Archive for May, 2009

Sensors speed water quality research

May 26, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to the original sources.

UM studies remote sensors for water quality
Measuring water quality in lakes and streams traditionally starts with a time-consuming trip with a bucket to get a water sample for the laboratory.

Now University of Minnesota water researchers have found a way to skip that step.

In an ongoing study of urban creeks and watersheds that is focusing this summer on Lake Pamela in Edina, the university is taking thousands of water-quality readings a day using underwater sensors that relay the data by cell phone to the U’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

The study promises to “move environmental monitoring to the next level and improve our understanding and management of water resources,” said Deb Swackhamer, co-director of the university’s Water Resources Center.
–The Star Tribune

N. Mankato says ‘no’ to paying for aquifer study
North Mankato is the lone holdout in a Department of Natural Resources plan to have the seven largest users of an area aquifer split the costs of a study to see if it’s being depleted.

The study’s cost was about $20,000 in 2008, and it may rise.

“The costs are a little unpredictable,” said Shannon Fisher, who is a mediator for the project on behalf of the Minnesota River Board and the aquifer’s users.

The open-ended price of the study is one of the reasons North Mankato chose not to sign the agreement, City Administrator Wendell Sande said.
–The Mankato Free Press

Wireless sensors save water on golf courses
In seven years of overseeing every root and blade of grass on the grounds at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., Matt Shaffer has built a reputation on innovation and conservation. An early advocate of course playability over aesthetics, he long lived by the maxim “the drier, the better.”

But when a stifling heat wave threatened the club’s greens before the 2005 United States Amateur Championship — a record 17th U.S.G.A. championship at Merion — Shaffer turned to his old boss, Paul R. Latshaw Sr., for advice. Latshaw told him there was one way he could continue to cut down water use while keeping his turf dry and as fast as a microwave: sensors.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin utilities question water fee
A municipal water utilities lobbying group is raising concerns about new fees the governor is proposing to fund staff to oversee the implementation of the Great Lakes water compact.

A provision in Gov. Jim Doyle’s proposed budget calls for the Department of Natural Resources to design new fees to impose on power companies, public water utilities and other major water users in the Great Lakes basin.

The intent is to create a fee structure that would raise the estimated $1 million needed annually to run the compact oversight and implementation program, said Eric Ebersberger, water section chief in the DNR’s Bureau of Drinking Water and Ground Water.

But a lobbying group for public utilities is urging the state Legislature to set the fees by statute so any increase would have to be subsequently approved by lawmakers.
–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Stimulus funds to rebuild Red Wing dam
The lock and dam on the Mississippi River near Red Wing, Minn., the site of more than 100 barge accidents because of the hazardous current, will undergo $70 million in safety improvements over the next two years under the nation’s economic stimulus program, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

It is one of the Corps’ largest projects under the program, although a long-standing conflict with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the lack of a fish passage threatens to block some of the work.

Critics led by the Wisconsin DNR also object to the Corps’ plans to cut down trees used by perching bald eagles and to embed concrete blocks along vast stretches of shore and bottom land on the Wisconsin side of the river.
–The Star Tribune

Chemical companies win groundwater case
After five months of trial in San Francisco Superior Court, a jury cleared a handful of chemical companies of nearly all the claims brought against them by the city of Modesto, Calif., in the latest phase of a decade-old groundwater pollution case.

The jury did award Modesto about $18.3 million in damages to cover cleanup costs, but that amount could be nullified by settlements the city has already reached with other defendants.

The jury also decided that the remaining defendants, including the Dow Chemical Co., did not act with malice when they manufactured and distributed chemicals, such as perchloroethylene, to dry cleaners in Modesto. That rules out punitive damages, which could have been much larger.
–law.com

Bottled water deposit bill challenged
A coalition of bottled water companies filed suit to block an expanded bottle deposit law scheduled to take effect next month, arguing that the law, which imposes a deposit fee on bottled water sold in New York State, is unconstitutional.

The coalition includes Nestle Waters North America, the International Bottled Water Association, and industry trade group, and Keeper Springs, a small bottler owned by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and environmental advocate.

