Posts Tagged ‘endocrine disruptors’

Study finds chemicals widely in streams

March 14, 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.

Panoply of chemicals found in Minnesota streams
Potentially harmful chemicals and pharmaceuticals are widespread in Minnesota streams, state scientists found in a new study.

The study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also shows fish have genetic changes when exposed to the mix of chemicals.

 In the most comprehensive study of chemicals in Minnesota, the agency’s scientists collected water samples from 25 sewage treatment plants across Minnesota. They also sampled water upstream and downstream from the treatment plants for 78 chemicals.

Among the substances scientists most often found are the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole and carbamazepine, a drug used to treat attentional deficit hyperactivity disorder, agency scientist Mark Ferrey said. They also found the antibiotic trimethoprim and anti-depressant compounds.

Other commonly found chemicals include components of detergent, bisphenol A, which is found in plastics, and contraceptive hormones.

 Scientists found chemicals at more than 90 percent of the locations they sampled and chemical traces at all locations. Researchers expected to find the chemicals flowing out of sewage treatment plants, but were somewhat surprised to also find the chemicals upstream from treatment plants.

Ferrey said that indicates other sources, such as septic systems, or agricultural runoff. He said the compounds are all found at very low concentrations, measured in parts per billion or parts per trillion.

 “But just because these concentrations are very, very low doesn’t mean they can’t have effects,” Ferrey said. “More and more results are coming out that show that these compounds can have pretty profound hormonal effects or estrogenic effects even at those concentrations.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 LCCMR funding debate continues
An advisory commission on funding environmental projects continues to wrestle with dozens of proposals being held up by the change in the majority party in the legislature.

 The LCCMR — the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — has new members with new priorities, and they’ve advised the group to drop 25 projects from its list of recommendations.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who chairs the House Environment Committee, said some emerging issues should take precedence.

“Chronic wasting disease, Asian carp, zebra mussel, the sulfate and wild rice is really important and that’s just evolved in last couple months,” McNamara said.

 Jeff Broberg, vice-chair of the group, said changing the list now would damage the LCCMR’s credibility.

“The long-term consequence of what’s happened here in the last couple weeks is that it will always be fiddled with,” Broberg said. “It has no stability or security no matter what we think is in the plan, that’s the big consequence we haven’t faced yet.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Canadians practice Asian carp war games
It’s not every day emergency response experts gather to test their readiness to deal with a fish.

 But the Asian carp is no ordinary fish, and so a boardroom in the Peterborough offices of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is being turned into a temporary war room of sorts. It marks the first time government experts have come together to simulate an invasive-species emergency.

“We’ve run emergency-preparedness exercises before for influenza outbreaks,” said Eric Boysen, director of the MNR’s biodiversity branch. “We’ve done them for ice storms. We said we want to run one for Asian carp.”

While the Great Lakes are already home to 180 invasive species, the potential for the next invader to be an Asian carp is spurring both the provincial and federal governments into action.
–CBC

California cities prepare for rising seas
Cities along California’s coastline that for years have dismissed reports of climate change or lagged in preparing for rising sea levels are now making plans to fortify their beaches, harbors and waterfronts.

Communities up and down the coast have begun drafting plans to build up wetlands as buffers against rising tides, to construct levees and seawalls to keep the waters at bay or to retreat from the shoreline by moving structures inland.

Among them is Newport Beach, a politically conservative city where a council member once professed to not believe in global warming. Now, the wealthy beach city is considered to be on the forefront of preparing for climate change.

Though some in Newport Beach remain skeptical that global warming caused by humans is elevating sea levels, city planners are looking at raising seawalls by a foot or more to hold back the ocean. New homes along the city’s harbor are being built on foundations several feet higher than their predecessors as a precaution against flooding.
–The Los Angeles Times

GOP spending plan targets EPA
The House spending bill passed last month wouldn’t just chop $60 billion from the federal budget — it seeks to cut a broad swath through environmental regulation.

From fish protections in California to water pollution limits in Florida and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, environmental programs were targets of the Republican budget resolution, which appears to have been as much about setting a political agenda as about deficit reduction.

Democrats have promised to block the environmental and other cuts in the Senate, where they hold a slim majority, and President Obama has raised the threat of a veto, making it unlikely that many of the hits in the proposal will survive. Lawmakers passed a stopgap measure to keep the government operating while they hash out a compromise.

But few expect the recently elected and highly motivated GOP majority in the House to give up. “I think they’re going to try and use every tactic in the book,” said Nick Loris, a research associate with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “This is largely what they came into office saying they were going to do.”
–The Los Angeles Times

EPA targets old California mercury mine
An abandoned mercury mine that for decades has sent polluted, orange waste into a creek that eventually feeds into San Francisco Bay is a threat to human health and should be added to a list of the nation’s worst polluted places, federal environmental regulators say.

The New Idria mercury mine in remote San Benito County was shuttered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972 because of pollution from piles of mine waste and the site’s towering blast furnace. For decades, however, the agency refused to add it to the National Priorities List, which qualifies a site for millions of dollars in federal Superfund cleanup funding.

The EPA proposed listing the site — a year and a half after The Associated Press reported that federal and state regulators had failed to clean it despite their own studies showing the mine was polluting nearby streams and making fish unsafe to eat. The Blue Ledge copper and cadmium mine, along the Rogue River near the Oregon border, is also being recommended for Superfund status.

“In 2010, we realized … that our previous investigations had not sampled in areas that were likely impacted (and) that the effects were likely much farther downstream than we previously thought,” a group of EPA mine experts said in an e-mailed response to questions from the AP about the proposed change.
–The Associated Press

U of Iowa hiring sustainability profs
The only resource that will sustain a population set to grow by 50 to 80 million people in the next 25 years is water.

Dave Dzombak, civil and environmental professor from Carnegie Mellon University, spoke to a crowd of nearly 50 at the University of Iowa Chemistry Building about the increasing demand for water and alternatives for water in thermoelectric power production.

And in the quest for water sustainability, it’s time to move forward, Dzombak said.

“I’ve been thinking a lot these days about our various footprints,” said Dzombak. “The real challenge is to decrease resource consumption.”

As experts put more emphasis on water sustainability, the UI is keeping pace.

The university’s Water Sustainability Initiative established the Water Sustainability Cluster Steering Committee in 2009 in order to improve research in water sustainability. The initiative’s current goal is to hire 10 faculty to study the topic.

Jerald Schnoor, head of the initiative, said the 3-year-period hiring process is on schedule. Two faculty have already been hired, offers have been extended to two more and searches for three additional faculty are underway.
–The Daily Iowan

 Pennsylvania rivers scrutinized
Radioactivity levels are “at or below” safe levels in Pennsylvania rivers, state regulators said, based on water samples taken last November and December from seven rivers.

 The results come at a time of growing scrutiny of the potential hazards of radioactivity and other contaminants in wastewater fom natural-gas drilling. The wastewater is routinely sent to treatment plants in Pennsylvania, which then discharge their waste into rivers.

 In a letter sent to the state, the federal Environmental Protection Agency noted the state’s test results, but instructed officials there to perform testing within 30 days for radioactivity at drinking-water intake plants.

 It also said that all permits issued by the state to treatment plants handling this waste should be reviewed to ensure that operators were complying with the law.
–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 

Groundwater contaminants, dioxins, atrazine

May 24, 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.

