Legacy spending, zebra mussels, carbon emissions

Tthe Freshwater Society blog 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.

You are reading this blog. Thanks. Either you knew of its existence and subscribed to it or came looking for it, or perhaps you found it through a search engine. Since late 2009, we have published links to hundreds of important articles about the water, science and the environment. If you like what you see here, please use one of the “Subscribe to this blog” features, at right, to sign up to receive it regularly.

Audits examine Legacy spending
A legislative auditor’s report looking broadly at spending so far from Minnesota’s $240 million a year Legacy Amendment said “efforts to ensure accountability are generally adequate.”

But the report – intended as a first benchmark for many more audits to come — listed a number of questions and concerns about how the Legislature, state agencies and appointed oversight boards and councils use money from the sales tax increase that voters approved in 2008.

Those questions include:

  • How can lawmakers and others ensure that spending decisions meet a constitutional mandate that spending from the new tax revenue should supplement and not substitute for traditional sources of funding?
  •  Will the 25-year sales tax increase produce a qualitative improvement in the health of the Minnesota’s environment, especially the cleanliness of its waters?
  •  Are the oversight groups and the recipients of Legacy money doing enough to disclose and prevent conflicts of interest in decision-making?

A second, related audit report looked specifically at financial accountability for expenditures.

Read the two audit reports. Check out coverage of the reports by the Pioneer Press, the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio.

Darby Nelson

Dec. 6 book-signing by Darby Nelson
Don’t miss the book-signing Tuesday, Dec. 6, by Darby Nelson, a longtime conservationist and Freshwater Society board member. Check out an article about his new book, For the Love of Lakes, and link to the introduction Nelson wrote for it. RSVP for the book-signing event at 6 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Zebra mussel found in Pelican Lake
A single juvenile zebra mussel was found recently on dock equipment removed from Pelican Lake in Crow Wing County near Brainerd, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

A dock services provider discovered the zebra mussel attached to a dock post during removal of a dock. Local DNR staff were subsequently contacted for a positive identification.

DNR biologists are investigating how the zebra mussel might have gotten into Pelican Lake. They have conducted a thorough survey of other docks and marker buoys on the lake and have not located additional zebra mussels. The small size of the zebra mussel indicates it is not at a reproductive stage.

The DNR is working closely with homeowners and the Pelican Lake Association to continue monitoring the lake for zebra mussels. Any additional zebra mussel detections should be reported immediately to DNR invasive species specialists Dan Swanson at 218-833-8645 or Rich Rezanka at 218-999-7805.
 –DNR News Release

Carbon emissions rise in 2010 
 Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.

The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades. The researchers said the high growth rate reflected a bounce-back from the 1.4 percent drop in emissions in 2009, the year the recession had its biggest impact.
–The New York Times

USGS documents groundwater draw-down 
More than 280 million acre-feet of groundwater has been withdrawn from the Mississippi embayment aquifer system between 1870-2007, according to a new water modeling tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

This cumulative withdrawal, which is the equivalent of five feet of water over 78,000 square miles, contributes to one of the largest losses of groundwater storage anywhere in the United States.

The new USGS modeling tool was designed to help resource managers find a balance between water supply and demand for future economic and environmental uses. The three-dimensional model provides a holistic picture of how water flows below ground and how it relates to surface-water. The Mississippi embayment aquifer system encompasses approximately 78,000 square miles in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

A report documenting past and current groundwater conditions, and tools to forecast regional response to human use, climate variability, and land-use changes are all available online.

“Our groundwater aquifers are nature’s own natural method for storing water safely long term where it is less vulnerable to loss through evaporation and surface contamination,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “We should be as concerned about loss of groundwater as we are about dropping levels in reservoirs behind dams, because in the depths of the worst drought, when the rivers run dry, it is only the groundwater that will sustain us.”
–USGS News Release

EPA’s ballast water rules criticized 
Newly proposed ballast water regulations fell flat with environmental groups that argued the restrictions would not go far enough to thwart the spread of invasive species.

Ballast water, which ships carry for stability, has long been known to transmit foreign organisms between bodies of water. The zebra mussel, quagga mussel and round goby, which have wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes ecosystem, are suspected to have arrived through ballast water.

To address that problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued draft permits that would require certain ships to treat ballast water before releasing it. In some cases, ships would be required to have fewer than 10 living organisms per unit of water, a concentration in line with the International Maritime Organization’s standard. The amount of water depends on the size of the organism.

