Archive for September, 2009

Minnesota research probes endocrine disruptors

September 30, 2009

A major Minnesota research project – paid for by the sales tax increase voters approved last year, and conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and St. Cloud State University – is investigating one of the newest, least understood and most troubling types of water pollution: Endocrine disrupting compounds.

The $896,000 project began sampling water  at 22 sewage treatment plants around the state in early September.

greene for cover250  

A number of studies have shown the compounds “feminize” male fish. Some scientists suspect they also cause human ills such as decreased sperm counts, increased genital and urinary birth defects in boys and increases in obesity, diabetes and testicular cancer.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this week issued a report, Statewide Endocrine Disrupting Compound Monitoring Study, 2007 – 2008, that details the results of previous testing for EDCs in the water and sediment of four rivers and 12 lakes. The research found evidence of  EDC contamination in lakes — including two pristine lakes near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Itasca — that had no connection to any wastewater treatment plants.

Until this research, many scientists had concentrated on treatment plants as the major conduit of EDCs to surface waters.

Vitellogenin, a protein associated with egg making that normally is found in measurable quantities only in female fish, was found in male fish caught in several of the lakes, including the two pristine lakes.

Follow these links to read about the study now under way at the 22 treatment plants, to see a summary of other research on EDCs in Minnesota over the last 15 years and to read an interview with a Minnesota Health Department expert on the compounds and human health. Those articles, and others, appear in the September issue of Facets of Freshwater, the Freshwater Society’s quarterly newsletter.

USDA earmarks $320 million for Mississippi

September 28, 2009

Ag Dept. to spend $320 million on Mississippi
The river that begins as a trickle in Itasca State Park and ends 2,350 miles later at the Gulf of Mexico will get a $320 million infusion from the federal government to improve water quality.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a program that will provide the money over the next four years to Minnesota and 11 other states in the Mississippi River basin.

Calling the river “a critical national resource,” Vilsack said the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative will attempt to reduce excessive nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from farms that enters the river through its tributaries and creates a “dead zone” each summer in the Gulf of Mexico. The nutrients cause vast algae blooms that eventually die, sink to the bottom and are consumed by bacteria that rob the water of most of its oxygen.
–The Star Tribune

California water rights to be auctioned
Need more water? If you’ve got $30 million or so, you can bid for it at an auction this fall.

In what officials believe is a first for the state, a Southern California water agency is planning to auction off enough water to supply about 70,000 homes for a year.

Water sales are not uncommon in California, especially when supplies are tight, as they are in the current drought.

But putting water up for bid in an auction — which is bound to drive up the price — appears to be unprecedented in the state.
–The Los Angeles Times

Report predicts faster temperature rise
Climate researchers now predict the planet will warm by 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century even if the world’s leaders fulfill their most ambitious climate pledges, a much faster and broader scale of change than forecast just two years ago, according to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program.

The new overview of global warming research, aimed at marshaling political support for a new international climate pact by the end of the year, highlights the extent to which recent scientific assessments have outstripped the predictions issued by the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.

Robert Corell, who chairs the Climate Action Initiative and reviewed the UNEP report’s scientific findings, said the significant global temperature rise is likely to occur even if industrialized and developed countries enact every climate policy they have proposed at this point. The increase is nearly double what scientists and world policymakers have identified as the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change.
–The Washington Post

Warming temperatures stabilize – perhaps briefly
World leaders who met at the United Nations to discuss climate change are faced with an intricate challenge: building momentum for an international climate treaty at a time when global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years.

The plateau in temperatures has been seized upon by skeptics as evidence that the threat of global warming is overblown. And some climate experts worry that it could hamper treaty negotiations and slow the progress of legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Scientists say the pattern of the last decade — after a precipitous rise in average global temperatures in the 1990s — is a result of cyclical variations in ocean conditions and has no bearing on the long-term warming effects of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere.
–The New York Times

Bloomington residents want groundwater for lake
Bloomington city officials and residents who live around Lower Penn Lake are again tussling over how to improve the water quality and appearance of the 32-acre lake.

The city’s new draft management plan for the lake left many residents cold when it was presented at a neighborhood meeting. In their view, lake levels have dropped to unacceptably low levels since state law limited the use of a well that taps an aquifer to raise the lake’s level.

The proposed plan makes it clear that the city and the state are unwilling to permit pumping again from the aquifer beyond 10 million gallons a year. A few years ago, 20 times that much water was routinely added to the lake.
–The Star Tribune

Invasive mussels found at Isle Royale
Foreign mussels may have found their way to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, a potential threat to native species on the remote island chain, an official said.

Divers found a small colony of perhaps two dozen suspicious mussels last week in Washington Harbor on the west side of the 45-mile-long park, Superintendent Phyllis Green said. A single mussel was found on the east side.

Staffers believe they are either zebra mussels or their relatives, quagga mussels. Both are invasive species that originated in the Black and Caspian seas in Eastern Europe and hitched rides to the Great Lakes in ballast tanks of oceangoing freighters in the 1980s.
–The Associated Press

Invasive spiny waterfleas found in Mille Lacs
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Aitkin Area Fisheries staff discovered spiny waterfleas in Lake Mille Lacs recently. The discovery of this invasive species is the first outside of Lake Superior and the U.S.-Canadian border waters, such as Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake.

Spiny waterflea impacts to lake ecosystems are largely unknown. The waterfleas compete with small fish for food called zooplankton. While larger fish eat them, tiny fish may not be able to consume this invader. In certain types of lakes, they can change the species and numbers of zooplankton, which may harm those lake ecosystems.

However the waterfleas can collect in masses, sticking to fishing lines, downrigger  cables, and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs. Individual animals are difficult to distinguish without magnification because they are only 1/4 to 5/8 inch long.
–DNR News Release

Public TV airs National Park documentary
“Minnesota’s National Park Legacy,” a 30-minute television special will be broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television (tpt2) on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m. It explores the natural and cultural legacy of Minnesota’s six national park sites: Grand Portage National Monument, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, North Country National Scenic Trail, Pipestone National Monument, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and Voyageurs National Park, as well as projects completed by the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.

The film, produced by tpt and the national park sites, will also air on tpt’s statewide Minnesota Channel (tptMN in the Twin Cities) on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m.

tpt new release

Tiny research sub tested in Lake Superior
If you happen to come across a small yellow submarine off Two Harbors in Lake Superior, University of Minnesota Duluth researchers ask that you leave it alone. It’s theirs.

Scientists at UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory released the first remote electric submarine in the Great Lakes and, so far, it’s working just fine.

The 7-foot-long vessel was launched off UMD’s research boat, the Blue Heron. The submarine has no propeller but moves forward, and can change depths, by changing its buoyancy. It navigates under water by compass and surfaces every three hours for any new orders and to take a GPS fix.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Minnesota wetlands losses outpace restoration
State and federal officials are using science to help target areas for wetland restoration as part of the state’s 50-year plan to add 2 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the state; however, even though Minnesota is spending millions to restore wetlands, the state is still losing more than it restores.

The western third of Minnesota was once covered with wetlands; hundreds of thousands of small potholes and large marshes.

Now, more than 90 percent are drained.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Experiment to inject greenhouse gas into the Earth
Poking out of the ground near the smokestacks of the Mountaineer power plant here are two wells that look much like those that draw natural gas to the surface. But these are about to do something new: inject a power plant’s carbon dioxide into the earth.

A behemoth built in 1980, long before global warming stirred broad concern, Mountaineer is poised to become the world’s first coal-fired power plant to capture and bury some of the carbon dioxide it churns out. The hope is that the gas will stay deep underground for millenniums rather than entering the atmosphere as a heat-trapping pollutant.

The experiment is riveting the world’s coal-fired electricity sector, which is under growing pressure to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide.
–The New York Times

Mississippi swing bridge project gets help
The plan to transform the century-old Rock Island Swing Bridge into a recreational pier in Inver Grove Heights received a boost when state officials agreed to pay for the removal of three piers and a guardrail.

State transportation officials told city officials they will pick up the tab to remove the parts from the Mississippi River bridge — a necessary step in the $2.4 million project to convert what’s left of its western end into a pedestrian walkway and overlook.

“We consider it a big deal,” said Eric Carlson, parks and recreation director. “We think it’s going to cost somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 to remove these parts of the bridge, which our project budget cannot absorb.”

Carlson said the state’s financial commitment also helps the city’s chances of meeting a Nov. 13 deadline for submitting documents needed to secure a $1.3 million federal grant for the project.

–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Arenic afflicts wells, rivers in India
There is more potentially bad news involving arsenic and Bangladesh, where contaminated groundwater has affected millions of people.

Wells that have been dug into relatively shallow aquifers produce drinking water with levels of arsenic far above those considered safe.

