Archive for March, 2009

Pollution concerns, frog calls and smuggled dish soap

March 30, 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.

Drinking water pollution tops concerns, poll shows
Pollution of drinking water is Americans’ No. 1 environmental concern, with 59% saying they worry “a great deal” about the issue, according to a new Gallup Poll.

All eight environmental issues tested in the 2009 Gallup Environment survey, conducted March 5-8, appear to be important to Americans, evidenced by the finding that a majority of Americans say they worry at least a fair amount about each one. However, on the basis of substantial concern — that is, the percentage worrying “a great deal” about each — there are important distinctions among them.

Four water-related issues on the poll fill the top spots in this year’s ranking. In addition to worrying about pollution of drinking water, roughly half of Americans also express a high degree of worry about pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs (52% worry a great deal about this), and water and soil contamination from toxic waste (52%). About half worry about the maintenance of the nation’s supply of fresh water for household needs (49%).
–The Gallup Poll

EPA finding pushes Obama on climate change
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new leadership, in a step toward confronting global warming, submitted a finding that will force the White House to decide whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the nearly 40-year-old Clean Air Act.

Under that law, EPA’s conclusion — that such emissions are pollutants that endanger the public’s health and welfare — could trigger a broad regulatory process affecting much of the U.S. economy as well as the nation’s future environmental trajectory. The agency’s finding, which was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget without fanfare, also reversed one of the Bush administration’s landmark decisions on climate change, and it indicated anew that President Obama’s appointees will push to address the issue of warming despite the potential political costs.
–The Washington Post

Human drugs found in fish near treatment plants
Fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving five major U.S. cities had residues of pharmaceuticals in them, including medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression, researchers reported.

Findings from this first nationwide study of human drugs in fish tissue have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly expand similar ongoing research to more than 150 different locations.
–The Associated Press

Listen for some croaks, help with some research
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Wildlife Program is recruiting volunteers to participate in its ongoing statewide frog and toad calling survey.

Since 1996, volunteers have collected data by listening to and identifying frog and toad species on specified 10-stop routes. The results provide information on where species are located and how their populations change in abundance and distribution.

For information, click here. Want to listen to a frog? Click here.
Minnesota DNR

Spokane phosphate ban sparks dishwasher revolt
The quest for squeaky-clean dishes has turned some law-abiding people in Spokane into dishwater-detergent smugglers.

They are bringing Cascade or Electrasol in from out of state because the eco-friendly varieties required under Washington state law don’t work as well.
–The Associated Press

Water issues now part of power-generating calculus
Last month, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a utility that provides power to mostly rural areas, agreed to conduct a major study to see if it might meet growing energy needs through energy efficiency and not a big, new coal-fired power plant, as it had proposed for southeast Colorado.

One reason for the move was a challenge by Environment Colorado, an advocacy organization, about the amount of water a new plant would require.
–The Wall Street Journal

Firm plans trash-to-diesel plant in Rosemount
Plans for a plant outside Rosemount that would turn trash into diesel fuel are moving along, despite early concerns from nearby cities.

The Empire Township Board approved a zoning change and comprehensive plan amendment Tuesday that will allow Rational Energies LLC to build a 200,000 square-foot biomass gasification facility on about 50 acres at the intersection of Hwy. 52 and County Road 46.
–Star Tribune

Great Lakes ice cover diminishing over time
Ice cover on the Great Lakes has declined more than 30 percent since the 1970s, leaving the world’s largest system of freshwater lakes open to evaporation and lower water levels, according to scientists associated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They’re concerned about how the milder winter freeze may affect the environment. But they’re also trying to come to terms with a contradiction: The same climate factors that might keep lake ice from freezing might make freezing more likely if lake levels drop due to evaporation.
–The Associated Press

Big wilderness bill passes Congress
Congress set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness — from California’s Sierra Nevada mountains to the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

The legislation is on its way to President Barack Obama for his likely signature.

The House approved the bill, 285-140, the final step in a long legislative road that began last year.
–The Associated Press

EPA reverses stand on mountaintop mining
In a sharp reversal of Bush administration policies, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said the agency planned an aggressive review of permit requests for mountaintop coal mining, citing serious concerns about potential harm to water quality.

The administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said her agency had sent two letters to the Army Corps of Engineers in which it expressed concern about two proposed mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky involving mountaintop removal, a form of strip mining that blasts the tops off mountains and dumps leftover rock in valleys, burying streams.
–The New York Times

Ethanol industry faces scrutiny on feed byproduct
The ethanol industry must be wondering where the bottom is. Profits are slim or non-existent and about 20 percent of all U.S. plants are shut down. In addition, ethanol’s main by-product, which is sold as livestock feed, has raised potential food safety concerns. Several studies have linked the by-product known as distillers grain to elevated rates of E. coli in cattle. And now, distillers grain is facing further scrutiny because the Food and Drug Administration has found that it often contains antibiotics leftover from making ethanol.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Water a new cash crop for California farmers
As Don Bransford prepares for his spring planting season, he is debating which is worth more: the rice he grows on his 700-acre farm north of Sacramento, or the water he uses to cultivate it.

After three years of drought in California, water is now a potential cash crop. Last fall, the state activated its Drought Water Bank program for the first time since 1994. Under the program, farmers can choose to sell some of the water they would usually use to grow their crops to parched cities, counties and agriculture districts.
–The Wall Street Journal

Las Vegas water pipeline opposed
A coalition of ranchers, farmers and conservationists is turning up the volume on efforts to block a plan to pipe billions of gallons of groundwater a year from the northeast part of Nevada to Las Vegas.

