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TEAM BUILDING: Anacostia River Boat Tour

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On July 26, the Nspiregreen team went on the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Anacostia Boat Tour as part of this quarter’s team building. This trip gave us a chance to see first-hand and learn more about the efforts being implemented to improve the health of the river. This was a great experience especially since we have been working on some projects related to the Anacostia River’s cleanup efforts.

The Anacostia River watershed is home to 43 species of fish, some 200 species of birds, and more than 800,000 people. The river flows through Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland and past the Capitol Building in the District. The watershed is approximately 176 square miles and around 25% of its land lies in the District of Columbia. (Source: DOEE, February 15, 2018, EPA)

The Anacostia has been polluted by litter, raw sewage, stormwater runoff, and industrial waste since the 19th Century. However, in the past two decades efforts have been implemented to turn “The Forgotten River” into a “fishable and swimmable” water body as defined by the Clean Water Act. For example, the recently opened DC Water tunnel between the RFK Stadium and the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant is preventing millions of gallons of wastewater from entering the river, thus reducing the levels of bacteria. The District’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) launched the “For a Cleaner Anacostia River” initiative aimed to clean the river sediments contaminated with industrial toxins including polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs).

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Tour Highlights

Below are some highlights of our trip!

Rain, Rain, Rain…

There was a thunderstorm the night before the tour. In fact, this past July was one of the wettest Julys on record! The day we went, the river was yellow-colored and full of broken branches and litter. However, boats were out removing these items. Here is a picture of one of DC Water’s boats cleaning up litter.skimmerboat
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Due to the high levels of precipitation, the river’s water level was really high. For this reason, we were not able to go under the Benning Rd bridge. The water was almost hitting the rail bridge! I heard the area north of this bridge has beautiful scenery and lots of wildlife. We will come back again!

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The River is Improving

The water condition is getting better; wildlife and the levels of subaquatic vegetation have increased. The tour guide also told us that they are testing the use of mussels to clean the water. Fun fact an adult mussel can naturally filter about 10 gallons of water a day!

Bird Nest

 

You Can Also Tour the Anacostia River!

If you want to tour the Anacostia, the Anacostia Watershed Society and the Anacostia Riverkeeper offer guided motorboat and canoe tours free of charge. These tours are funded by the District’s disposable bag fee program.  Tours leave from various locations.

What to bring:

  • Reusable water bottle filled with water (plastic water bottles are not allowed on the boat for environmental protection)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat and sunglasses

 

To learn more, visit https://doee.dc.gov/service/anacostia-river-explorers

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

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Some Thoughts After Traveling to Iceland (Climate Change and Geothermal Energy)

In the past few years, Iceland has become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. So last Thanksgiving, I went to Iceland to see what the big fuss was all about. One of the many tourists draws of Iceland in winter is the promise of venturing off-the-beaten-path to remote, wild, snowy fields. The landscape was filled with wild horses and sheep. You can also find glacial lagoons and geysers erupting as you trek across the country.  After traveling there, my advice is to do yourself a favor by soaking in the Blue Lagoon and enjoy a facial mask. And make sure you view the Northern Lights in the dark!

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Some of the scenes in Game of Thrones (GOT) were filmed in Iceland. One of the scenes of John Snow walking on a glacier, shown in the following pictures, was filmed in Vatnajökull National Park. Another fun fact is that Iceland’s water smells like sulfur almost everywhere on this Island.

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https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/21/16177632/game-of-thrones-season-7-episode-6-recap-fantasy-league

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It is Iceland’s natural beauty that attracts the tourists, but that natural beauty is now threatened by climate change. According to our tour guide, this Vatnajökull  glacier (the biggest glacier in the country) is melting approximately 100 meters (320 ft.) per year, causing sea levels near Iceland to rise. Reports from the Icelandic Government’s Committee on Climate Change (IGCCC) claim that if we don’t do anything to help reduce climate change, Iceland’s glaciers will no longer exist by the next century. During an ice cave tour, the guide told us it is harder and harder to find good ice caves to even see, because melting ice makes the water flowing beneath them very unstable.
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I would say Iceland is a place on earth that doesn’t look like earth. There are about 130 volcanoes on the island–30 of them.  Even though we call it Iceland, it actually more like Fireland or Hotland. Iceland lies in the crack in the Earth’s crust where the North American tectonic plate and Eurasian tectonic plate meet, so while the Earth’s crust slowly tears apart, energy releases—giving Iceland its vast geothermal energy resources. Once scientists discovered this in 1970s, Iceland started capitalizing on this energy resource. According to Ásgeir Margeirsson, CEO of Geysir Green Energy, Iceland citizen save four times cost for heating.

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https://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/nature/geology/geothermal-heat

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http://www.nea.is/geothermal/

Iceland is a pioneer in using geothermal energy all over the world. The country’s geothermal resources come from the dynamic volcano, and several major geothermal power plants produce around 30% of the country’s electricity. One of the most popular places in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon. This is the world biggest man-made lagoon, which is fed by nearby geothermal power, and renew every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow, and used to run turbines that generate electricity.

