“Forcing farmers and industry [and municipalities] to stop using waterways as private sewers would be a good first step”

28 November 2012

Not good for rivers, but it ends up there… (Photo: Bill Harding)

Today’s title comes from an article from New Zealand, suggesting that the authorities have been somewhat less than open and honest about the state of the country’s waters.  The article makes, inter alia, the following telling observations:

Of 134 lakes monitored, 56 per cent are “eutrophic” or worse. This means they suffer from nutrient enrichment that promotes frequent algal blooms, including blooms of toxic cyanobacteria, a type of algae that has plagued central North Island and some South Island lakes over the past decade.

None of this is new, as is nothing in the recent New York Times article, which quotes Massey University environmental scientist Mike Joy saying “there are almost two worlds in New Zealand … the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality”.

You’re not alone, New Zealand.  This type of truth obfuscation occurs in many countries – and has done for decades. By the way, today’s press shows that your Hutt River is a bit dodgy again!

Toxic algae can kill dogs and make people sick.  Together with Greater Wellington, Regional Public Health and other local councils we’re urging you to protect yourself and your dogs this summer when you visit the Hutt River.

Read more »

South Africa to host international conference on toxic algae

27 November 2012

South Africa has a very proud history in the field of algae and their toxins. Extending back many decades, a substantial amount of the groundwork in this field of science was undertaken in this country – documented in a review by Harding and Paxton for the Water Research Commission.

Next year (2013) will see South Africa’s now very small community of cyanobacterial scientists play host to the 9th International Conference on Toxic Cyanobacteria (ICTC).  The conference title, Living with Toxigenic Cyanobacteria – is provocative and underscores the risks associated with the ecological phenomenon commonly known as ‘toxic algal blooms’.  It acknowledges the fact that this symptom of eutrophication is not going to be resolved any time soon and that there is a fundamental need for science and management to integrate more closely in addressing the causes and consequences.

Cyanobacteria destroying Hawaiian coral reefs, diatoms as predictors of environmental collapse – and other stories

26 November 2012

The impact of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) on coral reefs north of the Hawaiian island of Kauai has been pronounced as being of ‘epidemic’ proportions.  Possible impacts on other biota associated with the corals have also been noticed.  No indication as yet as to which genus of cyanobacterium is responsible. Read more »

Is shoddy environmental journalism better than no journalism at all?

24 November 2012

I recently had cause to remonstrate with a journalist regarding an article which, in my opinion, served more to perpetuate incorrect perceptions rather than incisively expose some worrying failings.  Additionally, the article created the impression that this was a scientific debate was between equals, whereas nothing could have been further from the truth.

This incident brought to mind the recent challenge to the reputation of a Japanese recipient of a Nobel prize, made by a charlatan who claimed to have pre-empted some of the findings.  Most regrettably, shoddy journalism by several newspapers failed to verify the bona fides of the challenger, leading to an incorrect perception about the actual winner being created.  As we all know, perceptions are everything and much damage was done to the good name of the scientist involved before someone did some investigative digging.   Eventually the truth came out, exposing the claims as completed unfounded, lacking any published work, a fictitious research affiliation and no contactable co-researchers.  This speaks volumes about the level of ineptitude of the journalists – and their editors – who grasped at this story, ostensibly just to get some ‘column inches’. Read more »

Costs may kill attempts to protect aquatic organisms from sex-altering drugs

23 November 2012

A worrying report recently published in Nature indicates that attempts to restrict the release of ethynyl oestradiol (EE2, found in contraceptive medications), into the aquatic environment may die an early death.  For some years now rumors and articles have abounded regarding the feminization of fish – with this change attributed to this compound.

EE2 is just one of a cocktail of EPOCs (emerging pollutants of concern) that get dumped into rivers and lakes in wastewater effluents.  It now appears that plans in Europe to manage this problem will cost so much money that financial considerations are likely to override scientific recommendations – so what else is new when it comes to disrespecting the world’s water supplies.

