Water

"The Everglades is a test -- if we pass, we may get to keep the planet"

The quote in the headline about the Everglades being a test of our will to restore the Earth comes to mind as Everglades advocates gather in D.C. to try to give their cause some extra oomph at this time of tight government budgets. Today the Obama administration had some really good news for 'Glades campaigners: Some 5.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail will be raised to restore more-natural water flows into Everglades National Park.

It's a step that was called for waaaay back in the early 1990s when I broke a story on a group of federal scientists advising the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about what would constitute a credible stab at Everglades restoration. (1993 being the dim mists of antiquity, Web-wise, I can't find that news story or the report that inspired it. But I did locate a similar document from 1996 by the same "Everglades Science Subgroup" that advised the Corps. It's also discussed in a book  by Judith Layzer.)

Since the early '90s, the effort to rescue the Everglades from agriculture and development has emerged as the biggest ecosystem-restoration project ever attempted on the planet. It's long been a rarity, an environmental issue that enjoys bipartisan support. It remains a cause for both sides of the aisle, with the two-day "Everglades Summit" that kicked off today co-chaired by, among others, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

"Water: Our Thirsty World" hits the spot in filling information void

Only an hour or two after posting my recent item on World Water Day, I arrived home to find an aptly timed National Geographic in the mail, a special issue with the cover hed "Water: Our Thirsty World." It's a powerful reminder of how a print publication can take on a meaty issue and give it the royal treatment. (Not that NatGeo doesn't also have some great stuff on the website to accompany the package.)

I haven't finished wading through the whole NatGeo edition, but thought I ought to call this to Dateline Earth readers' attention while the magazine's still available on the newstand. I'm sorry, but for me, the print NG is still a joy, and this issue helps show why.

Of course there are jaw-droppingly gorgeous photos. The stories include these worthwhile pieces:

+ Women in Third World countries are saddled with spending big chunks of their days fetching water. It sounds ridiculous, but I've been wondering about this since, on my trip to Africa, I saw numerous women and girls out in the middle of nowhere carrying big water containers. This piece by Tina Rosenberg,  from east central Africa, has this sell: "If the millions of woman who haul water long distances had a faucet by their door, whole societies could be transformed."

Lack of clean water kills more people than war; it's also choking Beijing in polluted dust

It's clear that climate change is going to be the story of the century, but today's news brings the reminder that an intertwined and nearly equally important story will be the lack of fresh water. Two developments highlight this trend today, on World Water Day:

1) From Beijing comes Christopher Bodeen's dispatch for the Associated Press relating how the Chinese capital is under attack by a dust storm blown off of the desert hundreds of miles away in country's interior in Inner Mongolia, where the Gobi desert is expanding. The cause, the AP reports, is overgrazing, deforestation, drought and urban sprawl. One has to wonder if climate change shouldn't be added to that list. The tiny dust particles mix with industrial pollution to cause a miserable dust-soot combination that blankets Beijing, working its way into homes through openings as small as a keyhole. The Chinese have tried to fight the problem by planting vegetation to hold the soil, but it isn't working. Now they're working on plans to pump lots of water from the wetter south of the country. Lotsa luck, guys. 

2) The United Nations issued a statement  (PDF) pointing out that more people die each year from the lack of clean water than are killed in violence of any kind. Many of these people are children under the age of 5. The UN says that pollution in its traditional forms is responsible for some of these, but so is degradation of watersheds through timber-cutting, covering the ground with hard surfaces that don't allow rainfall to soak in, and other modern practices. Said the UN:

"Preventing the pollution of water resources by reducing or eliminating contaminants at the source is almost always the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to protect water quality."

Logging forests after they're chewed up by bark beetles won't cut fire risks, new report says

An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.

This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization.

 And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.

This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true? 

It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.

First Nations group fights district for water rights

A battle over resource management and clean water on south Vancouver Island came to a head when Halalt First Nation filed a petition with B.C.'s Supreme Court to review plans for a new water project before proceeding, reportsMark Hume of the Globe and Mail. Halalt opposes the North Cowichan District's plan to dig two wells and install a 1 million gallon reservoir to provide clean drinking water for residents in the Chemainus area because the wells would draw water from an aquifer below Halalt lands.

Halalt First Nation has objected to the plan since 2003, maintaining that the aquifer cannot support that many peoples' water needs without negatively impacting the connected Chemainus River and its fish stocks, reportsMark Kiemele in Klahowya. They are requesting creation of a watershed management plan, as well as involvement in monitoring programs for the area, before the project goes ahead.

Residents in the Chemainus area currently get their water from surface sources, which regularly suffer from high bacteria counts due to heavy rains, according to Hume. The District issues advisories several times a year for residents to boil their water. The District says drilling wells will draw up clean water, and it has agreed to halt their use if its three-year monitoring program shows negative impacts.

Halalt Chief James Thomas worries the District wouldn't be able to stop the pumps once they were supplying thousands of homes in an area he says is already overdeveloped. The North Cowichan municipality has admitted it wants to pursue the well project mainly for financial concerns.

Climate refugees redux: Climate change could tap out Colorado River

 

[caption id="attachment_1528" align="alignright" width="200" caption=""Lake" Powell, one of the big Colorado River reservoirs threatened by climate change. Photo courtesy University of Colorado."]"Lake" Powell, one of the big Colorado River reservoirs threatened by climate change. Photo courtesy University of Colorado.[/caption]

Climate refugees. There it is again, this notion that large-scale migrations caused by climate change could be in the offing.

When we wrote about this a few months ago based on a climate conference in Seattle, the story got a lot of attention. Today this climate-refugees idea came up again in a story by Bruce Finley of the Denver Post on a new study of climate change's possible effects on the Colorado River.

The study (sorry -- no link; it's not posted to the Web yet) says there's up to a 50-50 chance of seeing Colorado River reservoirs run dry by mid-century, given current management practices, increased demand and the expected drying effects of climate change.

Now, that last one's not something that's easy to quantify in a projection. But lead author Balaji Rajagopalan of the University of Colorado and other researchers simply took a look at what would happen if water in the Colorado River system were reduced 10 percent or 20 percent due to hotter temperatures (which would increase what the water wonks call evapotranspiration, a combination of evaporation and plants' transpiring of water.)

Well, guess what? By mid-century there's about a 50-50 chance of the Colorado River's two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, will run dry. That's under the 20 percent reduction scenario.