Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.
Industries criticize EPA standards for Florida
A coalition of national industry associations is warning Congress that U.S. EPA’s move to impose tougher water pollution limits in Florida could become a model for similar actions in other states and ultimately cost taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars at questionable environmental benefit.
EPA immediately fired back, rejecting the claim and noting that the numeric limits on nutrient pollution the agency imposed on Florida last year were required under a settlement agreement EPA struck with environmental groups.
The groups had filed suit alleging that federal regulators stood idly by for years as the state continuously failed to enforce the Clean Water Act, allowing phosphorus and nitrogen — components of fertilizer and byproducts of sewage and wastewater treatment — to saturate waterways, triggering soupy algae blooms that killed fish and sucked oxygen out of the water.
“While States are free to control nutrient pollution, and many are starting to, EPA has no plans to establish numeric nutrient criteria in any other states,” EPA said in a statement yesterday responding to the industry letter. “The establishment of numeric limits of nutrient pollution in Florida was due to specific legal challenges about the State of Florida’s implementation of the Clean Water Act.”
–The New York Times
Moose decline continues
Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, according to results of an aerial survey released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Survey results revealed lower moose numbers and the proportion of cows accompanied by calves continued a 14-year decline, dropping to a record low of 24 calves per 100 cows. The proportion of cows accompanied by twin calves was at the lowest level since 1999, which contributed to the record-low calf-to-cow ratio.
“These indices along with results from research using radio-collared moose all indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Dr. Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader.
Moose numbers are estimated using an aerial survey of the northeastern Minnesota moose range.
Based on the survey, wildlife researchers estimate that there were 4,900 moose in northeastern Minnesota. Last year’s estimate was 5,500.
A study of radio-collared moose in northeastern Minnesota between 2002 and 2008 determined that nonhunting mortality was substantially higher than in moose populations outside of Minnesota.
The causes of moose mortality are not well understood. Of 150 adult moose radio-collared since 2002 in Minnesota, 114 have subsequently died, most from unknown causes thought to be diseases or parasites. Ten moose died as a result of highway vehicle accidents. Two were killed by trains. Nine deaths were clearly the result of wolf predation.
–Minnesota DNR News Release
U.S. House defeats anti-carp proposal
The U.S. House rejected a proposal to force the closure of Chicago-area shipping locks that could provide an opening to the Great Lakes for voracious Asian carp, a potential threat to native fish species and the region’s economy.
By a vote of 292-137, lawmakers defeated a budget bill amendment offered by Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan that would have denied funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to open the two navigational structures. Opponents argued successfully that the locks were vital to commerce and closing them wouldn’t necessarily prevent the unwanted carp from reaching Lake Michigan.
“It’s a great relief that we were able to defeat this amendment,” said Rep. Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican. “Its passage would have been devastating to Chicago’s economy and cost thousands of jobs in our region. Worse, it would have been an empty gesture against the carp, doing more to kill jobs than slow down fish.”
Michigan and four other states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are suing in federal court to close the locks and permanently sever the man-made link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds to prevent invasive species from migrating between them.
–The Canadian Press
MPCA urges care in manure applications
As another winter of heavy snowfall gives way to warming temperatures, rapid melting and potential for flooding pose challenges for manure management among the more than 25,000 livestock farms in Minnesota. Many smaller operations that spread solid manure during winter must ensure that it doesn’t run off with rapid snowmelt flowing to ditches, streams and other waters.
Manure-contaminated runoff not only threatens water quality, it reduces the value of manure as a crop nutrient. “Manure applied to snow-covered or frozen soils during conditions of snow melt or rain on frozen soils can contribute the majority of the annual nutrient losses,” says Dennis Frame, University of Wisconsin-Extension. “There is a high potential for manure runoff this year based on current field conditions and typical weather patterns.”
If possible, farmers should refrain from spreading manure during periods of rapid snow melt. Frame offers manure-handling suggestions in article. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also has a fact sheet available titled, “Managing manure and land application during adverse weather conditions.”
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release
Indiana bill aims at manure transport
Indiana could be in deep trouble.
The Indiana House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee had a hearing Feb. 8 concerning House Bill 1134. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, and aims “to amend the Indiana Code concerning agriculture and animals.”
More specifically, the bill targets interstate manure transport into Indiana.
Richmond, Ind., Environmental Activist Barbara Sha Cox said it is crucial for eastern Indiana counties to take a stand.
“This should be of special interest to those in Richmond who drink water from the reservoir and everyone in the counties who have private wells,” Cox said in an Indiana Living Green press release. “As it stands now, they can dump piles of manure near waterways with no runoff protection.”
According to the press release, Ohio has been shipping and dumping excess manure into Indiana border counties
Congressman seeks to halt Chesapeake Bay plan
Money for a far-reaching pollution control plan for Chesapeake Bay would be stripped from this year’s federal budget under a proposed amendment to an important House spending bill.
The amendment, filed by Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, takes aim at an Environmental Protection Agency program to reduce the flow of several major pollutants into the bay by roughly a quarter by 2025. Called a “pollution diet” by federal regulators, the plan was deemed necessary after the E.P.A. determined that states were moving too slowly to curb polluted runoff from farms and cities into the bay.
