Posts Tagged ‘mercury’

Religion, phenology and peregrines on video

May 21, 2012

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

G. Tracy Mehan III

G. Tracy Mehan III

Lecture set June 25 on Clean Water Act
Forty years ago this autumn, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto and enacted the Clean Water Act. The act dramatically reduced pollution from industry and sewage treatment plants that must obtain federal permits to discharge their wastes. But the legislation was much weaker in dealing with today’s biggest water-quality challenge: Polluted runoff from multiple, diffuse sources, especially from agriculture.

G. Tracy Mehan III, an environmental consultant who was the top water-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, will deliver a free, public lecture in St. Paul on the Clean Water Act’s successes, political obstacles to strengthening the law and alternate avenues to progress.

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 the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. The lecture is titled The Clean Water Act After 40 Years: What Has It Accomplished? How Do We Fulfill Its Promise?

Learn more and reserve your place at the lecture.

 

Lecture on religion, the environment
What can environmentalism learn from religion about sustainability?

U.K.-based environmental theologian Martin Palmer will explore how faith traditions encourage us to be a part of nature, not apart from nature as the grand finale speaker in the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s Momentum 2012 event series Wednesday, May 23, 7:30 p.m., at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis.

Palmer is a theologian, author, broadcaster, environmentalist and lay preacher in the Church of England, and serves as secretary-general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a secular non-governmental organization that helps faith-based and international groups develop environmental and conservation projects.

His presentation, “Creation or Ecosystems? Rediscovering Our Place in the Natural World,” will challenge the narrow utilitarian view of our planet and explore how we can tap the storytelling skills of the faiths to imagine and create a better future.

Order tickets for the lecture.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Phenology network reaches milestone
Thanks to citizen-scientists around the country, the USA National Phenology Network hit a major milestone by reaching its one millionth nature observation. 

The millionth observation was done by Lucille Tower, a citizen-scientist in Portland, Ore., who entered a record about seeing maple vines flowering. Her data, like all of the entries, came in through USA-NPN’s online observation program,

Nature’s Notebook, which engages more than 4,000 volunteers across the country to observe and record phenology – the timing of the recurring life events of plants and animals such as when cherry trees or lilacs blossom, when robins build their nests, when salmon swim upstream to spawn or when leaves turn colors in the fall.   

Each record not only represents a single data point — the status of a specific life stage of an individual plant or animal on one day – but also benefits both science and society by helping researchers understand how plants and animals are responding to climate change and, in turn, how those responses are affecting people and ecological systems.   

“My dream is that through the wonders of modern technology and the National Phenology Network we could turn the more than six billion people on the planet into components of our scientific observing system,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “We could make giant leaps in science education, improve the spatial and temporal coverage of the planet, lower the cost of scientific data collection, and all while making ordinary citizens feel a part of the scientific process.” 
– USGS News Release

Peregrine chicks on video
The Minnesota DNR is offering live streaming video of peregrine falcon chicks in a nest on the Bremer Bank building in downtown St. Paul. Check it out.

MPCA rescues 64 pounds of toxic mercury
Preston Winter was cleaning out his late grandfather’s garage in Floodwood, Minn., when he found four plastic jugs of mercury.

Sixty-four pounds of mercury, to be exact. Enough to fill 30,000 thermometers.

His grandfather apparently had stored the jugs 13 years ago, when he was thinking about mining gold. Figuring he might make a few bucks, Winter, 23, posted a photo on Craigslist and offered the batch for $650 — not realizing that mercury is a highly toxic metal subject to tight legal restrictions.

Officials announced that a state hazardous waste specialist, acting on a tip from someone browsing the online site, went to Winter’s home and picked up the mercury after the state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) paid $300 for it.
–The Star Tribune

Fracking sand pollutes St. Croix
An undetermined amount of fine sand sediment from a mining operation near Grantsburg, Wis., has seeped through a protective berm into a wetland and creek and then into the federally protected St. Croix River.

The accident, which turned the creek a creamy coffee color, was discovered by a hiker April 22, three days after a new waste settling pond holding the suspended sand was put into use, Burnett County Conservationist Dave Ferris said.

Damage to wildlife, as well as to stream and river ecosystems, hasn’t been determined yet.

The leak has been stopped, but the mine operator, Maple Grove-based Tiller Corp., faces potential penalties for improper discharge of storm water, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Warmer air temps but cooler streams?
If climate change warms the air, it must also be warming steams, right? Not necessarily, some new U.S.

Geological Survey research finds. Read the report on a new analysis of stream temperatures in the western United States. 

UN plans sustainability summit
Next month, the United Nations will hold what is expected to be the largest ever gathering of leaders to discuss sustainable development at a time when inequality is on the rise from the U.S. to China. Around 180 world leaders are expected to meet in Rio de Janeiro to brainstorm the future of environmental policy and poverty reduction in June.

The question conference gatherers will be trying to answer is “If you could build the future, what kind of future would you want?” For some, it’s healthy water and food. For others, it’s a good job that will help them support themselves and their families.

At a time when humanity is now firm into the 21st century, modern man’s early vision of a future of flying cars and ultra-comfort has surely disappointed. Populations the size of India, the U.S. and Brazil combined still live on less than $2 a day. While that is better than it was in the 1990s, the numbers remain a serious roadblock for some of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

The conference, called “Rio+20″, is the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It takes place in Rio de Janeiro on June 22 – twenty years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit took place in the same sunny city.
–Forbes

Heavy rains becoming more common
Read a Pioneer Press article about an analysis of rainfall measured between 1961 and 2011 at 218 weather stations in eight Midwestern states, including Minnesota. The analysis concluded that the average annual number of storms with a 3-inch rainfall increased 103 percent, and storms with at least 2 inches of rain increased 81 percent. The study was done by two environmental groups, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council. University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley, quoted in the article, questions some of the analysis’ methodology, but says most climate scientists agree there is an upward trend in the frequency of severe storms.

Sealing wells to protect groundwater
As the Twin Cities suburbs rapidly grew, thousands of homeowners unable to access a water system drilled their own wells to tap the aquifers.

Now the state and counties are sealing the unused wells before they can be used to contaminate the groundwater — a huge undertaking because there are so many.

Within the last year, Minnesota passed the 250,000 mark for the number of sealed wells in the state, according to Department of Health statistics. But at least that many unused wells are left, and perhaps as many as 500,000 more, officials say.

It’s easy for people to forget that the innocuous-looking pipe in their yard or basement is actually a well, says Jill Trescott of Dakota County’s Water Resources Office. Even if homeowners know, they may be tempted to use it to toss out things they don’t know what to do with.
–The Star Tribune

Cormorants missing from Lake Waconia
Double-crested cormorants — large, migratory, fish-eating birds that nest in colonies at this time of year — have returned to the same island on Lake Waconia for years.

Not in 2012.

