Fish, birds, and other wildlife depend on clean water, just as people do.
NRDC works with government agencies, businesses, and local communities to develop strategies that protect and restore important waterways. We help growing populations and economies secure the water supply they need without draining nearby rivers, lakes, and streams—ensuring that there is enough water flowing to keep these ecosystems intact and healthy.
Diverting water for cities and agriculture has put our ecosystems at risk. We help develop strategies for keeping our rivers and lakes healthy while providing adequate water supplies for growing populations and economies.
A comparison of future water supply and demand projections for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and its water agency customers reveals substantial differences over the next 25 years. Despite recent trends toward greater conservation and efficiency and more local water supplies, MWD expects relatively less investment in local supply, greater reliance on imported water, and higher per capita demands than its member agencies.
Theses mismatches have real consequences for Californians because the plans are used to make investment decisions in water supply projects with multi-million and multi-billion-dollar price tags, which are ultimately paid by taxpayers and water customers. If water agencies overestimate water demand, they run the risk of investing in water supplies that won’t be needed (but still need to be paid for) and sticking customers with higher water bills.
In our new Mismatched report, we find that MWD overprojects annual water demand by 335,000 to 554,000 acre-feet and underprojects local water supplies by up to 229,000 acre-feet compared to the water agencies in its service area. Based on these projections for higher demand and less local supply, MWD anticipates 259,000 to 281,000 AF more in annual imported water sales than member agencies plan to purchase. If more planned local supply projects, such as water recycling and stormwater capture, are developed, imported water sales would drop even lower.
MWD—California’s largest water supplier— provides about 50 percent of the water supply for more than 19 million people living in Southern California. It imports water from two main sources: the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, both of which are threatened by climate change and growing demands for water from homes, businesses, and the agricultural sector.
We reviewed the 2015 Urban Water Management Plans of MWD and its 26 member agencies. These plans describe how agencies anticipate meeting water needs in the future. Since MWD’s plan covers the entire region, aggregating the plans of agencies in the region should yield comparable results. Yet our analysis reveals stark differences between MWD and local water agencies.
Regional Water Demand
Because of the region’s heavy reliance on imported water and past drought experiences, Southern California has a long history of implementing conservation and efficiency programs. Reducing the water taken from lakes, rivers, and aquifers leaves more water for future use, as well as wildlife and ecosystems that depend on that water. Conservation and efficiency measures also are generally less expensive than developing new sources of water.
Using more water-efficient fixtures and appliances, updating plumbing and building codes, adopting water conservation rate structures, and other measures have dramatically reduced per capita water consumption. For instance, Los Angeles and Long Beach have reduced per capita water use by 35 percent since the 1980s, resulting in lower total water use today even with higher populations. And during the most recent drought, Southern California reduced water use by up to an additional 28 percent. Despite the region’s history and recent efforts to become even more efficient, MWD projects higher per capita demands than local water agencies. For example, in Riverside County and San Bernardino County, MWD’s forecasts exceed water agencies’ forecasts by 40 to 80 gallons per person per day. For the entire region, MWD’s projections of annual demand surpass water agencies’ by 335,000 to 554,000 acre-feet for 2020-2040.
Local Water Supplies
Water agencies use a combination of local supplies—such as groundwater, surface water, and recycled water—and imported MWD supplies to meet demand. In recent decades, agencies have increased investments in local supplies to improve drought resiliency and reduce reliance on imported water. For example, between 1987 and 2009, recycled water use in Southern California more than quadrupled. And local water agencies expect to invest in local supplies even more. For instance, Los Angeles plans to increase annual stormwater capture by 68,000 to 114,000 acre-feet by 2035.
Yet MWD’s plan includes less local supplies than local water agencies’ plans. In 2025, local water agencies estimate about 154,000 acre-feet more than MWD does and by 2040, this difference increases to more than 229,000 acre-feet, primarily due to increased production from groundwater and recycled water sources.
Imported MWD Water
Local water agencies typically exhaust local supplies first because they are generally less expensive. Additionally, local supplies tend to be more drought resilient than imported water, which is supplied by melting snowpack. During the recent extreme drought when we saw record-low snowpack, MWD reduced water deliveries by 15 percent and penalized member agencies for exceeding their allocations.
To become more self-sufficient and reduce reliance on imported water, many water agencies are increasing conservation efforts and expanding production from local water supplies. For example, Los Angeles aims to reduce imported water purchases by 50 percent by 2025, and Santa Monica is striving to eliminate all MWD purchases by 2020.
Due to less water demand and more local supplies, local water agencies project roughly 259,000 to 281,000 acre-feet less in annual MWD purchases in average water years from 2020 to 2040 than MWD does. But these estimates don’t reflect how much lower imported water purchases could fall since many local water agencies only report MWD supplies available for purchase instead of how much water they anticipate purchasing. For instance, if all local water supplies were used before imported water was purchased, annual MWD sales in average water years would be more than 500,000 acre-feet lower than MWD’s projections.
The report also examines differences in demand and imported water purchases in dry years. While the difference between MWD’s and local water agencies’ anticipated imported water purchases in dry years is less, it is still substantial.
The full report, including an appendix documenting our methods and results, is available here.
