Window Seat: A Land and Water Use Perspective

I recently completed a few legal assignments for Telisport Putsavage, an attorney with more than 30 years of experience practicing environmental law.  He has served as Assistant Counsel of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and Assistant Attorney General in the Maryland Department of the Environment.  He also rarely travels without his camera.

Telisport shot these photos during a flight from Phoenix to Washington, DC.  Water scarcity and land use are two themes depicted in his images.  The photo below shows a wildfire east of Phoenix.  This fire is most likely the Whitewater – Baldy Fire, the largest fire in New Mexico’s history, which was caused by severe drought and above-normal temperatures.

      
The photos below show different styles of irrigation used in the Great Plains.  Central pivot irrigation creates circle formations, while lateral spray and drip irrigation methods allow for an entire square plot of land to be watered.  The photo to the left also depicts the wells that most likely lead to an underground aquifer where the water is sourced.

   

The photos below show drier areas of land used for agriculture.  Water for irrigation is typically sourced from groundwater aquifers (extracted from springs or wells), or surface water from rivers and lakes.  However, in extremely dry areas, treated wastewater, desalinated water, or drainage water can be used.  USGS estimates that 60% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals go toward irrigation uses.

   

The photo below and to the left shows an area of land that is most likely irrigated with water from the river running through the center.  To the bottom right is an area that is probably subject to natural gas drilling.  Perhaps it was taken somewhere above the Barnett Shale.

                         

The final photo shows an area where mineral resources are being extracted.  Thanks for sharing Tel!

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In Japan a year after the Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster

On March 11, 2011, the most severe earthquake on record hit the Pacific coast of Japan.  This earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves, which caused serious accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Emergency generators used to pump necessary coolant to three nuclear reactors failed, causing the reactors to overheat and explode.  This “meltdown” caused the release of dangerous amounts of radioactive materials into the surrounding area.  Besides the Fukushima disaster, the earthquake devastated neighborhoods in northeastern Japan.

A few friends and I visited Japan a year after the earthquake.  Our host, Mike Peragine, filmed the footage below in Ishinomaki shortly after the earthquake hit.

Earthquakes are far from a rare occurrence in Japan.  The film below depicts all of the earthquakes to hit Japan in 2011.  Watch it until at least March 11th!  It becomes clearer why anti-nuclear activists argue that nuclear reactors should not be placed in earthquake prone areas, among other things.

To protect against flood damage from tsunamis, the Japanese government developed the G-Cans project, a $2B underground waterway and water storage area.  This futuristic system was dubbed the “underground temple.”

  

A few of my photos from the trip are below.

  

  

“Long Live the Mighty Salmon”

Salmonids are special because they spawn in fresh water, spend most of their lives at sea, then migrate against strong currents back to river sources to reproduce.  The Coho, Chinook and Sockeye salmon, and the Steelhead trout are popular salmonidae species in the Pacific Northwest.  The images below depict the headwaters of the Washougal River where salmonids reproduce and spawn.

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Before modern development, it is estimated that 10 to 16 million salmonids returned each year to the Columbia River Basin from the Pacific Ocean.  Today, these salmon runs have declined about 90% to 1.5 million fish.  What’s the biggest culprit?  Hundreds of hydroelectric, irrigation and flood control dams built in the Columbia River Basin.  The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission estimates that dams are responsible for 70-90% of human-induced salmon kills.

The video below depicts a salmon migrating upstream toward a dam. Excuse my remarks, I’m very excited to capture this fish on film!

Dams contribute to the decline in salmon population in a number of ways.  Dam turbines can kill or stun migrating salmon, stir up salmon eggs, and change the water temperature and turbidity needed for healthy salmon runs.  The photo on the left depicts the dam that our fishy friend filmed above had to pass.  The photo to the right depicts a fish that didn’t make it.

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One method to protect fish from dam danger, which is almost as old as the concept of the dam itself, is the construction of fish diversion ladders.  This article from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council discusses fish ladder pros and cons.  Also, various articles in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management analyze experimental fish ladders.  I hate to use non-original fish ladder photos from the Internet, but the Bonneville Dam fish ladder was closed when I tried to visit. 😦 I recently moved to the East Coast, so these photos will suffice.I: I’ve

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Salmon advocates such as Save Our Wild Salmon and native tribes argue that dam removal is a more effective method of salmonid population restoration.   A group of salmon advocates filed a lawsuit against the federal government (National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service III) arguing that the federal Salmon Plan, also known as the 2010 Biological Opinion for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because it relied on “unidentified and uncertain habitat enhancement measures.”  In the summer of 2011, the Federal District Court of Oregon found that the Salmon Plan violated the ESA.  This means that the federal government must craft a new plan and analyze more alternatives, such as dam decommissioning. 

Ian O’Brien photographed the images below during our trip to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery.  The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission estimates that 75% of the salmonids in the Columbia Basin are raised in hatcheries.

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Trudy McDonald, my good friend and anthropology enthusiast, developed the PowerPoint  presentation linked below.  It explains the aboriginal system of catching and storing salmon, and how native tribes maintained optimal populations of salmon for future generations.  I also need to credit Trudy for the title of this post.

Historical Ecology Presentation Photo of Trudy at work.

Amazing Wastewater-to-Fertilizer Innovation!

Phosphorus is essential for plant growth.  It becomes a nutrient in our food, then part of our waste.  As the global demand for food rises, the demand for phosphorus rises as well.  The problem is that it’s also a non-renewable resource. The majority of the phosphorus used for agriculture is derived by mining phosphate rock.

