This Week in Eco News - April 11, 2014

This week, we learned that Washington, DC's utility company is going to turn sewage into usable energy (and pure compost) and the FDA has shut down cows' happy hour. Indulge us in a little levity prior to Tax Day! As usual, if you see a story we should share, drop us a line at [email protected]

Best of the Web Video - Water

GOOD: Drinking Water
This GOOD Magazine video reminds us to be thankful for the water and wastewater systems that makes our lives so livable (and healthy).

Take Action: Support organizations that help provide sustainable water solutions to those unfortunate enough to live where access to clean drinking water is difficult.


Food Safety Rule Threatens Cows’ “Happy Hour’
The FDA has proposed a rule that would hinder breweries from selling or donating wet grain as feed for livestock. By requiring further processing of spent grain prior to animal consumption, the rule would attach an additional, prohibitive cost to the grain, essentially condemning the waste to landfills. Wet grain feed, which has no associated health concerns, reduces food waste. [Politico]

Idaho Asks Judge to Toss ‘Ag ‘Gag’ Challenge from Animal and Civil Rights Activists
A new law criminalizing unauthorized filming at agricultural facilities in Idaho was met with a lawsuit by animal rights activists and media organizations calling on the US District judge to strike the law down. Now, Idaho’s governor has requested the lawsuit be dropped, claiming the coalition has no standing, even though the law stifles whistleblowing and protects animal abusers. [Huffington Post]

Cleveland, Pittsburgh Pass Resolutions Against Non-Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics in Livestock
So far five cities, including Cleveland, Pittsburgh and now Seattle, have passed resolutions against non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock. The cities are calling for the passage of a national ban on non-therapeutic usage, while also supporting legislation within their sates. Simultaneously, the UW Medical Center in Seattle announced its own ban of antibiotic-treated pork and poultry. [Food Safety News]

NRDC Questions FDA Oversight, Safety of New Food Ingredients
In a new report, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) called attention to food additive oversight failures, pointing out that food companies are allowed to deem additives as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) without notifying the FDA. GRAS designations, some of which are made internally, require no premarket approval by the FDA, putting consumers at the mercy of manufacturers. [Food Product Design]

Strolling of the Heifers 2014 Locavore Index Highlights Benefits of Food from Local Farms
The Vermont-based local food advocacy organization Strolling of the Heifers released this year’s Locavore Index, naming Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Hawaii as the top five most local food friendly states in the nation. The Index considers per capita comparisons of states’ numbers of farmers markets, CSAs, and food hubs and farm-to-school programs. How’s your state doing? [Vermont Biz]

Meatless Monday

More of Us Need to Become “Weekday Vegetarians”
According to Scandinavian researchers, we may all soon become vegetarian - or flexitarian - like it or not! Researchers say that the only way to get our rising global temperature under control is to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products; energy and transportation reforms aren't going to cut it alone. [Care2 ]


DC Water Adopts Norway System for Making Power and Fine Fertilizer from Sewage
The United States’ introduction to Norway’s “toilet to turbine” (aka sewage to energy) technology is here in a big way. DC Water will use thermal hydrolysis and anaerobic digesters to turn sewage into enough methane to power 10,500 homes, although the energy will power treatment operations. Moreover, the final product is excellent Grade A compost devoid of any pathogens. [Washington Post]

The City and the Sea: Lessons on Resilience from America's Most Crowded Coast
Hurricane Sandy exposed the sea-level edges of the New York City “archipelago” as one built upon the “false confidence that land taken from the sea is permanently allocated for terrestrial use.” With immense restoration work being undertaken, many projects are resiliency-oriented and blend approaches both hard (sea walls, gates) and soft (dunes, beach forests, oyster beds). [Orion]

White House May Crack Down On Methane From Wastewater Operations
In conjunction with the Global Methane Initiative, the Obama administration might seek to lower methane emissions from wastewater operations to as part of a new climate change strategy. As it stands, wastewater treatment operations accounts for 2 percent of human-caused methane emissions, which means optimizing systems and the fine tuning and maintenance of operations. [Water Online]

At Sea in Space: Planetary Science
While Earth is certainly the "blue planet" with more than 70 percent of its surface covered by water it's by no means the only watery body in the universe. Just by zooming around the solar system one finds that Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, has its southern regions covered by an icy ocean, as confirmed by a University of Rome-led team. [The Economist]


