Oregon Coastal Towns Confront A Fate Tied To Antarctica’s Melting Glaciers

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 OPB Dec. 23, 2019 

For marina owner Jim Nielson, occasional floods are the price you pay for shorefront property on the Oregon Coast.

His shop, the Wheeler Marina, sits in an estuary where the Nehalem River opens into the eponymous bay. It’s sheltered from Pacific waves by a narrow spit of sand dunes. Stacks of colorful kayaks border the dirt parking lot. An aging black lab greets visitors’ pets before escorting them up the stairs to the boat rental and tackle shop, which takes up the second floor of the old wooden building.

Nielson has owned and operated the shop with his wife Margie for 40 years. He thinks it’s the most low-lying property in Wheeler, and for a long time, flooding was a way of life.

“The wife and I would get out of bed, put on our waders, and start our day,” he said.

After a particularly devastating flood hit the region, the couple used money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to raise their building by four feet. Now it doesn’t flood anymore. But in the coming decades, that might change.

Human-produced greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide are wrapping the earth in a heat-trapping blanket, causing the earth – and its oceans – to warm. And scientists agree that it’s making sea levels rise. The question is: How much is it going to rise, and how fast?

That’s an important question for communities along the Oregon Coast. Many areas along the rocky, mountainous coastline are too steep or landslide-prone to develop, so many of the places where towns rose up were in marshy estuaries, where roads and buildings sit just a few feet above sea level. It’s not uncommon to encounter flooding during particularly high tides called king tides, even when the water level in the river is low.

Richard Alley is a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University. He studies glaciology, melting ice sheets, abrupt climate change  and sea level rise. Alley said that in the best-case scenario, if humans stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, we’d still probably see global sea levels rise by an average of about a foot by the end of the century.

“It’s already baked in,” Alley said. That’s because the earth has already warmed by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

And even if we seriously curbed our greenhouse gas emissions today, it would take a while to cool back down. In the meantime, ocean water would keep expanding (warm water takes up more space than cold water) and mountain glaciers, the Greenland ice sheet, and Antarctic ice sheets would keep melting.

And that’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case one? The most recent report from a United Nations climate change panel predicts about three feet of total rise by 2100. But the International Panel on Climate Change report’s conclusions were produced by consensus, with hundreds of scientists and policymakers taking part. So it’s inherently a cautious report that has historically underestimated future levels of melt and sea level rise. Alley said that number could be much, much larger, possibly as high as 15 feet.

The Big Antarctic Question

There’s a lot of variability in sea level rise forecasts because nobody really understands how the largest source of potential rise, the Antarctic ice sheet, is going to behave.

If every piece of landlocked ice on Antarctica were to melt, it would raise the sea level by 58 meters, or about 200 feet. Scientists all agree the entire sheet isn’t going to melt any time soon, but beyond that, there’s little consensus. There were over 200 posters and presentations on Antarctic melting at the 2019 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, an annual gathering of around 25,000 geoscientists, including glaciologists and climatologists.

Most of the ice in Antarctica sits on the continent’s surface. And even in the summer, the air temperature rarely gets above freezing, so there’s very little ice melt. But gravity pulls glaciers slowly towards the sea, which can be warmer. Right now, much of Antarctica is surrounded by sea ice, and that’s our saving grace: It keeps the landlocked ice on land.

Alley uses a metaphor of a pancake on a frying pan to illustrate this. Pour batter onto a hot griddle. It’ll spread and thin. That’s the ice in Antarctica. If you want a thicker pancake, you can stop the pancake from spreading by damming it with a spatula. That’s the sea ice that surrounds Antarctica.

Take away the spatula and the pancake will spread again. The same thing can happen to the sea ice. When it melts away, the glaciers can flow even more rapidly into the sea. That’s what’s happening in Greenland, where the ice sheets are vanishing into the sea several times faster than they were in the 1990s.

In Greenland and in Antarctica, once the sea ice comes into contact with glaciers, which can be walls of ice several miles high, it travels up fissures and melts the glacier from the inside.

The Larsen Ice Shelf in West Antarctica is of particular interest to scientists. An ice shelf is an ice sheet that extends out over the sea. Since the mid-1990s, large chunks of this ice shelf have calved off into the sea as icebergs. Scientists have been documenting the melting and disintegration of just such an ice shelf – and the resulting rapid calving of the Crane Glacier – since 2000.

Scientists like Alley are teaming up with engineers to study the ways these glaciers crack and fracture, to try to better estimate how fast the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might vanish, and how much sea levels might rise

The Tipping Point

Thousands of miles away in places like Wheeler, Oregon, communities have different ways to respond to climate change and sea rise. They can become part of a global effort to mitigate it and its effects, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They can respond locally by raising houses and strengthening shorelines. Or they can relocate.

And while it makes intuitive sense to plan for the worst-case scenario, moving can be expensive. In the U.S. alone, one meter of sea level rise could displace 4 million people. Add on a few extra centimeters, and the number skyrockets.

