Archive for the ‘energy’ Category

Report: World’s rivers in crisis

October 4, 2010

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.

Report: Water supply in doubt for 80% of world
The world’s rivers, the single largest renewable water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a crisis of ominous proportions, according to a new global analysis.

 The report, published in the journal Nature, is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of such things as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world’s rivers.

The resulting portrait of the global riverine environment, according to the scientists who conducted the analysis, is grim. It reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world’s human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.
–U.S. News & World Report

 Clean Water Council proposes $173 million for water
The Clean Water Council, which advises the Minnesota governor and Legislature on water policy, is seeking public comment on draft recommendations for spending $173 million over the next two years. That is up $21 million from the current budget cycle.

The recommendations propose broad categories of spending for the Clean Water Fund money the state will receive from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008. 

Under the recommendations: 

  • Thirty-nine percent of the money would be spend on protecting surface waters from diffuse pollution that comes from many sources and on restoring waters already damaged by that kind of pollution.
  •  Twenty percent would be spent on protecting and restoring waters damaged, or in danger of damage, from large single-source polluters, such as sewage treatment plants, industries and large feedlots.
  • Thirteen percent would be spent protecting and restoring watersheds, the land areas drained by surface waters.
  • Twelve percent would be spent on testing lakes and streams for pollution.
  • Eight percent each for drinking water protection and water research.

 The Clean Water Council comment period ends Oct. 14. To comment, contact Celine Lyman at celine.lyman@state.mn.us.

 It’s not just the economy, stupid.
Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press recently provided significant looks at Minnesota’s three major candidates for governor and their positions on major environmental issues. The issues include: alternative energy and nuclear power, sulfide mining in northeastern Minnesota and agricultural pollution. To check out MPR reporter Stephanie Hemphill’s interviews, click here. To read Pioneer Press reporter Dennis Lien’s report, click here. 

EPA says Illinois soft on factory farms
Illinois is failing to crack down on water pollution from large confined-animal farms, the Obama administration announced in a stinging rebuke that gave the state a month to figure out how to fix its troubled permitting and enforcement programs. 

Responding to a petition from environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said its nearly yearlong investigation found widespread problems with the Illinois EPA’s oversight of confined-animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Many of the cattle, hog and chicken operations produce manure in amounts comparable to the waste generated by small towns. 

Federal investigators accused Illinois of failing to lock many farms into permits that limit water pollution. The state also has been slow to respond to citizen complaints or take formal enforcement action against big feedlots and dairies that violate federal and state environmental laws, the U.S. EPA said. 

As large “factory farms” have spread across the nation, they have prompted scores of complaints about manure odors and raised concerns about massive waste lagoons contaminating groundwater. The U.S. EPA’s 41-page report reflects President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to get tough with confined-animal operations, which steadily have replaced smaller family farms.
–ChicagoBreakingNews.com 

Fairmont ethanol plant to pay $285,000 penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Buffalo Lake Energy LLC has agreed to pay a $285,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s state-issued environmental permits at its ethanol production facility in Fairmont. 

The agreement covers violations that occurred since the facility began production in June 2008.  On numerous occasions the company’s operations violated the conditions of both its air quality and water quality permits. 

The most significant source of the water quality violations was that the company built and operated a different wastewater treatment system than was permitted by the MPCA.  The system did not perform adequately to ensure that pollutants discharged from the facility met the permit’s effluent limits.  The facility discharged wastewater to Center Creek which violated its permitted limits for toxicity, a measure of potential harm to aquatic organisms.
–MPCA News Release 

EPA agrees to 30-delay in Florida rules
Federal environmental regulators have agreed to a one-month delay before forcing Florida to adopt controversial water pollution standards that critics contend could cost the state billions. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection had planned to impose the rules on Oct. 15, but agreed to push them back to review a gush of public comments, said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. 

Nelson had written EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging a postponement. 

In a news release, he said he supported tougher standards but was concerned by the potential costs and validity of the science. 

The proposed rules, which would place strict numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida lakes, rivers and streams, have been opposed by a coalition of water management agencies, utilities, industry, business and farming groups.
–The Miami Herald 

Toxic runoff found near BWCA
Pollution problems near the Boundary Waters are raising concerns about future Minnesota mining projects.

 Environmental groups have found high concentrations of metals leaching into streams and wetlands from two long-closed sources: one old test mine and one abandoned mine. The pollution runs off waste rock excavated decades ago and piled at the sites.

Alerted by a resident near Ely, Friends of the Boundary Waters collected samples of the seeping water at one of the sites this summer. 

An independent lab analysis confirmed that it contained arsenic, copper, nickel and iron at concentrations hundreds of times higher than state water quality standards allow for chronic exposure.
–The Star Tribune

MPG of U.S. cars barely budges in 25 years
As the U.S. seeks to reduce oil consumption, not all the news is bad: For years, automakers have been selling Americans cars with ever more efficient engines. In fact, a car purchased today is able to extract nearly twice as much power from a gallon of gas as its counterpart did 25 years ago.

The trouble is that over the same period, cars have become bigger and more powerful. As a result, the average mileage of the cars and light trucks on the road in the United States has barely budged since 1985.

“Automakers have been improving efficiency for years,” said John DeCicco, a University of Michigan senior lecturer who studies the issue. “But those gains haven’t gone into fuel economy. They’ve gone into giving consumers cars with greater size and muscle.”
–The Washington Post

China plans $62 billion water project
It might be the most ambitious construction project in China since the Great Wall.

The Chinese government is planning to reroute the nation’s water supply, bringing water from the flood plains of the south and the snowcapped mountains of the west to the parched capital of Beijing. First envisioned by Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s and now coming to fruition, the South-North Water Diversion — as it is inelegantly known in English — has a price tag of more than $62 billion, twice as expensive as the famous Three Gorges Dam. It is expected to take decades to complete.

“This is on a par with the Great Wall, a project essential for the survival of China,” said Wang Shushan, who heads the project in Henan province, where much of the construction is now taking place. “It is a must-do project. We can’t afford to wait.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 New York plans novel sewer improvement
New York City wants to catch and store rainwater temporarily in new roof systems to stop heavy storms sending sewage spilling into city waterways. 

The catchment systems would consist of “blue” roofs that have a series of drainage pools and “green” or grass- or ivy-covered roofs, under a plan unveiled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Bloomberg estimates the city could save $2.4 billion over 20 years if the state allows it to use this kind of green technology instead of relying on so-called grey infrastructure, such as storage tanks and tunnels.
–Reuters 

Day of reckoning coming for Colorado River
A once-unthinkable day is looming on the Colorado River.

 Barring a sudden end to the Southwest’s 11-year drought, the distribution of the river’s dwindling bounty is likely to be reordered as early as next year because the flow of water cannot keep pace with the region’s demands.

