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Join Us at the Mitigation Banking Conference

Great Ecology is excited to exhibit at the 2014 Mitigation Banking Conference in Denver – May 7-9.

Come meet our team of expert mitigation consultants including, President, Dr. Mark Laska, Senior Ecologists Dr. Puja Batra and William Coleman, and Ecologists George Patten and Joshua Eldridge. See you all in Denver at booth #17!

Learn more about our mitigation banking services, ranging from project strategy to long-term stewardship.

2014 Mitigation Banking Conference Booth

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The Everglades: Seen from the Tamiami Trail

By: Colleen Tuite

Strike out west from Miami on Route 41, historically known as the Tamiami Trail. Pass through the jungle of overpasses and freeways, which then smoothes into a sea of urban sprawl – strip malls and Best Buys. Keep moving. The sprawl ends, suddenly, and gives way to something even more ominous: a forest.

Melaleuca forestThese are Melaleuca and Australian Pine trees, planted extensively in the 20th century as a method to drain what was considered to be the unsightly and murky swamp we now call Everglades National Park.

Introduced from Australia in 1902 by the USDA, Melaleuca quinquenervia was considered a godsend: for the hand-wringing public officials of the 19th and early 20th century, convinced wetlands brought nothing but disease; for the U.S. military, charged with eradicating the indigenous Seminole people from their home; and for developers, looking to fabricate buildable and arable land. Deep roots pump up thousands of gallons of the so-called “miasmatic and malaria-filled” water which fuels the Everglades wetland system, effectively sucking it dry. By the 50s, it was understood that the rapid growth and ecosystem changes wrought by the Melaleuca may not bode well, but planting continued through the 70s, creating over 500,000 acres of water draining monoculture.

Forest of dead Melaleuca trees Continue your drive west, and eventually the forest opens to a grassland, punctuated by the skeletons of hundreds of dead Melaleuca trees. Now considered an invasive, Melaleuca is being controlled by quarantining, herbicides, and biological agents such as weevils. In the past 20 years the acreage covered by Melaleuca has been cut in half, with the intention of restoring native plants and habitat.

Press on and the landscape widens into a vast grassland. Canalization of the EvergladesNotice that you are now driving alongside a canal – and slowly realize that the road you are traveling on is bisecting the flow of surface water through the Taylor Slough drainage system and into the Glades, effectively choking the system of much needed freshwater recharge. Instead of replenishing freshwater in the wetlands to the south, this captured water is diverted to be used for irrigation. Between the 1950s and 60s, over 1400 miles of canals were constructed for both flood control and to capture water for use in cities and agriculture.

The canalization of the Glades has created the Everglades Agricultural Area – an artificial oasis of farms, nurseries and roadside markets just above the protected boundary of the National Park. The willful mismanagement of this area began in the 1920s, with the dumping of manganese sulfate into the then-wetland to encourage agriculture. Water trucksThe tradition continues today: while the Glades remain starved for freshwater, here one can observe fields being irrigated by trucks cheerfully spraying thousands of gallons of water into the air – a demonstration of what has to be the least efficient method of watering possible.

Agriculture is a major culprit for diminished water quality in the Glades. Not only does decreased freshwater increase salinity, but runoff water from the farms that does make it into the wetland is often loaded with fertilizers and petrochemicals. Legislation in the early 90s has helped control levels of phosphorous, but mercury levels remain a concern, especially as it bioaccumulates in larger (often already endangered) animals, such as panthers.

For the past 20 years, a program called the Central and South Florida Project Restudy has been operating to create a comprehensive recovery plan for the Everglades. However, it’s difficult to undo almost two centuries of mismanagement/ willful destruction, especially now that industries in the region depend on the denial of resources to the Glades. However, over 36,000 acres of artificial wetlands have been created to capture stormwater, filter phosphorous from runoff, and recharge the Everglades, including a 16,000-acre site which takes home the title as the largest constructed wetland in the world. More recently, some canals have been rebuilt in order to allow water to flow back where it belongs.

