California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Several New Drinking Water Bills Into Law

Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed seven new drinking water bills, improving the quality of water for residents across the state and especially in rural areas. According to California Watch, Brown said in a statement, “Clean drinking water is a basic human right. The bills I have signed today will help ensure that every Californian has access to clean and safe sources of water.”

California Watch reported that Esmeralda Soria of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation said, “The legislation is extremely important because it’s a step forward in realizing that really disadvantaged communities don’t have access to clean water. They have been bathing, cooking and drinking contaminated water or buying expensive bottled water. These are small steps toward these communities having more access to funding that will in the long term give them access to cleaner water. These communities see that there’s hope in the near future of having clean water.” One of the group’s studies showed that rural Californians who didn’t have access to clean water spent between 4 and 10 percent of their household income on bottled water.

A study conducted from 2005 to 2008 by the Pacific Institute concluded that 1.3 million residents of the state’s central San Joaquin Valley did not have clean water in their taps. This water was contaminated with nitrates, which have been known to cause illness and death, especially in vulnerable populations (such as babies and children). While mainly rural areas are affected by a lack of access to clean drinking water, urban Californians face the problem as well. Santa Ana, an urban city in Orange County, reported that some of its residents were not brushing their teeth or bathing because they were afraid of getting sick from their water. Some Spanish-speaking residents in various communities ignored water contamination notices because they couldn’t read the English notices, and continued using the unclean water.  

Here is a brief description of each of the seven bills:

AB 54 will allow water companies to begin repairing facilities in need of renovation as soon as their application for state funding is received. Under previous law, water companies had to wait for funding to be received before beginning construction. This bill also requires water board members to provide information regarding their operations to local agencies, increasing transparency.

AB 938 will require water contamination alerts to be translated into another language in areas where more than 10 percent of the population primarily speaks a language other than English.

AB 983 will enable “severely disadvantaged communities” – often poverty-stricken rural areas – to obtain all of their funding for water infrastructure projects from the state. Current law only permits these areas to obtain 80 percent of funding from the state, while the remaining 20 percent comes out of residents’ pockets in the form of loans, which create a burden that is difficult to repay.

AB 1194 will revise current drinking water standards to ensure that they comply with federal standards. Under this law, the California Department of Health will interpret “human water consumption” to include cooking water. This bill also kept up to $130 million in federal funds in the state, as failure to comply with federal public health standards would have revoked this money. 

AB 1221 will grant nonprofit organizations and state-recognized tribes access to the state’s Cleanup and Abatement Account to pay for cleanup efforts. These organizations currently contribute to the fund, but do not receive money to help clear pollution.

AB 1292 will allow issuance of revenue bonds for deposit into the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, ensuring that the state’s drinking water satisfies federal requirements outline in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

SB 244 will require cities and counties to take into account the needs of unincorporated and disadvantaged areas in urban planning.

The laws will also ensure that smaller water districts adhere to state standards and provide clean drinking water for residents.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/gfrphoto/1695650382/

What WIll They Drink Now?