 For the first time, federal estimates issued in August indicate that Lake Mead, the heart of the lower Colorado basin’s water system — irrigating lettuce, onions and wheat in reclaimed corners of the Sonoran Desert, and lawns and golf courses from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — could drop below a crucial demarcation line of 1,075 feet.

 If it does, that will set in motion a temporary distribution plan approved in 2007 by the seven states with claims to the river and by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada would be reduced.
–The New York Times

MPCA seeks comments on Medicine Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Medicine Lake in the city of Plymouth. The MPCA has identified the lake as an impaired water body because it contains excess phosphorus, a nutrient that contributes to algae overgrowth and disruption of swimming, fishing and other forms of recreation.  Comments on the report are being accepted through Nov. 3, 2010.

 The MPCA found that about half of phosphorus pollution in Medicine Lake comes from stormwater. Phosphorus levels in stormwater rise when leaves, grass clippings and fertilizers are allowed to wash into storm sewers. In developed areas such as the land surrounding Medicine Lake, water flowing off paved surfaces diverts phosphorus-containing organic material directly into streams and lakes.

 The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, quantifies pollutant levels, identifies sources of pollution and proposes ways to bring water quality back to an acceptable level. The draft Medicine Lake TMDL report may be viewed on the MPCA web site. For more information or to submit comments, contact Brooke Asleson at Brooke.Asleson@state.mn.us or 651-757-2205.  Written questions and comments can be sent to Asleson at MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd., St. Paul, MN 55155.
–MPCA News Release

San Diego sues neighbor over groundwater
San Diego city officials are challenging plans by the neighboring Sweetwater Authority to tap more groundwater over fears the project will deplete and degrade an important regional aquifer.

 The city has sued the Chula Vista-based water agency in Superior Court over access to groundwater — an increasingly valuable resource amid declining imports from Northern California and the Colorado River.

The two sides have been in “active settlement negotiations” for several months, said Michelle Ouellette, a partner at Best Best & Krieger, Sweetwater’s law firm. The agency provides water to 186,000 customers in National City, Bonita and Chula Vista.

 Sweetwater declined to file a legal response to the city’s lawsuit and agreed to settlement talks, Ouellette said. She said the California Environmental Quality Act “requires both sides to make good-faith efforts to settle the case.”
–The San Diego Union-Tribune

Don’t miss lecture on pollution-birth defects

September 7, 2010

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.

Register now for lecture on pollution and birth defects
Less than two weeks remain to register to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist.

Guillette’s lecture – at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota – is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.

Guillette, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina, spent 25 years studying sexually stunted alligators living in polluted lakes in Florida.

His lecture, titled “Contaminants, Water and Our Health: New Lessons from Wildlife,” will deal with links between water pollution and birth defects – in animals and in humans. For information, and to register,  go to www.freshwater.org. To read an interview with Guillette, published in the Freshwater Society’s September newsletter, click here.

Asian carp case back in court
The 30-pound silver carp that leapt from the water and knocked a kayaker out of a 340-mile race down the Missouri River is a reminder of what’s at stake when the Asian carp debate returns to court in Chicago.

 Five Great Lakes states are suing the federal government to force closing of Chicago-area shipping locks as a last-ditch effort to keep the invasive species from entering Lake Michigan. But closing locks in the waterway system, even for a short time, could deal a crippling blow to the shipping and boating industries that help drive Illinois’ economy, business leaders say.

 This case “is a tremendous risk for the city of Chicago and the region’s economy, traffic congestion and flood control,” said Jim Farrell, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has fought to keep the locks open. “This irresponsible filing has very serious consequences.” 

The anticipated three-day legal showdown was to begin Sept. 7  in federal court as attorneys from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota try to persuade U.S. District Judge Robert Dow that Asian carp pose such a grave threat to the Great Lakes that nothing short of an emergency shutdown of the system will stop them.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Coon Rapids dam eyed as carp barrier
Can the 97-year-old Coon Rapids dam over the Mississippi River serve as Minnesota’s barrier to the northward migration of unwanted fish, including the notorious Asian carp?

Stanley Consultants, an international firm with an office in Wayzata, has a $164,087 contract with Three Rivers Park District to answer that question by the first of next year.

The west-suburban park district, which owns and operates the dam, will be reimbursed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from a $500,000 fund set up by the Legislature to create a fish barrier on the Mississippi.

 Although the dam at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, the Ford Dam in St. Paul and the Hastings Dam are taller and therefore better blocks to the invasive fish, they all have locks that allow fish to move upstream with boats, said Luke Skinner, DNR supervisor of the state’s invasive species program. “Coon Rapids dam is the first dam on the river that does not have a lock.”
–The Star Tribune

GE exec calls low prices for water ‘wacky’
Why doesn’t water get more attention? 

According to Jeff Fulgham, it’s because it’s available on demand virtually everywhere — from taps to toilets to showers and sinks.

 But as the newly-appointed chief sustainability officer of GE Power and Water — as well as the division’s Ecomagination leader — Fulgham knows better. The reality is that the world is quickly running out of water — and if we don’t do anything about it, what was once ubiquitous will become scarce in some of the world’s most populous areas.
–Smart Planet

 U.S. energy use dipped in 2009
A bright spot in the nation’s flickering economy is that Americans used less energy last year than in 2008, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently published its findings online.

 “Part of the reason is [that] the whole economy shrank,” said A.J. Simon, an energy analyst at Livermore who calculated that overall energy use in the country dropped from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008 to 94.6 quadrillion in 2009. “People are doing less stuff overall, using less oil, saving money.”

 Another reason, Simon added, is that the residential, industrial, commercial and transportation sectors of the economy are using more products that are energy-efficient. 

“People put in [compact fluorescent light bulbs],” Simon said, “and they actually use less electricity, and that change percolates all the way through the energy system.” 

The data also revealed that people are increasingly relying on hydropower, geothermal and wind energy, thereby cutting their use of coal, natural gas and petroleum.
–The Washington Post 

Spotted owls continue to decline
Twenty years after northern spotted owls were protected under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers continue to decline, and scientists aren’t certain whether the birds will survive even though logging was banned on much of the old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest where they live in order to save them. 

The owl remains an iconic symbol in a region where once loggers in steel-spiked, high-topped caulk boots felled 200-year-old or even older trees and loaded them on trucks that compression-braked down twisty mountain roads to mills redolent with the smell of fresh sawdust and smoke from burning timber scraps. 

Regionwide, the owl populations are dropping 2.9 percent a year. In Washington State, they’re declining at 6 percent to 7 percent a year. 

While that may seem like a small number, it adds up, said Eric Forsman, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., who’s studied the owl since 1968. 

