Wishing upon a star for stronger water stewardship

As the lights over Paradise Bay dim, eager spectators gasp and cheer in anticipation. Music rings out, and after a few moments of dramatic buildup, powerful fountains spring to life over the water, illuminated by an almost dizzying array of choreographed lights. In an awe-inspiring display of vivid color, radiant music, and majestic water, Disney’s “World of Color” show begins.

The Submarine Lagoon at Disneyland.

The Submarine Lagoon at Disneyland.

I’ve always loved Disney theme parks, but as my environmental consciousness has grown, so has my recognition of the the parks’ environmental impacts. Disneyland and California Adventure consume massive quantities of energy and water, generate enormous amounts of waste, and pollute our atmosphere with huge volumes of carbon dioxide. Seriously, look at the data—it’s terrifying, and those footprints become even larger when you consider the automobile traffic that the parks generate. And that’s without even getting into the fact that Walt Disney famously paved over a 160-acre orange grove to build Disneyland. (Although at least one original tree is still standing.)

Don’t get me wrong—I grew up going to Disneyland with my family, and I love it there. Some of that love stems from nostalgia, but mostly it stems from the thrill of rides like Space Mountain and Grizzly River Run, from the wonder of watching fireworks light up the night sky over Sleeping Beauty Castle, and from the majesty and technological marvel of shows like World of Color. But that pure enjoyment is difficult to reconcile with an understanding of environmental impacts.

Unless, of course, it isn’t. Continue reading

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Blissful boating on blue-green algae

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We stepped into a teetering rowboat on Central Park Lake on Saturday afternoon, the pistachio-hued water complementing the verdant landscape. As we navigated the curving waterway, a linen-clad couple declared their affection in the shade of a willow tree. An elderly gentleman skipped his oars across the water with expert precision, the rapid movement of his arms seeming to match the intensity of his thoughts. We bumped into a few rock walls and low-lying branches as we stopped to observe a family of sunbathing turtles, but let’s chalk that bit of awkwardness up to environmental curiosity. Continue reading

Something in the water: The polluted politics of fracking

I left Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, so it’s probably time to write about what I was doing there all summer. Especially since it has everything to do with water.

For 10 weeks, I interned at the Sierra Club’s legislative office, lobbying for tougher regulation of the natural gas industry. I was particularly focused on the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has enabled the natural gas boom in the United States over the last few years. Even if you didn’t see Matt Damon’s “Promised Land”—or the more overtly anti-fracking documentary “Gasland”—you’ve probably heard about the increasingly controversial drilling technique. Continue reading

Dipping your toes in the water

While water is certainly an emblem of serenity, I often find myself out of breath as I race to spend time with it. In the past few days, I have hustled and bustled to experience New York City’s water, from Central Park’s fabled Bethesda Fountain—which celebrates the purity of the city’s water supply—to the trendy Dumbo beach, one of the sites where the New York City Water Trail Association takes water quality samples.

Through all of this rushing around, I have found that there is often a gap between the mythology of New York’s pristine waters and the reality of its infrastructural failings.

But let me back up for a moment. A few days ago, I raced over to Central Park to view the Bethesda Fountain, which serves as a symbol of New York’s water purity. It was 12 minutes before sunset. An angel with regal wings rises above the fountain, which isdraped with tiers of flowing water. It is a relic of the city’s water history; it was constructed in 1868, and it hails the arrival of clean water to NYC in 1842 and the end of cholera epidemics.

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As I gazed up atthe Angel of Water, a violinist in the park played restless notes, and the combination of his music, the sunset, and the soothing sounds of the flowing water set the stage for a romance. I swooned for sure. Water danced gingerly over the fountain’s tiers, seeming to show off for the nearby stagnant pond.

Flash forward to Thursday morning, when I jumped on several express trains to take my first water sample at the Dumbo beach for the New York City Water Trail Association. This was part of an ongoing project to document levels of of enterococci (an indicator of human sewage) in New York’s waterways. Combined sewage overflows (CSOs) continue to plague the city’s rivers, and this project is an effort to provide health and safety information for summer swimmers and boaters (and policymakers). Continue reading