Friday, November 11, 2011

The water wars are here, and companies such as Duke Energy are antagonizing it

Posted By on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 at 1:32 PM

Were going to need more than water guns on our side to win this battle.
  • Bill Kwok
  • We're going to need more than water guns on our side to win this battle.

When the Union of Concerned Scientists come to Charlotte next week to present a new report focused on the water and energy nexus, some companies will not be happy about it. Word is, the report identifies Charlotte as a "hot spot" since Duke Energy has three coal plants, two nuclear plants — all along the Catawba River — and one corporate headquarters here.

Get a preview of the Union of Concerned Scientists' report from Aurana Lewis, co-author, who will be presenting the organization's findings the night before they're officially released.

She'll be at Cooks Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 14.

Now, can we stop pretending like we're waiting on the "water wars" to overtake the "oil wars"? The water wars have begun, and companies like Duke Energy are swimming in them.

Already, Georgia and Alabama are fighting over a river, North Carolina and South Carolina have taken their battle over the Catawba to the Supreme Court, and even cities like Kannapolis are lawyered up and vying for more water.

Kumi Naidoo, the international executive director of Greenpeace, told me during his recent trip to Charlotte that the unreported story from the horrific war in Darfur was that the expansion of the area's desert and lack of water, spurred by climate change, was the conflict's underlying issue. (Read more about Naidoo's local visit here.)

In this month's issue of Orion Magazine, the publication focuses on the water crisis in Israel and Palestine. And closer to home, tainted groundwater is threatening the water supply in Fayetteville, as is the groundwater beneath numerous industrial sites across the land — and there's few resources to clean it up.

The problem is, many people have not tuned in to the crisis. Given that less than 3 percent of the water on the planet is available to drink, we all will have to tune in pretty soon.

Energy companies consume mass quantities of water to produce energy, so every time you flick a switch you're not only using coal but water. Put simply, it works like this at a coal plant: coal is burned to heat water, the steam rises and turns turbines, those turbines generate electricity, the leftover water is flushed from the plant back into the river or lake.

Add to that the reality that North Carolina is home to more coal-ash ponds than any other state — all on the edge of fresh water bodies, many draining directly into drinking-water reservoirs — and the stage is set for a legal battle over fresh water, which the people own, according to the state constitution.

Charlotte is surrounded by four unlined coal-ash ponds, all on the Catawba River — the source of nearly all of the city's drinking water. The Catawba Riverkeeper, David Merryman, has calculated that Charlotte's main drinking-water reservoir, Mountain Island Lake, is contaminated by one to three pounds of arsenic each day, and Duke University scientists have detected arsenic III and strontium in the lake's sediment, something no one in the government monitors.

Coal ash is the country's second largest waste stream and remains unregulated at the federal level. If Congress and its corporate lobbyists have their way, it will remain unregulated. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last month bent on neutering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate coal ash (it's in the Senate now), at the behest of energy industry lobbyists who have spent an exorbitant amount of money fighting to avoid any regulation whatsoever — with Duke Energy leading the pack.

This, despite the reality that we already know that the groundwater beneath the coal-ash ponds is tainted and that many of the contaminants in the sludge are carcinogens, setting our bodies up for a war with the water we consume.

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