Category Archives: DC

The Potomac: America’s most beleaguered river, new report

The Potomac is the nation’s most imperiled river, according to a report issued today by the nonprofit group, American Rivers.

Pescados by Daquella manera (Daniel Lobo)
Creative Commons license

The river, which supplies drinking water to five million people in the Greater Washington region, suffers from a bad case of  runoff from laws and factory farms, alike. those woes have turned the Potomac into a spawning ground for so-called “intersex fish” – male fish born with ovaries. Yikes! Scientists have linked the chemicals in lawn fertilizer and “chicken litter” (manure produced in large quantities at the region’s poultry farms) that get washed into the waterways where they wreak havoc of fish reproduction and create habitat-crippling dead zones bereft of oxygen, among other things.

The Washington Post today notes that U.S. Congress has failed to act despite growing evidence that what’s happening to the fish may be a disturbing sign of the human health implications. In fact, sentiment on Capitol Hill is moving in the other direction with Republicans periodically launching attempts to roll back the Clean Air Act, reporter Darryl Fears notes, quoting environmentalists.

The landmark federal law, which turns 40-years-old this year, has led to major improvements in the health of the nation’s waterways, experts say. At the time of its passage in 1972, some U.S. rivers were such reeking open sewers that they sometimes caught fire. Nevertheless, the Potomac is one of ten that continue face the most serious ongoing problems.

Besides the Potomac, today’s top ten list, of sorts, includes the following:

  • Green River (which runs through Wyoming, Utah and Colorado)
  • Chattahoochee River (Georgia)
  • Missouri River (nine states in the central United States)
  • Hoback River (Wyoming)
  •  Grand River (Ohio)
  • Skykomish River (Washington)
  • Crystal River (Colorado)
  •  Coal River (West Virginia)
  •  Kansas River (Kansas)

DC’s smart meters going heywire?

Chris Turner's smart meter at work. Click to watch video.

For those of us following the climate change debate, we’ve heard for years that before we can build a clean energy economy we need a “smart grid” capable of plugging into an array of big and small power sources — from residential rooftop solar panels to massive wind farms.

But, it turns out even here in Washington, D.C., there are those who see something more sinister in the smart technology.  For some,  the “smart meters” represent a  massive new assault on the airwaves and public health.

It’s not exactly the kind of rabble rousing underway in Tea Party strongholds, where the meters are considered part of a United Nations’ plot to outlaw America’s beloved suburban sprawl  and herd everyone into “smart growth” shoebox apartments and “walkable” neighborhoods. D.C. activists, however, are using some of the same arguments and links to rail against the technology update. That might be part of the reason they aren’t getting much traction with city officials or their own neighbors.

Read more about DC’s meter battle in my story in today’s Washington City Paper.

Some of the “many hearts” of Oct. 6 Protest

Many hearts + Signs at Oct. 6 protest


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Art + Corporate Sponsorship II

Yesterday I wrote about the trouble with relying on corporate sponsors — be it to produce artwork or carry out environmental work. Here’s a link to a 2 minute video of the video installation, “Present Interval / Intervalo del Tiempo” that I discuss in that earlier post.

The Trouble with Corporate Sponsorship

Having chronicled the corrupting influence of corporate donations to environmental groups, I found myself in uncomfortable territory last weekend while helping my husband, videoartist Alberto Roblest, produce “Present Interval / Intervalo del Tiempo,” a temporary public art installation that, for two nights, took over an alleyway in Washington D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Even before the trouble began, I was feeling a little queasy about Alberto’s deal with Best Buy. The electronics retail chain had agreed to loan him video projectors in exchange for sponsorship bragging rights.

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Cows will be Cows

Cows will be cows. Chesapeake Bay Foundation photo

Earlier this week, this blog discussed the dilemma facing people everywhere who want both spot-free dishes and clean watersheds. Well, yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlighted another part of the Chesapeake Bay‘s chemical runoff problem: It announced a crack down at the chicken and dairy farm run by the Petersheim brothers of Lancaster County, Pa.

EPA inspectors slapped the Petersheims with a $6,000 fine for allowing runoff from animal manure and milkhouse washwater packed with nitrogen and phosphorus to end up in a tributary of Chickies Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and eventually meets the bay.

