The Spillway: Topics We're Covering
We report on all aspects of water, but many topics seem to fall into one of two "buckets." We're either talking about water quantitytoo little water or too muchor we're examining water quality and determining how much we are impacting this finite resource.
When we cover quantity, we're digging into drought, climate change, water rights, conservation, water conflicts, and scarcity. When we report on quality, we're investigating pollution or emerging contaminants and their impact on drinking water sources. Of course, water is complex and we know that our coverage will often be the intersection of both quality and quantitysuch as when drought affects habitat or recreation, or when sea-level rise leads to saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers.
Dive into our stories by topic below or soak up our most recent pieces by date.
Global warming and climate change will have a significant impact on an array of water resource issues. Warmer temperatures mean higher evaporation rates and loss of water from soils and air. This means that when precipitation does fall, it may be a raindrop rather than snowflake and lead to shorter runoff seasons and less water for summer agriculture. Climate change also means the shrinking of ice sheets and sea level rise, raising the vulnerability of coastal areas and low-lying nations. It can also lead to more intense storms that will cause flooding and force runoff of sediment and contaminants into streams and lakes. At the other extreme, climate change could bring profound drought, potentially leading to water conflicts.
See our climate change reporting.
As populations rise and water scarcity increases, the potential for conflict grows. Climate change will only exacerbate the situation as extreme weather can create a range of scenarios from drought to flood. We've already started to see "climate refugees" because of sea level rise. Will the struggle between water "haves" and "have-nots" lead to war?
"The Confluence" is the place to find stories about the convergence of water, politics, and law. Water law varies greatly across the country. For example, in the West water rights are determined by the "Prior Appropriation Doctrine," which is markedly different from the "Riparian" water rights found in much of the East. Prior Appropriation can be complex and confusing. How are water rights determined? How does it affect downstream users? In a recent story we profiled a couple living off the grid in Colorado who wanted to use a creek on their property to generate power. Only problem? It "belonged" to someone else. Their legal battle to do “small hydro” went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court—where they won. Now many are asking if their case just upended 150 years of water law.
Water conservation coverage for H2O Radio has two parts. One is reporting on water efficiency efforts that innovate to avoid waste so we have adequate supply for the future. The other is protecting water quality to safeguard the habitat of wildlife and ecosystems upon which all life depends—including ours. For example, we looked at how dogs are being used to sniff out invasive mussels that are disrupting ecosystems, depleting food sources for aquatic life and damaging infrastructure.
Drought and Water Scarcity
Droughts are one of the most damaging types of weather-related phenomena. Causing severe economic and environmental damage, droughts are often difficult to assess because dry conditions develop gradually and impact various regions differently. As NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti explained in an interview with H2O Radio, climate change means that dry areas of the world are getting drier leading to a depletion of aquifers worldwide. One highly visible example is California, which has built up a huge infrastructure around the availability of water that's now disappearing.
There are a number of organizations providing education around water. For instance, we profiled the Mile High Youth Corps and their program to train young people for careers in the "green" industry. In our education reporting we'll get you schooled about programs designed to raise your water IQ.
"Emerging contaminants," also known as "contaminants of emerging concern," are chemicals that have been shown to occur widely in water resources and have been identified as posing a potential environmental or public health risk. They include pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, herbicides, and endocrine-disrupting compounds.
H2O Radio has been following one particular chemical, “tert-Butyl alcohol” or "TBA," found near gas drilling in southern Colorado. We're also reporting on perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that are used in firefighting foams as well as a range of consumer products from carpets, to cosmetics, to clothing and even food packaging like microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes. As the name suggests, emerging contaminants are growing area of concern and a focus of H2O Radio's work. See our reporting on emerging contaminants.
The water-energy nexus is the relationship between how much water is evaporated to generate and transmit energy and how much energy it takes to collect, clean, move, store, and dispose of water. This fascinating and perhaps poorly understood relationship should "generate" interesting conversations about our energy future.
Water is vital to our health. It regulates our temperature and helps us absorb important minerals and nutrients. It makes up 75% of our body and without it humans would not survive more than a few days. We look at how water plays a critical role in not only our physical health, but also our mental health.
Have you ever wondered how much water it takes to manufacture different everyday items? The industrial/commercial sector is becoming a growing area for water efficiency concerns. We investigate how companies view the importance of water in their processes and what they're doing to reduce water use and costs.
Canals, ditches, and dams move water from one place to another. What is the state of our infrastructure? In one story to answer that question, we looked at Acequias, communal irrigation canals that were once the lifelines of agriculture in much of the Southwest. People in New Mexico worry that this model of democracy and stewardship might be threatened by social change—and climate change.
Nonpoint Source Pollution
Nonpoint source pollution occurs when runoff after rainfall or snowmelt moves contaminants into the waterways. As the runoff moves, it picks up human-made pollutants and deposits them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and groundwaters. It can include such things as fertilizers and pesticides from farms and homes; oil, grease, and refuse from urban streets; toxic chemicals from abandoned mines and salts from de-icing materials to name a few. Two examples of recent reporting include our story on E. coli in the South Platte River and The Hidden Costs of Road Salts.
Recreation is one of the largest users of non-consumptive water. We look recreation's role in water planning and management. It's tee time at H2O Radio.
Sustainability is the concept that development of whatever kind meets the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of future generations. In 2000, the Earth Charter broadened the definition of sustainability to include the idea of a global society “founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.” Listen to our interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., in which he explains that sustainable environments require a fully functioning democracy for success.
All stories are available for download at PRX.org and Audioport.org. H2O Radio content cannot be broadcast, edited or reproduced without the permission of H2O Media, Ltd.
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