University of Minnesota researcher Linda Wires spotted only two of the protected birds when she flew over Coney Island late last month. That’s down from 470 cormorant nests — each with two birds — in 2010 and 324 nests last year.

“I would have expected at least some to come back,” said Wires, who since 2004 has been monitoring the 32-acre island in Carver County. “It’s very odd.”

Speculation is that sharpshooters hired in past years to legally reduce the bird’s population — long viewed as a nuisance by anglers who say they eat too many fish — worked a little too well: More than 900 cormorants were shot in the past two years.
–The Star Tribune

BP oil spill residue found in MN pelicans
Pollutants from the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago are showing up in Minnesota birds that migrate to the gulf.

Researchers for the state Department of Natural Resources have found evidence of petroleum compounds and the chemical used to clean up the oil in the eggs of pelicans nesting in Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Scientists urge environmental priorities
National science academies from 15 countries have called on the leading industrialised economies to pay greater heed to science and technology.

The academies include those from the US, China, India and the UK.

The organisations agreed three statements on tackling Earth’s most pressing problems.

According to Dr Michael Clegg of the US National Academy of Sciences: “In the long term, the pressing concerns are managing the environment in a way that assures that future generations have a quality of life that’s at least as equivalent to the quality of life we enjoy today.”
–The BBC

Groundwater drops in Washington State
Twenty-five communities in Eastern Washington’s arid Columbia River basin could have their municipal wells go dry as soon as a decade, according to a study of the underground aquifer that supplies their groundwater.

State officials say the problem is not an immediate crisis but a looming one, and they are working to better educate those communities about the issue. The combined population in the affected areas stretching from Odessa to Pasco is 200,000 people.

“Many of these communities are now learning about the problem,” said Derek Sandison, director of the Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. “We want them to have contingencies in place so that they’re in a position to deal with it.”
–The Seattle Times

Ground disposal of effluent proposed

August 16, 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.

Comment sought on ground disposal of sewage effluent
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking public comment on the proposed construction of a sewage treatment plant in East Bethel that would put treated effluent into the ground.

 The proposal is part of a plan to install sewers in the fast-growing community that now is mostly served by private septic systems.

 Under the plan from Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, about 420,000 gallons per day of effluent would flow  into two shallow earthen basins, where the effluent then would drain into the ground. Sewage entering the plant would be treated and filtered to produce effluent that would be higher quality than  the water discharged from other Metropolitan Council treatment plants.

 Jim Roth, the Metropolitan Council engineer overseeing the project, said the effluent would go into a shallow aquifer that is separated by a layer of silty till material from a deeper sand aquifer that supplies water to private wells in the area. 

Details of the project are spelled out in an environmental assessment worksheet prepared by the Pollution Control Agency. The agency is seeking public comment on that document before determining if a more comprehensive environmental review will be conducted. Comments are due by Sept. 8.

 Questions about the project can be directed to Nancy Drach at 651-757-2317 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864.  

Pawlenty rejects DNR shoreline rules
Minnesota regulators spent years devising more protective shore land and dock rules to guide new development along state lakes.

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent them back to the drawing board, rejecting their revisions as “overreaching” and as undermining local control and property rights. He suggested the Legislature take up the matter next winter. 

“The rules you forwarded to me regarding these issues do not strike a proper balance between protection of our lakes and waterways and the equally important right of our citizens to enjoy them and their property,” Pawlenty wrote in a letter to Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten. 

Pawlenty’s decision means decades-old standards for lakeshore construction and docks that are commonly considered out of date will be around a good while longer. If the governor had accepted the draft changes, a public hearing process would have begun soon, and new standards could have been in place next year.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Study seeks pollution hot spots for Woodbury lakes
Two Woodbury lakes are being targeted for an experimental cleanup approach this summer.

Officials are using what’s called “subwatershed assessment” on Powers and Carver lakes and other lakes across the metro area, according to Jay Riggs, manager of the Washington Conservation District.

 “This is really cutting-edge,” Riggs said. “We are trying to identify which practices to put into place.”

The technique combines old and new technologies to find the sources of runoff pollution around a lake and the cheapest way to stop them.

 Aerial photos and specialized computer software are used to identify problem areas. Then one- to three-block areas are mapped out, and homeowners are given suggestions for cutting runoff pollution.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Wind turbines planned near Manhattan
For years, New York officials have envisioned powering the region from a set of huge wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island. But well before an offshore wind farm would be up and running, giant turbines may soon be spinning much closer to the city.

Within three years, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hopes to have five wind towers, each more than 280 feet tall, operating on the west side of New York Harbor. Nearby, the City of Bayonne, N.J., plans to install an equally large turbine to power a sewage-pumping station. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is considering placing wind turbines on or near its hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
–The New York Times

Anglers’ felt soles spread invasives
For fly fishers who pride themselves on a conservationist ethic, it hurts to discover that they may be trampling on that ethic every time they wade into a trout stream. 

Blame their boots — or, more precisely, their felt soles. Growing scientific evidence suggests that felt, which helps anglers stay upright on slick rocks, is also a vehicle for noxious microorganisms that hitchhike to new places and disrupt freshwater ecosystems. 

That is why Alaska and Vermont recently approved bans on felt-soled boots and Maryland plans to do so soon.
–The New York Times 

Satellites to track migrating loons
Ten common loons are now sporting satellite transmitters so researchers can study the migratory movements and feeding patterns of these remarkable fish-eating waterbirds as they migrate through the Great Lakes toward their winter homes farther south. 

By using satellite tracking devices implanted in the loons from Wisconsin and Minnesota, U.S. Geological Survey scientists expect to learn essential information about avian botulism needed by managers to develop important conservation strategies for the loon species.  

“This study will also help managers better understand how loons fare as they head to their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts,” said USGS scientist Kevin Kenow, of the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Cross, WI. “Right now, little is known about habitat use along their entire migratory routes.” 

In addition to the loons with satellite transmitters, about 70 other loons will have geolocator tags, which will record daily location, temperature, light levels and water-pressure data that will log the foraging depths of these diving birds. 

Movement of loons from previous studies using satellite transmitters can be followed online.  Loon movements from the current study will be available later this summer. To see a video on the project, click here.
–USGS News Release 

Origin of Chicago’s Asian carp murky
In the wake of a government news release that pointed a finger at humans for planting an Asian carp near Lake Michigan, facts are coming to light that indicate Illinois officials may have stretched their own science to sell a whopper of a fish tale. 

When netting crews hunting for Asian carp above an electric barrier on the Chicago canal system in June pulled a three-foot long, 20-pound mature bighead carp from Lake Calumet – just six miles south of Lake Michigan – the question was: How did it get there? 

If it swam on its own, that would spell trouble for Lake Michigan because it could indicate that the electric fish barrier about 35 miles downstream from the lake was not doing its job, and more fish had perhaps breached this last line of defense.

