Megafarms and deeper wells are draining the water beneath rural Arizona – quietly, irreversibly

Megafarms and deeper wells are draining the water beneath rural Arizona – quietly, irreversibly

SOURCE: AZCentral

DATE: December 5, 2019

SNIP: Vast expanses of lush green fields are multiplying in the Arizona desert, forming agricultural empires nourished with billions of gallons of groundwater in the otherwise parched landscape.

Arizona’s groundwater levels are plummeting in many areas. The problem is especially severe in unregulated rural areas where there are no limits on pumping. The water levels in more than 2,000 wells have dropped more than 100 feet since they were first drilled. The number of newly constructed wells is accelerating, and wells are being drilled deeper and hitting water at lower levels.

This free-for-all is draining away the water that homeowners also depend on, leaving some with dry wells.

As the groundwater is depleted, Arizona is suffering permanent losses that may not be recouped for thousands of years. These underground reserves that were laid down over millennia represent the only water that many rural communities can count on as the desert Southwest becomes hotter and drier with climate change.

Unfettered pumping has taken a toll on the state’s aquifers for many years, but just as experts are calling for Arizona to develop plans to save its ancient underground water, pumping is accelerating and the problems are getting much worse.

Big farming companies owned by out-of-state investors and foreign agriculture giants have descended on rural Arizona and snapped up farmland in areas where there is no limit on pumping.

Buying property from struggling small farms and homeowners, they’ve drilled wells a thousand feet deep or more, often spending more than half a million dollars per well to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of hay, corn, pistachios and other thirsty crops, with the expectation that they’ll soon be raking in profits.

In unregulated rural areas where water tables are dropping, homeowners and politicians are calling for the state to step in to halt well-drilling, or create new rules to limit pumping.

In these predominantly conservative communities, where the ethos is to take care of yourself and be wary of government regulation, prominent local officials are suggesting a moratorium on drilling, or the formation of new managed areas where drilling would be restricted.

Even urban areas of the state where protections exist are facing major challenges. Years of drought, rapid growth and cutbacks in Colorado River water are increasing the pressures on groundwater in areas that fall under state regulation.

Some areas of the state have dropped so much that the water likely won’t naturally recover in our lifetimes.

In an unprecedented examination of the state’s groundwater, The Arizona Republic analyzed water-level data for more than 33,000 wells throughout Arizona, including some records going back more than 100 years, and nearly 250,000 well-drilling records.

The investigation found the water levels in nearly one in four wells in Arizona’s groundwater monitoring program have dropped more than 100 feet since they were drilled, a loss that scientists and water experts say is likely irrecoverable.

Nearly half of the wells with five or more measurements have dropped more than 50 feet at some point since record-keeping began. And that’s only in a limited number of wells whose owners agreed to be voluntarily monitored.

Arizona doesn’t require meters on wells in many areas, meaning no one really knows how much water is being pumped out.

In the long term, the water losses may be irreversible in many rural communities. Much of the groundwater that’s flowing to farmland accumulated underground thousands of years ago. As it’s pumped out, the aquifers are suffering a hollowing-out that the rains won’t replenish for centuries to come.

Arizona faces its first-ever mandatory cuts in Colorado River water next year under an agreement that will shrink the amount of water that’s available to replenish aquifers in urban areas. And in the long-term, with climate change projected to put growing strains on water supplies from rivers, Phoenix and other cities plan to potentially pump more groundwater.

New projections show that South Florida is in for even more sea level rise

New projections show that South Florida is in for even more sea level rise

SOURCE: Miami Herald

DATE: December 4, 2019

SNIP: The timeline for South Florida to prepare for sea level rise just sped up a little. New projections show the region is in for higher seas, faster.

The latest predictions aren’t catastrophically different than previous years — unless your yard is already flooding a couple of times a year from the steadily encroaching seas. In that case, a few inches a few years early is pretty important.

The sea rise curves unveiled Wednesday at the Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit in Key West tack on about three to five extra inches by 2060, and that number only gets bigger in the future.

The region went from expecting between 14 and 26 inches of sea level rise by 2060 — commonly shortened to two feet by 2060 by local leaders — to predicting 17 to 31 inches of sea rise.

“These numbers are all big enough that you can see that South Florida gets in big trouble quickly,” said Harold Wanless, a University of Miami professor of geology and member of the projections team. “If you look out the window, like the areas in the Keys that are flooding for weeks on end, this is not something that might happen, this is something that is already happening.“

These new numbers come from a group of more than a dozen scientists, researchers and local government staffers from South Florida as an update to 2015 predictions.