But not all of the water ends up in wells. During the dry season, some of it discharges into major rivers, and now a study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that river sediments have become heavily contaminated with arsenic, with the potential to contaminate groundwater even further.

–The New York Times

Arizona’s faces uncertain water supply
Arizona’s water future won’t be like its past, and the past is bad enough.

Water managers only recently came to terms with the fact that their predictions of future water supply were based on incomplete historical records that did not reckon with periodic decade-long droughts and at least one that lasted half a century.

At a conference of water and climate scientists put on by the University of Arizona, water managers from Arizona’s major cities said the future seems even more uncertain with predictions that climate change will further reduce flow from Arizona’s watersheds.
–The Arizona Daily Star

Vietnam peculiarly vulnerable to sea level rise
For centuries, as monsoon rains, typhoons and wars have swept over them and disappeared into the sunshine, the farmers and fishermen of the Mekong Delta have drawn life from the water and fertile fields where the great river ends its 2,700-mile journey to the sea.

The rhythms of life continue from season to season though, like much of the country, the delta is moving quickly into the future, and industry has begun to pollute the air and water.

But everything here, both the timeless and the new, is at risk now from a threat that could bring deeper and longer-lasting disruptions than the generations of warfare that ended more than 30 years ago.

In a worst-case projection, a Vietnamese government report released last month says that more than one-third of the delta, where 17 million people live and nearly half the country’s rice is grown, could be submerged if sea levels rise by three feet in the decades to come.
–The New York Times

Shale drilling yields groundwater worries
Advances in technology have helped boost the growth of shale drilling in the United States over the past few years. But as the practice of harvesting natural gas embedded in shale rock deep below the Earth’s surface has expanded, it has raised concerns about the impact this type of drilling has on the environment — especially on groundwater.

At issue is the practice of “hydraulic fracturing,” which in combination with horizontal drilling is an essential part of the shale gas production process. The shale rock in which the gas is trapped is so tight that it has to be broken in order for the gas to escape. A combination of sand and water laced with chemicals — including benzene — is pumped into the well bore at high pressure, shattering the rock and opening millions of tiny fissures, enabling the shale gas to seep into the pipeline.

This fracturing technique has been in use since 1948, and industry sources say the procedure has been used in a million gas wells in the years since. But the practice has expanded in the past few years as energy companies began exploring shale formations.
–National Public Radio

Exporting Europe’s electronic waste
ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — When two inspectors swung open the doors of a battered red shipping container here, they confronted a graveyard of Europe’s electronic waste — old wires, electricity meters, circuit boards — mixed with remnants of cardboard and plastic.

“This is supposed to be going to China, but it isn’t going anywhere,” said Arno Vink, an inspector from the Dutch environment ministry who impounded the container because of Europe’s strict new laws that place restrictions on all types of waste exports, from dirty pipes to broken computers to household trash.

Exporting waste illegally to poor countries has become a vast and growing international business, as companies try to minimize the costs of new environmental laws, like those here, that tax waste or require that it be recycled or otherwise disposed of in an environmentally responsible way.
–The New York Times

Manure-tainted groundwater in Wisconsin

September 21, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of significant regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles where they originally were published.

Dairy manure taints Wisconsin wells

Wis. — All it took was an early thaw for the drinking water here to become unsafe.

There are 41,000 dairy cows in Brown County, which includes Morrison, and they produce more than 260 million gallons of manure each year, much of which is spread on nearby grain fields. Other farmers receive fees to cover their land with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage.

In measured amounts, that waste acts as fertilizer. But if the amounts are excessive, bacteria and chemicals can flow into the ground and contaminate residents’ tap water.

In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

–New York Times


EPA vows to get tough on Chesapeake

The federal government said that it would seek an unprecedented role as the environmental police of the Chesapeake Bay — enforcing new rules on farmers and keeping a closer eye on state-level bureaucrats — in an effort to halt the estuary’s long decline.

If the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan works, a bay known for soft-touch oversight could become one of the most aggressively regulated bodies of water in the country.

“People don’t believe there are going to be consequences if they don’t follow” some pollution rules now, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. She said the agency’s tougher stance on the Chesapeake could be copied with other watersheds around the country: “We want to make this a laboratory to show that it can be done.”

–The Washington Post


Blue-green algae bloom poisons dog

A dog died during the weekend after swimming in Fox Lake, west of Fairmont,  apparently as a result of exposure to toxic blue-green algae. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the dog’s owner said the dog swam in the lake on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 13, and was dead within hours.

