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.
FarmWise conservation program needs your vote
A farmer-to-farmer mentoring project aimed at promoting conservation efforts in the Minnesota River Valley is one of three finalists in online voting that will award a $15,000 grant.
The FarmWise project is a partnership between the Freshwater Society and the National Park Service. Its goal is to identify the most vulnerable areas in the Minnesota River Valley, and work through existing community relationships to mentor, advise and implement farmer-proven and farmer-approved water-friendly practices that protect these critical, high-priority areas.
Go to the MN Idea Open to view a video on the proposal and to cast your vote.
Court rejects bid to close Chicago locks
A federal appeals panel rejected the request of five Great Lakes states to close Chicago-area shipping locks. But the panel warned that the issue could be revisited if ongoing efforts to stop the advance of Asian carp stall.
The ruling by the three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals follows a district court decision in December concluding that the invasive species did not appear to be an imminent threat and that closing the locks still might not keep them from reaching Lake Michigan.
Cal-Sag Channel and the Chicago River to limit the amount of water leaving Lake Michigan when engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River at the turn of the century. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District control the locks to limit flooding during heavy rains and to allow cargo ships and boats to pass.
In July 2010, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin sued the federal government to force a temporary closure of the locks until other carp-control methods could be put in place. Critics, however, alleged that the effort was “politically motivated” and could devastate the regional shipping industry and put residents who live in flood-prone areas at risk.
–The Chicago Tribune
Oil sands pipeline gets OK
The State Department issued its final environmental impact statement for a controversial oil pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas, affirming earlier findings that its construction and operation will have “limited adverse environmental impacts.”
The assessment moves the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline closer to fruition, though State Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science Kerri-Ann Jones emphasized the analysis “is one piece of the information that will be considered” in making a final decision on the permit by the end of the year.
The department will have to conduct a 90-day review of whether the project is in the “national interest” before deciding whether to allow the pipeline to go through.
Still, the conclusion of the 2 1/2-year-long review is significant because the primary objection raised against the pipeline is its potential environmental impact — during construction and in case of ruptures during operation — on wildlife, land and drinking water supplies.
In addition, the proposed pipeline, which could transport as much as 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada’s “tar sands” or “oil sands” fields to refineries in the Gulf Coast, has sparked an outcry from environmentalists in both countries on the grounds that the extraction of oil will increase emissions linked to climate change.
–The Washington Post
Warming spurs bass populations
Minnesota’s walleye anglers might want to invest in some bass-fishing equipment.
Rising temperatures in recent years have boosted bass populations in many Minnesota lakes, say fisheries researchers with the Department of Natural Resources.
And if the climate change continues, northern and central Minnesota’s lakes may well continue to tip toward warm-water species such as smallmouth and largemouth bass.
“Our weather station data from around the state shows we have had significant warming trends,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries research manager. “It’s been most noticeable in the last decade. We’re seeing earlier ice-outs and longer growing seasons,” he said.
“It makes sense that with species like bass, their rate of production would go up,” Pereira said. “They metabolize more efficiently and quickly at warmer temperatures.”
–The Star Tribune
Grasslands under the plow
A group advocating the preservation of America’s grasslands worries that rising crop prices are causing farmers to plow under native South Dakota grass to grow more grain.
Besides the fear of losing native prairie and other grasses, the advocates say they are frustrated by their inability to learn how much grass in the state has been plowed under in recent years.
About 250 participants from 17 states met last week at America’s Grasslands Conference in Sioux Falls and identified threats to grasslands, and began to shape an agenda to preserve it. The conference drew people from state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups and colleges.
The event, organized by South Dakota State University, was sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, along with the Sun Grant Initiative and other grass proponents.
–The Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Invasive species in Yellowstone: Lake trout
The first “Judas fish” have been released.
As the Biblically inspired name suggests, the fish — surgically altered lake trout, implanted last week with tiny radio transmitters on a gently rocking open boat by a team of scientists here — are intended to betray. The goal: annihilation.
“Finding where they spawn would be the golden egg,” said Bob Gresswell, a research biologist at the United States Geological Survey, and leader of the Judas team, a strike force in the biggest lake-trout-killing program in the nation. The idea is that the electronic chirps will lead trout hunters into the cold, deep corners of Yellowstone Lake, where the fish might be killed in volume.
