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.
Arizona, California, and Nevada combined to consume just over 6.5 million acre-feet last year, according to an annual audit from the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the lower basin. That is about 1 million acre-feet less than the three states are entitled to use under a legal compact that divides the Colorado River's waters.
The last time water consumption from the river was that low was in 1986, the year after an enormous canal in Arizona opened that allowed the state to lay claim to its full Colorado River entitlement.
States have grappled in the last two decades with declining water levels in the basin's main reservoirs — Mead and Powell — while reckoning with clear scientific evidence that climate change is already constricting the iconic river and will do further damage as temperatures rise.
For water managers, the steady drop in water consumption in recent years is a signal that conservation efforts are working and that they are not helpless in the face of daunting environmental changes.
"It's quite a turnaround from where we were a decade ago and really, I think, optimistic for dealing with chronic shortages on the river in the future, knowing that we can turn the dial back and reduce demand significantly, all three states combined," said Bill Hasencamp, the manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a regional wholesaler and one of the river's largest users.
Observers of the basin's intricate politics are also impressed with the trend lines for a watershed that irrigates about 5 million acres of farmland and provides 40 million people in two countries and 29 tribal nations with a portion of their water.
"It is an incredibly important demonstration of the fact that we can use less water in this incredibly important water-use region," John Fleck told Circle of Blue. Fleck is the director of the University of New Mexico water resources program.
Projections for 2020 indicate that conservation will continue, though not quite at last year's pace. Halfway through the year, the Bureau of Reclamation forecasts water consumption to be roughly 6.8 million acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water that will flood an acre of land to a depth of one foot, or 325,851 gallons.
"I have to give them credit," Jennifer Gimbel, a senior water policy scholar at Colorado State University, told Circle of Blue about the lower basin states. "They're working hard to get these numbers."
Raising Lake Mead
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.
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.
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.
Total Lower Colorado Basin Consumptive Use
Reclamation's annual audit measures the amount of water consumed by humans, plants, and animals in the lower basin. Consumptive use equals total withdrawals minus any water that is returned to the river system, from irrigation runoff or wastewater treatment plants.
As meticulous as it is, the audit neglects a significant piece of the basin's water budget: evaporation from reservoirs and system losses, which is water consumed by riverside vegetation and absorbed by the ground. Together, these add up to about 1 million acre-feet per year, Jeremy Dodds, water accounting and verification group manager for Reclamation, told Circle of Blue.
This factor is part of the lower basin's "structural deficit," which means that total demand in the lower basin — use by Arizona, California, and Nevada, plus evaporation and required deliveries to Mexico — exceeds the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the lower basin's supply source.
Gimbel, who was the principal deputy assistant secretary for water and science for the U.S. Department of Interior from 2014 to 2016, said that despite the conservation efforts reflected in the audit, the lower basin still has much work to do. "They're closing the deficit, but they're not there yet," she said.
The goal of the lower basin's conservation is to keep Lake Mead from a precipitous decline into "dead pool" territory, where the reservoir is too low to send water downstream. The dead-pool threshold is at elevation 895 feet. Not using 1 million acre-feet last year most certainly helped the reservoir. Dodds said that at the current elevation of 1,089 feet, each block of 85,000 acre-feet equals 1 foot of elevation. So last year's conservation added 12 feet to Mead, compared to a scenario in which the three states use their full entitlement.
The conservation tool box that the states have employed has a range of instruments. Cities have provided incentives to remove grass lawns and replace inefficient toilets, showerheads, and washing machines. In Imperial Irrigation District, farmers have lined earthen canals with concrete to prevent seepage and they have agreed to fallow land to save water. Those measures, in both town and country, have helped to reduce demand. Supplies, on the other hand, have been bolstered by more investment in recycling and reuse, groundwater treatment, and desalination. As a whole, the seven states in the watershed came together in 2019 to modify rules for mandatory water-use restrictions that kick in as Lake Mead drops.
The decline in Colorado River water consumption mirrors regional and national trends. In Metropolitan Water District's service area in Southern California, water use per person fell from about 181 gallons per person per day in the mid-1990s to 131 gallons in 2018, a drop of 27 percent. Colorado River consumption on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation, in Arizona, is down about 20 percent since 2016.
According to Tom Ley, a water consultant to the tribes, the decline is due to changes in farming practices and participation in a land fallowing program that will see 10,000 acres taken out of production in the next three years. The tribes' decrease in consumptive water use "may look even more dramatic once the 2020 report comes out," Ley told Circle of Blue.
All of these actions amount to a shift in the perception of what's possible, Fleck said.
"It shows that the expectation that a growing population and a robust agricultural economy require more water is wrong," explained Fleck, who is optimistic about the basin's capacity to wield the tools of conservation effectively. Environmental doom is not the inevitable outcome, he says. "We're seeing success in the transition away from the tragedy narrative," he added.
Still, there are minefields to navigate. There are dozens of proposals in the upper basin states to withdraw more water from the river, which, if they were built, would further stress supplies. Some of the water conserved in Lake Mead is stored as a credit that participating agencies can theoretically draw upon in the future. How agencies handle those withdrawals, especially if large requests are made as lake levels plummet, is an uncertainty. On top of that, a warming climate will suck more moisture from the basin, even before rain and snow reach the river.
A hot, dry spring this year in the upper basin is evidence of what aridity can do. Snowpack in the basin's headwaters was roughly average on April 1 and runoff into Lake Powell, a key water supply indicator, was expected to be 78 percent of normal. But then dry conditions arrived in April and May. Combined with dehydrated soils, which took their share of water, the runoff forecast by June 1 had diminished to just 57 percent of normal.
Those climate signals are the counterbalance to the conservation success so far. Water managers, now wary, know the risk.
"Just hopefully we don't get a string of dry years coming back," Hasencamp said.
This story originally appeared in Circle of Blue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- 4 Ways to Beat the California Drought and Save the Colorado River ... ›
- Can Climate Action Plans Combat Megadrought and Save the ... ›
- Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate ... ›
- Local Conservation of a National Wild and Scenic River - EcoWatch ›
- Drought-Stricken Colorado River Basin Could See Additional 20% Drop in Water Flow by 2050 - EcoWatch ›
- California Faces ‘Critically Dry Year' - EcoWatch ›
- Dams and Climate Change Threaten American Rivers ›
- Alaska River Melt Betting Tradition Now Part of Climate Record ›
- Lake Powell Water Levels Fall to Lowest on Record ›
Environmental Concerns, Including Water Crises, Dominate Global Risks Report Rankings for First Time in History
By Brett Walton
The world's business elite, apprehensive about turbulent geopolitics after a year of international turmoil, nonetheless sees the biggest risks to society in the next decade coming from changes outside boardrooms and parliaments.
Degradation of the planet's natural systems — its air, land, water and living creatures — is the most worrisome threat to social and political stability in the next 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum's annual survey of leaders in business, academia, government and civil society.
For the first time in the history of the Global Risks Report, respondents ranked environmental factors, including extreme weather and failure to respond to climate change, as the top five risks that are most likely to occur.
Image © World Economic Forum
On a second measurement — impact, or the damage that a risk can cause — four of the top five risks are environmental: climate change inaction, biodiversity loss, extreme weather and water crises. The other highly damaging risk: weapons of mass destruction.
The fifteenth edition of the report comes as local and national leaders face the intensifying consequences of a warming planet and man-made environmental harm. Some 400,000 displaced residents of Jakarta are reeling from the worst flooding in the Indonesian capital in decades, while Australia struggles to contain record-breaking bush fires that flared during the country's hottest and driest year ever measured.
In the face of these disasters, millions of protestors took to the streets last year, calling for government and business leaders to take action before the window closes for avoiding the most severe climate impacts.
António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, warned in December that that point is "in sight and hurtling toward us."
Awareness of environmental factors has been building in the last decade. Early editions of the Global Risks Report, first published in 2006, were dominated by macroeconomic indicators such as oil prices, asset bubbles and government budgets. Attention to those issues was a consequence of the global financial crisis and Great Recession.
More nuanced thinking has emerged in recent years. Water crises, in acknowledgement of their far-reaching consequences, are now categorized as a societal risk. Threaded throughout the report are references to water's connection to food production, human health, conflict, ecosystem function and extreme weather.
Extensive cutting of the Amazon rainforest, for instance, which accelerated in Brazil this year under President Jair Bolsonaro, will disrupt rainfall patterns and give rise to more frequent drought and wildfires, undermining water security in a region associated with abundant moisture, the report notes.
