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Feel of Drought: The Illusion of Water

I had never thought that there could be a culture of teeth brushing, and that something so primary and automatic can be practiced differently in other parts of the world because of their environment and level of development. 

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I took the cup next to the sink, filled it with water, and squeezed some toothpaste onto the brush. I then dipped the brush in the water to moisten it and started brushing my teeth. 

In between, I drank a mouth full of water from the same cup twice, gargle it, and spit it out. Eventually there was a third of the water left, and I stirred my brush in the water to clean it. The sound of water whirling and the stick beating the inner wall of the cup, somehow, makes a beautiful noise that often reminds me of life in China.  

After living in Colorado for several years, I have fully immersed myself in the convenience of American life, where I don’t need my plastic cup for brushing teeth or basins to store used water to flush toilets. But I had never thought that there could be a culture of teeth brushing, and that something so primary and automatic can be practiced differently in other parts of the world because of their environment and level of development. 

Indeed, natural factors can and do determine customs for a collective population living in a certain environment, and humans have long learned to adjust their ways of living for survival. On average, a person can only live without water for three days. So throughout history, civilizations have prospered and died out with the rivers and lakes their people depended on, and drought could easily bring out a region’s vulnerability. 

“Human civilization exists in a window of three days that is made possible by water,” said Perry Cabot, professor at Colorado State University with expertise in hydrology and agriculture and also a faulty affiliate of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

However, since the urbanization and technology revolution started in the western world, great engineering and city planning have helped countries with centralizing water resources and delivering them widely. Thanks to policies and subsidies made, and infrastructures such as reservoirs and treatment facilities built, the quality and quantity of water has been insured. Humans became less depending on nature, which created a gap between the reality and perception of their environment. 

The U.S. water footprint is twice as big as the global average, while 345 million others in the world are without water access, according to an infographic by National Geographic. 

When thinking about the water they consume, Americans tend to only think of water coming from their faucets, which they drink, wash or water their lawns with. However, an average American’s home water usage only counts for 10 percent of his or her water footprint. 50 percent of the water we consume goes to our diet, and 30 percent of it goes to energy use, which is more inconspicuous because it’s transformed into another source. For example, it takes 13 gallons of water to make a gallon of gasoline and five gallons to light a 60-watt light bulb for an hour. 

In Colorado, a state advanced in utilizing our limited water resources, the gap between the reality and perception is insurmountable. 

According to the Colorado Climate Center, in contrast to the common definition of drought measured by rainfall, drought in Colorado is a period of insufficient snowpack and reservoir storage to provide adequate water to urban and rural areas. 

From January to March this year, the state’s snowpack was roughly 77 percent of average compared to previous years’ records, while reservoir storage was 71 percent of average, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Reservoir storage in the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins was about 55 percent of average. Extreme drought covers 27 percent of the state and another 21 percent in exceptional drought, reported by the U.S. drought monitor. 

Facing severe drought and with reservoir storage at a historic low, life here runs as usual. Many cities and towns in Colorado have started to impose water restrictions, but more as a manner of drought response than as a conservation measure. 

The Pueblo Board of Water Works does not plan to impose water restrictions, stating that it has tried hard to create and maintain an ample reserve water supply in storage so that its consumers feel as little affected as possible, even during severe droughts.  

Whether or not if it’s a good aim or business drive, such an act moves people further away from their environment, creating the delusion that water is abundant and never going to be used up. 

We also forget that it takes good collaboration between engineering, earth sciences, hydrology and ecology in order to bring water to our faucets. 

In Colorado, 80 percent of the snowpack falls on the western slope where 20 percent of the population lives. Big infrastructure projects such as the Colorado Transmountain Diversion have played a crucial role in the state’s development. There are 12 main transmountain water projects as well as many smaller scale ones in Colorado, carrying water through tunnels beneath the Continental Divide from the western slope to the east, where 80 percent of the population lives. 

The city of Pueblo is mainly supported by the Arkansas Frying Pan Project for water to be diverted and restored in the Pueblo Dam and Reservoir. It then takes sophisticated delivery and treatment systems to make sure water is clean and ready for multiple purposes. 