A coalition lawyer says State Engineer Tracy Taylor relied on bad data and flawed reasoning in deciding last July to let the Southern Nevada Water Authority pump some 6.1 billion gallons of water a year from the rural Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
–The Associated Press

Snail evolves larger shells to fight invasive crab
With all the recent changes in the oceans, like dying coral reefs and collapsing commercial fisheries, it’s easy to forget that most changes occur over the longer term. Sometimes the incremental changes are so slight that they aren’t noticeable for decades.

A case in point is described in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Jonathan A. D. Fisher of Queen’s University in Ontario, Peter S. Petraitis of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues: They report on a large size increase in the shells of a well-studied intertidal snail, the Atlantic dogwinkle (Nucella lapillus), around Mount Desert Island in Maine over the last century.
–The New York Times

USDA gardening zones to reflect climate change
As winter retreats northward across the nation, gardeners are cleaning tools and turning attention to spring planting. But climate change is adding a new wrinkle, and now a standard reference – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map – is about to make very clear how much rising temperatures have shifted planting zones northward.

The guide, last updated in 1990, shows where various species can be expected to thrive.  A revision is expected sometime this year, and while the agency hasn’t released details, horticulturalists and experts who have helped with the revision expect the new map to extend plants’ northern ranges and paint a sharp picture of the continent’s gradual warming over the past few decades.
–The Daily Climate

Nestle spring water plan sparks Colorado fight
A plan to suck, truck and bottle Arkansas Valley spring water has residents here crusading against the world’s largest food and beverage company.

“Nestle is seeking to drain the blood of Chaffee County,” said Salida local Daniel Zettler during a fiery public hearing last week.
–The Denver Post

USGS studies endocrine-disruptors in Chesapeake Bay
Fish health and reproductive issues in the Chesapeake Bay drainage may be associated with fish exposure to hormone-mimicking compounds and other chemicals.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have studied yellow perch, a species that has declined in recent years, and found that differences in the egg quality of these fish is occurring in some sites they sampled.  In addition, scientists sampled smallmouth bass and other species from major fish kills in the South Branch of the Potomac and the Shenandoah River. They found the fish were infected with a variety of types of skin lesions and a number of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites.
–U.S. Geological Survey

EPA nominee withdraws, citing investigation
President Obama’s nominee for U.S. EPA’s second highest post abruptly pulled out of the Senate confirmation process because of an investigation into the nonprofit group where he once served on the board of directors.

Jon Cannon, a former top EPA lawyer, withdrew from consideration as deputy administrator after learning America’s Clean Water Foundation “has become the subject of scrutiny.”
–The New York Times

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Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka

March 30, 2009

Check the Freshwater Society website here for ice-out 2009 information, when declared

To see a calendar of previous ice-out dates on Lake Minnetonka, 1855-2008, as compiled by the Freshwater Society, click here

Every year at the first sign of spring, our thoughts immediately turn to warmer weather. In Minnesota, shorts, T-shirts and sandals are often in evidence as soon as the thermometer edges past 60 degrees. But spring hasn’t sprung until the ice and snow, the hard physical evidence of winter, disappear. As the weather warms, residents of northern climes the world across keep an eye on the lakes and streams that surround them, wondering when, exactly, that ice will clear.

Since 1968, the Freshwater Society has kept close records of the day the ice yields to warmer temperatures on Lake Minnetonka. Freshwater founder Richard G. Gray, Sr., described the standard for determining ice-out in a 2003 column: The ice is considered to be “out” when it is possible to travel from any one shore to any other shore through any passage on the lake.

Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka generally spurs a fair amount of local competition, with various pools of local residents competing to be the most accurate prognosticator. Prior to 1968, methods for determining whether the ice was out were non-standard. They included various boat routes through the lake, as well as the old practice of parking a derelict car or truck on the lake and seeing how long it lasted before falling through.

In addition to declaring the ice-out every year since 1968, Gray has compiled a list of all recorded ice-out dates on Lake Minnetonka, dating back to 1855. Since then, the average ice-out date has been April 15th, although interestingly enough, the ice has never given way on that exact date. The earliest recorded ice-out, measured by noted naturalist Dr. Thomas Roberts, was March 11, 1878, and the latest recorded date was May 8, 1856.

Ice-out dates on Lake Minnetonka are still missing for the years 1861 through 1876 and 1879 through 1886. Anyone with information regarding ice-out dates for Lake Minnetonka, or any other body of water in Minnesota, for those years, should send the data to the Freshwater Society, c/o Richard G. Gray, Sr., 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior, MN 55331.

USGS study find contaminants in private wells

March 27, 2009

More than one in every five private domestic wells sampled nationwide contain at least one contaminant at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study was released this morning.
USGS scientists sampled about 2,100 private wells between 1991 and 2004 in 48 states and found that the contaminants most frequently measured at concentrations of potential health concern were inorganic contaminants, including radon and arsenic. These contaminants are mostly derived from the natural geologic materials that make up the aquifers from which well water is drawn.
Nitrate was the most common inorganic contaminant derived from man-made sources-such as from fertilizer applications and septic-tanks-that was found at concentrations greater than the Federal drinking-water standard for public-water supplies (10 parts per million). Nitrate was greater than the standard in about 4 percent of sampled wells.
The study shows that the occurrence of selected contaminants varies across the country, often following distinct geographic patterns related to geology, geochemical conditions, and land use. For example, elevated concentrations of nitrate were largely associated with intensively farmed land, such as in parts of the Midwest Corn Belt and the Central Valley of California. Radon was found at relatively high concentrations in crystalline-rock aquifers in the Northeast, in the central and southern Appalachians, and in central Colorado.
“The results of this study are important because they show that a large number of people may be unknowingly affected,” Matt Larsen, the USGS Associate Director for Water, said in a news release.