The boardrooms and government chambers that are registering concern for the consequences of climate change and environmental risk are the very locations in which actions to confront the hazards should be taken. Aquifers do not drain themselves and rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are a result of policy decisions made decades ago and fossil fuel subsidies that continue to this day.
"Achieving significant change in the near term will depend on greater commitment from major emitters," the report notes, referring to measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Collaboration on all fronts is needed to counteract the hazards, says Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum.
And yet the politics of the moment — trade spats between China and the U.S., disdain by the Trump administration and other nationalist leaders for multilateral organizations like the United Nations, cleavage within the European Union — are straining traditional levers of collaboration, he argues.
"While these changes can create openings for new partnership structures, in the immediate term, they are putting stress on systems of coordination and challenging norms around shared responsibility," Brende wrote in the report's preface.
The report distills the responses of more than 1,000 people who completed the World Economic Forum's annual risks survey. The typical respondent is a European businessman in his forties. More than two-thirds of people completing the survey were men. Forty-four percent of respondents call Europe home, and a quarter list their field of expertise as economics. The sectors that are most represented are business (38 percent), academia (21 percent) and government (15 percent).
Image © World Economic Forum
The survey asks respondents to rate 30 pre-selected global risks according to two metrics: their likelihood and their impact.
Generational differences are at play in the rankings — less in the type of risks that are of concern than the degree to which they are perceived as hazardous. Younger respondents were more likely to give greater weight to environmental risks. That cohort said that environmental risks such as extreme heat and illness linked to pollution would become more severe in the next year.
The Forum convenes its 50th anniversary meeting in Davos beginning Monday with an agenda that parallels many of the risk report findings and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 Priorities
Ecology: How to mobilize business to respond to the risks of climate change and ensure that measures to protect biodiversity reach forest floors and ocean beds.
Economy: How to remove the long-term debt burden and keep the economy working at a pace that allows higher inclusion.
Technology: How to create a global consensus on deployment of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and avoid a "technology war."
Society: How to reskill and upskill a billion people in the next decade.
Geopolitics: How the 'spirit of Davos' can create bridges to resolve conflicts in global hotspots. Informal meetings to set kickstart conciliation.
Industry: How to help business create the models necessary to drive enterprise in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. How to navigate an enterprise in a world exposed to political tensions and driven by exponential technological change as well as increasing expectations from all stakeholders.
Reposted with permission from Circle of Blue.
- Even Davos Elite Warns Humanity Is 'Sleepwalking Into Catastrophe ... ›
- Climate Change Named Biggest Global Threat in New WEF Risks ... ›
If you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you're a business owner renting a commercial space, a community solar project may help you save on electric bills. Community solar power is a great option for individuals and businesses who can't install their own solar panels.
You can join a community solar project by purchasing a share or by paying a subscription. Then, the electricity production that corresponds to your ownership percentage or subscription will be measured and subtracted from your power bills. This is possible even if the community solar panel installation isn't located in your neighborhood — by investing in the project, your share of the solar generation is simply subtracted from your bill.
In this article, we'll outline the pros and cons of community solar subscriptions and help you decide whether to invest in your local program.
What is Community Solar?
Community solar is a term used to describe photovoltaic systems that are shared by many consumers, including homeowners, renters, businesses, nonprofit organizations and more. Electricity savings and other benefits from the solar project are split among its shareholders and subscribers at a rate based on the level of investment.
When starting a community solar project, developers will establish the geographic area from which consumers are eligible to join. Some programs have installed multiple solar power systems in the same area, allowing a larger number of shareholders and solar subscribers.
Community solar power is possible thanks to virtual net metering. Through this process, a percentage of the electricity produced by the community solar panels is subtracted from the total amount of power you use in your home even though the panels aren't located on your property. Here are a few key things to note:
- The kilowatt-hours produced by a community solar project are measured for each billing period and are divided based on ownership shares.
- If a community solar array produces 10,000 kWh of electricity and you own 5% of the project, you get 500 kWh for that billing period.
- The value of those 500 kWh will be subtracted from your power bill, so if you use, for example, 750 kWh of electricity in your home, you'd only pay your utility company for 250 kWh.
Benefits of Community Solar
The main benefit of community solar is saving on power bills, especially in places with high electricity prices and abundant sunshine. However, the concept of sharing a solar array brings many other benefits, both technical and economic. These include:
- Community solar can be used by homeowners or renters who can't install rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels. Some roof structures are not suitable for solar panels, and others are too shaded from surrounding buildings or objects to be effective. Community solar may also be an option if you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you simply don't like the appearance of rooftop solar panels.
- You can easily take your solar savings to another home or apartment. If you install solar panels and decide to move in a few years, you must either sell them or take them with you. On the other hand, when joining a community solar project, you can simply assign the savings to your new address.
- You can sometimes sell or donate your community solar share (depending on program conditions). This is useful if you move to a location that is not covered by the community solar program or if you decide to install your own solar panels in the future.
- Community solar supports a more diverse customer base. To install your own solar panels, you must have the cash for an upfront payment or qualify for a loan. This financial barrier is eliminated with community solar — consumers can pay a monthly subscription or can purchase a small share according to their budget.
- With community solar, you can forget about maintenance and part replacements. Solar panels need regular cleaning to stay productive, and components like inverters and solar batteries must usually be replaced after about 10 years. However, you don't have to worry about maintenance with community solar, as there is a project developer in charge.
- Community solar shareholders are eligible for the federal solar tax credit. When purchasing a share of a community solar project, you can deduct 26% of your investment on your next tax declaration. Just keep in mind that this benefit is not available when joining as a subscriber, since technically you don't own a part of the community solar farm.
Community solar is an easier alternative to installing your own solar power system. The project developer is responsible for financing, installation, operation and maintenance, and you can reduce your electricity bills by simply buying a share of the project or subscribing.
However, installing your own solar power system also brings many benefits. You save the full economic value of the electricity generated, for example. Onsite solar power also increases the value of homes and commercial buildings, and many incentive programs are only available when you buy solar panels directly.
If you're weighing each option, it can be helpful to get a free quote for a home solar installation. Fill out the form below to get connected with a top solar company near you.
How Does Community Solar Work?
In a few words, community solar lets you save on power bills with a shared photovoltaic array, instead of having your own system. However, not all community solar projects are alike, and they can be classified into several types:
- On-site vs. off-site
- Ownership vs. subscription
Community solar should not be confused with group purchasing, which happens when many homeowners or businesses purchase individual solar systems at bulk prices. This does not count as community solar, since the project is split into many private installations.
On-Site Vs. Off-Site Community Solar
Many real estate developers use on-site community solar projects in their residential, commercial or mixed-use projects. The electricity generated by solar panels reaches consumers through a private power system, without depending on the local electric grid. On the other hand, off-site community solar is supplied via the grid.
Here are the main benefits and drawbacks of each type of community solar project:
|On-Site Community Solar||Off-Site Community Solar|
|Pros||On-site community solar systems often achieve higher savings — because they don't use the local electric grid, they don't pay transmission and distribution fees to a utility company.||Off-site community solar projects can serve a larger number of customers. You can also keep your ownership share or subscription when moving to another address, as long as you stay within the project's service area.|
|Cons||On-site community solar is only available for local property owners and tenants of communities that have installed these energy projects.||Depending on limitations with your local power grid, you may not yield as high of savings with off-site community solar.|
Ownership Vs. Subscription Model
Community solar projects offer ownership shares and subscriptions. Some projects only have one option available, while others let you choose. You can save on power bills with both options, but understanding the differences between them is important:
- When you purchase an ownership share in a community solar project, the corresponding percentage of power generation is yours for the entire service life of the project. Also, since you're a partial owner of the system, you can claim 26% of your investment as a federal tax deduction. However, owning part of a community solar project means you must have the capital to pay upfront.
- When you subscribe to a community solar project, there is no upfront investment. Instead, you pay a monthly fee. This means there is an ongoing cost, but the corresponding power bill savings are higher than the subscription fee. Keep in mind that subscription costs may increase over time, while an ownership share represents a single upfront payment.
Each option has pros and cons — you will generally save more when you become a shareholder in a community solar project, but a subscription comes with zero upfront cost. Also, consider that you must sell your share if you move to a location not covered by a community solar project, while a subscription can be easily canceled.
Is Community Solar Available Near You?
