Eight Chapters, Thousands of Members, One Voice

Designing Resilient Food Systems

Current environmental conditions are catapulting community resilience to the forefront of the public agenda.  Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions have made food security not just a problem faced by the “Third World” (IPCC, 2007), but now an impending issue faced by all members of the globe.  Unsustainable water consumption, pollution from nitrates and pesticides, as well as GHG and particulate matter air pollution have become widespread and resulted in adverse, cumulative impacts.

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Thankfully, legislatures have recognized the need to incorporate innovative food production systems into urban settings and are finding ways to stimulate this sector. In 2014, California passed AB 551 permitting counties to establish “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones.”  These zones allow private property owners to receive property tax incentives in exchange for restricting the use of their property to urban agriculture for 10 years.  Additionally, San Francisco recently opted in to the AB 551 program and passed a land use and economic development ordinance that further “connects City residents to the broader food system.”  There is no question that this new policy environment will enable local food production to proliferate throughout the Bay Area as well as in other cities that opt into the Incentives Zones initiative.

However, legislatures are not the only ones who recognize the need to change common practices.  One innovative response driven by agricultural entrepreneurs is taking root in the urban setting. These community-oriented actors are working to localize food supply chains using aquaponics.  Their hope is to create resilient and sustainable food systems with minimal environmental impacts.  For them ‘business as usual’ is off the menu.

AquaponicsTraditionally, there have been two main barriers to efficient urban food production; insufficient yield to meet local demand and the inability to financially break even.  According to Aqua Gardens Family Farm, a leading aquaponic grower in Northern California, the advantages of aquaponics over conventional practices address these barriers.  Aquaponic systems yield 4 to 10 times more produce per acre than field grown methods and, because of the contained nature of aquaponic systems, have lower operating expenses and use significantly less resources.

Given the many positive environmental benefits associated with aquaponics, such as 90% less water consumption and zero water and air pollution, when compared to conventional agricultural practices, Aquaponics is clearly the sustainable food production system for the future.  Hopefully, given the shifts in public policy, such systems will go from being innovations for the future to the reality of today.

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On Big-Ticket Bonds & Budgets: Establishing a Loading Order for Water

fire.ca.govMark Twain, noted California chronicaler and climatologist (“The coldest winter I ever saw was the Summer I spent in San Francisco…“) might not have actually made the telling remark that “Whisky’s for drinking and water’s for fighting over,” but whoever did was certainly on the mark.

California faces huge problems with water. We’ve long been warned about the murky history of Owens River water and that we live in a Cadillac Desert. Currently 80% of the state is under extreme drought conditions, and with a changing climate and growing population, this is not a situation that will get better on its own. While Coastal California concerns itself with transitioning browning lawns to badges of honor, the Central Valley is literally sinking as farmers pump groundwater at increasingly higher levels.

We’re talking about land subsidence due to the compaction of the aquifer system, which is a result of lowering ground water levels, which is mostly caused by pumping,” said hydrologist Michelle Sneed of the U.S. Geological Survey. As BakersfieldNow.com notes, the groundwater pumping is also affecting the way we move water on the surface. The sinking valley is damaging water canals that bring water to thirsty Southern California, and also protect us from flooding in wet years. If flood control channels are damaged by subsiding land, they will not be able to properly direct water flow away from the towns and cities in the Central Valley.

California is the only state in the western United States that does not regulate groundwater pumping, and water management and policy throughout the years has been a “backwater” of questionable agricultural practices, “un-metering” and promotion of expensive, unsustainable storage facilities. The time has come for all of us to take responsibility for our watershed. Just like with energy (& energy efficiency) policy, we need a Loading Order, a weighting of prioirties as we formulate hugely expensive water bonds, referendums and budgets.

Our Loading Order for Water would include:

Efficiency/Conservation programs at the local utility level (wPACE, On-Bill, etc.)
Centralized and/or onsite recycling and reuse at the local utility level
Existing Water Storage maintenance (dredging, seismic retrofit)
Stormwater capture and management
Groundwater/Aquifer remediation and recharge programs
Watershed management (regional)
Delta Sustainability
Urban River restoration and management

USGBC California recognizes that water and effective, sustainable water policy is worth fighting over (our views on whisky are somewhat mixed, although I personally can vouch for bourbon-marinated grilled corn). We have a great model with California energy policy’s hierarchy emphasizing efficiency first and foremost and then sustainable, distributed generation. Let’s use it towards building a better water future. Click on the letter image above to get the PDF file.