The new law requires distributors to collect a 5-cent deposit per bottle of water, which can in turn be redeemed by consumers, provisions designed to encourage New Yorkers to recycle the billions of water bottles now thrown away each year. But companies that bottle water must affix a new universal product code label to bottles sold in New York.
–The New York Times

DNR begins campaign against invasives
Memorial Day weekend, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers joined forces with other law enforcement agencies to prevent the transportation of aquatic invasive species from the Brainerd, Lake Mille Lacs and Prior Lake areas.

The increasing zebra mussel populations at Lake Mille Lacs and Rice Lake near Brainerd, and the new zebra mussel infestation at Prior Lake in Scott County are a particular concern.

Minnesota’s water resources are threatened by numerous aquatic invasive species such as the zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and purple loosestrife. These species could be easily spread within the state if citizens, businesses and visitors don’t take the necessary steps to contain them.

The DNR offered these suggestions:

Drain bait buckets, bilges and live wells before leaving any water access.

  • Remove aquatic plants from boats and trailers to prevent the spread of invasive species. The law requires it.
  • Drain all water from your boat when leaving waters that have been designated as infested with spiny water flea or zebra mussels.

The coordinated enforcement effort will include an increased presence at public water accesses, where officers will look closely for violators who could face fines of up to $500.
–Minnesota DNR news release

League plans 5/21 forum on water quality

May 18, 2009

The South Tonka League of Women Voters, with assistance from the Freshwater Society, is sponsoring a public forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 21, on the water quality of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers.

Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam, a former commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources,  and Glenn Skuta, a manager of the Minnesota  Pollution Control Agency’s Watershed Section, will be the featured speakers.

The forum will be at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior.

A second forum, devoted to groundwater, is planned in September

Wisconsin research targets farm runoff

May 18, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to the original sources.

Research prioritizes Wisconsin clean-ups
Spring in Wisconsin heralds a new growing season. But the warming temperatures also bring heavier runoff from farm fields, carrying pollution and contaminants into the state’s lakes and streams.

Wisconsin’s waters have long been known to be negatively impacted by agricultural runoff, including phosphorus, nitrogen and sediments. To date, however, attempts to mitigate the resulting damage and improve water quality have been hampered by the problem’s complexity — Wisconsin has a lot of water and a lot of farm fields, and not all interactions between the two are equal. 

“It’s such a challenging issue because it’s diffuse — little bits here and there, and it all adds up to make a huge problem. Those are the hardest ones to solve,” says UW–Madison limnologist Jake Vander Zanden. 

Previous conservation proposals typically have not accounted for differences across the landscape, relying instead on voluntary participation or mandated statewide standards. Many such approaches are too expensive to be feasible or don’t reach the most troubled areas, Vander Zanden says.“By identifying and targeting the high-priority areas, we expect to have a higher positive impact on water quality and a more efficient program.” 

In a recent series of three papers published in the journal Environmental Management, he and other researchers from the Center for Limnology tackled the complexity head on, treating the statewide variability as an advantage rather than a drawback. Their approach: Find the areas with the greatest potential for improvements, and start there.
–UW-Madison News

California edges toward groundwater rules
For the third year in a row, Mark Watte plans to rely on the aquifer beneath his family farm for three-quarters of the water he needs to keep his cotton, corn and alfalfa growing, his young pistachio trees healthy and his 900 dairy cows cool.

 That is 50 percent more than he used to take, because the water that once flowed to the farm from snow in the Sierra Nevada has been reduced by a long dry spell and diversions to benefit endangered fish.

Since 2006 the surface of the aquifer, in the Kaweah subbasin of the San Joaquin basin, has dropped 50 feet as farmers pumped deeper, Mr. Watte says. Some of his pumps no longer reach far enough to bring any water to the surface. 

