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"Double Trouble: The Bay Area Is Sinking as Sea Levels Rise." That story and other headlines for the week ending March 11, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Is a Huge Success

Starting in about 1950, the lush sea grasses of Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast began dying off largely due to pollution from nitrogen and nutrients from fertilizers. However, after much effort to reduce the pollution, the grasses are growing back, according to a recent study. Researchers say that the bay’s recovery may be the most robust resurgence of underwater grasses and aquatic vegetation in the world. One author of the study, Jonathan Lefcheck told Science News, that sea and freshwater grasses are important parts of coastal ecosystems, because they shelter young fish and invertebrates. Another researcher told The Washington Post that you can watch seahorses, clams, inchworms, and snails crawling up and down the grass blades, and the bay is teeming with life.

The cleanup of Chesapeake Bay began three decades ago by reducing pollution from farms and urban water treatment facilities by almost 25 percent. The study credited both federal and state efforts; however, the Trump administration’s proposed federal budget would eliminate funding for the program.

EPA Decision Derided by Environmental Justice Advocate

The EPA has denied claims filed by residents of a small Alabama community who say they’re being harmed by a nearby landfill. Uniontown is 90 percent African American, and the average per capita income is about $9,000 per year. The Arrowhead Landfill next to the town covers an area twice the size of Central Park in New York City. Waste from thirty-three states is sent there, according to The Guardian.

Besides car parts and discarded computers, the landfill now contains 4 million tons of coal ash from a Tennessee facility 330 miles away that was hit by a flood. Coal ash contains hazardous chemicals including arsenic and mercury that can cause extremely serious health problems.

Residents have experienced nose bleeds, breathing difficulties, mental problems and cancers. Some people in Uniontown have stopped drinking tap water and many stay indoors to avoid the smell and flies. Dr. Robert Bullard a distinguished professor at Texas Southern University told The Guardian that shipping the toxic coal ash from a mostly white county in Tennessee to the rural, poor and most black community is a textbook case of environmental racism.

U.S. Loses Challenge to Kids’ Lawsuit Over Climate Change

Last week the Trump administration lost its challenge to a lawsuit brought by children who claim their rights are being violated due to the government’s ignoring the harms caused by climate change. The suit was initially brought by the young people who are now 10 to 21 years old. According to Reuters, the children say that oil industry executives have known for decades that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels has destabilized the climate—but have refused to do anything about it.

The case was filed in Oregon and a lower court refused the government’s request to dismiss it and now that decision has been upheld by an appeals court in San Francisco. Julia Olson, a lawyer for the children told The Washington Post that they are looking forward to putting the federal government on trial. They will attempt to show Earth is warming because of human activities and the U.S. government isn’t taking action. She said Americans who are children today will see their most basic rights violated, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

California Allows Storage of Recycled Water in Reservoirs

California authorities have approved using reservoirs to store recycled water which will eventually be supplied to homes and businesses. Recycled water is waste water that is collected from sidewalks, gutters, showers, and sewers and then treated. Timothy Quinn, of the Orange County Water District, told NPR that it is the State’s largest source of new water supply for this century.

The State Water Control Board approved regulations specifying the amount of recycled water that can be added to reservoirs and how long it must stay there before being treated. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the agency spent two years reviewing the regulations to protect public health. it’s also working on plans to regulate adding recycled water directly into drinking water systems or supplies upstream of treatment plants.

Double Trouble: The Bay Area Is Sinking as Sea Levels Rise

Coastal cities will flood more frequently in the coming decades as sea levels rise, according to a new study by NOAA. Some places that are dry now could flood daily by the end of the century. The news is particularly bad for San Francisco. A new report from UC Berkeley and Arizona State University says the Bay Area could be dealt a double whammy by climate change because as sea levels rise, much of the shoreline is sinking.

It’s sinking because many structures were built on landfill—piles of rubble and rubbish—much of which is compacting over time—something called subsidence.

That spells trouble for places like San Francisco International Airport where the researchers project land subsidence combined with projected sea level rise, could mean half the airport's runways and taxiways would be under water by 2100. On Treasure Island—between San Francisco and Oakland—land is sinking at a rate of about three-quarters of an inch per year.

Landfills aren’t the only contributor to subsidence. Areas where streams and rivers have deposited mud as they flow into the Bay are also subsiding, partly because they’re drying out. Other areas are sinking because of groundwater pumping, which depletes the aquifer causing land to collapse. The authors note that flooding is not the only problem with rising seas and sinking land. When formerly dry land becomes flooded, it causes saltwater contamination of surface and underground water and accelerates coastal erosion and wetland loss.

A Reflective Way to Help Glaciers

And, finally this week, we go to the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland—or what’s left of it. About 12,000 years ago the ice mass covered much of the country, but it’s retreated about 4,600 feet since the Industrial Revolution. People in Switzerland want to save the Rhone and they’ve come up with an unusual method—they're covering it with blankets, which will reflect sunlight and its heat. Sounds a bit crazy, but glaciologist David Volken told the Agence France-Presse that the blankets are working and can reduce melting by around 70 percent. While reflecting the sun to slow the melting of glaciers may work, reflecting on how to curb greenhouse gases in the first place may probably be the best way to put climate change on ice.

"Could Los Angeles Become Water Self-Sufficient?" That story and other headlines for the week ending March 4, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Study Shows How L.A. Could Become Water Self-Sufficient

Would it be possible for the City of Los Angeles to free itself from importing water from the Colorado River, or northern California? A new study says it could by 2050. Researchers at UCLA and The Colorado School of Mines show that the city could shift to using solely local sources by capturing storm runoff and using recycled water.

The proposals include building tens of thousands of retention basins to both capture and treat storm runoff, and then let it infiltrate to groundwater storage. Also, there will need to be 100 percent use of recycled water, and all roads and alleys will have to become “green streets” with treatment and groundwater infiltration systems.

All of these steps would relieve pressure on importing water. Los Angeles gets nearly 90 percent of its resources from more than 200 miles away. A significant portion of that comes from the Colorado River, and northern California. The authors of the study conducted extensive modeling of the watersheds in the L.A. area and, according to Terri Hogue of the Colorado School of Mines, each is different requiring different structures and management.

Another benefit of using more local resources would be to reduce energy demands and greenhouse gas emissions that come from importing water.

