October 6, 2014

Sturgeon making a comeback

The homely sturgeon was nearly wiped out in the James River by overfishing in the late 1800s. NOAA listed four varieties of Atlantic sturgeon as endangered in 2013. But they seem to be making a comeback. A few have been spotted in the James River and in various spots in the Chesapeake Bay. Are they migrating here from the Potomac River? Some have radio tags and are being tracked. But these are not easy fish to capture. I see very large fish leaping out of the water in the James River near me occasionally. But perhaps it is just a large catfish. 


Train tracks in trouble?

A recent article in the Daily Press, with a "Dangerous Defects?" headline, should have gotten all readers' attention. But most have already forgotten the fire resulting from the CSX train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia just a few months ago in late April. The 15 train cars that ended in the James River? The cars full of crude oil on their way to the Yorktown refinery?

That accident is still under investigation. Just a few days after the April 30 accident, inspectors found quite a few troublesome spots where support ties or bolts were missing, rails were cracked or two inches out of line and support soil or gravel was compromised. But now we know that inspectors found significant faults on that specific line six weeks before that derailment. 55 faults have been noted on the line through James City County and Newport News!

Just what constitutes urgency here? CSX is indeed spending about $1 billion this year maintaining existing tracks, signals and bridges. CSX, along with Norfolk Southern, operate about 2000 miles of train tracks in Virginia. Federal regulations call for tracks as heavily used as the CSX mainline through our area to be inspected at least twice a week and immediate repairs made. So someone is not doing their job.

CSX maintains that the derailed train was traveling at an order of slower speed through Lynchburg last April. But 10 mph on tracks with missing bolts and rails two inches out of alignment is not the answer. Watch these crude oil train cars traveling through our area and ask yourself if you are sleeping soundly. Another derailment WILL occur. It is just a question of WHEN.

Chikungunya is not a joke

The World Health Organization, CDC, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other disease-monitoring agencies have had their hands full recently. Ebola has been their priority. But a mosquito-borne viral disease, chikungunya, deserves more name recognition and media coverage, especially if you plan to travel to any Caribbean island soon.

The disease causes severe and debilitating joint pain and fever and is especially dangerous to those over 65. The actual name of the disease means "bended and twisted over." PAHO's most recent count reported 113 deaths attributed to chikungunya in St. Martin since it first appeared there in December 2013.

I first posted about this disease with the funny name in May, months after hearing about it when we were in St. Lucia and it had affected some folks nearby in St. Martin. But by now it has been reported in more than 738,000 individuals in almost all of the Caribbean islands. 19,000 new cases in the Dominican Republic alone, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research. 

Fellow sailing enthusiasts now in Grenada posted that it is very prevalent now in their community. One said "I am nearly bathing in DEET in the past few weeks." She also repeated the oft quoted phrase that "chikungunya may not kill you but you'll wish you were dead when it doubles you over in pain."

And locally acquired cases in Florida too. Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, just reported its first locally acquired chikungunya case on September 19. The case apparently marks the 10th indigenous case in the continental United States, all of them in Florida.

Not to be an alarmist, but that fits my definition of "epidemic." The symptoms usually appear three to seven days after being bitten. So use more DEET products if you travel to the areas below, especially during daytime hours when this particular mosquito bites.


September 23, 2014

Drug drop off day coming

Unused Rx drugs should NOT be flushed down your toilets because they can enter our drinking water.

Instead, take advantage of the next drug drop-off day:


September 22, 2014

There is no PLANET B

That is a catchy phrase. And yesterday's climate change awareness march in New York City got a bit of news coverage. But the real actions need to be taken by world leaders. This week's United Nations summit on climate change may be the beginning of a change in more than attitude. But can the world leaders agree to actually set attainable and measurable goals within my lifetime? Unbelievably, there are still climate change deniers and skeptics choosing to toss aside science and believe what they want to believe. And the reality is that carbon emissions in the U.S. continue to increase.

Until sanity rules and the public demand real changes, little progress may be made--as our Planet A warms up even more.

But the United Nations will also be busy this week dealing with the increasing number of insurgents from other nations who are joining ISIS. That is a more imminent problem.

Nuclear costs soar

No, NOT nuclear energy. But our nuclear arsenal. And at a cost of $1 trillion. The world does not seem to be heading for a safer place.

Today's New York Times article on the escalating costs of refurbishing our nuclear arsenal should have caught everyone's attention. Is the Pentagon indeed planning for 12 new nuclear missile subs, 100 new bombers and 400 new or refurbished land-based missiles? All in the name of deterrence? 

But no new nuclear energy plants are looming. $1 trillion devoted to cleaner energy, even if nuclear, sounds better to me than ever. Can't believe I am saying that.




September 20, 2014

Coal ash in the Potomac?

