Archive for April, 2009

‘Lake Minnetonka’s Future’ to be aired

April 27, 2009

“Lake Minnetonka’s Future,” a public television documentary produced in 2003-04 with assistance from the Freshwater Society, will be re-broadcast at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 30, on public television stations throughout Minnesota.

The program examines the relationship between water quality and phosphorus fertilizers and water running into the lake from homes. The 30-minute broadcast will be shown on the digital MN Channel operated by all the public stations.

Declining aquifers, superfund sites and dust storms

April 27, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

Superfund program chronically underfunded
The Superfund program to clean up the nation’s most contaminated industrial sites was established nearly 30 years ago on the principle that those responsible for toxic pollution should pay for it.

So why is the government spending $600 million in stimulus money to work on sites like the defunct arsenic-fouled Vineland Chemical Company plant here in South Jersey?
–The New York Times

Wisconsin plans tough rules on invasives
Wisconsin officials advanced a major package of regulations designed to control the movement of invasive plants, fish and animals.

The Natural Resources Board voted, 7-0, on rules designed to fight non-native invaders that pose environmental and economic peril.

After the vote, the Department of Natural Resources said the measure – five years in the making – represents the first time a state has developed a comprehensive rule to fight the spread of invasive species.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Democrats debate softer climate rule
House Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are negotiating among themselves on whether to scale back legislation that would impose a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases, with some conservatives and moderates calling for electric utilities to be given free pollution allowances and for more modest cuts in the targets for reducing emissions.
–The Washington Post

Dust storms increase in the West
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains at 9,300 feet, and surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks, Silverton, Colo., seems an unlikely place for a dust storm, especially with two feet of snow on the ground. So Chris Landry was alarmed on the afternoon of April 3 when he spotted a brown haze on the horizon; an hour later, a howling wind had engulfed the town in a full-fledged dust storm, turning everything from the sky to the snow a rusty red.

“It was almost surreal,” recalled Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. The landscape looked like Mars after the storm passed, he said: “You could feel the dust, you could taste the dust.”
–The Washington Post

Louisiana aquifer steadily declining
Some areas in north Louisiana have lost one-third of their drinking water supplied exclusively by the Sparta aquifer.

For nearly 50 years, water levels in the Sparta aquifer have been declining by about two feet per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sixteen parishes in north Louisiana depend either entirely or partially on the Sparta aquifer for their potable water, but the groundwater source is being used faster than it can be replenished.
–Shreveport Times

Energy tax credit gives billions to paper companies
Paper companies in Minnesota and across the nation have figured out how to make billions off of an alternative energy tax credit that Congress devised two years ago. Their answer: burn diesel.

This rather paradoxical twist has already ignited a debate between the paper industry and environmental groups and lawmakers on both sides of the argument in what some industry watchers and analysts are claiming is a presage of fights to come as Congress tries to detail new climate and energy legislation this session.

Research questions sustainability of Colorado River uses
The Colorado River is a critical source of water for seven Western states, each of which gets an annual allotment according to a system that has sparked conflict and controversy for decades. But in an era of climate change, even greater difficulties loom.

The scope of those potential problems is detailed in a study being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Tim P. Barnett and David W. Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography report that under various forecasts of the effects of warming temperatures on runoff into the Colorado, scheduled future water deliveries to the seven states are not sustainable.
–The New York Times

Gas drillers must account for water use, court rules
Energy companies drilling natural gas from underground coal seams must obtain water well permits or replace the water they use if other water supplies are affected, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.

Groundwater pumped out during coal-bed methane drilling is not just a waste product, the court said, ruling on a lawsuit by landowners who say their water supplies are threatened by companies using groundwater to free natural gas in coal seams.
–The Associated Press

Illinois investigation of tainted water begun
Gov. Pat Quinn is demanding answers from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about why residents of south suburban Crestwood weren’t notified that the village had pumped drinking water contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals for more than two decades.

In response to a Tribune investigation that revealed the village’s secret use of a polluted well, Quinn directed his senior staff to conduct a thorough review of the EPA’s actions in Crestwood. Among other things, the governor wants to know why the agency didn’t invoke a 2005 law requiring the state to issue a notification when residents could be exposed to soil or groundwater pollution.
–The Chicago Tribune

California begins $4 million conservation effort
Californians should take shorter showers, wash only full loads of laundry and use a broom instead of a hose to clean their driveways.

