Poughkeepsie Gets Cleaner-Water Shout-Out

Raise a tall glass (of water) to Poughkeepsie! Erin Brockovich’s new book, “Superman’s Not Coming,” calls for everyday citizens to speak up on community and environmental issues, including clean water. The famous activist highlights Poughkeepsie as an example of doing it right.

Brockovitch specifically praises Randy Alstadt, water plant administrator at the Poughkeepsie Water Treatment Facility. Alstadt, she says, acknowledged a water-treatment “fix” that was actually making things worse — and voluntarily corrected the process because it would be safer and healthier for residents.

Randy Alstadt

Here’s how Brockovich and co-author Suzanne Boothby describe Alstadt’s experience in Poughkeepsie:

The plant started using chloramines, a mixture of ammonia and chlorine, in 2000 to help control the amount of DBPs (disinfection byproducts) in the water to meet EPA regulations. It was a cheap fix that only required a chemical feed pump, a chemical storage tank, and the cost of the ammonia. At the time, Randy said he was satisfied with the low-cost solution, and if he encountered any future problems, he would explore alternatives.

As soon as the water plant turned on the chloramine, they started to see increased corrosion activity in the distribution system, along with gaskets failing—both at the plant and in customers’ homes. Randy’s customers reported brown water coming out of their taps, no matter how many times he flushed the distribution system. Health problems, such as skin and respiratory issues, showed up too.

“Right when we made the switch, we had people calling and complaining about skin rashes and breathing problems, and they said their houseplants were dying,” he told me.

He was not aware of the health effects at that time, and to be fair, we did not have as much information then as we have today. These issues are consistent with what I’ve seen in so many of the communities that use chloramine today. The difference is that not all water companies seem to be as self-aware and honest as Randy. The water board approached him repeatedly, frustrated with the continuing rust and corrosion in the system as well as the customer complaints, so he hired an outside engineer to study the system and find a better solution. In 2010, he stopped using ammonia altogether.

“As soon as we turned off the chloramine, the brown water went away,” he told me. So did the health complaints. The problem with chloramine, Randy said, is that it masks the problem of organics in the water. It doesn’t get rid of them and it forms even more byproducts, which are currently unregulated. We certainly don’t need more unknowns when it comes to treating our water. Since then, the Poughkeepsie plant has approved funding and finished building a new $18 million system using ozone and biologically activated filters to help remove organic material from the water. The new system not only eliminates the need for chloramines but also reduces the amount of chlorine needed to clean the water.

Chloramines cost the city about $25,000 a year, so a new multi-million-dollar system was a big ask.

“It’s a lot of money, but if there’s one customer out there suffering because of my water, that’s not right. I don’t agree with that,” Randy said. “Nobody likes to hear that it will cost more than a million dollars to make upgrades. But I think that the health effects of chloramine don’t justify using it. Once the cost of the upgrade is divided amongst all the customers, the monthly increase is typically not that great. It turns out to be about the price of a meal per month. I let customers know it’s for better quality water, and people can agree to that.”

Randy says he’s a salesman as much as a water treatment operator. It’s all about doing what’s right to get the best quality drinking water to his customers. Think about paying $2 for a bottle of water when Randy can make clean water at a cost of $1 per thousand gallons. Which would you choose?

The new ozone system has been up and running in Poughkeepsie since October 2016. Randy says the disinfection byproducts have gone down to about a third to a half of what they were, depending on the time of year. That’s effective in reducing DBPs and exactly the kind of numbers any operator would hope for. In addition, using ozone has also helped him reduce the amount of chlorine needed to clean the water. While PCBs remain a concern in his area, he says he’s never detected them at the plant.

Randy makes it look easy. He has integrity and used his common sense to provide the safest drinking water possible to his customers. I applaud his efforts and I hope that Poughkeepsie can stand as a model for more cities and towns that are still weighing their options.

Watch Randy explain how Poughkeepsie cleans its water here:

Via City of Poughkeepsie

Carbon-Neutral Shipping on the Hudson

These days the Hudson River can feel like a car barrier — something to cross on a bridge or drive alongside. But originally this curving waterway was the region’s superhighway.

A pilot project is nudging the Hudson Valley to return to river transport — in a carbon-neutral way — with sail freight. The captain behind the project, Sam Merrett, is an avid young sailor who has been carefully restoring a 68,000-pound steel schooner called the Apollonia for the last four years. 