Looking ahead at the future of the Everglades, it’s clear that after centuries of mismanagement and neglect, this unique ecosystem will never return to its pre-1800s condition. But that’s ok – South Florida is now a rich mosaic of nature and culture that will remain linked. Opportunities exist to restore ecological functionality to the Everglades, while still allowing for human needs within the landscape, such as farming and recreation. Constructed wetlands are the first step in creating a shared ecosystem between agriculture and nature. The removal and reconstruction of canals and levees to restore water flow into the Glades need not be the end of fishing – these popular spots can be mitigated by introducing fishing into the constructed wetlands, and by creating artificial lakes which double as freshwater storage during seasonal flooding. By understanding and designing to meet these layered needs, an ecologically and culturally complex and resilient landscape is possible.

Mangroves

Mangroves and nesting pelicans in the Everglades

References:
Carter-Finn, Katherine, Alan W. Hodges, Donna J. Lee, and Michael T. Olexa. The History and Economics of Melaleuca Management in South Florida. EDIS New Publications RSS. University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Harvey, Rebecca G., William F. Loftus, Jennifer S. Rehage, and Frank J. Mazzott. Effects of Canals and Levees on Everglades Ecosystems: Circular. EDIS New Publications RSS. University of Florida IFAS Extension.


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Marine Ecosystems Battling Oil Impacts

By: Ashley Tuggle

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most active areas for oil drilling in the country. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Gulf accounts for 23% of total crude oil production and the Gulf coast contains over 40% of the oil refining capacity in the country. That much production and refining capacity centered in one region has made the Gulf a prime area for oil-related injuries. Galveston Bay in Texas, alone, has had an average of 285 oil spills annually since 1998.

The March 22 Houston Channel oil spill dumped 170,000 gallons of oil into the ecosystem. Image courtesy of

The March 22 Houston Channel oil spill dumped 170,000 gallons of oil into the ecosystem. Image courtesy of National Geographic Staff.

Most recently, the Houston Ship Channel oil spill on March 22 disrupted not only the Gulf’s ecosystem, but one of the busiest seaports in the nation, gaining national attention for the magnitude of the spill, 170,000 gallons of tar-like oil, and its commercial and environmental impacts. The Channel closed for 4 days and significant injuries to marine and coastal wildlife were reported.

Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, responsible parties must provide compensation for these natural resource injuries on top of the fines related to the spill itself. While the full magnitude of the Channel spill’s impacts is still to be determined, it could be extensive as globally significant important shorebird habitat lining both sides of the waterway. The timing of the spill is especially concerning given that it comes just before peak shorebird migration season when tens of thousands of birds will pass through the area surrounding the Houston Ship Channel.

Compensation for environmental impacts from spills of this size typically comes from habitat restoration or creation. A tool called Habitat Equivalency Analysis can help translate environmental damages to wildlife and habitat into restoration acreage.

Spills from ships and pipelines are not the only culprits for oil impacts in North America’s coastal waters. Widely-publicized major spills like the Houston Ship Channel spill typically account for only 8% of the petroleum inputs into the North American marine ecosystem. Natural seeps, cars, and other land vehicles, along with recreational boats are major contributors to oil pollution in the Gulf. It is death by a thousand paper cuts. None of these impacts are on the scale of oil spills, but taken in sum, they can add up to the more insidious and chronic injuries impacting our oceans.

Natural oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, from the natural seeps. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

Natural seeps contribute the majority of the oil load in North American waters, about 60%. However, bacteria have evolved around these seeps that naturally break down the oil coming from them, which is why it is much more of an issue when an oil spill from a tanker occurs in an area that doesn’t have these seeps or bacteria.

Cars and other vehicles constantly drip oil, further contributing to the problem. Many storm drains lead directly to the nearest water body without treating stormwater. This means that whatever happens to be on the street at the time may impact the nearby aquatic environment. This kind of pulse impact can lead to more chronic problems in the ecosystem as low-level influxes of oil occur continuously.

Recreational boating can result in small-scale spills that may go unnoticed or unreported. Some experts have noted that as many as 80% of small spills from recreational boats go unreported. This makes tracking the chronic impacts and the full magnitude of these types of spills complicated for regulators and researchers. In busy recreational areas, small spills may represent a much greater proportion of the impact from oil than large-scale spills since they occur on a more consistent basis. They may be the main source of oil for areas that have little to no commercial boat traffic or drilling activity.