USGBC PolicyPalooza Logo 2014

PolicyPalooza 2014

USGBC PolicyPalooza Logo 2014 That special time is coming near: PolicyPalooza! Our annual Advocacy Day will be concurrent with the Green California Summit and promises to be a great big three-ring circus of fun, featuring our Day at the Capital, the Advocates Luncheon and the Green Hard Hat Awards Reception as well as special Green California Summit keynotes from Building Health Initiative leader Anne Simpson of CalPERS and Wade Crowfoot of the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research. In addition to the USGBC California booth (#608) on the exhibit floor, there will be USGBC “Greenbuild-style” presentations on Prop 39 programs, school water management, “Grey, Purple, Green” water policy, “Last Mile” code discussions and reports from USGBC Northern California Chapter’s Building Health Initiative.

USGBC Advocates from around the state will gather at the Capital for over 70 meetings and discuss “mainstreaming” topics like driving sustainable market transformation, specifying healthier building materials,  fostering innovative building permit delivery and enforcement metrics, codifying foundational greywater and recycled water plumbing and leveraging building energy data beyond the benchmark.

The Class of 2014 Green Hard Hat Awardees features water policy leader Assemblymember Mike Gatto (legislative sponsor of the dual-use plumbing “Purple Pipe” bill, AB 2282), energy efficiency policy leader Assemblymember Das Williams (sponsor of  the “Last Mile” energy code enforcement legislation, AB 1918) and Dan Burgoyne of the Department of General Services, point person for implementing the Governor’s Executive Order B-18-12 on State BuildingsResiliency_Doug and Ann_sm and statewide water management and other worthy initiatives. These notables follow in the footsteps of past champions like Governor Brown Senators Kevin de Leon,  Fran Pavley and Darrell Steinberg, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

A great, exhausting time will be sure to be had by all. We’ll be posting scenes of Green Hard Hat wearing in the near future.

 

 

 

 

Fulfilling California’s Responsibility to Provide Clean Water

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Photo Credit: Kings County Official Website (http://www.countyofkings.com/)

By Kacey Bills, MPP 2014

When I was a child growing up in Fresno, California, beach weekends were common over the blistering summer. My family always headed to the Central Coast on I-5, making a halfway pit stop in Kettleman City to get chocolate milkshakes. My anticipation for the sugary treat would be at its peak as we drove past the Waste Management and California Aqueduct signs along the highway. The proximity of a waste landfill and a major water source was peculiar to me. That mental image coupled with the lack of visible housing from the freeway made Kettleman City seem like one giant truck stop.

I recently read an article by the California Report describing the concern of Kettleman City residents over the expansion of the Chemical Waste Inc. Hazardous Waste Landfill.[1] When I learned of the controversy over the private company offering to pay Kettleman City’s $500,000 water debt pending the project’s approval, my childhood curiosity about the small town was transformed into an adult fascination.

Kettleman City is representative of many small farming communities in the Central Valley, with the population being predominately Latino, low-income, and with English as a second language. Water supplies in these communities have been proven to contain unsafe levels of chemicals, such as arsenic and nitrogen.[2] With many of the residents of these communities living below the poverty line, tax revenue to provide the necessary infrastructure for clean water is limited. Kettleman City has been attempting to provide safe water for decades, and has accumulated over $500,000 in debt in the process. People in these communities spend a disproportionate amount of their income on water and sanitation (20% compared to the national average of 0.5%).[3] Governor Brown has attempted to deal with this issue by signing AB 685, “The Human Right to Water Bill,” which specifies that all people are entitled to clean, safe, and affordable water.

That bill clearly establishes the state government’s responsibility to provide clean water, and yet Kettleman City officials must choose between the lesser of two evils: Either agree to the landfill expansion and afford clean water from the California Aqueduct, which flows within 3 miles of the town, or oppose it and attempt to get state grant funding. With clean water established as a basic human right, it seems exploitative for water to also be used to extort the support of townspeople for a project that they might oppose.

