Christian Science Monitor

Could the Global Meltdown Spark a Great Revolution?

For the first time in generations, people are challenging the view that a free-market order -- the system that dominates the globe today -- is the destiny of all nations. The free market's uncanny ability to enrich the elite, coupled with its inability to soften the sharp experiences of staggering poverty, has pushed inequality to the breaking point.

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Beekeeping Is the Latest Buzz in Urban Areas

Honeybees may not be the first thing that come to mind when you think of Brooklyn. Yet here's Yeshwant Chitalkar, high on a rooftop in the Red Hook section of the New York borough, opening a bright blue hive to check on its queen. The vista is a mix of parks, light industrial areas, and housing projects. Dr. Chitalkar works methodically, barehanded, carefully lifting out the hive's frames, which are covered in a velvety, undulating layer of bees.

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Will Much of New Orleans Be Underwater by 2100?

Unless enormous amounts of soil are dumped onto the Mississippi River Delta, the region could lose up to 5,212 square miles of land to ocean and tidal marsh by 2100 -- a result of sea-level rise and the land sinking.

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Will G-8 Countries Move Faster on Climate Change?

In the 18 months since work began in earnest on a new global climate treaty, the world has been waiting for industrial countries -- especially the US -- to signal that they know deep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions must occur soon to avoid the worst effects of global warming. Hopes are running high that this week's meeting of leaders from the Group of Eight -- countries that represent the world's eight richest economies -- will provide that signal.

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How Will Climate Change Affect Where You Live?

One of the interesting aspects of the administration’s climate change report released today is  its emphasis on how global warming is affecting or is projected to touch every corner of the United States. A few location-specific details were mentioned in the press conference – how trout in the Northwest can’t thrive when air temperatures rise above 70 degrees F., for instance. But an online section offers more localized information: It divides the country into eight areas and lets you click on your region to see possible impacts.

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Did Asteroids Really Do in the Dinosaurs?

Sixty-five million years ago, a six-mile-wide asteroid slammed into what's now the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The impact, 2 million times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated, gouged out a 112-mile-wide crater and sent mega-tsunamis thousands of feet high in all directions.

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10 Terms Not to Use with Muslims

In the course of my travels -- from the Middle East to Central Asia to Southeast Asia -- it has been my great privilege to meet and become friends with many devout Muslims. These friendships are defined by frank respect as we listen to each other; understand and agree on the what, why, and how of our disagreements, political and theological; and, most of all, deepen our points of commonality as a result.

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Is Access to Clean Water a Basic Human Right?

With fresh water resources becoming scarcer worldwide due to population growth and climate change, a growing movement is working to make access to clean water a basic universal human right.

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The Coming Evangelical Collapse

Editor’s note: Over the years, we've run dozens of pieces dissecting the influence of the evangelical Christian movement on American political culture. Most have been critical of its influence -- its leaders' desire to destroy the wall between church and state and turn the U.S. into a "Christian state" -- and virtually all have been written by analysts outside the movement. The piece that follows is a departure. Written by Michael Spencer, who describes himself as "a postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality," this essay, which was adapted from a series on his blog,, is from the perspective of an insider, a "true believer." We hope you’ll find Spencer’s take informative.

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Obama Is Right to Take on the Very Rich

We've seen, in recent weeks, an outpouring of public outrage over the mega millions that keep flowing – despite the escalating economic meltdown – into the pockets of America's top bankers and corporate executives.

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How You Can Green Your Home and Cash in on Stimulus Money

Energy-saving systems for the attic, basement, and in between have effectively gone on sale, courtesy of the United States Congress.

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Shrinking Glaciers Have Put Tibetans in the Path of Climate Chaos

For Tenzin Dorje, the road home keeps getting longer. Each year the Tibetan shepherd must walk farther to find streams where his sheep can drink.

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Some Latinos Trace Their Jewish Roots

Sanford, Fla. - Wendy Martinez Canelones grew up Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist. But she always felt drawn to Judaism. She once had a vivid dream of herself embracing a blue volume of the Torah. She tears up recalling the dream.

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Business Is Booming for Industry Catering to Survivalists

Four years ago, after years spent working in construction administration, Viola Moss wanted to leave Florida. She was looking for a home that offered her and her family a chance to grow their own food and live free of dependence on society. But realtors kept showing her homes in retirement communities.

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Obama Makes His Green Team Official

At a news conference in Chicago Monday, Barack Obama announced many of his energy and environment appointees, a team that many say signals a sharp break from Bush administration policies toward pollution, wildlife, clean energy, and climate change.

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A New Boom in Natural Gas Threatens Drinking Water

After decades of declining US natural-gas production, an advanced drilling system so powerful it fractures rock with high-pressure fluid is opening up vast shale-gas deposits.

Instead of falling, US gas production is rising, with up to 118 years worth of unconventional natural gas reserves in 21 huge shale basins, an industry study in July reported. Such reserves could make the nation more energy self-sufficient and provide more of a cleaner bridge fuel to help meet carbon-reduction goals urged by environmentalists. Shale gas reserves have a powerful economic lure.

Companies, states, and landowners could all reap a windfall in the tens of billions. Some also predict lower heating costs for residential gas users as production increases. Now, scores of natural gas companies are fanning out from Fort Worth, Texas, where hydraulic fracturing of shale has been done for at least five years, to lease shale lands in 19 states, including Pennsylvania and New York.

But some warn that by expanding hydraulic fracturing of shale, America strikes a Faustian bargain: It gains new energy reserves, but it consumes and quite possibly pollutes critical water resources. "People need to understand that these are not your old-fashioned gas wells," says Tracy Carluccio, special projects director for Delaware Riverkeeper, a watchdog group worried about a surge in new gas drilling from New York to Pennsylvania and from Ohio to West Virginia. "This technology produces tremendous amounts of polluted water and uses dangerous chemicals in every single well that s developed."

Traditional gas wells bore straight into porous stone, using a few thousand gallons of water during drilling. But dense shale has gas locked inside. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling unlock it. Each hydraulically fractured horizontal well can require from 2 million to 7 million gallons of fresh water mixed with sand and thousands of gallons of industrial chemicals to make the water penetrate more easily.

This frac-water mixture is blasted at high pressure into shale deposits up to 10,000 feet deep, fracturing them. The sand lodges in the cracks, propping them open and providing a path for the gas to exit after external pressure is released. Besides using vast amounts of groundwater, scientists and environmentalists worry that toxic frac water 30 percent or more remains underground and may years later pollute freshwater aquifers.

Millions of gallons of frac water come back to the surface. It could be treated, but in Texas it is most often reinjected into the ground. Millions more gallons of produced water flow out later during gas production. This flow, too, is often tainted with radioactivity and poisons from the shale. Often stored in pits, that waste can leak or overflow while awaiting reinjection.

Simply put: "Each of these wells uses millions of gallons of fresh water, and all of it is going to be contaminated," Ms. Carluccio says.

"Industry spokesmen say such fears are overblown. The wells we drill & are insulated with concrete," says Chip Minty, a spokesman for Devon Energy, an Oklahoma City-based gas company that pioneered hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett shale formation beneath Fort Worth, Texas. "The purpose is to protect any kind of aquifer or ground water layer. Those processes are controlled by regulatory agencies, and that keeps us safe from any kind of aquifer pollution."

A pioneer in "best practices," Devon has also developed a way to purify and reuse frac water. But those techniques are costly and not widely used at present. Whether such practices will be required elsewhere is an open question.

Targets for this new kind of drilling

One huge target is the Marcellus shale basin that spans large parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. States are eager to get to get new revenues and so are many landowners lining up to sign leases.

"I'll be glad to welcome the crews with open arms," writes Al Czervic in the Catskill Commentator, an online publication. "Drill here, my friends," he writes, "Drill here. And then, drill some more."

But amid this gold-rush-type fever in the Delaware and Susquehanna River Basins, voices warn that environmental safeguards and industry standards need to be beefed up before drill bits hit -- or the great gas boom could exact a steep price in polluted water.

"Decades ago, we weren't careful with coal mining," wrote Bryan Swistock, a water resources specialist with the Penn State Cooperative Extension, in a recent statement. "As a result, we are still paying huge sums to clean up acid mine drainage. We need to be careful and vigilant or we could see lasting damage to our water resources from so many deep gas wells."

State environmental agencies and industry experts say multiple systems will be in place to safeguard water.

"The current balanced management approach works -- allowing for effective state regulatory programs that appropriately protect the environment while providing for the essential development of oil and gas," wrote Stephanie Meadows, a senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington trade group, in an e-mail response to Monitor questions on hydraulic fracturing.

Where safeguards failed

Still, one can point to examples where those safeguards did not work. New Mexico and Colorado, which have struggled with leakage from frac-water waste pits involving gas exploration, are now moving forward with legislation.

"There are numerous instances in various states of surface water and drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing," says Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York. "Nobody, including the industry, has done any in-depth examination to find out the impact on ground water. We are seeing some bad stuff coming out of individual wells and taps."

The nation s shale-gas guinea pigs reside in 15 counties around Fort Worth, where shale-gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing has been validated in recent years. The results have brought wealth to some, but infuriated others.

