Archive for October, 2011

Legacy, ladybugs and Lutsen

October 31, 2011

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.

Questions dog Legacy expenditures
Over the next 23 years, Minnesota will spend an estimated $2 billion in Legacy funds to make its lakes and rivers cleaner.

But who’s to say whether that money will be well spent? That those waters will be in appreciably better shape than they are now? That the money won’t go down some big hole or lots of little ones?

As the state begins handling constitutionally dedicated money approved by voters in 2008, questions are being raised about the clean-water portion of that amendment. Some activists worry much of that money, especially that dealing with pollution from agriculture, could be wasted or could go to less effective uses.

“There are a lot of things to be concerned about, and I worry a lot,” said Gene Merriam, head of the Freshwater Society and a former Department of Natural Resources commissioner and state senator. “This is a lot of money. I’m concerned that little or nothing comes of it.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Nine-spotted ladybug

More good news on rare species
Two weeks ago, this blog took some delight in the recent spotting of a baby Blanding’s turtle in Minnesota’s Martin County. Scientists had feared the threatened species was not reproducing at the study site.

Now comes some good news about another species: The rare nine-spotted ladybug.

The Coccinella novemnotata is the state insect of New York but has long been thought to be extinct in the state. A live ladybug was found on Long Island in July.

It turns out that disappearing ladybugs are a problem throughout the U.S., and there is a Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University that encourages citizen scientists to look for, photograph and report rare ladybugs.

The Associated Press reports that the leading theory about the decline of native ladybugs is that they were somehow displaced by the seven-spotted ladybug, which was introduced from Europe and released as natural pest control to eat aphids on crops. Seven-spotted ladybugs are now common, as are Asian multicolored ladybugs, which were released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s and ’80s to control scale insects on trees.

The nine-spotted ladybug was once one of the most common ladybugs in the United States. But by 1999, extensive surveys by scientists failed to find any live specimens. Cornell researchers launched the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000. to enlist children and adults as citizen scientists to survey the ladybug population.

China invest billions in desalination race
TIANJIN, China — Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.

There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.

“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”

In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.

As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.
–The New York Times

Public comment sought on Lutsen snowmaking
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments on a proposal for a temporary permit that would allow Lutsen Mountain Corporation to continue to draw water from the Poplar River for its snowmaking operation.

Normally, pumping operations would be discontinued due to the river’s low flow, but the DNR is authorized by statute to allow exceptions under unique circumstances.

The 2011 Legislature authorized the resort owner to take up to 150 million gallons of water from the Poplar River for snowmaking this fall, but included a provision that suspends the appropriation if flows fall below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five consecutive days. The flow in the river has been at or near that threshold for weeks. A separate provision of Minnesota statutes, however, authorizes the DNR to issue a permit beyond what is normally allowed if there is “just cause.”

In this case, the DNR believes there is just cause to issue LMC a permit based on the potential economic impacts to the local community, the low numbers of trout present in the affected reach of river, and the likelihood that some trout mortality will occur, whether the resort temporarily appropriates water or not.

“The most important aspect of this issue is that the Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source of water for LMC,” explained DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We need concurrence from LMC and key legislators that they are committed to finding an alternate source of water for snowmaking – probably Lake Superior – within three years to prevent a reoccurrence of this very difficult situation.”

The draft permit and a FAQ with additional background information is available online.

The public may submit comments through Nov. 4 at publiccomment.dnr@state.mn.us.
–DNR News Release

Research shows stream buffers’ value
A new take on a fairly common conservation practice can do a lot more than previously thought to control nutrient runoff in crop fields, according to new research in Iowa.

A project testing the viability of riparian buffer strips to remove nutrients from crop runoff water was conducted this growing season by the Ames, Iowa-based Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The main target for the research was a 1,000-foot stretch of Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa, where a “saturated buffer” was installed to catch tile-line water before it’s released into waterways.

The system uses “a shallow lateral line” that “has control structures that raise the water table and slow outflow, allowing the buffers to naturally remove nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous.””

The results: In addition to curbing over half of the immediate tile line outflow into waterways, it removes all of the nitrate output, says USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment and lead researcher for the project Dale Jaynes.

“The system removed 100% of the nitrate from 60% of the field tile flow,” Jaynes says. “We figure that 250 kilograms, or about 500 pounds, of nitrate nitrogen was kept out of the stream.”
–Agriculture.com

Mississippi River is Sip of Science topic
Pat Nunnally, the River Life coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, will be the next speaker in the Sip of Science lecture series. The series, sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the university’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, offers scientific discussion in a happy-hour setting.

Nunnally will speak Wedenesday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Cafe,  125 SE Main St., Minneapolis.

The River Life Program connects University teaching, research and programs to off-campus partners who are working toward a sustainable river and inclusive planning for our river future.  The program utilizes diverse digital platforms and makes strong use of social media to create unique learning opportunities — students learn from practitioners, river agency staff network more with each other, and communities up and down the river can share their experiences.

Research: Wis. Dairy wells would lower lakes
State Department of Natural Resources officials will need to decide whether lowering the level of surrounding lakes and streams by about two inches is an acceptable outcome from a planned large dairy operation, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor says.

People who live near the proposed Richfield Dairy in Adams County asked George Kraft, a hydrogeologist at UW-Stevens Point, to look at the potential impact of two high-capacity wells planned as part of the proposed 4,300-cow dairy operation.

Kraft said he doesn’t favor or oppose the wells, and he’s just providing the DNR with facts about the potential effects.

“Is two inches too much? I don’t know,” Kraft said. “This is up to the DNR; this is beyond the science I’m doing.”

The previous owner of the Richfield property where the proposed operation would be located had one high-capacity well, said Bill Harke, director of public affairs for Milk Source, the group that plans to build the dairy. Company officials said in the DNR application the dairy operation would use about 52 million gallons of water annually.
–Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

MPCA approves taconite expansion
A $300 million expansion proposed for U.S. Steel’s taconite operation in Keewatin, Minn., cleared an important hurdle when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency board voted to approve its wastewater emissions permit.

The permit, approved in a unanimous vote, sets a more restrictive level for sulfate emissions than the current state standard. That drew praise from at least one environmentalist who has tracked the permitting process.

“It’s a positive,” said Paula Maccabee, an attorney with the environmental group WaterLegacy. “U.S. Steel has owned that plant since 2003, and this is the first time they’ve been asked to comply” with sulfate emission standards, she said.
–The Star Tribune

DNA suggests Asian carp are in Mississippi
Read a Minnesota Public Radio transcript of  Luke Skinner, the Minnesota DNR’s invasive species program director, being interviewed about Asian carp.

States ask Supreme Court to hear carp case
Five Great Lakes states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to require nets in Chicago area waterways to stop the spread of Asian carp.

“We need to close the Asian carp superhighway and do it now,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “Time is running out for the Great Lakes, and we can’t afford to wait years before the federal government takes meaningful action.”

The Supreme Court has previously declined two requests from Michigan to close Chicago area waterways to block Asian carp from Lake Michigan.

A federal appeals panel in August rejected the request of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to close Chicago navigational locks, upholding a district court decision. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cautioned that the issue could be revisited if ongoing efforts to stop the advance of the invasive species stall.

Attorneys General for the five states cited that warning in their appeal filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to overturn the panel’s decision.
–The Chicago Tribune

Looking for snow removal contractor?
If you are looking for someone to plow your parking lot, choose a firm trained and certified to remove snow
and ice with minimum chloride pollution of water and soil. Find a list of certified contractors on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency web site.

New York resisting pressure on ballast rules
 The state of New York does not appear to be bowing to pressure from a group of Great Lakes governors, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, to back off on its plan to adopt the region’s toughest ballast discharge laws for overseas ships visiting the Great Lakes.

All overseas vessels sailing into the Great Lakes must pass through New York state waters, and in 2013 New York had planned to begin requiring ships to install water treatment systems in their vessel-steadying ballast tanks in order to kill unwanted hitchhikers making their way into the lakes from ports around the globe.

This did not sit well with Walker and fellow governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio, who in September sent a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to back off on the law. They fear it could harm overseas traffic, a sector of cargo flow that in recent years has accounted for less than 10% of the tonnage that moves on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes states like Wisconsin are pursuing weaker ballast rules developed by the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, that allows for a certain number of species of a certain size to be discharged from the ballast tanks, and ships would not have to meet that requirement until 2016.