If he lived in almost any other state in the arid Southwest, Mr. Watte could be required to report his withdrawals of groundwater or even reduce them. But to California’s farmers and developers, that is anathema.
–The New York Times

 $475 million tentatively set for Great Lakes cleanup
Cleaning up the Great Lakes and tributaries and keeping them healthy — and navigable — will take a lot of money. President Barack Obama, building on blueprints authorized by then-President George W. Bush in 2004 and completed in 2005, has shown a commitment to the plan known as the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy. 

Obama has pledged more money to the strategy, $475 million for the coming fiscal year, than any White House predecessor. 

Now it is up to Congress to OK the spending, much of which will be distributed to state and local governments, federal agencies, tribes and nonprofit groups.
–The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Dust storms in Rockies speed snow melt
Dust storms accelerated by a warming climate have covered the Rocky Mountains with dirt whose heat-trapping properties have caused snowpacks to melt weeks earlier than normal, worrying officials in Colorado about drastic water shortages by late summer. 

Snowpacks from the San Juan Mountains to the Front Range have either completely melted or will be gone within the next two weeks, said Tom Painter, director of the Snow Optics Laboratory at the University of Utah and a leading expert on snowmelt. 

The rapid melting is linked to a spate of intense dust storms that kick up dirt and sand that in turn are deposited on snow-topped mountains.
–The New York Times 

Research shows prevalence of PFOA in water
A new study finds evidence that people may be exposed through drinking water to a persistent nonstick chemical at levels approaching those that trigger adverse effects in laboratory animals. 

The fluorine-based nonstick chemical, PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, was developed by DuPont more than 50 years ago and used to launch the company’s Teflon line of nonstick products. Ironically, earlier studies have shown that the nonstick agent itself sticks around a very, very long time — potentially forever. 

The chemical appeared in roughly two-thirds of some 30 public water systems sampled by New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection between 2006 and 2008, researchers report online and in an upcoming issue of Environmental Science & Technology

In five of the New Jersey water systems sampled, PFOA concentrations exceeded a safety limit developed by the researchers — sometimes by a factor of two or three. In each of those instances, says toxicologist Keith Cooper of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the affected water came from groundwater or from well water. However, he adds, where contaminated water entered a water-treatment plant, “[PFOA] concentrations in the intake water and the output water were basically the same.” So it looks like the treatment plants didn’t remove the pollutant.
–U.S. News & World Report  

12% of world’s bird species at risk, report says
A record number of bird species are now listed as threatened with extinction, a global assessment has revealed.

The IUCN Red List evaluation considered 1,227, or 12%, of all known bird species to be at risk, with 192 species described as Critically Endangered.

 The main threats affecting bird numbers continued to be agriculture, logging and invasive species, the report said.

 However, it added that where conservation measures had been put in place, bird populations had recovered.

–BBC News

San Diego desalination plant a test case
The vast $320 million desalination plant approved by San Diego’s regional water authorities is likely to serve as a test case for whether such a large project can meet its goals while safeguarding its Pacific environment.

 he plant, to be built near Carlsbad, north of San Diego, will be the first large-scale desalination operation on the West Coast and the largest in the hemisphere. “If they build it well and it operates well and the price is right, we will see more,” said Peter Gleick, the cofounder and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif.

“I think there’s going to be some hesitancy to really expand desalination until this plant is up and running,” he added.
–The New York Times

Maryland considers eradicating invasive swans
Maryland’s majestic white mute swans have dwindled in number from 4,000 to just a few hundred, and a sharply divided state panel recommended yesterday that the invasive species be eliminated to preserve wetlands and endangered native birds.

 The mute swan is an environmental hazard to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem,” according to recommendations sent to John R. Griffin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. “The mute swan is one of the world’s most aggressive species of waterfowl.” 

The report, from an advisory committee appointed by Griffin, said that the mute swans pose a “formidable threat” to native wildlife species and “feed aggressively” on fragile submerged grasses and that efforts to kill the remaining swans, estimated to number 500, should continue.
–The Washington Post

Economics impedes California water transfers
As another summer of drought approaches, hundreds of thousands of acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland are expected to be fallowed, and much of urban California faces 20 percent water cutbacks.

