Archive for June, 2009

Climate change, ‘ugly’ species and catching rain

June 29, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of the best regional, national and interntional news articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to their original sources.

U.S. House passes cap-and-trade

 

The House passed legislation intended to address global warming and transform the way the nation produces and uses energy. 

The vote was the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation, which passed despite deep divisions among Democrats, could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

 The bill’s passage, by 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats voting against it, also established a marker for the United States when international negotiations on a new climate change treaty begin later this year.

 At the heart of the legislation is a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on overall emissions of heat-trapping gases while allowing utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to trade pollution permits, or allowances, among themselves.

–The New York Times

Savings species moves past beauty contests

Are we ready to start saving ugly species?

 When it began compiling lists of threatened and endangered animals and plants more than 35 years ago, the U.S. government gave itself the same mandate as Noah’s Ark: Save everything.

 But in practice, the effort has often worked more like a velvet-rope nightclub: Glamour rules.

 The furry, the feathered, the famous and the edible have dominated government funding for protected species, to the point that one subpopulation of threatened salmon gets more money than 956 other plants and animals combined.

–The Washington Post 

Colorado legalizes catching the rain

For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.

Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago. 

Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to collect.

–The New York Times

 Marines expand ‘gray water’ use

Camp Pendleton officials formally dedicated an upgraded water treatment system that includes one of Southern California’s most ambitious uses of recycled water.

 As part of a $48.8-million upgrade, treated wastewater will now be used on landscaping, horse pastures and the base golf course. Plans are to expand the water use to carwashes and to toilet facilities in enlisted quarters.

 The goal is to decrease the amount of fresh water used on the sprawling base and the amount of so-called gray water pumped into the Pacific Ocean.

 The base uses 6,000 to 7,000 acre-feet of water each year, most of it from wells and the San Luis Rey River. An acre-foot of water is enough for two families for a year.

The facilities unveiled have a capacity to provide 1,700 acre-feet a year of treated wastewater to sites throughout the base.

–The Los Angeles Times .

Sewage flows to L. Superior to end by 2016

Untreated sewage in Lake Superior should become a thing of the past in the Duluth area, but not for another seven years.

The city and Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) have committed to end sewage overflows by the end of 2016, and to pay $400,000 in fines to state and federal pollution authorities for past violations.

 The overflows typically are caused by backups during heavy rain.

–The Star Tribune

Winona County dairy fined for pollution

Diamond K Dairy in Winona County has agreed to pay a $15,000 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for violating state standards for odors and for allowing manure to discharge to a farm pond.  The dairy has taken some correction action with further plans to reduce odors and better control manure.

 The dairy, located in Mount Vernon Township near Altura, consists of six total confinement barns housing up to 1,066 dairy cows and 30 dairy calves.  The facility has three manure-storage basins, a manure solids stacking area, a dead animal composting area, and two feed-storage areas.  Owned by Al Kreidermacher and family members, the facility operates under the names of Diamond K Dairy, Inc. and Diamond K Feeds LLP.

Using continuous air-monitoring equipment, MPCA staff found that the facility violated state levels for hydrogen sulfide several times during 2008.  Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that is partially responsible for foul odors. 

 Also in 2008, the dairy allowed two spills of liquid manure to flow overland to a farm pond on the property.  The pond, classified as a water of the state, connects via a spillway to a trout stream less than a mile away, though none of the spilled manure reached the stream.

 The MPCA posts its enforcement actions at www.pca.state.mn.us/newscenter/enforcement.html.

–MPCA news release

 Art sought for exhibit on women and water rights

The University of Minnesota Department of Art and other sponsors are inviting artists to submit work – including postcard-size, mailed-in works – for an exhibit focused on women and the issue of water as a universal human right.

 The exhibit, titled “Women and Water Rights,” will be held Feb. 23 to March 25 at the university’s Regis Center for Art. It will include:

  • A worldwide mail art exhibit on the theme of water and related programs.
  • A juried exhibition of artwork investigating water rights as subject and material. Artists will be women or women/men collaborations from states that form the basin of the Upper Mississippi River — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Lectures.
  • Panel discussions, video screenings and interactive activities.

The deadline for submission of art for the juried exhibit is Nov. 2. The deadline for the mailed art is Jan. 15. Entry guidelines are available at http://womenandwater.net/?cat=3

MPCA warns of toxic blue-green algae

When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is again reminding people that some blue-green algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.

 Algae are microscopic aquatic plants and are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem. Under the right conditions, some forms of algae can become harmful. Blue-green (cyanobacterial) algal blooms contain toxins or other noxious chemicals that can pose harmful health risks. People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms. In extreme cases, dogs and other animals have died after exposure to lake water containing these toxins.

 There is no visual way to predict the toxicity of an algal bloom and distinguishing blue-green algae from other types may be difficult for non-experts. But harmful blooms are sometimes said to look like pea soup, green paint or floating mats of scum.

They often smell bad as well. “You don’t have to be an expert to recognize water that might have a harmful algae bloom,” said Steve Heiskary, an MPCA lakes expert. “If it looks bad and smells bad, it’s probably best not to take chances with it.”

–MPCA news release

 Law requires conservation pricing in Twin Cities

When you brush your teeth, do you keep the water running? What about when you shave or do the dishes? That’s the kind of question homeowners may start asking themselves when their water bills arrive.

By the end of this year, all metro water utilities have to start charging for water in a way that encourages conservation. It’s part of a law passed in 2008.

Compared to a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk, water is cheap. In St. Louis Park, it costs less than a fraction of a penny per gallon. That may be why some people use it so freely.

–WCCO-TV

 

Researcher questions mercury health risk

Researchers at the University of North Dakota say there’s new evidence that mercury levels in fish are not as dangerous as previously thought.

 Researchers at the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks say the trace mineral selenium is just as important as the amount of mercury in fish.

 Research Scientist Nick Ralston said brain damage from mercury poisoning happens when mercury depletes selenium in the body. He said if fish contain more selenium than mercury, they are safe to eat.

He wants to see a new standard for fish consumption advisories.

 Minnesota’s fish consumption advisory coordinator is not convinced. Patricia McCann said the new research is not definitive and will not affect how Minnesota establishes fish consumption advisories.

–Minnesota Public Radio

Cuyahoga: A river, and a symbol, reborn

The first time Gene Roberts fell into the Cuyahoga River, he worried he might die. The year was 1963, and the river was still an open sewer for industrial waste. Walking home, Mr. Roberts smelled so bad that his friends ran to stay upwind of him.

Recently, Mr. Roberts returned to the river carrying his fly-fishing rod. In 20 minutes, he caught six smallmouth bass. “It’s a miracle,” said Mr. Roberts, 58. “The river has come back to life.”

June 20 was the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train.

–The New York Times

Chicago skyscraper to go green

Wind turbines, roof gardens and solar panels will join the pair of antennas atop the Sears Tower’s staggered rooftops, said building officials who announced that the skyscraper would undergo a $350 million green renovation.

The 5-year project would reduce the tower’s electricity use by 80 percent and save 24 million gallons of water a year, building owners and architects said. Separately, a 50-story, 500-room privately funded luxury hotel with its own green components would be built next to the skyscraper in 3 1/2 to 5 years.

