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July 26 2012


On Our Radar: Tropical Cells in the Arctic?

Researchers say the invaders were apparently swept up in the warm Gulf Stream, which travels from the Caribbean to the North Atlantic but usually peters out somewhere between Greenland and Europe.

May 03 2012


EarthTalk: The Deep Carbon Footprint of Water Managament

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the collection, distribution and treatment of drinking water and wastewater in the U.S. uses up significant amounts of energy and releases some 116 billion pounds of carbon dioxide each year -- as much global warming pollution as 10 million cars on the roadEarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I read somewhere that our various systems for collecting, distributing and treating water are very energy intensive and, as such, contribute significantly to global warming. How does that happen and what can we do to correct such problems?            – Marina Shaw, Monroe, CT

It’s true that the collection, distribution and treatment of drinking water and wastewater in the U.S. uses up significant amounts of energy and releases some 116 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year—as much global warming pollution as 10 million cars on the road—according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nationwide, around four percent of power generation is used for water supply and treatment, but in certain drier parts of the country that number is far higher. For instance, in California the water sector is the state’s largest energy user, accounting for some 19 percent of total electricity consumed there.

The key to staving off water emergencies is to use less. “Reducing water consumption saves energy because less water needs to be treated and pumped to end users,” reports the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Moreover, when energy use is reduced, water is saved because less is needed in the operation of power plants.” Some thermoelectric power plants, for example, use some 100 billion gallons of fresh water each day, which translates into 25 gallons to produce each kilowatt-hour of electricity.

Another way to reduce waste is by fixing leaky aging water pipes throughout the U.S. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that many drinking water systems across the country lose as much as 20 percent of treated drinking water each year due to leaks in their pipe networks. Making a concerted effort to fix these systems would go a long way toward preserving our aquifers.

Water waste can also be reduced significantly if new buildings and developments integrate so-called “low impact design” concepts into the planning stages, whereby the landscaping surrounding structures is designed to mimic the natural hydrology of the site, including strategically placed native plants, rain barrels, green roofs, porous parking lots and roads, etc. The idea is to retain rainfall on site where plants and soil can filter pollutants out naturally or where it can be re-used in gray water applications (such as for landscape irrigation or water for toilet flushing). Especially parched parts of the country can recycle and reuse wastewater on a larger scale to avert the costly importation of more fresh water.

Much water is also wasted in agriculture. Farmers can help by adopting any number of efficiency measures at their disposal, mostly in the realm of efficient irrigation technologies. “Switching from flood irrigation to drip irrigation, for instance, can increase water use efficiency as much as 40 percent,” reports NRDC, adding that even small changes can mean a 10-15 percent gain in water use efficiency on farms.

And everyone can do their part by turning off the water while brushing teeth or shaving and limiting the length of showers and the amount of lawn watering we do. Beyond these little things, home- and business-owners should consider investing in water fixtures that meet the EPA’s more rigorous water efficiency “WaterSense” standards (look for labels accordingly). To qualify for the label, fixtures must be at least 20 percent more efficient than current standards specify, while performing as well or better than less efficient counterparts. The price of WaterSense fixtures may be slightly higher, but most consumers will make up the difference quickly if they are replacing older inefficient faucets, taps or toilets.


EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.

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March 16 2012


Charity Water Update: Success in Ethiopia

Children now have access to safe, clean water in Ethiopia Water changes everything

Last month we introduced our readers to Charity Water, a non-profit group with a mission to help bring safe, clean water to developing nations. In September, Charity Water launched a fundraising campaign for two new drilling rigs in Tigray, Ethiopia.

The initial goal was to raise $1.2 million. Generous donors met that challenge and then some, surpassing the goal with an additional $284,638. And then one donor matched the original $1.2 million to fund a second drilling fleet. Then another donor offered to pay the costs of getting the rigs shipped and through customs.

The first drilling rig is up and operational, and wells are already bringing water to communities that until now struggled every day to find enough clean water. Together the two drilling fleets will drill wells bringing water to 80,000 more people every years for the next 15 years. That’s good news because water changes everything.

