Posts tagged ‘Water’

‘Complete collapse’ of coral possible

Coral reefs are dying, and scientists and governments around the world are contemplating what will happen if they disappear altogether.

The idea positively scares them.

Coral reefs are part of the foundation of the ocean food chain. Nearly half the fish the world eats make their homes around them. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide — by some estimates, 1 billion across Asia alone — depend on them for their food and their livelihoods.

If the reefs vanished, experts say, hunger, poverty and political instability could ensue.

“Whole nations will be threatened in terms of their existence,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Numerous studies predict coral reefs are headed for extinction worldwide, largely because of global warming, pollution and coastal development, but also because of damage from bottom-dragging fishing boats and the international trade in jewelry and souvenirs made of coral.

At least 19 percent of the world’s coral reefs are already gone, including some 50 percent of those in the Caribbean. An additional 15 percent could be dead within 20 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Complete collapse a scenario
Old Dominion University professor Kent Carpenter, director of a worldwide census of marine species, warned that if global warming continues unchecked, all corals could be extinct within 100 years.

“You could argue that a complete collapse of the marine ecosystem would be one of the consequences of losing corals,” Carpenter said. “You’re going to have a tremendous cascade effect for all life in the oceans.”

Exotic and colorful, coral reefs aren’t lifeless rocks; they are made up of living creatures that excrete a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton. Once the animals die, the rocky structures erode, depriving fish of vital spawning and feeding grounds.

Experts say cutting back on carbon emissions to arrest rising sea temperatures and acidification of the water, declaring some reefs off limits to fishing and diving, and controlling coastal development and pollution could help reverse, or at least stall, the tide.

Florida, for instance, has the largest unbroken “no-take” zone in the continental U.S. — about 140 square miles off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of islands and reefs teeming with marine life about 70 miles off Key West.

Many fishermen oppose such restrictions. And other environmental measures have run into resistance at the state, local, national and international level. On Sunday, during a gathering of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, restrictions proposed by the U.S. and Sweden on the trade of some coral species were rejected.

Fish as a luxury?
If reefs were to disappear, commonly consumed species of grouper and snapper could become just memories. Oysters, clams and other creatures that are vital to many people’s diets would also suffer. And experts say commercial fisheries would fail miserably at meeting demand for seafood.

“Fish will become a luxury good,” said Cassandra deYoung of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “You already have a billion people who are facing hunger, and this is just going to aggravate the situation,” she added. “We will not be able to maintain food security around the world.”

The economic damage could be enormous. Ocean fisheries provide direct employment to at least 38 million people worldwide, with an additional 162 million people indirectly involved in the industry, according to the U.N.

Coral reefs draw scuba divers, snorkelers and other tourists to seaside resorts in Florida, Hawaii, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean and help maintain some of the world’s finest sandy beaches by absorbing energy from waves. Without the reefs, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists could suffer financially.

Many Caribbean countries get nearly half their gross national product from visitors seeking tropical underwater experiences.

People all over the world could pay the price if reefs were to disappear, since some types of coral and marine species that rely on reefs are being used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop possible cures for cancer, arthritis and viruses.

“A world without coral reefs is unimaginable,” said Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who heads NOAA. “Reefs are precious sources of food, medicine and livelihoods for hundreds of thousands around the world. They are also special places of renewal and recreation for thousands more. Their exotic beauty and diverse bounty are global treasures.”

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March 26, 2010 at 9:13 AM Leave a comment

Thirsty Peruvians harvesting fog with nets

Lima, which along with Cairo is one of the world’s two driest capitals, gets only a few drops of rain each year. But thick fog from the Pacific Ocean blankets the coastal hills surrounding the city for eight months a year as hot tropical sun mixes with cold waters of the Humboldt current.

Using nets similar to those used in volleyball, residents condense fog, drip-by-drip, into drainage pipes running down the hill into tanks that store hundreds of liters of water for irrigation, bathing and cooking.

“Pure water from fog, can you believe it?” Noe Neira, Bellavista’s community leader said, as he dipped his hand into a brick tank filled to the rim. “There was so much water in the air and we didn’t know how take advantage of it.”

President Alan Garcia won the 2006 elections in part on a promise to deliver water to millions of impoverished Peruvians, though as he nears the end of his term, Lima’s long-term water problems are more vexing than ever.

Lima depends almost exclusively on glacial runoff for water. The United Nations, which has called March 22 World Water Day to raise awareness about shortages, says melting caused by warming in the Andes has already cut by 12 percent flows to the country’s arid coast, where two-thirds of the population lives.

