Environment Forum

from Shop Talk:

Molson Coors-sponsored survey finds water pollution key concern

molsoncoorsWhat is the latest and most important environmental concern these days? Global warming? Disappearing ice caps and rain forests? Reliance on non-renewable energy?

Wrong. According to a new survey sponsored by Molson Coors Brewing Co, water pollution ranked No. 1, followed by fresh water shortages, depletion of natural resources, air pollution and loss of animal and plant species.

The survey was commissioned by Circle of Blue, a nonprofit affiliate of the Pacific Institute, a water and climate think tank. It polled people in 15 countries, including the United States, Mexico, China and India, about their views on water issues including sustainability, management and conservation.

Molson Coors, maker of Coors Light and Molson Canadian beers, sponsored the survey as a first step in trying to understand how people in international markets -- where it hopes to expand its business -- view water. 

Molson Chief Executive Peter Swinburn said that as the company expands internationally, it must understand what a local community's issues are and try to address them before spending money and building a factory.

Another reason for angry teenagers – in the shower

Other than pounding on the bathroom door, there is little one can do to get family members (read teenagers) to take shorter showers. But with mandatory water conservation possibly coming down the pipeline in California’s third year of drought,  one Denver-based company said it has the invention that will help households get through these dry times: the Shower Manager.

The Shower Manager can be programmed to run for five, eight or 11 minutes at full flow. After a warning beep it cuts the flow by two-thirds, just enough to rinse. Five minutes have to pass before it can be reset – an eternity in a shower.

One satisfied customer, Lisa J, was quoted by the company as saying her kids ”call it the Shower Nazi.” The Web site claims a family of four (including two teens) can save $400 annually in water and heating costs – compared to the product’s online price of $125.

from Shop Talk:

House-made WHAT?

tapwater"Sparkling or still?"
 
Remember when that question, asked with a certain downward gaze, would make you feel like a tactless tightwad for requesting tap? Did you try to lessen the shame with a smile and a clever nickname, like "I'll have 'New York's Finest'"?
 
Restaurants and hotels across the country are blurring the lines between these choices, as they stop serving bottled water due to a perception that it is environmentally unfriendly. Critics object to the waste left behind by the plastic and glass bottles, as well as the fuel and other natural resources used to manufacture and ship the bottles all over the world.
 
"In the world of trying to live in a more green, sustainable environment, I think water is the most obvious, simple thing that we can do," said Joseph Bastianich, a business partner of Mario Batali and co-owner of restaurants including Babbo, Lupa, Esca and Del Posto.
 
Bastianich told Reuters he is in the process of phasing out water across all his restaurants, following in the footsteps of other environmentally-conscious restaurants like Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
 
bottled-waterIn its place, Bastianich is installing filters made by Natura Water, which purify a restaurant's tap water and allow users to get still, sparkling or room temperature tap water. The restaurants can adjust the amount of carbonation, allowing them to tout the water as made in-house.
 
The Natura system, which comes with reusable water bottles for serving, can be rented for about $400 a month. 
 
Company founder Marco De Plano, whose customers also include L.A.'s  Ciudad, San Francisco's Foreign Cinema and certain Four Seasons hotels, said that with prices of high-end bottled water bubbling as high as $10, high-traffic locations can recoup their losses quickly.
 
"When we started this a year ago, everybody was talking about the green aspect," De Plano said. 
 
Bastianich says a liter of Natura water costs him about 50 cents and sells for about $4. That profit margin is slimmer than before, when he would pay about 80 cents for a liter of premium bottled mineral water and sell it for up to $9. 
 
"We think the loss of margin is an investment that's very worthwhile making," Bastianich said. 

The sacrifice to margins would lessen as sales of house-made water increase.

As the backlash against bottled water heats up across the country a host of local governments have cut bottled water out of their budgets.  Virginia, Illinois and New York are among the states that have banned buying bottled water with state funds.

(Photos: Reuters\Eric Thayer)

Water! (gasp) California needs water!

The results are in and no surprise — California’s lean snowpack means a third year of drought for the state whose farms supply about half the nation’s fruit and vegetables.

The state’s survey clocks in at 81 percent of normal water content in the snow, with the state fearing early spring heat could melt the white stuff, leaving fewer reserves later in the summer when they are most needed. Plus a National Marine Fisheries Service report, called a biological opinion, may trigger more conservation measures to protect salmon and steelhead, cutting water left for farms and homes.

