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Lower river levels threaten New Orleans water supply

Another time New Orleans had water problems.

The Mississippi River is near historic low levels from Illinois down to Louisiana, causing something of a problem for the city of New Orleans. From GulfLive.com:

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for Plaquemines Parish as it deals with encroaching salt water that's threatening drinking water in the New Orleans area.

The declaration clears the way for state agencies to offer help to the parish as it deals with its water supply issues. Due to the Mississippi River's low water levels, salt water has been moving far upriver and was at the outskirts of New Orleans by Wednesday, nearly 90 miles north of the mouth of the Mississippi. Also Wednesday, Plaquemines Parish issued an advisory to parish residents that high levels of sodium and chloride were being measured in drinking water.

The river was closed temporarily to shipping traffic as contractors began building an underwater barrier that the Army Corps of Engineers says will stop the advance of salt water. Many communities along the river draw freshwater from the Mississippi with freshwater intakes and water treatment facilities that are incompatible with saltwater caused by the current intrusion.

Read more: Uncategorized

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U.S. CO2 emissions from power production hit 20-year low

Change in carbon dioxide emissions, by year. Click to embiggen. (Image by EIA.)

The story from the Associated Press:

While conservation efforts, the lagging economy and greater use of renewable energy are factors in the CO2 decline, the drop-off is due mainly to low-priced natural gas, the agency said.

A frenzy of shale gas drilling in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale and in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has caused the wholesale price of natural gas to plummet from $7 or $8 per unit to about $3 over the past four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced. As a result, utilities are relying more than ever on gas-fired generating plants.

Both government and industry experts said the biggest surprise is how quickly the electric industry turned away from coal. In 2005, coal was used to produce about half of all the electricity generated in the U.S. The Energy Information [Administration] said that fell to 34 percent in March, the lowest level since it began keeping records nearly 40 years ago.

Important to note: This is only emissions from electricity production, not counting things like transportation. (Here's a somewhat-old graph of contributors to overall emissions.)

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Climate change is messing with tropical fish, people in Australia

Coral. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

The tagline is simple, if oddly capitalized:

Climate Change is changing Australia's ocean environment.

It's the seven-word summary of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) new assessment of how shifts in the climate are affecting the waters around the island nation. The key: that "is," above. This is happening.

Climate change is already happening: Widespread physical changes include rapid warming of the southeast and increasing flow of the East Australia Current. Increasing biological impacts include reduced calcification in Southern Ocean plankton and Great Barrier Reef corals from both warming and acidification.

Since a prior report released in 2009:

There is now striking evidence of extensive southward movements of tropical fish and plankton species in southeast Australia, declines in abundance of temperate species, and the first signs of the effect of ocean acidification on marine species with shells.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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New York’s bike-sharing program gets bumped to 2013

Bad news, New Yorkers: You won't be able to spend the winter biking around Manhattan. At least, unless you have your own ride.

A guy rides his bike kind of near my house. (Photo by Ed Yourdon.)

When we last checked in on efforts to bring 10,000 rentable bikes to the city, the plan had been delayed a month due to software glitches. That was two months ago. This morning, Mayor Bloomberg made it official: no bikes until spring.

[The mayor] said on his radio show today: “Unfortunately there are software issues. The software doesn’t work. Duh. Until it works, we’re not going to put it out.

“We did think there would be a possibility we would have bikes on the streets this summer. We think … this spring. Hopefully the software will work by then.”

Duh, guys. Duh. You can't ride bikes without properly working software. Duh. Everyone knows that.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Was the uprising in Syria exacerbated by climate change?

As the climate shifts, the impacts on any given nation will vary. Some few will see positive changes. Many will be disrupted. That disruption was apparent in the Sudan during the last decade. And now it's being suggested that climate change also played a role in Syria.

In 2007, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post titled "A Climate Culprit in Darfur."

Two decades ago, the rains in southern Sudan began to fail. According to U.N. statistics, average precipitation has declined some 40 percent since the early 1980s. Scientists at first considered this to be an unfortunate quirk of nature. But subsequent investigation found that it coincided with a rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean, disrupting seasonal monsoons. This suggests that the drying of sub-Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming.

It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought. Until then, Arab nomadic herders had lived amicably with settled farmers. A recent Atlantic Monthly article by Stephan Faris describes how black farmers would welcome herders as they crisscrossed the land, grazing their camels and sharing wells. But once the rains stopped, farmers fenced their land for fear it would be ruined by the passing herds. For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out. By 2003, it evolved into the full-fledged tragedy we witness today.

A U.N. report backed that claim, noting a drop in rainfall of 16 to 30 percent, a rise in temperature of about one degree Celsius, and an expected drop in crop yield of as much as 70 percent.

"Syrian protesters living in Lebanon shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar al Assad." (Photo by Syria Freedom.)

