Report cards on Legacy spending

Report issued on Clean Water Fund spending
A number of Minnesota state agencies that receive Clean Water Fund appropriations have released a new report tracking how the money was spent in 2010 and 2011.

A news release from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which led the inter-agency review, says the report found:

  •  For every state dollar invested in implementation activities such as improvements to municipal sewage plants and buffers to control agricultural runoff, an additional $1.45 was leveraged through local and federal partnerships.
  •  Although the pace of activities to restore polluted lakes and streams is being accelerated by Clean Water Funds, requests for clean-up funds are about three times greater than what is available.
  •  Drinking water protection efforts are on track, but there is a growing concern about nitrate levels in new wells and in certain vulnerable aquifers.

Read the full 48-page report. Read a shorter report-card-type summary. Read a Star Tribune article, based on a Conservation Minnesota analysis of spending from the 2008 Legacy Amendment, that suggests some spending violated a constitutional requirement that Legacy spending supplement, not substitute for, traditional spending. Read a MinnPost account of the same analysis.

Low-level contamination found in groundwater
A new study finds Minnesota groundwater is contaminated with low levels of chemicals, but the chemicals are not as widespread in groundwater as they are in lakes and streams.

This is the first study to examine groundwater across the state for “chemicals of emerging concern.” Researchers tested 40 shallow wells around the state for 92 contaminants. They found 20 different contaminants. One or more chemicals were found in about one-third of the sampled wells.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency scientist Sharon Kroening said the chemicals come from products like plastics, medications, detergents, insect repellents and fire retardants.

“The ones that we found most commonly in this round of sampling was a fire retardant, tris dichloroisopropyl phosphate, an antibiotic, sulfamethoxazole, and two plasticizers, one that’s pretty well known called bisphenol A, and another one called tributyl phosphate,” Kroening said.

The most chemicals were found at wells near landfills. Researchers also found a higher incidence of chemicals in wells near residential areas with septic systems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Research: Driveway sealants a big air pollution source
 Coal-tar-based sealants are emitting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the air at rates that may be greater than annual emissions from vehicles in the United States, according to new reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in the scientific journals Chemosphere and Atmospheric Environment.

Children living near coal-tar-sealed pavement are exposed to twice as many PAHs from ingestion of contaminated house dust than from food, according to a separate new study by Baylor University and the USGS, published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Several PAHs are probable human carcinogens and many are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. These results and those of previous research on environmental contamination and coal-tar-based pavement sealants are summarized in a feature article appearing today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The article is jointly authored by researchers with the USGS, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, University of New Hampshire, City of Austin Texas, and Baylor University.

Links to the four new articles on this topic can be found on the USGS website on PAHs and sealcoat. Coal-tar-based sealant is the black liquid sprayed or painted on many parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds. An estimated 85 million gallons are used each year, primarily in the central and eastern U.S.

Coal tar is known to cause cancer in humans and is made up of more than 50 percent PAHs. “The value of this research is that it identifies the pathways by which PAHs move from pavements to people and measures the contribution in relation to other sources,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “The most striking finding is that pavement sealcoat contaminates virtually every part of our every-day surroundings, including our air and our homes.
–USGS News Release

EPA demands more study of PolyMet mine
A long-awaited mining project that promises economic renewal for Minnesota’s Iron Range has been delayed repeatedly in the past year because federal regulators are insisting the company conduct more rigorous research to predict its environmental ramifications on the wildest and most scenic corner of the state.

In the latest delay, PolyMet Mining Corp. said its two-year-old environmental review will not be made public until next fall. That means the copper-nickel mine, first proposed in 2006, would not begin construction until 2014 at the earliest if the project is approved.

The new delay is related to questions the Environmental Protection Agency raised Sept. 1 about the validity of the company’s computer model because it did not include sufficient data from the mine site.

