Water findings (apologies to Harper’s magazine)

findingsThe last page of every issue of the indispensable Harper’s Magazine—often referred to (by me) as the chronicle of the slow-motion apocalypse—features “Findings,” a disturbing presentation of scores of recent scientific discoveries. Deviously disguised as a quotidian article with sentences organized in paragraphs, it is really an artful and jarring arrangement of one- or two-sentence summaries of frightening, mind-boggling, and disorienting revelations, inventions, and breakthroughs. A small excerpt from the last issue:

Asia’s pangolins and Florida’s turtles were under threat from Chinese demand for pangolin fetuses and turtle parts. It was determined that every year 100,000 sleeping Bangladeshis are bitten by snakes. Ninety percent of the oysters in France and fifty Irish swans in the Lough of Cork died mysteriously. Body-temperature regulation was found responsible for the flamingo’s one-legged stance and the toucan’s giant beak. Most tomcats are southpaws. Engineers created a “95 percent accurate” thought-controlled wheelchair, a tongue-controlled wheelchair, and a dune buggy for the blind.

Hey, it’s a crazy, wonderful, terrifying, insane, mysterious universe, ain’t it?

The editorial staff of Waterblogged.info (myself and a team of what my therapist has convinced me are largely imaginary minions) have decided to create a water-oriented homage to “Findings.” While I can’t promise to recreate the subtle and surreal sophistication achieved each month by author Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, I can almost guarantee wonder, terror, and a deep desire to protect our dwindling water resources. And, links! Here goes:

A survey of the drinking water for more than 28 million Americans revealed widespread but low-level presence of pharmaceuticals and hormonally active chemicals, including Atrazine, an herbicide banned in the EU but used widely in the US, and psychotropics such as Carbamazepine, a mood-stabilizer prescribed for bipolar disorder. A study published by The British Journal of Psychiatry announced that a study of Japan’s Oita Prefecture shows that cities with higher levels of lithium in their drinking water experienced lower rates of suicide. Drinking heavy water may counter aging.

A bacteria was used to remove between 88 and 94 per cent of the salt from various salt-water solutions, including one that approximated sea water. New findings suggest that small amounts of frozen water permeate minerals across the moon’s surface and that there is liquid water on Mars. Synthetic trees could one day produce water in arid regions and counter climate change by absorbing CO2 1,000 times faster than their biologic counterparts. German engineers have created bionic penguins, and work has begun on bionic octopi.

Belgium scientists have levitated water, and UK researchers showed that spinning water droplets behave like black holes. Belgium has the dirtiest water in the world. Drought-plagued China plans to slash water consumption by 60 percent. Jets of water vapor are shooting at supersonic speed from Saturn’s moon Enceladus; smog is interrupting the Earth’s water cycle. A common artificial sweetener is helping Swiss engineers track the flow of waste water. A pair of U.S. and Indian researchers have developed an on-board hydrogen generator, suggesting that water may one day fuel zero emission automobiles. Physicists have only recently learned how water boils.

Until recently, the Starbuck’s chain had been wasting 23 million liters (6,076,000 gallons) of water daily. New data suggests that drip irrigation may use more water than conventional methods, and physicists have created a tiny boat that moves by taking advantage of water’s surface tension. Scientists are demystifying “dead water,” which significantly slows down ocean-going vessels. Oil and water may mix after all.

Marine mammals such as whales and dolphins do not drink water, and a troop of chacma baboons in the Namid Game Reserve have been observed going without water for 26 days. Challenging a commonly held belief, research by French scientists suggests that herds of African elephants apparently dominating water holes may be protecting rather than harming other thirsty herbivore species. Hydrothermal vents at the ocean floor spew the hottest water on Earth, measured at temperatures up to 464 degrees C. “It’s water,” says a geochemist, “but not as we know it.” Water-powered jetpacks will soon be available, starting at $145,000.