If it were determined that the fish got there with human help, then it could more easily be explained as an isolated find, and not evidence that additional steps should be taken on the canal system to protect the Great Lakes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Michigan spill feeds pipeline opposition
Environmental groups and landowners, upset by last month’s oil spill in Michigan, are urging the Obama administration to deny a proposal for an oil pipeline that would go from the Montana-Canada border to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Alberta-based TransCanada’s proposed 1,661-mile Keystone XL pipeline would link up with its existing 2,151-mile Keystone pipeline, which began operations in June, and go through Montana, South Dakota,  Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

 Opponents say last month’s spill underscored the dangers of the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels. A pipeline ruptured on July 25 and spilled nearly a million gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in southwestern Michigan, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. 

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council opposed the Keystone XL project even before the Michigan spill, but the incident has increased scrutiny and elevated concerns.
–USA Today

UN chief urges multiple, small steps on climate
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said that he doubted that member states would reach a new global climate change agreement in December at a conference in Mexico. 

Mr. Ban, who was the head cheerleader for reaching a deal during the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, suggested that a better approach might consist of small steps in separate fields that built toward wider consensus rather than aiming for one sweeping pact.

 “Climate change, I think, has been making progress, even though we have not reached such a point where we will have a globally agreed, comprehensive deal,” Mr. Ban said at a news conference.
–The New York Times 

 Mercury limits set for cement industry
The Environmental Protection Agency set the first limits for mercury emissions from cement factories. The rules will cut mercury emissions and particulate matter 92 percent a year starting in 2013, the agency said. Manufacture of Portland cement, the type most widely used, is the third-biggest source of mercury air pollution in the country, the agency said. Mercury, which can harm childhood development of the brain and is linked to asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths, is released when cement components are heated in a kiln, according to agency documents. The EPA estimated that the rules would yield $6.7 billion to $18 billion in environmental and health benefits and cost companies as much as $950 million a year.
–Bloomberg News Service

Save a reef, saute a lionfish
If you can’t beat it, eat it. That’s the edict coming from scientists who are trying to combat the spread of invasive lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. 

A native of South Pacific and Indian Oceans and popular aquarium specimen, lionfish were likely released off Florida back in the 1980s and have since spread as far as North Carolina and South America.

Brilliant maroon with a “mane” of long, venomous spines, the lionfish is a voracious eater, with no match to its predatory prowess in foreign territory. Scientists fear its rapid reproduction and aggressive appetite will pummel already overfished native stocks of snapper and grouper because they compete for the same food. The spiny swimmers might also dine on algae-eating parrot fish, causing algae to grow out of control and cover reefs.

  The American appetite for seafood may be the best hope against the interloper. Thus the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) has partnered with chefs and spear fishermen to launch an Eat Lionfish Campaign. Fortunately, the lionfish is said to be scrumptious: a delicate white fish rivaling the taste of grouper and snapper.
– Audubon Magazine

White Bear Lake hits record low
The parched state of the lake is an everyday topic in the city of White Bear Lake. 

The lake recently hit a record low — more than 5 feet below its normal level — and residents are trying to figure out how to refill the 2,200-acre body of water. 

“It’s the talk of the town,” said Mike Parenteau, a board member for the lake’s conservation district.

His group recently accepted a $5,000 grant from the White Bear Lake Homeowners Association to study recharge possibilities. 

And while White Bear Lake residents fret, folks a few miles west in Shoreview are marveling at Snail Lake’s rebound. Last summer, the 150-acre lake was 5 feet below its normal level, too, but in the past four months, it has risen almost 4 feet.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 California delays vote on $11.1 billion water bond
California lawmakers have voted to delay putting an $11.1 billion water bond to voters, extending a battle to rework the biggest effort in decades to upgrade the state’s water system.

The legislators also agreed to lengthen the terms of California’s nine water commissioners appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a change that some critics of the governor say could give him influence over the direction of the state’s water projects after leaving office in January. The commissioners’ terms would have ended at a various times over the next few years; they will now all hold their positions until May 2014.

 The postponement — approved by narrow majorities in both statehouse chambers — is part of a broader struggle to improve California’s ailing water system. The Golden State’s frequent droughts and growing population place special demands on an aging water system, which itself causes major environmental damage.

 The bond, part of a set of water-related bills approved by the legislature last year, is a test case for how well California can balance environmental concerns with water demand from farmers, consumers and businesses. The bills called for projects including ecosystem restoration, water conservation, groundwater monitoring and construction of water storage, such as dams and reservoirs.

Some of those projects are moving forward, but the bond requires the approval of California’s voters. Lawmakers agreed to move that vote from Election Day in November to 2012, due to fears that voters would reject the measure.
–The Wall Street Journal

Mexico, U.S. in talks on water storage
The powerful earthquake that rattled Mexicali, Mexico, on Easter Sunday also has stirred serious international talks over the future of the Colorado River, the Las Vegas Valley’s primary water source.

Federal officials from the United States and Mexico met at the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s office in downtown Las Vegas to discuss a shortage and water-sharing agreement between the two nations.

The talks have been ongoing since early 2008, but the 7.2 magnitude quake on April 4 seemed to create more urgency on the Mexican side because widespread infrastructure damage might prevent that nation from using its full Colorado River allocation.

 Lorri Gray-Lee has been taking part in the discussions as director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region.

 She said Mexico wants to be able to store a part of its annual river allocation in Lake Mead for future use once the earthquake damage has been repaired.
–Las Vegas Review-Journal

Huge California solar complex proposed
Thousands of acres of farmland here in the San Joaquin Valley have been removed from agricultural production, largely because the once fertile land is contaminated by salt buildup from years of irrigation.

But large swaths of those dry fields could have a valuable new use in their future — making electricity. 

Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres. 

At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants.
–The New York Times

China struggles with environmental challenges
This year, China will leapfrog Japan to become the second-biggest economy on Earth, behind only the USA, predicts Ting Lu, a China economist with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. Next month, China starts broadcasts on CNN and other networks of an image-boosting commercial featuring stars such as basketballer Yao Ming and China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei. 

Back at ground level, though, in what remains a developing country, China’s people and government are struggling to deal with a series of natural disasters that some environmentalists believe are the deadly, man-made consequences of favoring economic growth over environmental protection. 

The latest tragedy occurred when heavy rain triggered landslides that blocked a river in Zhouqu County, an ethnically Tibetan area in northwestern Gansu province, forcing floodwater to sweep through the county seat.
–USA Today

 MPCA levies $45,000 pollution penalty
Universal Circuits, which operates a Maple Grove circuit-board-manufacturing plant, has agreed to pay a $45,000 penalty for alleged environmental violations.

 The alleged violations were discovered in 2007 and 2008, during inspections by Hennepin County Department of Environmental Services staff.  Hennepin County referred the violations to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for enforcement. 

The manufacturing process at Universal Circuits’ Maple Grove facility uses hazardous materials and generates hazardous wastes containing or including sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acid and several other corrosive etching and cleaning chemicals; solvent waste containing xylene; and copper, lead, cyanide-containing and other wastes. 

