Deadly quake, climate change, plastic jeans

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Groundwater pumping may have spurred deadly quake
Farmers drilling ever deeper wells over decades to water their crops likely contributed to a deadly earthquake in southern Spain last year, a new study suggests. The findings may add to concerns about the effects of new energy extraction and waste disposal technologies.

Nine people died and nearly 300 were injured when an unusually shallow magnitude-5.1 quake hit the town of Lorca on May 11, 2011. It was the country’s worst quake in more than 50 years, causing millions of euros in damage to a region with an already fragile economy.

Using satellite images, scientists from Canada, Italy and Spain found the quake ruptured a fault running near a basin that had been weakened by 50 years of groundwater extraction in the area.

During this period, the water table dropped by 250 meters (274 yards) as farmers bored ever deeper wells to help produce the fruit, vegetables and meat that are exported from Lorca to the rest of Europe. In other words, the industry that propped up the local economy in southern Spain may have undermined the very ground on which Lorca is built.

The researchers noted that even without the strain caused by water extraction, a quake would likely have occurred at some point.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Some scientists seeing climate-weather link
The worst drought in half a century has plagued two-thirds of the nation, devastating farms and stoking wildfires that scorched almost 9 million acres this year. Withering heat blanketed the East Coast and Midwest, killing scores of people and making July the hottest month ever recorded in the U.S. And in the Arctic this summer, polar snow and ice melted away to the smallest size ever observed by man.

Extreme events like drought, heat waves, intense rainfall, flooding and fires have prompted many people to reconsider the connection between the weather and the changing climate. Now, a handful of scientists are among them.

In a break with the mainstream scientific consensus, a few prominent climate scientists now argue that there have been enough episodes of drought and intense heat in the last 10 years to establish a statistical pattern of extreme weather due to global warming.
–The Los Angeles Times

Sugar beet co-op fined for pollution
Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., has taken corrective actions and paid a $70,000 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency following an investigation into a complaint of smelly, polluted waters in the Rabbit River watershed drainage system.

In May 2011, the MPCA received a complaint of polluted water in drainage areas that flow to the Rabbit River in Wilkin County. Inspections by agency staff determined that pollution in the drainage system originated from Minn-Dak’s Lyngass, Yaggie and Hawes sugar beet storage locations. Discharges to the drainage system resulted from polluted runoff discharges from the storage sites.

The cooperative was cited for these discharges as well as for failing to immediately report them and take immediate steps to mitigate their impact.

In addition, MPCA staff found that regular inspections designed to help identify and-or correct potential stormwater runoff problems were not conducted in accordance with the company’s permit requirements; that errors were made in calculating, implementing and reporting the land application of waste beets; and that material errors were made in inspection reports and that reports failed to include sugar beet juice discharges during fall 2010.
–MPCA News Release

Ken Burns offers Dust Bowl lessons in conservation
Check out a National Wildlife Fund blog posting about a new Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl, that will be broadcast Nov. 18 on PBS. It offers lessons on conservation we should take to heart.

Environment missing from political conversation
Read a fine column by the Star Tribune’s Dennis Anderson on the almost total absence of any discussion of the environment from today’s political debate.

Clean Water Council gets input on spending
Check out 179 pages of comments from 110 individuals and groups who offered suggestions to the Minnesota Clean Water Council on how the state should spend $185 million over the next two years to protect and clean up lakes, rivers and aquifers.

Recycle some bottles into your Levi’s
Most apparel companies work hard to give their clothes the sheen of sophistication or whimsy. Levi Strauss is trying hard not to.

When its latest line of jeans arrives in stores early next year, the pitch will be: “These jeans are made of garbage.” Crushed brown and green plastic bottles will be on display nearby. Eight of those are blended into each pair of Levi’s new WasteLess jeans, which are composed of at least 20 percent recycled plastic.

The WasteLess denim collection is part of a bigger push to reduce Levi’s environmental impact throughout the entire process of making jeans.

“We want to build sustainability into everything we do,” said Michael Kobori, the vice president of supply chain social and environmental sustainability.

Resource scarcity and increasingly volatile prices for cotton make this a necessity more than a choice. Plus outside groups are putting pressure on big consumer companies such as Levi’s to be stewards of the environment.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

Illinois plans $1 billion for infrastructure
Gov. Pat Quinn launched a $1 billion initiative to upgrade sewer lines, water mains and water treatment plants across Illinois, some of them badly eroded after more than 100 years of service.

Timing the announcement to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, Quinn described his administration’s Clean Water Initiative as a jobs-creating effort to pull Illinois up from the nation’s lower rungs in terms of water safety.
–The Chicago Tribune