‘This is total devastation’ — Magic Valley bees dying in droves

‘This is total devastation’ — Magic Valley bees dying in droves

SOURCE: Magic Valley

DATE: December 4, 2019

SNIP: A carpet of dead bees covers the ground in front of his hives.

“It’s devastating,” Tony Kaneaster of Kaneaster Apiary said. “This is just totally devastating. They can’t pick up from something like this.”

Kaneaster grabs a handful of bees from the inch-deep row and sifts through them. They’re light and fuzzy in his hand. The living bees constantly clean up the deceased and push them out of the hive, and gusts of wind can blow the corpses away quickly, so these carcasses are fresh.

Dave Kaneaster bought a thousand hives when he was 20. Now he’s 76 and has been in the bee business in Gooding for 56 years. His specialized license plate reads HONEYBZ.

Tony Kaneaster has been in the bee business with his father for 40 years. The 49-year-old and his dad have seen their bees die by the thousands a few times in the past decade.

Beekeepers Dave and Tony Kaneaster review fungicide descriptions Nov. 22 at their bee yard in Bliss. The Kaneasters aren’t sure what’s killing their bees, but they suspect fungicides are the culprit.

But they’ve never seen anything quite like this.

“This is 100% loss,” Tony Kaneaster said. “Before, it was a loss once in a while and (the bees) could start working out of it. These are completely dying.”

The Kaneasters don’t know for sure what’s killing their bees, but they have an idea: fungicides, chemicals farmers spray on their fields to protect their crops from fungal diseases.

There are some eerie signs of unusual deaths for the Kaneasters’ bees. For instance, many of the dead insects are inexplicably headless.

Many of the cadavers are left with tongues sticking out, indicating that they starved to death.

Fungicides can affect a larva’s immune system and create microbial imbalances in its gut. That can pave the way for mites and other pests to grow like weeds inside the larva, starving it of nutrients.

“(The larva) starves to death right in the comb,” Dave Kaneaster said.

Fungicides can effectively act as pesticides for bees, the Kaneasters said, even if there are different rules for how they’re applied.

When farmers spray their crops with pesticides or herbicides, they’re often required to give notice to neighbors. That alert is critical for beekeepers because it gives them time to move their bees so they don’t get sprayed. Bees perish when sprayed directly.

But the Kaneasters said the Idaho State Department of Agriculture might not require farmers to give the same notice for fungicides, which are frequently sprayed on corn and potato fields. The laws on fungicide application might be different, they said.

The Idaho State Department of Ag said it has been asked to look into the issue but has not been asked to investigate any specific pesticide incident or misuse in the Magic Valley. The department declined to comment any further on bee deaths in the Magic Valley.

According to the Kaneasters, the agency is investigating their bees for disease but not for chemically caused deaths.

[NOTE: Via Wildlands Defense: “Note that honeybees are not native, and they can interfere with, carry diseases, and out-compete native pollinators BUT they are an indicator of the consequences of the biological collapse that Biocides are causing.”]

Antelope hindered by solar farm

Antelope hindered by solar farm

SOURCE: Green River Star

DATE: December 4, 2019

SNIP: More than 1,000 antelope were bottlenecked near the Sweetwater Solar facility west of Green River over the weekend as they attempted to migrate to winter ranges. The antelope were forced onto Wyo. Highway 372.

According to Mark Zornes, Regional Wildlife Management Coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, pronghorn have traditionally migrated through the area because it’s a spot where snow blows away from a nearby ridge, creating an easy passage for wildlife. However, those attributes have also made the area an attractive spot for solar development.

While Zornes says the developer behind the Sweetwater Solar facility increased the right of way to the nearby highway to 600 feet at the request of the WGFD, the department had concerns the migration corridor would be hampered.

According to a letter submitted to the Sweetwater County Land Use Office regarding the solar project’s proposal April 27, 2018, the WGFD was concerned with how the facility’s perimeter fence would cause antelope and big game to funnel onto Wyo. Highway 372. The WGFD feared this would cause increased collisions between vehicles and wildlife. The letter also raises concerns about the solar facility’s location.

“We encourage the county to develop a policy or other mechanism to encourage solar energy development in areas which are more compatible with large-scale industrialization, rather than in more valuable wildlife habitat such as this project,” the letter states. “From a wildlife and habitat standpoint, we believe there are many areas in Sweetwater County more appropriate for solar energy development.”

