Watershed News is about watershed science, watershed pollution and how our estuaries, salt marshes, and rivers and streams struggle with nonpoint source pollution, stormwater runoff, and hardening shorelines. These watersheds feed and heal our coastal ecology, yet we know so little of how they work. We tell you more and why we must protect them jealously in Watershed News
What’s eating Appalachia, consumes coast. 07.25.12
This convict out-polls Prez in coal country.
The Economist does an excellent job in this article of finding and describing an unexpected political fault line in this country. However, the author glosses over how this chasm surfaced and why it’s widening. It’s not so much about the purported principles embraced by Republicans and Democrats as it is about the haves and have-nots, and we’re not talking money. We’re talking about faith, of a few varieties. What the article does very well is explain who has the faith. It notes that in West Virginia a Texas inmate beat Obama 58-41 in the Democratic primary this year. Let’s let that percolate a moment: a convict serving a 17-year sentence for extortion in a Texan jail whipping the president in the president’s own primary in a state with twice as many Democrats as Republicans. Why? Because of environmental regulations, according to the article. The article goes on to suggest the good folks of West Virginia are also offended at the President’s embrace of environmental policies at the expense of tightly-held beliefs in those parts, of the sovereignty of property ownership. A leading state Democrat, who hates Obama, portrays these convictions as a faith in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. NBN thinks considerably less noble human traits are being tapped here and not just in Appalachia.
The cleanest waster is at the source.
What the article misses is a key geographic difference between the disaffected Democrats in Appalachia and the party standard bearers along the coast: the Appalachian Democrats are upstream. The Economist says these folks are older, whiter, less educated, and more religious. These are attributes the Republicans are quite successfully leveraging to their political advantage. it's also quite likely these traits are shared by the Democrats voting for the inmate over Obama in West Virginia. But anyone who has hiked the Appalachian Trail through that state knows, these folks live in a cathedral of greenery that can quite understandably leave its occupants wondering: what’s all the crap about environmental problems? These folks live at the source the East Coast’s watersheds. The poultry farms and mountain top mining these folks embrace as livelihoods are just the start of an avalanche of pollution dumped into these watershed that eventually washes past downstate Democrats’ homes and into oceans and estuaries the good folks of West Virginia rarely see, let alone swim, fish or snorkel in.
End of the river. Drink up.
So, with all due respect to The Economist—which is a great magazine—and with all due respect to the folks living in Appalachia—NBN has hiked these mountains and met many of these warm, wonderful folks—Obama lost his own primary in West Virginia to a convicted felon not because Appalachians hold more tightly their faith in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He lost because these folks don’t see as clearly as those living downstream what all this environmental handwringing is about. What if those Appalachian poultry farms didn’t have access to clean water? What if the coal mining Democrats lived well below the sources of the streams and rivers their livelihood contaminates. From a slightly flatter perspective, how many Iowa corn farmers fully grasp the breadth and depth of the marine deadzone growing at the mouth of the Mississippi. The political dispute in this country really isn’t much different from fights over natural resources that have spanned history. Those living upstream benefit at the expense of those living downstream. Since we can’t settle these disputes with guns in this country, despite the NRA’s best efforts, this is where politics comes into play.
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Living downstream sucks.
It has become the entire Republican political strategy, through political contributions from those that benefit, to mask the opportunistic exploitation of resources we all must depend on behind a constitutional promise the country increasingly does not have the resources to honor. In 1776 this country had 2.5 million residents. There was clean water, land, and air enough for everyone. Today the U.S. has 311 million residents and we’ve run out of clean water, land and air pretty much everywhere but in places like Appalachia. To perpetuate the notion that land ownership confers exclusive right to natural resources that extend beyond property lines requires some real political craftsmanship. This is where the other kind of faith comes in. The Republican party, through its benefactors, have crafted the religion of Love Thy Neighbor and Luke 6:29 into the gospel of Gordon Geko. The Republicans now argue that’s what made this country so great from the beginning. It certainly did, back when we were 2.5 million people exploiting an entire, untapped continent full of natural resources. But in a country of 311 million, the folks living downstream are starting to realize there are advantages to living in the woods, while the folks upstream are a little too willing be believe they are the party of God, not greed.
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Parasite Paranoid Populace Paying Price for Panning Plumbing-Free Potty 12.28.11
Thousands of these in our rivers and oceans
For idle minds there’s an answer for every problem, and what to do with gallons of unwanted urine managed to attract NBN’s metal wanderlust for this week. Let’s start with this “problem” that we would like to see a lot more people have. Right now, it’s safe to say few people in this country are looking to discard gallons of urine each week. That could change if we all started using composting toilets. Why would we do that? Because every sizable river in the country has many millions of gallons of partially treated sewage dumped into it every day. In the case of the Mississippi River, it’s hundreds of millions of gallons. During heavy rain, in dozens of older cites across the country, that sewage is dumped completely untreated into those rivers.