Part I of this blog discussed recent DEP budget cuts and the Permit Decision Guarantee, the DEP’s 2012 policy to ensure that environmental permits are issued expeditiously.
Here, I’ll scrutinize the forced-approval and third-party review provisions of HB 542, and explain why the House of Representatives should vote against the bill.
Under the forced-approval rider in HB 542, permit applications related to shale gas development would be “deemed approved” if the DEP did not approve or deny them on their merits within “an applicable time period for review.”
Depending on how you read the “forced approval” provisions in HB 542 (the language is ambiguous), they could apply just to these three kinds of permits or to all permits for activities “related to unconventional oil and gas development” – from the treatment and storage of toxic gas well wastes to the filling of wetlands.
While it’s received less attention than HB 542’s third-party-review provisions, the “deemed approval” rider is more radical. Forced-approval would allow shale gas development activities to occur not based on whether they satisfied legal standards, but because a certain amount of time had passed since a company submitted its permit application. Unfortunately, when an application is “delayed” at the DEP, there’s a good chance it’s problematic – and that issuing a permit might endanger human health or the environment. Such applications are the last ones that should get automatic approval.
“Deemed approval” raises enforcement questions. What would happen, for instance, if the DEP determines afterward that an activity doesn’t meet legal standards? HB 542 says that deemed approvals do not “relieve a person who commences activity under [a deemed approval] from complying with each law pertaining to the activity…” But if the operator disagreed with the DEP’s assessment of legality, would the DEP have to file a lawsuit? (When an activity is formally permitted, the DEP can revoke the permit). This would consume scarce DEP resources - and face political headwinds, for projects already underway.
If an application poses a threat, some argue, the DEP could prevent forced-approval by denying the application. While that’s true, such denials could all be appealed (which would discourage more denials), and the DEP would likely be attacked as obstructionist and risk more budget cuts by the General Assembly.
One part of the forced approval rider does seem to make sense. Currently, if an application contains deficiencies, it no longer qualifies for Permit Decision Guarantee policy. Under HB 542, deficient applications would stay on the clock, with the review period “tolled” (i.e., temporarily stopped) while an applicant was correcting deficiencies. This would likely speed the review of deficient applications significantly. Why also have “deemed approvals,” then? The mechanism amounts to a bet that red-flagged gas development activities are more likely to be safe than to be dangerous. Pennsylvanians have much to lose from this bet, and nothing to gain.
HB 542’s third-party review provisions would allow parties with “delayed” permit applications to opt out of DEP review and instead have their applications “resolved” by third-party reviewers, whom they (the applicants) would choose. All DEP permits would be subject to third-party review, and “delay” would be triggered when Permit Decision Guarantee timeframes were exceeded, or (for permits not covered by the Guarantee) 30 days after an application is submitted.
To implement this rider, the DEP would have to create a new bureaucracy, and the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) would have to write new regulations for it. Then the DEP would enter into contracts with eligible professionals to act as reviewers. Bizarrely, only landscape architects, engineers, land surveyors, and geologists would be eligible to “resolve” applications, and nothing in HB 542 limits what kinds of permits each kind of professional could review. “If you want land surveyors to review oil and gas or hazardous waste permits,” former DEP Secretary David Hess told a reporter, “this bill is for you.”
The third-party-review rider in HB 542 has been widely criticized, and for good reason. It does not explain who (if anyone) would supervise third-party reviewers. There is no provision for public participation, or any conflict-of-interest language to prevent individuals at the same firm from preparing and reviewing applications. Applicants could choose their own reviewers. It’s unclear who would defend third-party-reviewed permits if they’re appealed, or fund the litigation. And it’s anyone’s guess whether third-party review would actually speed permit processing: HB 542 establishes no timelines for third-party review, and again, if an application is delayed at the DEP, it’s likely problematic and would not be easily “resolved.”
Apologists say third-party review works in other places, pointing to Colorado and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and that issues like conflict-of-interest could be addressed through regulations. But where third-party review happens in Colorado and at PennDOT, it happens on technical engineering and computer modeling issues, not difficult matters of legal compliance.
And while it’s true that the EQB could address some issues by regulation, is that what the General Assembly wants? The House State Government Committee spent much of this spring holding hearings on regulatory “burdens” and “overreach,” and so far in 2017, at least four bills – SB 561, HB 911, HB 1030, and HB 1237 – would give small groups of legislators new powers to kill proposed regulations. These bills are probably unconstitutional, but all the anti-regulatory activity begs the question of what the Senate sees to like in a new, complicated regulatory system. Are legislators really willing to go so far to avoid funding the DEP and protecting Pennsylvanians?
What Will the House Do?
The third-party-review and deemed-approval riders in HB 542 are both meant to address the gas industry’s dissatisfaction with how fast the DEP is processing permit applications. But for the reasons discussed above, these provisions are unworkable, imprudent, and dangerous, and neither addresses the fundamental problem: the fact that the General Assembly isn’t appropriating enough funds to the DEP. Even the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association agrees with this.
There is also a question of constitutionality. HB 542 is a Tax Code bill, and the riders were inserted in it at the last minute as a “trade” for a severance tax. This is an example of “logrolling,” a practice in which several statutory provisions lacking majority support are rolled together in one bill that has “something for everyone.” Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits logrolling. And as the state Supreme Court recently affirmed, Article I, Section 27 prohibits legislative actions that would violate Pennsylvanians legal rights to clean air, pure water, and a healthy environment.
