Recent Blog Entries

  • MargaretThibo
    Portland Takes the Green to School
    Entry posted Yesterday by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    Portland Takes the Green to School
    Entry:

    In the fall of 2014 heavy rains began to show the city of Portland, Oregon that something needed to be done to update inadequate drainage in many areas. Aside from the obvious dangers associated with flooding, if the flow of water becomes too great the risk of water contamination also increases. The likelihood of raw sewage being introduced to the overwhelmed water systems becomes likely. Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services believes that they have come up with the perfect plan to solve the city’s storm drain problems while keeping local communities happy.

    The Bureau convinced the City Council to earmark $260,000 for a green storm water project.  The money would go toward creating a natural play area for K-eighth graders at the Laurelhurst School. Approximately 11,000 square feet of asphalt would either be removed or sloped differently to optimize the area for proper drainage. The play area would be lined with wood chips and have ample benches and shade trees for children to have both recreation and relaxation time.

    Overall the project should keep about 700,000 gallons of storm water out of the sewer system, preventing the city of Portland from having to dig up at least eleven sections of pipe. Despite the taxpayer price tag, the Laurelhurst School project is considered a much cheaper option than the complete replacement of storm drain pipes. Building the play area at the Laurelhurst School is a much cheaper alternative and is expected to be completed before the 2015 school year. The Bureau would continue to fund the play area’s maintenance for the first two years, eventually transitioning them over to the school system.  The green plan is expected to be cost effective even after maintenance fees.

    The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services has accomplished two similar projects in the past. In 2003 the city spent $98,000 to create a rain garden at a local elementary school. Similarly in 2007 Portland spent $523,000 on another rain garden at a middle school.

    Keywords:
    water contamination
  • MargaretThibo
    Des Moines Takes Bold Step with Lawsuit
    Entry posted Yesterday by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    Des Moines Takes Bold Step with Lawsuit
    Entry:

    Des Moines, Iowa‘s Water Works is currently threatening to sue three neighboring counties in which major farms reside. The counties would be sued for failing to control the amount of fertilizer that has been reaching local waterways including the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. The hope is that the judicial outcome would inspire some sort of future environmental regulations regarding fertilizer use and the water contamination that results.

    There is currently not much regulation, which allows large amounts of fertilizer nitrates into the Iowa waterways. The city of Des Moines spent about $900,000 filtering nitrates out of the city's water supply in 2013; a price the city finds an unfair financial burden.

    Nitrates in water can be dangerous if consumed. Nitrates are especially dangerous for newborns since they lack the strong stomach acids required to digest the chemical. Fertilizer nitrates have also been linked to killing off entire food chains in ecosystems across the nation. Food chains are destroyed when nitrates spur massive algae blooms. The algae consume all the oxygen in the water creating complete dead zones, suffocating almost any other organisms in that zone.

    It’s pretty clear that water contamination from nitrates is a direct result of farmers fertilizing their corn crops. The excess nitrates in the fertilizer run off the fields into underground pipes that eventually drain directly into the soil. Many of these drainage pipes are directly managed by local county governments. This level of responsibility is precisely why Des Moines is suing the counties and not the individual farmers. The city claims that it was the responsibility of the counties to protect residents that rely on the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers.

    If Des Moines Water Works is successful in court, farmers may be forced into controlling their fertilizer use. The counties being sued would have to enforce environmental compliance in order to avoid future consequence.  There are many solutions to help decrease nitrate runoff.  First, utilizing modern technology and tracking systems decreases the amount of fertilizer used.   Farmers can construct ponds or create wetlands on their property that would trap the nitrate contaminated sediment.  Farmers are slow to adopt these practices due to the associated costs. Aside from set up and construction costs, farmers would have to sacrifice profit producing land to build these filtration systems on.

    The government has begun to start offering incentive programs that help cover the costs associated with constructing the ponds and wetlands. Some farmers are on a waiting list of over two years to receive government aid.

    Some Iowa politicians feel as though Des Moines Water Works is being far too aggressive in threatening suit against the three counties. They feel as though a more conservative measure may have been more appropriate, as those methods have proven successful in other states. The threat of a suit was also not openly discussed, with many officials reading about it in the newspaper. The timing of the suit also coincides with the beginning of a new legislative session, so many politicians feel that it may distract from accomplishing other political agendas.

    Keywords:
    environmental regulations, water contamination , environmental compliance
  • MargaretThibo
    Retailer Stores Get More than They Bargained for in Court
    Entry posted January 17, 2015 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    Retailer Stores Get More than They Bargained for in Court
    Entry:

    Over the past decade the state of California has been busy setting an important precedent when it comes to holding retailers accountable for the improper disposal of hazardous waste materials. State authorities conduct focused investigations of companies to ensure that there is no wrongdoing occurring. If hazardous materials are being mishandled, allegations are quickly pressed, with a legal action ahead.

