20 Dec 2010:
Market for Desalination Plants
Expected to Grow by $87 Billion by 2016
More than $88 billion will be invested in desalination technologies worldwide from 2010 to 2016
as regions face dwindling supplies of freshwater and steep population growth, according to a new report. Declining costs associated with several key desalination technologies — including reverse osmosis — will make saltwater-to-freshwater treatment a more affordable option, according to the report by Pike Research. “Desalination is becoming more affordable; thus, an increased number of people can benefit from an almost unlimited resource — seawater,” the report says. The global installed capacity is expected to grow by about 55 million cubic meters per day during that period, representing a 9-percent annual growth rate. About 54 percent of that growth will occur in the Middle East and North Africa.
10 Dec 2010:
Increasing Drought Seen
As Temperatures Rise in U.S., Study Says
A comprehensive study of 99 water sub-basins in the United States shows that rising temperatures, which cause more evaporation and reduce soil moisture, will increase the likelihood of drought
in many areas of the U.S. Earlier studies have shown that meteorological drought, based on shifting precipitation patterns in a warming world, was likely to affect regions such as the southwestern U.S. But Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University, along with colleagues from MIT and Industrial Economics Inc., looked at the prospects for hydrological drought, which is based on both precipitation and the effects of rising temperatures. Looking at three different CO2 emissions scenarios, Yohe and his colleagues said they were confident that the impacts of hydrological drought on agriculture and water availability would be increasingly negative and widespread as temperatures increase. The southwestern U.S. and Rocky Mountain states are projected to see the largest increases in drought frequency. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters
, said that with good planning, these regions should be able to soften the impact of increasing droughts by exploiting excess water storage capacity.
08 Dec 2010:
Increased Plant Growth Caused
By Rising C02 Could Have a ‘Cooling Effect’
Increases in plant growth expected as a result of a projected doubling of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could create a cooling effect that would help reduce future global warming
, according to new NASA computer models. Specifically, researchers say that increased leaf growth that occurs when more carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere will likely increase evapotranspiration, which will have a cooling effect. According to the new model, this cooling effect would offset warming temperatures by 0.3 degrees C (0.5 degrees F) globally and 0.6 degrees C (1.1 degrees F) over land, compared to models in which the effects were not included, said Lahouari Bounoua, a researcher at the Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. The cooling effect would not be strong enough to offset rising temperatures, Bounoua said, but would temper those increases.
06 Dec 2010:
Coal-based Pavement Sealant
Is Leading Source of Toxin in U.S. Lakes
A coal-based sealant sprayed on pavement for parking lots, playgrounds, and driveways is the leading contributor of a toxic pollutant found in U.S. lakes and reservoirs
, according to a new study. Samples of sediments collected from the bottom of lakes and reservoirs in 40 urban areas by the U.S. Geological Survey revealed high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a probable carcinogen that is also toxic to fish and other marine life. On average, about half of the PAHs came from coal-tar sealants. Vehicles account for about one-fourth of the remaining pollutants, and coal combustion contributes about 20 percent, according to the study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment
. Coal-tar pavement sealants — derived from the waste produced in the coking of steel — have been banned in several U.S. cities, including Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C. An alternate asphalt-based sealant contains levels of PAHs that are 1,000 times lower than coal-tar sealants
03 Dec 2010:
Toxic Pollutants Found
at Remote Heights of Mount Everest
Scientists have found harmful levels of heavy metal pollutants on remote reaches of Mount Everest
, an indication of the great distances industrial air pollution can travel. Every snow sample collected at altitudes between 5,334 and 7,772 meters (17,500 to 25,498 feet) contained levels of cadmium and arsenic that exceeded U.S. safety standards, according to researchers at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham, while every soil sample contained unsafe levels of cadmium. According to the study
, published in the journal Soil Survey Horizons
, toxin levels were highest toward the top of the mountain, which suggests that high-altitude winds had carried the toxins from Asian industrial sites. Researchers called the results a reason for concern because mountaineers rely on melted snow for drinking water and high winds may also kick up toxins located in the soil. “People at Everest base camp often wear ventilators, simply because there is so much dust,” said Samantha Langley-Turnbaugh, one of the researchers.
