From Toilet to Tap – Are you Ready?

 

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Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash

Large portions of this country experienced severe flooding this past year, while other parts remained bone dry. Regardless of the drenching rains in some areas, however, America’s aquifers are in serious trouble. It takes literally decades to refill an aquifer.

The United Nations predicts at least 30 nations will have water shortages by 2025. And by 2030, “47% of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress.” That is nearly half of the world’s population. Why? Aquifers are failing world-wide, including those in the United States.

Rapid population growth, increased industrial demand, and water withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years. Water wars could well be the future. Mark Twain once commented, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” If not water war skirmishes, then mass migration of millions of people from drought stricken countries will likely ensue which will cause total political and social upheaval.

Agriculture in general uses about 70 per cent of water withdrawn from aquifers. The Ogallala aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers located in the mid-west, lost a third of its water in just 30 years due to farmers withdrawing water at an unsustainable rate. California’s Central Valley aquifer is showing signs of depletion and could drop below reach by 2050. Because of the overuse of groundwater by farmers, many resident’s wells are going dry.

Of the 37 major aquifers on the planet, 21 are on the verge of collapse. Cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Mexico City are sinking. Indeed, sections of California’s Central Valley have dropped a foot, and in some areas 28 feet. The facts regarding water shortage are dismal, but action can be taken.

Water catchment systems are one of the simplest solutions to water scarcity in any given area. Many dry areas, like Texas and Arizona, are now allowing rainwater-catchment installations on homes and other buildings. In addition, desalination has become well known in recent times. Desalination can work not just for salt water, but for water considered “brackish,” which is water that is too salty for human consumption. There is up to 10 times more brackish water than freshwater in any aquifer. And changing from highly thirsty, water intensive crops, like corn , cotton, rice, and wheat to less water consuming products might also be a consideration.

But the most extreme measure, in most people’s minds, is the concept of “Toilet to Tap.” Namibia, a very arid country has been purifying wastewater into drinking water for almost 50 years. No one has ever become ill from this “reused water.” In 2003 Singapore began treating sewage water to drinking-water standards, and now El Paso, Texas, is preparing to provide potable reuse water for drinking. This is because El Paso’s Hueco Bolson aquifer that has supplied El Paso with water for decades could run dry which, at its rate of drop, could happen by 2025.

Unfortunately, much of the water currently available for consumption is contaminated. nrdc.orgThe drinking water of 233 million Americans is dangerously compromised.

As deadly serious as the prospect of water shortage and contamination is, it’s surprising that this issue is not front and center. There’s much more to this story, however, and it’s covered in Saving Our Oceans by R.L. Coffield.

Saving Our Oceans is available from Amazon and from the publisher at Moonlight Mesa Associates. Material for this particular blog is from Saving Our Oceans, chapters 5 and 6.

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Net proceeds from the sale of this book are earmarked for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coaltion and the Friday Harbor Whale Museum.

 

“Thousands have lived without love, none without water.” W.H. Auden

The New York Times ran an article May 21, 2019, reporting on the polluted drinking water in many parts of California. Two states so far, California and Michigan, have confessed that some populated areas in these states have water polluted to the point of being undrinkable. Every state could likely say the same.

According to Saving Our Oceans by R.L. Coffield, the list of unscrupulous companies that have contaminated drinking water for literally millions of people is shocking. It seems there are endless accounts of “manufacturing, mining and waste disposal companies – and dozens of others – who are among the country’s worst water polluters.”

“Hundreds of these companies have been contaminating drinking water throughout the country for decades with everything from arsenic and lead, to mercury and chromium – most coming from improper dumping and waste disposal….” (Environment, “Industrial waste pollutes America’s drinking water.”) “Mining and smelting operations are responsible for contaminating water with heavy metals in almost every state in the nation.”

Example: “In Ringwood, New Jersey, Ford Motor Co. dumped more than 35,000 tons of toxic paint sludge…poisoning groundwater with arsenic, lead, and other harmful bacteria. Today, more than 43 years after the dumping ended, those toxins are still in the groundwater and threaten a reservoir providing water to millions of residents in New Jersey.”

Example: “In North Carolina, the state has told residents living near coal-fired power plants their water contains elevated levels of chromium-6 and other chemicals.”