Things have improved a tinge since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency in February, but the state, eyeing climate change,  is preparing for a dry 2010 and says that statewide storage is about 5 million acre feet below average. Since one acre foot is enough for a household or two for a year, that’s a lot.

A bleach that leaves the environment clean, too

Everyone knows bleach makes things cleaner, but until now its active ingredient, chlorine, has made the environment dirtier. Two companies have come up with a bleach that has no chlorine and boasts other environmental benefits as well.

The new bleach is not for home use, but for cotton on its way from field to cloth, as well as for other materials. Oils and waxes must be removed from cotton and it needs to be bleached white before it is dyed.

Huntsman, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, and Genencor, a division of Denmark’s Danisco, say the bleach uses less water and works at lower temperatures — 65 degrees centigrade (150 degrees f) instead of near boiling — than chlorine bleach. That helps save energy and makes it cheaper than chlorinated bleach.

Group wants oil, gas drillers to follow rules in U.S. West

An environmental group this week issued a report saying oil and gas companies have enjoyed exemptions to common sense anti-pollution federal rules that govern companies in other industries. This has led, the Environmental Working Group claims, to fouled groundwater, creeks and acres and acres of formerly pristine land in the U.S. West.

The report, “Free Pass for Oil and Gas in the American West,” contains county-by-county maps of what it says are examples of mismanagement of the oil and gas industry.

“Drilling companies regularly complain that environmental standards deny them access to sites where they’d like to drill,” the EWG said. “But the cratered landscape tells a different story.”

High and dry on the California farm

At lunchtime in California’s San Joaquin Valley, farmers meet up at Jack’s Prime Time Restaurant, where they can get a good, honest meal … just what one expects from an establishment smack dab in the middle of the most productive farming region in the world.

But the mood at Jack’s is decidely somber. A few days earlier, the farmers in these parts were told not to expect any federally supplied water this year due to a third year of drought and low levels in the reservoirs.  Without water, they can’t plant their lettuce and tomatoes, and they may lose parts of their precious almond and pistachio orchards.  All this land flourished with water brought from hundreds of miles away, snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada.

In reporting for our series on water scarcity in the U.S. West, I was amazed that the top farming region in the nation had not prepared itself better to deal with Mother Nature’s fickle ways with water. But many here feel they would have avoided this predicament were it not for the ”man-made drought” –  new regulations to save endangered fish species by sharply restricting water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And there’s a lot of anger at environmentalists who want more water for wildlife habitat and less for farming.

Overcoming the ‘ick’ factor of wastewater recycling

After an hourlong tour of the world’s largest wastewater recycling plant, where 70 milion gallons of pre-treated sewer discharge is distilled daily to help replenish the underground drinking supply of Orange County, California, I was led to a sink with a faucet. There I was presented with a plastic cup and invited to take a sip.

Crystal clear and utterly tasteless, the sample was refreshing and perfectly safe for human consumption.  Some minerals are actually reintroduced to the water before it’s pumped back out of the ground for general consumer use.

Michael Markus, general manager of the Orange County Water District and the chief engineer behind the plant, assured me that the water exceeds all government drinking standards, even though the state requires the county to put it into the local aquifer — for additional natural filtration — before offering it to the public.

For water, it’s still Chinatown, Jake

To help prepare myself for the water series we’ve been running, I went to the movies. Or brought home a DVD, anyway. I rented “Chinatown,” the fictional 1974 Roman Polanski movie with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, which is all about the growth of Los Angeles and the search/theft for water.

 Considering that the current Las Vegas water chief, one of the most respected urban conservation advocates, is working on a much-criticized pipeline to take water from Northern Nevada at the same time Las Vegas cuts water use , this old movie may still have something to teach.

Chinatown, where the main character Jake used to work, is reviled as a place that’s just too complicated and hard to understand. Thus the phrase “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” I took Chinatown as a metaphor for the obscurity of the water debate, and it is still complicated.

Cities in U.S. Southwest face thirsty times

The fast-growing U.S. Southwest has a problem: too many people, not enough water.

But then, what do you expect when you build cities like Las Vegas in the middle of a desert?

My colleagues Tim Gaynor and Steve Gorman have done a story on this, looking at the water woes of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. You can see their report here and other stories from our water package here.

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