In any case, making major changes to environmental policy in a Tax Code bill is terrible governance – especially since the changes were voted on with barely any discussion within the General Assembly and no public debate. It’s the legislative equivalent of getting married on Friday to someone you met on Tuesday, on Facebook.
Fortunately, House Bill 542 is not yet law. The Senate passed it on July 27, but the House has yet to take it up. Most observers expect the House to return to Harrisburg on September 11. With hope the solemnity of that date will inspire a more serious, prudent, and environmentally responsible approach to policy-making – and the House will vote down HB 542.
After 40 Years, Will GE Get a Pass for Polluting the Housatonic River?
Under the Trump administration, the decades-long battle to get the company to clean up its PCB mess looks more uncertain than ever.
The Housatonic River is a favorite of New England fly-fishers, kayakers, and hikers. Flowing through the rolling hills of Berkshire County, Massachusetts, the river makes an idyllic backdrop to the region’s famous fall foliage. It meanders under covered bridges and through Connecticut, eventually emptying into the Long Island Sound.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that behind the scenes of that serene, beautiful natural world is a severely polluted system,” says Lauren Gaherty, a senior planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
The “WARNING” signs dotting the river’s banks in Berkshire County hint at the less-than-tranquil reality teeming below the surface: “HOUSATONIC RIVER FISH & WATERFOWL CONTAMINATED WITH PCBs. DO NOT EAT.”
First synthesized in the late 19th century, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are pervasive chemicals once used in hundreds of industrial applications, from plasticizing paint to insulating electrical equipment. General Electric was a major user of PCBs, including at its riverside plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from the 1930s until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the production of the chemicals in the late 1970s. By then, GE had already discharged an estimated 600,000 pounds of PCBs into the Housatonic.
And this was wasn’t GE’s only instance of PCB contamination in a northeastern river. The company also dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River, triggering a high-profile legal battle that NRDC has been involved with since the 1970s—and is still fighting today.
There’s good reason to fight so long and hard on the contamination. PCBs—all 200-plus types of them—are, to varying degrees, toxic to people and wildlife. “PCBs are just thoroughly horrible,” says Dan Raichel, an NRDC staff attorney. Multiple studies have proved the chemicals cause cancer in animals, and the EPA classifies them as probable human carcinogens. PCBs can also do significant harm to the immune and endocrine systems, affect reproduction, impair neurological development, elevate blood pressure, and cause skin rashes that can last for years. “It pretty much runs the gamut in terms of illness-causing,” Raichel says.
Now, nearly 40 years later, Berkshire communities, state governments, and environmental groups are still pushing GE to clean up its mess—a responsibility it has been avoiding. Decades may seem like a long time for contaminants to linger in a moving body of water. But PCBs were deliberately designed to persist under conditions that would cause other molecules to break down. “And persist,” Raichel says, “is exactly what they do in the environment.”
Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault
PCBs bind to soil, sediment, and the fatty tissues of animals. From there they work their way up the food chain, starting with the small invertebrates that find their food in the riverbed and eventually accumulating in the bigger fish and waterbirds that eat them. People living near the former GE plant in Pittsfield can be exposed to PCBs when they come into direct contact with contaminated soil or river sediment, consume contaminated fish, or even eat crops grown in the Housatonic floodplain.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health warns against eating fish, frogs, turtles, or ducks from the river, and though the Housatonic is a popular recreational fishing destination, it’s strictly catch and release. “It’s a lost resource to people in Berkshire County,” Gaherty says. The state of Connecticut, too, regularly releases advisories on eating Housatonic fish.
But even if you’ve never supped from this river—or live nowhere near it—you almost certainly have PCBs in your body. Yes, you. To add to the list of their nightmarish qualities, certain PCBs can volatilize, or evaporate into the air, where they can be inhaled or spread by weather systems and fall back down to the ground in rain or snow. Wind and ocean currents have facilitated their long-distance travel around the world—not even denizens of the poles or the bottom of the Marianas Trench have escaped the reach of PCBs.
In short: Once PCBs enter the environment, it’s not easy to get them out.
GE, a $260 billion company, has used its considerable resources to argue that it shouldn’t get them out. “GE has been digging its heels in the whole way,” says Dennis Regan, the Berkshire director for the Housatonic Valley Association’s Water Protection division. And the company’s reasoning has shifted over the years. Originally, GE contradicted the prevailing science by claiming there was no evidence that PCBs are harmful to human health. As pressure from the EPA and affected towns grew, GE changed tactics, arguing that disturbing the river sediment in a cleanup effort would make the contamination worse.
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice, EPA, and GE managed to finalize a consent decree requiring GE to clean its PCBs from the Housatonic. Since then, the company has dredged the first two miles downstream of the Pittsfield plant, along with some other properties nearby, including an elementary school playground.
Slight progress is still progress, but 125 miles of contaminated river still remain. The EPA unveiled a $613 million plan last October that would span 13 years and require GE to dredge another 10 miles.
“These environmental battles can take a long time,” says Sarah Chasis, a senior attorney at NRDC who worked on the Hudson case against GE 40 years ago. And with only a partial cleanup effort for that river completed, the PCB levels in its fish are still not safe for human consumption. “It’s always an uphill fight to get companies to take responsibility for their pollution and to make real headway,” Chasis says.
