Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Today was a day of presentations, both group and individual. In the morning, each student was given the opportunity to do a short presentation on the Op-Ed they had chosen to research and write. I did an Op-Ed on the James River. Growing up I was a camper and a counselor at a week-long 4-H camp on the James River. Each summer we had a few days during the week where the water was unsafe for swimming, so activities like fishing, canoeing and kayaking had to be cancelled. I looked into what is causing this and what some solutions to this problem might be. The James River Association has been measuring E. Coli concentrations in various sites along the river because it is a good indicator of concentrations of harmful bacteria which make it unsafe to swim in the water. It has been found that 44 percent of the time there are such high levels of these bacteria in the water that sites are closed to swimming. Something needs to be done to change this. Pollution of streams and lakes that feed into the James River is the main cause of the water quality problems. This needs to be solved by educating the public on the causes of the water pollution, the various methods of wastewater management, the benefits of agricultural runoff reduction, and storm water management best practices. This can be done through efforts by the James River Association and similar organizations to help create regulations, enforce them and recruit more volunteers to test water in multiple sites to ensure the safety of patrons swimming in the water and to help get the word out on the issues at hand.
During the second half of our day, we did group presentations on a class project to develop a community discussion guide on how the United States can best provide accessible, quality water. The groups looked at the current situation and then addressed conservation, consumption and consequences. The first group provided an introduction to give us the background on the issue at hand as possible solutions. This included information on US consumption of water, pollution and its causes, and how much water is used in the production of goods. We learned about different innovative technologies that have had a negative impact on our water sources. It turns out, over-abundance of water is a problem in some places as well as it can cause floods, which are dangerous and cause costly damage. When freshwater is over-abundant in your area, it can also cause allocation issues. This issue has become a more frequent problem due to climate change. There are also many consequences to not fixing these problems with our water. Runoff and sewage cause pollution of our water sources, which can cause hypoxia and dead zones, and by extension a lack of marine life.
The second group of students did a presentation on the conservation of water. Agriculture, industry, social patterns and behavior were the main focuses of this topic. Agriculture uses more water than any other sector and this happens through irrigation. This can be reduced through more efficient sprinkler and irrigation systems and through companion planting. Industry is another big water consumer around the world. Water use in this sector has a large potential for reduction and can be reduced through more efficient manufacturing systems that recycle and reuse water. Personal household actions provide another opportunity to conserve water. Actions as simple as shorter showers, using sprinklers in the morning and reducing dishwasher use can substantially cut water use and save money. Lastly, social organizations have been able to make an impact on encouraging water conservation using incentive programs.
The next group did a presentation on consumption. I was a part of this group. We focused on reducing water use in agriculture, biofuel and industry. I researched ways to reduce our consumption of red meat because the beef industry is such a major consumer of water and by reducing our consumption we could each contribute individually to this goal. Other topics explored ways to clean up nuclear power, clean up biofuels, coal plant clean up, pesticide use reduction and paper use reduction. The fourth and last group focused their presentation on consequences and policy. They discussed changing taxes and various tax structures, modifying water rates, cleaning up point pollution and non-point pollution sources, and generating and creating new funding. This sequence of presentations wrapped up our water module.
Guest Contributor: Sarah Henke