As climate change and overuse shrink Lake Powell, the emergent landscape is coming back to life – and posing new challenges
Daniel Craig McCool, Prof. Pol. Sci., Univ. of Utah – February 6, 2023
As Western states haggle over reducing water use because of declining flows in the Colorado River Basin, a more hopeful drama is playing out in Glen Canyon.
Lake Powell, the second-largest U.S. reservoir, extends from northern Arizona into southern Utah. A critical water source for seven Colorado River Basin states, it has shrunk dramatically over the past 40 years.
As the water drops, Glen Canyon – one of the most scenic areas in the U.S. West – is reappearing.
This landscape, which includes the Colorado River’s main channel and about 100 side canyons, was flooded starting in the mid-1960s with the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona. The area’s stunning beauty and unique features have led observers to call it “America’s lost national park.”
Lake Powell’s decline offers an unprecedented opportunity to recover the unique landscape at Glen Canyon. But managing this emergent landscape also presents serious political and environmental challenges. In my view, government agencies should start planning for them now.
A tarnished jewel
Glen Canyon Dam, which towers 710 feet high, was designed to create a water “bank account” for the Colorado River Basin. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation touted Lake Powell as the “Jewel of the Colorado” and promised that it would be a motorboater’s paradise and an endless source of water and hydropower.
Lake Powell was so big that it took 17 years to fill to capacity. At full pool, it contained 27 million acre-feet of water – enough to cover 27 million acres of land to a depth of one foot – and Glen Canyon Dam’s turbines could generate 1,300 megawatts of power when the reservoir was high.
Nearly every boat ramp is closed, and many of them sit far from the retreating reservoir. Hydropower production may cease as early as 2024 if the lake falls to “minimum power pool,” the lowest point at which the turbines can draw water. And water supplies to 40 million people are gravely endangered under current management scenarios.
These water supply issues have created a serious crisis in the basin, but there is also an opportunity to recover an amazing landscape. Over 100,000 acres of formerly flooded land have emerged, including world-class scenery that rivals some of the crown jewels of the U.S. national park system.
“On the walls, and back many miles into the country, numbers of monument-shaped buttes are observed. So we have a curious ensemble of wonderful features – carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments … past these towering monuments, past these oak-set glens, past these fern-decked alcoves, past these mural curves, we glide hour after hour.”
Glen Canyon remained relatively unknown until the late 1940s, when the Bureau of Reclamation proposed several large dams on the upper Colorado River for irrigation and hydropower. Environmentalists fiercely objected to one at Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado-Utah border, alarmed by the prospect of building a dam in a national monument. Their campaign to block it succeeded – but in return they accepted a dam in Glen Canyon, a decision that former Sierra Club President David Brower later called his greatest regret.
The first goal of managing the emergent landscape in Glen Canyon should be the inclusion of tribes in a co-management role. The Colorado River and its tributaries are managed through a complex maze of laws, court cases and regulations known as the “Law of the River.” In an act of stupendous injustice, the Law of the River ignored the water rights of Native Americans until courts stepped in and required western water users to consider their rights.
Tribes received no water allocation in the 1922 Colorado River Compact and were ignored or trivialized in subsequent legislation. Even though modern concepts of water management emphasize including all major stakeholders, tribes were excluded from the policymaking process.
There are 30 tribes in the Colorado River Basin, at least 19 of which have an association with Glen Canyon. They have rights to a substantial portion of the river’s flow, and there are thousands of Indigenous cultural sites in the canyon.
Another management challenge is the massive amounts of sediment that have accumulated in the canyon. “Colorado” means “colored red” in Spanish, a recognition of the silt-laden water. This silt used to build beaches in the Grand Canyon, just downstream, and created the Colorado River delta in Mexico.
But for the past 63 years, it has been accumulating in Lake Powell, where it now clogs some sections of the main channel and will eventually accumulate below the dam. Some of it is laced with toxic materials from mining decades ago. As more of the canyon is exposed, it may become necessary to create an active sediment management plan, including possible mechanical removal of some materials to protect public health.
The creation of Lake Powell also resulted in biological invasives, including nonnative fish and quagga mussels. Some of these problems will abate as the reservoir declines and a free-flowing river replaces stagnant still water.
On a more positive note, native plants are recolonizing side canyons as they become exposed, creating verdant canyon bottoms. Restoring natural ecosystems in the canyon will require innovative biological management strategies as the habitat changes back to a more natural landscape.
Finally, as the emergent landscape expands and side canyons recover their natural scenery, Glen Canyon will become a unique tourist magnet. As the main channel reverts to a flowing river, users will no longer need an expensive boat; anyone with a kayak, canoe or raft will be able to enjoy the beauty of the canyons.
Other landscapes are likely to emerge across the West as climate change reshapes the region and numerous reservoirs decline. With proper planning, Glen Canyon can provide a lesson in how to manage them.
Huge chunk of plants, animals in U.S. at risk of extinction -report
Brad Brooks – February 6, 2023
(Reuters) -A leading conservation research group found that 40% of animals and 34% of plants in the United States are at risk of extinction, while 41% of ecosystems are facing collapse.
Everything from crayfish and cacti to freshwater mussels and iconic American species such as the Venus flytrap are in danger of disappearing, a report released on Monday found.
NatureServe, which analyzes data from its network of over 1,000 scientists across the United States and Canada, said the report was its most comprehensive yet, synthesizing five decades’ worth of its own information on the health of animals, plants and ecosystems.
Importantly, the report pinpoints the areas in the United States where land is unprotected and where animals and plants are facing the most threats.
Sean O’Brien, president of NatureServe, said the conclusions of the report were “terrifying” and he hoped it would help lawmakers understand the urgency of passing protections, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act that stalled out in Congress last year.
“If we want to maintain the panoply of biodiversity that we currently enjoy, we need to target the places where the biodiversity is most threatened,” O’Brien said. “This report allows us to do that.”
U.S. Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat who has proposed legislation to create a wildlife corridor system to rebuild threatened populations of fish, wildlife and plants, said NatureServe’s work would be critical to helping agencies identify what areas to prioritize and where to establish migration routes.
“The data reported by NatureServe is grim, a harrowing sign of the very real problems our wildlife and ecosystems are facing,” Beyer told Reuters. “I am thankful for their efforts, which will give a boost to efforts to protect biodiversity.”
Among the species at risk of disappearing are icons like the carnivorous Venus flytrap, which is only found in the wild in a few counties of North and South Carolina.
Nearly half of all cacti species are at risk of extinction, while 200 species of trees, including a maple-leaf oak found in Arkansas, are also at risk of disappearing. Among ecosystems, America’s expansive temperate and boreal grasslands are among the most imperiled, with over half of 78 grassland types at risk of a range-wide collapse.
The threats against plants, animals and ecosystems are varied, the report found, but include “habitat degradation and land conversion, invasive species, damming and polluting of rivers, and climate change.”