Toxic Water

An effort most likely to win a Pulitzer Prize by journalistic award magnet Charles Duhigg: Toxic Water, a series about the continued and worsening pollution of U.S. water. Nationwide, there have been over 500,000 violations of the Clean Water Act of 1972. Some are minor, but 60 percent were categorized as significant, and the vast majority go unsanctioned.

Duhigg and team have done a great service to all of us. Not only have they exposed and scrupulously documented an outrageous situation, they’ve developed a powerful tool to help us deal with it. From the article (italicized emphasis ours):

The Times obtained hundreds of thousands of water pollution records through Freedom of Information Act requests to every state and the E.P.A., and compiled a national database of water pollution violations that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the E.P.A. (For an interactive version, which can show violations in any community, visit www.nytimes.com/toxicwaters.)

Water justice in Oakland

The East Bay Community Law Clinic brings together Berkeley Law students and citizens to solve community problems

The East Bay Community Law Clinic brings together Berkeley Law students and citizens to solve community problems

Yesterday’s post was about unjust water shutoffs on the East Coast. Today, to be fair and balanced, we’re all about the West Coast.

The one-person editorial staff of Waterblogged.info edits the Berkeley School of Law’s alumni magazine, Transcript. In the last issue, we featured the work of the East Bay Community Law Center, which is affiliated with the law school and trains students in social justice litigation and community organizing.

The story relates how a student team worked with local government and community leaders to put a stop to illegal water and utility shutoffs. In this case, the local water provider  was cutting off the water of foreclosed rental properties. The defaulting owners are very often not local and don’t know or don’t care about local ordinances that forbid leaving tenants vulnerable to utility shutoffs and eviction.

Waterblogged.info is a big fan of law-school based community legal clinics. The work of EBCLC  (and another such clinic we recently featured, Wayne State Law’s Environmental Law Clinic), mean that thousands and thousands of the poor and disenfranchised have access to the legal system.

Newark, NJ commits act of water terrorism against citizens

This is a Chicago water shutoff notice, but we bet that many unfortunate citizens of Newark, NJ have received something remarkably similar. In Newark, tenants are enduring shutoffs, even though they are not responsible for the payment.

This is a Chicago water shutoff notice, but we bet that many unfortunate citizens of Newark, NJ have received something remarkably similar. In Newark, tenants are enduring shutoffs even though they are not responsible for the payment.

Or at least from the point of view of the easily-enraged, given-to-hyperbolic-vitriol, and overly-reliant-on-hyphenated-adjectives Waterblogged.info.

There are several reasons for failure to pay utility bills. One, I suppose, is trying to game the system–you notice that month after month of nonpayment brings threats but no action, and your lights keep glowing, and your water keeps flowing. You could pay, but why? The only pressure is that which is pushing water through your pipes. Life is good, and not nearly as expensive.

However, it’s just as likely that unemployment or underemployment is the culprit, as you can see from this New York Times‘s story about Newark’s decision to cut off the water to property owners owing large and/or long overdue payments. No doubt that, among those scurrying to City Hall to either pay in full or cut a deal, there are deadbeat owners of apartment buildings who have left their tenants low and dry. But why should the tenants suffer for the landlords’ sins?

The article quotes a single mother with two children. She only recently found a job after a year of unemployment. Why should she have to plead with a city worker not to shut off her water? If you think she’s guilty, why should her children suffer?

A story on NJ.com, the online home of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, notes that while city officials consider the move “good government,”  local housing advocates call it “draconian,” saying that:

. . .[it] unfairly penalizes tenants whose landlords are responsible for paying the water and sewer bills. Matt Shapiro, president of the New Jersey Tenants Organization, said tenants have legal recourse should their service be shut off. “If they’re not being provided with basic services, they don’t owe any rent,” Shapiro said, citing a law that requires landlords to provide units that are “habitable.”

This story from Newark CBS affiliate Channel 2 notes that the utility is owed a whopping $29 million (!) and in desperation has turned to playing hardball against citizens without gloves and headgear. Its officials admit to as much:

The bottom line? The city says this admittedly aggressive position is not only an invitation, but essentially a demand to reopen the lines of communication.