“Any modeling…using this inadequate number of samples would have results that are not scientifically defensible,” the EPA said in a letter to the state and federal officials who are overseeing the environmental review. PolyMet says it has since reached agreement with the EPA on the computer model and is gathering the data the agency requested.
–The Star Tribune

Liquid lake found through 2 miles of ice 
In the coldest spot on the earth’s coldest continent, Russian scientists have reached a freshwater lake the size of Lake Ontario after spending a decade drilling through more than two miles of solid ice, the scientists said.

A statement by the chief of the Vostok Research Station, A. M. Yelagin, released by the director of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, said the drill made contact with the lake water at a depth of 12,366 feet.

As planned, lake water under pressure rushed up the bore hole 100 to 130 feet pushing drilling fluid up and away from the pristine water, Mr. Yelagin said, and forming a frozen plug that will prevent contamination. Next Antarctic season, the scientists will return to take samples of the water.

Lake Vostok, named after the Russian research station above it, is the largest of more than 280 lakes under the miles-thick ice that covers most of the Antarctic continent, and the first one to have a drill bit break through to liquid water from the ice that has kept it sealed off from light and air for somewhere between 15 million and 34 million years.
–The New York Times

What would it take? 
Momentum, the magazine of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, offers 15 intriguing short interviews from national and international thought leaders on what it might take for the world’s people to solve some vexing environmental problems.

Some examples:

  • Alexandra Cousteau on creating sustainable ocean fisheries.
  • Climate strategist Robert Socolow on reining in greenhouse gas emissions and solving climate change.
  • Comedian Brian Malow on scientists becoming better communicators.
  • Ecologist Gretchen Daily on protecting nature AND meeting human needs.

Comment sought on Le Sueur biofuels project 
 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is inviting comment on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet prepared for Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s proposed biofuels plant in the city of Le Sueur, which is about 40 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.

The plant, called Hometown BioEnergy, would convert 45,000 tons a year of agricultural and food-processing waste, such as corn silage, into three products: methane biogas that would be burned to create electricity; liquid fertilizer that would be applied to nearby cropland; and a residual solid material that would be converted into burnable pellets.

The plant would generate eight megawatts of electricity and deliver it directly to the city of Le Sueur, population 4,000. The plant’s total building area would be 25,500 square feet on a site 35 acres in size. The site is a depleted gravel pit on the south side of Le Sueur surrounded by cropland, an airport, and an operating gravel mine.

On March 20, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., the MPCA will also host a public informational meeting on the permit for the project at the Park Elementary School auditorium in Le Sueur.

Comments on the permit will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on March 27. The MPCA web site  has a copy of the Hometown BioEnergy EAW.
–MPCA News Release

Media miss UN report on sustainability
As the world’s media focused on the deepening crisis over Syria, it missed a less pressing story with profound long-term implications. The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, released a sobering assessment for the world’s seven billion inhabitants. The document — Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing — offers humanity a stark choice: modify our patterns of production and consumption, or risk crashing through the “planetary boundaries” of growth and social progress.

It’s easy to mock UN reports, particularly from “high-level” panels. (Does the UN have any other kind?) But this document is an eye-opener—and offers some crucial recommendations for the Rio+20 mega conference in June.

First, it highlights just how far the world is from realizing the vision of “sustainable development.” That paradigm, introduced by the Bruntland Commission in its 1987 report, Our Common Future, is deceptively simple. Sustainable development is not a synonym for “environmental protection,” as Resilient People underlines. It’s about ensuring that today’s actions, particularly in the economic sphere, advance growth and social welfare but don’t undermine critical ecosystem services.
–The Internationalist, a blog from the Council on Foreign Relations

Texas acts to protect Ogallala aquifer 
A group of farmers in northwest Texas began 2012 under circumstances their forbearers could scarcely imagine: they faced a limit on the amount of groundwater they could pump from their own wells on their own property.

The new rule issued by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, based in Lubbock, declares that water pumped in excess of the “allowable production rate” is illegal.

In Texas, a bastion of the free-market Tea Party, such a rule is hard to fathom. Most of the state abides by the “rule of capture,” which basically allows farmers to pump as much water as they want from beneath their own land. But irrigators in northwest Texas rely on the Ogallala aquifer, an underground water reserve that is all-too-rapidly disappearing. If the region is to have any future at all, water users must find a way to curb the pumping.

