Rain Water Harvesting Comes Of Age
Capturing and reusing rainwater and grey water from showers and sinks for non-potable use has been practiced for centuries in many cultures. Now it is fast becoming an important cornerstone for new sustainable practices in the U.S.A.
As fresh, potable water becomes increasingly scarce in the U.S., the practice of using it to flush toilets and water landscaping seems almost ridiculous. New and ancient methods for rain harvesting are now readily available for commercial and institutional buildings.
The benefits of rain harvesting go far beyond fulfilling the desire to be “green”. Capturing and utilizing rainwater and grey water can have lasting economic benefits for building owners. By reusing captured water to flush toilets, for water landscaping, or to support other water-intensive operations, municipal water charges can be significantly reduced. Waste-water treatment fees and environmental impact fees can also be reduced. Simple, passive systems like roof gardens can reduce heating and air conditioning expenses. Unattractive parking lot water retention ponds are replaced with vibrant patches of plantings complete with birds, butterflies and colorful flowers.
For building owners who want to achieve LEED certification and receive praise in their communities, these rain harvesting(http://www.wahaso.com) efforts are a key component of broader sustainability practices. As an industry leader in the field, Water Harvesting Solutions, DBA “Wahaso” develops custom systems such as these, exclusively for commercial and institutional properties.
The Wahaso.com website can help you understand the different sources of harvestable water available, active and passive methods for capturing and processing the water, and different approaches for utilizing harvested waters. The website includes information on evaluating the many options for selecting a system, and answers many of the frequently asked questions about rain water harvesting.
Institute for Ocean Conservation Science Helps Launch Stony Brook University’s Master of Arts Program in Marine Conservation and Policy
New M.A. program is the first of its kind in New York and among only a few such programs nationwide
STONY BROOK, N.Y.: Scientists from the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University (SBU), who also are members of the university’s faculty, are teaching the first course offered through the new graduate program, M.A. in Marine Conservation and Policy. SBU’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) launched the new program at the start of the 2010 fall semester. It is the first program of its kind in New York State and one of only a few such programs in the country.
Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, executive director, and Dr. Demian Chapman, assistant director for science, of the Institute were selected to develop and teach the program’s first required course, Marine Conservation, which provides an overview of fundamental concepts of ocean conservation science. The course includes lectures on current threats to marine conservation, fisheries management, marine protected areas, conservation genetics, assisted reproduction, and other related subjects.
“Our world’s oceans and the life that inhabits them are finally beginning to receive long overdue and badly needed attention and resources,” said Dr. Pikitch. “Because of this new focus on marine environments, there is a growing demand for professionals with expertise in contemporary marine conservation and policy issues, and this program with help fill this demand.”
This one-year M.A. program balances coursework in marine science, marine conservation biology, and quantitative analysis with classes in marine management, economics, policy, or law. And, through a collaboration with the SBU School of Journalism’s Center for Communicating Science, the program also aims to equip students with skills that will help them communicate more effectively with the public, public officials, and the media.
“The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook is ideally poised to offer such a program,” said Dr. Robert Cerrato, director of the new graduate program and associate professor at SoMAS at SBU. “The faculty includes internationally known experts in the field of marine conservation, and the program also benefits from links to several institutes located within or associated with SoMAS including the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.”
Stony Brook University is now accepting applications for enrollment in the Graduate Program in Marine Conservation and Policy program for the fall 2011 semester. Go to for course requirements and additional information.
The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University is dedicated to advancing ocean conservation through science. The Institute transforms real-world policy while pursuing serious science, both of which are essential for ocean health. Visit. http://www.oceanconservationscience.org.
The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) is the State University of New York’s center for marine and atmospheric research, education, and public service. SoMAS is at the forefront of advancing knowledge and discovering and resolving environmental challenges affecting the oceans and atmosphere on both regional and global scales. Visit http://www.somas.stonybrook.edu.
