NEWS

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, and it’s already been a rough one: 12 named storms, including fierce Hurricane Ida, the strongest storm of the season. When hurricane season approaches, we anticipate extreme winds, heavy rainfall, and massive flooding, all of which can be devastating. Hurricanes destroy infrastructure and homes as well as create other dangerous situations for those living there. In addition to these effects, there are some hidden issues that might not surface until after the rains and wind. One of these issues is the lack of clean and safe water.

Floodwater following a hurricane or massive rainstorm is more than simple rainwater–it’s typically contaminated with sewage, chemicals, and dangerously sharp objects like metal and glass. In areas hit heavily by natural disasters, water treatment plants may not be operating as normal, or even if they are, water lines may be tainted (1). As hurricanes churn over the ocean, they can bring rain that contains chemicals and undrinkable salt water. This rain then falls in rural areas, where fertilizers and pesticides can quickly contaminate private wells. In urban areas, city freshwater sources can also become contaminated. As the floodwaters move, they bring with them enormous amounts of contaminants like chemicals, sewage, and other debris (2). Flooding waters can breach water reservoirs causing contamination that water treatment systems cannot keep up with. Uprooted trees caused by heavy winds can also cause water line pipes to break or crack. In addition to fallen debris, sewage spills can contaminate water lines and affect utilities. Contaminated drinking water is a significant health risk, especially for those who are most vulnerable including infants, children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Contaminated drinking water following major flooding is at risk for carrying diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, e. Coli, and dysentery (1).

In fact, historic water quality after hurricanes has shown just that. Within a few days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that more than 1,220 drinking water systems and more than 200 wastewater treatment facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama had been affected, causing a large outbreak of gastrointestinal diseases triggered by e. Coli due to the lack of safe, potable water (1). In 2012 as a result of Hurricane Sandy, more than 690 wastewater and drinking water utilities in 11 states were compromised (2). In 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused significant and lasting damages to southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas. In the wake of the storm, safe and clean drinking water quickly became a major concern as the public drinking water supplies in many areas had been compromised and contaminated when floodwater inundated reservoirs (1). And most recently, Hurricane Ida, which made landfall on Aug. 29, 2021, left water systems with severed pipes, broken treatment units, and power outages. In New Orleans, the Sewerage and Water Board asked residents to conserve water to prevent sewage backups (3). Around 642,000 people remained without access to clean water, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Intensified by climate change, Hurricane Ida is one of the strongest storms on record to hit the Gulf Coast. Underlying the immediate devastation is the fact that Louisiana has one of the worst water systems in the country, which has left it vulnerable to storms like Ida. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, gave the state’s drinking water system a D- in a recent infrastructure report card (4). Nearly 60 percent of Louisiana’s water systems—1,335—are more than half a century old (4). Most of these systems are chronically underfunded, according to the ASCE, creating threats to water quality. The pre-existing fragility of Louisiana’s water systems creates a situation in which, as demonstrated by Hurricane Ida, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales from dysfunctional to full-blown shutdowns. Roughly 30 percent of state parishes are at risk of saltwater intrusion into their wells and aquifers.


But the problems go beyond power and pipelines. With rising sea levels, approximately 30 percent of the state parishes are at risk of saltwater entering the wells and aquifers where they source their water, according to ASCE’s 2017 report card.


Finding long-term solutions to the state’s water woes will not be easy, but experts say funding is a must. Conservation and creating a water resource management plan can help.


(1) “Hurricanes and Flooding Effect on Drinking Water.” Clearwater Systems, 11 Sept. 2018, www.clearwatersystems.com/how-hurricanes-and-major-flooding-affect-drinking-water.


(2) Postiff, Michelle. “How Do Hurricanes Affect Water Quality?” Connect For Water, 9 Sept. 2021, www.connectforwater.org/how-do-hurricanes-affect-water-quality.


