Guest Editorial: Water safety must be top priority

[Stock photo] Michigan has taken several proactive steps this week to address the safety of its water — and waterways.
After the bungling of the Flint water crisis, state and federal officials learned the huge ramifications of the government not doing enough to protect its citizens.
Any potential environmental risk must be taken extremely seriously, and dealt with quickly.
Reports of the chemical contaminant PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) around Michigan have recently sparked concern.
So it’s good Gov.
On Tuesday, Snyder ordered state and local agencies to put together a readiness plan for when contamination is discovered, as a precaution and a supplement to other action already underway.
The new Michigan PFAS Action Response Team will “work diligently to help communities respond to PFAS contamination that threatens public health and safety,” according to a statement.
The level found there was more than 20 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s health recommendation.
The Detroit News has reported that Michigan has 35 contamination sites, including Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River in Macomb County.
The directive will ensure the Department of Health and Human Services will work with state emergency management coordinators and local public health department directors to develop the readiness plan.

Editorial: Nebraska needs to tackle its growing problems with water contamination

About 88 percent of Nebraska residents rely on groundwater to provide their drinking water.
State and national agencies impose specific regulations.
On the positive side, stronger water-purification capability and improved fertilizer practices in some parts of the state have helped reduce the number of occasions where nitrate levels are above the safe-drinking threshold, requiring local water systems to take remedial action.
In some parts of the state, the nitrate concentration in groundwater has risen to troubling levels.
The Little Blue NRD in southeast Nebraska has designated eight “water quality management areas” to address nitrate concerns.
Some examples: » In the Little Blue NRD, 75 percent of reporting ag producers are applying more nitrogen than recommended by specialists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
» In some parts of the Little Blue NRD, nitrate levels “exceed the maximum contaminant level of 10 ppm (parts per million)” considered the safe limit for drinking water.
» In the 756-square-mile area of northeast Nebraska covered by the four-NRD cooperative plan, average nitrate concentrations since 1980 “have increased, with some areas (having) three times the levels safe for drinking water,” the NRDs report.
The natural resources districts, the university, DEQ, the Nebraska Environmental Trust and federal agencies provide technical or financial help to agricultural producers to reduce nitrates and other water-quality concerns.
Conservation steps include adjusted application levels or schedules, avoidance of overwatering, use of cover crops, decommissioning of old wells, proper maintenance of septic systems and wetland restoration.

Pennsylvania has failed on guaranteeing clean water. Here’s how to fix it | Editorial

Yet, since that language was adopted in 1971, state lawmakers have been steadily backsliding on that promise in the most critical of areas: public access to clean and safe drinking water.
The numbers are shocking: Between 2008 and 2012, state funding for the DEP was nearly halved, dropping from $229 million to $125 million.
During that drop, the DEP lost 750 inspectors, who are carrying an average inspection workload of 149 water systems each.
The same budget cuts that hit the inspection side also impacted enforcement.
In fiscal year 2017, state inspectors visited about 19 percent of the state’s water systems, well below the national average of 37 percent, McKelvey wrote.
Tom Wolf signed into law last week includes a $5.6 million funding increase for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Those trainee hires, who would replace the aging, veteran inspectors who are moving toward retirement age, would eventually bring the DEP down to a more manageable workload of 100 to 125 water systems for each inspector.
The DEP needs at least 85 more inspectors to reach its ideal complement of 67 water systems per-inspector.
At an average cost of $40,000 per inspector, lawmakers would need cough up an extra $3.4 million a year.
It’s time for Harrisburg to live up to that trust.

Poison in your drinking water? Scott Pruitt won’t hear of it | Editorial

There is government deceit, and then there is a level of skullduggery that only Scott Pruitt would dream of passing off as responsible environmental stewardship.
Because he apparently has no issues with covering up a national water contamination crisis.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.)
has it right when he says, "Families throughout our country have a right to know about dangerous contaminants in their drinking water.
The White House has once again shown that it cares more about public relations than public health."
The study from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry – a branch of Health and Human Services – was to propose new levels for these chemicals in drinking water that were six times more stringent than EPA recommendations, as the Environmental Working Group has found that current levels are unsafe for 110 million Americans.
We have it under control in New Jersey.
Chris Christie’s DEP set the national’s strictest limits on PFAS last November – for someone who dismantled the Drinking Water Quality Institute, he delivered on that one – but these chemicals are still everywhere, because they derive from Teflon.
They were first manufactured in 1947 by the 3M Co. for Scotchguard, then later during the nonstick craze created by DuPont, which knew for decades that it was contaminating water supplies.
Scott Pruitt, at your service.

Editorial: McGill will stop selling plastic water bottles, and Western should follow suit

Single-use bottled water will be phased out by May 2019, according to McGill.
The move aims to raise awareness about bottled water’s negative social and environmental impacts.
McGill’s announcement follows similar environmental initiatives on other campuses — many Canadian universities, including both Queen’s University and the University of Toronto, have committed to becoming water-bottle-free.
According to Greenpeace, 10 per cent of all the plastic produced ends up in the oceans each year.
Ninety per cent of the cost of a water bottle is the packaging, shipping, and marketing, rather than the actual product.
Given Western’s commitment to sustainability and waste reduction, phasing out plastic water bottles would be a good idea for our campus.
Plastic is a significant environmental hazard, and water fountains paired with reusable bottles is a good alternative.
There are many water fountains on campus, and most have been retrofitted to include hands-free bottle filling stations.
Western could also do things to ease the transition; for example, increasing the number of water fountains on campus or selling reusable water bottles for a reduced price.
With students becoming increasingly environmentally conscientious, reusable water bottles are now a common sight around campus.