By Mid-Century More than Half of Califorina Central Valley May Be No Longer Suitable for Growing Many Crops

In other news from California, scientists are saying that the state’s agriculture has already been affected by climate change, and there are much bigger and more severe impacts to come. Farms and orchards in the Golden State grow more than 400 different crops, supplying at least a third of the nation’s vegetables, and two thirds of its fruits and nuts. As summarized in The Desert Sun, by mid-century, more than half the Central Valley will no longer be suitable for growing apricots, peaches, and plums. And 90 percent of that area will not be able to grow those crops by the end of the century. Additionally, yields are expected to fall for almonds, table grapes, and cherries among others.

The research was done by a team from the University of California system. They reviewed almost 90 studies, and analyzed various trends including precipitation, temperature, and snowpack. The study shows that depletion of groundwater and decreases in mountain snowpack add to stress and could reduce areas were crops are grown. The researchers say their findings justify the urgency and importance of adapting agriculture to climate change and reducing its vulnerability.

Study Shows Water Held in Rock Layer May be Reason Some Trees Survive Drought

There’s been a question why trees in some areas of drought are able to survive when others are not. A new study, by scientists at University of California Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin, shows that layers of water in weathered rock below soils on hillsides could be a significant source of moisture for trees during dry times. According to a statement from U.C. Berkeley, this study shows that weathered rock beneath soils and above the water table, can store more than a quarter of all the rain that falls over the course of a year.

Scientists measured rock moisture at nine wells drilled into rock along hillsides in Mendocino County, California during a four-year period. Daniella Rempe, one of the researchers said that soils are important, but when it comes to determining if a place is going to experience water stress, it could be the underlying rock that matters most. Weathered rock layers hold water even when soils above are parched. The researchers note that the impact of rock moisture will vary depending on the region and topography, but it can explain how trees in the study area showed little effect from the recent drought that killed millions of trees in California.

Little Town’s Health and Safety Rules Survive Challenge by Oil Firm

A little town in Quebec has won a four-year court battle to protect its water supply. The Guardian reports that the controversy started back in 2011, when a company from Montreal obtained a drilling permit to look for oil and gas. The municipality of Ristigouche-Sud-Est, which has 157 people, passed laws requiring a two-kilometer setback of exploration drilling from drinking water wells. They also banned the injection of chemical substances into the soil.

The company, Gastem, sued claiming nearly C$1 million, saying it was illegally targeted and had a permit to drill. But a judge disagreed ruling that the town’s councilors had the right to protect their water supply. The judge said that the well-being of the community and the safety of residents must be weighed for all projects introduced into a municipality. While raising a glass of potable water celebrating the decision the mayor of the town said the battle is far from done, as over 350 municipalities in Quebec are in a fight with the provincial government to expand set back requirements.

How “The Iceman’s” Body Works to Keep Him Warm Even in Extreme Cold

WIm Hof There’s a person they call “The Iceman.” If you haven’t heard of him, his name is Wim Hof and he’s set numerous world records for being able to withstand extreme cold like sitting in icy water or climbing snowy mountains wearing only shorts. He attributes his ability to endure extremes to a set of techniques he calls the “Wim Hof Method.” It involves taking short, sharp breaths to induce a kind of controlled hyperventilation, along with focused concentration. But what really happens to Mr. Hof’s body when he dives into icy water?

Researchers from Wayne State University School of Medicine wanted to know so they asked Hoff to don a special bodysuit, where they could monitor his brain and muscles in an MRI as they cycled him through periods of extreme cold. To test his method, the team had the Iceman perform his breathing exercises before one scan, and compared the results to a scan without the technique. His results were also compared to a control group of other participants. The researchers found that even when exposed to the cold, the temperature of Hof's skin remained relatively unchanged. The scans suggested that the intense breathing was warming blood in the capillaries of his lungs, which was then circulating better through his body.

The scans also revealed increased activity in a region of the brain associated with the control of sensory pain, and that the method may promote the release of opioids that create a feeling of well-being and reduced anxiety. The findings suggest his techniques might have potential to treat immune diseases and anxiety disorders, but they added that more research is needed.

"'Debt for Dolphins' Brings Hope for the World’s Oceans." That story and other headlines for the week ending February 25, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

California Water Battles Simmer over Possible Permanent Restrictions

A new water battle is brewing in California just after U.S. authorities released a report showing that nearly half of the state, all in the south, has returned to severe drought conditions. A hearing last week before the California Water Resources Control Board about whether to make water restrictions permanent was contentious. The limits had been in place until early 2017 but were lifted by Governor Jerry Brown after last year’s wet winter. The Board delayed the decision for a month or so.

The winter season in the northern Sierras has been the third driest on record for December until now. And some climate scientists are saying that the drought never ended in parts of the state. But it appears many residents of California think there is no drought, at least if you go by water usage. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that some water districts used two and even three times as much last December as they did a year earlier. A spokesman for the San Diego Water Authority said that they have sufficient supplies for this year and they have not asked people to reduce usage and told KQED that the Water Control Board’s proposal would be an unauthorized expansion of its authority. But, according to Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus, climate change is causing more frequent and longer droughts in the state.

Some Good News from Cape Town: Day Zero Pushed Back, But Drought Planning Still Divides Poor from Rich

There is some good news about the drought in Cape Town, South Africa. The day that water faucets could be turned off, dubbed “Day Zero,” has been pushed back again. The new Day Zero is July 9th thanks in part to a farmer’s association that released more than 2.5 billion gallons from their private reservoir into municipal storage. Residents are also credited for pushing the date back by cutting usage which is now limited to about than 13 gallons per person a day. But The Washington Post reports that residents in the city of 4 million are still considering how to deal with shortages. Strategies differ based upon income. People with resources are hiring companies to drill wells, and even buying truckloads of bottled water at high prices. In wealthier areas, bottled water has been sold out for days at a time.

But for people without resources, if Day Zero arrives, they will have to depend on the government, and will likely face a decision whether to spend money on food or water. A woman who lives in a settlement of small homes made of concrete and sheet metal gets water each day from a communal tap shared by about 200 people. She told The Washington Post that if the water stops, she guesses they will have to eat less and find a way to buy bottles of water.

Alaska Town Considering a Plan to Ship Water to Relieve the Cape Town Drought

Given the gravity of the situation, there is a new proposal to send up to a billion gallons of water to Cape Town as early as May. The city of Sitka, Alaska, is considering a plan by a South African company to ship water on freighters according to KCAW. The distance between the two is more than 10,000 miles—as the crow flies—but much longer through the Panama Canal. The company would pay the going rate for Sitka’s water: a penny per gallon. The head of the South African company is predicting that Cape Town’s water problems will continue for at least the next five years which makes the Alaskan water deal more than a temporary fix.