That has left the government not only trying to lay more water mains to improve delivery, but also looking into installing desalination plants along the ocean or pumping water out of the Amazon basin to secure future supplies.

Even after a decade of booming economic growth, about a quarter of Peru’s city dwellers and half of its rural residents still lack access to working toilets and clean drinking water.

Bellavista is no different. Like most of Peru’s poor, the community gets its water from tanker trucks that sell it for two soles a barrel ($0.71), about 10 times more than what residents of Lima’s richest neighborhoods pay for tap water.

“We’re paying like millionaires for water,” Josefina Ortiz, a mother of three, said as she waited for a tanker truck outside her plywood home in San Juan de Miraflores, another slum far from Bellavista. “We’ll never be able to progress because of the lack of water.”


The nets in Bellavista, which were set up by biologists at German NGO Alimon e.v., turn fog into a viable alternative to end dependence on overpriced and often contaminated water from trucks.

“Sometimes trucks won’t come up here for days, so we store water from fog as a backup,” said Sandra Atusparia, who lives in Bellavista. “The only thing I regret is that we don’t have more tanks for storage.”

Though the netting system in Bellavista is rusty after just three years of use and it runs dry during Lima’s short fogless summers, poor residents dream of having the mayor net the hillsides surrounding the city.

“This whole area lacks water,” Abel Cruz, head of the group Peruanos Sin Agua (Peruvians Without Water) said, pointing to thousands of plywood homes with tin roofs built by squatters surrounding Lima. “But with 50 nets, we could supply them all,” he said of a series of shantytowns on Lima’s south side.

Click HERE for source

March 24, 2010 at 9:19 AM Leave a comment

Parched California to get more water

California’s drought-baked cities and farms will get considerably more water this year than last from federal officials, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Tuesday, making good on forecasts issued in February after a series of strong winter storms.

Irrigation districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which represent farmers on the west side of the state’s Central Valley, will get 25 percent of their contracted water allotment from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Salazar said, up from just 5 percent in February.

The increase was issued ahead of schedule and comes at a critical time for the Central Valley, which is one of the country’s most bountiful agricultural regions. California, the No. 1 farm state, produces more than half the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States.

But Salazar said California, which has suffered through three years of drought that has prompted rationing, higher charges and mandatory conservation measures, must work out long-term solutions to its ongoing water crisis.

“We essentially are dealing with a system that is strained and in collapse and has no certainty with respect to water supply for both for agricultural and municipal use on the one hand and for environmental demands,” Salazar said.

“Hopefully we will be able to work with the state of California, with all of the water users and members of California’s (Congressional) delegation to fashion a long-term plan that’s so badly needed,” he said.

Click HERE for full Article

March 17, 2010 at 9:01 AM Leave a comment

NYU has made a wake. Let’s Surf it USF!!

Dining’s bottled water ban a small step for sustainability
by Pratik Mehta, NYU

As part of NYU Dining’s incremental push toward environmental sustainability, both the Kimmel Market Place and Upstein have removed bottled water from their meal plan options. They now provide compostable cups made from plant material to students who wish to drink water or fountain soda.

Bottled water, like several other convenience items, is an environmental disgrace. According to the Earth Policy Institute, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year, and more than 17 million barrels of oil are needed annually to satisfy this demand in the U.S. alone. NYU Dining made the right decision in removing bottled water from the thousands of meals students consume each week.

However, this action is a small step. Despite boasting about sustainability efforts on its website, NYU Dining has been painfully slow in making other reforms that are equally logical and worthy of attention.

First, Kimmel and Upstein still offer paper cups alongside the more eco-friendly compostable ones (or they did when I visited them earlier this week). In fact, the paper ones were larger than the compostable ones. Like any reasonable college student, my first instinct was to make the most of the money spent on my meal plan and to grab the bigger cup, which utterly defeats the lofty rhetoric on the NYU Dining website.

If NYU Dining is serious about sustainability, it should offer equally-sized paper and compostable cups, and, really, it shouldn’t offer paper cups at all. Although paper cups are a step up from bottled water, they are no match, sustainability-wise, for the compostable cups.

Second, the carry-out cartons at traditional dining halls do not mesh with NYU Dining’s commitment to “reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable planet.” These cartons are more eco-friendly than previous containers (as the stickers slapped on them remind diners), but the fact remains that most of these cartons will be thrown in the trash and inevitably find their way to landfills. When you count the thousands of carry-out meals that are eaten each week, the environmental damage adds up quickly.