12 Nov 2010:
Strain on Water Supplies
Already Affecting Businesses Globally
Nearly 40 percent of businesses globally have already experienced “detrimental” effects related to water security
, including disruptions caused by drought and other shortages, flooding, poor quality, and increased prices, according to a new report. In a survey of companies from 25 nations, more than half responded that risks to their business are “current or near term,” an indication that the strain on global waters supplies is already being felt worldwide. The survey was commissioned by the UK nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project, which produces annual reports on corporate responses to carbon emissions for investors. According to the survey, 67 percent of respondents are already addressing water security at the board or executive committee level; 89 percent have developed water policies; and 60 percent have established water-related performance targets. The sectors reporting the highest water security risk include food, beverage, tobacco, metals, and mining. Chemical, technology, and communications companies are least exposed to risk.
22 Oct 2010:
The Arctic Region Continues
to Warm, NOAA Report Confirms
Record high temperatures in Greenland, a decrease in sea ice, and reduced snow cover indicate that the Arctic region continues to warm
at an unprecedented rate, according to a new report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In its annual Arctic Report Card
, the agency reports that Greenland experienced record-setting temperatures in 2010, with summer air temperatures reaching 0.6 to 2.4 degrees C higher than the baseline averages from 1971 to 2000. Summer sea ice cover was the third-lowest since recordings began in 1979, surpassed only by 2007 and 2008. Arctic snow cover duration was at a record minimum since records were first kept in 1966. The report is based on the work of 69 international scientists and 176 published reports. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubecheno warned that the warming trend in the Arctic region portends global consequences. “To quote one of my NOAA colleagues, ‘Whatever is going to happen in the rest of the world happens first, and to the greatest extent, in the Arctic,’” she said.
20 Oct 2010:
Drought Drops Lake Mead
To Lowest Water Level Since 1937
Lake Mead, the massive reservoir that supplies water to millions of people across the southwestern U.S., has reached its lowest levels in nearly 75 years
. Water levels dropped to 1,083 feet above sea level on Oct. 17, the lowest elevation since 1937, when the lake was first filled with the completion of the Hoover Dam. The dropping water level — which beats a previous record set in the 1950s — underscores the effects of drought and increased water demands on the Colorado River. “Everyone needs to know when we turn on the tap, it drains water out of the river and it has ecological consequences,” Gary Wockner, a campaign coordinator for the conservation group Save the Colorado, told the Arizona Republic
. If water levels fall another eight feet, officials would have to implement water restrictions for Arizona and Nevada.
18 Oct 2010:
Chile Launches Initiative to
Measure 'Water Footprint' of Companies
Chilean officials are launching an initiative that will require companies to measure the effects of water consumption
on local watersheds and their own business sustainability. A coalition of partners, including the government-created Chile Foundation, is advocating the use of the “water footprint,” which will measure the total volume of freshwater required to produce goods and services. As part of a pilot project, the foundation will measure the water footprint of products and companies in Atacama, a semi-desert region of northern Chile where several major mining projects are in operation. By December, organizers says they will have more information on the effects of mining activities and agriculture on the region’s Copiapo and Huasco watersheds. “Perhaps the water footprint will not follow the same critical path as the carbon footprint,” said the Chile Foundation's Rodrigo Acevedo, “but it does call companies' attention to rethinking their water resource management.” The leading entity for defining such standards worldwide is the Water Footprint Network, a nonprofit coalition that has calculated the water footprint for products such as a cup of coffee (140 liters).
