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.
Save some water; freeze your jeans
From the cotton field in rural India to the local rag bin, a typical pair of blue jeans consumes 919 gallons for water during its life cycle, Levi Strauss & Company says, or enough to fill about 15 spa-size bathtubs. That includes the water that goes into irrigating the cotton crop, stitching the jeans together and washing them scores of times at home.
The company wants to reduce that number any way it can, and not just to project environmental responsibility. It fears that water shortages caused by climate change may jeopardize the company’s very existence in the coming decades by making cotton too expensive or scarce.
So to protect its bottom line, Levi Strauss has helped underwrite and champion a nonprofit program that teaches farmers in India, Pakistan, Brazil and West and Central Africa the latest irrigation and rainwater-capture techniques. It has introduced a brand featuring stone-washed denim smoothed with rocks but no water. It is sewing tags into all of its jeans urging customers to wash less and use only cold water.
To customers seeking further advice, Levi Strauss suggests washing jeans rarely, if at all — the theory being that putting them in the freezer will kill germs that cause them to smell.
–The New York Times
UC Berkeley climate skeptic backs off
Remember when scientists who had cast doubt on global temperature studies boldly embarked on an effort to “reconsider” the evidence?
They have. And they conclude that their doubt was misplaced.
UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller and others were looking at the so-called urban heat island effect — the notion that because more urban temperature stations are included in global temperature data sets than are rural ones, the global average temperature was being skewed upward because these sites tend to retain more heat. Hence, global warming trends are exaggerated.
Using data from such urban heat islands as Tokyo, they hypothesized, could introduce “a severe warming bias in global averages using urban stations.”
In fact, the data trend was “opposite in sign to that expected if the urban heat island effect was adding anomalous warming to the record. The small size, and its negative sign, supports the key conclusion of prior groups that urban warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change.”
–The Los Angeles Times
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Lecture set Nov. 10 on water and ag
It’s not too late. You can still register to attend a free public lecture Thursday, Nov. 10, on water and the future of U.S. and world agriculture. Fred Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, will deliver the lecture.
The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.
Lecture set on Mississippi R. sediment
Get the “dirt on sediment pollution” of the Mississippi River. Dan Engstrom, a scientist in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s St. Croix Field Station will speak Thursday, Nov. 17, on his research about the sediment filling in Lake Pepin.
The 7:30 p.m. lecture at the Science Museum is sponsored by the museum, the Friends of the Mississippi River, the City of St. Paul, the National Park Service and the Capitol Region Watershed District.
The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Contact Alyssa Johnson at the Science museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-221-4511. Admission to the museum is free for lecture-goers who enter the museum after 4 p.m.
Groups win $500 prizes for leaf clean-ups
Three groups – four fourth-grade classes in Apple Valley, youth from a Lutheran Church’s confirmation program in Blaine and a Boys and Girls Club in Sauk Rapids – have won $500 apiece for anti-pollution projects aimed at keeping leaves and other organic debris out of lakes and rivers.
The contest was sponsored by Freshwater and InCommons to encourage small neighborhood-based efforts to reduce the phosphorus pollution that leads to excessive algae growth in surface waters throughout Minnesota. The Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation also was a sponsor and contributed the prize for the Sauk Rapids winner.
The winners were:
• Four fourth-grade classes at Cedar Park Elementary School in Apple Valley, where students operated a drop-off site at the school that allowed Apple Valley residents to recycle leaves.
• About 130 youth and a nearly equal number of parents from Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine, who raked leaves from yards, parks and streets in neighborhoods around the church on Oct. 12.
• Members of the Raymond Park Boys and Girls Club in Sauk Rapids, who raked leaves in and around the park for two purposes: to keep the leaves out of the nearby Mississippi River, and to mulch vegetable and flower gardens.
State, feds negotiating BWCAW land swap
A deal is close that could end a decades-long dispute over state land within the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
An advisory committee of state and federal officials, environmental groups, logging and mining interests and local government land officials has met quietly several times in the past year to forge a compromise on a combination land trade and purchase.
They’ll meet again in Sandstone as they near agreement on how to handle nearly 87,000 acres of state land locked inside the 1.1 million-acre BWCAW.
Under the deal, the state would trade about 43,000 acres inside the BWCAW for Superior National Forest federal land outside the wilderness.
The federal government also would purchase another 40,000 or so acres of state land in the BWCAW directly from the state. The money — estimated at about $80 million — would go into the state’s permanent school trust fund that funnels interest earned to school districts across the state.
–The Duluth News Tribune
Pollution lingers at closed Wisconsin mine
Fourteen years after mining operations ended, water samples on the site of the Flambeau mine near Ladysmith show high levels of toxic pollutants.
In the most recent tests, state records show that copper and zinc levels have exceeded state toxicity standards for surface waters, potentially threatening fish and other aquatic life.
The findings come as mining regulation looms as a legislative issue this fall, and the Flambeau mine has been cited as a model of mineral extraction without environmental harm. Lawmakers are poised to rewrite mining laws and ease restrictions after Gogebic Taconite, based in Hurley, put plans on hold this year for a $1.5 billion iron ore mine until regulations are streamlined.
Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources and the Flambeau Mining Co., a subsidiary of Kennecott Mineral Co., say pollution problems haven’t been ignored – the company has been removing contaminated soil from the property since 2003.
Nevertheless, DNR testing revealed that 41% of 94 samples taken in 2010 and 2011 had more copper and zinc than standards set by the state to protect aquatic life. The samples were taken from a small stream, a pond and ditches.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
3M says river clean-up is working
The Mississippi River above Hastings is no longer impaired by a compound once used in some of 3M Co.’s best-known products, according to a study released by the company.