In developing countries, people feel the strain of drought a lot more heavily, even though they may have tremendous amount of ground water, but lack access to clean water. In many countries in Africa, a woman walks three hours per day on average to collect water from the nearest pond or river open to contamination, making the choice between using the dirty water to support her whole family or not having any at all. 

Because developed countries have been so successful in delivering water to satisfy the demand, people seem to have forgotten the value of it, Cabot said. 

Globalization has also played a part in making drought less felt because more and more people are relying on corporations and big-box stores instead of local farmlands as their food source. 

Under the global food production business today, a consumer’s proximity to some vegetables from Chile is smaller than his or her local farmlands 20 miles away from town. 

This convenience has put us in drought denial. We don’t see how much water we use because we don’t need to. 

But how long will it take us to realize that we are living under the pretense that the impact is insignificant, and what will it take for us to step out of this this denial? 

I hope we will not wait until our rivers are dried and our town is devoured by another Dust Bowl to realize our water consumption is significant. 

“As long as we don’t suffer or lack anything, we don’t feel the impact of drought,” Cabot said, “We have been, as a society, a victim of our own success.”

by Ye Ming

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Colorado

Some parents worry new drug approval could shift States’ attitudes on medicinal cannabis

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Some American parents who for years have used cannabis to treat severe forms of epilepsy in their children are feeling more cautious than celebratory as U.S. regulators near a decision on whether to approve the first drug derived from the marijuana plant.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue a decision by the end of the month on the drug Epidiolex, made by GW Pharmaceuticals. It’s a purified form of cannabidiol — a component of cannabis that doesn’t get users high — to treat Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes in kids. Both forms of epilepsy are rare.

Cannabidiol’s effect on a variety of health conditions is frequently touted, but there is still little evidence to back up advocates’ personal experiences. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has long categorized cannabis as a Schedule I drug, a category with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That strictly limits research on potential medical uses for cannabis or the chemicals in it, including cannabidiol, or CBD.

But for years, parents desperate to find anything to help their children have turned to the marijuana-based products made legal by a growing number of states.

Meagan Patrick is among the parents using CBD to treat symptoms in their children. She moved from Maine to Colorado in 2014 so she could legally get CBD for her now-5-year-old daughter, Addelyn, who was born with a brain malformation that causes seizures.

“My child was dying, and we needed to do something,” Patrick said.

As for the potential approval of a pharmaceutical based on CBD, she said fear is her first reaction.

“I want to make sure that her right to continue using what works for her is protected, first and foremost. That’s my job as her mom,” Patrick said.

Advocates like Patrick became particularly concerned when GW Pharmaceuticals’ U.S. commercial business, Greenwich Biosciences, began quietly lobbying to change states’ legal definition of marijuana, beginning in 2017 with proposals in Nebraska and South Dakota.

Some worried the company’s attempt to ensure its product could be legally prescribed and sold by pharmacies would have a side effect: curtailing medical marijuana programs already operating in more than two dozen states.

The proposals generally sought to remove CBD from states’ legal definition of marijuana, allowing it to be prescribed by doctors and supplied by pharmacies. But the change only applies to products that have FDA approval.

Neither Nebraska nor South Dakota allows medical use of marijuana, and activists accused the company of trying to shut down future access to products containing cannabidiol but lacking FDA approval.

Britain-based GW Pharmaceuticals never intended for the changes to affect other marijuana products, but they are necessary to allow Epidiolex to be sold in pharmacies if approved, spokesman Stephen Schultz said.

He would not discuss other places where the company will seek changes to state law. The Associated Press confirmed that lobbyists representing Greenwich Biosciences backed legislation in California and Colorado this year.

“As a company, we understand there’s a significant business building up,” Schultz said. “All we want to do is make sure our product is accessible.”

Industry lobbyists in those states said they take company officials at their word, but they still insisted on protective language ensuring that recreational or medical marijuana, cannabidiol, hemp and other products derived from cannabis plants won’t be affected by the changes sought by GW Pharmaceuticals.