(3) Walton, Brett. “Hurricane Ida Damages Louisiana Water Systems, Cuts Water Service.” Circle of Blue, 1 Sept. 2021, www.circleofblue.org/2021/world/hurricane-ida-damages-louisiana-water-systems-cuts-water-service.


(4) Rubiano A., María Paula. “Hurricane Ida Left a Huge Water Crisis in Its Wake.” Mother Jones, 10 Sept. 2021, www.motherjones.com/environment/2021/09/hurricane-ida-unsafe-drinking-water-crisis-new-orleans-louisiana.


Cover Photo from AP



Kiribati is an island country made up of a chain of 33 islands in Oceania (the central Pacific Ocean). Though picturesquely beautiful and rich in unique cultures, the country is one of the first to suffer from the damage that climate change has done to our world. Ice caps, ice sheets, and glaciers are all melting due to climate change, causing rising oceans that threaten an island nation like Kiribati since most of their islands are less than seven feet above sea level (1). Already, two of their islands Abanuea and Tebua Tarawa are under water — they became fully submerged in 1999. Though neither of these islands were inhabited, Tebua Tarawa was popular with fishermen, who now can no longer take advantage of the island. Storm surges are another problem. The sea water that washes ashore during storms floods houses and kills crops. Kiribati soil is not very fertile or accommodating for agriculture as it is, and the salt from storm surges only makes it worse.


Climate change is also causing coral bleaching in the ocean — which in turn causes the fish population to decline — and spoils Kiribati’s fresh water sources. Fish are the main source of protein for the people of Kiribati; with their agricultural prospects looking bleak and their main source of protein diminishing, the people of Kiribati are running out of food. With less access to fresh water, health problems are growing. Typhoid fever, diarrhea, dengue fever, malaria, and leptospirosis are some of the most prominent diseases commonly found in places negatively impacted by climate change. Citizens have tried to build walls made of coral rocks in an attempt to keep the sea water out, but they are ruined in the high tide. The islands of Kiribati will not last much longer, and drastic changes need to be made if the islands are to be saved.


The government and citizens of Kiribati are working to find solutions to their imminent problem. Residents have started to take simple actions, such as moving towns farther inland and planting mangrove trees to keep storm surges at bay. However, these actions alone are not enough. One solution is to build houses on large floating platforms. The problem with this idea is that it would cost around $2 million (2). Considering that the cost of building floating platforms exceeds Kiribati’s GDP (2), this plan is not feasible. At this point, the best solution is to relocate elsewhere. Kiribati’s government bought land in Fiji and currently uses it to grow crops; they also plan to use it as a place to evacuate Kiribati’s citizens if the country does become submerged. The New Zealand government has also opened its borders and allows 75 (3) Kiribatians to migrate there per year.


The most unfair part of this entire situation is that Kiribati only contributes about 0.6% (4) of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, yet they are disproportionately being affected by climate change. While Kiribati is the one of the first countries to be harmed, it is only a matter of time before more countries are hurting. If climate change continues on its current path, cities as far inland as Los Angeles and London will eventually become submerged as well. Kiribati has joined with other island countries to fight climate change and are openly pushing for policies that cut down on the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted. Kiribati is working to save their islands, but they cannot do it alone. They need the support and cooperation of everyone. Climate change is not a problem that people can solve individually, we all need to work together to fight it.



(1) “Effects of climate change in Kiribati”. The World Bank, uploaded by The World Bank, 8 August 2021.

(2) Iberdrola, n.d., para. 8

(3) Iberdrola, n.d., para. 9

(4) Iberdrola, n.d., para. 6


Cover Photo: BBC Future




Do you know what the biggest salt lake in the western hemisphere is? It’s the Great Salt Lake, located in northwestern Utah. Unfortunately, the Great Salt Lake is drying up. The lake grows and shrinks in response to wet years and dry years, but it is at its lowest point in history this year. Usually, the Great Salt Lake gains about two feet of water per year; this year, it has only gained about six inches (McKay, 2021, para. 2). One major reason for this is that Utah’s population is growing, which increases the demand for water. Because there are more people and thus a greater demand for resources, more water is rechanneled away from the Great Salt Lake for use in cities. Climate change, causing hotter, dryer weather, is another reason for the lake drying up.