11 Oct 2010:
Water Cycle Pushed to Limit
In Southern Hemisphere As Planet Warms
Soils in large areas of the Southern Hemisphere have been drying up in the past decade
as temperatures have risen in Australia, Africa, and South America, according to the first major study of evapotranspiration on a global basis. The study found that from 1982 to 1998, the evaporation of water from the soil and plants to the atmosphere increased steadily in the Southern Hemisphere as temperatures climbed. But beginning in 1998, the rates of evaporation slowed dramatically in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere as soils became increasingly dry, an indication that the planet’s water cycle is being pushed to the limit, according to the study by U.S. scientists, which was published in the journal Nature
. In some regions, rising temperatures have simply removed all of the available moisture from the ground
, said Steve Running, an ecologist at the University of Montana in Missoula and one of the researchers involved in the study. While the moisture returns to the land in the form of rainfall, it often falls in different regions of the planet, leaving some regions increasingly dry, he said.
30 Sep 2010:
Human Impacts on Rivers
Threaten Global Water Security, Study Says
More than 5 billion people — nearly 80 percent of the planet’s population — live in regions where water security is threatened
because of mismanagement and pollution of rivers and watersheds, according to a new study. This degradation of the planet’s waters also threatens the existence of thousands of freshwater
species, according to the study published in the journal Nature
. The study, which examined the effects of numerous factors on the planet’s limited freshwater supplies — including pollution, agricultural runoff, dam construction, and the introduction of invasive species — found that significant deterioration in water quality was not limited to poorer nations but was common in the rivers of Europe, the U.S., and other industrialized countries. The report cited threats to water quality and species diversity in rivers ranging from the Mississippi in the U.S., to the Ganges in India, to the Yangtze in China. “Threats to human water security and biological diversity are pandemic,” said Charles Vorosmarty of the City University of New York, co-lead author of the study.
24 Sep 2010:
Rate of Groundwater Depletion
Has Doubled Since 1960, Study Says
A burgeoning human population has doubled the rate at which it is pumping dry sources of groundwater
in recent decades, according to a new study. Relying on a global database of groundwater use and
demand, the researchers from Utrecht University calculated that the rate of withdrawal of groundwater stocks jumped from about 30 cubic miles annually (126 cubic kilometers) in 1960 to about 68 cubic miles (283 cubic kilometers) in 2000, a rate they said was clearly unsustainable. The greatest rate of depletion occurred in some of the world’s biggest agricultural regions, including northwest India, northeastern China, and California’s central valley, according to the the study
, published in Geophysical Research Letters
. Marc Bierkens, a professor of hydrology and lead author of the study, warned that if over-pumping of groundwater continues “you will run into a wall at a certain point in time, and you will have hunger and social unrest to go with it.” In addition to depleting a vital resource for sustaining streams, wetlands, and ecosystems, the over-pumping of groundwater for agriculture has led to more evaporation and precipitation, with the rain eventually ending up in the oceans, accounting for about 25 percent of annual sea level rise.
21 Sep 2010:
Dust Created By Human Activity
Hastening Snowmelt in Colorado River Basin
Dust created by intensifying human activities in the southwestern United States has caused snow in the Rocky Mountains to melt earlier
over the last 150 years and has reduced runoff into the Colorado River basin by about 5 percent, according to a new study. After examining lake sediment cores, researchers found that human-produced dust that settled the region and its winter snowpack increased 500 to 600 percent since the mid- to late-19th century. That dust absorbs more of the sun’s energy, causing snow cover to melt earlier and reducing runoff into the river, according to the NASA study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
. Using field data and a hydrology model simulating water flow under current conditions and before human settlement, researchers estimated that peak runoff now comes about three weeks earlier than before the West was settled, said Tom Painter, a snow hydrologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the research team leader. These results have significant implications for the 27 million people across the U.S. Southwest who rely on the Colorado River water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial use, researchers say.
24 Aug 2010:
U.S. Researchers Identify
Proteins That Help Plants Survive Drought
U.S. researchers have identified the set of proteins within living plants that help them withstand stressful conditions
such as drought, cold, and excessive radiation. Using sophisticated stable isotope technology and mass spectrometry, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were able to identify specific proteins that are influenced by abscisic acid, a key hormone that influences how plants respond to stress and controls the processes of seed dormancy and germination. Most plants, which are composed of 95 percent water, reach a permanent wilting point and die when water levels drop to about 90 percent, said Michael Sussman, a Wisconsin biochemistry professor. Seeds, on the other hand, which are 10 percent water, can go into a dormant state and remain viable for hundreds of years. Finding a way to trigger in plants that dormant state could help researchers develop plants that are better able to survive drought, said Sussman, lead author of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. Researchers say the work is important as countries look to expand agricultural production in marginal lands, particularly in the context of a warming climate.
