Saving Energy With Auto Switches

  • According to the EPA, sixty-percent of lighting actually goes to lighting unoccupied rooms. (Photo Courtesy of Vincent Ma CC-2.0)

Saving energy can be as simple as turning off the light switch when you leave a room. But in most homes… that doesn’t happen all the time. Lester Graham reports… motion sensing light switches are becoming more popular because they’ll switch on and off automatically.

Transcript

Saving energy can be as simple as turning off the light switch when you leave a room. But in most homes… that doesn’t happen all the time. Lester Graham reports… motion sensing light switches are become more popular because they’ll switch on and off automatically.

In some families, Dad stomping around the house, turning off lights and yelling to no one in particular is legendary.

“How many times do I have to tell you, turn off those lights.”

Don’t burst a blood vessel there, pal.

Well, Dad might have had a point. Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV says he’s been poking around the Environmental Protection Agency’s website and found this:

“Sixty-percent of lighting actually goes to lighting an unoccupied room, hallways, bathrooms, your bedroom. Drive by any neighborhood house and you’ll see eight rooms lit. How many of those houses have eight people in them.”

Matt says there’s a solution. Motion-sensing light switches. They can be set to turn on when you walk into a room and turn themselves off when you leave… staying on for a minute or two… or five… or a half-hour. Whatever you set it to.

There are a lot of different types. Laurie Gross is President of Gross Electric in Ohio and Michigan. They’ve been selling lamps and lights and switches for one-hundred years.

She says there are light switches that turn on when you enter and off when you leave, others that you have to turn on and they turn off when the room is empty. Different technology works –well– differently. Gross says passive infrared works well for pantries or kitchens because they detect motion.

“Then there’s ultrasonic which doesn’t need a line-of-sight. So, those are good in public bathrooms so when it senses heat, when go in there, it knows you’re there and turns off if you take a little longer than expected to take.”

And there are switches that use both infrared and ultrasonic… good for places like big office spaces.

You can expect to spend 50 – 60 bucks or more for a good one, depending on what you want. There are cheaper sensor light switches out there… but in this case, you really do get what you pay for.

Now… these switches use a tiny bit of power themselves… so the best place for them is in a room where leaving the light bulb on is not likely to be noticed for a while. Matt tells the story of forgetting to turn off a light in the garage during vacation. That bulb burned for two weeks. A sensor switch makes a lot of sense in a place like that… or in a closet… or a room you don’t use a lot.

Matt Grocoff and his wife Kelly are working to make their 110 year old house the oldest net-zero energy home in America. And he says he loves having motion sensing switches in key areas for the convenience as well as the energy savings.

“We open the door in the kitchen and come through the door with loads of groceries and the light comes on automatically. You don’t have to do the elbow dance.”

His wife Kelly says for her… it’s avoiding a little childhood terror.

“I have a little PTSD from when I was younger and my Dad was constantly harassing us to turn the lights off. Now, I know if I leave the room and I don’t turn the light off, it’s going to go off eventually instead of having my Dad chase me down and giving me some lecture about turning the lights off, saving energy, saving money, blah, blah, blah.”

Funny story about that. Kelly’s Mom, Jane Casselman was visiting when I was at the couple’s house… and she started laughing about Dad lecturing about the lights.

“’Cause in the evening, yours truly would turn all the lights off before going to bed.”

Heh– busted.

For The Environment Report… I’m Lester Graham.

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Energy Star Approval Gets Tougher

  • This week the EPA and the Department of Energy started requiring complete lab reports to review before approving products for Energy Star labels.(Photo courtesy of Energy Star)

The agencies in charge of the Energy Star Program are making it less vulnerable to fraud. Lester Graham reports, a covert investigation revealed corporate self-reporting could be faked.

Transcript

The agencies in charge of the Energy Star Program are making it less vulnerable to fraud. Lester Graham reports, a covert investigation revealed corporate self-reporting could be faked.