Those are some of the steps the state is promoting as part of a $4 million statewide public education campaign.
–The Associated Press

EPA to stiffen reporting requirements
The federal government will once again require companies to fully disclose the toxic chemicals they release into the air, onto land and into water.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it was reversing a decision by the Bush administration in 2006 that reduced reporting of toxic pollution for more than 3,500 facilities nationwide.
–The Associated Press

You’re reading this. Tell us what you think.

April 23, 2009

Since about Jan. 1, the Freshwater Society has been publishing, as a blog, a weekly digest of a dozen or so news articles about water and the environment. The digest also is published on our web site.

The articles have covered a lot of subjects. One of the first digests included a link to a New York Times article about a tsnunami washing over Manhatten. It wasn’t an April Fool’s Day spoof. It was about new research indicating a tsnunami may have – it’s not certain – struck the area that now is New York 2,300 years ago.

More recent blog postings have had links to articles on President Bush’s designation of a huge marine reserve near the Mariana Islands, the evolving activism of President Obama’s appointees to the Environmental Protection Agency, the likely toll on ground water of Canadian efforts to extract oil from tar sands and Michigan State research on synthetic pheromones that trick spawning sea lampreys.

There has been some news items that seemed counter-intuitive: Research indicating that the global extinction crisis may not be as bad as it has been portrayed, and other research suggesting that, at least temporarily, fish off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast are benefiting from nutrient-laden runoff.

From Minnesota, the blog has linked to accounts of a Blackduck man being fined for filling wetlands, a judge’s rulings in a ground water pollution suit against 3M, University of Minnesota research on corn-based ethanol, low water in White Bear Lake and the discovery of zebra mussels in Prior Lake.

Proving that one should never underestimate the impact of wagering, some of the highest traffic on the blog came in recent weeks as lots of Lake Minnetonka-area residents were waiting for news that the ice was out.

Sometimes the blog has succeeded in doing more than rounding up the usual sources. We’ve had lots of links to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Minnesota Public Radio. But we also posted news from the U.S. Geological Survey’s web site, Scientific American, the PR News Wire, the San Jose Mercury News, the Nation, the Annapolis Capital, Medill Reports, the Eden Prairie News and the UW-River Falls Student Voice.

Now it is your turn. Please take time to tell us how you use these weekly digests.

We want to know:

n Do you read them regularly?

n Do you use the RSS feature to access the digests?

n Do you follow the links? How often?

n Do the digests help you find articles you would not otherwise encounter?

n Most of all, how can we make the blog better and more useful?

You can respond directly to this blog. Or you can email Patrick Sweeney – psweeney(at)

Greenhouse gases; drugs in the water

April 20, 2009


Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

EPA designates greenhouse gases as pollutants
The Environmental Protection Agency formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.

The E.P.A. said the science supporting the proposed endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling initiates a 60-day comment period before any proposals for regulations governing emissions of heat-trapping gases are published.
–The New York Times

Tons of drugs released into U.S. waters
U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water , according to an Associated Press investigation.

Hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients are used in a variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking. For example, lithium is used to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder. Nitroglycerin is a heart drug and is also used in explosives. Copper shows up in pipes and contraceptives.
–The Associated Press

Lake Vermilion state park in jeopardy
In 2007, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced his initiative to buy 2,500 acres of land along Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota. At the time, he said securing the land would make the park one of the nicest parks in the nation.

“We hope through this proposal that we’ll be able to give everyone in Minnesota and up at the lake or up north experience through this next state park,” Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty expressed confidence that the state would purchase the land from owner U.S. Steel, saying at one point that the deal won’t fall apart.

But now, Pawlenty appears to have all but given up on the park.
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA demands endocrine tests on pesticides
The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals’ and humans’ growth, metabolism and reproduction, the agency said.

Researchers have raised concerns that chemicals released into the environment interfere with animals’ hormone systems, citing problems such as male fish in the Potomac River that are bearing eggs. Known as endocrine disruptors, the chemicals may affect the hormones that humans and animals produce or secrete.
–The Washington Post

UM report documents ethanol’s water use
While recycling and other advancements have reduced water use in Minnesota’s corn-ethanol plants by a third of the levels of just a few years ago, increased reliance on irrigated corn has pushed water consumption to alarming levels in the desert Southwest and parts of California.

A University of Minnesota report notes that Minnesota’s 17 ethanol plants currently average about 3.5 gallons of water for each gallon of ethanol produced. This is down from about 10 gallons per gallon of ethanol just a decade earlier.

