National / International News
Jordan executed two prisoners in revenge for the horrific killing of the 26-year-old pilot, including the Iraqi woman who was sought by the so-called Islamic State for a hostage exchange.
After months of debate, discussion and culling four million comments from the public on "net neutrality," the Federal Communications Commission is due to propose new Internet regulations this week.
First up, more on steady improvement for the job market. Plus, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds its nomination hearing Wednesday for the President’s nominee for defense secretary, Ashton Carter. One item for discussion maybe the President’s proposed 4.5 percent increase in military spending. What would that extra money be spent on and will both parties go for it? Also, this is a heavy earnings week for companies that invest in real estate. REIT's, they're called - Real Estate Investment trusts for long. One of the biggest - American Capital Mortgage Investment reports after the bell on Wednesday. Shares in these companies did explosively well in 2014, but this year's not looking quite so good.
My hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin, used to be famous for its refreshing, clear spring water. In the late 19th century, people flocked to Waukesha to drink water at mineral springs and hang out at fancy summer resorts and mud baths. But those good water days are past. The water from the city's deepest wells is tainted with radium and salts, so it is looking to ditch those underground wells and permanently get its drinking water from Lake Michigan, 15 miles to the east. That proposal is neither cheap, nor without controversy.
Waukesha’s deep well water exceeds federal limits for radium in drinking water. Radium occurs naturally, but lifetime exposure is a cancer risk. And the deeper you go in the sandstone aquifer underneath the region, the more radium.
Waukesha is abiding by a consent order to fix the problem. It's taken temporary steps to address the issue, including using radium filters and blending water from deep wells with radium-free water from shallow wells. But the city says that's not a sustainable solution. It wants to build a pipeline to tap Lake Michigan. Some other radium-challenged communities, including Green Bay, have done just that.
“Really, it’s a no-brainer of a decision,” says Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility. “The Great Lakes is the best, most reliable and only reasonable alternative for the city of Waukesha.”
Certainly it’s the simplest and most direct solution. But Waukesha would be the first city outside the Great Lakes basin to apply for Great Lakes water under a restrictive law called the Great Lakes Compact, signed in 2008. The compact was enacted, in part, out of fears that drought-prone cities in the Southwest might someday make a bid for Great Lakes water. So the compact’s framers made it difficult for cities beyond the Great Lakes basin to use water from the lakes, even cities as nearby as Waukesha.
“We have had some unbelievable policy and big programs designed to move water great distances, and now we’re starting to see there are problems with that,” says Peter McAvoy, counsel for the Great Lakes Compact Implementation Coalition, a watchdog group.
Under the compact, Waukesha has to prove it can’t find a reasonable alternative to Lake Michigan closer to home. All eight Great Lakes states, from Minnesota to New York, have to sign off on Waukesha’s diversion request. Two Canadian provinces, Quebec and Ontario, are allowed to comment.
Eric Ebersberger, chief of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ water-use section, says the burden of proof is heavy.“The administration here has been very clear that this should be very difficult,” Ebersberger says. “It should be difficult to prove up an application for a diversion.”
The city has already imposed water conservation measures. It would build a second pipeline to return the water to the lake after it's treated. The amount of water it's asking for is relatively trivial, but the state has asked the city for thousands of pages of documentation since Waukesha applied five years ago.
Not surprisingly, politics has also delayed the process. At first Waukesha wanted to buy the water from Milwaukee, but the two cities couldn't strike a deal. Peter Annin, author of “The Great Lakes Water Wars,” says underlying tension between Milwaukee and Waukesha counties played a role.
“The citizens of Milwaukee say, if you want to use Lake Michigan water, move to our great city and use it. We don’t want to see it leaving town and contributing to sprawl in the suburbs," Annin says.
Waukesha has since struck a deal to buy Lake Michigan water from Oak Creek, a Milwaukee suburb. But the city’s plans have ignited debate about what it means for a city to keep its water consumption within set limits. There's a persistence suspicion that Waukesha is designing its water plan to support continued economic growth, because its application asks for more water than the city currently uses and anticipates the need to supply water to areas outside of current borders.
“Their own studies show that they’re talking about industrial and business growth,” says McAvoy of the watchdog group. “Is that reasonable? Will that come at the expense of other communities in the Great Lakes?”
Waukesha officials say the compact isn't in place to limit growth. But it does require water applicants to account for future growth. And the city doesn't want to underestimate, its officials say, especially in the middle of an economic recovery. Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly says there isn't that much more land available for development anyway. "Development that happens in Waukesha is not a zero-sum game, where we take it away from Milwaukee," he says.