The Energy Star Program certifies whether appliances and other products lower energy costs. But, it was based on the honor system. If the company said its product qualified, it got the Energy Star label.

The Government Accountability Office submitted fake products to the Energy Star program. Jonathan Meyer was one of the investigators.

Meyer: We initiated our work by submitting fairly common products and those made it through the certification process without any real scrutiny, so we increased the level of, you know, ODD products toward the end of our investigation to see if there’s any type of information that would raise red flags.

Even a phony gas-powered alarm clock was certified as Energy Star compliant.

This week the EPA and the Department of Energy started requiring complete lab reports to review before approving products for Energy Star labels.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Recycling Trains

  • Although recycling train cars is good for the environment, Buffalo’s transit authority is also doing it to save some money. (Photo courtesy of the US Department of Transportation)

Some cities are trying to save some money by recycling trains. They’re renovating and re-using their old mass-transit rail cars. Joyce Kryszak went to find out just how you go about recycling a train:

Transcript

Some cities are trying to save some money by recycling trains. They’re renovating and re-using their old mass-transit rail cars. Joyce Kryszak went to find out just how you go about recycling a train.

It’s hard to say whether there are more roads or train tracks running through the small town of Hornell, New York– a couple of hours southeast of Buffalo. The acres and acres of tracks of the old Erie Railroad yards are here. And for more than 150 years, Hornell has repaired trains in its shops. But recently, it’s started completely rebuilding some passenger rail cars.

We crouch underneath one of the jacked-up 40 ton cars and Mike Bykowski shows us how.

“This is car 114, it’s the furthest along in the rebuild process, you want to step up and take a look inside?…Sure.”

Bykowski is the director of engineering for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo. And he’s in charge of overseeing the renovation of the Authority’s twenty seven light rail cars. Bykowski says after a quarter century of harsh Buffalo winters, the city’s rail cars were showing their age.

“The older cars that are out in the system right now, there’s a fair amount of rust along the bottom of the vehicles.”

“What we have done is when we replaced the frame we also replaced approximately 18 inches with stainless steel, which is a corrosion proof material.”

So, not everything on the old cars is reused. Workers at the Gray Manufacturing Industries shop are stripping down the first two cars to their shells. They’ll put in new sidewalls, new windows and seats. New electronic signage and audio systems also will be installed. But Bykowski says there’s a lot being recycled too.

“You’re saving all the steel, a lot of wiring that would have to be replaced. You’re saving copper. You’re reusing parts that are there.”

Bigger components are saved too.

The trucks and wheels are being patched, polished and eventually reattached to the cars.The motors will be rehabbed and go back into service too.

But, to be honest, Buffalo’s transit authority didn’t decide to recycle its rail cars because it’s good for the environment. It’s just trying to save some money. You see, rehabbing the cars costs about a million dollars each. That’s a third of what new cars cost.

Dave Gray is president of GMI, the company renovating the cars. Gray says they’re rebuilding cars for the Chicago and Philadelphia transit systems too.

“Most transit authorities try to rebuild vehicles. They always reach their mid-life, which is what the NFTA’s vehicles [have] done, and it’s very cost effective, so refurbishing makes a lot of sense.”

Not every city has had to be so frugal. Recently, some cities received federal stimulus money for their light rail systems. And a few of them, such as San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Miami, are simply going out and buying a brand new fleet. It is a whole lot easier and faster. It’s going to take three years to refurbish all of the rail cars in Buffalo’s fleet. Larry Meckler heads Buffalo’s transit authority. Meckler says he certainly doesn’t blame other cities for scrapping their fleet.

“If there’s other jurisdictions that can pull it off and get new cars, I’d say get the new cars because it’s a lot of effort, a lot more work, a lot more engineering – but they cost less. So, obviously, if we had the money and life was great and this was a utopian situation, every time a car hit [the end of] its usefulness, I’d just go out and buy another one.”

Still, being fiscally responsible is paying off. The authority saved taxpayers a lot of money. And in the end, Buffalo’s refurbished cars will look and work as every bit as good as new ones. Plus, even if it was unintended, the transit authority’s decision to reduce, reuse and recycle does let it claim the moral high ground.