However, over-all water consumption rates rise quickly when ethanol is produced from corn that is irrigated, as it is on 207,000 acres in Minnesota or 3 percent of the state’s 7.8 million acres planted to corn.

Lawmakers target Mississippi River management plan
The Mississippi River Critical Area Program guides development along a 72-mile stretch of the river through the Twin Cities metropolitan area, striving to balance environmental protection with local land-use preferences.

But some interests argue that the three-decade-old executive order needs an update.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Prior Lake mussel discovery spurs Minnetonka inspections
Lake Minnetonka boaters will feel new pressure this year to guard against spreading exotic water life following the recent discovery of zebra mussels in Prior Lake — the first metro-area lake to be infested by the unwanted shell creatures.

Officials plan a 30 percent increase in inspections of boats to look for ride-along aquatic life at public boat launches on Lake Minnetonka.
–The Star Tribune

Idaho requires fee to fight invasives
Under a new Idaho law, all motorized and non-motorized watercraft more than 10 feet long will be required to display an Idaho Invasive Species Fund sticker. They are expected to be available by the end of April.

The sticker prices are $10 for motorized boats registered in Idaho, $20 for other motorized vessels, and $5 for a nonmotorized vessel. Discounts for nonmotorized commercial fleets are available.
–The Idaho Statesman

Los Angeles raises water rates to spur conservation
Los Angeles businesses, landlords and residents will pay more for water starting June 1 if they don’t cut back at least 15 percent on usage under a plan approved by the Los Angeles City Council.

The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power plan is aimed at sending water customers price incentives to encourage conservation.

The region is in the midst of a three-year drought, exacerbated by dwindling water allocations from the DWP’s Owens Valley aqueduct, the State Water Project and the Colorado River. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region’s wholesale water supplier, announced it was cutting its allocations by about 10 percent, effective July 1.
–Los Angeles Business Journal

Bird deaths may result from salmonella, DNR says
Minnesota residents have found an increasing number of dead birds at feeders over the last couple of weeks. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a strain of salmonella may be to blame.

The bacteria that causes heavy mortality in birds is transmitted through the bird’s droppings.  The largest mortality seems to be in red polls and pine siskins. Two red polls that died recently in northern Minnesota were sent to the DNR pathology lab and tested positive for salmonella.
–Minnesota DNR

China faces water crisis
Over the past year getting clean water has been a struggle for many in China. In February one of the most severe droughts to hit China in a half-century affected some 5 million people and 2.5 million livestock in the provinces of Hebei and Henan, near Beijing. Farther south in Yancheng, Jiangsu, 300 kilometers from Shanghai, more than 200,000 people were cut off from clean water for three days when a chemical factory dumped carbolic acid into a river. Just before the Olympics last June, the coastal city of Qingdao, site of the sailing events, saw an explosion of algae in nearby waters that may have been caused by pollution.

High Plains Aquifer down 9% since pumping began
The High Plains Aquifer, the sea of fresh water under the Great Plains, is about 9 percent smaller since irrigators and cities started tapping it in about 1950, according to a new report.

The total amount of drainable water in the aquifer in 2007 was about 2.9 billion acre-feet, a decline of about 270 million acre-feet since before development, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a report .

An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the volume of water that would cover one acre to a depth of 1 foot.
–The Omaha World-Herald

Florida suit seeks to force EPA water quality review
An environmental group has filed a lawsuit accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of letting Florida flout federal clean water requirements.

Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, said Monday the group is seeking a court order for EPA to conduct an independent review of a state list of water bodies and decide which ones need stricter pollution limits.
–The Associated Press

Ag groups seek to overturn pesticide ruling
Twenty-two agricultural organizations asked that the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rehear a landmark pesticide case, even as the Environmental Protection Agency, a party to the case, declined to do so. A January opinion on National Cotton Council of America v U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from a three-judge panel was the first U.S. court ruling that pesticide discharge is a point source of pollution subject to additional regulation and permitting under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The agriculture groups submitted their request in a friend of the court brief, arguing the decision ignored the definition in CWA of “point source” and that point sources are regulated only where they convey pollutants to navigable waters, not where they convey things that may at some later point result in water pollution.
–Wisconsin AgConnection

Dairy industry seeks to cut cows’ greenhouse gases
The U.S. dairy industry wants to engineer the “cow of the future” to pass less gas, a project aimed at cutting the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, industry leaders said.

