Threatened fish, buffer strips and zebra mussels

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

Climate change threatens fish, USGS expert says

Entire populations of North American fish already  are being affected by several emerging diseases, a problem that threatens to increase in the future with climate change and other stresses on aquatic ecosystems, according to a noted U.S. Geological Survey researcher giving an invited talk on this subject at the Wildlife Disease Association conference in Blaine, Wash.

 “A generation ago, we couldn’t have imaged the explosive growth in disease issues facing many of our wild fish populations,” said Dr. Jim Winton, a fish disease specialist at the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center.  “Most fish health research at that time was directed toward diseases of farmed fish.”

 In contrast, said Winton, recent studies in natural aquatic systems have revealed that, in addition to being a cause of natural death, infectious and parasitic fish diseases can produce significantly greater mortality in altered habitats leading to population fluctuations, extinction of endangered fish, reduced overall health and increased susceptibility to predation.

–USGS news release

 Complaint accuses farmers of ignoring buffer rule

The Zumbro River is slow and lazy on a summer’s day as it curves along a gentle bend near Terry Klampe’s home just outside Rochester.

But all is not tranquil in Olmsted County.

 Klampe, a dentist and ardent conservationist, has filed a complaint to give the river some space in farm country.

 Farmers are thwarting the law by planting corn and soybeans to the edge of the river and its tributaries, Klampe said, violating pollution rules that require a 50-foot buffer of permanent vegetation to protect streams and lakes from soil and chemical runoff.

–The Star Tribune

Zebra mussels increase blue-green algae

As if there aren’t enough reasons to keep zebra mussels out of Minnesota lakes, add one more: toxic blue-green algae blooms.

 A recent spike in state lakes infested with the non-native mussel has scientists mindful of an emerging — and unwelcome — connection.

 In Michigan, where zebra mussels have infested more than 200 lakes, blue-green algae blooms — the kind that can make people sick and have killed animals that drink the water — are enjoying a resurgence of sorts. And instead of pinning the blame on excess nutrients that typically cause them, scientists are looking squarely at zebra mussels as a trigger.

 Every year, blue-green algae blooms occur across central and southern Minnesota, typically in shallow lakes with high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus from animal waste or vegetative decomposition. Sometimes, those blooms become toxic, causing farm animals or dogs that consume any of it to get sick or die.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Twin Cities suburbs press water conservation

With thirsty lawns and trees in need of water, suburban residents are struggling to get their home landscapes through a dry summer while obediently adhering to water conservation restrictions.

 City after city now has adopted watering restrictions and stepped-up rates for high water usage, and some residents are shy about watering even when it’s allowed, fearing they are wasting a precious resource.

 Yet there is no water crisis in Minnesota. The Twin Cities area has more water in lakes, rivers and groundwater reserves than almost any other metro area in the country.

So, when is it OK for an environmentally conscientious citizen to water?

–The Star Tribune

 ‘Dead zone’ smaller than predicted

Scientists said that the region of oxygen-starved water in the northern Gulf of Mexico this summer was smaller than forecast, which means less disruption of shrimp, crabs and other marine species, and of the fisheries that depend on them.

But researchers found that although the so-called dead zone along the Texas and Louisiana coasts was smaller — about 3,000 square miles compared with a prediction of about 8,000 square miles — the actual volume of low-oxygen, or hypoxic, water may be higher, as the layer is deeper and thicker in some parts of the gulf than normal. And the five-year average size of the dead zone is still considered far too big, about three times a target of 2,000 square miles set for 2015 by an intergovernmental task force.

–The New York Times

 Invasive flowering rush found in 3 L. Minnetonka bays

Flowering rush, an invasive water plant, has taken root as the latest unwelcome species in Lake Minnetonka — this time probably through the actions of a gardener, not a boater, the Department of Natural Resources says.

 The DNR got word of the plant’s presence in Lake Minnetonka on June 29. In searching 10 of the lake’s 132 miles of shoreline so far, the DNR has confirmed its growth in Smith’s Bay, Brown’s Bay and Crystal Bay near Orono.

–The Star Tribune

 Scientists agree on identifying plant species

An international panel of scientists has agreed to a bar-code standard for plant DNA that will allow the precise identification of most of Earth’s 300,000 species of plants, according to a research report.

 The agreement is expected to generate a wide range of benefits, from checking the purity of herbal supplements to exposing illegal logging operations and helping to protect fragile plant ecosystems, observers said.

 “It’s the first time we have actually developed a technique that will allow people to identify plants,” said James S. Miller, vice president for science at the New York Botanical Garden, one of 25 institutions working on the agreement.

 A similar technique for animals was created in 2003 and has been used to expose mislabeled caviar, crack a food-poisoning case involving fish and determine the bird species that caused US Airways Flight 1549 to ditch into the Hudson River in January.

–The Washington Post

 Invasive kelp threatens San Francisco Bay

Chela Zabin will not soon forget when she first glimpsed the golden brown tentacle of the latest alien to settle in the fertile waters of San Francisco Bay.

Skip to next paragraph “I had that moment of ‘Oh God, this is it, it’s here,’ ” said Dr. Zabin, a biologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “I was really hoping I was wrong.”

 The tentacle in question was that of an Asian kelp, Undaria pinnatifida, a flavorful and healthful ingredient in miso soup and an aggressive, costly intruder in waters from New Zealand to Monterey Bay.

