Mercury, invasive species and gray water

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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