Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 World Water Day Hosted in Cape Town, South Africa

World Water Day is held on March 22 of every year. The theme this year was “Water for cities: responding to the urban water challenge.” The event consisted of a three-day exhibition and fair held by South Africa’s government.

According to UN’s Rapid Response Assessment Report for World Water Day, Africa is the “fastest urbanizing continent on the planet.” African cities are growing at the fastest rate out of anywhere in the world and as a result of this growth straining the water supplies and compromising sanitation services. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN-Habitat, “Green Hills, Blue Cities” conducted concluded that out of Africa’s one billion people living in urban areas, 40% do not have an adequate supply of water or sanitation services. The statistics show that the number of urban residents without safe drinking water increased from 30 million in 1990 to 55 million in 2008. During that same time span, the number of citizens without reasonable sanitation services doubled to 175 million. The executive director of UN-Habitat, Dr. Joan Clos, said the goal must be to “improve our urban planning and management in order to provide universal access to water and basic services while ensuring our cities become more resilient to the increasing effects of climate change.” Cities in South Africa are believed to face future crises of drought and water shortage due to climate change. There are also concerns over South Africa’s solid waste management and crop irrigation. One example is in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. The city has increased from 100,000 to 3.5 million in the last 50 years. The UN report finds that only five percent of the collected solid waste in Addis Ababa is recycled. The other 95% is mostly left in piles on the ground often near streams and bridges where the trash then makes its way into rivers. Another alarming finding by the report was that 60% of Addis Ababa urban farmers use wastewater to irrigate their crops. This has raised the concern of food poisoning. There are also infrastructure problems. In Kenya’s largest slum, Kibera, 40% of the 20,000 cubic meters of water a day it receives is lost due to leakage or rundown infrastructure.

UNEP’s executive director, Adam Steiner, says these types of concerns are what need to be addressed at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. This conference, known as Rio+20, is seen as momentous because it comes 20 years after the conference which “set the environmental agenda for the world”, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Rio+20 will focus on green economy, particularly sustainable development and poverty eradication. Mr. Steiner said there is increasing evidence from the green economy indicating, “that a different path in terms of water and sanitation can begin to be realized.”

Recommendations by the report call not for the building of costly water purification systems, but for the protection of watersheds and forests. The report finds, “Cities must reduce water consumption and recycle wastewater inside cities, restore adjacent watersheds and improve engineering solutions to supply water from well-managed ecosystems.” The World will be watching.

-Ashley Harvey, Legal Intern

Friday, March 11, 2011

There are no Mulligans for Florida's Special Places

Theodore Roosevelt once said, "I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us." Constructing at least five more golf courses in the State of Florida, as proposed by Sen. John Thrasher, R-Saint Augustine, and Rep. Patrick Rooney, R-West Palm Beach, would rob future generations of enjoying the beauty of our many special places in Florida through wasteful development in a State that already boasts nearly 1,300 choices for golfers.

The legislation proposed by Thrasher and Rooney, Senate Bill 1846 and companion House Bill 1239, calls for the construction of an 18-hole or more public golf course in the parks of all five regions of Florida, and requires such construction to be "free from unnecessarily burdensome requirements." The goal: "to stimulate the growth of tourism and the state economy by enhancing the state's reputation as a premier golfing destination and encouraging the location of public golf facilities within Florida's existing state parks." This idea was presented by former professional golfer and course designer, Jack Nicklaus, to Gov. Rick Scott in a private meeting last month to brainstorm ways to improve a struggling Floridian economy. Interestingly, the bill has come to be known as the “Jack Nicklaus Golf Trail of Florida Act,” as Nicklaus will be paid a reported $625,000 to design each course, a quarter of his usual fee. I suppose that is one job that the State can claim to have created if it goes through with the bill, but the only winning economy in that scenario is Jack Nicklaus’ personal economy. The jobs created by this are temporary at best, mostly construction related, and with the number of rounds played on the First Coast down by 9.6 percent last year and dozens of courses being forced to close due to financial loss over the last five years, this hardly seems like the economic stimulus that will carry us through tough times.

Forgive me if I am mistaken, but I was under the impression that Florida, while it does boast fantastic golf, is better known for its white sandy beaches, lush semi-tropical forests, cultural sites and crystal clear springs, lakes and rivers. Don’t get me wrong, I frequently enjoy playing the game of golf and attend The Players Championship annually. However, golfers are already catered to with nearly 1,300 golf courses in the State, while there are few options for those on a budget who are seeking affordable, family-friendly activities, such as swimming, hiking, bicycling, paddling, diving, fishing, camping, horseback riding, birding, and photography, that our 160 designated State Parks have to offer.

Thus far, only Jonathan Dickinson State Park has been named in the bill. The park has 13 natural communities, including sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and river swamps, cut by the Loxahatchee River, which is Florida's first federally designated Wild and Scenic River. If the legislation goes through, then at least 200 acres of the park will be taken for the golf industry, moving Nicklaus one step closer to achieving his ultimate goal of hosting a U.S. Open at one of his designed courses.

Sadly, this proposal flies in the face of the Florida Park Service’s goal “to help create a sense of place by showing park visitors the best of Florida's diverse natural and cultural sites. Florida's state parks are managed and preserved for enjoyment by this and future generations through providing appropriate resource-based recreational opportunities, interpretation and education that help visitors connect to ...the Real Florida.” Once the “Real Florida” disappears, there will be no mulligans.

-Timothy Nalepka, Legal Intern

Monday, March 7, 2011's what's for dinner.

Bioaccumulation is the word of the day, which is a “[g]eneral term describing a process by which chemicals are taken up by an organism either directly from exposure to a contaminated medium or by consumption of food containing the chemical.” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). Quite simply, as humans, we are consuming all of the mercury that has been consumed from the food chain below us. For example, a little fish ingests mercury contaminated plankton, while a bigger fish consumes the mercury contaminated smaller fish, and so on and so forth until we ingest the final product which has been exposed to the toxic substance for its entire lifetime.

A recent study conducted at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio examined Texas school district data and industrial mercury-release data. The study revealed a “statistically significant link between pounds of industrial release of mercury and increased autism rates.” It also showed, for the first time in scientific literature, a relevant association between autism risk and the distance of those affected from the mercury polluting source.

Right about now, you are probably wondering how this toxic substance is entering our food chain in the first place. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there are several known sources of mercury contributors to our environment, both naturally present and those created by man. Natural sources include volcanoes, natural mercury deposits, and volatilization from the ocean, with the primary human-related sources being: coal combustion, chlorine alkali processing, waste incineration, and metal processing. The USGS notes that the “[b]est estimates to date suggest that human activities have about doubled or tripled the amount of mercury in the atmosphere, and the atmospheric burden is increasing by about 1.5 percent per year.” It is unimaginable to think that we are knowingly and intentionally poisoning ourselves. As you drive along during your commute, or even look out of your home into your own backyard, do you see a potential polluter to your water or seafood supply?

Finally, you may be trying to figure out what can, or is, being done about this problem. Well, the Federal Government has set acceptable mercury levels for water, fish and shellfish, and grain. It is up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate such mercury emissions under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, with State governments also establishing regulations to control mercury emissions. This begs the question of why we are still seeing fish being contaminated to the point that the EPA felt the need to issue “Your Guide to Eating Fish Caught in Florida” (found here: as recently as 2009.

If mercury emission is being regulated to the degree necessary to preserve the public health, then should there even be a need to publish such materials? Is enough being done? What will you be having for dinner?

-Timothy Nalepka, Legal Intern

Water, water everywhere...or is it?

As a multibillion dollar industry with many lobbyists, the bottled water industry is an impressive presence throughout the country. In particular, there are over 40 bottled water facilities in the State of Florida, with the attraction to our state stemming from the fact that bottled water companies don’t have to pay for the water that they pump once they pay a nominal $230 fee for a permit. Critics fear that this will lead to a “tragedy of the commons” approach, where bottled water companies will ultimately deplete the shared limited water resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen. Opponents find support in this by noting that Silver Springs, located in Marion County, Florida, has already lost 32% of its historic average flow, with some other springs in the Orlando area predicted to decline in flow by 15% over the next decade.

A proposal sponsored by Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, for the Florida 2011 Legislative Session, will attempt to turn the tide by creating a 6 percent tax on a bottle of water. Introduced as an environmental surcharge to be used as an effort to mitigate the impact of withdrawing vast amounts of water from Florida’s springs, Sen. Lynn will face the hurdle of convincing a legislature, which is led by a Senate President and House Speaker staunchly against new taxes of any kind, that the resolution is necessary for protecting the water resources of the state. However, even some environmental advocates are skeptical of the effectiveness of the proposed legislation. Eric Draper, the executive director of Audubon of Florida, said the group was hesitant to back Lynns’ bill, simply because it might not go far enough. He noted that there are other large users of water, such as golf courses or cities that adversely effect our groundwater supply. In fact, aquifers provide nearly 90% of the state's personal drinking water and more than 60% of the state's freshwater usage in agriculture and industry.

A more appealing water-tax first gained momentum in February 2009 when a version was proposed by then Gov. Charlie Crist. The Crist proposal applied a severance tax to the extraction of water by commercial water-bottlers, rather than passing the cost onto consumers of bottled water products in Florida. However, while environmentalists welcomed the idea, the beverage industry lobbied strongly against the water-tax proposals and it ultimately failed.

In the meantime, while the debate looms once again, one of the 40 bottled water facilities in the State of Florida is pumping 1.47 million gallons of water per day through 2018 with nothing more to pay than the cost of its bottles and the other 39 facilities are likely doing the same as you read this post. Once the resource is depleted, they can pick up and move to a new location to start anew. If you are living in an area where your groundwater resource drys up, can you afford to do the same?

-Timothy Nalepka, Legal Extern

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

China’s Environmental Minister Releases Warning on Growth and Climate Peril

On Monday, China’s Environmental Minister, Zhou Shengxian gave a blunt warning that the growth of the country is threatened by pollution. China is the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases and has the second largest economy in the world making it the biggest polluter and consumer of resources. China uses coal to produce 70% of its energy needs and is becoming increasingly dependent on oil. Minister Zhou’s statements warned that unrestrained development would affect the country’s natural resources, such as water, air and soil, as well as hinder long-term economic growth and social stability. To check this development China will introduce a risk assessment system. The country will consider projected greenhouse gas emissions as part of evaluating proposed development projects, such as approving new factories. This is significant because past economic policies were hesitant to put environmental protection ahead of growth. While the proposed program is to cut energy use for each unit of economic growth, it still will not put caps on emission. This system may be a positive step towards the country’s role in fighting climate change and will be interesting to watch because past promises to curb environmental degradation failed to realize due to lack of will to enforce.

Highlighting the importance of the Minister’s announcements are recent reports on China’s environment finding 10% of domestic grown rice was contaminated with heavy metals and smog at dangerous levels in the capital city. In 2009 a study concluded that 20% of rivers and lakes monitored in China were polluted to such extent they were unfit for consumption, even to irrigate crops.

Minister Zhou stated, “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the deterioration of the environment have become serious bottlenecks constraining economic and social development.” The environmental protection theme will be a focus of the annual Parliament session to being on Saturday.

-Ashley Harvey, Legal Intern