Archive for the ‘water pollution’ Category

Watersheds; ag pollution; carp and moose

February 28, 2011

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.

Izaak Walton-Freshwater conference set March 12
Learn about how watershed districts in Minnesota are governed and what they do. And, most important, learn how citizens can work through local watershed organizations to improve water quality in the lakes, rivers and streams around them.

 On Saturday, March 12, the Izaak Walton League and the Freshwater Society will sponsor a workshop titled “Managing Water on the Land from a Watershed Perspective.”

 Tom Davenport, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expert on nonpoint-source pollution, especially agricultural pollution, will give the keynote luncheon address.

 The workshop – the latest in an annual series of Izaak Walton League summit meetings on important water and conservation issues – will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 4:30 p.m. at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

What are some farmers doing, things that many more could do, to prevent soil erosion and water pollution? What are some the trends in agriculture –  rapidly rising commodity prices, soaring land prices and cash rent payments to non-farmer land owners, a huge demand for corn for ethanol production — that threaten to increase pollution and erosion? And how should the federal Farm Bill be rewritten to encourage and reward conservation?

About 200 people turned out Feb. 24 to hear Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group address those questions in a lecture at the University of Minnesota.

For more information, an agenda and registration details, go to the web site of the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League.

Craig A. Cox

If you had to miss the lecture

What are some farmers doing, things that many more could do, to prevent soil erosion and water pollution? What are some the trends in agriculture –  rapidly rising commodity prices, soaring land prices and cash rent payments to non-farmer land owners, a huge demand for corn for ethanol production — that threaten to increase pollution and erosion? And how should the federal Farm Bill be rewritten to encourage and reward conservation?

About 200 people turned out Feb. 24 to hear Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group address those questions in a lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

If you could not attend the talk, video and audio recordings are posted at www.freshwater.org.

Coon Rapids Dam backed as carp barrier
The Coon Rapids Dam Commission recommended the state spend $17 million to upgrade the 100-year-old dam to keep unwanted fish from migrating up the Mississippi River into popular northern Minnesota lakes.

The recommendation, backed by the state Department of Natural Resources, urges legislators to make improvements as soon as possible using state bonds, money provided by the Legacy Amendment or other funds. 

“This is the best option we have at the moment,” said Luke Skinner, supervisor of the DNR’s invasive species program. “We don’t have the luxury of time.” 

A major concern is a feared influx of high-jumping Asian carp, reducing habitat for game fish and creating a hazard to boaters and water skiers. 

Gov. Mark Dayton has included $16 million for dam repairs in his proposed $1 billion bonding bill.
–The Star Tribune

Moose decline may cut permits
Officials of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say they likely will cut the number of moose hunting permits in half for this fall’s moose season.

That follows the latest moose population survey, which shows moose numbers continuing to decline in northeast Minnesota.

Last year, 212 permits were issued for the bulls-only moose season. Minnesota Public Radio News reports the DNR is expected to reduce that to a little more than 100 permits for the season that starts in October.

DNR area wildlife manager Tom Rusch in Tower says there is no clear answer why the moose population is declining.
–The Associated Press

 Minnesota Senate OKs permitting speed-up
Throwing a nod to business, the Minnesota Senate passed a collection of regulatory streamlining measures aimed at boosting statewide job growth.

 The effort to speed up environmental review and permitting processes cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 49-16 vote two weeks after the House passed a slightly different version.

 The bill would make permanent four initiatives Gov. Mark Dayton required in an executive order last month. But it would add two more controversial ones: allowing permitting appeals to skip lower courts and go straight to the state Court of Appeals and allowing businesses to develop their own draft environmental reviews.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the measure would help new and expanding businesses cut the time it takes to get the state permits they need and, accordingly, add jobs.

It would establish goals for the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency to issue or deny permits and would require agency reports tracking progress. It also would enable electronic submission of environmental review and permit documents. And it would require the state to prove federal standards are inadequate before adopting more stringent ones. 

Over objections from some Democratic-Farmer-Labor colleagues, the Senate exempted the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board from permitting requirements.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin bill would repeal drinking water rule
Republican members of both legislative houses have pushed a bill for discussion that would effectively repeal a rule that requires municipal governments to disinfect drinking water.

The Department of Natural Resources law that went into effect Dec. 1 requires all local governments to go through certain steps to ensure the area’s water is safe for the public. 

State Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, I-Manitowoc, said the rule needed to be repealed because it only aids a small number of Wisconsinites, but all are forced to pay for its costs. 

“I can tell you a couple of villages in my district have been very extensively impacted by a rule that is a one size fits all rule,” Ziegelbauer, one of the bill’s endorsers, said. “Their drinking water is perfectly safe — they monitor it, and this new requirement would require them to put in some very expensive unnecessary equipment.”
–The Badger Herald

Air testing planned in St. Louis Park
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Health and the city of St. Louis Park will hold two open houses Thursday, March 3, to answer questions about upcoming vapor intrusion testing near the Reilly Tar & Chemical Superfund site.

The open houses will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at the St. Louis Park Public Library, 3240 Library Lane. 

In late March or early April, EPA will offer free air sampling air in about 30 homes and apartment buildings in an area bounded by 32nd Street West to the north, Highway 7 to the south, Louisiana Avenue to the east and Pennsylvania Avenue to the west. 

 The sampling area is part of the 80-acre Reilly Tar & Chemical Corp. site, which was used for coal tar distillation and wood preserving from 1917 to 1972. It was sold to St. Louis Park and converted to residential and recreational uses in 1972.

Air samples will be analyzed for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, better known as PAHs, which have been detected in the ground water and soil under the site. Breathing low levels of PAHs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems.

 The project will involve “sub-slab” sampling under basements and slabs to test for gases that may be collecting beneath building foundations.
–EPA News Release

Ag runoff, phenology and invasives

February 7, 2011
Craig A. Cox from the Environmental Working Group

Craig A. Cox

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 where they originally were published.

‘Taking the pollution out of agriculural production’
Aricultural runoff – fertilizers and pesticides from cultivated fields, manure from pastures and feedlots, sediment washed away by erosion – pollutes many U.S. lakes and rivers. Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group will talk about the agricultural pollution problem and some strategies for reducing it in a free public lecture on Thursday, Feb. 24,  at the University of Minnesota.

Cox’s lecture, titled “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences. It is part of the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources.

The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited, and pre-registration is required.

 Cox has worked on land and water conservation for nearly 30 years for agencies that include the National  Academy of Sciences, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Society. As senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, he coordinates the organization’s research and advocacy on agriculture, renewable energy and climate change.

 Calling all phenologists and weather observers
Do you keep track of when the first butterfly arrives, when the oaks lose their leaves? Do you make a record of the weather around you every day? Do you just have fun observing nature?

  If your answer is yes, here is an invitation to join the second annual gathering of Minnesota Phenology and Weather Observers to learn, share your interests and play in the snow in the hills overlooking Lake Superior.

This Phenology and Weather Observers Gathering will take place on the weekend of March 4-6, 2011, at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center; Finland, Minn. 

Space is limited. First come, first serve. The cost of $130includes six meals and occupancy in rooms of up to six. For information and registration, go the Wolf Ridge web site. 

The Gathering is organized, taught and supported by Minnesota Phenology Network, University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources, UMD Large Lakes Obeservatory,National Weather Service (Duluth office), Minnesota Climatology Working Group, USA National Phenology Network, Wolf Ridge ELC, Sugarloaf North Shore Stewardship Assn., John Latimer, Larry Weber, and a variety of dedicated individuals.

Enthusiasts, casual observers, professionals, teachers, researchers all have something to gain. Activities range from exploring nature’s happenings on snowshoes to learning how researchers utilize satellites to monitor changes in nature the size of a leaf. Presenters are very experienced: naturalists, professors, and professional researchers from highly regarded institutions. The new organization’s first meeting in 2010 was profiled in the Freshwater Society newsletter.

 Legislators want quick action on invasives
State lawmakers are urging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to move faster in crafting new laws to stop the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.