The cow project aims to reduce intestinal methane, the single largest component of the dairy industry’s carbon footprint, said Thomas P. Gallagher, chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management Inc.’s Innovation Center in Rosemont, Ill.
–The Associated Press

It’s official. Lake Minnetonka ice-out declared

April 14, 2009

Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was declared at 6:42 p.m. Monday, April 13. See the Freshwater Society web site for a calendar of previous ice-out dates.

Ice-out update

April 13, 2009

No ice-out date for Lake Minnetonka has yet been declared. As of early afternoon on Monday, April 13, there was still significant ice between Big Island and Linwood Road in Deephaven.

Soybeans, a river on fire and zebra mussels

April 13, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts links to some of the best regional, national and international coverage of water and the environment. Follow the links to the publications where the articles originally appeared, and let us know your reaction to the research and policy issues they report.

Soybean farmers object to river research
What started as a $600,000 project to improve water quality in rural Minnesota is in jeopardy after soybean growers protested, causing funders to reconsider and send the money to more cooperative states.

The controversy centers around a $5 million initiative that Monsanto Co., which produces seeds and herbicide, announced last December in an attempt to reduce fertilizer runoff and sediment in the Mississippi River. It planned to work with farmers and conservation groups to measure whether different methods of fertilizing, tilling, and filtering runoff improved stream water quality or affected crop yields.

But now the Nature Conservancy, which is overseeing the studies, says objections by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association have made it likely that at least $125,000 of the three-year grant destined for southeastern Minnesota will be diverted to similar projects in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin — where soybean farmers have not objected.
–The Star Tribune

Environmental Education Week set
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has declared the week of April 12 – 18, 2009, as Environmental Education Week.

The state designation coincides with the National Environmental Education Foundation’s efforts to increase the educational impact of Earth Day by creating a full week of educational preparation, learning and activities in K-12 classrooms, nature centers, zoos, museums and aquariums. National Environmental Education Week is the largest organized environmental education event in the United States.

In support of Environmental Education Week’s 2009 theme, “Be Water Wise!,” more than 2,000 partner organizations around the country will participate with a week’s worth of environmentally-themed lessons, field trips and special events.

For more information about Environmental Education Week programming around the country, visit
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Environmentalism caught fire from the Cuyahoga
Environmentalists observing 2009 as “The Year of the River” are celebrating the remarkable return to health of the Cuyahoga River over the last four decades.

But before there was a Cuyahoga comeback, the Cuyahoga was a catalyst.

When the oily, murky and sluggish waterway caught fire in June 1969, it not only caught the attention of a previously indifferent industrial nation — it also ignited an already smoldering ecological movement.
–The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Zebra mussel shells found in Prior Lake
Empty zebra mussel shells have been discovered in Prior Lake, prompting state officials to ask boaters and anglers using the popular southwest metro lake to take extra precautions.

A homeowner recently found about a dozen empty shells of the invasive mussel along the southeastern shore of lower Prior Lake, the Department of Natural Resources said.

Officials, however, aren’t certain whether the shells came from live mussels in the lake or were brought there on equipment and fell off. The DNR said its staff soon will search the lake for more of them. If any are found, it said, the lake will be designated as infested.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Research challenges biological maxim
Scientists have produced strong new evidence challenging one of the most fundamental assumptions in biology: that female mammals, including women, are born with all the eggs they will ever have.

In a provocative set of experiments involving mice, Chinese researchers have shown for the first time that an adult mammal can harbor primitive cells in her ovaries that can become new eggs and produce healthy offspring, they reported yesterday.

While much more research is needed to confirm and explore the findings, the work raises the tantalizing possibility that it could someday lead to new ways to fight a woman’s biological clock, perhaps by stockpiling her egg-producing cells or by stimulating them to make eggs again.
–The Washington Post

Drought lowers White Bear Lake
Gary Christenson’s dock stretches for 340 feet.

It’s still a few yards shy of getting wet in White Bear Lake.

“We think the dock will be 600 feet this year,” said the geologist, who lives on the lake’s northwest shore. “Six hundred feet – then I give up. Then I quit.”

Christenson’s dock is an extreme example of what a long, mild drought, combined with White Bear’s small watershed, has done to the east metro’s largest body of water.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

PBS to air ‘Poisoned Waters’ documentary
Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency chief for the Obama Administration, asserted at a forum for the PBS Frontline documentary “Poisoned Waters” that new legislation is needed to strengthen the EPA’s authority to control pollution and protect local rivers, streams and wetlands across America.

