SOLUTIONS TO URBAN
Case Studies of Urban Environmental Challenges or
Unsustainable Environmental Practices and Their Solutions
Produced by Professor Raquel Rivera Pinderhuges and students in the fall 2009
Sustainable Development in Cities course (DUSP 514)
Teacher Assistants: Andy Clark, Gabriella Condie, Cristina Isabel Perdomo
Graphic layout: Cristina Isabel Perdomo
Urban Studies Program San Francisco State University
Table of Contents
i. WATER 4. Coal Production
1. Urban Runoff Pollution 5. Fossil Fuels
2. Fresh Water Availability 6. Greenhouse Gases
3. Water Quality 7. Greenhouse Gas Emissions
4. California’s Water Problem
5. Residential Water Usage iv. TRANSPORTATION
6. Lack of Fresh Water 1. Low-Density Development
7. Water Shortage 2. Lack of Bicycle Infrastructure
3. Transportation Infrastructure in the United States
ii. WASTE 4. Overdependence on Automobiles
1. Food Waste
2. The Troubles with Tire Derived Fuel v. FOOD
3. Cotton vs. Hemp 1. Disproportionately High Rates of Disease
4. Hazardous Waste 2. Inadequate Green Space
5. Closed Landfills 3. Food Insecurity
6. Electronic Waste
7. Waste Disposal vi. BUILT ENVIRONMENT
8. Oil Tanker Spills 1. The Heat Island Effect
9. Urban Marine Debris 2. Roads in The United States
10. Waste Management 3. Poor Indoor Air Quality
4. Burial Sites
iii. ENERGY 5. Urban Sprawl
1. Dependence on Fossil Fuel Energy Sources 6. Toxic Building Materials
2. Energy Inefficiency in Today’s Built Environment 7. Sprawling Urban Areas
3. Dependency on Non-Renewable Electricity 8. Poor Indoor Environmental Quality
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 1
Urban Runoff Pollution
One of the major issues urban authorities are confronting is the problem of water
pollution and contamination. A key contributor to water contamination is urban
water runoff steming from many different aspects of urban life. Urban runoff is the
result of rainfall and snowmelt that becomes contaminated as it travels to other
bodies of water. Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution comes from many diffuse sources.
It is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As this
NOAA/NOS/Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary. Online image. 5 December 2009. water moves it takes with it natural and human-made pollutants that eventually get
index.aspx?letter=r> discarded into bodies of water. Major factors that can lead to urban runoff pollution
are agriculture runoff, construction sites, landfills, septic systems, pesticide/
herbicide use, hazardous waste sites, erroneous dumping of wastes (i.e. paint, oil), industrial discharges, and use of automobiles. Some
major contributing pollutants include sediment, copper, mercury, pesticides, viruses, and E. coli. The effects could be habitat alteration,
ground water contamination, recreational and aesthetic loss, ear/intestinal infection, and fish kills. It may also lead to bioaccumulation
in the food chain which in turn can be potentially toxic to humans and other organisms. The overall effect of urban runoff contributes
largely to contamination of water supply, disruption of the food chain, and disruption of ecosystems due to toxic bodies of water.
Urban runoff is a major contributor to contamination of lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, bays, estuaries, streams and wetlands. According
to the EPA, the major contributor to urban runoff pollution is agriculture due to the excess applications of herbicides, pesticides, and
fertilizers that wash away during irrigation and storms. Agriculture contributes to the pollution of 490,960 miles of impaired rivers,
streams, bays, estuaries, and wetlands. This is not including the 1,579,540 acres of impaired lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. Urban-related
runoff/storm-water and unspecified nonpoint sources together contribute 1,532,128 acres of impaired lakes, reservoirs, and
ponds. These national numbers only represent assessed waters of which no more than 46 percent have been assessed, and does
not include all unassessed bodies of water. Luckily there are steps that can be taken
to inhibit pollution due to urban runoff.
1. Bingham, David, William Boucher and
Boucher Peter. “Urban Runoff Pollution
Prevention and Control Planning.” September
1993. Environmental Protection Agency. 10
November 2009 <http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Watershed Assessment, Tracking and
Environmental Results. 14 November 2009.
14 November 2009 <http://iaspub.epa.gov/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 4
Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention
Because of the vast quantity of sources contributing to urban runoff
pollution, there are many prevention methods. At the federal level there are
regulations, statutes, and programs that provide a structure for urban runoff
pollution prevention. These rules help set precedence for local communities to “No Time for Poop Logo.” Online image. 5
December 2009. <http://www.notimeforpoop.
take action against urban runoff pollution, but there are solutions that can be com/>
implemented on a smaller scale.
Although there are many laws and regulations in place to aid in urban
runoff pollution prevention, there are many ways in which individuals can do
their part to thwart the growing concern of water pollution. Urban runoff can be
“Trash.” Online image. 5 December 2009. <http://
prevented by educating communities and individuals to change daily behaviors
and follow simple rules to dispose of toxic wastes properly. Throw away trash in
the garbage not the street, use a broom instead of a hose to clean pavement, pick up after pets to prevent fecal contamination in our
waterways, properly dispose of hazardous wastes, use proper methods for landscaping and reduce amount of fertilizers and pesticides,
and take care of your automobile by washing it in commercial car washes or on your yard. By implementing these small things into our
everyday lives, we as individuals can do our part to help in the prevention of urban runoff pollution.
Case Study: Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program (SCVURPPP)
Santa Clara County is warm and dry during the summer, and in winters receives 15 to 20 inches of rainfall between October
and April each year. The water that runs through this area ultimately ends up in South San Francisco Bay. The SCVURPPP was one of the
first in California and at a national level to implement regulations for urban runoff pollution prevention. Along with federal and state
regulations, regional management plans, and regulatory staff guidance, the SCVURPPP uses a list of goals and objectives to assure their
preventative measures are met. Their first goal is to attain regulatory compliance by applying all permit requirements. This prevents
non-storm water discharges and prevents pollutants from entering urban runoff.
Their second goal is to measure their success. This may be done by measuring
3. Shaprio, Neal. “Urban Runoff : Watershed
pollutants in urban runoff, but can also be measured by community knowledge of Managment Plan.” 2009. Santa Monica Office of
Sustainability and the Environment. 1 November
the issue through surveys. The last three goals are aimed at agency compliance and
a constant reevaluation of the program to ensure maximum prevention. SCVURPPP 4. Chesterman, Dave; et al. “Urban Runoff
Management Plan.” 2004. Santa Clara Valley
also has education outreach and activities that target certain pollutants in urban Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program. 10
4 November 2009 <http://www.scvurppp-w2k.
runoff. These informative tools come in fact sheets and brochures. com/urmp_2004/2004_URMP_Final.pdf>.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 5
Limited Fresh Water Available For Use
Water is the single most important resource humans have on this planet. Water is used in
every aspect of daily life – to clean, cook, drink, grow, and plant crops. Unfortunately, there
is only a limited amount of fresh water available for use, while the human population and
the demand for fresh water continues to grow. While over 90% of the Earth is made up of
water, only 2.5% of all water on the planet is fresh. Two thirds of this fresh water is locked up
in aquifers, surface waters, and rainwater. Because there is only a tiny amount of fresh water
available for usage, humans must work at creating sustainable solutions for use of this finite resource.