Durham Advanced Wastewater Treatment  is a state-of-the-art facility that recovers phosphorus from household/human waste to make inorganic (ie mineral) fertilizer pellets.   This is remarkable because most wastewater treatment plants just dispose of phosphorus.  Disposal increases the demand for mined phosphorus, which will eventually run out.  In fact, current global reserves may be depleted in 50  to 100 years!

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Durham developed its nutrient recovery process after being the target of a lawsuit.   In 1988, Oregon tightened its standards for the amount of phosphorus allowed in the Tualatin River from 2000 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.  Durham’s discharge into the Tualatin did not meet these standards, so students from Lewis & Clark Law School found millions of dollars in Clean Water Act  violations.   Durham resolved the problem, becoming the “first facility in the U.S. to recover  fertilizer from  a natural byproduct of wastewater treatment.”

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Because it’s a licensed fertilizer producer, Durham is one of the few water treatment municipalities that actually earns a profit.  The recovery technology developed by Ostara is patented, but the patent only costs $1.  Today, Durham welcomes visitors from around the world to tour the facility and implement the technology elsewhere.  Enjoy the photos from my tour!

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Sequential: A Different Approach to Fuel

Sequential Biofuels is an Oregon-based company that uses collected and harvested oils to create a cheaper, cleaner-burning alternative to regular gasoline.  They sell bioethanol, biodiesel and a biodiesel blend, so almost any car can fill up.

Switching to biofuel is definitely not a solution to the global energy crisis, but Sequential’s business model is worth noting. First, Sequential Pacific Biodiesel collects waste cooking oil and harvests Oregon-grown canola.  Then, five million gallons of fuel per year are produced by a chemical process called transesterifiation in the Salem, Oregon production facility.

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Whether biofuels are an environmentally friendly petroleum replacement is debatable.  Collecting waste cooking oil is much more sustainable than growing agricultural feedstocks like canola, sugar cane and corn for the purpose of manufacturing biofuel.  This is because agricultural feedstocks require large amounts of land and energy to produce.  Click here to find a used cooking oil collection station near you.  Restaurants and individuals can use this service.

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Whether or not to support Sequential and business models of the like is your prerogative.  Regular gasoline uses non-renewables, requires drilling and creates exhaust that is harmful to the surrounding air shed and ozone layer.  There’s also the problem of gasoline storage (see my 1/29/11 post).  Biofuel is associated with agricultural pollution, CO2 emissions, high food prices, deforestation and even famine.  Electric vehicles have fewer emissions, but plug into the energy grid, relying on energy sources like coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, geothermal and biomass.  I’d love to ride around in one of these solar powered cars.  Until then, you can find me on my bike (most of the time).

I shot the above photos at the Sequential station in Eugene, Oregon.  Note the 244 solar panels that provide 30-50% of the station’s electrical power, the organic food selection and the living roof, which helps prevent storm water runoff!

Richardson Grove: Trucks v. Trees

The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) is proposing to widen a portion of Highway 101 that runs through Richardson Grove State Park on California’s north coast.  The project is part of former Governor Schwarzenegger’s Strategic Growth Plan to allow over-sized trucks (over 8 1/2 ft wide) to traverse 101.  Richardson Grove is home to old-growth Redwood trees that range between 1,000 and 3,00 years old.  Some of the Redwoods are 18 feet in diameter! I had a chance to visit this park on my way to San Francisco from Portland.

CalTrans is planning to cut the roots of approximately 66 Redwood trees and remove approximately 54 other non-old growth trees.  According to the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Redwoods have shallow roots and deep cuts can cause these trees to die.

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EPIC , the Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and three individuals are suing CalTrans for violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  This law requires CalTrans to create a thorough Environmental Impact Report  before it is undergoes a project that could effect the environment.  The plaintiffs argue that there is a lack of data necessary for CalTrans to properly determine the environmental effects of the road widening project.   

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Nestle’s Attempt to Tap Into Oregon Spring Water

Many companies in the bottled water industry just bottle purified tap water.  On the theory that consumers will pay more  for bottled spring water, Nestle’ is trying to buy spring water generated by Oxbow Springs in Cascade Locks, Oregon.   Water from Oxbow Springs flows into the Columbia River Gorge (by way of Herman Creek) and provides a habitat for a variety of salmonid species.   This spring, shown below, is special because it provides one of the coldest and largest thermal refuges for fish.

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In Nestle’s proposed plan, Nestle’ would pay the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to take some of the spring water and replace it with an equivalent amount of city well water.   The two photos below are of the Oxbow Fish Hatchery, which currently uses water from Oxbow Springs.::::::::::

A few additional consequences of this proposed exchange: Nestle’ will need to build a spring water extracting and bottling plant;  there will be over 210 Nestle’ truck trips per day through local roads of Cascade Locks;  Nestle’ will profit from selling the city’s spring water and ODFW will make a fraction of a penny per gallon of water sold.  Food & Water Watch asks, “How much money will Nestle’ make from bottling the community’s water and how much does this compare to what the company is offering Cascade Locks?”  Sierra Club and Columbia Riverkeeper are also keeping a close eye on Nestle’.  Below are a few shots from the spring head.   The next photos depict the spring water flowing into the fish hatchery.

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A few years ago, Nestle’ attempted to make a similar deal with the town of McCloud, CA to extract spring water from  Mt. Shasta.  Californians took Nestle’ to court and after five years of local opposition, Nestle’ withdrew its proposal.  It ended up bottling water from the Sacramento public water supply.

Megan Summerour shot the four photos below, which depict Mt. Shasta and its surrounding waters.  Thanks Megan!

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Click here to sign the Food & Water Watch petition to keep Nestle’ out of the Gorge.

Check out this pretty cool blog dedicated to keeping Nestle’ out of the Gorge.