Community solar offers many benefits, but it is not available nationwide. To scale these types of projects, state governments must first enable this business model by law. Also, developers are more likely to invest in community solar projects if market conditions are favorable. Generally, the best states for solar power are those with incentive programs, abundant sunshine and/or high electricity prices.
There are currently 40 states with at least one community solar project in operation, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that 3.1 GW of community solar were online and operational by the end of Q1 2021. There is an optimistic outlook for community solar, and the SEIA has forecast a growth of 4 GW over the next five years. Each gigawatt of solar power can cover the electricity needs of around 186,000 American homes.
If you're interested in community solar power, you can check local government and utility websites — there could be several projects available near you.
FAQs: Community Solar
Is community solar legit?
Like all power generation projects, community solar systems are subject to laws and regulations. If you look for a developer that uses high-quality solar components and qualified installers, community solar is a reliable option to save on power bills for many years.
Is community solar a good deal?
To join a community solar project, you must become a shareholder with an upfront investment or pay an ongoing subscription. The power bill savings achieved will be higher than your monthly utility payments in both cases, but depending on the pricing model of your community's program, one option may present a better deal than the other.
What is community solar, and how does it work?
Community solar is an alternative to installing your own solar panels: You participate in a shared solar project as a shareholder or subscriber, and you get part of the electricity produced. This is a great option for individuals or companies who can't install their own solar panel systems due to lack of space or other limitations.
How does community solar make money?
Based on your ownership share or subscription type, you get part of the electricity produced by a community solar array. The kilowatt-hours generated are subtracted from your power bill — just like when you own solar panels directly.
Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
By Brett Walton
Defying a vote of the County Council, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said on Oct.18 that he will not settle a Clean Water Act lawsuit that holds national implications for water pollution permitting.
Instead of the settlement that the council authorized last month, Victorino prefers to have the nation's highest court decide whether a wastewater treatment facility on the island requires a federal pollution permit for disposing its effluent. Currently injected underground, the nutrient-rich effluent eventually seeps into coastal waters where it has contributed to algal blooms around coral reefs.
The case is closely watched because it could determine whether pollution of groundwater that is connected to rivers, lakes and oceans is covered by the nation's primary water-protection law.
"There are strong opinions on both sides of this important issue," Victorino wrote in a statement that was posted online. "But leadership is not about making easy, popular decisions. I believe the best interests of our residents, our visitors, and the environment will be best served by having this case settled by the Supreme Court."
The politics within Maui County, however, are far from settled.
The council, believing that it has the power to authorize the settlement with the four conservation groups that brought the lawsuit, is preparing to vote on a resolution to ask a Hawaii state court to intervene. That vote will be taken on Oct. 29. If the resolution is approved, the state court will be asked to interpret the county charter to determine which branch — the mayor or the council — has authority to approve the settlement, David Raatz of the Maui County Office of Council Services told Circle of Blue.
Victorino's announcement and the council's potential counter move are the latest twists in a seven-year legal confrontation. The case centers around the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility, a wastewater treatment plant on the west side of Maui. The legal concept being tested is known as the conduit theory — whether a facility that discharges pollutants into groundwater that then flows to streams, lakes, or oceans requires a Clean Water Act permit.
If the concept is applied broadly to groundwater that is hydrologically linked to surface waters, it would expand the number of facilities that need federal pollution permits. Because of that, business and industry organizations such as the National Association of Home Builders, Chamber of Commerce, National Mining Association and American Petroleum Institute and municipal government groups like the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, City of New York, and National League of Cities filed briefs supporting Maui County.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sided with the conservation groups. But the agency recently changed course under President Trump. In a non-binding guidance document released in April, agency officials interpreted the Clean Water Act to "exclude all releases of pollutants to groundwater" from water pollution permitting.
Federal appeals courts are split. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the Lahaina facility does need a permit, supporting the conduit theory. A similar case in the Fourth Circuit has also been appealed to the Supreme Court. But the Sixth Circuit, in a case involving disposal of coal waste, came to the opposite conclusion. It determined that a permit for a coal ash pond in Kentucky was not necessary.
The Maui County Council voted 5 to 4 in September to settle the lawsuit brought by Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, Surfrider, and West Maui Preservation Association. The upcoming vote presents a higher bar for approval. A two-thirds vote of the council is required to forward the complaint to the state court, Raatz said. Accordingly, a council member who voted against the settlement would have to flip their vote next week for the measure to pass.
If the settlement is not approved, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled is hear oral arguments in the case on November 6.
In his statement, Victorino suggested that he made his decision based on economics and legal clarity.
"This issue must be clarified once and for all, not re-litigated endlessly at county taxpayers' expense," Victorino wrote.
When asked for additional information, Brian Perry, the mayor's spokesperson, referred to the statement.
The settlement addresses legal clarity, as well as other issues. The county agreed to seek a federal pollution permit for the facility, invest at least $2.5 million in projects that recycle wastewater in order to reduce reliance on injection wells, and pay a $100,000 fine. The plaintiffs agreed not to pursue additional penalties or legal action as long as the country is making a "good faith effort" to fulfill its obligations.
David Henkin is the Earthjustice attorney representing the plaintiffs. He said that the groups are prepared to make their case to the Supreme Court.
"It's unfortunate that the Mayor has chosen to side with the Trump Administration and the nation's worst polluters, rather than listen to the will of the people of Maui, who spoke out overwhelmingly in favor of settling the case and focusing on addressing the harm the Lahaina injection wells are inflicting on Maui's priceless coral reef every day," Henkin wrote in an email to Circle of Blue.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue's weekly digest of U.S. government water news.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past Is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the U.S. are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
- Newark Water Filters Are Working, Tests Suggest - EcoWatch ›
- Newark's Lead Crisis Escalates - EcoWatch ›
By Brett Walton
When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.
The U.S. Geological Survey researcher had collected rain samples from eight sites along Colorado's Front Range. The sites are part of a national network for monitoring changes in the chemical composition of rain. Six of the sites are in the urban Boulder-to-Denver corridor. The other two are located in the mountains at higher elevation.
The monitoring network was designed to track nitrogen trends, and Wetherbee, a chemist, wanted to trace the path of airborne nitrogen that is deposited in the national park. The presence of metals or organic materials like coal particles could point to rural or urban sources of nitrogen.
He filtered the samples and then, in an inspired moment, placed the filters under a microscope, to look more closely at what else had accumulated. It was much more than he initially thought.
"It was a serendipitous result," Wetherbee told Circle of Blue. "An opportune observation and finding."
In 90 percent of the samples Wetherbee found a rainbow wheel of plastics, mostly fibers and mostly colored blue. Those could have been shed like crumbs from synthetic clothing. But he also found other shapes, like beads and shards. The plastics were tiny, needing magnification of 20 to 40 times to be visible and they were not dense enough to be weighed. More fibers were found in urban sites, but plastics were also spotted in samples from a site at elevation 10,300 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The findings are detailed in a report published online on May 14.
Where did the plastic fibers come from? Are they locally produced, or carried from distant states or countries? How do they affect fish and other aquatic life after the plastics precipitate out in rain? And just how much plastic is aloft? Austin Baldwin, a study co-author, would like to know.
"There are more questions than answers right now," Baldwin, a USGS hydrologist who studies microplastics, told Circle of Blue.
Plastic pollution is ubiquitous, an unfortunate residue of contemporary consumer culture. Bottles, bags and containers litter beaches and clog streams. Seabirds and whales eat the debris, their stomachs coming to resemble a garbage bin.
These are the most visible signs of an even deeper problem. The consequences of microplastics, those comparable to grains of salt or human hairs, are less well understood. Baldwin said there are even fewer studies to date that have examined microplastics in rain. He mentioned two studies from Paris and one from the Pyrenees. "It's kind of exciting," in the sense of scientific discovery, he said.
The atmosphere is a powerful and tireless recirculator — of pollution as well as water. Dust carried by wind and rain from America's southern deserts falls on the Rocky Mountains and causes snowpack to melt more quickly. Mercury emissions from thermal power plants as distant as China have been detected in the remote alpine lakes of Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park, where the toxic chemical is consumed by fish. Even PFAS compounds, the contaminants du jour, hitch an aerial ride. New Hampshire regulators traced groundwater contamination near a Saint-Gobain manufacturing facility to the site's blower stacks, which had lofted the chemicals into the air before they precipitated onto land.
