Nutrient pollution; conservation; road salt

December 19, 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.

EPA videos take on nutrient pollution
Nutrient pollution is one of the nation’s most widespread and costly environmental problems. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from farm and lawn fertilizer, pet and livestock waste, roads and houses, faulty septic systems, and treated sewage can turn waters green with slime and pollute waters for swimming, boating, and fishing. To help raise awareness about this growing environmental problem, the Environmental Protection Agency has released a short video to illustrate the potential impacts of nutrient pollution on recreation. The Choice is Yours: Clean or Green Water can be viewed on EPA’s YouTube Channel. The new video complements another EPA YouTube video that provides a broad overview of nutrient pollution.
–EPA News Release

Merriam advocates conservation in Farm Bill
Read a recent Freshwater Society newsletter column by Gene Merriam on conservation in the Farm Bill. He urges Congress to adopt a Senate position that would make compliance with some conservation standards a requirement for farmers seeking subsidized crop insurance coverage.

Use salt sparingly to protect water
Excessive use of road salt – on streets, bridges, parking lots and sidewalks – is s significant cause of pollution of both ground and surface waters. And how cold is too cold for the salt to be effective?

Read a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release with tips for safe and effective use of road salt. Here’s a hint: The MPCA says use less than 4 pounds of salt to clear 1,000 square feet of pavement. That’s the equivalent of a heaping 12-ounce coffee mug of salt for an area that equals about seven average-sized parking spaces.

1,500 injection wells put toxins into the ground
Read an investigative report on federally approved injection wells that allow industries to pour waste products into the ground, sometimes contaminating drinking water aquifers. The report is the work of Pro Publica, a public interest journalism project.

Chesapeake Bay credit plan examined
Read an interesting article from the Southeast Farm Press on tradeoffs in pollution credit trading as it applies to agriculture.

Chicago River: A superhighway for invasives
Standing on the banks of the Chicago River, you realize that maybe the best thing about this filthy waterway is that it was reversed over a century ago so it flows away from Lake Michigan instead of into it.

Water isn’t even the first thing you notice where the river merges with a notoriously fouled little tributary, dubbed Bubbly Creek for the gases still belching from untold tons of cow carcasses dumped into it by the city’s old stockyards.

Floating on the surface is the crinkly corpse of a pink Mylar balloon that’s wrapped itself around a 40-ounce beer bottle. Nearby is a pumpkin stuck in the muck, orbited by an array of tampon applicators and plastic bottle caps. Just below a sewer pipe that excretes a septic stew when big rains hit, a boot floats sole-up next to a tennis shoe; if the pair were a match you’d fret they were attached to feet.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

UW research targets invasive smelt
University of Wisconsin scientists are studying how mixing the water in a lake could eliminate an invasive fish.

The technology works by moving large air bladders up and down the depth of a lake, mixing the water and raising its temperature to where it is intolerable for the fish, said Jake Vander Zanden, supervisor of the study.

The bladders are much like gigantic trampolines, Vander Zanden said. They’re about 25 feet across. Air is pumped in and out so it rises and falls.

The project is designed to eliminate invasive rainbow smelt from the small Crystal Lake in Vilas County, Wis. If successful, it may be applied to other lakes where smelt have invaded and decimated native populations of yellow perch, lake whitefish, northern cisco and commercially important walleye
–Great Lakes Echo

Hurricane’s legacy; Red River forum

December 10, 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.

Planners worry Sandy’s lessons will be lost
One month after Superstorm Sandy hit the northeastern United States, causing tens of billions of dollars in damages to property and infrastructure and claiming the lives of more than 100 people, leading urban planners, academics and government scientists worry that the event will dim into memory and the havoc and devastation it created will be overshadowed by society’s attempt to return to normal.

Furthermore, they say, ignoring questions about how to reduce the region’s vulnerability to rising sea levels and more frequent, intense storms will ensure that in the decades to come, the region will continue to experience massive infrastructure collapse and possibly more fatalities.

“What can we do to take advantage of this horrible disaster, in which people lost their lives, millions of damages were done?” said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “How can we have this be something more than just another disaster? How can it have a legacy that does justice to the people that lost their lives? How can we have the next Sandy be something for which we are better prepared?”

