Climate, nitrogen flow and ‘sneaker males’

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

Climate change research regionalizes U.S. impact

Man-made climate change could bring parching droughts to the Southwest and pounding rainstorms to Washington, put Vermont maple sugar farms out of business and Key West underwater over the next century, according to a federal report released. 

The report, a compilation of work by government scientific agencies, provided the most detailed picture yet of the United States in 2100 — if nothing is done to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

It found that a warmer world, with average U.S. temperatures increasing four to 11 degrees, would significantly alter natural ecosystems and urban life. More than before, scientists broke down those effects to the regional level. 

To read the full report, click here. To read the Midwest-specific analysis and predictions, click here.

–The Washington Post 

Farm groups oppose climate change bill

Minnesota farmers thought they’d be wearing the white hats.

When the climate-change debate began, many growers were intrigued. They control millions of green acres, the dawn of carbon credits promised new revenue and biofuels showed green could be profitable.

“We are the ones that are growing the crops, and we are the ones that have control over the carbon capture,” said Doug Albin, a corn and soybean farmer near Clarkfield. “So we were trying to figure out if there’s anything we could do to help.”

 It hasn’t worked out that way. As global-warming legislation is being rushed through Congress, nearly every farm group in America now opposes it. Even the Farmers Union, which remains gung-ho about carbon-credit trading, said it would “very much like to support climate-change legislation.” But it won’t, as written.

 A pair of bruising battles has hardened the lines. First came a fight over measuring the carbon footprint of corn-based ethanol. It’s not part of the cap-and-trade bill, but it was a big part of the climate-change debate. When regulators took a hard line against ethanol, the once-hopeful farm sector soured.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 3M wins groundwater suit

The 3M Co. won a landmark court case when a jury ruled against claims of Washington County residents suing the company over chemicals in their groundwater.

 For 3M, it was a triumphant end to a five-year case that once loomed as one of the largest environmental lawsuits in Minnesota history.

 “Obviously, we are pleased with the verdict. It was supported by the evidence,” 3M spokesman Bill Nelson said.

 The jury delivered the unanimous verdict with surprising speed — deliberating four hours to decide a case that involved five weeks in court, 35 witnesses, eight law firms and more than 300 exhibits.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Nitrogen flow to Gulf reduced from 2008

The amount of nutrients delivered from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers in April and May of 2009 to the northern Gulf of Mexico was the tenth- highest measured (about 295,000 metric tons of nitrate-nitrogen) by the U.S. Geological Survey in three decades.

 The amount of nutrients delivered in the spring is a primary factor controlling the size of the hypoxic zone that forms during the early summer in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is the second largest hypoxic zone in the world. Hypoxic zones are areas where oxygen levels drop too low to support most aquatic life in the bottom and near-bottom waters.

In 2008, the hypoxic zone exceeded 20,000 square kilometers, an area similar in size to the state of New Jersey. This spring’s delivery of nitrogen was about 23 percent lower than what was measured in 2008, but still about 11 percent above the average from 1979 to 2009. The amount of nutrients delivered to the Gulf each spring depends, in large part, on precipitation and the resulting amounts of nutrient runoff and streamflow in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin. Streamflows in spring 2009 were about 17 percent above average over the last 30 years.

In previous years, preliminary nutrient fluxes were estimated through June, and were provided in July. Researchers have reported that the May nutrient fluxes are more critical than June nutrient fluxes in determining the extent of the hypoxic zone for that summer. Thus, the USGS is now releasing preliminary estimates of the nutrient flux in mid-June to better address the needs of researchers predicting the size of the hypoxic zone.

–U.S. Geological Survey

 Ruffed grouse count up significantly

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts are significantly higher than last year across most of their range, according to a report released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

 “Counts have been increasing steadily since 2005 but this is the substantial annual increase we’ve been hoping for,” said Mike Larson, DNR research scientist and grouse biologist. “Drumming counts this year are as high as counts during recent peaks in the population cycle.”

 Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 2.0 drums per stop statewide. Last year’s average was 1.4 drums per stop. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

–Minnesota DNR 

Beware the round goby ‘sneaker’ males

Scientists have found the existence of two types of males of a fiercely invasive fish spreading through the Great Lakes, which may provide answers as to how they rapidly reproduce.