September Campaign 2011 Rig is drilling in Northern Ethiopia! from charity: water on Vimeo.

Image credit: SocialEarth

February 02 2012


Water as Luxury: CharityWater Alleviates the Daily Struggle for Clean Water in the Developing World

Clean water erupts at a Charity Water project in EthiopiaIn his twenties, Scott Harrison was a party promoter in New York City and a self–described “arrogant jerk.” That all changed when he got a glimpse of how the handful of the 1 billion people who struggle each day to find clean water. Harrison founded Charity Water, bringing his promotional skills to bear on the global water crisis, instead of the tony clubs of New York City.

For the past five years Charity Water has helped launch 4282 water projects bringing clean water every day to 2 million people.

The following two videos help tell the story of Charity Water, and what you can do to help.

Scott Harrison: Water As Luxury from L2 on FORA.tv

2011 — charity: water’s year in review. from charity: water on Vimeo.

September 09 2011


Impasse Persists on Drugs in Drinking Water

Federal agencies have failed to determine exactly what health risks are posed by pharmaceuticals in water supplies, a G.A.O. report says.

June 03 2011


The Agriculture Chief as Water Advocate

As Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack was a proponent of corn-based ethanol, which drew some criticism from environmentalists because increased corn production led to the plowing over of wetlands. Now, however, he is championing water quality programs.

May 27 2011


Alleged Coverup Of Yellowknife Gold Mine Arsenic Leaks

A naturally forming ice dam caused water to leak into and overflow a toxic gold tailings pond in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories on May 14. The water is now draining back into the creek, which feeds to Back Bay on Great Slave Lake a few kilometres downstream. Great Slave Lake is the second largest lake in the Northwest Territories, the deepest in North America, and the 9th largest in the world. 

Originally one of the most pristine bodies of water in the world, the lake water was rendered undrinkable by pollution from the mining industry. The people of Yellowknife have sourced there water elsewhere, until now. City officials have tabled a proposal to source Yellowknife's drinking water from Yellowknife Bay, which encompasses Back Bay, connected to the recent leak.

The Giant tailings hold the toxic byproducts of decades of gold mining, including tonnes of dangerous arsenic trioxide. The gold roasting process that produced seven million ounces of gold began in the 1940s at the city’s Giant gold mine, and was discontinued in 2004. The gold deposits were contained in arsenopyrite mineral formations, necessitating the separation of gold from arsenic, leaving 237,000-260,000 tonnes of highly toxic, water soluble arsenic trioxide dust, stored in 15 underground chambers a few hundred metres from Great Slave Lake.<!--break-->

Although the storage vaults are contained in bedrock and sealed with concrete bulkheads, concerns remain about leaching of arsenic into groundwater. Since the 1990s, evidence has mounted of substantial seepage from Giant Mine tailings ponds into the nearby environment. 

On May 14th, the dammed creek flooded, and water seeped through the tailings ponds and back into the creek.

First Nations Dettah Chief Ed Sangris said of the flood that, "if the mayor's not careful, he's going to kill everybody in Yellowknife because stuff like this goes on".

Last week, Public Works Canada couldn't say what was in the water or the tailings pond because the water was being tested. Water samples were expected back from the lab Thursday. 

Two weeks have passed since the leak, yet federal officials are refusing to talk about their findings, raising concerns about a coverup of the severity of the contamination. According to the CBC, none of the departments involved — the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, and The Department of Public Works and Government Services — have come forward to talk publicly about what the water tests show.

"I think there must be a reason because if there were minimal concerns, they would have released the results of the water samples," Chief Sangris said.

According to Sangris, there is a conflict of interest within the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department, which is involved in both cleaning up the Giant mine site and simultaneously enforcing the environmental rules it must obey.

Minister John Duncan is responsible for approving the water licence and cleanup plan for the former mine.

Members of the community argue that a monitoring system independent from government is necessary to ensure the clean up is carried out in an accountable and transparent fashion. Currently, permits are issued to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Sangris poignantly asks, "So who's monitoring the regulators?"