–The New York Times

 Appeals court rejects challenge on ballast rules

The Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to how Minnesota regulates ships dumping ballast water into Lake Superior.

 In its decision, the court sided with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, saying the agency’s approach, designed to keep non-native species out of the lake, met legal requirements.

 The St. Paul-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy sued, contending the permit system took too long to implement and isn’t strong enough.

The system requires that, by 2016, all ships treat their ballast water before dumping it into the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior. New ships must start in 2012.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 L.A. June water use hits 32-year low

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported that water demand reached a 32-year low for the month of June, dropping 11% compared with the same period in 2008.

Jim McDaniel, the senior assistant general manager of DWP’s water system, said hard work by ratepayers is paying off. Though experts said June was on average 4 degrees cooler than normal, McDaniel attributed the low demand to the new water restrictions.  

“You don’t see those kinds of reductions just due to weather,” he said.

The restrictions limit the use of sprinklers to 15 minutes a day on Mondays and Thursdays. No watering is allowed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
— The Los Angeles Times

 Restored reef teems with oysters

Scientists say they’ve created something in a Virginia river that hasn’t been seen since the late 1800s: a vast, thriving reef of American oysters, the shellfish that helped create the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and then nearly vanished from it.

The reef sits on the bottom of the Great Wicomico River, a bay tributary about 80 miles southeast of Washington. The scientists say they found a better way to plant oysters, creating an 87-acre colony of bivalves that teems with other marine life.

That’s a long way from bringing oysters back in all of the Chesapeake. Virginia and Maryland officials said this week that they doubted this success could be replicated widely.

But the oyster researchers said their work, published online in the journal Science, provides new hope for one of the bay’s most beleaguered species. The oyster, depleted by overfishing, pollution and disease, has fallen to less than 1 percent of its historical population.

–The Washington Post

 Pollution contaminates beaches

Raw sewage and other pollution continued to foul American beaches in 2008.

For the fourth year in a row, more than 20,000 beach closing days were reported in the USA, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C.

 “Storm water and sewage runoff are the biggest sources for the contamination,” says Nancy Stoner, NRDC’s water program co-director. The report monitored beaches along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, along with those in the Great Lakes states.

–USA Today

 DNR, Trout Unlimited to restore Vermillion

Some time in the Roaring ’20s, someone tried to turn the Vermillion, or at least part of it, into a rushing river.

 It might have been a farmer or the Army Corps of Engineers, but whoever it was removed the curves from a meandering stretch east of Farmington.

The goal was increasing the speed of the prairie river’s flow to quicken drainage of the farm fields that surround it. It worked, but over the years, the water has also whisked away a lot of farm runoff, soil and silt.

 So next summer, in the name of trout habitat and water quality, the Minnesota DNR and Trout Unlimited are leading a project that will help make the rural river meander again.

–The Star Tribune

 Study links soy diet to endocrine disruption

Women who are having difficulty conceiving may want to cut back on their soy consumption after a mouse study reveals that dietary exposure to genistein, a compound found in soy foods, can reduce the odds of a successful pregnancy in multiple ways. The study examined the impact of genistein exposure on oocytes, or eggs, from adult mice and found it can impair oocyte maturation, reduce their potential to become fertilized and hamper the growth of the newly formed embryo.

 The results reveal how natural compounds like genistein may have both risks – it can act as an endocrine disruptor to affect female reproduction – and benefits – such as protecting the heart.

–Environmental Health News

 Syrian drought displaces thousands

Only a few decades ago, fish were plentiful in the Orontes river which for thousands of years has provided water to the lush Syrian plains, at the crossroads of the ancient world.

 These days the Orontes’s 12th Century norias, enormous water wheels famous for their distinctive creak, barely turn in the weak tides. Algae covers the river’s surface and the desert has been closing in.

“The river has become so polluted. The quality of our produce has suffered and there is barely enough now to feed my family,” said 80-year-old farmer Mohammad al-Hamdo.

 Syria’s worst drought in decades has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and raised calls for a coordinated water policy for the Middle East as the region faces a dryer climate and water supplies depleted by damming and water well drilling.

–Reuters

 Wisconsin groundwater funding urged

Water experts recommended to state legislators that they strengthen groundwater laws by pumping more money into monitoring, broadening protections for springs and possibly increasing the distance between high-capacity wells and sensitive surface waters.

The Legislature beefed up groundwater protections in 2004, but Ken Bradbury, a hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, said during the hearing that it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the law because there has been no money for monitoring.

 The hearing was before a joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly natural resource committees. The hearing was the first step in an effort to improve regulations of groundwater created in the 2004 law. State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, one of the co-authors of the initial legislation, said the committees’ examination of groundwater issues is part of a review of the law called for in the 2004 bill.

–The Wisconsin State Journal

 USDA allocates water project funds

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced nearly $58 million for water conservation and water quality improvements on agricultural working lands.

 The funding was made available for 63 projects in 21 states through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. No projects in Minnesota or Wisconsin were funded.

 “We must take steps to protect and preserve our water resources, and the Obama Administration is committed to using this program to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to improve water conditions on their land,” said White.

 The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) promotes ground and surface water conservation and improves water quality by helping farmers and ranchers implement agricultural water enhancement activities. With the services and resources of other conservation partners, AWEP allows the Federal Government to leverage investment in natural resources conservation.

–U.S. Department of Agriculture

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