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.
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
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.