Posts Tagged ‘environmental issues’

Chasing Environmental Change

October 18, 2017

By Joannah Otis, for No Water No Life

Joannah is a Georgetown University sophomore studying Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology. A member of the university’s Environmental Club, she enjoys spending her free time in N.J.’s Raritan River Basin, a NWNL case study watershed.  Joannah is a NWNL Researcher for Fall 2017.  Below is Part II of her analysis of our 2016 NWNL Survey.  Part I can be found here: A Green Education for the Younger Generation.

 

From the mid-to-late 1900’s, climate change and water-use issues began to appear more and more consistently in the popular media.  Yet, based on results of a 2016 NWNL Survey, working-age adults between the ages of 31 and 50 are surprisingly unaware of environmental disruptions in their own communities, even though the concept of climate change gained traction during the formative years of their lives. In 1975, the term “global warming” was introduced by American scientist Wallace Broecker. By 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to assess the effects and dangers of emissions, water use, and pollution. Two years later, this panel released its initial Report detailing how greenhouse-gas emissions lead to increased average temperatures. Later IPCC Reports state that it is 95% likely that humans are causing global warming.

 

Jones_140316_CA_0484Refineries on the northern extension of the San Francisco Bay, California (2014)

 

Shortly thereafter, Al Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance further exposed the general public to the threats human behavior was placing on biodiversity, water, soil and climate. He proposed a “Global Marshall Plan,” intended to eradicate poverty, protect the environment, and promote sustainable development through an Eco-Social Market Economy.1 The “Climategate” affair of 2009 stirred further public debate concerning wasteful human practices when hackers released some e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.2  In spite of these decades of publicity on climate change and human effects on the planet, wasteful water use continues today.

Those between 31 to 50 however have been exposed to environmentally-friendly practices starting at a young age.  So perhaps that’s why they as a group are more likely to be frugal water users. The NWNL Survey revealed that nobody polled in this age group considered themselves wasteful with water. In fact, 30% claimed to be frugal water consumers vesus only 14% of the 18-30 year-old respondents. It is also notable that 28% of the youngest group in the survey, the under-18-year-olds, admitted to being wasteful. [See Part I of this Survey Analysis on the need for under-18-year-olds to become more aware of environmental issues, the need to reduce consumption, and their carbon footprints.]  Those in the over 50-year-old bracket were the least willing to alter their wasteful water practices. This information is reconcilable with the fact that the older generation did not grow up with encouragements to be environmentally friendly and thus are hesitant to alter their habits.

 

Jones_111026_LA_0547Clay water jug being filled from wall pipe, Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana (2011)

 

At the same time, about 79% of those in the 31-50 age range never or infrequently recycle water. This survey response is somewhat tilted, given that the majority of people surveyed did not come from drought-afflicted areas. In states like California where water shortages are a perpetual part of everyday life, water recycling has become much more popular. Starting in 2015, the California Water Environment Association and other municipal water groups produced recycled water from community waste treatment plants  for free. Although not all recycled water is suitable for drinking, all recycled water can be used for landscaping and agricultural purposes.3  Going further, some extremely arid California communities, including San Diego, began recycling “black water,” which is processed from sewage that includes human waste, into drinking water beginning in 2011.4  (Once overcoming “the mental yuck factor,” those that drink this recycled water, including NWNL Director Alison Jones, say it’s delicious).   Such government water-recycling projects make it much easier for people to be more responsible water users.

 

Jones_140322_CA_3870Sign for non-potable reclaimed water, San Joaquin River Valley, California (2014)

 

While it is concerning that more than half  (58%) of 31-50 year-olds are unsure of what water changes are being pursued in their community, it is encouraging that a large percentage of them are individually willing to make water use changes. Of those surveyed in this age group, 73% were open to buying fewer “high-water-content” items. These items include leather, paper, cotton clothing and merchandise from drought-ridden areas. For example, producing just one pair of jeans takes about 1,800 gallons of water,5 while one sheet of paper demands almost three gallons.6

NWNL hopes more will be done to encourage these working-age adults, who say they are willing to put water-saving techniques into practice, to learn more about climate-change impacts on their community. A renewed emphasis on presenting reliable, factual information in the news and in social media will be important in promoting effective approaches to responsible water consumption practices.   

