Archive for the ‘Minnesota government’ Category

Study links atrazine to frog sex changes

March 9, 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.

Atrazine alters frogs’ gender, study finds
A new study has found that male frogs exposed to the herbicide atrazine — one of the most common man-made chemicals found in U.S. waters — can make a startling developmental U-turn, becoming so completely female that they can mate and lay viable eggs.

 The study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seems likely to add to the attention focused on a weedkiller that is widely used on cornfields. The Environmental Protection Agency, which re-approved the use of atrazine in 2006, has already begun a new evaluation of its potential health effects.

 Its manufacturer, Swiss agri-business giant Syngenta, says research has proven that the chemical is safe for animals and for people, who could be exposed to trace amounts in drinking water. 

But in recent years, a series of scientific studies have seemed to show atrazine interfering with the hormone systems that guide development in fish, birds, rats and frogs. In many cases, the result has been “feminized” males, with behaviors or body parts more like those of females.
–The Washington Post 

U of Iowa aims to hire 10 sustainability profs
University of Iowa officials are working to draw 10 experts on water sustainability to tenure-track positions by the fall of 2011. With searches underway now, five of the 10 may be here by July 1.

The water-sustainability hirings will be the first group of the 100 new tenure-track positions that the UI  Strategic Plan will create. 

A committee overseeing the hirings has been working for more than a year on the new initiative. UI administration are searching to fill five slots soon, while various departments will begin the process of hiring the other five next fall. The first round of candidates began visiting campus in February. 

“For [water sustainability] to be studied, and talked about, and investigated across campus, we think, is an outstanding opportunity,” said Larry Weber, director of the UI’s hydroscience labs.

The 10 new positions will cost roughly $1 million plus start-up costs, UI Provost Wallace Loh said.
–The Daily Iowan

 Everglades restoration threatened
It started out so big, so bold and with so much promise for healing the River of Grass that environmentalists proclaimed it the holy grail of Everglades restoration.

But 20 months after Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled his $1.75 billion bid to buy out the U.S. Sugar Corp., the grail is at serious risk of slipping away — rather, what’s left of it. 

Crist remains confident his landmark land buy will survive. “It’s a done deal,” he told The Miami Herald. “It’s got to be done.” 

Others, even supporters like Drew Martin, Everglades chairman for the Sierra Club, are less certain. “There is no question it’s hanging by a thread,” he said.
–The Miami Herald

Conservation easements go unchecked
Minnesota is preparing to pay more landowners to set aside thousands of acres for conservation, but it appears state officials have little idea how much they have already spent on such projects over the years and have rarely monitored how the land was being used. 

A continuing inventory of the properties, ordered by a state panel, shows that the Department of Natural Resources now has more than 1,000 such “conservation easements” across Minnesota, but has not inspected many properties in years. 

Use of conservation easements has grown since the practice started in the 1970s, exploding in recent years.
–The Star Tribune 

Minnesota DNR  lacks land management $$
The Department of Natural Resources continues to buy land for wildlife areas, parks, trails and other natural areas even though it lacks adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land, according to a report released by the legislative auditor.

 The report notes that the DNR or citizens advisory groups have recommended significant acquisitions of land and conservation easements in recent years — including a 64 percent increase in wildlife management areas, land open to public hunting.

 “Despite these ambitious proposals, DNR does not appear to have adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land holdings,” the report said.
–The Star Tribune

 EPA enforcement slows
The Environmental Protection Agency is riling many businesses with proposals to regulate greenhouse gases for the first time, but data suggest it has been slow out of the gate under President Barack Obama in enforcing existing regulations on traditional pollutants. 

In fiscal 2009, the EPA’s enforcement office required polluters to spend more than $5 billion on cleanup and emission controls—down from $11.8 billion the previous year, according to a report recently published by the agency. The report, which examines the EPA’s performance in enforcing limits on pollutants like sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and soot, covers the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, a period that covers the last 3½ months of President George W. Bush’s watch and the first 8½ months of Mr. Obama’s. 

Defendants in agency enforcement cases committed to cut pollution by about 580 million pounds in fiscal 2009, down from 3.9 billion pounds in fiscal 2008, according to the report.
–The Wall Street Journal

Obama adviser defends climate science
The disclosure of research “missteps” hasn’t shaken the consensus that manmade emissions from burning fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, President Barack Obama’s top science adviser said.

 The release of scientists’ e-mails and errors in a report by a United Nations climate panel show researchers are human, John Holdren said at an energy conference in Washington’s Maryland suburbs.

The errors don’t alter the reality that carbon dioxide emissions are warming the earth, he said. 

Opponents of limits on emissions from burning coal and oil have seized on the miscues to challenge Obama’s plan to put a price on gases that cause global warming. Climate-change legislation has stalled in the Senate and more than 80 lawmakers are seeking to curb the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new greenhouse-gas limits. 

“Fossil-fuel and biomass burning, and land-use change are almost certainly responsible for a large part of the changes that are being observed,” Holdren said. “Nothing in the recent controversies cast doubt on any of those fundamental propositions.”
–bloomberg.com 

Take time to test your well
National Ground Water Awareness Week, sponsored annually by the National Ground Water Association, is March 7-13.

The majority of public water systems in the United States use groundwater as their primary source to provide drinking water to an estimated 90 million persons. An additional 15 million U.S. homes use private wells, which also rely on groundwater.

 Owners of private wells are responsible for ensuring that their well water is safe from harmful groundwater contaminants. These contaminants can occur naturally, but are usually the result of local land use practices (e.g., fertilizer and pesticide use), manufacturing processes, and leakage from nearby septic systems. The presence of contaminants in drinking water can lead to illness, disease, and other health problems.