Rep. Dennis McNamara, R-Hastings, told DNR officials during a House hearing that the Legislature is ready to hear proposals as soon as possible.

“You can’t sit on your hands and not deal with this,” said McNamara, the chairman of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. “I want legislation here shortly to deal with this in a major way.”

 DNR officials told McNamara’s committee some far-reaching proposals could infringe on boaters’ movement from lake to lake and would be expensive. They also said fighting the pests would require help from local governments.”We get a lot of, ‘The DNR is not doing enough,’ ” Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species program supervisor, told the House committee. “But we turn around and say, ‘Help us.’ ”

McNamara’s challenge was a clear signal to the DNR to formulate the most stringent rules yet to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, especially zebra mussels.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Bill seeks bar to DNR land buys
Some state representatives want to put the brakes on new land purchases by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has authored a bill that prohibits the state from purchasing land unless it puts up for sale an equal amount of state property. The idea is for the state to have no net gain of state land.

 The bill has 16 co-authors, including Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who has been a vocal opponent of the DNR acquiring additional land.

The bill is the strongest effort yet by House lawmakers to stop state land acquisition that is under way with money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

 Rukavina and others argue the DNR can’t maintain the land it owns, and thus shouldn’t buy any more.

DNR officials say land prices in many areas of the state are bargains and landowners are eager to sell to protect it for state parks, Wildlife Management Areas and lakeshore protection.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

  USGS predicts groundwater declines in Great Lakes basin
Though the Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth, the basin has the potential for local shortages, according to a new basin-wide water availability assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey.

For example, though groundwater pumping has had relatively little effect on water in the basin as a whole, pumping in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas has caused local groundwater levels to decline as much as 1,000 feet. Moreover, if pumping were to increase as anticipated in the region, water levels in these areas are estimated to decline an additional 100 feet by 2040.

 While there is an abundance of water in the region, we may see local shortages or conflicts because water is not distributed evenly,” said Howard Reeves, USGS scientist and lead author on this assessment. “In some areas, the physical quantity of water may be limiting, and water availability in most of the Great Lakes Basin will be determined by social decisions about impacts of new uses on existing users and the environment.”
–USGS News Release

Research depicts ground-surface water link
An article published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes a new and simple way of measuring groundwater’s contribution to small streams on the surface.

Sinking land levels in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

By taking snapshots of streams with a device designed to capture, through infrared radiation images, the temperatures in various parts of the water, the approach “advances the immediate detection and quantification of localized groundwater inflow for hydrology, geology and ecology,” the article’s authors, Tobias Schuetz and Marcus Weiler of the University of Freiburg’s Institue of Hydrology, wrote. 

Groundwater, they found, tends to be cooler than surface water in summer and warmer in winter; the infrared devices record the difference and produce images that show groundwater as clearly as night goggles show a human figure in the dark.
–The New York Times

 Asian carp czar interviewed on MPR
The man President Barack Obama has charged with managing the Asian carp threat is hearing criticism that the government is not moving fast enough to prevent the invasive fish from infiltrating the Great Lakes.

John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is in the midst of 12 public meetings scheduled around the Great Lakes region to discuss the federal strategy.

 Asian species known as bighead and silver carp have migrated up the Illinois River. They are being stopped from entering Lake Michigan by an electric barrier 25 miles south of Chicago.

Biologists have warned that if they reach the Great Lakes they could starve out other fish and harm the eco-system.

 Goss was interviewed on MPR’s “All Things Considered.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Flooding predicted throughout Minnesota
The forecast for spring flooding statewide came down to two words:

 Look out. 

Offering their first formal long-range regional outlook of the season, Dan Luna, a National Weather Service meteorologist, and other officials said all the state’s rivers are expected to close roads, including major highways, foul up sewer systems and back up into basements again this spring. That’s almost certain to mean detours for metro-area commuters and hours of sandbagging and sump-pumping for residents from Fargo-Moorhead to Afton.

 “Every river in the state of Minnesota is at risk of flooding this spring,” Luna said, noting how the third straight wet autumn was followed by snowfall that has been twice the norm (or more) over nearly the entire state. He said 3 to 6 inches of frozen water now rests atop frozen ground across Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Ex-MPCA head Brad Moore joins mining firm
A former head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, who also held a top position at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, has been hired by PolyMet Mining Co. as the firm’s executive vice president of environmental and governmental affairs.

 Duluth native Brad Moore will assume “overall responsibility for the Company’s effort to complete environmental review and obtain permits necessary for construction and operation of the’’ proposed PolyMet copper mining operation between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, the company announced.

 Moore served as PCA commissioner from 2006 to 2008 and as assistant commissioner for operations of the DNR from 1999 to 2006. He also worked in several policy positions at DNR and the Minnesota Department of Public Service (now the Department of Commerce.)

Moore’s “existing knowledge of the project and the process mean that he can step in immediately to effectively help the environmental review and permitting process move forward to completion,’’ said LaTisha Gietzen, PolyMet’s vice president of public, governmental and environmental affairs, in a statement on the hiring.

 Moore has most recently worked for Barr Engineering as Senior Advisor, Public and Governmental Affairs where he advised several companies, including PolyMet, on environmental strategy.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Dow, Nature Conservancy sign $10 million deal
Dow Chemical Co. pledged to make environmental protection a primary consideration in all its business decisions and to operate its plants in more nature-friendly ways in partnership with a leading conservation group.

 The Michigan-based chemical company said it had entered a five-year, $10 million collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, which will advise Dow and provide technical assistance on reducing its ecological footprint. Executives said they hoped to lead the way to a new era in which corporations and environmental advocates would become less confrontational and work together for sustainable economic growth. 

“Most people believe it’s a choice — it’s either grow the economy or protect the environment . . . the classic zero-sum game in which someone has to lose,” Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said in a joint appearance before the Detroit Economic Club with Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Dow intends to “demonstrate that protecting nature can be a profitable global priority and can be a smart business strategy,” Liveris said.
–The Associated Press

 Report: Population growth threatens Colorado ag land
Increasing water demands could dry up more than a half million acres of agricultural land in Colorado over the next several years.

That’s one of the findings of a new state report on the outlook for Colorado’s water supplies to 2050. The report by the Colorado Water Conservation Board updates one released in 2004 that identified water needs to 2030.

The report says if water use follows current trends, large volumes will be shifted away from agricultural uses, drying up as many as 700,000 irrigated acres. The report found that Colorado will have look to conservation, reusing water, local water projects and developing new water supplies to meet the state’s needs.
–The Associated Press

 Jordan gravel pit plan draws concern
A proposed gravel pit near Jordan has created a dust storm over concerns that the city’s water, air and roads could be damaged by the operation.

Officials in Sand Creek Township also oppose it because of possible groundwater contamination they believe could result from the digging. 

The proposed pit would be on about 80 acres in Sand Creek in the 17000 block of Valley View Drive, just north of Jordan near Hwy. 169. After the mining is done, the pit would be turned into a pond. 

“There’s a ton of issues out there,” said Cy Wolf, chairman of the Sand Creek Township board. “But that’s the biggest fear we have out there, Sand Creek flooding over.” If the polluted river were to flood, it could flow into the pond and contaminate it. From there, some fear, it could seep into the groundwater.
–The Star Tribune

Endangered status proposed for two freshwater mussels
In these parts, freshwater mussels often conjure up images of invasives, infestations and lake devastation. And that’s understandable. In October, zebra mussels were found in Gull Lake, and Brainerd’s best-known lake was designated as infested waters.

It was the second time in less than four months that zebra mussels were discovered in a popular Minnesota lake. In July, the DNR found them in Lake Minnetonka.

But not all mussels are bad. In fact, nearly all freshwater mussels are a positive for Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams. And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, two are in need of protection.

 The USFWS has proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the sheepnose and the spectaclecase, two freshwater mussels found in river systems in Minnesota.
--The Brainerd Dispatch

 Anti-zebra mussel bacteria holds promise
A bacteria that can kill zebra and quagga mussels has raised hopes for private and public organizations fighting to control the environmentally hazardous species.

New York State Museum researchers Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer discovered a bacteria strain — Pseudomonas fluorescens — that can kill zebra and quagga mussels without killing other native species in the ecosystem.