Over 50 billion gallons of water are pumped each day out of underground aquifers in the U.S. – providing over half of all drinking water in
America. It takes a long time for the water levels in the aquifers to fill up again and many communities are forced to overdraw their local supplies of
water, and when that source runs dry, they must drill deeper and farther or, if it can be afforded, transport water from other regions. Transporting
water over great distances is extremely energy intensive and expensive. It can also displace existing communities.
California, currently in the midst of a three year drought, is facing booming population growth and this has led to a drastic declaration of
emergency by the state governor. State population is now 38 million and will possibly be up to 60 million by 2050, while the winter snow-pack in the
Sierras (where most of California’s water originates) is expected to decrease 25-40% by 2050.
By 2016, surplus water supplies currently available from the Colorado River will be eliminated. The California Department of Water Resources
predicts fresh water shortages by 2020 of two to six million acre-feet per year (one acre-foot is equivalent to 326,000 gallons – enough water to last
eight people for one year).
The Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, where most of the state’s fresh water is culled from, is near collapse from over-pumping – because of this,
and fish species endangerment issues, a federal order came down last year forcing limited use of large pumps in the Delta. The order required a
30% reduction in water delivery to consumers – both urban and rural.
Humans need to diversify their fresh water sources. California cannot simply rely on
importing water. There have been legislative efforts to create a more sustainable and
1. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban Futures”.
Rowman and Littlefield: Maryland. 2004.
2. http://www.peaktoprairie.com/?D=192 effective water program – notable among them is the California State Legislature’s recent
Local_S_Water22.19771d4.html push to pour billions of dollars into new programs to improve the existing infrastructure and
5. http://www.gwrsystem.com/about/need.html 7
6. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/US/05water. build more high-end technology to help solve the growing fresh water crisis. Officials say
7. http://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2009/ recycled water, desalinization, and conservation would make 60,000 acre-feet of fresh water
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 6
Groundwater Replenishment System
Orange County is an arid coastal area in Southern California, home to
over two million residents. Residents typically receive part of their water from a
local aquifer and the other half is transported from northern California and outside
of the state. Over the past decade, the water in the aquifer has constantly been
overdrawn by hundreds of billions of gallons. Orange County only receives a yearly
rainwater average of 14 inches – hardly enough to rely on to replenish the groundwater. Rather than brining in water from outside the
region and transporting it down to Southern California, the Orange County Water Management has come up with a new, and more
sustainable system of water reclamation.
In 1975, Orange County opened up Water Factory 21, purifying sewer water to drink and injecting it underground to strengthen
the aquifer barrier to protect from saltwater contamination. While this system was certainly revolutionary for its time, over the years
it has become outdated. Beginning in 2008, the water and sanitation commissions began working together to purify wastewater and
mix that into the aquifer. The groundwater replenishment system will purify highly-treated sewer water (diverting it from the ocean)
and will use micro-filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light, and hydrogen peroxide treatment. After this process is completed, the
purified wastewater will be mixed into the aquifers for over six months, before being used by consumers. This water will provide 70
million gallons per day, and is also needed to stop the flow of saltwater that is entering the underground reservoirs.
The groundwater replenishment system is the least expensive source of new fresh water. It only costs $525 per acre-foot,
while desalinization programs can run anywhere between $800 and $2000 per acre-foot. This system will take 50% less energy
than importing water from outside the region. It also lowers the mineral content of the water, extending the life of related products
(fixtures, boilers, etc.) and decreasing maintenance costs9.
It will initially produce 72,000 acre-feet of drinkable water per year, but it will
eventually be able to produce twice that much. It will help stop seawater intrusion,
reduce mineral content, and diversify our supply, while maximizing the benefits of
groundwater basin and creating an added protection against drought.
10.http://w w w.gwrsystem.com/about/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 7
Poor Water Quality
Everyone lives in a watershed. Watersheds connect the rivers, streams, lakes,
wetlands and oceans. The health of US watersheds is connected directly with the
www.vbco.org/planningeduc0004.asp health of US cities because water is the basic necessity for life as well as being an
important requirement for industry and commerse. In fact, throughout history,
water has been a major factor in the failure and survival of cities. As the population of US cities increases it is more important than ever
to protect our nation’s watersheds and to be able to identify and clean the water that has been contaminated.
One of the basic qualities of water is that it has the ability to carry other substances easily. This ability is the reason why water is
so easily contaminated. The increased number of paved surfaces and impermeable surfaces in cities leads to storm water1runoff.
This is the biggest problem affecting water quality and can carry a wide array of pollutants into the water shed including household
wastes, bacteria, excess nuitrients, and sediment.2 Contamination of water by household waste can occur by the improper disposal of
household items that contain chemicals. Bacteria and other pathogens enter the watershed through human and animal waste. These
items poison aquatic life and can cause illness, such as neurological disorders, gastrointestinal illness and reproductive problems in the
animals and humans that eat the fish and shellfish or ingest the contaminated water.
Sediments are also harmful to aquatic life because they cloud the water preventing growth.
Decreases in vegetation can cause erosion which increases nitrogen and phosphorus. Eutrophication then occurs, which leads to
a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels in the waterways leaving aquatic life unable to survive. Decreases in vegetation also destroys
wildlife habitat and leaves the watersheds venerable during storms because of the increased erosion that exists when plant life is not
available to anchor the soil.
According to the EPA’s National Water Quality Index: 2005 Report to Congress, 44% of the nations watersheds are labeled as
“impaired”, but only 16% of all waterways in the US were even tested. This is why it is so important that water quality testing is taking
place and that we are
taking and active stance in the preservation and restoration of the Nations
1. Official City of Bremerton Site, (n.d.). In Stormwater
Runoff. Retrieved Oct. 11, 2009, from http://www.
2. EPA, (2008, Feb. 28). In Nonpoint Source Pollution:
The Nation’s Largest Water Quality Problem. Retrieved
Oct. 11, 2009, from http://www.epa.gov/OWOW/NPS/
3. United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Office of Water. (2009, Jan.). National Water Quality
Inventory: Report to Congress (2004 Reporting Cycle
ed.). Washington, DC:
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 8
Place- Based Education
Placed- Based Education is a grassroots movement that is currently taking
place in Elementary, Middle and High Schools around the United States. The goal
is to step away from the current education system of State mandated curriculums, http://www.bay.org/watershed-education/
generic textbooks, and standardized testing. Instead Place-based education is “the
process of using the local community, and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social
studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to
education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances student’s appreciation
for the natural world and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. Community vitality and
environmental quality are improved through active engagement of local citizens, community organizations and environmental
resource in the life of the school.” 4
Through Place-based education children not only learn about the water cycle, they are out in their local watersheds doing water quality
testing, identifying causes of contamination, examining the effects on their communities, and being involved in the cleanup through
restoration projects, local politics and social action initiatives. In this way, the children are not only gaining firsthand knowledge about
the water which sustains their community, they are also making substantial contributions to water quality.