The Travel Foundation, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Ocean Fund and Museum for African Art Scoop World Tourism Awards at World Travel Market
LONDON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Travel Foundation, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Ocean Fund and Museum for African Art, have all been presented with the 2010 World Tourism Awards today in a ceremony at World Travel Market, the premier global event for the travel industry. “in recognition of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ establishment of the Ocean Fund which has awarded over $11 million in annual grants supporting nonprofit marine conservation organizations in protecting the world’s oceans through research, education and development of innovative technologies.”
The thirteenth annual World Tourism Awards are co-sponsored by American Express, Corinthia Hotels, International Herald Tribune and Reed Travel Exhibitions. Inaugurated in 1997, the World Tourism Award was established to recognise “the extraordinary initiatives by individuals, companies, organisations, destinations and attractions for outstanding accomplishments in the travel industry”. This year the three honorees were honored for their dedication to sustainable tourism and the preservation of cultural heritage.
The Travel Foundation was honored “in recognition of The Travel Foundation’s development of programs to support educate travel industry professionals to integrate sustainability into their business; and create positive change through community-based projects in destinations worldwide, for local economic benefit, and preservation of indigenous traditions and culture and protection of the environment.”
Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Ocean Fund was honored “in recognition of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ establishment of the Ocean Fund which has awarded over $11 million in annual grants supporting nonprofit marine conservation organizations in protecting the world’s oceans through research, education and development of innovative technologies.”
The third award honored the Museum for African Art (New York City), “in recognition of the Museum for African Art’s innovative travel and educational programs focusing on developing unique cultural tourism experiences that explore Africa through its art and the village craftspeople who produce it, and providing them with a sustainable source of income by creating a market for their crafts overseas.”
Decline of the Empire
The “other” carbon problem — ocean acidification
by Dave Cohen
Humankind’s assault on the oceans continues apace. A short time ago, we considered the loss of 40% of the phytoplankton in the oceans since 1950. In my post How We Wrecked The Oceans, marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson explains why he believes the sea will be devoid of fish and other large marine organisms sometime in the 2040s. And now comes the “other” carbon problem—acidification of the oceans. As we burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere. Everyone knows that part, but what they often don’t know is that the oceans act as a enormous carbon “sink” which absorbs as much as 1/3rd of the released carbon dioxide. So the CO2 is no longer acting as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, which sounds good, but unfortunately, we have shifted the problem of dealing with the excess gas from the air to the oceans. Through some fairly simple chemistry, the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result. In other words, through a natural process, the ocean becomes a giant waste dump for our fossil fuel emissions.
A recent article in Scientific American called How Acidification Threatens Oceans from the Inside Out (subscription required) explains the deal—
The ocean’s interaction with CO2 mitigates some climate effects of the gas. The atmospheric CO2 concentration is almost 390 parts per million (ppm), but it would be even higher if the oceans didn’t soak up 30 million tons of the gas every day. The world’s seas have absorbed roughly one third of all CO2 released by human activities. This “sink” reduces global warming—but at the expense of acidifying the sea. Robert H. Byrne of the University of South Florida has shown that in just the past 15 years, acidity has increased 6 percent in the upper 100 meters of the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Alaska. Across the planet, the average pH of the ocean’s surface layer has declined 0.12 unit, to approximately 8.1, since the beginning of the industrial revolution. That change may not sound like much, but because the pH scale is logarithmic, it equates to a 30 percent increase in acidity. Values of pH measure hydrogen ions (H+) in solution. A value of 7.0 is neutral; lower values are increasingly acidic, and higher values are basic. Although 8.1 is mildly basic, the declining trend constitutes acidification. Marine life has not experienced such a rapid shift in millions of years. And paleontology studies show that comparable changes in the past were linked to widespread loss of sea life.[The pH of a solution is determined by the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in it. A value of 7.0 is neutral; lower is acidic; higher is basic. “Acidification” means a drop in value, anywhere along the scale.]