Most of those people live in major metropolitan areas, many of which have rolled out complex climate change preparedness plans. But in Oregon, most coastal towns are small and have very little money, and there’s very little research on how climate change will impact individual towns.

“[San Francisco] Bay Area counties can get together and pass bonds and develop funding, and perform research on the issue,” said Peter Ruggiero, a geologist at Oregon State University and the interim director of the Oregon Climate Change Institute, “In rural coastal communities, that’s not going to happen. Right now, any preparedness is done by individual businesses and homeowners.”

Ruggiero wants to help communities figure out what mitigation strategies are right for them, whether that’s placing large boulders on beaches to protect dunes from erosion, building levees, rehabilitating estuaries, which can act like sponges and absorb floodwaters, or relocating.

He worked with Tillamook County and other scientists on the Tillamook County Coastal Futures Project to help model the impacts of climate change on local towns, which includes Nehalem and Wheeler, and to help them plan for mitigation. He said that some communities, like Tillamook, are very proactive and better funded. Others don’t think about it much.

Figuring out how climate change might impact any particular part of the coast is very difficult, said Ruggiero. It’s due in part to how geologically active the Northwest is. Near the mouth of the Columbia River and along the Southern Oregon coast, sea levels actually appear to be declining because tectonic plates are pushing up against each other, making parts of the Northwest slowly gain elevation.

But it’s a temporary respite. In a few decades, Ruggiero warned, the sea level will be rising faster than the land. “In almost every projection, at some point, the entire Oregon Coast becomes submerged.”

A Quiet Threat

It’s hard to get communities concerned about potential flooding a century away, especially when some don’t believe climate change is happening. Sea level rise is slow, and that makes it hard to see. And a few inches of sea level rise pale in comparison to the dramatic floods that regularly bury cities in Tillamook County under several feet of water.

“The problem is that the disasters almost always look primarily like a weather event,” Alley said, referencing hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. “And the background sea level rise is not all that noticeable until you bring a king tide or a giant storm on top of it. And then it’s higher than it ever was before.”

Jesse Jones, who works for the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, is trying to make sea level rise more visible in Oregon. She works with the Oregon Coastal Management program to help communities adjust to climate change. She’s also involved with the Oregon King Tides Project. The project is trying to raise awareness of sea level rise along the Oregon Coast by encouraging volunteers to get out and take pictures of extreme high tides. Those extreme high tides provide a glimpse into the future, she said. “They’re the regular high tides of tomorrow.”

Nov. 26 was a king tide. Even though there had been little rain the week before, the boat ramp in Nehalem, Oregon, flooded into a parking lot. A cabinet of life jackets that boaters could borrow for children was surrounded by water.

Rick Hampton parked his old white pickup truck in the boat launch parking lot, camera in hand. Hampton is a longtime resident of Nehalem. It’s just a few miles north of Wheeler and is built on the same estuary. Unlike Wheeler, which butts up against the mountains, much of Nehalem is built on a flood plain. “I’ve seen the flood in ‘91, I’ve seen the flood in ‘96, 2001 and 2007,” Hampton said. In 1996, he was up knocking on his neighbors’ doors, making sure they were awake and wading through hip-deep water to help them move their valuables to high ground.

Every king tide, Hampton goes down to the Nehalem boat ramp to take pictures for the King Tides Project. He gestured out the window of his truck to the shops around him. “In 2007 a lot of these stores had riverfront property. So I’ve always been interested in rising waters and how that affects the locals.” He said that a few times a year, the end of the road he lives on goes underwater.

“There’s a house down there, and I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but the very first year that house was here we had a good flood that came across the road, and it literally had his whole first floor underwater,” Hampton recalled.

Those floods weren’t caused by sea level rise. Most floods in Tillamook County, where Nehalem is located, happen when high tides meet heavy rains coming off the mountains. When the flooding rivers hit the swollen estuaries they slow and back up, causing extreme floods.

When king tides and high rivers do make Nehalem flood, city maintenance specialist Brian Moore is there, putting out cones and redirecting traffic.

Moore wasn’t working for the city during the legendary flood of ‘96, but he sees signs of it everywhere. There’s a mark on the wall of his office, about three feet off the ground. “That’s where the water came up to, in ‘96.”

Like many people on the coast in Nehalem, Moore isn’t quite sure if he believes sea level rise is happening, or if it’ll be that bad or happen that fast. But he agrees that if it happens, it’ll be bad for communities like Nehalem.

“If you’re talking about a flood on top of a big three-foot sea level rise like you’re saying, well, you can elevate buildings. But they’ve already been elevated,” Moore said.

And if sea level rise causes worse floods, Moore says most towns would be on their own. “Usually the Red Cross or some of the local churches will chip in. FEMA if you’re bad enough, but dealing with them can be a headache. But really it’s the local community, we all help out.”

Neilson agreed, “I suppose there would be the Red Cross and all that. But really we just take care of it ourselves, any mess that gets made. It’s just something we’ve been doing for many years.”

For now, Nielson said that coastal towns are resilient.  “You unplug your freezers and try to elevate them and tie down the ice box.”

