Aug 25

Green Water Is Not Always A Good Thing!

Unchecked pollution chokes Lebanon’s rivers

August 26, 2011 01:44 AM By Niamh Fleming-Farrell

The Daily Star

BEIRUT: “Let me tell you one thing,” Raghida Haddad, the executive editor of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia, a Lebanese environment and development magazine, says. “There are 12 rivers in Lebanon that go into the sea, and you can call them sewers.

”Poisoned with effluent and often strewn with garbage, Lebanon’s rivers are grotty and unwell. They should be both a source of usable water and recreation, but a report published by the United Nations Development Program and the Environment Ministry in 2010 compiled data showing that rivers, both coastal and inland, contain unacceptable levels of raw sewage. In many, E-coli and coliform are not only above acceptable levels for drinking water, they are also above levels acceptable for bathing water as set by the Environment Ministry.

Blessed among its neighbors in terms of water potential, Lebanon’s contaminated rivers are both a source of sickness and disease and a contributor to the pollution of the country’s coast and marine life.

Haddad points out that the high concentration of heavy metals in river water can accumulate in the human body, affecting the nervous and digestive systems and damaging the heart and kidneys. Meanwhile Mark Saadeh, PhD, a hydrogeology specialist, recites a phrase well known in his profession: “The health of a marine environment is determined by the state of rivers.”

The interconnection of aquifers, rivers, seas and oceans means that pollutants added to any one of these will inevitably affect the others.

Saadeh pulls up a file on his computer and opens a series of images of the Litani river, Lebanon’s longest waterway. The pictures show a bright green, algae-covered channel. “It’s turned into a sewer system,” Saadeh says. “It’s not even moving; it’s stagnant.”

He explains how older people living along the river describe a time when it was clear and fast flowing, and they would happily use it for swimming and as a source of drinking water.

But since Saadeh first studied the waterway as a consultant with the Litani River Authority some five or six years ago, it has looked just as it does in his photographs. “It cannot get any worse than this,” he says.

What has happened can be explained with a short science lesson, which Saadeh provides. The high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus found in fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture and in raw sewage and detergents seep into the country’s rivers and ultimately groundwater sources. Once in the rivers, these nutrients set off the process of eutrophication, whereby their addition induces an excessive growth of algae and plankton, clogging up the waterway, greatly reducing water quality and bringing about the collapse of the river’s natural ecosystem.

The solutions to this problem appear obvious: regulate use of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides and treat wastewater to avoid the seepage of raw sewage into rivers. But, Saadeh says, “precious little” is being done to address river pollution.

“There’s a huge black hole between legislation and execution [in Lebanon],” he says in explanation for the seemingly unregulated use of fertilizers. However, where a significant impact may be made – in the treatment of raw sewage – Lebanon fails on a grand scale. It is the “only country in the Middle East not treating its wastewater, save Yemen, I believe,” Saadeh says.

Haddad is of a similar view. The “authorities are not doing anything,” she says. “There is not one functioning wastewater treatment plant [in Lebanon].” Wastewater treatment plants have been built in the country. As he goes through his photographs, Saadeh points out one located next to the Qaraoun dam on the Litani. “It isn’t functional,” he says.

Former Environment Minister Mohammad Rahal says that many international organizations, the UNDP, USAID and EU among them, have helped Lebanon build works to treat its wastewater, but these WWTPs have not been maintained by the government. He believes there are two possible causes for WWTPs falling into disoperation in Lebanon: perhaps the budget for their maintenance is insufficient or unavailable, or perhaps a lack of coordination between the ministries responsible for them (the Environment Ministry and the Water and Energy Ministry), the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the municipalities leads to confusion over who is tasked with maintaining the plants.

Saadeh adds to this that projects like WWTPs are high-tech and require not only money but also expertise to remain operational.

Haddad does point out though that there are plans to build a number of WWTPs both on the coast and inland. The Energy and Water Ministry although contacted to verify use and construction of WWTPs had not responded at time of print.

The pollution of Lebanon’s rivers also impacts the country’s economy. Beyond the obvious negative repercussions of pollution on tourism, pollution also harms the agricultural and industrial sectors’ potential.

Farmers tap contaminated river water to irrigate their crops, and Rahal says this has resulted in the country’s exported produce being returned.

“The EU sends vegetables back because of pollution,” he says. “We can only sell in Lebanon.”

Meanwhile the decreased water quantity available due to pollution curtails opportunities to establish industry. “Limited water resources make some industries impossible,” Saadeh says. “There’ll be no Levi’s factory in Lebanon.” (Tony Allan, a British geographer, estimates that a pair of jeans takes 11,000 liters of water to produce.)

Saadeh argues that the best thing Lebanon can do to deal with water pollution aside from building wastewater treatment plants is educate its citizens about water conservation.

“Water quantity is inextricably linked to pollution because water efficiency and conservation would lead to reduction in effluent volumes,” he says.

