Supreme Court will make historic Clean Water Act ruling

March 4, 2019 by  
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This Fall, the Supreme Court will make a monumental decision on whether the Clean Water Act prohibits groundwater pollution. The upcoming case is in response to a 2018 verdict in Hawaii, which ruled that a wastewater facility needed a Clean Water Act permit to inject treated wastewater into ground wells. The ruling will have national implications about what constitutes direct water pollution with two possible and controversial outcomes: either creating a massive loophole for major polluters or drastically expanding the Clean Water Act to include infinite sources of non-direct pollution. “This is the most significant environmental law case in the last few year,” former Head of the Justice Department’s Environment Division, John Cruden, told E&E News . First, what is groundwater? According to the U.S. Geological Survey , ground water is water that is beneath land surface. It is water that fills pores and fractures in sand, soil and rocks. Groundwater supplies 40 percent of water used by the public and 39 percent of water used in U.S. agriculture. It also feeds into bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and the ocean. Related: Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity What is the Clean Water Act? Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has been the main federal law governing the health of the country’s waterways. The Clean Water Act explicitly covers all navigable bodies of water. This definition has been up to judicial interpretation, but widely includes ocean, rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, arguably including bodies of water that fill after heavy rains. The Clean Water Act channels federal funding to state and Tribal governments for water protection and remediation projects. Direct polluters are also required by the Act to obtain permits for any pollution discharged into bodies of water. The pollution case in Hawaii Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Maui was in violation of the Clean Water Act and needed a permit for its ongoing practice of injecting 3 to 5 million gallons of treated wastewater into the ground every day. In 2011, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study used tracer dye to prove that treated sewage was seeping out into coastal waters near Kahekili Beach. In 2012, a coalition of environmental advocacy organizations sued the treatment facility in order to protect nearshore coral reef. In 2018, the Court determined that because of its traceability, this case was considered direct pollution and therefore required a Clean Water Act permit. “If the Supreme Court reverses the lower courts’ decisions, chemical plants, concentrated animal feeding operations, oil refineries, and other industrial facilities would effectively have free rein to discharge pollutants indirectly into the nation’s waterways without Clean Water Act permits,” Earth Justice said in a statement reported in USA Today . However, the County of Maui argues that this is their most environmentally friendly option given limited resources and that they would need more time and funding to explore alternate methods of disposing of wastewater, such as offshore facilities.The County believes such issues should be determined at a local level, where judges understand the constraints. “We all want unpolluted waters, healthy coral and fish. But we want workable solutions, not onerous and costly government red tape. This is a home-rule issue that should be addressed here, not by far-off regulators imposing rules that don’t properly address our real world problems,” Maui County spokesperson Brian Perry said to the Lahaina News . Have other courts ruled on groundwater pollution? This is not the first time a local court has had to make a decision on indirect versus direct groundwater pollution and the Clean Water Act. In fact, USA today reports that in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in South Carolina ruled that an oil spill from a burst pipeline was in violation of the Clean Water Act because the oil seeped through groundwater and entered bodies of water such as the Savannah River. However, in 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky ruled that pollutants from a coal ash pond that entered groundwater was not in violation of the Clean Water Act because groundwater does not fall under “navigable waters”. The Supreme Court has important decisions to make both about state versus federal jurisdiction and also about the possibilities of discharging pollution into groundwater. If the Supreme Court rules against the local decision, environmentalists believe this would give polluters free reign to contaminate the country’s important water sources. If it upholds the local decision, municipalities worry they will be inundated with costly changes to infrastructure as well as open targets for lawsuits for everything from road runoff to leaky water fountains. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the County of Maui, Hawaii versus Hawaii Wildlife Fund in October or November, 2019. Via The Lahaina News Image via Shutterstock

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Supreme Court will make historic Clean Water Act ruling

Indonesia builds a resilient "living shoreline"