20 Aug 2010:
Global Growth of Plants
Is Offset by Drought, New Study Shows
The steady growth of global plant productivity in the 1980s and 1990s, spurred by warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons, has now been reversed because of the growing impacts of drought
, particularly in the southern hemisphere, according to a new study. Examining data from NASA’s Terra satellite, researchers at the University of Montana determined that plant growth in the past decade began to decline slightly, after two decades of expansion. In the 1980s and 1990s, plant productivity
increased by 6 percent, but in the 2000s it decreased by 1 percent, according to the study
, published in the journal Science
. Some scientists believed that a warmer world would stimulate plant productivity because of lengthened growing seasons and greater concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air. But Steve Running, co-author of the Science
paper, said his study might indicate that these benefits are being offset by worsening regional droughts as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change. The study showed that while plant productivity in high-latitude northern hemisphere ecosystems expanded in the 2000s, the Southern Hemisphere was plagued by regional droughts. “This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth,” said Running.
19 Aug 2010:
Amazon Dam Projects
Are Mapped in New Online Database
A new online database maps more than 140 dams being built or planned in the Amazon basin and documents the impacts these projects are likely to have on human communities and the environment.
Using official information from governments and companies, the Argentina-based Fundación PROTEGER and the advocacy group International Rivers developed the site, found at dams-info.org
, as a resource to track the impacts of the boom in dam construction
. The groups say that the more than 60 dams planned for the Brazilian Amazon will do irreversible damage to the region’s biological diversity and local populations, including indigenous tribes. “If all these projects are built, it would be catastrophic for the Amazon ecosystem and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and riverbank dwellers who depend on the river for survival,” said Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director for International Rivers. The interactive database allows users to identify economic and technical factors related to each project and sort results by country, basin, dam capacity, and project status.
12 Jul 2010:
Mass Water Shipment
Planned From Alaskan Town to India
A Texas company has announced that it is moving forward with a plan to ship 2.9 billion to 9 billion
gallons of water a year from the small Alaskan town of Sitka to the west coast of India
. If the company, S2C Global Systems, succeeds in carrying out the shipments, the deal would represent the world’s first regular, bulk exports of water via tanker. The city of Sitka, a water-rich community of 8,600 people located on Baranof Island off Alaska’s southeast coast, is supporting the plan to export the water for a penny a gallon from its Blue Lake reservoir. S2C Global Systems, which is partnering with an Alaska company, announced in a press release
that it has located a port south of Mumbai capable of offloading the water and shipping it to cities in India, as well as to countries in the Middle East and Asia. Depending on how much water it ships to India, Sitka could earn $26 million to $90 million annually from the controversial deal, according to the Web site Circle of Blue
. Such bulk exports of water have been proposed before, but have never come to fruition because of logistics and concerns about natural resource sovereignty.
09 Jul 2010:
Ten Nations at ‘Extreme Risk’
Because of Water Shortages, Report Says
Ten countries worldwide, including five African nations, are at “extreme risk” because of limited access to clean, fresh water
, according to a new global water security index. And the effects of climate change and population growth will exacerbate the stress on these water supplies, potentially threatening
stability in many regions, according to the analysis by Maplecroft
, a UK-based consulting group. Among the nations most at risk are Somalia, Mauritania, Sudan, Niger, and Iraq. Other nations at extreme risk — including Pakistan, Egypt, and Uzbekistan — are already facing internal and border tensions because of limited water supplies. “There is a risk of water stress exacerbating future risks of conflict, although there is evidence that water scarcity may also help foster cooperation instead,” said Anna Moss, a Maplecroft environmental analyst. The index evaluates the water security of 165 nations in four key areas: access to clean water and sanitation; availability of renewable water and reliance on external sources; the compatability of supply and demand; and the dependence of the nation’s economy on water supplies. The most vulnerable regions include Africa, the Middle East and the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union. The most secure nations include Iceland and Norway.
