Posts Tagged ‘water quality’

Dealing with California’s 4-year drought

May 19, 2015

The End of California?” is the headline of Timothy Egan’s New York Times op ed piece for May 3. “California,” he says, “from this drought onward, will be a state transformed.… The Golden State may recover, but it won’t be the same place.”

As dire as that sounds, an aggressive statewide effort – to use water more efficiently, reuse wastewater and capture lost stormwater – could save enough water to serve 20 cities the size of Los Angeles every year, according to a new analysis released by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Now in its fourth year of drought, the state’s reservoirs are running low, lakes are turning into mud puddles, some rivers will go completely dry. The drought led to the death of 12.5 million trees in California forests last year, greatly increasing the danger of wildfires. The Sierra snowpack was only 5 percent of normal in April, following the driest winter on record.

Governor Jerry Brown ordered the first mandatory statewide water rationing for cities in early April.

Finding solutions to California’s water problems is no simple matter – but we must keep trying to find innovative and technological answers to better usage practices. Eighty-two percent of this large and varied state was in extreme or exceptional drought last November, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

California 4-year drought map

California 4-year drought map, 2011–2015.
Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Value of CA water & farming

Eighty percent of the water used in California goes to farms, and nearly a fifth of the state’s energy use goes toward moving the water around, including pumping it over the mountains to Los Angeles.

Low-value crops have become uneconomical to farm in areas where water has become scarce and expensive. California’s Central Valley, through which the San Joaquin flows, grows 40% of U.S. fruits and 80% of the world’s almonds. These are high-value cash crops, but they need a lot of water. Ten percent of California’s water supply is used for almonds alone – many of which are exported overseas. Only the richest corporate farmers can survive in this drought.

Environmental effects

Last September, CNN columnist John D. Sutter wrote about his 417-mile trip down the San Joaquin River, designated by American Rivers as the United States’ “most endangered” river in 2014. As Sutter says, “Depending on what happens soon, it could become a river reborn, or a drainage ditch.”

The San Joaquin has federal protection, yet it is a river that is broken. Within living memory it was packed with an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 spring-run salmon. But now it is so over-drawn that a 40-mile stretch in its midsection is always dry. The migration route has been destroyed.

The Central Valley has increasingly high levels of groundwater pollution, some so bad that some people can’t drink from the tap. The extremely high rates of poverty in the Central Valley are also increasing since the lack of water for farms means fewer agricultural jobs are available. Access to the river is largely forbidden because it’s lined by private property; some people don’t even know it dries up not far from there.

Subsidence during this drought has been documented at nearly one foot per year near Los Banos due to excessive withdrawals of the groundwater. Still-expanding orchards of profitable almonds and fruit trees need water year round, not just during fruiting season – thus creating higher demands for irrigation and negating the former ability of Central Valley farmers of tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables to fallow their lands during droughts such as this.

Dry wells

In August, the Tulare County Office of Emergency Services had 12-gallon-per person rations of bottled water delivered, where at least 182 of the 1,400 households in East Porterville reported having no or not enough water. Because dry wells on private property are rarely reported, the real number is likely far greater, according to the state.

The problem was partly due to the shallowness of some residential wells that are replenished by groundwater from the Tule River. The drought has greatly lowered river flows. The state Department of Water Resources reported in November that more than 1,480 domestic well failures in 36 counties had been reported, more than half in Tulare County.

Water resources & water rights

Further complicating the situation is the complex set of appropriations that determine California’s century-old water rights laws. Competing interests are vying for an increasingly dwindling resource.

The State Water Resources Control Board has warned water rights holders to expect restrictions on their right to divert water from rivers and streams. On April 27, 2015, the Board announced it had approved a petition to allow transfers of water south of the Delta to needy water districts, including the Kern Tulare Water District and the The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

Several water districts south of the Delta, including MWD, which serves the coastal and most heavily populated portions of Southern California from Ventura County to San Diego County, are offering $700 an acre-foot to water agencies in the Sacramento Valley.