For The Environment Report, I’m Joyce Kryszak.

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Greenovation: Low-Flow Toilets

  • Rudy Wilfong, on the left, distributes Coroma toilets. Matt Grocoff, right, is with Greenovation TV. (Photo by Thore Bergman)

The Environmental Protection Agency has
a new water saving program called Water
Sense. It’s similar to the Energy Star label
for electronics. To get the Water Sense
program’s endorsement, toilets must use less
water. But, people have been complaining
about the old style low-flow toilets since they
were first required in the mid-1990s. Lester
Graham reports on what’s changed since then:

Transcript

The Environmental Protection Agency has
a new water saving program called Water
Sense. It’s similar to the Energy Star label
for electronics. To get the Water Sense
program’s endorsement, toilets must use less
water. But, people have been complaining
about the old style low-flow toilets since they
were first required in the mid-1990s. Lester
Graham reports on what’s changed since then:

The problem with those old low-flow toilets is the companies didn’t really re-design them – they just made the tank smaller. Some of them just didn’t do the job.

Hugh Maquire has one in his home. He’s had a bad experience with his.

Maquire: “I had to flush my low-flow toilet six or seven times. What is that saving you?”

Graham: “ Doesn’t save you much water that way does it?”

Maquire Doesn’t save you much water at all. Plus it’s annoying. It’s embarrassing, ‘cause everybody’s hearing you flush the toilet six or seven times, wondering what the heck’s going on in there.”

So, we asked Matt Grocoff with Greenovation TV to set up a demonstration for us. Behind the Bgreen Retail Store in Ann Arbor, Michigan three different models of these new Water Sense low flow toilets are set up on five-gallon buckets so we can see what gets flushed… and what comes out.

Grocoff: “I always joke there were three things that set back the environmental movement: there was the original low-flow shower head, the original low-flush toilet and Jimmy Carter’s sweater. ‘Cause what that said to everybody was ‘You’re going to pay more for it; it was going to be less comfortable and you were going to have to sacrifice and it wasn’t going to perform as well.’ And with these new generations of redesigned toilets, you’re getting a higher quality product than even the existing one-point-six gallon or even a three gallon per flush toilet”

Graham: “Let’s see it.”

These toilets all have dual flush capabilities. A full flush is 1.28 gallons. A half flush – just 0.8. To prove how well they work, he’s just using the point-eight gallon flush. Matt’s got tennis balls, potatoes, and little rubber duckies.

Grocoff: “We got three duckies.” (flush sound)

Graham: “ Well, that seemed to work. No duckies. What’d you think of that, Hugh?”

Maquire: “I felt sorry for that ducky, but it was a great demonstration.”

And, again, that was the half-flush at 0.8 gallons, half of what the old low-flow standard was. Matt upped the ante.

Grocoff: “Two tennis balls and two potatoes. This is going to be the real challenge.” (flush sound)

Then more potatoes.
(flush)

And more duckies.
(flush)

Now, Matt’s demonstration is hardly scientific, but of the three brands we tested – a Kohler, a Toto and a Coroma – it appeared to me the Coroma worked best, at flushing duckies and potatoes anyway.

Rudy Wilfong is a dealer for Coroma. The toilet is made in Australia. He says Australia has had one-gallon-per-flush restrictions for 30 years, so they’ve designed them to work.

Wilfong: “And they don’t plug. They flush better than the 1.6 gallon toilets with half the water.”

And compared to the old low-flow toilets, you can expect to save about 1,000 gallons, per person, per year. They do cost more, but the pay back compared to a regular low-flow is about 2 to 2.5 years. If you’ve got one of those three-gallon-per-flush models, or even an old 6 gallon model, your payback will be a lot faster.

Graham: “Alright, Matt, I’m going to give you one more chance to impress me. What have you got here?”