“The Human Right to Water” Bill is considered in the 2014 California Water Action Plan, one of the targets of which is to “provide safe water for all communities.” The state hopes to achieve more equitable access by encouraging collaboration across agencies and local governments.[4] The legislature is relied upon to allocate funds for communities in need. It is likely a standard grant process will be used to determine where the funds will go. Grant writing requires the hiring of technical experts, which is unaffordable to many disadvantaged communities. Furthermore, processes may take years to be implemented, and even longer to become an effective force for change in ensuring clean water systems.

Access to clean safe water in California is not equitable.[5] In 2010, the UN released a special report on California’s inability to provide safe drinking water to its residents. It stated that over 250,000 California residents do not have access to safe drinking water and must purchase bottled water.[6] With the mean income in these communities only $14,000 a year, water is a major expense. A 2011 study by UC Berkeley found smaller water systems in California have higher percentages of Latinos and renters receiving drinking water with high nitrate levels. Data proves what is easily observed on a drive through the Central Valley. The people who work to feed the world are at risk of being contaminated by the resource that gives them a livelihood: water.

Investigations by the California Department of Public Health and Environmental Protection Agency have shown no conclusive evidence to suggest Chemical Waste Inc. has contaminated the water supply in Kettleman City.[7] Conclusive evidence would require identification of the toxic substance in the environment, as well as proof of the pathway to an individual’s body. It’s common for scientific studies on contaminants to never lead to conclusive evidence. The company may never be proven responsible for the high levels of toxic exposure in Kettleman City, but it doesn’t mean that a community should negotiate a contract over a basic human right.

Kettleman City is already exposed to a wide range of toxic chemicals. The town should be spared the expansion of one of the largest hazardous waste landfills in the country and have its water debt paid off through state water funds The residents should have affordable access to the clean water from the California Aqueduct that flows directly past them. A responsible government should not force citizens to over-pay for a resource it designates a basic human right.


[1] Plevin, R. (2014, February 3). Kettleman City Weighs Toxic Dump Expansion Against Funding for Clean Water. The California report. Retrieved February 8, 2014, from http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201402030850/b
[2] California Water Boards. (2013, January). Communities that Rely on a Contaminated Groundwater Source for Drinking Water. Retrieved from http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/gama/ab2222/docs/ab2222.pdf
[3] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. (2011, August) Retrieved From http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/18session/A-HRC-18-33-Add4_en.pdf
[4] California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Food & Agriculture. (2014, January). California Water Action Plan. Retrieved fromhttp://resources.ca.gov/california_water_action_plan/docs/Final_California_Water_Action_Plan.pdf
[5] Balazs, C., Morello-Frosch, R., Hubbard, A., & Ray, I. (2011). Social Disparities In Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water In California’s San Joaquin Valley. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(9), 1272-1278.
[6] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. (2011, August) Retrieved From http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/18session/A-HRC-18-33-Add4_en.pdf
[7]California Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Public Health. (2010, December). Investigations of Birth Defects and Community Exposures in Kettleman City, CA. Retrieved fromhttp://www.calepa.ca.gov/EnvJustice/Documents/2010/KCDocs/ReportFinal/FinalReport.pdf
 
reprinted with permission of The Policy Forum at Mills College.

USGBC Member Survey 2014

Make Your Voice Heard: It’s Member Survey Time!

USGBC Member Survey 2014 With a new year comes new challenges.  2013 saw the passage of two USGBC California-sponsored initiatives (AB 127 & AB 341), the continuation of other efforts like Prop 39,  CO2toEE and AB 758, and the start of movement in other focus areas like deep water reductions, healthier materials and “last mile” energy code enforcement. As we progress in these efforts, we need your help, encouragement and active involvement. Completing this survey is a great first step towards beginning a dialogue towards transforming the built environment. We want to know what you issues you care about, what we should be focusing our efforts on, and what kind of geographic distribution our advocates occupy. Go to www.tinyurl.com/membervoice to make your voice heard.

Why state’s water woes could be just beginning

As 2013 came to a close, the media dutifully reported that the year had been the driest in California since records began to be kept in the 1840s. UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram didn’t think the news stories captured the seriousness of the situation.

“This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years,” says Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary science and geography.

Ingram has an especially long-term perspective. As a paleoclimatologist — a scientist who studies changes in climate by teasing data out of rocks, sediments, shells, microfossils, trees and other sources — she’s accustomed to looking back over eons. And according to the width of old tree rings (which can record the coming and going of wet or waterless stretches), California hasn’t been so parched since 1580.