Volunteers monitor Minnesota’s waters

March 26, 2009

(This  article was published in the March, 2009, Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. The newsletter is available at www.freshwater.org.)

Last year, on about 1,500 lakes across Minnesota, volunteers leaned over the side of their boats and lowered a white metal disk into the water, carefully measuring how deep the disk descended until it vanished from view.

In addition, the volunteers filled out a checklist of subjective judgments about the lake water: Was it crystal clear? Was there floating scum or dead fish in the water? Did the water look inviting for swimming or boating? Or was there such heavy algae growth that any enjoyment of the lake was impossible?

Other volunteers in other places lowered buckets into rivers to collect water samples, filled their home refrigerators or freezers with small bottles of river and lake water that would later be analyzed to determine its nitrogen and phosphorus content and waded into wetlands to collect dragonflies, leeches and beetles.

Thirty-five years ago, Minnesota began one of the first volunteer water quality monitoring program in the country. That effort, the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, remains one of the largest such programs in the country. And it has now been joined by dozens of other lake, river and wetland monitoring efforts that encourage volunteers to get their feet and hands wet in the pursuit of clean, healthy water.

The programs have two major goals.

First, there is the science. The thousands of volunteers take far more water clarity readings and collect far more water samples than the full-time scientists and technicians employed by governmental bodies, such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and local soil and water boards, ever could handle.

A recent surge in the use of volunteers to collect water samples has helped the PCA speed up a slow process aimed at assessing the water quality in more than 12,000 lakes and about 105,000 miles of streams and rivers every 10 years. Big increases in water quality spending approved by the Legislature in recent years paid for lab analysis of the samples.

The low-tech Secchi Disk readings made by those volunteers leaning over the sides of their canoes and pontoon boats also help make possible a much higher-tech monitoring system. The clarity readings logged by the volunteers are used to calibrate images sent to Earth by satellites that pass over Minnesota.

As important as the scientific data, is the direct interest in water quality and the commitment to preserving it that the volunteer activity fosters in the volunteers.

“There’s value beyond the value of the data that’s collected in the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, said Johanna Schussler, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s coordinator of the program. “These are the people who support water quality initiatives. These are the people who volunteer, who write letters.”

And what do the volunteers get out of participating in the various programs?

For Gordon Prickett, a former mining engineer who joined the Citizen Lake Monitoring Program in 1997, soon after he bought his retirement home on the north side of Nord Lake in Aitkin County, the question is an easy one.

“I see myself as a steward here,” Prickett. “The longer we live here, the more I’m interested in conservation and preservation. I’m interested in preserving the quality of the lake for future generations, as well as my own.”

Minnesota’s first volunteer water-quality program was begun in 1973 by a University of Minnesota professor, Joe Shapiro. The MPCA assumed responsibility for the program in 1978.

That is the Citizen Lake Monitoring Project that Schussler coordinates. Last year, it had 1,260 volunteers who tested water quality at 1,700 sites on about 1,200 lakes. From the beginning, the program has relied on a simple device, the Secchi Disk, to measure clarity, a basic indicator of water quality, especially the level of algae present in a lake.

The Secchi disk – named after Pietro Angelo Secchi, a 19 th Century Jesuit astronomer who developed the device to measure the transparency of oceans and lakes — is a white, or sometimes black-and-white, metal disk, about the size of a salad plate that is attached to a cord marked off in feet or meters.

Volunteers are instructed to lower the Secchi disk into the lake and note when it disappears from view. They then raise the disk a bit until it is again just visible, note that depth and then average the two readings. The volunteers also fill out a questionnaire rating the lake’s general appearance on a scale that ranges from “crystal clear” to “massive floating scums…foul odor or fish kill.”

The volunteers are asked to take their readings on their appointed lakes eight to 10 times a summer, preferably weekly from June through September.

Typically, the clarity readings the volunteers record with the Secchi disks are lowest in mid-summer, when algae growth is the greatest. The Secchi readings are posted each year in the MPCA’s Environmental Data Access data base.

In addition to the basic Secchi disk monitoring, the MPCA funds four other citizen monitoring programs:

  • A sub-set of the basic Secchi disk monitoring program that is specifically tailored for canoeists visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. Canoeists receive a light-weight Secchi disk with a little mesh bag on the bottom of it that they weight down with rocks.
  • A Citizen Stream Monitoring Program, begun in 1988, that last year sent about 500 volunteers to about 800 locations on rivers and streams throughout Minnesota. The volunteers generally use a bucket to take a sample of water and then measure its clarity. But, instead of a Secchi disk, they use a transparency tube. That’s a clear tube with a centimeter scale printed on it that the volunteers fill with river or stream water. Then they let water run out of valve on the bottom until they can see a symbol printed on the base of the tube.

The river and stream monitors are asked to visit their sampling stations once a week, from April through September, and after heavy rains. The clarity readings they make with their transparency tubes are used by the MPCA to estimate the level of turbidity caused by suspended solids – sediment, organic material and algae –in the water.

  • A relatively new lake monitoring effort, called the Advanced Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, in which volunteers who have demonstrated a commitment to monitoring by taking Secchi readings for two years, receive additional training and more-sophisticated equipment and are asked to undertake expanded testing on selected lakes.

In that program, the volunteers take Secchi readings and note their observations of water conditions. In addition, they use a probe and a hand-held meter to measure the temperature of the water and the level of oxygen dissolved in it. Then they take a 2-liter sample of lake water and pour off some of the sample into a small bottle whose contents later will be analyzed at a state laboratory to determine how much phosphorus and nitrogen it contains.