Jackson, speaking at the National Press Club, said that court decisions had left “murkiness” about the EPA’s authority to enforce some mandates of the Clean Water Act. She said EPA would seek new legislation to “clarify” its authority to take action on smaller waterways.

The two-hour documentary, to be aired on PBS on April 21, shows sobering evidence of America’s failure over the past 35 years to contain water contamination from agricultural waste, stormwater run-off, and now, a new wave of chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, most of which have no safety standard set by the EPA. The danger to human health from these chemicals in the environment and in drinking water systems was underscored Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
–PR News Wire

Invasive ash borers found near Minnesota border
Minnesota inspectors are poring over the southeastern tip of the state for signs of emerald ash borers, an invasive beetle that has killed millions of ash trees in 10 other states.

An infestation of the small, metallic-green beetle was discovered near the Wisconsin town of Victory along the Mississippi River, only a mile southeast of the Minnesota-Iowa border and 20 miles south of La Crosse, Wis. It was the first appearance in western Wisconsin.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Proposed 30,000-cow feedlot raises water worries
Scott Collins’ family has been farming in arid eastern Washington since his great grandfather first homesteaded the 1,500-acre, dry-land wheat farm more than a century ago.

But the 58-year-old Collins fears he may be the last of four generations on the farm.

That is because the groundwater he and his family depend on could be in jeopardy if a proposed cattle feedlot and other industrial-sized projects like it are built in his rural Franklin County.
–The New York Times

ADM plans to bury C02 deep underground
The drillers have gnawed through a mile of rock here, almost down to a 600-million-year-old layer of sandstone where they hope to bury about 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — equal to the annual emissions of 220,000 automobiles.

The $84-million project, of which $66.7 million comes from the Energy Department, will help determine whether storing greenhouse gases underground, so-called sequestration, is a viable solution for global warming.

The project by Archer Daniels Midland Co., in which greenhouses gases from a corn mill will be buried beneath shale, is important because it’s the furthest along of the seven federally sponsored partnerships nationwide to study the matter.
–The Los Angeles Times

Assault planned on invasive pondweed
When common carp were purposely introduced to Minnesota lakes sometime before 1900, they apparently brought along another visitor that today is just as reviled as the big rough fish: a water plant called curly-leaf pondweed.

A century after the aggressive pondweed was discovered in state waters, agencies from cities to watershed districts to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have declared war on the invader. Now, the results of contrasting eradication efforts in three conjoined lakes in Eden Prairie and Bloomington could help shape future efforts to contain curly-leaf pondweed.

Near the end of this month or early in May, herbicide will be applied to Southeast Anderson Lake in Bloomington in the first of four annual chemical treatments to kill pondweed.
–The Star Tribune

Texas report calls for linking energy and water
A joint report from the University of Texas and an environmental group urges state planners to conserve both water and energy.

The report released Monday claims that improving water conservation will cut power demand and that upgrades in energy efficiency will decrease water needs, allowing Texas to utilize “finite supplies of both” and cut consumers’ costs.

One recommendation in the report, which the Environmental Defense Fund helped prepare, requires studies to determine how much water is available for use at new fossil-fueled or concentrated solar power plants.
–The Associated Press

Oregon Zoo tries to restore native frogs
The small, elegantly colored frogs raised in a humid backroom at the Oregon Zoo have already defied the odds. Now, they will try to defy a grim fate.

About 120 rare Oregon spotted frogs, raised from eggs and overwintered to grow as large as possible, will be released into a wetland near Olympia. If they survive, the frogs could be the first wave in restoration of threatened native frogs that have been losing their battles for survival.

Once common from southwest British Columbia to northwest California, rana pretiosa — precious frog — has been decimated by habitat loss and invasive species such as the American bullfrog. But a partnership of scientists, state officials and zoos hopes to counter the dismaying trend.

A year ago, biologists gathered portions of the frogs’ gelatinous egg masses from Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Mount Adams in Washington state and delivered them to the Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, Wash., for rearing.
–The Portland Oregonian

Antarctica glaciers lose huge chunks of ice shelves
Antarctica’s glaciers are melting more rapidly than previously known because of climate change, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report prepared in close collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey.

The USGS study documents for the first time that one ice shelf has completely disappeared and another has lost a chunk three times the size of Rhode Island.  This research is part of a larger ongoing project that is for the first time studying the entire Antarctic coastline.