“These extremely dry years are very rare,” she says.

But soon, perhaps, they won’t be as rare as they used to be. The state is facing its third drought year in a row, and Ingram wouldn’t be surprised if that dry stretch continues.

UC Berkeley professor B. Lynn Ingram analyzes sediments and archaeological deposits to determine how climates change over the course of millennia.

UC Berkeley professor B. Lynn Ingram analyzes sediments and archaeological deposits to determine how climates change over the course of millennia.

Given that possibility, the title of a recent book by Ingram seems grimly apropos. The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow, co-written with geographer and environmental biologist (and UC Berkeley visiting scholar) Frances Malamud-Roam, was released by the University of California Press last year. The NewsCenter spoke to Ingram about the lessons to be drawn from her research as California heads into what could be its worst drought in half a millennium.

Q: California is in its third dry year in a row. How long could that continue?

A: If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century, like during the Medieval period and the middle Holocene. The 20th century was unusually mild here, in the sense that the droughts weren’t as severe as in the past. It was a wetter century, and a lot of our development has been based on that.

The late 1930s to the early 1950s were when a lot of our dams and aqueducts were built, and those were wetter decades. I think there’s an assumption that we’ll go back to that, and that’s not necessarily the case. We might be heading into a drier period now. It’s hard for us to predict, but that’s a possibility, especially with global warming. When the climate’s warmer, it tends to be drier in the West. The storms tend to hit further into the Pacific Northwest, like they are this year, and we don’t experience as many storms in the winter season. We get only about seven a year, and it can take the deficit of just a few to create a drought.

You mentioned global warming. Is what we’re seeing consistent with the predictions that have been made about how climate change could affect California?

Yes. We’ve already started having a decreased snow pack and increased wild fire frequency. And we’ve been warming, and it’s gotten drier. With Pacific Decadal Oscillation [the ever-changing temperature of surface water in the North Pacific Ocean], every 20 or 30 years we go in and out of these positive and negative shifts that affect precipitation and temperature. But now we’re entering a period where it looks like we’re getting drier even though it doesn’t necessarily correspond to that cycle. It looks like a trend. It’s warming and drying, and that’s definitely a big concern for Western states.

What originally sparked your interest in all this?

I grew up in Santa Barbara and personally experienced big floods followed by droughts. In 1969, half our backyard was washed away from an atmospheric river during a wet year. Then the ’76-77 drought made a big impression on me because there was almost literally no rain that year. So I was drawn to trying to understand what controls climate and why it’s so variable. It’s definitely very complex. We haven’t explained it completely, but we’re on our way.

What’s an “atmospheric river”?

That’s when corridors of moisture come up from the tropics, traveling across the Pacific Ocean for thousands of miles to the West Coast and bringing the equivalent of, say, 10 Mississippi Rivers of water. There’s a lot of rain within two or three days. Almost all of our major floods in California correspond to these atmospheric river storms. The last one that was really major was the 1861-62 flood. It completely filled the Central Valley with something like 10 feet of water. Sacramento was underwater.

We don’t know why, but we see evidence for these major mega-floods every one to two centuries over the past 2,000 years. It’s been about 150 years now since the last one, and now there are all these major cities in the very places that were submerged. The U.S. Geological Survey created a scenario for this — the ARkStorm, it was called — and it showed that if we repeated the 1861 flood there would be something like $725 billion in damage to the state. It would be a major disaster.

So on the one hand we should be worried about a drought, but on the other hand we should be worried about a flood?

Ingram stands in front of an Arizona sinkhole known as the Montezuma Well. It served as a water source for the Sinagua people until they disappeared from the area around AD 1300.

Ingram stands in front of an Arizona sinkhole known as the Montezuma Well. It served as a water source for the Sinagua people until they disappeared from the area around AD 1300.

Yes. If you look at the past, you realize that our climate is anything but reliable. We’ve seen these big fluctuations. Extreme droughts and extreme floods. My co-author and I wrote a couple review papers about that, but those weren’t going to be seen by the general public. They were for people in our field. And we thought we should try to bring this message out to the broader public. Because if you’re going to buy a house in the Central Valley, I think you should know about these floods. And we have to start assuming that we could go into one of these longer droughts and maybe start doing some serious conservation and rethinking of agriculture here.