Charlotte Harris and her husband signed a mineral lease last year. But she's upset now. She sharply recalls a day last November when her drinking-water well died and a new gas well 100 yards from her Grandview, Texas, home was born. She washed dishes that morning as usual, she says in an phone interview. But after a shower, her skin itched terribly and she realized the water had a sulfurous odor.

Later that day, without warning, her toilet erupted. Water shot out of it like Niagara Falls. About that time, she learned, powerful pump trucks at the nearby well site were sending pulses of water mixed with sand and chemicals thousands of feet down into solid shale to fracture it to increase the flow of gas. She and her husband now believe some of that fluid escaped under pressure much nearer the surface.

After the Harrises complained, the drilling company had the water tested but found no problem. Harris's next-door neighbor, John Sayers, had a lab test his well water. The lab found toluene, a chemical used in explosives, paint stripper and often in drilling fluids. Almost a year later, the Harris family well water, once clear and sweet, is murky and foul-smelling. Ms. Harris's husband, Stevan, trucks in about 1,500 gallons twice a week, at 15 cents a gallon.

"We're not using that [well] water for anything at all," Mr. Sayers says. "I was told not to drink, wash, or anything. Not even water my grass with it. "

Is New York City drinking water at risk?

In July, New York s governor signed a bill to permit shale-gas drilling using fracturing technology, which could bring the state $1 billion in annual revenues. But the state is first requiring an updated environmental assessment and may yet require companies to reveal the type of chemicals they mix with the water they shoot down the wells -- something that Texas does not require.

New York City is one of only four large cities in the nation with unfiltered drinking water. It flows from the northern Catskill region. That's the same basin in which gas companies want to drill.

Drilling "is completely and utterly inconsistent with a drinking water supply," said New York City Councilman James Gennaro at a press conference last month. "This would destroy the New York City watershed, and for what? For short-term gains on natural gas."

But while New York has a drilling freeze pending its environmental review, a gas-drilling rush is on in Pennsylvania s Susquehanna River region. Scores of wells are being drilled, with applications pending to drill hundreds more. In the long run, some say there may be 10,000 new gas wells across the region.

We're hearing various stories... about flow backwater," says Susan Obleski, a spokeswoman for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which oversees water usage. "We could eventually be seeing 29 million gallons a day usage by this industry. That sounds like a lot, but golf courses use double that."

The concern, however, is that the most productive gas drilling areas tend to be in remote, forested areas, with forested streams headwaters areas. If water is removed in significant amounts from there, it could damage ecosystems and Susquehanna watershed water quality.

The SBRC has issued two cease-and-desist orders to companies illegally removing water. It has told 23 others to clarify requirements, and found that about 50, in all, are vying for water, leases, and drilling permits in the region. Tiny Nockamixon Township, which has resisted gas drilling, is being sued by natural-gas drillers.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in which some towns are seeking to overturn lower court decisions that keep municipalities from having laws regulating gas drilling inside their borders.

Back in Texas, some are fighting the practice of reinjecting frac water into the earth. In Erath County, near Fort Worth, Bill Gordon has successfully protested several new commercial injection wells that, according to him, would have pumped as much as 30,000 barrels a day of untreated frac water underground. A recent lightning strike set one such well on fire, proving to Mr. Gordon that volatile chemicals remain in the fluid.

"Nobody knows what's in this drilling fluid," he says. "I think we need to know."

What s being injected deep underground?

Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are not new. Both date back decades. But their combined use to get gas from shale formations is new within the past decade.

Hydraulic fracturing has long been used to get gas from coal beds, a process some say is similar to shale-gas fracturing.

An Environmental Protection Agency study in 2004 concluded that hydraulic fracturing to get methane gas from coal beds "poses little or no threat" to drinking water supplies. But several EPA scientists have challenged that finding.

"EPA produced a final report ... that I believe is scientifically unsound and contrary to the purposes of law," Weston Wilson, a 30-year EPA veteran, wrote in a whistle-blower petition in 2004. "Based on the available science and literature, EPA's conclusions are unsupportable."

Today, chemicals used in fracturing are considered by the companies to be trade secrets. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts companies from being forced by the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and other federal laws to reveal what chemicals are in their fracturing fluids. But some say that it s critical to know what s being injected deep underground.

"We're very concerned about this toxic drilling and hydraulic fracturing," says Gwen Lachelt, director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project in Durango, Colo. "We need to know what's in what they're putting into the ground. "

Texas Prisoner to Die Despite Evidence of Affair Between Judge and Prosecutor in His Case

The lawyer for a death row inmate says he is trying to break a "conspiracy of silence" in Texas over whether the district attorney and the judge who presided over his client's 1990 capital murder trial were having a secret romantic relationship.

The inmate, Charles Dean Hood, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.

A Texas judge has ordered a hearing into the issue on Monday morning. The judge has also ordered the former judge and former district attorney to be prepared to answer questions under oath about their alleged affair and potentially surrender any documentary evidence of a relationship.

The unusual twists and turns in the Hood case are attracting national attention and adding fuel to an already-heated debate over capital punishment in Texas.

Mr. Hood's lawyer, Gregory Wiercioch, has been trying for months to persuade the Texas judiciary to investigate the alleged secret relationship. He says former Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Thomas O'Connell may believe that their private relationship did not taint Hood's trial. But, he says, it should not be up to a judge and prosecutor to secretly decide such an issue -- particularly when the defendant was on trial for his life.

"No attorney knowing [of this relationship] would have allowed her to stay on and preside over this trial," Mr. Wiercioch says. "I wouldn't want her presiding over a parking ticket, let alone a capital murder trial."

The lawyer says others in Collin County, north of Dallas, were aware of the affair but did nothing. "There was this sense that we are going to keep it secret, and whoever their friends were that socialized with them -- and knew of the relationship -- those people kept it secret as part of a conspiracy of silence," Wiercioch says.

Fairness of other trials at stake, too

The allegation has been swirling in Texas legal circles for years, but no formal investigation has been undertaken. Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell, both now retired, have declined to discuss the issue.

"It is a matter of Texas courts turning an absolute blind eye to a situation that is in plain sight," says Steve Hall, director of the Standdown Texas Project, a criminal justice reform group. "Legal ethicists have been outraged by the facts. This should not even be a close call."

If true, the secret affair would violate ethics regulations governing both judges and prosecutors, legal experts say. In addition, these experts say, it would raise questions not only about the fairness of Hood's murder trial but also of the fairness of every criminal case charged by O'Connell's office and tried before Judge Holland during their alleged affair.

According to an affidavit by a former assistant district attorney in O'Connell's office, the Holland-O'Connell relationship began prior to 1987 and lasted until 1993. Hood was convicted and sentenced to death in September 1990 for the shooting deaths of a man and woman in Plano, Texas, in 1989.

The former assistant, Matthew Goeller, says in the affidavit: "It was common knowledge in the district attorney's office, and the Collin County Bar, in general, that the district attorney, Mr. Tom O'Connell, and the presiding judge of the 296th District Court, Judge Verla Sue Holland, had a romantic relationship." Mr. Goeller is a past president of the county bar association and of the county's criminal defense lawyers association. He worked in the district attorney's office from 1987 to 1996.

One court rejected the complaint

Holland isn't some back-county judge. From 1997 to 2001, she served on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's supreme court for criminal matters.

When Wiercioch brought the Holland-O'Connell affair issue to the attention of that court in June, the judges voted 9 to 0 to toss the complaint out as an abuse of the writ of habeas corpus. The judges said Hood's lawyers should have raised the matter in an appeal filed in 1999. The judges also voted unanimously to allow Hood's scheduled execution to go forward on June 17. The death warrant, however, expired and the execution was postponed until Sept. 10.

There is no indication in the court's opinions that the case involved potentially serious allegations against a former colleague. Holland had served with eight of the nine judges currently on the court. The opinions are marked "Do not publish."

The Holland-O'Connell affair allegations arose again in recent weeks after a Texas judge granted Wiercioch's request for a hearing. But that judge, Robert Dry, set the hearing date for Sept. 12 -- two days after Hood's scheduled execution. In a letter to Wiercioch, Judge Dry told the lawyer he had waited too long to raise the issue. He concluded his letter with a disclosure: "I know Judge Holland and Tom O'Connell. It is likely that every local judge knows them. If you are concerned about this, I will consider a motion to recuse."

Dry later removed himself from the case.

The new judge, Greg Brewer, ordered the Monday hearing. At the hearing, the judge will consider whether to order Holland and O'Connell to answer Wiercioch's questions about the alleged affair.

A group of 500 former judges and prosecutors wrote Sept. 2 to Texas Gov. Rick Perry urging him to grant a 30-day reprieve to allow an investigation into the alleged affair.

"If Mr. Hood's claim is proven, we believe that his right to an impartial judge and a fair trial was violated and his conviction and sentence were unconstitutionally obtained," the group writes. "Under the United States and Texas constitutions, the right to an unbiased judge is fundamental to due process."

