The coastal city of South Portland, Maine has passed a city ordinance banning Canadian tar sands and other forms of raw crude oil from being loaded into ships at its harbor. The ban, known as the “Clear Sky’s Ordinance” was passed by the city’s council with a 6-1 vote. The majority of the 300 plus meeting attendees applauded its passage enthusiastically, as it is seen as a huge grassroots win amongst current environmental issues.
South Portland officials and residents are concerned about the increased potential for a devastating oil spill that loading ships with crude oil could bring. Tar sand oil is much thicker in density and would be far more difficult to clean if it were to be spilled. Residents also worry about the air pollution that crude oil would bring to the area. While pumping tar sand oil into shipping vessels a large amount of dangerous contaminants could be released into the air leading to both health problems and other environmental issues.
Canadian companies like the Portland Montreal Pipeline Corporation are currently booming and would like to begin piping crude oil into Maine and onto ships so that they can expand their market internationally. Currently the company owns a pipeline that transfers oil from ships that enter the South Portland Harbor to Canada. Their ultimate goal would be to reverse this flow, to have Canadian oil pumped into Maine.
The oil companies are not taking the new environmental regulations as seriously as the city council would like, since they feel as though the decision would be quickly overturned in either state or federal court. The idea of taking on large corporations in court does frighten some South Portland residents, as they do not want the city to bury itself in exorbitant legal fees.
The oil companies are also exploring the use of the railways system as an easy alternative to transport crude oil globally. For instance, Canadian companies could ship tar sand oil by rail to port city that is willing to risk a spill and ship internationally.
Duke Energy a North Carolina energy company has announced that they have completed the cleanup of a large coal ash spill that occurred in February. The spill turned over 70 miles of the Dan River gray in color, making the severity of the water contamination obvious. Duke Energy estimates that about 39,000 tons of coal ash had been spilled into the river, with other estimates coming in as high as 82,000 tons. The Coal ash spill occurred after a storm drain pipe burst under the coal ash dumping site.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Duke Energy removed approximately 2,500 tons of coal ash from a Virginia dam as well as 500 tons from pockets in the river. The EPA has since been testing the remaining sediment as well as the river water for toxic metal levels. Currently the levels are below federal regulations. Duke energy is being held financially responsible for the spill cleanup as well as all continued EPA testing.
The Duke Energy Spill shed a lot of light the dozens of coal ash dumps located in North Carolina. Many of these coal ash dumps are completely unlined and located alarmingly close to waterways, some of which are drinking water sources. North Carolina policymakers are attempting to come up with environmental regulations that will require these coal ash dumps to be moved to properly lined sites located away from waterways. Duke Energy has agreed to relocate at least four of its ash dumps, including the one that resulted in the Dan River spill. The energy company has come up with a plan cover the other dump sites with plastic and layers of dirt in order to prevent future contamination.
The ash which is a result of coal being burned to create energy contains numerous hazardous waste materials like arsenic, mercury, and lead. These toxins can be harmful to both the health of humans as well as the integrity of the ecosystem of the exposed waterway.
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.