“The eureka moment did not come, interestingly enough, when we discovered the bacteria could kill zebra and quagga mussels, but came when we discovered the lack of sensitivity among non-target species,” Mayer said in a phone interview.

Scientists have found plenty of agents capable of killing the mussels, but in most instances they’ve also killed everything else in an ecosystem, Mayer said.
–The Tahoe Daily Tribune 

USDA approves genetically modified alfalfa
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that he would authorize the unrestricted commercial cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa, setting aside a controversial compromise that had generated stiff opposition.

In making the decision, Mr. Vilsack pulled back from a novel proposal that would have restricted the growing of genetically engineered alfalfa to protect organic farmers from so-called biotech contamination. That proposal drew criticism at a recent Congressional hearing and in public forums where Mr. Vilsack outlined the option.

 Mr. Vilsack said that his department would take other measures, like conducting research and promoting dialogue, to make sure that pure, nonengineered alfalfa seed would remain available.
–The New York Times

Got milk? Got antibiotics?
Each year, federal inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue.

But the testing plan met with fierce protest from the dairy industry, which said that it could force farmers to needlessly dump millions of gallons of milk while they waited for test results. Industry officials and state regulators said the testing program was poorly conceived and could lead to costly recalls that could be avoided with a better plan for testing.

In response, the F.D.A. postponed the testing, and now the two sides are sparring over how much danger the antibiotics pose and the best way to ensure that the drugs do not end up in the milk supply.
–The New York Times

Climate threatens Kenya, Ethiopia
The increased frequency of drought observed in eastern Africa over the last 20 years is likely to continue as long as global temperatures continue to rise, according to new research published in Climate Dynamics.

 This poses increased risk to the estimated 17.5 million people in the Greater Horn of Africa who currently face potential food shortages.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California, Santa Barbara, determined that warming of the Indian Ocean, which causes decreased rainfall in eastern Africa, is linked to global warming. These new projections of continued drought contradict previous scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting increased rainfall in eastern Africa. 

This new research supports efforts by the USGS and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify areas of potential drought and famine in order to target food aid and help inform agricultural development, environmental conservation, and water resources planning. 

“Global temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, and we anticipate that average precipitation totals in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue decreasing or remain below the historical average,” said USGS scientist Chris Funk.
–USGS News Release 

Oregon rules seek to promote graywater use
Oregon has a new proposal to allow reuse of household and business wastewater for irrigation — and, yes, it excludes wastewater from toilets.

The draft “graywater” regulations require homeowners, schools, businesses, apartment complexes and others to apply for permits costing at least $50 a year before installing irrigation systems using water from showers, baths, sinks or washers.

That’s tougher than California, which decided in 2009 not to require permits for the simplest graywater systems.

But the costs and paperwork in Oregon should be lower than the patchwork of local regulation and permits in place now, regulators say.
–The Oregonian

 Silt building up at mouth of Mississippi
River pilots and exporters are warning that the mouth of the Mississippi River is silting in, threatening a major commercial route, because there is not enough money to pay for dredges that normally keep the channel open.

Seizing on the State of the Union speech, they said the muddy picture on the Mississippi undermines President Barack Obama’s goal of making the United States more competitive. In his speech, Obama told Americans he was focused on “doubling our exports … because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.”

The Mississippi River is a major thoroughfare to the world’s markets for grain, soybeans, pig iron, coal and many other products for 29 states and Canada. About 60 percent of U.S. grain exports cross the mouth of the Mississippi.

But to keep the cargo flowing, the river needs constant tinkering.

The Mississippi carries huge amounts of silt and sediment down river — about 200 million tons a year — and unless it is stirred up by dredges the river clogs up — and that’s what’s happening now.
–The Associated Press

USGS report documents nitrate pollution

September 24, 2010

Pollution of both surface and ground waters by two major contaminants – nitrogen and phosphorus – has failed to improve or has gotten worse since the early 1990s, a major new study by the U.S. Geological Survey reports.

The new study, released Thursday, Sept. 23,  contained compelling evidence about the widespread nitrate contamination of shallow aquifers, the source of water for many people who rely on private wells.  

The study, which examined results from multiple tests of streams and groundwater between 1992 and 2004, found:

  •   Nitrate concentrations in 7 percent of about 2,400 private wells across the country exceeded the national health standard for drinking water.
  •  In agricultural areas, water from more than 20 percent of the shallow private wells tested exceeded the health standard.
  •  In deeper wells used for public water supply systems, about 3 percent of the water tested exceeded the limit.
  • In streams in agricultural and urban areas, levels of nitrogen and phosphorus were two to 10 times greater than Environmental Protection Agency criteria set for protecting the health of plants and other organisms.

Elevated levels of nitrate can be caused by fertilizers, runoff from feedlots and septic systems. High levels of nitrate in drinking water are especially harmful for infants, causing a condition known as methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome.”

Phosphorus from fertilizers and naturally occurring organic sources feeds nuisance algae growth. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to oxygen-deprived “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and other waters.

The USGS report, titled Elevated Nitrogen and Phosphorus Still Widespread in Much of the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater, is available at www.usgs.gov.

In a news release announcing the report’s release, Mathew C. Larsen, the USGS associate director for water, said: “Despite major federal, state and local efforts and expenditures to control sources and movement of nutrients within our nation’s watersheds, national-scale progress was not evident in this assessment, which is based on thousands of measurements and hundreds of studies across the country from the 1990s and early 2000s.”

In Minnesota, a random test of water quality in about 700 private wells in the mid-90s by the state Health Department, found that 5.8 percent exceeded the health standard for nitrate.

 In Dakota County, where the county aggressively samples water from private wells, about one in every four wells violates the health standard for nitrate, according to Jill Trescott, the county’s supervisor for groundwater protection.

 “It’s definitely worse in the rural parts of the county, particularly in the east and the south,” Trescott said. And she added: “It’s the older wells we see problems with.” Newer wells, drilled since about 1989, are much less likely to exceed the nitrate standard because wells since then have been drilled deeper, she said.

Drug collections; a documentary reviewed

September 20, 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.

Special drug collections set Saturday, Sept. 25
Dozens of police departments and county sheriffs in Minnesota and Wisconsin are taking part in a special effort to collect unused and out-of-date prescription and nonprescription drugs on Saturday, Sept. 25.

 The collection effort was organized by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and it is aimed at preventing accidental poisonings of children, keeping drugs out of toilets and drains — where they pollute lakes and rivers — and out of garbage cans — where the drugs sometimes fall into the hands of drug abusers. Drugs collected on Saturday will be incinerated. 

Six counties in or near the Twin Cities metro area – Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington and Sherburne – are among more than 3,400 groups nationwide that are taking part in the collections, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Many western Wisconsin police and sheriff’s agencies also are taking part. In some cases, you may need to live in the county conducting the collection to be allowed to drop off drugs there. 

To find a collection near you, go to the DEA web site. Taking drugs to a collection, such as these, is the best option for disposal. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has guidelines for disposal when a collection is not available. 

U of M suspends opening of film on ag pollution
Two weeks ago, the University of Minnesota abruptly put on hold the scheduled release of a documentary film about pollution of the Mississippi River by agricultural nutrients and other contaminants. The documentary was partly funded by a $349,000 state grant. Here are reports on the university action by: the Star Tribune; the Pioneer Press; Minnesota Public Radio; the Twin Cities Daily Planet online publication, which first reported the university’s sudden postponement of a premiere of the film; and an official statement from the university’s Bell Museum, which was responsible for production of the film. 

Can barley bales beat algae?
Stillwater residents who live around McKusick Lake are using a novel—and natural—way to get rid of the algae that’s clouding their lake: a bale of barley.

 Residents pooled their money earlier this year to buy a 700-pound bale of barley straw, divide it up and sink it in the lake.

 So far, so good, said Bruce Werre, who lives on the lake and has been spearheading the barley drive.

“Let’s put it this way: The algae has not reared its ugly head again,” Werre said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m optimistic enough to have quadrupled our order for next year.” 