Grocoff: “Alright. So, here we’ve got a full t-shirt. (flush) Very nice.”

Maquire: “Hey, Matt. I had a black t-shirt. Do you see it anywhere?” (laugh)

Graham: “Well, this was pretty impressive. Where can I get some more information about this?”

Grocoff: “Of course, you can go to Greenovation-dot-TV and you can see a video and some photographs of some of these toilets.”

Graham: “ Alright. Matt Grocoff of Greenovation-dot-TV. Thanks very much.”

Grocoff: “Alright. Thanks, Lester.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

A House Made of Straw

  • After Carrie Zaenglein lost her home to a fire, she decided to build her dream home - made from straw. (Photo by Joyce Kryszak)

The big bad wolf gave straw houses a pretty bad reputation.

But it turns out straw bale houses are incredibly strong and

energy efficient. The century-old building material is making

a comeback as an eco-friendly choice for modern home

construction. And these homeowners aren’t afraid of a little

wind. One woman is even building a straw bale house in the

sometimes cold, blustery climate of the east. Joyce Kryszak

tells us her story:

Transcript

The big bad wolf gave straw houses a pretty bad reputation. But it turns out straw bale houses are incredibly strong and energy efficient. The century-old building material is making a comeback as an eco-friendly choice for modern home construction. And these homeowners aren’t afraid of a little wind. One woman is even building a straw bale house in the sometimes cold, blustery climate of the east. Joyce Kryszak tells us her story:

This does kind of start out like a fairy tale. On the edge of the industrial city of Buffalo, New York there’s an ordinary little village. It’s dotted with aging, modest houses.

Carrie Zaenglein used to live here. That is until she lost her village home to fire two years ago. But that didn’t frighten the quiet-spoken young woman away. Zainglein says it just gave her a chance to rebuild. Only this time she’s building her dream home out of straw.

“I’ve always been interested in green building and doing things the environmentally friendly way, so I figured while I had a chance to start over I would do it the way I wanted to do it,” said Zainglein.

But how to go about it? You see, straw bale houses are growing more popular in the southwest. But you won’t find straw house builders listed in the yellow pages of most eastern cities.

So, Zainglein did a little searching on the web and found Dave Lanfear. Turns out, he’s building a company devoted to straw bale house construction. And Lanfear doesn’t care how much he’s teased about it.

“Yeah, I hear the same kind of jokes, I think, the three little pigs… and the same type of questions, but I just have to laugh. Yeah, I hear them,”

Lanfear just digs right in and gets to work plastering Carrie’s two-story contemporary style house.

Lanfear says to do it right you have to get dirty. He fills the wood frame with tightly packed straw bales. Next, the walls are coated inside and out with layers of clay plaster. It’s made with clay dug right from the site. Lanfear says it’s very organic and sustainable. But he says it also withstands the test of time.

“There are homes in Nebraska they didn’t even know that they were straw bale – they were actually hay bale. The walls got open, they were doing repairs and they discovered this hay in there and it actually looked fresh and they were a hundred years old.”

He says that’s because the plaster seals out the moisture but still allows the walls to breathe. That prevents mold and keeps the house sound. It also gets high marks for fire safety. And because the wheat straw is a just a bunch of hollow tubes it creates the air space that makes it a good insulator. Virtually everything about the house is eco-friendly.

The house also has solar heat and power. And it’s made mostly with reused materials. Even the trees cut down to make room for the house were brought inside and used for the framing. And Zaingline says rebuilding on her same small lot near the city means she’s not adding to urban sprawl. She likes to think straw bale houses could be a trend.

“The difference you can make, even though you’re only one person. I think it’s important for everyone to make these changes even if their small.”

Zaingline says her little straw bale house stands up just as well as any house made out of sticks or brick. It might just stand up to the bluster of critics too.

For The Environment Report, I’m Joyce Kryszak.

Related Links

The Energy Hog: You or Your Neighbor?