Case Study: Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (STRAW)
The STRAW program is a project that provides the training and education for students and teachers at schools around the San
Francisco Bay area to prepare them for hands on, outdoor watershed activities, including ecological restoration of riparian corridors.
Teachers spend the year integrating the project into their classroom learning. One teacher, “studies the life cycle of the Coho salmon
in a creek near her school, conducts laboratory simulations of erosion, and combines the study of native plants with study of Native
American culture.” After all this the students finally begin the restoration work, done on private property, of which is mostly owned
by ranchers. Besides the students, teachers, and ranchers, the projects also involve
parents, private consultants, public agencies and NGOs, all of which work together
4. Sobel, David. Place Based Education: Connecting
Classrooms and Communities. Great Barrington, MA:
to lend their interdisciplinary advice and expertise. According to the Bay Institutes The Orion Society, 2005
Website, “since 1993, more than 14000 students have participated in over 240 5. Stone, Michael K. Solving For a Pattern: The Straw
Project. Summer 2001. The Whole Earth. 15 Oct. 2009 <
STRAW restorations on rural and urban creeks, planting over 25,000 native plants solving.for.pattern.the.straw.project
and restoring approximately 87,000 linear feet of creek banks or almost 85 acres.” 6. The Bay Institute, The Bay Institute, From the Sierra to
the Sea. Oct. 2009. JP Morgan Chase Foundation. 2 Oct.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 9
California’s Water Problem
Water is essential to California’s quality of life. Not only do Californians need water
“Minimal Host Plant Development.”Online image.
to survive, but California’s economy depends on it. California’s communities and
Kings County. 10/19/09. < http://www.cdfa.
jpg> families depend on their state’s water resources; “it is an integral part of California’s
physical beauty and diverse environment.”
California’s water system is in a crisis. For the first time in California’s history the water supply and delivery system may not be
able to meet growing needs due to population increase. The water supply system was built for a population of 18 million people, but
California’s population is now about 40 million. “From aging infrastructure to population growth to climate change, we face a complex
set of problems that threaten the future of California’s population, economy, and environment.”
California is losing its water resources at an extremely rapid rate due to population increase. 300,000 acres of land are lying
fallow with no water in Madera, Fresno, and Kings counties. The fallow land caused unemployment to jump to 40% because workers
on fallow land can no longer do their jobs. Thousands of people in San Joaquin Valley are waiting in food lines to feed themselves and
their families. The air quality is a threat to its land, people, and animals because dust from the dry dirt becomes particulate matter in
the air. California is suffering from lack of water to irrigate farms, which leads to a food supply problem. California is responsible for
producing over half the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables and if we do not have enough water to irrigate those crops we will soon
face a national security disaster. We will become dependent on foreign imports for food, like we are on foreign oil.
Most California residents are unaware of the fact that they need to conserve water. Currently, California provides mass amounts
of water to its growing population for a little amount of money, so Californians tend to use as much water as they can.
Public education is key to helping California residents conserve water. Despite the media attention given from the Governor
of California and legislators, California’s public is unaware of the state’s water problems. The Association of California’s Water
Agencies (ACWA) is a coalition of 450 public water agencies. The ACWA is committed to educating Californians about their growing
water problem and crucial challenges for the state’s water supply and delivery
References system. The ACWA has launched a statewide effort entitled “California’s Water:
1. California Water Crisis. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. A Crisis We Cannot Ignore” as an education effort for all Californians to jumpstart
htm>.“Huell Howser Productions | California’s
conserving their water resources. This education program will reach Californians
2. Huell Howser Productions | Welcome to 3
California’s Gold! Web. 07 Dec. 2009. <http:// through television, radio, print advertising, the Internet, and community outreach.
3. California Water Crisis. Web. 19 Oct. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 10
If we combine education with water’s “true cost” we can save a lot of California’s water
resources by decreasing water use to only provide the amount of water needed everyday in
California. The price of water varies between counties, cities, and rural areas but the price being paid
for water is a small fraction of what it actually costs. The “true cost” of water should include the cost
Online image. 5 October 2009. <http://www.
of supplying, distributing, treating it, costs of sustaining healthy ecosystems and species, measures epa.gov/dced/images/awards2008/mission_
that reduce pollution and soil erosion in the watersheds that supply our water, conserving natural forest and wetland habitats, and the price of mitigating the
impacts of water infrastructure such as dams.
“Full cost” water pricing is essential to meet sustainability needs. However, Income inequality needs to be addressed when making a “true cost”
water pricing policy. Affordability for poor populations “can be addressed by implementing subsidies for the poor or a tiered rate structure based on ability
to pay that ensures that all have water for their basic needs.”
A successful example of implementing the “full cost” water strategy is Atlanta’s northern and western suburbs. These regions have significantly
cut down on their water usage in response to a record drought in the region that started in 2007. Atlanta communities were asked to reduce water use
well beyond water efficiency or conservation. According to Kathy Nguyen, the water-efficiency program manager for Cobb County Water System, Atlanta’s
residents were asked to recognize the difference between emergency response and efficiency. The Cobb County Water System mandated reductions by
implementing extreme water restrictions and emergency drought management tactics. Atlanta will now be paying about $3.25 more for water per month
for the average family. Nguyen mentions Atlanta is experiencing a “devastating financial ramification just like any natural disaster such as hurricanes or
tornados,” but this doesn’t destroy a water system’s fiscal plan.
Atlanta’s citizens were educated about water efficiency through a program called Clean Water Atlanta. The program helps the city conserve
water through education programs and enhancing the city’s drinking and wastewater systems while addressing income inequality. The program has a sub-
program, Care and Conserve, that helps assist ratepayers by giving a financial one-time assistance
to pay their water and sewer bills then by helping them prevent future high bills by educating, References
providing assistance with plumbing issues, and by installing water efficiency devices. 4. “Big Ideas in Conservation- Paying Water’s Real
Costs: Carmen Revenga.” The Nature
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources declared that the entire state is now under a “non- Conservancy- Protecting Nature, Preserving Life.
Web. 07 Oct. 2009. <http://www.nature.org/
drought schedule for water use” that implemented odd-numbered addresses can water outdoor
5. “The WaterSense Current - Issue VIII, Fall 2008
| WaterSense | US EPA.” U.S. Environmental
on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays and the even-numbered addresses can water outdoors on Protection Agency. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. <http://
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. There is no outdoor watering allowed in on Fridays. fall2008.htm#5>.
6. Clean Water Atlanta. Web. 07 Dec. 2009.
By educating residents of Atlanta through Clean Water Atlanta and implementing water restrictions <http://www.cleanwateratlanta.org/>.