If you look at the archaeological record, you see that the Native American population in the West expanded in the wet years that preceded those long droughts in the Medieval period. Then during the droughts, they were pretty much wiped out. There was the so-called Anasazi collapse in the Southwest about 800 years ago. In some ways, I see that as an analogy to us today. We’ve had this wetter 150 years and we’ve expanded. Now we’re using up all the available water, yet our population is still growing.

We’re vulnerable just like they were, but on an even larger scale.

 

By Steve Hockensmith, NewsCenter | January 21, 2014

BERKELEY —

 

An Alternative to Fracking & California's Drought Emergency

By Giulia C.S. Good Stefani

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Giulia C.S. Good Stefani, Attorney, Marine Mammal and Southern California Ecosystems Projects, Santa Monica

California is home to the popular-for-rafting Kern River, Big Sur sunsets, the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard, some of the world’s most important blue whale foraging habitat, strawberry valleys, rolling farms, cowboy towns, and big bustling cities. All of this is put at risk from the heavy industrial oil and gas extraction process called fracking.

Farmland in the Salinas Valley

Today, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in California and asked everyone to cut back 20 percent of their water use. Yesterday, NRDC with a coalition of environmental groups called on the California Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to consider an alternative to continued well stimulation – including fracking – within the state. We submitted comments on the agency’s notice of preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that asked the agency to consider a moratorium on fracking in California while the state studies the risks of the controversial process to public health, the environment, and our water. We also asked DOGGR to consider a prohibition on well stimulation in or near sensitive areas including, among others, wetlands, stressed watersheds and aquifers, Native American cultural sites, air basins in non-attainment areas, urban areas, and terrestrial or marine habitat for threatened or endangered species.

DOGGR is required to prepare an EIR by recently passed Senate Bill 4. The EIR must analyze the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of statewide well stimulation. The EIR must also consider reasonable alternatives to well stimulation and possible mitigation measures. We want to ensure that EIR is honest, comprehensive, and not afraid to face the facts about the potential environmental impacts of statewide fracking.

The fact is that fracking is a water intensive process that can use over a million gallons of water per well, and fracking has been linked to groundwater and surface water contamination. Last year was the driest in 119 years of records, and we are in what Gov. Jerry Brown himself is calling a “mega drought” and “perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago.” The fact is that fracking and its related activities have been associated with induced earthquakes. And, today marks the 20-year anniversary of the Northridge earthquake that killed 57 people and injured an estimated 5,000 more. The fact is that flaring, venting, leaking, and release of contaminants throughout the production, processing, transmission, and distribution of oil and gas are already significant sources of air pollution, and these emissions can include methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 84 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20-year horizon. And, in rural areas of Kern County – a hotbed of fracking – residents already suffer from some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the nation.

 

Northridge Earthquake Freeway Destruction

We asked DOGGR to consider all these environmental realities in its upcoming EIR and more.

The California Environmental Quality Act became law in 1970, and part of its legacy is that the public has an opportunity to be informed about and participate in major land use decisions in this state. Yesterday, we exercised that right to speak out, and we reminded DOGGR that it is required by CEQA to “take all action necessary to protect, rehabilitate, and enhance the environmental quality of the state” and to “provide the people of this state with clean air and water . . . .” This is no small task but we should expect no less, especially when considering inherently risky industrial activities like oil extraction.

The story of what happened in West Virginia is a chilling reminder of how earnestly we depend on our agencies to protect and provide water. Last week, an estimated seventy-five hundred gallons of crude MCMH (a chemical used to remove impurities from coal and that we know almost nothing about) spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River. More than 200,000 people were told not to drink, shower, do their dishes, or cook with their water. Businesses shut down, schools closed, everything stopped. There was a run on paper plates and plastic forks, and people had to drive miles to find a place to wash themselves. Industrial activities, no matter how “high-tech” they proclaim to be are still run by humans. Humans make mistakes. It is in this real world that we ask DOGGR to consider the risk of forging ahead and fracking away. Once the fracking fluid is spilled, you can’t unspill it.

Photo Credit: BrendelSignature at en.wikipedia and the U.S. Department of Transportation, respectively

Source: NRDC

How that tiny stream flowing by your back door is important to the whole world

By Perrin Ireland

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Perrin Ireland, Sr. Science Communications Specialist, San Francisco

This post originally appeared on GOOD.

