by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Water

Oct 14 2021

The latest in weird waters

I haven’t said much about unusual bottled waters since 2018 when I wrote about bottled ocean water.

2018 was also when I went on The Daily Show to be interviewed by Desi Lydic as the straitperson for her deep dive into “raw water” (surely, the funniest thing I’ve ever done).

Well, you can’t make up these things.

  • Karma Water launches CBD Water:  Karma Water – a US brand which Constellation Brands has a minority stake in – has launched Karma CBD Water: the first such beverage in its wellness and probiotic waters beverage portfolio…. Read more
  • Shine Water with Vitamin D: That this is about marketing more than health is evident from at least one review: “The brand messaging is where things go a little off track, slamming you with callouts and copy, trying to establish credibility for the drink’s functionality. These include a large green vitamin D callout, a Vitamin D Council “approved” logo, a “developed by physicians” logo, two mentions of their charitable intentions (5 percent of profits — a problem in that most startup beverage companies have zero or minimal profits for a while).
  • Psychedelic Water: A friend who prefers to remain anonymous forwarded an e-mail from this company: “We would love to arrange an interview with you and the team of disruptors behind the launch of the first legal psychedelic, mild mood-boosting, hangover-free fun…Psychedelics have been touted in the media lately for the extreme benefits they have on mental health, depression, happiness, mood-stabilizing, and overall general well-being. Psychedelic Water works because it is the world’s first legal psychedelic blend of kava root, damiana leaf, and green tea A leaf extract for an experience like no other.

My only comment:  Really, there are better ways to get CBD, vitamin D, or even high if that’s what you are looking for.  Me?  I’m sticking to plain, ordinary drinking water, sometimes fizzed up a bit.

Oct 1 2021

Weekend reading: the food system and water use

I am happy to see that USDA’s Economic Research Service is back on the job and recovering somewhat from its forced move to Kansas City.  I was especially interested to see this report: U.S. Food-Related Water Use Varies by Food Category, Supply Chain Stage, and Dietary Pattern.

It has three main conclusions:

  • The U.S. food system, which provides the majority of domestically purchased foods and beverages, requires about one-third of the Nation’s total freshwater use.

  • Crop production uses over half of the water for food, while later supply chain stages also require a substantial amount of water.

  • Freshwater usage varies by the food categories that make up U.S. diets. If the U.S. population were to adopt healthier dietary patterns, food-system water use could substantially increase or decrease, depending on the dietary patterns realized.

Something to consider.  But all this is why PepsiCo is making such a big point about trying to reduce its water use (it takes many gallons of water to make one gallon of a bottled drink).

Aug 27 2021

Weekend reading: The demise of the Ogallala Aquifer

Lucas Bessire.  Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains.  Princeton University Press, 2021.

The website blurb for this book says it is “An intimate reckoning with aquifer depletion in America’s heartland.”

Yes, but it’s more than that.  It’s a deeply personal account of the author’s attempt to make sense of and come to terms with his family’s history on land on the plains of Western Kansas.  This land was once occupied—and not all that long ago—by Native American tribes since murdered or driven out by white settlers.  This same land was once watered by rivers from an ancient underground source, but now so depleted by irrigation that it—like the Indians—is threatened by extinction.

The author, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma, grapples with his family’s role in this depletion and his own complicity while coming to terms with his relationship with his long estranged father.  I read this book as a history of the great plains viewed through a personal and familial memoir that reads like a novel.

If you are even remotely interested in why farmers on the great plains are not doing more to preserve this essential water source, start here.  It’s revelatory.

…corporate profits are a key part of the aquifer depletion puzzle.  It should have come as no surprise.  The scale of industrial farming is staggering.  Southwest Kansas is home to some of the nation’s largest corporate feeders, beef- and poultry-packing plants, slaughterhouses, dairies, milk-drying plants and hog farms.  More than 2.5 million beef cattle live there in feedlots that handle tens of thousands of animals.  Just across the Oklahoma line, one company processes 5.6 million hogs per year in its plant…Multinational meat-packing companies operhoe slaughterhouses that process several thousand cattle each day.  All are billion-dollar businesses.  They drive farmers’ choices to produce corn, silage, sorghum, or alfalfa.  Their profits depend on aquifer depletion.  In other words, there is a multbillion-dollar corporate interest to prevent regulation and to pump the water until its gone [p. 78].

