The Environmental Protection Agency has just turned down the proposed development of a large copper mine in the Bristol Bay, Alaska area. The Agency came to this conclusion after deciding the risk of water contamination would be too great. The sheer size of the proposed copper mine made drastic affects on the environment seem inevitable. The main environmental concern is the safety of nearby streams as well as Bristol Bay being contaminated by the mine’s potential abundance of hazardous waste materials.
The waterways in question provide a unique habitat for over half of the world’s population of sockeye salmon and also serve as the breeding grounds for several other salmon species. The salmon have become a vital part the Alaskan economy and culture, which is why much of the public also opposes the development of the copper mine. If the salmon population were to dwindle, the local economy would follow suit.
Even in the best case scenario in which not even a single ounce of water contamination from the mine results, the fact remains that the copper mine would destroy between 24 and 94 miles of stream. Additionally, 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands would be ruined upon completion. Not only would salmon breeding grounds be lost, but entire ecosystems could be destroyed. Additional destruction to the environment would occur as transportation systems to and from the mine were constructed.
The EPA has stated that their most recent decision was not a death sentence to the project, but the mine’s creation has become more and more controversial as the issue becomes more politicized. One Alaskan Senator has stated that the copper mine is simply wrong for the state. Conversely, the Alaskan Governor supports the project and feels that the EPA should not be included in deciding on the mine’s creation.
The hospitality industry has recently made a large push towards becoming a much greener industry, with a focus on water conservation. Hotels were slow to make many changes in conserving water, since they did not see the initial monetary value in doing so. The hotels that did make water consumption changes began to realize that energy consumption also decreased as a direct result. With this change in energy use came the potential for huge savings. Hotels also realized that they could use their environmental consciousness to attract a new customer as well as separate themselves in a crowded market. A hotel that advertises green amenities has its finger on the pulse of environmental trends. Studies show that hotel guests, especially those who travel frequently or for business seem to care deeply about the environment and book stays at hotels that had made water conservation efforts over those that did not.
It’s estimated that the hotel industry consumes about 15% of the nation’s commercial water supply, so the importance of conservation is substantial. Hotels have made these efforts by focusing on bathrooms which consume 30% of their water as well as laundry and landscaping using about 15% each. They have done so by replacing many shower fixtures with low flow models and other green building materials. Surveys have shown that most guests did not notice a difference in their shower pressure, squashing the fears of hotel officers skeptical of replacement. The institution of progressive laundry policies is another huge change to the industry. Many hotels no longer change sheets on a daily basis unless they receive a specific request. They have also instituted programs in which towels are not automatically switched daily if the guest hangs them up to dry. Anything thrown on the floor is removed for laundering. New laundry programs have not only decreased water and energy use, but also increase the life of hotel linens, proving to be an additional financial benefit.
In an effort to encourage continued change in the hospitality industry, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted a new program called the WaterSense H2Otel Challenge. The program challenges hotels to institute water conservation measures in order to save water, energy, money, as well as stay completive in an increasingly green market. This latest EPA program builds on the current WaterSense effort towards environmental sustainability. The initial program has already conserved an estimated 487 billion gallons of water over the past eight years. The EPA also forecasts that the average 150 room hotels could save approximately $7,000 annually in water costs alone by simply installing WaterSense approved fixtures. Hotels can also apply to several government incentive programs in order to offset the cost of installing things like low flow showerheads and water efficient toilets.
Many hotels in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada have been leaders in water conservation methods, perhaps due to its arid surroundings. Officers at these casino resorts, including the iconic Caesar’s Palace, state that environmental compliance with the EPA’s latest efforts is not a gamble. Hotels that step to the challenge will make and save money.
Over the past decade Duke University has partnered with the Loyd Ray Farm, a large scale pig farm in North Carolina. The University and farm have successfully constructed one of the most cutting edge manure to sustainable energy systems in the world. Original construction of the project began in 2011 with a $1.2 million price tag, mainly footed by the U.S. Department of agriculture. Other contributors include Duke University and Google.
The process is fairly simple in theory; animal waste resulting from the farm’s 9,000 pigs is liquefied and pumped into a storage basin. The basin is known as an anaerobic digester and is blanketed with a plastic cover. Methane gas is created as the animal waste breaks down and is then collected to power turbines. The electricity produced by the turbines powers the entire operation and ideally creates excess energy for surrounding areas. The remaining liquid waste is passed through a water purification system where ammonia and other contaminants are removed. The resulting clean water is recycled at the farm for irrigation and other operational purposes.
