Fragile Colorado River Peace, South Georgia's Penguins and our Interview and Heroes OTW
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Friday, May 4th, 2018

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Colorado River Water Wars

The Colorado River stretches for 1,450 miles and provides water for about 40 million Americans, and millions of acres of farmland in the American West. As Grist wrote, for generations, we’ve been using too much of the Colorado River and in the next 40 years, the region is expected to add at least 10 million more people, just as the region’s rainfall is becoming more erratic.

Users of Colorado River water below Lake Mead — including the cities of Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas (collectively referred to as the “lower basin”) — rely on the reservoir as a lifeline. The people in the lower basin exist partly at the mercy of what happens in the upper basin, an area encompassing the snowcapped peaks of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and northern New Mexico, the source region of the river. Upper basin cities such as Denver and Salt Lake City are becoming nervous because of reduced snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and the lingering drought (there's also no major reservoir in the Rockies). 

Tensions between states have been rising over water use when 4 states--Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming--plus Denver’s water utility recently accused the Central Arizona Water Conservation District of trying to avoid a reduction in its share of the Colorado River while others are voluntarily cutting back to avoid a crisis amid a prolonged drought. Then the upper basin city of Pueblo, Colorado, pulled out of a regional conservation program, further threatening long-term cooperation throughout the Colorado River basin. Denver has threatened to do the same and this quick escalation shows the fragile state of interstate water cooperation.

Why This Matters: These early water wars could be the unwinding of nearly 100-year-old series of multi-state compacts (collectively called “The Law of the River”) that have helped populations in the American West boom and thrive while over-relying on the Colorado River. Additionally, projections show that Lake Mead is likely to dip below the critical threshold of 1,075 feet above sea level late next year. That could trigger the first official “call on the river”--a legally-mandated cutback for certain users aimed at avoiding an all-out free-for-all. To make matters worse, if we continue on our current carbon emissions trajectory, climate change could cause a crippling mega-drought in the American Southwest that would last a generation and change the way of life for every person in region. 

 Climate Change

Why Climate Change is Unjust/HotMess PBS series
Hot Mess Express

If you haven't yet checked out the new PBS Youtube show Hot Mess then do yourself a favor and head over to their page. Hot Mess is "a show about how climate change impacts all of us, and about how we can create a better future for our planet and ourselves" (<-- we're all about that!). The show is hosted by reporters/scientists, Miriam Nielsen, Talia Buford, and Joe Hanson

This week's episode, titled 'Why Climate Change is Unjust', is a great primer on environmental justice (we highly recommend that you watch it). Talia Buford breaks down the concept for those that may be unfamiliar:

"Not every community experiences climate change in the same way, some communities have more resources, better infrastructure, or more political capital. The concept to deal with these inequalities is called environmental justice." 

Talia also gave an illuminating history lesson about environmental justice within the EPA and how we need to push politicians to talk about EJ issues and enact legislation ensuring our government recognizes minority and low-income community needs when it comes to climate change. 

Why This Matters: As our country begins to grapple with climate change and how to help Americans adapt to its effects, it's important to bring all communities to the table and understand their unique challenges. Wealthy Americans have the luxury of picking up and moving but many others are stuck in places that are getting hotter, more flooded, economically damaged, and more dangerous to human health. 


Tybee Island, Georgia  Photo: Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress
Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration - Look Out For the Lost Nukes

As the Trump Administration mulls whether to grant permits for oil and gas survey work off the Atlantic Coast, new concerns are being raised about whether oil and gas drilling should go forward there.  The reason -- the risk of disturbing a nuclear warhead that was "irretrievably lost" off the coast of Tybee Island, Georgia in 1958 and hundreds of drums of toxic waste dumped in these offshore areas for years.  

Interestingly, in this battle, it seems that the oil and gas industry is up against the tourism industry and many local small businesses.  "The radioactive material is still there, and we don't know what will happen under seismic testing. ... This is nothing to play with," said Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.  However, oil and gas industry officials say there is nothing for the public to worry about.  "This latest false claim against seismic surveys in the Atlantic appears to be yet another case of fearmongering by groups and officials opposed to oil and gas exploration and development," said Gail Adams, vice president of communications and external affairs for the Houston-based International Association of Geophysical Contractors.

Why This Matters: A 2009 Defense Department report identified the general locations of 33 munition sites in the Atlantic, including five off the South Carolina coast -- all of which overlap with the proposed "blast area" under review now.  According to a follow-up report to Congress in 2016, the DoD said it would be best to leave these sites alone, warning that disturbing the munitions "may cause them to either break apart and release their contents or detonate.  Either scenario can have an adverse effect on human health and the environment," the report said.  Leaving well enough alone does seem like the better course of action.  



ODP Exclusive Interview with Dr. Kathryn Mengerink, Executive Director of the Waitt Institute

The Waitt Institute partners with governments committed to developing and implementing comprehensive, science-based, community-driven solutions for sustainable ocean management.

ODP: What does the Waitt Institute view as the most pressing problems for our oceans?

KM: The greatest challenge facing the ocean is the inability or unwillingness of people to take the actions needed to better protect our oceans.  I do not think it is overstating the issue to say that every ocean ecosystem faces some threat from human activity—be it overfishing, coastal runoff, habitat destruction, climate change, or otherwise.  However, we have many solutions to address these challenges. What is needed is the political and community leadership to make the hard decisions to balance activities that are destructive yet provide short-term gains with actions and decisions that ensure our oceans thrive in the future.

ODP: You work closely with coastal communities to help them restore their marine environments, what have been some of your successes that give you hope?

