The Freshwater Society blog 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.
DNR proposes boat trailer permitting
Minnesota’s 800,000 boat owners would have to pass a course on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before they could trailer their boats anywhere, under a bill proposed by the Department of Natural Resources.
“We’re envisioning it would be an online training course,” said Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species specialist. “This would be required training so boaters know the laws and what they need to do to prevent the spread of invasive species.”
Those hauling other water-related equipment, such as docks or boat lifts, also would have the pass the course. Also, fines for those caught violating invasive species laws would be doubled — all part of increased efforts by the DNR to slow the spread of invading critters to Minnesota’s waters.
Some measures will be implemented this season, including random roadside boat checks and a requirement that boat owners place free DNR stickers on their boats spelling out invasive species requirements. But the training requirement proposal wouldn’t kick in until 2015, under the proposed bill.
–The Star Tribune
Important events in March
Put these three important dates on your calendar:
- March 1. Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to persuade and pressure multinational companies to adopt sustainable business practices, will give a free public lecture. The lecture is titled “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship into the Bottom Line.” Learn more and register to reserve your place at the lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
- March 17. The Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League will sponsor Watershed Solutions Summit 2012, at Normandale Community College. Learn more.
- March 29. Precision Conservation is the science and art of putting conservation practices at the places on the landscape where they will do the most good. The Freshwater Society, with the assistance of a number of partners, will sponsor a conference aimed at Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors, Watershed District managers, county commissioners and others who care deeply about protecting water quality. Dave White, the national chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, will deliver the keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.
For Love of Lakes, a new book by Darby Nelson, is a finalist in this year’s Minnesota Book Awards. Nelson, a member of the Freshwater Society Board of Directors, is a longtime conservationist, a retired environmental science professor and a former Minnesota legislator. His book, a collection of first-person essays about lakes in Minnesota and across the United States, was published by the Michigan State University Press. It is one of four finalists in the memoir and creative nonfiction category. The winners will be announced April 14. Learn more about For Love of Lakes and read its introduction. Learn more about the Book Awards and vote on-line in the People’s Choice category.
Mercury rules an issue in taconite plant dispute
Iron Range officials expressed frustration with Magnetation Inc. over the company’s threats to build an iron ore pelletizing plant in another state. But company officials say it’s Minnesota’s tough pollution rules that are forcing them to look elsewhere.
State Rep. Tom Rukavina and St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson say they are upset that the company is considering building the $300 million plant somewhere other than the Iron Range, especially after Minnesota invested heavily in helping Magnetation get started.
Magnetation is considering sites in Superior, Indiana and Illinois in addition to Itasca County for the plant that will employ about 150 people.
“To me, it’s embarrassing that a guy who got $1 million of free taxpayer money from Minnesota would even consider going to another state,’’ Rukavina said, referring to a $1 million grant Magnetation’s CEO Larry Lehtinen received in 2008 from the Minnesota Minerals 21st Century Fund administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
--The Duluth News Tribune.
GOP seeks environmental permitting changes
Republicans in the state Legislature are advancing a new set of initiatives to overhaul environmental regulation.
The measures come after they reached accord last year with Gov. Mark Dayton on a sweeping bill that streamlined the environmental permitting process. That bill was a noteworthy but ultimately fleeting act of bipartisanship. Now, backed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and opposed by environmental organizations, a second round of permitting legislation passed in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote.
The bill picks up where the 2011 legislation left off. Last year’s legislation allowed businesses to submit their own environmental reviews of projects for consideration by state regulators. This year’s bill, sponsored by Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, proposes to allow companies to hire an outside consultant to prepare environmental permits. The applications would ultimately be approved or rejected by the state Pollution Control Agency.
–Politics in Minnesota
China arrests 8 in massive pollutant spill
China has detained another company official, bringing the total to eight, over a massive river pollution case in the country’s south, the government and state media said. Industrial waste — including toxic cadmium — polluted up to a 300-kilometre (190-mile) section of the Longjiang River in the Guangxi region and threatened drinking water supplies for millions of people.
Police have detained eight executives from two firms, Jinhe Mining Co. and Jinchengjiang Hongquan Lithopone Materials Factory, according to a statement from Hechi city, where the pollution originated. Authorities were seeking another four people who had fled, the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted Hechi Mayor He Xinxing as saying.
Pythons swallowing up Everglades mammals
Precipitous declines in formerly common mammals in Everglades National Park have been linked to the presence of invasive Burmese pythons, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study, the first to document the ecological impacts of this invasive species, strongly supports that animal communities in this 1.5-million-acre park have been markedly altered by the introduction of pythons within 11 years of their establishment as an invasive species.
Mid-sized mammals are the most dramatically affected. The most severe declines, including a nearly complete disappearance of raccoons, rabbits and opossums, have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest. In this area, populations of raccoons dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent. Marsh and cottontail rabbits, as well as foxes, were not seen at all.
“Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt. “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive and deliberate human action.”
–USGS News Release
‘Loophole’ might shield Sherco emissions
Environmental groups called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to close a “loophole” in new air pollution rules that would let the oldest coal-fired units at Xcel Energy’s Sherco power plant forgo expensive retrofitting.
Sherco, located in Becker, 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, is the state’s largest power plant, capable of producing 2,400 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 1.8 million households. But the plant burns 30,000 tons of coal a day, and the environmental groups say its emissions are the main contributor to the haze that hangs over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and other natural areas.
Estimates for the cost of retrofitting the Sherco plant range from less than $50 million to several hundred million dollars.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
Health Department sets forum on drinking water
The Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern Program will hold a public forum on drinking water and the department’s effort to explore potential contaminants.
The forum will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the department’s Snelling Office Park, 1645 Energy Park Drive, St. Paul.
The Forum is open to anyone concerned about protecting the state’s water resources from contaminants. It is an opportunity to share information related to contaminants of emerging concern and to learn more about CEC program activities.
If you have questions or would like to participate via the Web, contact Michele Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-201-4927. Learn more about Advisory Forum . Read a 2010 Freshwater Society interview with Pamela Shubat, who directs the Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.
Rare butterfly an issue for Wisconsin sand mines
In the sand barrens of Wisconsin lives an endangered blue butterfly. Its range overlaps almost perfectly with the sand that’s become a lucrative part of a boom in natural gas drilling. And to kill a Karner blue without a permit violates federal law. But of the dozens of frac sand companies that have descended upon the area, just one, Unimin, has applied to the state Department of Natural Resources to be able to legally destroy Karner blues in its operations, according to David Lentz, who coordinates the agency’s Karner blue butterfly habitat conservation plan. And only four companies have contacted the agency’s Bureau of Endangered Resources directly.
–The Fond du Lac Reporter
Elephants in Australia?
Australia could introduce large herbivores such as elephants as part of a radical biological solution to the problem of bushfires and invasive species, says one expert.
The argument is laid out in a provocative commentary from Dr David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, and is published in Nature magazine.
“I’m being as provocative as possible to try and wake everybody up to say, ‘Look, what is currently happening is not sustainable. We have to think outside the square,'” Dr Bowman said.
He says the short-term programs designed to address Australia’s serious problems with bushfires and invasive species are piecemeal, costly and ineffective.
For example, he says, they are not succeeding in controlling the invasive gamba grass that leads to frequent intense fires in Australia’s north.
“It’s out of control,” he said. “Last year we had a fire in the outback in Central Australia the size of Tasmania. These things are very bad.”
–Asia Pacific News