Today in WaterWise news:
Indonesian fires impacting the climate ♦ Greenland and glaciers are melting ♦ Republicans and President Obama reach tentative budget agreement ♦ Corporate environmental penalty payouts ♦ Rising temperatures in Persian Gulf could become lethal at end of century ♦ Lions are declining across the globe ♦ EPA water chief retires ♦ Al Gore may be an optimist after all ♦ House subcommittee moves fast on rural drinking water bill ♦ New flood plain boundary & flood zone requirement disputes ♦ From permafrost to carbon dioxide: a quick trip ♦ Sandy recovery and resiliency in NYC ♦ Levee breach in San Francisco Bay Area ♦ Opposition to Oregon's offshore renewable energy plan ♦ and, local projects moving ahead, stalling, and abandoning ship.
Washington Post - Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as "Jokowi," came to Washington Monday to help elevate his country's profile and appeal to foreign investors. But as raging forest and peatland fires in Indonesia pour huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, he chose to cut short his U.S. visit and will return to address the ongoing ecological disaster at home. Indonesian officials are scrambling to contain fires that, one researcher estimates, have released more carbon dioxide equivalent emissions than Japan does in a year by burning fossil fuels - emissions so voluminous that on several days this year they have surpassed the daily emissions output of the entire U.S. economy. The burning has generated a toxic haze that has settled not only over parts of Indonesia but Malayasia and Singapore as well, and has killed at least 10 people. Read more.
Washington Post - Earlier this year, we learned some worrisome climate news. Although Antarctic scientists have been most concerned about loss of ice in the western part of Antarctica, a study in Nature Geoscience suggested a vulnerability in the much larger ice sheet of East Antarctica, as well. East Antarctica's enormous Totten Glacier, you see, has a key similarity with the glaciers of West Antarctica - namely, it is rooted deep below sea level. This means that it is potentially exposed to warm ocean waters, and the study in March uncovered a deep and 5-kilometer wide subsea valley beneath the glacier's oceanfront ice shelf that, the authors said, could be a route for warm offshore water to reach its base. This might explain why the glacier has been observed to be thinning and lowering, or losing elevation, over time, they noted. Read more.
New York Times - After five years of bitter clashes, Republican congressional leaders and President Obama on Monday night appeared to settle their last budget fight by reaching a tentative deal that would modestly increase spending over the next two years, cut some social programs, and raise the federal borrowing limit. The accord, which must be approved by the House and Senate, would avert a potentially cataclysmic default on the government's debt and dispenses with perhaps the most divisive issue in the capital just before Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to turn the gavel to Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. Shortly before midnight, House Republicans posted the text of the 144-page bill, which was labeled a "discussion draft" but appeared reflect the tentative agreement as described by congressional aides throughout the day. Read more.
Corporations have paid more than $57 billion in environmental, health and safety penalties since 2010
Washington Post - It's a small, but unenviable club. Eight large parent corporations - along with their subsidiaries - shelled out more than $1 billion in penalties related to environmental, health and safety violations since 2010, according to a new report. Another 32 companies ponied up $100 million or more. "It seems like there's another scandal every other week," said Philip Mattera, research director at Good Jobs First, a nonprofit think tank focused on accountability and economic development that produced the report and an associated Violation Tracker database. "It's hard to keep up, and so we wanted to create something that makes it easier to keep track." Mattera and his team culled roughly 100,000 entries from the records of 13 environmental, health and safety agencies and the Department of Justice. The data show that over the past five years businesses have paid more than $57 billion in penalties, which includes not only cash fines but also state fines and environmental cleanup costs agreed to as part of a settlement. Read more.
New York Times - The midnight sun still gleamed at 1 a.m. across the brilliant expanse of the Greenland ice sheet. Brandon Overstreet, a doctoral candidate in hydrology at the University of Wyoming, picked his way across the frozen landscape, clipped his climbing harness to an anchor in the ice and crept toward the edge of a river that rushed downstream toward an enormous sinkhole. If he fell in, "the death rates is 100 percent," said Mr. Overstreet's friend and fellow researcher, Lincoln Pitcher. But Mr. Overstreet's task, to collect critical data from the river, is essential to understanding one of the most consequential impacts of global warming. The scientific data he and a team of six other researchers collect here could yield groundbreaking information on the rate at which the melting Greenland ice sheet, one of the biggest and fastest-melting chunks of ice on Earth, will drive up sea levels in the coming decades. The full melting of Greenland's ice sheet could increase sea levels by about 20 feet. Read more.
