Zach Easton develops models to help urban areas plan for increased water pollution in the Chesapeake
April 28, 2017
Dr. Zachary Easton was recently interviewed on NPR about climate change and water quality:
LISTEN TO THIS INTERVIEW AT NPR
Researcher Develops Models to Help Urban Areas Plan for Increased Pollution of Chesapeake Bay
Virginia Tech researchers say the cost to reduce pollution will increase with climate change, and are working on models to help urban planners develop management practices early enough to make a difference.
Zachary Easton is a lead project investigator for Virginia Tech who says most Americans don’t believe in Climate change and even if they did, don’t know what to do about it
“In fact there was a recent Pew Center poll that found 60% of Americans did not believe that climate change was a major threat and it’s right near the bottom of Americans’ list of priorities,” said Easton.
But he believes it and has developed models to show what a rise in temperature and precipitation would mean for the Chesapeake Bay, and help urban planners prepare do deal with it.
Easton says, “Climate predictions suggest in moving forward that we are going to see a significant increase in annual precipitation. For the Chesapeake Bay we are talking about up to a 20%increase in precipitation and that obviously exacerbate things like nitrogen and phosphorus going into the Bay.”
Easton says the cost to reduce pollution will increase with climate change and he has been part of a multi-institutional study, funded by the National Science Foundation. His project examined urban runoff in the Difficult Run watershed in Fairfax County.
“Increasing percipitation is going to cause more runoff from our urban and agricultural systems which is going to make the cost of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus more expensive,” added Easton.
He says, ironically, the increased rain will occur mostly in the Winter, when it’s not needed, and there will be drought conditions in the summer, putting the Chesapeake Bay, and everything around it in jeopardy.
“The Chesapeake Bay is vital for some many industries, fields, people, living in the watershed. And so if we can’t find a way to maintain it, and its watershed, I might add, we all stand to lose in the long run,” said Easton.
Nasrin Alamdari, of Tehran, Iran, a Virginia Tech doctoral student studying biological systems engineering, simulated current and predicted future nutrient loads in the Difficult Run watershed given the weather data, to help prepare recommendations for future public policy.
“By making predictions of the future impact of climate change on water quality and quantity, they can have better decisions on the future water quality and quantity,” said Alamdari.
This research comes just months before partner states must reveal their implementation plans to meet their 2025 goals to the EPA. But with proposed budget cuts and new directions for the EPA, scientists are concerned they are fighting an uphill battle.
“What’s proposed in terms of cuts to the EPA and the Chesapeake Bay program are certainly troubling and will certainly set us back if they come to fruition, and hopefully they won’t. But the states have made commitments to move forward without federal support California might be a good example. They have said we are going to stick to our policies whether or not the federal government is going to stick to theirs. So, if we can get enough states or municipalities to stick behind these ways forward, I think we can have a significant impact,” said Alamdari.
So, aside from academic research, what is he doing to affect not only public policy, but public opinion.
“Well, that is a good question and a lot of my work actually focuses on how do we communicate climate change to sort of stakeholders or lay people. I would say 16 of the warmest years globally have occurred in the last 18 years, so if that is not indicative of something occurring in the climate, I am not sure what is. If you look regionally, say the Mid-Atlantic or even Virginia, we have seen some significant increases in precipitation over the past several decades. And what is interesting is that like the climate model suggests looking forward, these changes do not occur equally throughout the year, so what we see is more Winter precipitation, less snowfall, higher summer temperatures, more drought in the summer and that talks to the increase of variability, so even though we are getting more precipitation annually, we are still seeing more droughts, just because it is not falling when we would like it to fall,” said Alamdari.
By next January, all partner states will have to give an account of their progress and their plans for meeting 2025 water quality goals. Their concern is how far will they have come?