USGS finds contaminants in 20% of public wells tested
More than 20 percent of untreated water samples from 932 public wells across the nation contained at least one contaminant at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

 About 105 million people — or more than one-third of the nation’s population — receive their drinking water from one of the 140,000 public water systems across the United States that rely on groundwater pumped from public wells. 

The USGS study focused primarily on source (untreated) water collected from public wells before treatment or blending rather than the finished (treated) drinking water that water utilities deliver to their customers. 

“By focusing primarily on source-water quality, and by testing for many contaminants that are not regulated in drinking water, this USGS study complements the extensive monitoring of public water systems that is routinely conducted for regulatory and compliance purposes by federal, state and local drinking-water programs,” said Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water. “Findings assist water utility managers and regulators in making decisions about future monitoring needs and drinking-water issues.” 

Findings showed that naturally occurring contaminants, such as radon and arsenic, accounted for about three-quarters of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks in untreated source water. Naturally occurring contaminants are mostly derived from the natural geologic materials that make up the aquifers from which well water is withdrawn. 

Man-made contaminants were also found in untreated water sampled from the public wells, including herbicides, insecticides, solvents, disinfection by-products, nitrate, and gasoline chemicals. Man-made contaminants accounted for about one-quarter of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks, but were detected in 64 percent of the samples, predominantly in samples from unconfined aquifers. 

The USGS also sampled paired source and finished (treated) water from a smaller subset of 94 public wells. Findings showed that many man-made organic contaminants detected in source water generally were detected in finished water at similar concentrations. Organic contaminants detected in both treated and source water typically were detected at concentrations well below human-health benchmarks, however.
–USGS News release

Hand soap dioxins found in Mississippi River
Specific dioxins derived from the antibacterial agent triclosan, used in many hand soaps, deodorants, dishwashing liquids and other consumer products, account for an increasing proportion of total dioxins in Mississippi River sediments, according to University of Minnesota research.

The study appears online in the May 18 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The researchers, from the university’s Institute of Technology (soon to be College of Science and Engineering), found that over the last 30 years, the levels of the four dioxins derived from triclosan have risen by 200 to 300 percent, while levels of all the other dioxins have dropped by 73 to 90 percent.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would study the safety of triclosan, which has been linked to disruptions of hormonal function and may also play a role in the evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. In papers published in 2003 and 2009, university civil engineering professor William Arnold and his colleague Kristopher McNeill, a former professor in the university’s Department of Chemistry, discovered that triclosan, when exposed to sunlight, generated a specific suite of four dioxins.

In the current study spearheaded by Jeff Buth, a recent Ph.D. graduate in chemistry (supervised by Arnold and McNeill), the researchers examined sediment core samples from Lake Pepin, an enlargement of the Mississippi River 60  miles downstream from St. Paul.. The sediment cores, containing a record of pollutant accumulation in the lake for the past 50 years, were analyzed for triclosan, the four dioxins derived from triclosan, and the entire family of dioxin chemicals. The study was a collaborative effort between researchers at the University of Minnesota, Pace Analytical (Minneapolis), the Science Museum of Minnesota and Virginia Tech.

Triclosan was first added to commercial liquid hand soap in 1987, and by 2001 about 76 percent of commercial liquid hand soaps contained it, researchers say. About 96 percent of triclosan from consumer products is disposed of in residential drains, leading to large loads of the chemical in water entering wastewater treatment plants.

The toxicity of the dioxins derived from triclosan currently is not well understood, nor is the extent of their distribution in the environment at large, Arnold says.
–University of Minnesota news release

Atrazine impedes fish spawning, study shows
Atrazine, one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, has been shown to affect reproduction of fish, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

 “Concentrations of atrazine commonly found in agricultural streams and rivers caused reduced reproduction and spawning, as well as tissue abnormalities in laboratory studies with fish,” said USGS scientist Donald Tillitt, the lead author of the study published in Aquatic Toxicology.

Fathead minnows were exposed to atrazine at the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center in Columbia, Mo., and observed for effects on egg production, tissue abnormalities and hormone levels.  Fish were exposed to concentrations ranging from zero to 50 micrograms per liter of atrazine for up to 30 days.  All tested levels of exposure are less than the USEPA Office of Pesticides Aquatic Life Benchmark of 65 micrograms per liter for chronic exposure of fish.  Thus, substantial reproductive effects were observed in this study at concentrations below the USEPA water-quality guideline. 

Study results show that normal reproductive cycling was disrupted by atrazine and fish did not spawn as much or as well when exposed to atrazine.  Researchers found that total egg production was lower in all atrazine-exposed fish, as compared to the non-exposed fish, within 17 to 20 days of exposure.  In addition, atrazine-exposed fish spawned less and there were abnormalities in reproductive tissues of both males and females.
–USGS news release 

 Research Council calls for climate change action
In its most comprehensive study so far, the nation’s leading scientific body declared that climate change is a reality and is driven mostly by human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The group, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued three reports describing the case for a harmful human influence on the global climate as overwhelming and arguing for strong immediate action to limit emissions of climate-altering gases in the United States and around the world — including the creation of a carbon pricing system.

 Congress requested the reports in 2008. This is the first time the academy has issued specific recommendations on how to mitigate or adapt to climate change. 

One of the reports, “Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change,” urges the United States to set a greenhouse gas emissions “budget” that restricts overall emissions and provides a measurable goal for policy makers and for industry. It does not recommend a specific target but says the range put forward by the Obama administration and Congress is a “reasonable goal.”
–The New York Times

Gulf oil spill imperils sea turtles
It is nesting season here, and just offshore, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle No. 15 circles in the water before dragging herself onto the sand to lay another clutch of eggs.

 The sea turtle, affectionately nicknamed Thelma by a National Park Service employee, has already beaten some terrible odds. Still in the egg, she was airlifted here from Mexico in the years after the 1979 blowout of the Ixtoc 1 rig, which spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and covered the turtles’ primary nesting place.

 Now Thelma and others of her species are being monitored closely by worried scientists as another major oil disaster threatens their habitat. Federal officials said that since April 30, 10 days after the accident on the Deepwater Horizon, they have recorded 156 sea turtle deaths; most of the turtles were Kemp’s ridleys. And though they cannot say for sure that the oil was responsible, the number is far higher than usual for this time of year, the officials said.
–The New York Times 

Nuclear dump proposed in Texas
Texas was all set to be part of an agreement with Vermont to dump nuclear waste in a remote region of the Lone Star state, and for the most part people living near the site were OK with it. 

Now, though, that compact could mushroom to include waste from 36 other states, reinvigorating those who oppose the project to fight harder. 

Environmentalists, geologists, the Texas League of Women Voters and others say the huge dumping ground will pollute groundwater and otherwise wreak havoc with the environment. The company that runs the site contends it’ll be safe and many local residents applaud any expansion as a way to bring more jobs and prosperity to the West Texas scrubland.
–The Associated Press

 Poison targets Asian carp in Chicago
The Little Calumet River became the latest battleground against Asian carp as workers dumped barrels of a deadly fish toxin in a desperate attempt to locate the elusive invasive species in Chicago’s waterways.

“If there are Asian carp here, we should get confirmation of that this week,” John Rogner, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said during a morning news conference.

State officials targeted a two-mile stretch of the river, about seven miles west of Lake Michigan, because numerous DNA samples have indicated the presence of Asian carp. But no one has yet seen an Asian carp, alive or dead, making this stretch of waterway an important staging area to not only test the validity of the DNA research, but also to gauge how imminent a threat the carp are to the Great Lakes.

