Wednesday, August 31, 2005

China faces water crisis

I understand water issues. I know how ecosystems work, and how easily they break down.

And they are breaking down. They are breaking down all over the world. There is a global crisis in biodiversity. We are losing species at a rate we have never seen before. I care about our future, and I am worried.

This summer, I helped lead a group of talented students to China. We went to China to explore the role of agriculture and other factors causing some of the worst water management problems in the world today.

Eighty percent of China's rivers no longer support fish. Most surface waters are polluted and many rivers no longer reach the ocean. The per-capita water availability in northwest China is only one-quarter of the world average and the second lowest on the planet. Clearly, China is facing a severe water management and environmental crisis.

I began this trip with the commonly held assumption that we could solve the water scarcity problem with modern conservation techniques. After all, agriculture consumes 80 percent of China's water. Many people insisted that rural peasants are backward and have little respect for resources and suggested that there are huge inefficiencies and waste in practice. I shared these assumptions.

Well, I was wrong. I was wrong about the nature of the problem, about what I thought I knew about the people who work the land, what was important to them and how they lived their lives.

What I found were gracious, resourceful, hard-working people, proud of their history and culture. They work harder than most of us can imagine. Water is precious to them and always has been. They do not waste it.

Beyond the physical labor, these people are struggling against forces that they cannot hope to influence, a harsh environment and global market pressures. They struggle to make ends meet as their children leave them and their way of life for the cities. They struggle for solutions in the face of an indifferent government.

And they are struggling against an attitude that lies beneath all this. These are just poor peasant farmers. Life and times have passed them by. Life is somewhere else, in the future, in the cities along with the jobs and money. That is what matters. That is what is valued. These people are relics, for whom there just might not be enough room in this brave new world.

No one needs to worry about people who don't really count. We don't want to see them because if we do, we may be unpleasantly reminded that there are other priorities and other values that compete with ours. Best to just let them fade away.

These people are rooted in an ancient culture. They have every right to be proud of their heritage and way of life. We could learn much from them, but they are being written off by arrogance and indifference, ignorance and disrespect.

Youths are flocking to cities hoping to cash in on China's commercial and industrial explosion, leaving the farms to older women.

These women irrigate crops by hauling water on their shoulders, often over long distances. It's hard on them and it's risky for the environment. Without sufficient water, the crops will wither and die. When crops fail, the fragile soil will be washed away during the regular monsoon rains, and the Gobi desert will claim the farms. The eroded soil will make its way to the Yellow River, fill it with sediment, raise the riverbed and cause devastating floods.

There are solutions, but these folks don't have an audience. The central government has abandoned them. Real solutions require leadership. The price of leadership is risk. Why risk a career on people who don't count? This same attitude is a major contributing factor to the global crisis in biodiversity.

We need to change course, have the courage to get out of our comfort zones, to challenge our view of reality, critically examine our assumptions and admit we don't know everything.

That is how we begin the real business of breaking down barriers and treating one another with the respect we all deserve. No rigid agendas or ideologies, just people working to identify and solve problems. This is the kind of leadership we need right now.

Robbie Soltz, Ph.D., is a professor of biology currently lecturing at Central Washington University. She serves on the board of the Yakima Basin Storage Alliance.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Shrinking Icelandic glaciers

In the last ten years Snæfells Glacier has retreated at a fast pace due to warmer weather and shrunk a great deal reports Morgunbladid.

"The weather is always getting warmer and the glacier is not as beautiful as before," said Leifur Ágústsson, a farmer in Mávahlíð in Snæfellsbæ. He said crevasses that one did not see before can now easily be seen from far away.

Tryggvi Konrádsson, owner of Snjófells, a travel service at Arnarstapa, agreed with Leifur, and said that the edge of the glacier has retreated. He said that he is not worried and that "it will snow again".

According to a geologist from the Energy Institute, Oddur Sigurdsson, Icelandic glaciers have shrunk rapidly in the last decade. He said that this was especially evident on Snæfells Glacier, a glacier which had been growing for over 25 years.

"There has been a lot of snow on the mountain in the past," said Oddur, "now we just see the bare glacier."

He said that there is no need to worry, the glacier is not about to disappear even though temperatures continue to rise. Oddur explained that because of the retreat, the glacier is not advancing as much as before, therefore new crevasses are less likely to form. He said that the older crevasses become more visible when the snow covering them melts. Oddur also said that glaciers are usually most dangerous to traverse when they are growing but one should always be cautious.

Peru's Retreating Glacier's Create Water Shortages

The stalactites hang like glass daggers over the glacial lake. Ice peaks rise against the bright blue sky like crystal pyramids. Mounds of dark rock rise up between the snow and ice, discolored after years of being covered by the glacier.

This is Pastoruri. In the past 10 years, its ice caps have retreated by about 200 meters (600 feet).

Soon it, like many other glaciers in Peru, will have disappeared almost completely. At about 5,000 meters, or just over 16,000 feet, it is one of the glaciers worst affected by climate change in Peru. And Peru, in turn, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change in the world.

Sitting between the tropics, where the sun is particularly fierce, and home to more tropical glaciers than anywhere else, this South American country is especially vulnerable to rising temperatures.

Experts predict all the Peruvian glaciers below 5,500 meters will disappear by 2015. This is the majority of Peru's glaciers.

Marco Zapata works at the Institute for National Resources in the Andean town of Huaraz, in northern Peru. He has studied glaciers for more than 30 years and says in that time Peru has lost more than 20% of its glaciers.

One of the main reasons why Peru is so vulnerable to climate change has to do with water. The majority of its population lives in a narrow strip of land between the Andes mountains and the sea.

This area is mainly desert and the people who live here receive their water from the mountains. Melting glaciers also provide water for hydroelectricity, industry and farming.

Pressure on water resources is only likely to grow as more and more people move to coastal cities like the capital Lima and industry expands. But the source of that water is also under pressure.

