A(nother) Year in Review, as Remembered Through Twitter
It’s that time of year when we reflect back on the year that is closing out, and start thinking about the year to come. Susan Bence of WUWM published her 2017 highlights, Gary Wilson asked Great Lakes colleagues to help him think about what 2018 might bring (I was apparently the pessimist/realist of the group), Circle of Blue’s Brett Walton did a little of both, and so I thought I’d scroll through my 2017 Tweets to pull together a few stories that either defined the year, or that I thought were worth pulling back out of the detritus for another remembering. There’s a little caveat: Twitter only allowed me to go back about seven months, so this is really an almost-year of highlights. Here we go, in no particular order.
White House changes: The changes in the White House and administration have had, and will continue to have, big impacts on water, the progress of science related to it, and the funding, policies, etc. that tie back to it. As of last summer the White House had lost all of its science advisers, and not long after announced delays to the long-awaited lead and copper rule updates due to staffing challenges. Add to this restrictions on attendance at scientific conferences, and censorship on climate-related language, and those of us who count on objective, evidence-based expertise from federal agencies are naturally a little uncomfortable.
Agricultural chemicals are in our bodies: A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Society showed that the levels of agricultural chemicals in our bodies are increasing, reflecting their increasing role in the food we eat. Roundup increased by 500% over the past twenty years, and glyphosate increased by 1200%.
Gulf Dead Zone hits new record: Hypoxia, or low-oxygen conditions, make it impossible for fish and shellfish to thrive in what has traditionally been a major source of food for the U.S. The 2017 “dead zone” grew to its largest ever – the size of the venerable state of New Jersey. We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, maxing out agricultural conditions upstream but sending valuable soil and nutrients downstream where they undermine fisheries, another part of our food system. Experts quoted say that the voluntary changes in upstream agriculture are insufficient to bring about the improvements needed. Stronger measures are called for.
Storms, and more storms. The nation watched as hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria pummeled the Gulf, Atlantic, and Caribbean coasts in late summer. For those who weren’t directly impacted, we read from afar about evacuations, homes destroyed, and people killed or sickened by the conditions. It’s at times like these, when water and sanitation, as well as the workers who keep them humming, are appreciated for the precious services they are. Without them, normalcy stops, as Puerto Rico and others have experienced.
Raw sewage, America’s “dirty secret”. Catherine Coleman Flowers returned to her roots in Lowndes County, Alabama only to discover that people in her community were being swindled out of clean water. The result? Hookworm (1/3 of the residents tested) and exposure to raw sewage (3/4 of residents surveyed). I implore you to open your eyes and ears four minutes short minutes to watch this clip.
Flint continues to shock and horrify. In June the Michigan attorney general announced that he was bringing involuntary manslaughter charges against five individuals tied to the Flint travesty, including one member of Governor Snyder’s cabinet. Putting proof to what many had suspected, in the fall we learned that miscarriage rates increased by 58% and birth rates plummeted during Flint’s water crisis.
Poverty, ethnicity, and drinking water violations are strongly linked. This year Manny Teodoro and David Switzer released a study showing that it’s not just Flint. Nationally, if you are poor, and black or Hispanic, your water utility is much more likely to experience violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. This opens up the door to some uncomfortable but essential conversations.
Teaching kids to swim is part of water & health. Tap water has gotten a lot of attention lately, but what about safety around surface water? Who can experience the joy and health benefits of clean water if they’re worried about drowning? It turns out that black children are three times more likely to drown than white children. Sigma Gamma Rho sorority is trying to change that by teaching children to swim, and hence to be safe around water. This is one of those stories that deserves to be remembered, with the hope that it will encourage others to join in.
Women run for office. As the political pendulum swings, the 2016 elections motivated women to run for election at all levels. This played out in off-year 2017 elections, and should carry through to fall 2018 elections. Women as a whole tend to put more emphasis on public health and community needs, so with increased percentages of women in positions of power hopefully we’ll see more support for clean water, sustainable infrastructure, and equitable pricing. There’s something to hope for in 2018!