Biologists dumped about 2,000 gallons of the organic fish poison Rotenone into the river Thursday and are expected to search for Asian carp over the next several days as dead fish float to the surface. The federal government is picking up the estimated $1.5 million price tag for the effort, which likely will kill thousands of fish and shut down a vital shipping corridor for about a week.
–The Chicago Tribune

 China builds ‘Solar Valley’ to power industry
Uprooting the last traces of rural life on the edge of this northern Chinese city, laborers with chain saws spent a recent morning cutting down trees to make way for a hulking factory. A big red banner trumpeted the future for what used to be farmland: “The Biggest Solar Energy Production Base in the Whole World.”

 Across China, villages are being turned into pollution-belching industrial zones, but nature’s retreat on the outskirts of Dezhou boasts a paradoxical purpose — protecting nature. 

“This is an experiment. It is a big laboratory,” said Huang Ming, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon, who is driving one of China’s boldest efforts to promote, and profit from, green technology.
–The Washington Post 

Invasive kudzu contributes to ozone, research says
Kudzu, a fast-growing and invasive Asian vine introduced in the American South several decades ago, has now blanketed more than 7 million acres of the region, making it sometimes seem more common than the hallmark azaleas, dogwoods and peach trees.

Now there’s evidence that the plant also increases air pollution.

 A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a link between kudzu and the production of ozone, the colorless and odorless gas that is the main component of smog. Ozone can damage lung tissue, increasing inflammation and the risk of asthma attacks.

Some crops and plants are known to contribute to ozone. But this study is the first to establish a connection between an invasive plant and poor air quality, said lead researcher Jonathan Hickman, a fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Manure-powered data centers?
Hey diddle diddle. Guess what the cow has done this time?

 America’s dairy farmers could soon find themselves in the computer business, with the manure from their cows possibly powering the vast data centers of companies like Google and Microsoft. While not immediately intuitive, the idea plays on two trends: the building of computing centers in more rural locales, and dairy farmers’ efforts to deal with cattle waste by turning it into fuel. 

With the right skills, a dairy farmer could rent out land and power to technology companies and recoup an investment in the waste-to-fuel systems within two years, Hewlett-Packard engineers say in a research paper.
–The New York Times

 Penn State researches ‘gray water’ use
Horticulturists at Pennsylvania State University have come up with a low-cost, green method for recycling so-called “gray” water – the stuff from sinks, showers and washing machines that would otherwise go down the drain.

 They filter the water through some plant roots and layers of crushed stone, peat moss and waste materials – making it clean enough to reuse for growing vegetables or flushing toilets – but not for drinking. 

Using gray water is generally not allowed in the United States, but some states have explored the idea. The Penn State researchers hope their data – which show such biofilters can remove almost all suspended solids, nitrogen compounds and other pollutants from gray water – might lead to greater acceptance.
–The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mail-in drug disposal plan tried
Through a grant awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging has completed the first statewide mail-back pilot program for managing pharmaceutical waste from consumers.

Studies show that pharmaceuticals are present in our nation’s water bodies and that certain drugs may cause ecological harm. The EPA is currently evaluating the potential risks associated with pharmaceuticals and personal care products on public health and aquatic life.

The program included the use of mailers to return unused and unwanted medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, from households.

Maine Care (Maine’s Medicaid program) established a limit for certain drugs on the quantity that can be filled with an initial prescription. This policy is targeted at reducing the supply and accumulation of unused medications and to prevent pollution. The Maine legislature also recognized the value of the take-back pilot and enacted legislation to continue the program for an additional two years. As part of the EPA grant, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging developed a handbook on the project and collected data on the type and amount of unused medications. 

To view the executive summary of the report, click here.
–EPA New release

Conserving water conserves energy
In the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit conference last year, water researchers and advocates held a special meeting to address the fact that water issues were absent from the draft negotiating text.

This was a major oversight, given the amount of energy that is used to collect, treat, distribute and use water and wastewater.

 Just how much energy is consumed has not been measured in most places, but a 2005 energy policy report published by the state of California found that annual water-related energy consumption in the state accounted for 19 percent of electricity consumption, 32 percent natural gas consumption, and 88 million gallons, or 333 million liters, of diesel fuel. River Network, an organization that advocates water conservation, has extrapolated that data nationally. In a report last year it calculated that Americans use 520 megawatt-hours, or 13 percent of U.S. electricity consumption, on water.
–The New York Times

Ely mayor fined for BWCA violations
The case of the purloined porta-potty is over.

Ely Mayor Roger Skraba was sentenced Tuesday in Duluth after admitting that he drove his snowmobile in the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) three years ago, broke into a U.S. Forest Service shed and stole and hid a portable toilet.

Federal Magistrate Judge Raymond Erickson fined Skraba $3,600. The sentence also includes 40 hours of community service and two years’ probation.

Skraba, 48, was charged on Nov. 9, 2009, and pleaded guilty two months ago to three misdemeanors: removing property belonging to the federal government, entering a protected wilderness area without a proper permit, and possession or use of a motor vehicle or motorized equipment in a protected wilderness area.
–The Star Tribune

UN: Pollution is leading cause of death

March 29, 2010

Each Week the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional , national and international articles about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

 Polluted water is leading cause of death, U.N. says
More people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence, including war, the U.N. said in a report that highlights the need for clean drinking water.

 The report, launched to coincide with World Water Day, said an estimated 2 billion tons of waste water — including fertilizer run-off, sewage and industrial waste — is being discharged daily. That waste fuels the spread of disease and damages ecosystems.

 ”Sick Water” — the report from the U.N. Environment Program — said that 3.7 percent of all deaths are attributed to water-related diseases, translating into millions of deaths. More than half of the world’s hospital beds are filled by people suffering from water-related illnesses, it said.
–The Associated Press

 EPA announces drinking water changes
The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would overhaul drinking water regulations so that officials could police dozens of contaminants simultaneously and tighten rules on the chemicals used by industries.

 The new policies, which are still being drawn up, will probably force some local water systems to use more effective cleaning technologies, but may raise water rates.

 “There are a range of chemicals that have become more prevalent in our products, our water and our bodies in the last 50 years,” the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson said in a speech.
–The New York Times

Endocrine disruptor BPA detected in sea water
Scientists have reported widespread global contamination of sea sand and sea water with the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) and said that the BPA probably originated from a surprising source: Hard plastic trash discarded in the oceans and the epoxy plastic paint used to seal the hulls of ships. 

“We were quite surprised to find that polycarbonate plastic biodegrades in the environment,” said Katsuhiko Saido, Ph.D. He reported on the discovery March 23 at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, being held in San Francisco. 

Saido and Hideto Sato, Ph.D., and colleagues are with Nihon University, Chiba, Japan. “Polycarbonates are very hard plastics, so hard they are used to make screwdriver handles, shatter-proof eyeglass lenses, and other very durable products. This finding challenges the wide public belief that hard plastics remain unchanged in the environment for decades or centuries.
–Science Daily

 EPA forcing cities to levy storm water fees
New environmental regulations are prompting cities to impose fees on property owners for the cost of managing storm water runoff, the leading cause of water pollution in most of the nation.

The Environmental Protection Agency has started issuing a series of limits on storm water pollution that will require local governments to spend large amounts of money on water quality and soon start slowly reshaping America’s roads, housing developments and even the traditional lawn.