Washington Post - The region that gave birth to civilization six millennia ago could soon witness a grim milestone in the history of urban development: the first cities to experience temperatures too extreme for human survival. A scientific study released Monday predicts that parts of the Persian Gulf could see lethally hot summers by the end of the century, thanks to human-induced global warming that is already contributing to soaring temperatures around the globe. The report's authors say coastal cities from Dubai to Iran's Bandar Abbas could experience summer days that surpass the "human habitability" limit, with heat and humidity so high that even the healthiest people could not withstand more than a few hours outdoors. Other Middle Eastern cities could approach the lethal threshold, including the Saudi holy city of Mecca, a destination for millions of Muslim pilgrims every year, according to the report in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change. Read more.
Politico - In a Miami conference center the size of a football field, 1,200 climate activists are getting ready to watch a slide show. "Wow," says Mario Molina, the director of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, by way of introduction. "This is big room." The activists have come to this room from all over the nation and all over the world - Bangladesh, Mexico, Nigeria, 80 countries in all - so that they can learn to present the same slide show back in their communities. And when Al Gore walks on stage to teach them how to do it, they leap to their feet and cheer. "OK, sit down," he says in that familiar professorial tone. "We've got a lot of ground to cover." Yes, it's that slide show, the one that thrust climate change in popular culture, generating the 2007 Academy Award and Nobel Prize in the process. Gore is still doing it, and training a global cadre of mini-Gores to do it as well; there have been 30 Climate Reality trainings, from South Africa to Australia to India. Read more.
Washington Post - The lion is among Africa's most iconic wildlife - right up there with elephants, rhinos and giraffes - and also one of the continent's top predators. But despite its status as one of the world's most recognizable animals, the lion has lately been losing its grip on its historic domain. Habitat destruction, decreasing prey availability, bushmeat hunting and poaching have all taken their toll on lion populations, and new research suggests that their condition may be even worse than expected. A study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that lion populations are declining everywhere on the continent except in intensively managed areas in mostly Southern Africa. And unless governments step up their conservation efforts in other places, it's only going to get worse from here, the researchers say. Read more.
E&E Daily - Ken Kopocis, the top official in U.S. EPA's water office, is stepping down. In an email sent to all agency employees yesterday, Administrator Gina McCarthy said Kopocis, the agency's deputy assistant administrator for water, is retiring in early November. Kopocis' exit will end a long career in public service that included senior jobs at the agency as well as on Capitol Hill and will touch off a chain of other personnel moves. "Ken Kopocis, our current Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water, will retire in early November, concluding in 32 years of public service. Ken has been instrumental in leading the Office of Water, particularly in finalizing the historic Clean Water Rule that better protects our nation's water resources," McCarthy said in the email obtained by E&E Daily. Kopocis' departure comes as the agency is locked in a multi-front battle over its Waters of the U.S. regulation, with legislative opponents angling to block it through end-of-year appropriations process at the same time that states, industry groups and some environmentalists are challenging it in court. Read more.
E&E Daily - A House subcommittee is moving swiftly to mark up a measure to increase technical assistance to rural communities' drinking water programs with the hope of securing funding before a fiscal 2016 budget deal is finalized. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy has hastily scheduled a markup for S. 611 tomorrow. The bill, which has already passed the Senate by unanimous consent, would reauthorize U.S. EPA's program providing technical assistance to small public water systems and would expand the types of activities that qualify for that assistance. The bill received bipartisan backing during a subcommittee hearing last week, although some of the panel's Democrats contended that it deals with just a small portion of the country's massive water infrastructure challenge (E&E Daily, Oct. 23). Read more.
Phys.org - Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and key academic partners including the University of Colorado Boulder have quantified how rapidly ancient permafrost decomposes upon thawing and how much carbon dioxide is produced in the process. Huge stores of organic carbon in permafrost soils - frozen for hundreds to tens of thousands of years across high northern latitudes worldwide - are currently isolated from the modern day carbon cycle. However, if thawed by changing climate conditions, wildfire, or other disturbances, this massive carbon reservoir could decompose and be emitted as the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane, or be carried as dissolved organic carbon to streams and rivers. Read more.
Wahpeton Daily News - After reading Friday's story on the new flood plain boundaries and how it is impacting some Breckenridge residents you may ask, how is it possible? Why did it happen? Is there any accountability? Is it criminal? The answer, in a nutshell, it seems to be a government bureaucracy at its best, or worst, depending upon your point of view. The Federal Emergency Agency (FEMA) flood insurance rate maps had to be updated in Breckenridge, Minnesota. After waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to update numbers showing the multi-million dollar levee system that currently protects Breckenridge from flooding, FEMA couldn't wait any longer and now has a new flood insurance rate map. FEMA waited for the Army Corps to update those numbers for five years, so it's not as if the federal agency had an unjust timeline. Read more.
