Is the world running short of water?
Water, water, everywhere, but not enough to drink — at least not where it’s needed. That’s the dilemma that Indiana University geochemist Chen Zhu and colleagues explore in the current issue of Elements, a peer-reviewed publication sponsored by 16 geological societies.
Zhu serves as guest editor of the special issue on global water sustainability, along with Eric H. Oelkers of the University of Toulouse in France and Janet Hering of EAWAG, a Swiss research institute. In the lead article, “Water: Is There a Global Crisis?” they examine what seems to be a paradox:
The Earth’s renewable water resources are 10 times as much as required by the demands of the current population. Yet an estimated 1 billion people lack safe drinking water, and poor water quality and management are responsible for more than 1.5 million deaths per year. While there is excess water in some parts of the globe, other areas face severe shortages or water that is ruined by pollution.
“Is there really a water crisis? In a sense yes; our current water policy is unstable and unsustainable,” the editors write. “Yet, in contrast to non-renewable resources such as petroleum, we will not run out of water. The solution to this global water crisis is improved management of this valuable resource.”
–Indiana University News Release
Environment bill exempts big feedlots
Read a fine blog post by the Land Stewardship Project’s Brian DeVore on a Minnesota budget bill that eliminates a state permitting requirement for large livestock feedlots.
Changes to federal regulations during the last Bush administration allowed operators of large feedlots to avoid applying for a Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit if they certify that they will not discharge pollutants to public waters. However, until now Minnesota law still required big feedlots to apply for and obtain the federal permit. The environmental spending bill approved last week dropped that requirement.
In his blog, DeVore criticizes both the law change affecting about 1,000 feedlots and the legislative practices that led to enactment of the change without public input.
Park Rapids well hits nitrate limit
The water supply in the city of Park Rapids is contaminated with nitrates, and many suspect the source is the fertilizer used on local farm fields.
Park Rapids has had elevated nitrate levels in its water for years. But last April was the first time a city well exceeded 10 parts per million, the threshold for what’s considered safe. The well was shut down.
City administrator Bill Smith says residents aren’t panicking, they are concerned. Nitrate contamination can cause health problems. It’s especially dangerous for infants, who can get something called blue baby syndrome — when nitrates inhibit a baby’s ability to use oxygen.
Smith says some blame local farmers who put tons of nitrogen-based fertilizer on their fields. That includes the R.D. Offutt Company, or RDO — the largest potato grower in the U.S., and the community’s largest employer.
–Minnesota Public Radio
Government’s role in the Asian carp debacle
If you say “Arkansas fish farms” and “Asian carp” in the same sentence, you can almost hear the boos and hisses. They’re the ones who let the fish escape into the wild, right?
Maybe not, although that’s the story that people hear over and over. It’s one of many myths about Asian carp that persist. It’s true that a fish farmer was the first to bring three species of Asian carp into the U.S., but from there, the carp ended up in the hands of government agencies that spawned them in research ponds, stocked them in sewage lagoons as an alternative to chemicals and experimented with canning bighead as a cheaper substitute for tuna.
Heads of some of the state and federal agencies that raised the carp admit that they were lax in the 1970s and early 1980s, an era when no one was terribly concerned about invasive species, and that the fish are as likely to have escaped from government ponds as those of fish farmers.
Farmers who have raised bighead carp since the 1980s say they were encouraged by government agencies to do so. Now that their carp crop was essentially banned last December, they say they feel they’re being unfairly punished for someone else’s misdeeds.
–The Detroit Free Press (One of a six-part Free Press series)
Tests indicate Asian carp penetrate Chicago barrier
Even as the federal government insists its electric fish barrier is working just fine, evidence of Asian carp above that barrier continues to roll in.
With no fanfare, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers posted on its website news that nine water samples taken above the barrier in recent weeks have tested positive for the giant, jumping fish. The federal government is spending tens of millions of dollars to keep them out of the Great Lakes.
Seven of those positive “environmental” DNA tests – taken between May 10 and June 27 – came from Lake Calumet south of downtown Chicago, a body of water that has a direct connection to Lake Michigan.
The other two positive samples came from an area near downtown and an area north of downtown on the North Branch of the Chicago River.
Lake Calumet also is the site of the only confirmed find of an Asian carp in waters directly connected to Lake Michigan. Last summer a commercial fisherman hired by the State of Illinois to hunt for the fugitive fish pulled out a 19-pound bighead carp.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Forests remove a third of global carbon emissions
Forests play a more significant role in removing carbon from the atmosphere than first reported – absorbing one-third of global carbon emissions annually, a new U.S. Forest Service study says.
“Forests provide us with abundant clean air,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This study shows the important role global forests play in keeping the air clean and it also broadens our understanding of how climate change relates to forest management in today’s world.”
Forests absorb carbon like a giant sponge into what scientists call a carbon sink. Oceans serve as the only other natural source for absorption of significant amounts of carbon. Until these new findings, many experts said forests played a less important role in removing carbon from the air we breathe.
This report indicates otherwise.
The study, conducted by the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and a team of scientists from around the world, was recently published in the journal Science online, at the Science Express website, an online publication of the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science.
–U.S. Forest Service News Release
Ecolab buys water sustainability firm
Ecolab, the St. Paul-based cleaning giant, is deploying its hefty cash for its biggest purchase ever: an Illinois-based company that makes chemicals used in water treatment, pollution reduction and the oil and gas industry, for about $5.4 billion.