Thus we have increased the acidity of the oceans by an astonishing 30% since the Industrial Revolution began. Intuition tells us that such a large change occurring in basically no time at all (on geological timescales) can’t be good for life in the oceans, and it is not. Recently the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report on the growing acidification problem, which was described in Science Daily’s Carbon Dioxide Emissions Causing Ocean Acidification to Progress a Unprecedented Rate—Studies on a number of marine organisms have shown that lowering seawater pH with CO2 affects biological processes, such as photosynthesis, nutrient acquisition, growth, reproduction, and individual survival depending upon the amount of acidification and the species tested, the committee found. For example, some of the strongest evidence of the potential effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems comes from experiments on organisms with calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. The results showed decreases in shell and skeletal growth in a range of marine organisms, including reef-building corals, commercially important mollusks such as oysters and mussels, and several types of plankton at the base of marine food webs.
The ability of various marine organisms to acclimate or adapt to ocean acidification is unknown, but existing data suggest that there will be ecological winners and losers, leading to shifts in the composition and functioning of many marine ecosystems, the committee said. Such ecosystem changes could threaten coral reefs, fisheries, protected species, and other natural resources.
Although changes in ocean chemistry caused by increasing atmospheric CO2 can be determined, not enough information exists to assess the social or economic effects of ocean acidification, much less develop plans to mitigate or adapt to them, the committee noted.
So what can we do about all this? Not a Damn Thing. As long as we continue to burn fossil fuels, thus emitting excess CO2 into the atmosphere, the oceans will absorb about 30-35% of it. Science Daily sums up the NRC’s conclusion that the ability of various marine organisms to acclimate or adapt to ocean acidification is unknown. If you’ve read a lot of these scientific reports by committee, as I have, you know that the word “unknown” is bureaucratic code standing for we’re fucked, but the exact extent to which we’re fucked is unknown. Consider these remarks from the Scientific America article cited above. The authors are talking about the possibility of adaptation by marine organisms—Lab experiments persist for weeks to months. Climate change occurs over decades and centuries. Some species could adapt, especially if they have a short reproductive cycle. Each time an animal reproduces, genetic mutations can arise in the offspring that might help the next generation adjust to new circumstances. Ninety years—the predicted time frame for pH to decline by 0.3 to 0.5 unit—is extremely short, however, for genetic adaptation by species that reproduce at relatively slow rates and that may already be stressed by the 30 percent pH decrease. Species extinctions often result from slow declines over centuries or more; a decline of just 1 percent of individuals per generation could cause extinction in less than a century.
Alarmingly, the pH drop observed so far and the predicted trajectory under current emissions trends are 100 times faster than any changes in prior millennia. Left unchecked, CO2 levels will create a very different ocean, one never experienced by modern species. Adaptation is even more unlikely because the effects of acidification, and the other struggles creatures face, interact. For example, increased CO2 levels can narrow the temperature range in which an individual can survive. We already see such constraints on corals and some algae, which become heat-stressed at lower temperatures than normal if exposed to higher CO2.
The only Good News here is that current CO2 emissions trends are very unlikely to continue for 90, 40, or even the next 20 years. Even the next 10 years is looking iffy.
Although there is some uncertainty about the timing & effects of ocean acidification, you know and I know that for this and other reasons, the Earth’s oceans will likely be toast by 2050. And you know and I know that when something is toast, especially a Really Big Thing like the world’s oceans, we Homo sapiens like to make a video about it with the word “challenge” in the title.
Here it is, narrated by Sigourney Weaver and produced by the National Resource Defense Council. It’s very good.
Irrigation water use
Throughout the world, irrigation (water for agriculture, or growing crops) is probably the most important use of water (except for drinking and washing a smelly dog, perhaps). Almost 60 percent of all the world’s freshwater withdrawals go towards irrigation uses. Large-scale farming could not provide food for the world’s large populations without the irrigation of crop fields by water gotten from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and wells. Without irrigation, crops could never be grown in the deserts of California, Israel, or my tomato patch.