The Ogallala is one of the nation’s largest and most productive underground water sources. It makes up more than three-quarters of the High Plains aquifer, which spans 175,000 square miles and underlies parts of eight U.S. states — Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Water drawn from it irrigates 15.4 million acres of cropland, 27 percent of the nation’s total irrigated area.
–The National Geographic

Draft ‘fracking’ rule requires disclosure 
Natural gas drillers would be required to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on public lands, according to draft rules created by the Department of Interior.

The proposed regulations would also force companies to report the amount of any given chemical injected during the fracking process. The move for increased regulation comes after President Barack Obama touted his commitment to expanding natural gas production while ensuring the drilling is done responsibly.

“My administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” he said during his State of the Union address.

Fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of undisclosed chemicals into rocks containing oil or natural gas, has drawn increasing scrutiny from environmentalists who suggest the process contaminates groundwater and destroys ecosystems. Under the proposed regulations, companies would be required to reveal the “complete chemical makeup of all materials used,” according to a copy of the rules obtained by The Huffington Post.
–The Huffington Post

Canon River speaker series set
Looking for something to do to liven up your Monday nights this February?  The Cannon River Watershet Partnership CRWP and St. Olaf College invite you to take part in a speaker series on the topic of Alternative Agriculture.  How has agriculture changed in the last 50 years? How can we take advantage of the marginal lands?  What “third crops” are out there that could enhance the typical corn/soybean rotation?  How can farmers earn a living while protecting our waters?  Each speaker will discuss his or her  work, then take questions from the audience.  The event is FREE and open to the public.

Location:  St. Olaf College, Regents Hall, Room 150, Northfield, MN. Time:  7 to 8:30 p.m.

Speakers include:

Feb. 20 – Linda Meschke – President of Rural Advantage. She will review the idea of “third crops” and the concept of alternative income beyond corn and soybeans.

Feb. 27 -  Paula Westmoreland – President of Ecological Gardens and author of the book This Perennial Land.  She will discuss her book and GIS maps about farming the margins.

Ohio withdraws tougher stream rules
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency withdrew proposed regulations meant to strengthen protections for streams after business groups complained that they might cost too much.

The package of regulations included a system to grade the ecological value of thousands of small, mostly unnamed “headwater” streams in Ohio. Conservationists say those streams frequently are filled in or polluted by strip mines, roads and housing subdivisions.

Under the new system, the higher the value of a stream, the more work a developer would have had to do to avoid or repair damage. First proposed in 2006, these standards and other enhanced protections of streams and wetlands never got past the proposal stage. They were instead mired in opposition from business, manufacturing and homebuilder groups.
–The Columbus Dispatch

Grand Canyon park bans plastic bottles
In a plan just approved by John Wessels, National Park Service Intermountain Regional director, Grand Canyon National Park will end the sale of water sold in disposable bottles within 30 days. The park has free water stations available where visitors can fill reusable water containers. The ban on less-than-one-gallon bottles and different kinds of boxes is hoped to eliminate the source of 20 percent of the park’s “waste stream” and 30 percent of its recyclables.

The action came after Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis recently decided to ban the bottles. At first, Director Jarvis was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility had claimed that Director Jarvis put the ban on hold after Coca Cola officials raised concerns with the National Park Foundation, which in turn contacted the director and his staff. Grand Canyon National Park’s plan to eliminate the bottles was submitted and approved under the policy issued by Director Jarvis on December 14, 2011.
–National Parks Traveler

$37 million available for Mississippi Basin projects
  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced that proposals for conservation projects addressing water quality and wetland conservation in the Mississippi River Basin are due to NRCS by March 19, 2012.

Accepted projects would support conservation efforts already underway on agricultural operations in the basin, improve the overall health of the Mississippi River and help reduce hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for conservation-minded farmers to do even more to protect and improve one of America’s most valuable resources,” White said.

Through this request for proposals, NRCS is providing up to $37 million in new financial assistance through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) for projects in 54 priority watersheds in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
–USDA News Release

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