 

All photos © Alison M. Jones.

A walk on the edge of the woods

December 4, 2015

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta are a small, unique ecosystem within the Raritan River Basin, along the edge of its Manalapan River tributary. They are part of the Spotswood Outlier of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Many who think they know the Raritan River Basin are amazed to learn of this outlier with its acid cedar bogs filled with spaghnum moss and muck, porous soil and pitch pine forest. But Joe Sapia has lived here his whole life. His knowledge and appreciation of this special “neck of the woods” is found in each one of his series of almost 50 photo essays. NWNL thanks Joe for giving us a tour of his “backyard” and sharing this lovely photo essay.

RRB-sapia01

Changing colors of foliage

A WALK ON THE EDGE OF THE WOODS

The Pine Barrens around Helmetta,
November-December, 2015; No. 46
 by Joseph Sapia

As I hiked through Jamesburg Park, Jimmy Talnagi stood outside his cabin, lighted punk in hand.

Strange, I thought, I just had an online discussion with fellow, local 
baby-boomers about punks, or cat-tails. As children, we would light the 
cigar-like flower, ostensibly to keep mosquitoes away, but more likely to be one of the kids. Jimmy was not part of the recent discussion, but here he was, as if waiting for me, with the smoking punk. And, this being November, was not part of the season for mosquitoes.

I had three punks left from the warmer weather, what am I going to do?  Jimmy said. They just start shredding, like a big puff ball.



True, the fluffy vegetation of this punk was coming apart, sticking to my 
sweatshirt. So, either light them for the heck of it or let them disintegrate.

Jimmy and the punk were one of various unexpected discoveries on today’s walk – a walk on the edge of the woods. The walk was meant to combine two things: one, a hike into nature, and, two, a pragmatic commute to the other side of the woods to Krygier’s Nursery, whose owner, Jimmy Krygier, was giving me a ride to pick up my Jeep, which was getting some mechanical work done about 8 miles away near Englishtown. Because I was tired and busy with house projects, I did not really have the will or the time to get into the woods. So, I compromised, turning down Jimmy picking me up at home, but sort of walking the woods – that is, walking on the edge of the woods – to Jimmy’s house.

So, around 2 p.m. on this overcast day of 55 to 60 degrees that was calm 
to having a light breeze, I set off toward Cranberry Bog. The idea was to 
walk the Pipeline to the ConRail railroad tracks, then to the bog, past 
Shekiro’s Pond into Jamesburg Park and out the woods at Jimmy’s, roughly a walk of two miles.

Walking the edge of the woods is not as good as walking deeply into the 
woods, but I made my first discovery hardly off the beaten track. On the 
natural gas Pipeline, I came across plentiful and huge acorns. This year is a “mast year,” somewhat of a mystery when oaks really kick out acorns. An oak in my yard was covered with acorns; Here, they were huge.

sapia-02

Huge and plentiful acorns during this “mast year,” here on the Pipeline. Classic Pine Barrens ecosystem of white sand, pitch pine,Virginia pine, and oak.

Continuing on, I turned toward Helmetta, briefly walking the ConRail freight tracks, before turning toward the Bog. Almost immediately I came across a microcosm of the Pine Barrens: white, beach sand-like soil mixed with oak, pitch pine and Virginia pine. If someone doubts this area is part of the Pine Barrens, have that person look at this scene.

As I continued, I came across blazing red tree leaves, the changing colors 
of vegetation during the transition from hot to cold weather. What a 
beautiful scene, but nearby there was evidence a local neighborhood is dumping its vegetative waste in the area. At the Bog, too, I was greeted by another sad scene: invasive phragmites. Not only overtaking the bog as a whole, but overtaking a nice stand of valuable punks.

