April Showers

Hello lovely Sprout readers,

This month we have chosen to highlight what April is famous for, particularly here on the East Coast: April showers. Whether it’s falling from the sky, nourishing our agriculture system, filling in lakes and rivers, or returning to the ocean, water determines much of our existence. As nutrition students we know the importance of water all to well; after all, we are 50-75% water. At Friedman, we have the opportunity to partake in the WSSS program (Water: Systems, Science and Society), and we are giving the reins to a WSSS high-achiever, second year AFE and WSSS student, Meg Keegan, to introduce you to our April issue. So grab a tall cold one (of water, that is) and read on.

quote for letter from the editor

Having just returned from the bald landscapes of the Middle East to a thirsty, wilting Californian Central Valley, water is more than on my mind. But actually, water is always on my mind. It haunts even my everyday academic musings in a way only Norman Maclean would understand:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and I am haunted by waters.” 
― Norman MacleanA River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Water is, quite simply, inescapable. It is the fugitive resource that we cannot seem to elude. It is the quiet undercurrent flowing beneath all we do at Friedman: from a molecule vital to our most basic human function, to those overlooked ”eight glasses per day”, to the threatening irreversibility of agricultural impacts on water quantity and quality. Most importantly, it is a platform on which to connect with virtually anyone–it extends Friedmaners to development and humanitarian emergencies through water, sanitation and health initiatives. It connects AFE students with engineers through irrigation, and industries and urban planners through sectoral water allocation and management. It connects us all to the policies that protect, conserve, and restore our life-sustaining relationship with water.

This issue of the Sprout swells this month with amazing articles about my favorite subject. Lara Goodrich Ezor drops a few tips on how to save drips in the kitchen, while Lindsey Webb lays down the financials on water pricing in the U.S. New England fishermen get some positive light from Katie Wright. Also in this issue, Alyssa Charney enlightens us on the environmental guinea pig–CAFO waste–and its misguided programmatic solutions. And just try to eat almonds in the lunch room after reading Nelly Czajkowski’s piece on water consumption in nut production—I dare you! Finally, the Sprout puts on a water-taste-athon to see how the most expensive and highly touted brands match up to each other and controversy-laden tap water.

This water issue could not be more timely or relevant, and I expect that it will flood Friedman with engaged dialogue, and a hint of urgency, surrounding our most precious resource. Go ahead, dive in.

P.S. Be sure to check out the WSSS Symposium this Friday, April 11th, on Water and Cities!

Your Editors (and this month’s guest editor),

Amy, Mimi, & Meg

 

Inside this issue:

Policy & Science Research

Water Prices Across the US: How Does Your Bill Stack Up, by Lindsey Webb.  Our monthly water bills aren’t something most of us think about too much. But how does where we live change what we pay?

Are conservation dollars polluting our water?, by Alyssa Charney. The 2014 Farm Bill continues the practice of allowing conservation funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to support waste management practices that contaminate critical water resources.

Feature

Water-Saving Tips for the Kitchen, by Lara Goodrich Ezor. In honor of the water issue, we’re looking at simple ways to conserve water in the kitchen.

Cape Cod Cares: Small-scale Fishermen Make Waves to Keep the Cape Healthy, by Katherine Wright. Dogfish is in, Cod is out. How Massachusetts Cape fishermen are leading the way toward sustainability.

One Thirsty Nut: Almonds and the California Drought, by Nelly Czajkowski. A look into what the California drought means for Friedman’s favorite nut.

Reviews

Water vs. Water: Which Tastes Better? The Sprout Editors tickle the tastebuds of some Friedmanites with samples of different brands of water.

Poems You Can Eat

Salt on Sea, by Stephani Cook.  Vitamin-, mineral-, and nutrient-packed poetry for you and yours.  Take a long drink of this one. Warning: poetry is not actually edible.

The Grapevine

Calendar of Food Events
We’ve compiled a list of the best stuff happening in and around the city this month, including Friedman events, on our Calendar of Events link at the top of the page. Click an event on the calendar for more details.