The deal to acquire Nalco Holding Co. of Naperville immediately gives Ecolab a strong position in the increasingly important market of water sustainability, now an insignificant part of Ecolab’s $6.1 billion business.
Nalco also will expand Ecolab’s presence in emerging markets such as India and China. When the deal closes, the combined company will have more than $10 billion in revenue, making it one of the world’s leading companies in cleaning and water management.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Coalition helps Washington State river adapt
For 10,000 years the Nisqually Indians have relied on chinook salmon for their very existence, but soon those roles are expected to reverse.
Based on current warming trends, climate scientists anticipate that in the next 100 years the Nisqually River will become shallower and much warmer. Annual snowpack will decline on average by half. The glacier that feeds the river, already shrunken considerably, will continue to recede.
Play the scene forward and picture a natural system run amok as retreating ice loosens rock that will clog the river, worsening flooding in winter, and a decline in snow and ice drastically diminishes the summer runoff that helps keep the river under a salmon-friendly 60 degrees.
To prepare for these and other potentially devastating changes, an unusual coalition of tribal government leaders, private partners and federal and local agencies are working to help the watershed and its inhabitants adapt. They are reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; they are promoting hundreds of rain gardens to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river; and they are installing logjams intended to cause the river to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.
–The New York Times
Environment spending mixes cuts, compromises
The environment bill negotiated between Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers includes some budget cuts and some compromise on policy issues.
The Chamber of Commerce is satisfied with the changes, but environmental groups say the law weakens protections of natural resources and goes against voters’ wishes for Legacy Amendment money.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s general fund is cut by 40 percent over the biennium. That’s a smaller cut than the 66 percent that Republican legislators had initially proposed. Still, it prompts environmental leaders like Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership to charge negotiators with stepping over the constitutional line against substituting Legacy Amendment money for existing expenditures.
“When overall state funding is going up, the environment is getting cut, and that’s contrary to what voters directed legislators to do just two and a half years ago with the Legacy Amendment,” Morse said.
–Minnesota Public Radio
Southeastern U.S. drought worsens
Streamflow and groundwater conditions in southwestern Georgia and adjacent parts of Florida and Alabama continued to worsen during July. Waterways in many of the regions rivers are setting new record lows with gauges on the Flint, Suwannee, Ochlocknee, Alapaha, and Apalachicola rivers recording the lowest water levels in their history due to lower than normal rainfall. Groundwater levels were below normal and set new records in much of the southern Georgia, with some wells going dry.
To determine the impact of the drought on water resources and ecology of southwestern Georgia and adjacent parts of Florida and Alabama, almost two dozen researchers from three U.S. Geological Survey water science centers in Alabama, Florida and Georgia will conduct field studies in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Aucilla-Suwannee-Ochlockonee river basins.
“This is the first effort of its kind ever completed during the peak of the summer irrigation season”, said Brian McCallum, assistant director of the USGS Georgia Water Science Center. “This effort will help us see hydrologic and ecological conditions at their most stressed condition.”
USGS field crews will visit more than 200 stream sites and 400 private and public supply wells to assess streamflow decline and drops in groundwater levels. Additionally, field crews will collect water-quality information that will help in the determination of the drought’s impact on ecological conditions in the region. Later in the summer, they will visit the same stream sites to assess populations of fish and mussels affected by drought conditions. The work is being completed as part of the USGS WaterSmart initiative, a program to assess sustainability of water supplies in the ACF basin.
–USGS News Release
Loss of large animals hurts ecosystems
The loss of large animals is wreaking havoc on Earth’s ecosystems, according to a scientific review published in Science,, causing food chains to fall into disarray, clearing the way for invasive species, and even triggering the transmission of infectious diseases. The decline and disappearance of these large animals, due in large part to human factors such as hunting and habitat loss, has such strong and wide-ranging effects that the review’s authors say it may well be “humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.”
The researchers reviewed data from recent studies investigating the loss of so called “apex consumers,” large predators and megaherbivores, from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems around the world.
Whether on land or at sea, the researchers found, the result was the same: Remove the apex consumer and the whole ecosystem suffers, as the initial loss sets off a cascade of changes all the way down the food chain. “Predators have a huge structuring influence,” ecologist Stuart Sandin, one of the researchers, told LiveScience. “When you remove them you change the biology, which is typically profound and complex. And in many cases it’s not necessarily predictable.”
Forest Service denies groundwater for Pa. ‘fracking’
Fortune seekers first pulled mineral riches from the floor of the Allegheny National Forest lands more than 100 years ago using the technology of the time — explosives, pipe and towering wooden oil derricks.
Today’s natural-gas hunters are welcome to drill down and inject millions of gallons of water and sand to fracture, or, “frack,” wells in the deep, natural gas-laden Marcellus Shale on that same public land — but they are going to have to bring their own water with them.
That is the stance the U.S. Forest Service has struck as the lucrative Marcellus Shale drilling wave spreads across the state and into the historic gas and oil fields of the vast Allegheny National Forest, which sprawls across a large swath of northwestern Pennsylvania.
The position — announced by Forest Supervisor Leanne Marten to a Shell Oil Co. affiliate amid planning for three new Marcellus wells in the national forest — has reignited the long-running legal dispute over how much control the Forest Service may have over the development of the mineral resources that lie below the 513,325-acre Allegheny National Forest’s surface.