The green project includes the installation of solar panels on the tower’s 90th floor roof to heat water used in the building. Different types of wind turbines will be positioned on the tower’s tiered roofs and tested for efficiency. And between 30,000 and 35,000 square feet of roof gardens will be planted.

–The Chicago Tribune

 Device may protect sea turtles from nets

Fishery managers trying to protect rare sea turtles from dying in fishing nets have chosen a Cape Cod company to build a device that they think can help balance turtle protection with profitable fishing.

 The device is a 7-inch silver cylinder that attaches to fishing nets and records how long they stay underwater. Time is crucial if the nets, dragged behind trawlers, snare a turtle. Federal research indicates that the vast majority of sea turtles survive entanglement, but only if the net is pulled up in less than 50 minutes.

–The New York Times

 Water a key issue in Mideast negotiations

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must address the vital issue of water in the West Bank if meaningful peace talks are to take place.

 Israel’s leaders said nothing, but Abbas had touched on one of the most sensitive issues in the seemingly endless negotiations, which have been in abeyance for the last few years, and one on which any expectation of a comprehensive settlement will probably ultimately rest.

Israel’s unilateral control over rivers and aquifers meant scarce water resources were not being shared equitably “as required by international law,” he declared.

–United Press International

Arboretum makes a splash with summer event

June 23, 2009

Did you know some grasses require a half- inch or less of water each week and on average only need to be mowed once a year? Would you like to learn how to plant a green roof to prevent water pollution? Did you know that the U.S. is the largest consumer of water in the world per capita because of the goods that we import?

These issues and many others can be explored at the summer-long event, “Waterosity: Go Green with a Splash” at the Landscape Arboretum. The exhibit fuses the visions of artists, horticulturalists and scientists to explore the connection of water to every aspect of life and to encourage citizens to make their homes more water-efficient.

WaterosityGeneral The Freshwater Society and Xcel will sponsor an education weekend July 11 and 12.  The “Go Green with a Splash Party” will offer information and solutions to gardening and water conservation issues, plus music, art displays, theater and family-friendly activities.  The event will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

The weekend party kicks off 11 a.m. Saturday with a class called “Money-Saving Solutions for Your Landscape Irrigation System.” The class, which has an admission fee of $20 for Arboretum members and residents of Chanhassen and $30 for others, will focus on coordinating soil, plants and the environment to ease water demands.

For more information about the summer-long installation or the Splash Party weekend click here.

2009 Nobel Conference to focus on water ethics

June 23, 2009

Water is not usually seen as an issue to be debated by theologians. However, Larry L. Rasmussen, emeritus professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and an environmental theologian, will lecture on the ethics of clean water at the 45th annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.

“That’s a rule we have in inviting a speaker:  we always intentionally invite one person who will bring to the front the moral, ethical or theological issues,” said Nobel Conference director Chuck Niederriter. “The idea is to try to capture everything and put it in the framework that looks at the science along with theological. It’s something that we as a college built into the conference.”

The conference titled “H2O Uncertain Resource,” held Oct. 6 and 7, will focus on the state of water in the world and discuss the ethics of water as a human right.

Niederriter said that because water has a connection to issues such as climate change, energy and the world economic system, the faculty committee at Gustavus Adolphus felt this was the most important topic of the moment.

“This was the topic that had been on our list the longest,” Niederriter said. “This topic, we decided, needed to be approached right away.”

The first conference took place in 1963, and previous conference topics have included prescription medication, the legacy of Einstein, globalization and genetics.

Also lecturing at the conference is Rajendra K. Pachuari, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In 2007, the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice-President Al Gore.

Other presenters at the conference are Asit Biswas, president of the Third World Centre for Water Management; Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute; William Graf, chair of the geography department at the University of South Carolina, Columbia; Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Marine Consortium; and David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkley.

Between 4,000 and 6,000 students, faculty and guests attend the conference each year. Classes are canceled at Gustavus Adolphus for the two-day event to allow everyone to participate.

While the conference focuses on science, students from all disciplines are encouraged to participate. Niederriter said that the student musicians provide prelude music, art students create exhibits based on the theme and  theater and dance groups perform.

For more information on the event, including ticket and reservation information, visit http://gustavus.edu/events/nobelconference/about/.

Climate, nitrogen flow and ‘sneaker males’

June 22, 2009

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

Climate change research regionalizes U.S. impact

Man-made climate change could bring parching droughts to the Southwest and pounding rainstorms to Washington, put Vermont maple sugar farms out of business and Key West underwater over the next century, according to a federal report released. 

The report, a compilation of work by government scientific agencies, provided the most detailed picture yet of the United States in 2100 — if nothing is done to cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

It found that a warmer world, with average U.S. temperatures increasing four to 11 degrees, would significantly alter natural ecosystems and urban life. More than before, scientists broke down those effects to the regional level. 

To read the full report, click here. To read the Midwest-specific analysis and predictions, click here.

–The Washington Post 

Farm groups oppose climate change bill

Minnesota farmers thought they’d be wearing the white hats.

When the climate-change debate began, many growers were intrigued. They control millions of green acres, the dawn of carbon credits promised new revenue and biofuels showed green could be profitable.

“We are the ones that are growing the crops, and we are the ones that have control over the carbon capture,” said Doug Albin, a corn and soybean farmer near Clarkfield. “So we were trying to figure out if there’s anything we could do to help.”

 It hasn’t worked out that way. As global-warming legislation is being rushed through Congress, nearly every farm group in America now opposes it. Even the Farmers Union, which remains gung-ho about carbon-credit trading, said it would “very much like to support climate-change legislation.” But it won’t, as written.

 A pair of bruising battles has hardened the lines. First came a fight over measuring the carbon footprint of corn-based ethanol. It’s not part of the cap-and-trade bill, but it was a big part of the climate-change debate. When regulators took a hard line against ethanol, the once-hopeful farm sector soured.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 3M wins groundwater suit

The 3M Co. won a landmark court case when a jury ruled against claims of Washington County residents suing the company over chemicals in their groundwater.

 For 3M, it was a triumphant end to a five-year case that once loomed as one of the largest environmental lawsuits in Minnesota history.

 “Obviously, we are pleased with the verdict. It was supported by the evidence,” 3M spokesman Bill Nelson said.

 The jury delivered the unanimous verdict with surprising speed — deliberating four hours to decide a case that involved five weeks in court, 35 witnesses, eight law firms and more than 300 exhibits.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Nitrogen flow to Gulf reduced from 2008

The amount of nutrients delivered from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers in April and May of 2009 to the northern Gulf of Mexico was the tenth- highest measured (about 295,000 metric tons of nitrate-nitrogen) by the U.S. Geological Survey in three decades.

 The amount of nutrients delivered in the spring is a primary factor controlling the size of the hypoxic zone that forms during the early summer in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is the second largest hypoxic zone in the world. Hypoxic zones are areas where oxygen levels drop too low to support most aquatic life in the bottom and near-bottom waters.