Arctic Newswire - Proposed Arctic development off the coast of Alaska just suffered another hit. The Army Corps of Engineers said Monday it will put on hold efforts to study the creation of the first deep-water port that would support vessels in the Arctic following Shell's decision to end its drilling campaign in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Shell's announcement in late September that it would stop drilling in the region raises questions about the port project's "overall justification" and the economic assumptions about a port's economic benefit to oil and gas exploration in the Chukchi Sea, the Army Corps of Engineers said in a press statement. Working with the state, the Corps in 2011 began studying the feasibility of a port deep enough to handle large oceangoing ships. The best option for initial investment called for expanding the port of Nome some 550 miles northwest of Anchorage and dredging the harbor to 28 feet. Read more.
Asbury Park Press - Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Charles Richman said new Jersey's new Coastal A zone construction regulations, which have been sharply criticized by Shore area mayors, are intended to promote public safety. Toms River and Berkeley recently adopted resolutions asking the state to roll back the tougher restrictions, which go into effect March 21, 2016. Officials contend that the new zone will force homeowners to build to stricter standards when elevating or rebuilding their homes, which could be significantly more expensive. But Richman said the stricter standards are intended to protect all buildings - including homes - from flooding and wave action during storms. The new requirements are "focused entirely on public safety," Richman said. Read more.
The Times-Picayune - The U.S. Justice Department on Monday appealed a New Orleans federal judge's decision that the Army Corps of Engineers must pay the full $3 billion cost of restoring wetlands destroyed by the agency's improper construction and maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping shortcut. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk ruled on Aug. 27 that the corps was improperly trying to stick the state with 35 percent of the restoration cost. The corps had refused to begin the complex project to restore wetlands and ridges destroyed by the now-closed shipping shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to the Industrial Canal in New Orleans when the state declined to pay a share of the cost, and Africk ruled that that refusal and the bill were in violation of Congressional intent. Read more.
St. Louis Dispatch - A plan to separate a burning Bridgeton landfill from an adjacent dump filled with radioactive waste should be announced before the end of the year, the Environmental Protection Agency's top regional official said Monday. Meanwhile, the agency charged with overseeing the radioactively contaminated West Lake Landfill said it would require the dump's owner to put a stronger plan in place to deal with surface fires like the one that broke out last weekend. EPA Region 7's acting administrator Mark Hague emphasized to reporters that the brush fire sparked by a faulty electric switch did not reach the landfill or cause the release of any contaminants. But he said his agency would make sure landfill owner Republic Services develops "a more aggressive and robust incident plan" for surface fires that will include increased surveillance, more preventive measures and "better fire suppression." Read more.
Coastal News Today - The de Blasio Administration released a progress report late last week on post-Sandy housing and business recovery and citwide climate resiliency. "Nearly three years ago, Sandy provided a stark picture of the risks of climate change - and New York City has been working to protect our communities, infrastructure, and coastlines ever since," said de Blasio. The City, through the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resliency has established a $20 billion resiliency program. Working with expert climate scientists, the City aims to strengthen coastal defense, protest infrastructure, and adapt buildings. In Coney Island and on the Rockaway peninsula, 4.2 million cubic yards of sand were put in place as a short-term measure. Read more.
New Republic - Seen from the air, the five streets that make up Oakwood Beach, New York look out of place - they are nothing more than a few spindly fingers of soil surrounded by flat estuarine wetlands. Three miles inland is Todt Hill, which, at 410 feet above sea level, is the highest point on the eastern seaboard south of Maine. Twenty-two thousand years ago, when the massive Wisconsin Ice Sheet - that covered much of New England and all New York City in mile-thick ice - retreated, it left behind certain identifiable characteristics: a long ridge of high land, known as terminal moraine, that stretches from the southern end of Staten Island, through Brooklyn and Queens, and out the length of Long island. But just as glaciers can build mountains so too can they level them. As the ice sheet pulled back, much of the land close to the water subsided, creating hundreds of miles of marshes and swamps like those that surround Oakwood Beach. Read more.
South Padre Press - Input from the public is being sought as Cameron County prepares to create an erosion response plan (ERP) in accordance with a mandate from the Texas General Land Office (GLO), said County Parks Director Joe E. Vega Wednesday. The GLO is requiring all gulf counties in the state to create the plans, which will address issues such as maintaining beach access, the types of development which will be allowed in the future, protecting the State's dune systems and combating the erosion of such, as well as other variables, according to a statement released by the ERP's organizers. "(Our) first priority is to reach out to the public," Vega said. "The ERP will have a significant impact on future development," he said, adding it's especially important for property owners to provide their input. "We don't have one in place," he said. Read more.