California, Texas and the southeastern United States are where the highest percentages of plants, animals and ecosystems are at risk, the report found.
Those areas are both the richest in terms of biodiversity in the country, but also where population growth has boomed in recent decades, and where human encroachment on nature has been harshest, said Wesley Knapp, the chief botanist at NatureServe.
Knapp highlighted the threats facing plants, which typically get less conservation funding than animals. There are nearly 1,250 plants in NatureServe’s “critically imperiled” category, the final stage before extinction, meaning that conservationists have to decide where to spend scant funds even among the most vulnerable species to prevent extinctions.
“Which means a lot of plants are not going to get conservation attention. We’re almost in triage mode trying to keep our natural systems in place,” Knapp said.
‘NATURE SAVINGS ACCOUNT’
Vivian Negron-Ortiz, the president of the Botanical Society of America and a botanist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who was not involved in the NatureServe report, said there is still a lot scientists do not know and have not yet discovered about biodiversity in the United States, and that NatureServe’s data helped illuminate that darkness.
More than anything, she sees the new data as a call to action.
“This report shows the need for the public to help prevent the disappearance of many of our plant species,” she said. “The public can help by finding and engaging with local organizations that are actively working to protect wild places and conserve rare species.”
John Kanter, the senior wildlife biologist with the National Wildlife Federation, said the data in the report, which he was not involved with, was essential to guiding state and regional officials in creating impactful State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), which they must do every 10 years to receive federal funding to protect vulnerable species.
Currently $50 million in federal funding is divided up among all states to carry out their SWAPs. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, whose congressional sponsors say will be reintroduced soon, would have increased that to $1.4 billion, which would have a huge impact on the state’s abilities to protect animals and ecosystems, Kanter said, and the NatureServe report can act as roadmap for officials to best spend their money.
“Our biodiversity and its conservation is like a ‘nature savings account’ and if we don’t have this kind of accounting of what’s out there and how’s it doing, and what are the threats, there’s no way to prioritize action,” Kanter said. “This new report is critical for that.”
GRAPHIC-The collapse of insects
Penguins offer varied clues to Antarctic climate change
ANALYSIS-U.N. nature deal can help wildlife as long as countries deliver
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Additional reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
Death toll climbs as 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria: Here’s everything we know
Photos show the devastation and desperate search for survivors after an earthquake hit the border of Turkey and Syria.
Dylan Stableford and Yahoo News Photo Staff – February 6, 2023
At least 2,300 people were killed after rocked the border of Turkey and Syria early Monday, toppling thousands of buildings and leaving hundreds of people trapped under rubble.
The quake, which was centered on Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, could be felt as far away as Cairo and Beirut, as powerful aftershocks continued to rattle the region.
Here’s everything we know about the earthquake and its aftermath.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the 7.8 magnitude quake at a depth of 17.9 km, or about 11 miles, at 4:17 a.m. local time.
“On both sides of the border, residents jolted out of sleep by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside on a cold, rainy and snowy night. Buildings were reduced to piles of pancaked floors,” the news service reported. “Rescue workers and residents in multiple cities searched for survivors, working through tangles of metal and concrete. A hospital in Turkey collapsed, and patients, including newborns, were evacuated from facilities in Syria.”
Dozens of aftershocks followed. Hours later, a 7.5 magnitude quake struck more than 60 miles away. An official from Turkey’s disaster management agency said it was a new earthquake, not an aftershock, the AP said.
Death toll climbs
In Turkey, officials said the death toll had risen to almost 1,500, with at least 8,500 injured.
In Syria, the death toll in government-held areas was at least 430 with more than 1,200 injured, the Syrian Health Ministry reported. In rebel-held areas, more than 380 people were killed, according to the Syrian Civil Defense unit, also known as the White Helmets.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the death toll will undoubtedly rise.
“Because the debris removal efforts are continuing in many buildings in the earthquake zone, we do not know how high the number of dead and injured will rise,” Erdogan said. “Hopefully, we will leave these disastrous days behind us in unity and solidarity as a country and a nation.”
Winter weather complicates recovery efforts
Bitterly cold temperatures and worsening conditions were complicating the search and rescue efforts, .
“Temperatures in some areas were expected to fall to near freezing overnight, worsening conditions for people trapped under rubble or left homeless,” the news service said. “Rain was falling on Monday after snowstorms swept the country at the weekend.”
What’s more, “poor internet connections and damaged roads between some of the worst-hit cities in Turkey’s south, homes to millions of people, hindered efforts to assess and address the impact.”
Quake struck war-torn region
The earthquake struck a region that has been battered on both sides of the border by more than a decade of civil war in Syria.
“On the Syrian side, the region is divided between government-held territory and the country’s last opposition-held enclave, which is surrounded by Russian-backed government forces. Turkey is home to millions of refugees from that conflict. About 4 million people live in the opposition-held regions in Syria, many of them displaced from other parts of the country by the fighting. Many of the residential buildings were already unsafe because of bombardments.”
The region also sits on top of major fault lines. In 1999, a string of earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing nearly 18,000 people.
Erdogan called Monday’s quake the biggest disaster since the 1939 Erzincan earthquake, which killed more than 30,000.
Biden vows support
In a statement, President Biden said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake” and has directed his administration to provide any and all needed assistance.
“Our teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake,” Biden said in a statement. “U.S.-supported humanitarian partners are also responding to the destruction in Syria. Today, our hearts and our deepest condolences are with all those who have lost precious loved ones, those who are injured, and those who saw their homes and businesses destroyed.”
EXPLAINER – Why was the Turkey-Syria earthquake so bad?
Gloria Dickie – February 6, 2023
LONDON (Reuters) – The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday is likely to be one of the deadliest this decade, seismologists said, with a more than 100 km (62 miles) rupture between the Anatolian and Arabian plates.
Here is what scientists said happened beneath the earth’s surface and what to expect in the aftermath:
WHERE DID THE EARTHQUAKE ORIGINATE?
The epicentre was about 26 km east of the Turkish city of Nurdagi at a depth of about 18 km on the East Anatolian Fault. The quake radiated towards the northeast, bringing devastation to central Turkey and Syria.
During the 20th century, the East Anatolian Fault yielded little major seismic activity. “If we were going simply by (major) earthquakes that were recorded by seismometers, it would look more or less blank,” said Roger Musson, an honorary research associate at the British Geological Survey.
Only three earthquakes have registered above 6.0 on the Richter Scale since 1970 in the area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But in 1822, a 7.0 quake hit the region, killing an estimated 20,000 people.
HOW BAD WAS THIS EARTHQUAKE?
On average, there are fewer than 20 quakes over 7.0 magnitude in any year, making Monday’s event severe.
Compared with the 6.2 earthquake that hit central Italy in 2016 and killed some 300 people, the Turkey-Syria earthquake released 250 times as much energy, according to Joanna Faure Walker, head of the University College London Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.