If a Huffington Post article is accurate, decades of coal ash from Dominion Virginia power plants has been leaking into a Potomac River area watershed. And both Dominion and Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has known about it.

For more info, check out:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/17/coal-ash-virginia-dominion-power_n_5839838.html?ir=Green

August 28, 2014

No swimming signs mean business

Most of us know that it is best to NOT swim in local waters after a big rain, even though local health departments monitor a lot of our beaches. In fact, 46 of Virginia beaches have water samples taken weekly from May to September. But those "frog drowners" flush a lot of nasty stuff off roads, parking lots and lawns into our streams. Then ultimately to our rivers; then finally the Chesapeake Bay.

And I have heard firsthand stories this summer while sailing about listeria causing flesh-eating afflictions to watermen and unwary folks who swim with unhealed cuts.

So I was glad to see a posting in AskHR Green that provided more helpful advice as the Labor Day weekend approaches:

To stay up to date on beach conditions, follow VDH’s Beach Monitoring Program on Twitter (@VDHBeach) to receive  notifications of the status of current swimming advisories, or log on to: https://twitter.com/VDHBeach.


July 31, 2014

Another bug to fear?

Ebola is not the only disease getting media coverage. It seems that another disease called chagas is in the headlines along with the insects that transmit it. Perhaps one of the names of this nasty insect, kissing bugs, implies a less-than-dangerous illness. But chagas can remain in a human for months and even transmitted to newborns.

Doctors are slowly becoming aware of the dangers of this disease that is predominantly afflicting Bolivians, many of whom live in Northern Virginia. But a map on the Centers for Disease Control website shows the entire southern US reporting this insect.

According to the World Health Organization: Triatomine bugs are large bloodsucking insects that occur mainly in Latin America and the southern USA, frequently in homes made of mud and with thatched roofs. A number of species have adapted to living in and around houses and are important in the transmission to humans of Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease (also known as American trypanosomiasis). Chagas disease, which occurs in most South and Central American countries, is incurable and in its chronic phase may cause damage to the heart and intestines. Some patients eventually die from heart disease.

WHO also estimates that 8 million people have Chagas disease worldwide, most of them in Latin America. The triatomines, or the so-called kissing bugs, bite people at night, passing the parasite through their feces. The bite itself is painless, and many people never show any signs of the disease. A third of those with Chagas, however, develop heart disease or megacolon, and untreated, they die from what appears to be heart attacks. An estimated 11,000 people lose their lives every year to the disease. 

 

July 28, 2014

Chemical sensitivity is more than an allergy

The Green Lodging blog included a recent posting on multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) that caught my attention. Hotels are infamous for introducing "smells" into their rooms and I have found a few to be overwhelming. Fragrances in many retail stores also drive me back out their doors.

But folks tired from driving or long airline flights usually do not complain beyond finding bedbugs or the smell of cigarettes as they crash into hotel beds. But perfumes, VOCs from newly painted rooms, and cleaning and laundry products' lingering odors can be more problematic to quite a few people. 12% of humans may suffer from MCS. More from pet dander, dust mites and mold.

July 26, 2014

Antibiotics in our meat?

Hmmmm. It seems that a U.S. Court of Appeals decision this week may result in continued antibiotics in our meat and poultry. The FDA has been looking into the meat industry's practice of adding antibiotics to their animals' diets to promote growth and prevent disease, but this decision says that agency is off the hook in decision making. 

Cargill recently announced they will stop adding antibiotics to promote faster growth, but no mention of stopping it altogether.

And antibiotic-resistant diseases are in recent headlines too. That flesh-eating one that one can catch by swimming in saltwater, if you have a small scratch, certainly has my attention.

So it looks like organic turkey will be on my Thanksgiving shopping list. 


July 19, 2014

One step closer to offshore drilling?

Attention: whales, dolphins, turtles and other sea life. Get out your earplugs and shut down your echolocation devices. Sonic cannons will be coming soon to offshore Virginia. Actually anywhere from Florida to Delaware. 

Loud sonic cannons too. 100 times louder than jet engines. And every 10 seconds or so, bouncing back info to oil companies looking for the most likely spots to drill for oil and gas after 
2018. 

WHY? An estimated 4.72 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.51 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas may lie beneath federal waters from Florida to Maine. Opening it to drilling could generate $195 billion in investment and spending between 2017 and 2035, creating thousands of jobs and contributing $23.5 billion per year to the economy. Could

So sea life, listen up. 


July 9, 2014

Chigger season is here in Virginia

These darn almost microscopic mites are making outdoor living miserable for a lot of us in Tidewater Virginia. One look behind my knees and more tells you that they thrive in the tall grasses and shrubs in my yard. Or maybe I found them while searching for a lost golf ball.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do NOT burrow into your skin. So coating the bites with nail polish accomplishes nothing. 