And once the waters recede you clean up, and wait for the next one, and hope it isn’t worse.

Source: https://www.opb.org/news/article/wheeler-oregon-coast-town-antartica-melting-glaciers-sea-level-rise/

Changes to dams on Columbia, Snake rivers to benefit salmon, hydropower and orcas

After decades of arguments and court challenges, a landmark agreement supported by states, tribes and federal agencies is expected to change how water is spilled at Columbia and Lower Snake River dams to boost the survival of young salmon while limiting the financial hit to hydropower.

The agreement is to be recorded Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland and is intended to be in effect for the 2019 salmon migration season, and remain in place through 2021.

The pact addresses how water passes over the hydroelectric dams during the crucial spring period when young salmon migrate downstream to the ocean.

Spill would be cranked up, according to the agreement signed Friday, during the times of day when power is not in highest demand, and generating it is not as profitable. During the most profitable hours, typically during the mornings and evenings, spill would be reduced. The idea is to help salmon with higher spill, while keeping lost-power generation costs at, or potentially even below, current levels.

The agreement tracks with one of the recommendations from Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca task force to boost spill as a near-term way to increase survival of chinook salmon, the preferred food of critically endangered southern-resident orca whales.

For the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which markets public power from Columbia River Basin dams, the agreement will give the administration more opportunity to sell electricity when prices are high. Greater revenues will help BPA pay for what is believed to be the most expensive fish and wildlife program in the world in the Columbia River Basin.

BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer described the agreement as an opportunity for an important change in direction on what has been a divisive issue.

 He said people “who historically have been on opposite sides of the table” found common ground on how to improve salmon survival and help the BPA take advantage of new opportunities in a changing energy market that will improve the economic viability of the hydropower system.

“When you get both of those things, it’s a huge win-win,” Mainzer said. “It is such a great opportunity to bring the region together … We hope that we can do things differently going forward.”

Mainzer said he had briefed Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and hopes the agreement will limit the power-sales losses caused by spill to the 2018 calculation of nearly $240 million annually.

The costs could be below that amount as BPA will be better able to take advantage of daily electricity- market fluctuations.

The agreement also depends on Washington and Oregon changing their water-quality standards to allow greater amounts of dissolved gas in the river, caused by the plunge of water over the dams.  Washington and Oregon are signatories to the agreement.

 Decades of fights

The orcas depend on a wide variety of chinook runs. Spring chinook from the Columbia and Snake rivers are important to the whales in the early spring. In summer, they follow chinook from the Fraser River in  British Columbia as well as Puget Sound rivers. In fall and winter they pursue Puget Sound chum and coho as well as other fish, in addition to salmon all the way along the U.S. West Coast.

Spilling water to help salmon move past the Columbia River Basin dams began back in the late 1970s and has resulted in a long battle over management of the Columbia River hydropower system. Salmon advocates have pressed in court for more water to be spilled over the dams rather than run through power turbines.

Spill, and other shifts in dam operations to aid salmon, has been a significant cost for BPA and the region’s ratepayers.

Since 1981, BPA reports more than $7.7 billion in lost power-generation revenue and power purchases because of changes in dam operations to benefit fish. This sum represents close to half  of the $16.4 billion that has been spent on BPA-financed fish and wildlife programs in the Columbia River Basin through the decades, according to statistics provided by BPA to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The spill has come under attack by some in Congress, including two Washington House Republicans whose districts are east of the Cascades and who have been staunch supporters of the hydropower system. In a joint statement released Monday, Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers challenged the benefits of spill and warned of harm to salmon.

“The purpose of this agreement was to end litigation, but there is no indication that it will even do that … This costly plan is worse than useless,” the statement said, in part.

McMorris Rodgers sponsored legislation that passed the House this year — but not the Senate — that would have barred an agreement such as this one without approval by Congress. The bill also would have rolled back court-ordered additional spill that took effect in 2018, and is projected to cost ratepayers $38 million annually.

 The cost of salmon restoration has been a big issue for regional utilities that buy the Columbia Basin power, and are concerned about rate increases. Utility officials have been aware of the negotiations over the flexible spill, but haven’t had a chance to offer direct comment, according to Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council, which represents about 100 public utility districts, cooperative and municipal utilities.

“The bottom line is that customers can recognize the potential benefits of moving this out of the courtroom,” Corwin said. “But without more clarity around the costs and the risks, it is difficult right now to know the impacts to utility ratepayers or to fish.”

Michele Dehart of the Fish Passage Center said monitoring over the next three years will be crucial to see if the benefits are as expected. “We have more than 20 years of studies that shows spill passage is the best thing for out-migrating fish and returning adults,” Dehart said.

“But we don’t know what is going to happen, we have never implemented this before. We will collect data, and we will see.”

Michael Tehan, assistant regional administrator for the interior Columbia Basin for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), called the agreement an important opportunity “to move from the courtroom to the river, and to learn more about how best to promote safe passage for fish in a way that contributes to their long-term recovery.”