Abnormal Weather Hard for Scientists to Wrap Their Heads Around

Numerous weather abnormalities occurred last week. On Tuesday, record high temperatures were set all over the eastern U.S. with Pittsburgh’s 78 beating its old record by 10 degrees. And in the Ohio River valley areas were hit with heavy rain which stressed flood protection systems. Cincinnati was preparing for its worst flooding since 1997.

Extremely warm weather also occurred in the Arctic last week. The Washington Post reports that temperatures have been 45 degrees above normal. In Utqiaġvik, Alaska temps were just below the freezing mark, setting a record high. And on Sunday the forecast for Nord, Greenland, was a high of 44 degrees above zero, when the average is 12 below.

Earlier in February, nearly a third of the sea ice covering the Bering Sea to the west of Alaska, melted in just 8 days. Inside Climate News reports that the ice should be growing, and instead it is 60 percent below average. Richard Thoman, of the National Weather Service in Alaska said that as a scientist, it’s really shocking to see some of this, and to try to wrap his mind around both what’s happening, and its pace.

A Pioneering Deal to Protect Oceans Is Brokered by The Nature Conservancy with Support from Leonardo Di Caprio

And finally this week, we turn to the Seychelles, the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean famous for its beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and rainforests—natural wonders that are being threatened by climate change and overfishing. So it was welcome news this week to learn that the country has signed a first-of-its-kind agreement to swap its national debt for creating two huge new marine parks the size of Great Britain—something being dubbed “Debt for Dolphins.” The tropical island has rare dolphins and then some. Among the 115 islands in the archipelago live manta rays, whales, and several species of sharks along with rare turtles, and seabirds. It’s also home to sea cows that are the most endangered species in the Indian Ocean.

The pioneering deal was brokered by The Nature Conservancy and involved a $1 million grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio foundation. The first reserve will be around the isolated and remote Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage site said to rival the Galapagos in ecological importance. Only research and restricted tourism will be allowed. The second park will be around the Seychelles' main islands and limit fishing and tourism.

The deal is expected to be a model for other ocean states that are already lining up to follow. If all this happens huge swaths of ocean could be protected. Rob Weary led the deal for The Nature Conservancy and told The Guardian he expects to close a debt swap deal with Grenada this year and a series of others in the Caribbean in the next couple of years. He added that despite President Trump’s blocking planned swaps of US debt for Palau and the Marshall Islands, he’s confident debt swaps for marine conservation are going to grow.

"Is There a Cure for Cancer at the Bottom of the Great Lakes?" That story and other headlines for the week ending February 18, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Study Shows That Rural Water Systems Have More Contamination Violations than Their Urban Counterparts

While most people in the U.S. have access to safe drinking water, millions in rural areas are exposed to unhealthy and at times even illegal levels of contaminants. A report published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that health violations were widespread. Anywhere from about 10 to 45 million people may have been affected each year in the past 3 decades. The study was done by taking data from the EPA and looking for violations at thousands of water systems. Contaminants included lead, bacteria, nitrates, arsenic, and others.

Starting in the early 2000s, health violations for drinking water surged in rural areas after the EPA passed rules focused on disinfectants. Chlorine and other chemicals used to clean water can react with organic matter to create new compounds posing their own health risks. It can be costly and challenging to limit the effects of disinfectants in rural areas. Parts of Oklahoma and Texas had repeated violations probably connected to summer temperatures fostering bacteria growth. Maura Allaire, of the University of California, Irvine, and a lead author of the study, told The New York Times that rural communities are struggling to maintain aging infrastructure and keep up with the latest water treatment technologies.

Russia Could Be a Source of Clean Water for China

And in China there are some big problems with poor water quality also. Now there are preliminary plans to import supplies from Russia by using trucks or pipelines to the Kamchatka Peninsula. There the water would be transferred to tanker ships and be transported on a 10-day journey to various Chinese municipal water systems. A representative of Chinese company interested in the large-scale plans said that nowhere else in the world has such a project been done. But, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences said that the proposal is too expensive and pointless. According to the Asia Times, Russia is among the world’s richest countries in terms of water resources. In contrast, China seriously reduced its freshwater reserves during the 1990’s when it rapidly industrialized.

A Hopi Tribe Wins a Court Battle over the Use of Reclaimed Water for Snowmaking

For decades the Hopi in Arizona have challenged using reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking at a ski area not far from the tribe’s reservation. Their efforts until now have been stymied in the courts. But recently, an Arizona state appellate court ruled that the Hopi have the legal right to challenge the Snowbowl Resort’s use of treated effluent to make snow in areas the tribe considers sacred. Reclaimed water is treated after it’s used in homes and businesses, but not to the level where it is safe to drink. The Hopi claim that the water sprayed into the air and then falls as snow contains chemicals, pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs, hormones, and personal care products that are left after a limited treatment process. When the snow melts it, along with the contaminants, gets into streams and lakes. One tribal member told The Guardian that "people would never consider using reclaimed water in a Christian baptism ceremony." He also criticized the whole process of making snow, saying "it’s kind of like shaking your fist at God." The court ruling now allows the tribe to present their case to a judge or jury.

There's Excitement over the Discovery of Many New Species of Fungi—Some that Could Possibly Cure Cancers

Scientists studying the bottom of the Great Lakes have found many new species of fungi, and some of them may be able to help fight certain cancers. Robert Cichewicz, a professor of natural products at the University of Oklahoma, led a team of scientists who went to Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior and used a giant scoop to collect sediment from the lake bottoms. Before they started, nothing was known about the fungal component of the lakes. The specimens they dug up were shipped to labs where spores were grown on—of all things—Cheerios. The fungi grow well on the breakfast food, according to Chichewizc.

Compounds produced by the spores were tested against cancers, and the result was that they killed cells associated with a rare form of the disease that grows on the bones of adolescents known as Ewing’s sarcoma. As The Charlevoix Courier reports, use of chemicals in cancer treatment is still a ways off, but researchers are very excited.

The study found almost 450 new species of fungi not previously known to exist which is a boon to science in its own right. According to Chichewicz, fungi are the most brilliant chemists on earth making molecules that humans can use for other purposes.

A New Desalination Technology May Also Charge Your Cellphone

As we hear news about drought and water scarcity around the globe, conversations often turn to desalination. But desal has many drawbacks—it’s expensive, its wastewater discharges could affect marine life and water quality, and it takes a lot of energy—much of which comes from fossil fuels that are a key contributor to climate change. But there’s a new next-generation material on the horizon that could address some of those downsides. They’re called MOFs or metal-organic frameworks.

MOF materials can mimic cells, which allow specific atoms or molecules to pass through its membrane while stopping things they don’t want. That’s known as “selective permeability” and now MOF materials can do the same thing and act as filters to block unwanted compounds—like the salt in seawater.

The team of scientists from Australia and the US say the MOF membranes would be far more energy and cost efficient because there’s no need for high pressure that current desal systems use to force water through filters.

But wait, there’s more. These MOFs could potentially help power your smartphone! That’s because seawater contains a lot of lithium—the stuff used in batteries for a slew of electronics. Those lithium ions are left behind after filtering seawater and they’re easily harvested. And that has an environmental benefit because currently the mining industry uses inefficient chemical treatments to extract lithium from rocks and brines. Still, we’re left with the vexing question of what to do with all that leftover salt, but MOFs are promising technology for the 2.1 billion people on Earth who don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water.

"Coal Ash Pits Are Leaking into Groundwater." That story and other headlines for the week ending February 11, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Coal-Fired Power Plants Are Leaking Contaminants From Waste Pits

Coal-fired power plants that store their waste in unlined pits are contaminating groundwater around the U.S. The plants are required to submit reports about contamination from coal ash containment ponds, and some reports have been posted earlier than the March deadline. Earthjustice, an environmental organization, analyzed 14 reports and found that nine of the plants showed significant amounts of arsenic and other toxic chemicals in nearby groundwater. An organization spokesperson Lisa Evans told Inside Climate News that the story told by the data is alarming, and that if the reports already made are any indication of the total number of sites that are contaminating groundwater, it shows a severe, nationwide problem.

From the reports, it is not known if the leaking sites are contaminating drinking water. A representative of an industry trade association cautioned that the results do not meant that drinking water is affected, and those plants that detect higher levels of contaminants will do more monitoring to ensure no adverse effect on the environment. Evans of Earthjustice said that the contaminated groundwater could be very dangerous to human health if it is flowing into water used for human consumption. And could have a devastating effect on aquatic life. Around the country there are about 1,400 unlined coal ash pits. The EPA is expected to publish a new rule soon that will weaken restrictions on contamination from waste produced at power plants.

Cape Town Looking for Alternative Water Supplies as Day Zero Pushed Back

Last Friday night, Cape Town, South Africa received about 0.3 inches of rain. While it was welcome, the city of 4 million still faces a devastating drought. May 11th is now referred to as "Day Zero" when water taps will but cut off in the city. The date was pushed back about a month from mid-April mainly due to decreased agricultural use. Water consumption in the city has dropped dramatically, but if Day Zero arrives people will only be able to get water distribution locations throughout the city. Meanwhile, Wired reports that the city is trying to diversify its water supply including using desalination. They are building temporary reverse osmosis plants to provide fresh supplies from salt water, but that would only provide only a fraction of the city’s needs.

People all over are watching what happens in South Africa. Michael Kiparsky of UC Berkeley, told Wired that Cape Town is a warning shot. The American South, he said, could see a tripling of 95-degree-plus days by 2050, and it’s very possible for water crises to approach the point of real massive human disaster. On Sunday the BBC published a list of 11 other world cities that are most likely to run out of water and at the top were São Paulo, Brazil, and Bangalore, India. The list also included Miami, London, and Mexico City.

Should We Still Use Old Vocabulary Like “Drought” and “Normal”?

Is it time to change the way we talk about water or lack of it in the West? It is, according to Tom Philip, who works for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that supplies many cities including Los Angeles. Writing in Water Deeply, Philip argues that the words “drought” and “normal” should be relegated to the dust bin of history. The old terms are misleading, he says. Many recent years may not technically be drought years but are very dry and should perhaps be referred to as "semi-drought" to describe what is an ongoing situation.

Using the term “drought” only in those extreme years, takes attention from the dry conditions that are the new "normal," even when interspersed with a heavy rain period like last year in California. The problem, Philip thinks, is that “drought” is declared by government officials when there has already been a string of very dry years. Then, when it begins to rain the “drought” is declared over. This on again off again designation hides the real problem of dryness. If we focused on “semi-drought”, or something like it, Philip thinks it could lead to better water management policy that addresses the actual weather that is occurring.

Arctic Thawing Raises New Worries About Release of Toxin

Mercury is a naturally occurring element on earth and much of it—about 15 million gallons—has been locked up for millennia in the permafrost, or frozen soil of the Arctic and Antarctic. A new study published last week raises concerns about all the mercury that could be released as the Arctic thaws. Paul Schuster of the USGS led the study and told Chemical & Engineering News that the mercury will eventually end up in oceans and could contaminate fish which are already the biggest source of exposure of the toxic chemical to humans.

The online news source, Quartz, reports that next step for researchers is to determine how much and how quickly the mercury from the thawing Arctic could make its way into the environment. The warming Arctic is already viewed as a source of greenhouse gasses and even viruses that could be released as climate change continues.

Utilities Have a New BFF When Looking for Leaks

And finally, infrastructure has been in the news, with the recognition that many of the pipes that deliver drinking water in the U.S. are aging and in need of repair. In fact, the U.S. got a “D” in a recent report from American engineers for its crumbling water infrastructure. Every day, nearly six billion gallons of treated drinking water are lost due to leaking pipes—an amount that could supply 15 million households. But pinpointing the exact location of an underground leak before digging is challenging. Utilities use various technologies from drones to sensors to locate escaping water by observing the changes to physical properties that occur only when a pipe leaks.

In other words, sniffing around to notice something different. And who has the best sniffer? Dogs, of course. The Telegraph reports that a water company in the UK is deploying man’s best friend to hound down water leaks by smelling tiny amounts of chlorine, the chemical used to disinfect water in public systems. Snipe, a cocker spaniel, is now on the case. He has undergone weeks of training by ex-military personnel and has been deployed by utilities in the North West of England.

Tap water there consists of one part per million of chlorine, but Snipe, can detect one particle in a billion and he sits and stares when he senses the chemical. Move over Scooby Doo.