The group includes William Sessions, former FBI director and a former federal judge and U.S. attorney in Texas; John Gibbons, former third circuit federal appeals court chief judge; and Patricia Wald, former Washington, D.C., appeals court judge. "No court has addressed the merits of Mr. Hood's allegations or permitted discovery of the facts," they wrote.

Two days later, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that his office would be filing a friend-of-the-court brief to urge the judge to "fully review" the affair allegations.

Is New Orleans Really Ready for Gustav?

Editor's Note: Check here for the latest information on Gustav.

NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly 1 million Gulf Coast residents fled the path of Hurricane Gustav this weekend -- a sign that emergency preparations among residents and public officials alike, if not perfectly smooth, are improved since Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans and flattened parts of the Mississippi coast three years ago.

As major interstates filled during a bumper-to-bumper exodus Sunday, residents -- some carrying fridges and dryers in pickup trucks -- skedaddled toward Houston, Memphis and Atlanta to escape a storm that the National Hurricane Center called "a big boy."

The precautions are needed, as Gustav is likely to challenge New Orleans' up-armored but unfinished levees. The event is also a test of a complex evacuation plan put into full force Saturday afternoon. Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu worried Sunday that as many as 20,000 vulnerable New Orleanians had yet to heed the evacuation orders.

"Are the preparations better today than they were before Katrina? Absolutely, positively," says Brian Wolshon, a Louisiana State University emergency response expert. "They took their lumps with Katrina. The problem is, there's no telling if conditions will be the same (with Gustav)."

After a full-scale revamp of the region's emergency capabilities, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local officials know they cannot permit another embarrassing and deadly fiasco. Staging of buses, boats and generators began early last week throughout the region, and 2,000 National Guard troops were activated.

As Republicans gathered for their national convention in Minnesota, Americans watched government reaction closely, says Susan Cutter, a storm expert at the University of South Carolina. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who was elected in part because citizens perceived him to be a more effective on-the-ground responder than other public officials, including former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, moved unprecedented resources into the area. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew at 11:30 p.m. EDT, effective Sunday night. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney decided to forgo the Republican National Convention to be on hand for emergency management.

"Politically, the Republicans can't afford a second hit," says Cutter.

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and FEMA head David Paulson toured the area late in the week as a show of federal support. Paulson said the preparations indicated "a new philosophy" for the federal government to move aggressively to protect major cities from storms.

The real shift, however, didn't come from FEMA but from the Department of Homeland Security, says Cutter. "They already know how to do this stuff," she says of FEMA. But DHS seemed woefully out of touch after Katrina's storm waters busted through the London, 17th Street, and Industrial canal levees and flooded nearly 80 percent of the Crescent City nearly three years to the day before Gustav's projected landfall.

Gustav was gaining strength Sunday, with tropical force winds extending 200 miles from the eye. But its path is not yet clear; the storm appeared to make a slight jag to the west Sunday morning, amid projections it would make landfall in southwestern Louisiana and then track into Texas as a tropical storm. The greatest threat, authorities say, is the potential for a 20-foot storm surge that could overtop the region's vast fortifications.

"This is desperate," says Jackie Clarkson, New Orleans City Council chairwoman.

As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local authorities rushed to shore up levees on the vulnerable West Bank of New Orleans, which largely escaped Katrina's punch, officials made no promises that up-armored levees would hold. Of particular concern is the Harvey Canal in Jefferson Parish, widely seen as a weak point in the system. In fact, only about one-third of the city's $12 billion new levee system has been completed. With storm-surge projections of up to 20 feet and many levees at 8 feet, overtopping seems likely if the storm holds its course.

On Saturday, buses began taking evacuees from 17 points around the city to Union Terminal, where charter buses and trains zipped them out of town. Some 14,000 residents had been moved by the time the bus evacuation ended at noon Sunday. The Superdome, the scene of such misery after Katrina, will be locked and guarded. There will be no "shelter of last resort," authorities say. If there were any doubts about the storm's potential, Nagin extinguished those Saturday night when he used unusually strong language to urge people to leave, calling Gustav "the storm of the century" and "the mother of all storms."

"You need to get your butts out," the famously laid-back mayor told residents Saturday night, taking a much sharper tone than during the pre-Katrina days. "You need to be scared."

New Orleanians took notice. Resident Patrick Green said the city, which has regained nearly 90 percent of its residents since Katrina, had finally begun to feel normal. "I don't know where I'm going, but it doesn't matter: It's time to go," says Green. Looking around at the mostly empty streets, Green says, "I'm leaving a ghost town."

Yet hopes for a 100 percent evacuation dimmed Sunday morning as authorities declared a noon deadline to hop an evacuation bus. What had been a crush of evacuees had slowed through Saturday. "I'm a little troubled," says Landrieu.

The evacuation was not eventless. Traffic on Saturday was backed up more than 20 miles on I-10 into Mobile, Ala. A new ID bracelet system intended to link evacuees together via the Web crashed on Saturday at Union Terminal. Officials said evacuees will instead be logged in at shelters, but those added logistics may become daunting in the next few days because shelters are spread across the Gulf Coast and may not be equipped to log in evacuees. One logistics contractor, David Young, said the city seemed to be scrambling on some fronts to prepare. In Jefferson Parish, some 700 people waited in vain Saturday for buses to pick them up, according to reports.

Garden District resident Alan Drake, a gardener, says he plans to stay, as he did through Katrina. "I'll have a lot of my clients' homes cleaned up by the time they get back," he says.

"We've got quite a few people staying, most of them from Mexico and Puerto Rico," says New Orleans resident Fred Wilson, who stayed through Katrina before being evacuated two weeks later at gunpoint. "I think people are saying they'll survive the best they can. But this is a greater force than Katrina."

After Katrina, the city partnered with emergency experts and charities to figure out how to appeal to the most vulnerable residents, the elderly, to leave during storm emergencies, says John Kiefer, an emergency expert at the University of New Orleans. Yet the city began distributing pamphlets explaining the new procedures only last week.

Kiefer says officials were surprised to learn that the elderly hung on through Katrina because of the uncertainties implicit in an emergency evacuation. To assuage that, officials have been clearer about where evacuees are going and where they'll be staying. Residents who returned, too, "have a different risk perspective," says Cutter of the University of South Carolina. "The people who came back are really committed to the city, and this is all very personal to them now."

Abandoned pets became a huge issue during Katrina, triggering special legislation in Louisiana to avoid the misery of survival for animals in a flooded city. Animal rescue groups scrambled over the weekend to take possession of pets at the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, to be returned after the storm. Unlike during Katrina, many residents were allowed to take small, and sometimes larger, animals on the evacuation buses.

"I'm still praying this is just a big drill," says animal rescue worker Brenda Shoss, wearing a duct-tape name tag.

Those who stay will encounter a skeleton crew of law enforcement officers who will treat anybody on the street as a suspicious person, says Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish. The idea is to guarantee that property will be protected against looters -- a main reason so many residents decided to ride out Katrina. "If you stay," Mr. Broussard warns, "this will be no Mayberry."

"We've learned from our mistakes," says New Orleans Police Officer B. Francois. "And this time, if we arrest someone, they're not going to the local jail. They're getting on a bus to Angola," the infamous rural prison farm.

Outside New Orleans, many shrimpers, who lost most of their fleet to Katrina, skippered boats into inland waters. Others secured them as well as they could to the docks in eastern Orleans Parish.

"This is where the fun starts," says fisherman Tony deBram, grimly.

Women Lawmakers Take Up Wage Discrimination at Convention

Denver -- As Democrats take up the economy at the national convention, key women legislators are gearing up to pass landmark legislation to crack down on wage discrimination.

"While everyone is feeling a faltering economy, women feel it with greater force and poignancy in every aspect of life," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D) of Connecticut at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in Denver on Tuesday. "It's why almost 60 percent of women say they are concerned about achieving their economic and financial goals over the next five years -- 15 [percentage] points higher than for men."

Recent economic studies signal stark differences in economic prospects for men and women. Here are some examples:

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Israel-Hamas Standoff Deepens Water Woes

AL-SHATI REFUGEE CAMP, The Gaza Strip -- Five hundred yards south from where hundreds of children play in the water next to this refugee camp, a pipe spills 20 million liters of raw sewage into the Mediterranean Sea each day.

Between 105 and 120 million liters of sewage are generated daily in Gaza. Of that, only 20 million liters are fully treated, while another 40 million liters are partially treated. The rest flows raw into the sea, storm drains, and a massive landfill north of Gaza City, which spans 4.3 million square feet. The resulting pollution has sullied not only the seawater, but also the aquifer below Gaza, causing a severe shortage of potable water and putting the population at risk for a range of illnesses.

Untreated water is by no means the only pollutant in Gaza. "If there is a stronger word than catastrophe, I would use that word," says Nader Al Khateeb, the Palestinian director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an environmental group working in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories, while describing the overall environmental situation in the Gaza Strip.

Much of this environmental deterioration can be attributed to Gaza's dilapidated water and sewage infrastructure, which has been further undermined by attacks and fuel blockades resulting from the standoff between Israel and the Hamas government. While the recent ceasefire has provided an opportunity for work on damaged facilities to resume, there's mounting concern that Israeli water supplies are vulnerable to cross-border contamination.