And sure enough, GE is again pushing back against the EPA’s Housatonic plan. “This is their M.O.,” Gaherty says. “Delay and fight, delay and fight—they’re just hoping to wear everybody down so they can get away with a lesser cleanup.”
The latest point of contention is where the PCBs should go once removed from the river. Under the EPA’s plan, GE must take the contaminated soil out of state to a licensed toxic waste facility. GE, one of the richest companies in the world, argues that doing so would be too expensive and recently took its complaints to the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board, an independent panel of judges sometimes referred to as the agency’s “Supreme Court.” GE’s preferred solution is to create a local PCB dump in the towns of Lee and Lenox or Great Barrington, something the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee—which represents the six most affected towns—is not happy about.
Complicating things further is Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator under President Trump. Because Pruitt has a history of siding with industry over public health, the future of the fight for the Housatonic’s remediation now looks more uncertain than ever.
Shortly before the Environmental Appeals Board hearing in June, the EPA circulated a memo saying it wanted to reopen negotiations with GE over the case. “Looks like Massachusetts is about to become Exhibit A in the Trump administration’s efforts to go easy on polluters,” Matt Pawa, an environmental lawyer representing the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee, told the Boston Globe at the time.
The wild Susitna River, a critical artery of Alaska’s fishing industry, has been spared once again from the threat of what would be the nation’s second tallest dam—and the environmental havoc such a project would wreak on this vulnerable, subarctic ecosystem. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently placed the application in abeyance (which puts it on hold) and determined that restarting the licensing process would require a heavy lift. Consequently, the Susitna will be allowed to continue flowing freely 300 miles from the rugged peaks of the Alaska Range out to sea, supporting multiple major salmon runs, dozens of species of iconic wildlife, and thousands of local livelihoods along the way.
First, FERC declared that before it would be willing to consider the proposal to build the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam again in the future, the State of Alaska would have to demonstrate a firm financial commitment. That is an improbable scenario given that the Alaskan government recently decided to discontinue the project’s funding, for the second time since the 1980s. A year ago, Governor Walker announced he was “closing down” the project and requested that the Commission suspend the licensing process. With an estimated price tag of $5.66 billion (a figure that still omits billions in associated costs), the State has once again realized that the costs of this destructive proposal far outweigh any potential benefits. Indeed, there are better alternatives to meet Alaska’s clean power needs, such as smaller-scale, less harmful hydropower and other renewable sources, including tidal, wind, solar, and geothermal energy—not to mention increasing energy conservation and efficiency.
In addition to the lack of political and financial support, resurrecting the proposal would face another significant hurdle: the applicant, the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), would have to remedy numerous flaws in the environmental studies and bring up to date the data it collected. During the public comment period, federal agencies, citizens and environmental groups such as NRDC, revealed that the studies as conducted did not adequately forecast the impacts of the project on fish, wildlife, and local communities. FERC agreed that seventeen of the studies (which accounts for one-third of the total) require additional work. Moreover, if AEA wishes to reinitiate the licensing process in the future, it must prove that all the information it has gathered has not become “stale”—another improbable scenario. Given the rapid rate of climate change in the region, the environmental baseline established over the past few years of study is unlikely to accurately reflect environmental conditions at a future license application date. This means AEA would have to re-do those studies.
Five years of determined and coordinated advocacy by local fishing groups and national conservation organizations has finally stopped this ill-conceived proposal in its tracks. Using the best available science, these efforts have demonstrated the grave adverse consequences of the project and shown that even the time and energy required to properly study them is not worthwhile. It’s time to terminate this proposal once and for all, acknowledging that building a 735-foot-tall dam on a salmon-rich river in pristine wilderness will never make sense for Alaska’s economy, environment, or people.
On June 27th, House Republicans released an unacceptable Energy and Water appropriations bill that should dispel any belief that the GOP-run Congress will somehow stop reckless spending cuts in the Trump era. Sure, the cuts they propose to important civilian energy programs aren’t as bad as what President Trump has proposed, but that is faint praise since they are still very bad. Further, where the bill does spend money, it puts it into military spending programs, and misguided and contentious nuclear waste disposal strategies. Not only that, House Republicans didn’t stop with poor decisions on spending. They also included several harmful policy riders that are designed to undermine critical environmental protections.
Overall, this bill cuts funding $209 million below last year’s levels, and, discouragingly, the programs cut the most are those which have helped promote America’s leadership in developing affordable clean energy.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would see its budget cut by nearly 50 percent, with a $1 billion dollar cut. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) program, a hugely successful incubator for next generation technologies that enjoys broad bipartisan and private sector support, would be eliminated entirely. So would another important clean energy program, the Title 17 loan guarantee program, which has a strong track record of lowering the risks on deploying projects that can make cleaner and cheaper energy a reality. By removing funding from these programs, the House Republicans are putting at risk the innovation that supports 3 million clean energy jobs and our nation’s competitiveness in smart, clean and innovative energy technology solutions.