Later, onshore, the volunteers pump more of the lake water through a filter and then place the filter in a petri dish, which they are asked to store in their home refrigerators until the samples are delivered to a lab. Analysis of the filter tells how much chlorophyll was in the water, a measure of algae.

  • An extensive series of partnerships in which the MPCA provides up to $2 million a year to about 40 public and private organizations – soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, counties, college and universities and associations of lakeshore owners — to recruit volunteers, and in some cases assign paid staff members, to collect data on lakes and rivers and to contract with private labs to analyze samples.

That testing yields data on clarity, E-coli bacteria, chloride, ammonia, suspended solids, phosphorus, nitrogen and chlorophyll. The PCA contracts with Minnesota Waters, a nonprofit group, to train participants in that program.

In addition to the MPCA’s water monitoring program, the Metropolitan Council has had an extensive lake monitoring program for more than 25 years. That program now tests water quality in about 200 lakes across the seven-county metro area. The council works with about 35 local partners – cities, counties and watershed districts — to recruit, train and supervise volunteers.

The local partners provide the equipment and pay for laboratory analysis. The volunteers conduct Secchi readings and collect samples in a monitoring procedure that is similar to the Pollution Control Agency’s advanced monitoring.

The Met Council posts the test results in its electronic Environmental Management System, and the lakes are graded each year – A through F – based on their average readings for clarity and phosphorus and chlorophyll content.

Volunteers also do extensive environmental monitoring in wetlands in two metro counties: Dakota and Hennepin. Participating cities in the two counties pay the cost of the monitoring, and the MPCA provides training.

That project, called the Wetland Health Evaluation Program, sends volunteers into wetlands in June and July.

In June, the volunteers, working in teams of five to 20 people, set bottle traps and use dip nets to capture macro-invertebrate organisms such as dragonflies, mayflies, leeches, snails and beetles. They classify, inventory and record the populations they find.

In July, the volunteers re-visit the wetlands, mark off 100-square-meter plots and inventory the plant species there.

All the data on the invertebrates and the plants are converted into two indices of biological integrity. Each wetland that is monitored is rated on a three-point scale – poor, moderate, excellent – for both macro-invertebrates and vegetation.

In Dakota County, about 120 volunteers monitored 32 wetlands last year. In Hennepin, about 80 volunteers monitored 32 wetlands.

Helen Goeden of Apple Valley and her husband, Colin Brownlow, and their children have been volunteering in the program since about 2000. Goeden estimated she spent about 25 hours, spread across seven or eight evenings, working in the program last summer.

Goeden, a Minnesota Health Department research scientist who spends her working hours developing standards for ground water purity, said she chooses to devote part of her free time to the wetlands monitoring because it allows her to share her passion for the environment with her kids and because she thinks all types of water are under-appreciated.

“People treat water like it’s free, but it’s probably the most precious resource we have,” she said.

  • The MPCA’s Citizen Lake Monitoring Program has volunteers testing clarity on about one-tenth of Minnesota’s lakes. The program particularly needs volunteers who live in northern Minnesota or regularly visit cabins there. The program also seeks canoeists heading to the Boundary Waters. The MPCA has information and an application on its web site at:www.pca.state.mn.us/water/clmp.html.  Email the program coordinator at clmp@pca.state.mn.us or call 800-657-3864.
  • You may be able to join one of the organizations, such as watershed districts and lake associations, receiving grants from the MPCA to monitor lakes and streams. Email Ron Schwartz at ronald.schwartz@state.mn.us or call 651-757-2708. Or you can contact Courtney Kowalczak at Minnesota Waters. Email courtneyk@minnesotawaters.org or call 218-343-2180.
  • If you live in the Twin Cities, you may be able to join one of the monitoring programs run by cities and watershed districts in partnership with the Metropolitan Council. Participation is limited by the budgets of the partners. Contact Brian Johnson at brian.johnson@metc.state.mn.us or call 651-602-8743.
  • There are many other water monitoring programs that use student and adult volunteers. A partial list, with links to some of the programs, is part of an MPCA report to the Legislature. The report, available on the MPCA web site, is titled “Citizen Monitoring of Surface Water Quality.”

MPCA proposes water-quality standards

March 25, 2009

Every three years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires states to review, update and — in many cases — strengthen their water-quality standards. Minnesota is in the middle of one of those reviews, and, for the first time, regulators are proposing setting a standard for phosphorus – a common pollutant that feeds algae growth – in rivers and streams.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also is considering toughening its standard for nitrate in rivers and lakes by weighing, not just the pollutant’s impact on human health, but also its effect on fish and other organisms in the water. The agency is considering measuring turbidity in a new way and establishing a new standard for a chemical compound — nonylphenol – that is formed from chemicals once widely used in industrial detergents and pesticides and in the production of paper. The compound is banned in Europe, and the EPA is working to phase out its use in the U.S.

The MPCA has announced its intent to set or upgrade the standards for phosphorus, nitrate and nonylphenol, but numerical limits have not been made public. Once the limits are proposed, probably by late spring, citizens will have until fall to informally comment on them. The changes will be subject to a hearing before an administrative law judge next year.

The Freshwater Society interviewed Mark Tomasek, a supervisor in the agency’s water quality standards unit, about the rule changes. To read the question-and-answer interview from the Facets newsletter, go to the Freshwater Society web site or click here.

‘Water wars,’ bottled water and robo-carp

March 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.

Specter of ‘water wars’ may be overblown
The United Nations warned recently that climate change harbours the potential for serious conflicts over water. In its World Water Development Report of March 2009, it quotes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noting the risk of water scarcity “transforming peaceful competition into violence”. It is statements such as this that gave birth to popular notions of ‘water wars’. It is time we dispelled this myth. Countries do not go to war over water, they solve their water shortages through trade and international agreements.