The nymph form find a spot on your body with some restrictive clothing and then settle down for some fine dining. They inject a digestive enzyme that literally liquifies your skin cells and lymph, so they can suck them up. You don't feel the bite for quite a few hours and the itching begins a day or so later. REALLY big time itching. 

Calamine lotion or other prescription anti-itch medications relieve some of the itching for a short while. And the itching seems worse at night.


June 30, 2014

Tangier Island still sinking

The folks on Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay are tough. The men are predominantly watermen, eking out a living finding crabs and oysters. But they have a tougher job facing the sinking land and rising waters. This graphic shows proof.


So it is not surprising that Tangier earned a place on Virginia Landmarkd Registry last spring. I have not yet seen if the island is on the National Register of Historic Places. But it certainly deserves it, and sooner than later. The island is losing about 16 feet on the west side and 3 on the east annually, according to a blurb in Chesapeake Bay magazine. A jetty is in the works, but progress is at glacial speed.


Good news, bad news for the Chesapeake Bay

Sure wish the headlines had consistent news about my beloved Chesapeake Bay. Only a few weeks ago, I posted the good news about our bay states finally agreeing on a plan to clean up our watershed.

But NOAA is now forecasting a sad summer for the bay with higher nitrogen runoff pollution leading to even more dead zones. Low oxygen (hypoxic) areas are NOT conducive to happy fish. And the VIMS model predicts more than the average 10 percent of the bay being affected. So algae blooms may be more prevalent than usual. Striped bass and crabs will be the first to suffer. Unfortunately, jelly fish don't seem to mind and will continue to be the object of many foul words.

Free tap water app a handy tool

If you always carry a plastic water bottle wherever you go, you are in luck.

A new free mobile app from the nice folks at www.askHRgreen.org/TapIt can lead you to clean tap water sources in the greater Hampton Roads area.

More than 100 local restaurants and businesses are already participating.

Curbside Recycling now more inclusive

New and bigger wheeled recycling carts have arrived in James City and York Counties, Williamsburg and Poquoson, thanks to a new contract.

All cleaned rigid plastics including yogurt containers, produce containers, party cups, plant pots, buckets and plastic toys (no larger than 3'x4') are now accepted along with newspapers, magazines, cardboard, junk mail, catalogs, phone books, computer paper; shredded paper inside a stapled paper bag, paper bags; glass bottles; aluminum and steel cans. But NO STYROFOAM please.

Call Virginia Peninsula Public Service Authority at 259-9850, to find out if weekly curbside pickup is available in your area, or to request a bin. 

Click here for the new program's informational brochure of what is and is NOT accepted.

Our 65-gallon cart is almost full and we have a week to go before it will be picked up. So we may very well be requesting the 95-gallon version soon.

June 20, 2014

Virginia waters nothing to brag about

I knew Virginia waters were not in the best shape, but fifth worse in the nation for nasty chemicals? And my beloved lower James River ninth worst watershed for arsenic and lead?

That's what the latest "Wasting our Waterways" report from Environment Virginia says. They are basing these rankings on 2012 figures on dumped chemicals self-reported to the EPA by industrial facilities. Nearly 12 million pounds of chemicals into Virginia waters! 3.23 million pounds of toxic chemicals in the entire Chesapeake watershed should get into the headlines.

Restoring the bay by 2025 looks like an unattainable goal to me. Power plants, paper mills, and poultry farms are major contributors. But the surprising news to me was that the biggest culprit is the U.S. Army. Its Ammunition Power Plant near Radford released more than 7.3 million pounds into the Upper New River Waterway.

Many chemicals are not even evaluated for their toxicity. And fracking chemicals are "trade secrets," according to the infamous Dick Cheney's Halliburton loophole. So the true amount of toxic chemicals may be even more than reported. Seems like a war on chemicals should take place.

To read the report, go to www.environmentvirginia.org 

June 17, 2014

Good news for the Chesapeake Bay

Huzzah for the Chesapeake Bay. All seven watersheds affecting the bay signed on to a new Bay Watershed Agreement yesterday. And this agreement goes beyond the obvious goal of better water quality. Climate change even got more than a pleasant nod.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York, along with the D.C. Mayor, pledged a bunch of measurable restoration goals.

And today's headline of millions of new federal dollars going to shoring up vulnerable Hampton Roads shorelines made me smile as well. Especially since we have been sailing these waters in recent days.

So habitat restoration, land conservation, better fisheries management, toxics control and citizen education should see some major improvement in the coming years.

Governor McAuliffe pushed for climate change to be included as well because Hampton Roads is second in vulnerability to rising sea levels behind New Orleans. But the mayors of the coal states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia listened to their lobbyists and no mention was made in the agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Building homemade boats is still an option.