The EPA for the first time is placing specific limits on how much storm water pollution can flow into the nation’s streams, rivers, lakes and bays. Federal courts have ruled that the Clean Water Act requires more stringent regulations.
–USA Today 

California at odds over tracking groundwater use
A state report says California should start tracking how much water is being pumped from underground aquifers to get a better measurement of what some officials consider unreliable supplies.

Each year, California gets at least one-third of its water supply from the ground. A bill passed by the Legislature last year set up a largely voluntary program to monitor groundwater basins, but the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends measuring how much is being pumped out as well.

Both cities and farmers have resisted attempts at groundwater permitting because they consider it a freely available resource.

The legislative analyst says groundwater is a shared public asset and suggests California follow models in other Western states that require active measurement of groundwater pumping.
–The San Jose Mercury News

Quenching the Middle East’s thirst
Historically, water unavailability has been a key concern across the Middle East and Africa. Many countries in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have renewable water resources per capita less than 1000 m3/year; the level that defines water scarcity.

 Furthermore, the geographic distribution of these limited water resources is highly uneven. Over 80% of the region is desert and receives little or no rainfall. Water supply provisions under such conditions have always been a key policy issue with social, economic and environmental ramifications. In the past it has been erratic rainfall and prolonged drought periods, widely believed to be manifestations of climate change, which have added a new dimension to the problem. This is particularly the case with Syria, Jordan, Israel and Algeria, which are facing severe water shortages.

While supplies are constrained, the demand for freshwater over the years has continued to increase at a rapid pace. This increase in demand is a result of several interplaying forces. Across MENA, the agricultural sector is the prime consumer of water. In some countries, it accounts for over 80% of the total annual water withdrawals. Agricultural subsidies, improving irrigation and pumping technologies and the discovery of fossil groundwater reserves have helped expansion of agricultural activity.
–Water World

Turtle Lake, Wis., cheese plant fined for pollution
Lake Country Dairy, Inc., which owns and operates a cheese production facility in Turtle Lake, has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle state claims under Wisconsin’s water pollution laws. The judgment resolves charges that Lake Country Dairy failed to properly manage its discharges of wastewater into the Village of Turtle Lake wastewater treatment plant since 2006.

Wisconsin law requires manufacturers such as Lake Country Dairy, Inc. to pre-treat wastewater resulting in discharges that do not contain pollutants at levels that contribute to a violation of the local water treatment plant’s permit and do not have a pH below 5.0 unless the treatment plant is specifically designed to handle acidic waste.

The complaint charges that Lake Country Dairy operated in violation of state water pollution statutes since 2006 by causing violations of the Village of Turtle Lake’s treatment plant permit on at least 13 occasions, and that it discharged wastewater with a pH below 5.0 on at least 15 occasions.
–The Barron News-Shield

Climate change, endocrine disruptors in the news

November 30, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety.

Obama to promise greenhouse gas reduction
President Obama will travel to Copenhagen at the start of the United Nations conference on climate change on Dec. 9 just before flying to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama, who had not previously committed to making an appearance at the climate conference, had been under considerable pressure from other world leaders and environmental advocates to make the trip as a statement of American seriousness about the climate change negotiations.

 Mr. Obama will tell the delegates to the climate conference that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, officials said. The administration has resisted until now delivering a firm pledge on emissions reductions.
–The New York Times

 Indonesian peat lands spew CO2
From the air, the Kampar Peninsula in Indonesia stretches for mile after mile in dense scrub and trees. One of the world’s largest peat swamp forests, it is also one of its biggest vaults of carbon dioxide, a source of potentially lucrative currency as world governments struggle to hammer out a global climate treat. The vault, though, is leaking.

 Canals — used legally and illegally — extend from surrounding rivers nearly into the peninsula’s impenetrable core. By slowly draining and drying the peat land, they are releasing carbon dioxide, contributing to making Indonesia the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States.
–The New York Times

Root and Sauk watersheds to get funding
The watersheds of the Sauk River in Central Minnesota and the Root River in the southeastern part of the state are among 41 watersheds in 12 states that have been selected to participate in a new initiative to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the watersheds – 42 million acres in all — that will be the first targets of a $320 million federal program to improve the Mississippi. 

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which was announced on Sept. 24, will provide U.S. Department of Agriculture financial assistance over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The program will help farmers put in place conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land. 

Selections were based on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus — nutrients associated with water quality problems in the Mississippi basin — while maintaining agricultural productivity and benefiting wildlife. 

For information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including eligibility requirements, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi_overview.html. 

Water pollution underestimated, researchers say
Inaccuracies in published data underestimate the amount of organic pollutants in raw sewage, providing flawed information for environmental policy makers, claim US scientists.  

High quality analysis of raw sewage is crucial to measure pollutants in the environment and the efficiency of wastewater treatments plants. Suspended solids in sewage can block analytical apparatus and complicate analysis so samples are commonly filtered before analysis. But, appropriate corrections for the filtration step are not always made say Rolf Halden and Randhir Deo at Arizona State University, Tempe. 

Some hydrophobic organic compounds adsorb onto these solid filters and disappear from the sample, so the analysis of the resulting aqueous phase does not show the total amount that was present before filtering, explains Halden.  

Halden and Deo studied reported data for 33 organic compounds in the aqueous phase and found that between 15-60% of some compounds’ mass was adsorbed onto the suspended solids, which led to estimates of organic pollutants being 50% lower than actually present.
–Highlights in Chemical Science

Endocrine-disruptors found in pristine lakes
Minnesota scientists say it appears endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pharmaceuticals are found in even the most pristine lakes in the state.

 Researchers say they’re not sure why the chemical compounds are so widespread, but they say more research is needed to better understand the potential impact on wildlife and humans. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sampled a dozen lakes and four rivers across the state. Some of the samples came from water close to cities and others were from lakes in remote northern forests.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Endocrine-disruptors alter gender of fish
Something strange is happening to the fish in America’s rivers, lakes and ponds. Chemical pollution seems to be disrupting their hormones, blurring the line between male and female.

And as CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds reports, those fish swim where millions get their drinking water.
–CBS Evening News

 Answers come slowly in endocrine research
What’s the problem with the Potomac River — and could whatever it is spell problems for those of us who drink its water? 

In 2003, scientists discovered something startling in the Potomac, from which at least 3 million Washington area residents get their drinking water: Male fish were growing eggs. But six years later, a government-led research effort still hasn’t answered those two questions. Scientists say they still aren’t sure which pollutants are altering the fish, or whether the discovery poses any threat to people’s health.
–The Washington Post

Wisconsin groups threat to sue EPA over nutrients
The threat of a potential lawsuit could set the stage for new regulations of a pair of pollutants that are responsible for algae blooms and poor drinking water. 

Lawyers for several environmental groups notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on of their s intent to file suit against the agency for failing to protect state water from two forms of nutrient pollution – phosphorus and nitrogen. 

The source of the pollution is farm fields, manure, lawns and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Two law firms, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the notice with the EPA. The agency said in 1999 that it would start to regulate the pollutants.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  

Sea level rise could cost $28 trillion
A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world’s largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

 The value of infrastructure exposed in so-called “port mega-cities,” urban conurbations with more than 10 million people, is just $3 trillion at present. 

