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“Florence Fuels Fears About Hog Waste, Coal Ash, and Dams." That story and more in the latest edition of "This Week in Water" [ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Hurricane Florence Raises Fears About Infrastructure Failing and Water Contamination

Hurricane Florence, now a tropical depression, made landfall on Friday morning in North Carolina. While its winds have slowed, the storm had dropped a lot of rain, including 30 inches near Wilmington, and forecasters were saying up to 40 inches could fall in the Carolinas before it’s over. The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest Tuesday at 62 feet in Fayetteville, more than 27 feet over flood stage. As of Sunday morning, 14 people were reported to have died in the storm.

In addition to immediate concerns about people’s safety, there are ongoing worries about failures of infrastructure and water contamination. In both North and South Carolina about 10 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient. Wayne Klotz, head of the American Society of Civil Engineers, told Newsweek that, while there are not a lot of bridges about to fall down, they weren’t designed to accommodate three to four feet of rain at one time. South Carolina has almost 180 dams which the government defines as high hazards meaning that, if one failed it would probably cause loss of human life and serious damage to homes and buildings. In North Carolina there are more than 1,400 high hazard dams. Klotz said that some may have to release water to avoid breaches, but those releases could cause downstream flooding.

Flood waters could contain toxins and contaminants. Environmental advocates have been warning that there are dozens of coal ash piles across the path of the storm. On Sunday an NBC News local affiliate reported that a slope of a coal ash land fill collapsed at a closed power station near Wilmington, North Carolina. Duke Energy officials confirmed the report saying that enough ash to fill 180 dump trucks had spilled into a lake, but it was unknown whether that had contaminated the Cape Fear River.

In addition to those problems, industrial hog farms in North Carolina have several million tons of urine and feces in lagoons that experts worry could be flooded spreading contents into surrounding residential areas and water supplies. Wired reports that scientists think the state’s hog farms contain antibiotic resistant bacteria. Farmers have been spraying hog waste on fields as fertilizer, but that could be washed down into rivers and streams by the heavy rains. During the last hurricane in 2016, fourteen hog lagoons flooded. Florence has been predicted to drop twice as much rain as that storm.

Even as Severe Storms Hit New Cities Are Being Planned in Coastal Areas Without Climate Change in Mind

As Florence drenched the Carolinas, Typhoon Mangkhut devastated parts of the Philippines and China. In the Philippines, Mangkhut, the strongest storm of the year, killed 59, most of whom died in landslides from the heavy rains. Then after crossing the sea, it struck Hong Kong where it swayed skyscrapers and blew out windows.

As all this occurred a study shows that planners and developers of new cities being built around the world are doing very little to make their projects resilient to climate change. Geography professor Sarah Moser mapped 120 cities in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, and was struck by how many are in vulnerable coastal areas. She found that only eight of the cities are even talking about climate change. Moser said in a release from McGill University that everyone wants to live on the coast and new cities are often geared towards the wealthy as investment vehicles. She observed there is no voice of reason stepping in and saying that these projects are not a good idea. As an example, she points to a new high-rise development on reclaimed land in the narrow body of water between Malaysia and Singapore. When completed it will have housing for 700,000 people on four artificial islands. Moser’s guide at that site told her that there were no worries about rising sea levels, because that happens only in other countries.

The Ability of Soils to Absorb Water May Be Reduced by Global Warming

Anyone who has potted plants or gardens might notice how water gets absorbed into the dirt. That happens due to pores in the soil. A new study from the University of California at Riverside predicts that climate change will reduce the amount of large pores that make that absorption possible—a condition that could lead to more flash flooding and soil erosion. Macropores in the soil are larger than .08 millimeter or about one sixth the size of a pencil eraser. The researchers found that they are less likely to develop in humid climates; and, as the atmosphere warms, it is getting more humid meaning less macropores.

Using climate predictions for the end of this century, the scientists conclude that in most regions of the U.S. increasing humidity will reduce the large pores. In a release from UC Riverside, the study’s lead author, Daniel Hirmas said that having fewer large pores could have effects on food production, water scarcity and biodiversity.

Eat Well, Save Water

Want to save the planet and be healthier? Your mother was right–eat your veggies. According to new research from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, meatless diets could cut your 'water footprint' in half. A water footprint is defined as the total volume of freshwater necessary to produce goods—in this case food. Raising livestock takes a lot of water as does producing oils, sugars, and fats. But growing fruits and vegetables, on the other hand is much more efficient.

In the most detailed study to date on consumption, researchers analyzed what people in France, Germany, and the U.K. eat on a daily basis and found that on average each person’s water footprint was around 800 gallons a day. For comparison people in the U.S. use nearly 2,400 gallons per day. But the authors found that, if people adhered to national dietary guidelines—which generally recommend meals rich in fruit, vegetables, and grains—each individual’s water footprint would fall depending on regional eating habits. For example, a healthy pescatarian diet of fish and where animal fat is replaced with oils from crops, water consumption is reduced by a third. Following a vegetarian diet can lower an individual’s footprint by 55 percent. Given an upward trend in obesity and increasing demand for meat worldwide coupled with strained freshwater resources, climate change, and population growth, the authors see changing our diets as a win-win.







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