Zornes said concern for the safety of migrating wildlife is growing because of a second proposal, the Raven Solar project, potentially using land near the southeast corner of the existing Sweetwater Solar facility. That project is anticipated to encompass 350 acres of land.

“It’s a case where everything comes together and the pronghorn are going to lose,” Zornes said.

Toxic, briny water surfaces in Okla. Is oil to blame?

Toxic, briny water surfaces in Okla. Is oil to blame?

SOURCE: E&E News

DATE: December 3, 2019

SNIP: Contaminated, salt-laden water is bubbling up from the ground on an Oklahoma farm, and state officials suspect oil field activity is causing the problem.

Too much wastewater pumping, they fear, may have put excessive pressure on an underground formation, pushing toxic water to the surface.

The burbling brine could endanger groundwater and highlights the challenge for an oil and gas industry that is running out of places to dispose of its waste. Coming on the heels of the state’s earthquake swarms — also linked to oil field disposal — it could signal a new problem for industry as salt water breaking out without a conduit like an old well is extremely unusual.

Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner, who has worked for the agency for 19 years, said he and most other staff at the agency have never seen a situation like this “purge,” as water rising to the Earth’s surface is often called.

Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) late last month issued an emergency declaration to free up additional money to address the crisis.

“The subject saltwater purge constitutes a serious threat to public health and safety and poses a serious risk to the environment if immediate action is not taken,” the governor wrote.

OCC has directed eight nearby disposal wells to shut down and has stopped issuing permits for new ones in a nearly 15,000-square-mile area west of Oklahoma City.

Environmentalists fear that won’t be enough.

“This is just the tip of much larger and more widespread water pollution to come as a direct result of the combined processes of fracking production and wastewater injection across our state,” said Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Oklahoma Sierra Club.

Officials say there haven’t been signs of contamination in nearby drinking water, but Ray Shimanek, a local county commissioner, suspects nearby drinking water wells remain at risk.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Shimanek, a Republican of Kingfisher County, said in a phone interview. “It’s going to get into somebody’s water.”

The wastewater also damages farmland. It’s all but impossible to grow crops on contaminated land.

The question of what to do with production wastewater in oil-dependent Oklahoma has bedeviled officials for years. The state still has earthquakes linked to wastewater disposal, although they’ve tailed off considerably since peaking in 2015.

Those earthquakes have been tied to injecting huge volumes of water too deep. Now, the problem may be that wastewater isn’t being injected deep enough.

Mike Cantrell, president of the Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance, links the purge to the state regulatory effort to stop companies from injecting into deep bedrock in response to the quakes.

Because of that policy, companies started injecting wastewater into shallower formations “incapable of holding this volume of water,” Cantrell wrote in a blog post.

Disposal wells near the purge inject water about 2,000 to 3,000 feet deep. The disposal wells linked to earthquakes were commonly 6,000 feet or deeper.

Cantrell indicated he thinks wastewater from disposal formations has broken through to the surface in other places, and thinks the state should require groundwater monitoring to determine the effects of the moving salt water.

Fraser River the most critically endangered river in B.C: Outdoor council

Fraser River the most critically endangered river in B.C: Outdoor council

SOURCE: Vancouver Sun

DATE: December 3, 2019

SNIP: Steelhead runs in the largest tributaries of the Fraser are on the brink of extinction. The spawning population in the Thompson watershed is estimated to be 86 fish, according to a recent update from the ministry of forests, lands and natural resources. The Chilcotin watershed has only 39 steelhead likely to spawn.

Non-selective net fishing for salmon is undercutting conservation and habitat restoration efforts intended to save the Fraser River steelhead from blinking out of existence, said Mark Angelo, chairman of the 100,000-member ORC.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has employed “rolling closures” of commercial and First Nations salmon fisheries that suspend fishing in areas where most of the steelhead pass as they leave the Pacific Ocean and enter the Fraser River.

Land-clearing is leading to habitat destruction in the heart of the lower Fraser River for about 30 other species of fish.

Clear-cutting for agriculture and development are damaging rearing areas for chinook and other species between Mission and Hope and on mid-river lands such as Herrling, Carey and Strawberry islands.

Seven southern B.C. chinook stocks are considered endangered, four threatened, one is of special concern and one is not at risk, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Big Bar landslide dramatically curtailed access to the upper reaches of the Fraser watershed for struggling runs of chinook and sockeye salmon this year.

The slide created a five-metre waterfall that forced DFO to trap and transport potential spawners below the debris and release them into the river above the slide.