CBS SF Bay Area - A man-made, 285-foot wide breach in the Sear Point levee in southern Sonoma County Sunday allowed high-tide salt water from San Pablo Bay to begin filling a 1,000-acre tidal marsh basin, restoring the land to the way it was 140 years ago. Following a private morning brunch and program for elected officials, an excavator carved out a breach just south of the Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway intersection, thereby connecting the basin to San Francisco Bay. It's expected to take 24 hours to fill the new tidal basin. Farmers never developed the land that was diked in the mid-1800s, opting to graze cattle and grow oat hay instead. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria considered the land at Sears Point for a casino but chose a land of it's new casino and resort just west of Rohnert Park because of opposition from environmental groups. Read more.
Dustin Hoffman, Ray Romano and Pierce Brosnan all hope to restore this prized but battered Malibu beach
Los Angeles Times - Malibu's Broad Beach, long a magnet for Hollywood A-listers and corporate chieftains, could once again live up to its name after decades of deterioration caused by pounding storms and high tides. This month the California Coastal Commission narrowly approved an unprecedented sand-replenishment project along the prized but diminished 1.1-mile oceanfront. Owners of 121 parcels have committed to paying $31 million over the next decade to fund the undertaking, which will involve trucking in mountains of sand from quarries in Simi Valley and Moorpark and trying to re-create sandy beach and dunes, the latter atop a massive, man-made rock barrier. Residents who for decades have watched rough surf encroach on their coastal turf say they're pleased that restoration work might soon begin - after the coming El Niño winter, that is. Read more.
Seaside Courier - Encinitas city leaders are thumping their chests over a new deal with the Army Corps of Engineers to not only replenish sand on city beaches, but also extend the strand's width by 50 feet - a project scheduled to start in 2018, with an initial dump of 340,000 cubic yards, and every year for the next 50 years see another 220,000 cubic yards spread out over city beaches. The beach, after all, is North County's single greatest natural resource and tourist attraction, sot he more sand the better, right? "Allowing our sandy beaches to slowly wear away to cobblestones while our bluffs become even more destabilized by lapping waves just isn't a legitimate option," Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear wrote in one of her recent weekly newsletters to constituents."It would negatively affect the safety and quality of life of residents, businesses and tourists. We need and want sandy beaches." Read more.
Portland Tribune - In late September, Clatsop, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Lincoln and Tillamook counties filed an amicus curiae or friend of the court on behalf of two coastal residents who are challenging the 2013 decision by the Land Conservation and Development Commission to create offshore renewable energy study areas under the state's ocean management plan, known as the territorial sea plan. Lane County commissioners missed the deadline to join in the brief, but sent a letter of support. The two residents, Charles Ciecko and David Yamamoto, filed the petition in January 2014 asking the Oregon Court of Appeals to reject the renewable energy amendment to Oregon's existing sea plan. The plan attempts to balance coastal renewable energy projects with protections for marine plants and animals, scenic coastal areas and the fishing industry. Currently, the only offshore energy projects proposed in Oregon are research and pilot projects and the technology remains expensive. Read more.
Marine Industries Association of South Florida - After several years, permits have been issued and a contract has been awarded for the dredging of the Intracoastal from 17th Street to Sunrise Boulevard to 17 feet deep, allowing the vessels that patronize our waterways to have better access to local marinas and boatyards. The Intracoastal dredge will be the largest single public works project for the Florida Inland Navigation District, a special state taxing district tasked with managing and maintaining the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. "The Florida Inland Navigation District's ICW dredging project will provide an extraordinary benefit to Broward County through the infusion of $20 million by increasing the depth of the ICW from the congressionally authorized depth of 10 feet to a new depth of 17 feet to accommodate the vessels that are seeking to visit, reside and retrofit at our local marinas and boatyards," said Tyler Chappell, the Broward commissioner for FIND. Read more.
Palm Beach Daily News - A study analyzing environmental conditions off the island's southernmost coastline in underway again after the town and county worked out their cost-sharing differences. Earlier this month, the Town Council accepted Palm Beach County's agreement to reimburse the town an additional $197,343 to finish the environmental impact statement that will determine what sort of coastal protection the town can build in Reach 8 and the county can implement in South Palm Beach, Lantana and Manalapan. Additional engineering and modeling work to complete the study has been on hold since June allowing the town and county time to review the scope and cost of work. Town and county officials agreed to separate tasks that were the sole responsibility of the town from tasks that could be cost-shared. Read more.