Water Prices Across the United States: How Does Your Bill Stack Up?

by Lindsey Webb

If you’re like me, you don’t spend very much time thinking about your water bill. You turn the water off when you’re brushing your teeth and limit your shower time, but in the end, you use what you use and you pay for it every month, just like everyone else across the country. In reality, though, things are a bit more complicated; what you pay depends a lot on where you live.

Availability or scarcity of water in your area doesn’t entirely determine what you pay for it. Playing a huge role is the rate structure chosen by the municipality where you live. (State policies can also have some influence.)

????????????????Most cities charge a fixed fee to start off with, but beyond that they have a number of different rate structures to choose from. For example, Memphis, New York, and Chicago charge a uniform rate for every unit of water consumed. Fresno, California does as well, though given the recent drought in California, there have been calls to re-evaluate water pricing in a number of California cities.

Denver, Jacksonville, and Boston use an “increasing block”structure where users are charged more for higher amounts used. Users in these areas might pay a lower rate for the first 1000 cubic feet of water consumed, but a higher rate for the next. This structure provides a stronger incentive to conserve water than a uniform price structure, since the price per unit increases the more you use.

A “decreasing block”structure, used by a handful of major cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Indianapolis, is the opposite. Users in these cities are charged less for higher amounts of water used, providing less of an incentive to conserve.

Cities acknowledging seasonal variation in water availability include Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The latter three cities use a seasonal increasing block structure, which is similar to the increasing block structure –the difference is that rates are higher in the peak season. Phoenix uses a seasonal uniform block structure where the prices paid during peak season and low season do not depend on the amount used.

So, in which cities do consumers pay the most for their water use? According to a 2013 survey by Circle of Blue, an association of scientists and journalists focused on water issues, average water bills for the 30 major U.S. cities vary quite widely. For a family of four using 50 gallons of water per person per day, the average monthly water bill in Phoenix was the lowest at just $11.55. Other low payers include Memphis ($11.79) and Salt Lake City ($16.55).

On the other end of the spectrum, a family of four using the same amount of water in Santa Fe, New Mexico could expect to pay $54.78 per month. Seattle residents paid the second highest at $51.10, perhaps the opposite of what one would expect given the city’s rainy reputation. San Diego, San Francisco, and Atlanta all had average monthly bills of over $40. Here in Boston, the average monthly bill for a family of four consuming 50 gallons of water per day is somewhere in the middle at $36.08.

For more information and a complete listing of the 30 cities’average water bills, see http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2013/world/the-price-of-water-2013-up-nearly-7-percent-in-last-year-in-30-major-u-s-cities-25-percent-rise-since-2010/

 

Lindsey Webb is a second year FPAN student who is very excited about graduating in May, in part because she can binge-watch all of the Chopped episodes she missed this year. Learn more about her on our Meet Our Writers page.

Are conservation dollars polluting our water?

by Alyssa Charney

Many conservation programs in the Farm Bill aim to help producers protect water quality from impairment from agricultural inputs. However, since 2002, funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has been flowing to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are contaminating, rather than protecting, critical water resources. The 2014 Farm Bill failed to reform EQIP’s funding of these operations.

EQIP is a working lands conservation program that was established in the 1996 Farm Bill to allow agricultural and livestock operators to enroll in 5 to 10 year contracts to manage natural resource concerns. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to producers to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits. Common practices include planting cover crops to prevent erosion or installing fencings for grazing rotations.

Despite EQIP’s conservation objectives, nearly 40 percent of the program’s funds currently go to CAFOs for waste storage facilities and irrigation equipment installation. And yet even with EQIP funding, CAFOs do not effectively manage the large amount of waste they produce.

Animal manure and urine from CAFOs are funneled into and stored in massive waste lagoons, which often overflow, leak, or break and send dangerous contaminants into water supplies. These lagoons are frequently located within floodplains on aquifers, directly contaminating the drinking water supply. Additionally, liquid manure stored in the lagoons is sprayed onto cropland or pastures through large sprinkler irrigation systems that over apply waste to levels that exceed what is needed to maintain soil fertility. Liquid waste from the sprayfields runs off into streams, lakes, rivers, and estuaries.

