Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

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

Curly leaf pondweed: nice beat, easy to dance to

May 11, 2009

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Soybeans, a river on fire and zebra mussels

April 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pollution concerns, frog calls and smuggled dish soap

March 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Water wars,’ bottled water and robo-carp

March 23, 2009

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

Specter of ‘water wars’ may be overblown
The United Nations warned recently that climate change harbours the potential for serious conflicts over water. In its World Water Development Report of March 2009, it quotes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noting the risk of water scarcity “transforming peaceful competition into violence”. It is statements such as this that gave birth to popular notions of ‘water wars’. It is time we dispelled this myth. Countries do not go to war over water, they solve their water shortages through trade and international agreements.

Cooperation, in fact, is the dominant response to shared water resources. There are 263 cross-boundary waterways in the world. Between 1948 and 1999, cooperation over water, including the signing of treaties, far outweighed conflict over water and violent conflict in particular. Of 1,831 instances of interactions over international freshwater resources tallied over that time period (including everything from unofficial verbal exchanges to economic agreements or military action), 67% were cooperative, only 28% were conflictive, and the remaining 5% were neutral or insignificant. In those five decades, there were no formal declarations of war over water.
–Nature

Florida considers charging water bottlers
Each day more than five million gallons of spring water is bottled in Florida, and companies pay almost nothing for local water permits. Florida is considering joining other states that have imposed “severance fees” on commercially bottled spring water. It would charge six cents for every gallon taken from springs or aquifers.
–National Public Radio

U.S. toxic chemical releases down slightly
The release of toxic chemicals to the air and water decreased across the country in 2007, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Releases to the air decreased 7 percent, and releases to water declined 5 percent, according to a report issued by the agency.

The report shows increases in the releases of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals like lead, dioxin, mercury and PCBs. Overall PBTs releases increased 1 percent. The increases were primarily due to a handful of facilities, and most of the releases reported were not to the air or water.

Total disposal or other releases of mercury increased 38 percent, but air emissions of mercury were down 3 percent. The majority of mercury releases were reported by the mining industry.

State-by-state data on facilities and releases to air, land and water can be found by accessing the EPA’s state fact sheet by clicking here.

Additional information on releases on zip code, county and facility can be found using the TRI explorer, accessible here.
–U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Major bird populations decline
Several major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades across the United States as development transformed the nation’s landscape, according to a comprehensive survey released by the Interior Department and outside experts, but conservation efforts have staved off potential extinctions of others.

“The State of the Birds” report, a broad analysis of data compiled from scientific and citizen surveys over 40 years, shows that some species have made significant gains even as others have suffered. Hunted waterfowl and iconic species such as the bald eagle have expanded in number, the report said, while populations of birds along the nation’s coasts and in its arid areas and grasslands have declined sharply.
–The Washington Post

Invasives rules sought for Lake Minnetonka
The Lake Minnetonka Association is calling for emergency boat launch rules for the coming season to prevent the spread of zebra mussels into the lake.

An exploding population of zebra mussels in Lake Mille Lacs warrants emergency action to protect Lake Minnetonka, the association says. It wants to require that all boats be clean and dry, inside and out, before they enter the lake.

The lakeshore owners group is pushing the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which manages lake issues for the 14 cities ringing the lake, to adopt these ramp rules and step up efforts to protect the lake from invasive species. It is also asking the cities to work on the problem as well.
–Star Tribune

Caribbean fish populations down
Populations of both large and small fish have been declining sharply across the Caribbean in the past 10 years, say researchers, who combined data from 48 studies of 318 coral reefs conducted over more than 50 years.

The data show that fish “densities” that had held steady for decades began to drop significantly around 1995, a trend not reported previously. Although overfishing has long taken a toll on larger species, the drop in smaller species that are not fished indicates that other forces are at work, said author Michelle Paddack of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Drastic losses in coral cover and changes in coral reef habitats, driven by warming water temperatures and coral diseases, as well as sediment and pollution from coastal development could be among the factors.
–The Washington Post

Robotic carp developed to fight pollution
Robotic fish, developed by UK scientists, are to be released into the sea for the first time to detect pollution.
The carp-shaped robots will be let loose in the port of Gijon in northern Spain as part of a three-year research project.

If successful, the team hopes that the fish will used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world, including Britain, to detect pollution.

The life-like creatures, which will mimic the undulating movement of real fish, will be equipped with tiny chemical sensors to find the source of potentially hazardous pollutants in the water, such as leaks from vessels in the port or underwater pipelines.

The fish will then transmit their data through Wi-Fi technology when they dock to charge their batteries with last around eight hours.
–The Telegraph

EPA sponsors video contest
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is sponsoring a contest for the production of educational videos that will inspire people to help protect streams, lakes, wetlands, and coasts.

Two winners will each receive $2,500 and their videos will be featured on EPA’s Web site. The deadline for entry is Earth Day, April 29.

The contest has two categories: 30- or 60-second videos usable as a television public service announcement, and 1- to 3-minute instructional videos.

For information, go to contest rules on the EPA web site by clicking here.
–U.S. EPA web site

Dubuque museum works to save amphibians
Out of sight and tucked away under lock and key in the basement of the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, the tiny toads hopping about in climate controlled captivity might not seem sexy.

But when Lee Jackson, Abby Urban and Jerry Enzler begin to talk about their little guests, passion is just around the corner.

It’s a passion for preservation of the Wyoming toad, one of the four most endangered amphibian species in the United States, Urban points out. And one-tenth of the Wyoming toads in captivity are in her care.
–The Dubuque Telegraph Herald

European water use not sustainable, report says
European environmental officials warned that the continent does not have enough water to sustain current consumption levels.

The European Environment Agency issued a report that concluded the problem now applies to northern Europe as well as the south and cannot be addressed by expanding supplies alone.

“The short-term solution to water scarcity has been to extract ever greater amounts of water from our surface and groundwater assets,” said agency director Jacqueline McGlade. “Overexploitation is not sustainable.”
–United Press International


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