State Demands System to Cut Fish Deaths at Indian Point
New York's Indian Point nuclear power plant can stop killing 1.1 billion fish annually if it upgrades its cooling system which withdraws tremendous amounts of water from the Hudson River. But the plant's owners have been fighting a 10-year battle to keep from converting to closed-cycle cooling. []

Little Turbine Filters Rainwater and Makes Electricity
Mexican researchers have created a device called the Pluvia which funnels stored rainwater through a small turbine and generates electricity to purify the water, making it safe for drinking. The Pluvia still needs extra electricity to power its pump, but the researchers are working to expand the turbine's generating capacity to perhaps even power small homes. [SmartPlanet]

Don't Use Our Water for Fracking
In an op-ed, attorney Elizabeth Radow says that about one in every 20 Americans lives within one mile of a natural gas well drilled since 2000, and because of fracking's potential threats to drinking water, homeowners dependent on well water could see sharp drops in the market value of their properties, even before any water contamination. [Albany Times Union]

Gas Prices to Change Very Little This Summer
This summer’s gas prices are last summer's gas prices. Gasoline's retail price will average $3.57 per gallon, a cent below last summer, during the busy driving season. As the economy continues to rebound, US car and truck drivers are covering more miles, although that increase has been offset by increasing fuel efficiency. [E2 Wire]

Going Under the Sea for Clean Energy
As wind and solar power continue to go mainstream, the new energy cutting edge may be  underwater. Tidal power could eventually meet 4 percent of the world's electricity needs, with one engineer claiming that "the ocean is the largest untapped source of renewable energy this planet has." However there could be negative impacts to marine life associated with large underwater installations. [New York Times]

Climate Change

Iran’s Water Crisis Threatens its Future
Iran is an arid country whose population is experiencing widespread water shortages, particularly the 22 million served by the greater Tehran water supply. Officials are concerned about high water consumption in the face of climate change, desertification, poor water management and dam building, and if household use isn’t curtailed, water-outage rationing might be imposed. [Voice of America]

Warming Temperatures Could Dry Out One Third of Planet
A new study finds that increased warming, not just precipitation pattern shifts, could increase the chance of drought by drying out soils through greater evaporation for 30 percent of the Earth by century's end. The US Plains could get drier even with the same rainfall totals, as is true with other agricultural regions in Europe and China that follow the same trendline, a prospect that threatens global food security. [Climate Central]

Dwindling Colorado River Forces First-Ever Cuts in Lake Powell Water Releases
This slideshow of satellite images of Lake Powell Mead from 1999 through 2013 (from NASA Earth Observatory) show how the lake's water level has declined dramatically through the years. Today, Lake Powell is only about 45 percent of capacity, while Lake Mead is at 47 percent, causing impacts to underground storage and non-Indian agriculture in southwestern states. [Weather Underground]


The Great Barrier Reef: An Obituary
In 10,000 years Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has survived fishing, oil exploration, heat waves and mass tourism, but it has never been in greater danger. Agricultural runoff, increased acidity from carbon dioxide and infestations are taking a huge, collective toll on the reef system. What exactly would the world be losing if we let the reef die? [the Guardian]

In Coal Country, a Community Fights for Wind
In the heart of West Virginia, where coal is king, organizers fight for a wind farm that could save Coal River Mountain, where a mining operation is under way. This video features footage from the film Overburden, a documentary in progress that chronicles one town’s struggle to chart its energy future in the shadow of the coal industry.[National Geographic]

Dwindling Colorado River Forces First-Ever Cuts in Lake Powell Water Releases
This slideshow of satellite images of Lake Powell Mead from 1999 through 2013 (from NASA Earth Observatory) show how the lake's water level has declined dramatically through the years. Today, Lake Powell is only about 45 percent of capacity, while Lake Mead is at 47 percent, causing impacts to underground storage and non-Indian agriculture in southwestern states. [Weather Underground]

In Cameroon's Rain Forest, a Fragile Way of Life
Herakles Farms, a New York-based agriculture company, is planning two commercial-scale sustainable palm oil plantations in Cameroon and Ghana, promising over 10,000 jobs to local people. The company said the project would preserve the area's biodiversity while providing jobs and benefits like medical clinics. The proposed site in Cameroon sits between two national parks, two forest reserves and one wildlife sanctuary. The original plans for 180,599 acres have been mired in controversy. [Bloomberg]

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.