Archive for July, 2009

Conservation and sustainability

July 27, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles and research abut water and the environment. Scan the entries here, then follow the links to read the article and research in their original sources.

Report calls for irrigation conservation

California farmers could save enough water each year to fill Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir 16 times by using more efficient irrigation techniques, according to a study that is bound to be highly controversial among the state’s powerful agriculture interests.

The report, released by the Pacific Institute, an Oakland water policy group, also recommends that the state rethink its historic water rights system and boost water prices. Both measures, in theory, would spur agricultural users to use less water at a time when climate change, urban growth and ecological restoration are expected to further cramp water supplies.

“If we want to have a healthy agriculture economy, the only real option is to figure out how to produce more food with less water,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and co-author of “Sustaining California Agriculture in an Uncertain Future.”

Farmers agree water supplies are stretched, but they disagree on the cause. During recent “fish vs. farm” rallies in the Central Valley, protesters decried environmental rules that have cut water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect endangered fish species.

–The San Francisco Chronicle

Federal grant program to encourage new conservation methods

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $18.4 million in Conservation Innovation Grants to fund 55 projects to develop and refine cutting-edge technologies and approaches to help farmers and ranchers conserve and sustain natural resources. Vilsack made the announcement in a speech at the Soil and Water Conservation Society annual meeting in Dearborn, Mich.

“New technology can play an important role in addressing environmental problems, and the Obama Administration is committed to developing innovative solutions to natural resource management and conservation issues facing farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “These Conservation Innovation Grants will benefit both agriculture and the environment by getting 21st century ideas in the hands of our producers across the country.”

The Conservation Innovation Grant program is designed to speed the transfer and enhance use of technologies and methods that show promise in solving the nation’s top natural resource problems by targeting innovative, on-the-ground conservation. Approved projects address issues such as water quantity and quality, grazing lands, soil and forest health, and air quality.

–United States Department of Agriculture

DNR to increase lake permit fees

Thousands of Minnesotans get permits every year to clear aquatic vegetation from their beach front property, but next year, the cost of those permits could triple.

The DNR says it has no choice but to raise the fees, but some lake property owners say the change will encourage more people to ignore state law.

Most Minnesotans prefer a smooth sandy beach in front of their lake home, and a clean swimming area with no plants. You can clear a small area without a permit, but thousands of people pay the $35 fee for a permit to clear larger areas.

–Minnesota Public Radio

Los Angeles requires conservation devices

In an effort to save 1 billion gallons of water a year, all new construction and renovation projects will be required to have high-efficiency water devices under a measure approved by the Los Angeles City Council.

Beginning Dec. 1, new and upgraded residential, commercial and industrial projects will have to install fixtures that use less water — from showers and faucets to dishwashers and toilets.

For residents, the biggest impact will come with the installation of new dishwashers and toilets. New dishwashers use roughly half the water of older models, while ultra-low-flush toilets use 1.3 gallons per flush compared with the current low-flush rate of 1.6 gallons.

–The Los Angeles Daily News

Researchers take a step forward with water desalinization system

Concern over access to clean water is no longer just an issue for the developing world, as California faces its worst drought in recorded history. According to state’s Department of Water Resources, supplies in major reservoirs and many groundwater basins are well below average.

Court-ordered restrictions on water deliveries have reduced supplies from the two largest water systems, and an outdated statewide water system can’t keep up with population growth.

With these critical issues looming large, researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science are working hard to help alleviate the state’s water deficit with their new mini-mobile-modular (M3) “smart” water desalination and filtration system.

In designing and constructing new desalination plants, creating and testing pilot facilities is one of the most expensive and time-consuming steps. Traditionally, small yet very expensive stationary pilot plants are constructed to determine the feasibility of using available water as a source for a large-scale desalination plant. The M3 system helps cut both costs and time.

–Imperial Valley News

Education efforts stepped up to stop zebra mussels

After a successful morning of walleye fishing, Don Pendergrass pulled his boat from Lake Mille Lacs before inspecting it for an invader – zebra mussels – that threatens the lake he loves. He removed a few weeds clinging to his trailer and drained lake water from his live well as conservation officers Luke Croatt and Scott Fitzgerald looked on.