New York had proposed standards that are 100 times more stringent than the IMO rules for existing vessels and 1,000 times more stringent for ships built after Jan. 1, 2013.

The problem, according to Walker and the other governors, is that technologies do not yet exist to accomplish what New York is pursuing. They fret that New York’s rule will affect the whole Great Lakes region because it covers ships that are only passing through New York waters. Any ship visiting ports such as Milwaukee, Toledo or Gary, Ind., must first travel through New York waters on its journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ceres investor group takes on water
Against a backdrop of increasing business exposure to global water supply threats, Ceres released a new tool for evaluating those risks – and opportunities – that both investors and companies can use as a roadmap to enhanced water stewardship.

Ceres is a U.S.-based coalition of investors, environmental groups, and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

“Water risks are urgent today and, given population and climate trends, can only grow increasingly more so,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in announcing the Ceres Aqua Gauge: A Framework for 21st Century Water Risk Management.

Even as companies accelerate water efficiency and improved water resource management, water pressures are likely to worsen. According to estimates by McKinsey & Company, the world may face a 40 percent global shortfall between forecast water demand and available supplies by 2030.
–Ceres News Release

Vilsack opposes crop insurance-conservation rule
 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he is not proposing the linking of conservation compliance with subsidized crop insurance, but he is confident that the farm bill will include some kind of regulatory leverage.

Proposals to cut between $23 billion and $33 billion from the omnibus farm bill have been floated to the 12-member “supercommittee” of lawmakers making federal budget cuts.

The committee’s work, rather than the traditional process of the Senate and House agriculture committees, is expected to frame the next farm bill.
–The Des Moines Register

Kansas lakes filling with sediment
John Redmond Reservoir averages just 6 feet deep.

The lake, which supplies water to several Kansas towns and the Wolf Creek nuclear plant, now sits with only about 58 percent of its original capacity.

The rest is goo.
From the smallest farm pond to the largest reservoirs, all Kansas lakes are slowly filling with dirt. Sediment, the simple mixture of water and dirt, is considered one of Kansas’ largest environmental concerns by some experts.
Currently about 60 percent of Kansans get their water from lakes and that number is expected to grow.

Kansas experts say no simple solutions are in sight.
–The Wichita Eagle

China plans groundwater clean-up
 China has pledged to make all its underground drinking water safe and to significantly improve the overall quality of groundwater by 2020, a goal that even some senior environmental officials say will be difficult to achieve.

All pollution from urban sewage, industrial projects and agricultural activity must be cut off from underground sources so that it will not contaminate the water, said Zhao Hualin, director of pollution prevention department under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The government also plans to import technologies for groundwater restoration and start pilot treatment projects in the coming five years, Zhao said, citing a national blueprint to tackle underground water pollution for 2011 to 2020, which the State Council issued in August.

About 63 percent of China’s groundwater is safe for drinking, and the rest is polluted, according to a nationwide monitoring study carried out by the Ministry of Land and Resources.
–China Daily

October 24, 2011

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.

Thousands of oceans just light years away
Water is everywhere on Earth, but nobody has ever been able to determine conclusively how it got here. Scientists know that the early Earth was far too hot to hold water or water vapor, but then, in relatively short geological time, the oceans appeared.

In a discovery that researchers say sheds important new light on that age-old question, a European team reported that it has found a very cold reservoir of water vapor in space that could explain where the water came from.

The region they discovered is at the outer reaches of a dusty disk surrounding a star 175 light-years away. The star and disk are in the early stages of forming planets, much as Earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

The scientists’ conclusion from the new finding: Life-giving H2O was almost certainly delivered to Earth via comets and asteroids known to originate in these cold but water-filled zones, which were assumed to also be present when our solar system was forming.
–The Washington Post

Oct. 25 deadline for $500 clean-up contest
Do you want to reduce urban runoff and pollution that flow into lakes and rivers? Do you have a good idea for how you and your friends and neighbors could work together to clean up soil, grass clippings and leaves from streets and storm drains? And could you use $500?

Then we have a contest for you.

The Freshwater Society and InCommons are sponsoring a Work For Water “micro challenge” that will award two $500 prizes for the best short-term community projects to protect our waters from the pollution found in the leaves, grass and soil that wash into streets. Enter here.

In addition to the two statewide prizes, a grant from the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation, will provide two additional $500 prizes for the best ideas coming from entrants in the 14 counties the foundation serves in Central Minnesota.

Fred Kirschenmann photo

Fred Kirschenmann

Lecture on water and ag set Nov. 10
Don’t miss the Nov. 10 free public lecture on water and the future of agriculture by Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement.

His lecture, sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, is the sixth in a series. It will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited. Please register to reserve your place.

There are lots of ways to describe Kirschenmann: philosopher, farmer, author and advocate. Since 2000, he has been the director or a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He also is president of the board of directors of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University Press of Kentucky. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”

View video of past lectures in the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources.

DNA evidence puts Asian carp in Twin Cities
Water samples from the Mississippi River downstream from the Ford Dam in Minneapolis have tested positive for genetic material from silver carp, indicating the invasive Asian species may be present in the Twin Cities stretch of the river, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Known as environmental DNA (eDNA) testing, the results are a chemical indication that some silver carp are in the river, but they do not provide any information on the possible number of fish present, their size or whether they are breeding.

The Mississippi River eDNA testing was conducted in September by the National Park Service and the DNR after similar testing in June indicated the presence of silver carp in the St. Croix River.

The DNR will immediately hire a commercial fisherman to begin netting and searching for Asian carp below the Ford Dam, also known as Lock and Dam 1. No Asian carp were discovered this summer in the St. Croix River after a nine-day search by DNR biologists and a commercial fisherman, but that doesn’t necessarily mean some fish aren’t present.

“The eDNA tests are very sensitive, but they can only tell us that DNA is present in the water,” said Tim Schlagenhaft, Mississippi River biologist. “In other states where DNA testing has resulted in positive samples, the fish have proven very difficult to subsequently capture, and we expect this to the case in the Mississippi River if the fish are in present in low numbers.”

In the most recent round of Mississippi River eDNA testing, 14 of 49 samples were positive for silver carp.

Read Pioneer Press and Star Tribune reports on the new test results. Read a q-and-a interview with Schlagenhaft published in the October Freshwater Society newsletter.
–DNR News Release

Drainage blamed for Minnesota R. flow increase
A comprehensive new study pinpoints agriculture — specifically, half a century of artificial field drainage — as the primary force behind the massive runoff of sediment that is adding pollution to the Mississippi River and threatening the future of Lake Pepin.

The study, presented at a conference in St. Paul, identifies with new precision the sources of sediment that is slowly filling in Lake Pepin, one of the state’s recreational jewels, and coursing down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, where it contributes to a massive “dead zone” that cannot sustain aquatic life.

Scientists said it’s the latest in a growing body of evidence indicating that transformation of the land from prairie and wetlands to corn and soybeans — not, as some have argued, more rain and natural erosion — has accelerated the rate of sedimentation.

“It’s the weight of the evidence,” said Peter Wilcock, a geography professor from Johns Hopkins University.
He was not involved the study but attended the University of Minnesota’s annual Water Resources Center conference, where it was presented.
–The Star Tribune

DNR questions Christmas Lake gate
A new electronic gate — installed at a cost of $30,000 — is ready to drop its arm across the public boat ramp on Christmas Lake in Shorewood, if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approves its use in an experiment aimed at stopping the spread of zebra mussels.

“The next boating season is just seven months away. So there is no let up on the urgency,” said Joe Shneider, president of the Christmas Lake homeowners association.

Residents around Christmas Lake, as well as Lotus Lake and Lake Minnewashta in Chanhassen, want to work with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to require all boats launching at the lakes to first pass inspections for aquatic invasive species. But the plan would require boaters to travel to a centralized inspection point before entering the lakes, and the DNR says there’s no legal way to compel them.