Manure lagoon (Source: USDA).

Manure lagoon (Source: USDA).

The lagoons and irrigation pivots used by CAFOs are sucking up EQIP funding in the name of environmental conservation.

However, this wasn’t always the case. Between 1996 and 2002 CAFOs were ineligible to receive EQIP funding. But in response to a massive lobbying campaign from corporate meat industry interests, the 2002 Farm Bill increased the EQIP payment limit from $50,000 to $300,000 and CAFOs were deemed eligible. Funding priorities also shifted to favor projects with the greatest pollution potential instead of the most cost-efficient applications, again favoring CAFOs over small and midsized farms that wish to integrate pollution preventing practices on their operations.

Even with the EQIP funding CAFOs receive, CAFOs do not effectively manage the massive amounts of waste they produce.

Reforming EQIP to prevent CAFOs from receiving funds would have provided more needed support to farmers who are safeguarding, rather than further damaging, natural resources. Unfortunately, the 2014 Farm Bill not only failed to decrease the payment limit for EQIP, but it actually increased that limit from $300,000 to $450,000 per contract. CAFOs remain eligible and polluting livestock operations can continue to receive a disproportionate share of EQIP funding.

Public health and sustainable agriculture advocates have called for a variety of reforms to address the disproportionate share of EQIP funding that CAFOs receive.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)’s platform proposed that the Farm Bill should reduce the program-wide payment limit for EQIP from $300,000 to $200,00 per contract, as the average contract today is still smaller than the program’s original payment limit of $50,000, and CAFO applications receive larger contracts. NSAC added that if Congress does continue to fund CAFOs through EQIP, it should at least eliminate payments made to any new or expanding operations and to those located within flood plains.

Similarly, the Union of Concerned Scientists has called for the elimination of the waste-management subsidies that CAFOs receive under EQIP in order to provide more needed support to small and mid-sized farms. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has also identified the effects of CAFOs on human health and the environment as reason to reform EQIP to prohibit CAFOs from receiving funding.

And the American Public Health Association (APHA) has pointed to the dangers that CAFOs present to contaminated drinking water and called for a moratorium on new operations. APHA cited a number of water-related health concerns including the contamination of drinking water with pathogens from manure.

What’s next?

While the Farm Bill fails to provide much needed reform to CAFOs’ EQIP eligibility at the federal level, state technical committees can play a significant role in determining which EQIP applications are or are not funded. The technical committees can, and should, advise state conservationists to restructure the way NRCS ranks applications, in such a way as to favor sustainable practices rather than those specific to CAFO waste management. Funding manure lagoons or pivot irrigation equipment for CAFOs should be especially discouraged.

States should not sit around and wait another five (or more) years for Farm Bill reform to stop wasting conservation dollars on water polluting CAFOs. The time for a shift in EQIP funding priorities is now.

Alyssa Charney is a first year AFE/MPH student. Also in the WSSS program, she’s excited about the water that helps grow the food we eat and the water that hydrates her as she gets ready to run the Boston Marathon. She grew up on the east coast, but loves Montana’s mountains that were home before arriving at Friedman. Alyssa can be reached at alyssa.charney@tufts.edu.

Water-Saving Tips for the Kitchen

by Lara Goodrich Ezor

One summer in college, during an Atlanta drought, I enthusiastically hung water-saving advice on every bathroom mirror in my parents’ home. I spouted common tips for reducing residential water use, including taking quick showers, flushing the toilet less often, and watering the lawn during non-peak hours. But, in spite of my gumption, I had forgotten a room of the house that is often a culprit for unwise water use: the kitchen.

Food production is always thirsty. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), irrigation accounts for 37% of annual freshwater withdrawal in the United States. But, as discussed in this issue, water may not be the eternal resource it was once thought to be. With aquifers drying up, temperatures rising, and increasing droughts around the country, we seem to always be on high alert for a potential water shortage.