Patrick Goggin, an attorney who focuses on industrial hemp issues in California, said the company would run into trouble if it tried to “lock up access” to marijuana-derived products beyond FDA-approved drugs.

“People need to have options and choices,” he said. “That’s the battle here.”

Legal experts say the changes are logical. Some states’ laws specifically prohibit any product derived from the marijuana plant from being sold in pharmacies. The FDA has approved synthetic versions of another cannabis ingredient for medical purposes but has never approved marijuana or hemp for any medical use.

A panel of FDA advisers in April unanimously recommended the agency approve Epidiolex for the treatment of severe seizures in children with epilepsy, conditions that are otherwise difficult to treat. It’s not clear why CBD reduces seizures in some patients, but the panel based its recommendation on three studies showing significant reduction in children with two forms of epilepsy.

Denver-based attorney Christian Sederberg, who worked on the GW Pharmaceuticals-backed legislation in Colorado on behalf of the marijuana industry, said all forms of marijuana can exist together.

“The future of the industry is showing itself here,” Sederberg said. “There’s going to be the pharmaceutical lane, the nutraceutical (food-as-medicine) lane, the adult-use lane. This shows how that’s all coming together.”

Alex and Jenny Inman said they won’t switch to Epidiolex if it becomes available, though their son Lukas has Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Alex, an information technology professional, and Jenny, a preschool teacher, said it took some at-home experimentation to find the right combination of doctor-prescribed medication, CBD and THC — the component that gives marijuana users a high — that seemed to help Lukas with his seizures.

“What makes me a little bit nervous about this is that there’s sort of a psyche amongst patients that, ‘Here’s this pill, and this pill will solve things,’ right? It works differently for different people,” Alex Inman said.

The Inmans moved from Maryland to Colorado in 2015 after doctors recommended a second brain surgery for Lukas’ seizures. The couple and other parents and advocates for CBD said children respond differently to a variety of strains.

The Realm of Caring Foundation, an organization co-founded by Paige Figi, whose daughter Charlotte’s name is attached to the CBD oil Charlotte’s Web, said it maintains a registry of about 46,000 people worldwide who use CBD.

For Heather Jackson, who said her son Zaki, now 15, benefited from CBD and who co-founded the foundation, Epidiolex’s approval means insurers will begin paying for treatment with a cannabis-derived product.

“That might be a nice option for some families who, you know, really want to receive a prescription who are going to only listen to the person in the white coat,” Jackson said.

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Colorado to toughen car pollution rules

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Colorado’s governor on Tuesday ordered his state to adopt vehicle pollution rules enforced in California, joining other states in resisting the Trump administration’s plans to ease emission standards.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper told state regulators to begin writing rules that incorporate California’s low-emission standards with a goal of putting them in place by the end of the year.

Hickenlooper said the strict standards are important to Colorado, citing climate change and noting the state’s elevation makes pollution worse.

“Our communities, farms and wilderness areas are susceptible to air pollution and a changing climate,” his order said. “It’s critical for Coloradans’ health and Colorado’s future that we meet these challenges head-on.”

Hickenlooper’s order came about three months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would not implement stricter emissions rules adopted by the Obama administration. Those rules would have started with the 2022 model year.

California has a waiver under federal Clean Air Act allowing it to impose tougher standards than the U.S. rules. Currently, California’s standards are the same as the federal standards. But if the Trump administration foregoes the stricter Obama-era rules, California could still impose them or others.

The law allows other states to apply California’s standards. Colorado would be the 13th state, excluding California, to do so, said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s clean vehicles project. The District of Columbia has also adopted the rules.

The states that currently apply California’s rules are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

“Colorado is recognizing along with other states that the federal rollback is both unjustified and harmful, so the governor is joining others in protecting his state’s citizens,” Tonachel said.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association said California standards might not be a good fit for Colorado because a higher percentage of Coloradans buys pickups, SUVS, vans and all-wheel-drive vehicles, which burn more gas.

