Clean Water Act: ‘Why rivers no longer burn’ — James Salzman

December 10, 2012

cuyahogariverfire1131952.jpg

Here’s an essay from James Salzman (writing for Slate) celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Here’s an excerpt:

A river catches fire, so polluted that its waters have “no visible life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms.” This could describe the mythological River Styx from Hades. Residents of Cleveland, though, may recognize the government’s assessment of their own Cuyahoga River in 1969. While hard to imagine today, discharging raw sewage and pollution into our harbors and rivers has been common practice for most of the nation’s history, with devastating results. By the late 1960s, Lake Erie had become so polluted that Time magazine described it as dead. Bacteria levels in the Hudson River were 170 times above the safe limit.

I can attest to the state of the Charles River in Boston. While sailing in the 1970s, I capsized and had to be treated by a dermatologist for rashes caused by contact with the germ-laden waters. You can see the poor state of our waters for yourself in the iconic 1971 “Crying Indian” commercial.

In 1972, a landmark law reversed the course of this filthy tide. Today, four decades later, the Clean Water Act stands as one of the great success stories of environmental law. Supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, the act took a completely new approach to environmental protection. The law flatly stated there would be no discharge of pollutants from a point source (a pipe or ditch) into navigable waters without a permit. No more open sewers dumping crud into the local stream or bay. Permits would be issued by environmental officials and require the installation of the best available pollution-control technologies.

Click through and read the whole article. If you are an enemy of the EPA stop for a moment to reconsider. The agency has its place. If you are a polluter remember that the law you circumvent is there to prevent the continued loss of clean drinking water sources. If you are a conservationist take solace in the fact that the U.S. was once aligned politically behind protecting the environment. It may happen again.

More water pollution coverage here.


‘Oil and gas have contaminated groundwater in 17 percent of the 2,078 spills…over the past five years’ — The Denver Post

December 10, 2012

oilrigssharingaplatformfrontrangeschoolofminesalfredeustes.jpg

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Most of the spills are happening less than 30 feet underground — not in the deep well bores that carry drilling fluids into rock. State regulators say oil and gas crews typically are working on storage tanks or pipelines when they discover that petroleum material, which can contain cancer-causing benzene, has seeped into soil and reached groundwater. Companies respond with vacuum trucks or by excavating tainted soil. Contamination of groundwater — along with air emissions, truck traffic and changed landscapes — has spurred public concerns about drilling along Colorado’s Front Range. There are 49,236 active wells statewide, up 31 percent since 2008, with 17,844 in Weld County.

Starting Monday, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulators struggling to maintain a consistent set of state rules governing the industry will begin grappling with the groundwater issue. The COGCC is weighing proposed changes to state rules that would require companies to conduct before-and-after testing of groundwater around wells to provide baseline data that could be used to hold companies accountable for pollution…

The state government’s efforts to toughen rules around groundwater — such as establishing bigger setbacks around occupied buildings, including churches and schools — are aimed partly at defusing regulatory conflicts between the state and local governments. The COGCC is charged with both promoting and regulating the oil- and-gas industry.

But Boulder County and other local governments have begun to pass health and safety regulations of their own. Longmont adopted tougher city rules that prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to file a lawsuit challenging local authority. Hickenlooper has warned that a mishmash of varied local rules could drive companies to other states. Longmont residents then voted to ban all drilling inside the city — igniting ban campaigns elsewhere. Hickenlooper on Thursday said the state will not sue over the ban but will support private companies that choose to do so.

Current proposals for baseline testing of groundwater give companies too much freedom to cherry-pick wells they would use to draw samples, said Gary Wockner, director of Clean Water Action, which is pushing for new local rules in several locations. “The groundwater sampling would need to be scientifically designed to confirm whether there’s been damage to groundwater — whether deep in the aquifers or at the surface,” Wockner said. “The state needs to clamp down … and protect the public from cancer-causing fracking chemicals.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Drought news: U.S. Representative Tipton hopes to snag help for farmers #CODrought

December 10, 2012

droughtcornfieldnorthdakotastate.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., asked federal agricultural officials Monday to ease restrictive insurance guidelines on farmers in the San Luis Valley given the lingering drought. Tipton expressed his concern in a letter to USDA’s Risk Management Agency, stating that agency guidelines would limit farmers in the Multiple Peril Crop Insurance Program from filing claims because of less water being available. The guidelines for the insurance program would preclude farmers who made a claim in 2012 from filing for the same amount of acreage in 2013.

“Relaxing the Risk Management Agency policy for a single crop year would allow the farmers of the San Luis Valley to weather the ongoing drought, and will make an enormous economic difference in the region,” Tipton wrote. The loss of acreage claimed under the program could also be a blow to efforts to preserve the valley’s shallow aquifer, which has already plummeted to historic lows.

Last year Subdistrict No. 1, which takes in farms in the north-central part of the valley, paid farmers to fallow roughly 9,000 acres that would have otherwise been irrigated with groundwater. Farmers in the subdistrict also lessened or altogether eliminated the use of groundwater on nearly twice as much acreage because they had successfully filed planting claims.


Missouri River Reuse Project: ‘I pooh-poohed this kind of stuff back in the 1960s’ — Chuck Howe

December 10, 2012

missouririverreuseprojectnyt.jpg

From The New York Times (Felicity Barringer):

The federal government has come up with dozens of ways to enhance the diminishing flow of the Colorado River, which has long struggled to keep seven states and roughly 25 million people hydrated…

…also in the mix, and expected to remain in the final draft of the report [ed. Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study], is a more extreme and contentious approach. It calls for building a pipeline from the Missouri River to Denver, nearly 600 miles to the west. Water would be doled out as needed along the route in Kansas, with the rest ultimately stored in reservoirs in the Denver area…

The fact that the Missouri River pipeline idea made the final draft, water experts say, shows how serious the problem has become for the states of the Colorado River basin. “I pooh-poohed this kind of stuff back in the 1960s,” said Chuck Howe, a water policy expert and emeritus professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “But it’s no longer totally unrealistic. Currently, one can say ‘It’s worth a careful look.’ ”

The pipeline would provide the Colorado River basin [ed. Denver, Kansas, etc., are not in the Colorado River Basin] with 600,000 acre-feet of water annually, which could serve roughly a million single-family homes. But the loss of so much water from the Missouri and Mississippi River systems, which require flows high enough to sustain large vessel navigation, would most likely face strong political opposition…

Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, said that during the course of the study, the analysis done on climate change and historical data led the agency “to an acknowledged gap” between future demand and future supply as early as the middle of this century.

That is when they put out a call for broader thinking to solve the water problem. “When we did have that wake-up call, we threw open the doors and said, ‘Bring it on,’ ” she said. “Nothing is too silly.”[...]

It is unclear how much such a pipeline project would cost, though estimates run into the billions of dollars. That does not include the cost of the new electric power that would be needed (along with the construction of new generating capacity) to pump the water uphill from Leavenworth, Kan., to the front range reservoirs serving Denver, about a mile above sea level, according to Sharlene Leurig, an expert on water-project financing at Ceres, a nonprofit group based in Boston that works with investors to promote sustainability.

If the Denver area had this new source of water to draw on, it could reduce the supplies that come from the Colorado River basin on the other side of the Continental Divide.

But [Burke W. Griggs] and some federal officials said that the approval of such a huge water project remained highly unlikely.

Ms. Leurig noted that local taxpayers and utility customers would be shouldering most of the expense of such a venture through their tax and water bills, which would make conservation a more palatable alternative.

More Missouri River Reuse Project coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,051 other followers

%d bloggers like this: