A public agency should be more forthcoming

Animas River post-spillWhen the EPA turned Colorado’s Animas river yellow, Republicans launched an all out offensive. Early this month, workers for the federal watchdog poked a hole in a wall blocking the outflow of effluent from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo.

The online political magazine “The Hill” reported the agency was playing defense as GOP lawmakers attacked it for causing the outpouring of toxic fluid, and then not holding itself “to the same standards as private companies that pollute.” For a few days, one of the most picturesque rivers in the American West resembled a flow of used mustard after EPA workers released millions of gallons of trapped poison from the mine – a situation the EPA normally is charged with preventing.

It occurs to me the EPA, contrary to opponents’ claims, has held itself tightly to private company standards. The federal, public, agency, once it was faced with the impossibility of disguising all those miles of once beautiful river turned baby-poop yellow, circled the wagons and began following a script with which many reporters are too familiar.

Continue reading A public agency should be more forthcoming

Water, water, everywhere (with limited drinkability)

Hands cradle the EarthThe ice is gone from my favorite paddling pond. There’s a saying from somewhere in my past that 75 percent of Earth is covered with water. Clearly, the saying goes, God intended for man to spend thrice the time fishing as working. It’s probably closer to 70 percent, but the point is well made.

About 97 percent of the planet’s water is ocean saltwater. Of the three percent that is freshwater, nearly three-quarters is trapped in polar ice and glaciers, leaving about two percent drinkable.

Continue reading Water, water, everywhere (with limited drinkability)

Water, water, every-wear, not counting what we drink

Your Water Footprint book coverIf you wear jeans, you wear water. It takes 2,000 gallons of water to make that pair of denim waist-to-ankle coverings, and another 650 gallons for the T-shirt to top the ensemble.

Growing, processing and shipping the coffee from a mountain producer to the cup you held while deciding which T-shirt and jeans to wear used another 37 gallons of water. The medium burger and fries you may have for lunch adds another 673 gallons, most of it expended in watering the growing beef and potatoes, then processing the harvest into food you can grab onto.

Continue reading Water, water, every-wear, not counting what we drink

(More than) 40 million people…

Frozen reservoirThe evening news begins nearly every night with some version of, “Forty million people will be affected by the weather tonight.” Unless another Malaysian Air flight disappears, our TV screens will be filled with 8 feet of snow in Boston, and 18-wheelers piled up on Midwestern interstate highways.

Of course, news casters, not to be accused of unqualified hyperbole, usually note the effect will be limited to residents of Illinois through Massachusetts. If they’d include folks in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and maybe Virginia and West Virginia, they could get those numbers up. Even Texas has had snow this year – which is odd since part of the state was wondering as Fall approached whether they would have water at all.

Continue reading (More than) 40 million people…

While we still have a choice …

When a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil crashed Monday in West Virginia, it offered some exploding video for the evening television news. It also derailed 19 of 109 cars in the train, leaking oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota into a tributary of the Kanawha River. The latter supplies drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians.[pullquote]Will there be reliable drinking water in Alabama or North Dakota after the snow melts in Boston?[/pullquote]

The crash was the latest in a series of accidents, many of them fouling nearby water supplies:

  • March 2013 –  Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil into the town of Mayflower, Ark.
  • July 2013 – An onboard fire and resulting brake failure loosed a train carrying millions of gallons of Bakken Crude on a downhill run that derailed in the town of Lac Megantic (Quebec at the Maine border), virtually vaporized the town, and turned the nearby lake and river to black goo.
  • Nov. 2013 – A train carrying 2.7 million gallons of crude oil derailed while crossing a wooden trestle across a wetland near Aliceville, Ala.
  • April 2014 – A derailment sent multiple cars into the James River near Lynchburg, Va.
  • Jan. 2015 – A break in a 12-inch pipeline injected an estimated 50,000 gallons of North Dakota crude beneath the ice of the Yellowstone River. In the past eight years, according to the Associated Press, the pipeline’s owners have leaked nearly 334,000 gallons in 30 such incidents.
  • Jan. 2015 – Three million gallons of well-drilling wastewater poured into the Missouri River from a broken collection pipe in the North Dakota oil field.
  • Feb. 14, 2015 – Twenty-nine cars of a 100-car train carrying tar-sand oil from Alberta, Canada to Eastern Canada derailed in a remote wooded area of northern Ontario.