A major algae bloom in May after several rainstorms and a heat wave led Werre and about 10 other members of the McKusick Lake Water Association to spend $300 on the project.

“It was the weekend of the fishing opener. I left on May 14, and the lake was beautiful,” Werre said. “I came back on May 18, and the lake was covered—completely covered. We just needed to do something. This was something that we could do as far as boots on the ground and feet in the water to try and combat the algae.” 

Studies have shown that decomposing barley straw releases an enzyme that inhibits new algae growth, said Erik Anderson, a water resource specialist with the Washington Conservation District. In 2002 and 2003, the district released barley straw to combat algae growth in Gellums Bay of Big Marine Lake, but it didn’t work and hasn’t been used since, he said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Research: Manganese in water affects IQ
An IQ comparison shows that Canadian regulations on manganese in drinking water should be updated to protect children, Quebec researchers say. 

The average IQ of children whose tap water was in the upper 20 per cent of manganese concentration was six points below children whose water contained little or no manganese, the researchers found.

The study looked at 362 children aged six to 13. The amount of manganese from tap water and food was estimated, based on the results of a questionnaire. 

Manganese is a naturally occurring metal found in groundwater. It is an essential nutrient, but in excessive amounts, it can damage the nervous system. It occurs in naturally high levels in several parts of Quebec, New Brunswick and other regions, researchers say. 

Their study, published in the online issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, focused on manganese levels in drinking water in eight communities along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City.
–CBC News 

Xcel plans to remove Granite Falls dam
Local residents expressed concerns at a town hall meeting in Granite Falls as Xcel Energy presented a plan to remove the Minnesota Falls Dam located three miles downstream from the city.

 More than 100 years old, the dam was constructed in 1905 to provide hydroelectric power but has not been used to generate electricity since 1961. In the 1930s the dam provided chilled water to an Xcel Energy coal-fired power plant, but since the plant’s closure Xcel officials said the deteriorating structure serves no purpose and has been nothing but a potential liability to the company.

 The decision to remove the dam does not come without controversy. Several businesses upstream from the river, such as Granite Falls Energy and the Granite Falls Golf Course, use water intake structures on the river that would be affected if water levels drop as a result of the dam removal.

“Water levels will go down if the dam is removed,” Tom MacDonald, an engineer with Barr Engineering, who was hired by Xcel Energy to analyze the dam, said. “Granite Falls Energy will be impacted the most.”
–The Independent

Wisconsin citizens monitor mussels
ROME, Wis. — On a recent September evening, 17 people gingerly waded into the cool, fast-flowing waters of the Bark River outside this Jefferson County village and commenced a search for some of Wisconsin’s rarest and most threatened creatures.

 There, not far from the village’s backyards and within sight of a barnyard or two, they started finding as exotic a menagerie as one might imagine finding in the most remote rainforest. Fat muckets and elktoes. Threeridges and pigtoes. Pocketbooks and ellipses and black sandshells. 

These delightfully named river denizens are all freshwater mussels, or what most know as clams. The health of their populations in the state’s rivers are an excellent indication of the health of our waters, according to Lisie Kitchell, a DNR conservation biologist whose speciality is mussels. 

Now, a new citizen monitoring program is sending Wisconsin residents into their neighborhood rivers and streams to provide the first new information on the state’s mussels since data was last gathered in the 1970s.
–The Wisconsin State Journal 

Groundwater pollutants blames on ‘fracking’
Water testing by a private environmental engineering firm has discovered toxic chemicals in wells in a township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

Victoria Switzer, a resident of the northeastern Pennsylvania township of Dimock, revealed the results of the water tests from her well this week at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on hydraulic fracturing in Binghamton, New York.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a controversial process used to extract natural gas from deep underground. Critics say chemicals used in the process can be injected into groundwater.
–CNN

 U.S. military to cut water, energy use
Defense Department officials plan to reduce the military’s water and fossil fuels consumption by more than 20 percent in the next decade under an Obama administration plan to make government agencies better stewards of the environment.

 The department’s priorities for this year and next are to invest in fixed installations, enhance buildings and ensure sustainability concepts in doctrine and policy, Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, wrote in the department’s portion of the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.

 White House officials released the plan Sept. 9. It includes a roadmap submitted from each department outlining how they will reduce their impact on the environment while meeting mission goals. The plan is the result of an executive order by President Barack Obama.
–Defense Department News Release

Opinion: Restoring Lake Pepin is a priority
The little fishing boat launched as usual from Hansen’s Harbor for a late-summer excursion on Lake Pepin, the Mississippi River’s broad-shouldered bend through the lush bluffs of southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin. But just beyond the shoreline riprap, a troubling sight came into focus. 

Something resembling a giant, fluorescent mat of Astroturf carpeted the waves ahead. The same green gunk coated other swaths of the sailboat-studded lake — bringing back memories of the 1988 blue-green algae bloom that caused foul-smelling scum and localized fish kills. 

A closer look at the oatmeal-like growth, along with calls to the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of natural resources, quickly allayed fears that blue-green algae was back. The swaths on the lake this summer are a relatively benign type of aquatic plant called duckweed that may have been swept downriver by this summer’s heavy rainfall.

While the duckweed diagnosis isn’t cause for alarm, its startling appearance should serve as a reminder that Pepin remains an impaired water body whose very existence is at risk.
–The Star Tribune

‘Green’ products come with tradeoffs
Some longtime users were furious.

 “My dishes were dirtier than before they were washed,” one wrote last week in the review section of the Web site for the Cascade line of dishwasher detergents. “It was horrible, and I won’t buy it again.”

 “This is the worst product ever made for use as a dishwashing detergent!” another consumer wrote.

 Like every other major detergent for automatic dishwashers, Proctor & Gamble’s Cascade line recently underwent a makeover. Responding to laws that went into effect in 17 states in July, the nation’s detergent makers reformulated their products to reduce what had been the crucial ingredient, phosphates, to just a trace.

 While phosphates help prevent dishes from spotting in the wash cycle, they have long ended up in lakes and reservoirs, stimulating algae growth that deprives other plants and fish of oxygen. 

Yet now, with the content reduced, many consumers are finding the new formulas as appealing as low-flow showers, underscoring the tradeoffs that people often face today in a more environmentally conscious marketplace.
–The New York Times

Endocrine disruptors, irrigation and a carp ‘czar’

September 13, 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.

Lecture to explore pollution-birth defect link
It’s not too late to register to attend the Tuesday, Sept. 14, lecture by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist. Guillette, who spent 25 years researching the impact of water pollution on alligators and other wildlife, will present a free, public lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of St. Paul Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. 

Guillette’s research indicates common pollutants, including endocrine-disruptors, are causing birth defects, both in animals and humans. 

Go to www.freshwater.org for details. Dr. Guillette also will be interviewed at 10 a.m. Tuesday on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning show. 

Debate still rages over bisphenol-A
The research has been going on for more than 10 years. Studies number in the hundreds. Millions of dollars have been spent. But government health officials still cannot decide whether the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, a component of some plastics, is safe. The substance lines most food and drink cans, and is used to make hard, clear plastic bottles, containers and countless other products. Nearly everyone is exposed to it.

Concerns about BPA stem from studies in lab animals and cell cultures showing it can mimic the hormone estrogen. It is considered an “endocrine disruptor,” a term applied to chemicals that can act like hormones. But whether it does any harm in people is unclear.

Where science has left a void, politics and marketing have rushed in. A fierce debate has resulted, with one side dismissing the whole idea of endocrine disruptors as junk science and the other regarding BPA as part of a chemical stew that threatens public health.
–The New York Times

Study: Irrigation masks some climate warming
Expanded irrigation has made it possible to feed the world’s growing billions — and it may also temporarily be counteracting the effects of climate change in some regions, say scientists in a new study. But some major groundwater aquifers, a source of irrigation water, are projected to dry up in coming decades from continuing overuse, and when they do, people may face the double whammy of food shortages and higher temperatures.

 A new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research pinpoints where the trouble spots may be.