NGWA uses this week to stress the importance of yearly water testing and well maintenance (4). Private well owners can take simple steps to reduce well water contamination risks. These precautions include ensuring that the well is located away from potential contamination sources (e.g., septic and waste-water systems, animal enclosures, and chemical storage areas) and conducting an annual maintenance check of the well.

 Additional information about Ground Water Awareness Week, well maintenance, water testing, and well water treatment is available from the Centers for Disease Control at http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/index.html, from the Environmental Protection Agency at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/privatewells/whatyoucando.html  and from NGWA at http://www.wellowner.org.
–Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

 World Bank warns of groundwater crisis in India
About 60 per cent of aquifers in India will be in a critical condition in another 15 years if the trend of indiscriminate exploitation of ground water continues, the World Bank has said in a report.

 In its latest report on the country’s ground water level, the bank has expressed concern over the rate of depletion of water table in the country and has called for immediate corrective measures.

Around 29 per cent of ground water blocks in the country are semi-critical, critical or overexploited and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. By 2025, an estimated 60 per cent of ground water blocks will be in a critical condition. Climate change will further strain ground water resources, the report said.

India is the largest user of ground water in the world, with an estimated use of 230 cubic km of ground water every year––more than a quarter of the global level. Now,  ground water supports around 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture and more than 80 per cent of rural and urban water supplies.

“Out of a total of 5,723 ground water blocks in the country, 1,615 are classified as semi-critical, critical or overexploited, and regulatory directives have been issued by the Central Ground Water Authority for 108 blocks.  However, neither the authority nor the state ground water agencies have the resources or the personnel to oversee the enforcement of these regulations.”
The Deccan Herald

 Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration
Who has the right to bodies of water, in our state, our country, our world? What are the issues involved in making water available to us? How does gender affect the right to water?

These are just some of the questions a group of women began asking a couple of years ago. Their inquiry has blossomed into a project called Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration, which includes a visual arts exhibit, with music, dance and poetry performances, a two-day symposium and multiple lectures.

“Bringing awareness, gathering unity and encouraging legislation about the global fresh water crisis-and the part that women play” is what all of this activity is about, said Liz Dodson, board member on the Women’s Caucus for Art and coordinator of the project. “We can see [the crisis] especially in Africa, where women are the ones who need to gather fresh water for their families. Here, in Minnesota, it’s about women being part of water management efforts.”

The month-long WWR project began on Feb. 26 at a reception at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. At the center of the WWR project is the exhibit of work by around 50 women artists from Minnesota and around the world. Displayed in the Nash Gallery of the Regis Center for Art, their artwork is inspired by the symbolism and deep meaning of water.

Throughout the month of March, events will be held to challenge people to think analytically and emotionally about global and local water rights.
–Minnesota Women’s Press

Methane being released undersea
Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.

Now researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and elsewhere say this change is under way in a little-studied area under the sea, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, west of the Bering Strait.

Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the university and a leader of the study, said it was too soon to say whether the findings suggest that a dangerous release of methane looms.
–The New York Times

 Wind turbines in Lake Michigan?
Halfway up Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, wooded bluffs rise next to dunes, ice-fringed winter beaches, and steel-gray water stretching as far as the eye can see.

 Pentwater, a resort town whose year-round residents number fewer than 1,000, sits in the middle of some of the most prized lakefront in the region. So when a Norwegian-American company recently proposed putting up as many as 200 wind turbines in the water, many residents were appalled.

 “People are very up in arms about this,” says Juanita Pierman, Pentwater’s village president. “We still need to find alternative forms of energy, but I’m not sure putting windmills two or three miles out in the lake is going to do it.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 E.U. eases resistance to genetic modification
The European Commission began a new push to allow farmers in Europe to grow more biotech crops, clearing a genetically modified potato for cultivation despite persistent public opposition to the technology.

 In the first such decision in more than a decade, the commission approved the Amflora potato produced by the German company BASF for cultivation inside the 27-country European Union. John Dalli, the bloc’s health commissioner, said the potatoes could be planted in Europe, with some conditions, as soon as next month.

 The potato is engineered to be unusually rich in a starch suitable for making glossy paper and other products, as well as for feeding animals.

 Currently the only other biotech crop grown in Europe is a type of corn produced by Monsanto, which was approved in 1998.
–The New York Times

 USDA seeks water quality proposals
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking project proposals that will improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River in 41 eligible watersheds in 12 states.

The Request for Proposals  for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, through which up to $75 million will be available for partnership projects, was published in the Federal Register.Proposals are due by May 1. The RFP explains the procedures for potential partners to sign agreements with USDA for projects that meet with the initiative’s objectives. 

In Minnesota, three watersheds are eligible to participate: the Root, Middle Minnesota and Sauk. 

For more information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including the RFP and the eligible watersheds, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi.html.
–USDA news release

Curly leaf pondweed: nice beat, easy to dance to

May 11, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and international articles about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

Iowa plans $455 million pollution fight
Iowa is about to launch its biggest assault ever on river and lake pollution – a $455 million campaign.

After decades of struggling to address serious pollution problems, the state now has an unprecedented pool of state and federal money to solve some of its worst water-quality problems, said Charles Corell, the water chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One of the biggest impacts: improved sewage treatment and septic systems in the 500 towns and rural subdivisions that don’t have any.
–The Des Moines Register

 

What, exactly, do invasive species sound like to you?
A new initiative at UW-Madison is using music to raise public awareness about aquatic invasive species in the state.