Continue reading While we still have a choice …

The solution to pollution …

Several years ago, a friend with whom I often went wandering called me to meet her behind Lake Auburn. She said she had found something in which she thought I’d be interested.

[pullquote]When that trapper’s nearest neighbor was miles downstream, his sewer arrangement worked.[/pullquote]At the appointed day and time, we met and headed into the woods. About a half-mile, more or less, into the woods, she stopped and pointed. There beside a swiftly running stream was a rock foundation, the remains of the home of some long ago settler. It clearly was a two-room abode, built beside a stream. The log sides and roof were long gone.

We talked some of how many people could have lived in the structure, and why they chose that spot to live. We decided the resident likely was a trapper, who selected the site for its proximity to running water.

“What’s that about,” my friend asked of the smaller room.

Continue reading The solution to pollution …

Report: Lawmakers’ poor environmental performance

Long Pine Reservoir.Three conservation organizations have released their 2014 environmental scorecard, giving Pennsylvania lawmakers poor grades for protecting the environment in which we all live.

[pullquote]Place the right industry near the creek and the effect of all that work is gone.[/pullquote]

The report had been delayed to await the results of a Senate vote on a House initiated bill that essentially makes voluntary previously mandatory requirements that developers protect the state’s high value waterways as they pursue corporate profits. The Senate approved, and as I write this the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Marcellus, to turn it into law.

Continue reading Report: Lawmakers’ poor environmental performance

Granddaughter stars on discovery channel

Bluebird hovers at the houseOn the way from one place to another, she and me and Grady the Golden and the Jeep crossed over a stream. She saw the herd of cattle enjoying the summer afternoon.

“That’s pretty cool,” I commented.

She gave me a thumbs up.

Continue reading Granddaughter stars on discovery channel

Pa. residents share Chesapeake Bay waterfront

A recent newspaper story about efforts to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay noted Pennsylvania does not have frontage on the bay. That is not quite accurate, unless one is a real estate seller.

Continue reading Pa. residents share Chesapeake Bay waterfront

The water is alive

Falls on Middle Creek(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 2/7/2014)

My grandkids never have experienced swimming across lake and finding a cold spot in the warm water, a spring gushing water up from the bottom. I know exactly the location of that spring; as a youngster I swam the half-mile across the lake, over the very spot. There is something about feeling the life of the water, and knowing why that particular place is last to freeze in winter or where, since the lake never floods, the water goes next.

Continue reading The water is alive

Sitting by the creek in Fall

Along among naked residents, a young oak clothes itself in crimson raiment(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 11/8/2013)

Click thubnail for enlarged leaf detail

Most of the color is gone along the creek, save some chicory-like bushes with red  berries, and the occasional pin oak (I think). One crimson-plated youngster, an American Chestnut, maybe, or a Chestnut Oak or even a Big Tooth Aspen, stands alone among lesser, already nude specimens.

Though I spent my childhood years wandering through the thousands of wooded acres around my parents’ home, I am only beginning to recognize the trees by their leaves. I can tell by the bark, but I never paid much attention to leaf forms, satisfying myself with being amazed merely by the diversity of shapes and shades.

Continue reading Sitting by the creek in Fall

Important questions blanket GMA’s quest to buy York water

Most of us only think about water when it doesn't run from the faucet(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 9/20/2013)

When the merits of “sustainable” growth are mentioned, the parts most often left out of the hype are more roads to maintain, more schools to build, more police, fire and emergency medical services to provide.

And more water to drink.

More water – two million gallons a day – is what some directors of Gettysburg Municipal Authority would have its customers believe they need to buy from York Water Company. Continue reading Important questions blanket GMA’s quest to buy York water

Is all that bleepin’ really bleepin’ necessary?

The temp of the falling water suggested the name Chief Two-Navels BathtubA hunting buddy and I, when I was stationed in California, would make an annual trip to Los Padres National Forest, allegedly in pursuit of the elusive Mule deer. At some point in the couple-hour drive down from the San Francisco area, we would pick up supplies: a couple big buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a case of Shasta soda and a bottle of Roll-Aids.