7. The City of Atlanta | Department of Watershed
7 Management. Web. 07 Dec. 2009. <http://www.
the city cut its water by 10 percent this past year.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 11
Residential Water Usage
Residential water usage is a major cause of the current water crisis. There
are many ways in which we use water inefficiently. Some of the more common
22 Jul. 2009. Online Image. Greewala. 15 Oct. examples include: exorbitant amounts of water used to flush toilets, watering lawns,
Building-Design/blog/1446-LA-Residential- cleaning dishes and laundering clothes, and excessively using water for showers.
Although for many of the aforementioned examples, a shift in behavior might be
the simple answer, there are sustainable technological solutions to combat many
of the inefficient and wasteful ways we currently use water. Low flush toilets, front-loading washing machines, and gray water systems
are all indicative of the technological improvements we can implement to improve residential water usage. Replacing traditional
lawns with xeriscaping would be another simple solution to conserve water.
A report titled, The Effect of Efficiency Standards on Water Use and Water Heating Energy Use in the U.S. , shows that water used
for yards in residential areas resulted in the most usage, followed by water for baths, showers, and toilets. Using water for washing
machines and dish washers rounded out the list. These activities can be modified by conservation efforts alone, and in most cases, at
an individual level.
One of the major issues concerning the inefficient use of water seems obvious: it is a resource threatened by scarcity. “The problem is
that we are approaching the limits of our resources in some places. And to complicate matters, climate change, aging infrastructure,
watershed modification, chemical pollution, and population growth also threaten water supplies .” Therefore, it is crucial to maximize
efficiency and encourage conservation efforts for residential water use.
From the Pacific Institute: “The world’s water problems flow from our failure to meet basic human needs and our inability to balance
human needs with the needs of the natural world. Only by developing a new approach that makes sustainability and efficiency
paramount can effective and permanent solutions to these problems be found .” The misallocation, over consumption, and inefficiency
of residential water has proven to be highly wasteful and unsustainable. Although
behavioral shifts toward conservation may be a necessary component of a move
towards sustainable water use, improving existing technologies to encourage more
efficiency will also be critical in
1. Koomey, Jonathan G. The Effect of Efficiency
Standards on Water Use and Water
2. “Water Efficiency.” Pacific Institute. 2008. Web. 12
3. “Water and Sustainability.” Pacific Institute. 2009.
Web. 12 Nov. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 12
Modifying behavior is essential to curbing the problem of residential water
misuse. However, improving technological efficiency is paramount to the success
of conservation efforts. “These technologies, including low-flow toilets, faucets, and 10 Jun. 2009. Online Image. Savebuylive.com/
showerheads, efficient washing machines, drip and precision sprinkler irrigation,
reverse osmosis water purification systems, and others, are changing the face of California water .”
Another solution in using water more efficiently at a residential level is to have the price of water set at rate that more accurately reflect
its true cost. “Water providers should adopt prices that better reflect the costs of service, including, capital costs and environmental
costs .” Much of the technology is in place to conserve water and use it more efficiently; it’s more of an issue of making the necessary
policy changes to ensure proper implementation of such technology. Making these changes, along with a fundamental shift in
behavior, will be pivotal to the overall effectiveness of conserving water at a residential level.
Due to the contentious history of Los Angeles and water, it might seem ill conceived to use Los Angeles as an exemplary model of
sustainable water use. However, recent studies indicate a drastic shift in the city’s water conservation efforts. Peter Gleick, President
of the Pacific Institute, points out that “water demand in Los Angeles reached a 32-year low last month ,” despite an increasing
population. As the nation’s second largest city, Los Angeles consumes more water than any other urban area in the United States.
Given the population of Los Angeles, and the amount of water its residents consume, it’s crucial to make headway within the city to set
national examples of sustainable water use.
Adjusting the way in which water has traditionally been used, by taking shorter showers, installing low flush toilets, and implementing
gray water systems has been key to some of the success Los Angeles has seen. According to the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance,
“water consumption in Los Angeles has remained at 1990 levels, despite a 15% increase in population. This is mainly due to water
conservation measures .”7 In Los Angeles, calls for conservation have shown remarkable improvements in the city’s water usage.
According to an Associated Press article, citing the Los Angeles Department of References
Water and Power, “residents, businesses, and government agencies cut water use 4. “Sustainable Use of Water.” Pacific Institute. 1999.
Web. 10. Nov. 2009.
8 5. “Sustainable Use of Water.” Pacific Institute. 1999.
by 17%” in July 2009, in comparison to July 2008. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.
6. Gleick, Peter. “Why Do You Still Have a Top-Loading
Although it may seem daunting, there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic. Washing Machine?” San Francisco Chronicle. 29 Jul.
2009. Hearst Communications. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
7. Courtney, Shawn. “A Tale of Three Cities.” POLIS
According to a report from the Pacific Institute, “Waste Not, Want Not,” it’s estimated Water Project. Sep. 2009. Web.14 Oct. 2009.
8. “Dramatic Dtop in LA Water, Power, and
that “up to one third of California’s current urban water use – more than 2.3 million Consumption.” Associated Press. KPBS. 26 Aug. 2009.
Web. 16 Oct. 2009.
9 9. “Waste Not, Want Not: The Potential for Urban Water
acre feet – can be saved using existing technology .” Conservation in California.” Pacific Institute. 11 Nov.
2003. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 13
Lack of Fresh Water
Fresh water is a scarce resource. Only 2.5% of all the water on earth is fresh water,
and two thirds of that is locked in glaciers and ice caps. Cities in the developed
world consume much more than their fair share; large cities with hydrologic
infrastructure provide inhabitants the means for obtaining water to drink, for
USDA National Resources Conservation Service
personal hygiene and household matters, landscape and agricultural irrigation,
industrial activities, wastewater treatment, recreation, etc. While many Westerners
feel deprived if unable to shower daily, there are millions of people worrying if they
have enough drinking water to survive the day. Homes in the developed world are
generally equipped with taps that provide water instantly; in homes with multiple
taps, the average daily consumption of water is 100 to 200 liters (25 to 50 gallons) per person.
As cities around the world become more developed, they look further for sources of fresh water. Political battles are often
encountered, as many times water sources cross national boundaries. Despite this, two methods of accessing water are generally
employed: digging deeper for groundwater (thus depleting the limited supply) or diverting water from far-away rivers, lakes, or
streams. Both of these methods change the shape of the surrounding ecosystems and are unsustainable. Pumping groundwater to
cities results in widespread pollution and sedimentation buildup in the aquifers used. The buildup of sedimentation within aquifers
reduces overall storage capacity, in turn reducing water availability.
Diverting water from above-ground sources by building aqueducts and dams destroys the surrounding ecosystems. Humans that
have inhabited the surrounding areas are often displaced by dam construction (as their towns and villages become flooded), and
animals are forced to migrate or die, due to their consequential aquatic habitat. This constant quest for fresh water is unsustainable on
San Francisco is an example of traditional methods used for supplying developed cities with water. In order to provide San
References Francisco with potable water, water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, located 167
1. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban Futures.” miles northeast, is diverted to the city. The connection from the Hetch Hetchy to San
Lanham, Maryland. 2004. Print.