“Irrigation can have a significant cooling effect on regional temperatures, where people live,” said the study’s lead author, Michael Puma, a hydrologist who works jointly with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and its affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “An important question for the future is what happens to the climate if the water goes dry and the cooling disappears? How much warming is being hidden by irrigation?”
–Science Daily

 Asian carp ‘czar’ named
The White House has tapped a former leader of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as the Asian carp czar to oversee the federal response for keeping the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

 On a conference call, President Barack Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality announced the selection of John Goss to lead the nearly $80 million federal attack against Asian carp.

The carp, which have steadily moved toward Chicago since the 1990s, are aggressive eaters and frequently beat out native fish for food, threatening those populations.

 Goss was director of the Indiana department under two governors and served for four years as executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation. His challenge will be to oversee several studies — including one looking into shutting down the Chicago waterway system linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River — and to bring together Great Lakes states locked in a court battle over the response to the Asian carp threat.
–The Chicago Tribune

DNR: White Bear Lake needs more rain
For Bill and Kitty Anderson, White Bear Lake residents who fish on their hometown lake every week, waiting for rain to refill their fishing hole was no longer good enough.

 At a public meeting at White Bear Lake City Hall, the couple and at least 100 other residents listened to hydrologists and climatologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explain why the lake level has fallen five feet over the past three summers. The DNR blames persistent dry and drought conditions.

 In terms of solutions, Bill Anderson asked, why not run water from somewhere else, like the Mississippi River, into White Bear Lake?

 The water quality of the river doesn’t match the lake’s, the DNR specialists said.

 The city organized the meeting after several summers of dry weather have contributed to the lake dropping and receding from its shoreline — by more than 100 feet in some areas.

The meeting was timely — the lake reached a new all-time low days before, hitting 919.65 feet above sea level, down from the normal watermark of 924.89 feet above sea level, according to DNR data.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Colorado wastewater affecting fish
Wastewater pouring from sewage-treatment plants in Boulder and Denver is bending the gender of fish living downstream, a new study has found. 

Some of these strangely sexed sucker fish have male and female organs, and others have sexual deformities, according to a study by University of Colorado researchers. 

“It’s sort of a sentinel for us,” said David Norris, a CU biologist and an author of the report. “Every major city in the Western U.S. is looking at it.”

The paper, published this month in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, is the first peer-reviewed study documenting the reproductive problems of fish downstream from Colorado wastewater-treatment plants. 

Similarly odd fish have been found in England and in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., Environmental Protection Agency officials said.
–The Denver Post

 Hydro-power making comeback
The giant pipes wheeze and rumble, the whoosh of water coursing through them as noisy as a freeway. The Mount Elbert hydropower plant high in the Rocky Mountains isn’t much to look at—or listen to. But to true believers, it’s a road map to a greener future.

 Hydropower, shunned just a few years ago as an environmental scourge, is experiencing a remarkable resurgence in the U.S. Dams are still viewed warily; in fact, Congress is considering dismantling four hydroelectric dams blamed for depleting salmon in the Klamath River basin in southern Oregon and northern California.

But engineers and entrepreneurs are pressing an alternative view of hydropower that doesn’t involve new dams. They argue that plenty of efficient, economical energy can be wrung from other water resources, including ocean waves, free-flowing rivers, irrigation ditches—even the effluent discharged from wastewater treatment facilities.
–The Wall Street Journal

If water smells bad, it probably is 
Earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs. In a newly published USGS study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present.

 “It is commonly believed that there are no health risks associated with taste-and-odor compounds,” said Dr. Jennifer Graham, USGS limnologist and lead scientist on this study. “While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins in the blooms sampled. This finding highlights the need for increased cyanotoxin surveillance during taste-and-odor events so that the public can be advised and waters can be effectively treated.”

Cyanotoxins are produced by some cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria commonly form a blue-green, red or brown film-like layer on the surface of lakes and reservoirs. This phenomenon is frequently noticed in the United States during the summer, but also occurs during other seasons.

 Cyanotoxins can be poisonous to people, aquatic life, pets and livestock. Removing or treating affected water can be both costly and time-intensive. Cyanotoxins are currently on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water contaminant candidate list, and many states include cyanotoxins in their freshwater beach-monitoring programs.
–USGS News Release

California now lags in waste-to-energy race
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Government officials from around the world used to come to this port city to catch a glimpse of the future: Two-story piles of trash would disappear into a furnace and eventually be transformed into electricity to power thousands of homes. 

Nowadays, it’s U.S. officials going to Canada, Japan and parts of Western Europe to see the latest advances.

 The Long Beach plant, for all its promise when it began operations roughly 20 years ago, still churns out megawatts. But it is a relic, a symbol of how California, one of America’s greenest states, fell behind other countries in the development of trash-to-energy technology.
–The Associated Press 

DNR warns boaters on invasive species
With the growing popularity of autumn fishing and the Minnesota waterfowl season set to open on Saturday, Oct. 2, there could be considerable boat traffic on state waters once again this fall.

“That means the potential for spreading invasive species will continue until freeze-up so it’s important that boaters keep in mind the law concerning transporting aquatic vegetation on boats and trailers.” said Lt. Cory Palmer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area conservation officer supervisor at Litchfield.

 Because human activity is a frequent cause for spreading invasive species to new lakes, a state law was passed making it illegal to transport any type of aquatic vegetation on a boat or trailer, even if the vegetation is not invasive, Palmer said.
–DNR News Release

Montreal tap water fills Aqufina bottles
Water conservation groups say the City of Montreal should increase how much it charges companies to turn its cheap tap water into bottled water for a profit.  

Last year, the beverage giant PepsiCo began pumping municipal water into its Pepsi-QTG plant in Ville St. Laurent. The company filters the water and then bottles it under the brand name Aquafina. 

The Polaris Institute and Quebec’s Coalition Eau Secours said the City of Montreal isn’t charging companies like PepsiCo enough money to use municipal water as the basis for its bottled water product.
–CBC News 

FDA considers genetically modified salmon
Will the Food and Drug Administration approve the first genetically modified animal for human consumption? The animal is a genetically engineered salmon that grows to market size twice as fast as conventional salmon. And the FDA will be holding public meetings about that fish starting on September 19th. 

The company behind the salmon, AquaBounty Technologies, got a thumbs-up last week from a panel of FDA scientists. They concluded there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from this animal.
–National Public Radio 

Invasive quagga mussels threaten L. Michigan
An invasive species of mussel called quagga has recently begun eating its way through the phytoplankton population of Lake Michigan, which could have dire effects on the lake’s ecosystem, scientists now warn.

 A giant ring of phytoplankton (microscopic plants such as algae) was discovered in Lake Michigan in 1998 by Michigan Technological University biologist W. Charles Kerfoot and his research team. The “phytoplankton doughnut” is formed when winter storms kick up nutrient-rich sediment along the southeastern shore of the lake. The disturbed sediments begin circulating in a slow-moving circle with the lake’s currents, which provides a massive supply of food for phytoplankton.
–Our Amazing Planet

Holes found in bed of White Bear Lake 
A series of holes discovered in the sandy lake bed off  Manitou Island had state natural resources officials investigating the site and speculating about the sudden appearance.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Supervisor of Groundwater and Hydrology Jennie Leete and Hydrologist Craig Wills inspected a 6-inch deep, 4-foot by 4-foot hole about 25 feet off shore on the south side of the island Sept. 3. The hole was discovered Aug. 25.

Leete and Willis said it appears the hole may be part of a spring that has been revealed by historically low lake water levels. The pair said they did not believe water was leaking down into the hole.

“I’d be shocked if the water was going (down),” said Willis. “We think the water is (going up) into the lake.”
–The White Bear Press 

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

The Gulf spill; 3M chemicals; ‘moist soil’

August 23, 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.

Scientists challenge Gulf oil assessment
Academic scientists are challenging the Obama administration’s assertion that most of BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico is either gone or rapidly disappearing — with one group announcing the discovery of a 22-mile “plume” of oil that shows little sign of vanishing.

That plume was measured in late June and was described by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The biggest news was not the plume itself: For weeks, government and university scientists have said that oil from BP’s damaged well is still underwater.