“Research shows music can influence how we respond to messages, affecting memory, emotion, attitudes, and even behavior,” says Bret Shaw, assistant professor of life sciences communication at UW-Madison and environmental communication specialist for UW-Extension.
–UW-Madison News

Polar bears won’t force climate crackdown
The federal bureaucracy that safeguards endangered species isn’t equipped to tackle climate change, Interior Department officials said — declining to protect Alaskan polar bears by cracking down on polluters in the Lower 48.

The decision, announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, was the Obama administration’s first word on an emerging environmental question.
–The Washington Post

 

Environmental video provokes controversy
The thick-lined drawings of the Earth, a factory and a house, meant to convey the cycle of human consumption, are straightforward and child-friendly. So are the pictures of dark puffs of factory smoke and an outlined skull and crossbones, representing polluting chemicals floating in the air.

Which is one reason “The Story of Stuff,” a 20-minute video about the effects of human consumption, has become a sleeper hit in classrooms across the nation.
–The New York Times

Scott County pro-active on water quality
Scott County contacted Jay and Laureen Picha on Jan. 29 and invited them to a little sit-down. It was about the creek that runs across their 167 acres between Shakopee and Jordan.

It seems that at times, too much water is racing down it too fast, carrying sediment and perhaps pollution into Sand Creek, and then into the Minnesota River, which is not so pure to begin with.
–The Star Tribune

 

EPA announces proposed budget
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed $10.5 billion budget would create jobs and protect the environment, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

The EPA allocated $3.9 billion to maintain and improve outdated water infrastructure and keep wastewater and drinking water clean and safe, she said. The money would support building and renovating an estimated 1,000 clean water and 700 drinking water infrastructure projects, and repair and upgrade older drinking water and wastewater pipes.

To address climate change, the agency’s proposal budgets $17 million in the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for new analytical tools, upgraded testing capabilities and coordination with other agencies on research and green initiatives.
–United Press International

World’s second-largest fish is a snowbird
How do you lose the world’s second-largest fish?

It had been happening for decades to researchers studying the basking shark, a plankton-eating species that can grow to be 35 feet long — only the whale shark is bigger. Basking sharks were easy to spot in summer and fall. Many cruised near the surface off New England, filtering water through an impossibly wide mouth.

But then, in winter, the sharks vanished from these waters, and scientists couldn’t find them anywhere else. One guess was that they sank to the bottom and hibernated, waiting out a food shortage. But nobody knew for sure: The basking shark became a reminder of the unsolved mysteries of the oceans.
–The Washington Post

Residents, cities oppose Mississippi regulation
Many cities and residents along the Mississippi River, from Hastings to Dayton, fear they will have less control over their property and development along the river under a pair of bills moving toward passage at the State Capitol.

At least six cities — Lilydale, Mendota, Coon Rapids, Champlin, Anoka and Ramsey — have adopted resolutions or sent letters to legislators opposing the bills. Most of the resolutions say the bills ignore property-owner rights and could give the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) more control over local zoning.
–The Star Tribune

 

New York governor nixes bottled water
Citing financial and environmental reasons, Gov. David A. Patterson signed an executive order directing state agencies to phase out the purchase and use of bottled water at government workplaces.

As a result, the state will gradually stop buying single-serve water bottles and larger, cooler-sized water bottles. Each executive agency will have to provide alternative sources, like fountains and dispensers for tap water.

In June 2007, San Francisco’s mayor, Gavid Newsom, prohibited spending city money on single-serving bottled water.
–The New York Times

 

Maine considers tax on bottled water
Dozens of Poland Spring employees and business representatives who support the company descended on the Maine State House to show their opposition to a proposed penny-a-gallon tax on bottled water.  It’s being promoted as a way to generate revenue from a shared natural resource in difficult economic times.  But opponents warn it could open a Pandora’s Box by creating a precedent the state cannot afford.

The penny-a-gallon tax would only apply to water bottlers in Maine who extract more than a million gallons of ground water in a year.  And Poland Spring says, for all intents and purposes, that’s Poland Spring alone.  The tax would cost the company about $7 million a year.  And it would not apply to Poland Spring’s chief competitors, Aquafina and Dasani, which which get their water out of state and which would continue to sell in Maine.
–Maine Public Broadcasting Network

 

Bisphenol-A banned in kids’ cups
Sippy cups and baby bottles containing a chemical suspected of being harmful will be banned in Minnesota starting next Jan. 1.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill into law that prohibits the sale of bottles and cups that contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is found in many plastics and in canned food coatings.

BPA is so widespread that most people have traces of it in their bodies, but even though the new law regards it as a health threat, scientists haven’t definitively determined whether that’s the case.
–The Star Tribune

 

Climate threatens tiny pikas
The Fish and Wildlife Service is beginning a yearlong review to determine whether the pika, an 8-inch-long mountain animal that looks like a rabbit with round ears, should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. It would be the first mammal from the lower 48 states to be considered for protection as a result of changes resulting from global warming. Pikas live on rocky slopes in the West and cannot bear temperatures above 78 degrees for more than a short time. In a 2007 petition, the Center for Biological Diversity said rising temperatures had already caused “dramatic losses” of pika populations at lower elevations.
–The New York Times

 

USGS research focuses on mercury in Pacific
The U.S. Geological Survey has taken a big step toward answering long-standing questions about mercury in the oceans, with the release of a landmark study pointing to the role of human activities in releasing the contaminant and changing the makeup of the North Pacific.

The study opened the door to several key remaining questions, including whether different oceans absorb mercury differently and whether more of the metal in the water leads to increased levels of methylmercury — mercury’s highly toxic form — in marine life.
–The New York Times

Greenhouse gases; drugs in the water

April 20, 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.

EPA designates greenhouse gases as pollutants
The Environmental Protection Agency formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.

