Safe Drinking Water Act A Huge Success

It’s been a big news year for drinking water. In January, a coal-processing chemical called MCHM leaked from a tank farm above the banks of the Elk River just upstream of Charleston, West Virginia. The MCHM entered the intake of the city’s water plant, leading a few hours later to a massive do-not-drink water advisory for nine counties and more than 300,000 residents.

In August, residents of Toledo, Ohio, were warned not to drink their water because of a toxin called microcystin caused by an algal bloom in Lake Erie. And Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, our nation’s most important law governing tap water. The law has achieved much and provides an event worthy of celebration. But is our drinking glass half-empty or half-full?

Everyone cares about drinking water and yet, despite episodes such as those in Charleston and Toledo, we take its convenience and safety remarkably for granted. That most certainly is not the case in much of the world, where “Is it safe to drink the water?” is a very real question. Almost 2 billion people don’t have access to treated water. Yet I can go virtually anywhere in the United States and take a sip from the tap without a second’s thought.

Even better, tap water regularly outperforms bottled water in blind taste tests. More people can drink safely from American faucets today than ever before. In historic terms, though, the assumption of safe drinking water is a very recent development...

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IKEA Expands Solar Sales to Eight New Countries

IKEA Group lately announced it will expand its residential solar sales from Britain into the Netherlands and Switzerland before the end of this year. The offer will expand to a further six countries within the coming 18 months.

“We know that our customers want to save energy and live more sustainably at home,” said Peter Agnefjäll, IKEA Group President and CEO. “But we believe they shouldn’t spend more money or time to do so. That is why we are determined to make sustainability both affordable and attractive to as many people as possible.” Agnefjäll continued, “I am delighted that we can now commit to bringing affordable home solar to a further eight countries, starting with the Netherlands and Switzerland.”

As well as bringing convenient renewable energy access to its customers, IKEA is also expanding progress on its own use of renewable energy. With a €1.5 billion commitment, IKEA plans to match 100% of its energy use with renewable energy generation by 2020. So far it has installed 700,000 solar panels on its own stores and buildings, and has also committed to own and operate 224 wind turbines.

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In Mexico's fields, children toil to harvest crops that make it to American tables

Child labor has been largely eradicated at the giant agribusinesses that have fueled the boom in Mexican exports to the United States. But children pick crops at hundreds of small- and mid-size farms across Mexico, and some of the produce they harvest makes its way into American kitchens and markets.

Produce from farms that employ children reaches the United States through long chains of middlemen. A pepper picked by a child can change hands five or six times before reaching an American grocery store or salsa factory.

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Nearly Half of U.S. Power Plants Don’t Reuse Water

In the past half century, power plants in the United States have made considerable strides in water use, but there is still a long way to go, according to new figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

More than 70 percent of electricity in the United States comes from plants that require some water for cooling. Most plants that generate steam to make electricity use water to re-condense the steam for reuse. While many plants return that water to the environment, others use less water but lose that water to evaporation in the cooling process. In total, it’s a huge demand on fresh water supplies: More than 40 percent of fresh water used in the United States is withdrawn to cool power plants.

Originally plants were once-through systems, where the water was only used once and then put back into the ecosystem.

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Seeds: How (and Why) to Choose the Right Ones

Many people believe vegetable gardening is therapeutic—that getting their hands in the soil is good for mind and body. But in decades past, as grocery stores started offering a wide array of produce and aisles and aisles full of convenience foods, we began to lose some of that connection. We didn't have to grow food anymore.

Luckily, there's a movement back to the land—even if that land is just a small plot behind a suburban home or even a pot of soil in a container on a city balcony. And the beginning of all the life that will emerge from those tended plots is seeds, little pods of energy just waiting to connect with the earth. Working with seeds is built into our DNA.

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Cuomo to Ban Fracking in New York State

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the disputed method of natural gas extraction.

State officials concluded that fracking, as the method is known, could contaminate the air and water and pose inestimable dangers to public health.

That conclusion was delivered during a year-end cabinet meeting Mr. Cuomo convened in Albany. It came amid increased calls by environmentalists to ban fracking, which uses water and chemicals to release oil and natural gas trapped in deeply buried shale deposits.

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Raised Bed Gardening - Tips and techniques for high-yield, raised bed vegetable gardens.

For centuries, people have been organic gardening in raised beds. Since these are merely garden beds where the soil level is higher than that on the paths around them, it may not be obvious what advantages they offer — except to gardeners with bad backs, that is, who don’t have to stoop as far to tend plants. Actually, though, raised bed gardening improves drainage, uses space more efficiently, increases yield, and simplifies the control of weeds and pests. These are things that benefit all gardeners, including those whose backs are in excellent condition...

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