The officers’ presence this sunny day is part of the state’s beefed-up enforcement and education effort to try to prevent the further spread of zebra mussels and other invasive species that threaten to permanently alter the ecosystems of Minnesota’s treasured 12,000 lakes — and possibly undercut its $4.7 billion sports fishing industry and the 1.4 million anglers who treasure it.

But some critics say a much tougher approach is needed. The stakes are too high, they argue, and the unfettered movement of boats among Minnesota lakes may have to stop. They point to California, where boats must be inspected before they are allowed on Lake Tahoe, and to Michigan, where programs similar to Minnesota’s have failed to stop the spread of zebra mussels.

–The Star Tribune

Grant to create sustainability center at University of Maine

The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine a $20 million dollar grant to create a so-called Center for Sustainability Solutions.  The program, which will be based at UMaine in Orono, will create research projects and academic courses focused on how to transition to a more sustainable society, according to UMaine’s Website.

The project is expected to create as many as 300 jobs for researchers and others, and will launch a variety of education initiatives at all grade levels in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

–The Maine Public Broadcasting Network

U.S. and China to develop clean energy research center

The United States and China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, announced plans for a joint clean energy research center Wednesday, raising hopes of better cooperation in what is becoming an increasingly competitive industry.

With initial financing of $15 million and headquarters in both countries, the center will focus on clean coal, building efficiency, and clean vehicles, said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. As a research clearinghouse for scientists, it can also highlight potential U.S.-Chinese cooperation in an industry that Washington says could create thousands of jobs.

–The Associated Press

$3.3 million storage tank cleanup under way in South Carolina

South Carolina will use $3.3 million in federal stimulus money to assess and clean up 66 of its approximately 3,000 confirmed underground petroleum storage tank leaks that threaten groundwater and could threaten drinking water.

Underground storage tanks are a leading polluter of groundwater, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. The most common contaminant in such tanks is benzene, a cancer-causing component of petroleum, according to Bill Truman of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

They are generally located at current or former gas stations but can be found at trucking facilities and manufacturing sites, any place that stores petroleum products, Truman said.

–Greenville Online

Wal-Mart to begin green labeling on products

Shoppers expect the tags on Wal-Mart items to have rock-bottom prices. In the future they may also have information about the product’s carbon footprint, the gallons of water used to create it, and the air pollution left in its wake.

As the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores is on a mission to determine the social and environmental impact of every item it puts on its shelves. And it has recruited scholars, suppliers, and environmental groups to help it create an electronic indexing system to do that.

The idea is to create a universal rating system that scores products based on how environmentally and socially sustainable they are over the course of their lives. Consider it the green equivalent to nutrition labels.

–The New York Times

Exxon to invest in creating fuel from algae

The oil giant Exxon Mobile whose chief executive once mocked alternative energy by referring to ethanol as “moonshine,” is about to venture into biofuels.

Exxon planned to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.

The agreement could plug a major gap in the strategy of Exxon, the world’s largest and richest publicly traded oil company, which has been criticized by environmental groups for dismissing concerns about global warming in the past and its reluctance to develop renewable fuels.

–The New York Times

Great Lakes levels rise; bubbles deter carp

July 21, 2009

Great Lakes levels rebound
Great Lakes water levels are rebounding after a decade-long slump that hammered the maritime industry and even fed conspiracy theories about plots to drain the inland seas that make up nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water.

 The three biggest lakes — Superior, Huron and Michigan — have risen steadily since fall 2007, when for a couple of months Superior’s levels were the lowest on record and the others nearly so. Erie, shallowest of the lakes, actually exceeded its long-term average in June. So did Lake Ontario, although its level is determined more by artificial structures than nature.

 The lakes follow cycles, rising and falling over time. Scientists say it’s a natural process with environmental benefits, such as replenishing coastal wetlands. But extreme ups or downs can wreak havoc for people.
–The Associated Press

State seeks eased pollution targets for 2 lakes
Minnesota regulators are seeking easier pollution-control targets for Lake Byllesby and Lake Pepin, two popular recreation areas south of the Twin Cities slated for cleanup under the state’s Clean Water Legacy program.