Regardless of the source of oil, the impacts of spills, acute and chronic, on our marine ecosystems are extensive and an ongoing problem. When planning for restoration in compensation for major spills, the myriad sources of coastal pollution from oil and other sources must be taken into account for an effective habitat design that can withstand and sometimes even help to cleanse these environmental stressors from an ecosystem. Ending all oil spills is probably not possible, but designing restoration to try to combat their impacts is. Understanding the ecology of a system and the processes that make it more resistant and resilient to oil and other stressors can be the deciding factor in the success of a restoration project. With oil spills, large and small, and the other threats to our coastal waters, restoration success is something our marine ecosystems desperately need to survive.

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A river runs through it, again

By: George Patten

An extraordinary ecological restoration effort is currently happening in Mexico, and if the star-studded (and brilliant) public service announcement featuring Will Ferrell, Robert Redford, and Kelly Slater is any indication, recent efforts to revive a dried up portion of the Colorado River delta are, in the words of Ferrell’s character Ron Burgundy, “kind of a big deal”.

for the first time in decades this 70-mile stretch of the Colorado River will flood.  Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

For the first time in decades this 70-mile stretch of the Colorado River will flood. Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Colorado River is one of the most celebrated drainages in the West – forming out of the high Rockies and flowing over 1400-miles through places like the Grand Canyon. But few realize that the river runs dry before reaching its historic delta in the Gulf of California. The 70-mile stretch of river south of the U.S. border once flowed into a rich delta ecosystem, but as a result of numerous pressures on the river’s water supply the delta has become dry and barren.

For the first time in decades the river is coursing its way towards the Gulf thanks to a binational agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. The historic and unprecedented restoration event involves a one-time release or “pulse flow” into the lower reaches of the river in an effort to revive the former ecological conditions of the delta.

Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of George Patten.

Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon. Photo: George Patten.

The Colorado River drains an enormous area in the western U.S. and traverses multiple states before crossing the border into Mexico. The expansive and mostly arid Colorado River watershed is highly influenced by annual snowpack in the northern portion of the basin. The River is also one of the most valued and managed water sources in the western US, with multiple dams and massive engineering projects and serves as a key source of water to multiple western states. Numerous compacts and regulations manage and allocate flows within the river between northern and southern basins, as well as between the U.S. and Mexico – collectively known as the Law of the River. Despite measures to help manage use of the river’s annual flows, increasing demand, impoundments, and periods of drought have contributed to the drying of the river prior to reaching the delta, which has in turn affected the natural ecology of the system.

Water released from the Moreles Dam on the first day of the pulse. Image courtesy of John Fleck.

Water released from the Morelos Dam on the first day of the pulse. Image courtesy of John Fleck.

The terms for the pulse flow were established as part of a binational agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, called Minute 319. The release of the pulse, which began on March 27 and will flood the region with over 100,000 acre-feet of water, mimicking high spring water flows that formerly occurred naturally in the basin.

Several groups are monitoring the status and impacts of the pulse flow, including the effects to ecosystems and wildlife in the Colorado River delta. The high pulse flow is designed to help support establishment of riparian vegetation and trees, such as cottonwoods and willows. Riparian birds and other wildlife are also likely to benefit from the flows through improved habitat and resource availability.

Although the event appears to be one-time, it sets the stage for future conservation efforts and marks a shift in conservation and resource management priorities for the Colorado River basin. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, the pulse is part of a “broad package of cooperative measures for Colorado River water management by the United States and Mexico that protects both countries’ interests in this essential natural resource.”