Irrigation has been around for as long as humans have been cultivating plants. Man’s first invention after he learned how to grow plants from seeds was probably a bucket. Ancient people must have been strong from having to haul buckets full of water to pour on their first plants. Pouring water on fields is still a common irrigation method today — but other, more efficient and mechanized methods are also used. One of the more popular mechanized methods is the center-pivot irrigation system, which uses moving spray guns that pivot around a central source of water. The fields irrigated by these systems are easily seen from the air as green circles. There are many more irrigation methods farmers use today, since there is always a need to find more efficient ways to use water for irrigation When we use water in our home, or when an industry uses water, about 90 percent of the water used is eventually returned to the environment where it replenishes water sources (water goes back into a stream or down into the ground) and can be used for other purposes. But of the water used for irrigation, only about one-half is reusable. The rest is lost by evaporation into the air, transpiration from plants, or is lost in transit, by a leaking pipe, for example.
Irrigation water withdrawals for the Nation, 2000
BP disaster spreads oil pollution across the Gulf of Mexico
By Tom Eley
On Tuesday new evidence emerged that the oil spill resulting from the explosion and sinking of the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon nearly one month ago is far worse than it has been presented by BP and the Obama administration.
The appearance on Monday of tar balls similar to those already found in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on the famed island of Key West, Florida, about 600 miles from the spill site, appeared to confirm scientists’ fears that the oil spill caused by the April 20 explosion and subsequent collapse of the Deepwater Horizon rig has been picked up by fast-moving ocean waters knows as the Gulf Loop.
The tar balls will be subjected to laboratory analysis to determine their origin. If they emerged from the Deepwater Horizon spill, it would indicate the oil from the spill is being taken by the Gulf Loop current and could pass into the Gulf Stream and around Florida to the Atlantic seaboard.
In the Keys and south Florida the spill threatens major coral reefs, beaches, and Everglades National Park. While scientists believe that the toxicity of the spill will break down with time and distance, the rate at which this will happen in the cold water and high pressure conditions of the deep sea—and at very high crude oil volumes—is unknown.
As late as Monday, officials from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Coast Guard publicly dismissed scientists who claimed the spill would be, or had already been, taken up by the Gulf Loop. On Monday, Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard, declared, “We know that the oil has not entered the loop current at this time.” And NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said that oil entering the current is of little concern. “By the time the oil is in the loop current, it’s likely to be very, very diluted,” she said. “And so it’s not likely to have a very significant impact. It sounds scarier than it is.” NOAA also declared the documented evidence of dozens of massive oil plumes under the water’s surface to be “totally untrue,” without providing evidence to the contrary.
The comments from the Obama administration anticipated similar claims put forward by BP CEO Anthony Hayward. On Tuesday Hayward told Britain’s SkyNews, “the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest.” This of a spill that has already released many millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The rosy statements put forth by BP and the Obama administration are, however, increasingly contradicted by scientific evidence—and oil working its way through a vast geographic expanse. “There is a very, very distinct trail of oil from the oil spill, all the way into this cyclone” that is pulling it into the Gulf Loop, oceanographer Nan Walker of Louisiana State University’s Earth Scan Laboratory told the New York Times. “I see a huge oil plume being dragged in that direction,” Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida told the Times. “It’s like a river.”
In the southern reaches of the Mississippi River Delta, a massive “tide” of thick sludge was found covering sensitive wetlands on Tuesday, the first time that dense oil has washed ashore on the Gulf Coast. The wetlands and estuaries of the Delta provide one of the highest-density centers of marine and bird life in North America. There is a high probability that a heavy coating of oil will irreparably harm these wetlands, which provide a crucial line of defense for New Orleans against hurricanes.
The spill is devastating the Gulf’s multibillion-dollar fishing industry. On Tuesday, the Coast Guard extended its ban on fishing to an area encompassing 46,000 square miles of federal waters—or 19 percent of the US exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Previously the prohibition had applied to an area stretching from the Mississippi Delta to the Florida Panhandle.
