Oil slicks, estrogen in the water, and rooftop farming

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to the original sources.

Estrogen linked to fish kills, study suggests
Exposure to estrogen puts fish at greater risk of disease and premature death, according to a new federal study.

The U.S. Geological Survey study showed that estrogen exposure reduces a fish’s ability to produce proteins that help it ward off disease and pointed to a possible link between the occurrence of intersex fish and recent fish kills in the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

The report, published in the current issue of Fish & Shellfish Immunology, adds to a growing body of research pointing to problems with estrogen in the nation’s waterways.
–The New York Times

DNR investigates reported fishkill
A reported die-off of sturgeon in the Mississippi River south of Prescott, Wis., prompted an inconclusive search by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff.

DNR area fisheries supervisor Kevin Stauffer said a three-hour search by fisheries staff didn’t reveal any dead sturgeon in Pool 3, the stretch of river between Hastings and Red Wing.

Anglers reported the fishkill to the DNR, saying they had seen dead fish last weekend and the previous week.

Greg Schorn of Newport said he and another angler had seen 50 to 100 dead sturgeon, as well as several other dead species, while they were fishing Pool 3.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Oil slick covers 80 miles of Mississippi River
Crews continued to work overnight Wednesday to corral a huge oil spill on the Mississippi River that now stretches more than 80 miles below New Orleans and threatens the fragile delta ecosystem. Government officials, meanwhile, are scrambling to bolster water supplies downriver from the spill and some anticipate possibly having to truck in water.

More than 400,000 gallons of thick industrial fuel oil spilled just upriver from the Crescent City Connection in the collision early Wednesday morning between a tanker and a barge being pulled by a tugboat. The oil spill, the largest on the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area in nearly a decade, halted shipping traffic on one of the nation’s busiest waterways.

The Coast Guard, which is investigating the incident, has released few details, but confirmed that none of the tugboat’s crew had the proper licenses to operate on the river. Neither the tug operator’s name nor the name of the river pilot aboard the tanker has been released.
–NOLA.com

Vermont cows do their thing to curb global warming
Chewing her cud on a recent sunny morning, Libby, a 1,400-pound Holstein, paused to do her part in the battle against global warming, emitting a fragrant burp.

Libby, age 6, and the 74 other dairy cows on Guy Choiniere’s farm here are at the heart of an experiment to determine whether a change in diet will help them belch less methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that has been linked to climate change.

Since January, cows at 15 farms across Vermont have had their grain feed adjusted to include more plants like alfalfa and flaxseed — substances that, unlike corn or soy, mimic the spring grasses that the animals evolved long ago to eat.
–The New York Times

New mining development in northern Minnesota poses environmental risk
The fears about copper-nickel mining start with sulfuric rock the metals are found in. When exposed to the air, these rocks can leech caustic pollutants like acid and metals.

Just west of Duluth, the St. Louis River spills through rocky channels on a final plunge to Lake Superior. Retired biology teacher Len Anderson said, not only is this area beautiful, it’s key for the Lake Superior fishery.

“It also is the nursery for many of the fish that inhabit Lake Superior,” Anderson said. “You know, over 100 river miles away from PolyMet, but this is where, I believe, the critical issue is going to come to a head.”

The issue, he said, is methyl mercury – mercury in a form that can harm fish as well as the people and animals that eat the fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio News

L.A. restricts lawn sprinkling to two days a week
It’s now illegal to water lawns in the nation’s second-largest city except on Mondays and Thursdays as Southern California deals with the effects of drought and regulatory restrictions on its distant water supplies.

The city is facing its third consecutive year of water supply shortages, according to the city Department of Water and Power, and the new sprinkler ordinance is accompanied by a pocketbook incentive for conservation.

The amount of water customers can purchase at the lowest price, known as Tier 1, will now be reduced by 15 percent. Customers who do not achieve a 15 percent reduction in usage will be charged at a higher rate for every gallon above their Tier 1 allotment.
–The Associated Press

A rooftop garden grows in Milwaukee
A year ago, Erik Lindberg rented a boom lift with a bucket and hoisted 15 cubic yards of dirt to the roof of his north side remodeling business. In the process, he planted himself firmly in the middle of a growing urban agriculture movement.

Lindberg, owner of Community Building & Restoration, turned to rooftop gardening in the belief that his actions might encourage people to grow their own food or buy locally grown produce.

And by selling the vegetables he grows to subscribers and a nearby Outpost Natural Foods store, he may have become Milwaukee’s first commercial rooftop farmer.

“It’s an experiment,” said Lindberg, 42. “Can you develop a business plan out of something like this? The answer is, I don’t know yet.”
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Three-quarters of Texas county homes at risk from climate change
A new study suggests more than 100,000 households will be displaced and more than $12 billion infrastructure losses suffered as a result of climate change raising the sea level in the Galveston area over the next 100 years.

The finding comes three days after a Texas A&M University study found that Corpus Christi’s infrastructure will also be affected by climate change.

“The Socio-Economic Impact of Sea Level Rise in the Galveston Bay Region,” commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and the British Consulate-General Houston, estimates that 78 percent of households will be displaced in Galveston County. A more aggressive sea level rise could displace 93 percent of households, according to the study.
–Houston Business Journal

Federal charges filed in Louisiana wastewater case
Louisiana Land and Water Co. owner Jeff Pruett was arrested by federal marshals after being indicted on 17 felony counts of violating federal pollution laws.