 

References:

Bureau of Reclamation: Lower Colorado Region – Law of the River. Bureau of Reclamation: Lower Colorado Region – Law of the River. U.S. Department of the Intentior, Mar. 2008.
Colorado River Begins Flooding Mexican Delta. KPBS Public Broadcasting. Ed. Associated Press. N.p., 27 Mar. 2014. Web.
Commission Marks Historic Environmental Flow In The Colorado River. International Boundary and Water Commission United States and Mexico, 27 Mar. 2014. Web.
Postel, Sandra. Monitoring the Pulse of the Colorado River. News Watch. National Geographic, 5 Apr. 2014. Web.
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Understanding and Navigating the Proposed Clean Water Act Update

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed update to the Clean Water Act (CWA) on March 25, 2014. It seeks to clarify the definition and scope of Waters of the United States following the 2006 Rapanos v. United States ruling which narrowed the definition of Waters of the United States. The update addresses certain aquatic resources currently not under CWA jurisdiction, including isolated wetlands, riparian areas, and tributary streams that flow perennially or ephemerally, and provides increased consistency across regional and local agencies in the application of jurisdictional water determinations. If finalized after the 90 day comment period, the update will affect both Section 404 permitting and mitigation requirements significantly impacting future development projects

If passed, there are a lot of changes coming. Great Ecology is focused on staying up to date with the changes. Contact us with any questions regarding how the proposed changes may affect your projects and what you should do in the interim.

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Flooding in the UK Highlights the Need for Resilient Cities

By: Alicia Smith

Massive wave crashing into the sea wall at Ilfracombe, North Devon. Photo courtesy of Paul Grover/Telegraph.

Massive wave crashing into the sea wall at Ilfracombe, North Devon. Photo courtesy of Paul Grover/Telegraph.

This January was the wettest winter recorded in the UK in 250 years highlighting the need for increased storm and flood protection. Gales and tidal surges battered the coast, leaving whole villages under water, crumbling coastal cliffs, eroding beaches and sand dunes, and breaching river banks. The western and southern areas of the UK were the hardest hit and were still saturated after six weeks of heavy rainfall.

The severe weather forced the Environmental Agency to issue its first 2014 red weather warning in February, as strong winds were predicted to reach 100mph. The storms left tens of thousands of homes without power and caused flooding in the Thames Valley, breaking banks along a nearly 62 mile stretch from Oxford to Kingston, in Greater London.In addition, groundwater flooding has been an issue as a result of soil saturation.

By 2050 the frequency of severe flooding across Europe is expected to double, causing potentially a five-fold increase in annual economic losses due to flood damage. Climate change and increase in rainfall are expected to result in a third of the losses, while properties and infrastructure lying in flood prone areas account for the rest.

Given the recent storms, experts from 17 environmental and planning organizations including ecologists, landscape architects, engineers and hydrologists have asked the government to address flooding by creating a flood defense policy for the future. According to one environmental professional, “water management techniques could have helped prevent the effects of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently. Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy.” This could include the use of forestry and land management to hold back the water in the uplands, as well as dredging in the lowlands.

While some protective measures are in place, there are concerns that they are not strong enough to protect against higher frequency and severity storms. The Thames Barrier was built after the flood of 1953, when a surge in the North Sea killed more than 300 people. Today, it still functions as a protective barrier for central London and protects more than 1 million people and £200bn in property values, including historic landmarks and the Underground.

Thames Barrier protects London during high tides. Can it withstand future higher frequency and severity storms? Image courtesy of Halcow.

Thames Barrier protects London during high tides. Can it withstand future higher frequency and severity storms? Image courtesy of Halcow.

Twice a day, the incoming tide from the North Sea rushes towards the ten 3,300 ton steel gates of the Barrier, where water levels can rise and fall by 30 feet. The Barrier prevented catastrophic damage during the December 2013 storm surge-the largest in 60 years,  however rising sea levels are a serious threat. A global study recently concluded there is a 1 in 20 risk that the existing Thames Barrier would not be able to withstand a severe storm event

Flooded London if  Thames Barrier did not exist.  Image courtesy of the Environmental Agency.

The potential effects on central London if there was no barrier during the December 2013 storm surge – the largest in 60 years.
Image courtesy of the Environmental Agency.