So far, nothing has worked to stem the flow of oil. BP’s effort to insert a hose into the broken pipe on the seafloor and carry the oil to a ship on the surface has been, even by its own estimation, of limited value. CEO of US operations Lamar McKay told a senate committee on Tuesday that the method removed somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 barrels of oil a day, and that this could conceivably be increased.
However, new video footage made public by Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in Senate environmental committee hearings demonstrated that in spite of the inserted hose, oil was gushing out at a rate not appreciably different from that seen in earlier footage provided by BP. If BP’s claim to be removing 1,500 to 2,000 barrels a day is true, the video footage would then appear to demonstrate that the total spill rate is far higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels, as a number of scientists have maintained.
As more evidence emerges demonstrating the scope of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Obama administration has redoubled its efforts to defuse popular anger, which is increasingly focused on Washington’s role in creating the conditions for the spill. It is reported that President Obama will soon announce the formation of an investigative commission, and on Tuesday Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar appeared before two Senate committees to defend the administration response to the disaster.
The senate hearings gave no indication that federal regulators or executives at BP and Transocean will face consequences for the explosion and spill. The hearings also made clear that the administration is planning no substantive changes to the regulation of the oil industry. Salazar was repeatedly praised by senators at the two hearings, in spite of media accounts that portrayed a confrontational meeting. In both hearings he attributed the systemic corruption and regulatory breakdown at the Mineral Management Service (MMS) to “a few bad apples.”
Questioned by Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Salazar could not say whether any new regulations or changes would be put into place on offshore drilling. He would only state that the Obama administration has “hit the pause button” in the issuance of new deep-sea drilling permits while the Department of the Interior prepares a report for Obama, due at the end of May.
In fact, no new permits were scheduled for the coming months, and the MMS has, in the interim, continued to grant “categorical exemptions,” freeing oil concerns from producing environmental impact statements on their drilling operations. Scores of oil rigs continue to operate under the same conditions of complete deregulation that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and some of these rigs operate in deeper water.
On Monday a former BP safety consultant asked a federal judge in Houston to issue an injunction to force BP to cease oil production at its Atlantis platform in the Gulf, which is located 124 miles off the coast in 7,000 feet of water. About 2,000 feet deeper than the Deepwater Horizon, Atlantis is the deepest operating oil rig in the world.
In seeking the immediate injunction, Kenneth Abbott alleges the Obama administration has disregarded his allegations over safety violations aboard the Atlantis. “As bad as the Deepwater Horizon is, it’s one well,” Abbott told the Houston Chronicle. “This is several wells with three or four times the capability of destruction. BP just isn’t doing normal engineering practices.” Salazar is named as a defendant in the suit, along with the Department of the Interior and the MMS. Separately, environmentalist groups launched a lawsuit in an Alabama federal court to block 20 newly approved deep sea rig operations.
Obama’s blue-ribbon commission will be made up of seven individuals who are not currently in government, according to reports. The commission will reportedly be tasked with investigating the causes of the spill and broader safety and environmental conditions within the industry. Media accounts did not say what, if any, prescriptive power such a commission would have. The proposed commission will join a bevy of investigations underway, including several Congressional inquiries, a joint MMS-US Coast Guard investigation, and separate internal probes launched by the corporations implicated in the disaster.
It can be stated with certainty that none of these commissions will seek out the roots of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. All of the politicians and regulators are committed to the defense of the profit drive of US corporate interests. They are, moreover, implicated just as deeply as BP.
Like the global financial crisis, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is not merely an accident. It was the inevitable result of decades of free market boosterism and deregulation. Both the Democrats and Republicans, the two US parties of big business, declared that rules governing the major industries were an intolerable barrier to profits. They promised deregulation would encourage job growth and would not endanger either workers or the environment. As the Deepwater Horizon spill makes clear, these policies have resulted in catastrophe for the population of the US and the world.