As I moved on, the phragmites invasion continued. I counted five plants 
growing in Shekiro’s Pond. Five now, but how many in a short time? On the bright side, literally across the unpaved road from the pond, I found nice tands of winterberry. Not only beautiful, but food for birds and decorative material for my Christmas decorations.

sapia-03

Five shoots of very invasive phragmites, with the tassel at top, begins an invasion at Shekiro’s Pond.

Five shoots of very invasive phragmites, with the tassel at top, begins an 
invasion at Shekiro’s Pond. I dipped back into civilization at the former worker houses of the George W. Helme Snuff Mill, then worked my way out again into the woods passing Jimmy’s cabin and a few other homes. Finally, I was back in the woods, but out all too soon, my walk done.

Sometimes, life gets in the way of doing fun things, such as playing in the woods. So, one has to take advantage of snippets here and there.

As for the lighted punk, Jimmy insisted I take it as I continued hiking. 
But it was dry and leaves heavily littered the woods.

I don’t want to set the woods on fire, I said.

This went back and forth, with me finally agreeing. I took the punk, bit 
into its stem, and held it like a cockeyed version of President Franklin D. 
Roosevelt and his cigarette.

I tromped on, looking like a swamps-around-Helmetta aristocrat.

sapia-04

Jimmy Talnagi with a lighted punk.

~ ~ ~ 
Joe Sapia, 59-years-old, grew up in and lives in the Pine Barrens around 
Helmetta, where his family has resided for more than 100 years. He can be reached at Snufftin@aol.com or at P.O. Box 275, Helmetta, 08828.

Copyright 2015 by Joseph Sapia.

Offshore oil spills contaminate fresh water, too

November 12, 2014

The NWNL website has added a video trailer for “The Great Invisible”, a new documentary on Louisiana Coast damages caused by oil and gas extraction. NWNL research and our Lower Mississippi River Delta expedition in Sept 2014 have focused on this subject, and we highly recommend this documentary of personal stories that highlight the nexus of Mississippi Delta ecosystem functions and the oil and gas industry. Below is expanded commentary on this issue.

Oil rig in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana

Oil rig in Atchafalaya Bay, Louisiana

“The Great Invisible”, a new documentary by filmmaker Margaret Brown reviewed recently by the New York Times, explores the aftermath of the world’s largest oil spill. The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, operated by BP, in April of 2010 resulted in the discharge of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days, contaminating hundreds of miles of beaches. Extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the fishing and tourism industries resulted not only from the oil but also from adverse effects of the cleanup activities. Chemicals from the oil and the dispersant used during cleanup also led to a public health crisis along the Gulf Coast.

The use of offshore oil wells goes back to the 1890s. The first submerged oil wells in salt water were drilled in the Santa Barbara Channel around 1896. After the first federal offshore lease sale was held in 1954 for oil production rights off the coast of Louisiana, the Gulf Coast became the heart of the U.S. petrochemical industry. However, the safety of offshore drilling came into question with the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in 1969. It was the largest oil spill in United States waters at the time, with consequences similar to those in the Gulf four decades later. It was one of the most dramatic and visible events that led to the the regulatory and legislative framework of the environmental movement.

Spills in the ocean wash ashore and affect the quality of nutrient rich river estuaries where salt water meets fresh water and support spawning grounds and nurseries of our greatest fisheries. In the BP spill, the combination of oil, water, dispersant, weathering and natural organic matter has created an emulsion thicker than peanut butter.

An oil industry executive claims “Regulations block innovation, so government needs to get out of the way of business,” yet to date BP has cleaned up less than 1/3 of the spilled oil, according to the film.

Meanwhile, BP has been in Federal District Court in New Orleans along with Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Halliburton, the contractor responsible for an unstable cement slurry used in the well. In September BP was found to be the primary culprit and that it had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks.” A trial scheduled to begin in January will determine penalties under the Clean Water Act.