  • Some power companies are sending out charts and graphs that compare you to your neighbors. (Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Air conditioners are running full-blast
in much of the country right now.
Shawn Allee reports some
utilities are sending out info that might
get you to turn them down a bit:

Transcript

Air conditioners are running full-blast
in much of the country right now.
Shawn Allee reports some
utilities are sending out info that might
get you to turn them down a bit:

Ever wonder if you’re an energy hog compared to your neighbors?

Well, some power companies are sending out graphs and charts to tell you.

Commonwealth Edison is a utility in Illinois.

It’s sending energy comparison letters to 50,000 customers this August.

Val Jensen runs the company’s program.

Jensen hopes competition will get people to conserve, because power bills alone don’t work.

“Despite pretty compelling economic reasons for customers to become more efficient at using energy, a lot of them don’t do it. Despite what they teach you in Economics 101, most customers don’t behave in the traditional, rational way.”

Jensen says, if enough people conserve energy, utilities can avoid building expensive new power plants.

Commonwealth Edison is just the latest utility to try energy comparison reports.

Power companies in New York and other eastern states will try them this year.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Report Says Conservation Saves Big

A new national report from a business

consulting group says energy efficiency

could be a better solution to meeting our

energy needs than building new power plants.

Shawn Allee reports that new finding

supports the Obama administration’s call for more

energy conservation:

Transcript

A new national report from a business

consulting group says energy efficiency

could be a better solution to meeting our

energy needs than building new power plants.

Shawn Allee reports that new finding

supports the Obama administration’s call for more

energy conservation:

The McKinsey consulting group crunches all kinds of numbers for corporations.

It’s latest report suggests its cheaper to improve efficiency in heaters, homes, and electronics than it is to build new power plants.

It’s a welcome message to Lisa Jackson.

Jackson heads the US Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’m optimistic about Americans, who have so much common sense, saying, listen, the best energy is the energy we never have to use. It’s cheaper, it certainly means that we can invest in ourselves.”

The McKinsey report finds energy efficiency is economical in the long run, but it’ll take millions of consumers and businesses to boost power efficiency all at once to make a difference.

The authors recommend government and banks find new ways to finance home improvements.

They also recommend stronger efficiency labels on household electronics.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Cities Share Cars to Save Cash

  • Cities have started to use car sharing programs in order to save money (Photo by Ed Edahl, courtesy of FEMA)

Car sharing has long been considered a green
alternative to owning a car. Both in terms of
expense and the environment. Companies like
Zipcar have made this concept mainstream in
a lot of urban areas. Now some cities are
trying out car sharing with their municipal
fleets. Tamara Keith has more:

Transcript

Car sharing has long been considered a green
alternative to owning a car. Both in terms of
expense and the environment. Companies like
Zipcar have made this concept mainstream in
a lot of urban areas. Now some cities are
trying out car sharing with their municipal
fleets. Tamara Keith has more:

Karyn LeBlanc works in the Washington DC department of transportation, so maybe it’s not surprising that she was one of the first to try out the city’s FleetShare program.

“It’s this one over here, right here, says 6067 is the license plate on it.”

A white Honda Civic powered by natural gas is waiting for her in a parking lot behind a city office.

She went online to reserve the car and it’s expecting her. At least the very smart computer transponder thingie in the front windshield is expecting her. LeBlanc presses something that looks like a credit card up to the device.

“So, we place this right here and you hear that little click and the car opens.”

The tank is full, the keys are inside, and LaBlanc is off and running.

(sound of driving)

“I would say I use fleetshare 2 or 3 times a week for any meeting that I need to go to or that I need to get to. So I go where I need to go. I park it. I go to my meeting. I get back in the car and I go back to the office.”

For people who use Zipcar this process will sound very familiar. The company has simply brought its car-sharing technology to Washington DC’s municipal fleet.

So far DC has about 60 new cars outfitted with Zipcar gear. But here’s the remarkable thing, those 60 cars are replacing 360. How? The new cars are getting a lot more use than the old ones.

“We’re getting up to 71% utilization on all these cars.”