Example: “Anaconda Aluminum in Montana produced manufacturing wastes that contaminated local water sources with lead and chromium. Gulf States Utilities in Louisiana discharged toxins into marshlands polluting waters with benzene and other chemicals, and the Conklin Dumps in New York leaked volatile organic chemicals into groundwater.”

Photo by NRDC.ORG

Various industries located on or near the Ohio River which borders six states and provides drinking water to nearly 3 million people, have dumped over 600 million pounds of toxic substances into the river.

These toxins cause extraordinary health problems in people and animals. Dioxins (byproducts of incinerators) are the most commonly released chemicals. “They are known carcinogens and exposure has been linked to health effects such as heart disease, diabetes, and reproductive issues. Almost every living creature on Earth has been exposed to dioxins, according to the National Institutes of Health.” (“Industrial waste pollutes America’s drinking water.”) And how much of all these poisons traveling downstream make it out to sea? We already know that fertilizer runoff provides a gross amount of contaminants to the Gulf of Mexico helping to create the world’s second largest dead zone – 8,700 square miles.

There are other “more modern” examples of toxin pollution, such as PFOS and PFOAS (forever chemicals are found in the blood of more than 99 per cent of Americans) along with radioactive waste. By the time one reads about Naegleria fowleri (brain-eating bacteria found in water) and vibrio vulnificus (flesh-eating bacteria found in food and water) the idea of a house-hold water filter begins to sound necessary and the cost quite reasonable.

There are many “natural” sources of water contamination also. Trevor Nace, a science writer, describes the “Nine Deadliest Rocks and Minerals on Earth” (Forbes). Sometimes these rocks and minerals are water soluble and can leach into water. Others, like arsenic, a rather common toxin, comes from water flowing through arsenic rich rocks and soil. Some areas experience quite a bit of arsenic in the water which is why well owners especially in these areas should have their water checked regularly. Not all well owners are aware of this, unfortunately. And just because a neighbor’s well water tests fine, doesn’t mean the next door neighbor’s well will.

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Now available

Hats Off to Exxon – They’ve Done it Again!

 

cleaning each other
Photo by Mike Baird. offshore-technology.com

30 years ago, the worst oil spill in U.S. history took place in the pristine Prince William Sound in Alaska. For those too young to remember, this tragedy that killed literally hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals, and an entire pod of orca whales was entirely avoidable.

For a quick review: recall that the drunken captain, Joseph Hazelwood, gave control of the vessel, Exxon Valdez, to a relatively inexperienced, unlicensed third mate who ran the tanker aground on Bligh Reef, a well-known, clearly marked reef.

oiled bird
Photo by Audubon.org

While the Coast Guard, Fisheries and others twiddled their thumbs trying to figure out what to do about the calamity, the oil spread and covered 1300 miles of unspoiled, immaculate coastline. When the clean-up finally began, the damage was already done. But it wasn’t entirely done…much of the clean-up actually made matters worse, such as spraying oil dispersal chemicals in the water (which causes oil to sink as tiny droplets – it does not dissolve the oil into nothingness).

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Photo by Evostc.state.ak.us

The next tragedy was washing the shoreline with high-pressure, hot water hoses, which simply drove the oil into the ground, causing more ecological damage by killing any remaining plants and animals in the process.

It gets worse, however. The offending captain was acquitted of felony charges and fined a mere $50,000 (for doing billions of dollars worth of damage). He was also assigned 1000 hours of community service – hopefully it was in retrieving dead sea life, but that would be too logical a punishment.

So much for that catastrophe.

The new issue: Exxon predicted decades ago that the carbon dioxide level in our atmosphere would rise to precipitous levels, but they chose to do nothing when action could have been taken. Exxon predicted that by 2020 CO2 would reach the levels we now have. The last time CO2 levels were this high was about 2.5 million years ago during the Pliocene age. At that time, scientists say the oceans were 82 feet higher than now, and trees grew near the South Pole.

The fact that Exxon made this dire prediction of a CO2 level between 400 and 420 ppi, knew how bad it could prove to be and kept the matter classified, did nothing to avert this, and instead poured millions of dollars into a disinformation campaign is treasonous. But, the executives have big salaries and money in the bank. Wonder where they think they’re going to live to escape the consequences of their decisions?

So, you may be wondering, what’s the problem?

For starters, there’s reason to think that high CO2 levels can have catastrophic effects on people’s health. For example, heat waves kill thousands of people. More people die from heat exposure than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods (Business Insider, “Earth has crossed a scary threshold for the first time in more than 800,000 years, and it could lead to tens of thousands of deaths.”) CO2 drives temperatures higher, and as temperatures climb, non-ozone warmer weather will increase rates of lung cancer, asthma, and emphysema.  (Ibid)

ticks
Photo by labs.russell.wisc.edu

My personal favorite: ticks and mosquitoes! There’s never yet been a mosquito that has passed me by! These annoying creatures thrive in warmer climates. Some of them, besides being blood-suckers, carry diseases like Lyme Disease, Zika, and Dengue Fever.

Hurricanes and fires will be an increasing problem. Due to warming seas and rising oceans, hurricanes will become more fearsome. And unprecedented rainfall will occur. This was seen recently in Texas, and today’s weather forecast is for two rain rivers to drench California again. Wildfires, despite the rain, will increase due to higher temperatures. Wildfire season is now much longer than it used to be, particularly in the West.

So, 415 ppm CO2 levels may appear to be a rather boring headline. But it’s not. It’s an imminent warning – one that we likely have received too late.

(Read more about our ocean and its inhabitants in Saving Our Oceans, by R.L. Coffield) Pending on Amazon.

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Are Oil Producers Feeling Some Heat?

According to “Investors Pressure Oil Giants on Ocean Plastics Pollution,” by David Hasemyer (Inside Climate News)  oil magnets are beginning to feel some heat for the plastic waste they continue to create – and that “heat” also refers to climate change heat the oil industry is primarily responsible for.

Savvy “environmentally friendly” oil investors are beginning to focus on the plastic disaster created by oil producers. The disaster not only includes the mountains of plastic covering landfills, but also the plastic pollution that now kills over 1,000,000 sea birds a year, untold turtles, and countless other sea inhabitants including whales. But the damage goes further: it’s now recognized that microscopic plastic pieces are blown through the air, infecting the food we eat and the air we breathe. This should come as no surprise, though.

“Conrad Mackerron, senior vice president of As You Sow…said he was prepared for a stiff fight when his organization filed plastics-related shareholder resolutions this year with Exxon, Chevron, Phillips 66 and chemical giant DowDuPont,” according to Hasemyer’s article.

Ah! Typical move, though, when the oil producers “agreed to address the plastics issue in exchange for the investors withdrawing their formal resolutions.” Is this just another delay tactic? It’s a tactic other plastic producers are accused of using: Coca Cola, PepsiCo, etc.  Everybody is always “working on it.” Nothing seems to get done, however, but a lot of lip service. We are talking about both “gas” and “oil” producers.

One of the major issues is the ubiquitous spread of “nurdles.” Captain Charles Moore, in Plastic Ocean studied not just the large, visible plastic in the Pacific gyre, but also documented the presence of billions upon billions of nurdles in the water – the very tiny plastic items that  are used to make plastic products. These nurdles are consumed by fish, fowl, and mammals…and that indirectly includes people.

It’s a fact that plastic production is responsible for a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking, the act of destroying the earth and copious amounts of fresh water to extract gas from the earth, releases methane into the atmosphere. (So it’s not just cow farts that create methane gas, folks.)

Then any leaks along the trip to the destination account for more methane leakage. Finally, the manufacture of plastic feedstock creates even more methane leakage.

“The whole refining process is very greenhouse gas intensive…from the gas fields to the production end there is a huge carbon footprint to plastics,” explained Lisa Holzman, energy program manager for As You Sow. The methane release is just one of the problems with fracking – toxic fresh water pollution is as bad as the methane release. Gas, like oil, is a fossil fuel.

Water Pollution from Fracking
Photo compliments of Fractracker.org

Boycotting and banning plastic bags, bottles and straws are excellent, effective first-steps that consumers can easily take to send the message that they are fed up with the wanton trashing of the world by big oil and big chemical producing companies.