As foodies, cooks and kitchen-dwellers, here are some easy ways to save water in the most important room of the house:

Hand wash dishes. For those of us who live in apartments with kitchens the size of closets, washing dishes by hand may not be so much of a choice. But washing dishes in the sink and scrubbing stains by hand can save a lot of water, as long as you don’t keep the sink water running while scrubbing away.

Save water for other purposes. When rinsing produce, save the water for later use (e.g. to water plants). If you’re boiling or steaming vegetables, save the cooking water for a savory stock.

Use lower water pressure. Let’s face it. You do not need to pressure-wash your produce or dishes. Instead, use a lower stream and scrub by hand.

Use an appropriate amount of detergent. Applying excessive soap requires more vigorous rinsing and unnecessary water use.

Boil pasta in a smaller pot. Though the cooking instructions call for making pasta in a big pot full of water, you don’t really need all that liquid to get the perfect al dente.

Use only what you need. It takes a lot of energy to warm up a full teakettle or to brew your morning cup of joe. Making only what you need can save water and electricity.

Compost. Running the sink disposal uses excessive water, while tossing out food scraps can be wasteful and smelly. If you’re able to, compost. Or, freeze food scraps for a tasty stock when you need ‘em!

Drink tap water. It takes nearly 1.5 gallons of water to produce and manufacture a single bottle, so turn on the tap, and choose the alternative.

Infographic for Lara (Source: Rainbow Interational Restoration)

Source: Rainbow Interational Restoration

 

   Lara Goodrich Ezor is a first-year FPAN student who loves iced water on a hot day, and a hot cup of tea during a snowstorm. She has also perfected the sub-two-minute shower. Learn more about her on our Meet Our Writers page.

Cape Cod Cares: Small-scale fishermen make waves to keep the Cape healthy

by Katherine Wright

The sustainable seafood movement has been growing in recent years due to dropping global fish stocks, issues with overfishing and increasing demand for fish. According to the Marine Stewardship Council, demand for fish has increased 21% over the course of 10 years and the annual world catch has remained constant at 90-93 million tons per year. It is estimated that only 10% of the world’s fish are being harvested through certified Marine Stewardship Council programs. This is a low percentage of the total world catch, but not being certified may not mean there isn’t concern for the ecosystem—which happens to be case for most of the small-scale commercial fisheries based out of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has a huge fishing industry that has shaped the coast and evolution of the state. In 2011, New Bedford, Massachusetts was highlighted as having the highest value catch in the U.S. by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the twelfth time. Fishing is serious business here in Massachusetts.

The fishing industry in Massachusetts harvests tons of wild caught seafood each year and has many organizations that support local operations in the state to ensure sustainability, most notably the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. The Alliance’s mission is to support a fleet of small fisherman dedicated to the sustainability of fish stocks in Cape Cod and the surrounding areas, thereby ensuring the health and continued economic success of this fishing industry.

(Source: Cape Cod Fisherman's Alliance)

(Source: Cape Cod Fisherman’s Alliance)

Nancy Civetta, the Communications Director for the Alliance, said that fishermen are extremely proud to be the “stewards of the ocean”and want to comply to catch quotas to preserve current fish stocks, particularly cod and haddock species. The fishermen’s economic livelihoods and based on the health of these fish species—if the fish go, so do their jobs and local economies.

Ground fish like cod, haddock and striped bass were overfished for many years before stringent quota and size restrictions were set in place to protect what was left. Ray Kane, the Outreach Coordinator for the Alliance, said that currently the biomass of Cod is at about 7%, which translates to an extremely unhealthy population. He also highlighted that fishermen in the area have a hard time adjusting to the new restrictions on cod and haddock. These fish are now being protected by new policies in order to give these species enough time to regain their previous numbers, so very few can be caught yearly.

The fishermen of MA and the Alliance have bounced back from the degradation of cod and haddock by diversifying their fishing efforts into more sustainable fish populations. Now there is an emphasis on dogfish, skate, monkfish and conch to bring income to the communities. The Alliance is also working on several sustainability projects like voluntarily monitoring bycatch in scallop fishing and tracking conch growth to manage the existing fishery.

The Alliance is one of the many organizations in MA that is supporting local fishermen. They lobby the state and federal government on fishery issues and improved restrictions on essential ecosystem fish like herring. They are also heavily involved in the promotion of eating new species of fish like skate and dogfish to stimulate consumer demand and acceptability. “Trash fish”dinners are being promoted by the Alliance and the Chefs Collaborative to show the public that dogfish and skate are edible and worth considering at the market.

Pan-roasted monkfish at Area Four for Trash Fish Dinner (Source: Chef’s Collaborative).

The label attached to seafood is not important to the fishermen of the Cape. They are more concerned with the seafood being wild caught and sustainable for the Cape. The Massachusetts small-scale fishing industries dedicate their time and energy to ensuring the ecosystem is healthy and thriving for years to come.

For more information about the Cape cod alliance visit http://capecodfishermen.org/ and http://www.fishwatch.gov/buying_seafood/choosing_sustainable.htm

 

Katherine Wright is a second year FPAN student interested in health technology. She wants to work in health startups that focus on creating healthier communities after she graduates in May 2014. Learn more about her on our Meet Our Writers page.

One Thirsty Nut: Almonds and the California Drought

by Nelly Czajkowski

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Friedman student in need of a snack will reach for a bag of almonds. Almonds are a nutrition student’s best friend. High in fiber, protein and good fat, almonds will fill you up without an added side of guilt. So why does this Friedman student (or perhaps more appropriately, WSSS student) think twice before reaching for another handful of these delicious protein-packed super snacks? Water. Or rather, the lack thereof, in its California birthplace.

Eighty-two percent of the global supply of almonds comes from California. Almond acreage in the sunshine state has doubled in the past twenty years, increasing from 418,000 acres in 1995 to more than 800,000 at the beginning of 2014. Farmers across the state ripped out less lucrative row crops, like cotton, and replaced them with almond groves. And as the holy grail-like health benefits of almonds were increasingly publicized, demand increased, rewarding those made the switch and encourage others to do the same. Between 2006 and 2013, California almond production doubled from 912 million pounds to 1.88 billion pounds. Almonds, along with grapes, are considered the highest value crop in the United States.

However, almonds farmers are no longer patting themselves on the back. California is in the middle of what is predicted to be the driest year in the past half-millennium. As California’s drought worsens, almond farmers find themselves in a difficult situation. Almond trees require a lot of water, at least 30 inches per acre to attain maximum potential yield. This translates to about 1.1 gallons of water per almond. An average serving of almonds is 23 nuts—or 25 gallons of water. A one pound bag of almonds has approximately 370 nuts. That’s approximately 400 gallons of water, or, more visually, 15 kiddie pools full of water.   While this would not be an issue in a typical year due to the highly streamlined irrigation system, California is currently 28 inches behind its average year to date rainfall. And there is only one month left in the rainy season.

So what’s a farmer to do? Some farmers are ripping out their youngest trees in order to save water for those trees currently producing. Others are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into high tech micro irrigation. And some are just praying for a miracle. So the next time you reach for a handful of almonds, remember the water. Or lack there of.

Side note: Think pistachios or walnuts could make a great substitute? One pistachio requires 0.75 gallons or water and one walnut requires 4.9 gallons of water. And they are both primarily grown in California (about 90% of yearly harvest). Ouch.

Nelly Czajkowski is a second year AFE student. She is currently obsessed with recent lime shortage and spends her spare time researching conspiracy theories explaining the related price increase. Learn more about her on our Meet Our Writers page.

 

 

Water vs. Water: What Tastes Best?