The fight over the owl, however, perhaps the fiercest in the history of the Endangered Species Act, was always about more than just protecting a surprisingly friendly, football-sized bird with dark feathers, dark eyes and white spots.
–McLatchy News Service

USGS research focuses on road salt toxicity
The use of salt to deice pavement can leave urban streams toxic to aquatic life, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study on the influence of winter runoff in northern U.S. cities, with a special focus on eastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

More than half of the Milwaukee streams included in this study had samples that were toxic during winter deicing. In eastern and southern Wisconsin, all streams studied had potentially toxic chloride concentrations during winter, with lingering effects into the summer at some streams. Nationally, samples from fifty-five percent of streams studied in 13 northern cities were potentially toxic; twenty-five percent of the streams had samples that exceeded acute water quality criteria. 

Toxicity was measured by direct testing of organisms in samples during the local study component; in the regional and the national study components, observed chloride levels were used to assess potential toxicity.

“We expected to see elevated chloride levels in streams near northern cities during the winter months,” said Steve Corsi of the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center. “The surprise was the number of streams exceeding toxic levels and how high the concentrations were,” said Corsi, who led the study.
–US Geological Survey News Release

First, the good news: Potomac shows improvement
The Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is showing multiple benefits from restoration efforts, newly published research suggests. Reduced nutrients and improved water clarity have increased the abundance and diversity of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Potomac, according to direct measurements taken during the 18-year field study. 

Since 1990, the area covered by SAV in the lower Potomac has doubled, the area covered by native SAV has increased ten-fold, the diversity of plant species has increased, and the proportion of exotic species to native species has declined as nutrients have declined, according to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey and England’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southhampton, UK. 

“Improvements to plant communities living at the bottom of the river have occurred nearly in lock step with decreases in nutrients and sediment in the water and incremental reductions in nitrogen effluent entering the river from the wastewater treatment plant for the Washington DC area,” said USGS scientist Dr. Nancy Rybicki.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Now, the bad news: Coastal ‘dead zones’ increase
A report issued by key environmental and scientific federal agencies assesses the increasing prevalence of low-oxygen “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters and outlines a series of research and policy steps that could help reverse the decades-long trend. The interagency report notes that incidents of hypoxia—a condition in which oxygen levels drop so low that fish and other animals are stressed or killed—have increased nearly 30-fold since 1960, when data started to be collected.

 The report was compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and had significant inputs from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It provides a comprehensive list of the more than 300 U.S. coastal water bodies affected by hypoxia and, in eight case studies, highlights a range of representative ecosystems affected by hypoxia.

 The full release and report can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/nstc/oceans.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Big banks grow leery of environmental risks
Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists’ biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.

 For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

 In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”
–The New York Times

 EPA declines to ban lead bullets
The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a request that it ban lead bullets, saying it does not have the legal authority to do so. The American Bird Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned for the ban. The Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the petition was made, exempts ammunition from its controls. The agency will, however, seek comment on the merit of a ban on lead fishing sinkers. Adam Keats, a senior counsel for the center, said in a news release that “the E.P.A. has the clear authority and duty to regulate this very harmful and toxic substance as used in bullets and shot, despite the so-called exemption for lead ammunition.”
–The New York Times

 San Francisco proposes effluent re-use
It doesn’t sound like a radical idea: Watering Golden Gate Park’s meadows and bowers with treated wastewater.

But for a city that for 75 years has relied on a pristine water supply from the Sierra Nevada, it is. 

San Francisco’s water utility will unveil a proposal for the city’s first large-scale water recycling project, an arc-shaped facility near Ocean Beach that would filter and disinfect 2 million gallons of sewer and storm water each day for use on 1,000 acres of San Francisco land. 

The $152 million Westside Recycled Water Project would be used to water Golden Gate Park, the Presidio Golf Course and Lincoln Park.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

MPCA seeks comment on Como Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for Como Lake in St. Paul. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load study, focuses on pollution caused by excess nutrients. A public comment period began Aug. 30 and continues through Sept. 29. 

The Como Lake watershed is located in the north-central portion of the Capitol Region Watershed District and is within the Upper Mississippi Watershed. The 69-acre lake is a popular recreational water body used for fishing, boating and aesthetic viewing. 

The lake was placed on the state’s impaired waters list because of excess nutrient levels, particularly phosphorus. While phosphorus is an essential nutrient for algae and plants, it is considered a pollutant when it stimulates excessive growth of algae or aquatic plants. 

The TMDL study indicated that the overall phosphorus load to Como Lake will need to be reduced by 60 percent in order to meet water quality standards. 

After receiving public comments, the MPCA will revise the draft Como Lake TMDL report and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. Following approval, a plan will be developed to reduce phosphorus pollution in the lake. 

The Como Lake TMDL draft report is available on the Web at, or at the MPCA St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road North. Comments may be submitted to Brooke Asleson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Asleson at 651-757-2205.
–MPCA News Release

Abandoned turtles threaten LA waters
When a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department task force followed a tip about illegal fireworks in San Pedro on the fourth of July, a stash of 10,000 live baby turtles was the last thing they expected to find.

 “There were about 500 turtles in each box – and they literally exploded out of the boxes,” said Linda Crawford, the adoption chairwoman of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s Foothill chapter.

 Along with other members, Crawford took in thousands of the “filthy” and sick animals – red-eared slider turtles reportedly smuggled cross-country from their native Louisiana. Despite antibiotics, more than half died. The rest were adopted out, Crawford said.

In an effort to quell the spread of salmonella to children, federal law has prohibited the sale of any turtle under four inches since 1975. But authorities say that hasn’t slowed black-market sales of the ever-popular red-eared sliders.
–The Pasadena Star-News

Declining aquifers, superfund sites and dust storms

April 27, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

Superfund program chronically underfunded
The Superfund program to clean up the nation’s most contaminated industrial sites was established nearly 30 years ago on the principle that those responsible for toxic pollution should pay for it.

So why is the government spending $600 million in stimulus money to work on sites like the defunct arsenic-fouled Vineland Chemical Company plant here in South Jersey?
–The New York Times

Wisconsin plans tough rules on invasives
Wisconsin officials advanced a major package of regulations designed to control the movement of invasive plants, fish and animals.

The Natural Resources Board voted, 7-0, on rules designed to fight non-native invaders that pose environmental and economic peril.

After the vote, the Department of Natural Resources said the measure – five years in the making – represents the first time a state has developed a comprehensive rule to fight the spread of invasive species.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Democrats debate softer climate rule
House Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are negotiating among themselves on whether to scale back legislation that would impose a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases, with some conservatives and moderates calling for electric utilities to be given free pollution allowances and for more modest cuts in the targets for reducing emissions.
–The Washington Post

Dust storms increase in the West
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains at 9,300 feet, and surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks, Silverton, Colo., seems an unlikely place for a dust storm, especially with two feet of snow on the ground. So Chris Landry was alarmed on the afternoon of April 3 when he spotted a brown haze on the horizon; an hour later, a howling wind had engulfed the town in a full-fledged dust storm, turning everything from the sky to the snow a rusty red.