“This study provides the first insight into the extent of Antarctica’s coastal and glacier change,” Salazar noted.  “The rapid retreat of glaciers there demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing-more rapidly than previously known– as a consequence of climate change.  The scientific work of USGS, which is investigating the impacts of climate change around the world, including an ongoing examination of glaciers, is a critical foundation of the Administration’s commitment to combat climate change.”

The USGS study focuses on Antarctica, which is the earth’s largest reservoir of glacial ice. In a separate study published in today’s Geophysical Letters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that ice is melting much more rapidly than expected in the Arctic as well, based on new computer analyses and recent ice measurements.
–U.S. Geological Survey

No ice-out declared yet

April 8, 2009

The official ice-out on Lake Minnetonka has not yet been declared by the Freshwater Society, although the West Arm of the lake and St. Albans Bay were clear, as of Wednesday afternoon, April 8.

Conservation funding bills get attention

April 6, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of regional, national and international articles about water and the environment. Read it here, or go to

Minnesota legislators turn attention to water
What are the best ways to protect and clean up Minnesota waters – from its groundwater to its many lakes and rivers?

At the state Capitol, lawmakers are preparing their answers.

After weeks of often-lengthy hearings, they’re assembling legislation identifying how to spend one-third of the money to be raised over the next year by a voter-approved sales tax increase that begins in July.

It’ll also be the culmination of years of work.

For almost a decade, the state has been debating how to pay for a federally required water-cleanup effort, estimated to cost $80 million to $100 million a year over several decades. But it couldn’t agree on a way to pay for such a commitment until the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment was approved in November.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Pollution catches up with St. Croix River
The gradual but steady pollution of the popular St. Croix River means it’s no longer the sparkling algae-free gem it was four decades ago.

Already classified as impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the St. Croix is expected to land on a national top 10 list of endangered rivers that will be announced by American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group.

“We’re not happy with the news but getting some national attention in Minnesota and Wisconsin is good,” said Dan McGuiness, interim executive director of the St. Croix River Association. “We’re hoping that this information will help us bring more attention to the river.”
–The Star Tribune

Are some chemicals more dangerous at low doses?
There are some 82,000 chemicals used commercially in the U.S., but only a fraction have been tested to make sure they’re safe and just five are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to congressional investigators. But a government scientist says there’s no guarantee testing actually rules out health risks anyway.

The basic premise of safety testing for chemicals is that anything can kill you in high enough doses (even too much water too fast can be lethal). The goal is to find safe levels that cause no harm. But new research suggests that some chemicals may be more dangerous than previously believed at low levels when acting in concert with other chemicals.

“Some chemicals may act in an additive fashion,” Linda Birnbaum said at a conference held at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University. “When we look one compound at a time, we may miss the boat.”
–Scientific American

EPA posts mug shots of most-wanted fugitives
Albania Deleon started a business eight years ago to instruct and certify workers in the safe removal of asbestos. It was a growth industry, and pretty soon her company, Environmental Compliance Training in Methuen, Mass., was the largest in the state.

Some might say Ms. Deleon, who was born in the Dominican Republic and is a naturalized citizen, was living the American dream.

But not the Environmental Protection Agency, which added her to its list of “E.P.A. Fugitives,” people who have been charged with violating environmental laws or regulations.
–The New York Times

Will conservation fervor dry up?
Two years ago, while metro Atlanta’s drought burned through the record book, Karin Guzy of east Cobb turned off her in-ground sprinkler system.

It hasn’t been on since.

Instead, she waters her garden from two 250-gallon water cisterns. The large buckets easily fill from light rain collected off her roof.

Guzy doesn’t plan to go back to using drinking-caliber water on her 2-acre garden. Not even with the declaration by the state climatologist that metro Atlanta is finally out of the three-year drought.
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Court backs cost-benefit analysis in water case
In a defeat for environmental groups, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency may use cost-benefit calculations to decide whether to require power plants to make changes that could prevent the destruction of billions of aquatic organisms each year.

The decision affects more than 500 power plants that are collectively responsible for more than half of the nation’s electricity-generating capacity. The plants use more than 200 billion gallons of water from nearby waterways each day for cooling, and they kill vast numbers of fish, shellfish and other organisms in the process, squashing them against intake screens or sucking them into cooling systems.
–The New York Times

Minneapolis tap water turns smelly
The municipal water in Minneapolis again is wrinkling noses with a telltale odor and taste.

A mustiness is being detected from tap water, and city Water Plant Operations Superintendent Chris Catlin is chalking it up to “some seasonal taste and odor issues” that tend to come around this time of year.