Happy anniversary, Atrazine!

Candles from Waterblogged.info's gala invitation-only celebration of Atrazine's 50th anniversary!

Candles from Waterblogged.info's gala invitation-only celebration of Atrazine's 50th anniversary!

Everyone’s favorite herbicide (except for the EU) has, according to its Swiss producer Syngenta, been used safely by farmers for 50 years. Obvious cause for celebration, at least for Syngenta, which has no doubt enjoyed huge profits from its sales over those five decades.

The chemical giant has invited us to share their joy by placing a festive banner ad atop an online New York Time‘s story about atrazine*. The article, part of a series on toxic substances in drinking water, basically questions the science that “proves” that the weed-killer is safe for human consumption in minute quantities.

Our most recent post, Hooray for the EPA!,  demonstrates that the amusingly named Environmental Protection Agency couldn’t agree more with Syngenta: When the levels of atrazine in the drinking water of several midwestern communities exceeded the legal limits, the EPA ignored it completely and failed to notify the affected populations, even though the agency is required by law to do so.

*Why this ad placement is considered ethical is beyond the ken (not to mention the barbie) of the puzzled peeps at Waterblogged.info.

Also celebrating her fiftieth this year.

Also celebrating her fiftieth this year.

Hooray for the EPA!

EPA Deputy Liar, Steve Bradbury, who is either very tall, or the people he is lying to are very short.

EPA Deputy Liar, Steve Bradbury, who is either very tall, or the people he is lying to are very short.

Thanks to the Huffington Post, the ironically named Environmental Protection Agency will be getting credit for a modestly unannounced act of kindness. The folks living in some communities in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas–states where farmers rely heavily on the herbicide atrazine–are no doubt spamming the EPA with thousands of animated e-cards of appreciation as I write.

In their compassionate wisdom, the federal agency’s officials decided not to add to the worries of economically terrorized citizens by informing them that the amount of the weed-killer floating around in their drinking water exceeds federal limits–even though they are required by law to do so.

Says Steve Bradbury, deputy office director of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs:

“We have concluded that atrazine does not cause adverse effects to humans or the environment,”

Bradbury is full of shit, like many arrogant EPA officials, all of whom should be fired and possibly prosecuted for their failure to do their duty as prescribed by law, not just in this case , but in  a host of other  as well. They do not have the right to arrive at any conclusion that allows them to break the law.

As the article indicates, there is not scientific basis for the EPA’s rash conclusion nor a defensible reason for failing to alert the affected communities.

Regional focus: The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

No, this isn't an Icelandic jazz quintet. It's Professor Noah Hall and the Water Wonks at the Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne State University.

No, this isn't an ultrahip Icelandic jazz quintet. It's Professor Noah Hall and the Water Wonks at the Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne State University.

Noah Hall is the creator of Great Lakes Law, which he describes as “A Blog on All Things Wet and Legal in the Great Lakes Region.” He professes law at Wayne State University Law School and is a frequent visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School.  This of course left him with enormous amounts of extra time on his hands, and to stave off boredom he founded and is the executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

The center works in collaboration with Wayne State Law’s Environmental Law Clinic where Hall and colleague Professor Nick Schroeck supervise law students as they dirty their hands in the vast and muddy legal waters of the Great Lakes region.
I work at Berkeley Law, and my experience tells me that law clinics may be the only real win-win situation in town. The students get valuable hands-on experience guided by experts, and the community at large benefits from their pro bono work. From the clinic’s home page:
The Environmental Law Clinic prepares students for their future legal and environmental advocacy work while serving the community in Michigan. The Environmental Law Clinic is a resource for citizens, community organizations, and government leaders working towards environmental protection. It gives Wayne Law students the opportunity to play a critical role in solving our region’s most pressing environmental problems.
Currently, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center is aiming its prodigious intellectual firepower at the following issues: