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Why the crisis over Flint's water could really happen anywhere in the US

Jan 20, 2016
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Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint, Michigan, where residents have been dealing with the aftermath of lead-tainted water for more than a year now. It's a situation that's led to lead poisoning and brain damage in some children.

Water contamination in Flint, Mich, — where the city switched water sources, causing pipe corrosion and ultimately filling the city's water supply with high levels of lead — has prompted President Obama to declare a state of emergency.

The move, which was requested by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, means FEMA is authorized to provide equipment and resources to the people affected. Federal funding will help cover the cost of providing water, water filters and other items.

Turning ice into fire. Iceland goes for drama.

Nov 27, 2015
Ari Daniel

The first thing you need to know is that Iceland is changing.

Icelander Sveinbjörn Steinþôrsson, a muscular guy in his 40s, grew up hiking on glaciers here. And he says he’s actually seen the changes.

"First trips to the glacier, I was, like, 14, 15 years old," Steinþôrsson says. "It was easy to find a spot on a glacier to see only white. You could not see the mountain in the north. And you thought you were alone in the world."

But now, when Steinþôrsson goes to those same places and looks out, he sees mountains and bare land poking through.

Flickr Photo/ Thilo M. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)/HTTP://BIT.LY/1SBLFKZ

Most cities want to control their own destiny. Shoreline, just north of Seattle, is no exception. But now a deal it hoped would help distinguish it from Seattle has fallen apart.

Seattle Public Utilities says its dams are about three-quarters full.
Flickr photo/Konstantin Stepanov (CC BY 2.0)

Way to go, Seattle and Tacoma and Everett. You’ve cut your water use by 14 percent over the past eight weeks. That handily beat the goal of the region’s city water managers of a 10 percent reduction.

The bad news, the cities said Wednesday, is that typical fall rains still haven't arrived (despite the drizzle outside) to end the drought gripping Washington state.

This is the second story in our two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing the way the Northwest looks to reservoirs to meet its water needs. Read part one here.

This summer’s hot, dry weather has left Northwest apple growers hurting for water to irrigate their orchards. It’s a hint at what’s predicted as the climate continues to warm.

Amanda Cronin stands near the Dungeness River downstream from where water could be diverted during higher flows to fill a reservoir.
EarthFix/KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

This is the first story in a two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing how the Northwest relies on reservoirs to meet water needs.

SEQUIM, Wash. – For more than a century, the snowmelt that fed the Dungeness River here has provided water for farmers’ crops as well as salmon journeying to the ocean and back.

Last week was (in case you missed it) World Water Week.

A renewable energy company in Portland has cities across the globe taking a closer look at their water pipes.

Lucid Energy has designed a hydropower system that draws power from drinking water as it makes its way to the tap. Its turbines are small enough to fit inside a city water pipe, and they tap the power of gravity as water flows through.

Obama Administration Finalizes Clean Water Rule

May 27, 2015

The Obama Administration Wednesday announced a new clean water rule. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will help limit pollution in streams and wetlands.

The rule is meant to clarify uncertainty about who can regulate these smaller waterways and water bodies.

Environmentalists say the new rule will keep drinking water clean. Lauren Goldberg is the staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. She says this new rule will provide critical protection for clean drinking water and fish habitat.

Across the Northwest, farmers are already making tough calls because of this year’s drought. The dismal snowpack is to blame.

Tom Kitchar has a theory of mining. It goes something like this:

Way, way back, when humans first came down from the trees, someone picked up a certain rock and realized it was useful.

It was heavy or sharp or easy to grip and use. It was a weapon. It was some sort of tool.

Soon everyone wanted one of these rocks. And those who went out to find and collect them were the first miners.

Northwest Faces Greater Risks From Acidifying Waters

Feb 24, 2015

The Pacific Northwest faces a higher risk of economic harm from ocean acidification than other parts of the country, according to a new study released Monday.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found a "potent combination" of risk factors along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The region has cold ocean water that absorbs carbon dioxide more readily than warmer water, and it has upwelling ocean currents that bring corrosive water to the surface.

Federal regulators say Oregon is not doing enough to protect water quality in coastal areas. A ruling Friday on the state’s coastal nonpoint pollution control could end up costing the state millions.

A Portland start-up has tapped the city's water pipes as a new source of renewable hydropower that doesn't disrupt fish migration or stream flows.

Lucid Energy has installed a series of small hydroelectric generators inside a pipe that carries drinking water to the city. The company announced Tuesday that its new in-pipe hydro system is now producing power for Portland General Electric customers.

Bill Gates Helps Make Water From Human Waste

Jan 7, 2015
Courtesy of GatesNotes

Bill Gates will put his money where his mouth is when it comes to getting potable water to developing countries.