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (best known for its Doomsday Clock) echoed the U.N.'s Darfur argument, suggesting that climate may have played a role in the uprising in Syria.

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Even Congress is more popular than the oil and gas industry

There is nothing more to say about Gallup's latest survey of the popularity of business sectors than this: Oil and gas is the least popular industry in America.

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Climate & Energy

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A correction to our article about Paul Ryan

Photo by Toby Alter.

Yesterday, we reported that Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan asked the Obama administration to provide money from the stimulus package to Wisconsin clean energy organizations in 2009.

We regret to announce that the report was in error. Today, Ryan told a reporter in Ohio that he'd never requested stimulus money.

Rep. Paul Ryan told a Cincinnati television station in an interview airing on Thursday that he “never asked for stimulus” money made available by the Recovery Act, contradicting documents that show he advocated for Wisconsin companies that were seeking funds.

“I opposed the stimulus because it doesn’t work, it didn’t work. It brought us deeper into debt. It was about $1.1 trillion when you add the borrowing cost, it put us deeper in debt and further out of work,” Ryan told WCPO in an interview. …

Ryan similarly denied requesting stimulus money in a 2010 interview with WBZ’s Nightside with Dan Rea, The Boston Globe reported.

Here's the clip, via ThinkProgress. Jump to the 3:50 mark.

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Natural-gas well explosion near Denver kills one, injures three

A directional drilling natural gas well northeast of Denver exploded yesterday afternoon.

The accident, which killed one man and injured three others, appears to have been from an unexpected release of high-pressure gas.

From the Denver Post:

A Flight for Life helicopter responded to the well site ... Medical crews performed CPR on the 60-year-old victim but he could not be revived, [sheriff's office spokesman Tim] Schwartz said.

A deputy leaving the scene of the accident Wednesday afternoon said the dead man was from Wyoming. He said two of the workers with minor injuries were taken for treatment in private vehicles. …

The dead man and the two workers who had minor injuries were employed by a company contracted to Encana.

The worker who is hospitalized is an Encana employee.

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Dallas will spray pesticides to quash West Nile outbreak

Honestly, how anyone could not want to kill this thing is beyond me.

Last week, Dallas declared a state of emergency after the city's ninth West Nile death in 2012. Today, that number stands at 16.

As we noted then, West Nile is now present in each of the lower 48 states. As the Guardian notes, 43 states have so far this year reported people, birds, or mosquitoes infected with the virus. But no place is as affected as Dallas.

"Right now, Texas has half the West Nile cases in the nation," Dr David Lakey, the Texas state health commissioner, told local reporters this week. "Dallas County has half of the cases in the state of Texas. So, about a quarter of all the cases in the United States are in this county. So, this isn't business as usual."

According to Texas department of state health services figures, 381 West Nile cases have been confirmed in Texas this year, including 16 related deaths – on track for the most cases since the disease first reached the state a decade ago.

The state's solution is simple, but controversial. Tomorrow night, twin-engine planes will fly over the county, releasing a pesticide called Duet.

Residents are understandably nervous, but local media outlets have put out story after story after story noting that such efforts have not caused notable problems in other areas.

Read more: Uncategorized

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A helpful compendium of all of the recent stories about our friend the drought

OK, so this drought. I made a joke a while ago about how Gristmill could just turn into the all-drought headquarters ha ha ha because the drought was so bad. That was a month ago. Since then, the drought has gotten worse. It's so bad now that the official law office of America should be Drought, Drought & Bobbitt -- which is a real firm in San Antonio. San Antonio's Bexar County, like every other county in Texas, is a disaster area due to drought. (Drought, Drought & Bobbitt is doing its part by representing oil companies.)

Anyway. Here's America, as of yesterday [PDF]!

The latest drought map. It's different from the last one, we promise. (Click to embiggen.)

The red bits are the counties that have been declared disaster areas. It's kind of like that game Pandemic, where everyone sees the plague creeping up on them. "Madagascar County has closed its borders." That sort of thing. Seventeen states have been designated as disaster areas in their entirety, with Illinois and Iowa just succumbing this week. South Carolina is near full contagion; Minnesota is looking south with a tangible sense of concern.

Because the situation is so remorselessly and unrelentingly dire and because there is so much of it, we figured we'd create our own drought-assessment index, which ranks a slew of news stories on several key metrics.

Weather.com: "Drought Rises in Historical Rankings"
Summary: The drought is getting worse, now covering more area than all but four other droughts.
Key quote:

The intensity of this year's drought continued to worsen as well. The percentage of the country in "severe" to "extreme" drought increased from 32.7% in June to 37.6% in July.

In these more serious categories, the 2012 drought grew from the 10th-largest on record in June to the sixth-largest in July, but still trails the 2002 drought in terms of the area covered in severe to extreme drought.

Maps and charts: 4
Images of farmers or crops: 0
Cause for concern (10 being highest): 6

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food