Forty-five years after the Santa Barbara oil spill and four years after the Deepwater Horizon, Congress has yet to pass any safety legislation for the petroleum industry.

What will it take to prevent such an accident happening again? More regulation? A change in oil industry culture? Whatever it takes, we hope that “The Great Invisible” will help that conversation along.

— RW

Platform C oil rig in the Barbara Channel

Platform C oil rig in the Barbara Channel

NANPA News* highlights NWNL and Alison M. Jones

November 7, 2014

*North American Nature Photography Association newsletter.

Jones_080204_ET_8207I’ve always enjoyed water. I grew up on a small rural stream with frogs, moss, trout, rocks and fog. Years later, copiloting over sub-Sahara Africa, I saw clearly that where there was no water, there was no life. Thus, No Water No Life ® (NWNL) became the title of my quest to combine the powers of photography, science and stakeholder information to raise awareness of the vulnerability of our fresh water resources.

The following are my daily mantras:

African proverb: “You think of water when the well is dry.”

Leonardo da Vinci: “Water is the driver of nature.”

The Dalai Lama: “The first medicine on this planet was water.”

Words are powerful.
But, if one photograph has the power of 1,000 words, then a photograph that is captioned must be worth 100,000 words.

NANPA award recipient James Balog said, “Science gave me a new lens through which to see the world… a more holistic view and appreciation of the natural environment.” I too relish having science and NWNL goals attached to my lenses, endowing my images with greater impact.

In 2 years the Isle de Jean-Charles, inspiration for the Academy Award-winnning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will probably be lost to sea-level rise and subsidence.

In 2 years the Isle de Jean-Charles, inspiration for the Academy Award-winnning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will probably be lost to sea-level rise and subsidence.

In eight years NWNL has completed 22 expeditions to six case-study watersheds in Africa (Nile, Omo and Mara river basins) and North America (Columbia, Mississippi and Raritan river basins). Resulting imagery, research and blogs are on our website (http://www.nowater-nolife.org) — and those of International Rivers, American Rivers and others. NWNL documentation is further shared via social media, lectures, exhibits, and in books and magazine articles.

We’ve focused on glaciers and tarns (in the Columbia, Mississippi and Nile basins), lakes (including Kenya’s Lake Turkana, now imperiled by Ethiopian hydro-dams on the Omo River), meadows and Texas playas, wetlands (half of these naturally-filtered nurseries are already gone), tributaries, forests (disappearing from Earth at a rate of 36 football fields per minute), riparian corridors, flyways, estuaries and delta lands (disappearing from the Mississippi Delta at the rate of one football field per hour).

Jones_130124_K_3308

Subsistence fishermen on Kenya’s remote Lake Turkana are learning that intensive water extractions by Ethiopian commercial agriculture will ruin their lake and fisheries.

NWNL has interviewed hundreds of scientists, stewards and stakeholders. These commentaries, which we call “Voices of the River,” discuss pollution, climate change, fracking, population growth in Africa, dams and levees, water usage by agriculture and industry, and tropic cascades of predators—anything impacting the health of watersheds. NWNL has recorded solutions from Canadian glaciologists, Maasai wilderness guides, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, historians, farmers and others on how to protect riverine corridors and ecosystems and ensure freshwater availability and quality.

Jones_070804_NJ_7826The overall NWNL goal is to transcend boundaries, bridge divisions and differences, suggest the shape of the future, capture imagination, stir consciences and create change. At NANPA’s 2002 Jacksonville Summit, art critic Vicki Goldberg described the power of photography to meet these objectives: “A photograph is like a lobbyist who sways a legislator.” Apollo 17’s “Blue Marble,” probably the most widely distributed image in human history, is a great example of imagery awakening a global awareness of our unique watery bonds. The connection with Earth’s beauty, which that image evokes, mirrors a comment by Terry Tempest Williams at the October 2014 observance of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act: “We have no choice but to stand for what we love… We the people must walk with the river.”