The E.P.A. said the science supporting the proposed endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling initiates a 60-day comment period before any proposals for regulations governing emissions of heat-trapping gases are published.
–The New York Times

Tons of drugs released into U.S. waters
U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water , according to an Associated Press investigation.

Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking. For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder. Nitroglycerin is a heart drug and is also used in explosives. Copper shows up in pipes and contraceptives.
–The Associated Press

Lake Vermilion state park in jeopardy
In 2007, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced his initiative to buy 2,500 acres of land along Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota. At the time, he said securing the land would make the park one of the nicest parks in the nation.

“We hope through this proposal that we’ll be able to give everyone in Minnesota and up at the lake or up north experience through this next state park,” Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty expressed confidence that the state would purchase the land from owner U.S. Steel, saying at one point that the deal won’t fall apart.

But now, Pawlenty appears to have all but given up on the park.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA demands endocrine tests on pesticides
The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals’ and humans’ growth, metabolism and reproduction, the agency said.

Researchers have raised concerns that chemicals released into the environment interfere with animals’ hormone systems, citing problems such as male fish in the Potomac River that are bearing eggs. Known as endocrine disruptors, the chemicals may affect the hormones that humans and animals produce or secrete.
–The Washington Post

UM report documents ethanol’s water use
While recycling and other advancements have reduced water use in Minnesota’s corn-ethanol plants by a third of the levels of just a few years ago, increased reliance on irrigated corn has pushed water consumption to alarming levels in the desert Southwest and parts of California.

A University of Minnesota report notes that Minnesota’s 17 ethanol plants currently average about 3.5 gallons of water for each gallon of ethanol produced. This is down from about 10 gallons per gallon of ethanol just a decade earlier.

However, over-all water consumption rates rise quickly when ethanol is produced from corn that is irrigated, as it is on 207,000 acres in Minnesota or 3 percent of the state’s 7.8 million acres planted to corn.
–Minnpost.com

Lawmakers target Mississippi River management plan
The Mississippi River Critical Area Program guides development along a 72-mile stretch of the river through the Twin Cities metropolitan area, striving to balance environmental protection with local land-use preferences.

But some interests argue that the three-decade-old executive order needs an update.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Prior Lake mussel discovery spurs Minnetonka inspections
Lake Minnetonka boaters will feel new pressure this year to guard against spreading exotic water life following the recent discovery of zebra mussels in Prior Lake — the first metro-area lake to be infested by the unwanted shell creatures.

Officials plan a 30 percent increase in inspections of boats to look for ride-along aquatic life at public boat launches on Lake Minnetonka.
–The Star Tribune

Idaho requires fee to fight invasives
Under a new Idaho law, all motorized and non-motorized watercraft more than 10 feet long will be required to display an Idaho Invasive Species Fund sticker. They are expected to be available by the end of April.

The sticker prices are $10 for motorized boats registered in Idaho, $20 for other motorized vessels, and $5 for a nonmotorized vessel. Discounts for nonmotorized commercial fleets are available.
–The Idaho Statesman

Los Angeles raises water rates to spur conservation
Los Angeles businesses, landlords and residents will pay more for water starting June 1 if they don’t cut back at least 15 percent on usage under a plan approved by the Los Angeles City Council.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power plan is aimed at sending water customers price incentives to encourage conservation.

The region is in the midst of a three-year drought, exacerbated by dwindling water allocations from the DWP’s Owens Valley aqueduct, the State Water Project and the Colorado River. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region’s wholesale water supplier, announced it was cutting its allocations by about 10 percent, effective July 1.
–Los Angeles Business Journal

Bird deaths may result from salmonella, DNR says
Minnesota residents have found an increasing number of dead birds at feeders over the last couple of weeks. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a strain of salmonella may be to blame.

The bacteria that causes heavy mortality in birds is transmitted through the bird’s droppings.  The largest mortality seems to be in red polls and pine siskins. Two red polls that died recently in northern Minnesota were sent to the DNR pathology lab and tested positive for salmonella.
–Minnesota DNR

China faces water crisis
Over the past year getting clean water has been a struggle for many in China. In February one of the most severe droughts to hit China in a half-century affected some 5 million people and 2.5 million livestock in the provinces of Hebei and Henan, near Beijing. Farther south in Yancheng, Jiangsu, 300 kilometers from Shanghai, more than 200,000 people were cut off from clean water for three days when a chemical factory dumped carbolic acid into a river. Just before the Olympics last June, the coastal city of Qingdao, site of the sailing events, saw an explosion of algae in nearby waters that may have been caused by pollution.
–BusinessWeek

High Plains Aquifer down 9% since pumping began
The High Plains Aquifer, the sea of fresh water under the Great Plains, is about 9 percent smaller since irrigators and cities started tapping it in about 1950, according to a new report.

The total amount of drainable water in the aquifer in 2007 was about 2.9 billion acre-feet, a decline of about 270 million acre-feet since before development, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a report .

An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the volume of water that would cover one acre to a depth of 1 foot.
–The Omaha World-Herald


Florida suit seeks to force EPA water quality review
An environmental group has filed a lawsuit accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of letting Florida flout federal clean water requirements.

Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, said Monday the group is seeking a court order for EPA to conduct an independent review of a state list of water bodies and decide which ones need stricter pollution limits.
–The Associated Press

Ag groups seek to overturn pesticide ruling
Twenty-two agricultural organizations asked that the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rehear a landmark pesticide case, even as the Environmental Protection Agency, a party to the case, declined to do so. A January opinion on National Cotton Council of America v U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from a three-judge panel was the first U.S. court ruling that pesticide discharge is a point source of pollution subject to additional regulation and permitting under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The agriculture groups submitted their request in a friend of the court brief, arguing the decision ignored the definition in CWA of “point source” and that point sources are regulated only where they convey pollutants to navigable waters, not where they convey things that may at some later point result in water pollution.
–Wisconsin AgConnection

Dairy industry seeks to cut cows’ greenhouse gases
The U.S. dairy industry wants to engineer the “cow of the future” to pass less gas, a project aimed at cutting the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, industry leaders said.