As a first-of-its-kind grass-roots attempt to let boats launch into a lake only after an inspection — and to close ramps outside of inspection hours — the proposal is being watched by lake associations around the state and by anglers, some of whom oppose more ramp controls.
–The Star Tribune

Opinion: EPA chief rips Republican critics
Read a Los Angeles Times op-ed commentary in which Lisa Jackson accuses Congressional Republicans of trying to cripple regulation of air and water pollution. She writes:

“Since the beginning of this year, Republicans in the House have averaged roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation’s environmental laws… Using the economy as cover, and repeating unfounded claims that “regulations kill jobs,”  they have pushed through an unprecedented rollback of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and our nation’s waste-disposal laws, all of which have successfully protected our families for decades. We all remember “too big to fail”; this pseudo jobs plan to protect polluters might well be called “too dirty to fail.”

Opinion: Farm Bill should retain conservation
Read a Des Moines Register editorial on the federal Farm Bill. It calls on Congress to maintain some spending for conservation programs, and to make conservation compliance a requirement for subsidized crop insurance. Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam makes the same argument about crop insurance in Freshwater’s current newsletter.

Legacy money eyed for a stadium
A Republican leader says some of his colleagues in the Minnesota Legislature are considering a plan that would rely on a portion of the state’s Legacy funds to pay for a new Vikings Stadium.

It’s an option they say must be considered as Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers continue to discuss how to pay for a stadium. Other options include ticket taxes, a sports memorabilia tax, slot machines at the state’s horse tracks or a new casino in downtown Minneapolis.

But critics say voters didn’t intend to use that money for professional sports stadiums when they approved a higher sales tax in 2008.

“I certainly think that taking a look at the Legacy money to fund a stadium is something that should be on the table,” said Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, an assistant Majority Leader in the Minnesota House.

There isn’t an organized effort by legislative leaders to tap the Legacy funds yet, Daudt said. But there is increasing talk among members and GOP staff that this may be the only way that the Republican-controlled House and Senate pass a Vikings stadium bill.

Daudt said the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund could generate about $50 million annually to finance the stadium. He said that would be enough to pay both the state’s and Ramsey County’s share but is unsure if that would be the plan.

“You certainly can’t argue that the Minnesota Vikings and these sports teams in the state of Minnesota aren’t a part of the state’s heritage and certainly part of the state’s legacy,” Daudt said
–Minnesota Public Radio

‘Wonder fish’ to environmental pariah
The Asian carp infesting the major rivers of America didn’t sneak into the country in the ballast of ocean freighters, as so many invasive species have. They didn’t slowly invade through freighter locks and into the Great Lakes, as the sea lamprey did.

Decades ago, federal and state officials purposefully imported carp, which they believed were “the wonder fish.”

The carp were imported because officials were eager to find a safer way than chemicals to control weeds, algae, sewage and parasites. Grass carp eat as much as three times their body weight in weeds each day, replacing the toxic chemicals commonly used for weed control.

But during the past four decades, not only have the Asian carp escaped into the wild, they also have expanded their reign to rivers and lakes across America — as state and federal officials have stood idly by.
–The Cleveland Plain Dealer

China faces groundwater pollution
More than half of the groundwater monitored in 182 Chinese cities by the Ministry of Land and Resources was classified as bad, meaning the health of individuals could be harmed, the China Daily reported, citing a report by the ministry.

Groundwater at 57.2 percent of the 4,110 monitoring stations in 182 cities was classified as bad last year, the newspaper reported. The quality of groundwater in most northern and eastern parts of China was worse last year than it was in 2009, according to the report. The ministry’s report didn’t identify locations, according to the newspaper.

Household sewage, industrial pollution, and the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides has caused further deterioration of groundwater, the newspaper reported, citing Ma Chaode, former director of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s fresh-water program in China.
–Bloomberg

EPA approves strict Oregon standards
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved Oregon’s new standards for toxic water pollution, the strictest in the United States.

The new standards, approved by the EPA’s Seattle office, are designed to protect tribal members and others who eat large amounts of contaminated fish.

Oregon’s current water quality standards are built on an assumption that people eat 17.5 grams of fish a day, about a cracker’s worth and typical of most states. The proposed standard boosts that to 175 grams a day, just shy of an 8-ounce meal.

The change dramatically tightens Oregon’s human health criteria for a host of pollutants, including mercury, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, plasticizers and pesticides.

That could boost cost for industry such as paper mills and for municipal sewage treatment plants, increasing sewer rates.
–The Portland Oregonian

Cost rises for ‘Erin Brockovich’ clean-up
PG&E Corp. said that replacing underground drinking water in Hinkley, Calif., that was contaminated by utility operations decades ago will cost much more than the $54 million the company had set aside for the project.

The town’s underground drinking water supply was contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical, after PG&E’s utility used the substance at its natural gas pumping station there to control algae and protect metal equipment from rust.
The groundwater problem in Hinkley was made famous by the film “Erin Brockovich.”

Last week, the state agency overseeing the cleanup of Hinkley’s contaminated groundwater ordered PG&E to provide a new, permanent source of drinking water to Hinkley residents. Rather than continue to supply bottled water to residents, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the Lahontan Region told PG&E it would have to provide a permanent water replacement system for all properties served by wells that are near an underground plume of hexavalent chromium and that have been “impacted” by the plume.
–Fox Business

Mercury in fish; food sustainability

October 17, 2011

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.

Mercury levels in fish increase
Mercury emitted from American smokestacks has been declining for years. But contamination levels in loons, walleyes and some other species have actually increased in the past decade, according to the largest report yet on mercury in the Great Lakes region.

The report, released by the Great Lakes Commission, was based on 35 research studies and samples from tens of thousands of fish, birds and other animals. It concludes that the forests, lakes and wetlands that characterize the Great Lakes make the region particularly sensitive to mercury pollution.

Even more important, the authors conclude, the nature and extent of the region’s mercury problem is more severe than was previously known — and, for reasons that are not understood, appears to be getting worse for some species.

The report found that mercury levels are higher in fish in inland lakes than those in the big lakes. That was true of walleye from northern Minnesota and other heavily forested areas with wetlands.

Six of the 15 most commonly eaten fish had mercury levels higher than the EPA recommends for human consumption. And many species, including loons, showed sensitivities to mercury at much lower concentrations than had been known.
–The Star Tribune

Article offers food sustainability prescription
Feeding a world with 9 billion people by mid-century, and feeding them while easing some of the environmental degradation that worldwide agriculture already wreaks on the Earth, is doable, but difficult.

That’s the message of “Solutions for a cultivated planet,” a major article in the Journal Nature.

Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, was the lead author in an international team of scientists who wrote the article. It was published on-line on Oct. 12; it will be the cover story in the Oct. 20 print edition.

The article calls for five changes in the way the world raises and treats its food:

– Halt the expansion of agriculture into tropical rainforests, partly by paying compensation for the ecosystem services those regions provide.
—  Increase crop yields in cultivated areas of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
— Use fertilizers and water more strategically.
— Shift diets to include less meat.
— Reduce the one-third of the world’s food that ends up being wasted, spoiled or eaten by pests.

If you subscribe to Nature, read the article here. Otherwise: read a University of Minnesota news release describing the article, read a Star Tribune article about it, listen to a National Public Radio report, or read a 2010 Freshwater Society interview with Foley about agriculture and the environment.

Organic food, ag leader to lecture
Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement, will deliver the next free public lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Kirschenmann will speak on “Water and the Challenges Facing U.S. and World Agriculture in the 21st Century.”

The lecture, the sixth in a series, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the
Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited. Please register to reserve your place.

There are lots of ways to describe Kirschenmann: philosopher, farmer, author and advocate. Since 2000, he has been the director or a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He also is president of the board of directors of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University of Kentucky Press. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”

Deadline is Oct. 25 to win $500
Do you want to reduce urban runoff and pollution that flow into lakes and rivers? Do you have a good idea for how you and your friends and neighbors could work together to clean up soil, grass clippings and leaves from streets and storm drains? And could you use $500?

Then we have a contest for you.

The Freshwater Society and InCommons are sponsoring a Work For Water “micro challenge” that will award two $500 prizes for the best short-term community projects to protect our waters from the pollution found in the leaves, grass and soil that wash into streets. Enter here.