Passage through the dams is just one aspect of salmon survival. But making the trip through the dams as benign as possible helps counteract other factors, such as poor ocean conditions, said Guy Norman, a member of the Northwest Power and Planning Conservation Council representing Washington state.

 The hope, Norman said, is that the program can get Snake River chinook on a path toward recovery. NOAA recovery plans show wild Snake River spring chinook are headed toward extinction, even as BPA has been facing higher and higher fish costs and volatile power markets.

Joseph Bogaard of the nonprofit Save Our Wild Salmon cautioned that the measures won’t be enough for the species’ recovery, and said his organization and others will continue to push for removal of dams on the Lower Snake River. Dam removal is going to be under review by a new governor’s task force in the coming year, and is under examination in the ongoing federal court proceeding in Portland.

Shannon F. Wheeler, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, a signatory to the agreement, said in a statement the tribe has actively participated in the Columbia and Snake River litigation but will set it aside until completion of an analysis of the dam operations required by the National Environmental Policy Act.  “The Tribe has long supported breaching the four Lower Snake River Dams,” the statement said.

But spill can help right now, said Michael Garrity of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This is “a big deal, a really big step, and a meaningful step.”

Fukushima nuclear radiation poisoning world’s water, including fish from Oregon and British Columbia

March 27, 2017

Fukushima nuclear radiation POISONING world’s water, including fish from Oregon and British Columbia –Brits could be eating salmon and tuna containing nuclear radiation from the Fukushima disaster, according to a study. | 27 March 2017 | Salmon caught in the Pacific Ocean, which are imported [in the UK], were found to contain worrying amounts of radiation. Highly toxic Cesium-134, the nuclear fallout from Fukushima, was recently found in Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach, in the US state of Oregon. The terrifying discovery was reported by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Cesium-134 was also detected in 2015 in Canada when a salmon pulled from a river in British Columbia was found to contain radiation.

Source: http://www.legitgov.org/Fukushima-nuclear-radiation-poisoning-worlds-water-including-fish-Oregon-and-British-Columbia

New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being

Thursday 16 March 2017 00.50 EDT

In a world-first a New Zealand river has been granted the same legal rights as a human being.

The local Māori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island has fought for the recognition of their river – the third-largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years.

On Wednesday, hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy when their bid to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity was passed into law.

“The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi [tribe].

“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

The new status of the river means if someone abused or harmed it the law now sees no differentiation between harming the tribe or harming the river because they are one and the same.

Chris Finlayson, the minister for the treaty of Waitangi negotiations, said the decision brought the longest-running litigation in New Zealand’s history to an end. “Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” said Finlayson in a statement.

“The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique … it responds to the view of the iwi of the Whanganui river which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practice.”

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Two guardians will be appointed to act on behalf of the Whanganui river, one from the crown and one from the Whanganui iwi.

Albert said all Māori tribes regarded themselves as part of the universe, at one with and equal to the mountains, the rivers and the seas.

The new law now honoured and reflected their worldview, he said, and could set a precedent for other Māori tribes in New Zealand to follow in Whanganui’s footsteps.

“We can trace our genealogy to the origins of the universe,” said Albert. “And therefore rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it. We want to live like that as our starting point. And that is not an anti-development, or anti-economic use of the river but to begin with the view that it is a living being, and then consider its future from that central belief.”

Financial redress of NZ$80m is included in the settlement, as well as an additional NZ$1m contribution towards establishing the legal framework for the river.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being

Slovenia adds water to constitution as fundamental right for all

Agence France-Presse in Ljubljana
Thursday 17 November 2016 19.17 EST

Parliament adopts amendment that declares country’s abundant clean supplies are ‘a public good managed by the state’ and ‘not a market commodity’

Slovenia has amended its constitution to make access to drinkable water a fundamental right for all citizens and stop it being commercialised.

With 64 votes in favour and none against, the 90-seat parliament added an article to the EU country’s constitution saying “everyone has the right to drinkable water”.

The centre-right opposition Slovenian Democratic party (SDS) abstained from the vote saying the amendment was not necessary and only aimed at increasing public support.

Slovenia is a mountainous, water-rich country with more than half its territory covered by forest.

“Water resources represent a public good that is managed by the state. Water resources are primary and durably used to supply citizens with potable water and households with water and, in this sense, are not a market commodity,” the article reads.

The centre-left prime minister, Miro Cerar, had urged lawmakers to pass the bill saying the country of two million people should “protect water – the 21st century’s liquid gold – at the highest legal level”.
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“Slovenian water has very good quality and, because of its value, in the future it will certainly be the target of foreign countries and international corporations’ appetites.

“As it will gradually become a more valuable commodity in the future, pressure over it will increase and we must not give in,” Cerar said.

Slovenia is the first European Union country to include the right to water in its constitution, although according to Rampedre (the online Permanent World Report on the Right to Water) 15 other countries across the world had already done so.

Earlier this year Slovenia also declared the world’s first green destination country by the Netherlands-based organisation Green Destinations, while its capital, Ljubljana, was made the 2016 European Green Capital.

