Haunted by Waters

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You stand in the mist and roar of Snoqualmie Falls, more than 100 feet higher than Niagara, and feel the liquid power of the Cascade Mountains crashing down. It’s been raining, seemingly nonstop, for at least a month in the Pacific Northwest, and this is the payoff. Hope is 4,000 cubic feet of water per second, going off a cliff.

In this century, water will be more precious than oil, an Enron executive told me some years ago. At the time, the suits from Houston had yet to be indicted; they were on a greed high. Having manipulated the West Coast energy market, they were looking for the next commodity to corral — water.

Today, I want to feel the life-force of free water after a summer without rain, the hottest on record. You don’t know what you’ve got, goes the song, till it’s gone. At Snoqualmie Falls, about 27 miles east of Seattle, the mountains squeeze snowmelt and rainfall into three forks that form a river that tumbles to a canyon of green, with aural orchestration.

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Normally a busy site, the big Cascade cataract is nearly empty on this shower-ensnarled day, save a chartered busload of people from China. Clean water in a photogenic free-fall is an international tourist draw. Clean air, in any form, may soon be as well. In China, people are buying bottled air from Canada, in 7.7 liter canisters — a joke at first, now a booming business. A restaurant outside Shanghai is charging an extra fee to sit in a room with a breathable atmosphere.

As the nations of the world gathered outside Paris, you saw the pictures from China: masked residents trying to cope with the carbon-thick soup of the world’s latest industrial revolution. Many may be forced to leave, climate refugees, fleeing to stay alive.

In some circles, it’s laughable to suggest that global “weirding” is an international security threat. But in sub-Saharan Africa, where the desert creeps south, or in Bangladesh, where half the population lives on ground less than 16 feet above sea level, or in Syria, where extreme drought was a factor in the collapse of a nation, a warmer earth is already generating refugees. The Pentagon has warned of coming wars over water.

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If self-interest, or fear, is what it takes to motivate a nation like China to join the world community in saving this troubled little orb of ours, then so be it. Elsewhere, the prospect of 200 million people on the move, most of them Muslim, may finally win over that other block of obstructionists, the Republican Party.

You think about all the places that need water, and all the places that have too much water. You wonder if this Paris climate accord can set things right, or whether the new normal is the scary normal.

In Florida, the majestic Keys are swamped. December rains and high tides have left mosquito-thick canals and stagnant pools. Most of the Keys are less than six feet above sea level. Climate scientists predict that a five-foot rise, which could happen by 2100, would wipe out 70 percent of the property value.

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That’s property, as in real estate. So perhaps this concern is enough to get the Republican presidential front-runner to rethink his pronounced idiocies on climate change. It’s a hoax, says Donald J. Trump, with all the practiced hucksterism of the swampland salesman. He may feel different when one of his resorts is below the sea. He’s got Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, rooms with a view of a tomorrow that won’t answer to his bluster.

His colleagues in science denial, gathered at a fake palazzo in Las Vegas, with a fake canal mimicking a real city that may soon be underwater, could have benefited from a field trip to nearby Lake Mead. This is the nation’s largest reservoir, allowing a city of 1.3 million to sprout in a desert that gets about four inches of rain a year. This summer, Lake Mead fell to its lowest level since it was initially filled. It has dropped nearly 150 feet in the last 14 years.

When the rains finally came to the Northwest this year, you saw images of more real estate in peril, landslides and teetering homes. What you didn’t see were all the reservoirs filling, the salmon streams flush once again, snow piling up in the Cascades — water as a positive force.

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In a month or more, the atmospheric river is supposed to shift south, to California, its Godzilla El Niño. They need 11 trillion gallons, an entire year of precipitation, to recover. As a hedge, this week a $1 billion plant opened in San Diego County, the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a small piece, an engineered solution that will meet barely 10 percent of the county’s water needs.

The anemic Sacramento River, the parched Central Valley, the snow-starved Sierra — they will require something more. They need waterfalls like Snoqualmie, the spray in the face, renewal during the darkest days of the year.