24 Jun 2010:
One in Five Bangladesh Deaths
Linked to Arsenic in Water, Study Says
One in five deaths in Bangladesh is associated with exposure to arsenic in the drinking water
, according to a new study. Between 33 million and 77 million people have been exposed to arsenic as a result of tubing wells installed in the 1970s to control water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, according to the study conducted by researchers at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. After tracking more than 1,200 individuals over a decade — conducting regular interviews and taking urine samples and water tests — researchers found that about 20 percent of the nation’s 125 million people died of causes associated with exposure to water with arsenic concentrations greater than 10 micrograms per liter. Those exposed to the highest concentrations of arsenic (150 to 864 micrograms per liter) had a nearly 70 percent increase in mortality risk. While the digging of new wells was a well-intentioned project, it contaminated water supplies with arsenic, which occurs naturally in the region, said Joseph Graziano, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal The Lancet
. He said arsenic contamination can be avoided by digging deeper wells.
11 Jun 2010:
Melting Glaciers in Asia
To Have Widely Variable Impact, Study Says
Melting glaciers in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau will decrease river flows and possibly cause food shortages in some regions of South Asia
, but will not severely impact other river basins farther east, according to a study by Dutch scientists. Using satellite observations of glacial retreat, data on river flows, and computer modeling, the researchers from Utrecht University projected that rivers whose flow
View from a Himalayan glacier
depends heavily on melting glaciers — including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and, to a lesser extent, the Indus — could see water supplies decline by 20 percent by 2050. That could threaten the food security of an estimated 60 million people in Pakistan and India, according to the study, published in the journal Science
. But rivers whose flows are more dependent on monsoon rains than glacial melt, such as China’s Yangtze and Yellow rivers, could actually see an increase in water supplies as monsoon patterns change this century due to rising temperatures. The study projected that the Yellow River basin could see a 9.5 percent increase in precipitation. Some scientists questioned the Dutch study, with one Chinese researcher saying the study omitted several key basins in Central Asia and northwest China that will be hard hit by water loss from melting glaciers.
03 Jun 2010:
Drilling Makes Upper Delaware
Most Endangered River in U.S., Group Says
Natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin has made the Upper Delaware River, the water source for 17 million people, the most threatened river in the United States
, according to the annual report of the conservation group American Rivers. The rapid growth of hydro fracturing, or “fracking” — a drilling method used to extract natural gas from shale
— poses a serious threat to the Upper Delaware and its tributaries, according to American Rivers. During hydro fracturing, drillers inject a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure down a well bore and into the surrounding rock, creating fractures that release natural gas reserves. In its annual listing of the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers, American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, says that not only do the chemicals used in fracking pose an environmental hazard to groundwater, but the process itself uses huge amounts of water, which then needs to be treated. The group urged tighter government control over hydro fracturing, including federal legislation that would monitor fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Among the other rivers on the list is the Gauley River in West Virginia, which is threatened with pollution from mountaintop removal mining operations.
See the full list
The Shrinking of Lake Powell
A prolonged drought that has caused Lake Powell on the Colorado River to shrink significantly over the last decade has eased slightly, according to recent data. But, as documented in a series of satellite images released by NASA
, the water levels are still far from the 1999 levels when the lake was near full capacity.
Water levels in Lake Powell, a meandering reservoir created by the Glen Canyon Dam and straddling the Utah and Arizona border, dropped significantly in the years following 1999 as a result of drought and water removal for human use. Dry conditions reached their nadir in early 2005, during which the northwestern branch of the reservoir was cut off from the rest of Lake Powell and large parts of the dry canyon floor became visible. By this spring the effects of the drought had eased somewhat. The peak inflow to the lake is mid- to late- spring when Rocky Mountain snowpack melts. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the flow of water into Lake Powell in April was higher than forecast, although that may be due to an earlier-than-expected spring thaw.