In 2008, the hypoxic zone exceeded 20,000 square kilometers, an area similar in size to the state of New Jersey. This spring’s delivery of nitrogen was about 23 percent lower than what was measured in 2008, but still about 11 percent above the average from 1979 to 2009. The amount of nutrients delivered to the Gulf each spring depends, in large part, on precipitation and the resulting amounts of nutrient runoff and streamflow in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin. Streamflows in spring 2009 were about 17 percent above average over the last 30 years.

In previous years, preliminary nutrient fluxes were estimated through June, and were provided in July. Researchers have reported that the May nutrient fluxes are more critical than June nutrient fluxes in determining the extent of the hypoxic zone for that summer. Thus, the USGS is now releasing preliminary estimates of the nutrient flux in mid-June to better address the needs of researchers predicting the size of the hypoxic zone.

–U.S. Geological Survey

 Ruffed grouse count up significantly

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts are significantly higher than last year across most of their range, according to a report released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

 “Counts have been increasing steadily since 2005 but this is the substantial annual increase we’ve been hoping for,” said Mike Larson, DNR research scientist and grouse biologist. “Drumming counts this year are as high as counts during recent peaks in the population cycle.”

 Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 2.0 drums per stop statewide. Last year’s average was 1.4 drums per stop. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

–Minnesota DNR 

Beware the round goby ‘sneaker’ males

Scientists have found the existence of two types of males of a fiercely invasive fish spreading through the Great Lakes, which may provide answers as to how they rapidly reproduce.

 The research, published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, looks at the aggressive round goby, a bottom-dwelling fish which infested the Great Lakes watersheds around 1990. Presently, they are working their way inland through rivers and canal systems and can lead to the decline of native species through competition and predation.

Researchers at McMaster University discovered evidence that in addition to round goby males which guard the nest from predators and look after their offspring, there exists what scientists call “sneaker” males – little males that look like females and sneak into the nests of the larger males.

–Science Daily.com

 Good and bad news on fish in upper Mississippi

The current health and status of the Upper Mississippi River and its resources, such as fish species, are profiled  in a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and state partners.

 Good news — the report indicates that almost all fish species known from the Upper Mississippi River over the past 100 years still presently occur in the river. Bad news — five species of non-native carp make up one half of the weight of all fish, while the other half of the scale is made up of nearly 150 native fish species. These non-native fish harm the ecosystem by destroying habitat and competing for food and space with native species.

–USGS web site

 Wisconsin DNR issues controversial pumping permit

After years of pilot programs and numerous stopgap measures, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued the Crystal, Fish and Mud Lake District a controversial five-year permit that will allow it to continually pump water from its lakes to the Wisconsin River.

 For the residents living in the lake district, the permit represents the culmination of nearly 10 years and about $600,000 spent devising a way to lower the lakes encroaching upon their homes.

 The permit will allow the district to pump 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Fish Lake is lowered about 3 feet to its normal high-water mark.

 However, opponents of the permit view it as eroding environmental standards and potentially damaging the quality of the lower Wisconsin River.

–The Wisconsin State Journal

 Wisconsin crayfish harvested for perch bait

Jim Hansen waded into the chocolate milk-colored Root River, pulled up one of his nine mesh traps and examined the dripping, snapping, writhing contents – crayfish destined to lure Lake Michigan perch to anglers’ fishhooks.

 Some clung valiantly to the sides of the trap, like shipwrecked sailors clutching a life raft. As Hansen tipped the trap toward a white plastic bucket, one critter fell into the water.

 “Oh, we didn’t want him anyway. We’ll get him tomorrow,” Hansen said.

 The 65-year-old Mount Pleasant man, as well as other wild bait harvesters elsewhere in the state, is busy trapping the invasive species that panfish love to eat.

–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Suit challenges de-listing of wolves

Five groups sued the government for removing more than 4,000 gray wolves in the upper Great Lakes region from the endangered list, prolonging a dispute over whether the predator can survive without federal protection.

 Despite the wolf’s comeback from near-extinction in the region over the past two decades, some activists insist it remains vulnerable. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks an injunction returning Great Lakes wolves to the endangered list while the case is heard.

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections last month, as the Obama administration upheld a Bush-era finding that the wolf could survive under state management. The animal protection and environmental groups disagreed.

Management plans crafted by Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin presently do not allow wolves to be hunted or trapped, although farmers and pet owners can kill wolves attacking domestic animals.

–The Associated Press

 USDA kills 4.9 million animals

The number of animals poisoned, shot or snared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than doubled last year, and environmentalists who are critical of the killings are renewing their effort to cut the program’s funding.

 The USDA’s Wildlife Services division killed more than 4.9 million animals during the 2008 fiscal year, some of them pests that threaten crops. That’s more than double the 2.4 million animals killed the previous year, but the agency contends the increase is due to more accurate counting methods.

 Wildlife Services, which released the annual death count last week, reported that 90 percent of animals killed in 2008 included crows, blackbirds, magpies and three species of invasive birds: European starlings, sparrows and pigeons.

–The Associated Press

 U.S., Canada to revise Great Lakes pact

The United States and Canada say they will update a key agreement to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species, climate change and other established and emerging threats to the world’s biggest surface freshwater system.

 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which was last amended in 1987, is no longer sufficient.

 She announced the deal to revise it — something environmental groups have been pushing for — with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon during a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The treaty created an international commission to settle water-related disputes between the two countries.

–The Associated Press

 Chemicals, human hormones don’t mix

First organic food — free of pesticides — had the spotlight. Then consumers learned about buying cosmetics without parabens. Just last month Minnesota banned the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups.

The mounting health cautions might seem tedious — does every little thing cause cancer? — but a common thread weaves through the concerns. Numerous everyday products are made with chemicals that may disrupt people’s endocrine system, which is also known as the hormone system.

–The Star Tribune

EPA sets hearing in Ashland, Wis., cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a cleanup plan for polluted soil, ground water and sediment at the Ashland/Northern States Power Lakefront Superfund site in Ashland, Wis. A public comment period runs June 17 to July 16.

  A formal public hearing where comments on the plan will be accepted is set for 7 p.m., Monday, June 29, at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

The EPA, with consultation from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, is proposing an estimated $83 million to $97 million cleanup project that includes:

  •  Removing soil from the most contaminated areas of Kreher Park and the Upper Bluff/Filled Ravine, thermally treating the soil on-site and re-using it or disposing of it off-site.
  • Using barriers to contain and stop the movement of contaminants in groundwater, possibly treating the groundwater in-place and adding wells to extract and treat ground water.
  •  Digging up wood waste and contaminated sediment near the Chequamegon Bay shore and dredging contaminated sediment offshore, covering the offshore cleanup area with 6 inches of clean material and treating contaminated sediment after removal or disposing of it off-site.

 The Ashland/NSP Lakefront Superfund site includes several properties within the city of Ashland, including Kreher Park, and about 16 acres of sediment and surface water in Chequamegon Bay. Environmental concerns stem from a manufactured gas plant that operated in the area from 1885 to 1947.