While cutting these important programs, House Republicans redistribute the funds into polluting and dangerous technologies. Their bill puts an additional $1 billion into nuclear weapons programs, spends $340 million trying to keep alive failed nuclear waste storage proposals like the over-budget MOX project (pg 8 in link) in South Carolina, and $120 million to try and restart the licensing process for the leaky Yucca Mountain repository that is being forced upon the people of Nevada.
Then there are the policy riders. Despite the fact that policy riders are complete non-starters to getting bills through the Senate, House Republicans are again attempting to push these poison pills.
This year’s bill includes the (sadly) usual suite of riders designed to undermine popular environmental protections. They target the important Clean Water Rule and associated clean water policies like protections for streams from industrial runoff. There is also a rider designed to stop restoration of the San Joaquin River, which is California's second longest. Others undermine the implementation of the National Ocean Policy, and try and restart the abandoned and unworkable Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository licensing process. The bill’s Clean Water Rule rider has been updated since last year and is now an even more reckless and cynical attempt to take away safeguards for important waters on which Americans depend for pollution filtration, outdoor recreation, flood control, and drinking water supply. The provision (Sec. 108) would authorize EPA and the Army Corps to repeal the Clean Water Rule without following basic and longstanding processes aimed at giving people a voice in their government’s actions. For instance, a repeal could ignore the Administrative Procedure Act’s requirements to provide meaningful opportunity for public comment on a proposed rule, or its provisions demanding that rules be “in accordance with law” and not arbitrary or capricious.
This bill just shows how once again House Republicans are failing the American people by putting polluter profits above the health and welfare or our planet and those of us who live on it. We, and many others, will do all we can to derail this terrible spending measure and keep clean energy and a healthy future at the forefront.
We are one step closer to victory in the Hudson River—The U.S. Coast Guard has announced that it is suspending its process to consider siting ten new anchorage grounds, places where large ships can anchor, in the Hudson River, until it has conducted a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment—essentially a risk assessment—of the River.
If unchecked, the Coast Guard’s proposal would allow massive barges—up to 600 feet long—to anchor off the shore of Hudson River communities. This would not only industrialize pristine sections of the Hudson River, but it would also endanger aquatic wildlife, such as the Atlantic sturgeon. Significantly, it would also facilitate the transport and storage of crude oil by tanker up and down the Hudson River, contributing to climate change.
NRDC has been actively fighting this anchorage proposal since it was announced in 2016. In December 2016, we submitted formal comments opposing to new anchorages in the River, and urged members of the public to do the same. In total, more than 10,200 comments were submitted to the Coast Guard, 94 percent of them in opposition to new anchorages. And just last week, after advocacy by NRDC, its members, and other environmental groups such as Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper, the New York State legislature passed a bill that would allow the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to establish "tanker avoidance zones" in the Hudson River, places where tankers can’t park.
But the fight isn’t over.
First, the Coast Guard must still conduct the Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment, and can renew its proposal after the assessment is over. In the fall, the Coast Guard will host a two-day stakeholder workshop as part of the assessment.
Speak up for the Hudson—If you want to be considered for participation in the workshop, email [email protected] by July 21 with your name, contact information, connection to the waterway, experience, and related skills.
Second, Governor Cuomo must still sign this important state legislation into law.
Call Governor Cuomo's office now to let him know what you think of the anchorages bill: 518-474-8390.
While the fight isn’t over, we are closer than ever to blocking new anchorages from the Hudson River, and with your help, we can keep more barges out of the Hudson River.
Learn to live with some weeds and bugs in your garden, and keep away the peskier ones with these tips.
Spraying chemicals in the yard—to make the grass greener, stop pests from nibbling the vegetables, or prevent dandelions from taking over—is a tempting shortcut for many a home gardener. “The main ones people use are insecticides and herbicides, or weed killers, or a combination of fertilizer and herbicide known as weed-and-feed products,” says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with NRDC’s Health program. But these products aren’t necessary—nor are they healthy, for either the environment or our bodies. Try these strategies instead.
Stake out your turf.
There is a movement toward reducing the amount of turf grass in yards to make way for more sustainable plantings. But the goal isn’t to eradicate every inch of the green stuff. “Turf grasses have fibrous root systems and prevent erosion,” explains Bill Hlubik, a professor of agriculture and natural resources at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. If you choose the right grass and treat it well, you won’t need any fertilizers or pesticides. “Look for grasses known as low-maintenance,” Hlubik says. “They have deeper root systems that let them survive droughts and absorb more nutrients, so they need less fertilizer.” (Your options in this category will depend on where you live.) Blending a few types of low-maintenance grasses will ensure lawn health too—any diseases or insect problems will affect one type but not the others. Hlubik also recommends endophytic grasses, which contain beneficial fungi within the seeds that deter common lawn-eating insects. Finally, after your grass is set and grown, water deeply but infrequently (about once every one to two weeks, in the absence of a good rain), and early in the morning.
Embrace a shaggy lawn.
Here’s a tip that might make your weekend of chores a little less burdensome: Mow less frequently, and with your mower on the highest setting. And learn to appreciate longer grass. Hlubik recommends leaving it at least 3.5 inches long; Sass keeps her own grass at a similar length but will sometimes let it grow longer, with benign neglect. “Leaving the grass long will ensure that you don’t harm the clover, which attracts pollinators,” Sass says. “Plus, a longer lawn will crowd out weeds, hold soil moisture better, and can even reseed itself.”