The editors here at the Friedman Sprout put on a very informal water brand taste test (and compared those brands to the taste of tap water). See what brands we sampled and what some students had to say about the different brands we ranked:

waterfijiFiji
$1.79 per liter
Touted as “Earth’s Finest Water” on the brand’s website, Fiji water is sourced from an artesian well. The website offers beautifully scenic photos of the Fijian islands and a romantic narrative about the origins of its water that commences with, “It all begins as a cloud.” Priced at about $1.79 per liter, Fiji was described as “soft,” “sweet”, and “earthy” while some thought it was too mineraly, tasted like paper, and had a slight aftertaste. http://www.fijiwater.com/the-water/

 

 

watersmartSmartwater
$1.59 per liter
Glaceau’s brand is “vapor-distilled” and “inspired by clouds.” In fact, clicking on the website brings viewers to the middle of the brand’s page only to be directed to “scroll up.” A few scrolls and the it is clear that the brand is emphasizing that clouds are the inspiration behind the water (oddly enough since the technique is done in a lab through vapor-distillation). Vapor-distilling results in purified water due to a specialized heating process that converts water into steam. The steam is then compressed and “superheated.” This superheated steam then travels back into the chamber in which it was boiled and condenses in a newly purified form. As a result, this water does not contain potentially beneficial elements such as fluoride as is in tap water. Vapor-distilled water like Smartwater brand does not occur naturally and is therefore created in a lab. Likers of this water described it as “clean and delicate,” “thirst-quenching,” and tasting like water should taste. Non-fans noted a metallic taste an almost “fuzzy” feeling that the water left in the mouth. Others thought the smooth taste also gave way to a sort of plastic aftertaste. http://www.drinksmartwater.com

watericelandIcelandic Glacial
$1.99 per liter
Right on the package, this brand touts its 8.4 pH level. According to the brand’s website, this water is bottled “from the legendary Olfus Spring” in Iceland. The brand further explains that its water contains “the lowest TDS level in the industry at 62 parts per million.” TDS, or Total Dissolved Solids, level measures the amount of sodium, calcium, magnesium, and other elements in the water. Due to its low mineral content, this brand assures consumers that “ice cubes made from Icelandic Glacial are crystal clear.” A Mineral Analysis Table shows the different amounts of elements found in the water right on the website and, supposedly, “the first time [this water] comes into contact with open air is when you break the [cap’s] seal.” Tasters described this water as “mineraly,” “soft..not thirst-quenching,” and “not good,” while others thought it tasted “clean”. http://icelandicglacial.com/about/the-water/

 

waterpolandPoland Spring
$.99 for 12 oz.
A favorite water-delivery brand of offices and institutions across the U.S., Poland Spring is bottled under a subsidiary of Nestle. According to the brand’s website, the water is only sourced from “carefully selected springs” in Maine and contains naturally-occurring minerals for a “crisp, clean taste.” Friedman tasters were familiar with the taste of this brand and described this water as “bitter,” “metallic,” and “fresh.” One taster went so far as to note, “This is water. Everything I would hope for and expect from ‘water’.” http://www.polandspring.com/

waterpentaPenta
$3.19 for 1 liter
This brand boasts a “patented 13-step 11-hour filtration and purification process” that supposedly “transforms drinking water into smaller, more readily absorbed water clusters.” These resulting water clusters are said to hydrate better resulting in “peak performance.” And remember how Icelandic Glacial brand lauded their own 62 ppm TDS level? Penta claims to have just 1 part per million Total Dissolved Solids. But even at it’s pricey rate, tasters weren’t impressed. One called it “bland” while another thought it tasted too mineraly. While others claimed they tasted “metallic” and “soapy” tastes, there were some who described it as “sweet” and “thirst-quenching.” http://www.pentawater.com/

watertapTap water from the M&V building
FREE
The last of our samples was plain old tap water, sourced from the M&V building right next door. What did tasters say about this water? “More fresh,” “crisp and clean,” and “not metally [sic] at all” were some of the descriptions, while other tasters could sense a taste of chlorine in the sample.

 

 

Whether from the tap or from a bottle, it’s clear there is a specific water source out there for everyone. Finding it hard to choose? Go the way of tap. At least it’s free!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 52 other followers