The United Nations recently declared “access to clean water and sanitation a fundamental human right.”  This may raise a few eyebrows for many reading this article;  it would seem obvious and no need for declarations that access to clean drinking water is a human right.  Let’s picture for a moment a world without access to clean, fresh drinking water, a world lacking effective sanitation facilities.  A bit hard to imagine for most, but not so hard for the 40 percent of the global population-more than 2.6 billion people around the world-who wake up everyday to disease-ridden water so saturated in filth and raw sewage, it is undrinkable.  Of that number, 1.6 billion people worldwide lack the means to safely eliminate excrement and other waste.
In places like Brazil, Haiti, Pakistan, Iran, Africa, Venezuela, Mexico, Sudan, Cuba, China and Egypt, to name a few-the water crisis for these people has reached epic proportions.  According to an article  taken from GreenAnswers, in Sudan only 37 percent of the country’s population have access to drinking water.  A lack of water not only puts the Sudanese health at risk, but leaves them struggling to grow enough food to feed their families.  Instead of spending their days in school getting an education, the children of Sudan spend their days traveling great distances on foot to access water sources to bring back to their families.
In many of these Third World countries and cities, people live in slum areas that lack toilets, running water, and drinking water.  They are forced to use what is called “flying toilets, “ which is waste collected in plastic bags and tossed into the streets.  This unsanitary practice leads to the contamination of water sources where people come into direct contact with feces, causing diarrhea, cholera, hepatitis, dysentery, typhoid and other water-borne diseases that most times end in death.
According to the United Nations agencies it is estimated that two million people die from water born diseases every year.  1.2 million are children under the age of five, a number that has surpassed the HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles death toll combined.  A number that is so avoidable.
What is the solution?  The answer may seem like an easy fix but it runs the full spectrum of complexity for many Third World countries, such as, Haiti and many other countries that lack the underground sewage infrastructure and running water needed to simply install Western-style toilets and bathrooms as a remedy.  If only it were that simple.  The technology does exist to fix this crisis,  however it will require a full commitment from the politicians governing these communities and tragically this issue continues to remain a low priority in many countries.  After all the people who suffer the most are the poor and least influential.
One may see some light at the end of the tunnel with the UN declaring “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for full enjoyment of the right to life.” This resolution passed with 122 nations in favor and none against, is a direct urge to the international community to ”scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable water and sanitation for all.”  While this may be a step in the right direction, for some countries it simply is not enough.  According to BBC News, Barbara Plett, “some countries feel the resolution does not clearly define the scope of the human right and the obligations its entailed.”  It is clear that what these people need most is less talk and fast action…now.
On a grassroot level, the process to providing clean water to these countries, while daunting can be done with a workable budget and political support.  It would involve drilling wells, running pipelines and building water purification plants.  Such projects have cropped up in Haiti, with one group called International Action, managing to install 110 neighborhood water tank chlorinators in Port-au-Prince.  However, these efforts have simply fallen short of what’s needed to fix the crisis in Haiti and many other countries.
One organization working tirelessly to improving the sanitation conditions in these countries is WaterPartners International, a nonprofit organization committed to providing clean drinking water in developing countries.  Their efforts has led to an annual event called World Water Day, funded water and sanitation project grants in Honduras, Ethiopia, Kenya, India and Bangladesh in 2008 that reached 153,000 people and provided access to clean drinking water, improved sanitation, and hygiene training.
It is organizations like WaterPartners International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is currently taking a multi-tiered approach to resolving the global water crisis, needed to raise awareness of this crisis and call to action much needed philanthropic support and help in these countries.
Bill Gates is providing $41.5 million in new sanitation grants for his project to reinvent the toilet.  Toilet 2.0, the name he has coined his new toilet design, is the next frontier in sanitation facilities in these Third World countries and will be designed to not only eliminate waste, but turn it into an environmental asset, in the form of compost, fertilizer, inexpensive fuel or renewable energy, and here’s the big take away-transform urine into drinking water-a water purification process successfully implemented in northern Orange County, California and providing drinking water to 2.3 million residents.
These toilets will be very basic in design, easy to install, use and maintain, affordable with sanitation services costing no more than 5 cents per person per day and above all else water will not be the primary component for it to function properly.  What most of these countries are lacking is massive amounts of water and sewer infrastructures, so a waterless toilet system is imperative to the success of this project. With this design in mind, Bill Gate’s goal is to begin production on several new toilet prototypes within the next year and have the new toilet systems in developing countries in the next three years.
Many people in the United States are not privy to the global water crisis facing the people of these countries today, many may also be missing out on the looming water crisis that has started to hit a bit closer to home.  With water resources diminishing in the United States at rapid speed due to climate change, pollution, excessive droughts, flooding and careless consumption, one has to wonder what the future holds in US talks to privatize of our fresh water supply.  With our largest natural resource possibly becoming a profitable commodity, with any product sold in society, there are those that can afford to have and those that can not.  Will privatization create a system of the “haves” and “the have nots” when it comes to access to clean, drinking water?

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/cristic/423806317/

Proposed Bill Hopes to Provide Information on California “Fracking”

A new bill, introduced to California state lawmakers recently, hopes to grant Californians access to records concerning hydraulic fracturing taking place within the state. Hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) is the process in which a mixture of highly “pressurized mix of water, sand, and toxic chemicals” are injected into underground wells. By doing so, natural resources, like oil and gas, are stimulated and pushed to the surface where they are tapped into for extracting purposes.

Fracking—which is a popular subject here at GreenAnswers—has been a part of California’s oil drilling techniques for over four decades without proper regulation and oversight.  This lack of accountability to the new public, separates the oil companies from the people whose health and environment they are harming. A new bill (AB 591) has now made its way to the California Assembly which looks to change all this.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) explains that the new bill “would require oil and gas companies to inform the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources what chemicals are used in fracking operations”—which, up until now, has remained veiled.  Without with information, the quality of Californian’s water and health are put at risk.

