June 2007, Vol. 19, No.6


National Environmental Observatory Network Planned

The WATERS Network (Arlington, Va.) recently announced its draft strategy for building a large-scale, distributed environmental observatory network that it said will transform scientific understanding of Earth’s water environment. The science, education, and design strategy document is available at www.watersnet.org.

The WATERS team invites and is actively seeking input on this document. Comments may be submitted at blog.watersnet.org.

According to a WATERS Network press release, the network will integrate sensors, instruments, and other means of collecting information with modeling and cyberinfrastructure that researchers use every day, ¬giving them an unparalleled view of this ever-changing resource and providing insight into the coupled human and natural processes affecting water at multiple scales. The data will support educated decision-making in such areas as land development, water resource management, and sanitary design.

The WATERS Network is a collaboration between the hydrologic and other surface earth science disciplines, environmental engineering, and social science research communities, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Engineering and Geosciences Directorates.

New Model Simulates Groundwater and Surface Water Interactions

A new model to simulate groundwater and surface water interactions has been released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Groundwater and Surface-water FLOW (GSFLOW) model simultaneously accounts for climatic conditions, runoff across the land surface, subsurface flow and storage, and the connections among terrestrial systems, streams, lakes, wetlands, and groundwater, according to a USGS press release.

The GSFLOW model will be an invaluable tool in examining water availability under the USGS’s proposed Water for America Initiative, the press release says. A major aspect of the initiative, which plans to complete a comprehensive census of U.S. water resources in the next 10 years, is to investigate how groundwater and surface water interactions affect the overall availability of the resource.

Initial applications of GSFLOW are under way in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, and Nevada through the USGS Cooperative Water Program. GSFLOW is available at water.usgs.gov/nrp/gwsoftware/gsflow/gsflow.html.

U.S. EPA Announces Improvements to IRIS Process

A database used worldwide to view the research on chemicals found in the environment and their potential to cause health effects in people will undergo several changes to increase its transparency and efficiency. Announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development, the revisions to the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) process for developing chemical assessments will include an expanded process for recommending that a substance be assessed, earlier involvement of other agencies and the public, hosting “listening sessions” to enable broader participation and engagement of interested parties, and a more rigorous scientific peer review of IRIS assessments.

According to an EPA press release, IRIS provides human health risk information describing the potential adverse health effects that may result from exposure to more than 540 environmental contaminants. IRIS includes descriptions of hazard identification and dose–response information, quantitative risk estimates for chronic noncancer and cancer effects, and access to searchable scientific documentation. For more information, see www.epa.gov/iris.

U.S. EPA Launches Environmental Indicators Gateway

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched the Environmental Indicators Gateway Web site to provide enhanced public access to environmental and health information generated by the agency. Information is presented in the context of environmental indicators, numerical values that provide insights into the status and trends of environmental and public health conditions over time. The site enables users to browse EPA’s environmental indicator reports by geography, topic area, or time period. For each report featured on the site, users can find information on key details of the project, including geography, project purpose, contact information, and data quality considerations. Access the gateway at www.eps.gov/indicators.

ISO To Develop Energy Management Standard

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO; Geneva) has approved the creation of a project committee mandated to develop an international standard on energy management.

According to an ISO press release, the standard will provide all types of organizations and companies a practical and widely recognized approach to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs, and improve their environmental performance by addressing both the technical and management aspects of rational energy use. The standard is intended to be broadly applicable to various sectors of national economies, including the utility, manufacturing, commercial building, general commerce, and transportation sectors and, therefore, could have influence on as much as 60% of the world’s energy demand, the release says.

Study Examines Wetlands Programs in 50 States

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI; Washington, D.C.) has announced the publication of State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends & Model Approaches. This report examines state-level efforts to protect wetland resources. Research for the report is based on a study conducted by ELI with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The report examines seven core elements of all 50 states’ wetland programs (regulatory programs, water quality standards, monitoring and assessment, restoration, public–private partnerships, coordination, and education and outreach) and outlines model approaches.

An electronic version of the report is available free at www.elistore.org/reports_detail.asp?ID=11279.

Sandia Researchers Say Worldwide Water Shortage on Horizon

By 2025, more than half the nations in the world will face freshwater stress or shortages, and by 2050, as much as 75% of the world’s population could face freshwater scarcity. So say Mike Hightower and Suzanne Pierce of Sandia National Laboratories in an article that appeared in a recent issue of Nature.

According to a Sandia press release, water shortages have increased the use of membrane technologies, as well as treatment of nontraditional water sources, such as wastewater, brackish groundwater, seawater, and extracted mine water. In the United States, wastewater reuse is growing by 15% per year, the release says.

U.S. Army Corps and U.S. EPA Improve Wetland and Stream Mitigation

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released a rule to clarify how to provide compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to U.S. wetlands and streams. According to an EPA press release, the rule will enable the agencies to promote greater consistency, predictability, and ecological success of mitigation projects under the Clean Water Act.

Property owners required to complete mitigation are encouraged to use a watershed approach and watershed planning information. The new rule establishes performance standards, sets time frames for decision-making, and, to the extent possible, establishes equivalent requirements and standards for the three sources of compensatory mitigation: permittee-responsible mitigation, mitigation banks, and in-lieu fee programs.

For more information on the compensatory mitigation rule, see www.usace.army.mil/cw/cecwo/reg/citizen.htm.

Aircraft Drinking Water Regulation Proposed

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR), which will tailor existing health-based drinking water regulations to fit the unique characteristics of aircraft public water systems. The rule will protect the public from illnesses that can result from microbiological contamination, according to an EPA press release.

In 2004, EPA tested aircraft drinking water quality and reviewed air-carrier compliance with regulations. EPA found that 15% of tested aircraft tested positive for total coliform bacteria. The agency also found that air carriers were not meeting existing regulations, primarily because those regulations were designed for stationary public water systems. In response, EPA began a process to tailor the existing regulations for aircraft public water systems and placed 45 air carriers under consent orders that are in effect until aircraft drinking water regulations are final.

The proposed ADWR will protect drinking water through monitoring, disinfection, and public notification, a combination that EPA believes will better protect public health. The approach will build on existing aircraft operations and maintenance programs and better coordinate federal programs that regulate aircraft water systems.

For more information, see www.epa.gov/airlinewater/regs.html.

NOAA, World Bank To Help Manage Water and Coastal Resources in Latin America

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the World Bank (Washington, D.C.) announced that they have signed an agreement to work together to help developing nations manage water resources, combat drought, and measure changes in climate. According to a NOAA press release, future projects are expected to take place initially in Latin America, notably in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, while other projects could be launched in other parts of the world.

The new partnership will enable NOAA scientists and resource managers and the World Bank to more readily assist global communities in building resilience to climate extremes, the release says. Specifically, the assistance can help establish end-to-end early warning systems, enhance and protect local ecosystems, and realize the benefits of an integrated Earth-observing system.