The cow project aims to reduce intestinal methane, the single largest component of the dairy industry’s carbon footprint, said Thomas P. Gallagher, chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management Inc.’s Innovation Center in Rosemont, Ill.
–The Associated Press

Soybeans, a river on fire and zebra mussels

April 13, 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.

Soybean farmers object to river research
What started as a $600,000 project to improve water quality in rural Minnesota is in jeopardy after soybean growers protested, causing funders to reconsider and send the money to more cooperative states.

The controversy centers around a $5 million initiative that Monsanto Co., which produces seeds and herbicide, announced last December in an attempt to reduce fertilizer runoff and sediment in the Mississippi River. It planned to work with farmers and conservation groups to measure whether different methods of fertilizing, tilling, and filtering runoff improved stream water quality or affected crop yields.

But now the Nature Conservancy, which is overseeing the studies, says objections by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association have made it likely that at least $125,000 of the three-year grant destined for southeastern Minnesota will be diverted to similar projects in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin — where soybean farmers have not objected.
–The Star Tribune

Environmental Education Week set
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has declared the week of April 12 – 18, 2009, as Environmental Education Week.

The state designation coincides with the National Environmental Education Foundation’s efforts to increase the educational impact of Earth Day by creating a full week of educational preparation, learning and activities in K-12 classrooms, nature centers, zoos, museums and aquariums. National Environmental Education Week is the largest organized environmental education event in the United States.

In support of Environmental Education Week’s 2009 theme, “Be Water Wise!,” more than 2,000 partner organizations around the country will participate with a week’s worth of environmentally-themed lessons, field trips and special events.

For more information about Environmental Education Week programming around the country, visit www.eeweek.org.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Environmentalism caught fire from the Cuyahoga
Environmentalists observing 2009 as “The Year of the River” are celebrating the remarkable return to health of the Cuyahoga River over the last four decades.

But before there was a Cuyahoga comeback, the Cuyahoga was a catalyst.

When the oily, murky and sluggish waterway caught fire in June 1969, it not only caught the attention of a previously indifferent industrial nation — it also ignited an already smoldering ecological movement.
–The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Zebra mussel shells found in Prior Lake
Empty zebra mussel shells have been discovered in Prior Lake, prompting state officials to ask boaters and anglers using the popular southwest metro lake to take extra precautions.

A homeowner recently found about a dozen empty shells of the invasive mussel along the southeastern shore of lower Prior Lake, the Department of Natural Resources said.

Officials, however, aren’t certain whether the shells came from live mussels in the lake or were brought there on equipment and fell off. The DNR said its staff soon will search the lake for more of them. If any are found, it said, the lake will be designated as infested.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Research challenges biological maxim
Scientists have produced strong new evidence challenging one of the most fundamental assumptions in biology: that female mammals, including women, are born with all the eggs they will ever have.

In a provocative set of experiments involving mice, Chinese researchers have shown for the first time that an adult mammal can harbor primitive cells in her ovaries that can become new eggs and produce healthy offspring, they reported yesterday.

While much more research is needed to confirm and explore the findings, the work raises the tantalizing possibility that it could someday lead to new ways to fight a woman’s biological clock, perhaps by stockpiling her egg-producing cells or by stimulating them to make eggs again.
–The Washington Post

Drought lowers White Bear Lake
Gary Christenson’s dock stretches for 340 feet.

It’s still a few yards shy of getting wet in White Bear Lake.

“We think the dock will be 600 feet this year,” said the geologist, who lives on the lake’s northwest shore. “Six hundred feet – then I give up. Then I quit.”

Christenson’s dock is an extreme example of what a long, mild drought, combined with White Bear’s small watershed, has done to the east metro’s largest body of water.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

PBS to air ‘Poisoned Waters’ documentary
Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency chief for the Obama Administration, asserted at a forum for the PBS Frontline documentary “Poisoned Waters” that new legislation is needed to strengthen the EPA’s authority to control pollution and protect local rivers, streams and wetlands across America.

Jackson, speaking at the National Press Club, said that court decisions had left “murkiness” about the EPA’s authority to enforce some mandates of the Clean Water Act. She said EPA would seek new legislation to “clarify” its authority to take action on smaller waterways.

The two-hour documentary, to be aired on PBS on April 21, shows sobering evidence of America’s failure over the past 35 years to contain water contamination from agricultural waste, stormwater run-off, and now, a new wave of chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, most of which have no safety standard set by the EPA. The danger to human health from these chemicals in the environment and in drinking water systems was underscored Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
–PR News Wire

Invasive ash borers found near Minnesota border
Minnesota inspectors are poring over the southeastern tip of the state for signs of emerald ash borers, an invasive beetle that has killed millions of ash trees in 10 other states.

An infestation of the small, metallic-green beetle was discovered near the Wisconsin town of Victory along the Mississippi River, only a mile southeast of the Minnesota-Iowa border and 20 miles south of La Crosse, Wis. It was the first appearance in western Wisconsin.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Proposed 30,000-cow feedlot raises water worries
Scott Collins’ family has been farming in arid eastern Washington since his great grandfather first homesteaded the 1,500-acre, dry-land wheat farm more than a century ago.

But the 58-year-old Collins fears he may be the last of four generations on the farm.