2. Mayell, Hillary. “UN Highlights World Water
Crisis.” National Geographic 5 June 2003. National Francisco traverses mountains and fault lines, necessitating frequent maintenance.
Geographic News. National Geographic. Web. 16
Nov. 2009. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/ The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is replenished by snowmelt. San Francisco is hardly the
3. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban
only city that acquires its water from far-off reservoirs dependent on snowmelt; with
Futures.” Lanham, Maryland. 2004. Print.
4. Pinderhughes, Raquel. “Alternative Urban
Futures.” Lanham, Maryland. 2004. Print. the evident climate change and the imminent possibility of reduced snowpack, it is
5. Kehoe, Paul. “San Francisco’s Water Supply.”
SFPUC. Web. 2 Oct. 2009. http://idrinfo.idrc.ca/ high time alternative means of attaining fresh water for cities are implemented.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 14
Fog Used as Fresh Water Source
In coastal or mountainous cities, other options are available. In San
Francisco, we have an abundance of fog that could be potentially used as a fresh
water source. This is a relatively new technique of catching water; fog harvesting, as
it is known has been investigated for approximately 30 years. It has been successfully National Geographic
employed in Mountainous coastal areas of Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador.
Prior to the installation of a fog collection system, residents of the village of Chungungo, Chile were only able to obtain an
average of fourteen liters of potable water per day. This minimal amount of water was trucked in from a nearby city. The system was
installed in 1987. Today, 88 fog collectors stretch along the ridge line above the fishing village of Chungungo. The collectors provide
more than 40 liters of potable water per person per day (this averages to be 10,000 liters or 2,600 gallons total per day). This is enough
to sustain Chungungo’s domestic consumption, four-hectare community garden, small-scale public landscaping, and a public park
in the center of town. This project is operated by local committee, which charges a small fee to each participating household. If a
household significantly exceeds the average monthly water consumption, they are charged a much higher fee. Although this case
study is in a village, it could be adapted for coastal cities with ample fog provided adequate funding and maintenance..
The setup is fairly simple. Rectangular nylon nets are stretched between two posts with the net perpendicular to the prevailing
wind. If this method were to be put into operation in San Francisco, the nets should be arranged facing east/west, with the posts on the
north/south sides, as the wind (and fog) generally blows from the ocean side to the bay. The water molecules from the fog will gather
on the nylon mesh and fall, by means of gravity, into a trough or gutter beneath the nylon panel. This gutter is connected to a PVC pipe
which conveys the water to an attached storage drum (traditionally made of concrete, but other types sufficient for water storage are
acceptable). Other items that filter the water are encouraged in construction, such as mesh for filtering leaves and insects, as well as
a minor addition of chemical treatment to ensure drinkability if water is to be used References
for cooking or drinking. The amount of water storage is recommended to be at least 6. Abdul-Wahab, Sabah A., Hilal Al-Hinai, Al-Najar A.
Kahled, and Mohammed S. Al-Kalbani. “Feasibility of
8 fog water collection: a case study from Oman.” Journal
50% of the maximum total daily value of water consumed. of Water Supply: Research and Technology-AQUA
56.4 (2007): 275-80. EBSCOhost. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.
Regular maintenance is required, as it is important to keep the nets taut http://0-web.ebscohost.com.opac.sfsu.edu/ehost/
in order to collect water most effectively. Pipes and additional screens should be XBlPWlwLGNvb2tpZSx1cmwsdWlkJnNpdGU9ZWhvc3
cleaned regularly to ensure water flow. Costs of materials are fairly cheap, as they 7. LaCroix, Pattie. “Clouds on Tap: Harvesting fog
around the world”. (1998). GoogleScholar. Web. 15
are readily available at many hardware or gardening stores. The most expensive 8. Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment,
comp. Source Book of Alternative Technologies for
8 Freshwater Augmentation in Latin America and the
component is likely to be the water storage unit.
Caribbean. Washington, D.C.: General Secretariat,
Organization of American States, 1997. Print.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 15
According to a 2003 report by the U.S Government Accountability Office at least 36
states will face water shortages over the next decade. This is despite the fact that the United
States is home to the Great Lakes, which hold 20% of the world’s fresh water. Population
growth coupled with predicted global warming will make current water shortage problems
worse in the future. “Many experts on climate change warn that global warming will have
“A young member of the Cocopah Indians of
northern Mexico plays in a dried-up arm of direct impacts on the nation’s water supplies as well as the ability of those water supplies to
the Colorado River near the town of El Mayor,
Mexico.” Online Image. Water Encyclopedia. 13 2
October 2009. http://www.waterencyclopedia. regenerate.”
All over the United States, rivers are running dry during summer months and people are experiencing water shortage
problems partly due to population growth and over consumption. It is not just a problem in arid parts of the country. “In northeastern Massachusetts,
parts of the Ipswich River dry up each summer when Boston suburbanites turn on their lawn sprinklers. In New Jersey, the Potomac-Raritan-Magothy
aquifer system, the state’s largest source of drinking water, has dipped more than 100 feet due to groundwater pumping, which also threatens
saltwater intrusion.”3 Forty percent of total public drinking water and 97 percent of rural drinking water in the U.S. is supplied by groundwater, which
is being depleted at alarming rates. For example, the Ogallala-High Plains aquifer, which provides 30 percent of the nation’s water for irrigation, has
been reduced to half its original volume in its central and southern reaches and is being consumed approximately 14 times faster than its refill rate.
“The Colorado River -- once a mighty force through the Southwest -- no longer reaches the ocean during the summer months.”
Over consumption and population growth are the main factors contributing to current water shortages. When it comes to over consumption
of water and wasteful use, the U.S. is ahead of the game. According to waterfootprint.org the U.S. average water footprint is 2483 m3/capita/yr while
the global average water footprint is 1243 m3/capita/yr.
According to the Council of States Government Issue Brief, the doubling of water
1. Swain, Gabe “Water Scarcity: Preventing Water
Shortages” Council of State Governments Issue Brief,
Trends in America. February 2008. consumption over the past 60 years is largely explained by population increases. The total
3. Barnett, Cythia. “Shortage in a Land of Plenty.” U.S. population in 1950 was slightly higher than 152 million; today it is around 304 million.