Baldwin outlined several theories for the source of microplastics in Colorado. The fibers suggest the residue from synthetic clothing. Residential clothes dryers could be venting a waste stream into the air, he said. Or laundry water could be a source. Fibers sent to a wastewater treatment plant could end up in the sludge that is then spread on farm fields for fertilizer. As the sludge dries, the fibers could be lifted into the air. Another possible source could be the slow degradation of car tires.
The next step is to estimate the mass of microplastics in rain and whether the phenomenon is evident in other regions. Wetherbee said that an evaluation of snow-season deposition of microplastics across the U.S. Rockies, from Montana to New Mexico, is already in progress.
Though individual microplastics have their own shape, size and chemistry, Baldwin did not think that the Colorado sites are particularly unique. The fibers could have been carried for a significant distance.
"We're seeing plastics virtually everywhere we look," he said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
- Scallops Absorb Billions of Microplastics in Just 6 Hours - EcoWatch ›
- 'Plastic Rain' Is Pouring Down in National Parks - EcoWatch ›
By the Numbers
5: Priority recommendations that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented since March 2018. Those actions relate to chemical standards, nonpoint water pollution and water pollution assessment. There are, however, 14 priority recommendations that the agency has not acted on. (Government Accountability Office)
PFAS Groundwater Cleanup Standards
The guidance covers the two most-studied of the thousands of PFAS compounds: PFOA and PFOS. It sets contamination levels that would trigger additional investigation and establishes goals for groundwater cleanup.
The cleanup goals are based on the EPA's health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. The EPA "expects" that parties responsible for the contamination will address PFOA and PFOS levels above that. This applies in states that do not have their own cleanup standards, which can be more strict.
However, stricter state standards are no guarantee of action. The Air Force has claimed sovereign immunity from Michigan's 12 parts per trillion limit where groundwater discharges to surface water.
Public comments are being accepted for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.
PFAS Cleanup Request
A Republican senator and two Democratic colleagues asked a watchdog agency to investigate the government's response to PFAS contamination.
In a letter, Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Gary Peters (D-MI) requested that the Government Accountability Office answer a number of questions, among them:
- The estimated cost to the federal government of cleaning up PFAS contamination in water supplies where the government is the drinking water provider
- Actions that agencies have taken to reduce the federal government's financial liability
- Research that is needed to understand human health effects
- Progress the Defense Department has made in finding non-toxic alternatives for firefighting foam, which is a source of contamination
Hydropower Licensing Change
Final decisions for projects will be issued no more than two years after a completed application is submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The new rules apply to existing dams that do not currently generate power and to pumped storage projects.
The change was ordered by Congress last year.
In context: U.S. Hydropower Grows By Going Small
Studies and Reports
California Hydraulic Fracturing Review
The Bureau of Land Management released a supplemental review of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in California.
The assessment was ordered by a U.S. district court, which said that the BLM needed to do more analysis on the environmental effects of fracking before updating the region's resource management plan. The plan, published in 2014, covers five counties in the southern Central Valley and three counties — San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura — on the coast. It was challenged by Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch.
In its supplemental review, the BLM determined that amending the plan is "not warranted." The limited amount of hydraulic fracturing expected to occur in the region "did not show a notable increase in total impacts," according to the BLM, which said that effects on surface water, groundwater use and groundwater quality from disposal of fracking waste are "negligible." Up to 40 fracked wells over 10 years are expected, according to the review.
Fracking is infrequently used in California. Annual water use for fracking in the state amounts to several hundred acre-feet, according to state officials.
Financial Cost of Climate Change
Democrats on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs released released a report on the financial costs of climate change. Most of the report is sourced from previous work by federal agencies, but it also recommends that the federal government be more rigorous in detailing its climate-related spending.
Sen. Gary Peters, the committee's top Democrat, convened a field hearing on April 22 in East Lansing, Michigan, that covered some of the issues in the report.
PFAS Health Study
A federal health research agency published more information about the structure of a study on the human health effects of PFAS compounds.
The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry will select six sites for the study and standardize research protocols so that results can be compared across sites.
On the Radar
After spring break, Congress is back with a full slate of hearings:
- On April 29, the House Rules Committee will discuss the Climate Action Now Act, which requires the president to develop a plan for meeting the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
- On April 30, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform looks at the public health effects of climate change.
- On May 1, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on the humanitarian consequences of the war in Syria. There are two scheduled witnesses: David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee, and Ben Stiller, the actor best known for his comedy roles who is also a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
By Brett Walton
Anthony Spaniola knew something was off with his town's water. He read accounts in the Detroit Free Press and attended community meetings hosted by state health and environment agencies. Until last summer Spaniola was concerned but didn't think the situation was out of control.
Then he saw foam on Van Etten Lake.
The unsightly ivory-colored meringue that rimmed the shore is a visible illustration of an ongoing national health and environmental disaster related to perfluorinated compounds. PFAS, as this group of chemicals is collectively called, are used to manufacture rain-repelling, stain-deflecting, heat-resisting consumer and industrial products like Teflon skillets, Gore-Tex jackets and fire retardants. There's a good chance that every home in America has products strengthened with one of the compounds.
Spaniola and his family own a home on the east side of Van Etten Lake, a civic centerpiece in a town, nicknamed Paddletown USA, whose economy and identity is built around northern Michigan's natural bounty of lakes and rivers.
East of Oscoda is teal-hued Lake Huron, one of North America's Great Lakes. To the west is the Au Sable River, renowned for its cold water trout fishery and a 120-mile canoe race every July through unbroken forest that attracts paddlers from across the U.S. and Canada.
And to the north, ringed by modest vacation cottages, recreational camps and family homes is Van Etten Lake. Summer winds naturally froth the shore, according to those who live here. But what appeared last July and August, and throughout the fall, was unusual. Spaniola described the foam as sticky.
Greg Cole, who manages the dam at the lake's outlet, took pictures of the rumpled mass bunched against the barricade. Laboratory tests indicated worrisome concentrations of perfluorinated chemicals, at levels thousands of times higher than a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health warning for drinking water.
Some studies have found that over decades of low-level exposure in drinking water—in parts per trillion even—the chemicals are associated with a higher risk of kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, hormone disruption and other ailments. Developed for durability, they do not easily break down once set loose from the production line.
In Oscoda the source of contamination is well documented. The chemicals are flowing underground, mostly unimpeded, from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base where PFAS compounds, sprayed for decades during training exercises to extinguish petroleum fires, soaked into the groundwater. The closer regulators look, the more they find groundwater contaminated with PFAS, not just in Oscoda, but nationwide on military bases and industrial sites, and in towns that border them.
Wurtsmith's location, a mile from Lake Huron and abutting Lake Van Etten is not exactly a hilltop. But it is one of the highest points in Oscoda. That's a problem because water—and groundwater—runs downhill. And downhill from Wurtsmith is Van Etten Lake, which flows into Van Etten Creek, which joins with the Au Sable River before emptying into Lake Huron.
For years Wurtsmith, which closed in 1993, has been recognized as one of the most polluted places in Michigan. The EPA proposed designating the base as a national Superfund site in 1994, but it was never officially listed. The EPA withdrew its oversight in 2016, leaving the Air Force and state agencies to handle the cleanup while the town and county redeveloped parts of the base. The public library is located there, as are homes, churches, play fields, a plastics manufacturer, an airplane maintenance company and a healthcare facility.
But groundwater contamination from PFAS and other toxic substances below the new facilities spreads largely unchecked. The steady dose of chemicals into the area's natural riches has upended lives in Oscoda. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says that people should not eat fish that live year-round in the lower Au Sable River and in Clark's Marsh, a wetland adjacent to the base where some of the highest chemical concentrations have been measured.
Drinking water is affected, too. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has told more than two hundred households near Van Etten Lake that are on private wells not to drink their tap water. The state is providing bottled water or faucet filters, and the town is using federal grant money to extend public water to some of the homes.
But even the public water supply is at risk. Traces of the chemicals are now found downstream, in Lake Huron, the source for the regional water system. It is even in the treated water, at a few parts per trillion, that is supplied to 14,000 homes.
Current and former Oscoda residents and veterans who served at Wurtsmith have stories of odd cancers and a profusion of illnesses that have stumped doctors looking for a cause. They wonder if their ailments are connected to the relatively unstudied toxic residues in soil and water. They hope to be included in an upcoming Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessment of PFAS exposure on military bases that could confirm or reject their fears.
