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.
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River plan calls for big sediment reductions
The south metro Mississippi River is receiving nearly 1 million tons of sediment from other rivers annually, but a new cleanup plan has targeted the pollution sources and is calling for significant reductions.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released the first draft of a TMDL — total maximum daily load —that recommends the Minnesota River – the primary source of pollution to the south metro Mississippi reduce its sediment flow by up to 60 percent.
Other reductions stated in the TMDL include 50 percent from the Cannon River, 25 percent from urban runoff, 20 percent from the Upper Mississippi River and 20 percent from smaller rivers and streams in Minnesota and Wisconsin that flow directly into the Mississippi River.
The plan’s goal is to reduce the amount of total suspended solids in this section of the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River from U.S. Lock & Dam No. 1 in Minneapolis past Red Wing to the head of Lake Pepin is designated as the south metro stretch.
–The Red Wing Republican Eagle
Minnesota River clean-up far from complete
After 20 years of cleanup efforts and close to a billion dollars in public spending, the Minnesota River is, well, not much better than it was in 1990, according to a long-awaited assessment.
Some of the river’s headwater creeks have more varieties of fish, and some local streams are providing healthier habitat for wildlife in and around the water, state pollution officials reported. But the tiny insects that make up the bottom of the food chain are still not back, and the fish are as scarce as ever in the main streams and the big river itself, the study found.
The disappointing report card, on a river considered the state’s most troubled, is prompting serious questions about whether the state’s largely voluntary approach to protecting its waters is working, said both state officials and clean-water advocates.
“We are not getting very much for our investment,” said Gene Merriam, president of the Freshwater Society. “We have to circle up and figure out a better way to manage our resources.”
The study by the state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) is the third progress report since 1992, when then Gov. Arne Carlson stood on the banks of the Minnesota holding a jar of dirty water and vowed to clean up the river by 2002. Each time, researchers returned to the same sites throughout the Minnesota River basin to count both types and numbers of fish, invertebrate insects, and to measure habitat like grassy banks and shade-covered streams.
–The Star Tribune
Opinion: Ag and water on a collision course
It appears environmental and agricultural interests are on a collision course on water quality and the degradation of the Minnesota River, the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently released the most extensive study ever of river water quality and its sources of contamination. A significant amount of the blame was directed at runoff from agriculture.
We’re sure the report spreads some of the blame to cities and development and other sources of pollution, but agriculture will be clearly under the microscope from powerful interests that it has until now not really had to face.
The report concludes that the water quality of the Minnesota River and aquatic life has not improved much despite 20 years of effort that began with Gov. Arne Carlson standing in Sibley Park in Mankato declaring that the river will be cleaned up.
–The Mankato Free Press
My Water’s on Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song)
Have you been reading all the news articles about hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – the increasingly common practice of pumping water and chemicals into the ground to extract natural gas from deep shale formations?
Fracking has led to worries about groundwater contamination, including the introduction of flammable and explosive methane into tap water. Now view a rap video on fracking, produced by journalism students at New York University, and titled “My Water’s on Fire Tonight.”
House adds invasives rules to environment bill
An upgraded invasive species action plan was added to a bill that cleared the Minnesota House over objections that the overall package would weaken environmental protections.
The Republican-controlled body voted 95-37 for the large environment and natural resources measure.
Sponsored by state Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the bill is a collection of smaller policy proposals covering a wide variety of concerns – from trails to all-terrain vehicle regulations.
DFLers objected to including the agency initiative in the bill, proposing instead to pass it separately, as the Senate did. They said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton would be more inclined to sign it and do so quickly if it were on its own.
Among other things, it would give the Department of Natural Resources increased authority for inspections and enforcement and would require aquatic invasive species rules decals to be displayed on watercraft.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
MPCA levies $420,946 in pollution penalties
In January through March, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency settled 43 cases involving violations of air and water pollution rules. The companies and individuals accused of the violations will pay a total of $420,946.
View the list of cases from 31 counties.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release
Mining companies eye Wisconsin
Wisconsin is known as the Badger State. However, the state’s nickname does not come from the short-legged member of the weasel family, portrayed by University of Wisconsin mascot Bucky Badger. The Badger State name is actually derived from lead miners who were called badgers because they borrowed into holes in the southwestern part of the state in the 1800s.
Today mining is largely a forgotten industry in Wisconsin. There are thousands of non-metallic mines in the state, mostly gravel pits. However, there has not been a metallic mine operating in Wisconsin since 1999.
But now two mining companies are considering plans for new metallic mines in the state. Gogebic Taconite LLC is exploring plans to create an iron ore mine near Ashland in Ashland County and Iron County. Aquila Resources Inc. is exploring plans to create a gold mine east of Wausau in Marathon County.
The mine proposals appear likely to pit environmental advocates against mine supporters who hope their mines will boost the state’s economy.
U.S. to speed up endangered species decisions
The Interior Department, facing an avalanche of petitions and lawsuits over proposed endangered species designations, said that it had negotiated a settlement under which it will make decisions on 251 species over the next six years.
Under the agreement, species that the department has already deemed to be at potential risk but whose status remains in limbo, including the New England cottontail and the greater sage grouse of the West, will take priority in the Fish and Wildlife Service workload.
If approved by a federal judge, the settlement would bring about the most sweeping change in the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act since the 1990s, when the department streamlined a procedure for protecting the habitats that endangered species need to recover.
The backlog of more than 250 cases resulted from lawsuits and petitions filed by environmental groups, a strategy for forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to be more assertive about fulfilling its wildlife-protection mandate. Over the past four years, the service has fielded requests for listing more than 1,230 species as endangered or threatened.
–The New York Times
Wisconsin considers sweeping changes in DNR
Gov. Scott Walker is considering a plan that would turn the state Department of Natural Resources into a self-contained agency, operating outside many of the rules and regulations guiding the rest of state government.
The plan, released by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, would give the agency more autonomy to hire employees, offer merit pay and speed up the permitting process – a common complaint from businesses dealing with the department.
“We would be freed up from a lot of the red tape that slows things down,” said Bob Manwell, DNR spokesman. “We would still be a state agency; we would just be operating under a different set of guidelines.”
Anne Sayers, program director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, called the proposal “a classic case of having the fox guard the hen house.
–The Wisconsin State Journal