“The eggs could be killed before they hatch, maybe with electricity, or suction,” Dr. Gresswell said.
–The New York Times
U.S., Canada update Great Lakes plan
With relatively little fanfare – and, conservationists argue, not enough public oversight – the U.S. and Canadian governments have spent the last two years reworking a decades-old agreement designed to coordinate management decisions for their shared Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was first passed in 1972 after public outrage over chronic phosphorus-driven pollution problems plaguing the lakes. The agreement helped foster sweeping upgrades for industrial and municipal waste treatment systems on both sides of the border.
The lakes responded quickly. Rivers stopped burning, algae blooms waned and fish populations rebounded.
The agreement was subsequently updated in the late ’70s with a goal to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters” inside the Great Lakes basin.
But while this shared blueprint to maintain and restore the health of the world’s largest freshwater system still has grand ambitions, today it is way more words than action.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Defense Dept. cuts water use 13%
In fiscal year 2010, military installations operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) decreased their water use per square foot of building space by 13 percent compared with a 2007 baseline — more than double the goal of a 6 percent reduction, according to the department’s annual energy management report.
The DoD was able to exceed its water conservation goals largely by installing low-flow showerheads and toilets, fixing leaky valves, and making other efficiency upgrades.Over the same time period, however, the DoD failed to meet its energy-intensity goal of a 15 percent reduction, compared to a 2003 baseline. Averaged across the department, energy intensity has fallen 11.4 percent, continuing a slow downward trend. Total energy use, however, has risen slightly since 2007, as wartime operations have increased demand.
–Circle of Blue
St. Ben’s halts bottled water sales
The College of St. Benedict is the first Minnesota college to eliminate sales of bottled water on campus, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
The college is also the ninth in the nation to implement a water bottle policy.
The campus now has 31 hydration stations that will dispense tap water. The school’s office of sustainability will provide reusable bottles to a number of student and employee groups to promote the hydration stations.
–The St. Cloud Times
Vegas water pipeline costs could soar
A proposed pipeline to bring groundwater about 300 miles from Utah and eastern Nevada to Las Vegas may cost as much as five times more than current estimates under a worst-case scenario provided to officials reviewing the plan.
Pipeline opponents claim the estimated $15 billion price tag is another “black mark” against an already controversial project.
Nevada water authority officials, however, argue the study — which they were required to do as part of their application — proves the project is feasible and that the biggest potential rate increase for water users is about $30 per month.
The study by Las Vegas-based Hobbs, Ong and Associates projects the pipeline could cost more than $7 billion to build. There would be an additional $8 billion in interest payments if the pipeline was funded with 60-year bonds.
–The Associated Press
EPA offers $6 million for Great Lakes
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.
“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work,” said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. “In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps.”
Funded projects will advance the goals and objectives of the GLRI Action Plan, developed by EPA with 15 other federal agencies in 2010. Projects must provide immediate, direct ecological benefits; be located in areas identified as federal priorities such as national lakeshores or areas of concern; include a detailed budget, and produce measurable results. EPA will award funding for selected projects by the end of September.
–EPA News Release
Interest grows in toilet-to-tap
This summer, Texas’ drought of the century is an uncomfortable reminder that often there just isn’t enough water to go around. But the 40 consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures and minuscule rainfall may also be boosting the case for a new freshwater source being developed in Big Spring, Texas, and surrounding cities.
With a waste-water-to-drinking-water treatment plant now under construction, Big Spring will soon join the growing list of cities that use recycled sewage water for drinking water – a practice that the squeamish call “toilet to tap.”
The trend is expanding as climbing temperatures and dry weather across the West force environmentalists, politicians, and citizens to find newer, better solutions to freshwater resources.
–The Christian Science Monitor
40,000 Chinese dams at risk
More than a quarter of Chinese cities are at risk from tens of thousands of run-down reservoirs, prompting the government to speed up efforts to make repairs, state media said.
More than 40,000 reservoirs around the country have been in use longer than their design life and are poorly maintained due to a lack of funds over the past few decades, the state-run Global Times reported.
As a result, more than 25 percent of Chinese cities and vast rural areas are at threat from potential devastating floods if dams break, it said, citing the state-run China Economic Weekly magazine.