“There was a valiant and heroic effort move fish past the slide,” said Angelo. “The unfortunate reality is that most fish didn’t make it through and those that did were already exhausted.”

“These things taken together make the Fraser a critically endangered river, the most critically endangered in B.C. and probably all of Canada,” Angelo said.

Natural Gas Rush Drives a Global Rise in Fossil Fuel Emissions

Natural Gas Rush Drives a Global Rise in Fossil Fuel Emissions

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: December 3, 2019

SNIP: A surge in natural gas has helped drive down coal burning across the United States and Europe, but it isn’t displacing other fossil fuels on a global scale. Instead, booming gas use is fueling the global growth in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study by researchers at Stanford University and other institutions.

In fact, natural gas use is growing so fast, its carbon dioxide emissions over the past six years actually eclipsed the decline in emissions from the falling use of coal, the researchers found.

The findings of the study, published Tuesday, support those from other recent studies that found the world is continuing to rely on fossil fuels—including coal—to meet growing energy demand, even as renewable energy sees soaring growth.

“Globally, most of the new natural gas being used isn’t displacing coal, it’s providing new energy. That’s the key interaction, and that’s true for renewables even,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the report’s lead author.

Supporters often refer to natural gas as a “bridge fuel” between higher-emitting fossil fuels and renewable energy, but some industry executives have instead begun calling it a “forever fuel”—one they see continuing to grow for decades to come.

Globally, natural gas is the fastest growing fossil fuel.

One of the biggest developments has been a rapidly expanding market for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, an energy-intensive product that allows energy companies to ship gas overseas. Australia has tripled its LNG exports since 2013, the report says, and is now the largest exporter. The U.S. recently opened five new LNG terminals and has been pushing to expand exports further. Several countries opened new import facilities to buy that gas last year in Asia and the Americas. This booming market is sending down gas prices in many developing countries, driving new demand.

[A]ll of this new infrastructure—an LNG terminal can cost billions of dollars to build—will make it far more difficult to cut emissions years from now, when investors will be expecting returns from these projects.

Whale dies with 100 kg ball of plastic trash in its stomach

Whale dies with 100 kg ball of plastic trash in its stomach

SOURCE: CBC News

DATE: December 2, 2019

SNIP: A sperm whale that stranded and then died on a beach in Scotland had a ball of trash in its stomach heavier than most human beings.

The nets, bundles of rope, plastic cups, bags, gloves, packing straps and tubing totalled about 100 kilograms, the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme reported on its Facebook page Sunday. That’s quite a bit more than the average human mass of 62 kilograms.

“All this material was in a huge ball in the stomach, and some of it looked like it had been there for some time,” said the group, funded by the Scottish and U.K. governments to track marine animal strandings on Scottish coastlines.

This is just the latest of several recent reports of whales being found with huge amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs.

Earlier this year, a Cuvier’s beaked whale was found in the Philippines with 40 kilograms of “hard, calcified plastic garbage” in its stomach.

A sperm whale found in Indonesia last year had 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, 2 flip-flops, a nylon sack and more than 1,000 other assorted pieces of plastic in its stomach — totalling six kilograms.

And earlier in 2018, a pilot whale that died in Thailand was found to have swallowed 80 plastic bags and other plastic items, in all weighing eight kilograms.

The world’s oceans now contain an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic, about 80 to 90 per cent of it from land-based sources, reports the United Nations Environment Programme. In May, 180 countries around the world reached a deal that aims to sharply reduce the amount of plastic that gets washed into the world’s oceans.

The Downside of Solar Energy

The Downside of Solar Energy

SOURCE: Scientific American

DATE: December 1, 2019

SNIP: The solar economy continues its dramatic growth, with over a half-terawatt already installed around the world generating clean electricity. But what happens to photovoltaic (PV) modules at the end of their useful life? With lifespans measured in decades, PV-waste disposal may seem to be an issue for the distant future. Yet, the industry ships millions of tons every year, and that number will continue to rise as the industry grows. Total e-waste—including computers, televisions, and mobile phones—is around 45 million metric tons annually.

By comparison, PV-waste in 2050 will be twice that figure. Motivated by concerns about exposure to toxic materials, increased disposal costs and overcapacity at landfills managed by underfunded local governments, researchers are exploring global solar waste management solutions based on concepts like the circular economy.