 During their inspections of the facility, Hennepin County staff documented conditions indicating that Universal Circuits had failed to recover spilled hazardous wastes as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. Hennepin County staff also documented that industrial waste or other pollutants had breached a trench inside the building, resulting in a discharge from the facility to the soil.

 The company has since corrected all alleged violations.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA takes on eight Iowa feedlots
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken a series of civil enforcement actions against eight beef feedlot operations in northwest Iowa for violations of the Clean Water Act, as part of a continuing enforcement emphasis aimed at ending harmful discharges of pollutants from concentrated animal feeding operations into the region’s rivers and streams.

All eight of the most recent enforcement actions involve administrative compliance orders issued to medium-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, which are feedlots that confine between 300 and 999 cattle and whose discharge is facilitated by a man-made conveyance.
–EPA Region 7 News Release

Mercury taints lakes; climate pact delayed

November 16, 2009

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

Fish in 49% of U.S. lakes tainted by mercury, EPA says
A new EPA study shows concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish tissue from lakes and reservoirs in nearly all 50 U.S. states. For the first time, EPA is able to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs nationwide that have fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as mercury and PCBs.

The data showed mercury concentrations in game fish exceeding EPA’s recommended levels at 49 percent of lakes and reservoirs nationwide, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in game fish at levels of potential concern at 17 percent of lakes and reservoirs. These findings are based on a comprehensive national study using more data on levels of contamination in fish tissue than any previous study.

Burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, accounts for nearly half of mercury air emissions caused by human activity in the U.S., and those emissions are a significant contributor to mercury in water bodies. From 1990 through 2005, emissions of mercury into the air decreased by 58 percent. EPA is committed to developing a new rule to substantially reduce mercury emissions from power plants, and the Obama Administration is actively supporting a new international agreement that will reduce mercury emissions worldwide.
–EPA news release

Analysis: Obama climate change push delayed
President Obama came into office pledging to end eight years of American inaction on climate change under President George W. Bush, and all year he has promised that the United States would lead the way toward a global agreement in Copenhagen next month to address the warming planet. 

But this weekend in Singapore, Mr. Obama was forced to acknowledge that a comprehensive climate deal was beyond reach this year. Instead, he and other world leaders ageed that they would work toward a more modest interim agreement with a promise to renew work toward a binding treaty next year.
–The New York Times 

Duluth pharmaceutical disposal set
The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) will host a free collection event for unwanted or expired medications at its regional Household Hazardous Waste Facility in Duluth from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20.

“Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Day” is a one-day event offering residents free disposal of unwanted medications in a safe, convenient and environmentally sound manner. This is the first medication collection event held in over a year. Due to U.S. drug laws, medication can only be accepted at these specially-staffed events. 

Residents may bring their own or a family member’s unwanted or expired medication to the event for disposal. Drop-off is free and confidential. Residents will use the drive-through area at the Household Hazardous Waste facility during this special event. The facility is located at 2626 Courtland Street in Duluth.
–Pine Journal 

EPA tries a new threat on Chesapeake pollution
Trying to impose new accountability measures in the failing effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, the Obama administration is considering an odd-sounding threat.

 Stop missing deadlines for cleaning up polluted waterways, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would tell states in the bay watershed.

 Or we’ll . . . cut off funding for cleaning up polluted waterways.

 That idea, announced in a new “draft strategy” for the Chesapeake, might sound as if the EPA is threatening to shoot itself in the foot.

But it is at the heart of the Obama administration’s plans to overhaul the failed cleanup of the Chesapeake, where federal and state governments have repeatedly broken promises to reduce pollution.
–The Washington Post 

‘Stink bug’ eats kudzu – but soybeans, too
A kudzu-eating pest never before seen in the Western Hemisphere has arrived in northeast Georgia, but it’s not all good news.

 The bug feasts on soybean crops and releases a stinky chemical when threatened.

Researchers from UGA and Dow AgroSciences identified the bug, which is native to India and China, last month. It’s been spotted in Gwinnett, Hall, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Greene, Clarke, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties.

 Commonly called the lablab bug or globular stink bug, it’s pea-sized and brownish with a wide posterior. The bug waddles when it walks but flies well.
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Amazon rain forest: Less trendy; still in danger
We used to hear so much about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, but lately not a word. So what happened: Did we save it, or not? 

We didn’t save it, but we haven’t stopped trying. Environmentalists fret over the fate of the Amazon for good reason: It contains more than half of the planet’s remaining tropical rain forest, one-fifth of our global freshwater and as much as one-third of the world’s biodiversity. Saving all this was once a rallying cry for green activists, and a few early triumphs made that goal seem likely. But attention soon shifted away from the rain forest to such issues as climate change and organic agriculture, and now the Amazon is disappearing at about the same rate it was in the 1980s.
–The Washington Post 

Wisconsin firm penalized for water pollution
The manager of a Trempealeau County manufacturing plant will pay $5,000 in fines and fees for pumping “acutely toxic” wastewater into the Buffalo River in 2006, and his employer will pay nearly $19,000 in a civil action related to the discharge, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced.

Thomas A. Callaghan, 53, of Eau Claire, Wis., agreed to pay the sum as part of a plea agreement after pleading no contest to discharging pollutants into state waters without a permit, according to the department. Callaghan is plant manager for Tremplo Manufacturing in Osseo, Wis., which fabricates metal parts for industrial mixers. 

The company will also pay $18,907 in forfeitures and costs for the discharge.

On Sept. 20, 2006, Callaghan ordered Tremplo employees to pump wastewater from the plant’s water table, which collects metal dust and shavings from the cutting process, to a storm sewer manhole outside the facility because of its foul odor, according to a criminal complaint. The storm sewer ran directly to the Buffalo River.
–The Winona Daily News 

California aquifers finally to be measured
California for the first time will require water users to disclose ground-water levels as a result of legislation recently approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers.

 Ground-water monitoring has long been sought by Democrats and environmentalists, but opposed by Republicans and farm groups, who fear an invasion of property. But the parties last week struck a compromise as part of a larger water deal, which includes new conservation rules and an $11 billion water bond voters will consider in a year to pay for dams and other projects.
–The Fresno Bee 

U.S. agencies ordered to cut water use by 2 percent per year
Water conservation has long been the “stepchild” of energy management programs, says William Lintner, a U.S. Energy Department official who coordinates federal water management policy.

Green government advocates focus far more on buying electronics and constructing buildings that are energy efficient, driving alternative-fuel vehicles and erecting solar panels. 

That’s about to change. 

Last month, President Barack Obama significantly extended and expanded mandates on agencies to cut their water use and better manage their waste water. 

