AmeriScan: January 3, 2000


RESTON, Virginia, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - A number of devastating natural events, from landslides to earthquakes to floods, impacted the world in 1999. But these were not the worst disasters of the century, either in the power of the events or in the loss of life and property that they caused, the USGS says. "The costs of natural disasters - lives lost, homes destroyed, economies disrupted - have skyrocketed in this century, as the world's population has grown and has moved onto areas that are vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, and other natural hazards," said USGS director Chip Groat. For example, the two largest landslides in the world this century occurred at Mount St. Helens, in Washington state, in 1980, and at Usoy, Tajikistan, in 1911. The largest earthquake this century was a magnitude 9.5 event that struck Chile on May 22, 1960.

The century’s largest volcanic eruption occurred June 6-9, 1912, at Novarupta on the Alaska Peninsula, spewing an estimated nine cubic miles of magma over 60 hours. But the deadliest eruption of the century was at Mont Pelée in Martinique, Lesser Antilles, in 1902. The coastal town of St. Pierre, about 4 miles downslope to the south, was demolished, and almost 30,000 inhabitants were killed. "There is reason for hope," Groat said. "By understanding how and where these natural events occur, so that we can build and live safely on the Earth, and by providing real-time information about floods, earthquakes, and other hazards, so that we can respond effectively when disaster strikes, the USGS is helping build stronger, safer communities that are resilient to natural disaster."

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RESTON, Virginia, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - The number of earthquakes and quake related casualties in 1999 was well above normal, but far below the 41 major and great earthquakes recorded in 1943, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data shows. Earthquakes caused more than 22,000 deaths worldwide in 1999. More than 17,000 people were killed as a result of the magnitude 7.4 Izmit, Turkey, earthquake on August 17. "Dense urban populations coupled with weak building structures along the epicenters are responsible for most fatalities," said Waverly Person, geophysicist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Center. The annual, long term average is 10,000 deaths worldwide. In 1998, fatalities totaled 8,928, while 2,907 people were killed in 1997. The deadliest year in this century was 1976 when at least 255,000 people, and perhaps more than 600,000, were killed after one quake rocked Tianjin (formerly Tangshan), China.

A typical year for earthquakes consists of 18 major temblors (magnitude 7.0 to 7.9) and one great quake (8.0 or higher), according to the USGS. No great quakes occurred in 1999, but 20 major earthquakes shook the world last year. The USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur in the world each year. Many go undetected because they hit remote areas or have very small magnitudes. The USGS now locates about 50 earthquakes each day, totaling 20,000 a year. Real time information about earthquakes can be found at "Overall, earthquake activity isn't on the rise," said Person. "We're simply able to locate more lower magnitude earthquakes due to advances in the technology."

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ALBANY, New York, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki will ask the state legislature for $1 million to create a research institute on the banks of the Hudson River, the governor said Sunday. The Henry Hudson Institute for Riverine and Estuarine Research and Education would be modeled after the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, an internationally famed research facility. "This is the next logical step in our efforts to enhance the Hudson River and improve our environment here in New York and around the world," Pataki said. The Institute will be formally proposed Wednesday, during Pataki’s State of the State address. Pataki will also outline plans to spend $30 million to restore Long Island Sound and $10 million more for river restoration projects planned under the Hudson River Estuary Program.

The Institute would help researchers learn more about the Hudson, a 315 mile long river that drains 14,000 square miles of land in New York state. Experience gained on the Hudson could be applied to rivers and estuaries worldwide, Pataki said. The facility would employ some 500 people over the next five to 10 years, and have an annual budget of $50 million. The $1 million that Pataki is requesting would fund a task force to review possible locations for the Institute, its source of financing, and the management of its research and operations. New York state would pay a large portion of the facilities cost, but the federal government, nearby colleges and private foundations might also contribute funds.

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MAUI, Hawai’i, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - The Hawai’i Department of Health will provide the Maui Department of Water Supply with a $7.9 million dollar low interest loan to help the County improve its drinking water infrastructure. The loan - the first of its kind in the state - is part of the federal and state-supported Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF), administered by the Health Department, which aims to improve drinking water infrastructure statewide. The loan will help upgrade the Kamole Weir surface water treatment facility in upcountry Maui. Improvements will include more efficient filters to help reduce the use of chemicals for pretreatment, the installation of standby power to handle power outages, and improved telecommunications.

"Maui County’s successful participation in the loan program is an important step in helping the island comply with new drinking water requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency," says Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson. "As the first recipient of the loan program, Maui can also serve as a model for water purveyors across the state." Many of Hawai‘i’s 134 public water systems are eligible for and could benefit from the DWSRF loan program. "Installation of new and upgraded treatment facilities can improve the quality of drinking water and better protect public health," Anderson says. "Drinking water systems across the state are encouraged to learn about the program and take advantage of the financing options."

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SANTA CRUZ, California, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - The nonprofit Save-the-Redwoods League has purchased 270 acres bordering Henry Cowell Redwood State Park near Santa Cruz, California. A mature second growth grove anchored by old growth trees five to eight feet in diameter will join the old growth redwood grove in the State Park and reach uninterrupted up the steep slopes near the San Lorenzo River. The redwood forest borders an expanse of silver leaf manzanita, Northern maritime Chaparral and Coast Range Ponderosa Pine Forest, habitats that are imperiled worldwide. "A portion of this forest supports a variety of plant species and animals of special concern, including several federally listed endangered species," says Dave Vincent, superintendent of the Santa Cruz District of the State Department of Parks and Recreation.


