Today in WaterWise News:
The White House emphasizes private sector commitment to climate change plan - Republicans again look to Paul Ryan for Speaker Post - Coral Reefs and Sunscreen - The problems associated with Arctic Drilling - Oil prices fall again - Land and Water Conservation Fund has $20 billion but is it actual money? - Carbon emissions receive more attention from wild fire experts and governments alike - Dredging in Prime Hook and Cape Cod - Desalination in Huntington Beach - and San Francisco, Louisiana, and parts of Florida see increses in coastal resiliency funding.
New York Times - The Obama administration announced Monday that 81 major companies have committed to large reductions in carbon emissions, part of a broad push by the White House to show progress ahead of international climate talks in Paris this year. The companies that have made the pledge include such iconic American brands as Levi Strauss & Company, McDonald’s, I.B.M. and Procter & Gamble. They have operations in all 50 states, employ over nine million people, and have more than $3 trillion in annual revenue and a combined market capitalization of over $5 trillion, according to the White House. But many of the newly announced commitments were in fact issued before. Read more.
New York Times - Human activity has had at least as much effect as climate change on the survival of animals on the Bahamian island of Abaco, a new study suggests. Researchers looked at 10,000-year-old fossils found in an underwater cave on Abaco. They compared them with fossils from the island that date to 1,000 to 3,000 years ago, along with data from current vertebrate populations. The scientists found that during the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, some 17 bird species went extinct on Abaco because of a warming, wetter climate and rising sea levels. “All of these birds were open country birds that preferred grassy, dry, cool climates,” said David Steadman, the curator of ornithology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and one of the study’s authors. Read more.
New York Times - As Catholics look for white smoke from the Vatican, as children stand by for Santa, as the working public anticipates Friday, House Republicans are eagerly awaiting Representative Paul D. Ryan’s verdict on his own political life. This week they hope to learn whether Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, will run to replace Speaker John A. Boehner, or will leave them to find someone else. When Mr. Ryan, 45, returns to Capitol Hill on Tuesday after a weeklong Congressional recess, he will face enormous pressure to tell his colleagues if he has changed his mind, after insisting for weeks that he was not interested in the job. Mr. Ryan is the favorite among many of his Republican colleagues, although he has been criticized by far right pundits on issues like his 2008 vote to bail out large banks, his longstanding interest in immigration reform and his work on a bipartisan budget measure. Read more.
Washington Post - The sunscreen that snorkelers, beachgoers and children romping in the waves lather on for protection is killing coral and reefs around the globe. And a new study finds that a single drop in a small area is all it takes for the chemicals in the lotion to mount an attack. The study, released Tuesday, was conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii several years after a chance encounter between a group of researchers on one of the Caribbean beaches, Trunk Bay, and a vendor waiting for the day’s invasion of tourists. Just wait to see what they’d leave behind, he told the scientists – “a long oil slick.” His comment sparked the idea for the research. Not only did the study determine that a tiny amount of sunscreen is all it takes to begin damaging the delicate corals — the equivalent of a drop of water in a half-dozen Olympic-sized swimming pools — it documented three different ways that the ingredient oxybenzone breaks the coral down, robbing it of life-giving nutrients and turning it ghostly white. Read more.
Washington Post - It’s an unfortunate truth that humans don’t always eat what’s good for us — and we don’t always eat what’s good for the planet, either. Food production, alone, is a significant (and growing) contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. And combined with the fuel required to transport various types of in-demand meat and produce around the world, the meat and potatoes on our plates might just have a bigger carbon footprint than we’d like to think about. So promoting more sustainable food choices is a big concern among environmentalists. The question is whether consumers are actually interested in buying climate-friendly meals — and researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich argue that they are. Researchers Vivianne Visschers and Michael Siegrist conducted two experiments in a cafeteria at their university to find out whether consumers found climate-friendly meals as satisfying as other meals, and whether a climate-friendly label would encourage people to buy the product. Read more.