Blue-green algae “blooms,” like those on Fox Lake and some other lakes around the state, can produce toxins.  These toxins can be deadly to dogs or other animals if ingested, particularly when they clean themselves after contact with the water.

Blue-green blooms can occur throughout the summer, but the recent warm weather and lack of rain create ideal conditions for them.  For more information, click here.

–MPCA news release


Zebra mussels found in Pelican Lake

A local resident found a zebra mussel attached to a native mussel in Pelican Lake north of Pelican Rapids in Otter Tail County. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologists searched the lake and found both adult and young zebra mussels, suggesting that they have been in the lake for more than a year.

The DNR will continue to search for zebra mussels in connected waters, especially downstream of Pelican Lake. Downstream connections to the lake could lead to the spread of zebra mussels via the flowing water as far as the Red River.

It’s the first discovery of zebra mussels in Otter Tail County and the Red River Watershed. This is the fifth new Minnesota lake to be identified as infested with zebra mussels this year.

–Minnesota DNR news release


Conservation district searches for zebra mussels

A day after zebra mussels were found in a northwestern Minnesota lake, divers combed through White Bear Lake to see if it might be susceptible to the invasive species — even though the creatures have never been seen there.

Zebra mussels, which threaten to alter the ecosystems of Minnesota’s 12,000 lakes, have been discovered in at least 30 bodies of water in the state. But when aquatic scientist Steve McComas and his crew spent five hours studying the depths of White Bear Lake in Ramsey County, it is believed to be the first time a government agency in Minnesota has taken the proactive step of examining a lake where there hasn’t been a problem.

–The Star Tribune


California farm seeks OK for $73 million water sale

While area farmers are struggling through a third year of drought, letting land lie fallow because they can’t afford to irrigate it, a large Kings County farm operator is a step away from a $73 million deal that would send 14,000 acre-feet of water to the Mojave Desert over 10 years.

The price, more than $5,200 an acre-foot, could be a record. Robert Cooke, chief of the State Water Project Analysis Office, said the most he’s ever heard paid for water was about $3,000 an acre-foot.

An acre-foot is the amount of water that would fill an acre 1 foot deep, or 325,851 gallons. The average household in the Visalia area uses about 290,000 gallons of water annually, according to the California Water Services Co.

The deal for the Kings County water, awaiting final approval by the California Department of Water Resources, is between Sandridge Partners, owned by the family of the late Silicon Valley real estate developer Stephen Vidovich, and the Mojave Water Agency.

–The Visalia Times-Delta


A new breed of invasive: Hippos

Even in Colombia, a country known for its paramilitary death squads, this hunting party stood out: more than a dozen soldiers from a Colombian Army battalion, two Porsche salesmen armed with long-range rifles, their assistant, and a taxidermist.

They stalked Pepe through the backlands of Colombia for three days in June before executing him in a clearing about 60 miles from here with shots to his head and heart. But after a snapshot emerged of soldiers posing over his carcass, the group suddenly found itself on the defensive.

As it turned out, Pepe — a hippopotamus who escaped from his birthplace near the pleasure palace built here by the slain drug lord Pablo Escobar — had a following of his own.

–The New York Times


White House outlines new oceans plan

With demands on US ocean resources control growing quickly, the Obama administration outlined a new comprehensive ocean management plan to guide federal agencies in restoring and protecting a badly stressed U.S. coastal and ocean environment.

The policy shift proposed by the president’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force holds enormous potential for sweeping changes in how the nation’s oceans are managed, including energy development, experts say.

At its core, the plan would set up a new National Ocean Council to guide a holistic “ecosystem-based” approach intended to elevate and unify what has long been a piecemeal approach by US agencies toward ocean policy and development — from oil and gas exploration to fisheries management to ship transportation to recreation.

–The Christian Science Monitor


New invasive crayfish in Wisconsin

A  new invasive crayfish that can harm native fish, frog and crayfish populations was found in Wisconsin late last month, presenting an early test case for a new invasive species rule aimed at keeping new invaders from gaining a foothold in Wisconsin, state invasive species officials say.

“This is exactly what the Natural Resources Board and the Legislature expected us to do with this rule: respond to citizen reports of new invasives, check it out, and if it’s on the prohibited list, get out there as quickly as possible develop a containment and control strategy,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank.

