New Year, Same Water Issues
But Let's Make Some Environmental Resolutions for 2023, Anyway!
It’s a new year, and the same old environmental problems are with us. I know it can all feel so overwhelming so here’s a few issues to consider. The fight for clean water carries on!
Continue To Keep PG&E Accountable
As far as safety records go, Pacific Gas & Electric has a spotty one, at best. In the latest issue to come to light, the company has found damage to part of a reactor cooling system at the aging Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County, California, but it hasn’t yet answered key questions about the extent of the problem, according to a press release.
PG&E is the owner of the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant, located near several fault lines. The damage with the reactor coolant system during a routine inspection in October was discussed in a report the company filed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December. But questions remain.
Communities near this facility deserve to know the details including how it happened and how long it took for PG&E to identify the damage to the reactor coolant system.
For years, there’s been fear that Diablo’s radioactive plumes could contaminate the drinking water that flows from the Sierra Mountains through the Central Valley. Any damage to the coolant system could have huge implications.
Safety at the plant and at all power facilities throughout the state should remain a top priority, along with keeping PG&E accountable.
Get Real About The Climate Crisis
I know so many folks are saying “California always has always had flooding,” and you’re not wrong, but the recent downpours throughout the state show that we still need major infrastructure upgrades to deal with the increasing changes.
California went from extreme drought to extreme flooding in just a few days. Last week many counties throughout the state were experiencing exceptional drought, which the U.S. Drought Monitor considers the most severe category. On Monday, 90 percent of the state’s population was under a flood watch.
These extremes may be most impactful to the state’s Central Growing Valley, one of the most productive agricultural region in the country, providing more than half of the nation’s fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables.
There’s still a huge question on how to manage and harness the onslaught of water in a state that spends so much time dealing with drought.
We also need to look at the larger trends. About Ninety percent of U.S. counties have experienced a weather disaster in the past decade. That’s our new normal!
During the Christmas holiday, much of the South was hit with subfreezing temperatures that impaired water systems, leaving many without water. The countless pipe breaks and leaks have underscored the threat that extreme weather poses to local water systems. Our own TBR editor, Suzanne Boothby, wrote about the water issues in Asheville, NC.
We can’t look away from the newest info: The past eight years have been the warmest eight years ever recorded, according to research from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The org also says 2022 is the fifth-warmest year on record.
“2022 was yet another year of climate extremes across Europe and globally,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a statement. “These events highlight that we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of our warming world.”
I know the issue of climate change can feel daunting but we must continue to talk about it.
I liked what Daniel A. Zarrilli, special advisor for climate and sustainability at Columbia University said about it: “The reality of our climate crisis is clear. Yet far too many of us have been made to think that we are alone in being concerned, so we don’t regularly talk about it with friends and family. It shouldn’t be this hard to learn from each other, share our worries, and come together around solutions. In 2023, I resolve to encourage others to feel more comfortable talking about what’s happening all around us and what we can do to solve it.”
Find Clarity on Western Water Policy
We’ve gotta bring more attention to the Colorado River. A 2020 study confirmed the dire water situation in the West.
It’s not news that for years drought and warming temperatures have taken a toll on the river’s flow, but computer simulations and historical data helped piece together that about 1.5 billion tons of water from the river has been lost, thanks to an ever-shrinking snowpack. That amount of water is equivalent to the annual water consumption of about 10 million Americans.
The Colorado River is the largest and most vital one in the Southwest, supplying drinking water to 40 million people, supporting $1 trillion in economic activity each year, and irrigating millions of acres of farmland.
Here’s the thing. While these numbers sound alarming, evaporation is not new.
Scientists have been monitoring and warning us about these problems for years. In 2015, researchers called evaporation “a large and continuing problem in the Colorado River basin, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell, where about 500 billion gallons of water evaporate annually.”
These are the two largest manmade water reservoirs in the country. Once this water is gone, it’s gone. I even have a study looking at water loss in Lake Powell from 1986. The time to find new water management strategies is here.
“We’ve been working on the Colorado River system for a long time, and so far, the measures we’ve taken haven’t been successful,” she said.
“In 2023, we [must] figure out a way to save at least 2 million acre-feet of water in the system. That has to be a multiyear commitment to allow the reservoirs to recover. If that doesn’t happen, we could be in a situation where we’re really staring in the face of dead pool in 2024. The only thing we have control over in this situation is how much water we take out of the system. We can’t control how much water goes in. We need to make this commitment to leave a lot of water [in the basin] over multiple years to enable it to recover.
I’m hopeful that the region will come to an agreement. Honest reckoning with where we are is motivating. It’s one of the most challenging water-policy scenarios that the Western U.S. has ever faced — arguably, the biggest challenge that the U.S. has ever faced.”
Continue to Support Citizen Science & Partnerships
Back in September 2021, we interviewed Stel Bailey, the chief executive director of Fight For Zero, a co-facilitator of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, a cancer survivor, and a recognized environmental health advocate who has worked as an assistant environmentalist collecting samples and gathering critical data.
(You can read the full interview with her here).
She lives in what’s known as Florida’s Space Coast, the 70+ miles from Mims to Palm Bay along Florida’s east-central coast. While the area is famous for rocket launches and sandy beaches, this coastline is also home to a series of rivers and lagoons. Fishing in the Indian River Lagoon has been an important part of local economies since the mid-1800s.
Stel, her family, and community, have been impacted by PFAS, forever chemicals and thanks to her continued advocacy researchers at the University of Florida have taken notice and confirmed the area is home to large quantities PFAS.
She created Fight for Zero in 2014 and gathered a group of community members-turned-citizen-scientists in Brevard County to collect water samples.
After the DOD released a report in 2018 detailing the PFAS contamination in the areas surrounding Patrick Air Force Base (now Space Force base), Fight for Zero helped spark an investigation by the federally funded Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) program. FUDS is responsible for overseeing that once federally controlled land is environmentally restored after use.
The University of Florida team is now looking at how PFAS chemicals spread in the area, especially during severe weather events such as floods and hurricanes.
The DOD report, along with other findings, led to the University of Florida receiving almost $900,000 in funding from the EPA to conduct a three-year study of Brevard County.
The researchers are currently one year in and over the next two years, the team at the University of Florida will continue to collect and analyze data to understand the risks and manage the spread of PFAS within the county.
“We want to know which communities are most vulnerable to this combination of flooding, risk, and PFAS exposure risk,” said Eric Coker, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Florida.
Read more about it all here.
While I hate to see communities dealing with toxic chemicals, I’m always hopeful to see citizens and scientists working together for more information and solutions.
How about you? Any resolutions for the new year around environmental action? Let us know in the comments below!