Part of the property purchased by Save the Redwoods for addition to the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park (Photo courtesy Save the Redwoods)

"Permanent protection for this very unusual property is an important step in a comprehensive conservation strategy for the redwood ecosystem that depends on preservation of associated imperiled habitats together with redwood forest lands themselves." said League executive director Katherine Anderton. This land includes "the most distinctive and biologically diverse plant community within the sandhills of central Santa Cruz County" supporting at least sixty sandhills specialty plant species. Meanwhile, Sierra Club leaders and other activists have obtained unprecedented restrictions on streamside logging activities from the Santa Cruz county board of supervisors, over the objections of the local timber industry and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The landmark ruling, if it survives expected court challenges, will serve as a model for other counties.

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CARLSBAD, California, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is proposing to list the San Diego ambrosia, a rare Southern California plant, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Only 13 native populations of this perennial plant remain of the 34 populations known to have existed in Southern California. These remaining populations are found on federal, state and private lands in southwestern Riverside and western San Diego counties. The short, fuzzy-stemmed plant produces occasional small clusters of yellowish flowers, in some years not flowering at all, making its survival questionable in the midst of habitat destruction and degradation. "Populations of San Diego ambrosia have declined because of urban and recreational development, road construction and maintenance, competition from non-native plants and trampling by humans and horses," said USFWS California/Nevada manager Michael Spear.

Of the remaining 13 ambrosia populations, only five are considered secure and protected by habitat conservation plans. The other eight are considered to be at risk because they include small numbers of plants and their habitat is limited, fragmented and threatened by current land use practices. The USFWS received a petition to list the San Diego ambrosia on January 9, 1997, from the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. The agency published its listing proposal in the December 29 Federal Register. The comment period on the proposed rule closes on February 28, 2000.

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - Government biologists are reviewing the status of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly, a species known to exist only in one small area of New Mexico, to determine whether it should be proposed for listing as an endangered or threatened species. The Southwest Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition with the USFWS in January 1999, asking for an endangered listing. Under the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS is required to review petitions to decide whether they contain substantial information supporting a full review of the species.

"The determination to conduct the full review is the first step in the process," said Nancy Kaufman, the USFWS’s regional director of the Southwest Region. "We've found the petition contains enough information to warrant a more comprehensive look at the species. Our review will include all available information, not just what was in the petition, including information submitted by other government agencies, scientists, and the public." Threats to the species include a proposed land transfer between the U.S. Forest Service and the Village of Cloudcroft, residential development, invasive plants, overgrazing by livestock and global climate change. The USFWS is inviting the public to provide any additional scientific information on the species or its habitat. Once the review is completed, the public will have an opportunity to comment on any proposal.

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - Illinois Governor George Ryan called on Vice President Al Gore last week to intervene and delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of the next phase of the Federal Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) Program. RFG is part of a national clean air initiative to reduce pollution from vehicle emissions. Under the program, oxygenates such as ethanol must be added to gasoline sold in areas that fail to meet ozone safety standards. The program has boosted a multimillion dollar ethanol industry in Midwestern states such as Illinois. Illinois has two ozone non-attainment areas - the Chicago metropolitan area and the Metro-East area.

Phase II of the of the RFG Program is scheduled to begin January 1, 2000. Under the current RFG law, ethanol will no longer meet the requirements for use during summer months. "Chicago is the nation's top RFG market and the foundation of the domestic ethanol industry," Ryan said. "If ethanol cannot be used year-round under Phase II of the RFG Program, Illinois could lose up to 400 million gallons of ethanol demand annually which translates to a yearly loss of nearly $13 million for Illinois farmers. It is essential that ethanol be allowed to continue to compete in the summertime RFG market to improve air quality, protect water supplies, preserve agriculture from further economic losses and prevent fuel price fluctuations for the consumer."

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PORTLAND, Oregon, January 3, 2000 (ENS) - The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has extended the public comment period for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers application to dredge the Columbia River. The Corps says the channel deepening will not violate water quality standards. The new public comment period deadline is 5 pm January 21, 2000. DEQ had planned to close public comment on December 22, but decided to leave the record open for additional comments after receiving several requests for an extension. DEQ held two public hearings in December - one in Portland and one in Astoria. The agency plans no additional hearings during this extended comment period.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has already approved the project, saying the Corps has agreed to offset any potential harm to federally protected salmon during the expected two year period of river dredging. The Corps plans to create or restore some 1,000 acres of shallow water habitat for salmon along the banks of the Columbia River at its mouth west of Portland. Following the January comment deadline, DEQ will consider agency findings and all external comments, then take one of three potential actions. The agency can issue a permit, issue the permit with specific conditions, or deny the application. Without state certification, the project cannot proceed. The Corps application and related documents are available for public review by appointment between 8:30 am and 4 pm weekdays at DEQ Headquarters in Portland. Call 503-229-5284 or toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011 to make an appointment.