Find more site information at http://www.epa.gov/region5/sites/ashland/index.htm.
–EPA News Release

Obama stuns environmentalists with national forest stance

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama wooed environmentalists with a promise to “support and defend” pristine national forest land from road building and other development that had been pushed by the George W. Bush administration.

But five months into Obama’s presidency, the new administration is actively opposing those protections on about 60 million acres of federal woodlands in a case being considered by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

 The roadless issue is one of several instances of the administration defending in court environmental policies that it once vowed to end.

Its position has been a disappointment to environmentalists who had hoped for decisive action in rolling back Bush-era policies.

–Los Angeles Times

 Pollution studied through tiny microorganisms

With a $165,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Melissa Lobegeier will soon begin a second study focused on water quality, and this time, she will focus her research in the Clinch and Powell Rivers of southwestern Virginia, where pollution from mining is a concern.

 An assistant professor of geosciences at Middle Tennessee State University, Lobegeier will examine two types of microorganisms that are indicators of pollution; namely, thecamoebians and foraminifera, which are hard-shelled, single-celled organisms that tend to be very well preserved because of their hard shells. While a lot remains unknown about them because it’s difficult to keep them alive in the lab, Lobegeier says they are believed to catch food particles by sticking protoplasm out through holes in the shells. Their reproductive cycle is something of a puzzle.

 “They have an asexual phase where they reproduce by splitting up their protoplasm up into a whole lot of juveniles and then regrow,” she says. “And then they have a sexual phase where that asexual generation produces the egg and the sperm, which then they release from their shell. And they come together to form the next juveniles, who reproduce asexually.”

–Science Blog

 “Green” rating system developed for fish

Quick: Which fish has a smaller carbon footprint: yellowfin or barramundi? What about halibut or salmon? Oysters or clams?

 Those are questions that even the most earnest chef would probably have a hard time answering. Even if he could know, just keeping track would be a full-time job.

Chefs have plenty of other things to do. And so at their behest, Washington, D.C.-based seafood distributor ProFish soon will unveil a rating system that helps chefs compare the environmental impacts of popular fish from sea to table.

 The program, called Carbon Fishprint, gives each fish a score based on whether it was farmed or wild, how it was caught, and the amount of energy used in harvesting and shipping.

–The Washington Post

 Lake Tahoe project aims to end invasive species spread

This summer, researchers will begin a project aimed at halting the spread of invasive species in Lake Tahoe. While the Tahoe Keys are the focus, the work is important for all who live around the lake, take advantage of its recreational opportunities, appreciate its beauty or depend on tourism for their livelihood.

Most of us are familiar with the efforts to keep destructive quagga mussels out of the lake. While we’re winning that battle for now, other invaders — such as the aquatic plants Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed and the warm water fish largemouth bass and bluegill — are already established.

–The Tahoe Daily Tribune

 Hearing proposed for Arizona gas storage bill

The collapse of two salt water wells in southeast New Mexico is reason enough to kill a bill exempting a proposed natural gas storage facility in Eloy from Arizona groundwater protection rules, the project’s opponents say.

 Supporters, however, say that it’s not fair to compare the two operations because they’re significantly different, and that the Arizona gas storage site can be designed to make sure a collapse doesn’t happen.

 An Arizona State Senate committee plans a hearing on the proposed Eloy facility on Monday afternoon. The House has already passed the bill, which supporters say is needed to ensure adequate long-term natural gas supplies and which opponents fear risks groundwater contamination

–Arizona Daily Star

 Joshua trees could disappear from S. California

A breeze stirs the silence at Joshua Tree National Park as a red-tailed hawk takes flight from the spiky arm of one of the namesake plants in search of breakfast.

It’s a scene that national parks protector Mike Cipra has witnessed many times. Still, he can’t contain his enthusiasm on this early morning outing, despite the gloomy topic he’s discussing with a visitor — the probable extinction of the Joshua tree in the park that bears its name.

 The ancient plants are dying in the park, the southern-most boundary of their limited growing region, scientists say. Already finicky reproducers, Joshua trees are the victim of global warming and its symptoms — including fire and drought — plus pollution and the proliferation of non-native plants. Experts expect the Joshuas to vanish entirely from the southern half of the state within a century.

–The Press Enterprise

 U-Haul customers give $1 million to offset emissions In April of 2007, U-Haul began partnering with The Conservation Fund to facilitate customers’ donations at checkout in order to offset carbon emissions generated from in-town and out-of-town moves. In just two years, more than 287,000 U-Haul customers have elected to offset their emissions. The Conservation Fund has used those donations to plant 133,000 trees that are expected to trap 156,000 tons of carbon dioxide as they mature.

“By leveraging our human, technical, financial and business resources, U-Haul and our customers have made a real difference in protecting the environment and mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions,” stated John “J.T.” Taylor, president of U-Haul International, Inc. “U-Haul customers should be applauded for their support of The Conservation Fund, and for benefiting the communities where we live and serve.”

–PR Newswire

Sustainable practices yield profits, study says

A series of scandals over the years have taught Western companies an important lesson about operating in developing countries: Any indication that a company or one of its suppliers is exploiting workers or damaging the environment in these regions can have devastating effects on a company’s reputation—world-wide. The result is fleeing customers and investors.

 But here’s a lesson many executives have yet to learn: A commitment to improving social and environmental conditions in the developing countries where a company operates is the key to maximizing the profits and growth of those operations.

 That’s the conclusion we drew after studying more than 200 companies. As a group, the companies most engaged in social and environmental sustainability are also the most profitable.

–The Wall Street Journal

 Veterans want inquiry into Camp Lejeune water contamination

Kidney cancer, Mike Edwards says, came so close to killing him five years ago that he saw a stairway to heaven and smelled the brimstone of hell.

Now, Edwards and thousands of other veterans are caught in a kind of purgatory. They believe decades of drinking-water contamination at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base sickened them or their family members.

But they may never know the truth.

 Federal officials acknowledge that, from the 1950s to 1985, up to 500,000 people at Lejeune might have been exposed to high doses of chemicals that probably cause cancer and other illnesses.

 A new report offers little hope of answers. No amount of study, it said, is likely to conclusively prove the contamination made anybody sick.

–The Sun News

 Alaska lake dumping permit upheld by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has upheld a federal government permit to dump waste from an Alaskan gold mine into a nearby lake, even though all its fish would be killed.

 By a 6-3 vote, the justices say a federal appeals court wrongly blocked the permit on environmental grounds.

Environmentalists fear that the ruling could set a precedent for how mining waste is disposed in American lakes, streams and rivers.

 The Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 issued a permit for waste disposal at the proposed Kensington mine north of Juneau. Under the plan, tailings — waste left after metals are extracted from ore — would be dumped into Lower Slate Lake.

–The Star Tribune

 Hudson River PCB-sludge to be dumped in Texas

Later this month, the first trainloads of PCB-tainted sludge dredged from the Hudson River will arrive and, in the eyes of critics, will turn a stretch of West Texas into New York’s “pay toilet.”

 They argue that burying dirt so toxic that General Electric Co. will spend at least six years and an estimated $750 million to dig it up will only create a new mess for future generations to clean up.