After seeing the lake foam this past summer, Spaniola felt that the agencies responsible for managing the contamination were not as much in control as he had thought. "My antennae went up," said Spaniola, a business lawyer who has immersed himself in chemical literature. "This stuff is everywhere."
More and more people in Oscoda are coming to that conclusion. They see delays in promised cleanup actions. They read news reports from other parts of Michigan and outside the state of PFAS contamination from military bases and factories. They worry about being forgotten in the jumble. After seeing their town's magnificent waters tarnished and neighbors getting sick, they're starting to speak out against a system that is failing to accomplish what they want most: stopping the flow of contaminated groundwater from the base.
On a chilly evening in mid-March about 60 people file into the Oscoda VFW building to listen to a law firm's pitch. The meeting was called by the Veterans and Civilians Clean Water Alliance, a group of about 1,800 Wurtsmith veterans and family members whose goal, according to its founder James Bussey, is to get health care coverage for people who were sickened while living on the base. The group is considering a class-action lawsuit against 3M, the company that produced the firefighting foam.
The alliance is one of several community groups that have formed in the last few years to inform residents and demand action.
Arnie Leriche, a veteran who did not serve at Wurtsmith but lives in Oscoda, lobbied the Air Force to restart a community advisory board that had been active in the decade after the base closed. The first meeting was Nov. 1, 2017, and Leriche was voted co-chair.
"The community needed to be a part of the equation," he told Circle of Blue.
Arnie Leriche, standing, talks with two men at a community meeting to discuss PFAS contamination. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
Greg Cole and Cathy Wusterbarth head the local group Need Our Water. They hope it will be a source of information about a highly technical issue for a community that, despite the years of testing, still seems to be relatively unaware of the PFAS contamination, Wusterbarth said. After hearing the questions posed by some residents at the VFW meeting, she feels like there is still much work to do.
"None of us has done anything like this before. We're new activists," Wusterbarth, who used to lifeguard on Van Etten Lake, told Circle of Blue.
Greg and Vicky Cole sit at their kitchen table, flipping through photos of guests who have stayed at the three cottages on their property at the south end of Van Etten Lake. Clients come for the fishing: northern pike, black crappie, walleye, blue gill, perch and more. "They're from Ohio," Vicky says, pausing over one photo with three generations of family members. "They said, 'It's a piece of heaven, a piece of heaven.' That's how I've always referred to it: I live in heaven."
Between them, against the wall, is a Culligan water cooler, a noticeable reminder that their heaven, just a quarter-mile from the base, has changed.
In October 2016, the Coles received a letter from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Testing of their well water showed traces of PFAS compounds, but at levels lower than the EPA's health advisory of 70 parts per trillion in drinking water. That advisory, however, applies only to the two most well-known PFAS compounds. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of others.
The health department, taking a cautious approach, said in the letter not to drink the water, cook with it, wash vegetables, or brush teeth unless the water was filtered through a reverse osmosis system. After three months in which Greg hauled drinking water from a clean tap at the town hall, the state said it would pay for one faucet filter or in-home water deliveries. The Coles chose Culligan.
The Air Force, following protocol, paid for replacement water only for homes that tested above the EPA standard. To this point, it has aided only one home in Oscoda.
Greg and Vicky Cole sit at their kitchen table. Between them is their Culligan water jug. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
Extinguishing One Problem, Igniting Another
Wurtsmith existed as a military aviation site in various forms since 1923. After the Air Force Strategic Air Command took over operations in 1953, one of the base's main function was to host a fleet of loaded B-52 bombers and other aircraft ready to take immediate flight in response to a nuclear attack. At the end of the Cold War, and no longer considered essential, Wurtsmith was placed into an economic redevelopment process called base realignment and closure, or BRAC.
Wurtsmith is one of 393 U.S. military installations, active or BRAC, where the Department of Defense reports a known or suspected release of PFAS compounds into water and soil. Through February 2018, the Air Force alone had spent more than $210 million on site investigations and cleanup activities for PFAS. Future cleanup liabilities for the Defense Department could run into the billions, according to government figures. The expense could soar if the government has to start paying out health claims similar to the $2.2 billion awarded in 2017 to veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in North Carolina whose water was laced with a different lineup of cancer-causing chemicals.
In a Feb. 29, 2016 letter, Robert Wagner, chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's remediation division, asked David Strainge, then the BRAC environmental coordinator, to "prevent further off base movement" of PFAS contaminated groundwater because it was affecting well water. The letter said that the Air Force must 1) monitor residential wells for PFAS; 2) define the boundaries of the contamination plume; 3) monitor the plume's movement off base; and 4) deliver a cleanup plan to DEQ.
The Air Force's response on March 18, 2016, stated that it would comply with any applicable state and federal laws. The letter outlined the actions that the Air Force had taken to date. Officials began investigating PFAS contamination stemming from the former fire training site in 2012, after Michigan DEQ tests of fish in Clark's Marsh, downhill from the training site, showed high levels of the chemicals, more than 15 times the state limit. PFAS were in firefighting foams that were used starting in 1970. The Air Force said it did not know about their toxic potential until the EPA initiated a production phase out of the two most known chemicals in 2000. By that time, Wurtsmith had already closed.
The Air Force claimed in the March 18, 2016 letter that testing in 2012 determined that PFAS contaminated groundwater was contained on the base.
That turned out not to be the case. Subsequent testing has revealed traces of the chemical from at least 16 sites on the former base while the chemical plume has spread throughout the waterways around Oscoda. The Air Force built a treatment plant in 2015 to filter pollution coming from the fire training site, which is now an open field studded with monitoring wells.
But more than two years after the exchange of letters in the spring of 2016, the Air Force has finalized no additional actions to halt the advance of the contaminated plume. Matt Marrs, the current BRAC environmental coordinator, told Circle of Blue that a second treatment unit will come online by August 2018. The Michigan DEQ had ordered that facility to be completed by the end of 2017.
The treatment systems are a page from a well-worn playbook. Groundwater contamination, of all sorts, is the primary focus at Wurtsmith. The first chemicals to attract scrutiny at the base, back in the 1970s, were the chlorinated solvents TCE and vinyl chloride. A number of treatment systems dot the grounds.
Cleanup for those chemicals is, in a twist, spreading PFAS contaminants farther afield. Since 1981, so-called "pump and treat" systems have been drawing groundwater from the base, stripping it of chlorinated solvents, and discharging it into the base's storm sewer, which empties into Van Etten Creek. Marrs told Circle of Blue that the three-unit system does not remove PFAS compounds. Instead, they go into the storm sewer, then into the creek before being carried downstream. A spokesman told Circle of Blue that the Air Force has tested the outfall as discharging water with 800 to 1,002 parts per trillion PFAS. Locals call the treatment systems "pump and dumps."
Water from the Wurtsmith storm sewer pours into Van Etten Creek. The water smells strongly of benzene. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
The military and the state are now in a dispute about the scope of the cleanup and which standards should apply to PFAS compounds found in Van Etten Lake, Van Etten Creek and the Au Sable River. The state standard for surface water not used for drinking is 12 parts per trillion of PFOS, a main ingredient in the firefighting foam. The Michigan DEQ notified the Air Force in a Dec. 14, 2017 letter that the treatment systems were inadequate. They are in a private resolution process that neither side will discuss publicly.
Oscoda residents are furious that the state has not been more forceful. To some extent, though, many of those residents bear at least some of the responsibility. Iosco County, home to Oscoda, is a rural Republican domain. A majority of voters cast their ballots for conservative state and federal administrations that have exhibited fealty to deregulation, animus to environmental enforcement, and disregard for investing in initiatives that protect public health. Michigan, after all, is where the Republican governor and his aides ignored warnings of contamination in the water supply for residents of Flint. To a large extent a political mismatch exists between what Iosco County residents want from government and who they helped elect to key government offices.
It's hard, in fact, to discuss water contamination in Michigan these days without conversation turning to Flint. Oscodans frequently mentioned that city's lead contamination and the slow state response. When they began holding meetings on PFAS in Oscoda, Spaniola thought state agencies might have learned something from the Flint crisis. After seeing the delays in response, he no longer has that opinion.
"I'm speechless with the lack of urgency I've seen in dealing with this issue," Spaniola said.
Just as with the Flint water crisis, the DEQ has failed to enforce its water pollution standards. Nearly a year ago, at an April 25, 2017 meeting, Air Force officials asked the DEQ for a letter clarifying the cleanup standards that apply. The response has been shuttled from DEQ to the governor's office to the attorney general's office, but according to the last available documents from base cleanup meetings it has not yet been delivered. The attorney general's office did not respond to repeated phone calls asking about the letter's status.