Standing at the Puerto Chuelo mountain pass above the glacier lakes at Llanganuco, Zapata said: "At the moment, we are experiencing a very strong process of glacial retreat. There is an apparent abundance of water in these mountains. In the rainy season there are no problems, but in the dry season the glaciers are the only ecosystem that is supporting the river.

"And this problem of the process of glacial retreat is so fast, that in a very short time, it's possible the glaciers will disappear and there will be a problem of a lack of water for future generations," said Zapata.

Emilio Himenez has farmed land in the shadow of the Llanganuco lakes for almost four decades. He irrigates his land with water from the glaciers that supply the lakes and grows a variety of fruit and vegetables which he sells at market.

"I can see the snow caps aren't like they were before," said Himenez.

As he works in the fields with his wife and daughters, one of his grandchildren, four-year-old Frank Michael looks on.

"Perhaps in 20 more years, there won't be water if the snow caps go," said Himenez, adding, "It will be very sad because when there is water there is life and when there is no water, there is no life, not for the animals, or the humans, or for the agriculture. And, I don't know what situation our grandchildren will be in."

Intellpuke: "Terms like 'global warming', 'climate change' and the 'diminishing of the ozone layer' are what I call 'soft' terms. They make us think, 'Oh, the temperature will rise by four or five degrees' or 'Less ozone could lead to skin cancer, better spend less time outdoors in the summers'. Yet Mr. Himenez, who is no scientist, can see that it is the supply of fresh water and the food chain it supports that is at risk, and that means the future ability of his children and grandchildren to eke out a living. He may not use, or even be familiar with, those 'soft' terms, but he understands what is happening to the enviornment around him.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Take rain-water harvesting seriously

KOLKATA, Aug. 27. — Mere pronouncements aren’t enough. The state government ought to be more serious and proactive while implementing mandatory rainwater harvesting for new high-rise buildings. This was the essence of the messages speakers at a seminar on rainwater harvesting sought to convey today.

Mr Khokan Mukherji, president, Concern for Calcutta at a seminar on rainwater harvesting and green buildings on Saturday said that scarcity of water is an impending problem and requires immediate action. He further said that the organisation would send the minutes of the seminar to Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

The KMC’s plan to pioneer rain water harvesting systems at its own premises is a laudable effort but provisions for rain water harvesting should be made mandatory for any new building complex, he said.

The excessive use of ground water resources has reduced the ground water level by 5-7 metre in the industrial area, 7-10 metre in the central part of the city and 12-15 metre in rural areas.
Speaking on the occasion Prof Sudip Bandyopadhyay, chairman, West Bengal Pollution Control Board said that rain water harvesting should be done both in the urban as well as rural sectors.

In order to implement the technology one should have an understanding of groundwater conditions, meteorological variations and possess proper documentation of the process, said Dr S P Sinha Roy, member, centre for groundwater studies ITC and HINDALCO have successfully implemented the technique of rainwater harvesting at their companies.

Being the purest form of water, rain water can be used exclusively for drinking purposes. Chlorination and filtration by Zero B makes rain water drinkable, said Mr Anwar Kamal, principal specialist and coordinator, Action for Food Production, task force, Guwahati. However while collecting rain water one should be careful in letting the initial showers to pass away, he added.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Arsenic found in Barcelona water supply

Barcelona, Spain. The people of Barcelona today were told not to consume water from their taps as dangerous levels of arsenic have been detected in the city's supplies.

It is not known for how long the levels have been unsafe but many are outraged at the discovery of this carcinogenic poison in their home water supply.

Shops selling bottled water have been overwhelmed by the sudden rush to buy safe water for day to day use, as investigations continue to try and rectify the situation.

NASA Study Shows Water Could Create Gullies on Mars

A NASA-led team will present its Mars gully findings at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences annual meeting in Cambridge, England, Sept. 5, 2005.

"The gullies may be sites of near-surface water on present-day Mars and should be considered as prime astrobiological target sites for future exploration," ventured National Research Council scientist Jennifer Heldmann, principal author of the study who works at NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

"The gully sites may also be of prime importance for human exploration of Mars because they may represent locations of relatively near surface liquid water, which can be accessed by crews drilling on the red planet," she added.

"If liquid water pops out onto Mars' surface, it can create short gullies about 550-yards (500-meters) long," Heldmann said. "We used a computer to simulate the flow of liquid water within gully channels," Heldmann explained.

"Our model indicates that these fluvially-carved gullies were formed in the low temperature and low pressure conditions of present-day Mars by the action of relatively pure liquid water," said Heldmann.

The science team found that the maximum length of gullies simulated in the computer models were comparable to the martian gullies studied. "We find that the short length of the gully features implies they did form under conditions similar to those on present-day Mars, with simultaneous freezing and rapid evaporation of nearly pure liquid water," Heldmann said.

In addition, images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft show 'geologically young' small-scale features on the red planet that resemble terrestrial water-carved gullies, according to scientists.

"The young geologic age of these gullies is often thought to be a paradox, because liquid water is unstable at the martian surface," Heldmann said. At present martian air pressure and temperature, water will boil and freeze at very rapid rates, the scientists reported.

Team scientists noticed that images of some of Mars' gullies show that they taper off into very small debris fields – or no debris fields at all – suggesting that water rushing through the gullies rapidly froze and/or evaporated.

"In the martian case, fluid well above the boiling point (which is a very low temperature at Mars' low atmospheric pressure and air temperature) is suddenly exposed to the atmosphere," said Heldmann. "The difference between the vapor and ambient pressures relative to the ambient pressure is large, and flash boiling can occur, leading to a violent loss of fluid."

Scientists believe that ice probably would not accumulate in the gullies, because of the rapid evaporation of water and relatively high flow velocities, but in some cases, some ice could be carried downstream. The researchers studied computer simulations of both scenarios.

"We tested our model using known flow parameters and environmental conditions of perennial saline springs in the Mars analog environment of the Canadian High Arctic," Heldmann noted.

