Roadways pose serious threats to animal populations. The installation of roadway mitigation measures is becoming increasingly common, yet studies that rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of these conservation tools remain rare. A highway expansion project in Ontario, Canada included exclusion fencing and ecopassages as mitigation measures designed to offset detrimental effects to one of the most imperial groups of vertebrates, reptiles. Taking a multispecies approach, we used a Before-After-Control-Impact study design to compare reptile abundance on the highway before and after mitigation at an Impact site and a Control site from 1 May to 31 August in 2012 and 2013. During this time, radio telemetry, wildlife cameras, and an automated PIT-tag reading system were used to monitor reptile movements and use of ecopassages. Additionally, a willingness to utilize experiment was conducted to quantify turtle behavioral responses to ecopassages. We found no difference in abundance of turtles on the road between the un-mitigated and mitigated highways, and an increase in the percentage of both snakes and turtles detected dead on the road post-mitigation, suggesting that the fencing was not effective. Although ecopassages were used by reptiles, the number of crossings through ecopassages was lower than road-surface crossings. Furthermore, turtle willingness to use ecopassages was lower than that reported in previous arena studies, suggesting that effectiveness of ecopassages may be compromised when alternative crossing options are available (e.g., through holes in exclusion structures). Our rigorous evaluation of reptile roadway mitigation demonstrated that when exclusion structures fail, the effectiveness of population connectivity structures is compromised. Our project emphasizes the need to design mitigation measures with the biology and behavior of the target species in mind, to implement mitigation designs in a rigorous fashion, and quantitatively evaluate road mitigation to ensure allow for adaptive management and optimization of these increasingly important conservation tools.
New Data Show U.S. Drivers Topped 3 Trillion Miles Last Year
Source: Federal Highway Administration
New estimates released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) show that Americans drove nearly 3.02 trillion miles in 2014, the highest point since 2007 and the second-highest since data collection began 79 years ago, fueling calls for greater investment in transportation infrastructure to accommodate growing volumes of traffic.
Highways in the Coastal Environment: Assessing Extreme Events (PDF)
Source: Federal Highway Administration
The US transportation system is vulnerable to coastal extreme event storms today and this vulnerability will increase with climate change. Hurricane Sandy caused over $10 billion in damage to coastal roads, rails, tunnels, and other transportation facilities in New York and New Jersey (Blake et al. 2013, NOAA 2013). Hurricanes Ivan (2004), Katrina (2005), Ike (2008), and other storms have also caused billions in damage to coastal roads and bridges throughout the Gulf Coast. Portions of California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, have been relocated away from the ocean in response to bluff erosion threatening the highway. Costs of lost business when critical transportation services are interrupted after coastal storms have also been significant.
This vulnerability will increase as sea levels rise. Many projections of future sea levels suggest accelerated rise rates resulting from global climate change. Higher sea levels will combine with future extreme events to increase the vulnerability of coastal highways, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. Thus, damage from coastal hazards such as hurricanes, high waves, tsunamis, and extreme tides will increase in cost, frequency, and magnitude. It is estimated that over 60,000 roadway miles in the US are exposed to coastal storm surge (FHWA 2008). The degree to which that exposure, and resulting vulnerability, will increase as a result of climate change is currently unknown.
The transportation authorization act, MAP-21 – the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, lists “protection against extreme events” as an eligible project purpose for federal funding of construction, replacement, rehabilitation, or preservation of bridges (P.L. 112-141: Section 119 (d) (2) (B)). The FHWA guidance memo entitled “Eligibility of Activities to Adapt to Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events under the Federal-Aid and Federal Lands Highway Program” (FHWA 2012a), provides more specific information on the use of federal highway program funds in the planning, design and construction of highways to adapt to extreme events considering climate change. This memo stressed that “consideration of extreme events, their impacts on highways and transportation systems, and development of adaptation strategies should be grounded in the best available scientific approaches.” Adaptation activities need to be based on the current understanding of weather patterns affecting the location of a project or region, as well as projected changes in climate.
Thus, there is a need for technical guidance in assessing the exposure and vulnerability of highway infrastructure in the coastal environment that will be impacted by extreme events including considerations of the effects of climate change. This publication is intended to be technical guidance grounded in the “best available scientific approaches” to vulnerability and risk assessment and climate change.
Greatest Threat to the Power Grid: Our Own Government
Source: Institute for Energy Research
Today, the Institute for Energy Research released a new study titled “Assessing Emerging Policy Threats to the U.S. Power Grid” as a continuation of the Story of Electricity initiative.
The report finds that the greatest threats to our power grid are not physical or cyber attacks, but rather existing and upcoming Federal and State policies including subsidies, mandates, and regulations.