He documents goverment collusion with absentee corporate landowners who could care less about what happens to real farming communities.  Near his family’s home, “at least 60 percent of the farmland is owned by nonresidents’ [p. 80].

In the 1940s, the supply of water seemed endless and the opportunity to preserve the aquifer was lost.  “Faith in the abundance of these waters put an end to the more sustainable farming techniques tht were beginning to be adopted by the end of the 1930s, as well as the progressive policies that accompanied them.  One historic opening was lost with them” [p. 89]

Nobody talked about what settlers did to the Indians.

We confined the horrors of eradication [of the Indians] to a cartoonish lost world; one that we thought was entirely disconnected from our own.  We did not relate past events to the banal activities of irrigation farming or the way we grew up or the pumping of the subterranean aquifers.  Like the extermination of buffalo and the toxid fogs and the torturous confinement of defiant voices, these events were not openly discussed and their remnants were never tied to the present.  Cordoning them off from conversation meant that their significance was largely blocked from our memories, too [p. 130].

He struggles with these questions:

So where can a true reckoning with depletion begin and where does it end?  With a strategy to update management practices through more precise forms of modeling and expertise?  With the innovation of more-efficient irrigation technology and crop varieties that require more water?  With a sociology that details how agrarian capitalism drains water and wealth from the Plains to enrich investors elsewhere?  With a diagnosis of how this case illustrates White supremacy, toxic masculinity, or the sentiments and logics of settler colonialism?  With a chart of the ways aquifer losss combines with climate chage to make ours an era of planetary ends?  With an optimism that things aren’t really as bad as they seem? [p. 168].

Why care about the Ogallala Aquifer?  “…depletion comes back into focus as one of the wider movements that erode democracy, divide us from one another, and threaten to make exiles of us all” [p. 173].

Bessire points out that everyone knows what could be done, and right now, to reverse the depletion and conserve what remains.  “Examples of success can be found across the Ogallala region, whree farmers from Nebraska to Texas are organizing and leading related efforts to slow decline” [p. 174].

His book is a call for citizen action.  It would be good to take him up on it.

Jan 15 2021

Weekend (quick) reading: FAO infographic on agriculture and water resources

FAO has this eye-catching new teaser for its new report on water and agriculture.  Check out the teaser first.  Its graphics move (the blades on the wind turbinesshow below turn, for example)

Its main point:

Everyone needs to pay attention to water use, and the teaser and the report state the policy recommendations.

 

Feb 5 2018

Annals of marketing: Bottled ocean water?

I am ever in awe of the creative ways in which marketers sell—water.

George Kent sends me this brilliant example from Hawai’i: Kona Deep.

This, according to the website, is mined from deep ocean waters off the coast of that state.

Kona Deep offers a very different hydration experience because of its unique blend of naturally occurring deep ocean electrolytes.

“Naturally occurring deep ocean electrolytes?  You mean, like, salt?

Indeed it does.

Kona Deep accesses that mineral rich deep ocean water and desalinates it using reverse osmosis while preserving its natural mineral and nutrient content.

Professor Kent did not mention how much this costs.

Translation: Kona Deep is desalinated ocean water.

Water, let me remind you, costs pennies from the tap.  Most tap water in the United States is safe to drink and tastes just fine.

  • If you are worried about the chlorine taste, pour some tap water into a pitcher, stir it up a bit, and leave it out overnight.  The chlorine will vanish.
  • If you are worried about contaminants, use a filter.
  • If you need convenience, use a water bottle and fill it with tap water.

Bottled water may be handy, but it raises at least three issues:

  • Financial
  • Environmental: energy cost, waste, and litter removal
  • Political: Bottled water reduces public trust and advocacy for municipal water supplies

Caveat emptor.

 

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Oct 30 2015

Clean Water rules: Will Congress just say no?

Today’s Politico Morning Agriculture report has this brief note:

SENATE TO TAKE UP WOTUS FIX: The Clean Water Rule’s days could be numbered. The Senate could as early as next week take up a bill from Sen. John Barrasso to require the EPA to withdraw its Clean Water Rule and re-draft the measure with the help of states and other affected groups…The bill has the backing of 46 senators…Given that the House has already passed a similar measure, a “yea” vote from the Senate could signal a quick demise for the rule.

This sent me to try to understand what the Clean Water Rule is about and why so many groups want to get rid of it.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule defining the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) covered by its regulations. This, as far as I can tell, extends regulatory protection beyond large streams to the small streams that flow into them.