 If the new targets are approved, those water bodies still will undergo major pollution-control efforts but would not have to meet the same standards as other deep lakes in the region.

 This is the first time Minnesota has proposed special standards for specific water bodies.
–The Star Tribune 

Invasive flowering rush on Lake Minnetonka
Department of Natural Resources officials say they plan to announce flowering rush has become a major problem in the Detroit Lakes area and Lake Minnetonka.

 Flowering rush was just discovered on Lake Minnetonka on June 29—the first invasive plant discovered since 1987 when milfoil was found. 

“We’re officially designating it an infested water with flowering rush this week. This week it goes into the state register, and this week we’re planning to treat both those bays,” said Certified Lake Manager Dick Osgood.

It was spotted on Smith’s Bay first, and later located on Brown’s Bay. However, officials say they will survey the lake in order to be sure they treat all infected areas.

UW-Superior researcher fight invasives
The tiny worms, midges and water fleas growing in fish tanks at a university lab represent the invasive organisms that have spread throughout the Great Lakes, often by hitchhiking in the ballast tanks of giant cargo ships.

A few miles down the road on the shores of Lake Superior, colorful pipes and several 50,000-gallon tanks can mimic a ship’s ballast water intake and discharge system.

Together, the lab and elaborate piping system are helping researchers figure out the best way to kill invaders before they further damage the lakes’ fishery, threaten water quality and cost the regional economy even more money. Ballast water helps stabilize ships in turbulent waters. It’s also blamed for carrying invasive species such as zebra mussels and ruffe into areas where they have overwhelmed native species and damaged that environment.–The Chicago Tribune

Futures market in water predicted
Underscoring a jolting shift in how people pay for water, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange predicts that one day water will trade on commodities exchanges just like crude oil and wheat. 

That outlook, delivered at a water-technologies conference in Milwaukee, does more than suggest that utility prices eventually will fluctuate – perhaps even wildly.

The notion of trading water like pork bellies also reflects how rapidly new markets are emerging around water – in its conservation, treatment, pricing and whatever other niches entrepreneurs can tap. 

New opportunities was the theme that emerged at Water Summit III, sponsored by the Water Council, a trade group that promotes the Milwaukee region’s water technology companies and research programs.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wall of bubbles halts carp
The Great Lakes are under attack. A swarm of Asian carp are advancing up the Illinois River, breeding wantonly and gorging on plankton. How can we halt the piscatory horde before it reaches Lake Michigan? Well, possibly with noisy bubbles.

In a tributary near Havana, about 200 miles from Chicago, ecologist Greg Sass is testing a barrier that injects beeping sounds into an effervescent wall, which captures and magnifies the noise. The chirping bothers only the carp because it hears higher frequencies than native species do; a series of tiny bones connecting the carp’s swim bladder to its auditory system amplifies sound. In hatchery trials, the acoustic “fence” stopped 95 percent of the invasive fish.
–Wired Magazine

 Boston households offer conservation examples
It may seem paradoxical to New Englanders who spent June carrying umbrellas to work every day to hear that Dighton has a desalination plant that converts saltwater into fresh, and that there are more such plants on the way in the area. “We’re hardly Saudi Arabia,” says Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the nonprofit environmental group the Charles River Watershed Association. “To find ourselves in a situation where cities feel compelled to turn sea water into potable drinking water in a state that gets 4 feet of rain a year is absurd.” 

The problem, Zimmerman maintains, is that because of sprawl — which paves over natural areas that could be replenishing ground-water supplies — and overuse, even normally damp New England is threatened with water shortages. Already, three dozen communities in Eastern Massachusetts have mandatory or voluntary outdoor water-use restrictions.

 Better engineering in cities and towns is a big part of the long-term answer, but conservation is key, especially in the short term, says Zimmerman. The message of conservation has been slow to reach the New England states, but these Massachusetts residents are a little ahead of the curve.
–The Boston Globe 

State laws vary widely on well testing
Douglas Wagner bought a home in the Rochester, N.Y., suburb of Webster last year, contingent on the well water being judged safe. 