In addition to Heldmann, Chris McKay, also of NASA Ames; Brian Toon, Michael Mellon and John Pitlick, of the University of Colorado, Boulder; Wayne Pollard, of McGill University, Montreal, Canada; and Dale Andersen, of the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif., are study co-authors.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Latest Scientific Data Indicates all World's Glaciers Could Melt

ZURICH, Switzerland, August 5, 2005 (ENS) -

Global warming caused by human activities may result in the complete disappearance of glaciers from entire mountain ranges, according to the latest update of a United Nations supported report issued once every five years. The World Glacier Monitoring Service warns that the greenhouse effect is leading to processes "without precedent in the history of the Earth."

"The last five-year period of the 20th century has been characterized by an overall tendency of continuous if not accelerated glacier melting," says the World Glacier Monitoring Service 1995-2000 edition of the Fluctuations of Glaciers report, complied with the support of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

"The two decades [from] 1980-2000 show a trend of increasingly negative balances with average annual ice thickness losses of a few decimetres," the report adds. "The observed trend of increasingly negative mass balances is consistent with accelerated global warming."

Analysis of repeated inventories shows that glaciers in the European Alps have lost more than 50 percent of their volume since the middle of the 19th century, and that a further loss of roughly one fourth the remaining volume is estimated to have occurred since the 1970s, the report states.

"With a realistic scenario of future atmospheric warming, almost complete deglaciation of many mountain ranges could occur within decades, leaving only some ice on the very highest peaks," it says.


The fractured and rapidly calving terminus of the surging Bering Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Alaska. October 1993 (Photo courtesy USGS)

The series "Fluctuations of Glaciers," prepared by the Service, continously publishes internationally collected, standardized data on changes in glaciers throughout the world once every five years. The Service is based at the Department of Geography University of Zurich.

The objective of the publication is to reproduce a global set of data which affords a general view of the changes, encourages more extensive measurements, invites further processing of the results, facilitates consultation of the further sources, and serves as a basis for research.

This standardized data set is presented as a working tool for the scientific community, especially concerning the fields of glaciology, climatology, hydrology, and quarternary geology.

Since the initiation in 1894 of a worldwide program for collecting standardized information on glacier changes, various aspects involved have changed "in a most remarkable way," the report says.

Concern increases that the ongoing trend of worldwide and fast if not accelerating glacier shrinkage at the century time scale is of non-cyclic nature.

glacierVulnerable to global warming, a glacier flows into the sea in North East Greenland. May 2002. (Photo courtesy European Space Agency)
While earlier reports anticipated a periodic variation in glaciers, "there is definitely no more question of the originally envisaged "variations périodiques des glaciers" as a natural cyclical phenomenon, the latest report states.

"Due to the human impacts on the climate system (enhanced greenhouse effect), dramatic scenarios of future developments – including complete deglaciation of entire mountain ranges – must be taken into consideration," it emphasizes.

The report says, "Such scenarios may lead far beyond the range of historical/holocene variability and most likely introduce processes without precedence in the history of the Earth."

The scientific opinion on climate change, as expressed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and endorsed by the national science academies of the G8 nations, is that the average global temperature has risen 0.6 ± 0.2°C since the late 19th century, and that "most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

Greenhouse gases emitted by the combustion of coal, oil and gas form a atmospheric blanket, trapping the Sun's heat close to the planet and raising the surface temperature.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service is online at:

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sydney Turns to Desalinated Water as Drought Drains Reservoirs

Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Sydney, Australia's biggest city, may get a A$2 billion ($1.5 billion) desalination plant as the nation's worst drought in 100 years empties reservoirs.

Warragamba Dam, which supplies 80 percent of Sydney's water, fell to 37.2 percent of capacity on Aug. 18 and reached a record low 34.8 percent June 23. To save water, the city's 4.2 million residents have been restricted to watering their gardens just two days a week and banned from hosing down their cars.

Sydney has less than two years of ``poor quality'' water left, said John Archer, 64, who has written six books on Australia's water supply. ``If the desalination doesn't work, Sydney doesn't have any options other than evacuation,'' he said in an interview.

The plan was announced by former New South Wales state premier Bob Carr during a July visit to the desert state of Abu Dhabi. It faces opposition from environmentalists and some residents of Kurnell, the south Sydney suburb chosen as the site of the plant. They say it will use too much energy, is less efficient than recycling waste water and will damage marine life.

``It's not the most astute way to deal with water resources,'' said Greg Leslie, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. ``To be too dependent on desalination doesn't make for a sustainable system in the long term because we're using so much energy to make that water.''

The plant would process 500 million liters of seawater a day. Carr, who retired Aug. 2 after more than 10 years as the state's leader, said desalination is the government's preferred option. Researchers found people were reluctant to drink recycled waste water. Carr's successor, Morris Iemma, last week confirmed the desalination plant, which may take more than two years to build, would go ahead.

Waste Water

Sydney Water Corp., the government agency that manages the water supply, says a ``major public education'' program would be needed to convince people recycled water is safe to drink.

About 68 percent of residents surveyed are ``uncomfortable'' with drinking recycled waste water, according to a survey by UMR Research Pty. The July survey of 600 people had a margin of error of 4 percent.

The government's only short-term option for recycling water is to pump treated sewage into Warragamba Dam, which would ``cost 50 percent more than desalinated water,'' said Frank Sartor, the state's planning minister.

Sydney's water supply will fall short of demand because of population growth, drought, climate change and the unhealthy state of rivers that feed the city's dams, a government study said.

``Sydney's water supplies are increasingly inadequate to meet long-term demand,'' the May 5 report said. The government estimates the city's population will rise to 4.9 million by 2021.

Residents Revolt

The proposed site for the desalination plant is near to where Captain James Cook landed in 1770 and claimed Australia as British territory. Kurnell is also home to Caltex Australia Ltd.'s oil refinery, a sewage treatment plant and a sand mine.

``This is just being dumped on Kurnell without any discussion and any consideration,'' Kevin Schreiber, the mayor of Sutherland Shire, which includes Kurnell, said in a July 29 interview. ``Residents are very, very concerned.''

Rainfall last month was between 40 percent and 70 percent of the monthly average for southeastern Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

To save water, the state government has imposed restrictions on residents. People can hose their lawns and gardens only before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays, and can't use a hose to wash their car. Permits are needed to fill swimming pools larger than 10,000 liters (2,640 gallons).