Lubchenco provided the opening remarks at a New York City event focused on the potential engineering, ecological and public policy responses to the rising sea levels and more frequent, intense storms brought about by climate change.
–Scientific American

Public forum set on L. Winnipeg, Red River
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Consulate General of Canada will sponsor a free, public forum in Minneapolis on threats facing Lake Winnipeg and the north-flowing Red River. The Freshwater Society is a co-sponsor of the forum.

The forum at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute is intended for scientists, teachers, students, policy-makers, public officials and anyone interested in learning about the health of the Red River Basin and the Lake Winnipeg Watershed.

The forum, which will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Learn more and register to attend..

DNR updating threatened and endangered list
Between Jan. 29 and Feb. 7, the Minnesota DNR will conduct five public hearings – in Rochester, New Ulm, Bemidji, Duluth and Plymouth – on a proposed revision of the state’s list  of endangered and threatened species. Learn more.

Texas cities lock up groundwater supplies
Amid a persistent drought that has rattled Texans about water supplies, cities and investors are jockeying to purchase millions of gallons of underground water and pipe it to rapidly growing communities.

The Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency is among the latest to enter the fray, paying to secure water it isn’t expected to use for a decade or more.

The agency isn’t alone. The rush to secure water rights across Central Texas means millions are being paid each year for unpumped water. “If you’re a city, you still have to make sure industry will keep coming to town. It’s a matter of economic life or death to you. You have to make decisions, and the easy answers are gone,” said Robert Cullick, a consultant on water and public infrastructure projects.

James Earp, assistant city manager for the city of Kyle, said that if the city’s population grows as expected, Kyle’s current water portfolio couldn’t support any new residents by about 2026. That was a driving force in its support for securing groundwater rights.
–The Austin American-Statesman

Los Angeles storm water before high court
The Supreme Court gave a skeptical hearing to a Los Angeles lawyer who sought to absolve the county’s flood control district of responsibility for polluted storm water that flows into the Pacific Ocean.

“Doesn’t common sense suggest” the flood control district is responsible? asked Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “The storm sewer system in Los Angeles hasn’t been shut down, right? You don’t question that there was an actual discharge [of pollutants]. What is it monitoring if not discharges … for which you’re responsible?”

The justices tried to sort out a complicated regulatory dispute over the highly polluted water that flows down the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers in the days after a heavy rainstorm. They sounded split on how to rule, however.

They could free Los Angeles County from any liability on the grounds that its two monitoring stations in the rivers do not point to the source of the pollution. The county made just that argument. Or they could send the case back to a judge in California to hold further hearings aimed at pinpointing who is to blame for the polluted runoff.
–The Los Angeles Times

Clean Water Council report is available

December 7, 2012

The Minnesota Clean Water Council, which advises the governor and the Legislature on water policy and water spending, has released a preliminary copy of its biennial report to the Legislature. It includes a list of the $185 million in water projects the council recommends be funded over the next two year through the sales tax increase that voters approved in a 2008 constitutional amendment. Read the report.

Orthodox patriarch pushes green agenda

December 5, 2012

Is polluting our water and air just foolish, or is it sinful?

Read a New York Times Science Times article about Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of  Constantinople, a spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. He calls biodiversity “the work of divine wisdom.” And, yes, he calls for repentance for “our sinfulness” in failing to protect our planet.

Minnesota seeks environmental opinions, dreams

December 3, 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.

Environmental Congress seeks public input
Did you miss your chance to give state officials your opinions on Minnesota’s land and waters as they exist now, and the vision you have for the kind of environment you want your children and grandchildren to enjoy?

Nope, you didn’t miss it. You can still make your thinking known – in three more public meetings or in an on-line survey.

The Minnesota Environment Congress, an effort ordered by Gov. Mark Dayton and organized by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, drew big crowds last week to public meetings in Rochester, Bloomington and Duluth. Three more public meetings are scheduled:

 Monday, Dec. 10, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at Worthington High School.

 Wednesday, Dec. 12, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Atwood Memorial Center at St. Cloud State University.