Since 2007, agencies have been required by an executive order to cut potable water consumption by 2 percent annually through fiscal 2015, compared with 2007 baselines.  Obama extended that mandate through 2020 and added a new requirement to cut consumption of nonpotable water — such as that used for landscaping, industrial and agricultural purposes — by 2 percent annually through 2020, compared with a 2010 baseline.
–Federal Times

Bisphenol A implicated in sexual maladies
A paper in the journal Human Reproduction adds weight to a long-held (by some) suspicion that the plasticising chemical bisphenol A (BPA) does bad things to the body’s hormone balance.

 In this study, male workers in Chinese factories handling BPA were compared to a control group of Chinese factory workers who weren’t exposed to BPA over five years. 

The results showed that the workers in the factories handling BPA had four times the risk of erectile dysfunction, and seven times more risk of ejaculation difficulty.
–Nature.com. 

Brown Pelican removed from endangered list
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the brown pelican from its list of endangered species. 

The recovery of the brown pelican is proof that the often criticized Endangered Species Act is effective, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a conference call with reporters . 

“For all the criticism that the Endangered Species Act takes, we need to celebrate now in 2009 that we have a bald eagle, we have a peregrine falcon, we have the brown pelican,” Mr. Salazar said.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Artificial glaciers save water in Himalayas
Faced with a dwindling supply of water for agriculture as northern India’s glaciers recede, a retired civil engineer has come up with an innovative adaptation to the pressures of climate change: artificial glaciers. 

By diverting unneeded winter glacial runoff into shaded mountain depressions, and using a basic system of metal pipes to spur freezing, he has created three new ‘glaciers’ designed to provide a stable supply of irrigation water. 

The technique improves on what locals say is an ancient method of preserving snow and runoff in shady areas of the Himalayan foothills.
–Reuters

Atrazine, mercury and top water issues

August 24, 2009

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

Spikes in weed killer concentrations found

For decades, farmers, lawn care workers and professional green thumbs have relied on the popular weed killer atrazine to protect their crops, golf courses and manicured lawns.

But atrazine often washes into water supplies and has become among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water.

Now, new research suggests that atrazine may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought. Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems.

An investigation by The New York Times has found that in some towns, atrazine concentrations in drinking water have spiked, sometimes for longer than a month. But the reports produced by local water systems for residents often fail to reflect those higher concentrations.

–The New York Times

 

Atrazine disrupts rat reproduction, study finds

The common and highly-used herbicide atrazine can act within the brain to disrupt the cascade of hormone signals needed to initiate ovulation, finds a study with rats published online in the journal Biology of Reproduction. Ovulation is a complex process that begins in the brain and ends with the release of eggs from the ovary. This new study finds that exposure to atrazine can interrupt this process but once the exposure ends, normal function resumes in a few days. The results shed new light on the way atrazine affects the female reproductive system and the persistence of these effects when adults are exposed.

–Environmental Health News

Learn about freshwater mussels

Join the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance on August 28-29 for a fascinating presentation on the mussel world in Minnesota. Mike Davis and Bernard Sietman of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, experts in this field will give a close-up view of this rarely seen and understood native species.

 •    At 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, there will be a presentation at the Ney Nature Center outside of Henderson (28003 Nature Center Lane).

•    At 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, take a mussel hike in the Le Sueur River at Red Jacket Park (2.5 miles south of Mankato off of State Highway 66).  Be prepared to get wet and dirty!

 Mike Davis has worked for the MN DNR since 1987 and specializes in freshwater mussel ecology, in particular on the Mississippi River. As part of the mussel conservation effort, Mike has played a major role in the federal plan to revive the endangered Higgins Eye mussel. Today, the Higgins Eye is one of the 25 of 48 mussel species listed as either: Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern in Minnesota.

 Found across the globe, freshwater mussels or clams reach their greatest diversity in North America at around 300 species. Mussel populations have seen a decline in abundance and diversity because of human influences. This devastating loss is the result of dam construction, stream channelization, water pollution and sedimentation, over harvesting, and the introduction of exotic zebra mussels.

Mussels are considered to be the biological indicators of a river’s health and increasingly being regarded as the aquatic “canaries of the coal mine.” They are an important part of the ecosystem by providing food for fish, birds, and mammals. They have evolved a unique parasitic reproductive system with fish serving as the host during the larval stage of the mussel.

--The Jordan Independent
 

 Household pesticide use underestimated

Pesticides and fertilizers from homes are a major and overlooked source of water pollution, according to new research from the University of California, Davis. Previous estimates may have underestimated water pollution from homes by up to 50%, the study says.

Researchers monitored homes in eight different neighborhoods in California, and say that the estimates likely extend to households across the country.

Pesticides, particularly for ant control, were the most common source of pollution. Surprisingly, pesticides made from organophosphate chemicals, which have been off the market in California since 2002, turned up in many of the samples.

“We expected to find pesticides, but I think we were surprised at how consistently we found them,” says Lorence Oki, a landscape expert who lead the research.

–USA Today

 

Mercury taints every stream tested by USGS

Scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in 291 streams across the country, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals.

“This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds, and many of our fish in freshwater streams,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation’s waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers.”

Some of the highest levels of mercury in fish were found in the tea-colored or “blackwater” streams in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana — areas associated with relatively undeveloped forested watersheds containing abundant wetlands compared to the rest of the country. High levels of mercury in fish also were found in relatively undeveloped watersheds in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. Elevated levels are noted in areas of the Western United States affected by mining. Complete findings of the USGS report, as well as additional detailed studies in selected streams, are available online.

–U.S. Gelogical Survey new release

 

Water issues top concerns worldwide

What is the latest and most important environmental concern these days? Global warming? Disappearing ice caps and rain forests? Reliance on non-renewable energy?

Wrong. According to a new survey sponsored by Molson Coors Brewing Co, water pollution ranked No. 1, followed by fresh water shortages, depletion of natural resources, air pollution and loss of animal and plant species.

The survey was commissioned by Circle of Blue, a nonprofit affiliate of the Pacific Institute, a water and climate think tank. It polled people in 15 countries, including the United States, Mexico, China and India, about their views on water issues including sustainability, management and conservation.

Molson Coors, maker of Coors Light and Molson Canadian beers, sponsored the survey as a first step in trying to understand how people in international markets — where it hopes to expand its business — view water.

–Reuters

 

Minneapolis arsenic cleanup continues

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil at nearly 500 South Minneapolis homes will begin after Labor Day.  This project is supported by $20 million in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.   Residents pay nothing for the cleanup.

From 2004 to 2008, an EPA Superfund team cleaned up 197 properties with arsenic levels above 95 parts per million, or ppm, at the South Minneapolis Residential Soil Contamination Site. The work beginning in September targets properties with lower levels of contamination.

The South Minneapolis Superfund site encompasses a number of neighborhoods near the intersection of 28th Street and Hiawatha Avenue where the CMC Heartland Lite Yard was located from about 1938 to 1968.  A pesticide containing arsenic was produced there and material from an open-air railcar-unloading and product-mixing operation is believed to have been wind-blown into nearby neighborhoods.  Since 2004, EPA has collected soil samples from more than 3,000 properties in the area.