Cooperation, in fact, is the dominant response to shared water resources. There are 263 cross-boundary waterways in the world. Between 1948 and 1999, cooperation over water, including the signing of treaties, far outweighed conflict over water and violent conflict in particular. Of 1,831 instances of interactions over international freshwater resources tallied over that time period (including everything from unofficial verbal exchanges to economic agreements or military action), 67% were cooperative, only 28% were conflictive, and the remaining 5% were neutral or insignificant. In those five decades, there were no formal declarations of war over water.
–Nature

Florida considers charging water bottlers
Each day more than five million gallons of spring water is bottled in Florida, and companies pay almost nothing for local water permits. Florida is considering joining other states that have imposed “severance fees” on commercially bottled spring water. It would charge six cents for every gallon taken from springs or aquifers.
–National Public Radio

U.S. toxic chemical releases down slightly
The release of toxic chemicals to the air and water decreased across the country in 2007, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Releases to the air decreased 7 percent, and releases to water declined 5 percent, according to a report issued by the agency.

The report shows increases in the releases of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals like lead, dioxin, mercury and PCBs. Overall PBTs releases increased 1 percent. The increases were primarily due to a handful of facilities, and most of the releases reported were not to the air or water.

Total disposal or other releases of mercury increased 38 percent, but air emissions of mercury were down 3 percent. The majority of mercury releases were reported by the mining industry.

State-by-state data on facilities and releases to air, land and water can be found by accessing the EPA’s state fact sheet by clicking here.

Additional information on releases on zip code, county and facility can be found using the TRI explorer, accessible here.
–U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Major bird populations decline
Several major bird populations have plummeted over the past four decades across the United States as development transformed the nation’s landscape, according to a comprehensive survey released by the Interior Department and outside experts, but conservation efforts have staved off potential extinctions of others.

“The State of the Birds” report, a broad analysis of data compiled from scientific and citizen surveys over 40 years, shows that some species have made significant gains even as others have suffered. Hunted waterfowl and iconic species such as the bald eagle have expanded in number, the report said, while populations of birds along the nation’s coasts and in its arid areas and grasslands have declined sharply.
–The Washington Post

Invasives rules sought for Lake Minnetonka
The Lake Minnetonka Association is calling for emergency boat launch rules for the coming season to prevent the spread of zebra mussels into the lake.

An exploding population of zebra mussels in Lake Mille Lacs warrants emergency action to protect Lake Minnetonka, the association says. It wants to require that all boats be clean and dry, inside and out, before they enter the lake.

The lakeshore owners group is pushing the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which manages lake issues for the 14 cities ringing the lake, to adopt these ramp rules and step up efforts to protect the lake from invasive species. It is also asking the cities to work on the problem as well.
–Star Tribune

Caribbean fish populations down
Populations of both large and small fish have been declining sharply across the Caribbean in the past 10 years, say researchers, who combined data from 48 studies of 318 coral reefs conducted over more than 50 years.

The data show that fish “densities” that had held steady for decades began to drop significantly around 1995, a trend not reported previously. Although overfishing has long taken a toll on larger species, the drop in smaller species that are not fished indicates that other forces are at work, said author Michelle Paddack of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Drastic losses in coral cover and changes in coral reef habitats, driven by warming water temperatures and coral diseases, as well as sediment and pollution from coastal development could be among the factors.
–The Washington Post

Robotic carp developed to fight pollution
Robotic fish, developed by UK scientists, are to be released into the sea for the first time to detect pollution.
The carp-shaped robots will be let loose in the port of Gijon in northern Spain as part of a three-year research project.

If successful, the team hopes that the fish will used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world, including Britain, to detect pollution.

The life-like creatures, which will mimic the undulating movement of real fish, will be equipped with tiny chemical sensors to find the source of potentially hazardous pollutants in the water, such as leaks from vessels in the port or underwater pipelines.

The fish will then transmit their data through Wi-Fi technology when they dock to charge their batteries with last around eight hours.
–The Telegraph

EPA sponsors video contest
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is sponsoring a contest for the production of educational videos that will inspire people to help protect streams, lakes, wetlands, and coasts.

Two winners will each receive $2,500 and their videos will be featured on EPA’s Web site. The deadline for entry is Earth Day, April 29.

The contest has two categories: 30- or 60-second videos usable as a television public service announcement, and 1- to 3-minute instructional videos.

For information, go to contest rules on the EPA web site by clicking here.
–U.S. EPA web site

Dubuque museum works to save amphibians
Out of sight and tucked away under lock and key in the basement of the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, the tiny toads hopping about in climate controlled captivity might not seem sexy.

But when Lee Jackson, Abby Urban and Jerry Enzler begin to talk about their little guests, passion is just around the corner.

It’s a passion for preservation of the Wyoming toad, one of the four most endangered amphibian species in the United States, Urban points out. And one-tenth of the Wyoming toads in captivity are in her care.
–The Dubuque Telegraph Herald

European water use not sustainable, report says
European environmental officials warned that the continent does not have enough water to sustain current consumption levels.

The European Environment Agency issued a report that concluded the problem now applies to northern Europe as well as the south and cannot be addressed by expanding supplies alone.

“The short-term solution to water scarcity has been to extract ever greater amounts of water from our surface and groundwater assets,” said agency director Jacqueline McGlade. “Overexploitation is not sustainable.”
–United Press International

World water supply, invasive weeds and PFCs

March 16, 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.

UN report: World’s water in peril
Surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, according to a landmark UN report.