“It was almost surreal,” recalled Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. The landscape looked like Mars after the storm passed, he said: “You could feel the dust, you could taste the dust.”
–The Washington Post

Louisiana aquifer steadily declining
Some areas in north Louisiana have lost one-third of their drinking water supplied exclusively by the Sparta aquifer.

For nearly 50 years, water levels in the Sparta aquifer have been declining by about two feet per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sixteen parishes in north Louisiana depend either entirely or partially on the Sparta aquifer for their potable water, but the groundwater source is being used faster than it can be replenished.
–Shreveport Times

Energy tax credit gives billions to paper companies
Paper companies in Minnesota and across the nation have figured out how to make billions off of an alternative energy tax credit that Congress devised two years ago. Their answer: burn diesel.

This rather paradoxical twist has already ignited a debate between the paper industry and environmental groups and lawmakers on both sides of the argument in what some industry watchers and analysts are claiming is a presage of fights to come as Congress tries to detail new climate and energy legislation this session.
–Minnpost.com

Research questions sustainability of Colorado River uses
The Colorado River is a critical source of water for seven Western states, each of which gets an annual allotment according to a system that has sparked conflict and controversy for decades. But in an era of climate change, even greater difficulties loom.

The scope of those potential problems is detailed in a study being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Tim P. Barnett and David W. Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography report that under various forecasts of the effects of warming temperatures on runoff into the Colorado, scheduled future water deliveries to the seven states are not sustainable.
–The New York Times

Gas drillers must account for water use, court rules
Energy companies drilling natural gas from underground coal seams must obtain water well permits or replace the water they use if other water supplies are affected, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.

Groundwater pumped out during coal-bed methane drilling is not just a waste product, the court said, ruling on a lawsuit by landowners who say their water supplies are threatened by companies using groundwater to free natural gas in coal seams.
–The Associated Press

Illinois investigation of tainted water begun
Gov. Pat Quinn is demanding answers from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about why residents of south suburban Crestwood weren’t notified that the village had pumped drinking water contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals for more than two decades.

In response to a Tribune investigation that revealed the village’s secret use of a polluted well, Quinn directed his senior staff to conduct a thorough review of the EPA’s actions in Crestwood. Among other things, the governor wants to know why the agency didn’t invoke a 2005 law requiring the state to issue a notification when residents could be exposed to soil or groundwater pollution.
–The Chicago Tribune

California begins $4 million conservation effort
Californians should take shorter showers, wash only full loads of laundry and use a broom instead of a hose to clean their driveways.

Those are some of the steps the state is promoting as part of a $4 million statewide public education campaign.
–The Associated Press

EPA to stiffen reporting requirements
The federal government will once again require companies to fully disclose the toxic chemicals they release into the air, onto land and into water.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it was reversing a decision by the Bush administration in 2006 that reduced reporting of toxic pollution for more than 3,500 facilities nationwide.
–The Associated Press

Pollution concerns, frog calls and smuggled dish soap

March 30, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

Drinking water pollution tops concerns, poll shows
Pollution of drinking water is Americans’ No. 1 environmental concern, with 59% saying they worry “a great deal” about the issue, according to a new Gallup Poll.

All eight environmental issues tested in the 2009 Gallup Environment survey, conducted March 5-8, appear to be important to Americans, evidenced by the finding that a majority of Americans say they worry at least a fair amount about each one. However, on the basis of substantial concern — that is, the percentage worrying “a great deal” about each — there are important distinctions among them.

Four water-related issues on the poll fill the top spots in this year’s ranking. In addition to worrying about pollution of drinking water, roughly half of Americans also express a high degree of worry about pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs (52% worry a great deal about this), and water and soil contamination from toxic waste (52%). About half worry about the maintenance of the nation’s supply of fresh water for household needs (49%).
–The Gallup Poll

EPA finding pushes Obama on climate change
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new leadership, in a step toward confronting global warming, submitted a finding that will force the White House to decide whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the nearly 40-year-old Clean Air Act.

Under that law, EPA’s conclusion — that such emissions are pollutants that endanger the public’s health and welfare — could trigger a broad regulatory process affecting much of the U.S. economy as well as the nation’s future environmental trajectory. The agency’s finding, which was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget without fanfare, also reversed one of the Bush administration’s landmark decisions on climate change, and it indicated anew that President Obama’s appointees will push to address the issue of warming despite the potential political costs.
–The Washington Post

Human drugs found in fish near treatment plants
Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving five major U.S. cities had residues of pharmaceuticals in them, including medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression, researchers reported.

Findings from this first nationwide study of human drugs in fish tissue have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly expand similar ongoing research to more than 150 different locations.
–The Associated Press

Listen for some croaks, help with some research
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Wildlife Program is recruiting volunteers to participate in its ongoing statewide frog and toad calling survey.

Since 1996, volunteers have collected data by listening to and identifying frog and toad species on specified 10-stop routes. The results provide information on where species are located and how their populations change in abundance and distribution.

For information, click here. Want to listen to a frog? Click here.
Minnesota DNR

Spokane phosphate ban sparks dishwasher revolt
The quest for squeaky-clean dishes has turned some law-abiding people in Spokane into dishwater-detergent smugglers.

They are bringing Cascade or Electrasol in from out of state because the eco-friendly varieties required under Washington state law don’t work as well.
–The Associated Press

Water issues now part of power-generating calculus
Last month, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a utility that provides power to mostly rural areas, agreed to conduct a major study to see if it might meet growing energy needs through energy efficiency and not a big, new coal-fired power plant, as it had proposed for southeast Colorado.

One reason for the move was a challenge by Environment Colorado, an advocacy organization, about the amount of water a new plant would require.
–The Wall Street Journal

Firm plans trash-to-diesel plant in Rosemount
Plans for a plant outside Rosemount that would turn trash into diesel fuel are moving along, despite early concerns from nearby cities.

The Empire Township Board approved a zoning change and comprehensive plan amendment Tuesday that will allow Rational Energies LLC to build a 200,000 square-foot biomass gasification facility on about 50 acres at the intersection of Hwy. 52 and County Road 46.
–Star Tribune

Great Lakes ice cover diminishing over time
Ice cover on the Great Lakes has declined more than 30 percent since the 1970s, leaving the world’s largest system of freshwater lakes open to evaporation and lower water levels, according to scientists associated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They’re concerned about how the milder winter freeze may affect the environment. But they’re also trying to come to terms with a contradiction: The same climate factors that might keep lake ice from freezing might make freezing more likely if lake levels drop due to evaporation.
–The Associated Press

Big wilderness bill passes Congress
Congress set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness — from California’s Sierra Nevada mountains to the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

The legislation is on its way to President Barack Obama for his likely signature.