According to the EPA press release, the brothers’ farm in Manheim, Pa., has about 80 dairy cows and produces eggs from about 36,000 hens. Is that a lot? After reading about the country’s massive factory farming operations that produce most of the eggs — and don’t forget the salmonella! — in the country, the Petersheim operation doesn’t sound terribly large and impactful. And, that just illustrates how diffuse and complicated a pollution problem the Chesapeake is facing. The EPA has outlined its plan to step up the long-running cleanup efforts, here. But the task is daunting and environmentalists have expressed lot of skepticism over the plans rolled out by the states bordering the bay. Meanwhile, the farmers are pushing back: A group of Virginia farmers are coming to Washington tomorrow to complaint about the EPA’s “heavy-handed” approach to the cleanup and lobby against stricter new legislation in Congress, according to this AP report.

New Study Shows the Potomac is Cleaner Now than Decades Ago

This wild celery (Vallisneria) by Nancy Rybicki, U.S. Geological Survey

The Washington Post has a front page story today trumpeting the news that the Potomac River is the cleanest it’s been in half a century. Whoopie! Such good news. Unfortunately, before you even get to the jump, the report warns that we’ve still got a boatload of environmental problems in the river that supplies our drinking water here in the District and much of the region.

Still, this partial success story inspires hope that we can also tackle the Potomac’s other woes — such as invasive species, pesticides and other  runoff from farms and lawns, and the mysterious chemical that causes male fish to grow eggs.

Read the WaPo story here. Or go directly to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Morning What if …

What if … Pakistan’s flooding, the BP spill or the Bhopal chemical spill … happened here?

The BBC has posted a page full of “what if?” interactive maps using Google technology that show what various natural and human-made disasters would look like if they happened where you and I live. Pretty sobering stuff.

Until seeing this map, I had no idea the area effected by this month’s flooding in Pakistan was so large that it would stretch from Montreal to Georgia if it had happened here. For more on the situation in Pakistan, here’s a video by Huma Beg, a Pakistani journalist who is traveling through the effected areas.

And there are more maps on the BBC site. For instance:

The cloud of deadly toxins let loose by India’s Bhopal chemical spill would have pretty much engulfed Washington D.C. The BP spill gushed enough oil to slime all of London, and the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch is large enough to float over the entire United States … from sea to shining sea, so to speak. Sheesh!

Climate v. Weather

As temperatures in the District of Columbia climb passed the 90-degree mark again today, it seems a fitting time to point out that the climate v. weather debate is heating up again too, fueled not only by this summer’s East Coast heatwave, but unprecedented flooding in Pakistan, forest fires in Russia stoked by usually hot, dry conditions there, and other extreme weather around the globe as this year shapes up to become the hottest on record.

Of course, these things taken individually don’t necessarily say much about climate change. Experts on both sides of the argument warn, “Don’t  confuse ‘weather’ with ‘climate,'” though I notice that this advice is seldom heeded here in the District.

Only last winter, after our first blizzard in decades, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe’s family built an igloo and dedicated it to climate crusader Al Gore, declaring the record snowfall a sign that global warming really is a hoax. Now, different folks are speculating that our current heat wave means climate change is for real, a view only bolstered last week when an iceberg more than four times the size of Manhattan broke off a Greenland glacier and floated away.

With all this fighting over the weather, it seems noteworthy that the calving of the iceberg is seen by experts as a surer indication of rising global temperatures. But that view may be changing (or perhaps it’s not the view that’s changing so much as scientists’ willingness to publicly wade into the debate.)  Here are a few news stories quoting scientists about the possible links between individual weather events and global warming.

ClimateCentral says: “Scientist Explores Links Between Extreme Weather and Climate Change”

The New York Times reports “In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming”

The Guardian reports: “Climate Scientists in Race To Predict Where Natural Disaster Will Strike Next”

Trivia Question of the Day

image from DC Metrocentric

DC Metrocentric has a 1872 map of The Mall. This apparently was long after city planners had the area landfilled since the mall, much of Chinatown and beyond were once creeks and swampland.
Anybody know what year the city undertook the massive landfill operation that created downtown as we know it today?