 The research, published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, looks at the aggressive round goby, a bottom-dwelling fish which infested the Great Lakes watersheds around 1990. Presently, they are working their way inland through rivers and canal systems and can lead to the decline of native species through competition and predation.

Researchers at McMaster University discovered evidence that in addition to round goby males which guard the nest from predators and look after their offspring, there exists what scientists call “sneaker” males – little males that look like females and sneak into the nests of the larger males.

–Science Daily.com

 Good and bad news on fish in upper Mississippi

The current health and status of the Upper Mississippi River and its resources, such as fish species, are profiled  in a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and state partners.

 Good news — the report indicates that almost all fish species known from the Upper Mississippi River over the past 100 years still presently occur in the river. Bad news — five species of non-native carp make up one half of the weight of all fish, while the other half of the scale is made up of nearly 150 native fish species. These non-native fish harm the ecosystem by destroying habitat and competing for food and space with native species.

–USGS web site

 Wisconsin DNR issues controversial pumping permit

After years of pilot programs and numerous stopgap measures, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued the Crystal, Fish and Mud Lake District a controversial five-year permit that will allow it to continually pump water from its lakes to the Wisconsin River.

 For the residents living in the lake district, the permit represents the culmination of nearly 10 years and about $600,000 spent devising a way to lower the lakes encroaching upon their homes.

 The permit will allow the district to pump 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Fish Lake is lowered about 3 feet to its normal high-water mark.

 However, opponents of the permit view it as eroding environmental standards and potentially damaging the quality of the lower Wisconsin River.

–The Wisconsin State Journal

 Wisconsin crayfish harvested for perch bait

Jim Hansen waded into the chocolate milk-colored Root River, pulled up one of his nine mesh traps and examined the dripping, snapping, writhing contents – crayfish destined to lure Lake Michigan perch to anglers’ fishhooks.

 Some clung valiantly to the sides of the trap, like shipwrecked sailors clutching a life raft. As Hansen tipped the trap toward a white plastic bucket, one critter fell into the water.

 “Oh, we didn’t want him anyway. We’ll get him tomorrow,” Hansen said.

 The 65-year-old Mount Pleasant man, as well as other wild bait harvesters elsewhere in the state, is busy trapping the invasive species that panfish love to eat.

–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Suit challenges de-listing of wolves

Five groups sued the government for removing more than 4,000 gray wolves in the upper Great Lakes region from the endangered list, prolonging a dispute over whether the predator can survive without federal protection.

 Despite the wolf’s comeback from near-extinction in the region over the past two decades, some activists insist it remains vulnerable. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks an injunction returning Great Lakes wolves to the endangered list while the case is heard.

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections last month, as the Obama administration upheld a Bush-era finding that the wolf could survive under state management. The animal protection and environmental groups disagreed.

Management plans crafted by Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin presently do not allow wolves to be hunted or trapped, although farmers and pet owners can kill wolves attacking domestic animals.

–The Associated Press

 USDA kills 4.9 million animals

The number of animals poisoned, shot or snared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than doubled last year, and environmentalists who are critical of the killings are renewing their effort to cut the program’s funding.

 The USDA’s Wildlife Services division killed more than 4.9 million animals during the 2008 fiscal year, some of them pests that threaten crops. That’s more than double the 2.4 million animals killed the previous year, but the agency contends the increase is due to more accurate counting methods.

 Wildlife Services, which released the annual death count last week, reported that 90 percent of animals killed in 2008 included crows, blackbirds, magpies and three species of invasive birds: European starlings, sparrows and pigeons.

–The Associated Press

 U.S., Canada to revise Great Lakes pact

The United States and Canada say they will update a key agreement to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species, climate change and other established and emerging threats to the world’s biggest surface freshwater system.

 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which was last amended in 1987, is no longer sufficient.

 She announced the deal to revise it — something environmental groups have been pushing for — with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon during a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The treaty created an international commission to settle water-related disputes between the two countries.

–The Associated Press

 Chemicals, human hormones don’t mix

First organic food — free of pesticides — had the spotlight. Then consumers learned about buying cosmetics without parabens. Just last month Minnesota banned the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups.

The mounting health cautions might seem tedious — does every little thing cause cancer? — but a common thread weaves through the concerns. Numerous everyday products are made with chemicals that may disrupt people’s endocrine system, which is also known as the hormone system.