NWNL will be collating and publishing many more images, videos and essays in online and print media. Upcoming NWNL photoessays will assess and compare water issues in developed and developing worlds, rural and urban regions, upstream and downstream. NWNL will also continue its newly initiated “Spotlights” on critical water issues such as the devastating drought in California.

NWNL appreciates the voluntary contributions of student interns’ research and guest photographers on our expeditions. We also thank photographers working in our case-study watersheds who share their images and findings with NWNL.

NWNL fiscal support comes from individuals, family foundations, grants and generous in-kind donations. To support NWNL in raising awareness of the vulnerability of our freshwater resources, checks to No Water No Life can be sent to Alison Jones, director of No Water No Life, 330 East 79th Street, NY, NY 10075 or via PayPal offered on the NWNL website http://nowater-nolife.org/supportUs/index.html).

Alison M. Jones is a conservation photographer who has documented ecosystems and resource management for more than 25 years in Africa and the Americas. She is the director and lead photographer at NWNL.

Story and photographs by Alison M. Jones.
Published by the North American Nature Photography Association.

America’s energy leftovers makes its mark

September 19, 2014
USA:  Louisiana, New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, flight over coastal wetlands south of New Orleans, aerial view of barge carrying uncovered coal, spilling into the Mississippi River

USA: Louisiana, New Orleans, Lower Mississippi River Basin, flight over coastal wetlands south of New Orleans, aerial view of barge carrying uncovered coal, spilling into the Mississippi River

The world’s largest deposits of
“recoverable” coal are in the U.S.

Will we always be exporting coal?

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

UNDERSTANDING COAL and CARBON and WATER (as U.S. weighs coal regulations and alternatives)

May 28, 2014

IF COAL = CARBON, how do carbon emissions affect
RIVERS, WATERSHEDS and FRESHWATER SUPPLIES?
(Facts from THE UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS)

Air pollution: Burning coal creates smog, soot, acid rain, global warming and toxic air emissions. It is the single biggest air polluter in the U.S. and those airborne particulates fall onto land and into rivers.

Fuel supply: Mining, transporting and storing coal pollutes our land, water and air – and levels our mountains, the headwater sources of our rivers.

Water use: Coal plants consume billions of gallons of cooling water, heating and lowering river levels which then harms wildlife.

Wastes: Ash, sludge, toxic chemicals and wasted heat create environmental problems.

USA: Huntington, West Virginia, storing coal

USA: Huntington, West Virginia, storing coal

A typical coal-powered plant uses only 33-35% of the coal’s heat to produce electricity. The majority of coal’s heat is released into the air or absorbed by the cooling water which is returned to local rivers. Annual waste from a coal plant’s smokestack scrubbers includes an average of 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge. Forty-two percent of U.S. coal combustion waste ponds and landfills are unlined, which makes them permeable.

When the waste toxins – arsenic, mercury, chromium and cadmium – contaminate drinking-water supplies, they can damage vital human organs and nervous systems. Ecosystems are also damaged by the disposal of coal-plant waste, sometimes severely or permanently.

USA: West Virginia, coal plant on Ohio River north of Wheeling

USA: West Virginia, coal plant on Ohio River north of Wheeling

SINCE U.S. COAL POWER PLANTS ARE DECLINING,
WHY REGULATE OR REDUCE THEIR EMISSIONS NOW?

  Although coal power only accounted for 49% of the U.S. electricity production in 2006, it represented 83% of CO2 emissions caused by electricity generation that year. (Wikipedia)

  In 2012, CO2 emissions from electric power were only 39% of all U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions; but coal generated 74% of that 39%, thus coal continues to be a significant polluter.