Apollonia sailing alongside Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. (Photo courtesy of Sam Merrett)

The Apollonia was scheduled to begin its first cargo runs from upriver to New York City in summer 2020. Although the launch was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Merrett teamed up with the Hudson River Maritime Museum in the meantime for the North River Sail. The joint educational sail went up and down the Hudson in June 2020 with the museum’s sun-powered Solaris boat. 

Together, the vessels raised awareness of the river’s transportation history — and future potential. Both are pioneering. The Solaris is the first 100 percent solar-powered tour boat to earn U.S. Coast Guard certification, according to the museum.

Apollonia docked at the George Trakas environmental sculpture at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon. (Photo: Jeff Mertz)

The 64-foot Apollonia is the Hudson’s largest zero-carbon freight vessel, running on sail power and a backup diesel engine that Merrett converted to run on vegetable oil. 

Sail, of course, is the age-old method of transporting goods worldwide. Fuel-powered barges and then trucks now do the lion’s share of global shipping. But in the age of climate change, emissions-free sail power is getting a fresh look. 

Modern-day sail freight projects similar to the Apollonia have been happening in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts over the past few years. More sail-freight ships are now popping up in places like Costa Rica, and the International Windship Association has been tracking technology that helps even container barges run partially on wind power, saving fuel.

Crew members unloading freight from Apollonia at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park. (Photo: Jeff Mertz)

Merrett took inspiration from all those vessels, as well as from the short-haul river shipping that remains common in Europe and elsewhere. Especially for products that aren’t rushed, he argues, sail freight makes sense. “This is the original alternative fuel,” Merrett says. “It’s not just an idea of the past.” 

When it began carrying goods, the Apollonia’s hold smelled rugged and woodsy, with a sweet tang. Merrett carries a number of traditional New York products like hard cider, IPA, maple syrup, Christmas trees, firewood, and bluestone from upstate into NYC. Its first cargo sail was scheduled to be with Nine Pin Cider.

Why would a producer choose sail freight? Some products (like a nontraditional one, fermenting kimchi) improve with age and waves. In other cases, the producer may value the zero-emissions transport. Many artisanal makers are proud of their organic or fair trade production, after all, but don’t realize carbon-neutral shipping could be possible. The Apollonia even has its own delivery tricycle that can take products from dock to city.

Apollonia docked. (Photo courtesy of Sam Merrett)

Being able to market a product for its carbon-neutral shipping will add marketing value for customers, too, Merrett argues. “The standard shipping world is about delivering the same thing that left,” he says. “We’re saying let’s improve this product along the way. We will provide conscientious producers and consumers with a transportation model that reflects their values.”

The Apollonia and projects like it may seem niche and bespoken, Merrett acknowledges. But as global emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic show, having alternatives is always helpful. And pilots like this may be able work out some of the kinks, enabling more low-emissions vessels to get sailing more quickly if the need is ever upon us.

PCB Cleanup Update

Dredging on Hudson River 2012

A June 4, 2020, article in Politico reported that levels of PCB toxins in Hudson River fish have not changed significantly over the last 2 years. This raises even more doubts about the effectiveness of the Superfund cleanup conducted by General Electric to remove these cancer-causing chemicals it dumped in the Hudson River for most of the mid-20th century.

Conservation groups, including Scenic Hudson, say this lack of improvement fortifies their argument that the cleanup will not meet the goal mandated by the U.S. Superfund Law—to be “protective of human health and the environment”—without conducting more dredging at PCB “hotspots” just downriver from Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, where the pollution originated. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the cleanup, insists it’s still too early to gauge the success of the 6 years of dredging GE conducted between 2009 and 2015. Compelling GE to resume dredging will be nearly impossible unless New York State prevails in its ongoing lawsuit against the EPA. The suit contends the agency issued GE a “certificate of completion” for the project despite scientific evidence that it had failed to reach health benchmarks.

No Cleanup Yet in Lower Hudson

While a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson remains polluted, making it one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites, data indicate that fish in the 140 miles of the river below the Troy Dam have not experienced even the modest (but below-expectation) drop in contamination levels experienced upriver—hence the article’s title, “Tale of 2 rivers.”

“EPA is dragging their feet. They know they have the authority to order a remedial investigation,” said Scenic Hudson’s Althea Mullarkey in an interview. “They’re just choosing not to.”