Only two of the deadliest earthquakes from 2013 to 2022 were of the same magnitude as Monday’s quake.
WHY WAS IT SO SEVERE?
The East Anatolian Fault is a strike-slip fault.
In those, solid rock plates are pushing up against each other across a vertical fault line, building stress until one finally slips in a horizontal motion, releasing a tremendous amount of strain that can trigger an earthquake.
The San Andreas Fault in California is perhaps the world’s most famous strike-slip fault, with scientists warning that a catastrophic quake is long overdue.
The initial rupture for the Turkey-Syria earthquake kicked off at a relatively shallow depth.
“The shaking at the ground surface will have been more severe than for a deeper earthquake of the same magnitude at source,” David Rothery, a planetary geoscientist at the Open University in Britain, said.
WHAT KIND OF AFTERSHOCKS CAN BE EXPECTED?
Eleven minutes after the initial quake, the region was hit by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock. A 7.5-magnitude quake came hours later, followed by another 6.0 spasm in the afternoon.
“What we are seeing now is the activity is spreading to neighbouring faults,” said Musson. “We expect seismicity to continue for a while.”
After the deadly 1822 event, aftershocks carried on into the following year.
WHAT MIGHT THE FINAL DEATH TOLL BE?
Earthquakes of similar magnitudes in populated areas have killed thousands of people. Nepal’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake in 2015 claimed nearly 9,000 lives.
“It’s not going to be good,” said Musson. “It will be in the thousands, and could be in the tens of thousands.”
Cold winter weather, he added, means that people trapped under rubble have less chance at survival.
(Reporting by Gloria Dickie; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
Turkey earthquake: Death toll could increase eight-fold, WHO says
Tiffany Wertheimer – BBC News – February 6, 2023
The death toll from a strong earthquake in south-eastern Turkey, near Syria’s border, could rise eight-fold, the World Health Organisation has warned.
The toll, which currently stands at more than 3,400 people, has increased rapidly since the first earthquake struck early on Monday morning.
About 12 hours later, a second powerful tremor hit further north.
Rescuers have been combing through mountains of rubble in freezing and snowy conditions to find survivors.
Countries around the world are sending support to help the rescue efforts, including specialist teams, sniffer dogs and equipment.
The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.
Seismologists said the first quake was one of the largest ever recorded in Turkey. Survivors said it took two minutes for the shaking to stop.
The second quake – triggered by the first – had a magnitude of 7.5, and its epicentre was in the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaras province.
Many aftershocks are still being felt across the region.
The number of dead and injured from both Turkey and Syria has increased rapidly throughout Monday.
The WHO has warned that those numbers are likely to increase as much as eight times, as rescuers find more victims in the rubble.
“We always see the same thing with earthquakes, unfortunately, which is that the initial reports of the numbers of people who have died or who have been injured will increase quite significantly in the week that follows,” the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, told AFP.
Ms Smallwood added that the snowy conditions will leave many people without shelter, adding to the dangers.
Many of the victims are in war-torn northern Syria, where millions of refugees live in camps on both sides of the border with Turkey. There have been dozens of fatalities reported in rebel-held areas.
Thousands of buildings across both the countries have collapsed, and several videos show the moment they fell, as onlookers ran for cover. Many buildings that were as large as 12 storeys high are now flattened, roads have been destroyed and there are huge mountains of rubble as far as the eye can see.
The BBC’s Middle East correspondent Anna Foster, reporting from the Turkish city of Osmaniye, near the epicentre, described a devastating scene.
“It’s absolutely pouring with rain which is hampering the rescue efforts. There is no power at all in the city tonight.
“We’re still feeling regular after-shocks… and there are still concerns that there may be still more buildings to collapse,” our correspondent said.
Turkey’s energy infrastructure has also been damaged, and videos have emerged showing large fires in southern Turkey. Social media users claimed they were caused by damage to gas pipelines.
Turkey’s energy minister Fatih Donmez confirmed there had been serious damage to the infrastructure, but did not mention the explosions.
Turkey lies in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
In 1999 a deadly quake killed more than 17,000 in the north-west. The country’s worst earthquake disaster was in 1939 when 33,000 people died in Turkey’s eastern Erzincan province.
One Kahramanmaras resident, Melisa Salman, said living in an earthquake zone meant she was used to “being shaken”, but Monday’s tremor was “the first time we have ever experienced anything like that”.
“We thought it was the apocalypse,” she said.
The Turkish Red Crescent has called for citizens to make blood donations, and the organisation’s president, Kerem Kınık, said on Twitter that additional blood and medical products were being sent to the affected region.
Following an international appeal for help, Turkey’s President Erdogan said 45 countries had offered support.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has called for an international response to the crisis, saying that many of the families hit by the disaster were “already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge”.
The European Union is sending search and rescue teams to Turkey, while rescuers from the Netherlands and Romania are already on their way. The UK has said it will send 76 specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.
France, Germany, Israel, and the US have also pledged to help. Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered help to both Turkey and Syria, as has Iran.
Turkey’s interior minister, Suleymon Soylu, said 10 cities were affected by the initial quake including Hatay, Osmaniye, Adiyaman, Malatya, Sanliurfa, Adana, Diyarbakir and Kilis.
School has been suspended in those cities for at least a week.
A volunteer with the White Helmets rescue group, which operates in rebel-controlled areas of north-western Syria, fought back tears as he described the devastation in Sarmada, near the border with Turkey.
“Many buildings in different cities and villages in north-western Syria collapsed,” he told the BBC.
“Still now, many families are under the rubble. We are trying to save them but it’s a very hard task for us.
“We need help. We need the international community to do something, to help us, to support us. North-western Syria is now a disaster area,” he added.
The earthquake was powerful enough to be felt as far away as Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel.
Maura Judkis, The Washington Post – February 6, 2023
It was not until after Angela Parker, 53, had raced across her north Atlanta neighborhood to nab eight leftover, thick-cut slices of ham with gravy from the porch of someone she didn’t know that she began to ask herself some questions. Was it weird to eat a stranger’s porch ham? Was it safe? Would the ham be worth it?
It was free, so – yes?
Parker had been alerted to the ham via her neighborhood’s Buy Nothing group, where people offer up their belongings to neighbors who might need or want them. The ham-givers had leftovers from a party, they said, and it was from Matthew’s Cafeteria, a legendary old-school Southern restaurant.
Sure enough, it was delicious. Well worth the (nonexistent) price.
“Ham’s my jam,” Parker says. “I enjoyed the heck out of it, on some Hawaiian bread.”
Meanwhile, in Takoma Park, Md., Julie Patton Lawson, 44, posted a free item on her Buy Nothing group: 13 gallons of Guinea pig poop.
“They eat a lot of fiber, so they poop a lot,” says Lawson, who owns four Guinea pigs and is fostering seven others. She had been using their poop as occasional fertilizer in her garden, but with 11 Guinea pigs in the home she had more poop than she needed. Also, her dogs kept eating it. So Lawson decided to offer it up to her neighbors.