It shows that after half a century of pollution that has spawned enormous concerns in the east metro area, the company’s 2002 decision to stop using the compound known as PFOS, and its subsequent multimillion-dollar cleanup effort, are starting to pay off, said 3M officials and environmentalists.
“I would sure as hell hope so, after all the money and effort that went into it,” said Trevor Russell, program director for Friends of the Mississippi River.
The study measured contamination levels in fish and water in the river, not in groundwater and drinking water in the east metro area, which have also been contaminated by PFOS and similar compounds.
Nonetheless, 3M officials said they hope the results will influence the outcome of a lawsuit the state filed against the company last year over future clean-up costs and persuade the state to relax stringent rules on how much of the compound will be allowed to go into the river.
–The Star Tribune
Research: Chesapeake clean-up is working
Efforts to reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay are starting to pay off, a major new study says, finding that despite weather-driven ups and downs, the “dead zone” that stresses fish and shellfish every summer has actually shrunk, on average, in recent years.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science teased from 60 years’ worth of water-quality measurements what they described as one of the first clear signs of progress in the costly 27-year-old campaign to clean up the bay.
“It’s a leading indicator of the kind of change we had hoped would occur,” said Donald F. Boesch, president of the UM environmental research center, who has reviewed the study. “The gains aren’t huge, obviously. We haven’t gotten anywhere close to the targets we want to reach, but we’re headed in the right direction.”
The study, published in the current issue of the scientific journal Estuaries and Coasts, appears to explain away recent research finding no real improvement in the “dead zone,” where oxygen levels in the bay drop so low each summer that fish and shellfish struggle to survive. The oxygen gets sucked out of the water by the breakdown of massive algae blooms that grow every spring, fed by sewage, farm and urban runoff and air pollution.
–The Baltimore Sun
EPA outlines study of ‘fracking’
The Environmental Protection Agency released the outlines of its long-awaited probe into whether hydraulic fracturing — the unconventional drilling technique that’s led to a boom in domestic natural gas production — is contaminating drinking-water supplies.
Investigators will try to determine the impact of large-scale water withdrawals, aboveground spills of drilling fluids, and the fracturing process itself on water quality and quantity in states where tens of thousands of wells have been drilled in recent years.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemical additives, deep underground to extract natural gas trapped in shale rock. Energy companies have greatly expanded their use of fracking as they tap previously unreachable shale deposits, including the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.
The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater. The EPA study, mandated by Congress last year, is the agency’s first look at the impact of fracking in shale deposits.
EPA will examine drilling sites in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota and Texas. The earliest results will be available in 2012.
–The Associated Press
Wisconsin DNR approves mega-dairy
The Department of Natural Resources said that it is giving final approval for a company to move forward with plans to construct a 4,300-cow dairy farm in Adams County, a project that had sparked controversy for the potential environmental effects of so many cows.
But the DNR also imposed conditions designed to protect groundwater and local waterways from manure and heavy water use.
The decision means that Richfield Dairy, which is owned by Milk Source Holdings, can move forward with the $35 million dairy farm in Richfield Township, which will employ about 40 people.
With Richfield Dairy, 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.
The conditions added by the DNR include installing groundwater monitoring wells, a leak detection system and more conditions on spreading manure and process wastewater. There will also be limits on monthly and annual groundwater withdrawals.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
65,000 pounds of Asian carp caught
Workers along the Illinois River are hunting for invasive fish to turn into organic fertilizer, fillets and other commercial products.
The hope is to reduce the population of Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes.
Originally imported to cleanse ponds in the South, Asian carp made it into Mississippi River waterways and have traveled north. The voracious fish can starve other species by consuming their food.
State fish biologist Ken Clodfelter told a group of fishermen in north central Illinois that he watched workers catch 65,000 pounds of Asian carp in two days, the (LaSalle) News-Tribune reported. Workers loaded the carp into air-conditioned trailers to be taken to Schafer Fisheries in Thompson, which processes an estimated 30 million pounds of carp every year.
–The Associated Press
Fighting erosion on the Le Sueur
When Dave Johnson moved into his home along the Le Sueur River, he wasn’t worried about erosion.
Johnson says, “Not at all, there were lots of trees along here…”
Seven years and a couple floods later, he’s lost about 40 feet of his backyard.
Johnson says, “All we could do is watch and step back further every time more ground fell into the river”
As the banks got closer to homes along the river, Johnson and some of his neighbors decided to take action.
Blue Earth County Soil and Water Conservation District Jared Bach says, “Homeowners got together, came to the soil and water office to discuss a possible fix to stop the erosion.”
After receiving funding from clean water land and legacy tax money, the soil and water conservation office with the support of homeowners, the county, and DNR decided to do a state of the art toe wood sod mat stabilization project.
Invasive bugs eat invasive kudzu
Patti Bennett was looking out the window of her home office one morning two years ago when a swarm of green bugs flew out of the neighboring kudzu patch.
The invasive Kudzu vine has finally met its match. The problem? It’s killer–the kudzu bug–is an invasive species, too. WSJ’s Valerie Bauerlein reports from Griffin, Ga.
“I thought, ‘What the hell is that headed at my house?’ It was like a horror movie,” says Ms. Bennett, a 53-year-old insurance underwriter who lives about an hour from Atlanta. She killed hundreds of bugs with spray, while thousands more released a musty, bittersweet odor in defense.
She scooped some bugs into a Tupperware container of alcohol and handed them to the local Home Depot specialist, an exterminator and a county agricultural agent.
Ms. Bennett was one of the first people in the South to report seeing Megacopta cribraria, an insect native to Asia that likely stowed away on a flight in 2009 and entered the U.S. through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, entomologists say.
Often a new bug brings nothing but bites and headaches for entomologists who race to limit the damage. But battle lines are being drawn over Megacopta cribraria.
–The Wall Street Journal