Aaron Weed, the town supervisor, has asked to meet with the director of the Michigan DEQ but no meeting has taken place. What would he request? "I'd say that action needs to be taken," Weed said.
The DEQ did not allow its field staff who are working on the Wurtsmith case to speak with Circle of Blue for this story.
Air Force officials, meanwhile, say they can only work with the money that is allocated to them. Congress appropriated an additional $84 million in the recent budget for PFAS cleanup, but directed it at naval bases. "We're in fiscally constraining times," Marrs said. "All BRAC bases are competing for limited funds."
The situation is not entirely hopeless. Soon the Coles and about 30 other homes will be able to hook into the public water system. Oscoda received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the water main down their road. Homeowners who want to connect—it is not required—will have to pay to install a service line from their home to the main, which could run more than $1,000.
Weed, the town supervisor, told Circle of Blue that he's looking "for anyone who can write us a check" for $4 million to extend public water to another 230 homes affected by the plumes. Weed, like most Oscodans, had to educate himself quickly on PFAS chemicals once he found out they were disrupting the town. He took an online college course on environmental science.
Not even the public water system, however, is immune from the threat. In a sign of how far the contaminants have traveled, testing of treated water from Huron Shores Regional Water Authority, the local water system, in 2016 showed a range of results: from no detection up to 27 parts per trillion of PFAS. The authority's Lake Huron intake is about a dozen miles south of the mouth of the Au Sable.
A measurement in parts per trillion is almost inconceivably tiny. Imagine this: count back one trillion seconds in the course of human history. How far does that reach? More than 30,000 years ago, long before people tamed dogs or started row-cropping plants. Measurements in parts per trillion, essentially, are a sneeze in the span of human civilization.
Yet those sneezes are enough to worry public health professionals, who have convinced officials in Minnesota, New Jersey and other states that the EPA's guidelines are not strict enough to guard against long-term health risks.
Those risks are the town's worries, too. Residents are concerned that tourism may take a hit unless officials "stop the bleeding coming from the base," as Greg says. The Coles say that their cottages aren't booked up for the summer as they usually are by mid-March. The ordeal has changed their outlook and redirected their attention.
"I thought we were all set," Greg said, about life on their property. "We'll probably stay here. But now my passion comes from what I've seen. Even when we get city water, I'm going to fight for cleanup so that the next generation, the kids and grandkids can enjoy it."
Veterans and community members came to a March 12, 2018 meeting at the Oscoda VFW to discuss PFAS contamination.Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
They aren't the only Oscodans who feel a sense of loss, a disruption of place. For those aware of how deeply the chemicals are embedded in the area's waters, home is not what it used to be.
Tressa Thompto grew up in Oscoda and lived here until 1982. Her husband served in the Air Force and was stationed at Wurtsmith for four years starting in 1978. They now live in Des Moines, Iowa, but Tressa returned to the area for the meeting at the VFW. Her husband was diagnosed in 1991 with oligodendroglioma, a type of brain tumor. The growth, the size of her fist almost, was found behind his left eye.
"I have five brothers and sisters and we all wanted to come back here someday. But the way it is now … " Her voice trails off, then she picks up the thread again. "I always wanted to come back here, but it's like the town has been damaged by this."
Tressa's sister still lives in Oscoda, in a house on Van Etten Lake. She had planned to stay with her while in town for the meeting, but she ended up staying with her brother in Alpena, an hour drive to the north. She couldn't bear to stay so close to the lake, whose waters now carry new meaning. "I couldn't do it," she said.
Trump Administration Sued for Suspension of Clean Water Rule https://t.co/65gwNGTOFE #CleanWaterRule @Earthjustice… https://t.co/5Q4LBjAMSL— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518026901.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
Behind barbed-wire fences at this camp in northern Jordan, about 33,000 Syrians—half of them children—exist uneasily, housed in rows of rudimentary shelters that barely protect them from the winter cold.
Drinking water must be brought in daily by dozens of tanker trucks or pumped from desert boreholes that overexploit Jordan's largest groundwater basin.
As in Jordan, the world's refugee crisis, which is intimately linked with water availability both in the homelands that people escape and in the camps where they find shelter, is large and growing. Some 66 million people—a France-sized population—are displaced.
An estimated 28,300 refugees a day across the globe flee conflict and persecution, the relief agency UNHCR said. Fifty-five percent come from just three countries: Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Syria, which the World Bank says has endured the largest refugee crisis since World War II with more than half the country's pre-war population having left their homes since 2011.
Now, with many Syrians in their seventh winter of displacement, hosting and supporting 650,000 registered refugees costs the Jordanian government almost $900 million a year, according to Oxfam. To help, non-governmental organizations supply water and relief groups visit to offer aid. Celebrities and royalty tour the camps on occasion.
Zaatari is the biggest refugee camp in Jordan, opening in 2012 close to Syria's border and now housing 79,000 Syrian refugees. Azraq, 50 miles southeast, was built on unused desert land after Zaatari swelled beyond capacity just a year after opening, to more than 156,000 people. With high summer temperatures, cool winters and blowing desert sand, conditions at both camps challenge the mind and body.
Zaatari's corrugated shelters take a beating in the sun and heat while its water supply and wastewater disposal are constant concerns. The UN said at least 82 water trucks a day fill the camp's water tanks so that 950,000 liters of water a day can flow to some 76 taps. Boreholes also provide 3.2 million liters of drinking water a day, giving camp residents access to about 20 liters a day, or 5 gallons per person. This allotment is used for bathing, cooking, cleaning and drinking.
Built as a temporary camp, Zaatari now functions like a city with 12 districts, hundreds of shops, a police station, mosque, schools, and health clinics. Water and wastewater networks were constructed by the humanitarian group ACTED.
A treatment plant purifies about 80 percent of the wastewater generated in the camp. A UNICEF grant led to the upgrading of 1,300 private toilets by ACTED. Hand-washing sinks and toilets for the disabled were also built to address complaints of unsanitary living conditions.
Both camps were visited in November by the non-profit Atlantic Humanitarian Relief group led by its Syrian-American founder, Humam Akbik, a Harvard-trained pain-management specialist from Damascus now based in Cincinnati. The international group of physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists worked almost without stop from morning to sundown. They came at their own cost, brought their own instruments and supplies to refugee camps and clinics that sometimes lacked sinks with running water or a clean toilet. They provided free exams, minor operations, dental services, medicine, and even psychiatric help to traumatized orphans.
Two sisters wait for care at the health clinic in Al Azraq. Randall Hackley
"Water was a big problem," said Rowena Milligan, a physician who took part in the humanitarian mission and traveled from the UK. "You couldn't wash your hands before/after examining patients so could only use alcohol gel, which isn't ideal."
At refugee camps, clinics and random camps in northern Jordan from Ajloun to the outskirts of Amman and Azraq, volunteers played with the children, painting their faces and engaging in games. Play activities "help take their mind off things," Akbik said. "Helps these kids feel like kids again."
Worrisome Trends for Climate and Migration
Security experts have warned for years that a drying climate in the Middle East, Sahel, and other mid-latitude regions will set up conditions of environmental stress for the countries least capable of managing the strain. At least 25 percent of the planet, including Jordan, will experience serious drought and desertification within three decades if attempts by the Paris agreement to curb global warming aren't met, according to the journal Nature Climate Change.
Those who choose to leave face peril on the journey. The International Organization for Migration says more than 3,100 migrants lost their lives last year drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, and 390 more from Jan. 1 to Feb. 4, 2018, compared with 257 for the same period in 2017, as they attempted the dangerous crossing from North Africa to southern Europe. It's the fourth year in a row that the death toll surpassed 3,000.
And in Asia, Rohingya Muslims have drowned trying to escape state-sponsored violence in their homeland of Myanmar. At least 670,000 men, women and children have fled to Bangladesh by boat and foot since August in what the UN calls "the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis."
The Rohingya crisis even prompted a UN video that ended with a plea to better address the refugees' urgent needs of clean water.
The pleas are founded on evidence of infection. At the informal Rohingya camps in southeast Bangladesh, water pumps next to open sewers have stoked fear of disease outbreaks, and led to vaccination, clean water and sanitation drives. At the Kutupalong refugee camp extension, 20 tube wells were added. So were almost 120 latrine chambers.