Large metropolitan cities, such as London and New York are still struggling to protect themselves from storm surges, severe flooding, and sea-level rise. Hard structures, such as sea walls are effective barriers, but have high costs and can cause have detrimental impacts to the environment. Over the past decade, government policy in the UK largely focused on the widening and dredging of riverbeds to allow the water to flow downstream, however, many are now suggesting other alternatives. Natural buffers, such as tidal marshes, coastal wetlands, barrier islands and other natural ecosystems can provide protection against sea-level rise. Other approaches,  including “rewilding” or planting trees in upland floodplains to hold back and slow down water has been proposed by leading scientists. Projects that work to create a dynamic interface between built and natural buffers are needed worldwide, requiring a multi-disciplinary approach with many organizations involved as well as the political leadership and will to create more resilient cities, coastlines, and agricultural areas.

 

References:
Carrington, Damian. January Was England’s Wettest Winter Month in Almost 250 Years. The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 02 Feb. 2014.
Connor, Steve. Frequency of Severe Flooding across Europe ‘to Double by 2050′. The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 2 Mar. 2014.
Flooding And Erosion Damage Across The UK. Sky News. N.p., 21 Feb. 2014.
Floods Crisis: Is London in Danger? Channel 4 News. Channel 4 News, 10 Feb. 2014.
Harrabin, Roger. Lord Rooker: ‘Planting Trees Could Stop Flooding’. BBC News. BBC News, 23 Jan. 2014.
Marsden, Sam, and Peter Dominiczak. David Cameron Must Lead Planning Revolution to Prevent Future Floods, Say Experts. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 30 Feb. 2014.
Siddique, Haroon, and Matthew Weaver. Red Weather Warnings Issued as 100mph Winds Head towards UK. Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 12 Feb. 2014.
The Government Needs to Call in the Flood Experts. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 21 Feb. 2014. Web.
UK Storms: Mapping the Floods. BBC News. BBC News, 14 Feb. 2014. Web
UK Storms: Homes Left without Power and Travel Disrupted. BBC News. N.p., 13 Feb. 2014.

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Carbon Offset Credits: Tradable Market Goods

By: Marlene Tyner, M.E.S.M.

Exciting news in the fight against climate change and deforestation. In November 2013, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) issued its first set of carbon offset credits for a validated forest conservation project. The Willits Woods Project, located in northern California’s Mendocino County and developed by Coastal Ridges, LLC, generated 1.2 million offset credits based on the amount of carbon stored in its 19,000 acres of forestland. ARB also granted credits to another forest conservation project, located in Maine, which generated almost 250,000 carbon offset credits.1

What are offset credits and why are they important?

Carbon offset credits reflect how much carbon has been taken out of the atmosphere by a human action, rather than put in, allowing those reductions to become tradable market goods. Entities such as private landowners, non-profit organizations, and corporations, can generate carbon offset credits and then sell them to companies who are emitting too much carbon. Companies with high carbon emissions can buy offset credits to effectively “cancel out” some of their emissions.2

The cap and trade market established by California Assembly Bill (AB) 32 regulates over 400 large utility and manufacturing companies with facilities located within the state of California.3 California allows these companies to apply offset credits to 8% of their emissions cap and these offset credits can be generated by actions taken anywhere within the United States. Offset credits are therefore a powerful incentive for companies to conserve forests, either through direct action by generating their own offset credits, or indirectly by purchasing credits generated by an outside entity’s forest project. This is especially true since offset credits cost less than emitting credits (about $9 per offset credit versus $12 per carbon allowance).1,4 Based on these estimated costs, the Willits Woods project generates approximately $3.6 million in potential gross compliance cost savings.

What kind of projects can generate credits?

Forests are widely recognized for their ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. There are three general kinds of forest conservation projects that the ARB will recognize under the U.S. Forest Projects Compliance Offset Protocol:

  • Reforestation
  • Improved Forest Management
  • Avoided Conversion

Reforestation Projects significantly increase forest cover on non-optimal logging land that will not be commercially developed. Efforts to plant trees in historically forested areas that have either experienced 90% or more deforestation or have 10% or less of their original stand biomass remaining6.

Improved Forest Management Projects, such as the Willits Woods Project, increase the amount of sequestered carbon in forests based on recognized sustainable forest management practices. These practices include increasing the rotation time between harvests on timberland, logging fewer trees, or clearing out invasive species or underbrush to optimize the productivity of the forest7.

Avoided Conversion Projects are privately-held forested conservation easements that have demonstrably avoided a significant conversion threat.