According to the preliminary findings of a study conducted in May and June by the World Health Organization (WHO), seven of 30 seawater areas sampled in Gaza are now contaminated with either human or animal feces, or both. In the contaminated areas, tests registered levels of bacteria two to five times greater than the amount deemed safe, says Mahmoud Daher, WHO's national health officer for Gaza. Due to sewage seeping into the ground, the aquifer beneath Gaza, which provides water for drinking and washing, is now so polluted with nitrates that only 10 percent currently meets WHO standards for safety, adds Monther Shoblak, the director of the World Bank-funded Gaza Emergency Water Project.

"If I would use WHO standards to supply the people here with water, no one would drink," says Mr. Shoblak.

Gaza's water problems stem from the territory's dilapidated water and waste infrastructure. According to the United Nations, 60 percent of Gazans have access to water in their homes every other day for four to six hours while 15 percent have access only once a week, for the same amount of time.

The lack of running water has motivated Gazans to dig at least 4,000 illegal wells in the past two years, adds Shoblak. The illegal wells, dug directly into the aquifer, have drained it at some places below the water table of the sea, leaving the aquifer salinated and unusable even for washing and cooking. Einav Shimron Grinboim, a spokeswoman for Israel's Health Ministry, said in a statement that Israel is "worried concerning this problematic situation."

Pollution was severely exacerbated by the Israeli bombing of Gaza's power plant two years ago. The siege laid on Gaza for the past year, during which fuel imports were limited, also prevented facilities maintenance.

The Hamas government says the lack of power and fuel prevents the operation of the waste water treatment facilities at full capacity. But Israel counters that there is sufficient power and fuel and that Hamas simply has higher priorities than protecting the health of its citizens.

Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities say that during the siege, the raw metals, plastics, and spare parts needed to maintain Gaza's sewage and plumbing infrastructure and waste-water treatment centers were prohibited from entering Gaza due to Israeli concerns that they would be used to manufacture rockets. Three additional treatment centers, funded by international donors, were not developed for the same reason.

Since the beginning of the cease-fire on June 19, however, materials for the facilities have started arriving in Gaza. This has led to decreased levels of contamination of the partially treated sewage flowing into the sea, from a biological oxygen demand level of between 70 and 100 milligrams from January to June to a current level of between 60 and 70 milligrams. WHO standards call for a level of between 35 to 50 milligrams.

Despite minor improvements, environmentalists in Israel are worried that the contamination of shared sea and underground water systems means that Israelis may soon have water pollution problems of their own. So far, tests on the groundwater and seawater in southern Israel have not revealed any significant pollution. But Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, says it is only a matter of time.

"Sewage knows no borders," he adds. "We see both the Palestinians and the Israelis shooting themselves in the foot."

Will Artificial Floods Help Restoration Efforts in the Grand Canyon?

RIVER MILE 45, GRAND CANYON, ARIZ. -- With quick flicks of his Japanese calligraphy brush, Dave Rubin sends dry sand particles flying into the wind. He's crouched in a four-foot-deep sand trench with a trowel in one hand, brush in the other, and the Colorado River flowing behind him. Dr. Rubin, a US Geological Survey senior scientist, leans back and studies the sand layers, trying to read their story -- the tale of this year's three-day high-flow experiment that thundered down the Grand Canyon.

The trench is dug into a bankside sandbar, a highly desirable feature of the Grand Canyon for habitat, archaeological preservation, and recreational camping. Sandbars once peppered this stretch of the river, but the closing of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 began trapping millions of cubic yards of sand that had nourished them. In the last 12 years, three high-flow experiments have tried to re-create the floods that used to deliver the sand. The most recent one was in March.

Now scientists have descended on the canyon to study the outcome using a host of technologies, from simple shovels to underwater scans of the riverbed. Their findings, and their resulting suggestions on how to restore the canyon's diminished sandbars, will then be thrown into the caldron of river and canyon management, where 25 stakeholders weigh such things as the interests of electrical power and water against the need to preserve a natural wonder and endangered species. Close to $80 million has been spent in the last decade on sedimentology and hydrology research. Environmentalists say the need for restoration is losing out to the need for electricity and water.

The Glen Canyon Dam, built on the upstream northeastern edge of the Grand Canyon, fundamentally changed the relationship between the canyon and the Colorado River.

"Artifacts of the existence of the dam are the clear water, the cold water, and steady low flows," says Jack Schmidt, a watershed sciences professor from Utah State University. The tamed river, devoid of sand (close to 98 percent is stopped by the dam), now erodes through the sandbars and carries the sediment into Lake Mead, where it's trapped behind Hoover Dam. According to researchers, the new behavior of the river has led to narrower rapids, eroded beaches, invasion of nonnative vegetation, and the loss of native fish. The Colorado River now has nearly twice as many nonnative fish species (60) as native ones (32), with the humpback chub population declining from 10,000 in 1989 to 6,000 in 2006.

In 1988, three groups- - the Grand Canyon Trust, the Wildlife Federation, and the Western River Guides Association -- sued to force the first environmental impact study of the Glen Canyon Dam, 25 years after it was finished. This led to the passage of the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992. The study that resulted found that the dam was negatively affecting fish habitat and sediment resources in the canyon.

Any sediment that enters the river below the dam settles to the riverbed and slowly bounces along the bottom. Pre-dam, periodic large floods would lift the sediment above the low-flow waterline and form sandbars, says Professor Schmidt. Part of the new management plan was to restore sandbars and beaches through so-called high-flow experiments.

The March 2008 high-flow experiment was designed to move more than 1 million metric tons of Paria River sediment that could have otherwise dribbled downstream to the lake. For 60 hours, the jet-tubes at the base of the dam gushed around 41,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), 25,000 cfs higher than normally allowed.

Brad Warren, the Colorado River Storage Project manager at the Western Area Power Administration, which markets the power generated at Glen Canyon Dam, said the experiment has cost WAPA $4 million this year because it has had to purchase power to meet a contract - power that it could have generated from the water that bypassed the turbines.

The high flows do not alter water delivery: Irrigation projects and aqueducts that tap the river must stay at set levels, regardless of what happens at the dam.

Scientists prepared for the flood by burying chains vertically in sandbars. The meter-long "scour chains" were driven into the ground with the top link exposed. As the torrent passed, the sand around the chains washed away, toppling the chain link by link until the water receded. The dropped portion of the chain was then buried by newly arriving sand.

Rubin, Schmidt, and their teams relocated the chains and dug into the sandbars. Vertical faces of up to six feet were scraped clean, and the layers revealed if eddies had churned the riverbed and how long water stayed at an elevation. "We're trying to understand the details of how these bars form," Schmidt says.

Even changes in grain size can help. A digital camera called the "flying eyeball" was developed to bounce along the riverbed and take photographs of individual sand grains. "It's a 100-pound wrecking ball that we honed a cylindrical shape right through the middle of for the video camera," says Hank Chezar, a USGS photographic technologist who designed and patented the instrument with Rubin. Photographs taken before and after the experiment help determine where new underwater sand deposits formed.

Although the scientists are not yet ready to release their findings, others are confident that the high flows, also done in 1996 and 2004, are helping. "These experiments are having a positive effect on the beaches," says Stephen Martin, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park. "The deposits exceeded our hopes." This is good news for creating habitat for the endangered humpback chub and shoring up protective sand deposits on archaeological sites from native American tribes.

An advisory group to the US Department of the Interior, which owns and operates the dam, was set up in 1996 to balance the competing interests of preserving the Grand Canyon with modern demands for water and power. The Adaptive Management Working Group convenes 25 representatives from five federal agencies, the seven Colorado River basin states, native American tribes, environmental and recreational groups, and power-purchase coordinators. Here the scientists' findings are fed into planning the flows to meet contract obligations for water delivery encoded by the "Law of the River," an elaborate collection of state, federal, and international agreements governing the water rights.

Are scientific findings being weighed adequately? "The science has become extremely clear about what needs to happen at Glen Canyon Dam," says Nikolai Lash, water program director at the Grand Canyon Trust, namely, "high flows done on an annual basis or near-annual basis followed by months of steady flows." But Mr. Lash says that when votes are taken to set the flow levels, hydropower interests win every time. His organization is suing the federal government to follow the sediment-management guidelines spelled out in the Grand Canyon Protection Act.

"The dam is actually being operated illegally," according to Lash.

Why windblown sand is important, too

Not all sand transport in the Grand Canyon is by water. Windblown sand movement, called aeolian transport, plays an big role in preserving thousand-year-old native American cultural sites. Windblown sand puts a protective sand layer on upslope terraces where tribal activities once occurred. The US Geological Survey (USGS) is studying how the operation of the Glen Canyon Dam affects the erosion of sand from the higher-elevation terraces.

"If dam operations contribute to erosion on archaeological sites, then the Bureau of Reclamation would have more responsibility for mitigating impacts above the pre-dam high-water line," says Amy Draut, a USGS geologist leading the research.