–The Star Tribune

EPA sets hearing in Ashland, Wis., cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a cleanup plan for polluted soil, ground water and sediment at the Ashland/Northern States Power Lakefront Superfund site in Ashland, Wis. A public comment period runs June 17 to July 16.

  A formal public hearing where comments on the plan will be accepted is set for 7 p.m., Monday, June 29, at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

The EPA, with consultation from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, is proposing an estimated $83 million to $97 million cleanup project that includes:

  •  Removing soil from the most contaminated areas of Kreher Park and the Upper Bluff/Filled Ravine, thermally treating the soil on-site and re-using it or disposing of it off-site.
  • Using barriers to contain and stop the movement of contaminants in groundwater, possibly treating the groundwater in-place and adding wells to extract and treat ground water.
  •  Digging up wood waste and contaminated sediment near the Chequamegon Bay shore and dredging contaminated sediment offshore, covering the offshore cleanup area with 6 inches of clean material and treating contaminated sediment after removal or disposing of it off-site.

 The Ashland/NSP Lakefront Superfund site includes several properties within the city of Ashland, including Kreher Park, and about 16 acres of sediment and surface water in Chequamegon Bay. Environmental concerns stem from a manufactured gas plant that operated in the area from 1885 to 1947.

Find more site information at http://www.epa.gov/region5/sites/ashland/index.htm.
–EPA News Release

Obama stuns environmentalists with national forest stance

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama wooed environmentalists with a promise to “support and defend” pristine national forest land from road building and other development that had been pushed by the George W. Bush administration.

But five months into Obama’s presidency, the new administration is actively opposing those protections on about 60 million acres of federal woodlands in a case being considered by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

 The roadless issue is one of several instances of the administration defending in court environmental policies that it once vowed to end.

Its position has been a disappointment to environmentalists who had hoped for decisive action in rolling back Bush-era policies.

–Los Angeles Times

 Pollution studied through tiny microorganisms

With a $165,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Melissa Lobegeier will soon begin a second study focused on water quality, and this time, she will focus her research in the Clinch and Powell Rivers of southwestern Virginia, where pollution from mining is a concern.

 An assistant professor of geosciences at Middle Tennessee State University, Lobegeier will examine two types of microorganisms that are indicators of pollution; namely, thecamoebians and foraminifera, which are hard-shelled, single-celled organisms that tend to be very well preserved because of their hard shells. While a lot remains unknown about them because it’s difficult to keep them alive in the lab, Lobegeier says they are believed to catch food particles by sticking protoplasm out through holes in the shells. Their reproductive cycle is something of a puzzle.

 “They have an asexual phase where they reproduce by splitting up their protoplasm up into a whole lot of juveniles and then regrow,” she says. “And then they have a sexual phase where that asexual generation produces the egg and the sperm, which then they release from their shell. And they come together to form the next juveniles, who reproduce asexually.”

–Science Blog

 “Green” rating system developed for fish

Quick: Which fish has a smaller carbon footprint: yellowfin or barramundi? What about halibut or salmon? Oysters or clams?

 Those are questions that even the most earnest chef would probably have a hard time answering. Even if he could know, just keeping track would be a full-time job.

Chefs have plenty of other things to do. And so at their behest, Washington, D.C.-based seafood distributor ProFish soon will unveil a rating system that helps chefs compare the environmental impacts of popular fish from sea to table.

 The program, called Carbon Fishprint, gives each fish a score based on whether it was farmed or wild, how it was caught, and the amount of energy used in harvesting and shipping.

–The Washington Post

 Lake Tahoe project aims to end invasive species spread

This summer, researchers will begin a project aimed at halting the spread of invasive species in Lake Tahoe. While the Tahoe Keys are the focus, the work is important for all who live around the lake, take advantage of its recreational opportunities, appreciate its beauty or depend on tourism for their livelihood.

Most of us are familiar with the efforts to keep destructive quagga mussels out of the lake. While we’re winning that battle for now, other invaders — such as the aquatic plants Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed and the warm water fish largemouth bass and bluegill — are already established.

–The Tahoe Daily Tribune

 Hearing proposed for Arizona gas storage bill

The collapse of two salt water wells in southeast New Mexico is reason enough to kill a bill exempting a proposed natural gas storage facility in Eloy from Arizona groundwater protection rules, the project’s opponents say.