Planning 74.8 (): 30-31. Web. Academic Search
Premier. San Francisco state University. 14 Oct. 2009
<http://0 web.ebscohost.co m.opac.sfsu.edu/ehost/ The Brief also says, “as population increases further strain will be placed on the nation’s water
51fdb3fa69af%40sessionmgr11&bdata=JkF1dGhUeX supply. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population in the U.S. will reach 395 million
4. Swain, Gabe “Water Scarcity: Preventing Water by 2050—an estimated increase of 30 percent.”
Shortages” Council of State Governments Issue Brief,
Trends in America. February 2008. State and federal officials are looking at more effective ways of managing their water
5. Lagod, Martin. “We’re running out of water.” San
Francisco Chronicle 8 July 2007. Web. 30 Sep. 2009
<http://www.sfgate.com/cgibin/article.cgi?file=/ supplies through conservation methods and technologies. Rainwater harvesting is one such
6. Swain, Gabe “Water Scarcity: Preventing Water method.
Shortages” Council of State Governments Issue Brief,
Trends in America. February 2008.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 16
Fresh water is essential to human existence and although it may appear abundant only
about 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh. This fresh water is not distributed equally throughout
the world. This is why it is very important to utilize fresh water resources carefully and conservatively.
“BACK TO THE FUTURE: Ancient Rainwater
Urban areas in the U.S. that receive seasonal rainwater can reduce their dependence on piped-in Harvesting and Rainwater Collection
Practices”. Online Image. Cape Fear Rainwater
Harvesting, Inc. Web. 13 Oct. 2009 <http://www.
fresh water sources by utilizing rainwater, by implementing rainwater harvesting systems.
Rainwater harvesting is defined by the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association as the practice of collecting rainwater from a
roof or other surface before it reaches the ground and storing it for future use. Rainwater harvesting involves gathering, or accumulating and storing
rainwater, in what is called a cistern. This method has been used for centuries, as a way for people to meet part of their water needs.
Rainwater harvesting can be done two ways: by catching and storing rainwater for use; or by using runoff to recharge groundwater. The
collection of rainwater from the roofs of houses and local institutions can make an important contribution to local fresh water resources. U.S. cities
in Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington are starting to implement rainwater-harvesting
Case Study: Santa Fe, New Mexico
As part of the water conservation plan, on October 14, 2003 the Santa Fe County Board of County Commissioners adopted Ordinance 2003-6
addressing water harvesting for all residential and commercial development within Santa Fe County. The Ordinance requires rainwater harvesting
systems on new residential or commercial structures of 2,500 square feet and larger.
“Homes consisting of 2,500 square feet or greater of heated area must install underground, partially buried, or insulated cisterns, while homes under
2,500 square feet of heated area must submit a rainwater catchment plan with their development permit application.” Santa Fe receives an average
annual rainfall of 16 inches and according to Sardy (2009), a 1,000-square-foot roof in Santa Fe harvesting rain water could collect as much as 9,000
gallons of water a year. “If every Santa Fe household collected 9,000 gallons of precipitation each year, it would cut average annual residential use of
city water by nearly 25 percent and save each household some $100 to $150 per year in water fees.” A 13,000-acre development in Santa Fe County
south of the city has so far built some 300 new homes that come preinstalled with cisterns, and plans to build at least another 700.
In addition to the ordinance on rainwater harvesting for new developments, the Land Use Department implemented a one-year pilot
project to permit Residential Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting on existing houses effective as of
7. American Rainwater Catchment systems Association.
ARCSA N.p., 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2009 <http://www.arcsa.
October 1, 2009. The installation of these systems requires a permit, and a specific permit checklist org/>.
8.Sardy, Marin. “Right as Rain.” Santa Fean June 2009.
has been developed by the department. After the year is up and the department has gotten Web. 13 Oct. 2009 <http://santafean.com/Santa-Fean-
9. Sardy, Marin. “Right as Rain.” Santa Fean June 2009.
feedback and modifications they plan on implementing a permanent approach. The County of Web. 13 Oct. 2009 <http://santafean.com/Santa-Fean-
Santa Fe is a leader in implementing policy that encourages responsible water management.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 17
Food Waste in Landfills
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 25 percent
of food in the United States of America is thrown out, which equates to 96 billion
pounds of food waste annually. The EPA defines food waste as uneaten food and
“The Growing Problem of Food Waste”. Online food preparation scraps that are generated from residential, commercial and other
Image. Popular Science. 18 October 2009.
h t t p : / / w w w. p o p s c i . c o m / e n v i r o n m e n t / institutional sources. Food waste raises many problems that must be addressed:
including the problems associated with food waste in landfills, contributing to loss
of available land space and global warming. Food is not the only thing that is being
wasted—money is too. According to the EPA, the United States spends around 1 billion dollars to discard food waste each year and in
2007, 12.5% of residential food scraps accounted for municipal solid waste with less than 3% being recovered for alternative uses.
Depending on waste management services and local government plans, the majority of this non-recycled food waste is either
being trucked off to the nearest landfill or burned in incinerators. Sanitary landfills are constructed to be compact burial grounds for
unwanted goods, essentially creating massive tombs that are designed to not leak; unfortunately, the dilemma caused by this design
leads to food waste to decompose under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions, allowing methane-producing bacteria to proliferate.
The current mummified conditions of sanitary landfills are the number one contributor of methane gases, 34% in the U.S. to be exact.
Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in a hundred year period.
Not only are current waste management processes unsustainable, the overall business costs do not capture the externalized
costs of current business practices. Carbon & methane emissions, leachate leaking through the protective landfill liner polluting
ground water, loss of valuable land and reusable products are all problems which will require public funds to mitigate the issues
in the future, if even possible. Due to citing regulations for sanitary landfills, environmental impacts, and major public
resistance, governmental agencies and businesses are realizing the importance of landfill diversion in order to slow down the filling of
landfills to maximum capacity and creating a sustainable waste plan.
1. The Ecology of Place, Island Press, 1197:1
2. “Compact Urban Development Requirements
& Safe Harbors, Buildable Lands Reports, &
Reasonable Measures.” N. pag. Futurewise,
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 20
Sustainable Waste Plans and City Composting Programs
To reduce the stream of organic waste that ends up in landfills, city officials need to create and implement
sustainable waste plans, allocating money for better municipal waste sorting processes. Not only can city officials
do this, but they can also get the support of businesses to join in the push to zero waste because they can reduce Norcal Waste Systems Inc. The Garbage Pit
Media. Date of access 18 October 2009
their waste costs and create green jobs in the process.
Zero waste is grounded in the idea that resources that can be used again and should not go into a landfill; additionally, it emphasizes that we reuse and recycle
more of the goods that we create, allowing society to use energy and other resources more sustainably. Cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and San
Diego have created zero waste plans in order to divert goods destined for the landfill. As noted by the City of Albuquerque in their Climate Action Plan, there are six
strategies to achieving zero waste; strategy three is the implementation of both a residential and commercial organic waste management system. By designating
resources to the collection of organic waste, compost “a fertilizing material consisting largely of decayed organic matter” can be produced, which has numerous
benefits associated with its use in addition to reducing organic waste in landfills. Fresh nutrient-rich soil is the end product of the composting process, allowing it to
be used for agriculture purposes and additionally, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
In order to reduce contamination, which is a crucial problem in the recycling of all goods, cities around the nation can adopt collection systems that make it easier for
both the disposer and the collector, while concurrently teaching individuals on which waste bin to utilize for their waste disposal. Although personal compost bins
are beneficial, in a city setting, a city wide composting program allows residents that lack outdoor space to participate; moreover, soiled paper products, meats, and
bones can be collected, which typically cannot be useful in a personal composting setting.