Fishing at Long Dock Park, Beacon, NY
Fishing at Long Dock Park, Beacon, NY (Photo: John Halpern)

For the last 3 years, the EPA has insisted it’s working on a plan to remove this pollution, which reaches all the way to New York Harbor. While the EPA keeps “dragging their feet,” as Scenic Hudson Public Policy and Special Projects Analyst Althea Mullarkey is quoted in the article, families who subsist on tainted fish despite health warnings and communities whose waterfront redevelopment plans have been stalled by the contamination continue to wait. So do members of low-income and minority communities along the lower Hudson who fought hard for a PCB cleanup and have received no benefits to date.

Second Superfund Phase Also Moving Slowly

Since 1998, evaluating another aspect of GE’s cleanup commitment—the amount of money the company will be required to pay to restore damaged habitats and offset lost recreational opportunities—has been ongoing. Trustees overseeing this Natural Resource Damages Assessment include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. While the trustees have released information about some of the damages they’re investigating, they have issued no deadline for completing their assessment. As Ms. Mullarkey says in the article, “glaciers are speedier.”

Scenic Hudson has been leading the campaign for a comprehensive PCB cleanup for more than 40 years. A consultant hired by the organization to complete a damages assessment is expected to release its report next year.

Dredging on Hudson River 2012 (Photo: Peretz Partensky on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))

Bass Notes

Striped Bass caught by Lauren Hepplewhite

Spring is striper season on the Hudson River — a time of joy for fishing enthusiasts and biologists alike.

From early April through the end of May (and, if anglers’ luck holds, into early June), striped bass will continue their annual spawning run, turning the Hudson into a fishing frenzy. What makes catching one so special?

One, their size: Stripers can weigh upwards of 75 pounds (the largest ever caught in the Hudson tipped the scale at 60 lbs.). And two, their feistiness: Stripers put up one hell of a fight when hooked. To take on this challenge, author and Riverkeeper founder Robert Boyle once said, “There are anglers who will sacrifice their jobs, their marriage and even their sacred honor.”

Migrating Up River to Spawning Grounds

For scientists, the homecoming of striped bass in the Hudson provides excitement enough. Named for the 7-8 dark horizontal lines running the length of their silvery sides, stripers are anadromous — they live in saltwater (in their case, the Atlantic Ocean) but migrate to freshwater to breed. They don’t commence their upriver journey until they gauge that the Hudson’s water temperature is just right—58-60 degrees. Their annual spawning destination remains the same throughout their reproductive life. To locate it, they rely on a superior sense of smell (keener than a dog’s).

Upon arrival at their traditional spawning spot, a female will release up to 3 million eggs for males to fertilize. Both their jobs complete, they soon head back to the Atlantic. The eggs drift with the current and hatch (if lucky) within 2-4 days. Juvenile stripers will mature in the Hudson for as long as 2 years before following their parents to the ocean, where they are the mainstay of a substantial sport-fishing industry spanning from New England to Florida.

Trouble From Toxins and Overfishing

The interaction between Hudson Valley residents and striped bass has taken many turns since Native Americans caught and ate them. In the 17th century, the fish were so plentiful that colonists used them as fertilizer, until overfishing caused such a decline in this important food source that lawmakers banned the practice. As late as the 1930s, some 300 commercial fisheries along the Hudson netted striped bass (along with shad and sturgeon). The industry came crashing to a halt in 1976, when New York State banned it because of PCB pollution.

Since then, populations of striped bass in the river have seesawed, from a low of 5 million in 1982 to a high of 56 million in 2006. Responding to the conclusion of a 2018 study by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center that striped bass populations along the Atlantic Seaboard have “declined below the threshold for a sustainable level,” the state this year instituted stricter fishing regulations. Anglers may keep 1 striper/day ranging in length between 18-28 inches. They must return all fish outside that limit.

The Fish that Helped Found Scenic Hudson

Striped bass proved an essential partner in Scenic Hudson’s founding campaign to stop a hydroelectric plant from defacing Storm King Mountain, which sits next to one of the river’s prime striper spawning grounds. Scientific analyses showed that the facility would kill striper eggs and larvae by the millions. This dire news drew fishing organizations throughout the Northeast to the campaign; in essence, it wound up sounding the project’s death knell. Scenic Hudson has repaid the favor by conserving more striped bass spawning and nursery grounds at Haverstraw Bay, Esopus Meadows and Stockport Flats.

Celebrating Champions of Clean Water

This week we are celebrating activists who have worked to safeguard clean water for all. Learn more about them and other grassroots environmentalists in our People Who Make a Difference virtual gallery tour.