There are hopes for the future to get more large scale animal farms involved in systems like the Loyd Ray model. Each farm would have to have a system customized to their needs, but the potential benefits for the environment make the task worthwhile. The waste to energy system prevents dangerous greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere. The system also greatly reduces the risk of potential waste spills and water contamination. All too often animal waste leaks into nearby water ways, contaminating drinking water with ammonia, nitrates, and other heavy metals. Other benefits include a great reduction of odor, something the surrounding communities can truly appreciate.
The longevity of the project has demonstrated that the system is sustainable and it can work on a relatively large scale. It seems likely that the biggest obstacle in replicating the Loyd Ray Farm model is the initial start up costs associated with construction. Not all farms are partnered with a large University’s research program or would be allotted government dollars from the Department of Agriculture.
The New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts is the home of one of the nation’s biggest Superfund sites after it was contaminated with PCBs and other hazardous waste material over its history. With that said, one would assume that all of the Harbor’s marine life has suffered enormous loss, which is true for almost all species but one. The Atlantic Killifish has not perished due to the water contamination, but has instead flourished in the new polluted conditions. The killifish is a small three inch fish that usually live its entire life in the same small area during all four seasons. During the winter months the fish buries itself into the mud, which is also heavily contaminated. Obviously the animal has not survived due to lack of exposure.
The phenomenon of continued survival puzzled researchers and made them wonder if this was the new norm. The question that researcher began to hypothesize was clear, were some species becoming immune to pollution through the evolutionary process? After much research involving the killifish, it was discovered that the small fish had changed the way PCBs were processed on an anatomic level. Normally a particular protein is produced in a fish that will break down the pollutant; eventually the production of this protein affects the animal’s cells allowing them to become toxic. The fish eventually dies. The killifish has evolved in a manner that has allowed it to stop the overproduction of this protein. Therefore the cells are never vulnerable to toxicity.
Despite the fascinating evolutionary discovery, many environmental concerns have emerged. First, even though the killifish does not process PCBs and other contaminants, it does carry them in its body. Since the small fish is at the bottom of the food chain the chemicals are passed on to its predators. These larger fish include many species directly consumed by human beings. The other concern lies in what will happen to the fish once the New Bedford Harbor’s toxic waste removal is complete. The killifish may have evolved so much to survive in polluted conditions that it may not be able to survive in healthy water. Similarly, researchers do not know if the evolutionary change has made the killifish more resistant to other environmental concerns like lower water oxygen levels.
Hurricane Sandy has devastated communities up and down the east coast destroying homes, businesses and anything else in her path. The powerful storm had an equally important affect on many ecosystems. One such current environmental issue is located at the 45 acre man made West Pond in Jamaica Bay, New York. The pond was constructed over sixty years ago as a refuge for migrating birds. Hurricane Sandy broke through the embankment allowing sea water to flow into the pond. At this point the pond is completely salt water. As a result of this water contamination, the entire ecosystem of the pond has been changed, all freshwater animals have either perished or relocated. Sea gasses and other marshland fauna have grown in and taken over.
The controversy now lies in what to do about the West Pond. Bird enthusiast would like the banks of the pond reconstructed, returning the pond to its freshwater state. This was done to the nearby East Pond right after Hurricane Sandy, since its banks also served vital to the railways. Others feel as though fixing the breached bank should not be done. These critics argue that the pond was manmade and has now become a natural ecosystem, citing the importance for marshes in the area. The marshes are rich ecosystems and also serve as a protective buffer for future storms. They also feel it would be wasteful to fix the banks since they could likely break again with a future storm.
Another solution, which is supported by the New York City Audubon, is to compromise. This plan would keep the West Pond a salt water marsh, but a much smaller freshwater pond would be created in a section of the current West Pond. This would create two separate ecosystems for a large array of wildlife, some of which need both fresh and salt water to survive.
Aside from what all parties feel is the best environmental solution, the National Park Service has to weigh the realities of cost to whichever outcome is to be decided upon. They do not plan on spending millions of dollars on any potential projects at West Pond, nor do they have the funding available.