April 2011 Online Update

Research for People and the Planet  

In This Issue
- Nitrate-contaminated Drinking Water
- Notes from the Field
- Community Mapping Workshops in Texas
- John Akudago Joins Pacific Institute
- Water Data Visualization Award
- In Brief and News

Check Out Peter Gleick’s Blogs

Whitewashing Scientific Misconduct at the Department of the Interior

Unsafe Drinking Water for California’s Poor

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New Report Details Economic and Health Burden of Nitrate-contaminated Drinking Water   

Nitrate ReportWhile most Californians take for granted that safe water is readily available at the turn of a tap, a growing number of communities, primarily in the San Joaquin Valley and other agricultural areas of the state, face very real impacts from nitrate contamination of their drinking water sources.
The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley, a collaboration of the Pacific Institute, Community Water Center, Clean Water Fund, and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, focuses on household costs of avoiding nitrate-contaminated drinking water connected to community water systems and the costs to these systems of removing or avoiding nitrates, and it points to key policies and research needed to better understand and resolve this entrenched challenge.  

Since its release on March 16, the report has been downloaded 13,000 times and featured in dozens of media outlets, including the Modesto Bee and Fox News’ KMPH. The report brings a stark reality check to the fore as the Central Valley Water Board considers a new regulatory program for irrigated lands, the primary source of nitrate contamination in the San Joaquin Valley. Among the key findings are:


·         A significant number of people are at high risk of health problems resulting from nitrate exposure.

·         The health and economic burden of nitrate contamination disproportionately affects low-income households and Spanish-speaking residents.

·         The expense of having to purchase drinking water pushes household water costs well above affordable levels.

·         Groundwater nitrate levels are increasing and the number of wells with nitrate violations may double within ten years.

·         Public funding for nitrate mitigation in small community water systems remains inadequate and projects funded may not be providing sustainable solutions.

“Nitrate-contaminated drinking water has a pronounced impact on residents in small community water systems. Their health and their resources are compromised when they consume their tap water or pay for water from safer sources — and the problem is most dire in some areas of the state with the least capacity to cope with its effects and invest in sustainable solutions,” said Eli Moore, co-director of the Community Strategies for Sustainability and Justice Program and co-author of the report.  

Read more about nitrate contamination.

Watch our video with an interview with Rebecca Quintana, San Joaquin Valley resident impacted by nitrate-contaminated drinking water.


Searching for Water Sources in Malang, East Java


During the dry season, residents in communities like Malang, East Java must access alternative water sources like unmonitored urban springs, often near open sewers.  

Pacific Institute Research Associate Misha Hutchings has been in Indonesia to begin implementation of our Indonesia WATER SMS Project – the mobile-phone-to-web-based mapping system that will give the urban poor a tool to advocate for improved water services. She writes:


When residents of cities don’t have access to municipal water services, where do they get their water? In developing country cities, such as Malang in East Java Province, Indonesia, these residents access water in whatever way they can. Often, they purchase drinking water from private vendors or community water user groups. But their primary sources are usually wells, boreholes, springs, and even rivers — all of which draw from or recharge the local aquifers. Here we see one of many community-financed wells where the water level becomes low enough during the dry season that other sources must be sought. The alternative sources in this neighborhood are unmonitored urban springs, often situated within eye-shot of an open sewer. The resourcefulness and organization of communities under these circumstances is incredible, but one can’t help but wonder how they will fare in another 10 or 15 years. None of Malang’s water sector stakeholders — utilities, informal water vendors, and residents — has full knowledge of the activities of the other, nor knows how these activities impact their own access to water. If left unchecked, it could have an extreme impact on the sustainability and capacity of the aquifers and other water resources, and hence the vulnerability of these people to water scarcity.


Read more about the International Water and Communities Initiative and the Indonesia Water SMS Project.