 Friday, Dec. 14, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in the Comstock Memorial Union at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

All the meetings are open to the public. For more information, go to the Environmental Congress website. Read the Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card discussed at the public meetings. If you cannot attend one of the meetings, give your views on the environment in the on-line survey.

Dec. 13 forum set on Red River and L. Winnipeg
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Consulate General of Canada in Minnesota will sponsor a free, public forum in Minneapolis on the threats facing the north-flowing Red River, Lake Winnipeg and all the waters flowing into them. The Freshwater Society is a co-sponsor of the forum.

The forum at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute is intended for scientists, teachers, students, policy-makers, public officials and anyone interested in learning about the health of the Red River Basin.

The forum, which will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free and open to the public, but registration is  required. Learn more and register. Get directions to the Humphrey Institute.

Miami-Dade seeks to avoid clean-water suit 
Six months into negotiations with federal regulators over Miami-Dade’s aging sewer system, the county has come up with a $1.5 billion, 15-year plan to rebuild pipes, pumps and sewage treatment plants that in some cases are almost 100 years old.

County leaders devised the proposal in an attempt to fend off a federal lawsuit, and potentially millions of dollars in fines, for not abiding by the federal Clean Water Act.

The county also has proposed replacing or repairing a good portion of the 7,500 miles of sewer lines that regularly rupture and spill millions of gallons of raw waste into local waterways and Biscayne Bay.

Before any work is to begin, the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency — which put the county on notice in May — must accept the county’s terms. The plan, referred to as a consent decree, also must be endorsed by a majority of county commissioners. That could come as soon as late January or early February.
–The Miami Herald

EPA revises bacteria standards
The Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 26 revised its recommended water quality criteria for recreational waters, setting out measures to protect against gastrointestinal illness from fecal contamination.

The agency said the criteria, if adopted by states into their water quality standards, would promote rapid water testing, encourage early alerts to beach-goers, and protect against pollution after particularly heavy rainfalls. It covers all waters, including marine, estuarine, Great Lakes, and inland waters that are designated for primary contact recreation.

The new criteria replace criteria established in 1986 (21 DEN A-1, 2/2/12). The revised criteria set out two sets of concentration thresholds for fecal bacteria–enterococci and e-coli–measured as the geometric mean of colony-forming units, or cfu, in monitored water quality samples.

The agency said either set of concentration thresholds would protect the public from exposure to harmful levels of fecal bacteria and associated illness, while swimming, surfing, and engaging in other water contact activities.

DNR sued over White Bear Lake drop

November 28, 2012
Dry land where White Bear Lake shallows used to be

Dry land replaces White Bear Lake shallows

A new lawsuit accuses the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources of failing to properly regulate groundwater pumping by a number of communities ringing White Bear Lake.

The suit, filed in Ramsey County District Court by an organization representing White Bear residents and businesses, comes as the lake has reached an all-time record low level.

A U.S. Geological Survey study concluded water from the lake is flowing into a groundwater aquifer beneath the lake, and the study blamed increased municipal pumping from the aquifer for much of the loss.

Read the lawsuit. Read Pioneer Press, Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio reports on the litigation. Read an extensive report on the USGS research published in June 2012 by the Freshwater Society.

Bighead carp netted in Lake Pepin

November 26, 2012

A 47-pound bighead carp was caught in a seine net by commercial fishermen on Nov. 16, in Lake Pepin near Frontenac,  the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced on Nov. 21.

DNR file photo shows DNR supervisor Brad Parsons with a bighead carp from an earlier catch.

Bighead carp, members of the Asian carp family, are nonnative species that can cause serious ecological problems as they spread into new waters.

While other adult bighead carp have been found in Lake Pepin and the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, this was the largest individual carp caught to date.

“This recent find is not surprising, as bighead carp were also found in Lake Pepin in 2003 and 2007,” said Tim Schlagenhaft of the DNR’s Mississippi River team at Lake City. “It adds more evidence that Asian carp continue to work their way up the Mississippi River.”