 The news was what is happening — or not happening — to it.

The scientists said that when they studied it, they saw little evidence that the oil was being rapidly consumed by the gulf’s petroleum-eating microbes. The plume was in a deep, cold region where microbes tend to work slowly.
–The Washington Post

State seeks 3M pollution compensation
The 3M Co. should pay for environmental harm done by its chemicals, according to state officials.

 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said that it is negotiating with 3M over compensation for damage done by perfluorochemicals that leaked into Washington County groundwater.

 The state attorney general’s office, acting as the agency’s lawyer, confirmed it is interviewing city officials in Washington County to gauge the public cost of the chemical leaks.

 Agency officials said they hope to have an agreement with 3M by the end of the year.

Usually, Mother Nature doesn’t have a way to strike back at polluters. Animals have no claim in most courts — no one can sue a polluter on behalf of wildlife injured by a chemical or oil spill.

But in a process called Natural Resources Damage Assessment, spelled out in the federal Superfund law, state agencies can ask polluters for repayment.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Funding denied for temporary wetlands
A new strategy to create waterfowl habitat in Minnesota was dealt a blow when the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council rejected funding for the project.

 The Department of Natural Resources was seeking $443,500 to design and implement moist-soil management units. The new strategy to improve the state’s sagging waterfowl populations was announced in January by DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten.

 The project involves intensively managing shallow impoundments. The impoundments are drained in the summer to allow the growth of plants and then flooded in the fall so ducks can forage on the plants’ seeds and insects.

 The impoundments mimic Minnesota’s most commonly drained natural wetlands, known as seasonal or “temporal” wetlands. Moist-soil units have been used widely and successfully in other states to attract and provide food for waterfowl.

“It looks like an expensive Band-Aid; that’s how most (council members) looked at it,” said Jim Cox, a council member and former president of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Septic pollution threatens Cape Cod ponds
Rising nitrogen levels are suffocating the vegetation and marine life in saltwater ponds and estuaries on Cape Cod, creating an environmental and infrastructure problem that, if left unchecked, will threaten the shellfishing industry, the tourist economy and the beaches that lure so many summer visitors. 

More than 60 ponds and estuaries on the cape and a few elsewhere in the region have been choked by algae and seaweed. The culprit is nitrogen, much of it leaching out of septic system wastewater that runs through sandy soil into the estuaries. Faced with a federal mandate to fix their polluted waterways, Cape Cod towns have spent years creating plans to clean up the wastewater, largely through sewers and clustered septic systems.

 So far, most of the efforts have been to no avail, stifled by disputes over science and over who should pay for such a sprawling and expensive public works project.
–The New York Times

Renewable energy featured at State Fair
Electricity from the sun and wind will be on display at the largest renewable energy exhibit ever held at the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair. 

Fairgoers will find out how solar energy and wind power can work for them in their daily lives. The exhibit, which includes displays inside and outside of the Eco Experience building, will feature solar-powered fans and water fountains, portable solar panels, solar-powered boats and a wind turbine sized for farm or business use. 

Many of the solar energy innovations on display at the Eco Experience are made in Minnesota. A new mirror film from 3M that concentrates sunlight on solar panels will be on display. The film helps capture more of the sun’s radiation, leading to lower solar energy costs. Silicon-Energy will display solar panels that will be manufactured on the Iron Range starting in spring 2011. Fairgoers can get a sneak peak of these panels in front of the Eco Experience building and along the Green Street display inside the building. 

Fairgoers can also see solar-powered boats built by junior high, high school and college students for the annual Solar Boat Regatta sponsored by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

 Canada to declare bisphenol A is toxic 
After a lengthy delay, the federal government said it is close to making good on its two-year old promise to designate bisphenol A as toxic under Canadian law.

The Conservatives made a big splash in April 2008 when two senior cabinet ministers hosted a news conference to announce Canada would become the first country in the world to ban plastic bottles after concluding the estrogen-mimicking chemical was toxic. The first step was to place BPA on the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. 

The ban went ahead, but the toxic designation has yet to happen. Environment Canada now says it will be a done deal within eight to 10 weeks — more than a year after considering a formal notice of objection filed by the American Chemistry Council. 

The group, which maintains BPA is safe, filed the objection on July 15, 2009, asking the government to set up a board of review to reconsider the toxic designation.
–The Vancouver Sun

 Cruise ships dump wastes off Canada
Waters off British Columbia are the “toilet bowl of North America” as dozens of cruise ships heading to and from Alaska dump sewage in Canadian waters, environmentalists say.

 American regulations have been tightened in the last decade forcing cruise ships to follow stringent sewage treatment rules before disposing of waste in Alaska or Washington State.

 But the vessels have another option: they can unload sewage and grey water —waste water from showers, sinks and laundry — into B.C. waters where rules are “lax.”

 “Cruise ship companies are taking advantage of Canada’s weaker laws on sewage discharge to save money. It is bizarre that B.C. residents should bear the burden of cruise ship pollution from well-heeled tourists,” said Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive chief executive officer of the Friends of the Earth (FOE) Canada.
–The Vancouver Sun

Cost of Michigan oil spill mounts
Enbridge Inc.’s struggles mounted as its U.S. affiliate said the oil spill that fouled a Michigan river system could cost as much as $400 million and regulators slapped it with a $2.4 million fine for a deadly 2007 explosion in Minnesota.

 Enbridge Energy Partners, the Houston-based operator of the U.S. part of the company’s massive pipeline system, said total charges for the July 26 pipeline rupture near Marshall, Mich., could be $300 million to $400 million, excluding any fines or penalties. 

The cost would include charges for emergency response, environmental remediation, pipeline repairs, claims by third parties and lost revenue, Enbridge said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

After insurance recoveries, the charges could be $35 million to $45 million, said Enbridge, whose ruptured pipeline spilled 19,500 barrels of heavy Canadian crude into the Kalamazoo River system.
–Reuters 

$12 million available for water projects
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources is seeking grant applications from local government units for projects that will protect and restore Minnesota’s streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Eligible local government units include cities, counties, soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, and metropolitan watershed management organizations. The deadline to apply is Sept. 15. 

BWSR has $12 million available for these projects. Funding for the competitive grants is provided by the Clean Water Fund (from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment). Most of the funded projects also will leverage local or federal dollars.   

“Local conservation professionals throughout the state have experience in identifying areas that are contributing to water quality issues and implementing solutions,” said John Jaschke, BWSR Executive Director. “Minnesotans who are interested in learning more about how they can help protect and restore water quality should contact a local conservation agency in their area.” 

Jaschke added that BWSR reviews and approves water management plans for the local government units that are eligible for these grants. In order to receive funding, projects must implement priority activities that are identified in a state approved and locally adopted local water management plan. 
–BWSR News Release

Report: Ag research needs sustainability focus

July 6, 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.

Research Council urges focus on agricultural sustainability 
Government policies and agricultural research are too focused on increasing crop production and should be directed toward softening the impact of farming on the land and water, researchers say.

Farms have increased production by 158 percent over the past 60 years, but that has come with a cost to water quality and water supplies, and agriculture also is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

 “Our finding was that there is too much emphasis on productivity, mainly of industrial ingredients,” said one of the 15 members of the study panel, Cornelia Flora, a sociologist at Iowa State University who specializes in agricultural and rural issues.

The report said that most public agricultural research funding is targeted toward improving farm productivity and reducing costs. Just one-third goes toward other aspects of farming practices, such as the environmental impact. Federal and state research programs “should aggressively fund” studies of farming systems that making farming “robust and resilient over time,” the report said.

The researchers also said that federal farm subsidies encourage farmers to maximize yields and plant the same crops year after year and that more study is needed to determine what impact alternative policies could have on farming practices.
–The Des Moines Register

 Sulfide mining review under way again
Four months after an environmental analysis of a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota was slammed by a federal agency, a revamped study is finally moving ahead.

Anxious environmentalists and many concerned residents hope this one turns out to be a lot more comprehensive.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction, and we are really counting on it being a thorough analysis,” said Betsy Daub, policy director for the advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “It’s what Minnesota’s waters deserve.”