Clean water — or the lack thereof — has been on the country’s mind in recent years. With stories of lead contaminated water in areas like Flint, Michigan, and the PFOS contamination right here in the Hudson Valley, the importance of clean, healthy water for all is more apparent than ever.

Contaminated water can have a serious impact on public health, aiding in the spread of infectious disease, limiting or prohibiting recreation, and threatening our deeply rooted connections to the earth.

It can also threaten precious habitats and wildlife. In the Hudson Valley, our sturgeon, stripers, eels, and countless other species rely on the Hudson River and its estuaries for survival.

On both a local and global level, activists are fighting hard to ensure that everyone has equal access to clean water.

Meet Aaron Mair: President of the Sierra Club

A New York native, Aaron Mair has spent much of his life advocating for environmental justice and civil rights. In 2015, Mair was elected president of the Sierra Club, making him the first African American person to hold that office.

Much of Aaron’s environmental advocacy relates to the cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Hudson River. In 2000, he received an EPA Environmental Quality Award for his efforts in cleaning the Hudson.

Aaron Mair continues to use his voice to speak up for environmental protection and civil rights, speaking and participating in demonstrations around the country.

Meet Wangari Maathai: Founder of Greenbelt Movement

A renowned activist and educator, Wangari Maathai was a trailblazer in the fight for environmental conservation and women’s rights. Maathai founded the Greenbelt Movement, an environmental organization that empowers women to conserve and improve the livelihood of their communities. The Greenbelt Movement uses tree planting as an entry point to promote clean water, combat deforestation, and support communities.

Maathai has also helped pave the way for African women in higher education. In 1971, she became the first Eastern African woman to earn a PhD. She was also the first woman to become an associate professor at the University of Nairobi. In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded for her dedication to conservation and human rights.

Meet Tokata Iron Eyes: Environmental and Indigenous Rights Activist

Since the age of 9, Tokata Iron Eyes has been an outspoken voice in the fight for Indigenous peoples’ rights. A member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Tokata helped organize youth in her tribe to fight against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.

The pipeline was projected to run underneath the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, which posed a serious threat to the nearby region’s drinking and irrigation water. Construction of the pipeline also threatened to disturb sacred burial grounds and other important Sioux cultural sites.

Indigenous peoples, including Tokata and other young people, mobilized to stop the construction of the pipeline and protect their right to clean water and land. Now 16, Tokata uses her platform to continue fighting for Indigenous people’s rights, women’s rights, and clean water for all.

Meet Berta Cáceres: Environmental and Indigenous Rights Activist

Berta Cáceres was a Honduran environmental, political, and Indigenous rights activist from the Indigenous Lenca people. As a student activist, Cáceres founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in 1993. COPINH fought for Indigenous, LGBT, and women’s rights.

In 2006, Lenca people noticed an influx of construction equipment on their land, and asked COPINH for help. Cáceres uncovered the proposed construction of four hydroelectric dams on the Gualcarque River.

The dam threateted to cut hundreds of Lenca people off from their supply of water, food, and other resources, violating their right to sustainably manage their own land. Cáceres mobilized Lenca people to create a grassroots movement and successfully halt construction of the dams.

These activists have made great strides toward protecting the environment and fighting for Indigenous Peoples’ rights. They inspire us to make a difference and ensure that future generations have access to clean water.

Learn more about these youth climate activists and other change makers in our People Who Make a Difference collaborative poster project that celebrates inspiring grassroots environmentalists who may not have always been recognized—including people of color, women, youth, Native Americans and members of other indigenous groups. Take a virtual gallery tour of posters honoring these extraordinary people created by graphic design students from Dutchess Community College.

Rachel Carson & the Clearwater

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, is considered the bible of the modern environmental movement. Its compelling and science-based account of the horrors inflicted on Earth’s entire ecosystem by the pesticide DDT galvanized people to take a stand against this poison, leading to its prohibition in 1972.  

Carson (1907-1964) remains a heroine of environmentalists around the globe, but did she have a Hudson Valley connection? Yes. You could say she’s responsible for the sloop Clearwater. In a 1998 radio interview, Clearwater godfather and folksinger Pete Seeger, an environmental icon himself, he was asked how he came up with the idea for the boat:

It was Rachel Carson’s famous book Silent Spring. I read it in The New Yorker, in installments. Up to then, I’d thought the main job to do is help the meek inherit the Earth. And I still, that’s a job that’s got to be done. But I realized if we didn’t do something soon, what the meek would inherit would be a pretty poisonous place to live.