Pruett is president and chief executive officer of Louisiana Land & Water Co., the principal officer of LWC Management Co. and operates more than 30 water and wastewater treatment systems in northeastern Louisiana.

The charges involve violations of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act — commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act — at more than a half-dozen of the systems owned or operated by Pruett.
–The News Star

Invasive species legislation runs into a roadblock: pet owners
Water managers dispatched two experts to Washington recently to back a bill targeting an Everglades problem that seems to get bigger every year. The latest, largest evidence emerged in mid-May: a Burmese python stretching 16½ feet.

It is the longest yet of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the exotic constrictors the South Florida Water Management District has pulled off its lands and levees in the past few years. More sobering: The female was pregnant, carrying a clutch of 59 eggs — more proof the giant snakes are breeding in the wild.

“These are not little snakes running around. These are massive, dangerous animals,” said district spokesman Randy Smith.
–Richmond Times-Dispatch

U.S. restricts California water use to protect salmon
Federal regulators levied sweeping new rules on Delta water deliveries to prevent the thirst of California’s farms and cities from rendering extinct several salmon runs, steelhead, green sturgeon and a Pacific Northwest population of killer whales.

The suite of regulations would ensure more cold water is available for spawning fish, and that water operators make it easier for fish to swim from upstream spawning grounds through San Francisco Bay and back again.

The National Marine Fisheries Service estimated the new regulations would cut water supplies from the Delta beginning next year by about 5 percent to 7 percent, or roughly 330,000 acre-feet a year, enough water for a city of about 2 million people. Most of the water loss is due to measures to help steelhead migrate down the San Joaquin River, officials said.

The hit to Delta water supplies comes on top of rules put in place in December to prevent Delta pumps from driving another fish, Delta smelt, to extinction.
–San Jose Mercury News

Lawmakers seek restrictions on oil drilling tactic
U.S. lawmakers expect to introduce legislation that would reverse a Bush era law exempting a controversial drilling practice from federal oversight, possibly driving up costs and curtailing the development of vast amounts of unconventional energy.

Democratic Representatives Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maurice Hinchey of New York plan a bill that would repeal a measure in a 2005 law that excluded the method of hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“This is a very serious issue. If it is not addressed, large numbers of people are very likely to suffer,” Hinchey told Reuters. “Their water will be contaminated. Their houses will no longer be livable.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations at high pressure to force out oil and natural gas. The practice is used to stimulate production in old wells, but is now also used to tap oil and gas trapped in shale beds across North America.
–Reuters

Wisconsin ballast water rules delayed
Wisconsin DNR Secretary Matt Frank says shipping industry concerns about technology are holding up a state plan to make oceangoing Great Lakes ships clean-up their ballast water.

Fishing groups and environmentalists are urging the DNR to finish work on a proposed permit plan aimed at stopping ships with contaminated ballast water from using Wisconsin ports. The Great Lakes ships that come from other nations are thought to bring in invasive species.  Frank says his agency still plans to move ahead with the  permit. But he says some shipping companies say the clean-up technology isn’t quite ready.

Frank says he’s pleased that New York’s ballast water rules were recently upheld, but adds the best thing would be if the federal government passed tougher ballast water requirements. He says the DNR will make a decision sometime this year.
–Wisconsin Public Radio

China reports water pollution reduction
China cut its water pollution and emissions of acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide last year as it stepped up efforts to make its economic growth cleaner, state media said.

Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), a measure of water pollution, dropped by 4.42 percent in 2008 from a year earlier, while sulphur dioxide emissions were down 5.95 percent, the official Xinhua news agency said.

China has promised to cut the two key pollution measures by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010, and is also looking to reduce its energy intensity, or the amount of energy used to create each unit of gross domestic product.
–Reuters

Vacant homes pose mosquito risk
Neglected and foreclosed, abandoned homes add one more obstacle to control mosquitoes, said Clark County Health Department official Doug Bentfield.



Though numbers are sporadic, the number of abandoned properties that need to be sprayed with chemicals to kill the bug’s larvae have increased, he said.



“This is costing the county money,” Bentfield said.



Most problems arise when owners leave items that collect water outside such as pools, bird baths and old tires. Even the children’s pools become a breeding ground for the mosquitoes if neglected.
–The News and Tribune

IBM researching better arsenic filter
Many people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. In places including Bangladesh, millions must drink water containing arsenic, which can cause neurological problems, organ failure, and death. Making robust water filters that can remove salt and arsenic without requiring a lot of energy has been a challenge. Researchers at IBM are developing a material used to make computer chips for more-efficient removal of salt and toxic chemicals from drinking water.

Polymer-membrane water filters have been in use since the 1970s “with no big materials innovation in a long time,” says Robert Allen, senior manager of chemistry at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, in San Jose, CA. There are problems with traditional membrane filters. The chlorine used to kill pathogens in water degrades them. They’re susceptible to fouling, or clogging up, when the water forced through them in a desalination process called reverse osmosis contains oil or proteins.

The IBM researchers have made a new membrane material that resists these problems while also screening out arsenic.
–MIT Technology Review

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