 Supporters, however, say that it’s not fair to compare the two operations because they’re significantly different, and that the Arizona gas storage site can be designed to make sure a collapse doesn’t happen.

 An Arizona State Senate committee plans a hearing on the proposed Eloy facility on Monday afternoon. The House has already passed the bill, which supporters say is needed to ensure adequate long-term natural gas supplies and which opponents fear risks groundwater contamination

–Arizona Daily Star

 Joshua trees could disappear from S. California

A breeze stirs the silence at Joshua Tree National Park as a red-tailed hawk takes flight from the spiky arm of one of the namesake plants in search of breakfast.

It’s a scene that national parks protector Mike Cipra has witnessed many times. Still, he can’t contain his enthusiasm on this early morning outing, despite the gloomy topic he’s discussing with a visitor — the probable extinction of the Joshua tree in the park that bears its name.

 The ancient plants are dying in the park, the southern-most boundary of their limited growing region, scientists say. Already finicky reproducers, Joshua trees are the victim of global warming and its symptoms — including fire and drought — plus pollution and the proliferation of non-native plants. Experts expect the Joshuas to vanish entirely from the southern half of the state within a century.

–The Press Enterprise

 U-Haul customers give $1 million to offset emissions In April of 2007, U-Haul began partnering with The Conservation Fund to facilitate customers’ donations at checkout in order to offset carbon emissions generated from in-town and out-of-town moves. In just two years, more than 287,000 U-Haul customers have elected to offset their emissions. The Conservation Fund has used those donations to plant 133,000 trees that are expected to trap 156,000 tons of carbon dioxide as they mature.

“By leveraging our human, technical, financial and business resources, U-Haul and our customers have made a real difference in protecting the environment and mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions,” stated John “J.T.” Taylor, president of U-Haul International, Inc. “U-Haul customers should be applauded for their support of The Conservation Fund, and for benefiting the communities where we live and serve.”

–PR Newswire

Sustainable practices yield profits, study says

A series of scandals over the years have taught Western companies an important lesson about operating in developing countries: Any indication that a company or one of its suppliers is exploiting workers or damaging the environment in these regions can have devastating effects on a company’s reputation—world-wide. The result is fleeing customers and investors.

 But here’s a lesson many executives have yet to learn: A commitment to improving social and environmental conditions in the developing countries where a company operates is the key to maximizing the profits and growth of those operations.

 That’s the conclusion we drew after studying more than 200 companies. As a group, the companies most engaged in social and environmental sustainability are also the most profitable.

–The Wall Street Journal

 Veterans want inquiry into Camp Lejeune water contamination

Kidney cancer, Mike Edwards says, came so close to killing him five years ago that he saw a stairway to heaven and smelled the brimstone of hell.

Now, Edwards and thousands of other veterans are caught in a kind of purgatory. They believe decades of drinking-water contamination at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base sickened them or their family members.

But they may never know the truth.

 Federal officials acknowledge that, from the 1950s to 1985, up to 500,000 people at Lejeune might have been exposed to high doses of chemicals that probably cause cancer and other illnesses.

 A new report offers little hope of answers. No amount of study, it said, is likely to conclusively prove the contamination made anybody sick.

–The Sun News

 Alaska lake dumping permit upheld by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has upheld a federal government permit to dump waste from an Alaskan gold mine into a nearby lake, even though all its fish would be killed.

 By a 6-3 vote, the justices say a federal appeals court wrongly blocked the permit on environmental grounds.

Environmentalists fear that the ruling could set a precedent for how mining waste is disposed in American lakes, streams and rivers.

 The Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 issued a permit for waste disposal at the proposed Kensington mine north of Juneau. Under the plan, tailings — waste left after metals are extracted from ore — would be dumped into Lower Slate Lake.

–The Star Tribune

 Hudson River PCB-sludge to be dumped in Texas

Later this month, the first trainloads of PCB-tainted sludge dredged from the Hudson River will arrive and, in the eyes of critics, will turn a stretch of West Texas into New York’s “pay toilet.”

 They argue that burying dirt so toxic that General Electric Co. will spend at least six years and an estimated $750 million to dig it up will only create a new mess for future generations to clean up.

 But for 15 new jobs and the little bit of money it’ll bring local businesses, the folks who live near the site are willing to take the risk, however remote, of tainting the area’s groundwater by taking out somebody else’s trash.

–The Star Tribune

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