You know that little stream near your house that you can sometimes step into when it’s dry, and sometimes have to jump over, because it flows for a couple of weeks a year? Turns out it’s important for the clean water eventually coming out of your tap, flowing into your local lake where you like to fish, and basically any other clean water anywhere in the country, or around the globe.

This is what I learned while scribing the EPA Science Advisory Board Public Hearings a few weeks ago, in a hotel conference room in our nation’s ever-welcoming capitol. Scientists and clean water experts gathered to review a report that the EPA put out earlier this year that, until the public hearings, I honestly wouldn’t have thought I cared all that much about. It’s a 400-page jargon-packed insiders’ guide that goes into reverent detail on heretofore unknown to me “prairie pothole regions,” where migrating ducks apparently stop to feed while traveling home each year; definitions of different kinds of watersheds and their zones; and the difference between things like unidirectional and a bidirectional waters. Kinda tough stuff at first glance for anyone NOT deeply invested in the water world, but after sitting and drawing basically everything that got said for the three day duration of the hearings as patient, devoted scientists discussed the scientific evidence for how connected these waters are in the U.S., I understand what all the fuss is about.

Basically, since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, people understood that Congress, when they wrote the act, fundamentally appreciated the connectivity of water. They made choices to defend clean water that we could call governing by the precautionary principle—the assumption is that we know enough to know it might be silly to destroy a thriving wetland for a project we might not need in ten years. But in 2001 and then 2006, five of nine Supreme Court justices started asking for more scientific evidence that smaller, not-always-wet, or seemingly isolated bodies of water like prairie potholes, Carolina Bays, and ephemeral streams were in fact connected to, and most importantly, could IMPACT, downstream waters.

Waters of the US Experts Weigh In.

So the EPA did a big literature review and created this report to describe how connected waters in the U.S. really are. The report will influence an updated set of requirements the EPA will make next year about what bodies of water are technically protected by the Clean Water Act. Without a strong ruling, headwater streams, watersheds, and intermittent streams will no longer be adequately protected. They can then be filled in, polluted, and generally destroyed without a permit under the federal law. At the public hearings, the scientists clearly concluded after three days that “at sufficiently long time scales nearly all watersheds are connected downstream eventually.” An intermittent stream that’s dry most days of the year is still connected to larger bodies of water downstream, and has an impact on these waters, whether chemically, biologically, or just by water flow. That’s scientific consensus that what happens upstream winds up downstream.

WOTUS Experts Two

Protecting upstream, small bodies of water is important for human health downstream and drinking water downstream. Animals that depend on upstream waters for nurseries and downstream waters for nourishment go away when those upstream waters are destroyed, and that’s not just bad because they’re cute. It’s bad because if there are no animals, it means there’s not a robust ecosystem, and human health depends on robust ecosystems. Trippier still, clean water all across the globe depends on water that at its beginning is sometimes less than a foot wide, maybe not even visible on the surface, because of the nature of global water cycles. As Joy Zedler put it, “We all share the same finite water on the planet—it moves around the globe. The challenge is how we live on this piece of land without spoiling it. The question for decision-makers is how MUCH connection, not ‘is there one?’ ” If you have a sweet little baby body of water that flows once in a while in your yard, live up near a headwater and see the bog turtles migrating each year, or you live near a bigger body of water, downstream, and you’ve seen the impacts of stuff from upstream coming downstream, tell me about it in comments. I’ve got a fever for more stories about this. Keep ‘em coming, and maybe we can make a difference before the EPA makes their ruling next year by telling them our stories, and how important our water is to us. As my colleague Rob Friedman says, “There are few things more grounding than a watershed, because almost everyone and everything lives in one. And if you abuse it, you’re toast.”

Tell President Obama to stand up to polluters and protect our streams.

Source: NRDC

Federal Spending Bill Completed - What Does It Mean For Water?

By Jon Devine

Jon Devine, Senior Attorney, Washington, D.C.

I’m sad to report that Congress is poised to adopt — as part of an enormous funding bill — a short-term limit on updating environmental safeguards, in order to benefit companies conducting mountaintop removal coal mining.