 But for 15 new jobs and the little bit of money it’ll bring local businesses, the folks who live near the site are willing to take the risk, however remote, of tainting the area’s groundwater by taking out somebody else’s trash.

–The Star Tribune

Gray water, revived rivers, and a new day for Venetian tap water

June 15, 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.

Mussel revival targets Mississippi
Federal divers waded into the Mississippi River looking for signs of life. Finding the winged mapleleaf mussels that had been planted last fall downstream from the Ford Dam would give hope that even sensitive native species can once again survive there.

“Forty or fifty years ago you couldn’t find anything alive in this section of the river, let alone think about reintroducing an endangered species here,” said Byron Karns, biologist for the National Park Service.

Karns and another diver swam parallel upstream, feeling their way along the murky bottom about 25 feet from shore and towing a float with a bright orange safety flag. They were looking for two containers, each about the size of a salad-mixing bowl. Each held five winged mapleleaf mussels — named for a small extension of the shell that resembles a wing — that scientists had helped to propagate and nurture since late 2004.
–The Star Tribune

Venice promotes l’acqua del sindaco
In this hot and noble city, discarded water bottles float by gondolas on the edges of the canals and spill out of trash cans on the majestic Piazza San Marco. Because Venice has no roads, trash must be collected on foot at enormous expense. And while plastic bottles can in principle be recycled, the process still unleashes greenhouse gases.

Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.
–The New York Times

Groundwater sends mercury to sea, fish
Groundwater flowing into the ocean may be a significant source of a highly toxic form of mercury, University of California scientists say.

The group headed by researchers at UC Santa Cruz found high levels of methylmercury in underwater flows at Stinson Beach in Marin County, north of San Francisco, and at Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County, south of San Francisco.

The study suggests that groundwater may be as big a source of mercury in coastal waters as mercury deposited from atmospheric pollution.

Methylmercury accumulates in the food chain, leading to levels in some sea food that can be dangerous if too much is consumed.

“The big question for public health is, ‘Where is all the mercury in seafood coming from?'” says coauthor Russell Flegal, a professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz. “What we have shown is that methylmercury is coming from groundwater in California at surprisingly high levels.”
–United Press International

WA farmers object to water rights transfer
Conservation groups and farmers are opposing a June 11 decision by the Washington Department of Ecology to approve a water rights transfer for a proposed large feedlot on dry land near the small town of Eltopia, about 75 miles east of Yakima, according to a June 12 Associated Press (AP) report.

Easterday Ranches Inc., one of the largest feedlot operators in the Northwest, has said the proposed feedlot, which it hopes to begin building later this summer, could accommodate as many as 30,000 cattle at peak operation. The feedlot still requires a state air quality permit.

The Department of Ecology approved the water rights transfer for the project from a neighboring farm that used 316 acre-feet of water annually to irrigate potatoes, blue grass and winter wheat. The department estimated that a feedlot of 30,000 cattle would consume more than 500,000 gallons of water daily.
–Water Tech Online

Congress urged to protect fish from drugs
Pollution experts pressed a congressional panel for stronger action to keep pharmaceuticals and other contaminants out of the water, saying they are hurting fish and may threaten human health.

Thomas P. Fote, a New Jersey conservationist who sits on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said the pollutants are damaging commercial fisheries. He told congressmen not to “study a problem to death and never do anything.”

Fote appeared in a lineup of witnesses before the subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the House Natural Resources Committee. The witnesses pointed to research showing damage to fish and other aquatic species from pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other industrial chemicals, especially those that alter growth-regulating endocrine systems. Some scientists worry about the potential of similar harm to humans.
–The Associated Press

Report released on endocrine disruptors
The Endocrine Society — conducting its annual meeting in Washington, DC, — has released a 50+ page detailed Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.

According to the EPA, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic a natural hormone, fool the body into over-responding to the stimulus (e.g., thyroid hormone that results in hyperthyroidism), or respond at inappropriate times (e.g., producing thyroid hormone when it is not needed). Other endocrine disrupting chemicals block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors (e.g. thyroid hormones required for normal development). Still others directly stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system and cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones (e.g. an over or underactive thyroid). Certain drugs are used to intentionally cause some of these effects, such as birth control pills. In many situations involving environmental chemicals, however, an endocrine effect is not desirable.

American endocrinologists have not formally weighed in on the issue in depth until the release of the statement. You can download a free copy of this PDF document online now.
–Endocrine Society news release

Recycling gray water cheaply, safely
A severe drought out West continues to threaten farms, fish, and water supplies to nearly everyone. Tighter water restrictions went into effect this month in much of Southern California, and the federal government issued a directive that could cut water delivery to farmers and residents in the state by 7 percent.

But some believe California is missing out on a key conservation method that’s already available.

Susan Carpenter breaks California state plumbing code three times a week. Her accomplice is her washing machine. Rinse water from washing machines usually goes into the sewer — so what if you could recycle it? That’s what Carpenter does, using it to water plants at her Southern California home.
–National Public Radio

German scientists distill water from air
Not a plant to be seen, the desert ground is too dry. But the air contains water, and research scientists have found a way of obtaining drinking water from air humidity. The system is based completely on renewable energy and is therefore autonomous.

Cracks permeate the dried-out desert ground, the landscape bears testimony to the lack of water. But even here, where there are no lakes, rivers or groundwater, considerable quantities of water are stored in the air. In the Negev desert in Israel, for example, annual average relative air humidity is 64 percent – in every cubic meter of air there are 11.5 milliliters of water.

Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart working in conjunction with their colleagues from the company Logos Innovationen have found a way of converting this air humidity autonomously and decentrally into drinkable water.
–Science Daily

St. Croix River case goes to Supreme Court
Broadcasting executive Rob Hubbard’s new house on the St. Croix River is finished and his family has moved in, but his three-year fight with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources isn’t over.

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hubbard’s case last week.

“This case is about property rights,” Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said. “It is a big deal. It’s a really big deal.”

The DNR asked the Supreme Court to review a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that favored Hubbard.

Hubbard bought a 3.8-acre parcel on the river in Lakeland for $1.6 million in April 2006. He planned to knock down a small cabin on the property and build a much larger house on the cabin’s footprint. He asked for and received permission from Lakeland officials to set the footprint of the house closer to the bluff line than rules allow.

But that fall, officials from the DNR, which manages the federally protected scenic riverway, refused to sign off on the variances granted by Lakeland. According to the DNR, any new house must be built 40 feet from the bluff line.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Gray water use now legal in Oregon
Reusing bath, laundry and sink water used to be illegal in eco-friendly Oregon, but no more.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a bill today that makes it OK to replumb your house to capture so-called “gray water” as a way to save water and dollars.

“This will allow us to water our garden with our bath water. It’s very simple,” said Brenna Bell, a citizen activist working to change state codes that block environmental practices
–Oregonlive.com

Water is the next carbon
Move over, carbon, the next shoe to drop in the popular awareness of eco-issues is the “water footprint.”

That’s the word in environmental circles these days. Just as the image of a heavy carbon foot made it possible for the masses to grasp the power of carbon-dioxide emissions, water footprint is the phrase now drawing attention to the impact of human behavior regarding water.