This recent catch fits the pattern of occasional adult Asian carp captures from the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers over the past 15 years. Individual bighead carp were caught in the St. Croix River in 1996, 2011, and 2012, and four silver carp were caught from the Mississippi River between Winona and La Crosse since 2008. Read the full DNR news release.
–DNR News Release

A report card and good news on the Minnesota R.

November 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.

Minnesota environment gets a report card
Walleye and cisco populations are down. Lake trout and brown trout are up. Over the last decade, a fourth of the Minnesota lakes and streams tested for water clarity have gotten better. Nine percent of those water bodies are murkier than they were 10 years ago.

And, even as scientists get around to testing more and more of the state’s surface waters, the share of them that remain too polluted for fishing and swimming or too polluted to support healthy aquatic life remains stubbornly high: 40 percent.

Those are some of the facts in a draft Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card presented to the Environmental Quality Board. Read the draft report card, which was commissioned by Gov. Mark Dayton. Learn more about the report card and a series of public meetings around the state being held to solicit citizen comments on the report. The meetings begin Nov. 27 in Rochester.

Forum set Dec. 13 on Red River, Lake Winnipeg
Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba receives water draining from four Canadian provinces and for U.S. states, including Minnesota. The lake – the world’s 10th largest – faces serious environmental challenges. Those challenges include algal blooms and depleted oxygen levels resulting from farm fertilizers and other nutrients, invasive species competing with native plants and animals, contamination by new or newly worrisome chemicals of many kinds and the effects of climate change.

Minnesota water bodies in the Red River Basin, including the north-flowing Red River, face the same challenges.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, the Consulate General of Canada will sponsor a free, public forum on the threats facing all those waters and on the work being done – and still needing to be done – to protect them.

The forum at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute is intended for scientists, teachers, students, policy-makers, public officials and anyone interested in learning about the health of the Red River Basin and the Lake Winnipeg Watershed.

The forum, which will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Learn more and register. Get directions to the Humphrey Institute.

Phosphorus pollution drops in Minnesota River
Water quality in the last 20 miles of the Minnesota River has improved markedly over the last decade, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced. The improvement in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water, a key indicator of the river’s ability to support plant, fish and other organisms, is largely the result of tens of millions of dollars spent to reduce phosphorus discharged into the river by sewage treatment plants. Read Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio reports on the MPCA’s announcement of the results of a new round of tests on the river.  Read a Pioneer Press op-ed column by MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine on the new phosphorus results for the river

U of M provides tool for estimating water’s value
If you’ve eaten fish, gone for a boat ride or even taken a drink from the tap, you know clean water is a valuable commodity. But just how valuable? That’s always been a tough question for policy makers to answer as they weigh the worth of clean water against societal needs that compromise it, such as the need to grow food or produce fossil fuels.

Now, however, their ability to do so has been greatly enhanced by a new policy-making framework developed by a team of scientists led by Bonnie Keeler, research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The framework, published in the Nov. 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a tool for assessing and valuing the many services clean water provides –  from recreation and beauty to navigation and hydropower – and incorporating them into policy decisions.

“After repeated requests for information on the value of water quality, we realized that there was a huge gap between the demand for economic values of water quality and our ability to provide tools to estimate those values. This gap limits our ability to make informed decisions,” Keeler said. “We provide a framework that describes the numerous pathways in which changes in water quality affect our health, recreation and livelihoods and the economic value of those changes. This yields a far more accurate picture of the costs and benefits of decisions.”
–University of Minnesota News Release

EPA criticizes Iowa on livestock pollution
In a draft report, the federal EPA accuses the Iowa Department of Natural Resources of going too easy on livestock feedlots that pollute waters. The EPA said it might step in and take over from the state the responsibility for enforcing the federal Clean Water Act. Read a Des Moines Register report on the EPA’s findings.

Both sides sue over Chesapeake Bay plan

November 12, 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.

Suits challenge Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan
Read a good Washinton Post update on the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to force states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed  to enact major pollution-reduction changes as part of a Total Maximum Daily Load  plan. The Post article by Darryl Fears focuses on the litigation – from both  left and the right – challenging the EPA plan.