Standard testing showed the water was fine and the Wagner family moved in. Then, he learned that nearby wells had arsenic problems. 

Wagner’s well hadn’t been checked for the toxic metal because state and local regulations do not dictate how private wells should be tested. After testing for and finding levels of arsenic above the 10-parts-per-billion federal and state regulation, Wagner faces the expense of hooking up to the public water supply at a cost of more than $1,800, said Edward Marianetti, executive director of the Monroe County (N.Y.) Water Authority. 

Only three states — New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island — require well water quality testing when a property is sold, according to the National Ground Water Association. Eighteen states require water be tested when a new well is built.
–USA Today

Wetlands fugitive arrested in Mexico
Robert Wainwright, a fugitive wanted in Indiana for allegedly polluting wetlands, was arrested July 14 in Mexico by U.S. Marshals and ATF Agents working with Mexican police.  Wainwright, who was convicted of federal firearms violations is being extradited back to the United States.

  Wainwright is one of 21 fugitives listed on EPA’s fugitive Web site His arrest resulted from two anonymous tips from people who saw Wainwright on the Web site, contacted EPA’s tip line and EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division Chicago area office.   

Wainwright was manager of Sterling Material Services in Lake County, Ind. The company, which separated metal from slag and brick waste from steel mills, allegedly disposed of waste in an adjacent wetland without a permit. The Northern Indiana Environmental Crimes Task Force, CID and ATF agents conducted a search warrant at the site and a follow-on consent-search at Wainwright’s residence, where they discovered firearms and ammunition. Since Wainwright had a prior felony conviction, his possession of the munitions was illegal.
–EPA News Release

Ducks, windfarms and bark beetles

July 12, 2009

Every week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles and research abut water and the environment. Scan the entries here, then follow the links to read the article and research in their original sources.

Minnesota duck population drops

Minnesota’s breeding duck population declined 31 percent from last year — falling to an estimated 507,000 birds — and state officials aren’t sure why.

The decline continues a trend: The state’s breeding duck population has fallen in four of the past five years. It’s the third-lowest estimate in the past 26 years. There’s no easy explanation for this year’s decline, said Steve Cordts, Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist. Wetland conditions weren’t bad, he said, though it was dry in east-central and southern survey areas when the agency conducted its annual aerial waterfowl survey.

Duck numbers in those dry areas appeared low, he said, and “in other areas they were pretty good, but not good enough to offset the dry areas.”

The number of wetlands was 318,000, down 2 percent from last year but above the long-term average of 248,000.

–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin OKs huge wind farm in southern Minnesota

Wisconsin regulators gave a state utility permission to begin building a giant wind farm in southern Minnesota, opening the door for Wisconsin ratepayers to shell out millions of dollars in construction costs.

Wisconsin Power & Light Co. wants to build scores of turbines on 50 square miles just north of Albert Lea in Freeborn County. The project is expected to cost about $500 million.

The utility hopes to recover the costs through a $91.7 million rate increase for electricity and natural gas that it wants to impose next year. That breaks down to about $9 more per month for electricity and $2.40 more per month for gas for a typical residential customer. About a third of that increase would go toward the wind farm.

–The Associated Press

T. Boone Pickens scales back Texas wind plan

In a sign of the difficulties facing the development of wind energy, the legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is suspending plans to build the world’s largest wind farm.

Over the near term, Mr. Pickens instead plans to build three or four smaller wind farms, at a cost of some $2 billion. He said that he was unsure whether he would ever revive the giant wind project in the Texas Panhandle that has been on the drawing board for years.

Mr. Pickens cited several factors that caused him to alter his plans, including lack of transmission lines and a fall-off in the price of natural gas, with which wind competes as a power source. The project was also hurt by the financial turmoil that has stymied activity across the once-popular renewable energy industry. “Everything kind of slowed us down,” Mr. Pickens said.

–The New York Times 

Senate bill aims at invasive bighead carp

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin is moving to put the invasive bighead carp species of Asian carp on a list of creatures prohibited from importation into the U.S.