Water use by residents has dropped 12 percent below the 10- year average since restrictions began in October 2003, when the city's dams fell below 60 percent of capacity, Sydney Water said. People are encouraged to report neighbors who have breached restrictions and Sydney Water officers patrol suburban streets issuing on-the-spot fines of A$220 to offenders.

Mandatory water restrictions were last enforced in November 1994 and remained in place until October 1996.


Sydney Water has opened bids for work including construction of tunnels, pipelines, pumping stations and maintenance. It declined to name which companies had bid.

Sydney based-United Group Ltd., whose United KG Water Projects unit built water treatment plants in China, Thailand and Malaysia, has registered an interest in bidding, Chief Executive Richard Leupen said Aug. 15.

Macquarie Bank Ltd., which buys stakes in infrastructure assets including toll roads and power plants, ``doesn't comment on bids,'' said Matthew Russell, a spokesman for the Sydney-based investment bank.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Vesna Poljak in Sydney at

Monday, August 22, 2005

Chinese researcher optimistic about water saving via scientific irrigation

China could save 100 billion cubic meters of water for irrigation purpose from now to 2020 if its plan on popularizing scientific irrigation methods is successfully carried out, said a renowned researcher on Sunday.

Water used for agricultural purposes accounts for 66 percent of China's total annual water consumption, which stands at 560 billion cubic meters, compared with 92 percent in the 1950s, said Shan Lun, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

"In another 15 years, it is feasible that 100 cubic meters of water could be saved per year if advanced irrigation technologies are applied," he said in a keynote speech delivered at the annual conference of the Chinese Association for Science and Technology on Sunday.

According to him, China sustains an annual shortfall of 40 billion cubic meters in water supply, of which 30 billion cubic meters is needed by the agriculture sector.

The expert pointed out that China's northwest regions consume 90 percent of the water used in the agricultural sector, which however means a considerable room for water saving technologies.

In addition to developing farm produce especially seasoned to grow in dry land, Shan Lun suggested comprehensive water saving technologies be applied in the irrigation and water diversion systems in the regions.

At present, only 40 percent of the country's 50 million hectares of arable farmland can be ensured of sufficient water supply.

Source: Xinhua

Saturday, August 20, 2005

World's Largest Environmental Awareness Program

Inventor creates an ingenious promotion to recycle billions of bottle caps normally discarded.

(PRWEB) August 11, 2005 -- Inventor & CEO of Hooked On Recycling & The Original Bottle Cap Lure Company is on fire. He is starting the world’s largest bottle cap recycling program. He'll be recycling metal beer and soda caps that have been thrown away for 116 yrs. Why do our world's governments allow this? Why do we allow it?


Norm Price has been in contact with major beverage companies to educate them about how easy it would be to collect the bottle caps as they are collecting their bottles. They all told him to get stuffed and that people have been throwing them away for years. He said that's the point. Your customers have been throwing them into our lakes, rivers and parks & cities. Special events, bars, sporting events discard them by the billions here in North America alone. This is reusable metal.

That is not even the best of it yet. He told them that he makes fishing lures out of them and they would make a great promotional gift. They told him that they are their caps and that he cannot use them for fishing lures. Mr. Price told them to get stuffed. Round, round we go. Even the government has been shy about getting involved. He has volunteers collecting for him at schools, bars, pubs, events, campsites, marinas, tackle shops, and many other places. He will be having a national fishing contest, free for the public. It will be called... the Battle of The Brands

Beer vs. Beer ...Soda vs. Soda. Which one will win?

Told you it gets better.

College and university students manufacture the lures that are made out of these bottle caps. This product has many pluses and no downfalls. Mr. Price's friend, Andy Vander Ploeg, is the three-time Canadian sport fishing champion. Vander Ploeg, with the help of this functional lure, has won the title three years in a row. The Bottle Cap Lure was featured on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Business page, in July's issue of Field & Stream and the UK's Tackle Trade World magazine & the September issue of FHM US swimsuit magazine, with more yet to come. This is a fun project for Mr. Price and he is even custom printing company's & group's logos on bottle caps and the packaging. Hooked On You Promotions... Hooked On Education..... Hooked On Recycling... Hooked On Beer.... Hooked On Employment..... Hooked On World Peace.

Norm is hoping to pick up sponsors along the way. Meanwhile sales are helping him right now. For those who have tossed caps away, you too can make a difference now. Vote in the online poll on his website.

He has no support from the beverage industry and no support from governments. Both have declined. All his profits are going into collecting more bottle caps.

# # #

Congress goes glacial on a red-hot problem

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, "Who are you going to believe: Congress or your own eyes?" If you believe Congress, which passed an irresponsible energy bill just before taking August off, you will also believe fossil fuels can be burned with impunity, the skies are sparkling and climate change is just something that happens with the seasons.

If you are Sen. Susan Collins, and you've just seen receding glaciers, bark beetles devouring spruce and ancient ice patches melting in Alaska, your own eyes tell you something very different. Your eyes, in fact, tell you what native people along the Alaskan coast will tell you: that they've never seen it so warm, that the permafrost is not only melting but melting to a deeper level than before, that their coastal lands are eroding.

This will confirm what a broad range of scientists are telling you: Human-induced climate change can be measured; its effects are felt most severely toward the poles. Though climate change is hugely complex and presents some benefits such as longer growing seasons and lower heating bills for some places, the negatives of flooding and, elsewhere, drought, wild swings in the weather, spreading infestations and disease, the added costs of going about daily life disastrously outstrip them.

To back up a little: You want the greenhouse-gas effect, which is what scientists called global warming before they called it climate change. Those gases are mostly water vapor and carbon dioxide, with some methane and nitrous oxide, that trap the heat from the sun and surround the earth in temperatures that humans like. Without this effect, average temperatures here would be a little below zero - great for the snowmobiling industry; not so great for the rest of us. When you hear about the greenhouse-gas effect these days, what's being talked about is the increased concentration of these gases. Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide in the air has increased 30 percent. Methane levels have more than doubled. Think of these gases in the atmosphere as blankets. No blanket and you're too cold; one provides the right amount of warmth; add another and sleep gets a little uncomfortable; a third, and you can't sleep at all. A surfeit of blankets is keeping scientists up at night and will soon awaken you, me and the 6.5 billion others reading this column.

