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The Pacific Gyre is spiraling out of control, and we are helping it grow

                The Pacific Gyre, a point in the Pacific Ocean where multiple oceanic currents meet, has created a monster.  This monster is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and is quite literally that.  It is a mass approximately the size of the continental United States composed of floating garbage.  This garbage mass is approximately 1,000 miles north of Hawaii, and located between the U.S. and Asia.  As a result, it is quite isolated and it not seen unless people are looking for it.

                This garbage patch is composed of many small pieces of plastic as well as some larger pieces such as plastic chairs or fishing equipment.  These pollutants are not visible from satellite images, or even airplanes because the garbage floats just under the surface where it is seemingly invisible.  However, the garbage is visible from boat.  It was discovered in 1997 and has not had any major cleanup efforts since.

                As a result of the immense size, this garbage patch is thought to be impossible to cleanup.  Scientists argue that the main objective is not to clean up the mass; it is in fact to stop the mass from growing any larger.  This garbage patch has grown so large because it is fed by garbage that is carried to the ocean from streams around the globe.  Since it is where multiple ocean currents meet and swirl together, it effectually corrals the garbage into one immense mass.

                Some potential methods of cleanup are being tested by scientists around the world.  One potential cleanup strategy is to simply scoop it up by using nets.  This method, however, will inevitably kill marine animals by catching them along with the garbage.  Once contained, the garbage would be sent to land to either be placed in a landfill or recycled.  Another possible solution is a process called pyrolysis that breaks down the plastics into useable synthetic oil.  The machinery that processes the plastic is about the size of an average home and could easily be placed on a ship, and process the plastic in the middle of the ocean.  The oil could then be transported to land and sold as a useable product. 

                While these methods have the potential to reduce the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the long-term solution of preventing the pollution still remains.

To read the original article and view pictures of the effect garbage has on the environment, visit Newsweek at: http://www.newsweek.com/id/226308/page/1

Southern California’s water reserves go down the drain

                Beginning in 2007, Southern California’s water reserves have been literally going down the drain.  As reported by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, there has been a steady decrease in water reserves since 2007.  This has been caused by an increasing population as well as a three-year long drought.

                Part of this water problem is due to the Colorado River.  This river has undergone a drought in eight past years.  As a result of this, the lower reservoirs have received less water, and thus have not been able to replenish themselves. 

                The goal in recent years has been to increase the storage capacity of surrounding reservoirs.  By doing so, the Metropolitan Water District would be able to store more water during non-drought years.  This water would then be used during drought years.

                To prevent havoc in ensuing drought years, many water districts have enacted voluntary cutbacks.  Some water districts have even enacted mandatory cutbacks and rationing.  For those customers who do not comply with the drought, there is a much higher water rate.  Many conservation programs are being pushed to help reduce the amount of water needed.  There are also many other programs, such as those trying to educate customers about water conservation.  By educating the public about water conservation as well as easy do-it-yourself ideas to save water, the need for potable water would drastically be reduced.

To read the article from The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, go to: http://www.mwdh2o.com/mwdh2o/pages/yourwater/WaterAlert/

Rainwater harvesting provides relief to underground aquifers

                Rainwater harvesting is a practice that has been used by environmentalists for many years, but has only recently become more popular.  By connecting underground cisterns or above-ground containers, people can collect up to 0.6 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on one square-foot of roof.  In other words, if it rains one inch, and you have a 1,000 square-foot roof, you can collect about 600 gallons of water.  With two inches of rain, you can collect up to 1,200 gallons.

                The problem, however, arises with mosquitoes and other harmful vectors.  Since mosquitoes with harmful parasites and diseases have recently been spreading, it is crucial to ensure a biologically sealed rain capturing system.  This is often done by having a series of filters or screens that seal the water from the open-air.  By doing so, the mosquitoes cannot access the water to lay their eggs, and must find elsewhere to breed.

                This method of “recycling” rainwater is seen as much safer than reusing greywater because rainwater is often much cleaner than greywater.  There are, however, systems to recycle greywater.  These systems are often very expensive because they sometimes must filter out soaps or other biological contamination.