For more information on the South Minneapolis Residential Soil Contamination Superfund Site, click here.

–EPA news release

 

Plastic breaks down – and pollutes – in oceans

Amidst waves and wildlife in the world’s oceans, billions of pounds of Styrofoam, water bottles, fishing wire and other plastic products float in endless circles.

This bobbing pollution is more than just an eyesore or a choking hazard for birds. According to a new study, plastic in the oceans can decompose in as little as a year, leaching chemical compounds into the water that may harm the health of animals and possibly even people.

“Most people in the world believe that this plastic is indestructible for a very long time,” said Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist at Nihon University in Chiba, Japan. He spoke this week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.

–Discovery News

 

Nestle gets OK  to bottle Colorado water

The world’s largest beverage company has won approval from officials in Colorado to extract and bottle spring water from the mountains of south central Colorado.

Nestle Waters North America may draw 65 million gallons of water a year from a spring in Chaffee County to sell under its Arrowhead brand, county commissioners decided.

The proposal elicited fierce opposition from many residents, who feared the company would deplete the local aquifer and that its trucks hauling the water to Denver would snarl traffic on mountain roads. Others supported the project, saying it could spur economic development in the rural area.

In a concession, Nestle agreed to draw water from one, not two, springs and to place conservation easements on its land and allow access on its property to anglers.

–The Los Angeles Times

 

Wyoming groundwater drops, report says

Some areas of the Powder River Basin have experienced significant groundwater drawdown – as much as 625 feet between 1993 and 2006 in some areas, according to a new report.

But what the report is missing is analysis to determine whether the impact is in line with federal modeling conducted in 2002.

However, some say the raw data reveals obvious impacts to groundwater supplies.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council issued a statement suggesting that the monitoring data proves the actual groundwater drawdown – largely from the development of coalbed methane gas – far exceeds predictions made by federal officials in 2002.

About 600 million barrels of water are pumped from coal aquifers in the Powder River Basin each year in the production of coalbed methane gas, according to the state. Some of the water is used in irrigation and to water livestock, but a majority of the water – which belongs to the state – is not put to a specific beneficial use.

–The Casper Star-Tribune

 

Panel OKs continued moose hunt

Minnesota’s moose may be in trouble, but they can still be hunted.

Despite fears that the population is crashing, a special committee reporting to the Department of Natural Resources recommended that the population will hold its own “for the foreseeable future.”

And despite the threat to the species posed by what the committee called “the long-term threat” of climate change, it recommended that moose hunting continue in the northeastern part of the state.

The committee was formed, in part, because moose numbers have declined dramatically in northwestern Minnesota during the past two decades and appear to be dropping in northeast Minnesota.

–The Star Tribune

 

Lead poisoning provokes Chinese riot

Hundreds of Chinese villagers have broken into a factory that poisoned more than 600 children, reports say.

Villagers tore down fencing and smashed coal trucks at the lead smelting factory in Shaanxi Province.

Local authorities have admitted that the plant is responsible for poisoning the children. More than 150 were in hospital.

Air, soil and water pollution is common in China, which has seen rapid economic growth over the past few decades.

–BBC News

 

Army Corps builds world’s largest pump

New Orleans sits smack dab between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain, and when a hurricane comes rolling in, those bodies of water tend to spill into the streets. This summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started construction on a barrier that can block a 16-foot swell blown in from the Gulf and a massive pumping station that will blast floodwaters back to sea.

The $500-million station—the newest installment of a $14-billion federal project to fortify the Big Easy against the type of fierce storm the city sees once in 100 years—will protect the 240,000 residents living in New Orleans, a high-risk flood area because of its nearby shipping canals. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is one of the city’s most trafficked industrial waterways, but it provides a perfect path from the Gulf for a 16-foot storm surge to flood homes and businesses. When a major storm threatens, the waterway’s new West Closure Complex will mount a two-point defense. First, operators will shut the 32-foot-tall, 225-foot-wide metal gates to block the surge. Then they’ll fire up the world’s largest pumping station, which pulls 150,000 gallons of floodwater per second. And unlike the city’s notorious levees, the WCC won’t break when residents need it most. “This station is designed to withstand almost everything,” including 140mph winds and runaway barges, says Tim Connell, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’s project manager for the complex.

–Popular Science

 

Climate change, neutrinos and river otters

August 17, 2009

Climate change challenges U.S. security

The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.

Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

–The New York Times

 Draw-down in India’s groundwater mapped

Farming is a thirsty business on the Indian subcontinent. But how thirsty, exactly? For the first time, satellite remote sensing of a 2000-kilometer swath running from eastern Pakistan across northern India and into Bangladesh has put a solid number on how quickly the region is depleting its groundwater. The number “is big,” says hydrologist James Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine–big as in 54 cubic kilometers of groundwater lost per year from the world’s most intensively irrigated region hosting 600 million people. “I don’t think anybody knew how quickly it was being depleted over that large an area.”

The big picture of Indian groundwater comes from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, launched in March 2002 as a joint effort by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the German Aerospace Center. Actually two satellites orbiting in tandem 220 kilometers apart, GRACE measures subtle variations in the pull of Earth’s gravity by using microwaves to precisely gauge the changing distance between the two spacecraft.

–ScienceNOW

MPCA offers ‘Eco Scale Challenge’ at State Fair

There are plenty of scales at the Minnesota State Fair: for weighing produce, livestock and even midway-goers.  An exciting new interactive exhibit at this year’s state fair, the Eco Scale Challenge, allows Eco Experience visitors to see the effect their choices at home and on the road have on emissions of carbon dioxide.

 The fair runs Aug. 27-Sept. 7. 

 Home energy use and transportation for the average household are responsible for approximately 21 tons of carbon emissions a year, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Even small changes can add up to big reductions.  For instance, if visitors move the transportation slider on the Eco Scale to carpool or bus just twice a week, the scale points to a yearly carbon savings of half a ton.  Energy-saving actions at home, like turning off unneeded electronics, washing clothes in cold water, and lowering the temperature of the water heater, cuts another half ton of carbon.

 The Eco Scale Challenge not only allows visitors to see how their actions lighten their impact on the environment, but allows them to see how tradeoffs in their decisions work.  Other categories on the scale include reducing/recycling, renewable energy, sustainable yard, saving energy, and eating local foods.

More information and schedules are at www.ecoexperience.org.

–MPCA news release

 GM drops support for mercury removal

The new General Motors is dropping out of a program designed to prevent mercury pollution from scrapped cars. This comes just as hundreds of thousands of cars are being junked through the Cash for Clunkers program.

 The End of Life Vehicle Solutions program encourages junk yards to remove mercury switches from vehicles before they’re sent to the shredder. The switches are collected and recycled and it’s all paid for with contributions from the major automakers. These switches were used in trunk lights and anti-lock breaks in the 80s and 90s. But if they’re not removed, when the cars are melted down, toxic mercury is released into the air.