The House approved the bill, 285-140, the final step in a long legislative road that began last year.
–The Associated Press

EPA reverses stand on mountaintop mining
In a sharp reversal of Bush administration policies, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said the agency planned an aggressive review of permit requests for mountaintop coal mining, citing serious concerns about potential harm to water quality.

The administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said her agency had sent two letters to the Army Corps of Engineers in which it expressed concern about two proposed mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky involving mountaintop removal, a form of strip mining that blasts the tops off mountains and dumps leftover rock in valleys, burying streams.
–The New York Times

Ethanol industry faces scrutiny on feed byproduct
The ethanol industry must be wondering where the bottom is. Profits are slim or non-existent and about 20 percent of all U.S. plants are shut down. In addition, ethanol’s main by-product, which is sold as livestock feed, has raised potential food safety concerns. Several studies have linked the by-product known as distillers grain to elevated rates of E. coli in cattle. And now, distillers grain is facing further scrutiny because the Food and Drug Administration has found that it often contains antibiotics leftover from making ethanol.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Water a new cash crop for California farmers
As Don Bransford prepares for his spring planting season, he is debating which is worth more: the rice he grows on his 700-acre farm north of Sacramento, or the water he uses to cultivate it.

After three years of drought in California, water is now a potential cash crop. Last fall, the state activated its Drought Water Bank program for the first time since 1994. Under the program, farmers can choose to sell some of the water they would usually use to grow their crops to parched cities, counties and agriculture districts.
–The Wall Street Journal

Las Vegas water pipeline opposed
A coalition of ranchers, farmers and conservationists is turning up the volume on efforts to block a plan to pipe billions of gallons of groundwater a year from the northeast part of Nevada to Las Vegas.

A coalition lawyer says State Engineer Tracy Taylor relied on bad data and flawed reasoning in deciding last July to let the Southern Nevada Water Authority pump some 6.1 billion gallons of water a year from the rural Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
–The Associated Press

Snail evolves larger shells to fight invasive crab
With all the recent changes in the oceans, like dying coral reefs and collapsing commercial fisheries, it’s easy to forget that most changes occur over the longer term. Sometimes the incremental changes are so slight that they aren’t noticeable for decades.

A case in point is described in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Jonathan A. D. Fisher of Queen’s University in Ontario, Peter S. Petraitis of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues: They report on a large size increase in the shells of a well-studied intertidal snail, the Atlantic dogwinkle (Nucella lapillus), around Mount Desert Island in Maine over the last century.
–The New York Times

USDA gardening zones to reflect climate change
As winter retreats northward across the nation, gardeners are cleaning tools and turning attention to spring planting. But climate change is adding a new wrinkle, and now a standard reference – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map – is about to make very clear how much rising temperatures have shifted planting zones northward.

The guide, last updated in 1990, shows where various species can be expected to thrive.  A revision is expected sometime this year, and while the agency hasn’t released details, horticulturalists and experts who have helped with the revision expect the new map to extend plants’ northern ranges and paint a sharp picture of the continent’s gradual warming over the past few decades.
–The Daily Climate

Nestle spring water plan sparks Colorado fight
A plan to suck, truck and bottle Arkansas Valley spring water has residents here crusading against the world’s largest food and beverage company.

“Nestle is seeking to drain the blood of Chaffee County,” said Salida local Daniel Zettler during a fiery public hearing last week.
–The Denver Post

USGS studies endocrine-disruptors in Chesapeake Bay
Fish health and reproductive issues in the Chesapeake Bay drainage may be associated with fish exposure to hormone-mimicking compounds and other chemicals.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have studied yellow perch, a species that has declined in recent years, and found that differences in the egg quality of these fish is occurring in some sites they sampled.  In addition, scientists sampled smallmouth bass and other species from major fish kills in the South Branch of the Potomac and the Shenandoah River. They found the fish were infected with a variety of types of skin lesions and a number of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites.
–U.S. Geological Survey

EPA nominee withdraws, citing investigation
President Obama’s nominee for U.S. EPA’s second highest post abruptly pulled out of the Senate confirmation process because of an investigation into the nonprofit group where he once served on the board of directors.

Jon Cannon, a former top EPA lawyer, withdrew from consideration as deputy administrator after learning America’s Clean Water Foundation “has become the subject of scrutiny.”
–The New York Times

World water supply, invasive weeds and PFCs

March 16, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

UN report: World’s water in peril
Surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, according to a landmark UN report.

Compiled by 24 UN agencies, the 348-page document gave a grim assessment of the state of the planet’s freshwater, especially in developing countries, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying.
–AFP news service

Judge narrows PFC lawsuit against 3M
An enormous lawsuit over water is getting smaller.
In a ruling, a judge limited a lawsuit charging that chemicals manufactured by the 3M Co. polluted water and hurt Washington County homeowners.

Washington County District Judge Mary Hannon ruled the chemicals — PFCs, or perfluorochemicals — found in drinking water cannot legally be considered a “nuisance.” She said the term defines something that impairs the use or enjoyment of someone’s property and that homeowners’ inconveniences, such as having to buy a $30 filtration system, were relatively minor.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin considers state rules on ballast water
Wisconsin is poised to become the next Great Lakes state with its own rules for ballast water in ships, and critics say it could kill the overseas shipping business.

Ballast water is blamed for carrying harmful plants or animals from overseas into the Great Lakes. Minnesota and Michigan recently adopted ballast permit regulations. But some worry that Wisconsin’s new proposal is too tough.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Wisconsin DNR fights manure pollution
Steve Haak and the Sugar River go way back.

Now 46, Haak was only 8 when he caught his first fish from the river where it ran near the family’s farm south of Paoli. He was with his grandfather and caught the 18-inch brown trout on a cane pole.

“From then on, I was pretty much hooked,” said Haak, who now farms just down the road from the farm on which he grew up.
–Wisconsin State Journal

Lake or wetlands: Which will get the mine waste?
Sitting like a turquoise gem in a bowl of hemlock, Sitka spruce and ice, Berners Bay has long been a jewel of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Berners Bay also has become one of the epicenters of a new Alaska gold rush. High in the snowy peaks at the top of the bay, miners struck an estimated 1.4 million ounces of gold — a prize that is looking better every day as investors flee the stock market.
–Los Angeles Times

Invasive weed seeds found in Baltimore harbor
An inspection aboard a Turkish freighter at one of the city’s ports by agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency revealed the presence of cogon grass weed seed, an invasive seed from Asia that quickly spreads and disrupts ecosystems, reduces wildlife habitat and decreases tree seeding growth, said a spokesman for the agency.