“We’re disappointed that the state of Colorado, the governor, or regulatory board or anybody else would cede air quality control regulation to an out-of-state, unelected board in Sacramento (California),” said Tim Jackson, president of the association.

The Obama rules would have required the nationwide fleet of new vehicles to get 36 miles per gallon (15 kilometers per liter) in real-world driving by 2025. That’s about 10 mpg (4 kilometers per liter) over the existing standard.

The EPA announced in April it would scrap the Obama-era rules, questioning whether they were technically feasible and citing concerns about how much they would add to the cost of vehicles. The EPA said it would come up with different rules.

California and 16 other states sued the Trump administration over the plan to drop the tougher rules. All the states that joined the lawsuit have Democratic attorneys general. Colorado, which has a Republican attorney general, did not join.

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Mass uncertainty – White House unclear how it plans to reunite separated children

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Trump administration officials say they have no clear plan yet on how to reunite the thousands of children separated from their families at the border since the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally is criminally prosecuted.

“This policy is relatively new,” said Steven Wagner, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services “We’re still working through the experience of reunifying kids with their parents after adjudication.”

Federal officials say there are some methods parents can use to try to find their children: hotlines to call and an email address for those seeking information. But advocates say it’s not that simple.

In a courtroom near the Rio Grande, lawyer Efren Olivares and his team with the Texas Civil Rights Project frantically scribble down children’s names, birthdates and other details from handcuffed men and women waiting for court to begin. There are sometimes 80 of them in the same hearing.

The Texas Civil Rights Project works to document the separations in the hopes of helping them reunite with the children.

They have one hour to collect as much information as they can before the hearing begins. The immigrants plead guilty to illegally entering the U.S., and they are typically sent either to jail or directly to an immigration detention center. At this point, lawyers with the civil rights group often lose access to the detainees.

“If we don’t get that information, then there’s no way of knowing that child was separated,” Olivares said. “No one else but the government will know that the separation happened if we don’t document it there.”

Olivares has documented more than 300 cases of adults who have been separated from a child. Most are parents, but some are older siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents. Some are illiterate and don’t know how to spell the children’s names.

More than 2,000 minors have been separated from their families since early May. The children are put into the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the aim of keeping them as close to their parents as possible and reuniting the family after the case goes through the courts, said Wagner.

But it’s not clear that’s working.

According to Olivares, the agency is generally “very willing to help,” often helping to find a child even if there’s a misspelling in the group’s records. But if a child has been transferred out of a government shelter — including if the child has been deported — agency representatives won’t give any information.

“Sometimes the parent gives us contact information for a relative,” Olivares said. “If they have the phone number right and the phone number is working … we call that number and sometimes we’re able to locate that relative and ask them what they know.”

In May, the Department of Justice adopted the zero-tolerance policy in which anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally is criminally prosecuted. Children can’t be jailed with their parents. Instead, after the adult is charged, children are held briefly by Homeland Security officials before being transferred to Health and Human Services, which operates more than 100 shelters for minors in 17 states.

The department has set up new facilities to manage the influx of children, and Wagner said they were prepared to expand as more children come into custody.

The children are classified as unaccompanied minors, a legal term generally used for children who cross the border alone and have a possible sponsor in the U.S. willing to care for them. Most of the more than 10,000 children in shelters under HHS care came to the U.S. alone and are waiting to be placed with family members living in the U.S.

But these children are different — they arrived with their families.

“They should just give the kids back to their parents. This isn’t difficult,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gelernt represents a Brazilian asylum seeker in a closely watched lawsuit that seeks a nationwide halt to family separation. The woman, identified as Mrs. C in court documents, was split from her son for nearly a year after entering the country illegally in August near Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

On Tuesday, Olivares’ team had seven people left to interview with five minutes left. They took down just the names, dates of birth, and countries of origin of the children.

“One woman (said), ‘What about me, what about me?'” Olivares said a few hours later. “She wanted to give us information because she realized what we were trying to do.”

___

Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.

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For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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