Catlin said to expect the sensory disruption to last another six weeks, emphasizing that there are no health problems. “Our water continues to meet all federal and state standards,” he said.
–Star Tribune

Recession cuts into Everglades purchase
The Everglades have become yet another victim of the shrinking economy.

Gov. Charlie Crist announced that Florida would significantly scale back its $1.34 billion deal to restore the Everglades by buying 180,000 acres from the United States Sugar Corporation.

At a news conference in Tallahassee, Mr. Crist outlined a far more modest proposal: $530 million for 72,500 acres, with an option to buy the rest by 2019.
–The New York Times

California looks into its climatic future
As California warms in coming decades, farmers will have less water, the state could lose more than a million acres of cropland and forest fire rates will soar, according to a broad-ranging state report.

The document, which officials called the “the ultimate picture to date” of global warming’s likely effect on California, consists of 37 research papers that examine an array of issues including water supply, air pollution and property losses.

Without actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions, “severe and costly climate impacts are possible and likely across California,” warned state environmental protection secretary Linda Adams.

The draft Climate Action Team Report, an update of a 2006 assessment, concludes that some climate change effects could be more serious than previously thought.
–The Los Angeles Times

Iowa State to study nutrient flow to Gulf
Iowa State University researchers will receive $600,000 in federal grants to help them reduce the water pollutants that flow from Iowa to the oxygen-depleted zone of the Gulf of Mexico.

The watersheds of Raccoon River, Walnut Creek and Boone River will be studied. The grant money comes out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s national Targeted Watersheds Grant Program.

“EPA is committed to protecting our nation’s watersheds,” acting Regional Administrator William Rice said in a statement. “The three watersheds identified by Iowa State University helps focus the agencies’ efforts to improve water quality, which will result in a reduction of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that reaches the Gulf of Mexico.”
–The Des Moines Register

Sweeping wilderness bill signed
President Obama signed a sweeping land conservation package into law, protecting more than 2 million acres as wilderness and creating a national system to conserve land held by the Bureau of Land Management.

The measure, a collection of 170 bills that represents the most significant wilderness effort in at least 15 years, would provide the highest level of federal protection to areas such as Oregon’s Mount Hood and part of Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest, along with sites in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah and West Virginia. It also authorizes the first coordinated federal research program to investigate ocean acidification and allows additional funding to protect ecologically valuable coastal areas and estuaries.

The law also establishes the 26-million-acre National Landscape Conservation System, which aims to protect the most environmentally and historically significant lands controlled by the BLM. The new system, which encompasses 850 sites, including the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado, Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona and Nevada’s Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area, requires the agency to make conservation a priority when managing these areas.
–The Washington Post

Group plans Straight River clean-up
As a kid, Ryan Kubat spent a lot of time on the Straight River. As a father, he often takes his son canoeing down the river or on other river-related outings. But over the years he has noticed the river getting darker and darker.

“The Straight River is really a treasure for Steele County,” Kubat said. “There’s a lot of garbage in the river; there’s a lot of garbage on the banks and the places around the river we need to clean out of there.”

This year, he and other members of the Cannon River Watershed are hoping an organized clean-up effort can help clear up some of the trash not only in the Straight River but all along the Cannon River Watershed.
–Owatonna People’s Press

Iowa bill would limit manure regulation
Community and environmental activists criticized a measure working its way through the Legislature that they claim would undercut efforts to protect Iowa’s rivers and streams.

They said a measure approved 43-6 in the Senate would stop state environmental officials from crafting regulations that restrict the application of manure to frozen ground.

“The Senate’s action is a travesty,” said Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “It’s a slap in the face to all Iowans who care about clean water and a decent quality of life.”
–The Associated Press

New Mexico asserts control over deep ground water
Starting March 30, anyone trying to lay claim to water in New Mexico that deeper than 2,500 feet below the surface will come under state regulation.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill into law that gives the state authority to divvy up rights for water 2,500 feet below the surface and deeper. The state already has purview over ground water and H2O just below the ground surface.

Because of a quirk of state law, however, this deep groundwater has not fallen under the purview of state authority as has groundwater and water in rivers and lakes.

But population growth has caused some growing cities, such as Rio Rancho, to start searching for other sources of water beyond importing H2O in or relying on surface water. And that has led them to look deep below the surface to these aquifers for sources of H2O. Sandoval County, where Rio Rancho is located, has even partnered with a corporation to begin plans for a desalination plant to make the salty, mineral-laden water usable.
–The New Mexico Independent

Maryland bill would mandate septic changes
Moving to correct a major water pollution problem in some portions of the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Senate agreed to require nitrogen-removing  technology on all new or replacement household septic systems near the shoreline.

