The state of California remains in a serious period of drought and has been for the past several years. The lack of water has forced the state to look at every possible waterway as a potential resource. One of these waterways is the New River, which has long since been considered nothing more than a polluted cesspool flowing from Mexico and into the United States.
The New River formed after the Colorado River flooded the entire area in the early 1900s. Once the flood waters began to recede, much of the debris and pesticides that had been washed away ended up in the New River. The River’s water continued to become more and more polluted as neither Mexico nor the U.S. protected it. Finally in the 1990s the two nations began to work together to clean up the water contamination. A $100 million water treatment plant was constructed to help purify some of the New River’s waters. The U.S. also dedicated areas of wetlands that help naturally filter hazardous waste materials.
It is estimated that getting the New River to meet U.S. water standards could take well over a decade as well as hundreds of millions in additional funding. Plans would include constructing a disinfection facility and creating a screen that would capture trash entering the U.S. from Mexico. The task of significant long term success is a daunting one. Mexico and the U.S. have to work together to accomplish this, in a time when both nations are not necessarily on the same environmental page. The U.S. is powerless in stopping Mexican polluters from violating the Clean Water Act.
The polluted New River has been linked to several health problems like rashes, headaches, breathing issues, eye irritation, and nausea. Linking health concerns has also been a difficult task due to the differences in medical availability between the two nations. It is difficult to collect patient data when individuals are not reporting symptoms to healthcare professionals.
Overall, the New River could someday prove a valuable resource for California residents as well as Mexican citizens as long as the two nations cooperate with each other in cleanup efforts .
We all turn the faucet handle and know that water will undoubtedly come cascading out, but it important to note that water sustainability has risen to the top of the planet’s current environmental issues.
Several factors play into the vulnerabilities of water’s future. One is the sheer increase in demand for water as the planet’s population continues to grow. Not only is the population growing, but the demands for modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and modern irrigation have also increased. Secondly, climate change has increased the amount of water that is evaporated into the atmosphere. Changing climates have made the quantity and quality of planet’s water less predictable. Floods and droughts are anticipated to become more common. Lastly, many municipal water infrastructures are simply outdated. Out of date systems are not expected to handle the increased demands for water delivery and are extremely inefficient.
Despite all of the doom and gloom predictions, there are several things that can be done to keep water a sustainable resource. Many of the measures that can be taken start with residential end users, like you.
The Water Research Foundation conducted a comprehensive study in which it sampled households in 14 North American cities to come up with an accurate portrait of water used. The results of the study exposed that 61% of water is used indoors for things like laundry, the toilet, and showers. The remaining use was split 29% outdoors and 10% to leaks. Overall, the average American home uses approximately 255 gallons of water per day.
Indoor usage can be decreased through simple and inexpensive measures like decreasing shower length, ensuring loads of laundry are appropriately sized, and turning the faucet off when not in direct use. Residents can take conservation a step further by upgrading their appliances to energy star appliances and low flush toilets. Outdoor usage also has several solutions. Residents can simply choose climate appropriate landscaping that will require minimal watering. Several irrigation systems that conserve water can be installed including systems that collect and reuse rainwater as well.
The 10% of water usage resulting from leaks does not have as obvious solutions. Most leaks are not as simple as a dripping faucet and homeowners are unaware that they exist. Other larger leaks are in the water system infrastructure and are not easy to identify or fix.
The biggest issue in getting residents on board with water conservation efforts is, frankly it doesn’t pay. Residents spend quite a bit of money on upgraded appliance or irrigation systems for the yard and will see little financial incentive in doing so. It takes years to break even on the investment. Furthermore, many residents may want to make the switch, but cannot afford to do so. Still others don’t want to be inconvenienced by lifestyle changes.
Another step toward conserving water includes implementing environmental regulations. These regulations range from creating standards of plumbing and appliance efficiency to bans on water usage during periods of drought. Government reimbursement programs for water efficient construction, appliances, or agricultural techniques can also encourage change. While government regulation has had relatively successful results in many communities, residents are weary of the additional oversight into their lives.
Pig farmers across the United States are suffering devastating losses in their piglet population due to a dangerous outbreak of a fatal virus called porcine epidemic diarrhea or PEDv. The virus is almost 100% fatal for piglets under three weeks old.
So many pigs have died that the Water Keeper Alliance has begun to investigate how the disposal of animal carcasses could impact local groundwater supplies. Each state has different environmental regulations in place regarding the disposal of dead livestock. Iowa, one of the largest pig producers is using both burial and a technique called alkaline hydrolysis which consists of the use of chemicals to break down bodies. North Carolina, the other major pig producing state has been less proactive, with reports of thousands of animals being buried as little as two feet below ground. Many burial sites are located near waterways, raising water contamination concerns even further.