“Within an hour I had one inquiry, and she came and picked up that bag the next day,” she says. “I have other people asking me, ‘So when will you have your next bag?'”
There have always been scrappers and freecyclers prowling the curbsides on trash day for castoff furniture and other treasures. The people who think, “Someone could use this,” and the people who do. They are scrimpers and savers, environmentalists, neighborhood do-gooders, benevolent hoarders; people who love stuff and hate waste and have a high threshold for risk, or just a quirky sense of adventure.
Who wants this raccoon skull? This possibly haunted baby doll? This toilet seat? These three mismatched spoons? A landline phone shaped like a shoe?
The answer is, almost always, somebody. Especially if it’s free.
Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller started the Buy Nothing Project as an experiment on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. The idea was to encourage their neighbors to give away unwanted possessions instead of trashing them, and to take others’ things instead of buying something new and adding to the heaps of plastic junk circulating the globe. People can also use the app to ask if other people in their communities have a thing they need and would be willing to part with it – for free. That part is important. Members are prohibited from selling and trading, or even mentioning the monetary value of items.
By design, each participating neighborhood has its own volunteer-led group – to keep the giving close and convenient, though this presents issues regarding access and equity – rich neighbors give away fancier stuff, and more of it. People swap their stuff over Facebook or the Buy Nothing app. The movement spread dramatically over the last few years and now encompasses more than 7,000 groups.
“I’m a complete Buy Nothing freak,” says Katjusa Cisar, 41, who writes a newsletter, Curb Alert, about her adventures in scoring used finds on mailing lists and in thrift stores.
Expiration dates do not faze her. She has, on more than one occasion, obtained free used underwear. (“I just took them home and washed them,” she shrugs.) Some of her recent acquisitions from her Milwaukee-area Buy Nothing have included a Gucci Mane puzzle, a vintage book about CB radios, bunk beds for her kids, a half-empty container of contact lens solution and a tub full of mostly-expired cosmetics and beauty products (some of them were rancid and needed to be tossed). Things she has successfully given in the past include a half-eaten bag of frozen chicken tenders, a book about witchcraft and a broken hot dog roller, like the ones in convenience stores.
“A misconception that people have about Buy Nothing, if they’re unfamiliar with it, is that it’s charity,” says Cisar. “The number one goal of Buy Nothing, at least for the group I’m in, is to save things from going into the garbage.”
Clark, the co-founder, has seen some strange gifts and requests in groups. A neighbor once asked for a plot of land to bury a beloved dog. In the Pacific Northwest, a more-common-than-you’d-think posting is for owl pellets, a term for the bird’s regurgitations, where the skeletal remains of the animals it’s eaten are often preserved.
“A lot of home-schooling families or teachers ask for owl pellets,” Clark says, “because the students get to go through them and learn about the various bones.”
There’s an Instagram account (there always is!) called “the best of buy nothing,” which documents odd items that show up on the giveaway groups. Sex toys make frequent appearances. Other finds have included an empty (used) container for cremated remains, an X-ray film of the giver-awayer’s head and neck and a deflated volleyball.
There’s a lid for every pot, as the saying goes. Who could possibly want a terrifyingly realistic animatronic chimpanzee head, which loudly grunts and bellows? And which has sensors so its eyes follow you as you move? (And which was also broken, according to the owner?)
That would be Britny Adams, 36, of Colleyville, Texas.
When a member of her Buy Nothing group posted the bellowing chimp head last week, Adams went for it.
“I commented that I wanted it to scare my mother, because she had a pet monkey growing up in the 70’s,” she said.
The piece wasn’t actually broken, Adams says. The batteries were just stuck. Now it bellows great. The chimp head, she says, has provided hours of entertainment for her six-year-old child – and hours of abject terror for her dog. They named him Ape Ventura.
The plan might have been to prank her mother, but Adams ended up pranking herself. When she returned home last week from an evening with friends, she suddenly noticed Ape Ventura, staring at her in the dark. Adams screeched with fright. Her husband screeched with laughter. Ape Ventura screeched with screeching monkey noises.
There is something about free stuff that makes us abandon all rational thought.
“What our research has basically shown is that when people encounter items that are free, they overvalue them,” says Nina Mazar, a marketing professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.
Take, for example, the case of the two granola bars.
Anna Paone Levy, 32, didn’t really like a box of almond coconut chocolate chip granola bars that she’d ordered on Instacart. After eating a few of them, she posted them on Buy Nothing, and somebody claimed the remaining two. Which, on the one hand … two granola bars? Really? On the other hand, heck yeah – two free granola bars!
“From an economics perspective, we would just value those costs and the benefits,” says Mazar. Are two granola bars, worth no more than a dollar each, worth walking 15 minutes for? Most people value their time at a higher rate than that, and so would be losing value on the deal, even if the bars were free. (Paone Levy didn’t know how far the woman had traveled.)
It goes the other way, too. People could try to sell all the miscellaneous stuff that ends up on Buy Nothing, but given the time and effort (and perhaps guilt) that comes with finding a buyer, giving it away can be the more economical solution.
And many people put their junk on Buy Nothing simply because it is unsellable.
After Paone Levy unloaded the two granola bars, her husband tweeted with astonishment about the exchange – a post that provoked other people to share their own observations about Buy Nothing’s bizarro economy. One person posted a screenshot of a free squeegee and used toilet brush that, despite the giver’s assurances that he “ran both through dish washer,” still bore some alarming brown stains. Another person shared an offer of birth control pills – but only the row of placebos at the bottom of the pack.
A third sent a screenshot of an offer for something called the “Privacy Pop,” which is a tent that goes over a dorm bed. “We bought it for our son freshman year in college in case a sleep-over visitor wanted a little privacy with another roomie present – never used.”
Similar genre: An Arlington, Va., woman was cleaning out some drawers when she encountered some condoms a month away from expiration. “I was looking at my nightstand and I was like, ‘Oh, well, that was a hopeful purchase,'” says Olga, 43, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to save face.
There were no takers. “I gave it a few days and then I just threw them out,” she says.
If these examples of unused giveaway items made you think of the famous six-word short story often attributed to Ernest Hemingway – “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” – then you’re not alone.
Jason Loviglio, 58, is the poet laureate of his Baltimore neighborhood’s giveaway group. People’s castoff items are “a very generative source for art,” he says.
Loviglio, who says he once saw someone post an offering of three celery sticks, writes poetry based on the absurd offers he sees in his group, which has included hornworms, champagne yeast, irritable bowel syndrome medication and too-spicy gumballs. Here’s one of his masterpieces:
“Saddest short story on the Listserv
“Free: Child’s Violin
“Never been played well”
Bridget Pooley’s giveaway ordeal was less like a poem, more like a riddle.
She had moved into a house in St. Paul, Minn., that came with a rain barrel. It had proved useful in the warm months, providing a reserve of water for her garden. As the weather got colder she worried about what would happen to the rainwater-filled barrel when temperatures plunged below freezing.