KM: What gives me the most hope are the individuals in the island communities where we work that are advancing a sustainable ocean agenda. I recently completed a trip to Tonga, a Pacific island nation with an ocean 1,000 times larger than its land mass.  Here, we are partnering with the Government of Tonga, the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (a local NGO), and others to support sustainable ocean management.  Tonga has pulled together a team of high level civil servants from across seven Ministries who are designing a marine spatial plan with the aim to protect 30% of their marine environment.  Observing one of their meetings demonstrated true partnership with their effort to balance existing needs with the need to ensure future Tongans have the same opportunity. Efforts like these give me great hope for a sustainable ocean future.

ODP: Why do oceans matter even to people who don’t live anywhere near them?

KM:We are an ocean planet, which is not simply about surface area. The air we breathe, the weather we face, the food we eat, and so much more depend on the ocean.  While any one action may not have a global impact, the cumulative actions of more than 7 billion people surviving on this planet have profound impacts on the ocean and its inhabitants even when those people are hundreds of miles from the coast.   Our food choices, energy choices, our choices about what and how much we consume, all have implications on the health and function of our oceans.

ODP: What can people do in their everyday lives to help protect the ocean?

KM: We can all take small steps to improve ocean health—use less plastic, don’t litter, make our homes more energy efficient, carpool or take public transportation, choose more sustainable fish to eat, and limit our use of fertilizers and pesticides.  Taking a slightly bigger step, in many places in the world, we have the right to voice our ideas, concerns, and desires—we can attend public meetings to learn about issues, provide written and verbal comments about plans and regulations, engage on social media, advocate.  Or people can take even larger steps to lead their community, region, or nation toward a more sustainable future.

ODP: What’s the coolest experience you’ve had exploring the ocean?

KM: This might be the hardest question.  I have been fortunate enough to have several really incredible experiences, so I will limit it to two favorites.  One is my home ocean. I remain completely enamored with the Southern California kelp forests and seagrass beds, despite how cold it is (brr!), especially on days with good visibility and a bit of surge.  There is nothing like being underwater, swishing back and forth with the kelp and fishes, and if you are lucky being visited by an inquisitive harbor seal.

A second favorite experience is snorkeling with kids while they discover the magic of the ocean.  About a year ago, I had the opportunity to jump in the water with Fish N Fins, a snorkel club on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean.  My snorkel buddy was a young girl who was making one of her first forays to a nearby coral reef. It was pretty incredible to have her tow me around, pointing out everything awesome about her ocean.  That day, I got to learn a little, see a green sea turtle, and hang with a future ocean leader.


South Georgia Island, a British territory, at sunrise.  

The Great Blue Belt of Britain

The U.K. and its "Overseas Territories" are custodians to the fifth-largest marine territory in the world with biodiversity of global significanceThe U.K. government created the Blue Belt Programme to provide long-term protection for over four million square kilometers of marine protection across the Overseas Territories and thereby meet its U.N. commitment to protect 10% of the world’s coastal and marine areas by 2020. 

One of the Overseas Territories with the greatest biodiversity is the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) -- a sub-Antarctic archipelago that is near pristine and home to some of the world’s most significant wildlife populations. It is home to one-fourth of the world's penguins (and as you know, we at ODP love penguins).  But the archipelago’s environment faces an uncertain future largely because of a changing climate. The SGSSI was designated as a "Sustainable Use Marine Protected Area" in 2012 -- it currently prohibits bottom trawling but allows fishing for toothfish, icefish, and krill in the MPA.

Now environmental groups like the Pew Trusts are urging full protection (a total ban on fishing) of the entire maritime territory of the SGSSI in order safeguard the marine environment and to support critical scientific analysis of the impact of climate changes in these waters, as well as in the wider Southern Ocean region that stretches to Antarctica. Films like the one below are how they are making their pitch.  

Why This Matters:  Countries like the U.K. and the U.S. will need to fully protect large areas of ocean territory in remote places like SGSSI if we are to have any chance of meeting the goal of 10% of the ocean protected by 2020.  The Blue Belt Programme is ambitious and essential.  Between the Blue Belt commitment and the plastics ban it recently announced, the U.K. is taking a leading role in global ocean conservation.

To Dive Deeper into the Blue Belt:  click here.  

Beautiful Video from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Ocean Legacy Program.


India Skinner, Mikayla Sharrieff, and Bria Snell, 11th graders from Washington. 
Photo: Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post
Heroes of the Week:  India Skinner, Mikayla Sharrieff, and Bria Snell

These three superstars in the making are juniors at Benjamin Banneker High in Washington, D.C. and have developed a method to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains.  Last month, NASA announced that the trio were finalists in the agency’s prestigious high school science competition — and the only all-black, female team to make it that far, to boot.  

NASA allows the public to vote on which team should win its competition.  When this talented team took to a social media site called 4 Chan to promote their project, things got ugly.  An anonymous person posted on the site using racial epithets to argued that the students’ project did not deserve to be a finalist and said that the black community was voting for them only because of their race. The person urged others to vote against the Banneker trio, and one other user offered to put the topic on an Internet thread about President Trump to garner more attention. The posts even recommended computer programs that would hack the voting system to give a team of teenage boys a boost.  As a result, NASA was forced to end early the public voting portion of the competition.  But the mayor of D.C. provided a $4000 grant to the girls to continue their research at a city-sponsored Innovation Incubator focused on diversity and entrepreneurship.  

According to the Washington Post, the girls are looking forward to college and plan to pursue careers rooted in science. Skinner wants to be a pediatric surgeon, Sharrieff aims to be a biomedical engineer, and Snell hopes to be an anesthesiologist.  “The popular norm is sports and modeling and advertising,” Skinner said. “And for people to see our faces, and see we’re just regular girls, and we want to be scientists.”  Regardless of what happens in the NASA competition, these three young women are winners in our book!

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