"Chevron Says If They Did It, Others Did It, Too." That story and other headlines for the week ending February 4, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Bureau of Land Management Allows Prospectors to Stake Claims in Southeastern Utah

In a move that evoked images from a 19th-century gold rush, at 6 a.m. last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management opened up parts of southeastern Utah to companies and prospectors, so they could start staking mining claims. The areas opened recently lost protection when Trump severely downsized the Bears Ears and Escalante Grand Staircase monument designations. According to Reuters the process to stake a claim is just like was 150 years ago. A prospector hammers four poles into the ground corresponding to the four points of a parcel that can be as big as 20 acres and attaches a written description of the claim onto one of them. A prospector then has 30 days to record the claim at the local BLM office.

Environmental organizations like the Southeastern Utah Wilderness Alliance are concerned that new mining could cause harm to the area, but, right now with the price of uranium down to about 25 dollars a pound the economy seems to be dampening interest.

Rule Defining Waters of the U.S. Delayed by Trump Administration; Environmentalists Call It Irresponsible

Last week the Trump Administration took action to impose a 2-year delay on a rule defining what bodies of water can be regulated by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers. While the Obama-era rule is delayed, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the agency will work on a new definition of waters of the U.S, or WOTUS as it is known. All of this maneuvering was occasioned by a Supreme Court ruling last week, which sent a case challenging Obama’s rule back to the lower courts.

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said in a statement that farmers value clear water, but they deserve clear rules too. His view is that the old rule would have treated low spots and ditches on farms just like flowing waters, and that farmers could be penalized simply for plowing a field. On the other side, New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman said his state will sue the Administration, for threatening to eliminate protections for millions of miles of streams and acres of wetlands.

Jon Devine with the Natural Resources Defense Council called Pruitt’s action grossly irresponsible, illegal and they, too will challenge it in court.

And speaking of EPA Administrator Pruitt, he testified before a Senate committee last week, and as reported by The Intercept, when he was asked a series of yes-or-no questions he could not or would not answer. Senator Cory Booker Democrat of New Jersey asked Pruitt a simple question: is it a good idea for children to handle dangerous pesticides. Rather than answering directly, Pruitt mentioned that a rule about the subject was undergoing review and open to public comment.

Climate Change Litigation Is Occurring All Over the World, and Some Is By Kids

Around the world citizens are suing governments and energy companies for failing to protect them against climate change. Among about 900 cases around the world are suits brought by children including a pending case in Oregon in which kids claim that policies promoting fossil fuels are violating their rights to life, liberty and property. The trend is continuing. Earther reports that last week some 25 children and adults filed a lawsuit in Bogotá, Columbia demanding a right to a healthy environment free from deforestation and the irreversible impacts of climate change.

Meanwhile, in Colorado last week, the state’s high court agreed to decide if the protection of public health and the environment must be fulfilled before the state can permit oil and gas drilling. That case is being pursued mostly by teenagers who proposed that Colorado must use the best available science to determine whether an oil and gas project dangerously affects human health or contributes to climate change. In the past the state regulatory agency has said it must balance oil and gas interests against public health, and safety, rather than prioritizing health and climate change.

As Oil Giants Get Sued for Contributing to Climate Change They're Turning On Each Other

In related news, Chevron is being sued in California by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, for billions of dollars to pay for sea walls and protections against the effects of climate change. Last week the oil giant turned around and sued another major producer saying that, if Chevron has to pay, then so should others. In a legal move, Chevron brought the Norwegian oil giant Statoil into the case, by filing what’s known as a third-party complaint. Chevron did not admit that it was liable to the cities but said that many other sovereign governments that promote fossil fuels must be brought in also. It was not clear why Chevron chose the Norwegian giant to be the first fossil fuel producer it included in the case, however it may signal that the same strategy will be used against others.

These Swans Monitor Water Quality—and They Don't Even Need to Be Fed.

And finally, to Singapore, where monitoring water quality so that it’s safe to drink is a top priority. Typically, testing the country’s reservoirs has been done by humans in boats, which is time consuming and expensive—and limits the response time for officials were there to be an outbreak or contamination. To address the problem, researchers at the National University of Singapore came up with a new way to track pollution and developed its “Smart Water Assessment Network” known as SWAN like the bird.

But it wasn’t just an acronym. The team developed a flock of swan bots—robots designed to putter around reservoirs and collect data—in real time—about water quality. The high-tech waterfowl roam autonomously but can be commanded remotely to monitor a certain area or bring back water samples to shore for lab analysis. For onlookers the bots are an aesthetic addition, as they do look real. And for the researchers, they’re fairly low-maintenance—they don’t need to be fed, just come back to the bank occasionally to have their batteries recharged. The hard-plastic robot swans have water sampling equipment inside. And although the birds look benign and graceful, the developers say they’re sturdy enough to survive a collision with a kayak or small boat.

But the swans aren’t the only robots testing water. Last year, a team in Switzerland developed a robotic eel to track pollution in Lake Geneva. So, it may not be long before more helpful bots roam rivers, lakes, and even oceans in your area.

"A Major World City Could Run Out of Water." That story and other headlines for the week ending January 28, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

A Major World City Could Run Out of Water

April 12th is a day they're calling, “Day Zero.” It sounds ominous, and it is. Day Zero is when water faucets in Cape Town, South Africa, could go dry. The city with its 4 million residents—a bit larger than metropolitan Seattle—is facing its worst drought in close to a century. Most of the region is recovering from El Niño’s recent effects, but not Cape Town now in its third year of dryness. The average level of area reservoirs is around 27 percent but about a third of that is not usable due to debris and mud.

Officials are urging people to take drastic conservation measures. The premier of the Western Cape government, Helen Zille is calling for everyone to use less than 13 gallons of water, per person, per day. In comparison, the national average use in the U.S. is about 90 gallons according to the U.S.G.S. The government is also asking people to turn off the water supply to their toilet tanks. Instead, they should reuse the gray water in homes from shower run off, and dish washing to fill toilet tanks, and to flush them only when necessary. The premier said no one should shower more than twice a week and noted that oily hair in a drought is as much of a status symbol as a dusty car.

Large Parts of Texas Are in Drought Conditions Even Where Harvey Hit

Hurricane Harvey hit the southeast area of Texas in August dumping record amounts of rain. But now 40 percent of the state is in moderate to severe drought including some areas where the hurricane hit. Mark Wentzel, with the state’s Water Development Board told The Texas Tribune that as soon as Hurricane Harvey cleared Texas, the state almost immediately started going in to the next drought.

