Trump Administration to Roll Back Clean Water Protections

Trump Administration to Roll Back Clean Water Protections

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: September 12, 2019 SNIP: The Trump administration on Thursday announced the repeal of a major Obama-era clean water regulation that had placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands and other bodies of water. The rollback of the 2015 measure, known as the Waters of the United States rule, adds to a lengthy list of environmental rules that the administration has worked to weaken or undo over the past two and a half years. The repeal of the water rule, which is expected to take effect in a matter of weeks, has implications far beyond the pollution that will now be allowed to flow freely into streams and wetlands from farms, mines and factories. With Thursday’s announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to establish a stricter legal definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, a precedent that could make it difficult for future administrations to take actions to protect waterways. Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at the University of Vermont, said that, for conservative states and leaders who hold the view that the Clean Water Act has been burdensome for farmers and industry, “this is an opportunity to really drive a stake through the heart of federal water protection.” But environmentalists assailed the move. “With many of our cities and towns living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to cut back on clean water enforcement,” said Laura Rubin, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. The Obama rule, developed under the authority of the 1972 Clean Water Act,...
A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises

A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises

SOURCE: NY Times DATE: August 6, 2019 SNIP: Countries that are home to one-fourth of Earth’s population face an increasingly urgent risk: The prospect of running out of water. From India to Iran to Botswana, 17 countries around the world are currently under extremely high water stress, meaning they are using almost all the water they have, according to new World Resources Institute data published Tuesday. Many are arid countries to begin with; some are squandering what water they have. Several are relying too heavily on groundwater, which instead they should be replenishing and saving for times of drought. In those countries are several big, thirsty cities that have faced acute shortages recently, including São Paulo, Brazil; Chennai, India; and Cape Town, which in 2018 narrowly beat what it called Day Zero — the day when all its dams would be dry. “We’re likely to see more of these Day Zeros in the future,” said Betsy Otto, who directs the global water program at the World Resources Institute. “The picture is alarming in many places around the world.” Climate change heightens the risk. As rainfall becomes more erratic, the water supply becomes less reliable. At the same time, as the days grow hotter, more water evaporates from reservoirs just as demand for water increases. Water-stressed places are sometimes cursed by two extremes. São Paulo was ravaged by floods a year after its taps nearly ran dry. Chennai suffered fatal floods four years ago, and now its reservoirs are almost empty. Today, among cities with more than 3 million people, World Resources Institute researchers concluded that 33 of them, with...
Chennai water crisis: City’s reservoirs run dry

Chennai water crisis: City’s reservoirs run dry

SOURCE: BBC DATE: June 18, 2019 SNIP: The southern Indian city of Chennai (formerly Madras) is in crisis after its four main water reservoirs ran completely dry. The acute water shortage has forced the city to scramble for urgent solutions, including drilling new boreholes. Residents have had to stand in line for hours to get water from government tanks, and restaurants have closed due to the lack of water. The city, which, according to the 2011 census, is India’s sixth largest [population: 4.6 million], has been in the grip of a severe water shortage for weeks now. As the reservoirs started to run dry, many hotels and restaurants shut down temporarily. The Chennai metro has turned off air conditioning in the stations, while offices have asked staff to work from home in a bid to conserve water. Vinoth Kaligai, the general secretary of an IT workers’ association, confirmed that some firms had told employees to stay at home. “But homes are also running out of water, so what are we supposed to do?” he added. The situation has also prompted clashes to break out between residents. Last week, police arrested a man for stabbing his neighbour during a fight over water-sharing in the neighbourhood. “The destruction has just begun,” an official said. “If the rain fails us this year too, we are totally...
Glacier Watch: Indus Basin – Analysis

Glacier Watch: Indus Basin – Analysis

SOURCE: Eurasia Review DATE: June 15, 2019 SNIP: Many of the world’s most iconic river systems – the Mekong, Indus, Yangtze – are fed by glaciers that both supply and modulate their water flow. Now these glaciers are melting due to climate change, threatening irrigation systems, electricity generation, and drinking water reserves in some of the most densely populated areas of the planet. No two glaciers are exactly the same. They’re melting at different rates, with some entering their terminal decline sooner than others. The repercussions vary as well. In some cases, reductions in glacier runoff have a negligible effect on downstream flow. In others, they can severely disrupt local water systems, particularly those with antiquated and wasteful extraction methods. The concept of ‘peak water’ is key to understanding glacier decline. As overall glacier mass shrinks, higher-than-average run-off is produced during the melt season. However, these run-off levels will eventually peak, and a period of terminal – and essentially irreversible – decline will follow. Every glacier has a unique peak water threshold. According to a study published by Nature Climate Change, around 45% of the world’s glacier-fed basins have already passed this point, including the source of the Brahmaputra. Another 22% of basins are predicted to be trending up in run-off through to 2050, including the Indus and Ganges headwaters, which are expected to peak in 2070 and 2050 respectively. Glacier melt in and of itself is not a portent of disaster. However, when added to an already tumultuous mix of ecological, economic, and political stressors it risks tipping the scales toward widespread displacement and upheaval. Pakistan in particular...
Saving the Planet With Electric Cars Means Strangling This Desert

Saving the Planet With Electric Cars Means Strangling This Desert

SOURCE: Bloomberg DATE: June 11, 2019 SNIP: The oases that once interrupted the dusty slopes of the Atacama desert in northern Chile allowed humans and animals to survive for thousands of years in the world’s driest climate. That was before the mining started. Sara Plaza, 67 years old, can still remember guiding her family’s sheep along an ancient Inca trail running between wells and pastures. Today she is watching an engine pump fresh water from beneath the mostly dry Tilopozo meadow. “Now mining companies are taking the water,” she says, pointing to dead grass around stone ruins that once provided a nighttime refuge for shepherds. “No one comes here anymore, because there’s not enough grass for the animals,” Plaza says. “But when I was a kid, there was so much water you could mistake this whole area for the sea.” Atacama has become one of the busiest mining districts on the planet in the intervening decades, following discoveries of massive deposits of copper and lithium. In recent years that mining has intensified, thanks to booming demand for lithium, which is indispensable in the production of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles. Chile exported nearly $1 billion of lithium last year, almost quadruple the export value from four years ago. Pursuit of the soft mineral is often seen as something that’s good for the environment. Electric automakers such as Tesla Inc. want to make it easier and cheaper for drivers to adopt clean, battery-powered replacements for dirty combustion engines. Batteries are by far the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, so mining more lithium to meet rising demand helps lower...