Collins went to the Arctic this week with Sens. John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lindsey Graham to see the kinds of destruction that slight changes in temperature can bring. Last fall, they had seen similar effects in Norway. Too bad they couldn't persuade more of their colleagues to join them. "It becomes so much more striking when you see the retreating glaciers and the melting permafrost and changing wildlife," Collins said.

Seeing is believing, yet doubts remain, both from reputable sources who observe the difficulty of saying anything definitive about so complicated an idea as climate change and from those who just don't want to hear that society, collectively and cooperatively, must change its ways. "The nonbelievers have gone from denying there's a problem," Collins observed, "to saying the problem is just part of natural variation. But science has been able to plot natural variation for centuries and what we're experiencing is an outlier - it doesn't fit the pattern."

Congress' chance to do something about this came and went with the energy bill last month. The Senate had managed to include legislation that would have required market-based reductions in greenhouse gases. House Republicans got rid of that provision, leaving some funding for alternative energy, a small hybrid-car rebate and a voluntary measure to fund technologies that reduce greenhouse gas intensity: emissions as a fraction of gross domestic product. But that number is already expected to decline without the subsidies. Feeble action in the face of serious problems.

Collins, who has an exemplary environmental record, supported the bill anyway. "The bill does take some [conservation] steps," she said by phone on her way to Glacier Bay National Park the other day, "but the climate change title is really quite weak." She voted for the bill, she said, because of its new standards for the national electric grid system and some useful local provisions for wind and biomass power. Thankfully the bill does not have, after years of fighting, liability protection for the producers of the toxic gasoline additive MTBE, which is in Maine groundwater. But passing the bill (it passed 76-24) also means largely forgetting about any substantial climate change legislation for another year. With a Republican White House and Congress, perhaps three years.

That's the unreality of Congress: a delegation can travel north to see - touch, if they feel like it - the devastation of a global problem, a problem Congress has the power to address through conservative and careful legislation, that must be addressed for the health of the planet, but the most it can accomplish is to prevent a toxic chemical from being given special legal protection that it never deserved in the first place.

Later this year, the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. James Inhofe, is expected to hold yet more hearings on climate change, where it will be argued that the extensive evidence pointing to its occurrence and its serious effects are part of a worldwide hoax. The hearings will be widely condemned by outraged environmentalists, but they will have served their purpose - to obfuscate and delay. Glaciers will continue to melt, flora and fauna will encounter more virulent pests and succumb, the weather will become more damaging, and Congress will move on to its next topic.

Todd Benoit is the editorial page editor of the Bangor Daily News.

Low Flow Toilets

Contrary to popular myth, plumber Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet. One of his contemporaries, though, did create the first toilet that prevented sewer gases from entering the home. Englishman Joseph Adamson's 1853 design — the siphon flush — eventually made obsolete both the chamber pot and the outhouse. Adamson's invention, like all modern toilets, relies on the tendency of a moving liquid to continue flowing, even in defiance of gravity: The tank is kept full, and during a flush, the water rushes into the bowl, creating a surge over the weir (or dam). The flow stops when the bowl is empty, and the tank refills in preparation for the next flush.

Originally, tanks were placed high above the bowl to get water moving forcefully enough to clear the weir, but by 1915, narrower, smoother porcelain passageways allowed quieter, 5- to 7-gallon tanks to be mounted on the backs of bowls. The next giant leap in toilet technology came in 1994, when federal law restricted tanks to 1.6 gallons per flush, but to those who used the first generation of low-flow toilets, this leap seemed more of a stumble. "They often needed two flushes," says This Old House plumbing and heating consultant Richard Trethewey. Manufacturers largely fixed that problem by further modifying the passageways to move a reduced amount of water more vigorously into the bowl.

FLUSH LEVER: Pulls the lift chain.

LIFT CHAIN: Opens the flapper. A chain float limits the flush to 1.6 gallons by closing the flapper when the tank has drained to a set level.

OVERFLOW TUBE: Protects against an accidental overfilling of the tank.

FLOAT: Shuts a valve on the supply line when the tank level reaches a predetermined depth.

FLAPPER: Releases tank water into the bowl. When released by the chain float, drops against the flush valve seat, sealing the tank so it can refill.

TRAP: Holds water in the bowl, blocking the entry of sewer gases, until the flow from the tank pushes the water over the weir.

SIPHON JET: Concentrates flow from the tank, jump-starting the siphoning effect.

RIM HOLES (not shown): Release water during the flush, cleaning the sides of the bowl.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Tapping our water supplies

H2O. Two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, are all that make up the most important substance to all living things on earth.
Water, as it is more commonly known, has a slight hint of blue in its most pure form and is known to be the most universal solvent. In its three states, water takes on many different forms: water vapour and clouds in the sky, waves and icebergs in the sea, glaciers and aquifers on land to name a few.
Earth’s water is 97% saltwater and undrinkable for humans. The other 3% is freshwater or potable water but of which, 2% is frozen in glaciers and polar icecaps. Our bodies are made of about 65% water making it vital our health. To function properly the body requires between one and seven litres of water per day to avoid dehydration.
By means of evaporation, precipitation and run-off, water is constantly changing from one state to another, in what is know as the hydrologic cycle. Run-off is the flow of water after rain which recharges ground water or aquifers. In many countries water is becoming scarcer as human population in those places increases, and its availability is a major social and economic concern.
The increasing amount of pollutants found in water are also becoming a greater cause for concern as more contaminants, such as fertilizers and chemical waste, are found in our water supplies.
Gone are the days, in many developed nations, where municipal tap water is considered safe for drinking.
Here are a just few commonly found, unwanted contaminants:


  • Lead -  Found in water supplies with lead solder or pipes, especially when water is soft or corrosive. While lead is never desirable, concentrations greater than 15 micrograms per litre (15 ug/L also known as parts per billion or ppb) can cause brain, nerve, and kidney damage, especially in young children.