That is because the groundwater he and his family depend on could be in jeopardy if a proposed cattle feedlot and other industrial-sized projects like it are built in his rural Franklin County.
–The New York Times

ADM plans to bury C02 deep underground
The drillers have gnawed through a mile of rock here, almost down to a 600-million-year-old layer of sandstone where they hope to bury about 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — equal to the annual emissions of 220,000 automobiles.

The $84-million project, of which $66.7 million comes from the Energy Department, will help determine whether storing greenhouse gases underground, so-called sequestration, is a viable solution for global warming.

The project by Archer Daniels Midland Co., in which greenhouses gases from a corn mill will be buried beneath shale, is important because it’s the furthest along of the seven federally sponsored partnerships nationwide to study the matter.
–The Los Angeles Times

Assault planned on invasive pondweed
When common carp were purposely introduced to Minnesota lakes sometime before 1900, they apparently brought along another visitor that today is just as reviled as the big rough fish: a water plant called curly-leaf pondweed.

A century after the aggressive pondweed was discovered in state waters, agencies from cities to watershed districts to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have declared war on the invader. Now, the results of contrasting eradication efforts in three conjoined lakes in Eden Prairie and Bloomington could help shape future efforts to contain curly-leaf pondweed.

Near the end of this month or early in May, herbicide will be applied to Southeast Anderson Lake in Bloomington in the first of four annual chemical treatments to kill pondweed.
–The Star Tribune

Texas report calls for linking energy and water
A joint report from the University of Texas and an environmental group urges state planners to conserve both water and energy.

The report released Monday claims that improving water conservation will cut power demand and that upgrades in energy efficiency will decrease water needs, allowing Texas to utilize “finite supplies of both” and cut consumers’ costs.

One recommendation in the report, which the Environmental Defense Fund helped prepare, requires studies to determine how much water is available for use at new fossil-fueled or concentrated solar power plants.
–The Associated Press

Oregon Zoo tries to restore native frogs
The small, elegantly colored frogs raised in a humid backroom at the Oregon Zoo have already defied the odds. Now, they will try to defy a grim fate.

About 120 rare Oregon spotted frogs, raised from eggs and overwintered to grow as large as possible, will be released into a wetland near Olympia. If they survive, the frogs could be the first wave in restoration of threatened native frogs that have been losing their battles for survival.

Once common from southwest British Columbia to northwest California, rana pretiosa — precious frog — has been decimated by habitat loss and invasive species such as the American bullfrog. But a partnership of scientists, state officials and zoos hopes to counter the dismaying trend.

A year ago, biologists gathered portions of the frogs’ gelatinous egg masses from Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Mount Adams in Washington state and delivered them to the Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, Wash., for rearing.
–The Portland Oregonian

Antarctica glaciers lose huge chunks of ice shelves
Antarctica’s glaciers are melting more rapidly than previously known because of climate change, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report prepared in close collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey.

The USGS study documents for the first time that one ice shelf has completely disappeared and another has lost a chunk three times the size of Rhode Island.  This research is part of a larger ongoing project that is for the first time studying the entire Antarctic coastline.

“This study provides the first insight into the extent of Antarctica’s coastal and glacier change,” Salazar noted.  “The rapid retreat of glaciers there demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing-more rapidly than previously known– as a consequence of climate change.  The scientific work of USGS, which is investigating the impacts of climate change around the world, including an ongoing examination of glaciers, is a critical foundation of the Administration’s commitment to combat climate change.”

The USGS study focuses on Antarctica, which is the earth’s largest reservoir of glacial ice. In a separate study published in today’s Geophysical Letters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that ice is melting much more rapidly than expected in the Arctic as well, based on new computer analyses and recent ice measurements.
–U.S. Geological Survey

Volunteers monitor Minnesota’s waters

March 26, 2009

(This  article was published in the March, 2009, Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. The newsletter is available at www.freshwater.org.)

Last year, on about 1,500 lakes across Minnesota, volunteers leaned over the side of their boats and lowered a white metal disk into the water, carefully measuring how deep the disk descended until it vanished from view.

In addition, the volunteers filled out a checklist of subjective judgments about the lake water: Was it crystal clear? Was there floating scum or dead fish in the water? Did the water look inviting for swimming or boating? Or was there such heavy algae growth that any enjoyment of the lake was impossible?

Other volunteers in other places lowered buckets into rivers to collect water samples, filled their home refrigerators or freezers with small bottles of river and lake water that would later be analyzed to determine its nitrogen and phosphorus content and waded into wetlands to collect dragonflies, leeches and beetles.

Thirty-five years ago, Minnesota began one of the first volunteer water quality monitoring program in the country. That effort, the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, remains one of the largest such programs in the country. And it has now been joined by dozens of other lake, river and wetland monitoring efforts that encourage volunteers to get their feet and hands wet in the pursuit of clean, healthy water.

The programs have two major goals.

First, there is the science. The thousands of volunteers take far more water clarity readings and collect far more water samples than the full-time scientists and technicians employed by governmental bodies, such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and local soil and water boards, ever could handle.

A recent surge in the use of volunteers to collect water samples has helped the PCA speed up a slow process aimed at assessing the water quality in more than 12,000 lakes and about 105,000 miles of streams and rivers every 10 years. Big increases in water quality spending approved by the Legislature in recent years paid for lab analysis of the samples.

The low-tech Secchi Disk readings made by those volunteers leaning over the sides of their canoes and pontoon boats also help make possible a much higher-tech monitoring system. The clarity readings logged by the volunteers are used to calibrate images sent to Earth by satellites that pass over Minnesota.

As important as the scientific data, is the direct interest in water quality and the commitment to preserving it that the volunteer activity fosters in the volunteers.

“There’s value beyond the value of the data that’s collected in the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, said Johanna Schussler, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s coordinator of the program. “These are the people who support water quality initiatives. These are the people who volunteer, who write letters.”