Mexico may send drinking water north
Mexico ships televisions, cars, sugar and medical equipment to the United States. Soon, it may be sending water north.

Western states are looking south of the border for water to fill drinking glasses, flush toilets and sprinkle lawns, as four major U.S. water districts help plan one of two huge desalination plant proposals in Playas de Rosarito, about 15 miles south of San Diego.

Combined, they would produce 150 million gallons a day, enough to supply more than 300,000 homes on both sides of the border.
The plants are one strategy by both countries to wean themselves from the drought-prone Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez. Decades of friction over the Colorado, in fact, are said to be a hurdle to current desalination negotiations.
–The Associated Press

Good news on the turtle front
baby turtleA baby turtle, about the size of a quarter, has caused a big stir and reasons for optimism with researchers at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

A Blanding’s turtle hatchling was discovered Oct. 6, at a study site in Martin County in south-central Minnesota. Until now, the youngest turtle identified in this population was estimated to be 14 years old.

“It’s encouraging and exciting,” said Laurinda Brown, DNR nongame wildlife specialist. “It shows us that some successful reproduction is still occurring here despite significant losses of suitable nesting habitat.”

Brown is part of a research team that has been studying the Blanding’s turtle population since 2007. She said that although these turtles can live to be 80 years old, they have been hit hard by the loss of wetland and upland habitat through the years, drastically limiting their ability to reproduce. This has resulted in a reduction of local Blanding’s turtle populations. Since 1984, Blanding’s turtles have been classified as a threatened species in Minnesota, making it illegal to possess, sell, harm or harass the turtles.
–DNR News Release

Cities move away from fluoride
A growing number of communities are choosing to stop adding fluoride to their water systems, even though the federal government and federal health officials maintain their full support for a measure they say provides a 25 percent reduction in tooth decay nationwide.

Last week, Pinellas County, on Florida’s west coast, voted to stop adding fluoride to its public water supply after starting the program seven years ago. The county joins about 200 jurisdictions from Georgia to Alaska that have chosen to end the practice in the last four years, motivated both by tight budgets and by skepticism about its benefits.

Eleven small cities or towns have opted out of fluoridating their water this year, including Fairbanks, Alaska, which acted after much deliberation and a comprehensive evaluation by a panel of scientists, doctors and dentists. The panel concluded that in Fairbanks, which has relatively high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride, the extra dose no longer provided the help it once did and may, in fact, be harmful.
–The New York Times

Zebra mussels again linked to a boat lift
Biologists at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are concerned zebra mussels may be hitchhiking on boat lifts.

The DNR says a second case recently was discovered on the northeast corner of Lake Irene in Douglas County. A localized population of zebra mussels was found on a lift.

A similar case was discovered at Rose Lake in Otter Tail County in late September.

At Lake Irene, the DNR was called in to investigate zebra mussels found on a boat lift recently removed from the water. The DNR suspects the pests were transported to the lake this summer when the boat lift was moved in from an infested lake.

The DNR plans to treat the small area with copper sulfate, used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch.
–The Associated Press

DNR updates list of infested lakes
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has updated its website to show the additional lakes and sections of rivers that were designated as waters infested with invasive species during the summer and fall.

“The continued spread of aquatic invasive species highlights the urgency for increased awareness and vigilance by people moving water-related equipment such as boats, docks, boat lifts and water toys,” said Jay Rendall, DNR invasive species prevention coordinator. “Extra effort is needed to clean, drain and dry all equipment to prevent further spread from infested waters.”

Here is a recap of the lakes and bodies of water that have been added to the list:

Zebra mussels: Six water bodies have been designated as infested with zebra mussels. They include Rose Lake in Otter Tail County, where zebra mussels were discovered in late September; Brophy Lake, which is part of a chain of lakes that were previously designated near Alexandria; and four lakes downstream – Cowdry (Cowdrey), Lottie (Taylor), North Union Lake (Union) and Stoney (Stony). (Lake Irene in Douglas County, a recently confirmed infestation, will be designated in a subsequent DNR Commissioner’s order.)

Eurasian watermilfoil: Seven additional waters have been confirmed to have Eurasian watermilfoil. They are: Clearwater in Crow Wing County; Circle Lake in Rice County; Otter and Sylvia lakes in Stearns County; and Locke, John and Silver lakes in Wright County.

Faucet snails: Two lakes – First Crow Wing and Second Crow Wing — and an additional portion of the Crow Wing River in Hubbard County were designated as infested because of the presence of faucet snails. The snail has been linked to waterfowl deaths at Lake Winnibigoshish, Bowstring Lake and the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.

Spiny waterfleas: Two waters were added in the vicinity of Lake of the Woods because spiny waterfleas are present. Spiny waterfleas can spread when boats, fishing or bait harvesting gear become contaminated with egg-laden females or when water from the infested lakes and rivers is transported. They can collect in masses, sticking to fishing lines, downrigger cables and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs.

View the list of infested waters.
–DNR News Release

Two endangered whooping cranes shot
Whooping crane chicks have definite personalities. Chick L10 was shy but blossomed into a rascal, and Chick L8 had an early tendency toward being a bit of a bully, but eventually learned to get along with his peers.

Whooping crane Chick L8 was hatched on June 4, 2010. When he was about a month old, he became a “meanie” toward other chicks and could not be walked with any other cranes. He had to live and exercise by himself for a long time and was the last bird to be socialized with the rest of his cohorts. But it turns out that Chick L8 was just a late bloomer, and he eventually learned to live peaceably with others. Chick L8 has a sister, who was also released in Louisiana.

Both of these gangly, adolescent whooping cranes were shot and killed in Louisiana on Monday, October 10, 2011, and though two alleged shooters have been identified, the world of whooping crane scientists, managers, caretakers, volunteers, and birders is in mourning — once again.

Tragically, these are the sixth and seventh shooting deaths of reintroduced endangered U.S. whooping cranes in 2011.
–U.S. Geological Survey News Release

Texans to vote on $6 billion for water
Allan Ritter pushed a bill to make 25 million Texans pay an extra $3.25 a year to help provide water for decades. Then, with a record drought devastating farms and ranches, the state representative’s party leaders waded in.

“We couldn’t get the votes,” said the Republican from Nederland who heads the Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers who run the chamber sought to oblige Governor Rick Perry’s pledge not to boost taxes instead.

“You couldn’t get the votes in the House to raise revenue for anything last session,” Ritter said. Since 1996, when lawmakers mandated statewide water planning, Texans haven’t agreed on how to pay for needed work. This year, as crops withered and cattle went to early slaughter, pressure rose for action to protect the economy and sustain a surging population. Perry called on citizens to pray for rain six months after the drought began. On Nov. 8, voters will decide on letting the state carry as much as $6 billion in water-related debt.
–Bloomberg News Service

Gore ties global warming to pollution
It’s been more than five years since Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” put global warming at the forefront of the national debate.

And the former vice president’s passion for the subject appears intact.

Gore arrived on the Wayne State University campus and delivered a rousing address tying the fight to combat climate change to other environmental issues — particularly, efforts to help the Great Lakes region rebound from decades of industrial pollution.

If anything, the intensity of Gore’s arguments might have increased in recent years.

As an example, Gore drew a parallel between high levels of phosphorous scientists believe are pouring into the Great Lakes and resulting in harmful algal blooms with the carbon emissions believed to be affecting the ozone layer.
–The Detroit News

Met Council may sue 3M over pollution
The Metropolitan Council is considering legal action against 3M Co. after state regulators said the agency may have to spend millions of dollars on wastewater treatment plants to clean up a toxic pollutant connected to the corporation’s manufacturing sites.

The development brings yet another player into the decades-long battle over perfluorochemical (PFC) contamination in the Mississippi River and groundwater in the east metro area, which already has cost 3M millions of dollars in cleanup and remediation.

PFCs are industrial compounds widely used in the manufacture of household products, but which are viewed as an emerging environmental health concern. In high concentrations the compounds are toxic, especially the one at issue in the Met Council’s plants, known as perfluorooctane sulfanate or PFOS.

3M stopped using the compounds in 2002, but last year the Minnesota attorney general filed suit against the company after 3M and the state were unable to reach agreement on future cleanup costs and water treatment related to many years of contamination in the east metro area.