Compiled by 24 UN agencies, the 348-page document gave a grim assessment of the state of the planet’s freshwater, especially in developing countries, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying.
–AFP news service

Judge narrows PFC lawsuit against 3M
An enormous lawsuit over water is getting smaller.
In a ruling, a judge limited a lawsuit charging that chemicals manufactured by the 3M Co. polluted water and hurt Washington County homeowners.

Washington County District Judge Mary Hannon ruled the chemicals — PFCs, or perfluorochemicals — found in drinking water cannot legally be considered a “nuisance.” She said the term defines something that impairs the use or enjoyment of someone’s property and that homeowners’ inconveniences, such as having to buy a $30 filtration system, were relatively minor.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin considers state rules on ballast water
Wisconsin is poised to become the next Great Lakes state with its own rules for ballast water in ships, and critics say it could kill the overseas shipping business.

Ballast water is blamed for carrying harmful plants or animals from overseas into the Great Lakes. Minnesota and Michigan recently adopted ballast permit regulations. But some worry that Wisconsin’s new proposal is too tough.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Wisconsin DNR fights manure pollution
Steve Haak and the Sugar River go way back.

Now 46, Haak was only 8 when he caught his first fish from the river where it ran near the family’s farm south of Paoli. He was with his grandfather and caught the 18-inch brown trout on a cane pole.

“From then on, I was pretty much hooked,” said Haak, who now farms just down the road from the farm on which he grew up.
–Wisconsin State Journal

Lake or wetlands: Which will get the mine waste?
Sitting like a turquoise gem in a bowl of hemlock, Sitka spruce and ice, Berners Bay has long been a jewel of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Berners Bay also has become one of the epicenters of a new Alaska gold rush. High in the snowy peaks at the top of the bay, miners struck an estimated 1.4 million ounces of gold — a prize that is looking better every day as investors flee the stock market.
–Los Angeles Times

Invasive weed seeds found in Baltimore harbor
An inspection aboard a Turkish freighter at one of the city’s ports by agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency revealed the presence of cogon grass weed seed, an invasive seed from Asia that quickly spreads and disrupts ecosystems, reduces wildlife habitat and decreases tree seeding growth, said a spokesman for the agency.

Steve Sapp, the spokesman, said the pest-like seed, known as Red Baron grass after the World War I German fighter ace, was found during a routine inspection littered among wood packing in a container of tile from Turkey. Sapp said the seed is considered one of the 10 worst invasive plant species in the world and is listed as a federal noxious weed.
–The Baltimore Sun

Cost, politics complicate water’s future
Anyone who has visited Disneyland recently and taken a sip from a drinking fountain there may have unknowingly sampled a taste of the future — a small quantity of water that once flowed through a sewer.

Orange County Water District officials say that’s a good thing — the result of a successful, year-old project to purify wastewater and pump it into the ground to help restore depleted aquifers that provide most of the local water supply.
–Reuters

Natural resource spending up in Obama budget
After years of flat or declining funding, natural resource agencies expect to see a significant boost in the 2010 budget along with a leftward shift in policies and priorities.

Beyond the increased funds for many Interior Department agencies, the budget proposal as President Obama has outlined thus far focuses on acquiring more public land, addressing climate change issues and raising fees on the oil and gas industry.
–The New York Times

Texas groundwater districts controversial
For Parker County resident Kathy Chruscielski, moving to the
country a decade ago seemed like the best of both worlds. She fell in love with the scenic rolling hills of Remuda Ranch Estates, a few miles west of the Tarrant County line.

“We have these beautiful hills, yet we can be in Fort Worth within a matter of minutes,” Chruscielski said. “It’s like having one foot in the country and one in the city.”

She learned that it has its downside.

In January 2002, Chruscielski was forced to drill a new well after her old one went dry.

“They told us when we bought this place that groundwater levels had remained the same for the last 40 years,” Chruscielski said with a rueful laugh. “Then I learned differently.”
–Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Climate change pushes search for water in the West
It’s hard to visualize a water crisis while driving the lush boulevards of Los Angeles, golfing Arizona’s green fairways or watching dancing Las Vegas fountains leap more than 20 stories high.

So look Down Under. A decade into its worst drought in a hundred years Australia is a lesson of what the American West could become.
–Reuters

EPA plans greenhouse gas registry
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to establish a nationwide system for reporting greenhouse gas emissions, a program that could serve as the basis for a federal cap on the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming.

The registry plan would cover about 13,000 facilities that account for 85 to 90 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas output. It was drafted under the Bush administration but stalled after the Office of Management and Budget objected to it because the EPA based the rule on its powers under the Clean Air Act.
–The Washington Post

Many think media exaggerate climate change
More Americans are skeptical about the seriousness of global warming than ever before, according to a survey released by the Gallup organization.

A record 41 percent now say news coverage of global warming is exaggerated, while 57 percent say coverage is generally on the mark or underestimated. As recently as 2006, Gallup found that 30 percent viewed news coverage of global warming as exaggerated vs. 66 who did not.
–Star Tribune

IBM wants to help manage water
IBM Corp. wants to get really deep into water.

The technology company is launching a new line of water services, hoping to tap a new sales vein by taking the manual labor out of fighting pollution and managing water supplies. IBM says the overall water-management services market could be worth $20 billion in five years.
–The Associated Press

Transmission line gets mixed reviews
The Great Plains have been called “the Saudi Arabia of wind energy.” But because the windiest areas tend to be sparsely populated, much of that wind power might go unused without a way to move the energy to where the people are.