Find peace with (some) weeds.
Sass doles out some tough love: “Get used to how your lawn looks with weeds,” she says. In addition to providing some nourishment for the pollinators we all depend on, some of the most common and vexing weeds can have upsides. “Even dandelions are quite beneficial,” says Barbara Pleasant, an expert on organic gardening and coauthor of Compost Gardening. “They can have roots 18 inches deep that act as biodrills” to loosen compacted soil.
To prevent weeds from taking over and stealing too many nutrients from your lawn, vegetable garden, or flower beds, hand-pick them—and skip the herbicides. You don’t need to dig into the dirt; just lop them off at the surface, Pleasant says. You’ll need to be more aggressive if you find yourself with an invasive species issue—as when a plant that’s not native to the area starts to dominate the landscape, with no natural control on its growth. Pull those plants out by the root, and don’t toss them into your compost pile if you plan to sprinkle that mix back onto your lawn. Instead, Hlubik recommends chopping the invasive plants up into tiny bits with gardening shears so they don’t reroot or germinate. Sass says she leaves them on a paved pathway to fully dry up in the sun before throwing them into her yard waste bin for curbside pickup.
Nourish your plants with compost.
There are many reasons to compost, and one of them is to improve the health of your soil naturally, which cuts down on the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Pleasant recommends compost for vegetable gardens. “I use it as mulch or, for tomatoes, I put some at the bottom of each planting hole.” Over three years or so of adding the compost yearly—typically after the last frost—for any new plant, you’ll notice the soil improve and become loose, crumbly, and primed to help vegetables grow and resist pests and diseases. For your lawn, if you have well-broken-down, dry compost, you can shake it through a quarter-inch screen, then spread it one-eighth inch thick on your lawn. “It adds organic matter and good bacteria, which helps the soil retain nutrients,” Hlubik says.
Don’t bug out over insects in your flower beds.
“Flowers are usually under the protection of bees and buzzing things—some insects eat flowers, but it’s not that common,” Pleasant says. Still, if you’re finding that bugs are devouring your blooms, consider planting more pest-resistant varieties, like zinnias, cosmos, and petunias (which even deer won’t eat).
Rose lovers should be prepared for the possibility of attracting Japanese beetles. To help manage an infestation, Pleasant suggests letting the rosebush bloom, then cutting it back and covering it with tulle. Luckily, the problem is only short-term. “Japanese beetles only feed for six weeks, so when the plant is ready to bloom again, I take the net off and the beetles are gone,” she says.
If you spot soft-bodied insects like aphids, don’t panic. “A few aphids are not a problem. Leave them alone, and the next thing you’ll see are ladybugs and hoverflies—they’ll eat up aphids like popcorn,” Pleasant says. “But if you get lots of aphids, you can spray them with diluted dishwashing soap—it causes them to desiccate and die.”
Manage pests in your vegetable garden on a case-by-case basis.
Arachnophobe? Before you worry about the spiders roaming your tomato plants, remember that these often-misunderstood creatures are effective predators in your garden that keep away the true villains—like mites and mosquitoes. But if you really can’t cope, you can spritz some diluted white vinegar on your plants a few times a day.
If snails and slugs are the problem, note that these creatures are shade-seekers, so keep your garden thinned out and exposed to lots of sun—this is also healthy for the plants. If you do spot their slimy trails and clean-edged bites on your plants, Pleasant suggests this nontoxic trap: fill a tuna or cat food can with beer or sugar water with a pinch of yeast, and the critters will slither in. “They are attracted by the gases given off and crawl in and drown,” she says.
Or maybe the pest is not the small, creepy kind. If your issue is deer, “plant things they don’t like up front,” Sass says—such as lamb’s ear. “It’s an attractive ground cover, a draw for butterflies and hummingbirds, it’s self-propagating and needs almost no care. Make that the front border of your garden.” For a more heavy-duty solution, you can install a chicken-wire fence, although be aware that deer can jump quite high.
You can also look for nontoxic sprays, like ones made with fox urine or strong-smelling sulfur compounds. The deer will keep away from the sulfur odors, which “mimic the smell of rotting flesh,” Pleasant says. But this goes only so far. “In all cases with wildlife, really hungry animals are not as likely to be repelled by scents that suggest danger.” Sometimes, it’s best to let nature take its course.
Today a group of 48 craft brewers sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposing the agencies’ proposal to repeal the Clean Water Rule. These brewers, who are partners in NRDC’s Brewers for Clean Water campaign, are standing up for the rule because it protects the sources of clean water on which their businesses depend.
Here’s what they said:
Ms. Donna Downing, Office of Water, EPA
Mr. Gib Owen, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Department of the Army
Dear Ms. Downing and Mr. Owen:
We oppose any changes to the Clean Water Rule that would weaken the protections it established for critically important waterways like small streams and wetlands. Our craft breweries depend on those waterways to provide the clean water that we use to brew our beer.
Beer is mostly water, so the quality of our source water affects our finished product. Even small chemical disruptions in our water supply can alter the taste of a brew or influence factors like shelf life and foam pattern. We need reliable sources of clean water to consistently produce the great beer that is key to our success. Thanks in part to this important natural resource, the craft brewing industry contributes about $55.7 billion to the U.S. economy each year, along with 424,000 jobs.