Now, the council is considering joining in that lawsuit, as the city of Lake Elmo did after it was filed.
–The Star Tribune

Suit challenges ozone inaction
Five health and environmental groups sued the Obama administration over its rejection of a proposed stricter new standard for ozone pollution, saying the decision was driven by politics and ignored public health concerns.

The groups said that President Obama’s refusal to adopt the new standard was illegal and left in place an inadequate air quality rule from the Bush administration. Near the end of his presidency, George W. Bush overruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory panel and set the permissible ozone exposure at 75 parts per billion.

The current E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wanted to set the standard at 70 parts per billion, near the maximum level recommended by the advisory panel. But President Obama rejected that proposal on Sept. 2, saying that compliance would be too costly and create too much regulatory uncertainty for industry. He ordered the E.P.A. to conduct further scientific studies and come up with a new proposal in 2013.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin DNR reviews dairy’s water permit
The Department of Natural Resources said it will reconsider a key permit for a large dairy farm proposed in Adams County after the agency received an analysis by a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point hydrogeologist who concluded the farm is likely to reduce local water supplies.

The DNR had made a preliminary determination that groundwater pumping by the 4,200-cow Richfield Dairy would not harm local conditions.

And a spokesman for the company developing the farm also emphasized that the pumping of more than 50 million gallons of water annually won’t be more than the irrigation now used for potatoes on the same land.

The Richfield Dairy is being developed by Kaukauna-based Milk Source, which owns the state’s largest dairy farm, Rosendale Dairy, in Fond du Lac County. It operates two other farms and a third is slated to open early next year.

If Richfield Dairy is constructed, Milk Source will own five dairy farms with about 26,500 cows, according to the company. In addition, it owns a separate 9,200-calf operation near De Pere.

At Richfield Dairy, the company needs DNR permits for a high-capacity well and wastewater discharge, along with an environmental assessment of the project. Approvals on all three are pending, according to the DNR.

The DNR said it is reconsidering the permit for the high-capacity well after George Kraft of UW-Stevens Point said the farm would harm local water bodies and draw down the aquifer.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Heron Lake water management fee opposed
More than 20 people who live within the outline of a proposed Water Management District in the Heron Lake Watershed provided comment to members of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources regarding additional fees they could be assessed if a WMD plan is approved.

The nearly two-hour public hearing at times grew heated as people expressed their displeasure at “another tax,” and the prospect of a plan being implemented by an HLWD board consisting of five appointed, rather than elected, members.

Most of the approximately 75 people in attendance were residents of Jackson County, where county commissioners voted against the WMD plan earlier this year. Both the Nobles and Murray county boards of commissioners approved the proposal in July.
–The Worthington Daily Globe

Target promises seafood sustainability
The second largest discount retailer in the U.S. announced that it will sell only sustainable, traceable fish by 2015. Minneapolis-based Target Corp. operates 1,762 stores, many of which are converting to incorporate PFresh markets that sell fresh and frozen foods, including fish.

In 2010, Target stopped selling farmed salmon, Chilean sea bass and orange roughy due to various sustainability issues. It currently sells 50 different brands of fish certified by either the Marine Stewardship Council or the Global Aquaculture Alliance.

“We thought this larger commitment to fully eliminate anything that’s not certified by 2015 would be the right thing to do to encourage our guests to make the right decisions,” said Shawn Gensch, vice president of marketing for Target’s sustainability initiatives.

Target is partnering with the nonprofit marine conservation group FishWise to reach its sustainability goals. According to FishWise executive director Tobias Aguirre, the group will assess all Target seafood products with vendor surveys to understand how the seafood is caught or farmed and will evaluate the environmental impacts associated with each product.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conservation fund focus of political fight
The 50,000 drivers who cruise daily along Interstate 25 between Denver and Colorado Springs drive through ranch and farm land marked by dramatic buttes and the presence of wild animals, a vista that might have been very different but for a little-known federal program.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress created in 1965, helped pay for this open space, along with large swaths of land in other areas across the country. But there is a fight looming in Washington as Congress plans to drastically cut the program’s budget, and President Obama, who had accepted cuts in the past, appears ready to oppose them.

The White House has warned it will veto the House Interior spending bill, in part because of its cuts to the conservation fund program. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a telephone interview that the bill would bring conservation “as close to zero as it’s been in modern times.”

The fund is supposed to receive $900 million each fiscal year out of U.S. offshore oil and gas revenue to pay for federal land acquisitions. But with the exception of fiscal 1998, its funding has consistently fallen well short of that mark. The 2011 operating plan provided $300.5 million, and although Obama asked for $900 million for fiscal 2012, the pending House appropriations bill for Interior allocates just under $95 million.
–The Washington Post

Agricultural dust causes EPA dust-up
A Republican amendment targeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s nonexistent farm dust regulations laid the groundwork for a surprising, and possibly precedent-setting, parliamentary maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The question now, is how do Reid and Democrats — particularly Midwesterners up for reelection next year — deal with the amendment the next time it comes up? After all, congressional Republicans have made their push to label EPA regulations as job killers a centerpiece in their fight against the jobs strategies from President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders.

“This will not go away. We will keep bringing it up every chance we get,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) told POLITICO. Reid is “going to have to deal with me at some point. He can’t be king forever.”

Reid moved to stop the GOP’s ability to offer motions allowing for amendments to be offered to a bill even after a filibuster has already been defeated if two-thirds of senators allow. Republicans contend Reid made his move because there was a good chance the 67 votes were there for Johanns’s amendment.
–Politico

The land of 10,000 logos
Nicole Meyer has her free time mapped out for the next 27 years. That’s how long she estimates it will take her to reach her goal of designing a logo a day for every lake in Minnesota.

“One thing is for sure: I don’t have to worry about running out [of lakes],” she said. “There’s almost an endless supply of them.”

A Wisconsin native who fell in love with the state while attending the University of Minnesota, Meyer started the project as a way of reconnecting with the area while working at an advertising agency in Arizona. Now back in Minneapolis, she’s determined to keep it going.

Every day, she picks a lake, researches it, designs its logo and posts it on the web site.

Lake associations have expressed interest in buying the rights to the logos of their lakes for T-shirts or signs, and Meyer is considering their offers. But the point of this has never been to make money, she insisted.
–The Star Tribune

Minnehaha Creek honors Watershed Heroes
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District  is honoring a company, a state agency, several nonprofit organizations and several individuals as Watershed Heroes for protecting water resources.

The honorees, who will receive their awards at a ceremony on Nov. 17, are:

Solution Blue  Inc., a St. Paul firm that specializes in sustainable design.
— Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, which underground storm water holding tanks and a water-pervious  driveway and parking lot at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.
—  Minnesota Waters, a statewide non-profit organization that has taken a leadership role in confronting aquatic invasive species.
— Youth of Pierson Lake Association, a youth organization that  caught and removed about 35,000 pounds of carp from Pierson Lake.
— Lake Action Alliance, a coalition of the Christmas Lake Homeowners Association, the Lake Minnewashta Preservation Association and the Lotus Lake Association that has worked to protect its lakes and others against zebra mussels.
— Bob and Jan Halverson, who sold their 112-acre farm in Minnetrista to the watershed district  for less than its appraised value as a gift to the community.  The district  plans to conserve most of the land to protect Halsted Bay on Lake Minnetonka’s Halsted Bay.

October 10, 2011

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.

Read Facets articles on-line
Asian carp. The future of U.S. and world agriculture. A Gene Merriam column on conservation and crop insurance. Two new books on lakes. Don’t miss the latest issue of “Facets of Freshwater,” the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. Features, which you can read on-line here,  include:

  • A q-and-a interview with Tim Schlagenhaft, the Minnesota DNR’s point person in the campaign against Asian carp.
  • A column by Freshwater President Gene Merriam urging that the federal  Farm Bill be changed to make conservation compliance a requirement for  farmers getting subsidized crop insurance.
  • An article on MN FarmWise,  the farmer-to-farmer mentoring program that Freshwater and the National  Park Service are building to encourage farmers to employ proven  conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and runoff.
  • A preview of th Nov. 10 lecture that Fred Kirschenmann will deliver on water and the future of U.S. and world agriculture.