But several environmental groups said that the standard should be closer to zero.

“It is not like this is a smokestack where you can scrub out 90 percent of the mercury or carbon dioxide and then feel pretty good about yourself,” said Thom Cmar, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy organization based in New York. “Here you have a living pollutant that can breed and reproduce.”
–The Chicago Tribune

Nature Conservancy brokers sustainable fishing
On the Pacific Coast, south of San Francisco, the Nature Conservancy and local fishing captains have forged an unusual business partnership aimed at maintaining both the local fishing industry and the threatened stocks of fish on which the industry depends.

Five years ago, the Nature Conservancy bought out a number of boats and fishing permits. Now the environmental group leases back the permits and boats – on the condition that crews abandon trawling in favor of more sustainable methods of fishing and that they put some areas of ocean habitat off limits to fishing.  Read a New York Times article profiling the unusual arrangement.

Lots of pros and cons on fracking
Is hydraulic fracturing – fracking – a safe and effective way to dramatically expand the domestic oil and gas production in the U.S.? Or is the practice of injecting vast amounts of water deep into the rock formations that contain oil a bargain with the devil that eventually will contaminate groundwater that is even more valuable than oil?

Read competing views in multiple opinion pieces published in U.S. News & World Report’s Debate Club feature.

Army Corps eyes dredging north of Hastings 
The Mississippi River will get a new island near Cottage Grove in a plan to straighten out a crooked barge channel.

The Army Corps of Engineers has begun a study of the $5 million project involving a section of the river north of Hastings. A sharp bend in the barge channel is becoming tougher to navigate and needs to be rerouted, said Paul Machajewski, the corps’ channel maintenance coordinator for the St. Paul District.

Cleared sediment would be piled out of the way, creating an island that boaters already are eyeing.

“I am pretty excited by this. There are a lot of win-win things about it,” said Greg Genz, a consultant who works on river-related issues. Shippers who used to weave through the passage with 15 lashed-together barges now can manage only eight 10 12.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

EPA rule threatens L. Michigan ferry 
Facing a deadline to stop dumping toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan, owners of the last coal-powered steamship on the Great Lakes are pushing for it to join Mount Vernon, Lincoln’s Tomb and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace as a protected national historic landmark.

Even if the Badger fails to make the list of the nation’s historic and cultural treasures, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be unable to force the aging coal burner to eliminate the nearly 4 tons of waste it dumps in the lake every time it sails.

An amendment added to a budget bill by Republican congressmen from Michigan and Wisconsin would prevent the EPA from imposing more stringent pollution limits on any ship that is “on, or nominated for inclusion on” the list of landmarks.

In documents obtained by the Tribune, the car ferry’s owners plead for the National Park Service to grant the Badger special protection from the EPA, which in 2008 gave them four years to find a solution to the ship’s pollution problems.
–The Chicago Tribune

The dirty truth about La Brea Tar Pits
For years, residents living near Ballona Creek and environmentalists have complained of mysterious sheens of oil and grease in the western Los Angeles County waterway, often blaming industrial dumping, urban runoff or other man-made causes for the pollution.

One cause that apparently never crossed their minds: the La Brea Tar Pits.

It turns out the tourist attraction and preferred field trip destination of seemingly every grade schooler in the region has sent oily wastewater spilling into the highly polluted creek.

The tar pits, in Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile neighborhood, overflow during heavy rains, overwhelming the devices that separate oil from water. Polluted runoff then gets into the storm drain system, spilling into the creek and emptying into the ocean, according to county planners.
–The Los Angeles Times

Suit claims grazing’s impact ignored 
Millions of cattle graze on public lands all over the West and have done so for more than a century.

But a new complaint filed by an environmental group charges that despite Clinton-era moves to examine and diminish the impact of grazing in the arid West, Interior Department employees have blocked the use of federal data on the impact in regional scientific studies. The actions by mid-level Interior employees “seriously compromise” the scientific integrity of efforts to figure out how and why western ecosystems are changing, said the complaint, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington-based environmental group.

The complaint charges that officials of the Bureau of Land Management not only effectively prevented ecosystem scientists from making grazing a significant part of their regional analyses but also failed to inform them of data gathered by the bureau.
–The New York Times

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