At issue is whether a type of mining proposed by PolyMet Mining, which has led to widespread pollution elsewhere, can be done safely near one of Minnesota’s most vulnerable areas — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a vast system of federally protected and interconnected lakes and rivers. 

Nearby, two other ambitious sulfide-mining proposals also are in the works, offering the prospect of more intensive activity near the wilderness border.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Arsenic in groundwater epidemic in Bangladesh
Hanufa Bibi stoops in a worn sari and mismatched flip-flops to work the hand pump on her backyard well. Spurts of clear water wash grains of rice from her hands, but she can never get them clean.

Thick black warts tattoo her palms and fingers, the result of drinking arsenic-laced well water for years. It’s a legacy that new research has linked to 1 in 5 deaths among those exposed in Bangladesh — an impoverished country where up to half of its 150 million people have guzzled tainted groundwater.

 The World Health Organization has called it “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history,” as countless new wells continue to be dug here daily without testing the water for toxins.

 “The magnitude of the arsenic problem is 50 times worse than Chernobyl,” said Richard Wilson, president of the nonprofit Arsenic Foundation and a physics professor emeritus at Harvard University who was not involved in the study.
–The Associated Press

EPA proposes crackdown on nitrogen pollution
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed tough pollution caps for the Chesapeake Bay, requiring Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states to do more to clean up the troubled estuary than previously thought necessary.

The pollution limits proposed by the EPA would force the six states and the District of Columbia to roughly double the pace at which they’ve been removing nitrogen, one of the two nutrients fouling the bay. Maryland, for instance, would have to curtail nitrogen by 15 percent over the next seven years — a regimen likely to require costly upgrades to sewage treatment plants, expensive retrofits of storm drains in urban and suburban areas, and major new curbs on runoff of fertilizer and chicken manure from Eastern Shore farms.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said the draft pollution-reduction targets would not be easy for the states to achieve. But they represent federal scientists’ best estimates of what’s needed to restore fish-sustaining oxygen to the waters of North America’s largest estuary. Dead zones form every summer in the Chesapeake from algae blooms that are fed by sewage plants, farm and urban and suburban runoff and air pollution.
–The Baltimore Sun 

FDA inches toward regulating drugs fed to livestock
Federal food regulators took a tentative step toward banning a common use of penicillin and tetracycline in the water and feed given cattle, chickens and pigs in hopes of slowing the growing scourge of killer bacteria.

 But the Food and Drug Administration has tried without success for more than three decades to ban such uses. In the past, Congress has stepped in at the urging of agricultural interests and stopped the agency from acting.

 In the battle between public health and agriculture, the guys with the cowboy hats generally win.

The F.D.A. released a policy document stating that agricultural uses of antibiotics should be limited to assuring animal health, and that veterinarians should be involved in the drugs’ uses.
–The New York Times

Turn in a polluter – on line
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently launched its new online Complaint Tracker system. Citizens with environmental complaints can now fill out an online form available via the MPCA web site and click to send it directly to a MPCA inspector. 

 The MPCA receives about 1,000 environmental complaints from citizens each year. Complaints range from seeing a neighbor illegally dumping garbage to spotting a puzzling oily sheen on a lake. 

 “The MPCA relies on citizens to notify us of potential environmental problems, whether it’s someone dumping a mystery substance into a river or someone running a business without appropriate environmental safeguards and permits,” said Katie Koelfgen, supervisor, MPCA Air Quality Compliance and Enforcement Unit. “Speed and efficiency are important when it comes to protecting the environment. Once the MPCA knows about the problem and investigates, we’re able to take action quickly before further environmental damage is done. ” 

 While citizens can still rely on the phone to report a complaint, the new online system eliminates the need for messages, phone tag or repeated phone calls for more information. MPCA inspectors find the Complaint Tracker system to be user-friendly and efficient, allowing them to follow up on complaints more quickly. The phone numbers for complaints are 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA news release

DNR sampling well water in Benton County
Water samples from about 100 wells in Benton County are being collected and analyzed for general and trace chemistry during the next two months by hydrogeologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The data is being collected for the Benton County Geologic Atlas, a cooperative effort involving staff from the Minnesota Geological Survey, DNR Waters Division and Benton County. Samples are also being tested to learn how long the water has been underground.

 DNR Waters staff will be contacting Benton county residents to request permission for well sampling, which involves collecting a water sample and measuring the depth to water in each well. The selection of wells for sampling will be based on geology, location, well depth and well construction. Water sampled will come from wells drawing water from aquifers at varying depths. Owners of wells that are sampled will receive a report of the laboratory results for their well.
–DNR News Release

No federal permit required for U.P. mine
A member of Congress says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided that Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. doesn’t need a federal permit to build a nickel and copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, whose district includes the section of Marquette County where the mine would be located, announced the decision. The Associated Press left messages seeking comment with EPA’s regional office in Chicago. 

The federal permit was the last regulatory hurdle for Kennecott Eagle, which already has state permits to build and operate the mine.

 Opponents of the project contend the mine would pollute groundwater and rivers in the remote area near Lake Superior. Kennecott says it will protect the environment.
–The Associated Press 

Penn State climate scientist cleared of misconduct
An American scientist accused of manipulating research findings on climate science was cleared of that charge by his university, the latest in a string of reports to find little substance in the allegations known as Climategate.

 An investigative panel at Pennsylvania State University, weighing the question of whether the scientist, Michael E. Mann, had “seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities,” declared that he had not.

 Dr. Mann said he was gratified by the findings, the second report from Penn State to clear him. An earlier report had exonerated him of related charges that he suppressed or falsified data, destroyed e-mail and misused confidential information.
–The New York Times

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

Gray water, revived rivers, and a new day for Venetian tap water

June 15, 2009

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

Mussel revival targets Mississippi
Federal divers waded into the Mississippi River looking for signs of life. Finding the winged mapleleaf mussels that had been planted last fall downstream from the Ford Dam would give hope that even sensitive native species can once again survive there.

“Forty or fifty years ago you couldn’t find anything alive in this section of the river, let alone think about reintroducing an endangered species here,” said Byron Karns, biologist for the National Park Service.

Karns and another diver swam parallel upstream, feeling their way along the murky bottom about 25 feet from shore and towing a float with a bright orange safety flag. They were looking for two containers, each about the size of a salad-mixing bowl. Each held five winged mapleleaf mussels — named for a small extension of the shell that resembles a wing — that scientists had helped to propagate and nurture since late 2004.
–The Star Tribune

Venice promotes l’acqua del sindaco
In this hot and noble city, discarded water bottles float by gondolas on the edges of the canals and spill out of trash cans on the majestic Piazza San Marco. Because Venice has no roads, trash must be collected on foot at enormous expense. And while plastic bottles can in principle be recycled, the process still unleashes greenhouse gases.

Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.
–The New York Times

Groundwater sends mercury to sea, fish
Groundwater flowing into the ocean may be a significant source of a highly toxic form of mercury, University of California scientists say.

The group headed by researchers at UC Santa Cruz found high levels of methylmercury in underwater flows at Stinson Beach in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and at Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County, south of San Francisco.

The study suggests that groundwater may be as big a source of mercury in coastal waters as mercury deposited from atmospheric pollution.

Methylmercury accumulates in the food chain, leading to levels in some sea food that can be dangerous if too much is consumed.

“The big question for public health is, ‘Where is all the mercury in seafood coming from?’” says coauthor Russell Flegal, a professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz. “What we have shown is that methylmercury is coming from groundwater in California at surprisingly high levels.”
–United Press International

WA farmers object to water rights transfer
Conservation groups and farmers are opposing a June 11 decision by the Washington Department of Ecology to approve a water rights transfer for a proposed large feedlot on dry land near the small town of Eltopia, about 75 miles east of Yakima, according to a June 12 Associated Press (AP) report.

Easterday Ranches Inc., one of the largest feedlot operators in the Northwest, has said the proposed feedlot, which it hopes to begin building later this summer, could accommodate as many as 30,000 cattle at peak operation. The feedlot still requires a state air quality permit.

