EPA Region 3
Topic: Delaware River Basin Forum
Date: March 4, 2011
Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths: The water in the United States is safe. Having said that, there are threats to that safety and we need to be proactive and thoughtful about how we deal with those threats.
David Sternberg: That was Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths of the Department of Public Health and Family Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Griffiths will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming forum to discuss threats to public health for more than 15 million people who live in the Delaware basin. The forum is being held on March 10 at WHYY in Philadelphia and five satellite locations in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.
Hello, I’m David Sternberg of EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region, and welcome to Environment Matters, our series of environmental podcasts.
Dr. Griffiths, how safe is our drinking water here in the Delaware River Basin?
Dr. Griffiths: We have an increasing population, but we have the same amount of water, and you know there are more and more people using the same water. We also have lots and lots of agricultural production in some parts of the country. We also have lots of food animal production and as that has become more and more concentrated we find that the water that receives the waste from people and animals and so forth is more contaminated.
David Sternberg: We hear a lot about the threat posed by lead in our drinking water. How much of a concern is that really?
Dr. Griffiths: And I guess I would put lead right up there because it’s a significant problem for kids if they get excessive amounts of lead. There’s no quote/unquote safe level of lead.
David Sternberg: Dr. Ray Na Jar is a professor with the departments of Meteorology and Geosciences at Penn State University. Dr. Na Jar will be speaking at the March 10 forum on the effects of climate change on our water supply. Dr. Na Jar, how much of a problem is climate change for our water supplies?
Dr. Na Jar: It’s very important to try to manage the unavoidable. At the same time we have to avoid the unmanageable, which is the real extreme climate change that we would get if we maintain a business-as-usual increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
David Sternberg: What can be done to reverse this problem?
Dr. Na Jar: There are many wonderful things that fossil fuels have given us. There is no doubt that there are great advantages. They’re really spectacular energy resources. They’re very compact, they’re transportable in many ways, and we’ve reaped the benefits of that in terms of the growth in our economy and our civilization in general. But now we’ve reached the point where it appears that the negative impacts are outweighing the positive impacts from this energy resource. And so we have to have that reflected in the price of the energy. In other words, we have to recognize what the true costs of fossil fuels are. And currently, in my view, that’s not being expressed in the true cost of fuels. I know that many people think that gasoline prices and fuel prices are already too high, but we need to really recognize the true cost. In short, there are a number of approaches. I believe we have to place a price on carbon—a carbon tax. And that money can be used to stimulate resources that are more renewable, like solar, wind, geothermal.
David Sternberg: What do you consider the biggest threat from climate change to drinking water in the Delaware basin?
Dr. Na Jar: Yeah, we haven’t talked much about sea level rise and its impact on water resources. I think that’s a significant issue for the Delaware River basin because there are numerous water intakes on the lower Delaware River. And one of the concerns is that changing climate would allow more salt water to reach farther upstream—and that’s a serious, serious concern.
David Sternberg: We hear about climate change all the time and it seems like people are starting to tune out because they feel they can’t do anything about it. What would you say to those people?
Dr. Na Jar: I do think it’s something we can solve, though. We’ve done some amazing things as a society and this is a challenge for us, but I think we can do it. We have a lot of smart people, many dedicated people, people who care about the environment and what they’re leaving for their children and grandchildren. And as long as we know that, I think we can rise to the challenge.
David Sternberg: That’s encouraging. Dr. Na Jar, I want to thank you for talking to us about the threats climate change poses to our water here in the Delaware basin, and I look forward to hearing your talk at the Delaware Basin forum on March 10.
For more information about the Delaware Basin forum, visit http://www.delawarebasindrinkingwater.org/. And thank you for joining us on Environment Matters, EPA’s series of environmental podcasts.