Just thought I would let you know that National Geographic’s new issue “Water Our Thirsty World” is dedicated to the single issue of, you guessed it, water. From World Water Day until April 9 you can download a free copy of the magazine.
Today is officially World Water Day. Of course everyday we depend on clean water for our very survival, so it seems to me that being impeccable stewards of our freshwater supply would be at the top of our list of priorities. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Today the world’s freshwater ecosystems and the species they support are degraded and endangered to a greater extent than any other ecosystem type. Nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Clearly water is a central issue. The Nature Conservancy has a very interesting article on their blog on the role that water has played in catalyzing environmental progress. It is very important that we understand where our water comes from, how we can keep it safe and clean, and use it wisely.
Things we can do:
Learn about our local watershed.
Volunteer on a creeks clean-up day.
Retrofit your home to be more water efficient.
Try to steer clear of chemicals and pesticides and be careful what you put down your drain
Put into practice as many of these everyday water saving tips as possible.
Heal the Ocean, is an incredible non-profit based here in Santa Barbara whose mission is to end ocean pollution. They have a very hands on approach, actually funding their own scientific studies to find the sources of pollution and commissioning engineering studies and environmental assessments to determine the costs of clean up. After five years of research, they recently released the California Ocean Wastewater Discharge Report and Inventory. The report, which encompasses all the wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into the Pacific along the California coast, provides an unprecedented overview of the state of our wastewater system. When the study was started, the issue of bacteria in the water was the primary focus but as time went on, the problem of chemical pollutants took on an increased significance. Apparently our wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to treat these pollutants, termed Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC’s). As more research was conducted, it became apparent that the source of many of these CEC’s was personal care products. Turns out that many products we use everyday, (think shampoo, lotions, toothpaste, sunscreens, antibacterial soap, fabric, canned goods, etc. ) are loaded with chemicals, and they are not only poisoning the ocean, but may be very harmful to us. Katherine Engel, a research associate with Heal the Ocean, has written an excellent paper “Bad for the Ocean, Bad for You” which details many of these CEC’s and provides tips on how to avoid them. This is a must read as is her companion essay, Personal Care Products- A Research Journey. The ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products are not regulated in any meaningful way; many of them include known toxins such as lead which has been found in many brands of lipstick. Engel writes “consumers have NO idea they are bathing in toxins, smearing toxins on themselves, rubbing toxins into their hair,” and when we are done with this toxic bath, the CEC’s “go down the drain from your house to a wastewater treatment plant, where for the most part they bypass the current treatment system and are discharged straight into the ocean.” These chemicals also pose a threat to our drinking water . The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates 91 contaminants but it is estimated that there are over 60,000 chemicals used in the US. While the wastewater treatment plants are not currently treating these chemicals, it is possible that with higher levels of processing they might be able to effectively remove these contaminants. This would require an increase in funding, most likely through rate hikes on the sewer portion of our water bills. I think that if people understood the problem they would support this. How much is safe, clean water worth to you? According to Hillary Hauser, the Executive Director of Heal the Ocean, ” A wastewater treatment plant is the most important environmental tool we have for the ocean, period. And we have to help them.” Heal the Ocean will be hitting the road with their groundbreaking reports and “will be talking to state water agencies, politicians, experts and regulators.” Let’s help support them. Obviously, if we can keep these chemicals out of the system to begin with we will helping to solve the problem and likely improving our health as well. These chemicals are ubiquitous in many of the products we buy, but they are not essential and often there are better alternatives available.
ACTIONS TO TAKE
- READ THE LABELS of the products you have been buying and if they are loaded with these CEC’s write to the company to see if they can change their formulas. If not, find a better replacement.
- SUPPORT THE WORK OF HEAL THE OCEAN
- BUY WISELY Know what is in the products you buy and what went into making them. Support companies who are committed to the most sustainable practices
- VOICE YOUR CONCERN Let your representatives know that you care about proper funding for our sewer systems
A big part of living a green lifestyle is being a conscious consumer. Here is another chance to get it right.
According to a recent story in The New York Times, Jamestown Properties, a commercial real estate investment company based in Germany and Atlanta, is going green on all of nearly 4 billion dollars worth of U.S. properties. They will be spending 3 to 10 million dollars on these green retrofits. Managing director and chief operations officer, Matt M Bonfman says the executives at Jamestown believe that real estate will be increasingly valued for sustainability and environmental impact. Sustainability “will become a key factor to the point where, if you haven’t taken environmental measures, you will have trouble, whether it’s leasing your office building or what have you.” The company expects their investment will be repaid through energy savings, higher resale values, and the ability to charge higher rents. Just another indicator that a green home or office retrofit is not only good for the world, but might also be good for your pocketbook!