But in the Sacramento Valley, rice farmers have been busy for weeks spreading water 6 inches deep over a half-million acres. Many experts expect a larger crop than last year’s.

It’s not that no one saw it coming. The state of California devised a program to move some of that water to thirsty cities and fields south of the Delta. The plan made sense on paper, perhaps, but so far it has been hobbled by everything from high rice prices to environmental concerns.
–The Sacramento Bee

Maryland announces push against fertilizers
Announcing new goals to help clean the Chesapeake Bay, Gov. Martin O’Malley said the state will seek to cut the kind of pollution produced by fertilizers.

 Aiming to reduce nitrogen pollution by two and a half times, the state plans to encourage planting cover crops to diminish agricultural runoff. Cover crops such as barley, canola and kale absorb nitrogen from the soil. The state also plans to create more forested stream buffers.

 Speaking to reporters aboard the University of Maryland’s research vessel Rachel Carson on the Bush River, O’Malley also said the state will set new two-year goals, instead of setting deadlines far into the future when state and local leaders can no longer be held accountable.
–The Associated Press

 Climate change raises Alaskan coastline
Global warming conjures images of rising seas that threaten coastal areas. But in Juneau, as almost nowhere else in the world, climate change is having the opposite effect: As the glaciers here melt, the land is rising, causing the sea to retreat. 

 Morgan DeBoer, a property owner, opened a nine-hole golf course at the mouth of Glacier Bay in 1998, on land that was underwater when his family first settled here 50 years ago. 

“The highest tides of the year would come into what is now my driving range area,” Mr. DeBoer said.
–The New York Times

Estimate of Antarctic melting revised
A new study has found that one of the worst-case scenarios for sea-level rise — the melting of an Antarctic ice sheet that is as vast as Texas and as thick as 1.8 miles — would not be as bad as previously thought.

That is still not good news. 

The research examined the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, one of the most worrisome chunks of ice in the world. It sits partly on ground that slopes downward or is far below sea level. That means that, if the floating ice that locks it in place ever disappeared because of global warming, much of the sheet could float out to sea and melt.

 Previous research had estimated that the result might be a catastrophic 16-to-20-foot rise in global sea levels.

But recently, a group led by Jonathan Bamber, a professor at the University of Bristol in England, used new data about the underlying terrain to reassess that prediction that was published in the journal Science. Group members were not studying climate change itself but, instead, how the ice sheet would react to it.

 Their conclusion: Not all of the sheet would slide off and melt, but two-thirds might. That would be enough to raise sea levels by about 11 feet over a few centuries.
–The Washington Post 

Curly leaf pondweed: nice beat, easy to dance to

May 11, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and international articles about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

Iowa plans $455 million pollution fight
Iowa is about to launch its biggest assault ever on river and lake pollution – a $455 million campaign.

After decades of struggling to address serious pollution problems, the state now has an unprecedented pool of state and federal money to solve some of its worst water-quality problems, said Charles Corell, the water chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One of the biggest impacts: improved sewage treatment and septic systems in the 500 towns and rural subdivisions that don’t have any.
–The Des Moines Register

 

What, exactly, do invasive species sound like to you?
A new initiative at UW-Madison is using music to raise public awareness about aquatic invasive species in the state.

“Research shows music can influence how we respond to messages, affecting memory, emotion, attitudes, and even behavior,” says Bret Shaw, assistant professor of life sciences communication at UW-Madison and environmental communication specialist for UW-Extension.
–UW-Madison News

Polar bears won’t force climate crackdown
The federal bureaucracy that safeguards endangered species isn’t equipped to tackle climate change, Interior Department officials said — declining to protect Alaskan polar bears by cracking down on polluters in the Lower 48.

The decision, announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, was the Obama administration’s first word on an emerging environmental question.
–The Washington Post

 

Environmental video provokes controversy
The thick-lined drawings of the Earth, a factory and a house, meant to convey the cycle of human consumption, are straightforward and child-friendly. So are the pictures of dark puffs of factory smoke and an outlined skull and crossbones, representing polluting chemicals floating in the air.

