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Issues USA: Southwest

Historical Drought of California

By Jason Zheng


Water Scarcity in California

by Justin Bingham


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Our Environment,

Our Health, Our Problem

by John A. Hurt

Emerging Scarcity:

Projections Closer Than We Thought

By Brigitte Keen

As of the second week of March 2015, the media has been ablaze with the news thatCalifornia’s reservoirs will expire in just one year. NASA senior water scientist, Jay Famiglietti, announced via Op-Ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, thatCalifornia has less time than originally conceived. Over the past 13 years, there has been a steady decline in water levels throughout the region.

Now,California is faced with a State ofEmergency, declared for the first time, an “Exceptional Drought”, which is the worst known classification of drought. Thus far, there has been no contingency plan for the immediate or distant future. Since recording began in 1895, 2014 has been noted as the warmest year yet, globally, with 2015 following closely in its footsteps. Famiglietti stated that “groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows;” there was a 34 million acre-feet deficit in the San Joaquin river basins, and Sacremento as of 2014, a 12 million acre-feet deficit annually since 2011, and for these reasons only one year remains for the existing reservoirs. Several hundred million dollars have been pledged on behalf of the President and Governor ofCalifornia, Jerry Brown, which have since been shot down by Congress. A recent $50 million pledge has been made by the federal government that may be passed to aid in drought recovery.

For now, water conservation has been made top priority. Brown asked his fellow Californians last year to reduce their water use by 10 percent. This number has increased over the last year, to a requested 20 percent cut. Rules set in place last year included; no watering of driveways or patios, no over-watering of gardens leading to runoff, no car washing without a shutoff nozzle, and no potable water used for garden fountains.

The additional rules set in place as of 2015 are; for restaurants to only bring patrons water when specifically requested, for hotels to offer guests the option of declining housekeeping services that involve laundering, for water agencies to be required to indicate when leaks occur on the property of their clients, as well as restricting outdoor watering to two days per week, and households and businesses are not to water outdoors within two days of rainfall or during rainfall.

While Brown has addressed the issue in part, he is also “reluctant” to mandate full-scale rationing, citing that he’d prefer to keep the power among the people, not the state. In adherence, the peoplehave spoken. Dr. Jill Reiss of Calabasas, suggested that desalination plants be distributed throughout the coastline in order to increase the amount of potable water, and decrease the amount of non-potable salt water. Also, by terminating the production of water-intensive crops, such as rice, and fracking, which requires a vast amount of water, conservation may be aided. Some believe, however, that the issue does not lie with water conservation, as much as awareness of the problem’s severity.

Although, in a recent poll, 94 percent of Californians say they know the severity of the issue, yet only one-third agree that rationing should be mandatory. With increased efforts on the part of the citizens ofCalifornia and enforcement thereof, hopefully the tide can turn.

The EPA’s Denial:

The Past, Present and Future of the Gold King Mine Spill

By Jason Zheng

The Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado was the primary source of income and economy of the region until 1991. The mine has been abandoned since 1923 and was nominated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Superfund site for clean-up. Many of the local perceived this would drastically decrease in their tourism, thus town did not accept the funding for clean-up. The EPA’s came to a conclusive judgment stating that the Upper Animas water basin became devoid of fish, plants and animal species were all affected negatively before the ecological disaster occurred. However, the apparently the EPA ignored early stages of warnings decided to proceed without caution.

On August 5, 2015 workers destroyed the dam holding three million gallons of mine waste water was let loose while tapping the tailing pond. The states of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are all affected. In addition to the Animas and San Juan rivers being contaminated, the Navajo Nation is also at the brinks of destruction.

The Associated Press of New York utilized the Freedom of Information Act in order to obtain EPA files of the U.S. government aware of the consequences of the Gold King Mine. Officials knew the “blowout risk for tainted water in the mine”, which ultimately would result in the EPA’s interventions. This information came into the EPA’s attention around June 2014, but the agency repeatedly stated that the mine was “potential for blowout” because inside the mine held large quantity of contaminated water and sediment. However, an EPA spokeswoman could not cite the precautionary measures the agency took against the warnings.

During the course of the EPA’s investigation, the agency has posted tables on their website to highlight the amount of contaminants in the water. Their find shows that there are 6.13ppb for cadmium, which the state limit is 5ppb; 264ppb for arsenic, with a state limit of 10ppb; 326,000ppb for iron, above the limit of 1,000ppb; 1,120ppb copper, state level is 1,000pb and last but not least, 3,044 ppb for manganese, with the state level of 50ppb.

The EPA has taken full responsibility for this ecological disaster, however the agency failed to notify the local residents about the spill more than 24 hours. There are no reasons why the EPA gave a delayed response. Nonetheless, the Clean Water Act (CWA) can apply to this disaster. However, the CWA can also prevent federal agencies and clean-up personnel from legal liability, such as protection for negligence or if the clean-up crew trigger a new pollution during the clean-up phase. The CWA will be further investigated later on in the brief.

In the larger picture the disaster greatly affected the daily lives of the people of Navajo Nation. The people on Navajo reservation primarily use water for their crops (e.g. corn, melons, and squashes), livestock and drinking. The president of the Navajo Nation, Russell Begaye stated that his people are being deceived by the EPA. Begaye was accompanied with some Navajo officials to inspect the mine, in response to the EPA’s claim that the water was clearing up, however Begaye states “we wanted our people to see the water is still yellow”.

President Begaye told his people not to sign a form from the EPA citing that the agency is “not responsible for the damage to crop and livestock”. Which stated earlier in this brief that EPA was aware of structural integrity of the mine, but chose to ignore it. By their action, the agency should face responsibility of their actions.

Two weeks without water, would wipe out the corn and alfalfa crops (before harvest) in the Navajo reservations. If this happens, then the people would lose an entire year’s salary. For long-terms, the people of Navajo would also lose their ability to market meat and produce as free-range organic. Currently 30,000 acres of crops are in danger without irrigation.

The ban for the Animas and San Juan rivers were lifted on August 16, 2015, however that was too soon. Officials of the San Juan County have stated that that the rivers are resuming normal operations, accompanied with a mandatory emergency plan that included restriction of water on recreational use. The Navajo Nations however remain reluctant to this claim.

Begaye relies on his Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency to see if the heavy metals have completely dropped out of the water in Silverton and Duragno area. Furthermore, the Navajo Nation are aware that for necessary for the contaminated water to be flushed out, it is necessary for the water to travel through the reservations. On August 22, the Navajo Nation voted unanimously to refrain using water from the Animas River for one year, however these were against the beliefs of their president, Begaye.

There has not been a documented case of the effects of the water on humans, however there have been small numbers of fish kills. Due to this it make it much more difficult for official to determine the short and long term impacts of the spill.

The effects of the Gold Mine Spill also brought federal policing to attention. The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the most current federal policy that has been widely debated onto distinguishing the suitable types of water that will be protected under the Act. The CWA prohibits development on wetlands without a federal permit, applying only to the “water of the United States” (WOTUS). However, the federal government added a revision to the CWA, which “allows EPA regulation of waters that do not bear any effect on the ‘chemical physical, and biological integrity’ of any navigable-in-fact-water”. This rule has been blocked by 13 states citing that the new federal jurisdiction impedes states sovereignty.

Given the most current actions of the EPA and federal governments, they should be not relied on. There were early warning signs of this spill happening, but to save money and time, the EPA did not see it as an urgent matter to their agenda. However, now more time and money has been wasted to clean-up this chemical spill. It is understandable why states are opting for their local clean-up crew, rather than seeking out federal help which just make this much worse.

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