Amnesty International said Slovenia must ensure the new law would be also applied to the 10,000-12,000 Roma people living in the country.

“Many Roma are … denied even minimum levels of access to water and sanitation,” Amnesty said in a statement.

The European Union agreed in 2014 to exclude water supply and water resources management from the rules governing the European internal market, following the first successful European Citizens’ Initiative that managed to raise more than one million signatures.

Source:https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/18/slovenia-adds-water-to-constitution-as-fundamental-right-for-all

Higher levels of Fukushima radiation detected off West Coast

Dec 3, 2015, The Statesman Journal

Higher levels of radiation from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident are showing up in the ocean off the west coast of North America, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported Thursday.

And an increased number of sampling sites are showing signs of contamination.

The new findings are important for two reasons, said Ken Buesseler, the Woods Hole scientist who was the first to begin monitoring radiation in the Pacific after the accident.

“First, despite the fact that the levels of contamination off our shores remain well below government-established safety limits for human health or to marine life, the changing values underscore the need to more closely monitor contamination levels across the Pacific,” Buesseler said. “Second, these long-lived radioisotopes will serve as markers for years to come for scientists studying ocean currents and mixing in coastal and offshore waters.”

Buesseler launched a crowdfunded, citizen-science sea sampling effort in January 2014, and the National Science Foundation has funded his research.

Location of seawater samples taken by scientists and
Location of seawater samples taken by scientists and citizen scientists that were analyzed for radioactive cesium. (Photo: Jessica Drysdale, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
In October 2014, Buesseler reported that a sample taken about 745 miles west of Vancouver, British Columbia, tested positive for cesium-134, the so-called fingerprint of Fukushima because it can only have come from the plant.

The sample also showed higher-than-background levels of cesium-137, another Fukushima isotope that already is present in the world’s oceans because of nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s.

In November 2014, Buesseler reported that Fukushima radiation had been identified in 10 offshore samples, including one 100 miles off the coast of Eureka, California.

In April of 2015, Buesseler’s team announced it had found Fukushima radiation in a sample of seawater taken from a dock on Vancouver Island, B.C., marking the first time it was recorded on West Coast shores.

This year, Buesseler has added about 110 new sample results to 135 already on the project’s web site.

They include the highest detected level to date, from a sample collected about 1,600 miles west of San Francisco.

The level of radioactive cesium isotopes in the sample, 11 becquerels per cubic meter of seawater (about 264 gallons), is 50 percent higher than other samples collected along the West Coast so far, but still is 500 times lower than U.S. government safety limits for drinking water, and well below limits of concern for direct exposure while swimming, boating, or other recreational activities, WHOI said in a news release.

Since June 2011, the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division has taken quarterly samples of sand and water at Oregon beaches to test for radiation, although it does not test for cesium-134, the Fukushima fingerprint. Instead, the state tests for cesium-137 and iodine-131.

None of the sea water samples taken through August 2015 exceeded the minimum amount that can be distinguished from background levels using the state’s equipment.

November results have not yet been reported.

Buesseler will present his latest findings on the spread of Fukushima radiation on Dec. 14 at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.

tloew@statesmanjournal.com, (503) 399-6779 or follow at Twitter.com/Tracy_Loew

Source:http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/tech/science/environment/2015/12/03/higher-levels-fukushima-radiation-detected-off-west-coast/76719230/?from=global&sessionKey=&autologin=

Australians Survived a 13-Year Drought

If you think California’s four-year drought is apocalyptic, try 13 years. That’s how long southeastern Australia suffered through bone-dry times.

But it survived. When the so-called Millennium Drought ended in 2009, residents of Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, were using half the amount of water they had when it began.

A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine, set out to investigate how Melbourne, a city of 4.3 million people, dramatically cut water consumption, and whether the city’s experience might hold lessons for California and other drought-stricken regions.

The short answer? Salvation came from a $2,000 rainwater tank rather than a $6 billion desalinization plant.

As the Millennium Drought dragged on, authorities approved the construction of costly infrastructure projects similar to those now being considered in California, including that expensive desalinization plant. But the researchers found that conservation and recycling were the keys that got Melbourne through year after rainless year.

The study appeared Tuesday in the journal WIREs Water.

Melbourne residents took advantage of government rebates for home rainwater tanks to capture runoff from roofs, using it to water plants and flush toilets. The state of Victoria also changed the building code to require the tanks in all new homes.

By 2009, about a third of homes were capturing free water from the sky and supplying 2 percent of Melbourne’s potable water.

The government also offered subsidies for purchase of water-efficient showerheads, toilets, and washing machines, which combined cut Melbourne’s water use by 4 percent a year.

Since more stormwater runoff courses through the city and flows into rivers and the ocean than residents use in a year, the government moved to capture, treat, and reuse some runoff for irrigation. The city also ramped up the use of gray water and recycled water from sewage treatment plants.

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As in California, Melbourne officials restricted how often residents could water their lawns but did not raise water rates.