When we spoke to him, Dan Tangerlini was DC’s Deputy Mayor.

We’re standing in the middle of a municipal parking lot. On one side there are empty spaces where the fleetshare cars park – on the other side there are just a bunch of white city cars.

“You see all this white iron around here. All these DC government vehicles that are kind of sitting static because these are assigned to individuals and those individuals don’t have a reason to be in that vehicle right now.”

Tangherlini says this system will save the city about 6 million dollars over the next five years – which is welcome at a time when budgets are tight.

Which might explain why Scott Griffith’s phone keeps ringing. He’s Zipcar’s CEO and says the company is now in talks with 25 cities.

“They all have the same challenges, not enough tax money, too many cars. They do need to move people around during the day and we’re trying to make that happen in the most efficient way.”

But this isn’t just about money. Griffith says when people share cars they end up driving more efficiently. When they have to book in advance rather than a bunch of individual trips they stack all their stops in one trip.

Car sharing isn’t new for cities like Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. They’ve had programs in place for some time where city workers can use cars loaned out by private car sharing companies. They use the same one the public uses.

Eli Masser helped form the relationship in Philadelphia between the city and the non-profit Philly Car Share which he co-founded.

“One of the benefits of car sharing with municipalities or most businesses for that matter is residential demand is in the evenings and on weekends and most business demand and municipal demand is during the day.”

Which means those cars are busy well beyond the 40 hour work week. Critics say this model is far more efficient than what Zipcar is doing in DC. But Masser says there’s an even better model – a hybrid of DC and Philly.

Ideally cities would have a relatively small city-owned fleet of shared cars and even heavy machinery. But most city workers would car-share with the public.

For The Environment Report, I’m Tamara Keith.

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Businesses Save Money by Reducing Waste

  • The lot that started Baldassari's quest to eliminate waste from his business. (Photo by Nancy Paladino of The Taylor Companies)

When you’re in the business of making things, you can wind
up with a lot of waste material. But these days more
companies are realizing trash has value. Julie Grant reports
instead of spending big bucks to dump their waste in a
landfill, these companies are making money from it:

Transcript

When you’re in the business of making things, you can wind
up with a lot of waste material. But these days more
companies are realizing trash has value. Julie Grant reports
instead of spending big bucks to dump their waste in a
landfill, these companies are making money from it:

Jeff Baldassari’s company makes sleek, upscale office
furniture.

“I would have never guessed ten years ago I’d
be the guy telling you this story right now.”

Baldassari is the CEO of The Taylor Companies.

A few years ago he started planning for a new factory. The
site where they wanted to build it was an old brownfield.

That’s a site that had been contaminated by a past
manufacturer.

Baldassari says they got grant money to clean up the land,
and it got them thinking about the environment – really for the
first time.

“‘Okay we cleaned up this brownfield – but
let’s not stop there. What else can we do for
the environment, what else can we do for our
bottom line to pay for this new facility, to
get it to pay for itself?’”

They started looking at their waste.

(sound of a factory)

On the factory floor, a worker is tracing the shape of a chair
leg onto a piece of wood. After it’s cut, the scrap wood is
tossed into a large box.

“Trees don’t grow in the shape of furniture
parts. So there is a lot of waste. Ultimately,
40% of each board ends up as scrap when it’s
all said and done – 30% to 40% will end up as
scrap.”

Baldassari says they used to pay to send all that scrap wood
to the landfill – along with huge dumpsters full of sawdust.
That cost the company.

But his team started making some calls. They found horse
farms that wanted sawdust for bedding. They found
companies that wanted wood chips for mulch.

Instead paying to have dumpsters of waste hauled away,
they found markets for the waste material.

It was the same deal with leather coverings for the chairs
and sofas. One-fourth of the leather used to end up in the
scrap heap as trash. Now a hand-bag maker in Montreal
comes to pick it up for purses and wallets.

And Baldassari is pretty happy about it. These days he’s
sending only one-eighth of the waste to the landfill as before.
That saves the company $30,000 dollars a year.