The rise in potential losses would be a result of expected greater urbanization and increased exposure of this greater population to catastrophic surge events occurring once every 100 years caused by rising sea levels and higher temperatures.
–CNN

MPCA seeks comments on water quality
A public comment period on a water-quality report for six lakes in Washington and Chisago counties began Nov. 23 and continues through Dec. 23, 2009.  The Total Maximum Daily Load report addresses water pollution caused by excessive nutrients, mainly phosphorus that fuels algal blooms. 

All six lakes are in the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District near the cities of Wyoming and Forest Lake.  The lakes include Comfort, Birch, Bone, Moody, School, Shields and Little Comfort.  Water-quality monitoring of these lakes has shown that their nutrient levels frequently exceed state standards. 

The Six Lakes report is available on the Web at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/project-clflwd.html or at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road N.  For more information and to submit comments, contact Christopher Klucas, MPCA Project Manager, at 651-757-2498 or christopher.klucas@state.mn.us.
–MPCA news release

 EPA issues rules on construction runoff
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ssued a final rule to help reduce water pollution from construction sites. The rule takes effect in February 2010 and will be phased in over four years.

The final rule requires construction site owners and operators that disturb one or more acres to use best management practices to ensure that soil disturbed during construction activity does not pollute nearby water bodies.

In addition, owners and operators of sites that impact 10 or more acres of land at one time will be required to monitor discharges and ensure they comply with specific limits on discharges to minimize the impact on nearby water bodies. This is the first time that EPA has imposed national monitoring requirements and enforceable numeric limitations on construction site stormwater discharges. For information, go to http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/guide/construction.
–EPA news release

Lake Pepin EDCs, aging sewers and invasive carp

November 23, 2009

Lawmakers question MPCA on Lake Pepin
A pair of Minnesota lawmakers expressed frustration with a developing plan to evaluate pollution problems in Lake Pepin, a widening of the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The comments came at a joint meeting of House and Senate environment and natural resources committees.

 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is several years into an assessment of lake pollutants, a precursor to an effort to clean up the water body.

State Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, and state Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, questioned whether the agency’s current evaluation is too narrow, and doesn’t include such emerging issues as endocrine disruptors, chemicals that cause biological changes in fish and other creatures.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Aging U.S. sewer systems often pollute
It was drizzling lightly in late October when the midnight shift started at the Owls Head Water Pollution Control Plant, where much of Brooklyn’s sewage is treated.

 A few miles away, people were walking home without umbrellas from late dinners. But at Owls Head, a swimming pool’s worth of sewage and wastewater was soon rushing in every second. Warning horns began to blare. A little after 1 a.m., with a harder rain falling, Owls Head reached its capacity and workers started shutting the intake gates. 

That caused a rising tide throughout Brooklyn’s sewers, and untreated feces and industrial waste started spilling from emergency relief valves into the Upper New York Bay and Gowanus Canal.
–The New York Times (From the Times’ Toxic Waters series)

Invasive Asian carp may have reached Great Lakes
The decade-old battle to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes might be over.

 New research shows the fish likely have made it past the $9 million electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a source familiar with the situation told the Journal Sentinel.

 The barrier is considered the last chance to stop the super-sized fish that can upend entire ecosystems, and recent environmental DNA tests showed that the carp had advanced to within a mile of the barrier.

 That research backed the federal government into a desperate situation because the barrier must be turned off within a couple of weeks for regular maintenance. The plan is to spend some $1.5 million to temporarily poison the canal so the maintenance work can be done.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lake Vermillion park negotiations on hold
Already a long shot, Minnesota’s efforts to add another state park on the east side of Lake Vermilion could get squeezed even further when the state Legislature resumes in February. 

Talks between U.S. Steel Corp. and the state Department of Natural Resources have been on hold for months, with no detectable movement. Meanwhile, U.S. Steel is proceeding with plans to develop housing on the 3,000-acre site along the picturesque northeastern Minnesota lake. 

But any lingering hopes of a breakthrough are dampened by several developments. 

DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said the agency and the company are “standing down” until after the agency completes an environmental review of U.S. Steel’s proposed Keetac mine expansion project near Keewatin, Minn. He said both sides consider that process a distraction and want to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 South Florida puts sweeping limit on lawn watering
Recognizing the need to conserve water and increase protection for South Florida’s water resources, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board has unanimously approved sweeping year-round water conservation measures that place permanent limits on landscape irrigation throughout the region. 

The rule limits irrigation of existing landscapes to two days per week, with some exceptions. 

The Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Rule is designed to curb water use in South Florida, which is the highest in the state at an estimated 179 gallons per person per day. Outdoor irrigation uses up to half of all drinkable water produced within the region. Up to 50 percent of the water applied to lawns is lost to evaporation and runoff with no benefit to the landscape, according to the district.
–Environment News Service

Wisconsin mine offers window on Minnesota dispute
A closed Wisconsin mine is playing a prominent role in the ongoing debate over mining for metals like copper and nickel, a debate that’s currently raging in Northern Minnesota. 

Depending on whom you talk to, the Flambeau mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, is either a perfect example how metals like copper can be mined without harming the environment, or it’s a sad example of regulators ignoring serious problems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Huge S.D. dairy cited for manure
A gigantic dairy operation near Minnesota’s western border is violating manure storage law and suspected of allowing pollutants to enter public waterways.

South Dakota’s largest dairy, Veblen East, and its neighbor Veblen West have been operating since the summer with too much manure in their huge lagoons, or ponds. Permits require that the ponds have at least two feet of space at the top so that manure won’t overflow when it’s windy or rainy.
–The Star Tribune

Nevada solar project abandons groundwater plan
A solar developer caught in the crossfire of the West’s water wars is waving the white flag.

Solar Millenium, a German developer, had proposed using as much as 1.3 billion gallons of water a year to cool a massive solar-power plant complex it wants to build in a desert valley 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

 That divided the residents of Amargosa Valley, some of whom feared the solar farm would suck dry their aquifer. Others worried about the impact of the $3 billion project on the endangered pupfish, a tiny blue-gray fish that survives only in a few aquamarine desert pools fed by the valley’s aquifer.

Now Solar Millennium says it will instead dry-cool the twin solar farms, which would result in a 90 percent drop in water consumption.
–The New York Times

 EPA must set Florida water pollution limits
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must come forward with a set of numeric limits on freshwater pollution by Oct. 15, 2010, under a consent decree approved by a federal judge in Tallahassee. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle ruled from the bench that a Jan. 14 consent decree penned between the EPA and environmental groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation was both reasonable and valid. 

The ruling, which was made after nearly three hours of testimony, was a defeat for a coalition of critics including agricultural interests, power companies, fertilizer manufacturers, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services.
–The Orlando Sentinel 

The mystery of  Bangladesh’s arsenic-tainted water
It was a twisted cycle: In the 1970s, Bangladeshis used surface ponds or rivers to collect rainwater for drinking. But thanks to garbage dumping and sewage, that water became a breeding ground for disease. So UNICEF sought to fix the problem—the agency helped residents drill simple wells that drew water from a shallow aquifer. But this remedy became a tragedy. Bangladesh’s groundwater was laced with arsenic. Now, in a study in Nature Geoscience, a team from MIT has answered one of the outstanding pieces of the Bangladesh puzzle: Just how all that arsenic got into the water in the first place. 