June 7, 2014

Virginia already cutting CO2 emissions?

Who knew that Virginia was making EPA officials smile by already reducing our CO2 emissions? With our state's "voluntary" goal of cutting emissions, I never dreamed that I'd see this map in the NY Times today.


Yup, Virginia is green! Carbon pollution down by 39 percent since 2005.

Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York cut their power-sector emissions more than 40 percent from 2005 to 2012, according to the Georgetown Climate Center, with Maryland close behind.  Those states are part of a nine-state project called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and, like much of the country, have benefited from the recent abundance of cheap natural gas.

I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

US ranks behind China in energy efficiency

Since the EPA recently announced that this agency will take its goal of clean air seriously, we've read a lot about how difficult it will since China and other countries are still burning LOTS of coal in obsolete power plants without CO2 scrubbers.

But listen to this. China is better than the US in energy efficiency.

The 2012 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard ranked12 of the world's largest economies, representing over 78 percent of global gross domestic product, 63 percent of global energy consumption, and 62 percent of the global carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions.

 

The rankings include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. Over 25 different energy efficiency indicators or "metrics" have been analyzed for each economy ranked in the report. The rankings are determined by a total score out of 100 possible points.

 

Points can be earned in four difference categories including buildings, industry, and transportation, as well as metrics that track cross-cutting aspects of energy use at the national level.

 

The 2014 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard will be released in the summer of 2014 with more countries and more metrics.


But see where we stood two years ago. No reason to feel smug. We are a red country, and China is not. Kudos to the UK for being #1.



 




 


June 6, 2014

Fracking chemicals a secret?

Fracking may come to quite a few Virginia counties in coming years. But the proponents may not tell the local residents what chemicals they'll be using to "fracture" the layers of rocks that contain the oil and natural gas.

Why? They don't need to, thanks to the Halliburton loophole in the 2005 energy bill. Dick Cheney proposed the wording that says that this information may be "trade secrets."

Drilling companies MAY disclose this information to a chemical registry at FracFocus at www.fracfocus.org but they are not compelled to.

FracFocus is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. The website was created to provide the public access to reported chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing within their area. To help users put this information into perspective, the site also provides objective information on hydraulic fracturing, the chemicals used, the purposes they serve and the means by which groundwater is protected.

The primary purpose of this site is to provide factual information concerning hydraulic fracturing and groundwater protection.  It is not intended to argue either for or against the use of hydraulic fracturing as a technology.  It is also not intended to provide a scientific analysis of risk associated with hydraulic fracturing. While FracFocus is not intended to replace or supplant any state governmental information systems it is being used by a number of states as a means of official state chemical disclosure.  Currently, ten states: Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Ohio and Pennsylvania use Fracfocus in this manner.  

Virginia is not on this list. So folks in King George, Caroline, Essex, Westmoreland and King and Queen Counties may be kept in the dark.


Jamestown Island threatened by climate change

Many local folks are aware that the James River may be covering historic Jamestown Island by the end of this century. It's a combination of rising waters and sinking lands. These lands are already marshy wetlands as it is. Even John Smith experienced them as lowlands in 1607.

To learn more, check out this article from Daily Press:

Thursday morning on Jamestown Island, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell got a firsthand look at emergency archaeology.

To read the full article, click on this link or copy and paste it into your browser: http://www.dailypress.com/news/science/dp-nws-jamestown-interior-climate-20140605,0,2157106.story


May 8, 2014

Offshore Virginia getting windier?

It may just be a lot of hot air, but the energy folks at Dominion Virginia Power just announced that they will receive another $47 million from the Department of Energy to add to the $4 million they received in late 2012 to put Virginia closer to offshore wind power.

I had seen the mega wind farm near Palm Springs a few months ago and questioned if residents of our state would ever see wind turbines, either offshore or on mountain tops. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but they certainly look attractive to me. Especially after the recent crude oil spill outside Roanoke.


Winter took a toll on Chesapeake crabs

I was feeling crabby as I read more headlines about this past winter reducing the blue crab population. Perhaps 25 percent of these tasty crustaceans in the Chesapeake Bay died during this exceptionally cold winter. 

More than 200 million female crabs are needed to get the bay's crab population back to 1991 levels, and the winter count estimated only 69 million. So the winter dredge of crabs will most likely again be closed since females are the ones hiding in muddy bottoms.

But what chance do blue crabs have to repopulate the bay when watermen can set up to 300,000 crab pots in Virginia alone? Guess those deep water red crabs may come to our tables sooner than expected. Watermen have a tough way to make a living. Hope their way of life can continue.

May 6, 2014

CSX concerned about Virginia rivers?