The amount of carbon stored in a tree varies depending on the species and its physical characteristics (height, trunk diameter, root mass, etc), which impacts how much carbon is stored in the forest. The ARB therefore uses models and measurements to establish a baseline carbon amount for each forest project. This number acts as a legitimate and validated measure of how much carbon is stored in the forest. This is then used to determine the number of carbon credits issued for the project. Validating the amount of carbon stored in the forest project ensures that all credits traded on the market are standardized and also acts as a deterrent to carbon fraud. The forest project carbon stocks are measured and updated annually.8

While there are many other specific details regarding how forest projects are deemed eligible for offset credits, in general projects must be located in the United States (as opposed to the United Nations’ similar programs, REDD and REDD+, which are aimed at mitigating climate change through conserving tropical forests in developing countries), they must be voluntary, and they must have the quality of additionality. This means that the landowner must actively increase the amount of carbon sequestered in the forest, on a piece of land, relative to the amount the forest would sequester if it were not owned by the landowner. This requirement explains why all the project types involve increasing tree biomass on land either through tree planting or altered stand management techniques.

Producing carbon offset credits with conserved forestland represents a significant opportunity for companies to generate value for their shareholders while meeting their emissions cap requirement or helping to reduce emission penalty fees and creating environmental value. It also allows private landowners to generate revenue from their property while increasing the quality of forest on their land. The Forest Project Offset Protocol represents another way California’s carbon market is generating win-win opportunities for businesses, landowners, and other stakeholders while tackling one of the defining environmental challenges of our time.

Additional information:

References:

  1. “First California carbon offsets approved under Forestry Protocol: Press Release 13-71.” California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board News Release. 2013. State of California.
  2. Samuel, Molly and Laurent Sommer. “Cap-And-Trade 101: How California’s Carbon Market Works.” QUEST: The Science of Sustainability. Science.KQED.org. 9 Nov. 2012.
  3. “Program Links: List of Covered Entities.” Allowance Allocation. California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, 1 Nov. 2013.
  4. Carroll, Rory. “California Issues First Carbon Offset Credits Via Forest Conservation Under Cap-And-Trade Program.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Nov. 2013.
  5. Nabuurs,  G.J.; Masera, O.; Andrasko, K.; Benitez-Ponce, P.; Boer, R. ; Dutschke, M.; Elsiddig, E.; Ford-Robertson,  J.;  Frumhoff, P. ; Karjalainen, T.; Krankina, O.; Kurz, W.A.; Matsumoto, M.; Oyhantcabal, W.; Ravindranath, N.H.; Sanz Sanchez, M.J.; Zhang, X.  2007: Forestry.  In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel  on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  6. Grover, Ellen. “Forest Owner Opportunities in California’s Cap and Trade Program.” Karnopp Petersen LLP. Karnopp Petersen LLP, 23 Jan. 2014.
  7. “Forest Carbon Offsets: Case Studies.” Ecotrust. Ecotrust, 2013.
  8. California. Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board. Compliance Offset Protocol: U.S. Forest Projects. October 20, 2011.
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Water Economics: Managing Supply vs. Demand

By: Alejandro Baladrón Julian

Water supplies have experienced unprecedented pressures as growing populations and economies have increased demand and degraded supplies. As a result, water scarcity has become one of the greatest risks facing the world today and a critical indicator of sustainable growth. Droughts are a recurrent problem worldwide, especially in developing countries such as those located in Latin American and the Caribbean region (LAC).

Water resource needs of Latin American countries

Water scarcity is common across many LAC countries and is expected to increase due to climate change. In addition, access to safe drinking water is still limited to more affluent areas in these regions. As urban areas have expanded so have new water and sanitation infrastructure investments. However rural areas have not experienced the same expansion in infrastructure investments, many of which have limited access to safe drinking water. Improving waste water sanitation systems is current challenge in this region. Approximately 80% of waste water in Latin America is not treated leading to the pollution of rivers and coastal areas.

Map shows.. Image courtesy of

Only 20% of waste water in Latin America is treated.
Image courtesy of the IDB.