Several environmental groups recently filed suit, alleging that the EPA could not adequately monitor a pollution-credit trading program aimed at reducing agriculture fertilizers flowing into the bay. The plan also is being challenged by the Farm Bureau Federation  and the National Association of Home Builders. That litigation alleges only the states, not the EPA, have authority to require pollution reductions.

Presentations available from Metro Water Summit
About 70 people – representatives of lake and creek groups, citizens, business owners, and water resource professionals — packed into a conference room Nov. 7 at the Eisenhower Community Center in Hopkins to hear about and discuss the latest important water resource issues and to network with like-minded folks. The event, the Metro Water Summit, was sponsored by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and organized by the Freshwater Society.

View slides from three presentations.

Groundwater clean-up costs are huge
The prestigious National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Science, has tried to put a number on the cost of cleaning up contaminated groundwater in the U.S., and it’s a big number. The council, in a new report, estimates it would cost more than $110 billion to clean up 126,000 contaminated sites. Read the report.

Wisconsin court weighs groundwater case
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials say a court decision could determine ways in which it can regulate groundwater usage affecting streams such as the Little Plover River.

But DNR officials say they don’t plan to wait for that to find solutions.

Water scientists say the river is drying up because farmers and other users of high-capacity wells in the area are drawing too much water from the river.
–The Wisconsin Rapids Tribune

Urban runoff costly for California cities
Cities in Los Angeles County face spending billions of dollars to clean up the dirty urban runoff that washes pollution into drains and coastal waters under storm water regulations approved by the regional water board.

Despite more than two decades of regulation, runoff remains the leading cause of water pollution in Southern California, prompting beach closures and bans on eating fish caught in Santa Monica Bay.

The runoff — whether from heavy winter rains or sprinkler water spilling down the gutter — is tainted by a host of contaminants from thousands of different places: bacteria from pet waste, copper from auto brake pads, toxics from industrial areas, pesticides and fertilizer from lawns.

“Municipal wastewater treatment has made incredible strides over the past 20 or 30 years, and other sources of pollution have been well controlled,” said John Kemmerer, regional associate water director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Clean Water Act. “It really comes down now to urban runoff.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Shell, Sunoco to pay New Hampshire $35 million
New Hampshire reached a $35 million settlement with Shell Oil Co. and Sunoco Inc. of a lawsuit over claims that the gasoline refiners and manufacturers used chemicals that contaminated groundwater.

The state sued a number of oil companies in 2003, charging that they knew the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) would pollute water supplies, state Attorney General Michael Delaney said in a statement.

“My office will continue to hold oil companies responsible for their role in causing groundwater contamination in this state,” Delaney said. “This is a substantial recovery that will be used to clean up contaminated groundwaters throughout New Hampshire.”

A trial against the other remaining defendants, which include Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), ConocoPhillips (COP), Irving Oil Ltd., Citgo Petroleum Corp. and Vitol SA, is set to begin in Concord, New Hampshire, in January. It may last three to four months.

Scientists model road salt’s effects on concrete
Swedish scientists have studied models to help road and bridge maintenance engineers work out how much damage salting the roads in winter might cause to steel-reinforced concrete structures.

As the winter draws in, road safety becomes paramount especially in northern climes where icy roads are a perennial problem for motorists. Gritting and salting the roads can help reduce road traffic accidents but the use of salt, which contains chloride, comes at a price. Corrosive chloride ions can penetrate into porous concrete and reach the metal reinforcements within, leading to corrosion after months or years of use.

Luping Tang of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, at Chalmers University of Technology, in Gothenburg, Sweden and his colleague Dr Anders Lindvall of the Central Laboratory, at Thomas Concrete Group AB also in Gothenburg, have looked at the effects of exposure to road salt de-icing over a 10 year and a 25-30 year service period in computer simulations of chloride ingress into concrete structures. The models simulate heavy traffic moving at speed over such structures.

Writing in the International Journal of Structural Engineering, the team explains that, “Chloride induced corrosion of reinforcement in concrete is still one of the main concerns regarding durability and service life of reinforced concrete structures.
–Science Daily

GMO labeling rejected in California
A measure that would have required most foods made with genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled in California lost early Wednesday (Nov. 6).

