Environment

by Tom Parrett

DRINKING water is unlikely to be a major problem in these parts. Elsewhere, clean water will be a big and growing concern—possibly even a casus belli.

 The shortfall is twofold, says James Salzman, author of the informative and enjoyable Drinking Water: A History and holder of chairs at Duke University in its schools of law and environment: access to water and water that’s free of disease and poisons. Salzman spoke last Friday evening at the Cary Institute. To either shortage, he said, humans all over the world have had one of two approaches: to guarantee universal access or let the profit motive decide.

 The first impulse in early societies was universal access. In Judean accounts it was known as the Law of Thirst: No severely parched person can be denied water, no matter how dire the need to save wilting crops, water horses, or fill the master’s bath. In practice it has meant that water is universally available to anyone free of charge. 

by Carola Lott

According to UN studies, only ten percent of the world’s wastewater is treated. Even here in the United States, decaying sewer lines leak a surprising amount of raw sewage that makes its way into our rivers. An even larger amount of sewage ends up in our coastal zones. 

According to Dr. Emma Rosi Marshall, aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute, who spoke last week at a Thursday Science Seminar, pharmaceuticals in groundwater, streams and rivers throughout the world are an “emerging environmental problem.”  These substances, known as Pharmaceutical Personal Care Products or PPCPs, range from prescription medicine, drugs - those sold over the counter drugs as well as illegally - pain killers, hormones, anti-depressants, Viagra and Cialis, insect repellents and antibiotics - both those given to humans as well as to cattle and chickens. Cosmetics, soaps, and vitamins are another part of this toxic stew. 

A study by eminent scientists at Cornell and Stanford universities shows how New York State can be energy self-sufficient by 2030 without using any fossil fuels. 

The study marks a break from the present level of energy discussion, going directly to the practical problem of asking the “how” rather than dwelling on the “why” arguments. A fundamental shift in thinking about the problem of energy is taking place.  The study accepts the threat of global warming as a given, and it accepts the necessity of abandoning fossil fuels entirely.

For the past year, fracking has occupied the headlines. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation received more than 50,000 comments from state residents concerned with the potentially devastating effects of fracking on groundwater, human health and the environment.  That concern fostered the plan to go 100-percent renewable.  It suggests we abandon fracking and natural gas as a bridge fuel and go directly to renewable sources of energy, using presently available technologies.  

by Carola Lott

The loss of any species whether plant, animal or insect is a loss for every other living creature on the planet.   

On a trip to Namibia as a volunteer with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, artist Paolo Bari learned that these magnificent animals were among those species threatened with extinction. “It is not just the cats,” Bari says. “Conservation is a big issue with many elements besides the land and the animals. Politics, culture, and economy are also part of the problem.”   One solution is education.

 When Bari returned to Dutchess County she looked for a way to convince people that to maintain the health of our planet we must protect endangered species as well as their natural habitat. To promote the idea she decided to ask local artists to decorate what she calls “KeepSafe Boxes,” which she could sell on line in a silent auction. 

In a well-attended lecture at the Cary Institute on February 14, Dr. Beverley Wemple, a professor of Geography at the University of Vermont, presented her research on the dynamics of hydrological and geomorphic processes on water degradation in Lake Champlain in Vermont.  Dr. Wemple is doing a three-month research residency at the Cary Institute.

The 20,000-square kilometer Lake Champlain watershed is on the state’s impaired waters list under the Clean Water Act. Dr. Wemple’s research sheds light on how unpaved roads and unstable rivers contribute to water-quality degradation. The state of Vermont had to report how much phosphorus and nitrogen is discharged into the lake..

By examining run-off, sediment and phosphorus production during storms in the Winooski River watershed, Dr. Wemple was able to make estimates on how the road network adds sediments to the streams that end up in the lake. Agricultural fields, urban and suburban lands all affect the lake’s water quality. Eroded stream banks and gravel roads flush sediments into the river. Dr. Wemple found that pollutants can be identified by surveying unpaved road sediments.  

Among fracking’s collateral damage will be habitat, from the Latin habitare, to live or dwell.

Whose habitat? you are forgiven for asking.

The answer, for now, is flora and fauna within reach—what oil patch cowboys think of as stuff that gets in the way of bulldozers—but ultimately our habitat. The environment rules all creatures great and small, until we are able to be insulated from it like a colony on Mars.

With the evidence of fracking out West to consider, and the mess being made of Pennsylvania by the fracking industry, New York wildife is on full alert. At the recent conference of Mortified American Plants and Animals, Eastern Synod held at a secret location in the Slide Mountain Wilderness, speaker after speaker—some traveling farther than any member of its species had ever ventured—rose to voice alarm.

Plants and animals can’t actually speak, of course, but they can be clear about their preferences, even shockingly blunt. They’ve been known to state an opinion by abruptly dying.

Habitats can be Fragile

by Carola Lott

Alex Prud’homme, author of The Ripple Effect was on hand at the Moviehouse in Millerton on January 27 for a screening of Last Call at the Oasis. After the showing, Prud’homme whose book was the basis for the film, answered questions from the audience.  

Whereas oil was the defining resource of the twentieth century, he said, water will be the defining resource of the twenty first. However, although we can survive without oil, no life can exist without water. 

The United States has the biggest water footprint in the world. Meanwhile climate change and population growth are putting new pressures on our water supply as is becoming increasingly evident especially in the West. 36 states will face shortages in the next three years, and California is already in serious trouble. 

Lake Mead is now only 40 percent full. By 2025 it could actually have dried up.