Yesterday, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. His signature ensures protection for more than 2 million acres of wilderness nationwide, and sets the long-awaited Navajo-Gallup water project in motion, delivering badly needed infrastructure and acre feet to the Navajo Nation.
More than 70,000 people in the Navajo Nation do not have easy access to clean drinking water. At least 40% of residents have to drive considerable distances to fill water drums, which makes it difficult for communities on the reservation to exist, much less grow or thrive. In Gallup, New Mexico, city wells are often contaminated by chemicals like sulfate and uranium, and water levels are dropping between 7-29 feet per year.
Historically, the Navajo have been excluded from western water allocation, as Matt Jenkins' 2008 story, "Seeking the Water Jackpot," explains. Last week, 247 Democrats and 38 Republicans voted to pass the omnibus bill, which guarantees an $870 million water delivery system that will transport 37,764 acre feet of water every year from the San Juan River in Shiprock to Gallup, New Mexcio, the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Arizona, and Window Rock, AZ. The project is set to be completed by 2010.
37,764 acre-feet is a drop in the bucket compared to the 600,000 acre feet in Navajo water rights that the Omnibus Act confirms. Infrastructure to deliver this amount of water could take up to 13 years to complete, depending on funding, but it will allow the Navajo to plan their future with more confidence.
The fruit farmers in Paonia have been a bit worried about our weird weather. Spring came early, so the trees started budding. And this week, it’s been cold – sometimes freezing. If it gets too frosty, we might be out of luck for the season.
Something else that’s on farmers' minds: H.R. 875, a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn. Organically-minded bloggers are saying that her husband is on Monsanto’s payroll, and we all know Monsanto is the arch nemesis of organically-minded people! But to clarify, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Monsanto hasn’t been a client of Stanley Greenberg’s (DeLauro’s husband) for more than 10 years.
Now all the organos are saying that this bill, if passed, will do in small-scale local farms.
The bill is called the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. Basically, DeLauro seeks to establish a Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services, so that foods and drugs are not regulated under the same entity. It makes sense: you don’t keep your veggies in the medicine cabinet, do you?
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March 25th: An association of Hispanic residents from two Texas barrios near the Rio Grande river file a lawsuit complaining that the Department of Homeland Security has acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. The group, called Barrio de Colores, hopes to stop the Border Patrol from going forward with their plan to apply the herbicide Imazapyr to the Carrizo cane lining the river.
Carrizo cane (Arundo donax) grows in thick, claustrophobic stands along the Rio Grande. The forests can grow up to 30 feet high, and are scored by a maze of footpaths. One of the fastest growing plants on land, Carrizo cane has been used since ancient Egypt to make flutes and paper, and is still used by people in Mexico for baskets and pinatas.
Photo courtesy of U.S.
Department of Homeland
None of these qualities endear it to the Texas Border Patrol. To them, the cane just provides excellent cover for illegal immigrants and criminals, and they're on a mission to eradicate it.
At first glance, comparisons of the Border Patrol plan to the application of Agent Orange in Vietnam seem hystrionic. It's easy to understand why people don't want a chemical contained in products with names like "Arsenal," "Stalker," and "Assault" drifting over their homes, but the EPA characterizes Imazapyr as a low risk to human or animal health. Tom Dudley, an expert in tamarisk control who currently works at UCSB, says that, although he's "one of the most anti-chemical people around...not all chemicals are the same." He considers Imazapyr "pretty non-toxic."
However, disagreement about how dangerous the chemical really is, environmental concerns, and the Border Patrol's failure to invite public participation in their environmental assessment have sparked a battle between the Mexican government, the Texas Border Patrol, and communities who live along the river. Ground zero is Laredo, Texas, where the first test application of Imazapyr is scheduled to start today, unless Barrio de Colores can stop it.
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"Shock" and "terror:" that's how Colorado resident Amee Ellsworth feels about her tap water. The stuff stinks, it causes strange sounds in her toilet and washing machine; and worst of all, she's afraid it'll blow up her house. When she turns on her kitchen faucet and flicks a lighter, foot-high flames leap from the tap.
Ellsworth lives in Fort Lupton, in Weld County, home to nearly half of all active oil and gas wells in the state. Eight of them are clustered near Ellsworth's home, and at least one of those has apparently been leaking methane into her water supply. Plenty of folks may think about the collateral costs of our collective appetite for fossil fuels, but Ellsworth -- along with a handful of neighbors who've learned they too can light their water on fire -- is being forced to foot more than her share of the common bill.
You can watch a video of the flaming faucets here.Read More ...
Fill the water jugs and put the wrench back near the gas valve, Southern Californians, the Big One’s about to blow! Or not. You never can tell with these things. But geologists are watching closely a “swarm” of recent earthquakes on the Southern San Andreas Fault, the largest of which logged in at 4.8 on the moment magnitude scale at five minutes till 5 this morning.
“Science Dude” Gary Robbins of the Orange County Register reports that the many little quakes that slipped over the weekend had already prompted the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to issue what he calls a “highly unusual news advisory” about the minor temblors. “While earthquake swarm events are not precursors or indicators of a larger earthquake event,” it said, “they are jolting reminders that Southern California will experience the Big One soon.”
Urban planners love the fact that slums are “walkable, high-density, and mixed-use,” as The Boston Globe recently reported about Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums. In the article, reporter Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow says many governments are beginning to “mitigate the problems with slums rather than eliminate the slums themselves.”
The general consensus is that informal communities (read: slums, tent cities, squatter villages, etc.) arise out of neglect from surrounding communities. And at the same time, some local governments are at least willing to address the issue, if not throw some money at it.
In the case of the tent city in Ontario, CA, mentioned in Scott Bransford’s recent HCN article, officials spent $3 million to work with the situation, rather than simply raid and destroy. The story points out that the campaign formalized the living situation, and in the process, made it sort of an exclusive camp. Some were pleased; some were not.
Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon - Photo courtesy of Portland Ground
So if U.S. officials are trying to regulate these communities in a mutually beneficial way, what are some possible solutions? (Read on and feel free to express your thoughts below.)
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Research conducted by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Washington State University has discovered that common agricultural pesticides which attack the nervous systems of salmon can turn more deadly when they combine with other pesticides. This development is likely to underscore requirements for no spray buffer zones along salmon waterways – a requirement which agricultural groups have been fighting ever since it was ordered by a federal judge.
Anti-spray groups have long sought study of the “synergistic effects” that can occur when pesticides are used in combination and when they are mixed with so-called “inert ingredients” like oils. Combining pesticide in toxic cocktails and combining them with "inert ingredients” to help the pesticides better cover the target area are common practices. But studies of synergistic effects has been rare.
What is not rare, however, is for the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to be on the cutting edge of salmon research. For example, Robin Waples, one of the Centers most senior researchers, is credited with creating the concept of the Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU). As applied to salmon, the ESU comes between the species and the stock; it has been used to separate salmon for risk assessment and endangered species listings. The ESU concept has made maintaining diversity within salmon species a workable proposition.
Paolo Bacigalupi, formerly the online editor of HCN and now a rising star in science fiction, was just nominated for the 2009 Hugo award (he's been a Hugo finalist in past years, and has won other sci-fi prizes as well). His story "The Gambler", in the Novelette category, is a tale about the sordid future of media. Drawing a logical line from the collapse of print news and magazines today, Paolo envisions a time not far away when online delivery of titillating content -- "sex, stupidity and schadenfreude" -- has completely supplanted all serious news. In an interview with Pyr Books, Paolo describes the story:
"Given the unfavorable market forces currently swamping the print news industry, it seems like an opportune moment to consider what a new media landscape might feel like if/when its technologies become completely ascendant. 'The Gambler' was partly inspired by my work as an online editor at High Country News, where one of my jobs was to plan for a digital future. The promises and perils of the technologies I was working with turned out to be fertile ground for a story."
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Our dog Bodie, a collie-shepherd rez-mutt mix, may make it to his fifth birthday in October. Or maybe not. He's a car-chasing idiot and nothing we've tried, including a shock collar with five settings that range from tickle to Ted Bundy, has prevented him from racing off after anything on wheels.
We all need some exercise, though, so Martha and I take him for daily walks where he can run around. We try to find places nearby where cars and motorcycles are rare, and something wonderful just happened at one of those places.
This spot is about two miles from town. It's a quarter-mile of rocky rutted road in a narrow stretch between the railroad tracks (out of service for the past decade, so we don't have to worry about Bodie chasing trains) and the Arkansas River (the traffic of U.S. Highway 50 flows on the other side of the water, and Bodie is no swimmer).
Lawmakers are trying, for a second time, to toss a lifeline to the Forest Service. Ballooning fire-fighting costs and constrictive Bush-era budgets have been squeezing the soul (read: expenses other than fire retardant, hoses and helicopters) out of the agency. But last week, 12 senators and five U.S. reps, most of them from western states, attempted to relieve some of the strain by reintroducing the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act to both branches of Congress.Read More ...