CSX train tracks in Roanoke, Virginia, were in the headlines last week after the crude oil spill into the upper James River. The media reports now tell us that the spill was a minor event and that most of this oil that was not contained by booms either evaporated or was diluted by heavy rains as it floated down the James. That doesn't reduce my concerns, however. Faulty oil tanks, tracks and brakes, not to mention human error, will contribute to future oil spills. The folks along the Hudson River are also concerned as more barges float this stuff down Pete Seeger's favorite river. Heavy crude oil will be a bigger issue to all concerned since it does not float and will sink to river bottoms. 

The CSX website includes this great PR announcement, but they may need to kick in more dollars to environmental groups if oil spills continue:

In 2012, CSX provided $1.2 million in support of Virginia charitable and community initiatives, including key partnerships with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Elizabeth River Project, the James River Association, the Newport News Green Foundation and Keep Prince William Beautiful.

May 2, 2014

Sixth extinction soon?

Perhaps in geologic years, but not in my lifetime. So why has there been so much talk about the sixth mass extinction in recent weeks?

Elizabeth Kolbert's book has been receiving a lot of publicity too. But the best info I found is this Washington Post story:  

It is a tad long but worth the read. 

Every time we sail over the deep meteor chasm just off Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, I think about that extinction. But most of us echo Alfred E. Neumann, "What? Me worry?"

Oil spill in Virginia too close to home

Cove off James River
Those two railcars full of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota did not need to end up in the James River. But the oil that escaped is on its way down the James as I post this. I actually walked down to the river twice today to see if any oily globs were in sight. It is supposedly floating.

Why did the 15 railcars on that train derail? Early reports are that the train may not have slowed down enough as it rounded that point on the train tracks. Or did the recent rains weaken the gravel and soil in that section of track? I hope that answers will be soon in coming and that railcar standards will be strengthened sooner than later.

I had just posted on this blog a few weeks ago about the railcars of oil that make their way to the storage and shipping facility in Yorktown, wondering if those tracks were close to me. I now know the answer. The James River was already on Preservation Virginia's threatened rivers list. Today it is hurting even more.

Chikungunya is not a joke

Nor is it a new foodie recipe. It is a disease spread by the same mosquito that transmits dengue fever. And it's no laughing matter, although the name does bring a laugh.

The head of the Caribbean Public Health Authority just declared this virus an epidemic throughout the Caribbean.

I heard of it when I was in St. Lucia in February. But at that point it had only been reported in St. Martin. Then cases were confirmed in Antigua, Anguilla, Aruba, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Bart's, St. Lucia, and a few more islands. More than 4000 cases already in 14 islands.

Symptoms include a fever and aches and sometimes a nasty looking rash and skin swelling and discoloration. Aches can persist for months. No deaths as from dengue fever, but still quite serious.

April 30, 2014

Food for thought on cosmetics

Really???? The cosmetics industry is hiring lobbyists to convince elected officials to continue to allow formaldehyde in many personal care products and plastic "micro beads" in facial and body scrubs.

I'd like to preserve the look of 35-year old skin, even 45, but with formaldehyde? I think not.

And those plastic microbeads are showing up in ocean and river water samples around the world. The still missing Malaysian Airlines flight brought the amounts of plastic floating in our oceans into the consciousness of a lot of folks who never knew about it. But so far, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics group is a lone voice in the wilderness bemoaning these cosmetic industry ingredients.

Since adopting the Whole30 foods program, I am reading food labels much more diligently. Looks like I'll need to alot more time for all my shopping.

April 26, 2014

Kudos to the Chesapeake eelgrass

Let's hear it for the eelgrass in the Chesapeake Bay. Up 24 percent from the last survey, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program folks. Or almost 60,000 acres of it, compared to 48,000. That is still only a third of the ultimate goal of 185,000 acres, but it is good progress. And NOT a retreat.

Grass beds give hidey holes for crabs, so the crab population should be growing too. Too soon to tell if that will be the case. Eelgrass does not prosper during hot summers. It took a big hit in 2005.



April 23, 2014

Get rid of unwanted medications the safe way

It's National "Get rid of your drugs safely" Day on Saturday, April 26. Do NOT flush these meds down the toilet. Our drinking water and local fish do not need hormones or anti-depressants.

Click here for the info and your closest drop-off location.


April 20, 2014

Yes, we have no bananas

Is it not enough that the price of avocados has jumped big time due to the drought in California? Chipotle has been in the news for raising their prices to counterbalance this.

A dire warning has been issued to Caribbean islands that produce bananas, many of them exported to the United States. The fusarium wilt disease that is very destructive to the banana industry has spread from Asia to Africa and the Middle East and is now menacing the islands and Central America.

April 16, 2014

Crude oil is coming through Virginia

When we read about all those recent crude oil spills ( in North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec among others) from trains carrying this toxic stuff to refineries, we don't realize how close to home these trains might be.