Read a web-only article on a University of Minnesota doctoral student’s research on how water moves within the many bays of Lake Minnetonka. The research holds potential to allow data from water-quality measurements taken at a few places in the lake to be extrapolated to the entire lake.

Farmer accused of killing pelican chicks
On May 17, Craig Staloch just snapped, his lawyer says.

Within the space of a few hours, he smashed thousands of American White pelican chicks and eggs — all of the offspring in one of the state’s largest colonies — even though a wildlife officer had told him the previous day that they were protected by federal law.

Making his first appearance in federal court, Staloch, a farmer from Faribault County, entered no plea to a criminal misdemeanor charge filed for what conservation officials say is one of the most extreme acts of wildlife destruction they’ve ever encountered.

“He flipped out,” said Staloch’s attorney, Jason Kohlmeyer. “He got frustrated and went to town.”

The birds had damaged about seven acres of land he was renting on the shores of Minnesota Lake, Staloch said after the hearing. Over the past three years they’ve cost him $20,000 in expenses and lost revenue, he said. When he asked for help, state wildlife specialists suggested a fence to protect his crops, Kohlmeyer said.

“But that’s not effective,” he said. “The damn birds fly.”
–The Star Tribune

Cormorant control bill introduced
 A new bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. John Kline and Collin Peterson would give states greater latitude to manage the size of migrating flocks of cormorants.

The birds are protected under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act but Kline and Peterson say an overpopulation of cormorants has caused damage in their districts, displacing other species and fouling the air and water with waste.

Under the current law, states must submit plans to control the population to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. Under Kline and Peterson’s bill, governors would have authority to manage the bird populations, with that authority subject to review every five years.
–Minnesota Public Radio

DNR tries zebra mussel pesticide
 Favorable weather conditions allowed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to treat a 10-acre section of Rose Lake on Oct. 6 for an isolated infestation of zebra mussels in the Otter Tail County lake.

The treatment, using copper sulfate, is the first of three pesticide treatments occurring this fall to kill a small population of juvenile zebra mussels discovered in the lake in late September. DNR biologists believe the invasive mussels were introduced when a boat lift was placed in the 1,200-acre lake this summer.

The DNR hired a licensed aquatic pesticide contractor to apply the treatment, which is commonly used to treat snails that cause swimmers itch. The DNR is paying $14,000 for the three treatments, which take about two hours to complete.

“We know copper sulfate will kill zebra mussels, but we won’t know for sure until next summer if the treatment was successful,” said Nathan Olson, DNR invasive species specialist. “We will be monitoring the site closely.”
–DNR News Release

Senjem to speak on non-point pollution
 Norm Senjem, who recently retired from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where he directed the agency’s effort to measure and reduce the sediment and phosphorus flowing into Lake Pepin, will be the featured speaker Wednesday, Oct. 12, at
a Sip of Science. The happy-hour-style lecture series is sponsored by the National Center For Earth-Surface Dynamics at the University of Minnesota.

Senjem will speak at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Café, 125 SE Main Street, Minneapolis.

A news release from the National Center For Earth-Surface Dynamics says Senjem will argue that voluntary measures are no longer enough to address non-point pollution in Minnesota.

Mineral leases delayed 6 months
 Minnesota officials unexpectedly postponed prospecting for copper and other minerals on private lands near Ely, giving cabin owners and local residents six months to try to change state law allowing the exploration.

Even though the state has the power to sell the leases that would permit drilling, road building and other activities because it controls the mineral rights to those properties, Gov. Mark Dayton said that with the state on the brink of a new era of mining it’s critical to “get it right.”

“Those minerals are not going to go anywhere,” he said. A delay, he said, will allow the state “to regain the public trust.”
About 75 people attended the special meeting by the state’s executive council, made up of Dayton and the state’s other top elected officials. Property owners who have been fighting the sale since April were granted a last chance to persuade the council to reject or at least postpone the 50-year leases on their land. They said they wanted the opportunity to go to the Legislature to change a century-old law that they said is skewed in favor of the mining companies.

“That law was made by and for the mining companies,” said Ron Brodigan, who had mineral leases sold on about 120 of the 200 acres he owns near Isabella.
–The Star Tribune

DNR seeks local input in managing groundwater
 The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is trying to improve the way it manages the state’s underground water supply.
Cities, industries and farms are all using more water. State scientists have found evidence that pumping too much water from underground is damaging lakes, streams and wetlands, particularly during summer, said Andrew Streitz, a hydrologist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“We’re a water rich state, and I think for the first time we’re bumping up against limits to what we thought of as a limitless resource,” said Streitz, who studies the interaction between groundwater and surface water.

To help preserve a precious natural resource, the DNR plans to test a new water management model that would give local officials a greater role in conserving water.
–Minnesota Public Radio

BWCA lottery ends
 Visitors to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness no longer will have to deal with a lottery to get a permit to enter the 1-million-acre preserve in northern Minnesota.

The U.S. Forest Service is dropping the long-used lottery system next year, and will offer permits on a first-come, first-served basis instead.

“Because of current technology and improvements to our reservation system, the lottery is no longer necessary,” Jim Sanders, Superior National Forest supervisor, said in a letter to BWCA visitors.

The agency had used a lottery from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15 to help distribute permits, especially for high-demand entry points and dates. About 9,000 people applied for permits during the lottery period. When it ended, permits were distributed on a first-come basis.

“There’s so very few dates where there isn’t some availability, and very few entry points with that high level of demand, that it just doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of anyone to keep the lottery,” said Kris Reichenbach, a Superior National Forest spokeswoman.
–The Star Tribune

Court rules for mountaintop mining
 A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Obama administration overstepped its authority in tightening oversight of permits used by coal companies in a process known as mountaintop removal mining.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority under the Clean Water Act when it issued tougher environmental guidelines related to fill material dumped into streams after the tops of mountains are blasted off to extract underlying coal seams. The National Mining Association sued the EPA last year and argued that the agency couldn’t issue the new guidance without formal rulemaking.

The dispute is one of several in which the mining industry has argued that more stringent environmental regulations are hampering the ability of coal companies to operate and maintain mining jobs. The judge has yet to hear arguments on the second part of the mining association’s lawsuit which involves the specific water-quality guidelines used by the EPA.

Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the mining association, said that more than 70 mining permits in Appalachia that had been on hold will be freed up as a result of the judge’s decision.
–The Wall Street Journal

MPCA renews groundwater testing
 Responding to recent monitoring results that showed increased perfluorochemical (PFC) levels in the groundwater at the 3M Woodbury dump site, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has conducted a new round of sampling of private wells in residential areas of Cottage Grove and Woodbury near the site.

Testing results indicate none of the wells tested had levels of PFCs that exceed state drinking-water standards. However, the MPCA continues to work with 3M to determine the reason for the increase and determine if changes in the site cleanup plans are necessary.

MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said the agency moved quickly to sample private wells to determine whether the water from the wells is meeting state drinking-water standards for PFCs.

“We contacted homeowners for permission and fast-tracked the sampling and lab analysis. This week we called residents back to let them know that the wells that were tested were below the health-based drinking-water levels for PFCs,” Aasen said.
–MPCA News Release

TPT to cover Great Lakes conference
Twin Cities Public Television will provide live and delayed coverage of a major U.S.-Canada conference on the future of the Great Lakes. The conference will be held in Detroit, Oct. 12 through 14.For information on the conference and scheduling details, go to www.tpt.org/greatlakes.

UN conference focuses on water
 Successful water projects can serve as templates around the world and help to stimulate the adoption of green economies, a conference run by the United Nations inter-agency group focused on water issues has heard.

The three-day UN-Water conference in Zaragoza, Spain, discussed examples of successful water projects as well as how to adequate manage the world’s limited water resources.

Experts predict that the amount of water needed by humans could exceed the amount available by as much as 40 per cent by 2030, making water management a priority in the sustainability agenda. Water is also closely linked to the green economy because it is interwoven with sustainable development issues such as health, food security, energy and poverty.

The conference served as a preparation process for next year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development,
known as Rio+20.
–United Nations News Release

Fluoride debate resurfaces
Consumers hearing that some U.S. communities will no longer add fluoride to their drinking water, such as Florida’s Pinellas County, may wonder whether this cavity fighter is safe.