The Great Salt Lake drying up is a big problem for multiple reasons. The lower water levels of the salt lake hurts the $2 billion mineral extraction, brine shrimp, and cyst harvesting industries (McKay, 2021, para. 2). The tourism industry has also been hit hard by the Great Salt Lake (GSL) drying up, especially since the lake is a major tourist destination. Besides industry and tourism, Utah’s wildlife and residential populations are suffering due to the lack of water.


The Great Salt Lake is a unique and important ecosystem. It has an abundance of brine shrimp and brine flies, which are a nutritious food source for birds. The Great Salt Lake is also located along the path of a migratory trail for birds called the Eastern flyway—up to ten million birds gather at the Great Salt Lake each year (The Nature Conservancy, 2021, Part 1 para. 7). These birds use the Great Salt Lake for many different purposes: some birds use it as a breeding ground, others use it as wintering grounds, and still others use it as a break on their migration journey. No matter what the birds use the lake for, it is a means of survival to them, and if it disappears, their chance of surviving migration decreases significantly. While the birds are able to acclimate to different lake levels, it’s only so much. Changing lake levels cause changes in the birds’ feeding and breeding grounds. For example, nests that used to be protected by the water are now vulnerable to predators. Additionally, when the water levels decrease, the salinity of the Great Salt Lake increases. While the organisms living in the GSL are adapted to a certain level of salinity, they are not able to tolerate too much salinity. Some of the species that the birds eat are impacted and/or killed by the higher salinity level, causing increased competition for food among birds. The Great Salt Lake is an essential habitat for migrating birds and its lowered water level is already having consequences.


Brine shrimp are a species of tiny shrimp that live in the Great Salt Lake. Cysts are what their dormant eggs are called. Each year about 9,000 tons of brine shrimp cysts are harvested from the Great Salt Lake (The Nature Conservancy, 2021, Part 2 para. 12). Then, they are shipped to hatcheries all over the world to feed fish and shrimp that we eat. Close to 40% of the world’s stock of brine shrimp eggs come from the Great Salt Lake (The Nature Conservancy, 2021, Part 2 para. 12). The problem is, the rise in the salinity of the GSL threatens the lives of the brine shrimp. If the lake keeps drying up, it will keep getting saltier, which will eventually kill them off. This cannot be allowed to happen, not only for the sake of hatcheries, but for the sake of the ecosystem they support.


Another concern with the Great Salt Lake drying up is the release of the dust particles the lake used to cover. What used to be the lakebed becomes dust particles so tiny that they can get into a person’s nose, lungs, and throat. Once inside, they can cause cancer, heart attacks, asthma, bronchitis, and cardiac arrhythmias. These are serious health problems that can be prevented. At this rate, the Great Salt Lake will eventually need to be refilled in order to prevent the dust particles from getting out of control. This would be an expensive process. Owens Lake in California had to be refilled for the same purpose, and it cost more than two billion dollars (The Nature Conservancy, 2021, Part 2 para. 6). Refilling the Great Salt Lake would cost even more because the GSL is 16 times bigger than Owens Lake (The Nature Conservancy, 2021, Part 2 para. 6). This is a costly solution to a preventable problem.


Fortunately, people are starting to realize the importance of the Great Salt Lake. Different environmental groups are raising awareness of the problem and educating younger generations on the importance of the lake, and Utahns are becoming more conscious of their water usage. We still have a long way to go, but if we all pitch in, we can start reversing the damage done to the Great Salt Lake.


Sources:

  1. https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/utah/stories-in-utah/will-we-save-the-great-salt-lake/

  2. https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2021/07/utahs-great-salt-lake-is-officially-at-its-lowest-point-in-recorded-history/

Cover Photo: inhabitat.com