PD Editorial: Don’t let the rain fool you. The drought is back

This week’s rainstorms belie a simple truth — the drought is back.
Three months ago, things didn’t look so bad.
Less than one-third of the state was critically dry at the end of November, and winter storms promised saturation and snow pack in the mountains.
But the storms didn’t come.
For an average year, precipitation by now should be approaching 40 inches in the northern Sierra.
They are forecast to dump several feet of snow high in the mountains.
Last week, the state Water Resources Control Board considered restoring residential conservation rules and making them permanent.
The board delayed action, though, after officials from irrigation and water agencies spoke against the plan.
If drought continues to be the new normal, the state will have to look at conservation where most of the water is consumed.
In a few months, you’ll probably be glad you have 50 extra gallons for your garden.

Editorial: Why wait on water notification in Clifton Park?

Back in November, the Clifton Park Water Authority discovered that levels of Haloacetic acids (HAA), a byproduct of the water disinfection process, were above the standard limit deemed acceptable to the federal government.
But if it was no big deal, then why send off samples to the state in the first place?
And if there was no reason to alert the 2,000 water customers to the higher level of these HHAs in the water supply when it occurred, then why did the state and the water authority feel compelled to tell residents in January?
When the levels spiked, the local water authority didn’t know that it was a one-time occurrence.
So as not to alarm residents, the notification could have included a caveat explaining the chemical properties, the levels that were found in relation to the federal standards, the relative level of concern about health and safety, and a suggestion on how to take action if that was something you wanted to do.
Certainly, it’s possible to alert the public as a precaution closer to when the spike in contamination occurred.
There are email and text alerts that can be used.
They could have placed notices on customers’ doors.
It just seems that the point of notifying residents about a spike in anything that can affect one’s health is to let people know about a problem so they can take precautions.
What kind of precautions can you take if they tell you about a problem long after the fact?

Editorial: Drought threat looms over Nebraska

Editorial: Drought threat looms over Nebraska.
It’s a familiar part of the climatic cycle in our part of the country.
This year, drought has returned just to our north, with severe conditions afflicting much of the Dakotas and Montana.
“Only 9 percent of South Dakota is not suffering from drought,” U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing last week.
“If they are making it, they are making it day to day right now, and they don’t know how they are going to make it to the winter.” Recent cattle sales in those drought-stricken states have skyrocketed.
In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has authorized emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands set aside for ecological protection.
This means hay donations are allowed from producers throughout Nebraska’s Sand Hills.
Still, a survey of nearly 5,000 wells statewide by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Conservation and Survey Division found that water stress returned in 2016 to some areas of central and western Nebraska.
Whatever lies ahead, Nebraskans can always benefit by being prepared for the return of drought, whether the dire conditions strike only part of the state or its entirety.
That proactive mindset can help a cattle or row-crop producer in managing an agricultural operation, as well as helping a business or household in handling its water use.

Editorial: Full health study needed

Our opinion: Revelations in a federal and state probe of widescale lapses in pollution monitoring equipment at the Momentive plant in Waterford show the need for an immediate and thorough health assessment for the areas downwind.
Now a second settlement has been reached with the owners of a chemical plant in Waterford after years of air pollution violations that spewed unknown amounts of hazardous gasses into the air.
So an important task remains: a full assessment of the environmental health impacts on communities.
Momentive Performance Materials will pay $1.25 million to state and federal authorities to settle the latest case involving the illegal shutdown of pollution control equipment at its Waterford plant.
The settlement acknowledges the routine turning off of pollution sensors, effectively allowing continuous and dangerously inefficient operation of the plant’s incinerator.
When operating properly, the incinerator and the plant automatically shut down if it is running inefficiently or when air pollution standards for a given period are exceeded.
The complaint includes an astonishing finding: Company workers illegally bypassed the incinerator’s pollution control mechanism 4,213 times between December 2006 and November 2008.
It all started before Momentive purchased the former GE silicone manufacturing plant in 2006.
The complaint stated GE employees falsified pollution control records and, in just a five-month period, allowed the incinerator to operate in an unsafe manner nearly 1,900 times.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation says it has no data to assess health impacts so long after the fact.

Coal editorial shortsighted

Your editorial on the topic of coal providing cheap power was incredibly shortsighted, especially for a newspaper that is published in the Adirondacks, the epicenter of the acid rain environmental disaster that afflicted the Northeast in the 1960s and 1970s. This acid rain was caused by the high concentration of pollutants from the coal-fired power plants of the Midwest, resulting in the nearly complete elimination of all life in the lakes and streams of the Adirondacks which were basically reduced to pools and rivers of sulphuric acid. Perhaps your editorial writer is too young to remember this deadly situation, which was not corrected until the formation of the Environmental Protection…