CSSJ Brings Community Mapping Workshops to Texas




Community Strategies Program Co-directors Catalina Garzón and Eli Moore partnered with Community In-Power and Development Association (CIDA) and the University of Texas Medical Branch to facilitate a series of community mapping workshops for CIDA leaders in West Port Arthur, Texas. About 20 residents participated in the March workshop series, whose goals were to document the multiple environmental hazards that residents experience and to develop a community vision for the revitalization of West Port Arthur. West Port Arthur is a primarily African-American community on the Gulf Coast that contends with a legacy of economic disinvestment as well as cumulative health risks from large refinery and petrochemical facilities, a hazardous waste incinerator, diesel truck traffic, and hurricane-damaged homes.

The workshop series used hands-on tools and simple art supplies, such as color-coded stickers and transparencies overlaid on an aerial base map of the community, to make mapping accessible and interactive. At the first workshop, CIDA leaders mapped out their knowledge of community assets and treasures, such as workplaces, places of worship, parks, schools, and sites with historical or cultural significance. The second workshop focused on mapping out the locations of environmental hazards, including sources of water, soil, and air contamination, and vacant lots or abandoned buildings. Residents also reflected on the relationships between community treasures and problems, as well as changes in the community’s landscape over time. The third workshop focused on residents’ vision for West Port Arthur in the future and identifying opportunity sites for land uses that met community needs, such as a grocery store, a pharmacy, and locally owned business incubators. CIDA leaders plan to present the results of the community mapping project to the Port Arthur City Council and other decision-makers as part of their work to revitalize the West Port Arthur neighborhood.


This project is part of the Community Strategies Program’s Community Mapping Initiative, which uses mapping technologies to build community voice and power to create positive change in local environmental and health conditions. For more information, or if you’re interested in working with us to plan community mapping workshops in your area, please contact Program Co-director Catalina Garzón at cgarzon@pacinst.org.

 Read more about the Community Strategies for Sustainability and Justice Program.


New Staff Joins the International Water and Communities Initiative

Dr. John Akudago


The Pacific Institute welcomes new Senior Research Associate John Akudago to the International Water and Communities Initiative. He will be leading our effort to develop the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Community Choices Tool through learning sessions with users in West Africa, and also participate in our evaluation of multiple-use water services as an organizing framework in the water sector.

Dr. Akudago brings decades of experience as a hydrogeologist and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene manager. His research interests include quantitative and qualitative evaluation of aquifers and their effects on domestic and agricultural water uses, contaminant remediation, well siting and drilling, water resources management and conflict resolution, community sanitation, hygiene issues and behavior change, and the effect of climate change on water resources.nbsp; 


Prior to joining the Pacific Institute, Dr. Akudago worked with the Community Water and Sanitation Agency in Ghana as a hydrogeologist, World Vision Ghana also as a hydrogeologist and field operations manager, and Samaritan’s Purse as a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Program Manager where he responded to water, sanitation, and hygiene needs of Haiti earthquake survivors, the cholera epidemic, and also Japan earthquake survivors. Dr. Akudago received his bachelor’s degree in Geological Engineering from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana. He was awarded a Japanese government scholarship in October 2004 to study at Okayama University, Japan, where he received his masters and PhD. 

Circle of Blue Awards Water Data Visualization Challenge Winners


Heather Cooley, Water Program Co-Director, participated as a judge in the Urban Water Data Visualization Challenge hosted by Visualizing.com and Pacific Institute affiliate Circle of Blue, the international network of journalists, scholars, and citizens that connects humanity to the global freshwater crisis. The challenge called on designers, data experts, and visualizers to tap into the world’s stream of water data to create visualizations specifically on the topic of urban water. Prizes and $5,000 went to Joseph Bergen and Nicki Huang, students at Harvard  Graduate School of Design.   

“Many of the world’s metropolitan centers lack the planning, infrastructure, and water resources needed to support the mass migration of residents from rural to urban areas,” said J. Carl Ganter, Director of Circle of Blue. “This is why cities are simultaneously places where the most dire resource challenges converge and where new ideas and water-related investments can be tested.” Inspired by the World Water Day 2011 theme Water for Cities, Circle of Blue and Visualizing.com created a challenge that would make use of the abundance of water data available.   