(The original has been published in The New York Times)

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California’s Drought: Thousands Are Living Without Running Water

tulare-2.0_0 Most of us are feeling the effects of the California drought from a distance, if at all: Our produce is a little more expensive, our news feeds are filled with images of cracked earth. But thousands of people in California’s Central Valley are feeling the drought much more acutely, because water has literally ceased running from their taps. The drought in these communities resembles a never-ending natural disaster, says Andrew Lockman, manager of the county’s Office of Emergency Services. Most disasters are “sudden onset, they run their course over hours or days, and then you clean up the mess. This thing has been growing for 18 months and it’s not slowing down.” Here’s what you need to know about California’s most parched places:

What do you mean by “no running water”? No water is coming through the pipes, so when residents turn on the tap or the shower, or try to flush the toilet or run the washing machine, water doesn’t come out.

Who doesn’t have running water? While a handful of communities across the state are dealing with municipal water contamination and shortages, the area that’s hardest hit—and routinely referred to as the “ground zero of the drought”—is Tulare County, a rural, agriculture-heavy region in the Central Valley that’s roughly the size of Connecticut. As of this week, 5,433 people in the county don’t have running water, according to Lockman. Most of those individuals live in East Porterville, a small farming community in the Sierra Foothills. East Porterville is one of the poorest communities in California: over a third of the population lives below the federal poverty line, and 56 percent of adults didn’t make it through high school. About three quarters of residents are Latino, and about a third say they don’t speak English “very well.”

Why don’t they have running water? Many Tulare homes aren’t connected to a public water system—either because they are too rural or, in the case of East Porterville, because when the community was incorporated in the late 1970s, there wasn’t enough surface water available to serve the community. Until recently, this wasn’t a problem: the homes have private wells, and residents had a seemingly unlimited supply of groundwater. Most domestic wells in East Porterville are relatively shallow—between 25 and 50 feet deep—because water wasn’t far below ground level. With California in its fourth year of drought, there’s been little groundwater resupply and a lot more demand—particularly as farmers resort to pumping for water—leading the water table to drop dramatically and wells to go dry. Those with money can dig deeper wells, but this generally costs between $10,000 and $30,000—a cost that’s prohibitive for many Tulare residents. images (1) If they don’t have running water, how do they function? Of the roughly 1,200 Tulare homes reporting dry wells, about 1,000 of them have signed up for a free bottled water delivery service coordinated by the county. Homes receive deliveries every two weeks; each resident is allotted half a gallon of drinking water per day. The county has also set up three large tanks of nonpotable water, where residents can fill up storage containers for things like showering, flushing toilets, or doing dishes. Portable showers, toilets, and sinks have been set up in front of a church in East Porterville.

Wait, people are showering outside a church? Yup. Some residents have been living without water for over a year, says Susana De Anda, the director of the Community Water Center, a non-profit serving the area. “It’s a huge hygiene issue where we don’t have running water. It kind of reminds me of Katrina,” she says. “The relief came but it came kind of late.”

The state’s offering temporary help, right? To provide interim relief, the county is also working to install water storage tanks outside of homes with dry wells. The 2,500-gallon tanks, usually set up in yards, are filled with potable water and connected to the home, giving a rough semblance of running water. Only about 170 such tanks have been installed so far, in part because the process for installing the tanks is so laborious. Applicants need to prove ownership of the house, open their home to a site assessment, and more—with each step of the process involving a days or weeks long queue. Some 1,300 homes still don’t have tanks installed. water Hundreds of rental properties don’t have running water, and because domestic water storage tanks aren’t set up at rental units, migrant workers aren’t likely to reap the benefits of this interim solution. Another challenge is misinformation: The free water programs are open to residents regardless of citizenship, but myths still prevents some from taking advantage of the services. When the portable showers were first installed in front of the church, says Lockman, many people suspected they were an immigration enforcement trap. Some parents haven’t been sending their children to school, having heard that child welfare services would take away kids from families that don’t have running water.

Who’s working on this? This year, the state has set aside $19 million to be spent on emergency drinking water. In Tulare, the Office of Emergency Services, which coordinates a network of contractors covering the needs of half a million people, currently has a staff of four people. (Three more positions were approved this week.) In the long term, community leaders are working to build an infrastructure so that homes can be linked to a municipal water supply. But that work is “slow and expensive,” says Melissa Withnell, a county spokesperson. 31203778 Are farmers taking the water? Yes, but it’s hard to blame them. Tulare County is among the biggest agricultural producers in the country, growing everything from pistachios and almonds to grapes and livestock. “If you were to just look at the landscape, it’s very green,” says De Anda. “You wouldn’t think we were in a drought.” The industry brings in nearly 8 billion dollars per year, employing many of those individuals who currently lack running water. Permits to drill new wells have skyrocketed—just this year, nearly 700 irrigation wells have been permitted, compared to about 200 domestic wells. (Wells permits are issued on a first come, first served basis.) “It’s like one big punch bowl that’s not getting refilled but everybody’s been slowly drinking out of it and now we have a thirsty football team at the same punch bowl as everybody else,” says Lockman. “Do we have sustainability problems? Oh yeah, absolutely.”