As for that $6 billion desalinization plant, today it serves as a very expensive insurance policy against the return of dry times. The facility was completed in 2012—three years after the drought ended—and has not produced a drop of water.

“The main lesson is that a lot can be done with conservation, and there are so many ways to do that,” said Stanley Grant, a study co-author and a civil and environmental engineer at UC Irvine.

“In Southern California, we’re addicted to technology. We expect aqueducts to save us, and those days are gone,” he said. “The modern-day answer people are looking to is desalinization, but that is expensive and very energy-intensive.”

Grant said some of Australia’s low-tech solutions, such as rainwater tanks, would have limited utility in California’s Mediterranean climate, where rain comes, if at all, during a few months in winter.

“The real problem is in the summer when you need the water, it has rained six months earlier,” he said.

Capturing storm water and what Grant calls “urban slobber”—dry-weather runoff—holds more promise. “The ultimate source of urban slobber in a lot of cases is imported water,” he said. “That water ends up finding its way to rivers through sewage treatment plants, overwatering of lawns, washing of cars, and other activities in the urban landscape.”

“It seems to be a real missed opportunity,” he added. “It’s a year-round source, but we don’t do anything to capture and reuse it.”

Some cities in California already are tapping treated wastewater for irrigation. On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California approved paying homeowners as much as $6,000 to rip out their water-thirsty lawns and plant drought-tolerant landscaping.

The key, said Grant, is to seize the moment to make lasting changes in residents’ behavior as Melbourne apparently has done.

“One lesson for other cities is that major droughts, if serious enough and long-lasting enough,” the study states, “create opportunities for policymakers, as well as pose challenges.”

Source:http://news.yahoo.com/australians-survived-13-drought-going-low-tech-221536226.html

Looking Back at the Cochabamba Water Revolt – 15 Years Ago

The Legacy and New Echoes of the Water War – 15 Years On

It is impossible to overstate the impact of the people’s victory in Cochabamba against Bechtel. At a time when winning real victories seemed like a distant dream, we suddenly saw that it was still possible to win, even against a giant U.S. multinational. That truth reverberated around the round, spreading hope and, most of all, courage, wherever it traveled.
– Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything

Fifteen years ago this month here in Cochabamba, I found myself in the middle of a set of events that came to be known as the Cochabamba Water Revolt. Citizens here took to the streets and shut down a city of half a million people, three times, to take back control of their water system from a foreign corporation.

Our struggle had a profound historical, political, human dignity and respect. We drove out one of the most voracious transnationals on the planet, Bechtel.
– Oscar Olivera, key leader of the Water Revolt, Cochabamba

The story began when the World Bank coerced Bolivia to put the city’s water up for lease, landing it under the control of a company that raised water rates overnight by more than 50% and in many cases far higher. Something as basic as a running tap was being pushed beyond the economic reach of many families. The people rebelled. The government responded with tear gas, bullets and death. The corporation was forced to leave. In the midst of it all I was able to use an Internet still in its infancy to discover and report Bechtel as the corporation behind the scenes, get the story out across the world, and later to help launch the global campaign that forced Bechtel to drop its $50 million legal retaliation against the Bolivia people. It was all an extraordinary experience.

The Cochabamba Water Revolt was a turning point in the history of our water justice movement. The courageous people of Bolivia showed the world how to stand up to bullies and that public water is worth fighting for. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bolivians for their leadership and commitment.
– Maude Barlow, chair, Council of Canadians

In the years since, the Cochabamba Water Revolt has been the subject of a full length drama on film, scores of documentaries, many articles, and a collection of academic papers almost as numerous as the multitudes in the streets those days in April 2000. To help mark the 15th anniversary of these remarkable events, the Democracy Center team has written a new collection of articles about the legacy of those events and their echoes today.

 

In There’s Something About Water Thomas Mc Donagh looks at how the battle over water in Bolivia echoes today in a water rebellion in his native Ireland, with just as much potential to upend an entire political system. In Bolivia, 15 Years on from the Water War Aldo Orellana, a Bolivian who was part of the Revolt, writes about the current situation in Cochabamba and the struggle’s legacy for the broader water movement. In 15 Years After the Water Revolt, Echoes in New Cases of Corporate Abuse Philippa de Boissière from the U.K. writes about how the corporate-driven abuses suffered by Cochabamba are being repeated today in Peru and Colombia, again with natural resources as the target. In The Case That Blew the Lid Off the World Bank’s Secret Courts, I have an article looking at the international campaign that beat back Bechtel’s $50 million legal retaliation after the Revolt and the lessons it holds for today’s battles over a pair of new global trade agreements, TTIP and TPP. Also, below you can find links to a deeper history of the Water Revolt, my dispatches from the streets in 2000, and more.

That extraordinary moment in April 2000 in the struggle against the giant Water Corporation Bechtel was an unprecedented expression of Peoples protagonism in intervention on the agenda of water and people’s rights. This is a revolt that lives today in many places and struggles around the world.
– Brid Brennan, Transnational Institute, the Netherlands

It was a powerful thing to have been such a direct witness to history and to have played a role in communicating that story around the world. It is still a story that still has much to say to us today and we are proud to bring it to you, in ways both new and old.

