Category Archives: Water

What If Lakes And Rivers Had Legal Rights?

“…legal personhood affords rights of protection to the water to protect it from pollutants, from human-caused climate change impacts and from man-made contamination.” — Kelsey Leonard, Shinnecock tribe member, water and climate science researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

From “Kelsey Leonard: What If Lakes And Rivers Had Legal Rights?” interviewed on the TED radio program “Our relationship with Water” on NPR 8/7/20, rebroadcast 1/31/21.

And the results of today’s exploitative attitude toward water?

“…over 2 billion people … live in countries that are experiencing high water stress currently, and it is anticipated that by 2030, up to 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity.”

For more on the movement toward legal rights of nature, see CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund), headquartered in Mercersburg PA.

Water drainage in WCU’s Sykes parking lot, updated 1/26/21

The photo shows a problem on the east side of the parking lot behind Sykes Student Union in West Goshen, just south of Rosedale AVe. from West Chester Borough. A large paved surface is drained by several grills and surface outflows, but water flow has caused subsidence behind this yellow barrier (actually a bicycle rack).

As shown in the first photo, storm water from that part of the lot now bypasses the grill and flows into the pit. If we look down inside in good light, we find that the pavement has subsided into the bottom of the pit (which is about 3 feet deep) and that not only water coursing off the lot but also the contents coming in from a pipe to the left flow into a larger pipe under the grill (photo 2).

Where does the water go from there? The lot itself includes no retention basin, and from surface drainage on the south side of the lot and from drains around the lot, water runs off into a wooded area to the south.

Looking closely there, we see (photo 3) a substantial pond stretching along the whole south side of the parking lot. Is this WCU property? Is it a planned retention area? Does it filter out car and road salt contamination and allow water to soak into the water table? And the answer to all those questions fortunately is Yes, per conversation with WCU personnel on Jan. 26.

This isn’t just a drainage question, but a historical problem, dating back to an era of much lower environmental consciousness. The main WCU campus was built on the upper reaches of Plum Run, which was put underground; its water now flows into the Brandywine River at route 52. WCU of course knows the needed corrective measures and has done well to install retention basins on New St. south of the Recreation Center, on Sharpless St. outside the Business and Public Management Center, and south of the lot at Roslyn Ave. south of Rosedale Ave.

Even assuming the Sykes parking lot is adequately served by the above-identified pond area, would it also be a good location to show off good water treatment through future retention basins, trees and rain gardens to absorb water and improve the scenery?

Be that as it may, at some point to the south, a stream (photo 4, seen from the bridge at Oak Lane, with the added attraction of a chilly groundhog or possum hunkering down to the left of the water) emerges from among private properties that prevent public access for the desired observations.

At any rate, the storm water south of Rosedale drains down toward WCU’s much-appreciated 126-acre Gordon Natural Area, which shows signs of stream erosion on the far bank (just behind the unfortunate extraneous object in photo 5, taken 12/13/20):

That’s what water does, seeking the easiest path downward, and when more of it runs off than an existing natural watercourse can handle, it damages built infrastructure, erodes stream banks and potentially causes flooding. Although based on current info the Sykes lot seems not to be contributing to any problems downstream, it is always good to evaluate water flow with the big issues in mind: retention, flooding, erosion.

West Chester’s Goose Creek fire of 1931

In the recent Earth Day commemorations, commentators mentioned the infamous 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, which although hardly the first time the chemically-polluted surface of that river in Cleveland caught fire, was strategically timed to dramatize environmental efforts building at that time toward the first Earth Day the next year.

West Chester had its own river fire and environmental 9/11 89 years ago. Goose Creek, which flows through the east side of West Chester on its way to the Delaware River, caught fire on September 11, 1931. According to research by Professor Jim Jones in 2006,

“A road paving company stored tar and other flammable materials in tanks near the creek at Union Street. One tank leaked, and some neighborhood boys accidentally set fire to the resulting oil slick near the Nields Street bridge. The fire spread upstream along the creek and burned down fences and sheds belonging to the houses on Franklin Street. The heat destroyed the Lacey Street bridge and the flames ignited the tanks at Union Street. The fire burned for three hours and closed down the railroad. No one was killed, but several were injured when the crowd of onlookers panicked and began to run.”

Daily Local News coverage of the fire compiled by Professor Jones (download it here) says, in the dramatic language of the period:

“Confronted by a roaring fury of flames and enveloped in billowing clouds of dense black smoke, fear-stricken householders, property owners and volunteer firemen from every end of town and every walk of life, battled into submission one of the most spectacular and dangerous fires in the history of the borough.”

Jim comments that “I was part of the annual Goose Creek cleanups for a lot of years. In the first year Goose Creek still seemed pretty dead, but I remember seeing our first fish a year or two later, and then seeing larger fish each year after that. At the same time, the amount of trash that we collected went down, leading to the formula ‘Trash weight down = fish weight up.'”

Yes, streams like Goose Creek are a lot cleaner now, thanks to initiatives begun in the 1960s and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) enacted on 1/1/70. Only continued efforts, in West Chester and elsewhere, to keep such programs viable will continue protecting environmental and human health and safety.

An Introduction to Rain Gardens

West Chester Borough has now constructed several rain gardens, which filter out pollutants and reduce runoff into streams. Property owners can of course also construct rain gardens, and in fact by doing so can benefit from a reduction of their Stream Protection Fee. Here is good info from PennState Extension, 9/6/17:

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a planted depression that soaks up rainwater runoff from roofs, driveways, walkways, and compacted lawn areas—water that would otherwise carry pollutants directly to our streams. Rain gardens soak up 30 percent more water than an equivalent patch of lawn.
Where Do You Put a Rain Garden?

