Jobs from the Drain, or the Road
President Obama, in his jobs speech, endorsed legislation that would create a national infrastructure bank for financing water, energy and transportation projects. Called the BUILD Act, the bill is co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans and is supported by the nation’s largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, and its largest business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Drugs in the Water
The U.S. Government Accountability Office surveyed the body of knowledge relating to pharmaceuticals in drinking water and assessed five programs in the U.S. for properly disposing unwanted or unused medications. The GAO recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency, in order to collect data on the occurrence and health effects of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, should establish a working group of relevant federal agencies.
Too Soon for Space Umbrellas
The U.S. Government Accountability Office also released a technological assessment of climate engineering, concluding that the technologies for cooling the planet and pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere are “immature” and are not currently viable. A public opinion survey conducted by the GAO found that most American adults are not familiar with climate engineering, also known as ‘geo-engineering’.
A Model Endeavor
Nutrients are good, except when they aren’t. The caveat comes when too many nutrients cause things like algae blooms which take up oxygen that other aquatic species need to survive.
Now, the U.S. Geological Survey has developed a model to show how certain nutrient sources—agricultural, industrial and sewage—affect downstream water quality. Water managers can use the tool to plan more effective nutrient-reduction programs. The model, called SPARROW, breaks the contiguous U.S. into eight large regions, but the California model is a work in progress.
Age of the Satellite
A NASA satellite mission to measure ocean salinity has started transmitting data. Launched in June, the Aquarius satellite will broaden scientific understanding of the global climate by measuring salt concentrations at the ocean’s surface. Salinity affects ocean circulation which in turn affects the global climate. Preliminary results will be available in the coming months.
It came in too late to be included in last week’s natural disaster-themed digest, but this item highlights a cataclysm that wasn’t mentioned: fire. Fire, as it turns out, is in something of a slump. NASA’s What on Earth blog points out that fires, as measured by the number of acres burned, are decreasing globally. Now, the data series is not long (only going back 13 years) but the downward trend is unmistakable. The mechanisms for fire depend on local conditions, but NASA scientists point out that heat and drought, because they limit the amount of fuel, do not necessarily lead to flames.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton