Category: Commentaries

Water is cheap…should it be?

SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR. (SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE") SALLY HERSHIPS, HOST: All this week, we are talking about water or the lack of it. The climate crisis means intense heat, drier weather and drought, and today at least one uncontained fire, which is causing evacuations in Lake Tahoe. And California and Nevada have both declared a state of emergency. But despite these extreme consequences from water scarcity, often, we do not seem to treat this incredibly valuable commodity with the respect it deserves. ROBERT GLENNON: The water for your flush toilet is something you…

As Colorado River Basin states confront water shortages, it’s time to focus on reducing demand

The U.S. government announced its first-ever water shortage declaration for the Colorado River on Aug. 16, 2021, triggering future cuts in the amount of water states will be allowed to draw from the river. The Tier 1 shortage declaration followed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s forecast that the water in Lake Mead – the largest reservoir in the U.S., located on the Arizona-Nevada border – will drop below an elevation of 1,075 feet above sea level, leaving less than 40% of its capacity, by the end of 2021. The declaration means that in January 2022 the agency will reduce water deliveries to the Lower Colorado…

Containing the Spread of COVID-19: The Importance of Continued Wastewater Testing and Surveillance

We seem to have turned a corner on COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. Infection and death rates are way down. Multiple vaccines, developed in record time, seem to be helping. More than a hundred million American have been fully vaccinated. More than half of all Americans have received at least one dose. But this horrible virus and accompanying disease are not going away anytime soon. We're nowhere near herd immunity. The delta variant is more infectious and virulent. Pockets of resistance to getting vaccinated exist for various reasons, including fear and mistrust. More than a dozen European countries suspended the use…

Evaporated Water

“This is a case about evaporated water.” Thus began U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s opinion for the Court in Texas v. New Mexico, decided on December 14, 2020. Wait a minute!  The Supreme Court is a very busy Court with complicated, serious legal problems to resolve, yet they heard one about something that no longer exists? The Pecos River starts in New Mexico and flows into Texas. In 2014, as a tropical storm threatened to flood the Texas portion of the Basin, the State of Texas asked New Mexico to store Pecos River water in a reservoir in New…

Interstate water wars are heating up along with the climate

Interstate water disputes are as American as apple pie. States often think a neighboring state is using more than its fair share from a river, lake or aquifer that crosses borders. Currently the U.S. Supreme Court has on its docket a case between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and another one between Mississippi and Tennessee. The court has already ruled this term on cases pitting Texas against New Mexico and Florida against Georgia. Climate stresses are raising the stakes. Rising temperatures require farmers to use more water to grow the same amount of crops. Prolonged and severe droughts decrease available supplies. Wildfires are burning hotter and lasting…

Is Romaine Safe to Eat?

Introduction We were delighted as our 12-year-old grandson ordered a Caesar salad when we were having dinner at a pizza place. Vegetables! However, the dinner was December 22, 2019, shortly after CDC and FDA issued yet another warning against eating romaine from Salinas, California. I asked the server where the romaine came from. He didn’t know but went in the back to inquire. He returned and said, “Salinas.” Since 2017, seven outbreaks involving romaine lettuce have sickened hundreds and killed five. Those are the reported numbers. No one knows how many other people got sick. In six outbreaks the lettuce came…

Testing sewage can give school districts, campuses and businesses a heads-up on the spread of COVID-19

November has brought encouraging news about several COVID-19 vaccines. But members of the general public will probably not be vaccinated before the spring or summer of 2021 at the earliest. Americans will be living with this pandemic for some time to come. We are a microbiologist and a water policy specialist, and believe that wastewater-based epidemiology, which tests raw sewage, has an important role to play. Studies have shown that testing wastewater offers an early warning signal that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is present in a community. Although this approach is less targeted than testing individuals, we believe…

Looser standards for showerheads could send a lot of water and money down the drain

For more than 25 years, Congress has directed U.S. government agencies to set energy and water efficiency standards for many new products. These measures conserve resources and save consumers a lot of money. Until recently, they had bipartisan support. But President Trump has turned efficiency standards into symbols of intrusive government. His administration has opposed many of these rules, including standards for light bulbs, commercial boilers, portable air conditioners and low-flow toilets. His latest target: showerheads. The Energy Policy Act of 1992, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, set the maximum flow rate for showers at 2.5 gallons per minute. President Trump is proposing…

Why I Am Optimistic About Water

I recently received an email from a retired hydrologist, asking my thoughts about the future of water management. Here’s his note and my reply. “I read your newly-published Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters in 2002 and used it in a seminar that I had long offered. The following year, having tired of fighting the political forces that intervened in our attempts to implement good scientific principles, I retired. All these years I have basically remained silent, watching what seems to be little heed given your warnings. I am wondering - is there better news, that perhaps…

Water and COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of life in the United States. It has significant implications for water and wastewater systems. Consider these examples. Drinking Water There is mostly good news about drinking water. We know that infected individuals can shed the virus in fecal matter, which then enters the sewer system. But wastewater treatment technology regularly removes viruses and pathogens, so there is little risk that COVID-19 would end up in drinking water. It could get into the environment through cracks in sewer pipes or after heavy storms, when treatment plants are overwhelmed with combined storm and sewer…