If you had a leak in your roof or in the kitchen or basement, you’d probably think it a good idea to have it taken care of before matters got worse, and more expensive. 

If only we had the same attitude when it comes to the vast and intricately linked water systems in the United States. Most of us take clean and readily available water for granted. But the truth is that the nation’s water systems are in sorry shape — deteriorating even as the population grows and demand increases.

Aging and corroded pipes are bursting somewhere every couple of minutes. Dilapidated sewer systems are contaminating waterways and drinking water. Many local systems are so old and inadequate — in some cases, so utterly rotten — that they are overwhelmed by heavy rain.

As Charles Duhigg reported in The Times last March: “For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.”

There is, of course, no reason for this to be the case. If this were a first-class society we would rebuild our water systems to the point where they would be the envy of the world, and that would bolster the economy in the bargain. But that would take maturity and vision and effort and sacrifice, all of which are in dismayingly short supply right now.

Improving water systems — and infrastructure generally, if properly done — would go a long way toward improving the nation’s dismal economic outlook. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, every dollar invested in water and sewer improvements has the potential to increase the long-term gross domestic product by more than six dollars. Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created if the nation were serious about repairing and upgrading water mains, crumbling pipes, water treatment plants, dams, levees and so on.


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The temperature reading was a new scrap of information in the effort to answer one of the most urgent — and most widely debated — questions facing humanity: How fast is the world’s ice going to melt?

Scientists long believed that the collapse of the gigantic ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica would take thousands of years, with sea level possibly rising as little as seven inches in this century, about the same amount as in the 20th century.

But researchers have recently been startled to see big changes unfold in both Greenland and Antarctica.

As a result of recent calculations that take the changes into account, many scientists now say that sea level is likely to rise perhaps three feet by 2100 — an increase that, should it come to pass, would pose a threat to coastal regions the world over.

And the calculations suggest that the rise could conceivably exceed six feet, which would put thousands of square miles of the American coastline under water and would probably displace tens of millions of people in Asia.

The scientists say that a rise of even three feet would inundate low-lying lands in many countries, rendering some areas uninhabitable. It would cause coastal flooding of the sort that now happens once or twice a century to occur every few years. It would cause much faster erosion of beaches, barrier islands and marshes. It would contaminate fresh water supplies with salt.

In the United States, parts of the East Coast and Gulf Coast would be hit hard. In New York, coastal flooding could become routine, with large parts of Queens and Brooklyn especially vulnerable. About 15 percent of the urbanized land in the Miami region could be inundated. The ocean could encroach more than a mile inland in parts of North Carolina.

Abroad, some of the world’s great cities — London, Cairo, Bangkok, Venice and Shanghai among them — would be critically endangered by a three-foot rise in the sea.

Climate scientists readily admit that the three-foot estimate could be wrong. Their understanding of the changes going on in the world’s land ice is still primitive. But, they say, it could just as easily be an underestimate as an overestimate. One of the deans of American coastal studies, Orrin H. Pilkey of Duke University, is advising coastal communities to plan for a rise of at least five feet by 2100.

“I think we need immediately to begin thinking about our coastal cities — how are we going to protect them?” said John A. Church, an Australian scientist who is a leading expert on sea level. “We can’t afford to protect everything. We will have to abandon some areas.” 


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Neighborhood Parks Council (NPC) was awarded $175,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to heighten local community involvement in the execution of the Blue Greenway through a Brownfields Area–wide Planning process. The Blue Greenway is San Francisco's vision for 13-miles of waterfront parks and trails running from the Giants' AT&T Park to Candlestick Point. Since 2003, NPC has advocated for this "green" corridor of activity, relaxation, and discovery along the Southeast shore of the city. Today the Blue Greenway gets one crucial step closer to becoming a reality.

Citywide momentum has been building on the Blue Greenway project over the last decade. San Franciscans' desire for a world-class waterfront along the eastern shoreline launched the Blue Greenway vision and led NPC to create a Task Force of more than 50 NGOs and government agencies to transform idea of the Blue Greenway into reality. This vision stresses contiguous waterfront revitalization that will include bike trails, parks, and other recreational opportunities that improve human and environmental health and neighborhood vitality. NPC's advocacy efforts also led to the adoption of the 2008 Parks Bond, which granted $22 million to the Port of San Francisco for several Blue Greenway projects now being planned for Port property.

"San Francisco is re-envisioning and revitalizing our Southeastern waterfront to create a Blue Greenway for future generations to enjoy," said Mayor Gavin Newsom. "Through the vision of the Port of San Francisco, the stewardship of the Neighborhood Parks Council, and support of the Environmental Protection Agency, this grant brings us another step closer towards realizing our vision of 13 miles of majestic waterfront parks and trails."

The geographic area of focus of NPC's Area-Wide Plan will include brownfield-impacted land currently not funded for remediation along the Blue Greenway alignment in Bayview, and India Basin. These neighborhoods represent the historical industrial heart of the city and are plagued by Brownfields, areas of containing industrial waste and toxins.