Under the bill, which was narrowly approved, the state would cover the extra cost of replacing a failing septic system with an enhanced one capable of removing nitrogen from household wastewater. But homebuyers would have to bear the added cost of about $5,600 for an enhanced system when building a house along the shore.

The measure now goes to the House of Delegates, where its future is uncertain.
–The Baltimore Sun

Lake Superior water level up from 2008
Lake Superior’s
water level dropped an inch in March, or slightly more than its usual drop for the month. The International Lake Superior Board of Control says the lake generally drops about half an inch in March. The levels of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron rose two inches this month, which is their typical increase. Both lakes are nine inches below their long-term average but a foot higher than they were a year ago.

Water levels usually fall from September to March and begin to rise in April.

Lake Superior neared record low levels in 2007 but it’s been edging back to normal. Its level is six inches below its long-term average for April 1, but still five inches above the level at this time last year.
–The Associated Press

UM StreamLab mimics natural processes

April 3, 2009

(This article was published in the March, 2009, Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s newsletter. Read it here, or go to

This summer, there are going to be some big floods in Minneapolis.

The floods won’t inundate Hennepin Avenue, they won’t seep into the IDS Crystal Court or the Metrodome and they won’t displace residents of any of the city’s neighborhoods.

In fact, the floods won’t be real floods at all. They will be a carefully planned experiment in which torrents of water – each the equivalent of a once-in-50-years flood – will be sent rushing through the floodplain of the small artificial stream that is the heart of the University of Minnesota’s new Outdoor StreamLab.

The fake floods, nine-hour events intended to allow researchers to observe and precisely measure how engineered structures and vegetation such as sedges and rushes stabilize stream banks and prevent the loss of soil to high water, are an example of the controlled experiments the Outdoor StreamLab makes possible.

“What we have is an opportunity to change the stream, manipulate what’s entering the system, and see how it affects the water, sediment, and organisms within the stream,” said Anne Lightbody, a university research fellow who is director of the lab.

The $500,000 artificial stream cutting through an artificial flood plain has been used by researchers since last summer. It is across the Mississippi River from Downtown Minneapolis, a little way upstream from the Stone Arch Bridge. Water from the Mississippi is diverted into the stream through two 18-inch pipes.

Despite its relatively small size – 130 feet by 60 feet, about one-sixth the size of a football field – the StreamLab stream lab is, by far, the largest such facility in the United States. It is a dramatic improvement on the indoor flumes and basins that researchers long have used to model stream behavior in the university’s nearby St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

“Everything we do here is trying to build small-scale models of natural phenomena,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, the director of the St. Anthony Falls Lab. “The indoor lab is very useful and serves its purpose, but it has limitations.”
The outdoor lab is operated as a partnership between the St. Anthony Falls Lab and the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics, a multi-university consortium sponsored by the National Science Foundation and housed at the St. Anthony Falls Lab.

The stream in the Outdoor SteamLab is about 9 feet wide and about a foot deep in its quiet pools, a few inches deep where it flows over rocks and gravel. It allows experiments that mimic creeks and streams. Eventually, Sotiropoulos hopes, the partners will build a bigger, much longer, artificial stream adjacent to the current one that would allow researchers to conduct experiments more applicable to large rivers.

For now, though, the researchers using the Outdoor StreamLab are reveling in their ability to manipulate the flow and environment of the artificial stream for experiments.

Lightbody is leading research on the impact of sediment pollution on aquatic insects.
Last summer, researchers introduced about a ton each of sand, clay and top soil into the stream – an attempt to replicate the kind of sedimentation that would accompany an intense storm. Then they captured and counted the insect species floating in the water and clinging to rocks in the shallows, upstream and downstream of the sedimentation.

Another research project is attempting to measure the extent to which nitrogen, a common pollutant, is removed from stream water when water flows out of the stream, into the sub-surface water table and then back again into the stream.

Still another research project looked at the way sediment moved within the stream. The stream was constructed with a flat bottom, but over a short time that changed. To the delight of the researchers, the artificial flow created sand bars on the inside of bends and deep pools on the outside, the same behavior as a natural stream.

“The river is continually moving sediment, and the question of how much it is moving and where it is putting it is important in streams of all sizes,” Lightbody said.