Smith College in Northampton, Mass., requires students who want take-out meals from dining halls to bring their own Tupperware containers. Instead of incrementally improving the quality of carry-out cartons, Smith’s policy eliminates the problem of pollution in one fell swoop.

A similar situation exists with disposable cups, even the compostable ones. I agree it is fantastic to have cups that degrade into soil and nutrients over a period of years, but why hurt the environment at all? Many environmentalists quibble over the benefits of paper vs. plastic; biodegradable vs. compostable; and recycling vs. reusing an environmentally harmful product. Often they’re missing the point.

The real solution is reducing the amount of products we use every day. This would diminish our environmental impact and circumvent the original problem of pollution. To this end, the University of Maryland distributes reusable hot/cold mugs to students, eliminating the need for disposable cups. A similar action where NYU Dining distributes metal or Nalgene bottles to all students with a meal plan would eliminate thousands of cups in the garbage, regardless of whether they’re compostable.

NYU Dining was right to remove bottled water from its meal plan options at Kimmel and Upstein. However, if it is to truly stand up to the rhetoric and image of sustainability presented on its website, there are several options that still must be implemented.

USF: We need to catch on to this.

December 7, 2009 at 10:08 AM Leave a comment

Major components of water overhaul pass Senate

The California Senate on Monday approved major portions of a plan to overhaul the state’s water system, putting the Legislature close to agreement after years of discussions about updating the aging infrastructure.

Legislative leaders say their proposals create “coequal goals” of a more reliable water supply system for the state and a restored ecosystem in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The Senate approved a $9.99 billion bond, a new state agency for the delta and a strict water conservation mandate.

State leaders “know that a long history of benign neglect has not served the delta or our state well,” said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who sponsored the first bill approved by the Senate. The measure, SB7X 1, was approved on a 29-5 vote and creates a new state agency to oversee the delta that could approve a controversial peripheral canal.

The proposal was divided into a series of bills on the major points of the plan: the new state agency, 20 percent mandatory conservation for urban areas, new monitoring of groundwater use, increased penalties for illegal water diversions and the $9.99 billion bond. The Senate was still voting on the remaining measures Monday night and the Assembly had yet to consider any of the proposals.

Three billion dollars of the bond money would go for water storage projects that could include dams. An additional $2.25 billion would go to restoring the delta ecosystem. The bond also would fund water supply reliability projects throughout the state, conservation and watershed protection efforts, groundwater protection and water recycling projects.

Voters would have to approve the bond, which could be a tough sell if the state’s budget continues to deteriorate.

Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, opposed the bond and the other measures and knocked Senate leaders for conducting some negotiations behind closed doors and without more people from the delta.

“Every generation tries to fix the delta, and every time it’s without the people who work there, live there and recreate there,” Wolk said.

But state leaders warn that the system of levees and canals in the delta is susceptible to collapse in a natural disaster such as an earthquake. If that happens, the two-thirds of the state’s population that relies on the delta for water could lose access to it.

The bond does not include money for a peripheral canal to divert water around the delta to pumps that supply Southern California with water. Water agencies in the south have said they would fund the canal themselves.

Such a canal could be authorized by the Delta Stewardship Council, a new seven-member state body appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

For the conservation target, the legislation gives credits to urban areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles that already have made significant conservation efforts.

November 3, 2009 at 5:42 PM Leave a comment

U.S. gets better at conserving water- Industries and households are using less water overall than in 1975

Americans are using less water per person now than they have since the mid-1950s, thanks to water-saving technologies and a nationwide push to safeguard dwindling supplies.

A report released Thursday by the U.S. Geological Survey also shows that industries as well as the general population are sucking up less water overall than in 1980, when the nation’s thirst for water peaked.

Experts said it was particularly welcome news in the burgeoning West, where cities built in dry regions are grappling with intense disputes and ecosystem collapse tied to dwindling supplies.

“Even during a time of population growth and economic growth, we are all using less water,” said Susan Hutson, a USGS hydrologist in Memphis, and an author of the report. “It’s exciting to see we have responded to these crises by really seeking solutions.”

California, in the third year of a withering drought, was the most water-hungry state in 2005, the most recent year for which figures were available.

California used about 9 percent of all water extracted from lakes, rivers and underground aquifers, followed by Texas, Idaho and Illinois. All told, those four states drew more than a quarter of the country’s total freshwater supplies in 2005.

Nationwide, about 80 percent of the 410 billion gallons used each day went to produce electricity at thermoelectric power plants and to irrigate farm fields.