On its website devoted to this rule, the EPA says “The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand.”

Maybe so, but I’m having a hard time understanding how the new rules would require agricultural producers to clean up the waste they discharge into local streams.

The agricultural implications are particularly contentious—think of the huge volumes of animal waste delivered to streams by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or of pesticides and herbicides running off from mega-farms.

But the EPA insists that there are no changes to the current rules that exempt agriculture from having to protect local water supplies.

Agricultural producers evidently do not believe this. They have done everything possible to block the rules and apparently will succeed in this effort.

The strength of the opposition—farm organizations, golf course groups, municipalities—suggests that somewhere in these rules must be restrictions on discharges into water supplies.    If so, the Clean Water rules deserve plenty of support.

I wish I could find a clear, straightforward explanation of what the WOTUS rules would do.  If the rules are overturned, which it looks like they will be, I’m wondering if this is because only lobbyists can understand the details and implications.

This document from the American Water Works Association has useful diagrams illustrating which streams are affected by the EPA’s rules.

Are any groups supporting the WOTUS rules?  If so, they are very quiet.

Addition

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s position paper on the failings of the Clean Water Rule

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May 26 2015

Q and A: Should we eat vegetables from parched California?

Q.  Marion, have you seen the NY Times article? It is about how what we eat is contributing to the CA drought. Leaves me confused. If we don’t eat these foods, the farmers will go out of business and that state will suffer. Also, it is mostly fruits, nuts and veggies mentioned. Any thoughts???        –Julie Kumar

A.  The story, in case you missed it, is summarized by its headline: “The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state.

New Picture

The Times also says:

Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.

What to say about this?

California has a good climate for growing vegetables year-round.  What it does not have is rain.  Even in non-drought years, the rainy season is short.  California gets virtually no rain in summers when the vegetable-growing Central Valley is at its hottest.

Nevertheless, the powers that be decided long ago that money was to be made diverting water from the Sierras to promote the growth of cities (see, for example, Chinatown and any number of documentary films)—and to irrigate California farmland.

The current drought brings the greed and lack of foresight in these decisions to public attention.  California farmers have now agreed to cuts in their water allotments, but that still leaves proponents of sustainable agriculture with the dilemma described by Julie’s question:

Does it make ethical or moral sense to boycott California vegetables, nuts, and fruits as a means to encourage producers to move their businesses to wetter locations?

In the long term, it might.  I keep thinking of Iowa, which used to be the major producer of specialty crops, but which now produces corn and soybeans under industrial conditions that are ruining municipal water supplies with nitrates from their runoffs.

We need to develop agricultural policies that promote sustainable production methods and take water use, climate change, and other such matters into serious consideration.

In the meantime, you are on your own to figure out your personal method for helping California with its water problems and for encouraging such policies as quickly as possible.

California’s water problems, by the way, are anything but new.   It’s worth digging up the 1949 study by Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation for 20 years.  His book, no surprise, focuses on the politics.

Cover art

Or if you prefer a more historical approach, there’s this one from University of California Press in 2001.

Cover art

Where I live, it’s suddenly summer and time for putting in tomatoes.

Sep 10 2014

Congress vs. EPA’s Clean Water Act

I’m trying to understand what’s going on with the bill the House passed on Tuesday to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing what it proposed to do last April: define its ability to protect bodies of water in the United States against agricultural pollution.

Specifically, the EPA proposes that under the Clean Water Act, it can enforce pollution controls over:

  • Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams.
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams.
  • Other types of waters that have uncertain connections with downstream water (these will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis).

The Clean Water Act gives EPA the authority to set wastewater standards for industry, including agriculture.  The Act

  • Establishes the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges.
  • Grants EPA authority to implement pollution control programs.
  • Sets water quality standards for contaminants.
  • Makes it unlawful to discharge pollutants without a permit.

The Clean Water Act most definitely applies to agriculture:

According to the account in The Hill, the bill prohibits the EPA from establishing any regulations based on the proposals.

  • The EPA says the proposals do not expand the agency’s existing authority over US waters.
  • But Republicans, joined by some Democrats, say the proposals expand EPA jurisdiction over trivial bodies of water.

Trivial, of course, is a matter of perception.  Agricultural pollutants cause much damage to US waterways.  The proposals are aimed at containing some of the damage.

No wonder agribusiness wants to stop EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act’s provisions.

The White House says it will veto the bill.  Let’s see what happens in the Senate.

 

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