Dr. Draut and her team erected 11 solar-powered weather stations and sand traps along the canyon. The traps, one-meter-tall towers with four wedge-shaped boxes that orient themselves into the wind, collect sediment that Draut uses to see how windblown sand changes with the size of a nearby sandbar and wind direction. "If you have a high-flow [event] build up a sandbar, you can cause more [aeolian] transport if the local wind direction is right," she says. After the 2004 high-flow experiment, her team saw target sandbars and wind direction combine to double aeolian transport. Their findings after this year's high flow may confirm that dam operations are risking the cultural heritage of the Grand Canyon.

Black Ohio Neighborhood Denied Water for Decades

A federal jury awarded residents of a mostly black neighborhood in rural Ohio nearly $11 million Thursday, finding that local authorities denied them public water service for half a century because of their race.

The plaintiffs, 67 residents of an unincorporated community in near Zanesville, Ohio, known as Coal Run, were awarded damages ranging from $15,000 to $300,000, depending on how long they have lived in the neighborhood. The money covers pain and suffering inflicted on the residents from 1956, when water lines were first laid in the region, to 2003, when the neighborhood finally got public water. During that time, some Coal Run residents trucked in water from elsewhere, as local wells were contaminated with sulfur from abandoned coal mine shafts. Others dug wells anyway. Some collected rain.

The US District Court jury found that the city of Zanesville, Muskingum County, and the East Muskingum Water Authority violated state and federal civil rights laws by failing to provide Coal Run residents with access to public water, a service that was provided to white residents in surrounding areas.

The Columbus Dispatch describes the childhood of Freddie Martin, who grew up in Coal Run.

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Will Midwest Floods Be as Toxic as New Orleans?

The oil, gasoline, fertilizers, and herbicides swept away by floodwaters in June pose an environmental challenge to the rain-soaked Midwest.

But some of the most serious pollution problems may not lie outdoors. Instead, they could well lurk indoors in waterlogged basements and first floors of homes and businesses, where everything from cleaning agents to toxic metals accumulate in silt and mold.

These concerns about indoor toxins, which sprang up in the aftermath of the New Orleans flood in 2005, have led researchers to begin working on tools that could give emergency crews and homeowners a better idea of the risks they face when they step through the front door once floodwaters recede.

Indoor muck following a flood is a common problem, says Nicholas Ashley, a researcher at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge involved in the work. But, he adds, "to the best of our knowledge no one had looked at the effect of interior sediment deposits" on pollution levels until he and his PhD adviser, Louis Thibodeaux, began to tackle the issue after hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.

The problem is that flood victims get an OK to return and begin the cleanup based on contaminant levels measured outdoors. But those measurements may significantly underestimate what awaits when people walk inside, he says.

After Katrina, pollution levels in floodwater looked a lot like typical storm water, according to measurements by another Louisiana State University team.

But the interiors of two homes Mr. Ashley and Dr. Thibodeaux sampled told a different story: Levels of arsenic, cadmium, vanadium, and lead in the homes were substantially higher than the maximum levels that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe. "Three of those metals exceeded the outdoor concentrations in some cases by even greater margins," Ashley says.

The metals, it turns out, cling to the fine silt particles that enter a home as floodwaters seep in through chinks and cracks. The silt then settles out in layers only a few millimeters deep.

Meanwhile, waterborne organic chemicals prone to evaporation also seep inside or get augmented by what's already in the house. Mold can absorb and retain the organics in the gas, then redistribute them when it releases its spores. A field study led by Ginger Chew, with the department of environmental health sciences at Columbia University in New York, found that spore concentrations in several once-flooded New Orleans homes reached levels that outstripped the ability of a popular respirator to deal with them.

Building interiors -- from warehouses to residential garages and basements -- face other, better-known threats.

Many already store gasoline, cleaning agents, or home heating oil. When floodwater fills a basement, it can float a 250-gallon heating oil tank. Once the tank breaks free of its fittings, the oil leaks and can eventually spread outdoors, notes Bill Simes, who heads a US EPA response team that has been working with Indiana to scope out the extent of pollution triggered by the floods. Submerged TVs and other electronic devices leach metals.

Depending on the location, add "biologicals" to the list, Mr. Simes says, recalling work he and his team did in New Orleans after Katrina. "The fishing industry stores large amounts of shrimp. When the refrigeration goes off for about 30 days, it's not really shrimp anymore." Floodwaters also bring with them a background level of pollutants. And they pick up more along the way.

In states such as Iowa, where farming is widespread, floodwaters pick up organic material such as fertilizers and herbicides from cropland.

Now, Ashley and Thibodeaux are working on a model that could give first responders and homeowners a clearer idea of the pollution levels they are likely to face once the water recedes -- particularly in farm country, where organics can form the dominant class of pollutants. A key part of the puzzle still to be incorporated involves how airtight the home is and how long it remains buttoned up before restoration or demolition begins. The duo acknowledges they are operating on sparse data -- two houses. It's crucial, they say, to develop simple water and sediment sampling kits that rescuers and other first responders can use. Such data would allow them to expand their sample of structures and provide information needed to run the model.

Why Floods Are Getting Worse

Up and down the flood-ravaged river valleys of the upper Midwest, high water has inflicted billions of dollars of damage to homes, businesses, and crops. It has displaced tens of thousands of families and brought immeasurable suffering. It has also brought a new concern for the region's river towns and cities: Flooding in the Midwest seems to be getting worse.

Researchers and other observers say such episodes are likely to worsen as efforts to protect vulnerable communities are outpaced by factors that increase the risk of flooding, including the ongoing practice of building on river flood plains.

"We're probably more at risk than we've ever been," says Larry Larson, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, based in Madison, Wis.

Most cities and towns in the Midwest lie along rivers and streams. Hydrologists and planners say that the cumulative effects of decades of land-use choices have gradually increased the likelihood of flooding. Throughout Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, for example, much farmland is drained by buried tiles that carry rainwater quickly away from the fields into streams and rivers. Population growth, bringing new highways and subdivisions, increases runoff. And communities keep building on flood plains, which not only puts new development at risk but also reduces the amount of flood plain available to absorb floodwater.

In many communities, levees protect low-lying neighborhoods and farmland. "America has had a love affair with levees since the 1800s," says Marceto Garcia, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. But levees cause new problems by confining rivers and increasing flooding in other stretches.

"The water has to go somewhere," says Douglas Johnston, chairman of the community and regional planning department at Iowa State University in Ames. "It will go higher and faster downstream. Any defensive measure taken upstream will only heighten the problem downstream."

Levees also leave some people with a false sense of security. In some cases, experts say, homeowners don't know that their houses are at risk of flooding.

Experts also fault poor local planning. They say that economic and political pressures in many cases cause communities to slight flood-plain management for fear of hurting economic growth. In addition, they say, communities typically plan for present conditions without taking into account future growth and developments upstream that may create worse flooding -- and worse damage -- in the future.

"We have as a nation spent increasing amounts of money on preventing floods, and yet the cost of flooding continues to rise dramatically," says Andrew Fahlund, vice president for conservation at American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group based in Washington. "Clearly we're not doing something right. Certain kinds of flooding are going to be pretty much unavoidable. When water levels get to a certain point it's pretty difficult to prevent damage. Our hearts go out to people who have been impacted by all this. The fact is that we have reduced the capacity our rivers have to absorb these floods significantly."

Climate change has recently cast a new and disturbing uncertainty over flood-management questions by suggesting that history may be an unreliable guide to the future. Kenneth Potter, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says many scientists agree that climate change is likely to increase the occurrence and severity of storms as well as droughts, and thus increase the likelihood of flooding.

"The question is, are you going to face that once a century or once every 10 years?" he asks.

Ten months ago, Gays Mills, Wis., suffered what was then the biggest flood in memory. Then, a week and a half ago, monsoon-like rains lashed the region, and an even worse flood washed through town.

Now, as the mud dries and local businesses like Mickelson's grocery store reopen, residents are feeling vulnerable.

"After last year, we all kind of relaxed," says village president Larry McCarn. "We all figured it would be a while before it happened again. Now people are saying it could happen next week."

After the last major Midwest flood in 1993, some lessons were learned, experts say. In Iowa, Johnston said, some communities raised their levees, which helped them survive this year's flood.

Other lessons went unheeded. The Clinton administration commissioned a major study of the flooding that, among other things, recommended an overhaul of flood management and closer coordination of state, local, and national efforts. "In terms of national policy since 1993, there has not been significant change," says Mr. Larson.

Some Coastal Woes Begin Far Inland

In the early 1970s, Earl "Rusty" Butz, the US secretary of Agriculture, urged American farmers to plant crops "fencerow to fencerow." "Get big or get out," he told them. Farm subsidies followed and, as many small farms consolidated into fewer larger ones, the country transitioned into a new era of corporate-dominated agribusiness. With large-scale farming came the large-scale application of man-made fertilizers.

Around the same time, large algal blooms began appearing with increasing regularity in the shallow, coastal sea at the mouth of the Mississippi. The algae died and sank. As it decomposed, it sucked oxygen from the surrounding water. Areas along the ocean floor became oxygen-depleted, or hypoxic. Oxygen-dependent organisms that were able to, fled. Those that couldn't, suffocated.