To read about rainwater collection systems, go to: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_13987135?nclick_check=1

Government officials disagree with conservation mandate

                State legislators in Nevada County strongly disagree with the recently approved water bond.  This bond is expected to go to voters in November of 2010.  The newly passed water bond will require a 20 percent decrease in water use for all of California.  Although this bill would cost $11.1 billion for water projects around the state, less than one percent of the funds would affect this region. 

                The main objection from the lawmakers arises not from the financial burden, but from the mandated water reductions.  Assemblyman Dan Logue remarked that the 20% cutback was a problem.  He then theorized that the water would just be shipped to Southern California. 

                These officials support more building of dams and reservoirs, to retain more water from the rainy season.  The bond, however, has 75% of the funding allocated to everything other than water storage. 

                The main objections arise when the lawmakers look at the long-term effect of the bill.  It will likely increase water storage to some extent, but the state population has risen from 16 million in the 1950’s to over 37 million people in 2009.  However, the state water resources have not increased at all.  If anything, the water California has received is actually in decline.  If other lawmakers want to achieve 20% reduction in water usage state-wide, they need to write a bill that focuses on water conservation as opposed to Delta protection, groundwater protection, drought relief, and regional strategies.

View the original article at: http://www.theunion.com/article/20091204/NEWS/912039967/1002&parentprofile=1053

New PLUG may prevent future levee breaches

                In the last 100 years, there have been two catastrophic levee breaches.  The most recent breach, caused by hurricane Katrina, ended in millions of dollars of damage as well as the loss of over 1,836 lives and the disappearance of over 705 residents.  This levee breach resulted in the flooding of over 80% of New Orleans, Louisiana.

                The levee breach was caused by multiple flood surges in surrounding bodies of water.  The first surge was caused by the dangerously high amount of rainfall.  The second surge, however, was caused after the eye of the storm passed and the winds rose.  These winds that blew towards land forced seawater swells upstream and towards the already endangered levees.

                Levee breaches often occur as either water levels rise above levee levels, or by catastrophic failures.  When the water rises above the top of the levee, it spills over and quickly erodes the soil and substrate below.  This creates a positive feedback look which spirals out of control.  The first release of water may not seem substantial, but it quickly erodes more soil, which allows more water to pass.  This method of levee breaching often causes a narrow but deep path for the water.

                The research portion of the Department of Homeland Security, The Science and Technology Directorate recently developed a method of preventing and stopping levee breaches.  Their most promising idea which has been tested up to ¼ scale, has proven successful so far.  This device is called a Portable Lightweight Ubiquitous Gasket, or PLUG.  Its design is that of a floating device that fills up to 80% with water.  The water currents caused by the levee breaches drag this device towards the breach, and the water pressure from inside the levee effectively pushes the device into the hole, sealing it.  This method of stopping levee breaches is especially effective because it provides a method of slowing, or even halting, the flow of water even where heavy machinery cannot be transported.

To read the article from R&D Magazine, visit:     http://www.rdmag.com/News/Feeds/2009/11/environment-mean-old-levee/

Newly released project provides insight on water conflicts

                The Pacific Institute recently released a study detailing water riots.  The study provides detailed information regarding water disputes from up to 5,000 years ago, all the way to disputes that occurred in November of 2009.  This study provides information that will likely help persuade officials protect our valuable water resources.

                The Pacific Institute’s study reports information such as the type of water conflict.  For example, was the conflict caused by water being used as a military tool?  A political tool?  A means of causing a terrorist act?  A military target?  By showing the frequency of each attack type throughout the last 5,000 years, politicians and scientists will have a better understanding of the causes and results of such conflicts.

                The study also shows lay people an interesting aspect of water rights and water conflicts.  Not only does this study detail the type of water conflict, but it also provides a detailed description of what caused the conflict as well as how it was solved. 

To see the original article, visit: http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2009/world/peter-gleick-water-and-conflict-the-new-water-conflict-chronology/

To view the study, go to: http://www.worldwater.org/conflict/