Steve Sapp, the spokesman, said the pest-like seed, known as Red Baron grass after the World War I German fighter ace, was found during a routine inspection littered among wood packing in a container of tile from Turkey. Sapp said the seed is considered one of the 10 worst invasive plant species in the world and is listed as a federal noxious weed.
–The Baltimore Sun

Cost, politics complicate water’s future
Anyone who has visited Disneyland recently and taken a sip from a drinking fountain there may have unknowingly sampled a taste of the future — a small quantity of water that once flowed through a sewer.

Orange County Water District officials say that’s a good thing — the result of a successful, year-old project to purify wastewater and pump it into the ground to help restore depleted aquifers that provide most of the local water supply.
–Reuters

Natural resource spending up in Obama budget
After years of flat or declining funding, natural resource agencies expect to see a significant boost in the 2010 budget along with a leftward shift in policies and priorities.

Beyond the increased funds for many Interior Department agencies, the budget proposal as President Obama has outlined thus far focuses on acquiring more public land, addressing climate change issues and raising fees on the oil and gas industry.
–The New York Times

Texas groundwater districts controversial
For Parker County resident Kathy Chruscielski, moving to the
country a decade ago seemed like the best of both worlds. She fell in love with the scenic rolling hills of Remuda Ranch Estates, a few miles west of the Tarrant County line.

“We have these beautiful hills, yet we can be in Fort Worth within a matter of minutes,” Chruscielski said. “It’s like having one foot in the country and one in the city.”

She learned that it has its downside.

In January 2002, Chruscielski was forced to drill a new well after her old one went dry.

“They told us when we bought this place that groundwater levels had remained the same for the last 40 years,” Chruscielski said with a rueful laugh. “Then I learned differently.”
–Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Climate change pushes search for water in the West
It’s hard to visualize a water crisis while driving the lush boulevards of Los Angeles, golfing Arizona’s green fairways or watching dancing Las Vegas fountains leap more than 20 stories high.

So look Down Under. A decade into its worst drought in a hundred years Australia is a lesson of what the American West could become.
–Reuters

EPA plans greenhouse gas registry
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to establish a nationwide system for reporting greenhouse gas emissions, a program that could serve as the basis for a federal cap on the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming.

The registry plan would cover about 13,000 facilities that account for 85 to 90 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas output. It was drafted under the Bush administration but stalled after the Office of Management and Budget objected to it because the EPA based the rule on its powers under the Clean Air Act.
–The Washington Post

Many think media exaggerate climate change
More Americans are skeptical about the seriousness of global warming than ever before, according to a survey released by the Gallup organization.

A record 41 percent now say news coverage of global warming is exaggerated, while 57 percent say coverage is generally on the mark or underestimated. As recently as 2006, Gallup found that 30 percent viewed news coverage of global warming as exaggerated vs. 66 who did not.
–Star Tribune

IBM wants to help manage water
IBM Corp. wants to get really deep into water.

The technology company is launching a new line of water services, hoping to tap a new sales vein by taking the manual labor out of fighting pollution and managing water supplies. IBM says the overall water-management services market could be worth $20 billion in five years.
–The Associated Press

Transmission line gets mixed reviews
The Great Plains have been called “the Saudi Arabia of wind energy.” But because the windiest areas tend to be sparsely populated, much of that wind power might go unused without a way to move the energy to where the people are.

Now a Michigan company is proposing to build a 765-kilovolt transmission line called “The Green Power Express” from the gusty Dakotas through Minnesota to Chicago. The 3,000-mile project, which is estimated to cost $10 billion to $12 billion, could be among the first of a new generation of energy superhighways that help the Midwest feed the nation’s appetite for renewable energy.
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

Chicago pushes homeowners to accept water meters
Some Chicagoans with homes built before the mid-1970s could get city water meters installed free with a guarantee their bills won’t rise beyond regular rate increases for seven years.

The offer was approved by a City Council committee as part of a $15 million test program called MeterSave.
–The Chicago Tribune

Suffolk County, NY, fights nitrate pollution
More than 300 landscapers crammed into a stuffy lower-level room at the Holiday Inn here recently, listening to the whys and wherefores of the new laws for keeping lawns green in Suffolk County while minimizing nitrogen pollution.

Suffolk, which has a long history of environmental regulation, is laying down the law as never before about nitrogen, a principal ingredient in the lawn fertilizers used by landscapers and homeowners but also a worsening threat to groundwater.
–The New York Times

Invasives drill may cause Superior harbor to blush
A shipping company and the National Park Service are getting together to find an effective way to kill invasive species in a ship’s ballast tanks under emergency conditions. As ships can run aground or have accidents, the question is how to best handle a high-risk ship from a high-risk port that might be carrying invasive species.

The experiment may leave the Superior Harbor a bit on the pink side. The plan is to inject a red dye into six ballast tanks in an American Steamship Company vessel in a lower Great Lakes port. Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green says they’ll use harmless rhodamine dye instead of chemicals designed to sterilize ballast tanks.
–Wisconsin Public Radio/Superior Telegram

Acidification of oceans affects tiny organisms
There’s now a good piece of direct evidence that the increasing acidification of the oceans, brought on by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is affecting the ability of small marine organisms to create shells.

The evidence comes from foraminifera, crunchy plankton that float by the untold billions in the ocean.
–The New York Times

EPA reviewing ethanol and climate change
For years, ethanol has been touted as a solution to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But the EPA is looking at whether ethanol lives up to that reputation.

If the agency decides against ethanol, the ruling could have a major impact on tens of thousands of people in rural Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA sued over phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set more protective pollution standards for Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries.

The suit, filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Save Our Creeks, Inc., argues that nutrient pollution in the lake has caused toxic algae blooms, which can contaminate drinking water supplies and sicken people and animals.
–Environment News Service

Kinder, gentler wildlife biologists
You may remember Senator John McCain’s criticism of a study of grizzly bear DNA as wasteful spending. And you may have wondered how the scientists got the DNA from the grizzlies.

The answer is hair. The study, which Mr. McCain referred to during his run for president, was a large one, and it provided an estimate of the population of threatened grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, in and around Glacier National Park.
–The New York Times

Court sides with Colorado on fees in water suit
The Supreme Court has rejected claims by Kansas that it is owed $9 million in legal fees from Colorado over their century-long dispute over water rights to the Arkansas River.

In an opinion, the court is upholding a ruling by a special master appointed to oversee the case that the fees for expert witnesses should be about $163,000, not the $9 million sought by Kansas.
–The Associated Press

Phenology, tap water ads and lynx

March 9, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

Volunteers sought for phenology survey
Volunteers across the nation are being recruited to get outdoors and help track the effects of climate on seasonal changes in plant and animal behavior.

The USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), a consortium of government, academic and citizen-scientists, is launching a new national program built on volunteer observations of flowering, fruiting and other seasonal events. Scientists and resource managers will use these observations to track effects of climate change on the Earth’s life-support systems.