  • Nitrate Nitrogen - Nitrate nitrogen is commonly used lawn and agricultural fertilizers. It is also a chemical formed when decomposing waste materials, such as manure or sewage.

  • Fluoride –  Added to water to reduce tooth decay but controversy surrounds exists over its benefits and dangers. In low quantities fluoride is use commonly in health applications but levels found in water should be monitored and known.

Bacterial and Parasite

  • Cryptosporidium - is a parasite commonly found in lakes and rivers, especially when the water is contaminated with sewage and animal wastes.

  • Escherichia coli -  (usually abbreviated to E. coli) is one of the main species of bacteria that live in the lower intestines of warm-blooded animals and are necessary for the proper digestion of food. Its presence in groundwater is a common indicator of fecal contamination.

Bottled Water  

Today, because of a much increased awareness of water contaminants, more often people are drinking bottled water, or filtering water for consumption. Bottled water can be categorised into three sources:
  1. Spring water - Derived from an underground aquifer from which water flows naturally to the earth's surface. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a borehole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. If some external force is used to collect the water through a borehole, the water must have the same composition and quality as the water that naturally flows to the surface.

  2. Mineral water – Water from an underground source that contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids. Minerals and trace elements must come from the source of the underground water. They cannot be added later.

  3. Purified water – normally comes from municipal sources - in other words - the tap. Municipal water is usually treated before it is bottled.
As can be seen, there arises many questions to the authenticity of bottled water label advertising. If you drink bottled water, always read the small print to see where it came from or what it "claims" to be.

Another way of removing unwanted contaminants in water is by filtration.

Filtering and Purification  

Filtering and purification don’t need to much explaining as to what they do but what must be pointed out, is the many different types and their effectiveness against different contaminants.
  • Boiling - Water heated to its boiling point for one minute kills micro organisms that normally live in water at room temperature.

  • Carbon filtering: Carbon with a high surface area due to its mode of preparation adsorbs many compounds, including some toxic compounds. Water passed through activated charcoal removes contaminants.

  • Distilling: - Involves the boiling of water producing water vapour, leaving behind contaminants. The water vapour then rises to a cooled surface where it condenses back into a liquid to be collected. Although this method does not completely purify, it produces 99% pure water.

  • Reverse osmosis: Pressure is applied to contaminated water forcing it through a semi-permeable membrane. Reverse osmosis is said to be the most thorough method of large-scale water purification.
There are many more water purification methods which are also effective but depending on which geographic location they are used, each one must be studied before making a decision on the best one.
Earth’s water, more than ever is becoming an important subject, especially when 1 in 6 people on the planet do not have access to safe drinking water.
Maybe before studying water on Mars, we should take a closer look at what is happening to our own - right here on earth.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Changing World

While the effect of human activity on the global climate is hotly debated, physical signs of environmental change are all around us.

Some scientists say an increase in the rate of melting of the world's glaciers is evidence of global warming.

Argentina's Upsala Glacier was once the biggest in South America, but it is now disappearing at a rate of 200 metres per year.

Other scientists say its reduction is due to complicated shifts in glacial dynamics and local geology.

Water shortages will leave world in dire straits

More than half of humanity will be living with water shortages, depleted fisheries and polluted coastlines within 50 years because of a worldwide water crisis, warns a United Nations report out Monday.

Waste and inadequate management of water are the main culprits behind growing problems, particularly in poverty-ridden regions, says the study, the most comprehensive of its kind. The United Nations Environment Programme, working with more than 200 water resource experts worldwide, produced the report.

"Tens of millions of people don't have access to safe water. It is indeed a crisis," says Halifa Drammeh, who coordinates UNEP's water policies. The wide-ranging report, part of the UN's designation of 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater, also documents problems such as steep drops in the size of Asia's Aral Sea, Africa's Lake Chad and Iraq's Marshlands; the deterioration of coral reefs; and the rise of coastal waters because of climate changes. Some developing nations could face water shortages, crop failures and conflict over shrinking lakes and rivers if nothing is done to prevent wasteful irrigation and slow evaporation from reservoirs, and drinking-water systems are not repaired.

Based on data from NASA, the World Health Organization and other agencies, the report finds:

  • Severe water shortages affecting at least 400 million people today will affect 4 billion people by 2050. Southwestern states such as Arizona will face other severe freshwater shortages by 2025.

  • Adequate sanitation facilities are lacking for 2.4 billion people, about 40% of humankind.

  • Half of all coastal regions, where 1 billion people live, have degraded through overdevelopment or pollution.

"The basic problem is poverty, not water," says water resources economist Chuck Howe of the University of Colorado in Boulder. About 90% of the severe problems are in developing nations, he says, where solutions to wasting water lie in better irrigation and water supply practices.

In developed nations such as Japan, the USA and in Europe, most water shortfalls arise from politically popular but inefficient subsidies and protections of agriculture, which accounts for 85% of freshwater consumption worldwide.

Along with drinking-water concerns, the report looks at global problems of oceans and seas:

  • Coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass beds, important grounds for young fish and for environmental needs, face threats from overfishing, development and pollution.

  • Oxygen-depleted seas, caused by industrial and agricultural runoff, could lead to fishery collapses and "dead zones" in such places as the Gulf of Mexico.

  • Wild-fish catches are leveling off worldwide. With 75% of fish stocks fully exploited, fleets have turned to fish lower on ocean food chains. Ecologists worry that entire fisheries will collapse as these "junk fish" are used up. Increased demand for fish is being made up through aquaculture, which brings other environmental concerns.

Drammeh hopes the report helps mobilize support for international organizations brokering water and fishery agreements that encourage better water management among nations. Developing regions don't need more dam-building projects, he says, but need more people trained to manage water systems.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Quote of the Week

"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it".