Since last December, the Yorktown Terminal on the York River (closed as a refinery since 2010) has been the destination for quite a few of these trains. The terminal can handle 140,000 barrels per DAY and can store up to 6 million barrels. That potential for disaster gets my attention. Human error and train derailments do not coexist with a healthy Chesapeake Bay watershed. Sure hope that the Department of Transportation is overseeing the transport of crude oil with eagle eyes after these recent spills. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks worry that the bay is on borrowed time.

Environmentalists worrying about leaks in the proposed Keystone Pipeline point to these train derailments as inadequate incentive for pipeline approval. 


Renewable energy goals in Virginia

Today's article in the Daily Press on solar power included a US map showing states with MANDATES to generate ten percent of their energy from renewables. It included Virginia but that is inaccurate. Virginia has VOLUNTARY goals: 7% by 2016, 12% by 2022 and 15% by 2025. And we are not headed to those figures by any stretch of the imagination unless those offshore wind farms are up and operating. Voluntary anything is almost impossible to achieve.


April 1, 2014

Climate change no longer denied?

The United Nations panel on Climate Change issues another grim warning about the alarming consequences of a warming climate. Rising waters and threatened shorelines always get my attention since our home is so near the encroaching James River and I enjoy Caribbean islands for vacations.

But I fear that the New York Times' editorial is not yet true:

"Perhaps now the deniers will cease their attacks on the science of climate change, and the American public will, at last, fully accept that global warming is a danger now and an even graver threat to future generations. "


March 19, 2014

Termites?

It is time for our annual home inspection for termites by our pest control company. Money well spent because I am NOT entering our home's crawl space. I saw a black snake slither into an air vent years ago and that was enough to dissuade me from becoming an exterminator wannabe.

Most homeowners suffer from some degree of termite phobia. If they hear that a neighbor has termites, they likely freak out. The sight of one tunnel is enough to cause heart palpitations. So I did a lot of online research today after receiving the annual reminder for our home inspection. As a "valued and loyal customer" for ten years, they are offering me an "exciting offer" of a free termite bait system. Won't this simply attract the termites who are already happily munching on fallen trees in my backyard?

The goal of the bait system is to first install inground termite stations to detect if we have termites tunneling near our home. And then to bait the stations with some yummy termite food that they will ingest before it slowly inhibits their molting process while they are back in their colony, passing on this substance to their fellow immature termites. Supposedly the queen and adult workers are not affected by this growth inhibitor and this process can take a long time.

In the meanwhile, the pest control company must inspect the stations regularly for termite activity. Aha! So instead of an annual inspection, I'll now need quarterly visits? Hmmmmm. Sounds like an extra expense for me. And any termites who don't find those stations can still dine on my home's wood. That doesn't sound like "long term protection" for my home to me. But it does sound like a cash cow for pest control companies.

And can't these stations simply detect termites that were not interested in my home anyway? Renegades from my neighbors' yards? Perhaps the same rationale for NOT using Japanese beetle traps should apply with termites. Will they simply attract nearby termites?

Sure wish that a good alternative to Chlordane had been developed! 



March 11, 2014

Voles are a curse

How can one to two ounce rodents cause so much angst? Voles eat the roots of plants and even small trees. Their burrows in lawns can turn an ankle too. A recent headline proclaimed that the polar vortex would curtail certain invasive insects such as ash borers. So I had hoped that our freezing temps over the last few months might have curtailed them. 

But it seems the dreaded voles just burrow down for the winter and hang out under the frost line in the soil which isn't very low in these parts.

As their breeding season approaches, we might see even more vole damage. They are now waking up and these critters are very prolific. Up to ten litters each year! And they can survive for 15-19 months. 

We have tried traps and baits to control their numbers. But raccoons and possums have learned how to spring the traps and enjoy the peanut butter. We applied castor oil based mole repellent to our yard a few weeks ago to send them retreating to a neighbor's yard, but they don't seem to get the idea. It seems like a futile battle.

One somewhat successful approach is to spread diatomaceous products in the hole as you plant new plantings. Moles' sensitive snouts find the diatoms annoying. But most gardeners find moles even more annoying.


Coal ash spill followup

The early February coal ash spill in North Carolina from a Duke Energy coal ash storage area is finally getting the attention of Virginia official and nearby residents. That 70 mile polluted section of the Dan River is a drinking water source for a lot of people. Coal ash contains mercury, lead and arsenic. So worries are not unwarranted. 

Just last week, a federal judge ordered Duke Energy to eliminate sources of groundwater contamination at its coal ash dumps. Duh. Should not this have been a requirement PRIOR to the power plant's beginning? It sure looks like a too cozy relationship may exist between Duke and the regulatory agencies to a lot of folks.

March 1, 2014

Golf greens not so green?

