Today in WaterWise News:
The next chapter in post-Sandy shoreline protection ♦ Adapting to future through landscape design ♦ Two-year budget outline passed by House ♦ House elects Rep. Paul Ryan as 62nd Speaker ♦ Low natural gas prices reshaping power in U.S. ♦ Bill to provide rural drinking water technical assistance clears subcommittee ♦ Oil firms face low prices ♦ Mine cleanup and reform bills gain traction ♦ NJ oceanfront homeowners fight easements ♦ $354M spent on NJ beach repairs in 2014 ♦ Advocate groups challenge Corps' Section 404 permit in Alabama ♦ Beneficial use for dredged sediment and beach replenishment in MA ♦ Re-thinking future of Norfolk in era of sea-level rise ♦ El Niño will test West Coast ♦ Study finds south FL power grid is vulnerable to sea level rise ♦ Sandbags used in south CA to protect against high tides.
Wall Street Journal - Over the past three years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has moved 24.5 million cubic yards of sand onto the regional coastline battered by superstorm Sandy, enough to fill MetLife stadium a dozen times. The sprawling federal agency has finished its restoration work in New York and New Jersey and is breaking ground on new projects to further fortify the shore. The Corps received $1.3 billion for restoration and resiliency work in New York and New Jersey, part of the $51 billion relief package passed by Congress following the storm that crashed ashore on Oct. 29, 2012 just north of Atlantic City. "The Army Corps has handled several billion dollars and told, 'Make it all like it was,'" said Stewart Farrel, director of the Coastal Research Center at Stockton University in New Jersey. At the three-year mark, the Corps has finished 15 projects at a total cost of $357.5 million in New York and New Jersey. Read more.
New York Times - In its assault on New York and New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy revealed vulnerabilities across all social and infrastructure sectors. Sustainability, resiliency and preparedness - all concepts that can seem very abstract - were tested in real time. Three years after Hurricane Sandy, we are more aware of the threat we face, and in that sense, safer. It is now less likely transit agencies will store their train cars in a flood zone, or that those who live by the shore will protest dune nourishment and beach grass plantings that "block the views." But federal flood insurance policy still largely subsidizes risky construction. Taxpayers are doubly on the hook, funding risky reconstruction as well as larger-scale safety measures (like building sand berms) meant to "protect" development. Investments in ecological infrastructure, on the other hand, would be effective at countering the increasingly uncertain nature of the harbor waters in the long term. Read more.
Wall Street Journal - The House on Wednesday passed a two-year budget deal that would extend the government's borrowing limit less than a week before the Treasury risks being unable to pay its bills. The legislation passed the House by a vote of 266-167 and heads to the Senate, which is expected to pass it later this week. The bill would implement a rare, multiyear fiscal deal struck late Monday night between congressional leaders and the White House after weeks of negotiations that faltered at times. The agreement has drawn GOP opposition in both chambers and on the presidential campaign trail from conservatives upset that it raises spending by $80 billion through September 2017 and extends the government's borrowing authority through mid-March 2017. The Treasury Department has said an increase or an extension of the debt ceiling was needed by next Tuesday so the country could avoid any risk of defaulting on its obligations. Read more.
New York Times - Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin was elected the 62nd speaker of the House on Thursday, taking the gavel that he never sought to wild from John A. Boehner, who relinquished it under fire. But the personal jubilance and high expectations felt by Mr. Boehner, who was elected in a sweeping Republican takeover of the House in 2011, have been replaced with a grim recognition that Mr. Ryan's ascent stems not from electoral victory but rather the chaos in the ranks of his party's sizable minority. "I know he will serve with grace and energy," Mr. Boehner said during his farewell remarks on Thursday. Mr. Boehner, 65, came into the job a seasoned leader who tried to appease the Tea Party members who elections helped usher Republicans into the majority. Mr. Ryan, 45, the youngest speaker since 1869, comes in warning those members that he expects them to have his back. Read more.