- Dan Quayle

Monday, August 15, 2005

The picture in India

An estimated 400,000 children under five years of age die each year due to diarrhoea.
Several million more suffer from multiple episodes of diarrhoea and still others fall ill on account of Hepatitis A, enteric fever, intestinal worms and eye and skin infections caused by poor hygiene and unsafe drinking water.

Despite the Government and UNICEF’s best efforts, diarrhoea remains the major cause of death amongst children, after respiratory- tract infections. Unhygienic practices and unsafe drinking water are some of its main causes. More than 122 million households in the country are without toilets. Even though toilets are built in about 3 million households every year, the annual rate of increase has been a low 1 per cent in the past decade.

The lack of toilets also affects girls’ school attendance. Of India’s 700,000 rural primary and upper primary schools, only one in six have toilets, deterring children - especially girls - from going to school.

Access to protected sources of drinking water has improved dramatically over the years. Most rural water supply systems, especially the hand-pumps generally used by the poor, are using groundwater. But inadequate maintenance and neglect of the environment around water sources has led to increasing levels of groundwater pollution. In many areas, the problem is exacerbated by falling levels of groundwater, mainly caused by increasing extraction for irrigation.

In some parts of the country, excessive arsenic and fluoride in drinking water also pose a major health threat.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Your Tap Water: Will That Be Leaded Or Unleaded?

In critiquing a common safety standard for brass used in plumbing, researchers have found the regimen may be flawed. As a result, they say, some of the lead that crept into tap water in Washington, D.C., and other metropolitan areas may be traceable to household fixtures, valves and other components and not just pipes and systems further from the home.

The new study looked at the American National Standards Institute/National Sanitation Foundation 61 Section 8 standard--a protocol consisting of specific methods and test-water formulas that governments and industries have relied upon to ensure safe plumbing since 1988.
"As a result of problems identified with the test protocol, some products passing National Sanitation Foundation Section 8 may have a greater capacity to leach lead into water than we believed," said Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, who is one of the study leaders.

Edwards, Abhijeet Dudi and Nestor Murray, all at Virginia Tech, and Michael Schock, of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Risk Management Research Laboratory, report their findings in the Aug. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Waterworks Association.
Edwards, Dudi and Murray are members of a multidisciplinary team supported by a National Science Foundation Materials Use: Science, Engineering and Society (MUSES) award.

The researchers tested identical brass devices purchased from a local hardware store by subjecting the pieces to the Section 8 protocol and to modifications they made to the protocol. They also applied the same tests to a simulated plumbing device made of solid lead.

The results: The Section 8 water samples reacted less, or were less "aggressive," with lead in the plumbing than designers of the standard had intended. The researchers found other problems that stemmed from calculations that underlie some of the test results. Normalization factors allow evaluators to estimate actual lead concentrations at the tap, but they are affected by device size. Because of normalization and the non-aggressive waters, the small, simulated device made of pure lead pipe passed the Section 8 leaching test.

The scientists began to scrutinize the Section 8 methods after learning that one of the test solutions contains high concentrations of orthophosphate to buffer the water's pH. Water utilities use orthophosphate actually to inhibit lead leaching. So, test solutions containing such leaching inhibitors could not react adequately with plumbing and would produce a flawed reading.

"It's analogous to an automobile crash test using a wall of pillows," Edwards said.
Because lead softens alloys, it is an important component in many plumbing metals. Without adding small quantities of lead, manufacturers could not craft intricate shapes necessary for modern devices. Under certain chemical conditions, such as high acidity or low amounts of carbon dissolved from minerals, the devices can leach significant amounts of that lead into water.

The problem is complex because treatments necessary to treat one water-quality problem, such as bacteria, can have unintended consequences, such as lead leaching.
In the 1986 Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in 1996 (USEPA, 2000), Congress explicitly banned new devices containing pure lead pipe, leaded solders, and brass with more than 8 percent lead content. However, these materials remain installed in older homes.
At the time of the legislation, there were no alternatives for leaded brass, and experts believed it was not feasible to reduce lead content in devices to that in pipes and solder.
Some components are labeled lead-free, even if they contain 7.99 percent lead. Despite such labeling, all brass products that contain lead must pass the Section 8 performance-testing standard.

Recently, legislators have proposed updated laws to allow for modern brass alloys--some containing as little as 0.02 percent lead or less by weight--which could reduce lead leaching considerably .

The original news release can be found here.

Great Lakes water demand rises

WAUKESHA, Wis., Aug. 12 (UPI) -- The battle for fresh water from the Great Lakes is expected get worse as aquifers are depleted in the United States.

In a reversal of history, residents of Waukesha, Wis., who have used up much of their mineral-rich water, are looking to Chicagoans for a share from Lake Michigan, which they had shunned a century ago.

The New York Times reported that in 1892, one speculator tried to pipe the Waukesha water to Chicago but the pipe layers were chased away by town residents with pistols, pitchforks and fire hoses.

Authorities who control the Great Lakes are not sure any of it should go to communities like Waukesha, which is 15 miles from the lake's shore but outside of its watershed, the report said.

They fear that without strict rules on who gets Great Lakes water, water-starved western cities will eventually knock at the door, the report said.

Todd Ambs at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the Great Lakes basin has "more and more demands for water and certainly more and more development.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Why oppose privatization of water?

Water privatization schemes throughout the world have a track record of skyrocketing prices, water quality problems, deteriorating service and a loss of local control.

Privatization advocates argue – usually without any supporting evidence – that switching from publicly owned and operated utilities to private sector firms will lead to greater economic efficiency, stabilized rates, reduced public debt and improved budgetary management.
In reality, privatization more often than not fulfills none of these promises, and instead creates a number of new problems.

Vulnerable to corruption and operating according to a profit-driven corporate agenda fundamentally incompatible with delivering an essential service, private water companies are failing to provide citizens with safe, affordable water. Private corporations seek to increase profit margins by cutting costs; hence privatization is almost always accompanied by lay-offs.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Canada, U.S. Agree Ways to Drain North Dakota Lake

TORONTO — Canada and the United States announced a deal on Saturday that could end years of bickering over plans to drain a North Dakota lake into rivers that end up in Canada, and said there would be safeguards to prevent pollution and minimize risk from "nuisance species" of fish.