Solving water related issues in the poorest and most vulnerable areas in Latin America and the Caribbean region needs important investments in research, water use planning, and construction of hydraulic infrastructures. Organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank play a key role in providing financing and technical assistance to develop projects and strategies in different sectors, including water resource management.

The Inter-American Development Bank and its role in water resource management

Established in 1959, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) supports efforts by LAC countries to reduce poverty and inequality by solving problems, including water resource management problems such as water scarcity, waste water pollution, and flood risk. IDB initiatives aim to address emerging challenges sustainable water resource management to meet present and future water demands, while ensuring the long-term sustainability of the quantity and quality of the water.

Lessons from the past indicate that water projects are more likely to improve water resource management when countries possess the adequate water policies, regulatory frameworks, and efficient enforcement agencies. For this reason, it is critical to evaluate the effectiveness of existing top-level organizations, water legislation and policies, and understand relevant governmental features of each country before creating and implementing water programs.

Managing water resources: a shift from individual projects to an integrated approach

In the past, the IDB focus was project-based, sanitation, hydropower, irrigation and drainage, among others, however, what constitutes good water resources management changes over time. Increasing knowledge of hydrologic systems and how they impact on human life highlight the critical need to implement multipurpose water-related projects, which focus on watersheds as the natural evaluation, planning and management unit, rather than just independent projects focusing on a small part of the water cycle.

Multipurpose projects consider natural and anthropogenic processes affecting the availability of water, the water consumption and the quality of receiving waters in any specific watershed. In addition to consider all the hydrological processes occurring inside watersheds, multipurpose projects analyze strengths and weaknesses of hydrologic systems and constitute a case by case evaluation tool providing solutions tailored to the specific needs of each watershed. Multipurpose projects are especially useful to address long-term water management challenges such as how to provide appropriate water sanitation given population growth, guarantee water supply, or the best approach to make watersheds more resilient to climate change and related processes such as flooding and erosion.

Recent water programs in the IDB

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of the World Bank

The Water and Sanitation Initiative is one of the most recent initiatives aimed to eliminate the coverage gap in water and sanitation services in LACs by emphasizing four programs, 100 Cities Program, Water for 3,000 Rural Communities, Water Defenders and Efficient and Transparent Utilities. Water for 3,000 Rural Communities supports rural communities willing to take responsibility to run their local water and sanitation systems. The program is currently close to reaching its goal of supporting a minimum of 3000 rural communities. Additionally, Water Defenders, designed to provide technical assistance and financing to protect water sources and treat waste water of 20 priority micro-watersheds, has currently surpassed it’s goal and reached 31 micro-watersheds.

Learned lessons related to water management in Latin America and other regions of the world help the IDB and other organizations to create new, more efficient water programs. Focusing on watersheds as the natural planning unit instead of individual water projects is a critical to developing long-term management strategies.

References:

News. World Water Day: Latin America Leads in Water Management but Inequalities in Access Remain. The World Bank, 22 Mar. 2013.
Inter-American Development Bank.
IDB Annual Report: The Year in Review. 2012. Inter-American Development Bank.

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Join Us at the Kentucky ASLA Annual Meeting

Great Ecology is excited to present during this weekend’s Kentucky Chapter ASLA Annual Meeting. Presenters Charlie Howe and Erin Hathaway will be discussing how ecological baseline evaluations of a site can inform design decisions and create dynamic ecological systems. Don’t miss their presentation, Designing for Function and Resiliency: Using Science To Enhance Habitats And Influence Aesthetics, on Saturday March 8.

 

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The Sochi Legacy No One’s Talking About

By: Tyler Nicoll

Image courtesy of Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach.

Image courtesy of Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach.

The Winter Olympics have just wrapped up and we have all returned to our lives without the adrenaline filled races and the entertaining, yet shocking tweets and headlines, but what about Sochi. As the most expensive Olympics to date, with an estimated price tag of $50 billion dollars, this Olympics also leaves another legacy, one of unmitigated environmental impacts.

Building a completely new complex in a remote area with limited existing infrastructure was an ambitious goal and one with countless potential environmental impacts. However, in 2009, Sochi Olympic organizers planned to make these games “the most environmentally sound, the greenest Olympics ever.” A Green Standard for construction was developed and specified sourcing sustainable building materials and corporate sponsors planned to offset the carbon footprint of Games by improving insulation in Russian homes in other parts of the country. While plans were full of good intentions, the construction resulted in significant environmental damage.