In an interview, Mr. Goodlatte called the E.P.A. plan a “power grab” that exceeded its authority under the Clean Water Act and said that the agency had failed to calculate the program’s impact on jobs and the region’s economy. He argued that under the new regulations, towns and cities would be required to spend millions of dollars to upgrade their stormwater runoff systems.
–The New York Times
Macalester College tries bottled water ban
MacCares, the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society, in conjunction with the Sustainability Office and the Social Responsibility Committee, is launching what organizers call the “full-scale test run” of a policy they eventually hope the college will implement permanently: ending the sale of bottled water on campus.
The test run was to start on Feb. 21, and last until Mar. 13. The ban will mean that no bottled water will be sold at the Grille, the Highlander and the vending machines in the Leonard Center.
“The idea is to have a big educational campaign to make sure that people on campus understand some of the issues with bottled water and tapped water,” said Brianna Besch ’13, a member of MacCares who is helping to lead the initiative and Bottled Water Awareness Month.
The trial discontinuation is the result of concerns raised regarding the environmental and social effects of bottled water, including the waste it generates, the lack of oversight over its quality, and the commodification of what the United Nations has declared a human right. “You’re paying a lot more for something that you can almost get for free,” said Besch. “A lot of people think bottled water is healthier, but it actually has much more lax standards for quality. . . then you’ve got the waste component. It takes seventeen million barrels of oil per year to produce and transport bottled water [in the United States].”
11% budget cut proposed for MPCA
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says even with an 11 percent reduction in funding, it will be able to make progress on key issues under Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal.
MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said the MPCA is also moving to streamline its permitting process. If federal cuts add significantly to state cuts, it will be harder to fulfill the agency’s mission, he said.
He says the agency will be able to absorb the reduction through normal turnover and early retirements, even as the PCA works to streamline its permitting processes.
The agency will give priority to new projects and expansions that create jobs, he said, and that means existing businesses may operate longer under expired permits — but they have to maintain the same conditions as required in their old permit.
–Minnesota Public Radio
DNR submits 25-year plan for parks and trails
Minnesota finally has a strategic blueprint for how best to spend more than $1 billion in state sales tax money during the next quarter-century to build what advocates hope will be a world-class system of parks and trails.
The state Department of Natural Resources gave its 25-year plan to the Legislature, a key step in helping future lawmakers direct those Legacy Amendment dollars to specific parks and trails projects.
The plan, sought by legislators and developed over 18 months with help from the Citizens League and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Changing Landscapes, doesn’t offer specific project recommendations.
Rather, it lays out a broad set of guidelines, developed in response to insights from more than 1,000 parks and trails enthusiasts and also stemming from the most detailed inventory of local, regional and state parks facilities ever put together in the state.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Great Lakes funding keeps shrinking
The Obama administration’s much-trumpeted Great Lakes restoration plan continues to shrink in the face of federal budget woes.
It was conceived as a 10-year, $5 billion program to do things like clean up toxic messes, restore wetlands, stem the influx of invasive species and promote native fisheries. But the funding has shrunk from $475 million in 2010 to $225 million this year if the House Appropriations Committee has its way.
That figure, included in the committee’s continuing resolution to wrap up the current year’s budget, was $75 million lower than the $300 million President Barack Obama had requested for this year. The Senate has yet to weigh in.
Obama released his 2012 budget, which includes $350 million for the restoration program next year.
Conservation groups said all the uncertainty is making it difficult to execute a comprehensive plan to restore the world’s largest freshwater system. “There are long-term projects that require some certainty of funding levels from year to year,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “It’s put people in limbo, projects in limbo and research in limbo, just awaiting congressional action.”
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Research: Human actions yield more rain, snow
An increase in heavy precipitation that has afflicted many countries is at least partly a consequence of human influence on the atmosphere, climate scientists reported in a new study.
In the first major paper of its kind, the researchers used elaborate computer programs that simulate the climate to analyze whether the rise in severe rainstorms, heavy snowfalls and similar events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere. They found that it could not, and that the increase made sense only when the computers factored in the effects of greenhouse gases released by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.
As reflected in previous studies, the likelihood of extreme precipitation on any given day rose by about 7 percent over the last half of the 20th century, at least for the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere for which sufficient figures are available to do an analysis.
The principal finding of the new study is “that this 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability,” said Francis W. Zwiers, a Canadian climate scientist who took part in the research. The paper is being published in the journal Nature.
–The New York Times
Rising sea levels could hurt 180 U.S. cities
Rising seas spurred by climate change could threaten 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100, a new study says, with Miami, New Orleans and Virginia Beach among those most severely affected.
Previous studies have looked at where rising waters might go by the end of this century, assuming various levels of sea level rise, but this latest research focused on municipalities in the contiguous 48 states with population of 50,000 or more.
Cities along the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico will likely be hardest hit if global sea levels rise, as projected, by about 3 feet (1 meter) by 2100, researchers reported in the journal Climate Change Letters.
Sea level rise is expected to be one result of global warming as ice on land melts and flows toward the world’s oceans.