By Jim Shultz

Read More About the Water Revolt and its Echoes Today:

Testimonies from Bolivia: Bolivia’s deposed President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada faces criminal murder charges in Bolivia for his oversight of massacres that killed more than 60 people in 2003. Earlier this month Mercer University in Georgia refused to show video testimonies which we recorded with the families of those killed when it invited Lozada to speak to students about ‘political freedom.’ Since he fled Lozada has lived in self-imposed exile in suburban Maryland. We’d like to be sure 1,000 people see what Mercer wouldn’t show.
Please help us share these powerful new testimonies.

 

Source: http://democracyctr.org/newsletter/issues/04_2015_Water_War.html

Conflict over water rights in Ecuador

If you are going to pass unpopular legislation, you may as well do it while everyone is watching the World Cup. When Ecuadorians were focused on soccer, the government fast-tracked a new water law, endorsing the privatisation of water and permitting extractive activities in sources of freshwater. The controversial law was approved without a fuss in four days by a governing party that controls about two-thirds of legislative seats.

Social sectors reacted with a cross-country walk of protest. Strong resistance came from the indigenous movement, which has demanded equal access to water for nearly two decades. Many other sectors joined in disapproval of a government increasingly perceived as anti-democratic. About 20 organisations allied in a Front of Resistance and set off to walk from the Amazon to Quito. It was the second large mobilisation to defend water rights against extractive industries. This time, however, it was a broader coalition calling for civil disobedience against a state that regularly ignores constitutional rights.

Walking for water

The Walk for Water, Life and People’s Freedom started on June 21 in the Amazon province of Zamora Chinchipe, where Ecuador’s first mega-mining project is planned to open in the hills of Condor Mirador. About 100 participants walked, and at times, drove some 960km in a 12-day journey to the capital in the highlands. They were teenagers and elderly women, lawyers and peasants, over a third of them Amazonian. Many more people joined irregularly for shorter distances. The walk counted over 1,000 people when it reached Cuenca’s cathedral, where the bishop held a mass for water. In the rural province of Canar, thousands of indigenous people took to the roads to support demands for water rights.

Activists carried a 25-metre long blue flag with the words “we are water”. They chanted that water should be defended, not sold out to corporations, with slogans such as “go away Chinese mining” and “down with the socialism of the 21st century”. The political protest counted with the tunes of singer Rosa Lanchimba, who revamped traditional songs into water demands, and the Amazon rap composer Jota Al Cuadrado, who used his mic to reveal an artificial socialism that encourages extractivism.

The last-minute mobilisation was a collective effort that thrived on solidarity. Bystanders offered food supplies such as potatoes, oranges, and even a live cock, which became a mascot. Villagers welcomed participants with pampamesas, the Andean form of sharing food on a long stretch of fabric in open fields, opened their communal houses and provided shelter. Twice, pastoral organisations hosted the march. Zamora Council members secured a portable kitchen, men rolled up their sleeves to cook with women, and learned to peel potatoes and sang love songs at the same time. 

Ecuadorean villagers fight against rainforest pollution

The most difficult part of the journey was not the lack of running water or the cold nights on concrete floors. It was the constant police surveillance.

Police harassment set the tone from the start. Since the start, police blockades tried to stop or slow down the walk. Police forces permanently followed and photographed participants as means of intimidation.

Traffic officers demanded special authorisation or commercial permits from participants. Tensions rose and ebbed. Special police forces threatened to disperse the crowd with tear gas one day, then squeezed in with protesters in a small store to watch their soccer team play its last World Cup game the following day. At times, cordial police officers blocked intersections to facilitate the passing of the caravan, making it feel like a presidential escort. Other times, police officers who had previously arrested water activists would stop the caravan for an hour without justification.

Demands raised

The mobilisation was not overwhelming in numbers, but the breadth of its coalition merits political attention. It included powerful indigenous organisations such as the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality (ECUARUNARI), the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and their political branch Pachakutik. Salvador Quishpe, Zamora’s governor, was one of the walk’s most illustrious participants.

The protest demanded not only water rights but pushed further. Communal organisations asked for the payment of the agrarian debt, peasant welfare and the re-establishment of bilingual education. The National Federation of Secondary Students denounced entry requirements that impeded hundreds of thousands of students from attending university.

There were labour unions and teachers’ organisations concerned with laws forbidding workers to unionise – one of the five criteria for decent work according to the International Labour Organization. Medical doctors demanded the decriminalisation of malpractice; the families of political prisoners like Clever Jimenez called for the respect of decisions issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

All sections denounced the criminalisation of social protests. All unanimously rejected the proposed law on “indefinite re-election” that would keep the president in office for a long, indefinite period.

Water inequalities

Today’s water law is an offspring of the 2008 constitution. It has been heavily contested by indigenous sectors seeking to protect traditional systems of water management against further privatisation for the agribusiness and mining industries. Part of the problem is the large inequality in access to water. Indigenous leader Perez Guartambel has claimed that Ecuador’s wealthiest one percent controls 64 percent of freshwater.