And so I made almost a 180-degree turn, started reading books like The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, or The Poverty of Power by Barry Commoner. I’m a readaholic. And I was reading a book about the sailboats that sailed here, oh, all during the 19th century. Alexander Hamilton wrote one of the Federalist Papers on his way to Poughkeepsie in a sloop, where they were arguing whether or not to sign the Constitution idea and agree to it.

Well, I write a letter to my friend: wouldn’t it be great to build a replica of one of these? Probably cost $100,000. Nobody we know has that money, but if we got 1,000 people together we could all chip in. Maybe we could hire a skilled captain to see it’s run safely and the rest of us could volunteer.

And three years later [1968] the sloop Clearwater was built up in Maine, and I helped sail it down with Don McLean and a batch of other singers. And now it takes school kids out. It’s not a rich man’s cruise boat. Two or three times a day it takes groups of 50 school kids out, teaches them what makes rivers dirty and what’s got to be done to clean them up. Of course, people say what can a sailboat do? It can’t do much except bring people together. But when people come together, that’s when miracles happen, right?

Postscript: In 1970, Seeger and the Clearwater crew sailed to Washington, D.C., to hold a forum on the need for Congress to pass a Clean Water Act. Seeger not only presented the legislators with a petition bearing hundreds of thousands of signatures, but delivered an impromptu concert. Although it took two more years for the act to become law, Seeger’s appearance, courtesy of the boat inspired by Rachel Carson, is considered a “watershed” moment leading to its passage.

Tiny Bubbles

Amsterdam-Westerdok

A canal in Amsterdam is the site of an experimental initiative that could provide a simple yet innovative solution for ending the growing proliferation of harmful plastic in the world’s oceans. A garbage truck’s worth of this waste enters the seas each minute, with some 80% of this debris flowing forth from rivers and streams.

GIF: The Great Bubble Barrier
GIF: The Great Bubble Barrier

To the potential rescue comes the Great Bubble Barrier, conceived by three women in the Netherlands. In essence, it’s a perforated tube spanning the bottom of Amsterdam’s Westerdok Canal. A “curtain” of bubbles created by compressed air pumped through the tube floats plastic to the surface. The tube is angled to direct debris to one side of the canal, where it’s collected in a rubbish platform instead of making its eventual way into the North Sea.

Amersterdam Visual Overview (Graphic: The Great Bubble Barrier)
Amersterdam Visual Overview (Graphic: The Great Bubble Barrier)

The beauty of the Great Bubble Barrier is that it’s a barrier in name only: it poses no restrictions to marine life or shipping. Something else in its favor: It captures much smaller pieces of plastic (as tiny as 1 millimeter) compared to traditional techniques. And it works 24/7.

This pilot project will continue through 2021. If successful, developers of the Great Bubble Barrier hope to introduce it in waterways worldwide.

How N.Y. Has Benefited From Saying Bye-Bye to Plastic Bags

Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags a year — and until recently, nearly a fifth of them were carted out of stores and restaurants by New Yorkers. According to American Rivers, three times more of these bags end up littering our nation’s forests and waterways than get recycled. And each bag is used only an average of 12 minutes.

Beginning March 1, 2020, those numbers began to decline greatly as New York’s plastic bag ban went into effect. New York is among 12 states that have banned plastic bags as of January 2024 — and now the results are starting to come in.

Each disposable plastic bag is only ever used for an average of 12 minutes, studies have shown. (Photo: Tapshooter / Getty Images)

A new report (copublished by three nonprofits, Environment America, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Frontier Group) draws on government and industry data to conclude that bans like New York’s have eliminated 300 bags per person per year. The study drilled down on five representative state policies — and although New York’s wasn’t among them, the researchers found that neighboring New Jersey’s alone has eliminated a stunning 5.5 billion bags annually.

This has been not only good news for cutting down on litter: It’s a boon to our environment. Depending on thickness, plastic bags take anywhere from 10 to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill, and all that time they’re leaching chemicals into the ground. Meanwhile, bags burned in incinerators release toxic gases like dioxins and mercury.

Plastic bags that escape into habitat are also a huge issue, especially in waterways. Together with plastic film, plastic bags cause more deaths of marine life like sea turtles, whales, and dolphins than any other kind of plastic. Birds often also ingest plastic bags, mistaking for food what can turn out to be a poison pill that can kill them.

