This Week in Eco News - January 10, 2014

From Colorado to Australia's Murray-Darling Basin, groundwater management was on a lot of minds this week in Eco News. Meanwhile, McDonald's has committed to buying sustainable beef by 2016 but we'll see what the burger giant really means by that. Plus, 7 things you think you know about energy. See a story we should share? Drop us a line at [email protected]

Best of the Web Video - Water

Hidden Costs Series: Bottled Water
Thirsty? You might not be aware that the simple choice of a bottled water has hidden health, environmental and economic costs, such as chemical leaching from plastic bottles, the oil to produce plastic and its relative high expense compared to tap water.

Take Action
: Learn more about why tap water is a better, more sustainable and less expensive way to get hydrated that simultaneously supports the jewel that is the US water infrastructure.


McDonald's Commits to Buying Sustainable Beef
In the face of growing customer demand and competition from other burger chains, McDonald's recently announced its plan to offer "sustainable" beef by 2016. The company says it will use the next two years to develop criteria for sustainable sourcing and set purchasing targets for the transition. The question is: will McDonald's change the world, or simply change their labels? [Huffington Post]

From Fork to Furnace: New York City to Heat Homes with Table Scraps
New York City has launched a pilot program turning food waste into natural gas for heating. As part of the city's greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, food waste from 200 public schools in the city will be diverted to a waste treatment facility to aid in the production of methane-rich biogas. That gas will then be used to heat homes. [Mother Nature Network]

What's the Cost of Wild-Caught Seafood? 650,000 Mammals Killed or Injured Annually
According to a new NRDC report, 91 percent of seafood consumed in the US is foreign and almost all of that seafood violates American marine protection laws. The US has not enforced its law requiring seafood importers to comply with US regulations protecting large marine mammals, giving foreign fisheries an advantage over domestic businesses and no incentive to prevent deadly bycatch. [EcoWatch]

Food Industry to Fire Preemptive GMO Strike
After failing to snuff out the GMO-labeling movement with millions spent against state labeling proposals, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is pushing for a federal labeling law that would quell state-by-state labeling regulations. GMA, which represents a hefty number of major food corporations, is drafting a proposal for a voluntary labeling standard that experts say could backfire against consumer demands. [Politico]

Meatless Monday

2 Strategies for Healthier Food Choices in 2014
Food writer Alice Knisley Matthias doesn't recommend an "all or nothing" approach to New Year's healthier eating strategies. Rather, Meatless Mondays and Mark Bittman's Vegan Before 6:00 are two strategies to help you integrate delicious meatless cuisine into your menus. [Parade]


Rio Garbage Boats Aim to Clean Olympic Waters
Anticipating the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian officials have deployed three "eco-boats" to pull out trash and debris from the city's heavily polluted waterways. Major pollution concerns for this city of 6 million resulting from poor garbage and wastewater treatment services and must be addressed if the metropolis is to look sparkly clean for a global audience. [AP]

Central Valley Sinks as Parched California Farms Wring Water from Aquifers
Central Valley farmers don't have enough irrigation water allotted to them from surface water sources (i.e., the San Joaquin River), so they pump groundwater to fill the gap. The problem is that unregulated groundwater overpumping - woefully common worldwide - has drained aquifer levels so much that land is drastically sinking, a phenomenon formally termed subsidence. [Greenwire]

World's Shrinking Groundwater 'Needs Better Governance'
Eminent Australian hydrologist, Dr. Craig Simmons, states that if humanity continues to pump groundwater unsustainably, water scarcity could become more prevalent, resulting in serious social and economic harm and even conflict. To avoid depleted aquifers, Simmons recommends good groundwater governance and a look at successful water management schemes like that of Australia's Murray-Darling Basin. [Medical News Today]

Drilling Contamination Found in Well Water in Four States
An Associated Press investigation of state documents pertaining to hundreds of complaints about water-related problems due to shale gas and oil drilling in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas found that a small but ample number of incidents have been officially confirmed. Their findings fly in the face of the oil and gas industry's claims of little to no problems or occurrences of water contamination. [AP]


Polar Vortex Hits US Energy Supply
All that polar air invading the Lower 48 has had a big impact on natural gas in the US. Besides the obvious surge in natural gas demand for heat, it's also forced natural gas pipeline operators to slow down flows, refineries to reduce production or even shut down and gas wells to lower production. [E2 Wire]

Renewable Energy Comprised Total US November Power Generation Gains
All of the electricity-generating capacity added in November 2013 came from renewable sources like solar, biomass, wind, geothermal and hydropower, meaning there was no new capacity added from fossil fuels or nuclear power. And for good measure, renewables provided 99 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in October. We're looking forward to the December numbers! [Yale e360 ]

Judge Rules Solar Power a Better Deal for Minnesota than Natural Gas
A state judge gave Minnesota's solar industry a huge boost by finding that a 100-megawatt solar power project is a more economical and environmentally-sound way to meet future electricity demand than the construction of natural gas-fired power plants. [CleanTechnica]

Solar Power Craze on Wall Street Propels Start-Up
Solar leasing companies have become Wall Street darlings, as evidenced by big share price increases. As with many other startups, making a profit is beside the point, at least for now, but the rapid growth continues. For example, SolarCity now signs up a new customer about every three minutes of the workday. [New York Times]

7 Things You Think You Know About Energy
Energy misinformation has a way of sticking around, and this article details how misleading "facts" about US energy - natural gas production will keep growing, we have a 100-year supply of natural gas, we're about to be energy independent, there are 250 years’ worth of coal left - just aren't so. [Christian Science Monitor]


Water Risk as World Warms
Of the many environmental hardships that could afflict humanity if the global average temperature rises 2°C by the year 2100 - a near certainty - "water is the biggest worry," concluded an expert project comprised of 30 international climate groups. The comprehensive study finds that up to one-fifth of the human population could face water shortages with the southern US, Mediterranean and Middle East cited as hot spots. [Nature]

Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States
Fourteen years of drought in the American West has reduced the once-mighty Colorado River to a trickle in some sections and driven down water storage to historic lows in Lakes Mead and Powell. Desperation has set in for urban and agricultural users alike since 40 million people already depend on the river - and the fast-growing population must conserve even more. [New York Times]

Michael Studinger: Landscapes, Antarctica 2013
Check out these warm weather photos from a photographer who was part of the IceBridge campaign with NASA's P-3 research aircraft based out of the sea ice runway in McMurdo Station. This is the first time a wheeled aircraft is flying science missions over Antarctica based out of McMurdo. [Michael Studinger]


Who Controls Your Food? Take This Quiz and Find Out
Big Food giants like Nestlé, Kraft, PepsiCo and others have been buying up more and more of their competitors, big and small. The result is that some of the biggest companies have products on nearly every aisle of the supermarket and dominate the market in many categories. You might be surprised by some of the answers in this quiz. [EcoWatch]

Top 10 Water-Related Things to Be Thankful For
Let's embrace a New Year's (it's a little late for Thanksgiving) sentiment that it's never a bad time to be thankful for water, as this top 10 list by NRDC attorney Steve Fleischli demonstrates. [Huffington Post]

Aerial Video of Alabama Oil Spill Exposes Inadequate Cleanup
As this video illustrates, efforts to clean up an Alabama oil spill are under scrutiny after a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude oil exploded last month, spilling into wetlands just outside the town of Aliceville. [EcoWatch]

Infographic Shows Full Extent of Food Waste
The full extent of food waste has been highlighted in a new infographic. There are lots of stats here to illustrate the food waste problem as well as the food insecurity problem. The short story is, we're wasting way too much and we can't afford it anymore. []

Food Eco News contributed by Audrey Jenkins; Water Eco News by Kai Olson-Sawyer; Energy Eco News by Peter Hanlon and Multimedia content by Robin Madel.