On his blog, Gates posted a video of a machine that makes “sewage sludge” a renewable resource.  Developed by Sedro-Woolley company Janicki Bioenergy, the project is being funded by the Gates Foundation.

Called the Omniprocessor, the machine burns solid human waste and transforms it into electricity, clean ash and, most importantly, clean drinking water.

So clean that Bill Gates would drink it — and he does.

The people who live in the northwest corner of New Mexico consider Darlene Arviso to be a living saint.

"Everybody knows me around here. They'll be waving at me," she says from behind the wheel of the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission water truck. "They call me the water lady."

That's because Arviso hauls water for tribe members of the Navajo Nation, where, on average, residents use 7 gallons a day to drink, cook, bathe and clean. The average person in the U.S. uses about 100 gallons a day.

It’s been a wet month for California.

Record amounts of rainfall and some snow have led to above normal fall precipitation. But how much is this helping with the state’s severe drought?

After a more than a year of testing, dairies in Washington’s Lower Yakima Valley are trying to reduce water pollution from manure. A report from the Environmental Protection Agency had found the dairies were likely sources of nitrate pollution to nearby residential wells.

EVERETT, Wash. -- A judge ruled against a couple Tuesday after they sued for the right to drill a well and build a new home on their property in Skagit County.

The case marks the latest battle in the ongoing fight over water rights in Washington's Skagit River valley.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel dismissed the case brought by property owners Richard and Marnie Fox. He told the couple that they can't build a home on their property because they don't have legal access to water.

SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash. -- The house was going to be modest, 1,300 square feet with a big porch looking out over acres of fields. Next to it would be a garage with a caretaker’s apartment over it.

“I’m kind of an old guy already,” Richard Fox said, standing in the pouring rain on his property and gesturing to the spot where he and his wife’s dream retirement home was to be built. A handful of drenched cows looked on, vaguely curious.

The rain California is getting lately may seem significant, but the state’s historic drought is far from over. One way water companies are nudging homeowners to use less water is by asking them to get rid of their lawns.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Daniel Potter of KQED reports that in some places, they’re even paying people to do it.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District pays homeowners $2 per square foot to tear out their lawn and plant something less thirsty.

A long-negotiated series of agreements to manage water in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon and Northern California received Senate committee passage Thursday.

“This legislation is the result of a historic collaboration of efforts,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden during the committee meeting.

Earthfix Photo/Ryan Hashert

NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK, Wash. — Jon Riedel’s white hair and light blue eyes match the icy tint of the landscape he’s studied for more than 30 years.

He moved to Washington soon after finishing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin because he says the glaciers of the Northwest are still writing the landscape, still carving out curves and valleys.

Flickr Photo/Mark Round (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Attention salmon and people who like water: Let's hear it for the beaver.

Imagine flushing the toilet and watching sand come up. That's what happened to Pam Vieira, who lives south of Modesto, Calif. Her water well has slowed to a trickle, and you can see the sand in the tank of her toilet.

"Sometimes we have brown water," Vieira says. "Sometimes we have no water."

Vieira is one of as many as 2 million rural California residents who rely on private domestic wells for drinking water.

Some of those people are among the hardest hit by the state's severe drought, as wells across the state's Central Valley farm belt start to go dry.

The ongoing California drought has pitted wild salmon against farmers in a fight for water. While growers of almonds, one of the state's biggest and most lucrative crops, enjoy booming production and skyrocketing sales to China, the fish, it seems, might be left high and dry this summer—and maybe even dead.

Let me guess how you feel about your urine: Get that smelly stuff away from me as fast as possible?

A small group of environmentalists in Vermont isn't as squeamish. Instead of flushing their pee down the drain, they're collecting it with special toilets that separate No. 1 and No. 2.

Then they're pooling the urine of the 170 volunteers in the pilot project (a quart or so, per person, daily) and eventually giving it to a farmer, who's putting it on her hay fields in place of synthetic fertilizer. The goal is to collect 6,000 gallons this year.

Washington's pollution standards would be made much tougher -- making water clean enough that people can safely eat a daily serving of locally caught fish and shellfish -- under a plan laid out by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The governor announced Wednesday that he wants Washington to set the same fish-consumption standards that guide water pollution rules in Oregon.

As a consequence, waters in Washington would be clean enough that people can consume 175 grams of fish a day, up from the current standard of 6.5 grams a day.

Most of the southwestern U.S. is in the midst of some level of drought. Parts of California, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas are all seeing extreme drought, as rainfall and winter snowpacks have been far below average.

One of the biggest factors affecting water supplies in these hot, dry places is evaporation. Reservoirs can lose as much water to evaporation as the water that’s actually pumped out of them for drinking water.

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