For a recent story on Lake Champlain, I came across another effect of climate change I hadn’t thought much about: water pollution.
Over the years, we’ve begun to brace for obvious things that happen when it warms up — changes like less snow, something that could have profound and devastating effects on the local ski industry.
Just beyond that, it seems pretty easy to guess that less snow might mean more rain. And since snow gradually melts after it falls but rain is going to rush across the land, that might mean more flooding. That’s even without having more frequent and intense storms, which the region is also experiencing.
Those flows pose dangers besides simply flooding. Flashes of water in urban areas or across farms pick up pollution and take it into streams, rivers and lakes. The pollution may be debris, which jams up culverts and cause more flooding, or it may be chemical contaminants, like bacteria from overflowing sewage systems, oil from city roads and manure from farms.
After last fall’s flooding in the Adirondacks, some officials urged homeowners to check to see whether floodwaters got into and fouled up their wells. There’s a whole protocol that well owners should follow after a flood to make sure their water is safe.
There are going to be a lot of consequences from climate change, but more water meaning more pollution might not seem like one of them. It is.
A “ghost fleet” of radiation
Even though New York has banned the oil and gas extraction method known as “fracking” in an attempt to protect the state’s waters from pollution, some of the contaminants can still easily make it into our waters
This week, Rolling Stone magazine dropped a major investigation into radioactive brine from oil and gas drilling. The brine is somewhat natural — it comes out of the earth during any sort of oil and gas extraction — but can also contain naturally occurring radioactive elements that would otherwise remain buried.
This poses a danger to oilfield workers and, perhaps most surprisingly, communities nowhere near oil and gas wells. The magazine focused on how the brine is moved across state lines because, “The industry pawns off brine — offering it for free — on rural townships that use the salty solution as a winter de-icer and, in the summertime, as a dust tamper on unpaved roads.”
The Rolling Stone story reignited New York environmental activists who have been talking about hazardous brine for years.
Several years ago, New York Riverkeeper did a study showing the brine is spread on roads across New York, though not, as of then, in the Adirondacks.
On Twitter, Liz Moran, the environmental policy director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, who was quoted in the Rolling Stone story, reminded lawmakers and the governor they could prevent brine spreading on roads.
In Other News
- The New York Times explores what it means to remove dams in New York to restore fish habitat.
- The Burlington Free Press answers one of life’s big questions: How long would it take for a Zamboni to smooth out the ice on Lake Champlain?
- My colleague Gwendolyn Craig has updates from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget presentation, which gives some more insight on what he wants to spend on environmental issues, including in the Adirondacks.