The worst areas are in the Texas panhandle with the lack of moisture spreading north into western Oklahoma and Kansas. According to Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, climate change is driving the extremes in addition to the La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean. He added that climate models show storms will become less frequent and more intense.

Draft of Infrastructure Proposal Would Gut Environmental Protections

The Trump administration has drafted an infrastructure proposal for building roads, bridges and pipelines across the U.S., which includes scaling back environmental protections that have been in place for decades. The Washington Post, obtained the draft, which includes the most sweeping changes in many years about how the federal government approves and oversees projects.

Critics say the plans would gut environmental protections like those in the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. Review of projects such as pipelines would be limited, and new deadlines imposed to speed up approvals. Some agencies would be entirely cut out of the review process, if another agency already issued its approval. And, another provision would exempt agency decisions from review by courts. The outline would allow the Interior Secretary to approve natural gas pipelines across national parks instead of requiring congressional approval.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, said in a statement that Trump is using his infrastructure plans to attack the environment, and that the last thing needed is to expedite approvals of pipelines that endanger water, communities and the climate. A White House official told The Washington Post that the document was only a discussion draft, but some who are familiar with it said many of its proposals are the basis for ongoing negotiations with lawmakers.

Fishermen and Environmental Groups May Sue If Salmon and Orcas Are Not Protected from Widely-Used Chemicals

Environmental organizations and commercial fishermen might sue, if the EPA fails to protect endangered species from widely used chemicals. Last month, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service issued a report, nearly 4,000 pages long, finding that three pesticides used on farms and orchards pose a threat to dozens of endangered and threatened species. The three compounds, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion – are used on fruits, nuts, alfalfa, and other farm products. The chemicals run off into rivers and oceans where they threaten various creatures.

Patti Goldman of Earthjustice said told E & E News that the pesticides are a major threat to endangered salmon, and orcas that eat the salmon. The populations of both have dwindled recently near Seattle. A representative of a fishermen’s association told The Guardian that his 1 billion dollar a year industry has lost thousands of jobs as salmon stocks have shrunk due to overdevelopment of dams and the use of dangerous pesticides. Last year, however, EPA head, Scott Pruitt, overturned an Obama Administration effort to ban the use of chlorpyrifos which, in only tiny levels of exposure, can harm the development of children’s brains.

What Do Bitcoin and Tuna Have in Common?

There’s a craze you’ve probably noticed trending in the news—Bitcoin—the encrypted digital currency that operates without banks or governments or any middleman. What makes bitcoin secure is that funds are tracked by something called "blockchain technology" where transactions are listed in a public online ledger and no one person can alter or delete entries. Many companies and retailers are jumping on the blockchain bandwagon for its ability to be transparent. Something the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund is betting will have an aquatic angle, too—tracking tuna.

According to the news site The Conversation, World Wildlife Fund wants to stop illegal and unregulated fishing, as well as human rights abuses in the tuna industry, so they’ve just launched a pilot project in the Pacific Islands that will use blockchain technology to track a fish from "bait to plate." When a tuna is caught it will be tagged with a code and then devices on the vessel, at the dock and in the factory will be able to detect the tags and automatically upload its information to the blockchain. For consumers, it means being able to scan a code on a fish in the store to trace its journey and know it’s been sustainably, environmentally, and ethically caught.

WWF is not the only one using blockchain. A company called Provenance has been using the technology to trace tuna from Indonesian fisheries for British consumers. Provenance also tracks cotton and coffee, according to Gizmodo.

Increasingly, government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Energy, are using blockchain technology for transparency and security. Sounds like a good trend if public departments are getting on board to make sure there’s nothing fishy going on in our government.

"How the Shutdown Affects Environmental Protection." That story and other headlines for the week ending January 21, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Water Shortages Are Establishing a Pattern of Civil Unrest—and Sometimes War

A common pattern is emerging in different parts of the world—global warming is leading to water shortages that in turn lead to civil unrest—and sometimes war. Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria all have had problems from drought, and serve as warnings about what can happen in water stressed areas. Little or no water can make people migrate to urban areas, resulting in joblessness and discontent. Drought has forced young men in parts of Africa to move and join insurgencies such as Boko Haram. Dry conditions contributed to migrations in Syria leading to its civil war.

The New York Times reports that Iran may be the latest to follow the pattern. Last December protestors showed up in a rural area to demonstrate against water transfers to urban centers. They shouted, "death to the dictator"–the same chant heard in later demonstrations around Iran when 21 people died and hundreds were arrested. According to The Los Angeles Times, analysts say an overlooked factor in the recent demonstrations is the impact of climate change and the widespread perception that Iran’s leaders are mishandling a growing problem of water scarcity. 96 percent of the country’s land area has experienced prolonged drought conditions according to the Iranian news agency.

The World Resources Institute says that 33 countries will face water stress by 2040 with those in the Middle East and North Africa at the highest risk. An expert who spoke to the New York Times said that water crises don’t lead straight to conflict, but can be a catalyst, the thing that breaks the system.

Legionella Bacteria Is Found in Buildings All Around the Country

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the bacteria causing Legionnaires' disease, are found in the water systems of buildings, not just in isolated areas, but nearly everywhere in the country. The disease is a severe and often lethal form of pneumonia. Every year as many as 18,000 people are infected and, since 2000, reported cases have risen sharply.

As reported in Circle of Blue, researchers took water samples at nearly 200 cooling towers in almost all areas of the U.S. About half of the samples were positive for living bacteria, which are frequently found in heating and air conditioning systems of apartments, hospitals, hotels and similar buildings.

Report: U.S. Border Agents Sabotage Migrants from Mexico Possibly Leading to Their Deaths

A humanitarian group in Tucson reported last week that U.S. Border Patrol agents have routinely emptied water containers and removed supplies left in the southern Arizona desert for migrants. Various organizations leave water jugs for migrants coming from Mexico into Arizona. Removing them could cause some of them to die according to a member of the group "No More Deaths," which did the report.

The study showed over 400 water containers were smashed from 2012 to 2015. The report says those likely to have committed the vandalism are Border Patrol agents. Volunteers made video recordings of some officers emptying jugs in the desert last year. The report also acknowledges that is possible hunters, militia groups and animals destroyed some of the water containers and other supplies. A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol told the news outlet Fronteras that the agency does not condone or encourage the destruction or tampering with water or food products.

