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“Foods Could Soon Have a 'Climate Label.'" That story and more in the latest edition of "This Week in Water" [ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Global Warming Likely Made Michael Intensify Rapidly

Hurricane Michael, which devastated Florida last week, was the strongest October storm ever known to come ashore in the continental U.S. In terms of barometric pressure, it had the third lowest reading surpassed only by the 1935 Labor Day storm, and Camille in 1969. The Atlantic reports that Michael got very strong very quickly—from a tropical storm last Sunday to a major hurricane by Tuesday. As the storm neared Florida, it was over very warm waters, about 4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. And the surrounding air that Michael moved into was relatively calm and windless. So, with the energy from Gulf waters and little wind to disturb it, the storm quickly intensified into a monster.

Hurricane Harvey that inundated the Houston area of the Gulf of Mexico last year also rapidly intensified before it reached land, and as the climate warms more hurricanes are predicted to go through this process. John Morales NBC’s chief meteorologist in Miami told The Atlantic that global warming’s effect on hurricanes is like changing the speed limit on a highway. The highest possible wind-speed that can be reached in a tropical cyclone is increasing thanks to a change in thermodynamics.

Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans Move Forward But Tensions Still Exist

As conditions in the Southwest continue to aridify—or become drier—officials from the seven states that rely on the Colorado River have been trying to plan for future shortages that could affect tens of millions of people from Denver to Southern California. Last week there was movement toward an overall agreement on drought contingency plans. But there is much work to be done before, what are now just tentative agreements, become final.

The goal of the upper states, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, is to manage releases of water from key reservoirs and store them in Lake Powell above Glen Canyon Dam. Then, if necessary, the states would conserve more to do their part so the entire system doesn’t crash. New conservation efforts—called demand management—would be made in ways yet to be determined. Colorado state officials are working to develop temporary, voluntary, cut back programs. The goal is also to compensate those who may have to curtail their water use. The tentative agreements announced last week have received praise; but, the head the Colorado River District, Andy Mueller, told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel he hopes the plans will satisfy western Colorado interests, and if they don’t they may oppose it. Bruce Whitehead of the Southwestern Water Conservation District told The Durango Herald that communities in Colorado’s eastern Front Range should contribute as much as those on the west.

The tension in Colorado appears to be between farmers in the west and the cities in the east. Similar tension is being felt in Arizona. While the lower basin states of California, Nevada, and Arizona have been working on their own drought contingency plan, farmers in Pinal County near Phoenix, are trying to get as much as they can, even if they have no legal ground to do so. However, the central Arizona farmers do have political power, because any contingency plan must be approved by the state’s legislature and as their lawyer told The Nevada Independent, there are lawmakers who want to see Pinal County agriculture survive. Still, it is hoped that final agreements among states, tribes, and water districts will be completed early next year.

New Study: Clean Water Act Works

A new study concludes that The Clean Water Act, which was passed almost 50 years ago, has substantially reduced pollution. The report from UC Berkeley and Iowa State shows, that most of the 25 water quality indicators from samples collected at about a quarter of a million sites improved. For example, there were decreases in pollutants like coliform bacteria, and increases in dissolved oxygen important for aquatic wild life. UC Berkeley News reports that measuring water pollution so comprehensively is more difficult than measuring air. Testing waterways requires a person in a boat going out and dipping something in a river or lake, while collecting air data is typically automated. Polling done by Gallup shows that people consider water pollution the top environmental concern, even above air quality and climate change.

Slaughterhouses Discharging Waste into Rivers and Streams

But the Clean Water Act must be enforced and updated to be effective. The Environmental Integrity Project has found that three-quarters of large meat processing plants, discharge their wastewater directly into streams and rivers, violating pollution control permits, with little or no consequences. A representative of the organization said in a statement that the pollution is an environmental justice issue because many of the slaughterhouses are contaminating rivers and drinking water of rural, often lower-income, minority communities. A former EPA official said that the new findings underscore the need to revisit limits on slaughterhouse waste, which have not been modified for almost 15 years.

Danes Look to Fight Climate Change at Grocery Stores

Last week the IPCC released its report saying that the world has until 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert climate catastrophe. That’s only 12 years from now, so a daunting challenge. The scientists say that each of us has a role to play in restricting how much carbon gets into the atmosphere—by how much we drive or fly, the plastics we use, which take fossil fuels to make—or by our food choices. It’s that last one that has huge potential as the IPCC report says that eating less meat would significantly lower emissions.

But in Denmark, the government thinks it’s not only important to change what we eat, but be better informed about how food production affects the planet. To that end, they’re working with the EU to develop a “climate label” that in addition to describing nutritional value would tell a consumer the environmental impact of a product—how far it traveled from farm to table, what kind of pesticides were used, and how much water was required. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a burger would score the worst. If a plant-based substitute for ground meat were flown to Europe from South America, its climate impact could be greater. Nutrition is important, too, so the Danes say you need to consider the entire label in your purchase. A soda might only have a small impact on the climate, but it won’t sustain you. It’s also important what we don’t eat. According to Time Magazine, a 2011 Food and Agriculture Organization report showed wasted food alone accounts for about 8 percent of all global emissions.

Music Credits: The Fixer, Funkygroove  | Qin, Dr.Guonake  | Jah Moon, Sun Ska Riddim Originale  |  Scott Holmes, Cat and Mouse  |  Grégoire Lourme, Rain  |  Maze, Dark Clouds  |  Creative Commons

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