It may be too late, however, for some waters – seeing as how the species of Asian carp has spread from catfish farms in Louisiana in the 1970s, up the Mississippi River and is only being kept out of the Great Lakes by an electric dispersal barrier in a manmade canal bridging the two.

These bighead carp can grow to 6 feet, weighing as much as 110 pounds and are known for their voracious appetite.

By adding the species to the list of prohibited wildlife under the Lacey Act, which was originally passed by Congress 109 years ago, Levin and his cosponsors – including Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow – hope to prevent any intentional introduction of the bighead carp to yet-untouched American waters.

–The Detroit Free Press 

California eyes desalination plants

Early next year, the Southern California town of Carlsbad will break ground on a plant that each day will turn 50 million gallons of seawater into fresh drinking water.

The $320 million project, which would be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, was held up in the planning stages for years. But a protracted drought helped propel the project to its approval in May — a sign of how worried local authorities are about water supplies.

Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis and other elected officials have dodged environmentalists’ objections to city plans to build a desalination plant.

“Water is going to be very short until you have a new source,” said Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis. “And the only new source is desalination, I don’t care what anybody says.”

The desalination plant would use water that flows by gravity from the ocean across a manmade lagoon and into the facility through 10 large pumps. The plant would then blast it through a filter, extracting fresh water and leaving behind highly pressurized salty water. The process would provide enough water for 300,000 people each day.

–The Wall Street Journal

Huge survey of Minnesota birds under way

Already an avid birder, Ken Perry views the experience a bit differently these days.

On outings with his wife, the middle school science teacher from the Brainerd, Minn., area used to concentrate solely on identifying as many bird species as possible.

But that was before he became involved with the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas. A six-year effort launched last spring, the survey is designed to document all of the breeding species in the state and where they’re nesting.

Here’s how it works: Think of the state as a collection of 3-square-mile blocks. Citizen volunteers select designated priority blocks to survey and then spend hours walking, riding or canoeing across them to identify the different types of birds trying to raise their young.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

U.S. Senate delays action on climate bill

As President Barack Obama encouraged world leaders meeting in Italy to intensify the fight against global warming, legislation to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases suffered a delay in the Senate.

The leading Senate committee responsible for developing the climate change legislation has delayed by at least a month its crafting of a bill, leaving less time for Congress to fulfill Obama’s desire to enact a law this year.

“We’ll do it as soon as we get back” in September from a month-long break, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer announced.


California may ease gray water code

California may adopt a more lenient gray water code as early as August. Under the new code, a clothes washer or other single-fixture, residential gray water system, such as a shower, could be installed or altered without a construction permit. That’s a complete reversal of the present state requirement that homeowners installing systems to recycle the waste water from their sinks, showers, bathtubs and laundry machines conform to Appendix G of the California plumbing code, which requires that gray water systems not only be permitted by the appropriate administrative authority but installed underground with extensive filtering apparatus.

Appendix G went into effect in 1992 at the end of a five-year drought. Its update was required by Senate Bill 1258, which passed last summer, requiring the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to revise the code in an effort “to conserve water by facilitating greater reuse of gray water in California.” The code’s revision was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2011, but last week, in response to the state’s continuing drought, representatives from Housing and Community Development submitted the new code to the state’s Building Standards Commission for emergency adoption. If approved, as expected, the new code would take effect Aug. 4.

–The Los Angeles Times

San Francisco plans to store water in aquifer

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is pursuing a plan to store water underground that can be pumped out in time to supply customers in a drought, given the uncertainty of California’s water future.

Officials say the natural groundwater aquifer that sits under north San Mateo County will someday be full enough to send 7.2 million gallons per day to SFPUC customers in San Francisco, San Mateo and Alameda counties and much of Santa Clara County for a period of seven and a half years, longer than the last historic drought period in California.

Global warming, and the resulting anticipated loss of Sierra snowpack that feeds the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, have played a part in the SFPUC’s long-term planning for water security in the Bay Area, said Ellen Levin, deputy manager of San Francisco’s regional water system.