Case Study: San Francisco’s Urban Compost Program
In order to meet San Francisco’s goal of zero waste by 2020, Recology, the parent company of San Francisco’s Sunset Scavenger collection team, picks up every week
(sometimes everyday for high green waste businesses) 2100 tons of composting materials from 75,000 city homes and about 2,100 restaurants, delis and other
food related businesses using side-loading single chamber compactor trucks, allowing the collector a chance to monitor for contamination. This is also the moment
when a collector will leave a note for the resident regarding any unfit items for the green bin. The green waste is then hauled off to the Organics Annex, a transfer
station built in the city as part of the zero waste initiative, where it will soon be transferred into long-haul trucks bound for Jepson Prairie Organics facility located in
Vacaville 75.5 miles away. Once the truck has arrived at Jepson Prairie Organics (JPO), the largest food waste composting center in the U.S., where about 5,200 tons
of food scraps from San Francisco and Oakland are mixed with Dixon and Vacaville’s 2,000 tons of yard waste each month, the green waste is processed in a custom
designed industrial green waste grinder. After the completion of the 90-day compost process, the product is then References
put through a trommel screen to create a finished nutrient rich soil, which is sold to local farmers and vineyards. By 3. City of Albuquerque Climate Action Plan
partnering together, Recology and the City of San Francisco have erected a model for sustainable waste disposal, CAPREV08forWEBRZW.pdf
4.“Compost”. The Merriam Webster
which can be used to help other cities, counties and states nationwide in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, Dictionary.11th ed. 2004.
5. Norcal Waste Systems Inc . Jepson Prairie
Organics. Date of access 18 October 2009.
and increase richer topsoil across the nation. Embarking on the road to sustainability just got easier! http://www.jepsonprairieorganics.com/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 21
The Troubles with TDF
The estimated number of tires discarded in the United States every year is about
290 million, roughly one per person. Just shy of half of these tires are shredded
and used as Tire Derived Fuel (TDF). In 2003, 89 facilities in the U.S. burned TDF for
purposes ranging from cement kilns to paper mills to coal-fired power plants and
other waste incinerators. The state of California is challenged with the management
of 44.4 million reusable and waste tires. Tire manufactures, TDF producers and
users, and government agencies all promote the use of TDF as a solution to tire waste, despite the common knowledge that burning
tires is harmful both to human health and the natural environment because the fumes from tire burning are filled with lead, benzene,
synthetic rubber compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. While many of the facilities burning TDF have known emissions,
which contain dioxins and furans, there are also potential risks to the emissions of TDF that we do not yet know about. Some of these
risks come from the simple fact that not enough information is known about TDF emissions. However perceived potential risks include
life long damage in developing infants and the unknown effects of the combination of chemicals emitted from burning TDF.
One of the risks from burning TDF is mercury, a heavy metal that is known to accumulate in wildlife and can be detrimental
to an ecosystem if it finds its way into the water system. Data tracking the emissions of metals, such as mercury, vary, but most trends
show an increase when burned with TDF. Mercury effects not only the micro-biological world it infiltrates, but also has shown adverse
effects in humans, who are typically exposed through the consumption of aquatic life such as fish and shellfish. Mercury, through
bioaccumulation, builds up within the animals consumed, and then in humans as well, causing illness and often times birth defects in
fetuses. These risks of mercury contamination increase through the burning of TDF.
1. “Tire-Derived Fuel ::.” Energy Justice Network. Web. 18
Oct. 2009. <http://www.energyjustice.net/tires/#top>.
2. “Tire Management Home Page.” Home Page:
California Integrated Waste Management Board
(CIWMB). 30 Sept. 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2009. <http://
4. Tire-Derived Fuel ::.” Energy Justice Network. Web. 18
Oct. 2009. <http://www.energyjustice.net/tires/#top>.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 82
Cement Kilns in Northern California and
Northern California is home to two major cement kilns in the U.S. that model.html
utilize TDF, in Davenport, located just north of Santa Cruz, the other in Cupertino,
in the south bay area near San Jose. The kilns in Davenport and Cupertino are two
of the worst in the nation in terms of mercury emissions, doubling the emissions
figures of the next highest polluting kilns located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Many groups are urging the EPA to require
more stringent monitoring of the stacks to quell mercury emissions from the Davenport and Cupertino kilns. While this is a step in the
right direction the fact remains that conventional tire disposal is a case of bury or burn, but a better solution exists to reuse the tire
waste in a different, more sustainable manner, that solution is Earthships.
Over 30 years ago, architect Michael Reynolds founded Earthship with 3 major goals in mind; 1) to make sustainable living units using
renewable, indigenous and recycled materials, 2) to build independent, “off-the-grid” housing, and 3) for it to be a realistic endeavor
for the average person with no construction experience to build and afford. Earthships are completely sustainable living units that
provide dwellers the opportunity to build and live in a structure that is a food system, water system, sewage, and electricity system.
The major structural component of Earthships is used tires. The steel belted tires are packed with earth and form bricks used to build
the walls of the structure, these walls are virtually indestructible. Using used automobile tires utilizes a by-product of the modern
world. This is preferable to using the tires in TDF as the dangers and by-products of the burning are eliminated. Advantages to living in
an Earthship are not limited to the decrease in TDF being burned. The structural design of an Earthship ensures that little to no fossil
fuels are burned in keeping the building at a comfortable, stable temperature. Earthships insure that utility bills become a thing of the
past, this is done through a series of principles that Earthship employs, including thermal/solar heating and cooling, use of solar and
win energy and water harvesting. An increase in the building of use of Earthships in the South Bay/Santa Cruz area would decrease
the amount of TDF burned in the Davenport and Cupertino Kilns and thus decrease the amount of mercury entering the ecosystem
and food chain.
5. “Materials.” Earthship Biotecture Sustainable Green
Buildings. Web. 18 Oct. 2009. <http://www.earthship.
6. “Comfort: Earthships maintain comfortable
temperatures in any climate.” Earthship Biotecture
Sustainable Green Buildings. Web. 18 Oct. 2009.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 83
Cotton The Fabric of Our Lives
Throughout the centuries, cotton as a crop and fabric has been a major part
of American life and culture. One of the nation’s first cash crops, starting off on
slave plantations and now in major growth operations, cotton plays a major part in
American everyday life, as the main fabric in almost every article or type of clothing,
pictures/cotton.jpg even cleaning supplies and other items. As the United States has grown as a country,
so has cotton production. The United States Department of Agriculture estimated
that the United States grew about 20% of the world=s cotton from 2004-2006, not
a majority percentage, but a meaningful chunk of the world’s production and import/export. The role of the United States in cotton
prodution has been persistent in the last century. The fiber remains one of our biggest crops, and also biggest exports, especially until
recently when other world countries have begun more intensive cotton production.
