Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Healing Our Waters

I had breakfast with a friend this morning at one of our favorite coffee shops. Common Grounds is located at the base of the Kenosha harbor and when I met my friend at 8AM this morning, we were able to get a table at the window overlooking the harbor. Although it was not sunny, the water was calm and it was a very peaceful place to sit.

In the course of conversation, my friend asked about my blogging and specifically about the Great Lakes.

“So how are things going for the lakes?” she asked. She lives a few blocks from the lake but isn’t quite as obsessed with it as I am. I wasn’t sure how to answer her.

“Well, you know about the carp situation, right?”

“I’ve heard something about,” she said. “What do you think?” she asked me.

If you have read this blog you know what I think and know what I answered. Briefly I did a recap of a few of my postings. I also told her how much I have learned in this past year or more of writing about the Great Lakes.

“One of the best things I have learned,” I said “is how many people care about the Great Lakes and are actively working to protect them.”

One of these organizations is Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition, a coalition of over 100 groups who care about what I care about. There are other organizations, too, and I may tell you more about them at later time, but this one is on my mind today because I had thought about attending HOW’s Great Lakes Day in Washington D.C. The conference began yesterday with briefings on critical issues and continues today with lobbying government officials. You can read more about this at their website.

However, there are other major events going on in Washington this week, too. The President’s Health Care Summit. Congressional hearings about Toyoto. Votes on the Jobs Bill. Washington is very busy with critical issues. My concern is that the Great Lakes issues will get lost under all these others, and as they say, timing is everything. You want to lobby on a day when your Senator or Representative has nothing else to think about but your visit.

Still, Asian carp have been big news, too, so I hope the people from HOW can be effective in their lobbying. As for me, I am petitioning myself to go to the Sixth Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in the fall. It’s in Buffalo, NY, my hometown, so I can probably find a bed to sleep in while I am there, making it cheaper for me than a trip to D.C.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where's the Water Crisis?

In India, where water shortages are already being felt, there were over 50 reported acts of violence over water during the month of May alone.

Experts estimate 2.5 gallons per person per day is a sustainable amount to use, the average American consumes 100 gallons per day.

Even if you don’t believe these two statistics entirely, they should still make you sit up and take notice. I saw them in an article on , a reliable website for environmental issues. Other sources state American per capita water consumption is between 60-70 gallons per day, so maybe the numbers are a bit exaggerated. They might be off as much as 50%. That would mean that in India there were 25 acts of violence about water in one month. That’s still astounding. It also might mean that Americans use 40 or 50 gallons of water a day. Also still astounding. What is clear is that Americans use a lot of water and people in India, and other countries as well, don’t have enough.

Another way to look at water usage is water footprint. A water footprint, like a carbon footprint, takes into account all the water a nations uses, including for drinking, personal use, agriculture, industry and more. The Water Footprint Network has a calculator that shows the relative footprints of many countries. The measure is in cubic meters/capita/year and it gets complicated when you look at all the components of the measurement.

Even if you don’t take the time to thoroughly understand the numbers, take a moment to look at the water footprint of a few countries. Way up at the top is the United States at 2,483. France is 1,875 and Germany is 1,545. Israel is 1,391 and India, the country where violence over water has taken, is at 980. Wow. No wonder fights are breaking out.

If this did make you sit up and notice, check out the Treehugger and the Water Footprint Network. There are some good articles about the water crisis and water usage. I will try very hard to keep these numbers in mind when I stand under my morning shower. I’ve have finally learned to turn the water off while I am brushing my teeth but I still like a long, hot shower. I’m working on making it shorter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Barrier of a Different Kind

I have been remiss in not reporting that the White House Summit on Asian carp did take place last week. My life has not focused on carp this week, but you can read about the results of that meeting and the proposals made by the White House at the links below.

But on my Saturday afternoon walk, I did wonder if the solution to the carp problem might be as simple as showing them the ice buildup along the lake. That wall of ice could be one heck of a barrier, although the ice did not stop this father and son from visiting the lighthouse that day. I was there, too, but didn't walk all the way out as these two did.