For many companies, this is the future.

Joel Makower says smart corporate leaders are finding ways
to reach zero-waste. Makower is the executive editor of
greenbiz.com.

“We’re starting to see companies think in
terms of closed loop systems. Factories
where basically there may not be any
smokestacks, drain pipes, or dumpsters.
where every waste product is turned into
some kind of raw material for another
process.”

But a lot of these companies are not necessarily cutting
waste because it’s good for the earth. Like Jeff Baldassari,
these corporate leaders often start the process as a way to
save money.

These days Baldassari says he’s the kind businessman he
never guessed he’d be: one who’s always looking for ways
to eliminate waste:

“Once I got started, I literally became
addicted to it. But it was addicted, in the
sense again, it helped our bottom line.”

Baldassari wants it clear: he’s not a tree-hugger. But, at this
point, he’s actually having fun. He’s caught up in finding
ways to save money by eliminating waste.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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Bringing a Fish Back From the Brink

  • The American Shad became so rare that hatcheries had to help restore depleted populations (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

A million year old cycle of fish migration almost came to an end in the waters off of the nation’s capital. But a monumental conservation effort has brought them back from the brink. Sabri Ben-Achour explains:

Transcript

A million year old cycle of fish migration almost came to an end in the waters off of the nation’s
capital. But a monumental conservation effort has brought them back from the brink. Sabri Ben-
Achour explains:

I bet you can’t recognize this sound.

It is the sound of a female shad – it’s a type of fish – having its eggs squeezed out into a metal
bowl.

“In the bowl, it looks like applesauce.”
That’s biologist Catherine Lim. We are on a boat in the middle of the Potomac, 20 miles south of
Washington DC, harvesting and fertilizing shad eggs. Lim picks up a male shad and gives it a
squeeze.

“Yeah, he sprayed out there.”

She mixes the brew around and adds water.

“We’ll bag them up and send them to the fish hatchery.”

This is all part of an effort to restore the population of the American Shad. For millions of years,
the large silver-iridescent fish have swum in from the Atlantic and up the rivers of the East Coast
every spring to spawn. They return to the same place where their lives began, guided by a
unique geological odor that seeps from the earth and mountains that feed each river.

Once upon a time – only a century ago – these fish were so numerous they turned the water silver
and made rivers move.

At least that’s what Jim Cummins says, he’s a biologist.

“On the Susquehanna, there were so many of them they created a wave as they came up the
river, a standing wave.”

On the Potomac they fueled entire industries. According to newspaper reports, Washington DC
exported 4 million barrels of salted shad every year in the 1840’s.

“The wagons would come into Georgetown were so heavy that they crammed up the city – I think
it’s the first report of gridlock in Washington.”

The fish fed more than just commerce – they nourish everything from crabs to dolphins. Bald
Eagles actually evolved to time their egg laying early, so their chicks would hatch just as the Shad
and their relatives appeared in the river. And then came overfishing, dams, and pollution.

“In the 1960’s, there were times when the migratory fish came up to spawn in the area and met
that pollution, and hundreds of thousands of them died and made a stinking mess.”

The clean water act was passed in 1972, but by 1980, the fish were almost wiped out. A
moratorium on fishing at the time was too little too late. Water quality gradually improved as
waste water treatment plants were upgraded and aquatic grasses returned. But still, no Shad.

So Cummins began the Shad restoration project.

They had to use several nets – each hundreds of feet long – just to catch one fish. They got help
from fisheries and even elementary schools. Dams were fixed to let fish go around them. The
Shad population exploded.

At a boat house just outside of DC, anglers Steve Bocat and Louis Covax are enjoying success
that up until recently, few alive have seen here.

“It was great we had incredible fishing. I mean, between the two of us, we had, what, 50-60 fish
up to the boat?”

Another sign of success, a pair of Bald Eagles recently returned to the area following the fish –
the first in decades.

For The Environment Report, I’m Sabri Ben-Achour.

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