Energy → Water

Water, listen… Baby, co-dependence is not a bad thing, no matter what your therapist says. You need me to move you around, right? I do that every day just to keep the world from getting thirsty…and unsanitary. You need me to keep you fishable, swimmable and drinkable, right? Well I make that happen! You think the wastewater treatment plant can keep you clean without me? Nah, they need me. You need me. But baby, here's the thing: I need you, too! Who else can turn steamy and spin my turbines to keep me cranking out electricity? And who cools me down afterward better than you? It's you and you only, baby. I know you know I've been hanging out with Food a lot more lately. I don't even know how it happened. Food started getting really dependent on me, asking for transportation to go to increasingly far-away destinations, and to be grown year-round – even indoors! I felt like I was getting stretched too thin. And then Food started acting really crazy, wanting to become fuel, too. That's just not natural, and it would drag me in even further! But worst of all, it would hurt you. I'll make things right, though. I promise. How about I start by not withdrawing so much of you, and not overheating you? How does that sound? I can live just fine without Food, but you, Water…mm-mmm…we're together forever. Love, Energy

Food → Water

Water, my sweet, When I think of you it takes me back to that distant Brazilian sugarcane field with the sound of Rod Stewart's unforgettable words hanging in the air: You're in my heart, you're in my soul! For me, what we have goes beyond heart and soul, if you can imagine that! It's the way your ever-loving goodness flows over me, nourishes and cleans me. Most importantly, whatever delicious form I'm in – whether chocolate, chive or even chicken cutlet – my physical body is mainly composed of you. I know you think Energy and I've gotten too close, and you're probably afraid of being left in a puddle of sadness, used and abused, drowning in sorrow. In the beginning, our ménage à trois was so natural, so fulfilling. I needed you both. You, in the form of thirst-quenching rain, and energy in the form of sunlight. I grew so much. But eventually, I wanted more. I wanted year-round growth in hothouses, and bigger yields harvested by ever-larger machines. I wanted to be processed and spread out around the globe, and I couldn't do it without more from Energy. You probably have heard rumors about me and Energy running off to the Amazon to clear trees and grow palm oil and I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of people still think even corn ethanol is a viable source of renewable energy. But I know that's not fair to you. Of course all that nitrogen runoff leaves you feeling dead inside. It's just so tempting when looking for renewable fuel options, to think we can grow it, even if people are doing so in soil treated with petroleum products …I know, I know, it doesn't make sense. I'm sorry. I'm sorry! How many times do I have to apologize? I know I monopolize (roughly 70 percent of ) what you've got to give. But without you I can't exist! Please don't toy with my emotions, you….you…freshwater, you. And don't run out on me again like you did in Central California (and Ecuador, and Northern China, and Sudan, and…and…and…). You know I get limp and wilty without you. Water, what can I say? I just can't quit you, baby. Love, Food

Water → Food & Energy

Dear Food and Energy, It's time I came clean to both of you. First of all Energy, it's true that I need your help getting around, but I really think it would be better for both of us if you learned to live a little more independently, without me by your side all the time. There's only so much of me to go around, and sometimes I just feel, I don't know, like maybe you use me, and a lot of times it's just because I'm there. Sometimes you need me so much that you drain my reserves. I'm not sure how much more I can be there for you. You know I like to go with the flow, I really hate how controlling you can be. I know you love me, Energy, I do, but I think you take advantage of my good nature and we need to set some boundaries in our relationship. And you, Food. Food, Food, Food. I know you need me too but let's face it, our relationship can be rocky. Sometimes you take total advantage of me, just like Energy does. I know, I know, I let that happen too. I wish you wouldn't use so many chemicals. They make me feel so dirty. Sometimes you contain me and make me go places that are far from home and I don't necessarily want to go to those places with you. And who are you to expect me to irrigate every desert on earth? I know, I know, I get testy and then I just evaporate and it seems like I'm nowhere to be found. But things have gotten so complicated over the years. I try not to disappear on you but sometimes you leave me no choice. Back in the day, Water and Energy, we were a happy threesome. Over time, though, you both started demanding my presence in the weirdest of places, and, let's face it, you both have grown ridiculously dependent on me over the years, and now it seems like we've lost our flow. I think I need some time to think about things with both of you. I need you to be more thoughtful – I'm tired of being used and abused. You two should know that you aren't the only ones vying for my attention. There are others who are interested and they have houses and businesses that they bring to the table. You two should just remember that when you demand more and more of my essence. Let's work on trying finding a balance, okay? Love, Water