Washington Post - To those who aren’t oil industry insiders, it seems like the most sudden of turnabouts. Shell appeared all set to drill in the Arctic — but then pulled out after completing just one unsuccessful exploration well. And then along comes the Obama administration and seemingly slams the door behind the company, canceling two scheduled Arctic ocean lease sales for 2016 and 2017. These developments have made environmentalists ecstatic, but oil industry observers say that the narrative may be rather different from how it appears. They suggest that the principal difficulty for Arctic offshore drilling right now is economic — this is a pricey endeavor at a time when oil prices are so low — and that companies may be back for another try at Arctic offshore drilling, in U.S. waters or elsewhere, if economic conditions change. “I would say that everybody understands the false start, but they haven’t given up,” says Mead Treadwell, Alaska’s former lieutenant governor and now president of PT Capital, a private investment firm that focuses on Arctic opportunities. Read more.
Wall Street Journal - Oil prices were largely lower Tuesday as investors expected little action from producers meeting this week to alleviate the global supply glut. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the 12-nation oil cartel, and non-OPEC nations, like Russia and Mexico, are meeting in Vienna on Wednesday. Although participants have said that supply cuts will be discussed, few analysts expect any meaningful departure from OPEC’s policy to pump oil to defend its market share. “Although there is little chance of any concrete steps to reduce the oversupply being agreed, the vague prospect of a minimal consensus should at least discourage market participants from betting on further falling prices,” analysts at Commerzbank said in a report. Read more.
EE News - The Land and Water Conservation Fund that expired earlier this month for the first time in its 50-year history currently contains nearly $20 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury, which maintains the program's balance sheets. Whether that is "real" money available to be spent on federal land acquisitions, private land easements and state recreation projects depends on whom you ask. But the money -- collected mostly from offshore oil and gas lease rentals and royalty receipts -- does exist, according to the Treasury. The $19.8 billion balance also includes a relatively small amount of revenues from the sales of surplus federal property and the motor boat fuels tax, Treasury said. Read more.
EE News - The boreal forests of North America and Eurasia are storing less carbon than assumed by scientists, finds a new study in Nature Climate Change. The culprit: wildfires. In the past few decades, a part of interior Alaska called the Yukon Flats has been catching on fire more frequently than at any time in the past 10,000 years. Scientists unearthed the fire history for the region by studying the charcoal deposits from the beds of 14 lakes. Using that data, the study suggests scientists could be substantially overestimating the amount of CO2 that boreal forests have been absorbing in recent years. Scientists estimate that boreal forests absorbed roughly 0.4 petagram of carbon every year in recent years. Of the 10 petagrams of CO2 that humans emit by fossil fuel combustion to the atmosphere each year, only half sticks around to warm the planet. Read more.
EE News - The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tapped heads of state and subnational leaders yesterday to push other governments to price carbon as a way "to spur further, faster action" ahead of next month's climate talks in Paris. The newly formed Carbon Pricing Panel includes leaders of entities that have already adopted a sectoral or economywide price on carbon. That includes developed countries like Germany and France, which are covered by the European Union's Emissions Trading System, and developing nations like Chile -- which last year became the first nation in the global south to price carbon. The group also includes the presidents of Ethiopia, the Philippines and Mexico, as well as California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro. "These global leaders are calling on their peers to join them in pricing carbon to steer the global economy towards a low carbon, productive, competitive future without the dangerous levels of carbon pollution driving warming," the panel said in a statement circulated by the World Bank Group. "Through strong public policy they are providing certainty and predictability to the private sector so they can make long-term investments in climate smart development." Read more.
WBOC - Time is almost up for Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge officials to finish one phase of a major restoration project on the water. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader Al Rizzo said the deadline mandated by Congress to dredge three water channels at Prime Hook is the end of October. Restoration Project Manager Bart Wilson said the efforts are to restore parts of the marshes to its former glory before it was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. "This is part of a really large Sandy resiliency project to restore Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to a more historic state of salt marsh and freshwater marshes, rather than the impoundments that it was for about 25 years," said Wilson. Phase two of the project focuses on three sections of Prime Hook. Unit One has always held salt water. Unit Two was first a salt marsh but was transformed 25 years ago into a manmade freshwater area maintained by the facility. It was transformed in order to provide vegetation for waterfowl migrations. Unit Three, largest of them all, has typically been a hybrid area over the years. Read more.