Bangladesh occupies the flood-prone delta of the river Ganges [New Scientist], and that river brought the arsenic to the region’s sediments. But why doesn’t it just stay in the sediments once it’s there? Back in 2002, another MIT team began to answer the question by showing that microbes digest organic carbon in the soil in such a way that frees up the arsenic, but they couldn’t say where that carbon itself came from until Rebecca Neumann and colleagues figured it out this year: man-made ponds left behind by excavations.
–Discover Magazine 

 

EPA funds study of storing CO2 in aquifers
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded an $897,225 grant to the University of Illinois for a three-year research project to find out the environmental impact of injecting carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from a source such as a coal-fired electric generating power plant into Illinois’ deep underground water reservoirs for long-term storage. 

Researchers will use field work and modeling to determine the effects of CO2 sequestration on ground water aquifers.  The plan is to see whether CO2 injection could cause changes in reservoir pressure and possibly result in salt water migrating from deeper ground water and contaminating fresh water near the surface. 

Although underground injection of CO2 for such things as enhanced oil and gas recovery is a long-standing practice, CO2 injection specifically for geologic sequestration involves different technical issues and potentially larger volumes of CO2 than in the past.
–EPA News Release

 Health Dept. studies new threats to water
Using money from the sales tax increase approved by voters last year, the Minnesota Department of Health has begun a new Drinking Water Emerging Contaminants project. The Legislature last spring appropriated $1.3 million over two years for the project. 

Health Department staff will evaluate chemicals that are potential threats to drinking water, but do not have health-based guidance values. These chemicals may include substances that have not yet been detected in groundwater, but are present in surface water or soil and have the potential to contaminate drinking water. Evaluations may also be done for chemicals that have recently been found to be more toxic than previously known. 

The department has created a web page to describe the program.
 –Minnesota Health Department

 What to do about endocrine disruptors
Nearly a year ago, toxicologist Linda Birnbaum was named director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. She sat down with Environmental Health News journalist Jane Kay in San Francisco to answer questions about the environmental health risks we face today.

As head of the federal institute examining environmental health, Birnbaum and her staff are taking on many controversial topics, including Bisphenol A and new flame retardants in consumer products. She talks about those issues and explains how scientists are trying to figure out what role chemicals and contaminants may play in breast cancer and other diseases and disorders.
–Scientific American

 California water bond laden with pork
Lawmakers want voters to borrow $11 billion next year to keep California supplied with clean water, but more than $1 billion of the money is earmarked for projects that have little or nothing to do with quenching the state’s thirst.

The bond proposal includes funding for bike paths, museums, visitor centers, tree planting, economic development and the purchase of property from land speculators and oil companies — all in the districts of lawmakers whose key votes helped it pass the Legislature.
–The Los Angeles Times

Tougher water enforcement; bow fishing for invasives

October 19, 2009

EPA chief Lisa P. Jackson announces a tougher effort to enforce water quality rules. An Illinois man, confronted with a river full of jumping Asian carp, develops a new sport: extreme aerial bow fishing. And cleaner air sometimes means dirtier water, the New York Times reports in the latest installment in its Toxic Waters series. Follow the links to read those articles and more.

EPA chief pledges stepped-up water enforcement
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing that the agency is stepping up its efforts on Clean Water Act enforcement.

 The Clean Water Action Enforcement Plan is a first step in revamping the compliance and enforcement program. It seeks to improve the protection of our nation’s water quality, raise the bar in federal and state performance and enhance public transparency.

“The safety of the water that we use in our homes — the water we drink and give to our children — is of paramount importance to our health and our environment. Having clean and safe water in our communities is a right that should be guaranteed for all Americans,” said Administrator Jackson. “Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.”

The plan announced outlines how the agency will strengthen the way it addresses the water pollution challenges of this century. These challenges include pollution caused by numerous, dispersed sources, such as concentrated animal feeding operations, sewer overflows, contaminated water that flows from industrial facilities, construction sites, and runoff from urban streets.
–EPA news release

Extreme aerial bow fishing for invasive carp
The sound and vibration of a boat engine make the fish fly.

The Illinois River and other waterways flowing into the Mississippi have become infested with invasive Asian fish species commonly called silver carp, which can turn a leisurely ride on a johnboat into the aquatic version of the running of the bulls. The carp can jump out of the water by the hundreds, sometimes soaring 10 feet in the air and often landing in the boat. They have loosened fishermen’s teeth, broken their jaws and left them scarred.

This unlikely and often violent meeting of quaint pastime and airborne fish is a problem for wildlife officials. For Chris Brackett, a guide on the Illinois River, it is a business opportunity.
–The N.Y. Times

Cleaner air yields dirtier water
MASONTOWN, Pa. — For years, residents here complained about the yellow smoke pouring from the tall chimneys of the nearby coal-fired power plant, which left a film on their cars and pebbles of coal waste in their yards. Five states — including New York and New Jersey — sued the plant’s owner, Allegheny Energy, claiming the air pollution was causing respiratory diseases and acid rain.

So three years ago, when Allegheny Energy decided to install scrubbers to clean the plant’s air emissions, environmentalists were overjoyed. The technology would spray water and chemicals through the plant’s chimneys, trapping more than 150,000 tons of pollutants each year before they escaped into the sky.

 But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was switched on in June, the company has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000 people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north. (From the New York Times Toxic Waters series.)
–The New York Times

 Canada’s rivers in trouble, environmental group says
Serious action is required to keep Canada’s rivers flowing and to prevent them from being drained by expanding cities, soaring energy demands and climate change, says a new report.

“Flow regimes in some of Canada’s most important rivers, such as the South Saskatchewan and the St. Lawrence, have been modified to the extent that ecosystems are in serious trouble,” said the report, Canada’s Rivers at Risk, produced by WWF-Canada, an environmental organization. “Soon, many others — including some of the planet’s increasingly scarce, large, free-flowing rivers like the Skeena, the Athabasca, and the Mackenzie — could be in trouble, as well, as demands on the waters grow and climate change intensifies.” 

Overall, the study assessed the flow of 10 Canadian rivers that drain into the Pacific, the Arctic, the Hudson Bay and the Atlantic, and the impact of economic development, infrastructure and hydroelectric dams in the water basins.
–CanWest News Service

 EPA told to limit endocrine testing
The Office of Management and Budget has instructed U.S. EPA to use existing toxicity data rather than require companies to conduct new tests to determine whether chemicals can damage the human endocrine system.

At issue in the White House directive is the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program created by the 1998 Food Quality Protection Act to identify chemicals that can disrupt reproductive systems. 

EPA started the program in April with the announcement of the first 67 pesticides for screening with a “Tier 1″ goal of identifying possible endocrine disruptors and requiring that they be tested by their manufacturers. The program’s second tier is aimed at determining safe exposure levels for such chemicals.
–The New York Times 

Carver County septic system gets pricier
For several years, Carver County officials have been trying to force Lowell and Janet Carlson to replace the septic system at their Norwood-Young America farm, eventually threatening them with a jail sentence earlier this month if they did not comply.

 It turns out, however, that the septic system the county approved and wanted the Carlsons to install in 2006 apparently would have been illegal, according to people the Carlsons brought in to help them replace the system.

As a result, the couple will have to install an even more costly mound system to keep themselves out of the Carver County jail.
–The Star Tribune

Lake Vermillion park negotiations dormant
Back in 2008, funding for Lake Vermilion State Park was one of the signature accomplishments of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s legislative maneuvering, a prize for which he had twisted arms and played hardball in last-minute negotiation with legislators. 