Originally posted on EcoCentric Blog.

Sometimes I think the planet would be much better off without us. At least it would be much healthier. Last week, I was eating a nice cup of New England clam chowder for lunch when a journal article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) came across my desk about a new study by Stony Brook University researchers Stephanie Talmage and Christopher Gobler. The pair looked at how predicted increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere affect shellfish development, growth and survival. They also looked at levels that were around in preindustrial times and those we are experiencing today. What they found out was not good for the shellfish. Suddenly my bowl of chowder took on new meaning. The researchers used the Northern quahog, or hard clam, and the Atlantic bay scallop, two economically- and ecologically-significant shellfish. As the photos indicate, those clams and scallops that were grown in preindustrial conditions displayed significantly faster growth and development and had higher survival rates compared to those grown in today’s conditions. In addition, the shells of “tomorrow’s shellfish” (those grown under conditions scientists predict we’ll encounter later this century) were malformed and eroded.

Clams

Scallops

Clam and scallop shells showing growth inhibition and shell degradation with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. But wait, there’s more! Scientists call acidification of the oceans the hidden partner of climate change. As CO2 levels rise, the water becomes more acidic and the amount of carbonate (needed to make calcium carbonate- the compound that most shellfish and corals use to build their shells and skeletons) decreases. Eventually there is so little carbonate that shells or skeletons don’t form properly or can’t form at all. Talmage and Gobler’s results suggest that current CO2 levels, which are already increasing the acidity of ocean water, may be contributing to the global decline of some shellfish. To those who dismiss the impacts of carbon dioxide on our planet, think again. According to Gobler, “People have traditionally assumed that the problems of fossil fuel burning will manifest themselves at some distant time in the future…The truth is that the 30% increase in atmospheric and ocean CO2 levels which has occurred since the 19th century has already significantly impacted the chemistry and biology of our oceans.” I read the study on the heels of participating in the New Green City Fair at Union Square, where some colleagues and I handed out educational materials and talked to people about our programs, which advocate a conservation ethic. At one point a guy came up to the table and tried very diligently to dismiss every point we had to make. He was much more concerned about the efficiency of production and cost effectiveness of our current industrial systems than with any sense of a need to conserve. With regards to our campaign to get power plants to update their cooling systems, he said that it really doesn’t matter if the fish around power plant water intake structures are sucked into or otherwise maimed or killed by those structures and that their impacts will be minimal on the surrounding ecosystem. As for eating less meat, he was certain that there should be a hamburger on every table and asked, if we’re so concerned about saving water what would happen to everyone’s hamburger, and besides why should anyone in New York City bother to conserve water anyway? What??? I sighed, probably a little too audibly, reluctantly climbed up onto my soap box and told him all about how ecosystems are connected and how we get our water from a system that is up in the mountains far away from the city and how any place is subject to water shortages and droughts at any time and really, why wouldn’t you want to develop a conservation ethic? He didn’t say much, just sort of muttered, “Yeah, well, I uh…” and wandered away. I think the guy doesn’t like being told what to do and he perceived that we were there to take away his personal freedoms. Thankfully, most people at the fair were more receptive, but it was a frustrating discussion to have, mostly because while he was arguing for personal freedom, he was also arguing for keeping his head in the sand (which works well for clams but not so much for people). There is just no denying that conditions on the planet are changing, and it stands to reason that many of those changes will eventually impact us, just as they do other species. On a personal level, I’m not ready to give up chowder. Are you? So what do we do? Scientists say that a CO2 level of 350 parts per million (ppm) is the upper limit of what is considered safe (as of August 2010 we were just below 390 ppm), where we can stabilize the planet and prevent disaster.  Bill McKibben, the mastermind behind the 350 campaign, is demanding that our political leaders first acknowledge that climate change is happening, and then take actions that will bring atmospheric CO2 levels back to 350ppm, and McKibben has thousands, maybe millions, of people behind him. Check out 350 for a list of actions you can take at the local level. In fact, Global Work Party Action Day is coming up on October 10 (10/10/10!). Check it out and find out what you can do to reduce CO2 and save the shellfish and, well, us. Because what’s good for the clams is good for the planet. Clam_Chowder_cropped
