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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Clean Drinking Water in Alabama: An Endangered Commodity

The Black Warrior River running through Tuscal...Image via Wikipedia
You may have noticed that some of my recent posts have been about water- its protection and conservation.  You may be wondering- why all the talk about water? It's no secret that water is necessary to life.  Hold on, let me clarify that: clean water is absolutely necessary to life. Unfortunately, it seems that our drinking water, especially here in Alabama, is threatened on a consistent basis.

This month, American Rivers, the number-one organization focused on river conservation, published its "America's Most Endangered Rivers ™: 2011 Rivers" list.  Unfortunately, the Black Warrior River, a major source of Alabama's drinking water, specifically for the cities of Birmingham, Jasper, Cullman and Tuscaloosa, is listed as #8 on the endangered list due to the threat from coal mining with the risks being our clean drinking water and public health.

As I discussed in my previous post, Alabama's Drinking Water Is In Danger, one of the imminent threats is the Shepherd Bend Mine, which would directly and negatively impact our drinking water due to its close proximity (800 feet!) to a Birmingham Water Works intake facility.  However, the American Rivers report calls our attention to another larger issue: Warrior Coal Field.  You see, Warrior Coal Field is home to an estimated 95 active coal mines- which accounts for the majority of coal mines in Alabama.  The United States Army Corps of Engineers issues permits annually for polluters under one of two processes: (1) an individual, site-specific permitting process, which allows the Corps to consider public input and local conditions or (2) a general permit, also known as Nationwide Permit (NWP) 21, which does not allow either one of these considerations.  For obvious reasons, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended the use of NWP 21 across most of the Appalachian Mining Region- except in Alabama.  "NWP 21 is currently used as a rubber stamp for nearly all coal mines in Alabama (American Rivers Fact Sheet 2011)." Why is this so? Alabama is clearly a part of the Appalachian Mining Region (see bottom right illustration), so that can't be the reason.
To make matters worse, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the Alabama Surface Mining Commission both have a legal obligation to protect Alabama's waters from the toxic impacts of coal mining and yet they allow rampant pollution by consistently issuing permits with extremely weak standards. The Black Warrior River is deserving of protection, not only as a large drinking water source, but also because of its recreational usage and rich biodiversity with endangered species, such as the Watercress Darter, a fish only found in Alabama.

What You Can Do

All is not lost! Organizations like the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Alabama Rivers Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center are dedicated to holding these agencies accountable for enforcing protective legislation, namely the Clean Water Act of 1972. However, you can do your part, too!

Here are several ways to get involved:

Sign the petition: Protect The Black Warrior River From Toxic Strip Mining Waste.

Support the Black Warrior Riverkeeper by taking advantage of one of their many volunteer opportunities.

Help spread the word.

For a complete listing of the endangered rivers for 2011, visit: America's Most Endangered Rivers ™: 2011 Rivers.

Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, corporate sustainability coordinator at her day job, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Green Goes Simple: Conservation at Home


Water Wisdom: How to Conserve Water Every Day

By Cynthia Ramnarace for Green Goes Simple

If there is a sound that immediately drives me insane, it’s that of a running tap. And because you have to tell kids the same thing 5,000 times before they get it -- “You don’t need the water on when you brush your teeth!” -- I hear a lot of water waste as I go through my day.

It drives me nuts not only because it’s money down the drain, but also because water is such a precious resource. I was fortunate enough to see this firsthand during a trip to Kenya several years ago. When you’re living in a drought-prone region and the only water you have comes from collected rain water, conservation is how you survive.

I returned from Africa a water-use zealot, but that was a long time ago. My commitment to the cause has waned over the years. I realized telling my kids not to waste water wasn’t enough: I had to lead by example. So I did some research and came up with some easy water-saving solutions that any parent can easily use in their own homes.

In the Kitchen

· When you wash dishes by hand, collect the dirty water in a plastic container. Then use it to water your houseplants. “Food products in the water enrich the soil and nourish plants,” says landscape architect Shelley Sparks. “They have never looked better.”

· Switch to a self-foaming dish soap, which will allow you to wash more dishes with less water.

· Use water left in drinking glasses to give your houseplants a drink. Either pour them directly from the cup into the plant, or put watering cans in convenient places so you can fill them with each unfinished cup. “Throwing away water that remains in a drinking glass is really a waste, especially when it can be used to water houseplants or plants in the garden,” says Kimberly Button, a green-living consultant.

In the Bathroom

· Check your toilet for leaks by placing a drop of food coloring in the tank. If after 15 minutes your toilet bowl water takes on a new hue, you can be pretty sure you have a leak, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most water loss can be easily stopped by replacing a worn-out toilet flapper (the rubber valve that flops up and down each time you flush).

· Filling the bathtub uses about 70 gallons of water! Encourage everyone in your family, kids included, to take showers. You’ll save 45 to 60 gallons per wash -- not to mention serious money.

· When it’s time to get a new toilet, upgrade to a dual-flush version, which lets you choose a light flush or a heavier flush. The light-usage option uses less than a gallon of water with each use. For times when the toilet needs to work a bit harder, the heavier 1.6-gallon flush will do the trick.

· Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, which add air to the stream, automatically using less water without sacrificing a bit of performance. A family of four that makes these changes will save about 4,500 gallons of water per year, according to the EPA.

In the Garden

· “Install a rain barrel on your downspout to collect water,” suggests Christian Rogers, a landscape architect with Blackmon Rogers Architects. You can easily use the rainwater, instead of your garden hose, to water your plants.

· Kids love to water plants! But remind them that their green buddies need just a sip, not a deluge.
· If you’re thinking of adding new plants to your landscape,
consider ones that don’t need much water to thrive. Sparks recommends planting
ivy geraniums, bottle brush, lavender, yarrow and wild lilac.

Cynthia Ramnarace is a freelance writer in Queens, N.Y. She is a regular contributor to iVillage.com and AARP Bulletin. Her work also appears frequently in American Baby and Kiwi magazines.