Iowa Governor: Des Moines Water Utility Should ‘Tone Down’ Criticism of Agricultural Pollution

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Iowa Governor Terry Branstad told reporters Tuesday that Des Moines Water Works — a private utility that provides water to some 500,000 residents in the Des Moines area — should “just tone it down” when it comes to monitoring water pollution from agriculture.

“The Des Moines Water Works ought to just tone it down and start cooperating and working with others, like Cedar Rapids is doing, and other communities in the state of Iowa,” Branstad reportedly said when asked if the state government would work to help Des Moines Water Works customers impacted by the utility’s expected 10 percent rate increase.

Water Works claims that the rate hikes are necessary to cover the increased costs of water treatment due to nitrate pollution, which comes from largely unregulated fertilizer runoff from surrounding farmland. According to the Des Moines Register, Water Works has spent $1.5 million for nitrate removal since December of 2014, and plans to spend up to $183 million more for new nitrate removal equipment built to keep up with high levels of pollution.

The EPA allows up to 10 milligrams of nitrates per liter in public drinking water — anything higher than that is considered a threat to public health. The Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, from which the Des Moines Water Works pulls its water, both have exhibited levels in excess of federal standards, a trend that’s mirrored in major rivers across the state. According to an April report by the Des Moines Register, nitrate levels across Iowa’s major rivers have more than tripled, increasing from about 2 milligrams per liter on average in 1954 to more than 7 milligrams per liter between 1954 and 2010.

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“It’s unmistakable. The long-term trend is decidedly upward,” Keith Schilling, a research scientist at the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. Researchers say that the rise of row-cropping, farm drainage tiles, and the loss of perennial crops have helped make nutrient runoff an issue in Iowa.

In response to high nitrate levels, the Des Moines Water Works announced in January of this year that they would sue three neighboring counties that have failed to properly manage the nutrients applied to their farmland.

“When they build these artificial drainage districts that take water, polluted water, quickly into the Raccoon River, they have a responsibility to us and others as downstream users,” Bill Stowe, general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, told Iowa Public Radio in a January interview.

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But taking aggressive action like this, Branstad said Tuesday, has alienated Des Moines Water Works from state officials and legislatures, many of whom represent districts where agriculture is the primary economic driver. In each of the three counties that the Des Moines Water Works is suing (Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties), farms account for 98 percent of the surface land.

“If they want to cooperate and work with us, they are much more likely to get assistance and support,” Branstad said. “If they are continuing to sue and attack other people, that is not doing to get them the kind of assistance and support they would like to have.”

Branstad contended that the state has taken steps to reduce nitrate pollution through a set of voluntary measures known as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The Des Moines Register survey of nitrate pollution did show a slight decline in nitrate levels in recent decades, perhaps due to farmers employing more conservation practices.

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“I think we in the state of Iowa want clean water and we want to do everything we can,” Branstad told reporters. “We have a nutrient reduction strategy. We are working on a cooperative and collaborative basis.”

But Graham Gillette, chairman of the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees, told the Des Moines Register that Branstad’s comments were “hurtful and derogatory.”

“There is no one in a better situation to help with the water situation in the state than the governor, and I am just baffled why he is not interested in even participating in the conversation,” Gillette said.

How to feed nine billion within the planet’s boundaries: the need for an agroecological approach

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Global agriculture is challenged by a combination of climate change, biodiversity loss, and the growing demand for food, feed, fibre and energy. The research and development community has been looking into various ways of making agriculture more sustainable, and agro-ecological approach gives high expectations.

Agro-ecology is a scientific approach to sustainable agriculture which follows ecological principles such as diversity and regeneration. This “nothing wasted, everything transformed” approach preaches for low input, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Agro-ecology is also a system approach, and has a strong social focus, paying attention to public health, cultural values, and community resilience as well as to social and economic justice.