–The Contra Costa Times

MPCA seeks comment on storm water permitting

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking public comment on the agency’s draft industrial storm water permit.

The agency is proposing issuing a “multi-sector industrial storm water” general permit to protect water quality by preventing or reducing storm water contact with industrial activities and materials. Many industrial materials contain hazardous metals, fuel, oil, grease and salts that could contaminate storm water and ultimately a local surface-water or groundwater resource.

The draft permit would affect public and private facilities with industrial activities that fall under 10 categories, including manufacturing, petroleum refining, transportation, used motor vehicle parts, scrap and waste materials, mining, landfills, steam electric power generation, domestic wastewater treatment and hazardous waste treatment, storage or disposal.

Written comments on the draft permit must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. Aug. 5. Copies of the permit and a technical fact sheet are available at the MPCA’s St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road N., or at its Duluth office, 525 Lake Ave. S.; by calling Kristin Kirchoff, (651) 757-2089; or online at

–St. Paul Legal Ledger

Some see destructive bark beetle filling ecological niche

When Ken Salazar —  then a senator from Colorado, now secretary of the interior —  called the attack on millions of acres of pine forests by the bark beetle the Katrina of the West, he was expressing the common view of the explosive growth of the beetles as an unmitigated disaster.

But not everybody sees it that way. Some environmentalists and scientists support the beetles. While they acknowledge the severity of the problems the beetles are causing, they argue that the insects, which kill only mature trees larger than five inches in diameter, are a natural phenomenon, like forest fires, and play a vital ecological role.

–The New York Times

Greenpeace rates supermarket chains on sustainability

Last week, Greenpeace released its semiannual seafood sustainability scorecard, which ranks US supermarket chains based on the impacts their practices have on marine life and how well they communicate these practices to the shopper.

The grades are dispiriting. While the environmental advocacy group noted progress among some stores, the top scorer, Wegmans, received only 6 out of 10. Even though the East Coast chain has worked with scientists and conservationists to develop seafood sourcing standards and has removed from its stores a number of species because of sustainability concerns, Greenpeace found that Wegmans continues to sell 15 species – including grouper, monkfish, and Atlantic salmon – that appear on Greenpeace’s Red List of fish that are unavailable from sustainable sources.

Other stores fared much worse on Greenpeace’s report card.

–The Christian Science Monitor

Butterfly revival proposed

A team of researchers is proposing reintroducing a vanished butterfly to the hills above Stanford University, a biological experiment with both promise and peril.

If the experiment succeeds, it would return Bay checkerspot butterflies to Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and offer important lessons to the fledgling science of species reintroduction, which aims to save thousands of plants and animals from extinction. However, if the experiment fails, some precious insects — sacrificed from the last surviving population — will have gone to waste.

“No one really knows the best way to reintroduce organisms. Or whether it is a smart idea,” said butterfly expert Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, who has watched Bay checkerspot populations collapse over five decades and strongly supports the proposed Stanford experiment to replenish them.

–The San Jose Mercury News

Decade-long bottled water fight settled

The makers of Ice Mountain bottled water and a group of environmentalists who waged a decade-long fight to block or cap the company’s withdrawal of groundwater in northwest lower Michigan announced a final legal agreement.

Under the agreement Nestle Waters North America can pump an average of 218 gallons per minute (about 313,000 gallons a day), with restrictions on spring and summer withdrawals deemed most threatening to the Dead Stream and Thompson Lake near Mecosta.

It was reached on the eve of what was expected to be a weeklong court hearing on requested modifications of an earlier, temporary agreement.

Terry Swier, president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, called the resolution a “major victory” for defenders of the resource, affirming limits first placed on Nestle by a Mecosta County judge in 2003.

–The Detroit Free Press

Missouri R. re-opened to barges, but barges are gone

Too late to save the commercial barging industry in the Missouri River, water flows have rebounded from a lengthy drought.

For the first time in 10 years, the federally regulated river and its reservoirs will have enough water to enable barge navigation until Nov. 30, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

But the full-length barging season will do little to help an industry that has dwindled away at the mercy of shortened seasons and low water levels, Midwest Terminal Warehouse CEO Joe LaMothe said.