The nation had a new problem, one that underscored how the ocean's problems can begin 1,000 miles inland: Fertilizer applied throughout the huge Mississippi watershed was creating a "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico. It's the second-largest such dead zone in the world, after the one in the Baltic Sea.

Scientists understand the causes and have proposed a bevy of possible solutions. A decade ago, state and federal agencies began to coordinate their efforts to address Gulf hypoxia. The effort got off to a strong start, but has since foundered for lack of funds.

"It's the tragedy of the commons," says Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Cocodrie, La. "Things that a farmer doesn't know about he doesn't care about."

Since the widespread adoption of man-made fertilizers in the 1950s -- the innovation behind the "green revolution" -- fertilizer and pollution runoff has caused hypoxia to increase in many shallow waters. By one estimate, the number of dead zones worldwide has doubled every 10 years since the 1960s, to 170. The US has about 50 hypoxic areas affecting half its estuaries. As developing countries continue to adopt industrial-scale farming methods, many foresee the problem spreading.

The Gulf dead zone has grown steadily, doubling in average size between 1980 and 2000. Scientists expect it to get bigger. More fertilizer than ever is washing down the Mississippi due to the ethanol boom and heavy rains. This year scientists predict a Massachusetts-sized dead zone, nearly 20 percent larger than the previous record of 2002. Chronic hypoxia has completely altered places like Chesapeake Bay and the Black Sea. No one knows how the Gulf's hypoxic zone might affect the area's lucrative fisheries.

"We're ... playing roulette with the Gulf fisheries," says Doug Daigle, coordinator of the Lower Mississippi River Sub Basin Committee on Hypoxia in Baton Rouge, La. "The big fear is that we'll have a crash.... Once that happens, it's very hard to try to go back and fix it."

The problem, which embraces the 1.2 million-square-mile Mississippi watershed, spread across 31 states, is daunting. But a recent US Geological Survey report indicated that the fertilizer sources are relatively concentrated. Nine states contribute 75 percent of the nutrient runoff that ends up in the Gulf. Each year, $391 million worth of fertilizer washes down the Mississippi, according to the nonprofit Envi°©°©ron°©°©mental Working Group (EWG) in Washington.

Mitigation measures are relatively low-tech. Planting a buffer of certain crops - switch grass, for example - around farmland can cut nutrient-rich runoff. Wetland systems absorb nutrients in the water, which places a premium on wetland restoration. Changing when and how farmers fertilize also lessens runoff.

When polled, farmers say they would prefer the more diverse landscape implied by buffers and restored wetlands. Indeed, various programs exist at both state and federal levels to pay farmers to let land go fallow, or even restore it. But currently the incentives to plant crops -- including direct subsidies and high food prices -- are much greater than those for conservation. In the top polluting counties, EWG puts the ratio at 500 to 1.

"They're being paid to grow more and more corn rather than to implement these conservation measures," says Donald Scavia, professor of natural resources and environment at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "You're concerned about fish in the ocean, and it's being driven by US farm and energy policy."

The only way to address the problem, say experts, is through a coordinated effort led by a central authority.

In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency convened a task force to address the problem. Four years later, the group produced a comprehensive action plan aimed at halving the size of the hypoxic area by 2015. To do so, nutrients would have to be cut by almost one-third. (A later study found that a 55 percent cut would be required.)

Eight years later, some are calling it the "no-action plan." Individual states have moved to address their water quality issues locally, but the coordinated effort called for in the action plan has yet to emerge. Lack of money is the biggest obstacle, a fact noted in the in the 2008 Action Plan signed earlier this month.

"The goal was to achieve something like $2 billion per year to fight hypoxia," says Len Bahr, director of applied science in the Louisiana governor's Office of Coastal Activities in Baton Rouge, and a signatory on the 2008 plan. "None of that money has ever materialized."

"We don't really have the legal authority in place for anyone to fix this," says Catherine Kling, a professor of economics at Iowa State University, Ames. "And if you don't have that, you have to rely on voluntary" measures.

Ethanol production is likely to enlarge the dead zone. A March study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if the US meets its stated goal of 15 billion to 36 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol by 2022, nutrient flow into the northern Gulf will increase by 10 to 34 percent. Without drastic changes in agricultural practices, the paper concludes, the Action Plan's goals are "practically impossible."

Already, last year farmers devoted a nearly California-sized tract of land to corn cultivation, a 15 percent increase over the previous year, and a 60-year high. Last year, the dead zone reached the third-largest extent ever observed.

Heavy rainfall throughout the Midwest this year has increased the Mississippi's discharge by 75 percent. While the river's fertilizer concentration is lower than last year's because of high water volume, it will dump 37 percent more nutrients into the Gulf. Loss of crops to floods may urge farmers to plant a second crop, sending more fertilizer downstream.

A study published earlier this year speculates that, after 30 years of excess nutrients, the Gulf ecosystem may be near a tipping point. The northern Gulf's sediments have become so saturated, the authors say, that the ecosystem is showing less resilience. Compared with 30 years ago, it takes a smaller nutrient load to cause the same size dead zone.

Some fishermen are worried, too.

"It has the potential to affect fisheries," says Ms. Rabalais. Fish can flee when an area turns hypoxic. But often the bottom-dwelling bivalves and worms that form an integral part of the ecosystem can't. "It reduces biodiversity," she says. And with each reduction, returning fish find the ecosystem less able to sustain them.

Others think the dead zone's potential impact on fisheries is being oversold. How oxygen-depleted waters affect an ecosystem depends on the ecosystem itself, says James Cowan, a fisheries oceanographer at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

In Chesapeake Bay, for example, originally dominated by bottom-dwelling organisms like oysters, increased nutrient influx has restructured the food web. Low-oxygen waters can occupy up to 40 percent of the Chesapeake in summer, suffocating crabs, fish, and worms. Centuries of harvesting oysters, which once filtered excess nutrients from the water and so defended the bay against hypoxia, may have sent the ecosystem past a tipping point. Few oysters remain.

But at the mouth of the Mississippi, the ecosystem is already adapted to a harsh environment that includes large pulses of sediment and fresh water. Midwater organisms accustomed to these conditions dominate the ecosystem. The greater threat here, Dr. Cowan says, is loss of coastal wetlands that serve as fish nurseries. "For my money, that's the bigger concern," he says.

Obama Opts Out of Public Funding for His Campaign

Washington -- In a controversial but not unexpected move, Sen. Barack Obama has opted out of the public financing system for presidential candidates.

The decision by the presumptive Democratic nominee, announced to supporters in an Obama video message Thursday morning, makes the senator the first major-party candidate to depart the system for the general election since its inception in 1976.

Senator Obama had strongly suggested he would stay within the system earlier in the campaign, but as he racked up impressive fundraising totals in his run for the nomination, it became clear that he could be better funded by forgoing public financing.

In a Monitor breakfast held moments after Obama's announcement, two senior campaign officials laid out the rationale for opting out. They blamed Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee and a longtime advocate for campaign-finance reform, for gaming the system. They also blamed so-called 527 groups, which operate independently of the campaigns and which can take unlimited and unregulated donations, for rendering public financing unworkable.

"This system is broken," said Robert Gibbs, communications director of the Obama campaign, at the Monitor event. "It's now being manipulated and gamed by entities that possess and spend far in excess of what is allocated to each of the candidates to spend in the general."

If Obama had opted to stay in the federal system, he would have been granted $84.1 million in taxpayer money to compete in the general election. But Obama's fundraising prowess -- he raised a record $55 million in February alone -- means he will likely have far in excess of that to compete against McCain.

Obama's campaign appears to be gambling that it's worth it to take a hit now for backtracking on its stated intent to stay in the federal system but reap the larger benefits of a financially flush campaign.

The McCain campaign fired back with its reaction: "Today, Barack Obma has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama," wrote communications director Jill Hazelbaker in a statement. "The true test of a candidate for president is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public financing system undermines his call for a new type of politics."

During the primaries, Obama had said that if he won the nomination, he would meet with McCain to work out a fair way to finance the campaigns. The meeting did not take place.

Robert Bauer, general counsel to the Obama campaign, said at the breakfast that he met with his counterpart on the McCain campaign, Trevor Potter, but by the time they met, it was clear to him the McCain campaign was already well into its own private-funding plan in conjunction with the Republican National Committee (RNC).

"There comes a point where it's so obvious it's merely a messaging effort and not a good-faith effort to meet us on competitive terms," Mr. Bauer said. "It's not clear what there was to talk about."

In alleging in his video that the McCain campaign has become a master "at gaming this broken system," Obama slammed his opponent and the RNC for accepting contributions from lobbyists and special-interest political action committees. He also scored McCain for not stopping attacks from 527 groups.

The Obama campaign officials acknowledged that 527s operate, by law, independently of the candidates, but they said the candidates can still make it clear when they disapprove of the groups' activities. When McCain said last week that "I can't be a referee of every spot run on television," Bauer said, that effectively gave a "green light" to 527 activities.

Bauer also accused McCain of pretending to have the option of a publicly funded general-election campaign, while privately doing aggressive fundraising during the months between securing the GOP nomination in February and his party's convention in September.