The World Health Organization reports that diptheria is "rapidly spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar," a city in Bangladesh. Six deaths were reported in December. Diptheria is a highly infectious respiratory disease that often appears in overcrowded areas with no proper sanitation system. Haiti endured similar cholera outbreaks in recent years related to contaminated water issues.
Sometimes small improvements in water technology can mean big lifestyle improvements for refugees.
In southwestern Algeria, Sahrawi refugees exiled by Morocco more than three decades ago are using what little water they have in newly efficient ways: growing soil-less hydroponics in solar-powered container units. At five remote camps near Tindouf, trays of barley are now grown for Sahrawi livestock in the Sahara desert through a World Food Programme project.
The Sahrawis have come a long way since eight years ago, when water was trucked in via UNHCR tankers and outhouses were crude holes beside mud-brick homes.
For those in Al Azraq, the hope is that they do not have to put down roots, that they can go home again.
Climate Crisis to Uproot Millions in the Coming Decades: Nations Need to Be Ready https://t.co/BIzjRfdD8V… https://t.co/WKqQ1g9XW9— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1513911631.0
Reporting contributed by Randall Hackley, a former AP and Bloomberg correspondent who has reported from 18 countries and visited refugee camps in Jordan, Algeria, Haiti, Peru, and the U.S.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
By Brett Walton
State of the State speeches are where governors sketch their legislative priorities and report on the overall health of their dominions. The state of the state is almost always "strong" and water issues are occasionally mentioned.
Below are summaries of the governors' references to water, climate and the environment.
This post will be updated throughout speech season, which concludes on March 12 with Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana.
Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican who took office last year after the previous governor resigned, did not mention water or the environment, other than to say that state agencies have improved their communication during disastrous weather.
Because she grew up in a small town in a rural county, Ivey said that rural Alabama is "central to [her] legislative agenda." Broadband and health services were two items mentioned.
As in past years, Gov. Doug Ducey used his speech to take a jab at a neighbor's water policies.
"Because in Arizona, we know the recipe for success," the first-term Republican said. "Lower taxes. Light regulation. Great public schools. Superior quality of life. And responsible water policies that will protect us from sharing in California's water crisis."
Not all is harmonious in his own house, though. Ducey hinted at the power struggle between two agencies—the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages the state's main Colorado River canal, and the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the primary state water agency—over which will take the lead on state water policy.
Ducey implied that the agencies should stop quarreling and mimic earlier state leaders who put in place Arizona's landmark groundwater management law in 1980.
"We must follow their lead and put forward responsible policies that will ensure Arizona speaks with one voice to secure the state's future for generations to come."
Gov. Butch Otter, in his last State of the State, dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his speech to recapping the year's precipitation, which was the 12th wettest on record in Idaho. Otter, a Republican, also noted an agreement to conserve water in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
"As I said, it was a big year for water, whether it was falling from the sky or being recharged into Idaho's largest underground reservoir. Runoff from last year's snowpack on top of saturated soils required careful, coordinated management of dams and reservoirs.
The effort successfully reduced flooding and ensured that dam structures were secure. Meanwhile it provided a full allocation of water in the Boise River and Snake River reservoirs and plenty of carryover for use in 2018.
Just as importantly, for the first time since the 1950s we put more water back into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer than we pumped out in 2017. Water levels in the Lake Erie-sized aquifer had been dropping at an average rate of 215,000 acre-feet per year for 60 years.
But last year the Idaho Water Resource Board worked with private canal companies to recharge 317,000 acre-feet of water. A landmark settlement agreement between surface water users and ground water users resulted in a net gain of another 200,000 acre-feet.
Along with the wet weather, the result was a 660,000-acre-foot increase in water storage in the aquifer. Without our work together on these issues it would have been impossible to realize these historic advances in managing and protecting our most precious and fragile natural resource."
As he did in his first State of the State last year, Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, spoke about the need to repair Indiana's water systems. A priority, he said is to identify the highest needs for utilities, which a state agency will help accomplish over the next two years.
"It's also high time for Indiana to address our aging water infrastructure. State oversight is spread across several agencies, so we're going to form the executive branch governance structure needed to manage our operations and long-term strategy.
We're eager to work with lawmakers to get the ball rolling.
In the meantime, I'll direct the Indiana Finance Authority to designate half a million dollars each of the next two years for development of asset management plans for high-need water and wastewater utilities."
The former lieutenant governor, Gov. Kim Reynolds, gave her first State of the State address. Like her predecessor, Reynolds, a Republican, stressed the need for cleaner waters. A keystone in the nation's agriculture industry and a state within the Mississippi River watershed, Iowa has been a battleground for nitrate pollution for years.
"Improving water quality is a shared goal of Iowans. Urban and rural stakeholders have worked collaboratively making great strides.
My hope is that a water quality bill is the first piece of legislation I sign as governor.
Let me assure you, passage of this monumental legislation does not mean the water quality discussion is over; rather it ignites the conversation to implement and scale practices that will continue to make an impact on water quality."
In his final State of the State, Gov. Sam Brownback was dreaming dreams. The two-term Republican, ready to leave Kansas for a Trump administration post, had visions of renewable energy and sustainable groundwater use.
"I dream of a future Kansas exporting wind electricity across America. A Kansas known as the Renewable State. It could well be that in the future, those who have the wind resource will flourish like those who now have oil. We are growing as an energy state.
Dream with me of an Ogallala Aquifer that never runs dry because the use is sustainable. Of our reservoirs dredged, renewed and supplying the water we need in times of severe drought. Of us having a legal, binding allotment of water from the Missouri River and of an Arkansas River with water in its whole course."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said that lawmakers must recognize the risks of water pollution.
The two-term Democrat outlined four water priorities: cleaning up a nearly four-mile-long plume of groundwater at a former Northrop Grumman and Naval base that is contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and other chemicals; suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue the PCB cleanup in the Hudson River; halting the spread of harmful algal blooms; and addressing polluted discharges at the Niagara Falls wastewater treatment plant.
"Second, we face new challenges threatening our safety and quality of life: terrorism, climate change, environmental threats, including to our drinking water, and the growing opioid epidemic, a scourge across our state, that claimed more than 3,000 lives last year…
The growing concentration of chemicals and pollution in some areas is literally poisoning the water. In the beautiful lakes upstate, toxic algae is spreading. On Long Island, the Grumman plume carries 30 years of industrial stains and contaminants."
Gov. Jay Inslee, a two-term Democrat, told lawmakers that they "have a duty to focus on our legacy, which can be long." Voting rights, internet access, education, mental health, birth control, opioids—all worthy and weighty topics on their own—were lead-ins for Inslee's big pitch: that Washington state ought to begin taxing carbon emissions.
"We must recognize an existential threat to the health of our state, a threat to the health of our children, and a threat to the health of our businesses that demands action," he said. "That threat is climate change."
Revenue from a carbon tax, which would start at $20 per ton under the governor's plan and bring in an estimated $1.5 billion in the first two years, could help Washington in a number of ways, Inslee said. On the environment he mentioned upgrading irrigation and water utility systems and reducing pollution in waterways.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
By Brett Walton
The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pledged that lead regulations will be a prominent feature of the agency's work in 2018—but that work will take longer than anticipated.
The agency expects that a revision to federal rules that are designed to reduce the risk of lead in drinking water will be published in draft form in August 2018, a seven-month delay from a timetable announced this summer.
The announcement follows EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's testimony last week at a congressional hearing that he would introduce an "ambitious initiative" in 2018 to address lead in drinking water.
The delay in rulemaking was announced in the federal regulatory agenda, a document that is updated twice a year and provides a schedule for all agency rulemaking. Other water-related actions were included in the agenda. The EPA's highest-profile example is redefining which water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act. The agency expects a draft rule to be published in May 2018.
The lead rule was one of 1,579 rules that were cancelled or delayed in the first 11 months of the Trump administration, a presidential goal that Trump reiterated during a photo op Thursday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
"We're here today for one single reason: to cut the red tape of regulation," Trump said. He stood next to two piles of printed paper: a smaller one representing federal regulations in 1960 and the other much larger stack encompassing current federal statutes.
The lead and copper rule delay appears to be a result of administrative preference. The agency will meet on Jan. 8, 2018 with more than a dozen national trade groups to discuss the rule. Those groups include water industry mainstays such as the American Water Works Association and the Association of State Drinking Water Agencies, as well as local government groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Conference of State Legislatures. The association that represents school officials is invited, too.