Shifting Yellowknife's drinking water source to Yellowknife Bay, which encompasses Back Bay, would require the city to install an arsenic treatment system in the water treatment plant. Given the flood that happened this week, do we have reason to be concerned about the safety of Yellowknife Bay as a drinking water source?

We'll keep you up to date as this story unfolds. 

March 30 2011


Controversial TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline Criticized By U.S. Farmers and Mayors

A new policy adopted by the US National Farmers Union slams the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would pump bitumen from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta thousands of miles across America's farm belt to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. The Farmers Union policy notes:

"The proposed route of the 1,980-mile pipeline would slice through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It would cross the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska - source of 30 percent of the nation's agricultural water and drinking water for millions - with a pipeline carrying diluted bitumen, a thick, heavy, corrosive and toxic form of crude oil associated with pipeline ruptures at 16 times the rate of conventional crude."


Aside from concerns over the inevitable leaks and other environmental costs, many farmers along the proposed route are also incensed at heavy-handed pressure from TransCanada to surrender land against their will under "eminent domain" (expropriation) in order to create a right of way for the pipeline. This, argue the Nebraska Farmers Union and the farmers involved, is illegal. Since TransCanada is a Canadian corporation it should have no right to forcibly take land from US farmers.

"Midwestern landowners have felt they have been misled by a multi-national oil company that is planning to build a pipeline at all costs," said Graham Christensen, public affairs director for the Nebraska Farmers Union.

The farmers are joined in their opposition to the proposed pipeline by 25 mayors of US cities who, meeting in Washington last week, sent a joint letter expressing concern over the pipeline to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The pipeline, they say, would directly undermine the hard work municipal leaders are doing to build a clean energy future for their communities. From the letter:

"Increasing our dependence on environmentally destructive, high-carbon fuels such as tar sands oil sends the wrong message to our communities and citizens who work hard to lessen our dependence on oil, using innovative conservation, efficiency and other measures. We remain committed to creating solid and lasting energy and economic security, and believe this is best accomplished by lessening our dependence on oil."

So if Keystone XL is bad for farms and bad for cities, and the Texans definitely don't want it, who is it supposed to be good for?

Keystone XL pipeline map courtesy of NRDC.

March 23 2011


Are Desalination Technologies the Answer to the World Water Crisis?

Is desalination worth the cost?Investors and policy makers are increasingly advocating desalination technologies that use seawater to make freshwater. As reviewed in an EcoSeed Special Report, the interest in desalination technologies is growing due to the fact that there is insufficient fresh water to meet the daily drinking and sanitation needs of all those inhabiting the planet.

Desalination involves the process of removing salt from sea or brackish water to produce drinkable water. According to the International Desalination Association, there are over 13,000 desalination plants worldwide producing more than 12 billion gallons of water a day. Although this may seem like a lot, this represents only 0.2 percent of global water consumption.

A report by Lux Research indicates that to meet the demands of a growing human population, worldwide desalinated water supply must triple by 2020. This report indicates that desalination is feasible, as the global water desalination market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5 percent over the next 10 years.

While desalination is garnering considerable interest, it is not price competitive with traditional water sources. The construction, operation and maintenance costs make desalination at least three times as expensive as traditional sources.

Some argue that reverse osmosis (a method of passing saltwater through a membrane filter at high pressure) may be less expensive than distillation methods commonly used. The American Membrane Technology Association estimated that existing traditional water supplies cost 90 cents to $2.50 per 1,000 gallons produced. Brackish desalination technologies range from $1.50 to $3 for the same amount of water, and seawater desalination costs from $3 to as much as $8 per 1,000 gallons.

In addition to its high cost, desalination technologies are harmful to the environment. Removing salt from seawater produces brine, which contains twice the salt of seawater; they also contain contaminants that can affect marine life when dumped back to the sea. If brine is disposed on land, it could seep through the soil and pollute water reserves underground.