(Photo: knelson20 / Adobe Stock)

And how has this impacted you directly? A study released last year by biologists at Canada’s University of Victoria concluded that Americans ingest somewhere between 39,000 and 52,000 microplastic particles a year from foods. That works out to consuming one credit card a week. The total of microplastic particles ingested climbed upwards of 70,000 once you factor in how much we inhale.

In other words, forgoing plastic bags and toting a cloth carry-all to the store continues to do us all a world of good.

Reed Sparling is a retired staff writer and historian at Scenic Hudson. He is the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine, and he continues to co-edit the Hudson River Valley Review, a scholarly journal published by the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College.

Lynn Freehill-Maye is managing editor of Scenic Hudson’s Hudson Valley Viewfinder. She is also a Hudson Valley-based sustainability writer who loves to run, swim, and cycle outdoors. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Scientific American, Sierra, Civil Eats, CityLab, and beyond. 

Sister Act

NOLA Resilience Plan

Since 2005, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille faced adversity of biblical proportions. First, flooding from Hurricane Katrina significantly damaged the New Orleans convent and school of this Roman Catholic order. On the way to restoring it, a fire started by lightning, totally destroyed their longtime residence. Faced with a difficult decision — to rebuild, sell their 26-acre property to developers or use the land to stave off future disaster — they unselfishly chose the latter.

Guided by their order’s commitment to environmental stewardship, the nuns are turning their former home into one of the nation’s largest urban wetlands. They took this step shortly after a local landscape designer approached them with the idea.

“After Hurricane Katrina, we were keeping a vigil waiting for a vision on how we could best use the property to fulfill our mission and benefit the people of New Orleans. Then an architect came to us with his plan for the Mirabeau Water Garden, and we knew right away it was the vision we had been praying for,” says Sister Pat Bergen, a leader of the religious order. So instead of cashing in on the property, which could attract $10 million or more from developers, the nuns agreed to lease it to the city for $1 a year with the stipulation that it be used to combat the effects of climate change.

Mirabeau Water Garden will have the capacity to absorb 10 million gallons of water — either run-off from storms or floodwaters from the nearby Mississippi River. That’s great news for residents of the surrounding neighborhood, where flooding after major storms regularly inundates streets and homes. It also represents much-needed progress in New Orleans’ embrace of sustainable flood-control measures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers admits that the $14.6-billion system of levees it built after Hurricane Katrina will fail to provide the city with adequate flood protection by 2023.

Mirabeau Water Garden will feature bioswales — channels that contain and filter stormwater — as well as a detention basin for holding larger amounts of water. Hydraulic engineers estimate it will completely eliminate the threat of flooding in a 10-year rain event and reduce flooding by 72 percent during a 100-year event. Those numbers helped the city secure federal funding for the entire $30-million project.

Along with grasses and wildflowers that thrive in wet conditions, plantings will include an oak grove and cypress forest. Paths, boardwalks and play areas will encourage residents to enjoy recreation and observe nature — another benefit envisioned by the nuns. As Sister Bergen says, “This project will help heal the earth, and heal the community.”

Shipshape Energy

FLAGSHIPS OF THE FUTURE

Shipping, which transports 90 percent of the world’s globally traded goods, accounts for 3% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. This may not seem like much until you calculate that it amounts to more than 1.5 billion metric tons. (A full-grown elephant weighs about 1 metric ton.)

In other words, curbing ship emissions is essential in confronting the climate crisis. Fortunately, shipping companies seem to be getting on board. The International Maritime Organization has agreed to cut carbon emissions from global shipping by 50% by 2050 compared with 2008 levels — a good first step, but not enough to reach goals that will make a big difference. Going further, Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipper, is committed to making its fleet completely carbon-neutral by 2030, and is urging others to follow its lead. 

How do you transition away from diesel fuel? Shipbuilders have begun exploring ingenious solutions. They include rotors that provide wind power (ships currently fitted with these use up to 20% less diesel fuel), aerodynamic designs that turn a ship into a giant sail, powering vessels with hydrogen produced from seawater and covering decks with solar panels. Successful designs must provide enough power to propel these gigantic vessels through the water without taking up space needed for cargo.

Re-energizing the world’s cargo fleets will be expensive, but the time has come, says Diane Gilpin, CEO of the Smart Green Shipping Alliance. “I don’t think there’s any argument any longer about the need to do it. There is anxiety about which is the most appropriate way, because nobody wants to make a mistake. But you have to take a risk.”