It has already been shown that fracking comes with its fair share of downsides, with both Pennsylvania and West Virginia having problems of their own.  Over 1,400 citations have been put to drillers who violated permits given out by the state of Pennsylvania’s division of the Department of Environmental Protection since 2008.  According to the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review, numerous violations were in regards to “discharges of industrial waste and poorly constructed impoundment ponds.”  Missteps like these are extremely harmful to both the environment and water supply, with the risk being high that the chemicals getting into the underground water can and are contaminating resident’s drinking water.

As of now, there is little to no knowledge of the chemicals used in fracking as well as where it is performed. Residents remain largely in the dark.

Assemblyman Bob Wiekowski, who wrote the proposed legislation, aims to “provide the public with the increased disclosure by requiring oil and gas producers to list the chemicals, as well as the source and volume of water used in the fracking process.”  This knowledge will help to provide future legislations that will impose stricter regulations and guidelines on these producers.

California, it appears, may be leading the charge to new reform.  The passing of this bill would create a “legislative roadmap for real reform” across the country.  Bill Allayaud, Director of Government’s Affairs for the California branch of EWG explains that AB 591 “could become the first law in the country that won’t allow the natural gas industry to hide behind confidential business information claims.” Additionally, “It would force companies to make public every chemical use fracking operations in the state.”

Information availability is what it basically boils down to.  By granting access to these types of records it paves the way for future legislation, and consequent actions, that will provide positive changes for more than just California—but countrywide.  

An example of how this may affect the national level is with the FRAC Act which will, if passed by Congress, ask that the same information be available across the states.  But it is not just with the oil companies that this is meeting with difficulties. There is a tug-of-war between farm owners–with some wanting information on what may be contaminating their underground water supply and others trying to make some money off of large percentages for drilling on their land.

So it is that the bill approaches the California State Senate.

To support Assembly Bill 591 and request that Californians have access to this important information, sign the petition here

Photo Credit: 4injured-losangeles.com/wp-content/uploads/hydraulic-fracturing-chemical-spill.jpg

Using Banana Peels to Purify Water of Dangerous Toxins

Although banana peels are commonly known for causing cartoon characters to slip, they actually have a much more important role in our lives: protecting us from pollutants that may slip into our water. Past research has shown that coconut fibers, peanut shells and other plant materials could potentially remove toxic heavy metals such as lead and copper from water. Current methods for purifying water of heavy metals are expensive and at times poisonous, therefore leading researchers to find alternatives to the current water purifiers.

Scientists at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil and their colleagues wanted to see if banana peels could act as water purifiers. The idea came about while researcher Gustavo Castro was eating some bananas at home. “I was at home eating some bananas when I had the idea, ‘Why not make something with this?’” The idea then grew as the research team began to observe the compounds in banana peels, finding significant results.

Compounds in banana peels contain nitrogen, sulfur and organic compounds such as carboxylic acids. These acids have their negatively charged electron pairs exposed, meaning they can bind with metals in the water that “usually have a positive charge,” Castro explained. Being able to bind with metals in the water allows the minced banana peel to perform as well or better at removing copper and lead than many other filtering materials, quickly removing both from water in the Parana River in Brazil. Besides being able to perform better than many other filtering materials, banana peels can also be used multiple times without losing their “metal-snagging properties.”

A purifier made of layers of minced banana peel could be used up to 11 times without losing its ability to grab the metals in water, and its natural material makes it dramatically cheaper and does not require a lot of work, unlike synthetic materials. Although this new development offers a new source of hope in developing countries, where water quality is low and water-screening technology is hard to come by, researchers say that no one should rush out to put mushed bananas into dirty water to make it potable.

“All these materials are produced in the laboratory with the same objective – to remove metals from water,” says Castro. Therefore, it is not as simple as grabbing mushed bananas and combining them with dirty water; it is much more than that. Castro and other researchers hope that this technique will someday be used in industrial settings as a cheap and non-toxic helper in the effort to ensure cleaner drinking supplies. The technique worked even at high levels of pH, which supports the idea of the technique being used in waste flows from industrial sources. Other types of “green” alternatives have been used such as sugar cane, coconut fibers and apple peels, but banana peels had never been used.

Castro and his colleagues were the first to use banana peels; starting off with flasks of water that contained pre-determined levels of positively charged copper and lead ions, they added dried and ground banana peels. After a few minutes there was less metal in the water than there was at the beginning of the experiment, showing that the peels had bound the metals. Although banana peels cannot actually be used to remove metals from water, their value lies in their ability to gather together trace amounts of copper and lead and make the metals easier to detect.