23 Apr 2010:
Study of Coal Region Streams
Suggests Link Between Mining and Cancer
West Virginia residents living near streams that have been badly polluted by coal mining suffer from high rates of cancer
, according to a new study. Research by two scientists at West Virginia University suggests a strong correlation — though not a direct causal link — between higher incidences of cancer and stream pollution. Reporting in the journal Ecohealth
, the scientists said they used small invertebrate animals living in streams as an indicator of stream health. The researchers compared the health of streams with county-by-county cancer mortality rates compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our results demonstrated significant relationships between increasing coal mining, decreasing ecological integrity [of streams], and increasing cancer mortality,” the researchers wrote. Coal mining, particularly mountaintop removal mining,
has led to pollution of streams as mining debris is dumped into waterways and water containing metals and other pollutants seeps into streams and aquifers. The study showed that cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts, as well as breast cancer, increased as the ecological quality of streams deteriorated.
06 Apr 2010:
Water Temperatures Rising
in U.S. Rivers and Streams, Study Says
Water temperatures are increasing in many U.S. rivers and streams
, including the Colorado, Potomac, Delaware, and Hudson, according to a new study. Annual mean temperatures at 40 sites nationwide have increased by 0.02 to 0.14 degrees F per year in recent decades, say researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Typically, that warming correlated with air temperature increases, and river and stream warming was most rapid in urban areas. The fastest rate of increase occurred in the Delaware River near Chester, Penn., and Maryland’s Patuxent River has experienced a 3-degree F temperature increase since 1939. Overall, 20 of the 40 streams studied showed statistically significant long-term warming trends, while 13 showed temperature increases that were not statistically significant. “We are seeing the largest increases in the most highly urbanized areas, which lead us to believe that the one-two punch of development and global warming could have a tremendous impact on stream and river ecosystem health,” said Sujay Kaushal, lead author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
05 Apr 2010:
Role of China Dams At Issue
In Severe Drought in Mekong River Basin
Government officials and environmentalists in Southeast Asia are questioning whether a network of Chinese dams along the Mekong River and its tributaries is exacerbating a prolonged drought and contributing to the sharpest drop in water levels along the Mekong River in decades
. Meeting in Thailand to discuss the impact of the drought on the Mekong River basin, officials from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia asked the Chinese government to supply more information about the change in water flows caused by eight dams that China has built, or is currently building, along the Mekong. Song Tao, a Chinese vice foreign minister, said a regional drought, not China’s hydroelectric power dams, is responsible for the drop in water levels along the Mekong. But some officials and environmentalists contend that China’s Mekong dams — particularly the Xiaowan dam, China’s second-largest, which began storing water last October — have worsened the drought along the Mekong, an important source of water and fisheries for 65 million people in Southeast Asia
. Song vowed that China would release more information about the dams’ impact on water flows. He also noted that southwestern China is suffering from its worst drought in 80 years
, creating water shortages for 24 million people and causing agricultural losses of $3.5 billion.
02 Apr 2010:
EPA Issues Stricter Rules
on Mountaintop Removal Mining
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has imposed
strict new guidelines that could curtail mountaintop removal mining
, including restrictions on the amount of debris that mining companies are allowed to dump in valley streams. More than 2,000 miles of Appalachia streams have been buried in rock and debris from mountaintop removal mining
, a practice in which the tops of mountains are blasted off to get to the coal seams below. EPA officials say the debris can increase levels of toxins in the streams and valleys below. A recent EPA analysis of water tested downstream from mountaintop mining operations in Appalachia shows high levels of toxins, with some samples testing 50 times the U.S. safety guidelines. “This is not about ending coal mining,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This is about ending coal mining pollution.” Supporters and opponents of mountaintop mining agreed, however, that limiting valley fills could curtail the practice altogether. “Mountaintop mining, by its nature, destroys water,” said Joe Lovett of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment. “I hope it means the beginning of the end.” The rules will apply to new permits, not existing mining operations.