A friend suggested putting it on Buy Nothing.
Meaning the water, not the barrel.
“It has more nutrients, right? And it’s not processed, so it’s better for plants. And so I thought people would maybe come over and get some water,” says Pooley, 34.
What happened, instead, is that she spent a bunch of time warding off people who thought she was giving away the barrel. The day ended with her confronting someone in her yard who had emptied it – apparently thinking he could take the barrel without the water – and saturated her lawn in the process.
“I felt like an idiot,” Pooley says. “But I think it was a good laugh for some folks.”
Colorado River crisis is so bad, lakes Mead and Powell are unlikely to refill in our lifetimes
Rong-Gong Lin II, Ian James – February 5, 2023
The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is the deepest it’s been in decades, but those storms that were a boon for Northern California won’t make much of a dent in the long-term water shortage for the Colorado River Basin — an essential source of supplies for Southern California.
In fact, the recent storms haven’t changed a view shared by many Southern California water managers: Don’t expect lakes Mead and Powell, the nation’s largest reservoirs, to fill up again anytime soon.
“To think that these things would ever refill requires some kind of leap of faith that I, for one, don’t have,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University.
Lake Mead, located on the Arizona-Nevada border and held back by Hoover Dam, filled in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2000, it was nearly full and lapping at the spillway gates. But the megadrought over the last 23 years — the most severe in centuries — has worsened the water deficit and left Lake Mead about 70% empty.
Even with this winter’s above-average snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, water officials and scientists say everyone in the Colorado River Basin will need to plan for low reservoir levels for years to come. And some say they think the river’s major reservoirs probably won’t refill in our lifetimes.
“They’re not going to refill. The only reason they filled the first time is because there wasn’t demand for the water. In the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, there was no Central Arizona Project, there was no Southern Nevada Water Authority, there was not nearly as much use in the Upper [Colorado River] Basin,” said Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “So the water use was low. So that filled up storage.”
Demand for Colorado River water picked up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Central Arizona Project, a 336-mile-long water delivery system, brings water from the Colorado River to Arizona’s most populous counties and wasn’t completed until the 1990s. The Southern Nevada Water Authority was created in 1991.
Arizona began starting to take its full apportionment of river water in the late 1990s, and Nevada in the early 2000s. California continues using the single largest share of the river.
“Now the water use is maxed out. Every state is taking too much, and we have to cut back. And so there’s just not enough. You would need wet year after wet year, after wet year after wet year, after wet year. Even then, because the demand is so high, it still wouldn’t fill,” Hasencamp said in an interview.
Climate change has dramatically altered the river. In the last 23 years, as rising temperatures have intensified the drought, the river’s flow has declined about 20%.
Scientists have found that roughly half the decline in the river’s flow has been caused by higher temperatures, and that climate change is driving the aridification of the Southwest. With global warming, average temperatures across the upper watershed — where most of the river’s flow originates — have risen about 3 degrees since 1970.
Research has shown that for each additional 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the river’s average flow is likely to decrease about 9%.
In multiple studies, scientists have estimated that by the middle of this century, the average flow of the river could decline by 30% or 40% below the average during the past century.
“The last 23 years are the best lessons we have right now, and they should scare the pants off of people,” said Udall, who has been a co-author of research showing how warming is sapping the river’s flows.
Based on the low levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Udall said, he would estimate that refilling the reservoirs would take roughly six consecutive extremely wet years, with water flows similar to those in 2011.
“We’d need six years like that to refill this system, in a row, based on current operating rules,” Udall said. “And I just don’t see that even being remotely possible.”
The Colorado River Basin very well could get a few wet years, he said.
“We might even get a wet decade. But, boy, the long-term warming and drying trend seems super clear to me,” Udall said. “And a bet on anything other than that seems like water management malpractice, that we have got to plan for something that looks like a worst-case future.”
The Colorado River supplies water to seven states, tribal nations and Mexico. The states are under pressure from the federal government to agree on cuts to prevent reservoirs from dropping to dangerously low levels.
California and the six other states are at odds over how to make the cuts, and have submitted separate proposals to the federal government, with some disagreements centering on the legal system that governs how the river is managed.
In a 2008 study, scientists Tim Barnett and David Pierce examined the likely flow declines with climate change and estimated there was a 50% chance the usable water supply in Lake Mead and Lake Powell would be gone by 2021. They titled their study “When Will Lake Mead Go Dry?” In research published in 2009, they wrote that based on projections with climate change or even the long-term average flows, “currently scheduled future water deliveries from the Colorado River are not sustainable.”
“Climate change is reducing the flow into the Colorado River system, so the agreements are divvying up more water than exists,” said Pierce, a climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “This drop in reservoir levels is happening because we are abiding by agreements that do not account for changes in water inflow into the system due to climate change.”
There is always the chance of a few extremely wet years with the potential to refill reservoirs, Pierce said.
“It’s just that in the coming decades that likelihood decreases. Our work has estimated that the chance of the reservoirs refilling decreases from about 75% today to about 10% by 2060 if no changes in [water] delivery schedules are made,” Pierce said. “We should be planning for the situation where the hotter temperatures decrease the river flow in the future.”
The capacity of lakes Mead and Powell is gargantuan compared with the capacity of California’s two largest reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville. Lake Mead can store more than 27 million acre-feet of water, and Lake Powell 25 million acre-feet. By contrast, Shasta Lake can hold about 4.6 million acre-feet, and Lake Oroville 3.5 million acre-feet.
The Colorado River supplies, on average, about 25% of the water supplies in coastal Southern California, while the region also gets water from Northern California through the State Water Project, and other sources.
California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack is now about 200% of average at this point in the season, while the snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin so far stands at about 140% of the median over the last 30 years.
The bigger snowpack could help the Colorado’s reservoir levels this year somewhat. How much won’t be clear for a few months.
“Absolutely this snow is welcomed. The cold weather is welcome. The real question will be in the spring,” Hasencamp said.
In recent years, hot, dry conditions have led to reduced flows in the river. “That’s what’s been the killer the last few years, is a hot dry spring has taken the snow that’s been there, and it doesn’t make it to the reservoirs,” Hasencamp said.
Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist, said an exceptionally wet decade might someday change things.
“But the problem is, it doesn’t just have to be wetter than average, it would have to be dramatically wetter than the long-term average,” Swain said. And for many years.
Scientists say higher temperatures effectively make the atmosphere “thirstier,” causing more moisture to evaporate off the landscape. Vegetation also takes up more water as temperatures rise, leaving less runoff flowing in streams.
“There is no question that there will be an ongoing downward trend in inflows, but extreme high events are also more likely to occur in the context of climate change, according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment,” said Kathy Jacobs, director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions.
Jacobs noted that researchers project atmospheric rivers will become more intense with rising temperatures, and scientists expect more intense extreme storms and periodic flooding.