At the same time, demand for everything from sand to rare and precious metals continues to rise. While supplying only about 1 percent of global electricity, photovoltaics already relies on 40 percent of the global tellurium supply, 15 percent of the silver supply, a large portion of semiconductor quality quartz supply, and smaller but important segments of the indium, zinc, tin, and gallium supplies.

In the U.S., there is no federal e-waste regulation to motivate PV-waste collection and recycling. Federal law only requires special management for PV modules that are characterized as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Some PV modules are considered hazardous waste because of lead or cadmium, others are not considered hazardous waste at all. Since it is not possible to tell whether a PV module is hazardous from visual inspection, many argue it is simpler to collect all PV modules.

The primary challenge to recycling PV today is finding value in the recovered materials compared to the costs of collection and recovery. The International Renewable Energy Agency reported that recovered materials could exceed $15 billion dollars (U.S.) by 2050. But a cost-effective PV-waste collection and recovery system capable of high-value material recovery remains elusive. Most of the value in PV-waste is in the aluminum frame and the silver in the metallization paste. Getting higher-value PV recycling will require expertise in managing glass. 80–90 percent of a module by weight is made from glass.

Recycled glass can be returned to its highest value form many times over, if free of contamination. The challenge today is that recyclers are not able make to high-quality glass from from PV-waste because of contamination by antimony (added forclarity), and plastics debris from the backsheet and encapsulant. Decision-making about glass materials is an area in need of both innovation in recycling technologies, but also better communications between product designers and waste handlers.

Recycling PV-waste will require innovations in material processing and reverse logistics. Many types of recovery processes have been explored, including recycling all types of PV-waste in bulk, versus specific methods for particular PV technologies. The optimal mechanism to take-back PV is also unclear at this time. How to best collect distributed PV-waste with minimal driving. The best pathways forward have yet to be identified.

Slaughter of the songbirds: the fight against France’s ‘barbaric’ glue traps

Slaughter of the songbirds: the fight against France’s ‘barbaric’ glue traps

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: November 30, 2019

SNIP: The Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) claims French hunters kill an estimated 17 million birds every year – more than any other country – from 64 species. Of these birds, many of which are migratory, 20 are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of endangered species in Europe, including the turtle dove, rock ptarmigan, violet thrush and curlew. About 1.4m song thrushes and more than 2m partridges are killed annually. Glue-trappers have permission to catch 42,500 song thrushes and blackbirds this year, half last year’s quota. Last year the French president, Emmanuel Macron, gave in to pressure from the powerful hunting lobby and halved the cost of a hunting licence.

It is early morning in the heart of Provence, and somewhere behind the tall black pine trees a rousing dawn chorus begins. We are crouching out of sight among the rosemary bushes and wild asparagus listening to the melodic musical phrases of song thrushes and blackbirds.

This is Marcel Pagnol country, rich in flora and fauna and of exceptional natural beauty; but there is no sign of the singing birds anywhere in the rustling foliage, trees or sky.

Yves Verilhac, of France’s Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), knows why. “The singing you can hear is from caged thrushes and blackbirds who are appellants (callers). They’re caught and kept in the dark for months so when they’re taken out into daylight they sing their hearts out and attract other birds.”

He points above the treetops where clusters of sticks attached to vertical poles glisten in the nascent sunlight. “Those are verguettes: sticks covered in glue. The callers call, other birds come, land on a verguette, and they’re stuck. The more they struggle to get away, the more they become stuck.”

The trilling Provençal songbirds are unwitting decoys to lure more birds into a death trap, he says. Once enticed, the birds are either blasted out of the sky by hunters hidden in camouflaged cabins, or find themselves stuck on the sticks.

La chasse à la glu – glue-trapping – was banned in the EU by a 1979 directive, except in special circumstances where it is “controlled, selective and in limited quantities”. Since 1989, France has invoked these circumstances to permit glue-trapping in five south-east departments on the grounds that it is “traditional”.

Bird campaigners, who say the practice is unspeakably cruel, have secretly shot photographs and film that they say proves it is not selective and, worse, poses a threat to endangered species. They have brought numerous legal cases in national and European courts over the past 30 years. All have failed.

“We’ve concrete evidence that sometimes the bird is struggling for 20–30 minutes. To remove them from the sticks, they spray them with petrol or acetone, which is toxic, and if it’s not a species they’re allowed to trap they often throw the bird away like a stone,” Verilhac says.

He stabs at his mobile phone to bring up a photograph of a dead robin, with its unmistakable red breast, stuck by its wing, legs and beak to a glue stick. “This is what they call ‘tradition’, but it’s a practice from the middle ages and barbaric,” he says.