Washington Post - Oil isn't the only fossil fuel that is selling at quite cheap levels at the moment, at leas tin the United States. This week, U.S. natural gas prices plunged briefly below $2 per million Btu (British thermal unit), lower than they have been since early 2012. It's part of a long term price drop that is closely tied to the fracking and shale gas boom, but also more immediately to high levels of natural gas storage and warm weather. Meanwhile, Duke Energy, the nation's single largest utility company by market capitalization, purchased Piedmont Natural Gas for $4.9 billion, paying a premium for the natural gas distributor. The two overlapping stories hint at one of the most important consequences of the natural gas glut - it's already changing not only what we pay to heat our homes in winter but also how we get electricity across the board. Read more.
E&E Daily - A House subcommittee yesterday roundly approved a measure to increase technical assistance to rural drinking water utilities after a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over whether to expand the types of assistance was tentatively resolved. S. 611 was approved on a voice vote by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environmental and the Economy. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are eager to move quickly on the measure so the EPA assistance program it reauthorizes can have a shot at funding in the fiscal 2016 appropriations cycle. But Democrats wanted to see a handful of tweaks to the bill, including to a description of what kinds of nonprofits can receive grants under the program, and to the types of assistance it would support. Among the activities they want the assistance program to cover: identifying threats to source water and increasing energy and water efficiency. Read more.
Wall Street Journal - Some of the world's largest oil companies reported sharply lower earnings on Thursday as they gave up on some ventures that no longer make sense in a world of crude prices around $50 a barrel. Royal Dutch Shell PLC posted a $6.1 billion loss in the third quarter after its decision to walk away from exploring the Arctic for oil and exploiting Canada's oil sands resulted in $7.9 billion in charges. Petro China Co., the biggest oil-and-gas producer by volume in China, said its third-quarter net profit fell by more than 80%. Total SA, the French oil giant, said its net profit fell 69% compared with last year's third quarter, partly the result of a $650 million write-down in its Canada oil-sands ventures. Read more.
E&E Daily - Two Republican lawmakers yesterday introduced legislation to help clean up the inventory of abandoned mines around the country. And other such bills may be in the works. Even though environmental advocates and a select group of lawmakers have long pushed for mine cleanups, U.S. EPA's August spill from the Gold King mine site pushed the often-obscure issue onto the front pages. Legislation by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee's Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, would create an abandoned non-coal mine reclamation program within the Interior Department for sites on or affecting public lands. The bill, H.R. 3843, would also create a U.S. EPA program to encourage good Samaritan groups and companies wishing to help clean up abandoned coal or non-coal mine sites. Read more.
Asbury Park Press - A group of oceanfront homeowners here is suing the state Department of Environmental Protection, demanding to be removed from a massive beach replenishment project. Nine homeowners who own seven parcels of beachfront land have joined the lawsuit, which was filed in Ocean County Superior Court on Monday. Among their claims is that the state is misusing its eminent domain powers to seize beachfront land that Bay Head property owners are willing to protect without government help. At issue are easements - the legal documents oceanfront property owners must sign to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers access to their land to build dunes and expand beaches from the Manasquan to Barnegat Inlets. The lawsuit says New Jersey is misusing eminent domain powers to take private beachfront property so that new sand dunes can be built. Read more.
Press of Atlantic City - Since Hurricane Sandy made landfall three years ago today, hundreds of millions of dollars of state and federal aid have been spent to reinforce the state's fragile coastline. From beach-replenishment projects in southern Ocean and Cape May counties to gabions in the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township and a seawall project in Atlantic City, politicians and federal officials have used the storm to show the dangers of not having such improvements. These projects also represent a significant portion of post-Sandy funding, with $345 million spent on beach repair projects in 2014 alone. "All the projects were authorized before Sandy hit," said Ed Voigt, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Philadelphia District. "After Sandy, we received the funding to do it." Read more.
AL.com - Conservation groups including Black Warrior Riverkeeper are continuing multiple legal challenges to permits that would allow coal mining companies to fill in streams that flow into the Black Warrior River, arguing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been lax in evaluating environmental impacts before issuing the permits. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a suit Tuesday, on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeepr and Defenders of Wildlife, challenging the Corps' issuance of a Section 404 permit to the Canada-based Global Met Coal Corporation on the grounds that the permit violates the Clean Water Act and threatens species that are endangered, threatened and proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The permit allows the mining interest to complete a new 287-acre surface mine called the Black Creek Mine, on the banks of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. Read more.