Supporters of Proposition 37 said consumers have a right to know whether food has been genetically altered, particularly when the long-term health impacts are unclear. Opponents argued that the labels would stigmatize foods that are scientifically proven to be safe.

With 100 percent the precincts reporting, voters rejected the proposed labeling law by six percentage points. California would have been the first state in the nation to pass such an initiative.

“We said from the beginning that the more voters learned about Prop. 37, the less they would like it,” said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the opposition. “We didn’t think they would like the lawsuits, more bureaucracy, higher costs, loopholes and exemptions. It looks like they don’t.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle

Some begin to re-think beach replenishment
For more than a century, for good or ill, New Jersey has led the nation in coastal development. Many of the barrier islands along its coast have long been lined by rock jetties, concrete sea walls or other protective armor. Most of its coastal communities have beaches only because engineers periodically replenish them with sand pumped from offshore.

Now much of that sand is gone. Though reports are still preliminary, coastal researchers say that when Hurricane Sandy came ashore, it washed enormous quantities of sand off beaches and into the streets — or even all the way across barrier islands into the bays behind them.

But even as these towns clamor for sand, scientists are warning that rising seas will make maintaining artificial beaches prohibitively expensive or simply impossible. Even some advocates of artificial beach nourishment now urge new approaches to the issue, especially in New Jersey.
–The New York Times

China buying water rights in Japan
Morihiro Oguma’s phone rang every day with calls from brokers representing foreign investors who wanted to buy his Japan Mineral water-bottling business.

“In many cases, I was told I could name my price,” Oguma said in an interview, adding he had no interest in selling the Hokkaido-based company. “It seems what they really wanted was our rights to groundwater.”

A two-decade slump in Japan’s real estate prices, an incomplete land registry and lax rules on buying forest with water rights are attracting investors led by China and come amid a fraying of ties between the two countries over a territorial dispute. Some areas of remote woodland in Japan, the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that doesn’t regulate property investment by foreigners, can be bought for 60 U.S. cents a square meter including groundwater.

Japan, whose population is shrinking, ranks in the top 10 percent of countries by water resources, while China and India, with the opposite demographic trend, will face shortages from 2030, according to a United Nations report in August. Almost half of China’s economy is already based in water-scarce regions, HSBC Holdings Plc said in a Sept. 12 report.
–Bloomberg News

Your input is sought on Minnesota environment

November 6, 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.

Have your say on water and environmental issues
What do clean water, the economy, energy and the health of our environment all have in common? These topics will be discussed by Minnesotans this month and next at six Citizen Forums around the state.

The forums, free and open to the public, will give Minnesotans an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns. State leaders will consider the citizen input next March at a Minnesota Environmental Congress summit, where they will begin to plan a blueprint for Minnesota’s environmental and economic future.

For more information visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. The Minnesota Environmental Congress and the Citizens Forums leading up to it are the result of an executive order issued by Gov. Mark Dayton last year.

To assess Minnesota’s progress toward clean air, water and energy, the Environmental Quality Board is convening the Citizen Forums around the state to engage citizens in constructive dialogue, identify environmental challenges and define a vision for Minnesota’s environmental future.

Here are the locations, dates and times for the six regional Citizens Forums:

• Rochester: Nov. 27, 9:30 a.m. – noon at Wood Lake Meeting Center.

• Bloomington: Nov. 27, 6:30 – 9 p.m. at Normandale Community College.

• Duluth: Nov. 28, 5:30 – 8  p.m. at Lake Superior College.

• Worthington: Dec. 10, 3:30 – 6 p.m. at Worthington High School.

• St. Cloud: Dec. 12, 5:30 – 8 p.m. at Stearns County Service Center.

• Moorhead: Dec. 14, 3 – 5:30 p.m. at Minnesota State University.

For more information about the Citizens Forums and to indicate your intention to attend, visit the  Minnesota Environmental Congress website. If you have questions, call Anna Sherman at 651-201-6607 or email
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

KARE11 series reports on threats to water
View a series of stories – “Project H2O” – that KARE 11-TV broadcast on Nov. 1:

A geological primer on what’s going on beneath us
Have you ever wondered what’s in the soil and rocks deep beneath your feet? Have you worried that something being put on the land or done to the land will pollute the groundwater beneath it?