Now a Michigan company is proposing to build a 765-kilovolt transmission line called “The Green Power Express” from the gusty Dakotas through Minnesota to Chicago. The 3,000-mile project, which is estimated to cost $10 billion to $12 billion, could be among the first of a new generation of energy superhighways that help the Midwest feed the nation’s appetite for renewable energy.
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

Chicago pushes homeowners to accept water meters
Some Chicagoans with homes built before the mid-1970s could get city water meters installed free with a guarantee their bills won’t rise beyond regular rate increases for seven years.

The offer was approved by a City Council committee as part of a $15 million test program called MeterSave.
–The Chicago Tribune

Suffolk County, NY, fights nitrate pollution
More than 300 landscapers crammed into a stuffy lower-level room at the Holiday Inn here recently, listening to the whys and wherefores of the new laws for keeping lawns green in Suffolk County while minimizing nitrogen pollution.

Suffolk, which has a long history of environmental regulation, is laying down the law as never before about nitrogen, a principal ingredient in the lawn fertilizers used by landscapers and homeowners but also a worsening threat to groundwater.
–The New York Times

Invasives drill may cause Superior harbor to blush
A shipping company and the National Park Service are getting together to find an effective way to kill invasive species in a ship’s ballast tanks under emergency conditions. As ships can run aground or have accidents, the question is how to best handle a high-risk ship from a high-risk port that might be carrying invasive species.

The experiment may leave the Superior Harbor a bit on the pink side. The plan is to inject a red dye into six ballast tanks in an American Steamship Company vessel in a lower Great Lakes port. Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green says they’ll use harmless rhodamine dye instead of chemicals designed to sterilize ballast tanks.
–Wisconsin Public Radio/Superior Telegram

Acidification of oceans affects tiny organisms
There’s now a good piece of direct evidence that the increasing acidification of the oceans, brought on by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is affecting the ability of small marine organisms to create shells.

The evidence comes from foraminifera, crunchy plankton that float by the untold billions in the ocean.
–The New York Times

EPA reviewing ethanol and climate change
For years, ethanol has been touted as a solution to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But the EPA is looking at whether ethanol lives up to that reputation.

If the agency decides against ethanol, the ruling could have a major impact on tens of thousands of people in rural Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA sued over phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set more protective pollution standards for Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries.

The suit, filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Save Our Creeks, Inc., argues that nutrient pollution in the lake has caused toxic algae blooms, which can contaminate drinking water supplies and sicken people and animals.
–Environment News Service

Kinder, gentler wildlife biologists
You may remember Senator John McCain’s criticism of a study of grizzly bear DNA as wasteful spending. And you may have wondered how the scientists got the DNA from the grizzlies.

The answer is hair. The study, which Mr. McCain referred to during his run for president, was a large one, and it provided an estimate of the population of threatened grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, in and around Glacier National Park.
–The New York Times

Court sides with Colorado on fees in water suit
The Supreme Court has rejected claims by Kansas that it is owed $9 million in legal fees from Colorado over their century-long dispute over water rights to the Arkansas River.

In an opinion, the court is upholding a ruling by a special master appointed to oversee the case that the fees for expert witnesses should be about $163,000, not the $9 million sought by Kansas.
–The Associated Press

Phenology, tap water ads and lynx

March 9, 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.

Volunteers sought for phenology survey
Volunteers across the nation are being recruited to get outdoors and help track the effects of climate on seasonal changes in plant and animal behavior.

The USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), a consortium of government, academic and citizen-scientists, is launching a new national program built on volunteer observations of flowering, fruiting and other seasonal events. Scientists and resource managers will use these observations to track effects of climate change on the Earth’s life-support systems.

“This program is designed for people interested in participating in climate change science, not just reading about it,” said USA-NPN Executive Director and U.S. Geological Survey scientist Jake Weltzin. “We encourage everyone to visit the USA National Phenology Network Web site and then go outside and observe the marvelous cycles of plant and animal life.”
–U.S. Geological Survey

Tap water advertising campaign expands
A project that originated at a boutique ad agency to help UNICEF deliver clean drinking water to children in developing countries is expanding in its third year as more firms join to support the cause.

The Tap Project, as the initiative is called, is adding cities and sponsors and is going bilingual with ads in Spanish as well as English. It takes place this year during World Water Week, which begins on March 22.
–The New York Times

Forest owners hope to cash in on carbon sequestration
The north woods of Minnesota hold one key to fending off the effects of global climate change. The trees, the soil, and the humus on the forest floor all store carbon. Some land owners think there may eventually be a profit to be made from that carbon storage.
–Minnesota Public Radio

U.S. to revise policy on lynx habitat
Soon some immigrants will find life easier in Minnesota and the rest of the United States: A proposed change in the management of land roamed by the Canada lynx would broaden protections for the big cat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised its critical habitat designation for the lynx, which has been the subject of controversy and court actions in the last few years. The proposal preceded an announcement Tuesday by President Obama to resume full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants.
–Minnpost.com

EPA plans new rules on coal ash retention ponds
The Obama administration will propose new regulations governing coal combustion waste by the end of the year, and will act immediately to prevent accidents like the release in December of more than a billion gallons of coal ash that smothered 300 acres in eastern Tennessee and choked nearby waterways, a senior Environmental Protection Agency official said.

The spill, at the Kingston Fossil Plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority near Knoxville, brought renewed attention to the agency’s failure to live up to a promise in 2000 to issue regulations for coal ash, which contains toxins like arsenic, lead and mercury.
–The New York Times

DNR merger protested
When the Department of Natural Resources announced that it was merging its divisions of Ecological Resources and Waters into a single division, it might not have anticipated much reaction.