We can only hope that sanity will prevail (?)  The need to do something about this general problem, i.e. pharmaceuticals and pollutants in sewage effluents, is irrefutable now, so it will take a brazen attitude to disregard it (and stupid…)

Several lakes and rivers to get pro-active interventions…

23 November 2012

Lots of good news to end this week – well, at least news about informed approaches.  All too often we read reports about attempts to manage pollution in lakes at the wrong end of the pipe, i.e. after the problem is already in the lake.  This has the same level of logic as a security guard, knowing there is good chance of being shot, not wearing a bullet-proof vest on the reasoning that “we can get the bullet out later”.  This short-sighted thinking has epitomized wastewater treatment for decades, with engineers saying “if the pollution gets worse we will simply treat the water we draw from it better”.  This has been a surprising and stupid concept on all sorts of levels, not least completely ignoring ecosystem damage.  Curiously, the wastewater engineering fraternity are very quiet on the topic of eutrophication, suggesting their heads are still firmly in the sand on this one.  In a recent limited poll of South African companies providing wastewater treatment engineering services to local authorities, not one identified effluent quality as a challenge to modern wastewater treatment! Read more »

Americans willing to pay more for quality water

20 November 2012

Here are some results from a value of water survey conducted by Xylem Inc to gauge the opinion of water consumers in the US:

A majority of Americans, 77 percent, are concerned about the state of U.S. water infrastructure, and 61 percent are willing to pay more to fix it.

Key Index findings include:

  • A growing number of voters – 88 percent – believe U.S. water infrastructure needs reform; an 8 percent increase since 2010.
  • More than three-quarters of Americans are concerned about U.S. water infrastructure.
  • Nearly 90 percent of Americans reported having personally felt the impact of water shortages and contamination.
  • Despite recent rate increases, 61 percent of Americans are willing to pay a little more each month to upgrade U.S. water infrastructure. Americans are willing to pay an average of $7.70 more per month, up from $6.20 more per month in 2010.
  • Eighty-eight percent of Americans believe that Federal, state or local government should be held accountable for fixing water infrastructure problems. Read more »

Cape Town Film Studios creating its own environmental horror movie?

18 November 2012

Lost natural history? Wetlands on the Dreamworld site (Photo: Bill Harding, 2005)

The Cape Town Film Studio, a.k.a. ‘Dreamworld’, created on a piece of land adjacent to some of the last wetland remnants on the Cape Flats, north-east of Khaylitsha, has been accused of breaching its conditions of approval, by apparently infilling some of the areas set aside for wetland conservation (IOL, 16 November 2012).  These set-asides were a condition of approval for the development and which, according to the IOL report

… two of the conditions of approval for the development – the establishment of an environmental monitoring committee, and the physical demarcation of sensitive sites identified by specialists during the initial environmental impact assessment – had not been met.

If not, then what have the authorities who set these conditions been doing, pray ask?  In the six years since development approval, what has been going on?? Read more »

Florida’s Lake Buchanan kicks up a stink

18 November 2012

If you are one of the many apartment dwellers around Orlando’s Lake Buchanan, you might want to keep your windows closed for a day or two!  An algal bloom (must have gone unnoticed for a while if it’s as bad as the reports suggest) appears to be the cause.  Samples have been sent for toxin analysis – which will be back next week. I am always amazed at these delays, as for quite some time it has been possible to do on site “dip-stick” tests and get a result in minutes.

Nice video!  First one I have seen with night-time news reporting!


Eutrophication: treat the causes, THEN the left-over symptoms

18 November 2012

I think many would agree that it would be pretty pointless trying to dry out your carpets while rain in pouring in through a hole in your roof.  The logical sequence would be: hole first, carpets second.  The same argument applies to the nutrient enrichment (eutrophication) of lakes and rivers:  if you have tons of nutrients pouring in, day in, day out, from wastewater treatment works, its unlikely you are going to make ANY difference by fiddling around with cosmetic actions in the lake.  At best you will be “seen to be doing something” which, unfortunately, is about all many authorities try for in an attempt to assuage public criticism.  A lot of money gets wasted this way and will continue to happen until Civil Society wises-up! Read more »