Which is one reason “The Story of Stuff,” a 20-minute video about the effects of human consumption, has become a sleeper hit in classrooms across the nation.
–The New York Times

Scott County pro-active on water quality
Scott County contacted Jay and Laureen Picha on Jan. 29 and invited them to a little sit-down. It was about the creek that runs across their 167 acres between Shakopee and Jordan.

It seems that at times, too much water is racing down it too fast, carrying sediment and perhaps pollution into Sand Creek, and then into the Minnesota River, which is not so pure to begin with.
–The Star Tribune

 

EPA announces proposed budget
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed $10.5 billion budget would create jobs and protect the environment, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

The EPA allocated $3.9 billion to maintain and improve outdated water infrastructure and keep wastewater and drinking water clean and safe, she said. The money would support building and renovating an estimated 1,000 clean water and 700 drinking water infrastructure projects, and repair and upgrade older drinking water and wastewater pipes.

To address climate change, the agency’s proposal budgets $17 million in the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for new analytical tools, upgraded testing capabilities and coordination with other agencies on research and green initiatives.
–United Press International

World’s second-largest fish is a snowbird
How do you lose the world’s second-largest fish?

It had been happening for decades to researchers studying the basking shark, a plankton-eating species that can grow to be 35 feet long — only the whale shark is bigger. Basking sharks were easy to spot in summer and fall. Many cruised near the surface off New England, filtering water through an impossibly wide mouth.

But then, in winter, the sharks vanished from these waters, and scientists couldn’t find them anywhere else. One guess was that they sank to the bottom and hibernated, waiting out a food shortage. But nobody knew for sure: The basking shark became a reminder of the unsolved mysteries of the oceans.
–The Washington Post

Residents, cities oppose Mississippi regulation
Many cities and residents along the Mississippi River, from Hastings to Dayton, fear they will have less control over their property and development along the river under a pair of bills moving toward passage at the State Capitol.

At least six cities — Lilydale, Mendota, Coon Rapids, Champlin, Anoka and Ramsey — have adopted resolutions or sent letters to legislators opposing the bills. Most of the resolutions say the bills ignore property-owner rights and could give the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) more control over local zoning.
–The Star Tribune

 

New York governor nixes bottled water
Citing financial and environmental reasons, Gov. David A. Patterson signed an executive order directing state agencies to phase out the purchase and use of bottled water at government workplaces.

As a result, the state will gradually stop buying single-serve water bottles and larger, cooler-sized water bottles. Each executive agency will have to provide alternative sources, like fountains and dispensers for tap water.

In June 2007, San Francisco’s mayor, Gavid Newsom, prohibited spending city money on single-serving bottled water.
–The New York Times

 

Maine considers tax on bottled water
Dozens of Poland Spring employees and business representatives who support the company descended on the Maine State House to show their opposition to a proposed penny-a-gallon tax on bottled water.  It’s being promoted as a way to generate revenue from a shared natural resource in difficult economic times.  But opponents warn it could open a Pandora’s Box by creating a precedent the state cannot afford.

The penny-a-gallon tax would only apply to water bottlers in Maine who extract more than a million gallons of ground water in a year.  And Poland Spring says, for all intents and purposes, that’s Poland Spring alone.  The tax would cost the company about $7 million a year.  And it would not apply to Poland Spring’s chief competitors, Aquafina and Dasani, which which get their water out of state and which would continue to sell in Maine.
–Maine Public Broadcasting Network

 

Bisphenol-A banned in kids’ cups
Sippy cups and baby bottles containing a chemical suspected of being harmful will be banned in Minnesota starting next Jan. 1.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill into law that prohibits the sale of bottles and cups that contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is found in many plastics and in canned food coatings.