Problems with oil field wastewater

Last summer, state officials abruptly shut down 11 waste-injection wells in Kern County after the federal EPA found that the state had allowed companies to drill more than 170 waste-disposal wells into aquifers suitable for drinking or irrigation. Hundreds more wells inject wastewater into lower-quality aquifers that could have been used with more intense treatment. Most of the waste-injection wells are in the Central Valley. One farmer near Bakersfield blames oil companies for tainting the aquifer that used to feed his cherry trees. 3500 dying trees had to be removed, damaged by high levels of salt and boron in the water.

In Kern County, Chevron recycles 21 million gallons a day of waste water from oil fields, using various filtering methods to remove oil and chemicals. Chevron sells the treated water for about $30 an acre-foot, about half the open-market rate, to farmers who use it on about 10 percent of Kern County’s farmland. Though the program is two decades old, there are new concerns about crops raised with oil field water. Acetone and methylene chloride have been found in water moving through the irrigation canals from Chevron’s plant to farmers’ fields. Farmers can smell the petrochemicals in the irrigation water and trust that microorganisms in the soil are removing the toxins, but it’s unclear how much is removed and how much makes its way into the food chain.

In April, the Central Valley water authority notified all oil producers of broader testing requirements under California’s new fracking disclosure regulations requiring oil companies to tell the state which chemicals they use in oil-extraction processes so that testing agencies will know what to test for. Oil producers must submit their reports by June 15.

Solutions

As mentioned, the Pacific Institute and NRDC reported that California could save up to 14 million acre-feet of water a year. Their June 2014 report (PDF) summarizes the problem: California’s water supply strategy has been based on reservoirs for surface waters and on wells to tap the aquifers. Even in wet years, the rivers are over-allocated. Overdrafting of groundwater is so severe the subsidance of the land has damaged public roads and even water-delivery canals.

Green Infrastructure (GI): The good news is that there are opportunities to save 11 to 14 million acre-feet of water through cost-effective strategies that are technically feasible and more resistant to drought than the current system, and are compatible with healthy river basins and groundwater management. A series of issue briefs by Pacific Institute summarize the trends and the potential for improvements in agricultural and urban water conservation and efficiency, water reuse and stormwater capture.

A study of green infrastructure (PDF) by experts from The Dow Chemical Company, Shell, Swiss Re, and Unilever, working with The Nature Conservancy, finds that constructed and natural resources can be successfully used to replace gray infrastructure treatment plants. The study used two constructed wetlands for treating industrial wastewater, and found that initial capital expenses were significantly lower than for conventional gray infrastructure; operating expenses were minimal; energy requirements were significantly lower, carbon footprint and energy costs were reduced; and operational performance was satisfactory, being 100% compliant upon startup and for over 15 years in one case. These constructed wetlands also provide habitat for deer, bobcats, fish and birds, and educational opportunities for local schools.

Desalination: For coastal communities desalination is another source of fresh water. But because this process is energy intensive and the concentrated brine must be carefully disposed of, it comes at a high price. Researchers are now working on three new desalination technologies that require less energy.

Market Pricing: What is water’s economic value? Should the price of water be set by the free market? Water from a desalination plant opening soon near San Diego will cost about $2,000 per acre-foot, about what some almond farmers are paying to keep their trees alive. For the average California household using 360 gallons of water a day, that would come to $67 a month. Would that be too much to pay?

Market pricing would encourage conservation and investment in water-saving technologies, and make development of new infrastructure more cost-effective.

But water is an essential resource. In a water market, how can the needs of poor public districts be met when they could be outbid by rich and politically powerful communities?

Whatever the winning solutions turn out to be, California will be a state transformed.

—RW

Even invasive species can be beautiful

December 19, 2014
Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is one of the world’s worst aquatic weeds. It is characterized by rapid growth rate, extensive reproductive output and broad environmental resistance. It creates dense mats of vegetation that restrict oxygen in water, causing deterioration in water quality, fish mortality and declining biodiversity. A healthy acre of the plant can weigh 200 tons! These floating masses block waterways and harbors, costing millions of dollars of damage every year.
Water hyacinth grows in lakes, estuaries, wetlands, rivers, dams, and irrigation channels on every continent except Antarctica.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 1.45.53 PM– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Shrimpin’ in Louisiana – a waning tradition?

October 29, 2014

Shrimp boats are a common sight, but shrimpers and oystermen in the Mississippi River Delta are struggling with decreased fisheries due to oil spills, and changes in water salinity and temperatures.