The Brownsville Herald - Cleaning the sands of South Padre Island is helpful to keep up the beach's appearance, but more important is making sure there is a beach to enjoy. Regular maintenance of South Padre Island's sands are required if people are to keep enjoying a healthy beach, said Joe Vega, Cameron County Parks and Recreation director. Dredging is how the City of South Padre Island and Cameron County make sure there's always sand on the beach. "It keeps the beach healthy. The wider the beach, the more the people can enjoy it. And the winter it is, the more it will protect the infrastructure such as utility lines, roads, properties, so those projects are good for our beach and our tourism as well," Vega said. Over time, the ocean waves erode the shoreline, which would otherwise cause problems, Vega said. The dredging is referred to as the South Padre Island Beach Nourishment Project. Read more.
Three Bays Preservation, Inc. and Mass Audubon seek Corps permit to dredge in Nantucket Sound, Cotuit Bay
Coastal News Today - Three Bays Preservation, Inc./Mass Audubon Society Inc. are seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District to impact waters of the U.S. in conjunction with dredging in Nantucket Sound and Cotuit Bay and placing sand on Dead Neck Sampson's Island in Osterville, Mass. The proposed work involves the dredging of 133,600 cubic yards of clean sand from a 218,400-square-foot area to a depth of 8-feet below mean low water (MLW). The dredged material will be used as follows: 1) 102,200 cubic yards of sand over a 300,010-square-foot area will be used for beach nourishment at the eastern end of Dead Neck Sampson's Island; 2) 20,000 cubic yards for dune restoration over a 30,000-square-foot area; and 3) 11,400 cubic yards to enhance and restore specific habitat restoration at various locations on Dead Neck Sampson's Island. Read more.
PilotOnlines.com - Norfolk has earned a dreary distinction of late. It's become one of the top destinations around the world for journalists seeking poster-child city for the perils of sea level rise. But city leaders Wednesday verged on embracing that notoriety with the unveiling of a strategy to tackle the problem harder. One goal of the plan: Build an entire new industry around engineers and other experts who figure out ways to adapt to rising seas right here and then export that expertise worldwide. That idea is among a slew of initiatives outlined in what's being called Norfolk's "resilience strategy." The 60-page document was published Wednesday on the city's website and outlined at the Slover Library downtown at an event that drew some 100 business and community leaders and city officials. Read more.
Chinook Observer - Few areas in Pacific County see as much change each year as the ominously named Washaway Beach neighborhood in North Cove, which has been eroding an average of 100 feet per year, according to the Washington Department of Ecology. As recently as last December, a couple watched their yard being to break apart and crumble into the ocean, followed by their home. Such events could become more common along the West Coast - and in places in Pacific County already prone to erosion and flooding - as the climate continues to shift and regular cycles like El Niño and La Niña become increasingly massive and severe, according to a new study released by the U.S. Geological Survey in September. These climate events are already known to bring bigger waves, different wave direction, higher water levels and erosion, according to the researchers. Read more.
Miami Herald - Hurricanes and rising sea levels make South Florida's power grid increasingly vulnerable according to a new study that argues for building a more resilient energy system along the U.S. coastline. The study, produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane could knock out about a sixth of Southeast Florida's electrical substations. Factor in sea level rise projections and the number doubles, the report said. By 2070, with sea rise fueling storm surges that spread farther inland, the number could triple. "Coastal residents in these places and elsewhere on our coasts should be asking their utilities - and the commissions that regulate them - what they're doing to protect their power plants and substations from current and increasing flood risks," co-author Steve Clemmer, the UCS's director of energy research, said in a statement. Read more.
Los Angeles Times - Unusually high tides are expected to begin hitting Southern California on Tuesday morning and could bring water up to beachside home doorsteps and parking lots, the National Weather Service said. Fueled by high surf and a full moon, the tides are expected to peak about 9:20 a.m. in Los Angeles County, where area including Alamitos Bay in Long Beach could be affected, said meteorologist Curt Kaplan. Tides could reach up to 8 feet, partially encouraged by a warm-water phenomenon that's spanned the entire West Coast all year, Kaplan said. The highest tides are expected Wednesday, he said. Residents who want sandbags to protect against flooding can get them at certain fire stations in Venice, Westchester, Playa Vista and Mar Vista, L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes those neighborhoods, announced on Facebook. Read more.