A statement from the two countries said they had made progress in deciding how to drain Devils Lake, a low-lying area of water that flooded farms, schools and villages as it spread from 70 square miles to 200 square miles during extended periods of wet weather.

North Dakota has built channels to let some of the water from the lake drain into rivers that flow to the Red River and then on to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, the world's 10th largest freshwater lake.

Canadian officials had said draining the lake could pollute Canadian waters and introduce nonnative fish stocks, threatening commercial fishing at the lake -- a C$25 million ($20 million) a year industry.

The joint statement said some of these concerns had now been addressed. It gave no date when draining the lake, once scheduled for July 1 and then delayed, would start.

"Important progress has been made toward addressing flooding in Devils Lake while protecting aquatic resources throughout the Red River Basin," the two sides said.

"The participants have a higher level of confidence that the outlet can be operated in a manner that will not pose an unreasonable risk to the other parts of the (Red River) Basin."

The agreement provides for new rock and gravel filters at the start of the new drainage system as well as extensive monitoring of the water in the basin to be sure that pollution levels are not rising and that species from the lake do not get into the other water systems and crowd out existing fish.

North Dakota says its system of pumps, pipes and canals will stabilize Devils Lake at current levels, channeling excess water to the Sheyenne River, and on to the Red River and then over the Canadian border.

Although its water quality has not been extensively studied, critics say landlocked Devils Lake has especially high concentrations of pollutants because runoff from farms and populated areas accumulates there. North Dakota denies that, pointing to thriving local leisure and fishing sectors.

Source: Reuters

Monday, August 08, 2005

O'Reilly Claims Left Is Collapsing

Bill O'Reilly announced during his Talking Points that he is thrilled because the Left in this country is losing power and about to collapse. O'Reilly proclaimed that Karma is wonderful and now all the vicious character assassins on the left are getting what they deserve.

The announcement that America Coming Together is shutting down partly fueled O'Reilly's prediction. ACT was started to promote John Kerry and get out the vote in 2004 and recieved substatial backing from George Soros. O'Reilly said Soros backed internet smear sites acting as if this closing of ACT indicated a failure for Soros. However, Act was created primarily for the election and it is really no surprise that it would close.

O'Reilly then claimed that Air America is tanking and going down because of a dubious loan but giving no details. In fact, Air America is doing incredibly well in many states especially Florida and Colorado adding several new stations there recently.It is not tanking. O'Reilly told Ellis Hennican that people don't want to hear Bush bashing all day and are bored. (Guess liberal bashing all day on his show isn't boring)

Bill declared that there has never been a successful TV show with a personality from the left. Then he remembered Alan Colmes adding that he is with Hannity which explains his success. (Of course, he failed to mention that Phil Donahue's show on MSNBC had stellar ratings but was cancelled because of his anti war stance.)

BOR maintained that it was the Far Left that was going under which he said made up 10% of the Left. While he an Hennican talked about the failure of Left-Wing organizations and the need to build them slowly, there was no mention of MoveOn the ultimate success story and proof of the growing movement.

comment: Bill O'Reilly discussing karmic retribution for the Left is an all time eye popper. Perhaps this obvious attack of paranoia from O'Reilly is related to some karmic crisis he's experiencing himself. I also hope he and Alan Colmes don't have too much personal contact at FNC because that was a very nasty comment to make about a co-worker. Another karmic demerit for Bill.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Starbucks takes up cause for safe drinking water

I'm a bit cynical when a big company does something like this but starting today Starbucks starts selling Ethos bottled water. They will donate $10 million US dollars over the next 5 years to provide clean water in poor countries.

Read more here.

Europe's largest glacier melting away

STOCKHOLM - The largest glacier in Europe, Iceland's Vatnajokull, is melting away and getting thinner by an average of one metre (about three ft) per year because of a warmer climate, an expert said.

"If the shrinking continues at this pace, there won't be much left of Vatnajokull by the end of the century," glaciologist Helgi Bjornsson told Reuters.

The 900-metre-thick glacier has been shrinking because of reduced snowfall and warming weather in Iceland, he said.

An ancient layer of ice covering 8,000 square kilometres, or eight percent of Iceland, Vatnajokull has become a popular tourist attraction.

If global warming, the effects of which many scientists disagree on, cause the glacier to disappear it could lead to severe flooding in the scarcely populated eastern part of Iceland, Bjornsson said.

See related article on Himalayan Glaciers retreat

Monday, August 01, 2005

What came first the economic or ecological crash?

Maybe, when the world's oil reserves finish, causing a world economy crash, reducing money to worthless paper, and we are left wondering how to get to the (empty) supermarket, we will learn again, our old instincts of survival.

How to hunt, find water and shelter for our family, live from the land and respect it, or by then will there be nothing left? Who cares?

The dinosaurs were here for 700 million years before nature cancelled their contract. We've only been here for a couple of million, I'm sure in the coming 700,000,000 years, we wont be missed too much.

Artwork from

Patented device creates electricity and treats wastewater.

An environmental engineer at Washington University in St. Louis has created a device similar to a hydrogen fuel cell that uses bacteria to treat wastewater and create electricity.

Read about it here:

Skating on thin ice

We started the rapid slide down hill, which ends in earth's total ecological destruction a long time ago. Ozone holes, global warming, melting of polar ice caps slash glaciers and now we face a new crisis - earth's water supply.

One in five people on the planet do not have access to safe drinking water.

Industry continues to pour its waste back into the environment and contaminate ground water supplies. We waste so much water, by taking it for granted, that water is an inexhaustible resource.

There are several reasons for the water crisis.

One is the simple rise in population, and the desire for better living standards. The other major cause is the huge inefficiency of irrigation in many developed counties, and also right up there is the production of meat, (water utilized to produce 1 pound of meat amounts to 2,500 gallons).

It's time to change our attitude towards water and the way we use it.

Water health and conservation

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