Feast or famine? The headlines about the ongoing drought in Southern California are now gone, replaced by dire warnings about the heavy rains and possible mudslides Californians are experiencing.

But the rain is good news for the 124 golf course superintendents in the Coachella Valley of California. Their courses consume about 17 percent of the available water in their region. And one quarter of that is pumped out of their aquifer. I wondered about the source of the healthy looking greens as we played golf in the Palm Springs area last January. I did not see any signs stating that they were "watered by reclaimed water" as I have seen on Florida courses.

Statewide, about 1 percent of California's water keeps their fairways green. But desert courses consume about 1 million gallons DAILY. That is three or four times what the average U.S. course uses.


Dominion lines to go over the James River

Over the River and through the woods,
With power lines we go!


I just read that Virginia's SCC ( State Corporation Commission) approved Dominion Power's plan to install the 500kV power line across the James River. That's the historic James that John Smith and friends sailed up in 1607. True, portions of the James do not appear as pristine as during Smith's time. But that particular section is still quite beautiful, especially the area along the Colonial Williamsburg Parkway. The "ghost fleet" of mothballed Navy ships is down to a shadow of its former self.

But the opposition of Colonial Williamsburg, James City County government, the James River Association and sundry other groups did not prevail. Even the valid concerns of the BASF chemical company did not concern the wise men on the SCC. So what that the line bisects their property and makes selling any portion of it less likely. So what that BASF has been doing remediation in that area to purge chemicals from the ground and that the digging will potentially release some leftover chemicals into the James. The buried kepones on the river bottom can welcome a few more chemical buddies as they get churned up during the construction.

One small concession to those who opposed the power line for aesthetic reasons: it will not be built on huge lattice towers but on tall monopoles. 

Ah, the price of progress.

February 19, 2014

Wind farm offshore Virginia?

Will we really see the proposed offshore wind farm off Virginia Beach? I haven't seen much news about it for quite some time. Our continental shelf is waiting.

But Oregon may beat us to the punch, and floating turbines no less?

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced an important step forward for the first offshore wind project proposed for federal waters off the West Coast. DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has given the green light for Principle Power, Inc. to submit a formal plan to build a 30-megawatt pilot project in a 15 square mile lease area, using floating wind turbine technology offshore Coos Bay, Oregon.

The project is designed to generate electricity from five floating "WindFloat" units, each equipped with a 6-megawatt offshore wind turbine. The facility, sited in about 1,400 feet of water, would be the first offshore wind project proposed in federal waters off the West Coast and the first in the nation to use a floating structure to support offshore wind generation in the Outer Continental Shelf.

The West Coast holds an offshore capability of more than 800 gigawatts of wind energy potential, equivalent to more than three quarters of the nation’s entire power generation capacity. The total U.S. deepwater wind energy resource potential is estimated to be nearly 2,000 gigawatts. 

February 18, 2014

Sludge good for lawns?

I posted a piece on lawn fertilizers a few years ago that touted the benefits of treated sewage sludge on lawns. HRSD (see last posting) used to produce a dandy product called Nutri-Green that was available in our area. Some neighbors even claimed that it deterred deer from visiting their property. That I could applaud too.

But HRSD stopped producing Nutri-Green for the general public a few years ago. It is still available to farmers. It was more economical to privatize the operation versus HRSD building a new compost facility. They still believe that composting the treated "stuff" is the sustainable way to go.

So McGill Environmental now produces a similar product called Soil Builder that several local garden centers carry. Let me know if you like it.


Where does all the sewage go?

To paraphrase the recently deceased Pete Seeger, who was more interested in "flowers," where does all the sewage go? Here is the straight poop.

Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD), a utility or political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia that treats the region's sewage, has thirteen sewage treatment plants, nine in Hampton Roads and four on the Middle Peninsula. Three are in our immediate area (Williamsburg, York County and Newport News).

HRSD, created by public referendum in 1940 to eliminate sewage pollution in the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay, currently serves 17 cities and counties in southeast Virginia. This utility maintains 500 miles of pipes and 104 pumping stations to serve 1.6 million people over 3100 square miles. Some of those pipes are quite old.

Do we trust these pipes to convey 249 million gallons of "stuff" to be treated daily in 9 major treatment plants in greater Hampton Roads and 4 smaller ones on the Middle Peninsula? EPA folks, worried about past leaks, are requiring localities to inspect, repair or replace these pipes. James City County inspected their system over the past few years, and some of theirs are relatively new. 

But during heavy rains, sewage overflows frequently occur. 40 times in our area in 2012 and 14 in 2013. Stormwater, you see, mingles with our flushed stuff and heads to the treatment plants. That meant 23 million gallons of nasty stuff  entered our waterways in 2012 alone. That was the reason for those Department of Health warnings to not swim off some local beaches after heavy rainfalls. That is also the rationale behind HRSD's initiative for a regional approach to dealing with sewage overflows at a projected cost of $2.18 billion. That could be a saving of $1 billion over going the individual route.