And what do the volunteers get out of participating in the various programs?

For Gordon Prickett, a former mining engineer who joined the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program in 1997, soon after he bought his retirement home on the north side of Nord Lake in Aitkin County, the question is an easy one.

“I see myself as a steward here,” Prickett. “The longer we live here, the more I’m interested in conservation and preservation. I’m interested in preserving the quality of the lake for future generations, as well as my own.”

Minnesota’s first volunteer water-quality program was begun in 1973 by a University of Minnesota professor, Joe Shapiro. The MPCA assumed responsibility for the program in 1978.

That is the Citizen Lake Monitoring Project that Schussler coordinates. Last year, it had 1,260 volunteers who tested water quality at 1,700 sites on about 1,200 lakes. From the beginning, the program has relied on a simple device, the Secchi Disk, to measure clarity, a basic indicator of water quality, especially the level of algae present in a lake.

The Secchi disk – named after Pietro Angelo Secchi, a 19 th Century Jesuit astronomer who developed the device to measure the transparency of oceans and lakes — is a white, or sometimes black-and-white, metal disk, about the size of a salad plate that is attached to a cord marked off in feet or meters.

Volunteers are instructed to lower the Secchi disk into the lake and note when it disappears from view. They then raise the disk a bit until it is again just visible, note that depth and then average the two readings. The volunteers also fill out a questionnaire rating the lake’s general appearance on a scale that ranges from “crystal clear” to “massive floating scums…foul odor or fish kill.”

The volunteers are asked to take their readings on their appointed lakes eight to 10 times a summer, preferably weekly from June through September.

Typically, the clarity readings the volunteers record with the Secchi disks are lowest in mid-summer, when algae growth is the greatest. The Secchi readings are posted each year in the MPCA’s Environmental Data Access data base.

In addition to the basic Secchi disk monitoring, the MPCA funds four other citizen monitoring programs:

  • A sub-set of the basic Secchi disk monitoring program that is specifically tailored for canoeists visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. Canoeists receive a light-weight Secchi disk with a little mesh bag on the bottom of it that they weight down with rocks.
  • A Citizen Stream Monitoring Program, begun in 1988, that last year sent about 500 volunteers to about 800 locations on rivers and streams throughout Minnesota. The volunteers generally use a bucket to take a sample of water and then measure its clarity. But, instead of a Secchi disk, they use a transparency tube. That’s a clear tube with a centimeter scale printed on it that the volunteers fill with river or stream water. Then they let water run out of valve on the bottom until they can see a symbol printed on the base of the tube.

The river and stream monitors are asked to visit their sampling stations once a week, from April through September, and after heavy rains. The clarity readings they make with their transparency tubes are used by the MPCA to estimate the level of turbidity caused by suspended solids – sediment, organic material and algae –in the water.

  • A relatively new lake monitoring effort, called the Advanced Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, in which volunteers who have demonstrated a commitment to monitoring by taking Secchi readings for two years, receive additional training and more-sophisticated equipment and are asked to undertake expanded testing on selected lakes.

In that program, the volunteers take Secchi readings and note their observations of water conditions. In addition, they use a probe and a hand-held meter to measure the temperature of the water and the level of oxygen dissolved in it. Then they take a 2-liter sample of lake water and pour off some of the sample into a small bottle whose contents later will be analyzed at a state laboratory to determine how much phosphorus and nitrogen it contains.

Later, onshore, the volunteers pump more of the lake water through a filter and then place the filter in a petri dish, which they are asked to store in their home refrigerators until the samples are delivered to a lab. Analysis of the filter tells how much chlorophyll was in the water, a measure of algae.

  • An extensive series of partnerships in which the MPCA provides up to $2 million a year to about 40 public and private organizations – soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, counties, college and universities and associations of lakeshore owners — to recruit volunteers, and in some cases assign paid staff members, to collect data on lakes and rivers and to contract with private labs to analyze samples.

That testing yields data on clarity, E-coli bacteria, chloride, ammonia, suspended solids, phosphorus, nitrogen and chlorophyll. The PCA contracts with Minnesota Waters, a nonprofit group, to train participants in that program.

In addition to the MPCA’s water monitoring program, the Metropolitan Council has had an extensive lake monitoring program for more than 25 years. That program now tests water quality in about 200 lakes across the seven-county metro area. The council works with about 35 local partners – cities, counties and watershed districts — to recruit, train and supervise volunteers.

The local partners provide the equipment and pay for laboratory analysis. The volunteers conduct Secchi readings and collect samples in a monitoring procedure that is similar to the Pollution Control Agency’s advanced monitoring.

The Met Council posts the test results in its electronic Environmental Management System, and the lakes are graded each year – A through F – based on their average readings for clarity and phosphorus and chlorophyll content.

Volunteers also do extensive environmental monitoring in wetlands in two metro counties: Dakota and Hennepin. Participating cities in the two counties pay the cost of the monitoring, and the MPCA provides training.

That project, called the Wetland Health Evaluation Program, sends volunteers into wetlands in June and July.

In June, the volunteers, working in teams of five to 20 people, set bottle traps and use dip nets to capture macro-invertebrate organisms such as dragonflies, mayflies, leeches, snails and beetles. They classify, inventory and record the populations they find.

In July, the volunteers re-visit the wetlands, mark off 100-square-meter plots and inventory the plant species there.

All the data on the invertebrates and the plants are converted into two indices of biological integrity. Each wetland that is monitored is rated on a three-point scale – poor, moderate, excellent – for both macro-invertebrates and vegetation.

In Dakota County, about 120 volunteers monitored 32 wetlands last year. In Hennepin, about 80 volunteers monitored 32 wetlands.