“It is important that we find new ways to present the powerful information on water that we have,” said Heather Cooley. “The data visualization challenge made it possible for people to see different water issues in multiple ways to better understand our water situation locally and globally.”  


View the water data visualizations at http://www.josephbergen.com/viz/water/.

In Brief

Misha Hutchings
, research associate, spent the month of March in Jakarta and Malang, Indonesia, with PATTIRO, our local NGO partner on the Indonesia WATER SMS Project. They visited communities, water user groups, and water utilities in Malang, East Java Province, in preparation for holding participatory learning sessions to gather information for designing the Indonesia WATER SMS mobile-phone-to-web-based tool. The team also selected their second pilot location, Makassar, South Sulawesi Province.


Jason Morrison, director of the Globalization Program, attended a Board meeting of the Alliance for Water Stewardship in Washington, D.C. on March 6-8. Among other key issues, the Directors deliberated on the final governance structure and decision-making processes for the initiative’s International Standards Development Committee, the 15-member multi-stakeholder global body that will oversee the development of AWS certification standards.


Pacific Institute staff members gave talks and lectures, conducted workshops, and participated on panels nationally and abroad this month. Here is the list of places we’ve been:


Lucy Allen, research associate:

- Gave a presentation on California water issues to the Democrats of Rossmoor Club


Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate:

- Gave a lecture on Legislative Policy at the 2011 Intelligent Use of Water Summit: California Agriculture at a Crossroads

- Water Education Foundation’s 28th Annual Executive Briefing, “Navigating Uncertain Waters”


Heather Cooley, Water Program co-director:

- Attended two meetings for the Department of Water Resources Commercial, Industrial, Institutional Task Force

- Gave the lecture “Environmental Impacts of Seawater Desalination” at the American Water Works Association Membrane Conference


Catalina Garzón and Eli Moore, Community Strategies for Sustainability and Justice Program co-directors:  

- Gave a workshop at the Environmental Justice Encuentro in Galena Park, Texas


Catalina Garzón and Margaret Gordon (board member):

- Spoke at a UC Berkeley graduate seminar on Community-based Participatory Research


Peter Gleick, president:

- Gave the Dungan Lecture on Energy and Environment at Occidental College

- Interviewed with Patt Morrison from KPCC on California Water Policy

- Gave a lecture on water in the 21st century at University of Tennessee

- Presented at the Point Reyes Geography of Hope Symposium
- Moderated the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, UK
- Participated on a panel on the global water crisis at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio 


Misha Hutchings, research associate:

- Met with Water and Sanitation partners hosted by USAID in Jakarta, Indonesia


Eyal Matalon, research associate:

- Presented at the 2nd annual Clean Power, Healthy Communities conference hosted by the Local Clean Energy Alliance of the Bay Area 

- Presented at San Francisco Bay Area convening on the implications of Senate Bill 375 for communities impacted by freight transportation

Jason Morrison, Globalization Program director:  

- Served on a panel at the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference to discuss the latest in corporate water strategies and disclosure trends reflecting the water-related challenges facing business

Pacific Institute in the News  

- Juliet Christian Smith, senior research associate in the Water Program, spoke with New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer about California’s water use and allocation process. Read the full article.


- Peter Gleick, president, wrote an op-ed for the April 4 San Francisco Chronicle on “The Myth of California Water Shortfalls,” noting:  ”It is time to pull back the curtain on one of the most common myths of California’s water situation — the idea that there is enough water to satisfy 100 percent of ‘demand.’” Read the op-ed.

- Peter Gleick, with fellow scientists John Abraham, Michael Mann, and Michael Oppenheimer, sent a letter to Congress on March 9 urging our elected representatives to separate science from policy and lead the national response on climate change. Read the letter on POLITICO.

- This month, Eli Moore, co-director of the Community Strategies Program, spoke with Mark Grossi from the Fresno Bee and Julia Scott from California Watch to discuss key findings from our newest report on nitrate-contaminated drinking water in the San Joaquin Valley.

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