In the new study, banana peels increased the concentration of both metals by a factor of 20, making them very easy to sense, even with basic tools. “This is something that is interesting for people who have limited access to highly sophisticated instrumentation. They could use this as a pre-concentrator so that they could then detect minute quantities of metal, even with equipment that has high detection limits,” says Ashok Gadgil, an environmental engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. Gadgil agrees that banana peels do have some benefit in water monitoring, but believes that more research should be done on a wider range of banana types at different levels of ripeness. “I would want to know if a banana in Bangladesh works the same way as a banana in Brazil,” he says.

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Sudan’s Water Crisis Continues: Hope for Change is Near

March 2, 2011 – Jen Noelken

Sudan’s lack of clean drinking water is no secret.  Only 37 percent of the country’s people have access to life’s necessity.  Drinking water is only one facet to the dire need for water.  Lack of water means Sudanese people struggle to grow enough food to feed their family, put their health at risk and research has shown clean drinking water has a direct correlation to education.  Though all of Sudan is in a water crisis, the country’s ever present war against itself and the south’s recent succession from the north has left Southern Sudan’s condition particularly grim.

Southern Sudan’s landscape offers mostly desert with temperatures during the dry season reaching an unbearable 120 degrees.  With 80 percent of Sudanese people working in agriculture, 97 percent of water use goes to farming.  Farmers provide the backbone for Sudan’s livelihood, supplying food for individual families and whole communities.  While farmers provide the country’s agricultural backbone, women and children spend their days traveling to water sources. 

Scarcity of available clean water has the most effect on village women.  Contaminated drinking water is the only available fluid for 12.3 million people.  Estimates in Sudan place available water for domestic use at 2 percent.  Women spend a great deal of time traveling to distant sources to gather water.  Time spent traveling is time lost on other domestic duties.  More so, the journey can be dangerous marked with rough terrain and aggressive predators.

Contaminated drinking water carries a plethora of diseases including diarrhea, Cholera, hepatitis E. and Guinea Worm Disease (also known as Dracunculiasis).  Sudanese highest risk of infection is Guinea Worm Disease (GWD), a debilitating and painful infection caused by a large roundworm.  Sudan has particular high outbreaks of the disease.  A 1999 report from the World Health Organization found two-thirds of GWD were from Sudan.  More current research suggests every three out of five Sudanese is infected. 

Sudan accesses some of the governmentally unregulated Nile River Basin water and uses accessible underground water shared with surrounding countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia.  Lack of sufficient amounts of water creates tension between the countries; termed water stress by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).   The label water stress is placed on any conflict, be it political or economical, created from lack of water.  At the heart of Africa’s suffering population is Sudan.

Conflicts in the country do not help what already is called a water crisis.  Focus of fighting between the north Muslim Arabs and the south Christian and animist Africans forefront the world’s view of Sudan.  Civil war has raged since 1966, with at least 2 million Sudanese killed and another four million losing all sense of home.  With no more than 7 percent of arable land in Sudan, researchers acknowledge the already scarcity of water will only become worse.

According to Discovery Health, a person in hot weather can dehydrate within an hour of not drinking water.  A child can die within that hour.  Adults can lose up to 1.5 liters of fluids through sweat alone, than lose more through urine, feces, and breathing.  Water is essential to cool the body’s core temperature preventing heat stroke.  A healthy adult in mild temperatures, not exerting energy will survive for less than a week.

Comprehensive knowledge of anatomy is not needed to understand clean water is vital for survival.  Two worthy non-profit organizations are working to give Sudan the clean drinking sources needed to sustain their livelihood.

The Water Project works in five countries bringing access to clean drinking water by funding water wells and proper sanitation efforts.  Placed in village schools or churches, The Water Project hopes to replace reliance on open drinking holes and streams with wells.  More than just digging a hole, the non-profit organization surveys the area, trains villagers in sanitation and pump repair and establishes a village water committee to oversee the well’s use and maintenance.  The project will also provide regular check-ups to ensure proper use and assess any maintenance needs.

Similarly, the non-profit group, Water for Sudan, is working to build water pumps in remote areas of Sudan.  President of the project, one of the famed lost boys of Sudan, Salva Dut, aims to make sure water distribution is fair.  Before pumps are built village elders discuss how water will be distributed and voice opinions on any issue of importance.  The pumps are maintained completely by the village.  Started in 2005, Water for Sudan has raised close to $2 million and built 85 wells in Southern Sudan.  Hopes are high for another 20 pumps to be completed in the next six months.    

Water is a basic need so often taken for granted.  Developed countries turn a faucet or open a fridge with barely a thought of water not being available.  Next time you take a drink of water, consider Sudan and other areas like Sudan.  A clean sip of water takes on new meaning.  

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