Helen Goeden of Apple Valley and her husband, Colin Brownlow, and their children have been volunteering in the program since about 2000. Goeden estimated she spent about 25 hours, spread across seven or eight evenings, working in the program last summer.

Goeden, a Minnesota Health Department research scientist who spends her working hours developing standards for ground water purity, said she chooses to devote part of her free time to the wetlands monitoring because it allows her to share her passion for the environment with her kids and because she thinks all types of water are under-appreciated.

“People treat water like it’s free, but it’s probably the most precious resource we have,” she said.

  • The MPCA’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Program has volunteers testing clarity on about one-tenth of Minnesota’s lakes. The program particularly needs volunteers who live in northern Minnesota or regularly visit cabins there. The program also seeks canoeists heading to the Boundary Waters. The MPCA has information and an application on its web site at:www.pca.state.mn.us/water/clmp.html.  Email the program coordinator at clmp@pca.state.mn.us or call 800-657-3864.
  • You may be able to join one of the organizations, such as watershed districts and lake associations, receiving grants from the MPCA to monitor lakes and streams. Email Ron Schwartz at ronald.schwartz@state.mn.us or call 651-757-2708. Or you can contact Courtney Kowalczak at Minnesota Waters. Email courtneyk@minnesotawaters.org or call 218-343-2180.
  • If you live in the Twin Cities, you may be able to join one of the monitoring programs run by cities and watershed districts in partnership with the Metropolitan Council. Participation is limited by the budgets of the partners. Contact Brian Johnson at brian.johnson@metc.state.mn.us or call 651-602-8743.
  • There are many other water monitoring programs that use student and adult volunteers. A partial list, with links to some of the programs, is part of an MPCA report to the Legislature. The report, available on the MPCA web site, is titled “Citizen Monitoring of Surface Water Quality.”

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

Divvying up $168 million for water resources

January 7, 2009

By Patrick Sweeney

If you had $168 million to spend on studying, conserving and cleaning up Minnesota’s ground and surface waters, how would use the money? How much would you spend on educating the public? How much would you spend on bricks-and-mortar projects?

With a mandate, written into the state constitution, that new money from a sales tax increase approved by voters in November must not replace “traditional” funding for the environment, how do you determine what should be funded with other taxes and what can be paid for with the sales tax revenue?

Those are decisions the Legislature will face over the next several months as lawmaker divide up revenue from the sales tax increase. And it’s a task that the state’s Clean Water Council is eager to help perform.

The 23-member council spent five hours Monday listening to requests from state agencies, university researchers and non-profit environmental groups seeking a share of the new revenue.

The state agency requests, all presented informally because Gov. Tim Pawlenty has not yet given lawmakers his proposed budget, included:

 A Minnesota Department of Health appeal for $1.8 million over two years for a new research center devoted to the study of new contaminants for which water-quality standards have not been set, and for an additional $3.25 million to protect ground and surface waters used by public water systems.

 A Department of Agriculture proposal for $2 million to $5 million to look for acetochlor, a herbicide, in surface waters and to improve efforts to protect ground water from nitrates.

 A request from the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority for $17 million to $32 million to provide grants and loans to communities seeking to build or upgrade sewage treatment plants.

Cliff Aichinger, administrator of the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Cities Stormwater Coalition, urged the Clean Water Council to recommend spending 4 percent to 8 percent of the $168 million on educational activities aimed at persuading property owners to reduce runoff from their homes and businesses.

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition, made up of the Farm Bureau, corn and soybean growers’ groups and a number of other agriculture industry groups, asked the council to support spending $1 million a year to fund a University of Minnesota-led “Discovery Farms” program. The program, patterned after a similar one in Wisconsin, would study water quality on a small scale – individual fields and farms — at 10 to 12 sites around Minnesota.

All the funding proposals presented Monday are scheduled to be posted soon on the Clean Water Council’s web site.

The Clean Water Council, established by the Legislature in 2006, has assumed the responsibility – unless, or until, lawmakers decide differently – for recommending how the Legislature should spend revenue the new tax will produce for water projects over the next two years.

One-third of the total tax is earmarked in the state constitution to protect and improve water resources. The $168 million is an estimate of the portion that will be available for water projects. Of that amount, at least 5 percent much be spent to protect drinking water.

The constitutional amendment authorizing the sales tax increase also funds fish and game habitat, parks and trails, and the arts.

It is unclear how much attention legislators will pay to the Clean Water Council’s recommendations. Lawmakers last year created the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council, a 12-member group named by legislative leaders and the governor, to recommend spending priorities for the tax proceeds designated for habitat. No such body exists in law to screen spending proposals for water projects.

But the Clean Water Council has undertaken that role, and it is possible the role will be formalized. State Rep. Paul Torkelson, a freshman Republican from St. James who currently is a member of the council, said Monday he planned to introduce legislation that would make the council the official screening body for water projects.

Torkelson acknowledged, though, that some lawmakers want to re-structure the council to give the Legislature a say in appointing its member if the council is to be designated as the official screening body. At present, the governor appoints 19 voting members of the council, and four state agencies provide non-voting members. Torkelson also said that, if legislation giving the council that role eventually is enacted, it probably would be with a Democratic-Farmer-Labor sponsor. Both the House and Senate have DFL majorities.

The Clean Water Council in December approved a biennial report to the Legislature, recommending $98 million in water spending over the next two years. On Jan. 26, the council is scheduled to make recommendations on an additional $70 million. Most of the proposals Monday dealt with that $70 million.

Citizens may comment on water-related spending by contacting the council’s staff, Jeff.Risberg@state.mn.us, until 5 p.m. on Jan. 14.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.