There is wide agreement within both parties and among experts that the public-financing system is broken. In January 2007, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin and three House members introduced legislation aimed at updating the presidential public-financing system in part by increasing matching funds, but the legislation has not gone anywhere.

"I'm very much in favor of public financing. However, the existing public-financing law has been flawed from the start," says Robert Mutch, a campaign-finance historian. "The main problem with the public-financing system for nearly the last 30 years is that it became too easy to get around it."

Gail Russell Chaddock contributed to this report.

Where Have All the Fish Gone?

Early European explorers to the Americas encountered an astounding abundance of marine life. White beluga whales, now limited to the arctic, swam as far south as Boston Bay. Cod off Newfoundland were so plentiful that fishermen could catch them with nothing more than a weighted basket lowered into the water. As late as the mid-19th century, river herring ran so thick in the eastern United States that wading across certain waterways meant treading on fish. And everywhere sharks were so numerous that, after hauling in their catches, fishers often found them stripped to the bone.

"It completely bowled me over when I started reading some of these early accounts," says Callum Roberts, a professor of marine conservation at the University of York, England, and author of "The Unnatural History of the Sea," which tells much of this tale. "The picture painted is one of an abundance of life which is very hard for us to grasp today."

Hundreds of years of fishing -- and especially the last half century of industrialized fishing -- have drastically altered the oceans. Measured by weight, only 1/10th of the large predators that once swam the seas -- the big fish and sharks that shape the entire ecosystem -- is estimated to remain. And many of these changes have occurred relatively recently. Any middle-aged fisherman will wax nostalgic about the catches of just 20 years ago. Any marine scientist will glumly check off reefs they once studied that are now bleached and overgrown with algae as a result of overfishing and pollution, and the marine life that's simply disappeared.

"Today's oceans have got far less in the way of biomass than they used to," says Professor Roberts. "We're altering ecosystems in a way that reduces the level of productivity they can support."

After millenniums of a free-for-all, many foresee the era of open access to the ocean formally coming to a close.

World catches have steadily declined since peaking in the late 1980s. Everyone, from scientists to fishermen, is alarmed. And in the US, all quarters are pushing to develop solutions before the problem becomes unfixable. Fishermen and fishery managers are rethinking management to encourage stewardship. Scientists now say that fish stocks can't be viewed in isolation; they must be managed in the context of the greater ecosystem. Many, even some fishermen begrudgingly, realize the importance of having some areas completely off-limits to fishing in order to keep ecosystems healthy. And increasingly, a new argument is heard in the debate over fisheries: Marine ecosystems should be preserved not just for their economic value, but also because, like the wilderness preserved in the national forest system, they are part of humankind's natural heritage.

The debate comes at a time when, driven by both health trends and increasing prosperity in countries like China, demand for fish is rising. In industrialized countries, fish consumption doubled, to 27 million metric tons, between 1961 and 2003, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Per capita, that's an increase of one-third, to 29.7 kg (65.5 lbs.) per person yearly. (Much of the increased demand is being met by a growing aquaculture industry.) In developing countries, fish continue to provide an important source of protein. The average African gets 17 percent of his protein from fish; for Asians, it's 26 percent. The typical North American gets only 7 percent of his protein from fish.

Fishery managers have a name for what can be removed without causing stocks to fall: the maximum sustainable yield. In theory, a well-managed fishery should provide free food -- save for the cost of catching it -- year after year.

And yet, even in the US where stocks are on balance in better condition than in other places, 41 of the 244 stocks for which the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has information are being fished at unsustainable levels, or overfished. Worldwide, one-quarter of fish stocks are overfished, says the FAO. Another 50 percent are fished to full capacity; they can sustain no more. According to one somewhat controversial analysis, if current fishing trends continue, all the world's fisheries will have collapsed by mid-century.

What happened? Daniel Pauly, director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, calls the combined cultural, technological, and economic factors "the march of folly."

It began with a long-held notion of the sea's endless bounty.

Until relatively recently, fishermen, fishery managers, and scientists alike thought the sea was so vast, so teeming with life, that human activity simply couldn't diminish it, Mr. Pauly says.

Until the advent of modern fishing technology in the 20th century, it couldn't.

"The sea was very large compared to the means we had to exploit it," Pauly says. But beginning with steam-powered trawlers more than 100 years ago, and ending with today's global-positioning navigational systems, technology has improved fishermen's reach and efficiency. "We essentially deployed our industrial armada against fish, and obviously we would win: It's a war against fish," says Pauly.

Technology made inaccessible fish accessible. Pristine areas used to constantly replenish adjacent areas that were fished, scientists hypothesize. But as technology let fleets fish in areas previously unfished due to remoteness or difficult undersea topography, this replenishment failed. Fish numbers fell, but better fishing technology concealed the trend. World catches remained stable or increased, suggesting healthy stocks.

Then, when local stocks began to collapse, fleets moved ever farther offshore, leading to what Robert Steneck, a professor of marine biology at the University of Maine, Orono, calls "roving banditry": High-seas fleets fishing stocks to collapse, then moving on. Many countries also subsidized their fleets, increasing capacity far beyond what the seas could absorb. Worldwide, the FAO estimates that by the 1990s, subsidies had pushed fishing capacity some 30 to 50 percent above what the oceans could sustain. (It has since fallen.)

"When the biomass goes down because of fishing, in a sense the stock has a message.... 'Leave me alone,' " says Pauly. "But subsidies, which contribute to the harvesting of fish, enable the fisher to ignore the signal of the stock."

In the US, which actively developed its domestic fleet throughout the late 1970s and '80s with low-interest loans and other programs, many thought that fishing overcapacity would self-correct. If fishermen were just another predator, once fish numbers dropped, fishers would, too. Equilibrium would be restored.

But the laws of economics led to a different outcome: "As stocks get rarer and rarer, their prices go up -- the so-called 'ratchet effect,' " says Steve Murawski, chief scientist at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in Silver Spring, Md. The incentive to catch the few remaining fish increases rather than decreases. "That wasn't well understood," he says.

Empty Oceans, a series on the state of the world's fisheries, will be appearing in the Monitor's environment section. For the full series, click here.

New Battleground States for Obama and McCain

Washington -- As the 2008 general election campaign kicks off, both major candidates are surveying the smorgasbord of states before them and see a table groaning with possibilities.

Both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain see openings in states won by the opposing party in recent cycles. For Senator Obama of Illinois, demographic changes have made red states such as Virginia, Colorado, and North Carolina competitive. For Senator McCain of Arizona, Obama's poor primary showing among some traditional Democratic constituencies in crucial blue states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan has created an opening.

One need look no further than the two presumptive nominees' schedules to see the strategies in operation. This week, Obama is in Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin -- only the last of which was won (barely) by Democratic nominee John Kerry four years ago. Last week, Obama launched his general election campaign in Virginia, a state that President Bush won four years ago by 9 points, and which both 2008 campaigns now consider competitive -- the most dramatic entry into the ranks of battleground states.

McCain's presence Wednesday in Philadelphia, where he will hold a town-hall meeting, signals his intention to poach a blue state rich with Reagan Democrats -- and a critical 21 electoral votes of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

"It is an absolute must-win state for Obama; if he loses it, I think it's almost impossible for him to win the election, because he's also likely losing Ohio and Florida," says Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

McCain is competitive in Pennsylvania, Mr. Madonna says, "because he is able to attract independents."

But for now, analysts say, the overall electoral map tilts toward Obama. The floundering economy, the Iraq war, and an unpopular Republican president all work against McCain, and if Obama can secure the states that Senator Kerry won in 2004, that's already 252 electoral votes -- with just 18 to go for the presidency. Ohio alone (20 electoral votes) gets him there. So does a combination of Iowa (7), Colorado (9), and Nevada (5) or New Mexico (5), all states considered ripe for the picking by Obama.

The Obama campaign, flush with cash and fresh off a highly competitive nomination race that required organization building in every state, is promising a 50-state effort in the general election.

"Today, I am proud to announce that our presidential campaign will be the first in a generation to deploy and maintain staff in every single state," Obama's deputy national campaign director, Steve Hildebrand, announced Monday in an e-mail to supporters.

All campaigns, of course, say they are competing everywhere; there's no point in discouraging core voters in safe states, and making those electoral votes less than automatic -- or missing opportunities in the opposition's seemingly safe states. But this time around, with the environment weighing so heavily in the Democrats' favor, a 50-state strategy may seem a bit less pie in the sky.

Republicans have lost three normally safe congressional seats this year in special elections, and signs point to another "wave" election, following the wave of 2006, when the Democrats swept the Republicans out of the leadership in both the House and the Senate.

Even though McCain is competitive with Obama so far in national polls, he faces a generic Republican vs. Democrat environment that favors the Democrats by a double-digit margin.

Also in Obama's back pocket is a large pool of unregistered black voters in states he hopes to make competitive. As of 2004, according to Census numbers, Georgia alone had 500,000 African-Americans who were not registered to vote. The Obama campaign is aggressively courting those voters with the prospect of electing the nation's first black president -- and thus many political handicappers put Georgia in the "lean McCain" column, not in his base.

North Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana are also in same boat, with large untapped populations of black voters that could make those states competitive. Even if Obama does not win there, he could force the less-well-funded McCain to divert resources to them.

David Bositis, an expert on the black vote at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, notes that the states with the biggest black populations are also the most racially polarized.

"Senator Obama is not going to win these states just with black voters," he says. "He has to have some prospect of doing reasonably well with white voters."

Mississippi may be beyond reach, but states like North Carolina and Georgia, with influxes of upper-income, young, and educated white voters could become competitive with a large-enough black turnout.

"If they [the Obama campaign] can turn out enough new voters and combine them with progressive whites and even bring back some Reagan Democrats, they can be competitive," says Kerry Haynie, a political scientist at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "The economy is in the tank, and it gives them an opening."

Water-rich New England Building a Desalination Plant

Far from the arid US Southwest and its longstanding water woes, or even the Southeast and its new water skirmishes -- attitudes are shifting in lush New England.

That's right. Despite abundant lakes and good rainfall, weak groundwater resources have crimped economic growth in some areas. As a result, the first big New England desalination plant turning brackish (salt water, fresh water mix) into fresh is expected to go online in Massachusetts this month.

That surprises some people, but not Robert Tannenwald, an economist and director of the New England Public Policy Center at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Two years ago he did a study showing that New England -- contrary to public perceptions -- is not at all water-rich region, but one that needs to manage its water supplies more carefully and look for new sources.

"There's still a general mind-set [in New England] that water as a resource is not in scarce supply -- but it is," Mr. Tannenwald says. "We waste a lot of water. There's a lot of leaky pipes around here. So economics has to kick in and water has to be priced accordingly for the waste to stop."

Initially, the Aquaria desalination plant, hard by the Taunton River a few miles from its mouth on Narragansett Bay, will supply 4 million gallons of fresh water each day to the city of Brockton 16 miles away. Using a reverse-osmosis process, it will filter salt and other impurities from brackish water flowing up the river from the ocean during high tide.

But not everyone is happy about what could become a regional trend. "The fact we are building desalination plants in New England is really a tragedy," says Christopher Kilian, clean-water program director for the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation. "This is a region that gets an immense amount of precipitation and where fresh water is being squandered. Before we start pouring costly desalinated water into the bucket, we should make the most of what we have and plug the leaks in the pipes."

But Brockton has done that already, cutting water demand from around 11 million gallons per day to about 9 million. Now it needs the certainty that a steady supply of fresh water will bring to ensure economic growth, observers say.

Alfredo Andres is general manager of the new $60 million Aquaria desalination plant in Dighton, Mass., owned by Inima USA, the US subsidiary of Inima, itself a division of Madrid-based OHL.

"We're glad to be here and think this plant will do a good service for towns in this area," he says, looking out over the Taunton River beside the intake area and the net that keeps fish out.

Eventually, he says, a half dozen other communities could be served by the same pipeline if the plant one day expands its capacity.

"Obviously, the first thing a community must do is conserve its water and fix the leaks in its pipes," Mr. Andres says. "But Brockton has done that and they still need water to grow. So do some of the other towns. We think this is the future."

He may be right. With the decline in processing cost, desalination plants with a combined capacity of about 42 million cubic meters a day are operating worldwide today. They will surpass the 100 million cubic-meter mark by 2016, according to a 2007 report by the Zurich-based Sustainable Asset Management (SAM) group investment firm.

There are numerous desalination proposals being weighed for California and Florida, where Inima is also competing for work. Worldwide, the market for large-scale reverse-osmosis filtration systems is expected to grow nearly 50 percent over the next four years, according to the McIlvaine Company, a Northfield, Ill., market-research firm. Topping its sales list forecast is the US, followed by Japan, Saudi Arabia, China, and Spain.

"We expect to see the greatest growth in the area of desalination, especially in Asia and the Middle East," Robert McIlvaine, the company president, said in a statement.

Desalination won't do for Maude Barlow. The Canadian water warrior is worried that desalination puts control of clean water in the hands of corporations and undermines what should be strong efforts by government to stop waste and pollution of natural supplies.

In her view, the future could include desalination plants ringing the world's oceans to produce costly water for the masses, while the rich will "drink only bottled water found in the few remaining uncontaminated parts of the world."

But don't tell that to Inima's Mr. Andres.

"We think we're doing something really good here," he says. "People in this area need water -- and we're helping them."

Special Schools for Pregnant Girls

Boise, Idaho - Soon after getting pregnant, high school sophomore Alicia Mattocks worried that bullies might purposely slam her into a locker and that a teacher's rules wouldn't allow frequent bathroom runs.

But it was the thought of not having to go to school quite so early, when she felt her worst, that pushed her to transfer to the Marian Pritchett School, an alternative public school in Boise for pregnant and parenting students. That decision, she says, saved her from dropping out.

A senior now, she plasters her binders with photos of her son, Ryder. This June, she'll mark another milestone: On her head will be a tasseled square cap.

Pritchett school, however, faces a funding shortfall because state grants that fund it have dried up. Separate schools for pregnant teens have dwindled in recent years because of concern for educational equality, budget constraints, and changing social mores.

But with one-third of all girls who drop out citing motherhood as a reason for leaving, these specialty schools from a bygone era may yet hold some lessons about how to keep kids in school. "The support for these specialized programs is critical in that they provide models of possibility in what can be done in school systems," says Wendy Luttrell, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Such alternative schools have been declining since the early 1990s, she says, as the idea of "mainstreaming" pregnant girls gained hold. Which approach is better depends often on the services available to girls in a particular region. So when New York City closed its last four "P-Schools" for pregnant teens last year, Dr. Luttrell supported the move. The city had high levels of services, and research showed that the P-Schools gave the girls an inferior education. But she opposed a similar move in North Carolina years earlier because of the limited access to services there.

At Pritchett, the funding shortfall means that principal Deborah Hedden-Nicely may lose full-time social worker Rhonda Murray, who handles many of the girls' basic needs -- day care, government aid, even relationship advice -- so the faculty can focus on quadratic equations, Shakespeare, and standardized tests.

Alicia credits Ms. Murray with getting her food stamps and Medicaid when she had nearly given up. "She actually goes directly down there and hands [the forms] to them. I've had so many applications supposedly lost, or I didn't fill it out right or something. So she's basically there to be my supporter," says Alicia.

The school offers day care and a baby-supply store. Mothers can nurse their babies at the back of classrooms. The school's size -- just 45 students -- allows the girls to get a lot of attention. Classes start after 9 a.m., and extracurricular activities are focused on skills such as business, parenting, and family law.

Above all, the school drills the value of a diploma. Incoming students are snapped wearing a cap and gown. Their photos hang in the hallway as a visual goal.

In the past several years, the school has managed to get 80 to 92 percent of the girls to graduate, and roughly half of them go on to college or junior college. "I have big plans," says Alicia, who is heading to Boise State University in the fall to study culinary arts. "I am going to be head chef of some fancy restaurant."

With just a few months before graduation, senior Cynthia Carrillo was ready to drop out. She lost her ride to school and felt the overwhelming need to start working to provide for her 2-year-old. She asked her business teacher to help her get a General Education Development certification instead.

The temptation to give up is one reason the principal makes new mothers return to school just 10 days after childbirth. Otherwise, she says, "they evaporate."

"We have the time to pay attention to things like this. If these things are not paid attention to, what we see is students falling through the net and not finishing," says Ms. Hedden-Nicely.

That's a concern shared by the New York Civil Liberties Union in the wake of the city's P-School closures. While the NYCLU agreed the schools could not continue offering substandard education, they didn't want them closed without alternatives. And that's exactly what happened, says NYCLU chief Donna Lieberman.

A spokesperson for the New York City schools says the girls received one-on-one counseling to help them choose a new school, including schools that grant diplomas, which the P-Schools did not. The 343 former P-School students make up only a fraction of the estimated 7,000 pregnant and parenting students in the system. That's only an estimate, however, since the district cannot collect data on these students for privacy reasons.

Lack of data is a nationwide problem. There have been no definitive studies on whether mainstreaming serves pregnant and parenting students better. "One of the biggest advantages of the alternative schools is they understand that the girls are pregnant and needed to have absences," says Pat Paluzzi, president of Healthy Teen Network, a Baltimore-based nonprofit group focused on teen pregnancy. That said, there may be a trade-off: "They might have better graduation rates, [but] I'm not sure their programs have as good academics."

Her group is working on a three-year study to determine if that's indeed the case. The National Women's Law Center, meanwhile, is pushing Congress to amend No Child Left Behind to permit more data collection on these students.

Under the Title IX law, schools must let pregnant and parenting students stay and must make the same accommodations given to students with temporary disabilities. In reality, says Luttrell, services key to these students are often the first to be cut from tight budgets.

As for Hedden-Nicely, she's hoping to form an alumni network to help with funding. More public support is in everyone's interest, she says. "What do we want? We want educated, successful, independent people and families out there who are contributing to communities," she says. "When these programs go away, there's going to be a lot of girls left in the dust."