USA:  Louisiana, New Orleans, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River Delta, Shrimp boats in Buras

USA: Louisiana, New Orleans, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River Delta, Shrimp boats in Buras

Related reading: Louisiana oyster and shrimp industries in serious decline after BP oil spill

 

Our 20th Expedition!

August 26, 2014

Please Help Fund the NWNL
Lower Mississippi River Expedition

September 2 – 30, 2014

Baton Rouge Industry on the Mississippi River

Baton Rouge Industry on the Mississippi River

Expedition Route

NWNL will visit the Lower Mississippi River Basin including: New Orleans, The Delta, Baton Rouge, Natchez, Vicksburg, Clarksdale, Memphis and small river towns en route.

Expedition Focus

• Urban and Rural Resiliency to Climate Change.

• Coastal Erosion and Changes in Sediment Loads.

• The Value of Mississippi River Transportation.

• Pollution from Industrial, Agricultural and Urban Runoff.

• Protection of Migratory Birds and Watershed Biodiversity.

• Loss of Cypress, Hardwood Forests and Wetlands.

• Effectiveness of Levees, Locks and Dams, and Floodways.

• Green Infrastructure and Sustainable Resource Management.

Why support a No Water No Life expedition?

NWNL expeditions help raise global awareness of freshwater availability, quality and usage. For eight years, NWNL has returned with interviews, still photos and video imagery from our six case-study watersheds in North America and Africa. This documentation informs and inspires actions that will help insure…
fresh water, for everyone, forever.

Donations to NWNL

Cotton plantation tractor

Cotton plantation tractor

Donations can be made via Pay Pal,
or checks made out to
“No Water No Life”

(to be sent to:

Alison Jones
No Water No Life
330 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075)

Your support and contributions would be greatly appreciated!

Preserving the beautiful Snake River!

May 14, 2014
Snake River in Idaho - Photo by Barbara Folger.

Snake River in Idaho – Photo by Barbara Folger.

NWNL Expedition Photographers are zigzagging with the Snake River, focusing on infrastructure, watershed management, agriculture, biodiversity and impacts of climate and pollution on river health.

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.

We’re all connected downstream

April 4, 2014
USA:  New Jersey, Mountainville, Guinea Hollow Stream, early spring

USA: New Jersey, Mountainville, Guinea Hollow Stream, early spring

WHAT YOU CAN DO to protect our water resources:
Support the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers –

It’s critical we all have clean fresh water! The EPA and USACE are proposing a clarification of their rules that protect our water quality by addressing upstream impacts on downstream communities. Ending loopholes in the 1970’s Clean Water Act will stop the free dumping of toxins into small streams and wetlands. This will affect some farmers’ use of pesticides and herbicides; but it will encourage restoration of riverine corridors and wetlands that filter such toxins. In the long-run, a tighter Clean Water Act will benefit us all.

NWNL asks everyone to jump in here!!

— Read the proposal.
— Listen to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on this ruling.
Contact the EPA during its 90-day Comment Period.

 

November 22, 2013

NWNL documents and studies entire watersheds – not just rivers and lakes, because what happens on the land is what effects water quality and availability.

USA: Louisiana, Baton Rouge on east bank of Mississippi River, petro-chemical plants in what is called "Cancer Alley"

USA: Louisiana, Baton Rouge on east bank of Mississippi River, petro-chemical plants in what is called “Cancer Alley” © Alison M. Jones for http://www.nowater-nolife.org

USA:  Louisiana, Baton Rouge, levee covered by stabilizing mats on east side of Mississippi River at sunrise, accessed just below Gardere St,

USA: Louisiana, Baton Rouge, levee covered by stabilizing mats on east side of Mississippi River at sunrise, accessed just below Gardere St © Alison M. Jones for http://www.nowater-nolife.org

USA:  Mississippi, Mississippi River Basin, Yazoo-Mississippi Delta,  Coahoma County, Clarksdale, The Shack Up Inn, seat of old, rusted cotton gin

USA: Mississippi, Mississippi River Basin, Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, Coahoma County, Clarksdale, The Shack Up Inn, seat of old, rusted cotton gin © Alison M. Jones for http://www.nowater-nolife.org

2nd Annual ‘Mara Day’ to raise awareness of degradation of Mara River basin ecosystem

September 5, 2013

On September 15th, stakeholders from Kenya, Tanzania and surrounding communities will come together to celebrate Mara Day to focus on the health of the Mara River. Informative activities and presentations aim to foster discussions on water quality, pollution, deforestation, drought and other environmental and social challenges facing the MRB and its sustainable development.