The cotton plant produces a fiber, or boll, on the plant that is picked and manipulated into various forms. Planting, growing,
and cultivating cotton is a very intensive process, on the soil and on farmers. We are far past the days of handpicked cotton, however
the processes are still harmful:
People/Animals: the use of pesticides against boll weavils,bollworms,moths and etc. has a direct effect on humans. Runoffs
into water supply, soil, and other agriculture affect the animals that live/graze, and therefore humans. Pesticides can get into the water
supply, food supply, and do not easily wash out of soil with a plant such as cotton. Remnants of pesticides, dyes, and bleaches in fabric
can cause outbreaks and general irritations. The machinery used for cotton increases injury risk. The cotton ginning process also
produces high amounts of “cotton dust” an irritant to humans in contact.
Plant life/soil: The heavy chemicals of pesticides, which are necessary to maintain a resistance against cotton-damaging pests,
are residually streamed into our water and soil. Because cotton is a soil-depleting crop, it requires constant rotation. Many other crops
or grazing animals are affected by this long lasting effect. The fact that cotton is so water, soil, and sun intensive, makes it hard for a
good crop rotation. Also, being a “taking” crop, it doesn’t replenish or filter the soil. Chemicals may stay in the soil for years.
Solution? Not Quite: Organic cotton, which is pesticide free and usually less water-intensive, still leaves depleted soil, and
requires massive crop rotation. The lack of pesticides also produces a smaller yield.
GM(genetically modified) cotton has began to be used as an alternative, but this
still produces similar results and a weaker quality.
United States Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 22
Hemp has been grown for as long as cotton, and used as a multi-
purpose plant, ranging from textiles, to oils, to building materials, to paper, even
biodegradable plastics and now fuels. The plant, a form of Canibus Sativa, is often
confused with marijuana, however it is the non-potent, low THC-yielding form. It courtesy of Byron Clark: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
grows in stalks like cotton, often higher and producing more yield. The crop has a high pest resistance, but is susceptible to common
natural pest attacks and molds, such as seed or soil-borner fungi, which can be controlled by seed treatment or crop rotation. However,
since it produces more yield per plant, the losses are often unnoticeable. The hemp-cultivating process is similar to growth of cotton,
however, uses less water and is less sun intensive or reliant. The grow season lasts almost half a year, with plants growing up to 3-15
feet, with fibers in the stalks of similar lengths. The fiber produced by each plant is averaged at about 250% more than cotton, and six
times more than flax. Since 1999, the United States has imported at least 1.5 million pounds of raw hemp fiber.
Because of the simple needs of the hemp plant, it is easily grown in the United States climate, and easy to grow in close
spaces. The use as a fiber is as strong as cotton. The hemp fabric is a little rougher than cotton, so a hemp/organic cotton blend would
probably be my best guess at a super and sustainable fabric and alternative to cotton. Hemp had been used in soldiers clothing, and
Levi Strauss used it in its original jeans. Since the hemp plant provides such a strong yield and very low pesticide use, the plant is an
optimal replacement to the cotton process. The two most important non-fiber facts are its use as a “mop-crop” and weed killer. Hemp
is a good plant for replenishing the soil it uses, and cleaning out toxins or other chemicals in the soil. It was used near Chernobyl after
the nuclear disaster, growing hemp as one of the plant experiments to purify the soil so that it may be safe and usable again. It is less
nutrient, sun, and water intensive, which means less wasted energy and supplies in production. The ability to plant closely provides
major potential for massive yields. This also helps it as a weedkiller, because of its density and soil use, it prevents more weed type
plants from being able to grow, produce, and spread; decreasing the need for herbicides.
Because of Federal laws, the D.E.A prevents hemp cultivation. Production from imported materials is accepted. However, nine
US states have laws legalizing hemp cultivation. In 1999, Hawaii and the DEA allowed Dr. David West to grow a quarter-acre plot in a
closed off area. The study lasted for four years, as Dr. West experimented with different types of the hemp plant. He concluded that
Hawaii was not the best climate for industrial growth, however, began producing
. United States Dept. of Agriculture, http://www.ers.
positive yields, approximately 8 tons of dry matter in 4 months growth. By the end
. Small, E. and Marcus, D. 2002. “Hemp:A new crop with
new uses for North America” p.284-326 in J.Janick and
of his study, Dr. West was able to grow 8-10 foot high stalks in a few months time. In A.Whipley(eds.), Trends in New Crops and New Uses,
ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA. Obtained from http://www.
such a small area, this shows good promise. The doctor concluded that with better hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-284.html
. West, David P., “Hawaii Industrial Hemp Research
Project Final Report”, http://www.hempreport.com/
space and climate, the potential for hemp growth could be very productive.
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 23
Hazardous waste is harmful to the health of humans, other species and the
natural environment. There are many substances and materials that could be
described as being hazardous to the environment, such as: E-waste, fertilizers and
No artist. “Water Pollution in Peru.” January
2008. Online Image. Top 10 Most Polluted
Co u n t r i e s. < w w w. c r u n k i s h . c o m / t o p - 1 0 -
pollution-causes/>. An existing and growing hazardous waste is known as ‘sewage waste’ which
has not had much media coverage in today’s society. The term, ‘sewage waste’ or
‘wastewater’ is defined as, “liquid and water-carried industrial or domestic wastes from dwellings, commercial buildings, industrial
facilities, and institutions, with groundwater, surface water, and storm water, which is discharged into or permitted to enter the City’s
wastewater treatment system.1
This type of waste poses a significant threat to our health. It is seen to cause many diseases and has been known to destroy
our natural environment. Most common health risks (if ingested) and environmental risks (if not disposed properly) related to sewage
waste include; gastro-enteritis, hepatitis, infections to open cuts/rashes, and the decay of our natural ecosystems.2
The vast amount of incidents of sewage waste contamination has been leaky pipelines, meaning sizable cracks/gashes in a
sewage pipeline. These cracks empty about 300 gallons of feces into our rivers and lakes every minute.3This was recently seen in the San
Francisco Bay not more than nine months ago and has been a monthly occurrence throughout the country. To stress the importance
of this crisis one must know that in one gram of feces there are ten million viruses, one million bacteria, one thousand parasite
cysts and one hundred worm eggs’. Inadequate sanitation kills more people than
AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.4 The problem of ‘sewage waste’ around the world is
References something that, if not resolved, will harm present and future generations.
1. City of Mankato. “Definitions.” City Code. 2007. <www.
2. Effects of Sewage-Contaminated Water on Human
Health. “Ambient.” <www.rsmas.miami.edu/groups/
3. Heimbuch, Jaymi. “Sewage Waste Sends 500,000
Gallons of Grossness into San Francisco Bay.”
TreeHugger: A Discovery Company. February 20, 2009
4. Edwards, Bob. “The problem with sewage.” Public
Radio International March 15, 2009: <www.pri.org/
Solutions to Urban Environmental Challenges - page 24