Composting toilet solid waste
_ America is poisoning its coastline in part through these wastewater treatment plants and we’ve made only token efforts to correct the problem. We have thousands of aging wastewater treatment plants across the country in desperate need of costly improvements at a time when public works spending is only figuratively going into the toilet. To put things into perspective, billions of dollars in the President’s Stimulus Plan to fix these plants—a small fraction of what is needed—is viewed by half this country as a waste of money. That brings us back to the problem NBN wants more people to have: discarding a few gallons of urine, and a few pounds of the stuff pictured here, each week. If we all used composting toilets, we’d turn our current river pollution problem into a land-pollution problem. Fortunately, answers are more readily available for the land-based version of this problem. For example: Bamboo loves urine and, according to this LATimes article, builders are starting to love bamboo. Why not install composting toilets alongside every home and surround them with bamboo which can then be harvested and sold for building products?
Doadzone map of coastal U.S.: Not this bad, yet.
_ This bamboo building boom brainstorm is what launched this alliterative exercise of an article and now it sounds like a silly oversimplification of a serious problem. But how much more so than killing our coastal ecosystems by dumping human fertilizer into our rivers, while farmers are buying fertilizer to grow crops? Worse yet, a large percentage of that farm fertilizer runs off the fields and into our rivers creating ever-expanding dead zones emanating from every estuary in our ecosystems. These dead zones are no joke, folks and the fact we’re so willing to sacrifice them for the sake of personal vanity is plain stupid.
Smart grid power flows both ways. Pretty smart.
_ Obviously there are still a few wrinkles to be worked out with the composting toilets idea, but make no mistake, they may well be the least expensive solution. Cities will still have to fix up sewage treatment plants, but suburbs and farms will, someday soon, be forced lighten the load, or our entire coast will be one big deadzone. The solution presented above may well be over-simple, but there is nothing silly about the looming demands for taking greater individual responsibility for individual consumption and waste. It’s the only way to reduce both. Fifty years ago individuals producing their own electricity might have been thought silly. Today it’s called the Smartgrid.
New Study: US Wetlands Loss "Alarming"
Actually, Its More Like Horrific 10.15.11
Actually, Its More Like Horrific 10.15.11
NBN loves wetlands as much as life itself, because wetlands are life itself. So, upon hearing of a recent federal study saying wetlands are being lost at an alarming rate we decided to wade into the discussions. First, a study saying wetlands nationwide are being lost and an "alarming" rate is due for some serious clarification, because not all wetlands are created equal. Next, we notice the headline doesn’t seem to completely jibe with the conclusions of the study it cites. On one hand the study says, “The difference in the national estimates of wetland acreage between 2004 and 2009 was not statistically significant.” On the other hand it says, “There were notable losses that occurred to intertidal estuarine emergent wetlands (salt marsh) and freshwater forested wetlands.”
The loss of wetlands may well be statistically insignificant, but ecologically it’s a catastrophe when you look at salt versus fresh water wetlands. We’ll lean on some sports stats to lend texture to this topic. The “not significant” loss of wetlands between 2004 and 2009 was 62,300 acres. That’s about 62,000 football fields. However, when you compare that loss to the 110.1 million acres of wetlands in the U.S. you get a loss .0056 percent. In other words, there are more wetlands in this country than can fit into the entire state of Montana and over five years we’ve lost a little less than can fit into the NYC borough of Queens. (Photos above provided for pointless perspective.) That’s why the loss of wetlands is called “not statistically significant.” The significance comes in when you distinguish between salt and fresh water wetlands.
The former is more aptly called salt marsh and it is under siege. About four years ago a Long Island naturalist NBN reveres named Paul Stoutenburgh, at left, asked: “What about this sudden marsh dieoff.” The inquiry launched a year’s worth of phone calls and pleas to nature magazines and newspaper editors to let NBN do a story on this phenomenon. The effort resulted in few stories but a much better understanding of a problem that launched a half-dozen scientific symposiums on this subject. The upshot of it all is that marine wetlands, which make up 5 percent, or 5.5 million acres of the total wetlands in the country, declined by 84,100 acres, or 1.5 percent. Yes, we know 84,100 acres is more than the total loss listed above. That’s because wetlands can be created as well as destroyed and often developers are forced to create wetlands as a conditions of large scale building permits. But here again the distinction between salt and fresh water wetlands is key.
Back to that 1.5 percent loss of salt marsh. Again, it sounds like nothing. At that rate it will take more than 300 years before we run out of salt marsh. But what NBN found in its sudden marsh die-off study is that salt marshes are dying all over the country for all manner of reasons. On Cape Cod a crab is believed to be the culprit. In New Jersey a grasshopper. Farther south a fungus is thought to be involved and, of course, rising sea levels are taking a toll everywhere. In other words everything is killing the salt marshes and where fresh water wetlands can be replaced by bulldozers and backhoes, salt marshes are much more delicate and complex. Moreover they support and produce many, many times the biomass and biodiversity of fresh water wetlands.
So NBN would like to offer a clarification for the study that launched this column: Salt marshes are not being lost at an "alarming" rate. As this form of wetland is clearly in much shorter supply, we’d like to suggest that loss is horrific. Here’s a good article describing the state of understanding of sudden marsh dieback.