When the session was over, the governor had agreed not to veto funding for the Central Corridor Light Rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul. In exchange, DFL leaders approved $20 million in bonding authority for the “acquisition and development” of nearly 3,000 acres of land, including five miles of pristine shoreline, along Lake Vermilion. 

It was to be Minnesota’s first new state park since 1979. Today, however, the chances that Lake Vermilion State Park will ever happen are remote, and steadily diminishing. Negotiations between the Minnesota DNR and property owner U.S. Steel over the purchase of the land are, according to both sides, lying dormant.
–St. Paul Legal Ledger

Faucet snails found in Twin lakes
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is in the process of designating Upper and Lower Twin lakes in Hubbard and Wadena counties as “infested waters” because the faucet snail (Bithynia tentaculata) has been found there. The snail has been linked to waterfowl deaths at Lake Winnibigoshish and the Upper Mississippi pool system in southeastern Minnesota. 

A local resident of Lower Twin Lake first noticed the snails attached to his boat and brought them to the attention of local DNR staff. Trained DNR and U.S. Geological Survey staff later verified them as faucet snails.

 New regulations will take effect at the lake to help stop the movement of the faucet snail to other waters. Once designated as “infested waters,” state law prohibits the transport of water from Upper and Lower Twin without a permit. It also prohibits anglers or commercial bait harvesters from harvesting bait from these waters.
–Minnesota DNR news release

 USGS assesses risk of giant invasive snakes
Five giant non-native snake species would pose high risks to the health of ecosystems in the United States should they become established here, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report.

 The USGS report details the risks of nine non-native boa, anaconda and python species that are invasive or potentially invasive in the United States. Because all nine species share characteristics associated with greater risks, none was found to be a low ecological risk. Two of these species are documented as reproducing in the wild in South Florida, with population estimates for Burmese pythons in the tens of thousands.

Based on the biology and known natural history of the giant constrictors, individuals of some species may also pose a small risk to people, although most snakes would not be large enough to consider a person as suitable prey. Mature individuals of the largest species—Burmese, reticulated, and northern and southern African pythons—have been documented as attacking and killing people in the wild in their native range, though such unprovoked attacks appear to be quite rare, the report authors wrote.
–Science Daily

Midwestern governors want CO2 pipeline
Midwestern states are working with energy companies to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to carbon capture and storage: finding ways to transport the gas from its industrial source to its final resting place.

The Midwestern Governors Association announced a goal to site and permit by 2012 at least one interstate pipeline to ferry global warming pollution from the region’s power plants to suitable underground storage sites.

The goal was among several laid out in the Midwestern Energy Infrastructure Accord aiming to transform the region’s coal-rich states into hubs for CCS technology (Greenwire, Oct. 7).

 An early step in the accord involves the development of a pipeline that would move carbon dioxide from capture-ready coal plants in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky to the Gulf Coast for use in enhanced oil recovery.
–The New York Times

Minnesota research probes endocrine disruptors

September 30, 2009

A major Minnesota research project – paid for by the sales tax increase voters approved last year, and conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and St. Cloud State University – is investigating one of the newest, least understood and most troubling types of water pollution: Endocrine disrupting compounds.

The $896,000 project began sampling water  at 22 sewage treatment plants around the state in early September.

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A number of studies have shown the compounds “feminize” male fish. Some scientists suspect they also cause human ills such as decreased sperm counts, increased genital and urinary birth defects in boys and increases in obesity, diabetes and testicular cancer.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this week issued a report, Statewide Endocrine Disrupting Compound Monitoring Study, 2007 – 2008, that details the results of previous testing for EDCs in the water and sediment of four rivers and 12 lakes. The research found evidence of  EDC contamination in lakes — including two pristine lakes near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Itasca — that had no connection to any wastewater treatment plants.

Until this research, many scientists had concentrated on treatment plants as the major conduit of EDCs to surface waters.

Vitellogenin, a protein associated with egg making that normally is found in measurable quantities only in female fish, was found in male fish caught in several of the lakes, including the two pristine lakes.

Follow these links to read about the study now under way at the 22 treatment plants, to see a summary of other research on EDCs in Minnesota over the last 15 years and to read an interview with a Minnesota Health Department expert on the compounds and human health. Those articles, and others, appear in the September issue of Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s quarterly newsletter.

Threatened fish, buffer strips and zebra mussels

August 3, 2009

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

Climate change threatens fish, USGS expert says

Entire populations of North American fish already  are being affected by several emerging diseases, a problem that threatens to increase in the future with climate change and other stresses on aquatic ecosystems, according to a noted U.S. Geological Survey researcher giving an invited talk on this subject at the Wildlife Disease Association conference in Blaine, Wash.

 “A generation ago, we couldn’t have imaged the explosive growth in disease issues facing many of our wild fish populations,” said Dr. Jim Winton, a fish disease specialist at the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center.  “Most fish health research at that time was directed toward diseases of farmed fish.”

 In contrast, said Winton, recent studies in natural aquatic systems have revealed that, in addition to being a cause of natural death, infectious and parasitic fish diseases can produce significantly greater mortality in altered habitats leading to population fluctuations, extinction of endangered fish, reduced overall health and increased susceptibility to predation.

–USGS news release

 Complaint accuses farmers of ignoring buffer rule

The Zumbro River is slow and lazy on a summer’s day as it curves along a gentle bend near Terry Klampe’s home just outside Rochester.

But all is not tranquil in Olmsted County.

 Klampe, a dentist and ardent conservationist, has filed a complaint to give the river some space in farm country.

 Farmers are thwarting the law by planting corn and soybeans to the edge of the river and its tributaries, Klampe said, violating pollution rules that require a 50-foot buffer of permanent vegetation to protect streams and lakes from soil and chemical runoff.

–The Star Tribune

Zebra mussels increase blue-green algae

As if there aren’t enough reasons to keep zebra mussels out of Minnesota lakes, add one more: toxic blue-green algae blooms.

 A recent spike in state lakes infested with the non-native mussel has scientists mindful of an emerging — and unwelcome — connection.

 In Michigan, where zebra mussels have infested more than 200 lakes, blue-green algae blooms — the kind that can make people sick and have killed animals that drink the water — are enjoying a resurgence of sorts. And instead of pinning the blame on excess nutrients that typically cause them, scientists are looking squarely at zebra mussels as a trigger.

 Every year, blue-green algae blooms occur across central and southern Minnesota, typically in shallow lakes with high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus from animal waste or vegetative decomposition. Sometimes, those blooms become toxic, causing farm animals or dogs that consume any of it to get sick or die.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Twin Cities suburbs press water conservation

With thirsty lawns and trees in need of water, suburban residents are struggling to get their home landscapes through a dry summer while obediently adhering to water conservation restrictions.

 City after city now has adopted watering restrictions and stepped-up rates for high water usage, and some residents are shy about watering even when it’s allowed, fearing they are wasting a precious resource.

 Yet there is no water crisis in Minnesota. The Twin Cities area has more water in lakes, rivers and groundwater reserves than almost any other metro area in the country.

So, when is it OK for an environmentally conscientious citizen to water?

–The Star Tribune

 ‘Dead zone’ smaller than predicted

Scientists said that the region of oxygen-starved water in the northern Gulf of Mexico this summer was smaller than forecast, which means less disruption of shrimp, crabs and other marine species, and of the fisheries that depend on them.

