According to the EPA, agriculture is the leading probable source of impairments to assessed streams and rivers in the United States, and the third probable source to lakes. Agricultural impairments, typically considered nonpoint source pollution, include irrigation and stormwater runoff that carries animal waste, bacteria, fertilizer, naturally occurring metals, nutrients, pesticides, excess salt, and sediment. Unfortunately, this has at times positioned farmers—a group which has the most to gain from water quality initiatives—at odds with environmental agencies and scientists.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies have already answered this question by setting guidelines for E. coli limits in water used for recreational purposes, the question is again being debated in Los Angeles. This is because the city adopted a new protocol in October of 2017 that mandates closing the Los Angeles River to recreational users whenever E. coli levels are too high.
Do you know what’s in your water? How certain are you that it’s safe?
In mid-December 2017, researchers from across the United States specializing in various disciplines came together at the annual meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis to present reports on a range of problems in American water infrastructure. This plumbing safety research illuminates a disturbing litany of failures in water safety all over the country—but also highlights a commitment to fixing problems and taking a proactive approach.
Starting in 2008, the Riverkeeper of New York’s Hudson River Watershed began a research collaboration with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and CUNY Queens College. These core participants recruited individual scientists in various New York communities and partner organizations to aid them in their water quality mission. The team began taking water quality samples from the Hudson River Estuary—in total, more than 8,200 were taken over time.
From the outside, it’s easy to believe that the controversy that embroils the California Water Fix is more about incongruent perspectives, in that many of the technical proponents of the Fix and its opponents seem to be talking at cross purposes. There can be little doubt that the issue of water in California—which touches upon shortages, drought, access between regions, agriculture, environmental impact, cost, conservation, and of course water quality—is so complex and divisive . . .
The many fingers of water that comprise Narragansett Bay define the state of Rhode Island; not just its shoreline, but its inland areas are almost all proximal to the Bay and its watershed. More than 33 percent of Rhode Island is water, even at low tide, making it the third wateriest state in the union, second only to Hawaii and Michigan.
In November, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released two reports that may point to a growing contamination problem in American drinking water. The first of the reports indicates that in 2013 and 2014, infectious chemicals, pathogens, or toxins caused 42 distinct drinking-water-associated outbreaks in 19 states which were then reported to the CDC. (Obviously there may have been others which went unreported.) Even more troubling: these reports do not include cases of lead contamination such as those seen in Flint, Michigan, so these higher numbers exclude that case and cases like it.
Most people have never heard of the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), a tiny program housed within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Of the $151 billion USDA budget in 2017, only $498 million was allotted to RUS; that’s about 0.3 percent. Yet RUS helps support infrastructure in small rural towns across America—and there are thousands of them right now in 2017 that have no access to drinking water that is safe.
Much of the American west depends upon groundwater for its survival. Originally the region was sustainably settled and farmed by Native American tribes. Eventually, new settlers without those abilities came west and resettled in a sort of patchwork; newcomers chose to stay near springs and other places where exploitable groundwater was close to the surface.
It’s a fact that every resident of every state has a vested interest in water quality issues and the management of natural resources. However, too often the challenges posed by natural resource management are met by various battling groups of stakeholders with apparently different interests.
If you live in a city, you may take the safety of the water that you drink for granted, although recent developments in Flint may have changed your mind about that. But for 45 million Americans who drink water that comes from private wells, drawn from groundwater and unregulated by a public utility, the question of what’s in that water is an even bigger unknown—a potentially dangerous one.
In a state that knows water is perhaps the single most decisive factor in its continued existence, the Arizona Water Center (AWC), part of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), plays a critically important role. James Leenhouts, Director of the AWC and a hydrologist by training, has lived in Arizona for decades, and devoted his career to helping Arizonans cope with the unique challenges water presents.
These storms prompted scientists, engineers, policymakers, and municipal planners in the Gulf region to think about preparing for major storms in new ways, and one of the results was the formation of the Water Institute of the Gulf. Since 2011, the institute has served as a centralized, independent source of research and science along the Gulf Coast. Scott Hemmerling, Director of Human Dimensions for the Institute, explains the basic raison-d’être of the Institute.
By now we know that plastics have invaded our global waterways, at the current rate of between 1.15 and 2.41 million tons of plastic entering the world’s ocean annually via rivers. We know that it’s deadly to wildlife, and that we haven’t even fully explained its toxic effects in the environment. This means that mitigation strategies for reducing the amount of plastic that enters the world’s waterways are essential. . .
When Stephen A. Forbes, then Director of the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History, opened a biological station about halfway along the length of the Illinois River in April 1894, he was considering the long game. His goal was to study the ways the period overflow of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers had on aquatic animal and plant life in the region, and he knew this would be the first study like it anywhere.