Between 2012 and 2015 a local county medical examiner collected the remains of almost 600 people who died trying to cross the border, and that number has risen steadily since 2014.

EPA Reviewing Regulations Prohibiting Handling of Dangerous Chemicals by Minors on Farms and In Workplace

The EPA is taking steps to roll back regulations that prohibit children under the age of 18 from using dangerous chemicals on the job. Last month the agency formally announced that it was reviewing the rule mandating that only adults can spray and handle chemicals on farms. In addition, the EPA may allow children who work with pest control companies and others to use highly restricted compounds such as arsenic and methyl bromide.

A former EPA official who worked on the current restrictions told The Huffington Post that there’s a pretty strong likelihood that, if the minimum age is eliminated or lowered, there will be more people getting sick. He noted that with some of the pesticides, only a teaspoon of the chemicals can kill a person. Many of the children who are intended to be protected by the age limits are migrants who speak limited English. An organization of pediatricians that supported the age limits when they were put in place said that children under the age of 18 are still developing and many pesticides are highly toxic to their brains and reproductive systems.

What the Shutdown Means for Public Health and the Environment

Because Congress wasn’t able to reach an agreement on the federal budget, the U.S. government has been forced into a partial shutdown. So what does that mean for public health and the environment?

Starting with the EPA, National Geographic reports that, according to a current contingency plan, more than 94 percent of the agency’s workforce would be placed on enforced leave. That means that non-emergency work would stop. According to CNN, during the 2013 shutdown, inspections at about 1,200 drinking water systems, chemical facilities, and hazardous waste sites were put on hold.

EPA says it will maintain Superfund projects that “would pose an imminent threat to human life,” such as ones that could contaminate drinking water. But at NOAA, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that only about half of its 12,000 employees would be placed on leave during a shutdown, because many of them are considered necessary to protect human life and property. Research, however would be shuttered.

Also, according to CNN, the Food and Drug Administration would have to cancel routine health and safety inspections to find potential problems from foodborne illnesses. During the 2013 shutdown, the FDA delayed nearly 850 safety inspections of food and feed. The Trump administration will try to keep national parks open with limited staff; however, campgrounds, full-service bathrooms, and other amenities will be closed.

And it cannot be overlooked that the uncertainty and stress of not knowing when they'll get back to work and collect a paycheck could harm the health of government employees.

"A Chemical Used in Weapons Is Showing Up in Water Samples." That story and other headlines for the week ending January 14, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Unfortunately, Mudslides Are Not Uncommon in California

The tragic mudslides in Southern California last week have killed 18 with 5 people still missing. More than 60 homes were destroyed and more than 400 damaged. According to the National Weather Service, over 6 inches of rain fell near Montecito, where the disaster struck.

Mudslides like the one that occurred last week are not new. A fact sheet by the USGS says that flooding and debris flows are common in the aftermath of wildfires, such as the Thomas Fire that recently devastated the area and was only contained last week after burning for a month. KPCC reports that there is a long history of mudslides in Southern California, with one of the worst occurring in 1969 that killed 87.

Los Angeles May Be the Next to Sue Oil Giants for Global Warming following a Lawsuit by New York City

The recent wildfires and mudslides were on the minds of two members of the Los Angeles City Council who last week urged the city to file suit against oil companies for damages they see as linked to climate change. Their call follows a lawsuit filed last week by New York City against five major oil companies. The city claims that the companies have known for years that burning fossil fuels causes global warming, but hid that knowledge, and that together the five companies produced eleven percent of all global-warming gases through the products they sold.

The suit seeks to shift the costs of protecting the city onto the companies that have created the conditions leading to climate change. In suing the oil companies, New York is adopting the strategy of several California cities and counties including San Francisco and Oakland. In response to New York’s action, a spokesman for Chevron told The Washington Post that the suit will do nothing to address the serious issue of climate change. A spokesperson for ExxonMobil added that lawsuits filed by trial attorneys do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New York City is also planning to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels. About 5 billion dollars will be invested in other industries as long as pension fund trustees agree.

A Chemical Used to Make Explosives Is Showing up in Water Samples, but the Pentagon Says It’s Safe

A chemical which is used to make military explosives is showing up in water and soil samples. According to recent reporting by ProPublica the substance known as RDX that was developed by the U.S. during the Second World War—and is still used today—is being carried by winds during weapons testing and settling in soils. From there it moves easily into water supplies. Surface and groundwater samples show that RDX persists and does not quickly dissolve or breakdown.

Recently Canadian researchers looked at soil and water samples and found that in nearly 75 percent of them RDX made its way into aquifers exceeding safe levels. RDX has been classified as a possible carcinogen by the EPA. The agency suggested that it has a danger score stricter than other deadly pollutants such as benzene and atrazine. The RDX contamination is not confined to the U.S. and is, according to the researchers, an internationally known issue. ProPublica states that one of the EPA’s foremost experts on pollution from explosives has said that RDX is the single greatest problem the U.S. faces when it comes to cleaning up thousands of toxic munitions sites. But the Pentagon says that RDX does not pose a great risk, and has fought against the EPA classifying it as a likely carcinogen.

Water Found on Mars May Support Future Missions

Large quantities of water ice have been discovered on Mars by a powerful camera on board NASA’s Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ice formations were seen in areas where erosion has removed rocks and surface dirt exposing steep cross sections of frozen water that range from one to 100 meters in depth. Wired reports that It’s not just the volume of water found, it’s how mineable it promises to be to support things like drinking, growing crops, or making hydrogen for fuel.

The water ice was found further north than where current Mars landing missions can go because of extremely low temperatures. Scientists theorize that one might have to drill deeper in areas closer to the Martian equator to find the ice. Two missions to the Red Planet are planned in 2020 one by NASA and the other by the European Space Agency both of which will be capable of studying the ice in more detail. The discovery was reported in last week's issue of Science, by researchers led by the USGS.

British PM Fights Plastics Scourge as Biggest Recycling Country Cries NO MORE

Last week British PM Theresa May unveiled a new green agenda for the UK in which she pledged to eliminate the “scourge” of plastics. Speaking at a nature reserve just south of London, she outlined a plan to eradicate “avoidable plastic waste” within 25 years. That plan includes things like calling on supermarkets to create 'plastic free aisles' when displaying food, and imposing a levy on all single-use plastics from coffee cups to spoons and forks. She also wants to extend a charge on plastic bags to all retailers, including corner shops, in an effort to take millions of sacs out of circulation.