But researchers found that although the so-called dead zone along the Texas and Louisiana coasts was smaller — about 3,000 square miles compared with a prediction of about 8,000 square miles — the actual volume of low-oxygen, or hypoxic, water may be higher, as the layer is deeper and thicker in some parts of the gulf than normal. And the five-year average size of the dead zone is still considered far too big, about three times a target of 2,000 square miles set for 2015 by an intergovernmental task force.

–The New York Times

 Invasive flowering rush found in 3 L. Minnetonka bays

Flowering rush, an invasive water plant, has taken root as the latest unwelcome species in Lake Minnetonka — this time probably through the actions of a gardener, not a boater, the Department of Natural Resources says.

 The DNR got word of the plant’s presence in Lake Minnetonka on June 29. In searching 10 of the lake’s 132 miles of shoreline so far, the DNR has confirmed its growth in Smith’s Bay, Brown’s Bay and Crystal Bay near Orono.

–The Star Tribune

 Scientists agree on identifying plant species

An international panel of scientists has agreed to a bar-code standard for plant DNA that will allow the precise identification of most of Earth’s 300,000 species of plants, according to a research report.

 The agreement is expected to generate a wide range of benefits, from checking the purity of herbal supplements to exposing illegal logging operations and helping to protect fragile plant ecosystems, observers said.

 “It’s the first time we have actually developed a technique that will allow people to identify plants,” said James S. Miller, vice president for science at the New York Botanical Garden, one of 25 institutions working on the agreement.

 A similar technique for animals was created in 2003 and has been used to expose mislabeled caviar, crack a food-poisoning case involving fish and determine the bird species that caused US Airways Flight 1549 to ditch into the Hudson River in January.

–The Washington Post

 Invasive kelp threatens San Francisco Bay

Chela Zabin will not soon forget when she first glimpsed the golden brown tentacle of the latest alien to settle in the fertile waters of San Francisco Bay.

Skip to next paragraph “I had that moment of ‘Oh God, this is it, it’s here,’ ” said Dr. Zabin, a biologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “I was really hoping I was wrong.”

 The tentacle in question was that of an Asian kelp, Undaria pinnatifida, a flavorful and healthful ingredient in miso soup and an aggressive, costly intruder in waters from New Zealand to Monterey Bay.

–The New York Times

 Appeals court rejects challenge on ballast rules

The Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to how Minnesota regulates ships dumping ballast water into Lake Superior.

 In its decision, the court sided with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, saying the agency’s approach, designed to keep non-native species out of the lake, met legal requirements.

 The St. Paul-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy sued, contending the permit system took too long to implement and isn’t strong enough.

The system requires that, by 2016, all ships treat their ballast water before dumping it into the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior. New ships must start in 2012.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 L.A. June water use hits 32-year low

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported that water demand reached a 32-year low for the month of June, dropping 11% compared with the same period in 2008.

Jim McDaniel, the senior assistant general manager of DWP’s water system, said hard work by ratepayers is paying off. Though experts said June was on average 4 degrees cooler than normal, McDaniel attributed the low demand to the new water restrictions.  

“You don’t see those kinds of reductions just due to weather,” he said.

The restrictions limit the use of sprinklers to 15 minutes a day on Mondays and Thursdays. No watering is allowed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
– The Los Angeles Times

 Restored reef teems with oysters

Scientists say they’ve created something in a Virginia river that hasn’t been seen since the late 1800s: a vast, thriving reef of American oysters, the shellfish that helped create the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and then nearly vanished from it.

The reef sits on the bottom of the Great Wicomico River, a bay tributary about 80 miles southeast of Washington. The scientists say they found a better way to plant oysters, creating an 87-acre colony of bivalves that teems with other marine life.

That’s a long way from bringing oysters back in all of the Chesapeake. Virginia and Maryland officials said this week that they doubted this success could be replicated widely.

But the oyster researchers said their work, published online in the journal Science, provides new hope for one of the bay’s most beleaguered species. The oyster, depleted by overfishing, pollution and disease, has fallen to less than 1 percent of its historical population.

–The Washington Post

 Pollution contaminates beaches

Raw sewage and other pollution continued to foul American beaches in 2008.

For the fourth year in a row, more than 20,000 beach closing days were reported in the USA, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C.

 “Storm water and sewage runoff are the biggest sources for the contamination,” says Nancy Stoner, NRDC’s water program co-director. The report monitored beaches along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, along with those in the Great Lakes states.

–USA Today

 DNR, Trout Unlimited to restore Vermillion

Some time in the Roaring ’20s, someone tried to turn the Vermillion, or at least part of it, into a rushing river.

 It might have been a farmer or the Army Corps of Engineers, but whoever it was removed the curves from a meandering stretch east of Farmington.

The goal was increasing the speed of the prairie river’s flow to quicken drainage of the farm fields that surround it. It worked, but over the years, the water has also whisked away a lot of farm runoff, soil and silt.

 So next summer, in the name of trout habitat and water quality, the Minnesota DNR and Trout Unlimited are leading a project that will help make the rural river meander again.

–The Star Tribune

 Study links soy diet to endocrine disruption

Women who are having difficulty conceiving may want to cut back on their soy consumption after a mouse study reveals that dietary exposure to genistein, a compound found in soy foods, can reduce the odds of a successful pregnancy in multiple ways. The study examined the impact of genistein exposure on oocytes, or eggs, from adult mice and found it can impair oocyte maturation, reduce their potential to become fertilized and hamper the growth of the newly formed embryo.

 The results reveal how natural compounds like genistein may have both risks – it can act as an endocrine disruptor to affect female reproduction – and benefits – such as protecting the heart.

–Environmental Health News

 Syrian drought displaces thousands

Only a few decades ago, fish were plentiful in the Orontes river which for thousands of years has provided water to the lush Syrian plains, at the crossroads of the ancient world.

 These days the Orontes’s 12th Century norias, enormous water wheels famous for their distinctive creak, barely turn in the weak tides. Algae covers the river’s surface and the desert has been closing in.

“The river has become so polluted. The quality of our produce has suffered and there is barely enough now to feed my family,” said 80-year-old farmer Mohammad al-Hamdo.

 Syria’s worst drought in decades has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and raised calls for a coordinated water policy for the Middle East as the region faces a dryer climate and water supplies depleted by damming and water well drilling.

–Reuters

 Wisconsin groundwater funding urged

Water experts recommended to state legislators that they strengthen groundwater laws by pumping more money into monitoring, broadening protections for springs and possibly increasing the distance between high-capacity wells and sensitive surface waters.

The Legislature beefed up groundwater protections in 2004, but Ken Bradbury, a hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, said during the hearing that it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the law because there has been no money for monitoring.

 The hearing was before a joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly natural resource committees. The hearing was the first step in an effort to improve regulations of groundwater created in the 2004 law. State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, one of the co-authors of the initial legislation, said the committees’ examination of groundwater issues is part of a review of the law called for in the 2004 bill.

–The Wisconsin State Journal

 USDA allocates water project funds

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced nearly $58 million for water conservation and water quality improvements on agricultural working lands.

 The funding was made available for 63 projects in 21 states through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. No projects in Minnesota or Wisconsin were funded.

 “We must take steps to protect and preserve our water resources, and the Obama Administration is committed to using this program to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to improve water conditions on their land,” said White.

 The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) promotes ground and surface water conservation and improves water quality by helping farmers and ranchers implement agricultural water enhancement activities. With the services and resources of other conservation partners, AWEP allows the Federal Government to leverage investment in natural resources conservation.

–U.S. Department of Agriculture

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


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