The carp question will continue for quite a while and so I am sure I will have more to say. Public meetings were held last week in Chicago where I heard that there were over 250 people present. You can guess what side of the argument they were on. This coming week the public meeting will be held on the other side of Lake Michigan and it will probably be dominated by opinons on the other side, too. That meeting will be held in Ypsalanti, Michigan.

Monday, February 8, 2010

e-DNA: The Answer

I have an answer. Well, I don’t have the complete answer yet but that’s only because I haven’t read all the information that was sent to me by Thomas Cmar of the Natural Resources Defense Council in response to my last post. Here’s an excerpt from Thom’s email:

Probably the best source for an answer to your question is Professor David Lodge of the University of Notre Dame, the invasive species expert who has been hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to perform the e-DNA testing for Asian carp in the Chicago waterway system.

In support of the brief filed by the U.S. Solicitor General with the Supreme Court (in opposition to Michigan’s first motion for a preliminary injunction), the U.S. filed an affidavit by Dr. Lodge explaining e-DNA. I am attaching a copy of the affidavit. Although the affidavit was filed by the U.S. Government, it provides information about the reliability of e-DNA a monitoring tool that, if anything, actually supports Michigan’s arguments about the urgency of the Asian carp threat.

On page 3 of the 25-page declaration prepared by Lodge for the Supreme Court, following Professor Lodge’s credentials is this statement:

In early 2009, we developed and tested a novel DNA-based surveillance tool for fishes, using both laboratory experiments and field observations. In early spring 2009, we first proposed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that this tool could be useful in their efforts to learn the locations of the invasion fronts for the silverhead and bighead carps in the Chicago are waterway. Beginning in summer 2009, the Army Corps of Engineers began to financially support our use of the environmental DNA (e-DNA) tool as potentially the best available technology to detect the presence of silver carp and bighead carp where they exist in low abundance.

Now I know what e-DNA is. I suspected that it stood for environmental but now I know for sure. I will read the rest of the affidavit to learn more. My own background is in clinical diagnostics, and I know a little about DNA based laboratory testing, so I expect to read the paper and understand it. But even if you don’t read it or understand it, it sure helps to know that the argument as presented to the Supreme Court is based on solid science.

Now my next question is what will happen today at the White House Summit. We are all waiting to hear about that later today, although in a more recent email from Thom, he wondered whether the summit would actually take place today because of the humongous snowstorm. The meeting might become what someone I know would call a “weather interrupted event”.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What is e-DNA?

I have a question. I have not been able to find an answer so I thought I would ask my readers to see if someone knows. The question is this: What is e-DNA?

I know m-DNA and mt-DNA, which is mitochondrial DNA. I know r-DNA, which can be either ribosomal or recombinant, depending on your interpretation. I know about ss-DNA (single-stranded) and ds-DNA (double stranded), too.

There is right handed DNA and left-handed DNA, also known as A DNA and Z DNA. I think there is even a B-DNA. And there is E. coli DNA, but I cannot find any references to e-DNA, except on the discussion about the genetic material of Asian Carp being found in Lake Michigan.

Please understand that I do not doubt the urgency of the carp question, but if we are going back to the Supreme Court arguing that they didn’t know the first time around that DNA was present in Lake Michigan, the justices may ask for more of an explanation on what this new information means. How was this e-DNA detected, they might ask. I would if I were a judge.

Can someone help me on this?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's Better Than Nothing

I’ve had to watch my spending this year. Haven’t you? Is there anyone who hasn’t, except for those on Wall Street who still got big bonuses, but that’s a topic for another blog.

So I was not surprised to learn this morning that the $475M set aside in President Obama’s 2010 budget for Great Lakes Restoration projects has been reduced to $300M for 2011. At least the project wasn’t entirely chopped and the $300M can still go a long way to cleaning up our waters. EPA still cites invasive species including the dreaded Asian carp as a top priority for the project.

If you read the comments on some of the websites from newspapers around the Great Lakes, the responses range from those similar to mine to those who think the entire budget should have been cut and all the money put into jobs for Great Lakers. If I were out of work, I might say the same, but it seems that it should not have to be a choice between jobs and Great Lakes cleanup. Restoration projects employ workers. FDR knew that back in the 30’s. How about creating jobs and restoring the lakes?

$475M would have been nice but $300M is way better than nothing.