While environmental groups applauded her efforts for raising awareness about plastics and other issues, they complained that the plan lacked specifics and didn’t go far enough. Opposition politicians said the announcement was just a cynical ploy to attract young, eco-conscious voters to her Conservative Party. Recent polling found that climate change was the top policy issue for Britons ages 18 to 28. But, there might be another reason for the sudden interest in going green: China. Last year the country announced it would no longer be the “world’s garbage dump” recycling about half of the globe’s plastics and paper. A ban went into effect on Jan. 1st.

According to Greenpeace, every year Britain sent enough recyclables to China to fill up 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. The United States shipped so many millions of tons of scrap paper and plastics annually to China, it’s the sixth-largest export to the country. While China’s move has left Western countries scrambling to deal with their waste, most environmental groups say the answer is clear: find sustainable alternatives to plastics.

To that end, they might take a lead from the Lonely Whale Foundation, which began its “Strawless in Seattle” campaign last September. The group seeks to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the oceans and the impact our lifestyles have on the environment, such as using plastic straws. In other words, protect the planet and don’t suck.

"Republicans Say No to Trump’s Drilling Plans." That story and other headlines for the week ending January 7, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

While the Central and Eastern U.S. Have Been Very Cold, The Rest of Planet Was Warmer

A massive winter storm hit the U.S. east coast last week bringing freezing temperatures and snow from Florida to Maine. The storm was a result of a bomb cyclone, or bomb genesis, which NOAA describes as a storm that intensifies as the barometric pressure drops rapidly over 24 hours. And in this case a cold air mass from the north collided with warmer ocean waters. Typically, that frigid air is locked around the north pole, but the pattern broke, and cold air headed south. According to the Associated Press the reason for this is hotly debated. Jason Furtado of the University of Oklahoma said that it is probably a mixture of human caused climate change and natural variability. He added that global warming has not made the polar pattern more extreme, but has made it seem more severe due to its movement.

While the central and eastern U.S. have been very cold, the rest of the planet was almost 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer than normal last week, and the Arctic was more than 6 degrees higher. On Tuesday, the temperature in Anchorage, Alaska reached 48 degrees while it was 19 in Boston. The first weeks of December last year were the second warmest ever in Fairbanks with temperatures 20 degrees above average.

Snowpack in the West Raising Worry about Colorado River Basin Drought

Dry weather in the western U.S. is raising concerns about drought along the Colorado River Basin and other areas. Snowpack which supplies much of the runoff to fill reservoirs is very low. For December snowfall was 20 percent below average in some areas, according to the Associated Press, and last Thursday, the total snowpack was only 65 percent of normal. These numbers have led to some dire predictions for the Colorado River which supplies about 40 million people with water.

Runoff in the basin this spring may be only about 55 percent of average, and the low snowpack could affect other river basins that flow east out of Colorado including the Arkansas and the South Platte. Brian Domonkos of the National Resources Conservation Service told the Denver Post that, the area still has more than half of snow season remaining and conditions could change; but, it is unlikely to make up for the current deficit.

Trump Administration Plans to Allow Drilling in Almost All Coastal Regions

The Trump administration announced last week that it will allow oil and gas drilling in almost all US coastal regions including the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Many of those waters had been protected for a long time, and some were recently set aside by President Obama. E & E News reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the move was a start to looking at American energy dominance. He added that opening up the massive areas to drilling will deepen his department’s commitment to environmental stewardship because they do it right.

There was swift reaction not just from environmental groups but even from some in Trump’s own party. A spokesman for Maryland Republican governor Larry Hogan told the Washington Post that the governor has instructed his attorney general to take any legal action necessary to prevent the exploration. Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Rick Scott of Florida are also opposed, and the democratic governor of North Carolina said the move was a critical threat to the state’s economy. Governor Jerry Brown, Democrat of California said in a statement that his state would do whatever it takes to stop what he called a reckless and short-sighted action.

Zinke said that the plans were just a draft and that states would have a say in the final decision.

Zinke Recommends Shrinking or Opening Up Marine Monuments

In related news, Zinke has recommended to the President that the size of three marine monuments, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific be downsized, or at least opened up to commercial fishing. The monuments harbor unique species and are a wealth of biodiversity, according to Jane Lubchenco a past administrator of NOAA. She told The Guardian that there are plenty of other places to fish in the oceans other than these protected areas. The three marine monuments currently comprise areas more than three times the size of California.

Surprise in Brazil: Government Announces Halt to Dams

In a surprising move, the Brazilian government announced last week that it is going to stop building large hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin. Brazil gets about 70 percent of its electricity from hydropower, and mega-dams were being planned in the Amazon. There was much opposition from indigenous peoples and social movements prompting large antigovernment demonstrations. Paulo Pedrosa of the Ministry of Mines and Energy told O Globo newspaper that the government has to respect the views of society which has reservations about these big projects. But, Mongabay News reports that there may be other reasons for the government’s policy change, including a decrease in political influence of large construction companies which is likely caused by corruption scandals and a decline in Brazil’s economy.

Would You Drink Raw Water? It Could Be a Raw Deal

And finally, there have been health trends over the years that promote “natural” over processed foods claiming they preserve vitamins and nutrients, contain enzymes that make them easier to digest, and are free of dangerous toxins. But as the New York Times reported there’s a new trend in San Francisco that has health experts worried. Say hello to “raw water”— unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water. It’s so popular with health-conscious Bay Area consumers that one brand, "Live Water," selling for nearly $37 for 2.5 gallons is often sold out. Supporters distrust tap water, partly because of added fluoride as well as concerns about lead pipes, but they also contend that water treatment removes beneficial minerals and healthful bacteria something they call water “probiotics.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA, and various health departments caution they could also be getting a mouthful of farm waste runoff, septic tank spillover, chemicals, and pesticides. While water systems in the U.S. has had issues with crumbling infrastructure and ongoing risks of lead leaching from pipes, all in all, said David Jones, of Harvard Medical School, “we have an incredibly safe and reliable water supply,” and he added, treatment is likely responsible for increasing life expectancy by 30 years during the period between 1900 to 1970. Observers hope the “raw water” movement will be a passing fad, and instead money will be spent not on pricey trends but on safer water and infrastructure for all.

Miss older episodes? Hear all segments from 2017

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