There are Seven steps for an agro-ecological transformation of farming to feed the world within the planet’s limits:

1. Raise awareness among policy-makers and extension agents of the benefits of agro-ecological farming, focusing on its contributions to rural livelihoods, ecological sustainability, climate change adaptation and the resilience of food systems.

2. Provide a new perspective on agriculture – particularly what is a ‘productive’ and ‘efficient’ system – among financial partners, governments and farmers. Instead of a short-term focus on maximising production (and profits), they should consider the benefits of farming practices that support ecosystem services and resilience and use fewer resources.

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3. Provide economic incentives to adopt agro-ecological practices on a landscape level, e.g. subsidies for actions that support ecosystem services, and taxation of actions that reduce them. Other helpful measures include integrating agro-ecological farming in public food procurement schemes (e.g. for schools, hospitals or public catering); supporting agro-ecological extension services; and supporting local business development and markets for agro-ecological products.

4. Sharpen environmental laws and regulations (and their enforcement on a landscape level) to better protect ecosystem services. Revise trade regulations and agreements so that they support markets for environmentally friendly agricultural products. Amend regulations that distort local markets for agricultural products.

5. Build strong farmer-led, bottom-up knowledge and research systems. Farmers should be at the centre of the agricultural innovation system, setting the agenda for research and extension services and shaping policies and investments.

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6. Mainstream agro-ecology in agricultural education at all levels (from pre-schools to universities) and encourage interdisciplinary research on the social, environmental and economic aspects of food production.

7. Provide incentives for more sustainable diets and consumption patterns. Rising meat and dairy products consumption, as well as food waste, are increasing pressures on the land; these trends need to be reversed as part of an agro-ecological transformation of our food systems.

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Courtesy of Ecosystem Based Adaptation conference in Kenya, July 2015.

 

UN Security Council Meeting on Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier for Global Security

136564_600 On June 30th, 2015, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an open Arria-formula meeting on the role of climate change as a threat multiplier for global security. The meeting was co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Spain and Malaysia. The aim of the meeting, according to the prepared concept note, was “to better identify the inter-connected threats to international peace and security related to Climate Change.” The concept note continues: “Everyday more countries are incorporating climate change considerations into their national security policies and since Climate Change is, and will be, altering geopolitical dynamics, it seems necessary to develop more structured means of addressing this issue from an international perspective.” A list of speakers and statements is available below and here. Abbott-on-Climate-Change-600x400 This is not the first time the UNSC has addressed the security implications of climate change, or influenced action on climate and security issues elsewhere in the UN. As the Arria-formula debate concept note points out, actions were taken by various governments in 2007: UNSC Debate on Climate, Peace and Security (press release); 2009: UN Secretary-General’s Report Climate change and its possible security implications (A/64/350) (PDF) & UN General Assembly (climate security) resolution; 2011: UNSC Presidential Statement 6587th (PDF), and in 2013: UNSC Arria Formula Meeting on Security Implications of Climate Change (press release). All of these documents can also be found on the Climate Security Chronology. tumblr_lrhf0j7OKd1qbazqao1_1280 To date, the United States has lamented the difficulty of reaching a consensus on addressing climate risks at the UNSC. Then US Ambassador to the UN (and current U.S. National Security Advisor) Susan Rice made her disappointment with the 2011 Presidential Statement process very clear:

In this Council we have discussed many emerging security issues and addressed them, from the links between development and security to HIV-AIDS. Yet this week, we have been unable to reach consensus on even a simple Presidential Statement that climate change has the potential to impact peace and security in the face of the manifest evidence that it does. We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They’ve asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, “Tough luck.” This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly it’s a dereliction of duty.

However, this recent Arria-formula debate may be a sign of progress. What’s In Blue, a website that monitors the UNSC, points out that certain nations that were once opposed to UNSC “encroachment” on this issue, are now supportive:

The first-ever debate on the security implications of climate change was held in April 2007 (S/PV.5663), under the UK presidency. At the time, a number of Council members and member states had reservations about holding the debate. This included a letter sent by Pakistan on behalf of the Group of 77 and China ahead of the first debate, criticising the “encroachment” by the Council on the roles and responsibilities of other principal organs of the UN (S/2007/211). However, since then Pakistan and now Malaysia, which are members of the G-77, have chosen to co-chair the two Arria-formula meetings on this issue. This signals a desire on their part—and probably several others in the G-77—for a frank discussion on the security implications of this issue, with the Arria-formula serving as the most appropriate format given its informal nature.