The extended timeline is also a matter of personnel. The agency has been short-staffed in the first year of the Trump administration. It was only yesterday, Dec. 14, that the Senate confirmed the assistant administrator in charge of the Office of Water—David Ross, a Wisconsin lawyer.
For that reason and because of the complexity of the rule, the delay did not surprise Alan Roberson, head of the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. Even during a conversation in August he anticipated that the agency would have trouble meeting the January 2018 deadline because of the change in administration.
The EPA press office offered no explanation for the delay.
Action in 2018
In an interview last month with the Washington Post, Pruitt called lead in drinking water "one of our greatest challenges in this country." He said that he would approach Congress next year to "announce a very strong initiative on a war on lead."
Pruitt discussed the concept during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Dec. 7. But he provided little additional detail, only promising a "multi-faceted approach" that has the attention of 17 agencies.
"It's one of the greatest environmental threats we face as a country, and one of the things I hope I can work with this committee on in 2018 is a strategy over a 10 year period to eradicate those concerns," Pruitt said. "It's going to be a very ambitious initiative of our agency and it's something we have various offices in the agency working upon."
The most ambitious goal would be to require replacement of the roughly six million to 10 million lead service lines in the country. It's a course of action that health advocates champion. But that is complicated by legal questions about whether the utility or the homeowner is responsible. The cost of such a program, which could reach tens of billions of dollars nationally, is another matter.
When the rule is finalized, it will have made a long journey.
The EPA published the original lead and copper rule in 1991, then made minor revisions in 2007 to the requirements for sampling, public notification and the process for utilities to change water sources.
For more than a decade the EPA has been working on "long-term" revisions—those that the agency asserts will require more detailed analysis and consultation. In the spring 2011 regulatory agenda, the EPA anticipated that the draft rule would be published in May 2012, a deadline that is now five and a half years in the rearview mirror.
If it goes as planned, the draft rule will be published more than three years after the mayor of Flint declared a public health emergency in the city that brought the problem of lead in drinking water to the surface again.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that Hurricane Harvey damaged a protective cap at a Superfund site along the San Jacinto River, near Houston, and caused a spike in chemical levels in the water.
Water samples from one of 14 monitoring sites at the San Jacinto waste pits indicated levels of dioxin above 70,000 parts per trillion, more than 2,000 times higher than the site's cleanup goal of 30 parts per trillion. Dioxin is a cancer-causing chemical that stays in the environment for hundreds of years before breaking down.
The risks from flooding were foreseen. In a cleanup plan proposed in 2016, the EPA noted that the protective cap could be damaged by a large hurricane or severe storm that caused the river to rise.
"Sea level rise, storm surge, and heavy downpours in combination with the pattern of continued development in coastal areas are increasing damage to U.S. infrastructure and are also increasing risks to ports and other installations. Because the intensity of future storms and flooding may increase, estimates regarding the ability of a cap (even a cap with increased armoring) to contain the dioxin waste material is highly uncertain," the report stated.
The pits were built in the 1960s to hold waste material from a paper mill.
For a deeper dive:
By Codi Kozacek
A year after the most intense bloom of toxic algae on record engulfed Lake Erie, the lake is set to get a reprieve this summer. Federal forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict this year's bloom will register a 5.5 in severity, about half the level recorded last year and significantly less than the bloom in 2014 that shut down water supplies for nearly half a million people in Toledo, Ohio.
A satellite image captured on July 15, 2016 shows the beginning of an algal bloom. Forecasters predict this summer's bloom will be much smaller than the record-setting bloom last year.MODIS / NOAA CoastWatch
Still, work to rid the shallowest Great Lake from the annual blooms that contaminate drinking water, close beaches and create aquatic "dead zones" is far from over, warned researchers and water managers gathered at Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory last week. Hundreds of metric tons of phosphorus, a nutrient contained in fertilizer, manure and sewage, continue to wash down the Maumee River each year into Lake Erie's western basin, where the influx fuels the bloom of blue-green algae.
The small size predicted for this year's bloom is more a function of dry weather in the Maumee Basin rather than big reductions in phosphorus. Just as record rains in the basin last year triggered a massive bloom, dry conditions this spring meant less water to carry phosphorus off the land and into the lake. As a result, total "loads" of the type of phosphorus that can be used by algae are expected to be about one-third the amount washed into the lake last year.
"The reality is that rain is really driving our loads at this point in time," said Laura Johnson, director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, which tracks the nutrients flowing into Lake Erie.
Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae Bloom Forecast for Summer 2016 https://t.co/rXMaGvslHG @greenpeaceusa @HuffPostGreen— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1465869308.0
That means one dry year with a small algal bloom does not indicate the problem is solved. It will take a 40 percent reduction in the amount of phosphorus flowing down the Maumee and other Lake Erie tributaries to control the blooms in the long-run, according to new targets adopted in February by the U.S. and Canada. Further, the blooms in Lake Erie are just one facet of the burgeoning nutrient pollution problem across the nation and the globe. Attention this year is focused on the noxious blooms along Florida's Treasure Coast, where the state's governor declared a state of emergency in June. But blooms also plague Green Bay in Lake Michigan, Lake Taihu in China and the Murray-Darling River in Australia. The oxygen-depleted aquatic dead zones created when blooms die regularly form in Lake Erie, the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea.
Spurred by the poisoning of Toledo's drinking water supply in 2014—and a history of algal blooms dating to the mid-20th century—the research and management efforts being implemented in the Lake Erie watershed to curb phosphorus runoff are an important guidepost for these other systems.
"This is a state, country and global issue," said Chris Winslow, interim director of Stone Laboratory. "We're at the cutting edge of many of these studies right now. A lot of this is going to inform what a lot of people do throughout the country."
A Plan for Lake Erie
Over the past year and following decades of study, the Great Lakes states and provinces took their first concrete steps toward curbing phosphorus pollution and algal blooms in Lake Erie. An agreement signed between the premier of Ontario and the governors of Ohio and Michigan last June set an ambitious goal to cut phosphorus flowing into western Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025. It also set the interim goal of a 20 percent reduction by 2020. The state-level commitment was followed by the adoption in February of 40 percent reduction targets under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). While there is no timeline under the GLWQA, it does require the U.S. and Canada to develop domestic action plans by 2018 outlining how they will make the phosphorus cuts.
To meet those goals, land and water managers will need to focus on reducing runoff from farms in the Maumee River Basin, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Michigan. While stormwater runoff, discharges from municipal wastewater plants and septic systems can all contribute phosphorus, scientists estimate nearly 85 percent of the phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie from the Maumee comes from farm fertilizers and manure.
The study, released in April, analyzed a variety of agricultural management scenarios using watershed models to estimate how the practices would affect phosphorus discharges. In general, it found that agricultural practices meant to trap phosphorus on land will need to be widely adopted and that better results occur when those practices are targeted on land that currently releases high levels of phosphorus.
Specifically, only two scenarios achieved the new targets outlined under the GLWQA. The first would require the conversion of 50 percent of cropland to uncultivated grassland and is considered highly unrealistic.
The second would require the subsurface application of phosphorus fertilizers on half of the cropland that currently loses the most phosphorus. That prevents the fertilizer from sitting on top of the soil, where it can be washed off by rain. The scenario also calls for the use of rye cover crops and the installation of "medium quality" buffer strips on 50 percent more cropland than implements these practices now. Cover crops store the phosphorus in their roots and leaves, keeping it out of the soil so it cannot wash away, while "buffer" strips of vegetation slow the rain running off of fields, filtering out phosphorus before it reaches streams. As of 2013, approximately 8 percent of farms in the Maumee watershed used a rye cover crop and 35 percent of farms used buffer strips.
In a demonstration of agriculture's important role in reducing phosphorus, the study also examined a scenario in which all point sources of phosphorus—those that come out of a pipe, such as from a municipal wastewater plant—were eliminated completely. In that scenario, total phosphorus was reduced by just 5 percent and dissolved reactive phosphorus—the kind most usable by algae—was reduced by 10 percent.
"The 40 percent [target] is doable, but it's going to be a heavy lift," said Gail Hesse, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Water Program, speaking at the Stone Laboratory event. "It's going to need a steep investment and a steep ramp-up in our efforts to reach that target."
Codi Kozacek is a news correspondent for Circle of Blue based out of Hawaii. She writes The Stream, Circle of Blue's daily digest of international water news trends. Her interests include food security, ecology and the Great Lakes.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.