The Minnesota Geological Survey has just published a guide to Minnesota geology and groundwater that will answer some of your questions.

The publication, written with a goal of avoiding technical jargon, is intended to explain to local officials, land use managers and planners how the Geological Survey’s county geologic atlases are produced and how they can be used for planning  that protects groundwater. More broadly, the  publication — titled Geologic Atlas User’s Guide: Using Geologic Maps and Databases for Resource Management and Planning  — is a primer on what’s going on in the basement of this house in which we all live.

Report examines nitrogen BMP decision
Read a new report on how and why farmers in two Minnesota watersheds make decisions about the nitrogen fertilizer they apply to their crops.

The report, funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was written by University of Minnesota forest resources professor Mae Davenport and a graduate student, Bjorn Olson.

It was based on in-depth interviews with 30 farmers in the Rush River watershed in Le Sueur and Nicollet counties and the Elm Creek watershed in Martin and Jackson counties. The report is titled  “Nitrogen Use and Determinants of Best Management Practices: A Study of Rush River and Elm Creek Agricultural Producers.”

Northshore Mining fined for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has fined Northshore Mining Co. in Silver Bay $242,973 for spraying 39,200 gallons of hazardous waste onto its property and improperly sending an equal amount to a nearby water treatment plant. It is the fourth time since September 2010 that the taconite company has been fined for violating Minnesota pollution laws.

The agency found that Northshore Mining sprayed a “corrosive hazardous waste leachate” over its coal-ash landfill to control dust. An additional 38,900 gallons of the leachate were delivered to an authorized wastewater treatment plant in Duluth over the course of two days in 2011, but the quantity exceeded permitted levels. The company failed to immediately report the violations and failed to properly monitor high pH levels in the leachate, the agency said.
–The Star Tribune

Algae no energy panacea, report says 
Biofuels made from algae, promoted by President Barack Obama as a possible way to help wean Americans off foreign oil, cannot be made now on a large scale without using unsustainable amounts of energy, water and fertilizer, the U.S. National Research Council reported.

“Faced with today’s technology, to scale up any more is going to put really big demands on … not only energy input, but water, land and the nutrients you need, like carbon dioxide, nitrate and phosphate,” said Jennie Hunter-Cevera, a microbial physiologist who headed the committee that wrote the report.

Hunter-Cevera stressed that this is not a definitive rejection of algal biofuels, but a recognition that they may not be ready to supply even 5 percent, or approximately 10.3 billion gallons (39 billion liters), of U.S. transportation fuel needs. “Algal biofuels is still a teenager that needs to be developed and nurtured,” she said.

Biofuel plant called invasive threat 
A plant being eyed as a renewable fuel source has a dark side, choking native plants, clogging rivers and streams and draining wetlands, U.S. scientists say.

Giant reed, also known as arundo donax, is a fast-growing hardy grass species found throughout Texas and the southern United States the U.S. government is considering as a renewable fuel source. Its often unruly behavior has some scientists and environmentalists arguing the ecological and economic risks are greater than the possible benefit.

They say they want the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider a nearly finalized rule that would encourage farmers to grow giant reed and other invasive grasses for biofuels production.

Water takes 12.6% of U.S. energy
A new report by a team of University of Texas at Austin researchers shows that the energy needed to capture, move, treat and prepare water in 2010 required 12.6 percent of nation’s total annual energy consumption, which is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of roughly 40 million Americans.

“Evaluating the Energy Consumed for Water Use in the United States” is the first report of its kind to quantify baseline water-related energy consumption across the U.S. water system. The report, published in the September issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, gives industry leaders, investors, analysts, policymakers and planners the information they need to make informed decisions, and could help the nation achieve its water and energy security goals, a news release stated.

“Energy and water security are achievable, and with careful planning, we can greatly reduce the amount of water used to produce energy, and the amount of energy used to provide and use water,” said Michael E. Webber, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who directed the research project. “In particular, our report shows that because there is so much energy embedded in water, saving water might be a cost-effective way to save energy.”
–Wichita Falls TimesRecordNews