The Department of Ecology approved the water rights transfer for the project from a neighboring farm that used 316 acre-feet of water annually to irrigate potatoes, blue grass and winter wheat. The department estimated that a feedlot of 30,000 cattle would consume more than 500,000 gallons of water daily.
–Water Tech Online

Congress urged to protect fish from drugs
Pollution experts pressed a congressional panel for stronger action to keep pharmaceuticals and other contaminants out of the water, saying they are hurting fish and may threaten human health.

Thomas P. Fote, a New Jersey conservationist who sits on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said the pollutants are damaging commercial fisheries. He told congressmen not to “study a problem to death and never do anything.”

Fote appeared in a lineup of witnesses before the subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the House Natural Resources Committee. The witnesses pointed to research showing damage to fish and other aquatic species from pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other industrial chemicals, especially those that alter growth-regulating endocrine systems. Some scientists worry about the potential of similar harm to humans.
–The Associated Press

Report released on endocrine disruptors
The Endocrine Society — conducting its annual meeting in Washington, DC, — has released a 50+ page detailed Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.

According to the EPA, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic a natural hormone, fool the body into over-responding to the stimulus (e.g., thyroid hormone that results in hyperthyroidism), or respond at inappropriate times (e.g., producing thyroid hormone when it is not needed). Other endocrine disrupting chemicals block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors (e.g. thyroid hormones required for normal development). Still others directly stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system and cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones (e.g. an over or underactive thyroid). Certain drugs are used to intentionally cause some of these effects, such as birth control pills. In many situations involving environmental chemicals, however, an endocrine effect is not desirable.

American endocrinologists have not formally weighed in on the issue in depth until the release of the statement. You can download a free copy of this PDF document online now.
–Endocrine Society news release

Recycling gray water cheaply, safely
A severe drought out West continues to threaten farms, fish, and water supplies to nearly everyone. Tighter water restrictions went into effect this month in much of Southern California, and the federal government issued a directive that could cut water delivery to farmers and residents in the state by 7 percent.

But some believe California is missing out on a key conservation method that’s already available.

Susan Carpenter breaks California state plumbing code three times a week. Her accomplice is her washing machine. Rinse water from washing machines usually goes into the sewer — so what if you could recycle it? That’s what Carpenter does, using it to water plants at her Southern California home.
–National Public Radio

German scientists distill water from air
Not a plant to be seen, the desert ground is too dry. But the air contains water, and research scientists have found a way of obtaining drinking water from air humidity. The system is based completely on renewable energy and is therefore autonomous.

Cracks permeate the dried-out desert ground, the landscape bears testimony to the lack of water. But even here, where there are no lakes, rivers or groundwater, considerable quantities of water are stored in the air. In the Negev desert in Israel, for example, annual average relative air humidity is 64 percent – in every cubic meter of air there are 11.5 milliliters of water.

Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart working in conjunction with their colleagues from the company Logos Innovationen have found a way of converting this air humidity autonomously and decentrally into drinkable water.
–Science Daily

St. Croix River case goes to Supreme Court
Broadcasting executive Rob Hubbard’s new house on the St. Croix River is finished and his family has moved in, but his three-year fight with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources isn’t over.

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hubbard’s case last week.

“This case is about property rights,” Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said. “It is a big deal. It’s a really big deal.”

The DNR asked the Supreme Court to review a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that favored Hubbard.

Hubbard bought a 3.8-acre parcel on the river in Lakeland for $1.6 million in April 2006. He planned to knock down a small cabin on the property and build a much larger house on the cabin’s footprint. He asked for and received permission from Lakeland officials to set the footprint of the house closer to the bluff line than rules allow.

But that fall, officials from the DNR, which manages the federally protected scenic riverway, refused to sign off on the variances granted by Lakeland. According to the DNR, any new house must be built 40 feet from the bluff line.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Gray water use now legal in Oregon
Reusing bath, laundry and sink water used to be illegal in eco-friendly Oregon, but no more.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a bill today that makes it OK to replumb your house to capture so-called “gray water” as a way to save water and dollars.

“This will allow us to water our garden with our bath water. It’s very simple,” said Brenna Bell, a citizen activist working to change state codes that block environmental practices
–Oregonlive.com

Water is the next carbon
Move over, carbon, the next shoe to drop in the popular awareness of eco-issues is the “water footprint.”

That’s the word in environmental circles these days. Just as the image of a heavy carbon foot made it possible for the masses to grasp the power of carbon-dioxide emissions, water footprint is the phrase now drawing attention to the impact of human behavior regarding water.

“H2O is the next CO2,” says Nicholas Eisenberger, managing principal of GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable business. As a phrase, water footprint “will probably move more quickly through the public mind as it catches on,” he says, because water is more tangible than carbon.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Minnesota River making a comeback
One of the best parts of this job is “discovering” some unsung Minnesota treasure and singing its praises.

In some cases, the intent is to prod St. Paul policymakers to lift a finger to see that the treasure survives for future generations.

Yet the case already has been made — often — to preserve the Minnesota River. My plea here is for more Minnesotans to consider this river’s fishery. It is truly unsung, amazing and worth improving upon.

Remarkably, paddlefish are returning in these waters, which once were an open sewer for river communities and industry. Another returnee and pollution-sensitive species, lake sturgeon, is increasingly being caught. Giant flathead catfish in excess of 50 pounds are beginning to lure anglers from as far as Texas.
– St. Paul Pioneer Press

US. Canada agree to re-open negotiations on Great Lakes Pact
Canada and the U.S. have agreed to renegotiate their pact on protecting the Great Lakes.

In her first trip to Canada since becoming the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton met with Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on  Saturday to announce the reopening of the Great Lakes agreement, which was created in 1972 and last amended 22 years ago.

The move is being cheered by environmentalists and politicians who say the Great Lakes agreement is in desperate need of an overhaul to deal with growing and new threats such as invasive species and climate change.
–The Hamilton Spectator

EPA plans public meeting on Cass Lake cleanup
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting June 23 to update Cass Lake residents on the development of cleanup plans for ground water at the former St. Regis Paper wood treatment facility. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m., at Leech Lake Tribal College, Room 100, A-Wing, 113 Balsam N.W., Cass Lake.

The EPA is working with International Paper Co. and BNSF, as well as the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to develop options to permanently reduce health risks at the Superfund  site.  A feasibility study to evaluate a number of options is under way.

Once the study is complete, EPA will propose a recommended approach and present it to area residents. A public hearing will likely occur in late 2009 or early 2010.  The June 23 meeting will provide a progress report and give citizens an opportunity to ask questions of EPA and its partners.

The St. Regis Paper Superfund site was a wood treatment facility that operated from about 1958 to 1985.  The site was initially cleaned up in the 1980s by its former owner, Champion International.  International Paper is the current property owner and continues to treat groundwater from the site.

For more information, go to www.epa.gov/region5/sites/stregis/.
–U.S. EPA news release

In Massachusetts and elsewhere, beavers are back
The dozens of public works officials, municipal engineers, conservation agents and others who crowded into a meeting room here one recent morning needed help. Property in their towns was flooding, they said. Culverts were clogged. Septic tanks were being overwhelmed.

We have a huge problem,” said David Pavlik, an engineer for the town of Lexington, Mass. where dams built by beavers have sent water flooding into the town’s sanitary sewers. “We trapped them,” he said. “We breached their dam. Nothing works. We are looking for long-term solutions.”

Mary Hansen, a conservation agent from Maynard, said it starkly: “There are beavers everywhere.”
–The New York Times

Georgia declares end to two-year drought
Georgia lifted tough outdoor water restrictions and declared an end to the drought that has gripped much of the state since late 2007.

The move takes effect immediately.

“This drought has ended,” Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch said. “Our water supplies are flush. Our rivers and streams have rebounded.”

At a meeting of the State Drought Response Committee, Couch said that Georgia is moving to non-drought water rules. Homeowners can now water their lawns three days a week, based on whether they have an odd or even street addresses.
–Rome News-Tribune


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.