To also meet EPA requirements, HRSD must also upgrade the wireless system used to monitor and operate the 500 miles of pipes within their system and install a "Smart Sewer Tower" telecommunications facility at the Williamsburg Treatment Plant. They are proposing a 138’ tall monopole.

But where does all that treated water go? Two distinct categories of water are the end result. Drinkable potable water, after treatment to levels determined safe for human consumption, could come out of your faucets and is often used to meet other demands, such as irrigation, carwashing, and heating and cooling factories.  Nonpotable water, after treatment by HRSD to meet regulatory standards (but not drinkable) is released back into our local waterways.  But, with a retrofit to a dual piping system, this reclaimed nonpotable water could be used to flush toilets, in fire hydrants, or irrigate lawns and gold courses. We have seen signs on many Florida and California golf courses that state "irrigated by reclaimed water."

Grass and plants do not need potable water to survive and in fact, certain plants such as Bermuda grass can survive on brackish water alone.  This is a terrific water conservation method that we will see more often as droughts continue in our country.

February 13, 2014

How can 21 attorneys general be so wrong?

Why are 21 attorneys general in the U.S. trying to derail efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay?

Mostly Midwest AGs, but Florida? C'mon. You especially should understand the value of clean water. What if your farmers were allowing runoff from your farmland, poultry and pig pens, grazing lands and tons of fertilizer to end up in your waters?

Stand your ground, indeed!

Yikes, Caribbean islands, take notice for earthquakes and tsunamis

Another headline today got my attention: new study suggests that a mega-tsunami could devastate coastlines from Florida to Brazil following a volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands. Chesapeake Bay Area residents, take note.

And what about the Caribbean islands? Two hundred foot waves are not a good thing for them. Years ago, we saw shells deposited on the highest elevated land in Eleuthera after a freak wave of 100 feet (just prior to "The Perfect Storm" off Gloucester, Massachusetts).


Marigot Bay in St. Lucia
We visited St. Lucia last week and learned about a Christmas Eve mega-storm that wiped out many of their roads, bridges and homes. A few lives were lost as well during the heavy rains. Yet I do not remember the American media covering it. Perhaps Jim Cantore missed it, but we hear little about the Caribbean islands unless it's hurricane season.

Twenty five percent of St. Lucians live in poverty.  So how could this poor country pay for needed repairs? Dollars came from many countries, I learned, but especially from Taiwan. 

St. Lucia maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan (Republic of China) from 1984 to 1997; switched to China (People's Republic of China) from 1997 to 2006; then re-established diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2006, much to the chagrin of China. This tug of war of chumminess has been going on for the last few decades, depending on the ruling party of St. Lucia. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, so is not thrilled with shifting alliances by the St. Lucia government of Prime Minister Kenny Anthony and does not recognize "double recognition."

Over the last few decades, St. Lucia has received multiple grants from both Taiwan and China to finance roadwork, stadium, psychiatric hospital, meat packing plants, economic development projects, etc. A recent grant will light playing fields, construct "Community Access Centres” and develop a Block-Making facility at a St. Lucia correctional facility. Taiwan is also helping St. Lucians propagate new strains of fruits and vegetables, develop livestock, upgrade their fishing industry and create information technology learning centers to combat poverty.

These loans and grants of billions of dollars are common practice in all Caribbean nations, with much of the work done by Chinese labor.  We noticed miles of new roads and much appreciated guard rails in Dominica last year that were funded by China. I wondered then about the rationale behind foreign aid. It is not all humanitarian.

Was China improving Dominica's infrastructure for Chinese tourists? During the last ten years, only a few Chinese shops and restaurants opened on St. Lucia, and the predicted influx of Chinese tourists has not occurred there. We did see quite a few small Chinese grocery stores in Belize last June. Yeah, yeah, we do travel a lot. MANY islands on our bucket list yet!

I was concerned in 2008 during a visit to Dominica about a vacancy for U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines). Who was watching out for American interests in these islands?President Obama finally filled the post in May 2012 with Larry Leon Palmer. And his Department of State website implies that he is doing his job. But one man? And so many islands? 

I also wonder how these poor islands are going to repay these huge debts. The average public debt for Caribbean nations now amounts to about 84 percent of GDP, with five countries (Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts-Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda) experiencing debt-to-GDP ratios of close to 100% and higher. 

How will these countries repay these debts if and when the lending countries demand it? Some are loans extended under Venezuelan oil arrangements. China's loans are concessional with little if any interest charged and there is no indication that China or Venezuela will write-off these loans.  What happens if they default? I am not an expert in foreign aid, but I can only imagine this scenario--especially in the case of that tsunami.