As an initial step, he suggests metering water use and charging people on the basis of the volume used rather than a flat rate for an annual water connection. He also recommends revision of the irrigation systems used in agriculture – the furrow, flood, and sprinkler irrigation systems favored in Lebanon use larger quantities of water and are much less efficient than drip irrigation systems. Finally, he recommends the installation of more discerning household plumbing – toilet flush systems that give the option of both a smaller and a larger flush would be a good starting point, Saadeh says.

But, he concludes, “change is going to require a shock to the system.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 26, 2011, on page 12.

Aug 22

Atlantic Garbage Patch Getting Smaller Or Just Smaller Pieces?

Eating Garbage: Plastic In Ocean Is A Bad Deal – And Meal – For Fish

(SEA) ATLANTIC OCEAN — The garbage patch may not be growing, but the plastic ends up somewhere. Plastic waste is either disintegrating and floating to the ocean floor or eaten by unsuspecting fish. Researchers explain why either scenario is hard to digest. – Global Animal  – August 22, 2011

National Geographic News, Rachel Kaufman

At first, it seemed like good news: Measurements of the “garbage patch” in the Atlantic Ocean showed that the amount of plastic trash there hasn’t increased over the past two decades.

Similar to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the North Atlantic garbage patch is somewhat like a region of plastic soup, although “soup implies you can see the vegetables,” said study leader Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association (SEA) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Instead, most of the Atlantic trash is in the form of tiny plastic bits—from bags and bottles blown off landfills or tossed into the sea—swirling in a still undefined region of open ocean hundreds of miles off the North American coast.

Law and colleagues recently analyzed data from the Atlantic garbage patch collected over the past 22 years and found that the concentration of stuff in the patch hasn’t grown over time.

But even taking increased recycling rates into account, humans’ plastic use over the past two decades has increased. So where has all the plastic gone?

It’s possible some of the trash is just too small for researchers to catalog, study leader Law said: “Our net only captures pieces larger than [a third of a millimeter] in size, and it’s certain that the plastic breaks down into pieces smaller than that.”

Some of the fragments might have been eaten by sea creatures that mistook the plastic for plankton—tiny, free-floating marine plants and animals. The plastic pieces could also be sinking, weighed down by colonies of marine bacteria.

Another expedition to study the patch earlier this year—led by Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen of theAlgalita Marine Research Foundation—had intended to stop and deploy a sediment sampler to test for plastic that might have sunk to the ocean floor. But that trip was cut short by bad weather, Cummins said.

Atlantic Plastic Patch Full of Mystery

Researchers can’t tell the ages of individual plastic bits, since there are no chemical techniques for dating petroleum-based products, SEA’s Law said. That makes it nearly impossible to tell if the seemingly stable amount of trash is actually due to turnover.

There’s also currently no way to track the origins of the plastic: “We’re not seeing Coke bottles stamped with ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’” Law said. A computer model of ocean circulation suggests the fastest route to the patch begins at the U.S. East Coast.

Meanwhile, even though the SEA expedition traveled a thousand miles (1,609 kilometers) east of Bermuda, “we still can’t find the eastern edge” of the patch, Law said.

The Algalita mission traveled much farther east, all the way to the Azores islands off Portugal (map), the foundation’s Eriksen said, and “we had plastics in our samples from Bermuda to the Azores.”

Overall, the results tell “a depressing story, to be honest,” SEA’s Law added. “You’re like, Great, [the patch] is not increasing! But I’m sure it is.”

Aug 03

SoLa Louisiana Water Story

From: http://www.solathefilm.com

Everywhere you look in Southern Louisiana (SoLa) there’s water – bayous, swamps, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico. And everyone in Cajun Country has a water story, or two or three. SoLa’s waterways are also home to the biggest economies in Louisiana – a $70 billion a year oil and gas industry and a $2.4 billion a year fishing business. Both are in the midst of sizable change.

Southern Louisiana has historically had a legion of insidious polluters. At the same time, SoLa has one of America’s most vital and unique cultures; if everyone who lives there has a water story they can also most likely play the accordion, dance, cook an etouffe and hunt and fish. Louisiana has long been known as both one of our most original and simultane- ously most politically corrupt states. One legacy of that corruption is a handful of environmental problems that has turned Louisiana into America’s toilet bowl:

  • A DEAD ZONE – the size of New Jersey – that grows each year in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to farming fertilizers sent down from 31 states to the north.
  • SMALL FISHERMEN squeezed out of business by a variety of pollutions, high fuel prices and international competition.
  • CYPRESS FORESTS that once stood as a barrier between hurricanes and humans have been clear-cut for garden mulch and profit.
  • COASTAL EROSION Thanks to man’s failed attempt to reign the Mississippi River, the state loses 25 square miles of coastline each year.
  • CANCER ALLEY An 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River has been turned over to the petrochemical industry. The risks are great.
  • TOXIC WASTE Decades of exploration for oil and natural gas has cut 10,000 miles of channels through the wetlands and left a wake of toxic waste in Louisiana’s waters.
  • OIL SPILLS have long been business as usual in Louisiana, crowned by the ongoing BP nightmare which has focused attention on the region as our worst ecologic disaster escalates.

In SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories, we meet some of the most unique individuals working on each of the issues, giving voice and humanity to these man-made messes. The one-hour documentary cap- tures what is most at risk environmental- ly as we continue to take the Gulf coast state for granted, while simultaneously reminding us of the culture that binds the region. If these voices are not heard, too soon what remains will all disappear, drowned by pollution, erosion, storms and man’s neglect.

FROM 1932-2000, Louisiana lost nearly 2,000 square miles of wetlands, the equivalent to the state of Delaware.

FIFTY YEARS AGO, Southern Louisiana’s Gulf coast was fifty miles wide; today it’s barely twenty. By 2050, expectations are that another 700 square miles of coastal land will disappear.

HALF OF LOUISIANA’S 4.5 million residents live in the coastal zone, where the issue of wetland loss is literally in everyone’s backyard.

THE $70 BILLION a year oil and gas industry in Louisiana accounts for twenty percent of the state’s gross economic product; eighty percent of all offshore oil platforms in the United States sit off Southern Louisiana’s shores.

THOUSANDS OF MILES OF CANALS have been dug through SoLa’s coastal marshes to aid in the construction and transportation of natural gas and oil. Combined with the century-old levee system that wrongly attempted to rein in the Mississippi River, canals contribute to the state’s erosion problems.

THE DEAD ZONE is created each year by an estimated 83,000 tons of phosphorous and 817,000 tons of nitrogen that wash into the Mississippi from farm fields and river networks of 31 northern states. It all ends up at the mouth of the river in the Gulf of Mexico, creating the world’s first and largest dead zone, currently 8,000 square miles, the size of New Jersey. In the Dead Zone, nothing lives.

GULF OF MEXICO FISHERIES supply more than thirty percent of America’s seafood, including seventy two percent of our shrimp, sixty six percent of our oysters and sixteen percent of commercial fish. As the Dead Zone and oil spill grows, the fishery gets smaller.

TWO HUNDRED PLANTS along the 85-mile industrial corridor along the Mississippi River, linking Baton Rouge and New Orleans, produce twenty five percent of America’s petrochemicals. The stretch is known as Cancer Alley.

THE PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY, at its peak, accounted for one out of every three tax dollars collected by the state and more than 165,000 jobs. The industry also discharged 150,000 tons of pollutants into the air in the form of sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides and hydrocarbons.

LOUISIANA’S WATERWAYS are at risk due to illegal logging, soil erosion, natural gas and oil development, abandoned infrastructure and pollution from chemical plants.

THE ATCHAFALAYA SWAMP is the largest contiguous hardwood forest in North America at 1.4 million acres. It supports more than half of America’s migratory waterfowl, more than 300 species of birds and 100 species of fish.

OUR NATIONAL WILDLIFE is dependant on Louisana’s marshes, serving as nurseries for millions of birds, including wintering grounds for seventy percent of the nation’s migratory waterfowl.

THE BP DISASTER has become arguably he nation’s worst environmental mess to-date, sending millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. As our two-year-in-the-making film concludes, the leak keeps on gushing.

 

Be Sure To Visit: http://www.solathefilm.com

And Watch The Video!

Jun 22

Dire forecast of marine life catastrophe – San Francisco Chronicle

The world’s oceans are degenerating far faster than predicted and marine life is facing extinction due to a range of human impacts – from overfishing to climate change – a report compiled by international scientists warned Tuesday.

The cumulative impact of “severe individual stresses,” ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification to widespread chemical pollution and overfishing, would threaten the marine environment with a catastrophe “unprecedented in human history.”

The conclusions were published by a panel of international scientists who reviewed recent research at a workshop at Oxford University in Britain. They will be presented to the United Nations in New York this week for discussions on reforming governance of the oceans.

The report warned that damage to marine life would harm its ability to support humans, and that entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs, could be lost in a generation. Coral deaths alone would be considered a mass extinction, according to study chief author Alex Rogers of Oxford University. A single bleaching event in 1998 killed one-sixth of the world’s tropical coral reefs.

Carl Lundin, director of global marine programs at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which helped produce the report with the International Program on the State of the Ocean, pointed to deaths of 1,000-year-old coral in the Indian Ocean and called the situation “really unprecedented.”

Chemicals and plastics from daily life are also causing problems for sea creatures, the report said. Overall, the world’s oceans just can’t bounce back from problems – such as oil spills – as they used to, scientists said.

“Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean,” it said.

The marine scientists called for a range of urgent measures to cut carbon emissions, reduce overfishing, shut unsustainable fisheries, create protected areas in the seas and cut pollution.

“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” Rogers said. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.”

A separate study released Monday provided the most detailed look yet of sea level rise from global warming. It found the world’s oceans have been rising significantly over the past century. The yearly rise is slightly less than one-tenth of an inch, but it adds up over decades. That study was published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article appeared on page A – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle