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Drought Is Drawing Saltwater Upriver

September 24, 2023

Salty Water Moves Up Mississippi River Due to Drought

The drought that has hit the U.S. Midwest and South has caused the Mississippi River to be so low that saltwater is creeping up from the Gulf of Mexico. The saltwater advances along the river bottom because it is heavier than fresh water. Most years, the flow of the river keeps the salt from moving up. The brackish water has already contaminated some water systems and is now threatening others, so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to send barges with 36 million gallons of fresh water every day to communities near New Orleans.

Construction of the saltwater sill in the Mississippi River. Conservative estimates show that the sill would need to be constructed an average of about once every five years. Since completion of the 45-ft. channel, a sill has been constructed three times: in 1988, in 1999, and in 2012. Construction is currently underway for the 50-ft. channel. |  Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/H2O Media, Ltd.

The Bayou State has already suffered wildfires this summer, which was the third driest and the hottest ever on record with the average high temperatures of 98.1 degrees. Now, the prospect of water systems being contaminated is causing another emergencyAccording to the Guardian, some communities have already had their systems overcome, causing schools to close and leaving some people without drinking water.

This year, as in other drought years, the Army Corps is trying to stop the saltwater. They have constructed a 1,500-foot-wide barrier created by dredging up sediment —called a sill—that’s like an underwater levee to slow the creep. However, the sill was overtopped, and the Corps plans to expand it starting this week, by adding 25 feet on top of it.  It’s the second year in a row that the river has been so low that this measure had to be taken.

Rain is not in the forecast, and saltwater could reach the New Orleans area in two and a half weeks. Barge companies have had to reduce their loads on the Mississippi at a time when harvested crops in the Midwest are about to be sent to New Orleans.  About 60 percent of U.S. grain exports are shipped on the river each year.

Is Working from Home Better for Climate Change?

The push by employers to require workers to return to the office instead of working remotely is increasing. According to a report by Resume Builder, a website for job seekers, more than half of 1,000 firms surveyed require some or all employees to work in person, and almost 40 percent of companies intend to do so by the end of next year. Close to one-third say they will threaten those who don’t comply with being fired.

Rush hour  |  Credit: B137/Creative Commmons

However, returning to the office may not be good for the environment. While there’s not been much research into the question to date, a new study from Cornell and Microsoft, looked at five factors—commuting, non-commute travel, energy use at residences, and at offices, and information technology devices.  The researchers concluded that remote workers could have a 54 percent lower carbon footprint compared to on-site workers. And those who work remotely part of the time—two to four days a week—reduce their carbon footprint up to about 30 percent. The main carbon savings are from travel and office energy use. However, remote working only one day had little effect.

The Washington Post notes that choices people make in their remote work life can also affect their CO2 footprint. As the number of remote work days increases, trips made for social and recreational activities are greater, the research concludes. The study authors cautioned against concluding that all remote work could lower emissions.

The report considered energy efficiency at offices and determined that if hybrid workers shared a desk rather than have one for each, emissions could be reduced by 28 percent.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Biden Creates American Climate Corps to Train Youth for Environmental Jobs

In the 1930s, when the U.S. was in the midst of the Great Depression with many out of work and jobs scarce, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps, where single, young men between the ages of 18 and 25 could enlist in work programs to improve public lands, forests, and parks. Environmental groups and Democrats have been pushing to develop a similar federal program to address the climate crisis, and last week, President Biden used executive action to create the “American Climate Corps” that will train young people for careers in clean energy, conservation, and the climate resilience economy.

The Mile High Youth Corps, a conservation-based AmeriCorps program that helps prepare Colorado forests for an era of increased aridification driven by climate change, is one way to get involved in Colorado's Climate Corps.  |  Credit: AmeriCorps

The move made good on a campaign promise to reinvent the New Deal-era program and is meant to secure younger voters who say climate change is their key concern. Funding was initially proposed as a part of climate actions in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act but was removed after Republicans objected.

The White House expects to have 20,000 recruits in the program’s first year, working on a range of projects from restoring coastal wetlands and planting trees to installing solar panels and retrofitting homes to be more energy efficient. Unlike the original Civilian Conservation Corps, which only recruited white men, the new American Climate Corps will have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Interested people can sign up on the White House website to learn more.

According to a White House Fact Sheet, the administration will work with federal agencies such as the Departments of Interior, Energy, Agriculture, and Labor to facilitate the corps. California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Washington already have similar programs, which the Biden administration says demonstrates the power of skills-based training to move people toward well-paid careers. Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Utah will be launching initiatives of their own.

You Can Sponsor a Piece of Niue and Help the Ocean

Do you care about the oceans and want to help protect them from climate change and the tons of plastic choking marine life? The tiny South Pacific island nation of Niue—a coral atoll about 1500 miles northeast of New Zealand—has an offer for you. For just $148, you can sponsor one square kilometer—about 250 acres—of the country’s marine territory for up to 20 years through its Ocean Conservation Commitments or OCCs program, which Premier Dalton Tagelagi officially launched during the United Nations General Assembly's annual meeting in New York last week.

North coast of Niue  | Credit: Msdstefan/Creative Commmons

Niue’s territorial waters are 1,200 times larger than its land mass, which makes it challenging for the tiny country to find the resources to protect its pristine coral reefs, undersea mountains, and diverse marine life from threats such as illegal fishing, climate change, and pollution. The OCC sponsorships will allow Niue to monitor its marine environment, fund conservation efforts and education, as well as build a climate-resilient and sustainable blue economy.

Niue hopes to raise more than $18 million by selling 127,000 units, which corresponds to the size of its "no-take" Marine Protected Area (Niue Moana Mahu) and represents 40 percent of its overall territorial waters.

The announcement of the OCCs included a pledge by the government to buy 1,700 units—one for each of the island’s residents. All donors will receive a certificate together with an annual progress report that officials say will show that “even the smallest of nations can make global waves.”