The US Environmental Protection Agency found that desalination plants kill at least 3.4 billion fish and other marine life annually. This represents a $212.5 million loss to commercial fisheries. Desalination plants can also destroy up to 90 percent of plankton and fish eggs in the surrounding water.

Desalination may also be injurious to human health as reverse osmosis does remove all of the boron, which is known to cause reproductive and developmental problems in animals, as well as irritation of the human digestive tract.

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that desalination plants are dependent on fossil fuels which emit greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. Paradoxically global warming increases droughts and water shortages, the very problem that desalination plants are trying to address. Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper estimated that a plant that produces 53 million gallons per day will cause nearly double the emissions of treating and reusing the same amount of water.

Innovations in desalination technology do offer some promise to minimize some of these problems. Universities and water treatment companies have began to develop future desalination plants that use renewable energy. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology are developing a small chip that can repel salts away from a reverse osmosis membrane.

Water recycling is a means of purifying water so that it can be made potable. However, as with desalination, there are problems with this approach including the amount of energy needed to power wastewater recycling.

According to the National Research Council, the redistribution of water can be more efficient and cheaper than desalination. Numerous studies support the council’s report; they indicate that management alternatives and efficiency programs can reduce water supply problems at a much lower cost, without the environmental and health dangers associated with large-scale desalination plants.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, enviro-politics and eco-economics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find Richard on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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Image Credit: ksblues, courtesy Flickr

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March 08 2011


March 03 2011


Third Piece in NY Times Series Shows EPA Internal Battle Over Natural Gas Fracking Threats

The New York Times today released its third piece in a shocking series of articles revealing the health threats posed by the renegade U.S. natural gas industry. The latest piece documents how the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to protect public health as the gas rush escalated - thanks to the dangerous high volume slickwater fracking technique now dominating the industry - to the currently uncontrolled threat that it represents.

Ian Urbina's latest investigative report proves that politics is playing a significant role in the EPA's failure to hold the gas industry accountable for its damage to drinking water supplies and public health in Pennsylvania, offering clear indications that the problem is not likely isolated to just that state.

The NY Times series is a must-read for anyone concerned about the huge power that entrenched fossil fuel industries have over public health and safety agencies, rendering science and documented health impacts afterthoughts while focusing on protecting industry interests.

Check out the latest article, Politics Seen to Limit E.P.A. as It Sets Rules for Natural Gas, and bookmark the homepage for the entire Drilling Down series by The New York Times.<!--break-->

February 27 2011


Must-Read NY Times Story On Gas Fracking Reveals Radioactive Wastewater Threat

An incredible piece just broke in the New York Times showing that hydraulic fracking in the Marcellus Shale is drawing huge amounts of radioactivity up from the earth with the fracking fluids, often going straight through a municipal waste water treatment plant and then dumped into rivers -- above public drinking water intake locations.  The piece proves that EPA knows this is going on, and that it is likely illegal. 

Highly recommended reading for anyone concerned about the real threats posed by this gas industry practice to drinking water, public health and the environment.

DRILLING DOWN: Regulation Lax as Gas Wells' Tainted Water Hits Rivers
Excerpt on what the NY Times investigation found:

...thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A.and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.

Read more at NYTimes.com

February 08 2011


Drought Imperils China's Wheat Crop

World wheat prices are already surging, and any effort by China to import large quantities of food could drive international prices even higher.

February 02 2011


E.P.A. Plans First Rules Ever on Perchlorate in Drinking Water

Wednesday's decision to begin regulating perchlorate reversed a 2008 finding by the George W. Bush administration that a nationwide standard for the chemical was unnecessary and would do little to reduce risks to human health.

December 21 2010


November 19 2010


What if Captured Carbon Makes a Getaway?

If sequestered carbon dioxide makes its way out into underground aquifers, concentrations of minerals could increase to harmful levels, a study suggests.

June 16 2010


June 12 2010


May 20 2010


Toxic Substances Agency Draws Fire

A G.A.O. report says that managers at the Agency for Toxic Substances are inconsistent in monitoring assessments of health risks at potentially hazardous sites.
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