“This program is designed for people interested in participating in climate change science, not just reading about it,” said USA-NPN Executive Director and U.S. Geological Survey scientist Jake Weltzin. “We encourage everyone to visit the USA National Phenology Network Web site and then go outside and observe the marvelous cycles of plant and animal life.”
–U.S. Geological Survey

Tap water advertising campaign expands
A project that originated at a boutique ad agency to help UNICEF deliver clean drinking water to children in developing countries is expanding in its third year as more firms join to support the cause.

The Tap Project, as the initiative is called, is adding cities and sponsors and is going bilingual with ads in Spanish as well as English. It takes place this year during World Water Week, which begins on March 22.
–The New York Times

Forest owners hope to cash in on carbon sequestration
The north woods of Minnesota hold one key to fending off the effects of global climate change. The trees, the soil, and the humus on the forest floor all store carbon. Some land owners think there may eventually be a profit to be made from that carbon storage.
–Minnesota Public Radio

U.S. to revise policy on lynx habitat
Soon some immigrants will find life easier in Minnesota and the rest of the United States: A proposed change in the management of land roamed by the Canada lynx would broaden protections for the big cat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised its critical habitat designation for the lynx, which has been the subject of controversy and court actions in the last few years. The proposal preceded an announcement Tuesday by President Obama to resume full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants.
–Minnpost.com

EPA plans new rules on coal ash retention ponds
The Obama administration will propose new regulations governing coal combustion waste by the end of the year, and will act immediately to prevent accidents like the release in December of more than a billion gallons of coal ash that smothered 300 acres in eastern Tennessee and choked nearby waterways, a senior Environmental Protection Agency official said.

The spill, at the Kingston Fossil Plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority near Knoxville, brought renewed attention to the agency’s failure to live up to a promise in 2000 to issue regulations for coal ash, which contains toxins like arsenic, lead and mercury.
–The New York Times

DNR merger protested
When the Department of Natural Resources announced that it was merging its divisions of Ecological Resources and Waters into a single division, it might not have anticipated much reaction.

After all, those divisions generally aren’t nearly as visible as the Fish and Wildlife Division. But Jeff Broberg noticed.
–Star Tribune

Grassroots Japanese protest opposes river dam
First, the farmers objected to an ambitious dam project proposed by the government, saying they did not need irrigation water from the reservoir. Then the commercial fishermen complained that fish would disappear if the Kawabe River’s twisting torrents were blocked. Environmentalists worried about losing the river’s scenic gorges. Soon, half of this city’s 34,000 residents had signed a petition opposing the $3.6 billion project.
–The New York Times

The Apostle Islands: Coming to a coin near you?
Wisconsin has nominated the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to appear in a new series of quarters depicting national parks.

The U.S. Mint plans to begin issuing quarters in the series starting next year. The quarters will roll out over 11 years.
–The Associated Press

Florida water woes worsen
The latest report from the Southwest Florida Water Management District shows aquifer levels are continuing to fall.

According to the district’s March 6 Aquifer Resource Weekly Update, the central aquifer, which is a water source for the Tampa Bay region, is down to a negative 1.69 feet. Last week, the aquifer was at negative 1.65 feet. The normal range is between 0 and 6 feet.
–Tampa Bay Newspapers

California farming town prepares for drought Armageddon
Shawn Coburn is barreling down a country road in his white Ford F-150 pickup, talking about how California’s water crisis darkly reminds him of a scene from a movie aptly named “Armageddon.”

“Billy Bob Thornton tells Bruce Willis that a huge asteroid is approaching Earth,” says Coburn, 40. “Willis asks Thornton who will get hurt, and Thornton tells him that he just doesn’t get it — that everyone will be dead, that the game is over.”

The disaster coming this spring and summer is no movie, and nothing menacing is falling from the sky.
–San Jose Mercury News

Sacramento considers selling wastewater
Californians have grown accustomed to digesting odd ideas that routinely flow out of Sacramento, many of them not so palatable.

But are they ready for this one?

Last week, amid a third year of a statewide drought, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District adopted a strategy to sell treated sewage as drinking water. The buyer would hypothetically partner with the district to recycle wastewater from the capital-area’s 1.4 million people into a new municipal water source.
–The Sacramento Bee

Wisconsin to track golden eagles
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning to strap small GPS units on golden eagles over the next three years to see where the birds go when they migrate from western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota.

The golden eagle is mostly a western bird and is plentiful from the Dakotas west to the Pacific Ocean. The national bird of Mexico, it also lives in northern Ontario, where it’s listed as a species of concern.
–The Associated Press

Chicago ponders water supply constraints
As Chicago’s population grows its water supply must too, but with overworked aquifers and legal constraints, local officials are looking for solutions.

“Even in this region, water resources are not infinite, they are finite,” said Daniel Injerd, chief of Lake Michigan management for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
–Medill Reports

Oregon experiments with conservation credits
Three years ago, Oregon looked ready to re-invent conservation banking. Instead of establishing separate banks to offset wetland damage and other habitat loss caused by transportation construction, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was going to roll it all into one package.

On this web site Bill Warncke, ODOT’s Mitigation and Conservation Program Coordinator, laid out an innovative approach that would address multiple resources simultaneously – including wetlands, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and endangered species.

Just months later, however, the plan was shelved.
–EcosystemMarketplace

Idaho fish farm squeezed out irrigators
The head of the Idaho Department of Water Resources has ordered hundreds of groundwater users in south-central Idaho to stop pumping, saying that a fish farm has first dibs on the limited resource.

The curtailment order came from David Tuthill. It is intended to ensure that Clear Springs Foods, a fish farm near Hagerman, has access to the water it needs to maintain the farm. Idaho law distributes water rights on a first-come, first-served basis, and the fish farm has an older, or senior, water right compared to the 865 junior water rights held by the roughly 430 people affected by the curtailment.
–The Associated Press

Drought, economic stimulus and bottled tap water

March 2, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of regional, national and international news articles and research reports on water and the environment. Go to the Freshwater web site to read the latest digest, or click on the links below to read the original articles. If you see something that interests you, let us know by posting a comment.

California drought now officially an emergency
Citing a third consecutive year of drought conditions, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Friday declared a state of emergency and called on urban residents to cut their water usage by 20 percent.

The announcement could intensify talks in the Capitol about upgrading the state’s water infrastructure — a contentious debate that has pitted environmentalists who favor conservation against proponents of building new dams to boost supplies. Negotiations in the Legislature have stalled repeatedly in recent years over the issue of dams.
–San Jose Mercury News

Tap water in a bottle? Don’t laugh. It sells
Two teachers on their lunch break scanned a refrigerated shelf inside a Manhattan coffee shop lined with drink bottles: Naked Juice, Perrier, Smartwater, New York City tap water.