Brewers have been proud to support the Clean Water Rule since it was first proposed. Because the rule helped protect the sources of drinking water for 117 million Americans from pollution and destruction, it provided certainty that we would continue to have access to the clean water on which our livelihoods depend. Importantly, the rule was based on sound science. The record supporting the rule showed unequivocally that the waters it protected had biological, chemical, and physical connections to larger downstream waterways.
In a February 28 executive order, President Trump directed your agencies to review the Clean Water Rule and rescind or revise it, without providing any rational justification for doing so. Your agencies have now formally proposed to repeal the rule, with the stated intent of later adopting a replacement. We strongly oppose any rollbacks from ensuring guaranteed protections for all waters that the science shows to be important to downstream water quality.
We understand that the president directed your agencies to develop the new rule under a different legal test. That test has no scientific basis and would eliminate guaranteed safeguards for countless wetlands, as well as innumerable streams that don’t flow year-round. We oppose that approach because it would fail to preserve water quality and was rejected by a majority of the Supreme Court.
We are depending on you to maintain or strengthen the safeguards established under the Clean Water Rule. Protecting clean water is central to our long-term business success. Thank you for considering our views on this important matter.
Allagash Brewing Company (Maine) Andersonville Brewing Co. (Illinois) Arbor Brewing Company (Michigan) Avery Brewing Company (Colorado) Bang Brewing (Minnesota) Bar Hygge/Brewery Techne (Pennsylvania) Baxter Brewing Co. (Maine) Brewery Vivant (Michigan) DryHop Brewers (Illinois) Earth Bread + Brewery (Pennsylvania) Engrained Brewing Company (Illinois) Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery (Illinois) Flying Mouse Brewery (Virginia) Founders Brewing Company (Michigan) Fremont Brewing (Washington) Great Lakes Brewing Company (Ohio) Half Acre Beer Company (Illinois) Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. (California) Harmony Brewing Company (Michigan) Hops & Grain Brewing (Texas) Hopworks Urban Brewery (Oregon) Horse & Dragon Brewing Company (Colorado) Intersect Brewing (Colorado) La Birreria (New York) Lagunitas Brewing Company (California) Lakefront Brewery (Wisconsin) Lost Rhino Brewing Company (Virginia) Maine Beer Company (Maine) McClellan’s Brewing Company (Colorado) New Belgium Brewing Company (Colorado) Oak Park Brewing Co. (Illinois) Odell Brewing Company (Colorado) Old Bust Head Brewing Company (Virginia) Pateros Creek Brewing (Colorado) Revolution Brewing (Illinois) Right Brain Brewery (Michigan) Rising Tide Brewing Company (Maine) Saint Benjamin Brewing Co. (Pennsylvania) Short’s Brewing Company (Michigan) Sleepy Dog Brewery (Arizona) Smartmouth Brewing Company (Virginia) Smuttynose Brewing Co. (New Hampshire) Snowbank Brewing (Colorado) Starr Hill Brewery (Virginia) SweetWater Brewing Company (Georgia) Temperance Beer Co. (Illinois) Two Brothers Brewing Company (Illinois) Wild Onion Brewery (Illinois)
Today, the Trump administration announced a proposed rulemaking action. If this is finalized, it will throw away the Clean Water Rule, a signature achievement by the prior administration that helps protect water bodies around the country.
At a budget hearing this morning Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the Trump administration would issue a proposed rulemaking action today. If this is finalized, it will throw away the Clean Water Rule, a signature achievement by the prior administration that helps protect water bodies around the country. This post discusses the Rule and the Trump administration's rollback scheme.
What Is the Clean Water Rule and Why Is It Important?
The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers adopted the Clean Water Rule in May 2015 to clear up longstanding confusion over which water bodies the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act protects. The rule more clearly defines what kinds of waters get guaranteed coverage and which ones are exempt.
The water bodies at the center of the Clean Water Rule serve critical functions. Notably, more than 117 million Americans receive drinking water from public systems that draw supply from headwater, seasonal,or rain-dependent streams. Wetlands cover roughly 110 million acres in the continental U.S., which filter pollution from contaminated runoff and replenish groundwater. An acre of wetlands can also store upwards of a million gallons of flood water, and wetlands provide essential fish and wildlife habitat, supporting a robust outdoor recreation economy.
Before the Clean Water Rule, confusion hamstrung law enforcement, scuttling pollution investigations. EPA enforcement staff revealed that an estimated 489 enforcement cases in just a few-year period were adversely affected. For example, EPA reported that a Texas facility discharged around 43,000 gallons of wastewater on-site, which entered a creek that flowed into a large waterway. After EPA spent over 300 hours to determine the legal status of the waters, the Assistant U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute the case because of concerns about the government’s authority.
What Does It Mean for a Water Body to Be Protected by the Clean Water Act?
For protected water bodies, numerous pollution prevention, control, and cleanup programs kick in. For example:
Wastewater dischargers and sewage plants may not dump into such waters without pollution-limiting permits;
Facilities storing significant amounts of oil near covered waters must develop oil spill prevention and response plans;
States must identify and prepare plans to clean up protected waters that don’t meet state water quality standards;
Industrial and commercial developers ordinarily must obtain approval before discharging solid material into protected waters, destroying valuable wetlands and degrading lakes and streams, and these dischargers sometimes must mitigate their impact by creating, preserving, or enhancing other water resources;
Nobody may discharge “any radiological, chemical, or biological warfare agent, any high-level radioactive waste, or any medical waste” into covered waters; and
Entities disposing sewage sludge that could pollute such waters must abide by pollution control standards.