March 4, 2019 by  
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The Demak District on Indonesia’s most populous island of Java is four years into a five-year plan to restore its disappearing and degraded shoreline. In a collaborative and holistic approach to nature restoration and sustainable development, local and international partners successfully completed many integrated components to build back the shoreline. This “ Living Shoreline ” vision creates natural defenses against further erosion while increasing economic opportunities for coastal residents. Why is Indonesia vulnerable to climate change? Small islands around the world are experiencing erosion and sea level rise . In Demak, severe erosion is coupled with subsidence — the gradual sinking or caving-in of land. These risks have been attributed to three interrelated and man-made causes: Unsustainable development along the coast The island of Java and the district of Demak are important economic hubs for Indonesia, a country comprised of over 17,000 islands. As the city’s population grows, its urban footprint spreads into natural and coastal areas at unsustainable rates and with little time for developers to consider the ecological impact. Increased urbanization, in the pursuit of economic development, has led to a rise in emissions, pollution and degradation. Cutting down mangroves for shrimp farms Indonesia is the world’s second largest shrimp producer  and home to the largest mangrove forest in the world. In addition to logging and pollution, the Food and Agriculture Organization lists shrimp aquaculture as one of the major causes of mangrove loss in Indonesia. Despite the importance of this coastal habitat as a nursery and breeding ground for shrimp and other species, entrepreneurial farmers are rapidly cutting down mangroves to make way for more aquaculture ponds. Over-extraction of groundwater Rising urban populations and the construction of new development projects are using Java’s groundwater supply faster than it can be replenished naturally. Overdrawing of water has caused some areas of the coastal district to sink at alarming rates of up to 8 centimeters every year. Sinking causes serious risk for infrastructure such as roads, buildings and homes and puts lives in danger. See how the project vision compares to Wetland International’s prediction of flooding , erosion and evacuation along the same coast. Permeable dams build back the shoreline In response to these vulnerabilities, the Building with Nature Project installed resilience-building green infrastructure. First, the team of interdisciplinary partners and local groups constructed nearly 3 miles (4.7 km) of permeable dam structures with bamboo and brushwood. These partially submerged structures trap sediment from coastal erosion but allow water to pass freely. Over time, these structures collect and build back shorelines, which provides a stable coast for mangroves to regrow. The growth of new mangroves and their interconnected web of roots further fortifies the coast. Related: Indonesia unveils first zero-waste restaurant build with sustainably sourced materials In January 2019, the project partners officially handed over the maintenance of the permeable dams to local community groups. This hand-off is an effort to make the project sustainable and community-owned after the project funding runs out. Though project managers assisted community members with training and outreach to seek further funding from local and regional governments, it remains to be determined how the future maintenance of project infrastructure will be sustainably financed and managed. Shrimp farming sustainably The project also worked with shrimp farmers to introduce sustainable aquaculture  practices. According to the project website , over 422 hectares of ponds have benefited from environmentally friendly practices, and farmers surveyed reported that their income tripled as a result. Seventy hectares of damaged ponds have also been designated for potential mangrove restoration. Community and policy dialogues are underway to address persistent groundwater issues in an effort to integrate new development with the project’s living shoreline vision. The project is unique in its multi-year, multi-sector approach that integrates many environmental and economic approaches to sustainable development. While the longevity and sustainability of the project are still unknown, other cities and small islands are looking to the Building with Nature Project for examples of comprehensive coastal resilience strategies. The Building with Nature Project is a collaboration between an extensive collection of local and international partners, including EcoShape, Wetlands International, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Public Work and Human Settlement, Witteveen + Bos, Deltares, Wageningen University, UNESCO-IHE, Von Lieberman, the Diponegoro University and local community groups. The project is funded by the Dutch Sustainable Water Fund, The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), Waterloo Foundation, Otter Foundation, Topconsortia for Knowledge and Innovation and Mangroves for the Future. Images via Dion Hinchcliffe , Wave Haven Bali , Stephen Kennedy  and Shutterstock

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Indonesia builds a resilient "living shoreline"

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