 GM was a major contributor. But since filing for bankruptcy, the automaker hasn’t paid its dues. The reasoning — bankruptcy gave GM a clean slate. As in, the “new GM” never made cars with mercury switches. The program’s director told the Associated Press the timing with Cash for Clunkers now in full force, is a real problem.

–Marketplace

 River otter returns to Mississippi in Minneapolis

Trapping and pollution almost drove the river otter out of Minnesota.

 But now, the otter is back, and there’s even a report of river otter living in a once badly polluted stretch of the Mississippi river in downtown Minneapolis.

 EPA’s get-tough policy yields guilty plea

A man who was extradited to San Diego from Malta on water-pollution charges pleaded guilty Thursday to dumping pollutants into San Diego Bay while repairing a boat in 2006.

 Robert Fred Smith, 45, admitted in federal court that tiling concrete, paint and rust were dumped into the bay. Smith was brought back to San Diego under a new extradition treaty between the U.S. and Malta and a new get-tough attitude by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Smith faces a possible five years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 26. A co-defendant, Joseph Anthony O’Connor, remains in Malta, awaiting extradition. The pair allegedly fled there while under investigation in the United States.

–The Los Angeles Times

 Neutrinos rocket between Illinois and Minnesota

Scientists are playing an exotic game of pitch and catch between Illinois and Minnesota. Their catcher’s mitt is solid iron, weighs 5,500 tons, and is parked in northern Minnesota in an abandoned iron mine. With millions of dollars from the federal stimulus package, construction crews are now building a second mitt near the Canadian border. It’s even heavier, some 15,000 tons, and is made of 385,000 liquid-filled cells of PVC plastic.

Five hundred miles to the south is the pitcher: Fermilab, a sprawling U.S. government laboratory west of Chicago where physicists do violent things with tiny particles.

The objects in flight are very strange particles called neutrinos. Fermilab scientists have figured out how to generate a beam of neutrinos and send it across Wisconsin to the big detectors in northern Minnesota.

–The Washington Post

 FTC attacks claims for bamboo clothing

 The textiles go by names such as “ecoKashmere,” “Bamboo Comfort,” and “Pure Bamboo.” Products made with them – baby clothes, women’s leggings, sweaters – tout a variety of environmental benefits, such as that they are nonpolluting, biodegradable, and retain some of bamboo’s natural antimicrobial properties.

 But the Federal Trade Commission said that at least four companies’ versions of bamboo clothing have been marketed with claims made out of, well, whole cloth. It said the material is nothing more than rayon – a fiber made from cellulose in a process that involves harsh chemicals and releases hazardous pollutants.

 The federal agency announced settlements with three of the companies, including Sami Designs L.L.C. of Wexford, Pa., near Pittsburgh. None acknowledged any wrongdoing, though all agreed to drop key marketing claims – including that their products are made of bamboo or bamboo fiber or are produced via environmentally friendly processes – unless they can substantiate them.

–The Philadelphia Inquirer

 Wisconsin pushes groundwater rules

Scores of Wisconsin communities that don’t disinfect their water supplies would have to install systems to screen out bacteria and viruses under rules proposed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

 The new regulations are being driven by Wisconsin’s new groundwater protection law, and by a growing body of research showing viruses from human waste seep into the ground and contaminate public water systems.

The Natural Resources Board, meeting in Hayward this week, voted 7-0 to hold public hearings this fall on the new controls.

–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Army plans Mojave solar farm

The U.S. Army has selected two energy firms to build an industrial-sized solar farm in California’s high Mojave Desert.

The move capitalizes on two resources the military has in abundance. “Not only do we have the land … we also have the demand,” said Kevin Geiss, energy security program director at the Army’s installations and environment office.

 Both are necessities for building big, expensive renewable projects.

–The New York Times

 Kraft Foods claims 21% cut in water use

Kraft Foods Inc., the world’s second-largest foodmaker, said it cut water use worldwide by 21 percent, joining Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc. in efforts to minimize their impact on the environment.

 The company needed a total of 3 billion fewer gallons of water for manufacturing over the past three years, spokesman Richard Buino said in an Aug. 5 telephone interview. Plants are recycling water and fixing leaks, while water frozen in basement pools cools the Northfield, Illinois, headquarters.

 Kraft set environmental goals in 2005, including the elimination of 150 million pounds of packaging by 2011, said Buino. Wal-Mart has decreased the amount of trash it sends to landfills and is investing in solar and wind energy. Whole Foods composts food waste and is installing solar panels in stores.

–Bloomberg

Take Mom’s advice: Don’t eat the beach

By washing your hands after digging in beach sand, you could greatly reduce your risk of ingesting bacteria that could make you sick. In new research, scientists have determined that, although beach sand is a potential source of bacteria and viruses, hand rinsing may effectively reduce exposure to microbes that cause gastrointestinal illnesses. 

“Our mothers were right! Cleaning our hands before eating really works, especially after handling sand at the beach,” said Dr. Richard Whitman, the lead author of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study. “Simply rinsing hands may help reduce risk, but a good scrubbing is the best way to avoid illness.” 

For this study, scientists measured how many E. coli bacteria could be transferred to people’s hands when they dug in sand. They analyzed sand from the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. Using past findings on illness rates, scientists found that if individuals were to ingest all of the sand and the associated biological community retained on their fingertip, 11 individuals in 1000 would develop symptoms of gastrointestinal illness.  Ingestion of all material on the entire hand would result in 33 of 1000 individuals developing gastrointestinal illness.

–USGS news release

 Tribe invests in algae-based bio-fuel

An unusual experiment featuring equal parts science, environmental optimism and Native American capitalist ambition is unfolding here on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in southwest Colorado.

 With the twin goals of making fuel from algae and reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases, a start-up company co-founded by a Colorado State University professor recently introduced a strain of algae that loves carbon dioxide into a water tank next to a natural gas processing plant. The water is already green-tinged with life.

 The Southern Utes, one of the nation’s wealthiest American Indian communities thanks to its energy and real-estate investments, is a major investor in the professor’s company. It hopes to gain a toehold in what tribal leaders believe could be the next billion-dollar energy boom.

–The New York Times

 World Water Week celebrated in Stockholm

This week, Aug. 16-22, is being observed as World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, by the Stockholm International Water Institute. A series of seminars and events held during the week brings together experts, practitioners, decision makers and leaders from around the globe to exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions. The  theme for 2009 is Responding to Global Changes: Accessing Water for the Common Good.

–World Water Week

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

June 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The move takes effect immediately.

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

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

Curly leaf pondweed: nice beat, easy to dance to

May 11, 2009

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Mercury, invasive species and gray water

February 23, 2009

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

U.S. endorses treaty to limit mercury emissions
The Obama administration reversed years of U.S. policy by calling for a treaty to cut mercury pollution, which it described as the world’s gravest chemical problem.