Furthermore, many G-77 nations have also incorporated climate change into their military and defense doctrines since the first discussion of the issue in the UNSC in 2007. In this context, the Arria-formula meeting may present a turning point. mother-abigail-2 More progress may be on the horizon. New Zealand assumes the Presidency of the UNSC for the next six months, with a stated intention by Prime Minister John Key to focus on “the peace and security challenges confronting Small Island Developing States [SIDS], including many of our Pacific neighbors.” Given the significant vulnerability of many SIDS, climate change risks will likely be a significant part of that focus. Documents Here are the Statements from the Arria-formula debate on Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier to Global Security (via Spain’s Permanent Mission to the UN)

Prof. Michael Gerrard, with the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, spoke at the Arria-formula meeting, and intends to “post a detailed paper with supporting materials and documentation outlining possible mechanisms for how the UNSC might address climate change displacement.” This will be a welcome addition to laying the foundation for how the UNSC can better address climate risks.

Climate pressures threaten political stability – security experts

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LONDON, June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Politically fragile countries face breakdown as a result of mounting climate change pressures, and even stable ones may find coming shocks too big to manage peacefully, security and development experts warned.

But work now to protect food security, reshape water sharing agreements and cut risks from worsening weather disasters could play a huge role in reducing future conflict and instability, they said in a report commissioned by G7 governments.

Both at-risk and stable countries would benefit, as they attempt to deal with problems such as uncontrolled migration, rising emergency relief bills, and demands for military assistance in conflict zones, the report said.

“The scale of security risks we’re talking about is potentially enormous,” said Dan Smith, a co-author of the report and head of International Alert, a UK-based peacebuilding organisation.

The report termed climate change “the ultimate threat multiplier”, and said it should be a top foreign policy priority for the Group of Seven major industrialised democracies.

As food and water security worsen in many fragile parts of the world, “you can see the climate thread” in social upheaval from Egypt’s revolution in 2011 to the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Smith said at a discussion on the report at Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office this week.

SYRIA DROUGHT

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The start of Syria‘s crisis was preceded by a brutal five-year drought in its main northeastern food-producing region, the report said.

The loss of crops and animals pushed many rural families to already overcrowded cities, increasing unemployment, it added.

Lukas Ruttinger, an author of the report from Adelphi, a German policy thinktank, emphasised that drought was not the main reason for Syria’s crisis.

“We’re not saying climate change caused the conflict in Syria. But it combined with other pressures that a repressive and non-responsive government was unable to manage,” he said.

In Asia, Thailand’s severe 2011 floods, which affected 2 million people, came on the heels of years of anti-government protests. After the disaster many people complained that state compensation had been unfairly distributed – and the government eventually fell in a 2013 coup, Ruttinger said.

Looking ahead, regions from the increasingly water-short Indus River basin in India and Pakistan to states already afflicted by conflict and poverty, such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Niger, will probably face some of the biggest risks of instability, the report noted.

In all of them, “we have to think about this in terms of managing risk, not solving the problem”, Smith said.

The good news, he added, is that many of the elements of what needs to be done are starting to fall into place. Efforts to coordinate climate change adaptation, aid and peace-building efforts are growing, though they are “not systematic”, he said.

Maintaining a distinction between financing for climate change and financing for development “is misleading and potentially dangerous”, he warned, saying climate and development action must be integrated to be effective.

But many poorer countries want to keep the two types of aid separate to ensure that rich-country promises to mobilise $100 billion a year in international climate funding – on top of existing aid flows – are met, the experts said.

Insurance could play some role in reducing risks and providing stabilising payouts to disaster-hit families, Smith said. But the cost of providing insurance depends on analysing risks based on long-term trends, and climate change is bringing “profound disruption of existing trends”, he said.

That could make the cost of providing insurance cover for some climate risks excessive, the experts said.

CREATIVE THINKING

Innovative thinking could help. A project to negotiate open border agreements for drought-hit nomadic herders who move from country to country in Africa’s Sahel may ease pressures in the region’s fragile states, said Baroness Joyce Anelay, a minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The project, by French aid group Acting for Life, is supported by Britain’s Department for International Development through its Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme.