Not exactly healthy living by today’s standards, though I suspect – or would like to believe – exercise offset some of the damage we did to our bodies, but we were young and immortal. Continue reading Is all that bleepin’ really bleepin’ necessary?

SGI-DCNR land swap: good idea or bad?

SGI min seen from Blue Ridge Summit(First published in the Gettysburg Times, 4/12/2013)

There is a commercial on television that makes me chuckle every time I see it.

A guy comes on to tell us his doctor had long recommended taking a vitamin supplement every day. Not just any supplement, either. A particular brand.

Then along comes a survey that verifies the doctor’s recommendation. It shows that a vitamin supplement really helps maintain good health. Not just any supplement, either. A particular brand. The one made by the company that ran the survey. And the fellow on TV says that’s proof his doctor was right.

One cannot realistically expect a business to say someone else’s product is more beneficial to humans and other residents of the planet, so excuse me if I’m reserving judgment on what a local company says about it’s need to expand, and how the planned addition to its operation will not be harmful to flora, fauna and water down stream. It’s not that I don’t believe the company; just that I’d like to see some information from an independent expert or two.

Continue reading SGI-DCNR land swap: good idea or bad?

Do we wait for the river to die to call it ill?

Two men fishing below the Harrisburg bridges.The Susquehanna River Basin Commission reports its data collection funding has been cut, while more than 2,000 miles of waterways still suffering from mine drainage from coal mines abandoned nearly a century ago. And increasing numbers of smallmouth bass are being found cancerous and dying in the 100 miles of river below Sunbury, PA (near the Shamokin Dam).

Meanwhile, PA DEP Secretary Mike Krancer and PA Fish and Boat Commission head John Arway continue to spar over whether the river should be declared “impaired,” a declaration that would make the river eligible for federal funding to research the dying fish.

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Money and water flow naturally away from their source

A frog finds shade at the foot of an electric waterfallI have an electric stream behind my house. Water flows down the rocks, offering a drinking fountain for the dog, birds and wasps that live here, and soothing sound for me. There is a pump submerged at the bottom of the stream to raise the water back to the top. Even with the pump running, I must regularly add water to replace what the critters and the sun take from the system during the day.

Money, I’ve noticed, is like my backyard stream, in reverse. Money naturally flows uphill.

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Exploitation without conservation: a recipe for disaster

What recently was preserved forest has been cleared for access to natural gas.I love traveling. I enjoy meeting people in a variety of places, with different manners of talking and thinking. Though sometimes there aren’t as many differences as one might think.

A friend turned 40 a few years ago, nearly at the top of Engineer Pass, just outside and way above Ouray, CO. I was driving the Jeep that day as we climbed as high as I dared into the San Juan Mountains, part of the Colorado Rockies. One particularly impressive part of the hours-long climb up narrow, rock-strewn switchbacks was looking up at what someone later told me was, as I recall, Steeple Spire. Or something of that ilk.

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Adequate DEP funding should be budget priority

A truck crash dumped “minor amounts of petroleum fluids” into Pine Creek, in Lycoming County.

That’s important where I live because Pine Creek, at the southern edge of a heavily drilled natural gas field, flows into the Susquehanna River, which runs past Harrisburg and the City of York, in its way to the Chesapeake Bay. York Water Company draws water from the river, and sells millions of gallons a day to residents on the eastern side of Adams County, where I live.

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Electricity-water “collisions” becoming increasingly frequent

Fracking fluid spilled in a stream eventually may find its way to the Chesapeake Bay“Electricity-water collisions” is a term that’s reportedly been around a couple years, but it hasn’t had much attention. Summer 2012 may change that. According to a post by a Union of Concerned Scientist’s senior climate and energy analyst, Erika Spanger-Siegfried, “Our electricity system, it turns out, wasn’t built for summers like 2012, and it showed.”

Summer 2012 proved, or at least strengthened, the dual argument that global warming is real, and continued operation of air conditioners in an effort to pretend otherwise is not a divinely declared certainty.

 Continue reading on Rock The Capital …