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There is a lot to learn from Iceland when it comes to adopting clean and alternative energy. Companies such as Tesla . There are many solar energy companies that are taking the lead in powering our homes and automobiles using a cleaner form of energy. Once alternative energy options, such as home solar panels, can be mass-produced cheaply, more people will be inclined to adopt these new technologies. Until then, we can help to fight climate change by eliminating our carbon footprint and choose using green energy.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion for urban and landscape design, she also enjoys looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

More Than Bottled Water

The Contamination of Flint’s Water and the Environment Around You

Without a doubt, the Flint, Michigan water disaster is a catastrophic event that illustrates what happens when negligence, outdated infrastructure and lack of planning collide. Since the crisis came to light, people have rallied about the injustice, donated bottles of water and raised money to support the community. These things are commendable to keep the spotlight on a devastating situation; unfortunately, what’s happening in Flint isn’t shocking to many in the environmental community. Lest we forget that just two years ago there was a massive chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia that contaminated the water supply for over 300,000 people or the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010 which caused irreparable harm to the environment and poor communities across the gulf coast. These are the stories that make the news but poor and marginalized communities are bombarded daily with chronic polluting sources. According to a study published recently in Environmental Research Letters, industrial emitters subject poor communities to extreme amounts of pollution. Furthermore, the Environmental Health News article “Unequal exposures: People In poor, non-white neighborhoods breathe more hazardous particles” highlights air quality issues and associated health impacts that poor and minority communities are exposed to by industrial sources.

What is happening in Flint and other underserved communities across this country is exacerbated by compounding issues such as:

  • Industrial contamination –The majority of industrial polluters are located near poor and marginalized communities. From a historical perspective, this is where land was cheaper and communities lacked political and economic capital to fend off polluters. In many cases, these are/were major sources of employment. Many of these industrial sources release contaminated discharges into the air, land, and nearby water bodies. Even if an industrial source has closed, legacy contaminants persist in the environment.
  • Lack of investment in infrastructure– The Safe Drinking Water Act stopped the use of lead in pipes that carry drinking water in 1986 (30 years ago); however, pipes that have not been replaced since that time still have plumbing or plumbing components that contain lead. Lack of investment in upgrading these systems and not prioritizing them in the areas of greatest need is a real problem.  In nearly every one of his State of the Union addresses, President Obama appealed for more investments in infrastructure. Roads, rail, and bridges are desperately in need of repair; however, buried infrastructure such as pipes must also be a part of the conversation. In fact, the 2013 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card rated America’s drinking water infrastructure with a grade D.
  • Inadequate sustainability planning– While many places are abuzz with “going green,” sustainability is more than changing light bulbs and turning off the water when you’re brushing your teeth. Sustainability includes properly planning for infrastructure improvement and/or replacement as well as reducing and cleaning up pollution. In the midst of the Flint crisis, many people have demanded the pipes be replaced immediately (rightfully so) but proper planning and design can mitigate what can be an engineering nightmare . For communities that are resource strapped, adequate planning is a luxury item so they remain stuck in the need phase until disaster strikes. 

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  • Technology– The need for robust technology and access to information is intensified in the midst of a crisis but many poor communities lack the digital tools. In Flint, the data which would help pinpoint homes and pipes that were most at risk was contained on 45,000 index cards. Maps hadn’t been digitized. Having this information readily available electronically could dramatically increase response time. Less sophisticated communities need assistance to bridge the digital divide.
  • Political Will and Social Inclusion–  Public Safety, unemployment, and poverty often dominate the conversation in poor and marginalized communities; however, the capital improvement plan, emergency management and pollution prevention plans have to be just as important. Investments in infrastructure can help decrease unemployment and create a skilled workforce. It’s critically important to make sure underserved communities are prioritized when funds flow instead of only those with a high tax base. There has to be political will at every stage of government to ensure environmental justice regardless of socioeconomic status. Moreover, social inclusion is important to ensure equitable access to resources.

Back in Flint, water bottles, filters, and volunteers help residents but are only a Band-Aid on a 3rd degree burn. The damage goes much deeper and calls for both immediate action and long term investments in infrastructure. It also calls for funding to assist residents to make the needed pipe replacements in their homes. Water is the source of life for humans. Such a basic human need should be safely available regardless of socioeconomic status. Alas, environmental justice is just one piece in the systematic cycle of poverty and oppression that faces current and future generations of Americans in historically disenfranchised communities. However, environmental issues, though mostly unseen by the naked eye, directly impact public health and safety of residents. Investments in such infrastructure could mean jobs for residents and a lasting positive step for marginalized communities. Furthermore, government accountability, technology upgrades, investment of time and resources and genuine concern for humanity must be prioritized to protect this country’s most vulnerable populations.

Be Informed: Do you want to find out more about what’s happening in your neighborhood? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annually publishes the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) which contains information on industrial chemical releases to air, land and water dating back to 1987. Although this information is self reported by the company, it’s a great tool to understand what’s happening in your community. Access the TRI database by clicking here.


Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of
Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.





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