Choose an area where you want to soak up rainwater at least 10 feet from the house. Rain gardens can drain water from downspouts or catch water that drains off roads and walkways. Avoid areas over septic systems.

Do not place a rain garden in areas that are consistently wet. Rain gardens should drain completely within 24 hours….

Continue reading or download this handy guide to building and maintaining a rain garden at PennState Extension. See also our own 2019 post “Rain gardens / green infrastructure / Stream Protection Fee.”

World Water Day, March 22 every year

People can live a lot longer without food than without water and water is essential to growing food. On the other hand, water can kill, in storms, floods, tides, and contamination.

World Water Day is celebrated annually on March 22. See info on what we can all do regarding food (eat less meat, etc.) and fashion (it takes as much water to make one pair of jeans as the average person drinks in 7 years!!) at the UN site. And there is lots more advice there (images below).

Locally: sign up to participate in Chesco World Water Day ONLINE ZOOM EVENT. Copy and Paste into your Browser: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/552071664/

Today’s port cities and beach communities are doomed

Coastal predictions are getting worse and worse, according to a study released on Oct. 29, “New elevation data triple estimates of global vulnerability to sea-level rise and coastal flooding” by Scott A. Kulp & Benjamin H. Strauss in Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 4844 (2019).

The authors show that even under a low emissions scenario (and good luck with that one, when emissions are rising every year), about 190 million people currently live below what will be the high tide levels of the year 2100.

Under a high emissions scenario, the number of people living today under the 2100 high tide level rises to 630 million people.

Hundreds of millions more people today live close enough above that high tide level to be in danger. These projections don’t take into consideration the ravages of future erosion as the water advances or the possible collapse of coastal defenses, which already protect some 110 million people living below the high tide level (as in New Orleans and much of the Netherlands).

The study finds that “more than 70% of the total number of people worldwide currently living on implicated land are in eight Asian countries: China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan.” Although devastating for those countries, is that better news for the rest of the world? Hardly, because those Asian countries are already overcrowded. As oceans rise, those hundreds of millions of people will seek to emigrate elsewhere.

The new analysis shows oceans rising by about 2 meters in the next 80 years: today’s children will likely see this happen. Does anyone wonder why Greta Thunberg is upset with today’s “world leaders”?

It is pretty obvious that when hordes of desperate people flooded out of Bangladesh and Vietnam push up the Ganges and Mekong Rivers and try to enter India and China, trouble will result on a scale that makes the current migrations out of the Middle East and Latin America look like a warm-up exercise.

One of the accompanying maps shows “Current population on land below projected mean higher high water level in 2100 assuming intermediate carbon emissions (RCP 4.5) and relatively stable Antarctic ice sheets (sea level model K14)”:

Yellow shows highest numbers of people affected, with the scale ranging from 1 to 100,000,000. Where will all the forced emigrants go? The two countries with the fewest “exposed,” Finland and Congo, in dark blue on the map, seem unlikely destinations. The US’s yellow-green is nothing to boast about either; dislocations will occur and Florida, where most people live along the shores, will lost its status as a highly populated political swing state, since much of it will be underwater.

Today’s excuses — reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be inconvenient for our life styles or would cut into a few industries’ profits (download RAN’s “Banking on Climate Change” to see banks that do the most to finance fossil fuel industries) — will soon look idiotic on the scale of global inconvenience that is already underway.

If people can’t control their greenhouse gas emissions, can they control their rate of reproduction? Purposefully and peacefully reducing the globe’s population by 630 million before 2100 seems far preferable to having that many people forced to relocate within a shrinking land mass that is already occupied by people who will defend their own space.

You’ve probably been to Cape May County NJ. The news is not good. Here is a map from NOAA’s sea level rise map viewer showing the effect of a rise in high tides of 6 feet (thus, about 6 inches less than the projected 2 meters). Deep blue shows areas substantially under water; light blue shallower water; but all blue areas will be uninhabitable. Cape May Point will be gone (following South Cape May, which was washed away in 1944), and the Atlantic beach will be about where today’s Garden State Parkway is.

New Maps Show How Groundwater Affects Lakes and Rivers

100 years of pumping has reduced stream flows by 50 percent in some areas

by Jason Daley, Sierra magazine, 7/2/19

[N.b.: this is the bottom line of our earlier article “Rain gardens / green infrastructure / Stream Protection Fee“: Our community, county and country need to see that water runoff goes back into the aquifer. Chester County does not have a problem right now, due to lots of rainfall; see much interesting data at Chester County Water Resources Authority. But the point is to be ready for any future droughts by getting our water recharging systems in place, as well as reducing excess runoff and toxic matter flowing into streams. And our municipalities do rely on the aquifer for water for human use, whether directly by pumping or indirectly by drawing water from streams.]

Photo by John_Brueske/iStock

On the surface, it’s pretty obvious how humans have altered lakes and rivers over the past century; dams have turned rivers into strings of reservoirs, the Mississippi River is more or less a concrete-lined sluice, and artificial ponds have proliferated by the thousands. Less apparent, but perhaps just as important, is how tapping into the groundwater systems that underlie the United States has impacted those streams and lakes as well. Now, a new detailed study in the journal Science Advances shows how much groundwater pumping has impacted those water bodies, in some cases reducing their flows by half. …

read more at Sierra magazine