“H2O is the next CO2,” says Nicholas Eisenberger, managing principal of GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable business. As a phrase, water footprint “will probably move more quickly through the public mind as it catches on,” he says, because water is more tangible than carbon.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Minnesota River making a comeback
One of the best parts of this job is “discovering” some unsung Minnesota treasure and singing its praises.

In some cases, the intent is to prod St. Paul policymakers to lift a finger to see that the treasure survives for future generations.

Yet the case already has been made — often — to preserve the Minnesota River. My plea here is for more Minnesotans to consider this river’s fishery. It is truly unsung, amazing and worth improving upon.

Remarkably, paddlefish are returning in these waters, which once were an open sewer for river communities and industry. Another returnee and pollution-sensitive species, lake sturgeon, is increasingly being caught. Giant flathead catfish in excess of 50 pounds are beginning to lure anglers from as far as Texas.
— St. Paul Pioneer Press

US. Canada agree to re-open negotiations on Great Lakes Pact
Canada and the U.S. have agreed to renegotiate their pact on protecting the Great Lakes.

In her first trip to Canada since becoming the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton met with Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on  Saturday to announce the reopening of the Great Lakes agreement, which was created in 1972 and last amended 22 years ago.

The move is being cheered by environmentalists and politicians who say the Great Lakes agreement is in desperate need of an overhaul to deal with growing and new threats such as invasive species and climate change.
–The Hamilton Spectator

EPA plans public meeting on Cass Lake cleanup
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting June 23 to update Cass Lake residents on the development of cleanup plans for ground water at the former St. Regis Paper wood treatment facility. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m., at Leech Lake Tribal College, Room 100, A-Wing, 113 Balsam N.W., Cass Lake.

The EPA is working with International Paper Co. and BNSF, as well as the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to develop options to permanently reduce health risks at the Superfund  site.  A feasibility study to evaluate a number of options is under way.

Once the study is complete, EPA will propose a recommended approach and present it to area residents. A public hearing will likely occur in late 2009 or early 2010.  The June 23 meeting will provide a progress report and give citizens an opportunity to ask questions of EPA and its partners.

The St. Regis Paper Superfund site was a wood treatment facility that operated from about 1958 to 1985.  The site was initially cleaned up in the 1980s by its former owner, Champion International.  International Paper is the current property owner and continues to treat groundwater from the site.

For more information, go to www.epa.gov/region5/sites/stregis/.
–U.S. EPA news release

In Massachusetts and elsewhere, beavers are back
The dozens of public works officials, municipal engineers, conservation agents and others who crowded into a meeting room here one recent morning needed help. Property in their towns was flooding, they said. Culverts were clogged. Septic tanks were being overwhelmed.

We have a huge problem,” said David Pavlik, an engineer for the town of Lexington, Mass. where dams built by beavers have sent water flooding into the town’s sanitary sewers. “We trapped them,” he said. “We breached their dam. Nothing works. We are looking for long-term solutions.”

Mary Hansen, a conservation agent from Maynard, said it starkly: “There are beavers everywhere.”
–The New York Times

Georgia declares end to two-year drought
Georgia lifted tough outdoor water restrictions and declared an end to the drought that has gripped much of the state since late 2007.

The move takes effect immediately.

“This drought has ended,” Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch said. “Our water supplies are flush. Our rivers and streams have rebounded.”

At a meeting of the State Drought Response Committee, Couch said that Georgia is moving to non-drought water rules. Homeowners can now water their lawns three days a week, based on whether they have an odd or even street addresses.
–Rome News-Tribune

Oil slicks, estrogen in the water, and rooftop farming

June 8, 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.

Estrogen linked to fish kills, study suggests
Exposure to estrogen puts fish at greater risk of disease and premature death, according to a new federal study.

The U.S. Geological Survey study showed that estrogen exposure reduces a fish’s ability to produce proteins that help it ward off disease and pointed to a possible link between the occurrence of intersex fish and recent fish kills in the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.

The report, published in the current issue of Fish & Shellfish Immunology, adds to a growing body of research pointing to problems with estrogen in the nation’s waterways.
–The New York Times

DNR investigates reported fishkill
A reported die-off of sturgeon in the Mississippi River south of Prescott, Wis., prompted an inconclusive search by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff.

DNR area fisheries supervisor Kevin Stauffer said a three-hour search by fisheries staff didn’t reveal any dead sturgeon in Pool 3, the stretch of river between Hastings and Red Wing.

Anglers reported the fishkill to the DNR, saying they had seen dead fish last weekend and the previous week.

Greg Schorn of Newport said he and another angler had seen 50 to 100 dead sturgeon, as well as several other dead species, while they were fishing Pool 3.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Oil slick covers 80 miles of Mississippi River
Crews continued to work overnight Wednesday to corral a huge oil spill on the Mississippi River that now stretches more than 80 miles below New Orleans and threatens the fragile delta ecosystem. Government officials, meanwhile, are scrambling to bolster water supplies downriver from the spill and some anticipate possibly having to truck in water.

More than 400,000 gallons of thick industrial fuel oil spilled just upriver from the Crescent City Connection in the collision early Wednesday morning between a tanker and a barge being pulled by a tugboat. The oil spill, the largest on the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area in nearly a decade, halted shipping traffic on one of the nation’s busiest waterways.

The Coast Guard, which is investigating the incident, has released few details, but confirmed that none of the tugboat’s crew had the proper licenses to operate on the river. Neither the tug operator’s name nor the name of the river pilot aboard the tanker has been released.
–NOLA.com

Vermont cows do their thing to curb global warming
Chewing her cud on a recent sunny morning, Libby, a 1,400-pound Holstein, paused to do her part in the battle against global warming, emitting a fragrant burp.

Libby, age 6, and the 74 other dairy cows on Guy Choiniere’s farm here are at the heart of an experiment to determine whether a change in diet will help them belch less methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that has been linked to climate change.

Since January, cows at 15 farms across Vermont have had their grain feed adjusted to include more plants like alfalfa and flaxseed — substances that, unlike corn or soy, mimic the spring grasses that the animals evolved long ago to eat.
–The New York Times

New mining development in northern Minnesota poses environmental risk
The fears about copper-nickel mining start with sulfuric rock the metals are found in. When exposed to the air, these rocks can leech caustic pollutants like acid and metals.

Just west of Duluth, the St. Louis River spills through rocky channels on a final plunge to Lake Superior. Retired biology teacher Len Anderson said, not only is this area beautiful, it’s key for the Lake Superior fishery.

“It also is the nursery for many of the fish that inhabit Lake Superior,” Anderson said. “You know, over 100 river miles away from PolyMet, but this is where, I believe, the critical issue is going to come to a head.”

The issue, he said, is methyl mercury – mercury in a form that can harm fish as well as the people and animals that eat the fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio News

L.A. restricts lawn sprinkling to two days a week
It’s now illegal to water lawns in the nation’s second-largest city except on Mondays and Thursdays as Southern California deals with the effects of drought and regulatory restrictions on its distant water supplies.