In 2007, the company closed its bulk terminal on the river in Kansas City, a few years after two companies that formerly operated tow boats for barges also quit working the stretch through Kansas City, LaMothe said.

–Kansas City Business Journal

Fertilizer and zebra mussels

July 6, 2009

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

BWCA recovering a decade after the blow-down

Ten years after millions of trees blew down in Minnesota’s pristine Boundary Waters Wilderness, the forest is in the midst of a comeback.

It was July 4, 1999, when a huge storm roared across the remote woods, terrifying campers and trapping them in a tangle of uprooted trees that blocked their way out.

These days, you have to do a little work to see the effects of the blowdown.

–Minnesota Public Radio

Chestnut revival could fight climate change

The American chestnut tree, which towered over eastern U.S. forests before succumbing to a deadly fungus in the early 20th century, appears to be an excellent sponge for greenhouse gases, according to a new study.

If scientists can develop a fungus-resistant version of the tree, the chestnut could play a key role in the battle against climate change, Purdue University scientists say.

“Maintaining or increasing forest cover has been identified as an important way to slow climate change,” said Douglass Jacobs, whose chestnut tree study appears in the June issue of Forest Ecology and Management.

–Scientific American

Fertilizer suspected as water pollutant

The water supply in the city of Park Rapids is contaminated with nitrates, and many suspect the source is the fertilizer used on local farm fields.

Park Rapids has had elevated nitrate levels in its water for years. But last April was the first time a city well exceeded 10 parts per million, the threshold for what’s considered safe. The well was shut down.

City administrator Bill Smith says residents aren’t panicking, they are concerned. Nitrate contamination can cause health problems. It’s especially dangerous for infants, who can get something called blue baby syndrome — when nitrates inhibit a baby’s ability to use oxygen.

Smith says some blame local farmers who put tons of nitrogen-based fertilizer on their fields. That includes the R.D. Offutt Company, or RDO — the largest potato grower in the U.S., and the community’s largest employer.

–Minnesota Public Radio

Winnipeg man spends month living on 25 liters of water daily

After a month of living on 25 litres of H20 daily, Kevin Freedman said saving water is still a priority. But handwashing all of his clothing? Not so much.

Freedman spent the month of June limiting his daily water use to 25 litres. That included a few litres for   drinking and the rest for washing, cooking and other necessities.

The experiment meant giving up the shower in favor of a bucket of water, flushing the toilet less often, and washing clothes with carefully doled out portions of hot and cold water.

–Winnipeg Free Press

Groundwater pumping threatens aqueduct

Fearing the main canal carrying drinking water to millions of Southern Californians is sinking again, water officials are monitoring the effects of incessant agricultural pumping from the aquifer that runs under the aqueduct.

Their concern is that the canal, which has sunk six feet in places during California dry spells, will buckle enough to slow delivery of water to parched points south and force costly repairs.

On June 1, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and other users of state water signed a $255,000, two-year contract with the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor by satellite the California Aqueduct along a vulnerable 70-mile stretch west of here, between Los Banos and Kettleman City.

–The Associated Press

EPA settles suit over feminization of fish

It took a lawsuit, but the EPA announced the first step toward regulating a chemical that can cause male fish to develop female sex characteristics. The chemical, nonylphenol ethloxylate, is used in cleaning products and detergents.

Studies show that NPEs can change the biology of male fish so they grow female eggs at very low levels, said Albert Ettinger of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, in a statement. “The EPA ignored these studies because there was insufficient evidence of the impact on fish reproduction.”

The EPA issued the “notice of proposed rulemaking” as part of a settlement of the lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, UNITE HERE, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed in October 2007.

Other well-known sources of estrogen and estrogen-mimicking compounds, also called “endocrine disruptors,” are birth control pills, hormone replacements and hormones from livestock operations discharged from wastewater treatment plants.


Farming fish indoors in artificial sea water

Yonathan Zohar beams like a proud parent as he cradles the freshly netted fish in his hands.

He didn’t catch this glistening branzini. He raised it – and thousands more – in large fiberglass tanks at the Columbus Center at the Inner Harbor.