First, some background. After months of behind-the-scenes wrangling, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees from both parties recently announced that they’d reached a compromise on a spending bill to run the federal government through the end of September. You’ll recall that House Republicans, acting at the behest of the Tea Party wing of their party, refused to pass such a bill last fall, shutting down the government. After that strategy proved to be wildly unpopular – turns out people like scientific research, rigorous implementation of health and safety standards, and national parks – Republican leaders vowed not to repeat the debacle, and committed to producing a spending package by today. That commitment led to the bill that will be voted on this week.

NRDC’s overall take on the bill is that it is a step forward. Funding that had been cut under the ham-handed “sequester” (automatic, across-the-board cuts that took effect in the fall of 2012 when Congress failed to reach an agreement on how to reduce the budget deficit) has been restored to a number of key programs. And, this bill helpfully rejects a proposal by President Obama to eliminate funding to coastal and Great Lakes states to monitor their beaches and notify the public about contamination by bacteria, viruses, and other things that can make people sick when they swim.

However, the bill also contains a number of wrongheaded attacks on environmental safeguards. In the water world, the most egregious one would prohibit the government from working to change water pollution requirements adopted by the Bush administration that authorized the Army Corps to permit companies to discharge anything that raises the bottom elevation of a water body (except trash or garbage). That action, adopted in 2002, made it so that the Corps can issue permits to allow companies not only to fill these waters for development purposes, but also to fill waterways primarily to get rid of waste – a practice that was previously prohibited.

As such, the requirement that the spending bill would prevent the government from changing benefitted companies mining coal in Appalachia by mountaintop removal, a practice in which companies commonly shear off the tops of mountains and dump the waste in nearby valley streams. Thus, this rider sends the exact wrong message – our leaders should be working to end the use of waterways as waste dumps rather than propping up irresponsible practices like mountaintop removal coal mining that create mammoth amounts of waste. Obviously, we oppose this limitation on the government’s authority to correct a glaring misinterpretation of the law carried out at the behest of polluting industry and we will advocate for Congress not to include this provision again in the next funding bill.

Source: NRDC

Letter to Gov. Brown: Californians United in Support of a Fracking Moratorium

By Damon Nagami

Damon Nagami, Senior Attorney, Santa Monica

Today, as the public comment period on fracking regulations ends, a broad and united coalition of 50 environmental, public health and social justice groups representing more than 2 million Californians just sent one unified comment, in the form of a letter, to Governor Brown asking him to place an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other well stimulation activities. This letter can be viewed here. As we said back in July and have been saying for more than a year and a half now, California needs a time-out on fracking to allow the state the time it needs to thoroughly assess the health risks and environmental impacts, as well as how to protect against them.

This letter follows on the heels of letters from twenty leading scientists, twenty-seven of Brown’s former advisors, more than 100 chefs and others in the restaurant industry, and nine concerned legislators who are calling on Governor Brown to impose a moratorium on fracking in California.

I’ve blogged before about the long list of reasons why Californians should be concerned about fracking, and detailed reasons can be found in the public comment letter we submitted on the draft regulations today. Across the state, at hearings on the proposed regulations and the statewide environmental impact report (EIR) required by Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), in geographically and culturally diverse cities including Oakland, Sacramento, Long Beach, Salinas, Ventura, and Santa Maria, thousands of citizens echoed our coalition’s call, speaking out in passionate and undeniable support of a ban or moratorium on fracking.

While California has been at the forefront of environmental protection in many areas, on fracking the state is still way behind. We need to catch up to the other states that have taken action on fracking, like New York, where the Governor issued an executive order effectively halting fracking in order to give state regulators time to fully evaluate the risks to public health and the environment, in order to determine how to protect against them. Governor Brown should take similar action, and in doing so he would be listening to Californians, who have now made clear in two polls that a moratorium on fracking is needed now.

Governor Brown has the authority to make sure that Californians’ safety and public health come first. He can, and should, direct the state’s oil and gas agency, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), to carry out its statutory duty to prevent oil and gas operations from harming human health, property, and natural resources. Until we have a better understanding of the risks of fracking and the climate impacts from developing the Monterey Shale, and until adequate safeguards are in place, to continue to allow fracking leaves the health of Californians and our precious natural resources unprotected. This is why Californians are speaking out now to urge the Governor to impose an immediate moratorium on fracking, acidizing and other forms of well stimulation.

Source: NRDC