The city is facing its third consecutive year of water supply shortages, according to the city Department of Water and Power, and the new sprinkler ordinance is accompanied by a pocketbook incentive for conservation.

The amount of water customers can purchase at the lowest price, known as Tier 1, will now be reduced by 15 percent. Customers who do not achieve a 15 percent reduction in usage will be charged at a higher rate for every gallon above their Tier 1 allotment.
–The Associated Press

A rooftop garden grows in Milwaukee
A year ago, Erik Lindberg rented a boom lift with a bucket and hoisted 15 cubic yards of dirt to the roof of his north side remodeling business. In the process, he planted himself firmly in the middle of a growing urban agriculture movement.

Lindberg, owner of Community Building & Restoration, turned to rooftop gardening in the belief that his actions might encourage people to grow their own food or buy locally grown produce.

And by selling the vegetables he grows to subscribers and a nearby Outpost Natural Foods store, he may have become Milwaukee’s first commercial rooftop farmer.

“It’s an experiment,” said Lindberg, 42. “Can you develop a business plan out of something like this? The answer is, I don’t know yet.”
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Three-quarters of Texas county homes at risk from climate change
A new study suggests more than 100,000 households will be displaced and more than $12 billion infrastructure losses suffered as a result of climate change raising the sea level in the Galveston area over the next 100 years.

The finding comes three days after a Texas A&M University study found that Corpus Christi’s infrastructure will also be affected by climate change.

“The Socio-Economic Impact of Sea Level Rise in the Galveston Bay Region,” commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and the British Consulate-General Houston, estimates that 78 percent of households will be displaced in Galveston County. A more aggressive sea level rise could displace 93 percent of households, according to the study.
–Houston Business Journal

Federal charges filed in Louisiana wastewater case
Louisiana Land and Water Co. owner Jeff Pruett was arrested by federal marshals after being indicted on 17 felony counts of violating federal pollution laws.

Pruett is president and chief executive officer of Louisiana Land & Water Co., the principal officer of LWC Management Co. and operates more than 30 water and wastewater treatment systems in northeastern Louisiana.

The charges involve violations of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act — commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act — at more than a half-dozen of the systems owned or operated by Pruett.
–The News Star

Invasive species legislation runs into a roadblock: pet owners
Water managers dispatched two experts to Washington recently to back a bill targeting an Everglades problem that seems to get bigger every year. The latest, largest evidence emerged in mid-May: a Burmese python stretching 16½ feet.

It is the longest yet of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the exotic constrictors the South Florida Water Management District has pulled off its lands and levees in the past few years. More sobering: The female was pregnant, carrying a clutch of 59 eggs — more proof the giant snakes are breeding in the wild.

“These are not little snakes running around. These are massive, dangerous animals,” said district spokesman Randy Smith.
–Richmond Times-Dispatch

U.S. restricts California water use to protect salmon
Federal regulators levied sweeping new rules on Delta water deliveries to prevent the thirst of California’s farms and cities from rendering extinct several salmon runs, steelhead, green sturgeon and a Pacific Northwest population of killer whales.

The suite of regulations would ensure more cold water is available for spawning fish, and that water operators make it easier for fish to swim from upstream spawning grounds through San Francisco Bay and back again.

The National Marine Fisheries Service estimated the new regulations would cut water supplies from the Delta beginning next year by about 5 percent to 7 percent, or roughly 330,000 acre-feet a year, enough water for a city of about 2 million people. Most of the water loss is due to measures to help steelhead migrate down the San Joaquin River, officials said.

The hit to Delta water supplies comes on top of rules put in place in December to prevent Delta pumps from driving another fish, Delta smelt, to extinction.
–San Jose Mercury News

Lawmakers seek restrictions on oil drilling tactic
U.S. lawmakers expect to introduce legislation that would reverse a Bush era law exempting a controversial drilling practice from federal oversight, possibly driving up costs and curtailing the development of vast amounts of unconventional energy.

Democratic Representatives Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maurice Hinchey of New York plan a bill that would repeal a measure in a 2005 law that excluded the method of hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“This is a very serious issue. If it is not addressed, large numbers of people are very likely to suffer,” Hinchey told Reuters. “Their water will be contaminated. Their houses will no longer be livable.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations at high pressure to force out oil and natural gas. The practice is used to stimulate production in old wells, but is now also used to tap oil and gas trapped in shale beds across North America.
–Reuters

Wisconsin ballast water rules delayed
Wisconsin DNR Secretary Matt Frank says shipping industry concerns about technology are holding up a state plan to make oceangoing Great Lakes ships clean-up their ballast water.

Fishing groups and environmentalists are urging the DNR to finish work on a proposed permit plan aimed at stopping ships with contaminated ballast water from using Wisconsin ports. The Great Lakes ships that come from other nations are thought to bring in invasive species.  Frank says his agency still plans to move ahead with the  permit. But he says some shipping companies say the clean-up technology isn’t quite ready.

Frank says he’s pleased that New York’s ballast water rules were recently upheld, but adds the best thing would be if the federal government passed tougher ballast water requirements. He says the DNR will make a decision sometime this year.
–Wisconsin Public Radio

China reports water pollution reduction
China cut its water pollution and emissions of acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide last year as it stepped up efforts to make its economic growth cleaner, state media said.

Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), a measure of water pollution, dropped by 4.42 percent in 2008 from a year earlier, while sulphur dioxide emissions were down 5.95 percent, the official Xinhua news agency said.

China has promised to cut the two key pollution measures by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010, and is also looking to reduce its energy intensity, or the amount of energy used to create each unit of gross domestic product.
–Reuters

Vacant homes pose mosquito risk
Neglected and foreclosed, abandoned homes add one more obstacle to control mosquitoes, said Clark County Health Department official Doug Bentfield.



Though numbers are sporadic, the number of abandoned properties that need to be sprayed with chemicals to kill the bug’s larvae have increased, he said.



“This is costing the county money,” Bentfield said.



Most problems arise when owners leave items that collect water outside such as pools, bird baths and old tires. Even the children’s pools become a breeding ground for the mosquitoes if neglected.
–The News and Tribune

IBM researching better arsenic filter
Many people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. In places including Bangladesh, millions must drink water containing arsenic, which can cause neurological problems, organ failure, and death. Making robust water filters that can remove salt and arsenic without requiring a lot of energy has been a challenge. Researchers at IBM are developing a material used to make computer chips for more-efficient removal of salt and toxic chemicals from drinking water.

Polymer-membrane water filters have been in use since the 1970s “with no big materials innovation in a long time,” says Robert Allen, senior manager of chemistry at IBM’s Almaden Research Center, in San Jose, CA. There are problems with traditional membrane filters. The chlorine used to kill pathogens in water degrades them. They’re susceptible to fouling, or clogging up, when the water forced through them in a desalination process called reverse osmosis contains oil or proteins.

The IBM researchers have made a new membrane material that resists these problems while also screening out arsenic.
–MIT Technology Review

Infested lake waters, trash burners and lawn-mowing goats

June 1, 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.

Lake Winnibigoshish now designated “infested water”
Anglers and boaters must adhere to stricter rules on Lake Winnibigoshish near Deer River because the lake has been designated “infested waters” under state regulations.