“I strongly suspect that the dams on the Colorado will be needed for flood control in the future as well as for water supply,” Jacobs said.
As for the future, Jacobs said a great deal depends on whether greenhouse gas emissions are reduced “to net zero in the near term.”
There are workable ways of managing reduced water supplies from the river, she said. “The longer we wait to build more flexible future management schemes, the harder it will be.”
It’s everywhere: Sea-level rise’s surprising reach damaging more than East Coast shoreline
Kelly Powers and Dinah Voyles Pulver – February 5, 2023
A walk down this 6-mile stretch of Florida beach might feel different than others.
Some things are the same. Rolling waves reach into smooth sheets, polishing the beach. Seaweed and shells tumble and settle, tumble and settle.
Look to the land, and the view is unexpected. Dunes have been carved into jagged cliffs. Strange canvas tubing pokes out of eroding sand mounds.
Keep walking and the view changes again. Newly imported plants grip a rebuilt dune, the result of an expensive human project.
Ponte Vedra Beach is just one place that provides a firsthand view of all the problems storm surge and high tides and sea-level rise bring in with them.
Seawalls jut from the sand, blamed by some for additional erosion elsewhere. Residents installed over 2,000 feet of geotextile tubing along the beaten dunes, with mixed results.
Meanwhile, their homes peer over a sand cliff’s edge.
“People are trying to beat Mother Nature,” said Nancy Condron, who built a home on this beach with her husband in 2008. “And what they really need to do is move their structures back and have a natural dune.”
Condron has been vocal in her opinions, having built west of the state’s coastal construction limits, but debates persist.
Sea-level rise is deeper than tides, more than the beach
This slice of Florida nearly captures sea-level rise in its full scope.
The sea advances on St. Johns County with a deadly combination of naturally higher tides, empowered storms and saltwater intrusion. It will impact generations of businesses, deeply historic neighborhoods, freshwater public supply wells, sparkling new subdivisions and oceanfront mansions alike.
But accelerated sea-level rise isn’t just a beachfront problem.
From threatened heritage to salty forests, oyster farms and inland flooding, voices across the region show this threat and its mitigation are far more complex than higher tides.
The rising sea reaches places you would not expect.
One tide gauge in the nation broke its record for high-tide flood days over the past year.
It was far inland, just outside Delaware City along Delaware Bay and about 20 miles from Wilmington, Delaware.
Places up and down the entire East Coast are menaced by sea-level rise’s impacts compounding the force of tides and storms: centuries of Black history, generations of businesses on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, headstones in colonial New England cemeteries, millennia of indigenous Florida heritage.
One of the oldest Black American communities feels current turning against them
She raised all the air conditioners 18 inches.
Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center’s executive director Gayle Phillips in St. Augustine doesn’t have the budget to approach large mitigation projects, so she makes hands-on fixes. “We didn’t want to invest in AC units that were just going to be subjected to flooding,” Phillips said.
The effort came after Hurricane Matthew. Across much of Lincolnville’s east and south sides, flooding occurs during high tide and heavy rain.
Phillips is no stranger to taking her shoes off to get to work.
The museum, cradled by its historically Black neighborhood of Lincolnville, is devoted in part to celebrating the history of those taken involuntarily over this ocean centuries ago.
St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the country. Tourists come for its history, architecture and the white quartz sand of its beaches.
Now St. Augustine is fighting the sea to preserve indigenous artifacts, colonial Spanish antiquity and modern Black history. Newly freed slaves established the now-historic district of Lincolnville inside a city already more than 450 years old.
In 1964, Lincolnville hosted a famed Martin Luther King Jr. sit-in. Not only would King be arrested in St. Augustine that June, he would be in the city to learn the Civil Rights Act had passed.
History is baked into these 45 blocks of southwest peninsula.
The Lincolnville museum finds itself in competition with historical settlements, buildings and landmarks all around it for precious funds to preserve its own piece of heritage — in a place where there’s almost as much history as there is water.
But Lincolnville is just one neighborhood, and competition for funding is already steep. Phillips is not alone in her concern that the history she safeguards will be sacrificed for something more popular.
She said the Lincolnville museum cannot afford drainage improvements to its parking lot right now. It could be hard to imagine visitors taking off their shoes, wading through frequent flood waters, to reach her doors.
Lincolnville didn’t rank as highly as the Castillo de San Marcos fort, among other sites, in a recent city assessment of archaeological value. Historic tourism is worth $2.9 billion.
Pennsylvania brewpub fights back against storms, tides and sea-level rise
Up and down East Coast states, impact reaches well inland of the high tide line.
Mike Rose watched the damage unfold under a clear sky.
After the raging storm commanded attention all night, Pennsylvania officials continued to warn of a Schuylkill River surge near Philadelphia. More than 17 feet was expected by 8 a.m. It crested just short of that.
Rose watched from an off-site monitor as the cameras streamed the destruction until the power went out. The 66-year-old is used to occasional flooding, but this was different.
He returned to nearly three feet of mud.
Gelled between toppled equipment, saturated walls and debris, brown slime coated the guts of his restaurant. Massive brewpub tanks had been lifted and dropped. Remains blocked any path to Manayunk Brewing Company’s back patio, typically overlooking a quietly flowing river, several yards below.
“Did I think I was going to open up this time? I didn’t think so,” Rose recalled, perched at the bar. “I said: ‘I don’t know if I want to do this. I’m stripped. I’m just stripped of strength.”
He swiped through photos on his phone. Employees shoveled mud. Ruined wiring ripped from the walls. Pieces of kitchen equipment were shoved in a heap against the iron street gate.
From the Chesapeake to Massachusetts bays, Ida brought surges several feet above typical high tide levels.
Rising seas can spell problems for inland communities. High tides and strengthened storm surges push water higher in nearby rivers during extreme storms, and into floodplains.
Rivers across Pennsylvania and New Jersey broke record levels.
Higher tides also push back on rivers, preventing flow back into the sea. Meanwhile, fresh water from extreme rainfall can start stacking up.
If it can’t drain into watersheds, it will find new routes.
Charged by climate change, stronger storms expose weaknesses
“Hurricanes have multiple elements or drivers or mechanisms here,” said Ning Lin, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering with Princeton University. “Sea-level rise is one piece.
“Looking at the joint probability between rainfall and surge, with sea-level rise, we found that extreme joint hazards can become much more frequent in our future climate.”
The strongest drivers for this, Lin said, are more intense rainfall — as a warming planet draws more water into the atmosphere, contributing to heavier storms — and a rising sea.
She said more research is needed to model for these impacts, together. Ida already exposed mid-Atlantic infrastructure shortcomings.
Rose may feel too busy for all the science. He has his third restaurant to run.
Nearly $2 million in Ida repairs later, the brewpub reopened in February. Repairing beer tanks proved too expensive. “We’re not making our own beer anymore,” Rose said. “That’s devastating to us.”