More than 1.1 million people live in the MRB and a wealth of flora and fauna depend on its resources. It’s no coincidence the event takes place during the famous wildebeest migration in which the perennial Mara River becomes the destination for the world’s largest mammal migration of almost 2 million wildebeest and zebra. For more information about Mara Day: http://allafrica.com/stories/201307261515.html?viewall=1

The Mara River would seem to be pristine and unfettered as it runs from Kenya's highlands to Tanzania's Lake Victoria shores...

The Mara River would seem to be pristine and unfettered as it runs from Kenya’s highlands to Tanzania’s Lake Victoria shores…

But its very critical source, The Mau Forest in Kenya, has been suffering devastation for years as industry – and local people needing wood – have cut down this forest.  The forest’s retention of water during the seasons of heavy rains plays a crucial role to the entire watershed.

The Mara River, fed by waters from the Mau Forest, nurtures iconic plains species that bring lucrative tourism and jobs; commercial and subsistence farmers; fisherman; and the ecosystems of its Lake Victoria terminus.

And perhaps most important, the Mara supplies drinking water to its inhabitants and their livestock, yet it can no longer be guaranteed to be clean, healthy water.

In NWNL’s expedition covering the length of the Mara River and in our interviews with many stakeholders and stewards en route, it became clear that education is the key.  Those who live in the Basin now must learn the upstream-downstream consequences of their water and forest usage, and why it is critical for tomorrow and future tomorrows to adjust their habits and practices to ensure the sustainability of livestock, flora, fauna and their own communities.

View NWNL’s video “The Mau Forest, Source of the Mara River” from the 2009 MRB expedition here.

Protect America’s Endangered Rivers

June 28, 2013
Canada: British Columbia, Kootenay River (Canadian spelling)

Canada: British Columbia, Kootenay River (Canadian spelling)

Every year since 1986, American Rivers has teamed up with river conservationists to release an annual report of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.

This report highlights a number of threats to our rivers and examines risks to communities and wildlife.

Three of these Endangered Rivers are tributaries to two NWNL case-study watersheds:  The Columbia River Basin (The Kootenai/Kootenay River) and the Mississippi River Basin (Little Plover River via the Wisconsin River tributary) and the Niobrara River (via the White and Missouri River tributaries).

Let’s keep our rivers healthy! Learn more about how you can help. Read the full 2013 Report.

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 1.37.32 PM

1. Colorado River

Location: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming
Threat: Outdated water management
At Risk: Recreation economy, water supply, and wildlife habitat

2. Flint River

Location: Georgia
Threat: Outdated water management
At Risk: Water supply for communities, farms, recreation, and wildlife

3. San Saba River

Location: Texas
Threat: Oudated water management
At Risk: River flow for ranchers, citizens, and lakes

4. Little Plover River

Location: Wisconsin
Threat: Outdated water management
At risk: Fish habitat and water supply

5. Catawba River

Location: North Carolina, South Carolina
Threat: Coal ash pollution
At risk: Drinking water and recreational enjoyment

6. Boundary Waters

Location: Minnesota
Threat: Copper and nickel mining
At risk: Recreation economy, drinking water, and wilderness

7. Black Warrior River

Location: Alabama
Threat: Coal mining
At risk: Drinking water quality and fish and wildlife habitat

8. Rough & Ready and Baldface Creeks

Location: Oregon
Threat: Nickel mining
At risk: Pristine rivers, wilderness, botanical diversity, and recreation

9. Kootenai River

Location: British Columbia, Montana, Idaho
Threat: Open-pit coal mining
At risk: Water quality and survival of rare fish and wildlife

10. Niobrara River

Location: Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming
Threat: Sediment build-up and flooding
At risk: Property, crops, and public safety

Special Mention: Merced River

Location: California
Threat: Intentional flooding of a Wild and Scenic River
At risk: Wildlife habitat and recreation economy

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