Watch an e360 video on mountaintop mining
19 Mar 2010:
EPA to Launch Study
Into Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing
Concerned about growing reports of water pollution from the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale and rock, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will conduct a nationwide scientific study into the controversial practice
. Hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting water and chemicals underground at high pressure to fracture gas-bearing rock, initially began in Texas and the West, but has recently spread to parts of Pennsylvania and New York, which sit atop a major gas find known as the Marcellus Shale. A 2004 EPA study, conducted by the Bush administration, concluded that hydraulic fracturing did not pose a threat to drinking water, but that report has been widely criticized because the agency reached its conclusion without conducting any water tests. The 2004 report enabled the Bush administration to exempt hydraulic fracturing from the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A recent study by New York City concluded that hydraulic fracturing posed a serious threat to the city’s upstate water supply. That report, and growing evidence of water contamination in drilling areas, have prompted the EPA to launch an extensive review.
16 Mar 2010:
Mountaintop Removal Mining
Toxic to Local Streams, EPA Data Shows
An analysis of water tested downstream from mountaintop removal mining operations in Appalachia shows high levels of toxins
, with some samples testing 50 times the U.S. safety guidelines, according to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An independent analysis of previously
Photo by John McQuaid
Runoff from a West Virginia operation
unreleased data suggests that 14 of 17 sites tested in West Virginia and Kentucky in 2007 and 2009 exceed federal standards for toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and chromium. Six of nine West Virginia sites tested above safe levels for toxins and all eight Kentucky sites exceeded that level, with two sites registering extremely high readings. The data, which was not available publicly until requested under the federal Freedom of Information Act by environmental groups, was analyzed by toxicologist Carys L. Mitchelmore at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “This is the first-line red flag,” Mitchelmore told the Charleston Gazette
. “This is the best way to show what the whole toxicity of that pollution is.” During the last two decades, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried
by debris from mountaintop mining operations, which blast off the tops of mountains to get at the coal seams.
22 Feb 2010:
U.S. Plan Targets
Revitalization of Great Lakes
The U.S. government has unveiled a five-year, $475-million plan to restore the Great Lakes
, including the cleanup of polluted water and beaches, wetlands restoration, and a “zero tolerance” policy on invasive species such as Asian carp. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan
, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and 15 other federal agencies, establishes specific goals for ecosystem recovery in several critical areas. The plan sets a goal to collect or prevent the release of 45 million pounds of electronic waste, 45 million discarded pills, and 4.5 million pounds of household hazardous waste throughout the Great Lakes Basin by 2014. The plan also calls for cleaning up 9.4 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, reducing algal blooms, and cutting PCB concentrations in trout and walleyed pike by 5 percent annually. The plan aims to reduce harmful runoff from farms, cities and suburbs into Great Lakes watersheds, and eliminate new invasive species such as Asian carp, a nonnative fish that rapidly reproduces and wreaks havoc in marine ecosystems. Leaders in the Great Lakes states hope the strategy will boost a regional economy reliant on shipping, fishing, and tourism.
16 Feb 2010:
Fog in Redwood Groves
Has Declined by 33 Percent Since 1901
The coastal fog that has nurtured the growth of northern California’s giant redwood trees has decreased by a third over the past century
, according to a detailed study of data from 114 weather stations. One major reason for the decline in foggy days is that the temperature gradient between northern
Sunlight cuts through redwoods
California’s cool coastal areas and warmer inland areas — a key factor in creating fog in the areas where redwoods flourish — has declined significantly since 1901. At the beginning of the 20th century, the daytime temperature difference between the two climatic zones was 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, the difference is 11 degrees F, according to the study, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. The study, conducted by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, said over the past century the presence of fog along the coast in summer has dropped from 56 percent to 42 percent, a loss of about three hours per day. Co-author Todd Dawson said that the study showed “coast redwood and other ecosystems along the U.S. west coast may be increasingly drought-stressed.” The study said it is unclear whether the decline in foggy days is the result of natural weather cycles or human-caused climate change.