On a broader scale, reducing climate-related security risks will require many changes, including better global risk assessments and support for food security through measures to build stocks and curb price fluctuations, experts said.

Improving local abilities to cope with climate stresses and finding ways to defuse water disputes between neighbouring nations will also be important, the report said.

Water sharing across national borders has in the past been a shining example of how to build cooperation and head off disputes, Smith said.

But with populations growing and demand for water rising as climate change in many cases cuts flows, a process for renegotiating water deals in line with those shifts is needed, he said.

Trying to reduce as far as possible the pressures driving world instability is crucial, Ruttinger said, because “we are already at the limit of what we can manage”.

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(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)

Two Years After Oil Train Disaster, Profound Scars Remain in Lac-Mégantic,Quebec

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A week of direct actions across Canada and the U.S. to stop so-called “bomb trains” began on Monday, the two-year anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, when an unmanned train with 72 tankers carrying 30,000 gallons of crude oil careened into a small town in the Canadian province of Quebec, where it derailed, exploded, and killed 47 people.

Decontamination work continues to this day at the crash site, but was suspended at noon for a moment of silence. Later in the day, church bells will ring out 47 times at Lac-Mégantic’s St. Agnes Church.

On every level, recovery in the small community has been challenging. 

The Globe and Mail reports: “Two years on, there’s still a pile of toxic dirt where the centre of Lac-Mégantic used to be.” Reconstruction efforts have moved quickly and without a lot of transparency, the newspaper reports—perhaps too swiftly for citizens who feel they’ve been sidelined from negotiations.

Meanwhile, as the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix noted in an editorial on Monday, “the psychological toll on residents has been profound. A report from the local health department in January revealed that while the community has become closer and more resilient, substance abuse and mental health issues have been major challenges.”

According to the Montreal Gazette, while a memorial mass on Sunday was well-attended, some residents left town for the weekend “to avoid the memories.”

Sunday morning’s ceremony was presided over by Rev. Gilles Baril, who became the town’s new priest in February. The Gazette explains:

The priest he replaced, Rev. Steve Lemay, was asked by the church to take six months off. Since the earliest moments of the tragedy, Lemay, only in his mid-30s, had been there to help people mourn, to listen to their stories and try to make sense of them.

An entire community had turned to him for answers as he handled many of the victims’ funerals. Drained after a year-and-a-half of doing so, the leave was needed.

“He took a lot on his shoulders and was exhausted,” Baril said of Lemay. “He had to step away before it was too late.”

On Saturday, about 150 people marched in downtown Lac-Mégantic to voice their opposition to the resumption of oil-train service through the town—scheduled for January 2016. The Gazette reports that they dressed all in white, to contrast the color of “dirty oil,” and chanted: “Say yes to a bypass railway, say no to another oil spill.” Demonstrators lined up elbow-to-elbow on the tracks, and together, symbolically crossed their arms.

Citizens and local elected officials are calling for a new set of tracks that would bypass Lac-Mégantic’s residential sector. “With every passing day, residents are more determined to see it done,” said Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche last week about the bypass railway. “As a municipal council, we consider it a must. Not a week goes by that it’s not brought up.”

Lac-Mégantic residents have good reason to be concerned. As CBC reported on Sunday, “Montreal, Maine and Atlantic—and the company that bought it after it declared bankruptcy—have experienced a number of train derailments since the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.” 

Furthermore, CBC added: “Since the Lac-Mégantic train crash two years ago, nearly three times as much oil crosses Canada by rail. And it will be a few more years before the DOT-111 train cars involved in that crash will be replaced.”

Jonathan Santerre, an activist and founder of the Le Carré Bleu Lac-Mégantic citizens’ group, told the Gazette: “It’s shocking that after everything that happened, people’s lives still come second to money.”

A $431.5 million settlement, accepted by victims of the disaster last month and involving about 25 companies accused of responsibility in the July 2013 tragedy, is being held up indefinitely because Canadian Pacific Rail has refused to participate in the settlement offer and is challenging its legitimacy.

According to the Canadian Press: “If CP is successful in its challenge, the families and creditors caught up in the disaster might have to go through years of expensive litigation before seeing any money.”