BPA is so widespread that most people have traces of it in their bodies, but even though the new law regards it as a health threat, scientists haven’t definitively determined whether that’s the case.
–The Star Tribune

 

Climate threatens tiny pikas
The Fish and Wildlife Service is beginning a yearlong review to determine whether the pika, an 8-inch-long mountain animal that looks like a rabbit with round ears, should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. It would be the first mammal from the lower 48 states to be considered for protection as a result of changes resulting from global warming. Pikas live on rocky slopes in the West and cannot bear temperatures above 78 degrees for more than a short time. In a 2007 petition, the Center for Biological Diversity said rising temperatures had already caused “dramatic losses” of pika populations at lower elevations.
–The New York Times

 

USGS research focuses on mercury in Pacific
The U.S. Geological Survey has taken a big step toward answering long-standing questions about mercury in the oceans, with the release of a landmark study pointing to the role of human activities in releasing the contaminant and changing the makeup of the North Pacific.

The study opened the door to several key remaining questions, including whether different oceans absorb mercury differently and whether more of the metal in the water leads to increased levels of methylmercury — mercury’s highly toxic form — in marine life.
–The New York Times

A pollution case goes to trial

May 4, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and international articles about water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

Water pollution case goes to trial
After five years, it comes down to this.

The 3M Co. pollution case — at least, what’s left of it — staggers into court today.

Dozens of lawyers have been working since 2005 for this day, the start of a jury trial expected to last eight weeks.

Chemicals found in Washington County drinking water have cost the company more than $56 million in cleanup costs, and the current lawsuit could boost that by millions.

But as big as the lawsuit is, it is a puny version of what it could have been.

At one point, it had the potential of being one of the largest environmental lawsuits in state history.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Air pollutants diverted to waterways
Faced with new evidence that utilities across the country are dumping toxic sludge into waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving to impose new restrictions on the level of contaminants power plants can discharge.

Plants in Florida, Pennsylvania and several other states have flushed wastewater with levels of selenium and other toxins that far exceed the EPA’s freshwater and saltwater standards aimed at protecting aquatic life, according to data the agency has collected over the past few years. While selenium can be beneficial in tiny amounts, elevated levels damage not only fish but also birds and people who consume contaminated fish.

But the reason more selenium and metals such as arsenic are now entering U.S. waterways is because the federal government has pressed utilities to install pollution-control “scrubbing” technology that captures contaminants headed for smokestacks and stores them as coal ash or sludge. The EPA estimates that these two types of coal combustion residue — often kept in outdoor pools or flushed into nearby rivers and streams — amount to roughly 130,000 tons per year and will climb to an estimated 175,000 tons by 2015.
–The Washington Post

What’s a synonym for global warming?
The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.”

The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”
–The New York Times

St. Lawrence Seaway: Economic boon, pathway for invasives

Fifty years ago, an oceangoing ship arrived in the Duluth-Superior harbor for the first time. As of that day, the St. Lawrence Seaway System had connected Duluth, in the middle of the continent, with the Atlantic Ocean more than 2,000 miles away. The Seaway is considered a modern engineering marvel. But some think it was a colossal mistake — an open invitation to destructive and aggressive plants and animals from overseas.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Cleaner lakes? It was due to lack of rain
Most west-metro lakes were cleaner last year, but the improvement was more a product of the dry weather than efforts to curb pollution, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District says.

Lower-than-usual rainfall caused fewer pollutants to wash into the lakes, so most improved by a half to a full letter grade in ratings just released by the district.

The Watershed District has been grading its lakes on an A-to-F scale since 1989 based on water clarity, algae growth and phosphorus levels. Of the 62 sites graded in 2008, 40 showed improvement, nine were rated lower in quality, and 11 were unchanged from 2007. Two had not been monitored the previous year.

The grades are available at: www.minnehahacreek.org/wq_lake_grades.php.
–The Star Tribune

Review asked of permitting for mega-dairy
An environmental group is accusing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of failing to comply with environmental safeguards in issuing permits to Rosendale Dairy.

Members of People Empowered Protect the Land (PEPL) of Rosendale have filed a petition with the DNR seeking review of the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit issued recently to Rosendale Dairy, a new industrial livestock facility in Fond du Lac County that plans to become Wisconsin’s largest dairy.