“Tap water?” said Alison Szeli, 26, picking up the clear plastic bottle with orange letters: “Tap’d NY. Purified New York City tap water.”

She studied the description: “No glaciers were harmed in making this water.” She compared prices: Smartwater cost $1.85. Tap’d NY was 35 cents less.
–The Los Angeles Times

Supreme Court clears way for coal emission rules
The Supreme Court cleared the way for the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new regulations on emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic and other pollutants from the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

Environmental groups hailed the action as a final blow to Bush administration efforts to frustrate tight regulation of the emissions, but any new Obama administration rules may draw their own court challenges.
–The New York Times

Gas drilling boom spurs water worries
On a snowy hillside in rural southwest Pennsylvania, Larry Grimm drives his truck up a steep gravel track to a hilltop reservoir surrounded by orange plastic fencing and “keep out” signs.

The pond supplies water pumped from a local creek to the natural gas wells that are springing up throughout Mount Pleasant Township, where Grimm is the municipal supervisor.
–Reuters

EPA promises new look at rules on invasives
The Obama administration’s top environmental official indicated that she will consider tougher rules to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species that hitch rides into the region aboard oceangoing vessels.

Newly appointed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said she will take a fresh look at her agency’s new policy that requires oceangoing vessels to flush their ship-steadying ballast tanks in mid-ocean to expel any unwanted organisms.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Rising water in mine pit worries Bovey residents
Water has been rising in a huge abandoned mine pit near Bovey for about 15 years, and residents’ concerns are rising along with it. The high water is already finding its way into basements, and some residents think it could spill out of the pit some day, inundating the small town.

While there’s money available to try to fix the problem, there’s little agreement how to do that.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Firms urged to disclose ‘water footprint’
Corporations’ “water footprint” — assessing their water use and pollution — should be disclosed in SEC financial reports along with companies’ strategies for dealing with expected growth in water-related costs, according a report by Ceres and the Pacific Institute.

“Investors also have a significant interest and role” in encouraging companies “to look more closely at their potential risk exposure to water-related challenges,” according to the 60-page report issued today. Investors should be aware of potential financial, regulatory and reputational risks corporations face related to water usage and availability that could drive up costs, the report said.
–Pension & Investments

Obama budget would benefit Great Lakes
The budget President Obama revealed would send $475 million to the Midwest to clean up and restore the Great Lakes.

The money would go toward combating invasive species, runoff pollution and contaminated sediment. When he was running for president, Obama committed to making restoration of the Great Lakes a priority.
–The Daily Cardinal

Heavy metal mine cleanup could provide economic boost
One of the nation’s longest-running environmental eyesores is poised to become a critical jobs engine for the rural West under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Together, the Interior and Agriculture departments expect to set off a hiring boom among idled industry and agricultural workers whose charge will be to clean up thousands of abandoned hardrock mines that once formed the backbone of the region’s economy, but whose greater legacy is one of toxic wastes and thousands of miles of contaminated rivers, creeks and streams.
-The New York Times

Satellite crash sets back carbon research
NASA and climate researchers are weighing their options after the crash of a new satellite designed to monitor atmospheric carbon dioxide with unprecedented accuracy. A malfunction during the rocket ride toward space sent the Orbiting Carbon Observatory plummeting into the Indian Ocean near Antarctica.

“To say that it’s extremely disappointing would be an understatement. This was a really important science mission,” said a dismayed Edward J. Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for science.
–The Washington Post

Texas governor wants to spend to meet water demand
Gov. Rick Perry says it’s time for Texas to put some money into water.

The Republican governor told the Texas Water Conservation Association on Wednesday that lawmakers should spend $260 million to help speed the building of water reservoirs.

The 2007 Texas state water plan projects that population and the demand for water will increase dramatically over the next 50 years.
–Associated Press

New type of toilet promises to save water, money
In the industrialized world, most of us (except those who have septic tanks) rely on wastewater-treatment plants to remove our excrement from the drinking-water supply, in great volumes. (Toilets can use up to 30 percent of a household’s water supply.) This paradigm is rarely questioned, and I understand why: flush toilets, sewers and wastewater-treatment plants do a fine job of separating us from our potentially toxic waste, and eliminating cholera and other waterborne diseases. Without them, cities wouldn’t work.

But the paradigm is flawed. For a start, cleaning sewage guzzles energy. Sewage treatment in Britain uses a quarter of the energy generated by the country’s largest coal-fired power station.
-The New York Times

Levees in 16 states flunk inspections
More than 100 levees in 16 states flunked maintenance inspections in the last two years and are so neglected that they could fail to stem a major flood, records from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show.

The 114 levees received “unacceptable” maintenance ratings in corps inspections, meaning their deficiencies are so severe that it can be “reasonably foreseen” that they will not perform properly in a major flood, according to the records, which were requested by USA TODAY. As a result, the corps is advising state and local levee authorities that the levees no longer qualify for federal rehabilitation aid if damaged by floodwaters.
–USA Today

DNR to combine divisions
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to create a new division focused on watershed management.

Assistant DNR commissioner Larry Kramka says in the past, conservation efforts have been more focused on problem areas. Now, the new division, which combines the Waters and Ecological Resources Divisions, will approach conservation by addressing the root causes of problems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

New Berlin, Wis., to get Lake Michigan water
Lake Michigan water may start flowing across the subcontinental divide in New Berlin by July, the first such diversion since the Great Lakes compact was approved.

New Berlin recently sent its one-time $1.5 million payment for the water to the City of Milwaukee, even though the western suburb is still waiting for the state Department of Natural Resources to approve the diversion.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Mathematicians model snowflakes
The random, symmetrical beauty of snowflakes has been recreated in a computer program, U.S. researchers said.

It took four years for two mathematicians from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of California, Davis, to develop the computer model’s theory and perform the computations.

“Even though we’ve artfully stripped down the model over several years so that it’s as simple and efficient as possible, it still takes us a day to grow one of these things,” Wisconsin researcher David Griffeath said in a statement.
–Reuters

Save water: Put less in the pasta pot

February 26, 2009

Food writer Harold McGee, writing in the New York Times’ Curious Cook column, has a suggestion for saving energy: Put less water in the pot when you boil pasta.
McGee says the standard recipe for cooking pasta calls for 4 to 6 quarts of water per pound of pasta.
He says experimentation convinced him that – with a little additional stirring of the pasta to keep it from sticking – you can get by with 1.5 quarts. He calculates that Americans cook a billion pounds of pasta a year, and could save “several trillion” B.T.U.s of energy, worth perhaps $10 million to $20 million at today’s oil prices, if they used less water and spent less time bringing it to a boil.
McGee doesn’t dwell on the water savings, but saving 4 billion or so quarts of water a year is not insignificant. And that’s why you are reading about pasta boiling in blog devoted to water. Go to the Times for McGee’s recipe.


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