How Was the Clean Water Rule Developed?
After many stakeholders, ranging from regulated dischargers to environmentalists to states, requested it, EPA and the Corps undertook rulemaking to clarify their rules. EPA produced a report which reviewed more than 1,200 peer- reviewed scientific publications and confirmed that streams and wetlands are connected to downstream waters in significant ways.
The agencies then developed a rule that relies on this strong scientific basis and specifies that the Clean Water Act can protect those kinds of waters that have meaningful water quality impacts downstream. But the rule was not developed in a vacuum; the agencies took comment on the proposal from April 21-November 14, 2014, a long comment period that itself followed years of public engagement. During the comment period, EPA met with more than 400 stakeholders and received more than one million comments, 87% of which were supportive of the rule.
Who Supported the Clean Water Rule?
Numerous stakeholders support the Clean Water Rule, with polling showing that:
80% of small business ownerssupported the proposed Clean Water Rule (91% of Democrats, 73% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans). A strong majority, 71%, also said that clean water protections are necessary to ensure economic growth.
83% of hunters and anglers surveyed by a bipartisan team thought that EPA should apply the rules and standards of the Clean Water Act to smaller, headwater streams and wetlands. Support included 77% of Republicans, 79% of Independents and 97% of Democrats.
Similarly, 80% of voters nationwide supported the rule, including 68% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, and 94% of Democrats. Additionally, more than three in five voters think the government should be doing more to protect the nation’s waters from pollution.
How Would the Trump Administration Weaken Protections?
In February, President Trump signed an executive order starting a process to repeal the Clean Water Rule and replace it with a set of rules that would substantially weaken the regulations that the Reagan administration adopted. Specifically, the order tells the agencies to “consider interpreting” the Clean Water Act as the late Justice Antonin Scalia did in a 2006 opinion. The agencies, led by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, have started planning actions that would do just that. This is the same Scott Pruitt who, as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, sued the agencies to kill the Clean Water Rule, and routinely and falsely denigrates it as covering trivial features like puddles.
Following Justice Scalia’s opinion would disable federal pollution safeguards for streams unless they are “relatively permanent,” and exclude wetlands that do not have a “continuous surface connection” to other covered waters. The implications of that are astonishing; it could mean the loss of pollution protections for the nearly 60% of streams in the lower 48 states that don’t flow year-round—almost 2 million miles of streams. It also could mean the end of Clean Water Act protection for countless wetlands—perhaps even most of the 110 million acres in the continental U.S.—because they don’t have a surface connection to “relatively permanent” waters.
That is unsound policy from a scientific, legal, and fiscal standpoint. Streams and wetlands provide some of the most critical ecosystem services, including water filtration services supporting clean drinking water and water storage services protecting communities from flooding and from drought. Unlike the Clean Water Rule, the Administration’s clean water rollback plan ignores the scientific evidence demonstrating how water bodies influence downstream water quality and water flows. It fails to acknowledge, for example, the increased costs for drinking water treatment associated with increased water pollution, and the increased public and private costs associated with increased flooding, flood risks, and flood damage. The rollback plan also reflects unsound legal reasoning. A majority of justices on the Supreme Court rejected Justice Scalia’s opinion as the lone standard for Clean Water Act coverage, as did the Bush administration and every federal court of appeals to consider the question.
What’s Happening with the Rollback Plan Now?
The Administration intends to roll back safeguards in two steps. It plans to repeal the Clean Water Rule in a hurry, then invent a new, disastrous rule that would roll back clean water safeguards for wetlands and streams, as the executive order urges. The agencies' proposed repeal rule, announced today, is Step One. They have also started getting input from selected interested parties about the new rule. Administrator Pruitt recently said he hopes to finish both rules by the end of 2017 or early 2018.
This two-step scheme seems to reflect administration fears that their second step, to change the legal test and radically roll back what the Clean Water Act protects, will fail, so they don't want to tie their repeal of the Clean Water Rule to that anchor. They also seem to be rushing the Clean Water Rule repeal to avoid judicial review of the Clean Water Rule in court, where litigation about the validity of the Clean Water Rule remains pending. They are racing to repeal the rule before a court can independently review its basis in science and the law.
Ultimately, the Administration’s clean water rollback plan means that fewer streams, wetlands, and other waters would be protected by the Clean Water Act’s oil spill prevention program, its requirement to develop cleanup blueprints for polluted waters, its pollution control standards for industrial dischargers, its protections against burying streams and wetlands, and numerous other safeguards. It means more pollution to the lakes and streams we rely on for drinking water supply or for fishing and swimming, and a green light for the rampant destruction of wetlands that prevent dangerous flooding.
CHICAGO – Reports of an Asian carp caught today in the Chicago Area Waterways beyond the electric barrier—the last line of defense to prevent the invasive fishes from gaining access to Lake Michigan—illustrate the dangers of continued inaction, according to experts at the Natural Resources Defens