The short answer: Most health professionals say yes, as long as people don’t ingest too much of it.

Studies in the 1930s found tooth decay was less severe in areas with more fluoride in drinking water, prompting U.S. communities to add it to their water.

Yet the Obama administration is moving to lower its recommended amount in drinking water as newer research shows high levels can cause tooth and bone damage.

The National Academies’ National Research Council found in 2006 that children are at risk of losing enamel and developing pits and brown stains on their teeth if the fluoride in their water exceeds the maximum level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It said this “severe fluorosis” can cause tooth decay.
–USA Today

Report urges upgrading U.S. water system
Want to create nearly 1.9 million American jobs and add $265 billion to the economy? Upgrade our water and wastewater infrastructure. That’s the message of a new report released by Green For  All, in partnership with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute and the Pacific Institute. The Rockefeller Foundation generously provided funding for the project.

Every year, sewage overflows dump 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage into our water systems – enough to cover the entire state of Pennsylvania with waste one-inch deep. But investment in our nation’s infrastructure to handle stormwater and wastewater has lagged, falling by one-third since its 1975 peak.

The report, Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment, looks at an investment of $188.4 billion in water infrastructure – the amount the EPA indicates would be required to manage stormwater and preserve water quality. That investment would inject a quarter of a trillion dollars into the economy, create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs in related sectors and result in 568,000 additional jobs from increased spending.
–Green For  All News Release

Environmentalists wary of Great Lakes pact
U.S. and Canadian negotiators are putting the finishing touches on the bi-national Great Lakes water quality agreement even as conservation groups continue to grumble that they are being kept in the dark about the details of a document designed to help both countries manage the world’s largest freshwater system.

The agreement was first passed in the early 1970s in response to outrage over chronic pollution problems facing the lakes, and it was subsequently updated in the ’70s and ’80s. Now the governments are getting set to release a 21st century version of the plan after acknowledging two years ago that new problems such as invasive species and fresh chemical contaminants were not adequately addressed in the existing agreement.

The governments have been soliciting public input, but the problem for a big coalition of conservation groups is the public has not been allowed to see details of the draft plan.

Government leaders say it has to be that way.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Montana settles clean-water suit
 A federal judge has approved a far-reaching settlement giving Montana until 2014 to clean up polluted streams and lakes in 28 watersheds across the state, capping nearly 15 years of legal battles, officials said.

The deal covers more than 17,000 miles of rivers and streams and 461,000 surface acres of lakes, requiring them to meet water-quality standards set for uses such as drinking, swimming and fishing, under the federal Clean Water Act.

The settlement, signed by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, addresses hundreds of types of pollutants, including hazardous chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and heavy metals such as mercury.

The deal stems from a 1997 lawsuit that said the Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality had violated the Clean Water Act by permitting contaminants to be released into the state’s already degraded waters.

In 2003, Molloy sided with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and other environmental groups, ordering Montana to develop pollution control plans for many waterways by 2012.
–Reuters

Turning poop into power
 Maryland chicken farms produce a substantial amount of phosphorous-rich chicken manure, which contributes to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. One solution to the problem: Turn the poop into power.

A new grant program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will bring $850,000 to Eastern Shore chicken farmers to install technologically advanced systems to convert waste into green energy.

“We’re trying to create a network of people who have experience (with) these technologies to provide assistance to farmers,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the Chesapeake Program at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which is administering the USDA grant.

Disposal of chicken farm waste is a pressing issue in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay where, according the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 26 percent of the phosphorus load entering the bay comes from animal waste.
–Capital News Service

DNR hiring conservation officers
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is accepting applications until Oct. 14 for the position of conservation officer.

The DNR’s Division of Enforcement anticipates hiring up to 26 conservation officers for academies to be held in the spring of 2012 and fall of 2012.

Conservation officers provide public safety, and resource and recreation protection response to all field operations for which the DNR Division of Enforcement is held responsible.

Applicants must possess a valid Minnesota Peace Officer’s License, or be eligible to be licensed by the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training Board prior to the time conditional offers are made; or complete basic police training and be certified as a full-time peace officer in a state or federal law enforcement agency with which Minnesota has reciprocity, and pass the POST Board reciprocity exam by the time conditional job offers are made.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Hole reported in Arctic ozone
 Intense cold in the upper atmosphere of the Arctic last winter activated ozone-depleting chemicals and produced the first significant ozone hole ever recorded over the high northern regions, scientists reported in the journal Nature.

While the extent of the ozone depletion is considered temporary, and well below the depletion that occurs seasonally over the Antarctic, atmospheric scientists described it as a striking example of how sudden anomalies can occur as a result of human activity that occurred years ago. At its maximum extent in February, the northern ozone hole reached southward into Russia and Mongolia.

Emissions of chlorinated fluorocarbons, or CFCs, once found in aerosol sprays, and other ozone-depleting substances like the soil fumigant methyl bromide produced the first ozone hole over the Antarctic, which was identified in 1985. Emissions of those compounds were banned under the Montreal Protocol, which has been signed by 191 countries.
–The New York Times

Engineering Planet Earth?
 With political action on curbing greenhouse gases stalled, a bipartisan panel of scientists, former government officials and national security experts is recommending that the government begin researching a radical fix: directly manipulating the Earth’s climate to lower the temperature.

Members said they hoped that such extreme engineering techniques, which include scattering particles in the air to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or stationing orbiting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, would never be needed.

But in its report, the panel said it is time to begin researching and testing such ideas in case “the climate system reaches a ‘tipping point’ and swift remedial action is required.”

The 18-member panel was convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research organization based in Washington founded by four senators — Democrats and Republicans — to offer policy advice to the government. In interviews, some of the panel members said they hoped that the mere discussion of such drastic steps would jolt the public and policy makers into meaningful action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which they called the highest priority.

The idea of engineering the planet is “fundamentally shocking,” David Keith, an energy expert at Harvard and the University of Calgary and a member of the panel, said. “It should be shocking.”
–The New York Times

Canada to test chemical safety
The Conservative government is set to target a new batch of chemicals used in common consumer products — including toothpaste and body wash — to determine if they’re safe for people and the environment.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Environment Minister Peter Kent announced the renewal of the government’s Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) with a boost of more than $500 million over the next five years.

Substances commonly used in plastic containers, clothing, cleaning products, electronics and batteries are among the chemicals to be reviewed to determine whether they need better regulation or other action, including being banned.

During the first phase of the plan, the federal government banned bisphenol A in baby bottles — an international first that began with a listing of toxicity of the hormone-disrupting chemical.
–The Montreal Gazette

Zebra mussels; felony pollution charge

October 3, 2011

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.

DNR to try pesticide on zebra mussels
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will take the unusual step of treating a western Minnesota lake with a pesticide in hopes of killing a localized infestation of zebra mussels.

But the vice president of an area lakes association isn’t impressed, fearing that action is too little and too late to save the lake from the small invasive mollusks.

“For whatever reason, they want it to appear that things are under control,” said Terry Kalil, vice president of the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations. “Things are not under control. The DNR strategy is a failed one.”

She accused the agency of responding slowly to a legislative directive last spring to train water-related equipment operators about invasive species matters and of applying an “unproven” chemical that’s likely to be ineffective.

The DNR suspects that juvenile mussels found recently on a boat lift pulled from Rose Lake were brought to the lake weeks ago when the lift was installed there. Kalil said the lift came from already infested waters.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Ethanol plant faces felony pollution charge
Corn Plus, a major ethanol cooperative in southern Minnesota, was charged with reporting that its pollution control equipment was working properly in late January when company officials knew it was not.

The alleged felony offense took place Jan. 27, less than a week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Corn Plus a grant of $128,658 from its Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels.

The alleged offense also took place while the company was on probation for a previous environmental law violation.
Corn Plus, which produces 49 million gallons of ethanol a year 35 miles south of Mankato in Winnebago, pleaded guilty two years ago to a misdemeanor for negligently discharging polluted water into Rice Lake. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham placed the company on three years’ probation in October 2009 and ordered it to pay a $100,000 fine, plus a $50,000 “community service payment” to a critical habitat program run through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Corn Plus also paid $861,000 to settle a dispute with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last year over alleged water quality violations that took place from 2006 to 2008. It paid a $200,000 civil penalty and agreed to spend at least $691,000 on plant improvements designed to protect the environment.