Kitchen equipment sits on wheels. Newly polished floors replace any carpeting. Electric panels were moved to the second floor.
Over Rose’s shoulder, small signs climb the gray bricks. Markers for Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Isaias, an unnamed flash flood in 2014, Agnes in 1972 — the various high-water lines stretch back to the building’s time as a wool mill. Black arrows mark floodwater peaks.
The edge of Ida’s small, white sign meets the ceiling. And it points up.
Underground, another waterline snakes its way inland.
Saltwater seeps underground into critical freshwater wetlands
Only the notes of historians remain to tell the story of the Pamlico people.
They lived along the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds for thousands of years, on the now-North Carolina coast, gliding dugout canoes through wetland forest threaded with teeming creeks and rivers.
This is “TaTaku” — where land and sea meet the sky — but the Pamlico vanished within 150 years of European settlers’ arrival. Men, women and children were decimated by smallpox and absorbed into other tribes.
Scientists fear the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula could follow a similar path. Freshwater wetland forests and shrubby evergreen bogs could be decimated by rising seas and absorbed by advancing coastal marsh.
Wildlife refuges protect more than 450,000 acres, hosting migratory birds, rare pocosin peat bogs and the sole wild population of red wolves in the nation. Today, fewer than two dozen remain.
With no escape, the cedars, pines and pocosin bogs starve under an onslaught of rising water. On this peninsula, Atlantic white cedars have virtually disappeared.
Sea water presses forward into the estuary, past Outer Banks barrier islands. Salinity levels creep higher, pushing into groundwater supplies and washing overland during high tides and storm surges.
These rolling pulses already arrive more often.
Once the sea water arrives, trapped by roads and other changes in elevation, it can stay for weeks, or even months — saturating the roots of the trees.
Forests could be completely overtaken, said Elliott White Jr., assistant professor at Stanford University. Satellite photos show the landward march. A dense, brown fringe “gets thicker and thicker year after year.”
If the losses documented over 25 years continue without widespread restoration, White said, the wetland forests could disappear by the end of this century.
The insidious flow of salts below ground also threatens freshwater wells and agriculture across the region. Farmers on the peninsula, who raise corn, soybeans, wheat, potatoes and cotton, have seen salt in their fields, said Rebekah Martin, Coastal NC National Wildlife Refuges Complex project leader.
“Ghost forests” can grow almost slowly enough to miss. Yet these dying woods appear from Maine to Miami, bending back along the Gulf of Mexico.
Stripped of their leaves and bark, trees become gaunt skeletons. Gradually forests and bogs give way to more salt-tolerant thickets.
“I’ve seen palm tree ghost forests in Florida and red spruce ghost forests in Canada,” said Matt Kirwan, associate professor with Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “They all share a similar origin.”
A group of University of South Florida researchers concluded the Big Bend’s coastal forest is dying at “an unprecedented rate.”
Hurricane Sandy left a ghost forest of white cedar in New Jersey.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, more than 80,000 acres of forest have turned to marsh in the last 150 years. That number could increase fivefold by 2100, Kirwan predicts.
New corridors would have to be considered for wildlife to retreat, Martin said. And more people and places could be exposed to intensifying storms typically buffered by marsh.
On the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, once-vital forests could be lost to history.
Unwitting oysters part of a plan to fortify shorelines
Rolling between Scott Budden’s fingers, a baby oyster resembles a grain of sand. Its tiny shell, still translucent in the gray morning, is already the perfect shape.
Its life with Budden begins here on Kent Island, Maryland. Farmers must tailor the crop’s controlled life cycle with the whims of changing waters, rising tides and shifting salinity.
After outgrowing land tanks, having savored algae and phytoplankton, the adolescent oyster will eventually move north to the Chester River. Waves will crash through hundreds of similar surface floats, transferring energy to the bundled mollusks lining several acres.
The oyster will return to Eastern Bay to finish. The water is saltier down here.
Today, his prize crop joins a growing list of natural tools to fight against the very waters that foster it. Experts say even these oysters raised for a plate can also help fortify shorelines, like millions once did on their own.
“Growing the shellfish aquaculture industry can benefit the entire ecosystem,” said Joseph Gordon, U.S. East Coast project director with Pew Charitable Trusts. His group co-sponsored an initiative to buy millions of oysters from farmers like Budden, who were lacking the usual restaurant demand, and re-establish them in the bay.
The initiative’s reach extended to shellfish growers up the mid-Atlantic and New England, following an idea that has established itself to grow much like the oysters themselves: Mitigating climate change can mimic the natural world.
What’s a living shoreline?
One farm offers a payoff Budden doesn’t often consider.
On a stretch of coast, he notices an exposed beach has slowly washed away. But the same erosion, near Eastern Neck Island, Maryland, isn’t seen on his side.
“I’ve noticed there’s some dampening effect,” said the 36-year-old. “Basically, as waves come through, the energy is transferred to the floats, the floats then transfer that energy to the oyster. Which, actually, makes a better oyster.”
His casual observations echo the experts and other projects. Mitigations have been moving “from gray to green” to combat the effects of rising sea.
“For a long time, when we needed to stop erosion along the shoreline, we put in a hard structure,” said Molly Mitchell, a research assistant professor with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Think bulkheads, riprap, seawalls.
“They don’t provide good habitat for animals, and they don’t have the other benefits of natural beaches and marshes, like actually reducing wave energy.”
“Living shorelines” — from adding marsh and grass, to building shellfish breakwaters — have been growing in popularity as an alternative to shoreline hardening.
Oyster reefs once thrived on Eastern shores, before humans decimated populations in the early 1800s. Oysters built on top of one another as others died, creating a solid structure.
“Rocks and seawalls aren’t going to evolve as the water gets steeper,” Mitchell said. “If you use an oyster reef, the oysters will actually grow on it — and the structure will get taller and taller as sea level rises.”
It can’t work everywhere. These solutions take best to systems with more moderate wave energy, like the Chesapeake Bay, or rivers and sounds.
Back at the dock, Budden and his team watch saltwater drizzle through a churning tumbler, cleaning their harvest. Those measuring too small plunk back to the bay below.
His crop has always had a role to play in protecting the coast, but today shoreline communities may need to get more creative.
“We’ve got a couple million market oysters in the water, another three or four million have been put through the nursery this year,” he said. “Still, just a drop in the bucket.”
This article is part of a USA TODAY Network reporting project called “Perilous Course,” a collaborative examination of how people up and down the East Coast are grappling with the climate crisis. Journalists from more than 35 newsrooms from New Hampshire to Florida are speaking with regular people about real-life impacts, digging into the science and investigating government response, or lack of it.
50-car train derailment causes big fire, evacuations in Ohio
February 4, 2023
EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — A freight train derailment in Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line left a mangled and charred mass of boxcars and flames Saturday as authorities launched a federal investigation and monitored air quality from the various hazardous chemicals in the train.