The red swamp crayfish, found by a citizen Aug. 25, 2009, in a Washington County subdivision pond, is prohibited under the new rule that took effect Sept. 1, 2009, and which gives the DNR authority to take fast action to eradicate prohibited species.

The crayfish was confirmed Aug. 26 by Milwaukee Public Museum experts as a red swamp crayfish, a Louisiana native raised by southern aquaculture operations, often sold to school teachers for their classrooms and to restaurants.

–News of the North


Wisconsin mink farm fined for tainting groundwater

A mink farm in St. Anna in Calumet County has been ordered to pay $15,000 and replace several neighboring wells to settle groundwater contamination claims brought against it by the state.

Fuhrmann Mink Farm, Inc., which operated a mink production facility near St. Anna for over 50 years, has also agreed to remediate nitrate contamination at the site of its former mink farm. Claims against the farm were brought under Wisconsin’s  water pollution prevention and spill remediation laws, according to a press release from the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office.

According to the complaint, Fuhrmann Mink Farm installed an onsite disposal system for its food process wastewater in 1979, but never connected this system to its waste stream, according to the release.

–FDL Reporter

Widespread pollution, intersex and kudzu

September 14, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to where they originally were published.

500,000 pollution violations in five years

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from residents’ taps.

Follow the New York Times link to look up pollution in Minnesota and other states.

— The New York Times

USGS study finds widespread intersex in fish

Intersex in smallmouth and largemouth bass is widespread in numerous river basins throughout the United States is the major finding of the most comprehensive and large-scale evaluation of the condition, according to U.S. Geological Survey research published online in Aquatic Toxicology.

Of the 16 fish species researchers examined from 1995 to 2004, the condition was most common by far in smallmouth and largemouth bass: a third of all male smallmouth bass and a fifth of all male largemouth bass were intersex. This condition is primarily revealed in male fish that have immature female egg cells in their testes, but occasionally female fish will have male characteristics as well.

“Although the USGS has already documented the severity of intersex in individual basins such as the Potomac, this study reveals the prevalence of intersex is more widespread than anyone anticipated, said Sue Haseltine, associate director for biology at the U.S. Geological Survey. “This research sends the clear message that we need to learn more about the hormonal and environmental factors that cause this condition in fish, as well as the number of fish afflicted with this condition.”

The study, said Hinck, presents the observed occurrence of intersex in a variety of freshwater fish species, but not potential causes. “This study adds a lot to our knowledge of this phenomena, but we still don’t know why certain species seem more prone to this condition or exactly what is causing it. In fact, the causes for intersex may vary by location, and we suspect it will be unlikely that a single human activity or kind of contaminant will explain intersex in all species or regions,” she said.

–USGS News Release

Texas speculators invest in water

In a scorching cow pasture silent save the lowing of cattle, Terry Gilmore picks up a stick and draws in the sand a simple map: divots in the ground for a handful of water wells, then a long scratch for a pipeline to deliver water to Austin’s eastern flank.

About 2,000 feet below him sits an underground reservoir, known as the Simsboro formation, that he and others hope will fuel development everywhere from Georgetown to San Antonio.

Gilmore, 60, the chief investor in a water development company called Sustainable Water Resources, has spent millions of dollars to try to make his lines in the sand a brick-and-mortar reality.

–The Austin American-Statesman

New York braces for higher seas

When major ice sheets thaw, they release enough fresh water to disrupt ocean currents world-wide and make the planet wobble with the uneven weight of so much meltwater on the move. Studying these effects more closely, scientists are discovering local variations in rising sea levels — and some signs pointing to higher seas around metropolitan New York.

Sea level may rise faster near New York than at most other densely populated ports due to local effects of gravity, water density and ocean currents, according to four new forecasts of melting ice sheets. The forecasts are the work of international research teams that included the University of Toronto, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., Florida State University and the University of Bristol in the U.K., among others.

Scientists are laboring to make their predictions more reliable. While they do, New York has become an urban experiment in the ways that seaboard cities can adapt to climate change over the next century.

–The Wall Street Journal

Satellites measure water use

Water management is serious business in the American West, where precipitation is scarce, irrigated agriculture is a major industry, new housing subdivisions spread across arid landscapes.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” water officials are fond of saying.

But measurement — trying to determine how much water is diverted from rivers and how much is pumped from hundreds of thousands of wells — has been an inexact and expensive science.

Now a tool developed by the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the University of Idaho is changing the face of water management and conservation by efficiently offering specific measurements of the water consumed across a large region or single field.