PEDv does not infect humans, but the greater fear lies in the bacteria and other disease that may contaminate drinking water as the decomposing process begins.
The exact number of pigs that have been killed due to PEDv is not known since the hog industry has not released official numbers, but it is estimated that at least 100,000 pigs are dying each week with totals numbering around two million. Hog farmers remain secretive over the exact numbers as well as burial sites. They discourage aerial photography as well, arguing that the photos portray inaccuracies and create false alarm.
Hog farmers are taking steps to contain the virus so that it does not continue to wreak havoc on the industry. For instance feed trucks are completely disinfected and baked at 160 degrees, while drivers wear protective clothing. They also argue that virus prevention is forcing them to bury the dead animals at the current sites. Moving the carcasses elsewhere only creates a greater risk for the virus to spread. The federal government’s Department of Agriculture has also dedicated $26.2 million to help fight the fatal disease and aid in the proper disposal of waste to avoid any environmental catastrophes.
Moves toward green construction, sustainable energy, as well as other eco trends are usually associated with the more economically well off. The cost of some green products has helped strengthen the stigma, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The results of a 2011 study have just been published and discuss the unique benefits that lower income individuals can receive from the green movement.
Low income housing is often located in urban or industrial areas, increasing the amount of air pollution individuals are exposed to on a regular basis in their home. It is estimated that the average person spends about 65% of their time indoors, so increased levels of harmful chemicals like nitrogen dioxide and nicotine can have serious consequences on one’s health. Health concerns include higher instances of respiratory issues, asthma, and cancer.
In 2011 the Boston Housing Authority began to instate several green building techniques in order to help better the health of lower income residents. They first began by replacing gas stoves with electric stoves. Indoor smoking was also banned. As a result 47% less residents reported illnesses associate with living in a polluted home. This included what has become known as sick building syndrome which has symptoms ranging from headaches to itchy eyes.
Overall, it seems as though the most logical step in the green movement would be to remove the posh stereotypes associated with environmental trends. The green movement can be beneficial to everyone in helping to maintain the planet, but it also demonstrates very practical benefits, like improved the health of individuals in low income housing. It’s also important to note that none of the changes made by the Boston Housing Authority were outrageously expensive or complex. The Authority simply switched out appliances and asked residents to smoke outdoors. Relatively simple changed had significant affects on the quality of air that we all breathe. Larger changes in the future could do even more for low income individuals as well as the planet.
There may be a new solution to the global energy crisis. Scientists at the University of Southern California have created a completely organic and eco friendly battery. The battery is meant to be used for large scale energy storage in power plants to help prevent outages. The water based battery can be recharged approximately 5,000 times compared to the 1,000 times a lithium ion battery can be recharged or the zero times a traditional store bought battery can be recharged. Lithium ion batteries also cost ten times as much to produce than the University’s organic battery.
The batter uses a method similar to that of a fuel cell in that it relies on a chemical reaction to generate energy. The process begins with the dissolving of electroactive materials into two tanks of water, which are then pumped into a cell. The cell has a membrane separating the two areas of solution. Electrodes are on either side and energy is released. Some standard battery designs are similar, but in the past the electroactive material used has always been a toxic metal or other hazardous chemical. After much trial and error the University of Southern California researchers discovered that they could use quinones as the electroactive material. Quinones are organic compounds that are found in many naturally occurring energy processes like photosynthesis. The batteries can also be built on as large a scale as necessary as long as the sizes of the water tanks are increased. The ease in increasing battery size means that it can be used in large scale power plants.
Obviously eliminating the use of toxic metals and other hazardous materials in the production of batteries offers huge environmental benefits. The potential for soil or water contamination as well as any other pollution associated with the manufacturing of traditional batteries disappears. Less hazardous waste material would also end up in landfills as well since the organic batteries have a significantly longer lifespan.
Since the batteries are eco friendly, long lasting, and relatively inexpensive to create they would be an ideal solution to many sustainable energy shortfalls. One of the major critiques of green power is that it is not dependable. For instance the sun is not always shining for solar panels and the wind isn’t always blowing for turbines. Modern society will not accept having no energy on a cloudy or still day, so the power must be stored for these occasions. This is where the organic battery would be an ideal solution.
Another obvious benefit to using an organic batter to create and store energy is that it does not create the hazardous waste materials associated with many traditional energy sources. The batteries would not create are air pollution or any other waste that could spill or contaminate.
Overall, the creation of an organic, water based battery seems like a huge step toward a healthy environmental future. With continued research by scientists at the University of Southern California as well as other dedicated programs the technology should only grow more advanced. Eventually large scale green batteries may become the standard in the energy industry.