a new coalition of licensed Waterkeeper organizations in Washington State including Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper and North Sound Baykeeper invite you to join us. Click here to find a Waterkeeper near you, and get involved.
For more information, click here.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
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