The infested-waters designation was made May 7 because of an exotic species, the faucet snail, first found on the lake in 2007. The snail is a host for a trematode that has caused the die-off of hundreds of scaup and coots on Lake Winnibigoshish during the past two falls’ waterfowl migrations.

Winnie’s designation as an infested water will have broad implications.

“I think it’s a real big deal,” said Chris Kavanaugh, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. “It’s important we get the word out to folks so they comply with the laws that are intended to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species to other waters.”
-Duluth News Tribune

UM students work on clean water to India
A team of University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students from a civil engineering class are in India to share their ideas and plans for helping bring clean water to thousands of residents living in the slums of Mumbai — the same impoverished area that provided the backdrop for the Oscar-winning movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The University of Minnesota students, who collaborated with students from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, are winners of the first-ever Acara Challenge sponsored by the Minnesota-based Acara Institute, a non-profit institute that tackles global problems through sustainable business solutions.
–UM News Service

Environmental fund closes down
John Hunting, an heir to the Steelcase office furniture fortune, always knew that his foundation, the Beldon Fund, would have a limited life span.

“I felt as an environmentalist that it was imperative to spend the money now, because it would be silly to wait for the future if there wasn’t going to be a future,” Mr. Hunting said in an interview the other day. “And I also felt that if I died and there was a board running things, the money might start going to causes I wasn’t interested in funding.”

On Friday, the Beldon Fund closed its doors, having spent about $120 million over a decade strengthening environmental organizations in five states — Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin — and increasing awareness of the impact that environmental degradation has on human health.
–The New York Times

Downtown Minneapolis Trash Burn to Increase 20 Percent
Just in time for the return of outdoor baseball to Minnesota, the downtown garbage burner is planning to expand next door to the new ballpark.

A proposal making its way through Minneapolis City Hall would allow the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center to burn as much as 20 percent more trash — about 200 tons more per day — the first expansion since the burner was built in 1989. The change would occur next summer when the Minnesota Twins would be playing their first season at Target Field.

Opposition so far is limited to environmental activist Leslie Davis, who unsuccessfully sued to block construction of the stadium until the environmental impact of its location was studied. Twins and ballpark officials support the burner plans.
-Star Tribune

Minnesota to receive $107 million for Clean Water Fund
Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced that Minnesota will receive more than $107 million in funding for the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program.

The money will also come, in part, from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund that comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds will help jumpstart the economy and create jobs, while improving water quality.

“I believe the first responsibility of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens, and making sure people have clean water to drink is an important part of that,” said Klobuchar.
–KSTP TV

Funding granted for shoreline stabilization project
A grant received by the East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (EOTSWCD) will go toward shoreline stabilization projects.

The funding was granted by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to pay for services provided by a Minnesota Conservation Corps (MCC) crew. The funding was available through the Clean Water Legacy program to assist with projects that help protect and restore water quality.
–The Fergus Falls Daily Journal

Well water could cause health problems in children
Private well water should be tested yearly, and in some cases more often, according to new guidance offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The recommendations call for annual well testing, especially for nitrate and microorganisms such as coliform bacteria, which can indicate that sewage has contaminated the well. The recommendations point out circumstances when additional testing should occur, including testing when there is a new infant in the house or if the well is subjected to structural damage.
–Science Daily

Shoreview tests permeable paving
Shoreview is betting on a new “green” concrete paving method that lets rainwater pass right through the street surface to prevent damaging runoff.

Pervious concrete — made of gravel and cement minus the sand that gives regular concrete its impenetrable density — has the porous quality of a Rice Krispies bar.

Because it will allow water to drain straight to the ground below, Shoreview will install about a mile of pervious concrete streets without storm sewers in the Woodbridge neighborhood on Lake Owasso.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin volunteers document life in holding ponds
Jody Barbeau wades into a shallow pond in woods less than a mile from shoppers at Mayfair Mall and commuters on congested U.S. Highway 45 – to glimpse a bustling community of other creatures.

Two mallard ducks cautiously paddle away from Barbeau, but there is no indication of aquatic life until he lifts a net out of the water.

Reddish dots on the fabric are water mites, he said.

A nearly transparent crustacean with a bulbous head is a male fairy shrimp, a relative of the lobster, said Barbeau, a biologist and volunteer pond monitor. They float belly up.

An explosion of fairy shrimp in late April and early May clogged the
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Maryland goats invasives to save turtles
A herd of goats coming to the rescue of a handful of imperiled turtles may sound like the plot of a Saturday morning children’s cartoon show, but that’s just what’s happening in the Carroll County town of Hampstead.

The State Highway Administration has enlisted the help of about 40 goats to devour invasive plant species in wetlands along the path of the soon-to-open, 4.4-mile Hampstead Bypass to protect the habitat of the bog turtle – a species listed as threatened in Maryland.

State highway officials decided to give the goats a tryout as four-legged lawn mowers rather than to attack the unwanted vegetation with mechanical mowers that might have killed the diminutive reptiles or damaged their boggy habitat on the fringe of Hampstead. The goats – leased from a local farmer who prefers to remain anonymous – have been on the job for a week, and highway officials say that so far they seem to be up to the task.
–The Baltimore Sun

Research: Environmental estrogens impact male rats
A five-generation rat study provides the clearest evidence to date that exposure to low levels of environmental estrogens can increase the risk of abnormal cell growth in the male breast.  Abnormalities which could have the potential to become cancerous developed in the mammary gland tissue of male rats that were exposed to either the soy-based phytoestrogen genistein or ethinyl estradiol – an estrogen used in birth control pills. The findings support a growing concern that exposure to low levels of estrogen in the environment might increase the risk of breast cancer.
–Environmental Health News

Legislation limits DNR oversight of Mississippi
Cities and homeowners who feared new rules would reduce their control over property and development are welcoming changes made in the critical-river-area measure signed by the governor.

Legislators said the bill, included in the Legacy Amendment law, was modified to protect homeowners and cities along a 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Hastings to Dayton.

The measure allocated $500,000 over two years for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revise rules for new development along the corridor. The DNR is to begin developing rules in January.
–The Star Tribune

Australian desalination plant under way
Sydney’s controversial desalination plant is almost 80 per cent complete and will start pumping drinking water this summer, the New South Wales  government says.

NSW Water Minister Phillip Costa says the plant, at Kurnell is Sydney’s south, will be able to provide 15 per cent of the city’s water within five years.

“It’s well and truly advanced, 70 to 80 per cent complete. Commissioning will occur by the end of the year,” he told a Sydney conference on NSW’s urban water sustainability. “We’re looking at water coming online in the summer 09-10. Once operational the plant will be capable of producing 250 million litres of water a day.”
–theage.com.au

Northeastern U.S. could face rising seas
In the debate over global warming, one thing is clear: as the planet gets warmer, sea levels will rise. But how much, where and how soon? Those questions are notoriously hard to answer.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colo., are now adding to the complexity with a new prediction. If the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets continues to accelerate, they say, sea levels will rise even more in the northeastern United States and Maritime Canada than in other areas around the world.
–The New York Times