    In 2010 the state’s court settled a case with Wal-Mart in which the retail giant paid nearly $28 million for inappropriate disposal of hazardous waste. The following year Target agreed to pay $22.5 million following a long investigation into their dumping practices. Just a week ago grocery store, Safeway Inc settled a case with California to pay $10 million for allegedly throwing materials like medication in the regular trash. The trash eventually ended up in public landfills. The company also disposed of confidential medical records in the trash, which is not a violation of environmental regulation, but is highly illegal.

    Following the Safeway momentum a judge ruled that the 99 Cents Only Stores would also be held responsible for their incorrect disposal of hazardous materials the regular trash. The 99 Cents Only Store has agreed to pay almost $2 million to the state in the settlement, but were not forced to ever publicly admit wrong doing.  $1.8 million of the settlement will got towards fines and penalties, $250, 000 toward future environmental projects, and $312,500 in miscellaneous costs.

    Despite not admitting wrongdoing, the company has implemented many new procedures to prevent any future environmental compliance violations. One of these changes includes the use of a scanning program that helps employees identify which materials are potentially dangerous. The retailer has also hired a consulting company to monitor its progress in implementing changes.        

    Holding retailers responsible for the improper disposal of waste is extremely important since if there are no consequences there will be little change. Companies like the 99 Cent Only Store have demonstrated that the solution often relies on creating better environmental policies toward waste disposal, educating employees, and enforcing their new policies.

    Keywords:
    hazardous waste materials, environmental compliance
  • MargaretThibo
    Tough Nut to Crack
    Entry posted January 10, 2015 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    Tough Nut to Crack
    Entry:

    The state of California has a tough nut to crack when it comes to balancing the thriving almond industry with the ongoing drought. Currently, California produces 80% of the world almond supply on approximately 860,000 acres of land. This results in an estimated $11 billion industry at the heart of the state’s economy.

    Many farmers began to ditch other crops like cotton and lettuce years ago since almonds were a much more prosperous use of their land. Not only was there a demand, but almonds grow on trees which only had to be planted once. Fields only needed to be tended to, not torn out and replanted each season. Since almond trees are permanent it also presents an issue with farmers having the ability to conserve water and not plant for a season. If the trees are not monitored they will die ruining all future harvests.

    During the years of drought the almond industry has relied on irrigated surface water as well as water from the Sacramento River. As the drought stretched on, the government passed many environmental regulations in order to conserve water. One such regulation requires that in times of drought, all major California Rivers must have flowing water. Flowing water creates environmental sustainability to allow salmon populations to survive.

    The almond industries, with all the power that comes with its prosperity is attempting to have the state’s government overturn legislation regarding water restrictions. They argue that initiatives like the one to protect salmon have proven unsuccessful since populations have not increased significantly.

    California legislatures have decided to uphold all present water restrictions as they feel that alternatives must be explored. Allowing the almond industry special rights to the state’s water supply could be devastating to other agriculture in the area. Congress states that they completely understand the frustrations of the almond farmer and their livelihood that is on the line, but feel that this is not a flood gate that they are ready to open.

    Keywords:
    environmental regulations, environmental sustainability
  • MargaretThibo
    Slippery Future for Traditional Road Salts
    Entry posted January 10, 2015 by MargaretThiboContributor 
    Title:
    Slippery Future for Traditional Road Salts
    Entry:

    Washington State University has teamed up with the Center for Environmentally Sustainable Transportation in Cold Climates to explore new green deicing options. Associate professor Xianming Shi not only heads the University research, but is also the assistant director of the Center.

    Currently, approximately 17 million tons of salt are used in the Unites States each winter. Traditional sodium chloride road salt remains king since it accomplishes its job effectively. A one mile stretch of road receives about 4 tons of salt a year per lane, with well over 90% being washed into the environment after application.

    Excess road salt runs off into nearby waterways resulting in water contamination.  The salinity of waterways and delicate ecosystems are increased significantly. As a result of the changes many plants and animals are affected.

    The solution toward greater environmental safety in the future while keeping the roads safe for drivers during the winter has two pieces.  First, alternative deicing methods must be explored. There are several criteria for a new deicing option, one being that the product has to make economic sense for tight local, state, and federal budgets. In that same vein, the alternative has to have a long shelf life so that it can be stocked piled and used as needed. The chemical must also respond to a variety of road temperatures and cannot be overly corrosive to the roadways or to vehicles driving. Professor Shi has developed a deicer made from vodka distillery waste. Other alternatives include beet or tomato juice.  Communities across the Northern United States are experimenting with all sorts of kooky alternatives as well.

    Professor Shi and his team’s research have led to the development of a smart snowplow that not only measures the temperature of the roadway, but also measures the amount of deicer remaining on the road from a previous application. This will result in less wasteful applications.  If perfected the effects on both the environment and on government budgets could be reduced. Lastly, Shi has been testing concrete that would be ice resistant.  Particles are added to the wet cement that prevent the ice from adhering to the surface.

    Keywords:
    water contamination, environmental safety

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