But as the drought and environmental battles persist in California, some of the state’s most productive farmers are receiving as little as 10 percent of their normal supplies, forcing growers to leave hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted and lay off thousands of farmworkers.

This year, city dwellers, too, have been forced to shorten their showers and let their lawns turn brown under mandatory water rations.

“We still have collapsing ecosystems because of water use, we still have rivers and aquifers that are overtapped, and we still have rapid population growth,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental think tank based in Oakland. “I guess the optimistic way to put it is, we’re learning our lessons about smart water use but we have a long way to go.”

Occasional shortages and disputes have arisen even around the water-rich region of the Great Lakes, which hold 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water and meet the drinking needs of 34 million people in eight states.

Last year, the states signed a compact that limits any diversions of lake water to areas outside the drainage basin, in reaction to fears of Sun Belt water grabs.

Scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned that climate change will exacerbate water scarcity problems around the world. Computer models suggest a warming climate may send the Great Lakes’ levels substantially lower by century’s end.

“The pressure’s on to conserve,” said Tim Eder, director of the Great Lakes Commission, an interstate agency. “We’re trying to position ourselves so we’ll have an abundant supply that can be used sustainably, particularly if businesses want to relocate here from places where water is expensive or unavailable.”

November 2, 2009 at 10:08 AM Leave a comment

E.P.A. Vows Better Effort on Water

The Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday that it would overhaul enforcement of the Clean Water Act, as lawmakers sharply criticized the agency’s decade-long lapses in punishing polluters.

At a daylong hearing before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said that agency officials “are falling short of this administration’s expectations for the effectiveness of our clean water enforcement programs.”

“The time is long overdue for E.P.A. to re-examine its approach to Clean Water Act enforcement,” said Ms. Jackson, who was confirmed to her position in January. She added that the agency would set strict benchmarks for state regulators, eventually compel companies to submit electronic pollution records so violations could be detected and punished more easily, and “develop more innovative approaches to target enforcement to the most serious violations and the most significant sources.”

One approach will probably include a series of enforcement actions against companies and municipalities that have violated the Clean Water Act, according to people with knowledge of the E.P.A.’s plans who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The agency has not settled on a list of potential targets, but is likely to focus on mining companies, large livestock farms, municipal wastewater treatment plants and construction companies that operate sites where polluted stormwater has run into nearby lakes and rivers.

“Going forward, if states are falling down on the job, we’re going to reverse the permits they’ve issued, and if they’re not enforcing the law, we’ll step in and do it ourselves,” said one agency official.

An E.P.A. spokeswoman declined to discuss possible actions.

The E.P.A. has come under scrutiny recently for not punishing tens of thousands of polluters over the last decade, and many of the lawmakers at the hearing on Thursday are longtime critics of the agency’s vigilance. In September, a New York Times investigation found that companies and other workplaces had violated the Clean Water Act more than 500,000 times in the last five years, but fewer than 3 percent of polluters had ever been fined or otherwise punished.

“Some states and E.P.A. regions have abysmal records of significant noncompliance,” said Representative James L. Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the hearing, citing The Times’s reports. “Administrator Jackson, I look to you to begin taking the management steps necessary to protect our water, our public health and our environment.”

Other lawmakers, primarily Republicans, were critical of recent E.P.A. actions that have delayed so-called mountaintop removal mining permits. The agency has argued that such mines pose a risk to local waterways.

Representatives of state environmental agencies defended their performances at the hearing. “States are doing a good job enforcing the provisions of the Clean Water Act and should be commended given the many constraints they work under,” said Tom Porta, a Nevada environmental official and president of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators. Those constraints include inadequate budgets for state regulators and an expanding number of polluters that must be policed.

But many lawmakers and other witnesses at the hearing were unsympathetic. Officials from the Government Accountability Office and the E.P.A.’s Office of the Inspector General testified about widespread inconsistencies in how the Clean Water Act was enforced, and said disorganization, a lack of reliable data and poor planning by state and federal regulators had stymied efforts to punish polluters.

One witness described the impact of those lapses. Judy Treml, of Wisconsin, told lawmakers that her 6-month-old daughter was hospitalized after drinking water that had become contaminated when a nearby farm covered its land with manure, which then seeped into her family’s well. One of the problems, lawmakers said, is that such pollution often goes unpunished or is outside the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

“I just can’t imagine turning on your faucet and manure coming out,” said Representative Phil Hare, an Illinois Democrat. “We’ve got to fix this, and we’ve got to fix it quickly. It’s shameful that your family has to go through this.”

When will the water be clean?

When will the water be clean?

October 23, 2009 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

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