Sochi National Park. Image courtesy of Greenpeace.

Sochi National Park. Image courtesy of Greenpeace.

Built in a highly valuable ecological area, some efforts were made to avoid valuable habitat, such as relocating the bobsled run to avoid sensitive areas with rare flora and fauna. However, other projects had significant impacts. Despite an international ranking as a protected area, 6,000-acres of Sochi National Park, the most biodiverse area in Russia, were used to build ski jumps and courses. Ice rinks, roads, and hotels were constructed on reclaimed marshland which served as habitat for migrating birds. Although the government attempted to compensate for the loss of the migratory bird habitat by constructing an “Ornithological Park,” the result was a low quality habitat.

Left: Constructed habitat to replace reclaimed marshland used by migrating birds. Image Courtesy of Alec Luhn. Right: Illegal dumping in the Mzymta River for Olympic construction. Image courtesy of sochiwatch.

Left: Ornithological Park built in attempt to compensate for lost migratory bird habitat. Image courtesy of Alec Luhn.
Right: Illegal dumping in the Mzymta River for Olympic construction. Image courtesy of sochiwatch.

The remote location required the construction of a high-speed railroad, which further impacted the surrounding landscape and local communities in particular through illegal dumping and discharges. Over 1,500 illegal dumping incidents were reported, however with minor enforcements. The Associate Press reports the railway company was only fined $3,000. As a result, the build-up of construction debris and pollutants contaminated the Mzymta River, home to the rare Black Sea Salmon.

Not too long ago water quality headlines shocked everyone. News articles detailed the newly constructed facilities shortfalls experienced by spectators and athletes with discolored and contaminated water coming out of their faucets (and no one can forget the slew of Bob Costas jokes). However, the aftermath and next steps to restore the damages have now faded from public view.

Differences Exposed: Standard Development and Mitigation Practices

The construction of Sochi’s Olympic Village exposed the dramatic differences between construction and environmental standards worldwide. There are a number of strictly enforced regulations that protect the environment and residents from negative effects of development. While Russia may have initially planned to follow examples and adopt similar regulations, a number of issues prevented the implementation. The construction Green Standards and initial promise to replace any trees lost mirror regulations found in the United States and elsewhere.

Prior to development, environmental consultants are enlisted to prove that all measures have been taken to: avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts, in that order respectively. The developer must first demonstrate why certain impacts are unavoidable and reasonably necessary. Second, if impacts must occur, the developer must document the attempt and methods to minimize the impacts. And finally, mitigation must fully offset the impacts from the project. For example, during a development project if any wetlands are impacted, the developer will be responsible for creating or enhancing wetlands nearby to offset the impacts as  stipulated by the Clean Water Act, “no net loss of wetlands.” Russia’s tree replacement promise is similar to the tree replacement regulations in the United States. Local governments generally require planting replacement trees at more than a one-to-one ratio. Furthermore, in New York City, for any city tree cut down, tree restitution must be paid and the dollar amount correlates to ecological value of the tree (e.g. how old is the tree, how rare is the species?). In Sochi’s case, planting a new sapling is not sufficient to replace a mature tree which was cut down.

Initially planned to be the world’s “greenest” Olympic Games, Sochi’s environmental footprint is not the one intended. While the question remains, what now for Sochi, the city and Russia need solutions to address the environmental damages not just the economic and social impacts.

References:
Chance, Matthew. Russia Plans ‘green’ Winter Olympics. CNN. Cable News Network, 11 Dec. 2009.
Diggs, Charles. Sochi Olympic Torch Light to Commemorate Ecological Wasteland — Bellona.org. Bellona, 7 Feb. 2014.
Gillen, David, and Channon Hodge. The Olympics: A Costly Feel-Good Moment. The New York Times, 05 Feb. 2014.
Kramer, Andrew E. Environmental Groups Denounce Arrests of Ecologists Near Olympic Sites. The New York Times, 06 Feb. 2014

 

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