With the support of the EPA's Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program, NPC will facilitate local engagement in area-wide planning of the Blue Greenway for the revitalization of the brownfield-impacted community of Southeastern San Francisco.  "EPA is excited to initiate this new program to help residents more fully participate in planning efforts in brownfields-impacted communities," said Jane Diamond, Director of EPA's Pacific Southwest Regional Superfund Division.  "With a combination of grant funding and technical assistance, EPA looks forward to seeing the results of the community's participation in the planning and development of the Blue Greenway in San Francisco."  

Drawing upon expertise from the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR), EPA funding will also be used to generate an area-wide plan with the community that will address how to remediate and transform 5-10 areas along the Blue Greenway that continue to have negative health and safety impacts for adjacent low-income neighborhoods.

"The Blue Greenway project will completely transform our city, making the southeastern waterfront a world-class recreation destination that connects us to nature and creates a unique trail corridor for bikers, pedestrians, kayakers and others," Meredith Thomas, NPC Executive Director said. "To successfully implement this vision, we need to have strong leadership that will engage local residents in planning. Neighbors understand best what their communities need to become more green and prosperous."  

The NPC-led engagement process will give the neighbors an opportunity to express their open space, park and recreation needs.

CCLR is excited to be partnering with NPC on this important initiative designed to support a full community process for the development of parks and open space along our long neglected southeastern waterfront. CCLR will bring its expertise in the redevelopment of contaminated land having assisted hundreds of communities across the state with the clean up and revitalization of historically-neglected and environmentally-challenged property.

"In our work we witness the devastating effect that contaminated land can have on the landscape. The very existence of these neglected properties shrouded in some toxic mystery can have a suffocating effect on a community's sense of worth. We have also seen first-hand how the revitalization of these sites can breathe new life into old properties and lift the community spirit. We hope to bring this revitalization process to the southeastern waterfront," said Stephanie Shakofsky, Executive Director, CCLR.

The area-wide planning process will leverage existing efforts to identify and reduce threats to human health and the environment, and will facilitate assessment and revitalization of brownfields in the target area by identifying site-specific reuses for them. The plans will integrate site cleanup and reuse into coordinated strategies to lay the foundation for addressing community needs such as economic development, job creation, housing, recreation, and education and health facilities.


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Out-of-state interests working to defeat a bill to ban plastic bags were among the top spenders on lobbying to influence California legislators' votes this summer.

South Carolina-based plastic bag manufacturer, Hilex Poly Co., was the state's second-biggest spender, paying about $1.08 million for lobbying activities between July 1 and Sept. 30.

Number four on the list was the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, of which Hilex is a member.

Both Hilex and the council joined forces in a furious effort to defeat a bill that would have made California the first state to ban plastic grocery carry-out bags.

The chemistry council spent more than $942,000 on lobbying during this same period, according to the most recent reports filed with the California Secretary of State's Office.

Together, the council and Hilex invested more than $2 million in lobbying just as legislators were ending their session this year on Aug. 31.

The joint lobbying effort surpassed that of the California Teachers Association,  the No. 1 spender.

The CTA, a perennial big gun in state politics, spent $1.5 million on lobbying between July 1 and Sept. 30.

The Western States Petroleum Association came in third, with about $1.01 million in lobbying expenditures.

The plastic-bag bill fell short of enough votes in the state Senate the last night of the session.

The chemistry council also worked to kill a bill this summer that would have banned the chemical BPA in baby bottles and toddlers' sippy cups sold in California.

Hilex's burst of lobbying payments this summer was especially noteworthy. The company had no record of spending earlier this year.

As likely action on the paper-bag bill grew closer, Hilex paid $181,000 in fees to Sacramento-based Mercury Public Affairs and nearly $903,000 in "other payments to influence."

At the same time, the chemistry council spent $942,050 of its own, including $862,118 in "other payments to influence," which can include purchasing ads.

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The U.S. Environmental Projection Agency (EPA) has issued a subpoena to Halliburton (NYSE: HAL), following the company's refusal to fully comply with a request for information about the chemicals used in its hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) process for natural gas extraction. 

EPA said Halliburton is the lone holdout, among nine companies from which the agency requested information.

EPA’s congressionally mandated hydraulic fracturing study will look at the potential adverse impact of the practice on drinking water and public health. The agency is under a deadline to provide initial results by the end of 2012 and the thoroughness of the study depends on timely access to detailed information about the methods used for fracturing, EPA said.

According to a MSNBC report, a Halliburton spokeswoman, Teresa Wong, said the agency's request, made in September, was overly broad and could require the company to prepare about 50,000 spreadsheets.

"We have met with the agency and had several additional discussions with EPA personnel in order to help narrow the focus of their unreasonable demands so that we could provide the agency what it needs to complete its study of hydraulic fracturing," Wong said.


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