Archive for December 25th, 2011

Mercury pollution; $$ for Great Lakes

December 25, 2011

The 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.

Mercury pollution worse near cities
Atmospheric deposition of mercury is about four-times higher in lakes near several major U.S. cities compared to lakes in remote areas, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Atmospheric deposition is the predominant pathway for mercury to reach sensitive ecosystems, where it can accumulate in fish and harm wildlife and humans. Coal-fired power plants and industries are among the primary sources of mercury emissions.

Mercury emissions can travel far in the atmosphere, and the relative importance of local, regional, or international mercury emissions to natural waters is generally unknown.

This is the first study to quantify the relation between mercury fallout and distance from major urban centers. The study included lakes nearby, and remote from Boston, Mass., Albany, N.Y., Montreal, Canada, New Haven, Conn., Tampa and Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Ill., Minneapolis, Minn., Denver, Colo., Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Ore.

To better understand geographic patterns of mercury deposition, the USGS analyzed sediment cores from 12 lakes with undeveloped watersheds near to (less than 30 miles) and remote from (more than 90 miles) several major urban areas in the United States. Mercury deposition in the near-urban lakes greatly exceeds amounts found in remote lakes.

The full report can be found in the journal Environmental Pollution.
–USGS News Release

Congress Oks $300 million for Great Lakes
Congress is pressing ahead with a scaled-back version of the ongoing Obama administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

A coalition of conservation groups welcomed the news that both the House and Senate had approved $300 million in the upcoming budget for the program that is focusing on cleaning up toxic hot spots, halting the onslaught of invasive species and restoring sensitive areas such as wetlands. The budget bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama in the coming days.

The $300 million for the program’s third year is about the same amount of federal money dedicated to the program this year, but well under the $475 million that was approved in the first year of what was designed to be a 10-year, $5 billion restoration plan for the world’s largest freshwater system.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

EPA issues air pollution rules on mercury
The Environmental Protection Agency released far-reaching air pollution regulations, 21 years after they were first mandated by Congress and six days after they were signed by the agency.

The rules require coal- and oil-fired power plants to lower emissions of 84 different toxic chemicals to levels no higher than those emitted by the cleanest 12% of plants. Companies have three years to achieve the standards, and EPA has made clear a fourth year and perhaps even more time are also available to them.

“We’re delighted,” says Janice Nolen of the American Lung Association. “After waiting 21 years, it looks like we may actually have a rule that will help to save 11,000 lives a year and reduce exposure all across the country to a bunch of really toxic substances.”

The EPA rules govern multiple toxics, including mercury, arsenic, nickel, selenium and cyanide.

Power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and more than 75% of the acid gas emissions in the United States, the EPA says. The EPA estimates that about half the nation’s power plants already have pollution control technologies in place. This rule will “level the playing field” in the agency’s words, by ensuring that the rest, about 40% of all coal-fired plants, take similar steps.
–USA Today

Mankato Free Press looks at Minnesota River
The Mankato Free Press recently published a five-part series on water quality in the Minnesota River. Take a look at the fine work by reporter Tim Krohn. It is called “From Amber Waves to Muddy Waters.”

Anti-carp precautions urged
A combination sound/bubble or electric barrier would be installed at the Ford dam in the Twin Cities as part of a suite of options endorsed to limit the spread of Asian carp and other invasive creatures into Minnesota rivers and lakes.

In a short meeting at the state Capitol, a panel of state, federal and city officials gave its blessing to an action plan prepared over the past couple of months by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Besides installing the barrier to stop or hamper the invasive fish from moving up the Mississippi River, the plan seeks federal authorization to close locks at the Ford dam or just upstream at Upper St. Anthony Falls if Asian carp are found nearby. There also would be studies on whether to install other barriers, including a permanent one at St. Anthony Falls and a sound/bubble barrier at the mouth of the St. Croix River.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wolves coming off ‘threatened’ list
Minnesota’s gray wolves will be removed from the federal government’s threatened species list and returned to state management in January.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Dec. 21, 2011, that it will publish a final de-listing rule in the Federal Register on Dec. 28. After a 30-day period, the Minnesota DNR will re-assume management of the gray wolf.

As it did after previous de-listing rules in 2007 and 2009, DNR will again manage the state’s wolf population by state statute, rule and provisions of a wolf management plan.

Minnesota has a population of about 3,000 gray wolves, the largest population in the lower 48 states. This is roughly twice the number required in the federal government’s wolf recovery plan.

The state wolf plan is designed to protect wolves and monitor their population while giving owners of livestock and domestic pets more protection from wolf depredation. It splits the state into two management zones with more protective regulations in the northern third, considered the wolf’s core range.

The plan establishes a minimum population of 1,600 wolves to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf in Minnesota.
–DNR News Release

Joe Beattie honored by SWCD group
Hastings High School teacher Joe Beattie received the distinguished Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award from the Soil and Water Conservation District state convention for incorporating soil and water conservation education programs into his classes. Beattie teaches 11th- and 12th-grade biology courses at Hastings High School.

“Joe has students learn by being outdoors rather than just in the classroom,” said Laura Jester, Watershed Conservationist with the SWCD. “He constantly has his students performing actual restoration, identification and collection activities of our natural environment. These valuable real-world activities are helping shape and develop future conservationist and environmental leaders.”
–The Hastings Star Gazette

Zebra mussels spreading in L. Minnetonka
Minnehaha Creek Watershed District researchers have found that zebra mussels have become more prominent on the east side of Lake Minnetonka and are spreading to western areas of the lake. These findings, based on data collected from June through September 2011, complete the first year of a three-year study to monitor and measure zebra mussels’ spread throughout the lake.

“The expansion and increased density of zebra mussels are concerning,” said MCWD Water Quality Technician Kelly Dooley. “In just a year, this invasive species has spread to nearly all of Lake Minnetonka’s eastern bays and is moving west. We have been working closely with the DNR and our community partners in efforts to prevent their spread. But we need the public’s continued help to prevent the spread of zebra mussels so we can save Minnesota lakes – one of the state’s most valuable assets.”

Once established, zebra mussels spread rapidly, litter beaches with their sharp shells, damage boats and equipment, and alter the food chain of local lakes, rivers and streams.
The three-year study being conducted by the MCWD, with support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Blue Water Science, began after zebra mussels were first detected in Wayzata Bay in 2010. Early in 2011, the MCWD placed two monitoring devices at each of 32 sites from Grays Bay to Halsted Bay to measure the spread of this invasive species. The findings will help create a more accurate map of where the invasive species are located in the lake.

Learn more at the MCWD web site.
–Minnehaha Creek Watershed District news release

LCCMR director Susan Thornton fired
The head of a Minnesota state office that helps direct how lottery proceeds are spent for special environmental and natural resources projects was fired,  prompting questions about the legality of the firing and accusations that House Republicans orchestrated it for political purposes.

Susan Thornton, director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources since 2008, was called into House Speaker Kurt Zellers’ office and told she was being terminated Jan. 2 so the commission could go in a different direction, according to several commission members and DFL legislators.

Neither Thornton nor Zellers could be reached for comment.

The commissioners and some DFL legislators said they were shocked to hear of the firing. They said the commission, which hired Thornton, had expressed no concerns about her work performance and retains authority over that position.

“If the commission is the only entity that can hire her, it’s the only entity that can fire her,” said Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, a legislative member of the commission.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Bioluminescencent bacteria measure pollution

Read a fascinating New York Times article on marine biologist Edith Widder’s use of glow-in-the-dark bacteria to measure pollution in river sediment.


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