Jan 2014 Primary Energy Production by Source
measured in quadrillion Btu
(most recent figures from U.S. Energy Information Agency, p. 5)

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 11.50.15 AM

USA: Idaho,  Columbia River Basin, Snake River Basin

USA: Idaho, Columbia River Basin, Snake River Basin

Our Great Migrators

May 21, 2014

*NWNL thoughts prior to World Fish Migration Day-5/24.*

Many are unaware of the exquisite sarabande of life personified by our migratory species: anadromous fish, birds, monarch butterflies, dragonflies and others.

Most migratory species are threatened in one form or another during their annual passages by manmade impediments. Today, on expedition along the Snake River, NWNL is following the struggle of the Columbia River migratory salmon, steelhead and lamprey to overcome dams, pollution, warmer streams and other challenges as they seek their traditional spawning grounds. Fish passages at dams and fish hatcheries have helped them avoid extinction, but more help is needed to bring back healthy numbers of salmon.

US: Washington, Columbia River Basin, Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River, bypass for juvenile salmon migrating downstream.

National Climate Assessment is required reading for all

May 7, 2014

Today’s New York Times front page –

U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods

NWNL has witnessed the effects of climate change over 8 years of expeditions to document watersheds in North America and Africa. From wading through flooded towns, running from hurricanes, interviewing farmers tackling long-term drought, trekking with pastoralists with thirsty cattle and many things in between. Click on images below for captions and links for related articles.

The interactive digital version of the new 840-page National Climate Assessment report is at www.globalchange.gov.  It’s complex, so NWNL recommends two articles that summarize the issues as outlined.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/climate-change-projected-worsen-across-u-s-federal-study-finds/

Seth Borenstein’s account emphasizes that the report’s value lies in that it is written in less scientific language than others and that it underlines how climate change is already affecting our pocketbooks in areas ranging from our health to our homes.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/nowhere-run-climate-change-will-affect-every-region-u-s-n98396

An NBC News account delineates climate change impacts, region by region. Reading these reports today, NWNL has noted the current and expected climate disruptions in the Pacific NW region for its one month Snake River Basin expedition which starts tomorrow.  We are looking forward to hearing local stakeholders’ solutions for mitigation and resilience in the face of continued extreme climate events.

Oysters for the Raritan and Hudson Bays

May 6, 2014

oysters

NWNL focuses on solutions to watershed degradation as much as it does on watershed threats. This spring, NWNL guest writer Carly Shields is investigating an exciting innovative approach to reducing pollution and stabilizing shorelines in the New Jersey-New York Raritan and Hudson Bays. Her first report begins:

“Oysters are more than something you’re served at a restaurant with Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce and a glass of white wine. Oysters are actually a keystone species in North America – and especially in areas like the New York Harbor. In two watersheds that were once the main source for the oyster business, concerned scientists and stewards are now trying to re-seed, and eventually re-harvest, a billion oysters in the waters of New York City.  New York Harbor School students are making it possible for these pollution-filtering mollusks to make a comeback.

Jones_050323_ARG_0021

The marine-science focus of the high school on Governors Island is teaching its own students and middle school students in all five boroughs about the importance of oysters in their local waters and how to be the caretakers for these shellfish. This public high school is spawning oyster larvae:  something not done by any other school in the state of New York or anywhere – outside of California.

With the help of NYC students, the school has already grown seven million oysters, which are now back in the New York Harbor. Aquaculture teachers from the school are helping students take New York harbor water, and then spiking the water temperatures. This allows the larvae to think it’s time to spawn. The larvae then metamorphose into full-sized adult oysters.“

Jones_120429_NY_1743

Further investigations and interviews by Carly Shields for NWNL will explain the ecological importance of re-establishing oyster beds to improve water quality and strengthen shorelines. The latter is increasingly necessary due to wave erosion and higher water levels from severe storms like Sandy and further climate disruption.

Lichen is part of the biodiversity of vegetation in our watersheds and serves as tool for water retention.

April 30, 2014
Kenya: Mau Forest, source of the Mara River

Kenya: Mau Forest, source of the Mara River

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

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