Some 6,000 tons of mercury enter the environment each year, about a third generated by power stations and coal fires. Much settles into the oceans, where it enters the food chain and is concentrated in predatory fish like tuna.

Children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to poisoning by the toxic metal, which can cause birth defects, brain damage and peeling skin.
–The Associated Press

PCA reports increase in mercury in fish
After falling for years, mercury levels in large Minnesota fish such as northern pike and walleye are unexpectedly on the rise, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Those levels declined by 37 percent between 1982 and the mid-1990s but have increased by 15 percent since, the agency said in a study published this month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The analysis was based on tissue samples from fish collected from 845 state lakes.

“It is something that is affecting all the lakes in Minnesota,” said agency scientist Bruce Monson, who conducted the analysis and characterized the results as surprising.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Controversy dogs Grand Canyon water flow experiment
Nearly a year after the federal government flooded the Grand Canyon in a test of resource restoration, questions persist about whether the agency in charge watered down the experiment to protect power providers and ignored high-level critics of the operation.

The allegations resurfaced with a January memo written by the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, who accused his bosses of disregarding science in preparing for the flood designed to reverse some of the damaging effects of Glen Canyon Dam on the canyon and on the Colorado River. He also described the environmental review of the experiment as one of the worst he’s seen.
–The Arizona Republic

EPA may regulate greenhouse gases
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.

The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.
–The New York Times

Huge forest easement proposed
More than 187,000 acres of forest and wetlands in north-central Minnesota, an area almost as large as the entire existing state parks system, would be protected permanently under a proposal that will be unveiled at the state Capitol.

If given the thumbs up, it would be largest public-private land conservation project in recent Minnesota history.
 –The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Mining clean-up requirements proposed
With a new type of mining being proposed for northern Minnesota, some state legislators want to impose tighter site-cleanup standards and financial assurance requirements.

Legislation introduced Thursday would force companies engaging in sulfide mining to make sure that their sites are clean and nonpolluting when they’re done and that they’ve put enough money aside so taxpayers aren’t on the hook for subsequent problems.

“Our intention is to make this kind of mining safe,” said Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, chief sponsor of the Senate bill. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, is the chief sponsor of a companion bill in the House.
--The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin proposes ballast rules to fight invasive species
Oceangoing ships would have to meet some of the nation’s strictest ballast water quality standards before they could dock in Wisconsin’s Great Lakes ports under regulations state officials proposed.

The plan is designed to block new invasive species from hitching rides in oceangoing vessels’ ballast water and overwhelming native Great Lakes ecosystems. The state Department of Natural Resources estimates more than 180 nonnative fish, plants, insects and organisms have entered the Great Lakes since the 19th century, wrecking food chains, ruining beaches and jeopardizing tourism.
–The Associated Press

Invasive mussels spread west
It took some of America’s best engineers, thousands of laborers and two years of around-the-clock concrete pouring to build the 726-foot-high Hoover Dam back in the 1930s. It took less time than that for the tiny, brainless quagga mussel to bring operators of this modern wonder of the world to their knees.

While federal lawmakers continue to squabble over how to stop overseas ships from dumping unwanted organisms into the world’s largest freshwater system, the Great Lakes’ most vexing invasive-species problem has gone national.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Satellite to track carbon dioxide
Thirty billion tons of carbon dioxide waft into the air from the burning of fossil fuels each year. About half stays in the air. The other half disappears. Where it all goes, nobody quite knows.

With the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a NASA satellite scheduled to be launched on Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, scientists hope to understand better the comings and goings of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas behind the warming of the planet.

The new data could help improve climate models and the understanding of the “carbon sinks,” like oceans and forests, that absorb much of the carbon dioxide.
–The New York Times

Florida water manages eye massive pipe grid
Having less water in Florida could lead to building some really big water lines.

Central Florida utility managers have begun circulating long-term proposals to lay hundreds of miles of interconnected pipelines that could cross nine counties to satisfy growing demand for drinkable water.

About 3 million people now live in that area, which reaches from St. Johns and Putnam counties to Central Florida suburbs west of Orlando.
–Jacksonville News

Volunteers sought to clean up rare fen
After decades of negotiation aided by the Watershed District, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in spring 2008 bought 106 acres of the 600-acre Seminary Fen wetlands complex, in Chaska and Chanhassen, from the Wetterlin family’s Emerald Ventures LLC. The agency funded the purchase with about $1.3 million of state bonding passed in 2003.

Together with the DNR, the Watershed District is now soliciting Friends of the Fen volunteers to 1) educate and inform the public on this rare natural resource and 2) help clean up and remove invasive species.
–Eden Prairie News

UW-River Falls ‘gray water’ system up and running
UW-River Falls students, faculty and staff may or may not have noticed the blue signs in the University Center bathrooms commenting on the gray water in the toilets. The signs — put up during J-Term — signal the recent success of the rainwater reuse system.

The rainwater reuse system is the first of its kind in a state of Wisconsin building, Mark Gillis, assistant supervisor of facilities maintenance, said.

The rainwater reuse system has begun to run functionally in the last month. The University Center opened two years ago, but the original design of the rainwater reuse system did not work.
–UW-River Falls Student Voice

Michigan asks EPA to take over wetlands regulation
Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s proposal to hand over protection of Michigan wetlands to the federal government comes as critics in Congress and elsewhere say federal agencies are falling down on the job.

A muddled U.S. Supreme Court ruling on two Michigan cases in 2006 has caused wide confusion about which wetlands the government can regulate. Since then, there has been “drastic deterioration” of wetland protection under the Clean Water Act, a congressional memo said in December.
–The Associated Press

Global water shortage looms
If you’ve read anything about the global water crisis, you’ve likely read a quote from Dr. Peter Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute, and one of the world’s leading water experts. His name has become as ubiquitous as drought itself, which is suddenly making major headlines. A report from the World Economic Forum warned that in only twenty years our civilization may be facing “water bankruptcy”–shortfalls of fresh water so large and pervasive that global food production could crater, meaning that we’d lose the equivalent of the entire grain production of the US and India combined.

But we don’t have to wait twenty years to see what this would look like. Australia, reeling from twelve years of drought in the Murray-Darling River Basin, has seen agriculture grind to a halt, with tens of billions of dollars in losses. The region has been rendered a tinderbox, with the deadliest fires in the country’s history claiming over 160 lives so far. And all this may begin to hit closer to home soon. California’s water manager said that the state is bracing for its worst drought in modern history. Stephen Chu, the new US secretary of energy, warns that the effects of climate change on California’s water supplies could put an end to agriculture in the state by 2100 and imperil major cities.
–The Nation

Drought threatens Tampa Bay area
As the traditionally dry spring approaches, regional water managers are asking the state to impose the toughest watering restrictions in history.

The reservoir that helps supply water to the Tampa Bay area is about a month from being drained, a sign of how dire the problem has become, officials with Tampa Bay Water said.

“We’re in a severe water shortage, and we need to take action,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, chairman of the utility’s board.
–St. Petersburg Times

 


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