IER found that Federal Government policies alone threaten the reliable functioning of 130 gigawatts (GW) of power from natural gas, coal, and nuclear power plants. This is enough power to meet the residential electricity needs of more than 105 million Americans, or one-third of the U.S. population. Other findings include:
- COAL: The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) estimates that 103 GW of coal-fired capacity will shut down as a result of EPA rules. That amount of power could supply the residential electricity needs of more than 80 million Americans.
- NUCLEAR: Actions taken by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), state policies threatening existing nuclear plants, and subsidies for renewable energy sources that work at cross-purposes with nuclear power will force 8.6 GW of nuclear power to retire.
- NATURAL GAS: NERC estimated the impact of natural gas supply constraints during the polar vortex—for several regions—and found that nearly 19 GW of gas-fired capacity was lost.
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): Program Overview and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)
In the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1996, Congress authorized a drinking water state revolving loan fund (DWSRF) program to help public water systems finance infrastructure projects needed to comply with federal drinking water regulations and to meet the act’s health objectives. Under this program, states receive annual capitalization grants to provide financial assistance (primarily subsidized loans) to public water systems for drinking water projects and other specified activities. Through June 2012, Congress had provided $14.7 billion for the DWSRF program, and combined with the 20% state match, bond proceeds, and other funds, the program had generated $23.6 billion in assistance and supported 9,990 projects. To date, Congress has appropriated approximately $18.2 billion for the program.
The latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey of capital improvement needs for public water systems indicates that these water systems need to invest $384.2 billion on infrastructure improvements over 20 years to ensure the provision of safe tap water. EPA reports that, although all of the identified projects promote the public health objectives of the SDWA, just $42.0 billion (10.9%) of reported needs are attributable to SDWA compliance.
Key program issues include the gap between estimated needs and funding; the growing cost of complying with SDWA standards, particularly for small communities; the ability of small or economically disadvantaged communities to afford DWSRF financing; and the broader need for cities to maintain, upgrade, and expand infrastructure unrelated to SDWA compliance.
Sewage Reflects the Microbiomes of Human Populations
Molecular characterizations of the gut microbiome from individual human stool samples have identified community patterns that correlate with age, disease, diet, and other human characteristics, but resources for marker gene studies that consider microbiome trends among human populations scale with the number of individuals sampled from each population. As an alternative strategy for sampling populations, we examined whether sewage accurately reflects the microbial community of a mixture of stool samples. We used oligotyping of high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequence data to compare the bacterial distribution in a stool data set to a sewage influent data set from 71 U.S. cities. On average, only 15% of sewage sample sequence reads were attributed to human fecal origin, but sewage recaptured most (97%) human fecal oligotypes. The most common oligotypes in stool matched the most common and abundant in sewage. After informatically separating sequences of human fecal origin, sewage samples exhibited ~3× greater diversity than stool samples. Comparisons among municipal sewage communities revealed the ubiquitous and abundant occurrence of 27 human fecal oligotypes, representing an apparent core set of organisms in U.S. populations. The fecal community variability among U.S. populations was significantly lower than among individuals. It clustered into three primary community structures distinguished by oligotypes from either: Bacteroidaceae, Prevotellaceae, or Lachnospiraceae/Ruminococcaceae. These distribution patterns reflected human population variation and predicted whether samples represented lean or obese populations with 81 to 89% accuracy. Our findings demonstrate that sewage represents the fecal microbial community of human populations and captures population-level traits of the human microbiome.
The gut microbiota serves important functions in healthy humans. Numerous projects aim to define a healthy gut microbiome and its association with health states. However, financial considerations and privacy concerns limit the number of individuals who can be screened. By analyzing sewage from 71 cities, we demonstrate that geographically distributed U.S. populations share a small set of bacteria whose members represent various common community states within U.S. adults. Cities were differentiated by their sewage bacterial communities, and the community structures were good predictors of a city’s estimated level of obesity. Our approach demonstrates the use of sewage as a means to sample the fecal microbiota from millions of people and its potential to elucidate microbiome patterns associated with human demographics.
Energy Union: What Think Tanks are thinking
Source: European Parliamentary Research Service
The European Commission launched a blueprint on 25 February for an Energy Union that would ensure the free flow of gas and electricity across the European Union, diversify energy supply and move the bloc towards a low carbon economy in what is hoped to be a major shake-up aimed to create growth, job and enhance security.
Presenting its Energy Union Strategy, one of ten priority projects of President Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission said it wanted to improve energy infrastructure to better share supplies and integrate renewables, end regulated pricing, increase the number of liquefied natural gas terminals and enforce existing law on competition. Energy efficiency in buildings and transport, as well as smart grids, should help keep energy demand from outpacing supplies. Research and innovation should make Europe a world leader in clean energy technologies. EU heads of state and government are due to discuss the energy union at their meeting on 19-20 March.
This note offers links to a selection of recent commentaries, studies and reports, authored by some of the major international think tanks and research institutes, which discuss the prospects for, and ways to create, a single energy market within the European Union.