According to the latest charge filed in federal court in Minneapolis, Corn Plus falsely certified that it was complying with its permit requirements knowing that its pollution control equipment was allowing excessive discharges into the air, a violation of the Clean Air Act.
–The Star Tribune

E-mails released on oil sands pipeline
With the Obama administration about to decide whether to green-light a controversial pipeline to take crude oil from Canada’s oil sands to the United States Gulf Coast, e-mails released paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between lobbyists for the company building the billion-dollar pipeline and officials in the State Department, the agency that has final say over the pipeline.

Environmental groups said the e-mails were disturbing and evidence of “complicity” between TransCanada, the pipeline company, and American officials tasked with evaluating the pipeline’s environmental impact.

The e-mails, the second batch to be released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, show a senior State Department official at the United States Embassy in Ottawa procuring invitations to Fourth of July parties for TransCanada officials, sharing information with the company about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings and cheering on TransCanada in its quest to gain approval of the giant pipeline, which could carry 700,000 barrels a day.
–The New York Times

Think like a kindergartener; save the planet
Read Freshwater programs director Peggy Knapp’s account of helping some kindergarteners save the Earth by cleaning up leaves and organic debris that, otherwise, would go into lakes and streams. You can do similar great work – and win $500 – by entering the Work For Water challenge sponsored by Freshwater and InCommons. The entry deadline is Oct. 11.
 

Hitting the water wall
Read Jonathan Foley’s take on whether the world is running out of water. Foley, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, says it’s not the quantity of water we should be concerned about. Rather, it is all the things that humans do to water that worry him. Writing in “momentum,” the institute’s newsletter, Foley says we need to adopt a mind-set that “respects the limits and fragility of our water supply.”

Groups urge continued conservation $$
A national coalition of 56 policy and advocacy organizations is urging Congress to preserve funding for essential U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs and to take additional steps to enhance soil, water quality and wildlife on agricultural land. The coalition outlined a set of key principles that lawmakers should observe as they write the Conservation Title of the 2012 farm bill and seek ways to trim the federal deficit.

The 56 coalition members are asking Congress to:

• Put a high priority on funding critical conservation programs at the current baseline level of $6.5 billion a year.
• Strengthen and enforce provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.
• Target conservation dollars where the opportunities for conservation and environmental outcomes are greatest.
• Streamline existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and ramp up their effectiveness by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.
• Ensure that all segments of the farming community – women, minorities and beginning farmers – have access to funding and technical assistance.

USDA’s conservation programs are the main tools for implementing best management practices that help crop and livestock producers conserve our soil resources and avoid deposition of nutrient and sediment into our rivers and lakes. Agricultural conservation is also the primary means to protect vital habitat and endangered and threatened species on the privately held land that constitutes the majority of our nation’s land base.
–Environmental Working Group News Release

Soy growers propose subsidy, conservation cuts
With the congressional supercommittee pushing ahead with work on a plan to slash the deficit, farm groups are struggling to come up with ways to spend the farm subsidies that don’t get cut. The American Soybean Association is the latest to come forward with a proposal.

The soybean growers are calling for abolishing the existing direct payments and creating a new revenue-protection program called Risk Management for America’s Farmers. The plan is similar in principal to one proposed by the National Corn Growers Association. Payments would be triggered by losses in an individual producer’s revenue. The corn growers plan is pegged to area losses.

The soy growers’ plan also calls for abolishing the existing revenue-based subsidy program, ACRE, and SURE, the permanent disaster assistance system.

The soybean growers also are calling for making cuts in conservation programs as well as farm subsidies, but farmers are getting pushback on that idea from environmental organizations.
–The Des Moines Register

Asian carp found in Iowa lakes
State environmental officials say invasive carp species have been found in a Clay County lake.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources say bighead carp and silver carp were found in Elk Lake by commercial fisherman hired to remove rough fish, such as common carp, from the northern Iowa lake.

Officials with the DNR say the invasive fish likely traveled past barriers on the Little Sioux River and into the lake because of flooding on the Missouri River. They say the fish have invaded the Missouri River recently and likely traveled from the river into the Little Sioux and over dams that would have normally prevented their passage.

DNR personnel also caught two bighead carp in East Lake Okoboji last month while conducting routine sampling.
–Iowa DNR News Release

‘Earmark’ ban ends U.S. wolf trapping
A lack of money will end a federal program that has quietly trapped and killed thousands of wolves in northern Minnesota in the past 33 years, officials said.

The program had targeted wolves near where livestock and pets were being killed and had the approval of farmers, conservation leaders, wolf lovers, natural resource officials and politicians of both parties, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

But a moratorium on earmarks in Washington means there’s no money for the program after fiscal 2011 ended, the newspaper said.

In the past, congressional members from Minnesota and Wisconsin had routinely used earmarks get funding for the program.
“We’ve got too many wolves causing too many problems now,” Dale Lueck, treasurer of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association, said.
–UPI

New York ballast water rules draw fire
New York state is poised to implement new rules that could have a major impact on the global shipping industry. Invasive species sometimes move from place to place in “ballast water” — that’s the water ships suck in and discharge to level their loads. Officials in New York want all that ballast water treated to kill any “living pollution” before it reaches their harbors. But the treatment technology is expensive and untested. Because the state serves as a gateway to the Great Lakes and ports in New Jersey, other states and countries are disputing the new rules.
–National Public Radio

Nevada groundwater pumping criticized
Every spring will run dry in the vast valley just west of Nevada’s only national park if the Southern Nevada Water Authority is allowed to pump all the groundwater it wants and pipe it to Las Vegas.

That was the dire warning delivered by an attorney for a new and perhaps unexpected voice of opposition to the pipeline project: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“The aquifer will shrink. The land will subside,” said Las Vegas attorney Paul Hejmanowski , speaking on behalf of the Mormon church as a state hearing opened in Carson City on the authority’s massive pipeline plans. “You can monitor it, you can quantify it, and in the end, you can lament it. But you can’t fix it.”

The authority is seeking state permission to tap up to 126,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from Spring Valley in White Pine County and Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys in Lincoln County. Most of the water — 19 applications totaling more than 91,000 acre-feet — is being sought in Spring Valley, just west of Great Basin National Park.
–The Las Vegas Review-Journal

USGS reports groundwater use in the West 
Groundwater pumping, which has been increasing since the 1940s, now accounts for about one third of the estimated annual flow from the aquifers of the eastern Great Basin. In parts of this region, groundwater pumping exceeds the rate of natural discharge, leading to land subsidence and declines in water levels and spring flow.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently published a report examining groundwater recharge (replenishment) and discharge for the eastern Great Basin. The study examined 110,000 square miles across Utah, Nevada, California and Idaho, and the report covers groundwater conditions from Death Valley in the southwest to Cache Valley in the northeast.

“Groundwater resources are not only a critical part of present water supplies in this area, but are likely to increase in importance in the future because the region is facing population growth and limited surface water supplies,” said Kevin Dennehy, coordinator for the USGS Groundwater Resources Program.
–USGS News Release

Deloitte announces pro bono sustainability effort
Deloitte announced it is providing pro bono services to help develop a public online tool that allows companies to more easily identify and collaborate with businesses, relevant governments, Non-Governmental Organizations and communities to advance sustainable water management on a location-specific basis.

Specifically, Deloitte is teaming with the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), the Pacific Institute and the German International Development Agency (GIZ) in developing the CEO Water Mandate (which is part of the United Nations Global Compact) Water Action Hub (the Hub).

Deloitte’s contribution to IBLF, valued at up to $500,000, will allow organizations to access a publicly available online water-focused capacity building platform that can serve as a clearinghouse for emerging corporate water accounting methods, tools, and stewardship practices.

The Hub will feature a mapping function that visually places each facility and/or organizations within watershed maps to help organizations better understand stakeholders and initiatives in their watersheds of interest. Watershed maps are designed to allow companies to build upon their use of other online analytical mapping and water risk characterization tools such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD’s) Global Water Tool and the World Resource Institute’s (WRI) Aqueduct project.
–PR Newswire


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