Channelization Could Make Sandy’s Impact Worse

Last fall Tropical Storm Irene and Lee did a number on the Hudson and Adirondack watershed in NY, but then the following Spring, the fishing was absolutely spectacular in rivers left to their own devices to heal. At that time, in a blatant act of dumb reaction and vote-mongering, Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended heavy machinery permitting and gave upstate counties in NY carte blanche to channelize (read: flatten and straigten) the local creeks and streambeds doing even more damage than the storm. Vermont had a similar problem. TU and other conservation organizations had to sue to get them to even acknowledge the problem. Channelizing the rivers doesn’t dissipate flooding, it actually makes it worse.

From the PA TU Council describes channelization: Stream channelization may reduce or prevent localized flood damage; however, it has negative impacts on the stream environment. The spilling of streams onto their floodplains is a natural event. Stream channelization creates a false confidence and leads to increased pressure for development in flood-prone areas. To the extent that channelization is successful in keeping water out of the floodplain in a localized area, flood damage is almost certain to be increased downstream. The increased volume and velocity of water downstream exacerbates flooding and erosion; threatening homes, businesses, bridges and roads

With 100-year storms turning out to be once-a-year storms, God help the folk downstream of channelized rivers and streams… Hopefully the same mistakes won’t be repeated in VA, MD, PA, VT, NJ, NY and the other states affected by Sandy.

Meanwhile, might as well organize the flybox.

Is Cuomo Set to Sign an Anti-Fracking Bill?

Recently, New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo has moved to allow for more natural gas drilling under the process known as hydraulic-fracking or “fracking” for short. Many NY conservation groups are asking for an extended period of review and comment period of the DEC’s proposed policy. Cuomo, ever the politician, has already stalled the review once after Chesapeake Energy caused an accident that sent 100K gallons of fracking solution into a PA creek in April.

Cuomo wants the jobs (and the campaign donations) without alienating conservationists, who like myself want a ban outright, such as NJ has done. However, something interesting has just happened in Albany that suggests Cuomo is trying to have his cake and eat it too. Two days ago, Gov.  Cuomo announced he is set to sign a bill to protect NY’s water basins, creating a permitting process to withdraw water over 100K gallons a day. It covers the state’s lakes, rivers and streams from Lake Erie to the Croton Watershed and complies with the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. To read the press release, go here.

“The new law is designed to foster responsible conservation practices and economic growth while protecting water bodies and wildlife habitats. The permitting process will ensure a continued water supply to existing municipal, agricultural and industrial users, and will help identify areas that could support new water-dependent businesses. Specifically, the law requires approval before operating or proposing a system with the capacity to withdraw 100,000 gallons or more per day of surface and groundwater.”

This is a significant step in protecting our water supply, especially if the DEC is to regulate the permitting process. While it was setup to protect our water supply, it has a valuable side effect that could protect NY state from hydrofracking. How? A typical fracking process uses between 3 and 9 million gallons of water and sometimes even more. That water must come from somewhere, either its local or shipped in. If its water drawn from NY state, then under the new law, it’ll need to be regulated and permitted. If NY state puts limits on the amount and timing of withdrawals, then effectively, NY state can regulate just how often and how much hydrofracking is done by controlling water withdrawal levels, all this, without ever having to step foot on a fracking site. If the DEC requires testing of local withdrawals, and withdrawals are done anywhere near a fracking site, then the government should effectively be able to correlate water quality with the fracking process.

I know, that’s a lot of “ifs”, but its a clear way to exploit the bill to the benefit of conservationists, local municipalities, and anti-fracking organizations and communities.

The fracking process creates immense pressures that drives thousands of gallons of fracking solution back to the surface collected in pits protected by a liner. Clearly, runoff is quite possible, especially if the liquid is returning to the surface–it’s not just blowing out at the top, but being forced right into the seams, cracks and ground closer to the surface. Because the fracking chemical solution is considered intellectual property, gas companies do not need to share the chemical cocktail they are injecting into the earth. Halliburton has released the details of chemicals in three of it’s solutions, but not the concentrations.

Here’s what a fracking site looks like. You can see the conditions of the runoff pit and the blowback of fracking solution and brine.

In this Post Standard Feb. 2010 video, Sharon Daggat of Pulteney, NY is worried that the runoff from the process of fracking by Chesapeake Energy will contaminate her well and kill her vineyard at Keuka Lake.

Here’s another way the DEC could use the Bill to test the water at actual fracking sites. I’m not certain the state tests fracking wastewater currently, but the collection process of runoff water from fracking could be considered a “withdrawal” if it exceeds 100k gallons. That wastewater would then be subject to testing. The downside is that there’s an incentive to the natural gas companies to do illegal dumping to avoid the testing. Once the solution is in the earth, the question is, is it now part of the water supply or is it company property? Marcellus Drilling News has also suggested that the DEC could use the law to “slow” the expansion of fracking down by taking their time to issue permits. It’s an interesting thought that Cuomo may be using the water withdrawal bill to set-up a get-out-of-jail free card with conservationists if he does ultimately lift the moratorium on fracking in NY. Hopefully, with or without the governor, conservationists will be able to exploit the new law for all its worth.