Owner Jim Ostrom said the environmental community, including PEPL, asked the DNR to conduct an extensive environmental impact study, which preceded issuance of the wastewater discharge permit.

“The result was the most scrutinized, permitted and reviewed farm in our state’s history,” Ostrom said. “And after that very elaborate and extensive review, the DNR issued permits.”
–The Reporter

Illinois city’s records seized in water case
Federal agents and the Illinois state police raided Village Hall here, seizing Crestwood’s drinking water records in a search for evidence of environmental crimes, officials said.

The raid was prompted by recent accusations that for 21 years Crestwood officials supplemented the village’s water supply, which comes from Lake Michigan, with water from a local well despite a warning in 1986 from state environmental officials that doing so was dangerous and illegal.
–The New York Times

Bush rule on mountaintop mining may change

The Obama administration stepped up efforts to reverse a rule adopted late in the Bush administration that makes it easier for companies to deposit debris from mountaintop coal mining near streams. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that the rule was legally flawed and that he had asked government lawyers to press a federal court to vacate it and send it back for reworking. “The so-called stream buffer zone rule simply doesn’t pass muster with respect to adequately protecting water quality and stream habitat that communities rely on in coal country,” Mr. Salazar said.
–The New York Times

Jettisoning cafeteria trays saves water
John Belushi memorialized them in “Animal House” as he stockpiled edible projectiles for an epic food fight. Generations of college students in the Northeast have deployed them as makeshift sleds. But the once-ubiquitous cafeteria tray, with so many glasses of soda, juice and milk lined up across the top, could soon join the typewriter as a campus relic.

Scores of colleges and universities across the country are shelving the trays in hopes of conserving water, cutting food waste, softening the ambience and saving money.
–The New York Times

Vermont may cede water quality responsibility to EPA
Frustrated by continuing lawsuits and disagreements over water protection in Vermont, the state may find itself giving back to the federal government authority for regulating water pollution.

Such a move would have a major impact on businesses, farmers and homeowners in the state, since it would put the federal Environmental Protection Agency in Boston – not state officials – in charge of issuing and administering a permit for a stormwater system, or a farm or a wastewater treatment plant. Besides review and permitting being done in Boston instead of by state environmental officials in Waterbury, it could also mean different – perhaps more rigid – standards would be put in place.

The Agency of Natural Resources is unlikely to recommend to Gov. James Douglas that he give up Clean Water Act authority, and the EPA might not accept the return of the authority – and the work – if requested. But it may become necessary if the state, environmental groups and the feds cannot reach an agreement on how to manage stormwater discharges into five streams in Chittenden County, said Jonathan Wood, secretary of the state environmental agency.
–The Times Argus

L.A. tables referendum on storm water fee
The plan to ask property owners across Los Angeles to quadruple their storm-water pollution cleanup fees over the next five years has been tabled because of concern that it was prepared in haste and might not pass, city officials said.

To get the additional fees in 2010, the City Council had to decide whether to send out more than 800,000 mail-in ballots — a process rarely, if ever, used citywide.

Council President Eric Garcetti said he feared that the plan, which became public only over the last week, would experience the same fate as Measure B, the solar energy plan defeated in the March 3 election after critics said it had been hurried to the ballot.

“It’s going to get killed, for now,” said Garcetti after discussing the plan at the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum.
–The Los Angeles Times

California grape growers question water reuse
When Jason Passalacqua, a Dry Creek Valley winery owner, heard about a plan to use highly treated wastewater to irrigate his vineyards, he thought it was a good idea.

“When I first heard about reuse, I thought, ‘Great,’ ” he said.

But he now considers the plan to use wastewater to grow grapes a “threat to the environment” of Dry Creek Valley and its world-class wines.

Passalacqua belongs to a coalition of grape growers, winemakers, environmentalists and others opposed to the Sonoma County Water Agency’s plan for a $385 million project that could ship recycled water primarily from Santa Rosa’s regional sewage treatment plant to northern Sonoma County for agricultural use.
–Santa Rosa Press Democrat