“This is a happy moment here,” says Zohar, director of the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. “Green fish, as good as it gets. Clean, environmentally friendly, sushi-quality fish, delivered to the restaurant a few hours after harvesting.”

Zohar and his team of scientists and technicians have been laboring for years to perfect techniques for captive breeding and rearing of fish as quickly and cleanly as possible. For marine species like branzini, otherwise known as European seabass, they make artificial sea water, then recycle nearly all of it, filtering out waste and even capturing methane to offset some of the energy used in raising the fish in captivity.

–The Baltimore Sun

EPA identifies ‘high hazard’ coal ash dumps

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a list of 44 “high hazard potential” coal ash waste dumps across the country. The “high hazard” rating applied to sites where a dam failure would most likely result in a loss of human life, the environmental agency advisory said, but did not assess the structural integrity of the dam or its likelihood of failure.

The list was compiled as part of the agency’s inventory of coal ash sites after more than a billion gallons of ash broke through a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant west of Knoxville last December. An engineering analysis of the failure cited design problems like the height of the ash, among other factors.

The list identifies disposal sites in 10 states, including 12 in North Carolina, 9 in Arizona and 7 in Kentucky. There were no Minnesota sites on the list.

–The New York Times

DNR approves zebra mussel filter for Snail Lake

Snail Lake looks more like a puddle than a lake these days.

Blame it on zebra mussels.

A combination of drought conditions and a water source cut off because of the invasive species means the Shoreview lake is almost 5 feet below its normal levels.

The rub is that, under ideal conditions, much of the lake averages only 6 feet deep.

This summer, the water has receded 50 to 60 feet from shore in some spots, and navigating anything bigger than a canoe means running the risk of running aground — often.

But a first-of-its-kind plan might refill the lake by next June.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Zebra mussels found in 3 Minnesota lakes

Minnesotans received bad news on the invasive species front: Three new lakes have been invaded by zebra mussels, small mollusks that can dramatically alter the ecology of a lake.

The invasive mollusks were found in Lake Le Homme Dieu in Alexandria, Pike Lake near Duluth and Lake Rebecca near Hastings.

DNR officials say heavy infestations of zebra mussels can kill native mussels, impact fish and interfere with recreation. Dead zebra mussels often mean masses of sharp shells on beaches.

“These new infestations are reason for concern,” said Jay Rendall, DNR invasive species prevention coordinator. “I don’t think we will entirely stop their spread. That will be unrealistic, so our program is aimed at curbing the spread.”

Rendall said Minnesota appears to be doing a good job at reducing the spread of the mollusks. He said in 1992, three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota — “all had a few infested waters.”

Since then, Wisconsin’s list of zebra-mussel-infested waters has grown to 100 and Michigan’s has reached 240. Minnesota still has only several dozen zebra-mussel infested waters.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Milfoil found in Lake Florida near Spicer

Eurasian watermilfoil has been discovered growing in Lake Florida, five miles west of Spicer, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced.

Eurasian watermilfoil has now been discovered in 213 lakes and eight rivers or streams in Minnesota.

The nonnative, invasive aquatic plant was discovered near a public water access by a local angler, who reported it to the DNR. The discovery was verified by a DNR fisheries biologist.

Eurasian watermilfoil can form dense mats of vegetation and crowd out native aquatic plants, clog boat propellers, and make water recreation difficult.

–Minnesota DNR news release

Sheep chew up invasive weeds

In between rows of grapevines at a Mendocino County farm in California, dozens of sheep are milling about, munching on the grass and weeds.

Sarah Cahn Bennett, co-owner of the family-owned Navarro Vineyards in Philo, Calif., says they began using the flock of 70 in June to keep the vineyard trimmed and minimize the work of tractors and manual labor.

Grazing vineyards is just one application of a growing niche industry that is harnessing the eating power of animals to control invasive weeds, maintain lawns and clear fire-prone grasses. The animals are an alternative to using machinery that burns up fossil fuels or herbicides that, in some cases, can seep into groundwater.

–USA Today