Here are some big water and energy stories that you might have missed while you were monitoring the situation in the Gulf of Mexico. 1. Water Boil Order in Boston A major water main break in Boston caused the city to issue a massive boil order in the city. The order had major implications for businesses, especially those that deal with food. We could all stand to think about how this same scenario might play out in our own cities and towns because, as our infrastructure ages and remains underfunded, we will all face similar disruptions in service. 2. Major Flooding in Nashville Record rains in Nashville caused the worst flooding in 70 years, taking out one of the city’s water treatment systems, along with major country music historic sites. "You know you see it on TV all the time, but you never expect to live it," said one Nashville resident. I think we better get used to seeing more and more extreme weather events and start understanding the implications of those events. 3. EPA Backs Away from Labeling Coal Ash Hazardous You would think after the huge spill in Tennessee in December 2008 that dumped 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash into the environment, the feds would willingly classify the stuff as hazardous. Not so my friends. On Friday, the EPA announced that it was backing off the “hazardous” label to give equal consideration to the industry-favored “non-hazardous” label. This is scary, considering there are 1,300 similar dumps in this country, and most of those are unregulated and unmonitored. Of course there are some serious financial implications with a “hazardous” designation that have industry balking. Stay tuned to find out if the EPA will let industry get its way. 4. The Energy Bill is Dead in the Water When your Energy Bill is centered around a strong off-shore drilling plan and you’re in the midst of what might be the country’s worst off-shore drilling accident, it’s better to just let it go. At least that’s what Lindsey Graham had to say about it last week. Look, Lindsey, just because you’re wrapped up in the whole off-shore drilling idea, doesn’t mean the rest of us are. Please keep working on that bill. 5. First Off-shore Wind Farm Approved Approving this off-shore wind farm is a major step towards true clean, renewable energy in our country. I know some of you are worried about wind…the effects of a major air spill could be traumatizing, I know, but I think it’s a risk we can live with.
Learn more about water availability and water quality problems in California’s Central Valley in this two-episode podcast. Episode 1 is a conversation with Mother Jones Magazine reporter Josh Harkinson, who has written extensively about water availability issues in California’s Central Valley, including The New Dust Bowl, an article on how water scarcity is affecting farm workers in Mendota. Episode 2 is a conversation with Susana de Anda, co-director and co-founder of the Community Water Center, an advocacy organization that works to promote community access to safe, clean, and affordable water in California’s Central Valley.   “Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow. …and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” – John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath” In “The Grapes of Wrath” the Joad family went to California for the promise of jobs resulting from new irrigation projects. In the 1920s through the 1950s California’s newly built pipelines moved water south to arid land with fertile soil. Unfortunately, that infrastructure was designed around conditions that no longer exist. California might be in a drought or we may be seeing a new – significantly lower – “normal” for precipitation in the state. It could be that the type, amount and location of rain and snowfall no longer match California’s infrastructure. In any case, I have to wonder why we are growing rice and cotton on land that receives such limited rainfall, regardless of how fertile the soil is. Those whose lives and livelihoods depend on California water and agriculture are stuck in the middle of this debate. If you’re dependent on fields receiving water in order to pay back loans and feed your family, the distinction between drought and a “new normal” isn’t as important as knowing that water will get to the fields. Lately, due to various forces of nature and human activity the water hasn’t been getting there. Recent rainfalls notwithstanding, we have engineered a system in California that won’t survive unless we change the ways we use water. People point fingers at who is to blame or who has control or whose facts are more accurate than others, but the reality is that Americans have come to rely on water-intensive California agriculture. In addition, California’s water