PODCAST: Innovative Technology for Equitable Water Access and Sanitation

In this episode of The Current, Blue Access CEO Kathy Robb talks to Dr. Kartik Chandran, an environmental engineer and professor at Columbia University, about the cutting-edge research underway at Columbia’s Wastewater Innovation and Environmental Justice Lab. To successfully address systemic water access and sanitation challenges, Dr. Chandran discusses how recasting wastewater as a valuable, highly enriched form of water (containing carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, and energy) can provide a pathway for shifting from the traditional wastewater treatment framework to a new model that invests in technology for waste resource recovery. Dr. Chandran’s research methodology, which focuses on community input and emphasizes the critical importance of asking the right questions, ensures that technology solutions are tailored to community needs. The recently announced Blue Access Postdoctoral Fellowship provides direct support for the lab’s groundbreaking work to improve water access to underserved communities. Under the direction of Dr. Chandran, the Postdoctoral Fellow will conduct scientific research and sampling in Alabama’s Black Belt communities to identify innovative solutions for providing equitable access to water and sanitation where traditional technologies have failed.

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PODCAST: The Intersection of Environmental Justice and Water Equity

In this episode, Blue Access CEO Kathy Robb talks with Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, a leading voice for equity and sustainability for more than 40 years, about the interconnectedness of environmental justice and water scarcity. The discussion provides historical context about the disproportionate impact of pollution on vulnerable populations, the emergence of the political movement in the 1980s to ensure access to healthy communities, and an assessment of the current landscape where the lack of basic access to clean water and sanitation continues for poor communities in the U.S. and throughout the world. The conversation also delves into the unique impact of this inequity on women. Despite continued challenges, there is much reason for optimism. In fact, we are “literally at the threshold” of putting the necessary pieces together – the political, scientific, economic, and social justice components – to solidify meaningful, lasting change that will allow all people to live and thrive in a healthy, pollution-free environment.

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New NEPA Regulations Are a Roadblock to Community Involvement

The Trump Administration issued a new rule in July that will sharply limit community participation in the environmental decision-making process on projects subject to review under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). While these new regulations modernize and streamline the NEPA review process in some welcome respects, they also narrow the scope of NEPA reviews–exempting pipelines, large-scale logging operations, waste incinerators, highways, and other federal actions from NEPA review entirely. The regulations, which became effective in September 2020, also redefine certain review parameters that significantly limit or eliminate community involvement.

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The Case for Green Infrastructure

Water infrastructure encompasses the systems and facilities that service, store, and transport drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater. This infrastructure is of vital importance to public health, the economy, and our environment, and requires perpetual investment and innovative problem-solving. In the U.S., water utilities distribute 39 billion gallons of potable water and treat approximately 32 billion gallons of wastewater daily. This is made possible by millions of miles of pipes and other water infrastructure, much of which is underground, aging, and expensive to replace.

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EPA’s Proposed Guidance on Communities’ Financial Capability Assessment Strikes Needed Balance

To maintain water services and comply with Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations, water utilities routinely must make financial investments in critical infrastructure upgrades. To ensure compliance, water utilities work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to negotiate a years-long “implementation schedule” for pollution control measures that factors in community demographics, the financial health of the utility and/or municipality (such as existing amounts of municipal debt or bond ratings), and existing levels of pollution.

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PODCAST: Introducing Blue Access

Water is the most critical environmental issue of the 21st century. Lack of infrastructure, water pollution and contamination, water waste, a growing population, and changing climate conditions all contribute to the global water crisis. In this inaugural episode of The Current, Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, a lifelong advocate for human rights, female empowerment, and sustainability, speaks with Blue Access CEO Kathy Robb, about how the new company is working to develop innovative sustainable finance solutions to address critical water issues. With a primary focus on water access in underserved communities, initial work includes a five-city pilot survey project; the creation of a scientific research fellowship with Columbia Engineering, and laying the foundation with partners to create a “Blue Bank” to fund priority water access projects.

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Water Conflicts from Coast to Coast

Water conflicts have been going on since the beginning of human life. Water is an essential component of health, a key component of industry, and a significant symbol of power and sovereignty. Debates over water are urgent, emotional, and sometimes violent. Issues of water have been a critical part of our nation’s history, most notably in the West, but more recently in the Southeast as well. Water scarcity, caused by mismanagement and global warming, is intensifying these issues nationwide. And as the climate warms, debates over water resources are heating up too.

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Australia’s Water Markets: Intended Benefits and Unintended Consequences

Water trading in Australia has developed progressively over the past three decades. Today, there are well-established, sophisticated open markets, where water is freely bought and sold. This structure is a key mechanism for simultaneously managing water scarcity, supporting economic efficiency, and ensuring sufficient water resources to sustain wetlands, rivers, and other parts of the environment. The markets function as a cap-and-trade system, where the volume of water that can be extracted or sold by an owner is capped on an annual basis and further reassessed on a monthly basis, depending on rainfall. Assigning value to water in this way allows it to move freely to more economically productive short- and long-term uses. It also provides an incentive for irrigators to be more efficient with their water use.

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Increasing Water Access Begins with Improving Representation

Across the United States, historically underserved communities, such as in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas or southern California, lack regular access to clean drinking water and sewage treatment. These groups, typically Hispanic labor populations or Native American tribes, face barriers to achieving the same access to water as nearby municipalities. Irrigation districts often control water in rural areas, with minimal oversight regarding expanding service areas to include low-income, unincorporated communities.

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PFAS – Here’s What You Need to Know

Humankind has a toxic, co-dependent relationship with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are synthetic compounds made up of several carbon-fluorine bonds that are indestructible, unreactive, highly stable, and the strongest chemical bonds in nature. These compounds have been nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’ due to their resistance to water, oil, and natural degradation processes. PFAS are a class of over 6,000 compounds and counting, as new forever chemicals continue to be synthesized. PFOA and PFOS are the most commonly studied and tested contaminants in the class and have been “voluntarily phased out by industry” in the United States due to toxicity concerns and widespread contamination. PFAS are found in most Americans’ blood (99.9%) and drinking water (estimated 110 million+ Americans). Industry has created several replacements for PFOA and PFOS they deem as safe alternatives, including GenX and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS). However, EPA toxicity assessments found a link between exposure to GenX and PFBS and several adverse health outcomes.

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