Some environmental groups have urged the city to consider drilling more shallow wells, along with stricter water conservation and higher water rates. They have also urged the city to consider riverbank inducement wells or a wastewater recycling plant. The city has ruled out many alternatives as either too short-term, environmentally problematic or too expensive.
They also point out that levels in the deep aquifer have rebounded modestly in the last decade, a change that probably won't solve the city's problem but may complicate its diversion request.
Doug Cherkauer, a hydrogeologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, says Waukesha's solution is "easy and direct" – so he understands why Waukesha chose it. “But the ultimate solution in the case of Waukesha and nationally is to treat our wastewater to the point that it’s not contaminated anymore," he says. "That’s technologically possible now. It’s not cheap.”
However Waukesha ends up fixing its water problem won’t be cheap. Duchniak, the utility manager, expects water rates to double, if not triple, in the future. Paul Vrakas, 87, a former mayor, says city leaders in the 1970s and 1980s thought water was “a bottomless pit.” Now he thinks otherwise.
“We’ve lived in our country with these important things that we need in our lives being very cheap,” Vrakas says. “Well, we’re going to have to spend more money on that important stuff than on an extra pair of jeans, do you know what I’m saying?”
When you think of all the things that prisoners aren’t allowed to have on them, cellphones might not top the list. They do for prison officials.
“Prison officials see this as the most dangerous form of contraband,” says Kevin Roose, senior editor at Fusion, whose ongoing three-part story explored how prisoners use technology.
U.S. prisons, says Roose, are spending millions of dollars to keep cellphones out of prisons, mostly because the phones have been used to harass victims and coordinate crimes from behind bars.
Now prisons are trying out something called a “managed access system.” It acts like a cell tower, and intercepts data and calls from the person using the phone before they reach the carrier. If you are not authorized to send or receive calls or texts, you’re blocked from doing so. Managed access systems can cost up to $1 million, but many correctional systems think they have a better chance at blocking the phones than keeping them out of inmates' hands.
Phones are usually smuggled in by guards who, according to Roose, charge prisoners “hundreds or thousands of dollars apiece.” Soon, an “underground economy” crops up: an inmate who has a phone starts renting it out to others.
Not everyone in prison is using cellphones for the same purpose. In some cases, Roose found, people just wanted to find a way to “stave off the loneliness.” Like one man who makes six-second videos for Vine and has a couple of hundred followers.
I grew up near Lake Michigan, one of the biggest lakes on the planet. My hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 15 miles west of Milwaukee, is making a bid to tap the lake for its permanent drinking supply. Long story short: over the decades, Waukesha and nearby towns have withdrawn so much water from the region's deep aquifer, they’re now pulling up older water contaminated radium and salts.
But Waukesha can’t take one teaspoon out of Lake Michigan unless all eight of the Great Lakes states say it’s okay. Those are the rules under an agreement known as the Great Lakes Compact. The agreement didn’t get much press when George W. Bush signed it into law in 2008. The financial crisis dominated headlines then. But Peter Annin, author of The Great Lakes Water Wars, says it was a big shift in the way we manage water.
“There was this idea in the early part of the last century that we can ship water to wherever the people are,” Annin says.
The Compact rejects that idea. Annin compares the Compact to a “legal water fence surrounding the Great Lakes basin.” He says it sends the message that “we’re going to keep the water inside the basin and if you want to use it, great. Come, enjoy it here, live here, build your factory here but the idea that we’re going to build canals and pipelines to take the water to wherever the people are has passed.”
Great Lakes policymakers and environmentalists say they have good reason to be protective. Over the decades, there have been a number of schemes to divert water to places far outside the Great Lakes basin. One that really caused alarm occurred in 1998. A Canadian entrepreneur proposed to ship Lake Superior water in bulk to Asia. By 2007, when then-presidential hopeful Bill Richardson of New Mexico hinted at transferring Great Lakes water to the Southwest, any doubts about the need for the regional agreement got shoved aside. Jodi Habush Sinykin, counsel for Midwest Environmental Advocates, pushed for the legislation.
“The Great Lakes community encompasses vital economies, over 40 million people, unique ecosystems and it is a public trust,” says says.
Waukesha lies just outside the Great Lakes basin. But it can ask for Lake Michigan water under one of the Compact’s few exceptions. The city has to prove it can’t find a reasonable alternative in its own backyard, among other demands. Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources is expected to hold hearings on the request this spring.
Peter McAvoy, adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, on Lake Michigan:
Photo credit: Jeffrey Phelps