After all, those divisions generally aren’t nearly as visible as the Fish and Wildlife Division. But Jeff Broberg noticed.
–Star Tribune

Grassroots Japanese protest opposes river dam
First, the farmers objected to an ambitious dam project proposed by the government, saying they did not need irrigation water from the reservoir. Then the commercial fishermen complained that fish would disappear if the Kawabe River’s twisting torrents were blocked. Environmentalists worried about losing the river’s scenic gorges. Soon, half of this city’s 34,000 residents had signed a petition opposing the $3.6 billion project.
–The New York Times

The Apostle Islands: Coming to a coin near you?
Wisconsin has nominated the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore to appear in a new series of quarters depicting national parks.

The U.S. Mint plans to begin issuing quarters in the series starting next year. The quarters will roll out over 11 years.
–The Associated Press

Florida water woes worsen
The latest report from the Southwest Florida Water Management District shows aquifer levels are continuing to fall.

According to the district’s March 6 Aquifer Resource Weekly Update, the central aquifer, which is a water source for the Tampa Bay region, is down to a negative 1.69 feet. Last week, the aquifer was at negative 1.65 feet. The normal range is between 0 and 6 feet.
–Tampa Bay Newspapers

California farming town prepares for drought Armageddon
Shawn Coburn is barreling down a country road in his white Ford F-150 pickup, talking about how California’s water crisis darkly reminds him of a scene from a movie aptly named “Armageddon.”

“Billy Bob Thornton tells Bruce Willis that a huge asteroid is approaching Earth,” says Coburn, 40. “Willis asks Thornton who will get hurt, and Thornton tells him that he just doesn’t get it — that everyone will be dead, that the game is over.”

The disaster coming this spring and summer is no movie, and nothing menacing is falling from the sky.
–San Jose Mercury News

Sacramento considers selling wastewater
Californians have grown accustomed to digesting odd ideas that routinely flow out of Sacramento, many of them not so palatable.

But are they ready for this one?

Last week, amid a third year of a statewide drought, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District adopted a strategy to sell treated sewage as drinking water. The buyer would hypothetically partner with the district to recycle wastewater from the capital-area’s 1.4 million people into a new municipal water source.
–The Sacramento Bee

Wisconsin to track golden eagles
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning to strap small GPS units on golden eagles over the next three years to see where the birds go when they migrate from western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota.

The golden eagle is mostly a western bird and is plentiful from the Dakotas west to the Pacific Ocean. The national bird of Mexico, it also lives in northern Ontario, where it’s listed as a species of concern.
–The Associated Press

Chicago ponders water supply constraints
As Chicago’s population grows its water supply must too, but with overworked aquifers and legal constraints, local officials are looking for solutions.

“Even in this region, water resources are not infinite, they are finite,” said Daniel Injerd, chief of Lake Michigan management for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
–Medill Reports

Oregon experiments with conservation credits
Three years ago, Oregon looked ready to re-invent conservation banking. Instead of establishing separate banks to offset wetland damage and other habitat loss caused by transportation construction, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) was going to roll it all into one package.

On this web site Bill Warncke, ODOT’s Mitigation and Conservation Program Coordinator, laid out an innovative approach that would address multiple resources simultaneously – including wetlands, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and endangered species.

Just months later, however, the plan was shelved.
–EcosystemMarketplace

Idaho fish farm squeezed out irrigators
The head of the Idaho Department of Water Resources has ordered hundreds of groundwater users in south-central Idaho to stop pumping, saying that a fish farm has first dibs on the limited resource.

The curtailment order came from David Tuthill. It is intended to ensure that Clear Springs Foods, a fish farm near Hagerman, has access to the water it needs to maintain the farm. Idaho law distributes water rights on a first-come, first-served basis, and the fish farm has an older, or senior, water right compared to the 865 junior water rights held by the roughly 430 people affected by the curtailment.
–The Associated Press

Chicago promises water conservation

March 5, 2009

John Oldfield, who blogs at BloggingOnWater, has an interesting piece on Chicago’s Olympics bid and the city’s promise to make water conservation part of the international sports competition. The bid promises to conserve water in the Olympic Village, initiate some sort of global effort to bring clean water to communities that lack it and to work with the Chicago Climate Exchange to create financial incentives for conservation. Oldfield writes:

I was just digging through the recently-submitted Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympics and found some very encouraging language on global water:

“Chicago will partner with the Olympic Movement to help address the worldwide fresh water crisis. Chicago 2016’s concept of the Blue-Green Games, which refers to the blue of the fresh water lake and the green of the city’s expansive parklands, features a portfolio of environmental initiatives. These efforts will provide access to fresh water, resources and technology to regions of the world in need, thus making sport more accessible to all.”

Water Positive

“Chicago 2016 intends to create a positive impact on water resources during the Blue-Green Games and will achieve this objective through three main strategies. First, although Chicago is not located in a region where water is a scarce resource, water conservation at all levels is immensely important. CHICOG will reduce the amount of water used in the Village and venues by 20 percent. The plan will focus on storm water collection and reuse and the application of best practices for water management and conservation at venues and the Village.

Second, CHICOG, in conjunction with the Chicago Climate Exchange, will pursue the creation of an innovative Water Markets program to advance water sustainability issues and economic incentives for conservation.

Third, and most ambitious, CHICOG will develop an innovative Water positive program, a global water access initiative to bring clean water to developing communities around the world. In conjunction with NGOs and NOCs, this new program will bring opportunities for the greater pursuit of sport in developing countries and will become a legacy of the Chicago 2016 Games.

Freshwater on YouTube

March 2, 2009

The Freshwater Society, in addition to our homepage (www.freshwater.org), has a YouTube channel, and we’ve just uploaded another video, “Water is Life,” a seven minute discussion of both ground and surface water in Minnesota. You can watch the video below, but please also check out the YouTube page (www.youtube.com/user/FreshwaterSociety) and let us know what you think!