Inside Story Americas – Holding Chevron accountable

Indigenous mobilisation hoped to influence the law in two ways. First, water defenders wanted to ban extractive activities like mega mining at water sources. Second, they wanted a Plurinational Council on Water to secure indigenous participation in decision-making processes.

Both demands fell upon deaf ears. The law permits mining in freshwater sources and the Plurinational Council is rather decorative, having a voice but no vote. The beautiful Article 6 forbids all forms of privatisation. Yet Article 7 “exceptionally” authorises private initiatives in the cases of a) state of exception, b) state of emergency, and c) when local authorities have insufficient technical or financial means. The state has full control over the privatisation of water resources. Indigenous and peasant communities, in turn, will easily be labelled as technically or financial inept to control their water systems.

Resource conflicts are spreading. In 2000, Bolivia went into a water war. Today, Mexican residents clash with the police to defend their access to fresh water.

The irony in the Ecuadorian case is that its 2008 constitution was internationally acclaimed for declaring water as a human right and establishing the rights of nature. Such laws are losing their meaning as the government grants deals to Chinese extraction industries in important ecosystems. Now, the state is considered the exclusive competent authority to control hydric resources (Article 1 of the law) and guarantees the rights of nature (Article 3).

Yet civil society seems to disagree that the state is nature’s best care-taker. Upon arriving in Quito, the walk created a Peoples’ Parliament to defend constitutional rights against a congress increasingly willing to bypass them. Theirs was a call to civil disobedience.

As the elderly indigenous leader Nina Pacari read parliament’s declaration, she reminded us that this march would not end there. Around the world, the struggle for water is an affirmation of individual and collective rights in the face of abusive states.

Manuela Picq is a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton and Professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source:  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/07/conflict-water-rights-ecuador-201471364437985380.html

Toxic Waters, Part 2: Focus Should Be Clean Up, Not Do Not Eat, Tribal Leaders Say

1/12/14

The problems associated with contamination in Northwestern waters are mounting.

For years the many contaminants in Washington State waterways have prompted the state’s Department of Health to issue official warnings against eating Washington fish too frequently. Washington currently has fish consumption advisories issued throughout the state.

“The tribes are not only interested in protecting all the species of fish they eat, but they’re also concerned about protecting their economic interests,” said Ann Seiter, fish consumption rate coordinator for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

RELATED: Toxic Waters: Consumption Advisories on Life-Giving Year-Round Fish Threaten Health

Tribes are calling for major changes in pollution policy. When health officials from Washington and Oregon issued advisories for mid-Columbia River’s resident fish last September due to elevated mercury and PCB levels, tribal leaders were outraged.

“The focus should not be ‘Do not eat’–it should be ‘Clean up’–the Columbia River,” said Yakama Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin in a statement at the time.

The Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Warm Springs tribes urged the governors of Washington and Idaho to update water quality standards and fish consumption rates.

“The tribes believe that the long-term solution to this problem isn’t keeping people from eating contaminated fish—it’s keeping fish from being contaminated in the first place,” Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Chairman Joel Moffett said in a statement. “Armed with higher fish consumption rates and water quality standards, we hope there will be a greater motivation to remove pollutants from the Columbia River and its tributaries.”

Washington has also issued a lower Columbia advisory that warns of PCBs, DDT and Dioxin as well as other compounds. To the state’s east, an advisory has been issued for the Spokane River, which is contaminated with PCBs, lead and other harmful materials. There is also a statewide mercury advisory.

Washington and Idaho are reevaluating their fish consumption rates, which are used to calculate water quality standards that protect human health. The four Oregon tribes urged Washington and Idaho to adopt at least the same rate that Oregon uses to establish water quality standards protective of all fish consumers in the region, according to the White Salmon Enterprise.

Oregon’s 175-grams-per-day suggested consumption is a more accurate representation of how much fish most of Oregon’s residents actually eat. But even that does not go far enough, tribal leaders say. State and federal governments must act to clean the polluted sections of the Columbia River contaminating fish, Smiskin said.

“The fish advisories confirm what the Yakama Nation has known for decades,” Smiskin said. “State and federal governments can no longer ignore the inadequacy of their regulatory efforts and the failure to clean up the Columbia River.”

The Yakama Nation repeatedly identified contaminated sites along the Columbia, expressing concerns for the health and culture of the Yakama people and calling upon the state and federal agencies for cleanup actions that would protect the tribe’s resources, retained by them in the Treaty of 1855.

“The new advisories once again pass the burden of responsibility from industry and government to tribes and people in the region,” Smiskin said. “Rather then addressing the contamination, we are being told to reduce our reliance on the Columbia River’s fish. This is unacceptable.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/12/toxic-waters-part-2-focus-should-be-clean-not-do-not-eat-tribal-leaders-say-153049
 
Source:  http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/12/toxic-waters-part-2-focus-should-be-clean-not-do-not-eat-tribal-leaders-say-153049