LA Times - The sea may be (nearly) endless, but California cannot hope to solve its water problems just by converting salty seawater into something drinkable. It would take a ridiculous number of desalination plants along the coast, each sucking up tens of millions of gallons of water a day and then spitting half of it back out as super-salty brine, to slake even the coastal counties' thirst. Such plants also use gobs of electricity, destroy a certain amount of sea life and cost more than other water sources. Water security for California will depend on a portfolio of approaches that includes reclaiming wastewater, capturing storm water and continuing to emphasize conservation. But under certain conditions, it makes sense for desalination to be part of that portfolio, especially in areas dependent on imported water. The state's first large-scale desalination plant, in Carlsbad, is scheduled to go online in late November. Read more.
Cape Cod - With severe storms in recent years, Barnstable Harbor has experienced such extensive shoaling that officials believe one more similar winter will result in the channel being blocked to large vessels entirely. The Barnstable Town Council last week approved $490,000 for phase one of a project to dredge the outer channel of the harbor. That project would begin this fall using the county dredge, and the 8,000 cubic yards of sand dredged would be deposited on Sandy Neck. Phase two, according to Barnstable Department of Public Works Director Daniel Santos, would take place next fall. That phase, to dredge the inner harbor, still needs permitting and would require a different dredging technique and different disposal, he said. Read more.
Business Reports - Billions of dollars in new money for coastal projects in Louisiana is on the way. But as 10/12 Industry Reportdetails in a feature from the new issue, work to enhance and protect the state’s fragile coastal regions has been going on for years. Greg Grandy is a senior environmental manager for Coastal Engineering Consultants in Baton Rouge. His firm worked on the feasibility study for the state and the Army Corps of Engineers for the restoration of Caminada Headland, a 14-mile stretch of beach east of Port Fourchon. Over the past century, Caminada annually has lost an average of 35 feet of shoreline, according to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The work began in March 2005, and the study was supposed to be ready by September of that year, Grandy says. As you might expect, that year’s infamous hurricane season blew away the original timeline. “A lot of the folks we were working with,” he says, “obviously, their priorities shifted.” Read more.
Fox 6 Now - Lake Michigan bluffs are disappearing at an alarming rate and so are the beaches below them. Now, at least one coastal engineer says the problem could be headed toward Milwaukee, unless something is done to stem the tide. FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn reports a multi-million dollar project meant to preserve the bluffs could be part of the problem. Ten years ago, Concordia University embarked on project meant to protect its lakefront campus in Mequon from rapidly eroding bluffs. But neighbors just south of the school say that project caused their bluffs to fail. Now, neighbors further down the coast have launched a new website to raise awareness of what they call continuing damage. And a University of Wisconsin professor says a disastrous chain reaction could be underway. The path from Bob Hemke's house down to Lake Michigan is treacherous. "I hope you brought your hiking boots," Hemke said. Read more.
Contra Costa Times - San Francisco Bay is in a race against time, with billions of dollars of highways, airports, homes and office buildings at risk from rising seas, surging tides and extreme storms driven by climate change. And to knock down the waves and reduce flooding, 54,000 acres of wetlands -- an area twice the size of the city of San Francisco -- need to be restored around the bay in the next 15 years. That's the conclusion of a new report from more than 100 Bay Area scientists and 17 government agencies that may help fuel a regional tax measure aimed at addressing the looming crisis. The other alternative, the report found, is to ring large sections of the bay with seawalls and levees in the coming decades. But that would destroy many of the marshes and probably cost taxpayers more in the long run. Read more.
Palm Beach Daily News - By Nov. 25, the town plans to reopen North Ocean Boulevard to two-way traffic as workers begin phase two of the sea-wall reconstruction project adjacent to the Palm Beach Country Club. The first phase, building the new sea wall, began in April. Southbound traffic has been detoured all summer while northbound traffic has remained a single lane. Public Works Director Paul Brazil said sheet piling for the new sea wall is complete, and crews are in the process of installing the sea-wall cap and drainage. The second phase involves removing the 1,600-foot old sea wall. Most of that work will take place on the beach so crews have to wait until the end of sea-turtle nesting season on Oct. 31. Any lane closures in season would be temporary, Brazil said. Read more.