crisis is fueled by poor water management and explosive population growth and sprawl. Now the governor has proposed a massive bond measure to add to the state’s infrastructure and exploit new water sources, but the measure has received only mixed support and a fair amount of opposition. Water rates are (or are supposed to be) set to cover the cost of the infrastructure built to treat and move the water; however, rates don’t typically include a cost for the actual water itself and water for agriculture is often subsidized significantly below market value. In addition, prior appropriation water rights typically have a “use it or lose it” feature that discourage efficiency and conservation in agriculture. The rest of the nation should closely watch the results of that bond vote in November because the problems in California have an awful lot to do with our expectations as a nation. We expect that California produce will be there when we want it and water will keep flowing as it has for the past 80 years. Of course there may always be water flowing in California, but “normal” is definitely in flux and we can’t control the weather. Before we construct massive new water delivery systems that encourage waste and consume large amounts of energy, perhaps we should consider adjusting our expectations about what can realistically be grown, when and where. Maybe it’s time to stop creating fruits that are too expensive or too complicated to be eaten in good conscience. Crossposted from The Green Fork blog.
Burst Water main at 129th St. Photo by Library of Congress  In this week’s New York Times Charles Duhigg detailed the problems public drinking water and wastewater utilities face when they attempt to raise rates to upgrade and repair infrastructure. Duhigg cites an EPA estimate that “$335 billion would be needed simply to maintain the nation’s tap water systems in coming decades.”  Surprisingly, he did not mention a number of proposed and existing options to help meet some of those funding needs, none of which involve raising rates to households or businesses. Last year, citing the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2009 report card, which gave our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure a grade of D-, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) introduced H.R. 3202 - The Water Protection and Reinvestment Act. The Act, which currently has 29 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and 4 Republican co-sponsors, would establish a trust fund to “provide a deficit-neutral, consistent and protected source of revenue to help states replace, repair, and rehabilitate critical drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.” The Government Accountability Office issued a report identifying sources of revenue for the trust fund that could total as much as $10 billion annually, none of which involve raising water rates. Supporters of the legislation include the ASCE and the American Public Works Association; however, the bill is not without its detractors. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) criticized the legislation at a hearing last summer. The Association’s primary objections center on federal control of a fund that would be distributed primarily through grants. Instead, the organization would prefer low-cost financing and subsidies for local water systems that would be administered at the state level through a Water Infrastructure Bank. A limited but more immediate source of funding comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the federal stimulus funds allocated last year), which has $6 billion designated for the Clean Water Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water Revolving Fund administered by states. You can track funded projects at this government web site and you can find more information about stimulus spending at this private site. Together these sites offer a fairly comprehensive look at stimulus spending on a project-by-project basis in each state. Of course all of us can support our municipal water systems by not buying bottled water and drinking tap water instead. Investments in municipal systems have declined, in part, because of our increased support of bottled water, which is both unwarranted and extravagant. For the average price of a bottle of water you could get about 3,000 gallons of tap water. The money Americans spend on bottled water is money our municipal water and wastewater systems desperately need. Alternately, states could enact fees on beverage containers that would be designated to fund water and wastewater infrastructure improvements, similar to the way New York State’s Bottle Bill designates fees collected on certain bottles to support trash and recycling infrastructure. Certainly, increasing rates is appropriate in communities where they have been set too low, but clean, clear water is so essential to public health and well being that it warrants public funding.  Proposals to accomplish that, such as the Water Protection and Reinvestment Act, deserve close scrutiny and support. Cross posted from the GreenFork blog.