About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine at about 9 p.m. EST Friday as a train was carrying a variety of products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said Saturday. There was no immediate information about what caused the derailment. No injuries or damage to structures were reported.
“The post-derailment fire spanned about the length of the derailed train cars,” Michael Graham, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters Saturday evening. “The fire has since reduced in intensity, but remains active and the two main tracks are still blocked.”
Norfolk Southern said 20 of the more than 100 cars were classified as carrying hazardous materials — defined as cargo that could pose any kind of danger “including flammables, combustibles, or environmental risks.” Graham said 14 cars carrying vinyl chloride were involved in the derailment “and have been exposed to fire,” and at least one “is intermittently releasing the contents of the car through a pressure release device as designed.”
“At this time we are working to verify which hazardous materials cars, if any, have been breached,” he said. The Environmental Protection Agency and Norfolk Southern were continuing to monitor air quality, and investigators would begin their on-scene work “once the scene is safe and secure,” he said.
Vinyl chloride, used to make the polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products, is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute. Federal officials said they were also concerned about other possibly hazardous materials.
Mayor Trent Conaway, who earlier declared a state of emergency citing the “train derailment with hazardous materials,” said air quality monitors throughout a one-mile zone ordered evacuated had shown no dangerous readings.
Fire Chief Keith Drabick said officials were most concerned about the vinyl chloride and referenced one car containing that chemical but said safety features on that car were still functioning. Emergency crews would keep their distance until Norfolk Southern officials told them it was safe to approach, Drabick said.
“When they say it’s time to go in and put the fire out, my guys will go in and put the fire out,” he said. He said there were also other chemicals in the cars and officials would seek a list from Norfolk Southern and federal authorities.
Graham said the safety board’s team would concentrate on gathering “perishable” information about the derailment of the train, which had 141 load cars, nine empty cars and three locomotives. State police had aerial footage and the locomotives had forward-facing image recorders as well as data recorders that could provide such information as train speed, throttle position and brake applications, he said. Train crew and other witnesses would also be interviewed, Graham said.
Firefighters were pulled from the immediate area and unmanned streams were used to protect some areas including businesses that might also have contained materials of concern, officials said. Freezing temperatures in the single digits complicated the response as trucks pumping water froze, Conaway said.
East Palestine officials said 68 agencies from three states and a number of counties responded to the derailment, which happened about 51 miles (82 kilometers) northwest of Pittsburgh and within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the tip of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.
Conaway said surveillance from the air showed “an entanglement of cars” with fires still burning and heavy smoke continuing to billow from the scene as officials tried to determine what was in each car from the labels outside. The evacuation order and shelter-in-place warnings would remain in effect until further notice, officials said.
Village officials warned residents that they might hear explosions due to the fire. They said drinking water was safe despite discoloration due to the volume being pumped the fight the blaze. Some runoff had been detected in streams but rail officials were working to stem that and prevent it from going downstream, officials said.
Officials repeatedly urged people not to come to the scene, saying they were endangering not only themselves but emergency responders.
The evacuation area covered 1,500 to 2,000 of the town’s 4,800 to 4,900 residents, but it was unknown how many were actually affected, Conaway said. A high school and community center were opened, and the few dozen residents sheltering at the high school included Ann McAnlis, who said a neighbor had texted her about the crash.
“She took a picture of the glow in the sky from the front porch,” McAnlis told WFMJ-TV. “That’s when I knew how substantial this was.”
Norfolk Southern opened an assistance center in the village to take information from affected residents and also said it was “supporting the efforts of the American Red Cross and their temporary community shelters through a $25,000 donation.
Elizabeth Parker Sherry said her 19-year-old son was heading to Walmart to pick up a new TV in time for the Super Bowl when he called her outside to see the flames and black smoke billowing toward their home. She said she messaged her mother to get out of her home next to the tracks, but all three of them and her daughter then had to leave her own home as crews went door-to-door to tell people to leave the evacuation zone.
Valley fever could be spreading across the U.S. Here are the symptoms and what you need to know
L’Oreal Thompson Payton – January 31, 2023
Valley fever, a fungal infection most notably found in the Southwestern United States, is now likely to spread east, throughout the Great Plains and even north to the Canadian border because of climate change, according to a study in GeoHealth.
“As the temperatures warm up, and the western half of the U.S. stays quite dry, our desert-like soils will kind of expand and these drier conditions could allow coccidioides to live in new places,” Morgan Gorris, who led the GeoHealth study while at the University of California, Irvine, told Today.com.
As the infection continues to be diagnosed outside the Southwest, here’s what you need to know about valley fever.
What is valley fever?
Valley fever, which commonly occurs in the Southwest due to the region’s hot, dry soil, is an infection caused by inhaling microscopic spores of the fungus coccidioides. About 20,000 cases of valley fever were reported in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 97% of cases were reported in Arizona and California. Rates are usually highest among people 60 years of age and older.
While most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick, those who do typically feel better on their own within weeks or months; however, some will require antifungal medication.
What are the symptoms of valley fever?
Symptoms of valley fever may appear anywhere from one to three weeks after breathing in the fungal spores and typically last for a few weeks to a few months. About 5% to 10% of people who get valley fever will develop serious or long-term lung problems. Symptoms include:
Shortness of breath
Muscle aches or joint pain
Rash on upper body or legs
How is valley fever diagnosed?
Valley fever is most commonly diagnosed through a blood test; however, health care providers may also run imaging tests, such as chest X-rays or CT scans, to check for valley fever pneumonia.
Who is most likely to get valley fever?
People who are at higher risk for becoming severely ill, such as those with weakened immune systems, pregnant people, people with diabetes, and Black or Filipino people, are advised to avoid breathing in large amounts of dust if they live in or are traveling to places where valley fever is common.
Is valley fever contagious?
No. “The fungus that causes valley fever, coccidioides, can’t spread from the lungs between people or between people and animals,” according to the CDC. “However, in extremely rare instances, a wound infection with coccidioides can spread valley fever to someone else, or the infection can be spread through an organ transplant with an infected organ.”
How can I prevent valley fever?
While it’s nearly impossible to avoid breathing in the fungus coccidioides in places where it’s common, the CDC recommends avoiding spending time in dusty places as much as possible, especially for people who are at higher risk. You can also:
Wear a face mask, such as a N95 respirator
Stay inside during dust storms
Avoid outdoor activities, such as yard work and gardening, that require close contact with dirt or dust
Use air filtration systems while indoors
Clean skin injuries with soap and water
Take preventive antifungal medication as recommended by your doctor
Is there a cure or vaccine for valley fever?
Not yet. According to the CDC, scientists have been working on a vaccine to prevent valley fever since the 1960s. However, researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson have created a two-dose vaccine that’s been proved effective in dogs.
“I’m really quite hopeful,” Dr. John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, told Today. “In my view, right now, we do have a candidate that deserves to be evaluated and I think will probably be effective, and we’ll be using it.”