–The Washington Post

EPA seeks to ban lead tire weights

It’s no secret that cars pollute the environment, but not all of that pollution comes out of the tailpipe.

The Environmental Protection Agency says 2,000 tons of lead tire weights —used in wheel balancing — are “lost from vehicles and ultimately end up in the environment each year.” Exposure to lead, the E.P.A. said, has a variety of health effects, including brain and nervous system disorders, high blood pressure, reproductive problems and hypertension.

Recently, the E.P.A. reversed previous decisions and agreed to follow Europe’s lead and seek to ban the manufacture and sale of  lead tire weights.

–The New York Times

Water managers eye  Mexican wetland

The Southwest drought has reached the point where even drain water is coveted.

Beginning nearly 40 years ago, the briny runoff from the “salad bowl” of southern Arizona, some of the most productive farmland in the nation, has been channeled into an arid plain of the Sonoran desert in Mexico.

It is an engineered solution to the vexing problem of keeping the nearby Colorado River free of agricultural wastewater too heavy in salt compounds for drinking water and other uses. An accidental result south of the border has been a thriving man-made wetland, the largest in the river’s delta, a key stopover for migratory birds and home to a bounty of endangered and threatened species.

But now the protracted drought in the Southwest has led water managers to rethink the possibilities for the wastewater, placing the preservation of the wetland, the Ciénega de Santa Clara, at the center of a delicate balancing act between the growing thirst of California, Nevada and Arizona and the delta’s ecology.

–The New York Times

Jordan-Israel embark on massive water project

An acute water shortage has prompted Jordan and Israel to embark on water-supply projects that supporters say will prevent an impending regional crisis but environmentalists have criticized as ill-advised attempts to rewire nature.

The efforts include a pipeline to Amman from the Dissi Reservoir in Jordan’s southern desert and an extensive network of desalination plants Israel is building along the Mediterranean coast. The Dissi is an ancient, nonrenewable, underground pool of water that, once tapped, will run dry in an estimated 50 years.

Most controversially, the two countries are pushing for action on the long-standing idea of cutting a 110-mile path north from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Nearly 2 billion cubic meters of water — about half a trillion gallons — would be sent through a network of pipelines or tunnels each year, with some of it desalinated en route and some used to reverse decades of decline in the Dead Sea’s water level.

–The Washington Post

Eden Prairie seeks erosion advice

Eden Prairie has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to diagnose a severe riverbank erosion problem on the city’s southern limits along the Minnesota River — one that could eventually threaten homes along the bluff above if not corrected, officials say.

Since 1937, the river has cut 300 feet into a point on its north bank in Eden Prairie, forming a sharp bend in the river and even washing away a chunk of old Riverview Road, a historic gravel road now used for hiking along the riverbanks. The erosion is occurring about a mile and a half west of Hwy. 169 at the base of a tall bluff lined by about a dozen homes overlooking the river valley.

–The Star Tribune

Dams drive California water debate

The stalemate over water reform in California these days swirls around a single word that for decades has ignited conflict among ideological opposites: dams.

Conservatives, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, insist on building new dams, believing that pooling water in a canyon will end California’s thirst.

Liberals first want legal assurances that California will make better use of the water it has – a plea for more regulation that seems pointless to the thirsty.

–The Sacramento Bee

Devastating drought parches Kenya

The sun somehow feels closer here, more intense, more personal. As Philip Lolua waits under a tree for a scoop of food, heat waves dance up from the desert floor, blurring the dead animal carcasses sprawled in front of him.

So much of his green pasture land has turned to dust. His once mighty herd of goats, sheep and camels have died of thirst. He says his 3-year-old son recently died of hunger.

A devastating drought is sweeping across Kenya, killing livestock, crops and children. It is stirring up tensions in the ramshackle slums where the water taps have run dry, and spawning ethnic conflict in the hinterland as communities fight over the last remaining pieces of fertile grazing land.

–The New York Times

Mexico suffers drought, too

In the parched Mexican countryside, the corn is wilting, the wheat stunted. And here in this vast and thirsty capital, officials are rationing water and threatening worse cuts as Mexico endures one of the driest spells in more than half a century.

A months-long drought has affected broad swaths of the country, from the U.S. border to the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving crop fields parched and many reservoirs low. The need for rain is so dire that water officials have been rooting openly for a hurricane or two to provide a good drenching.

–The Los Angeles Times

Finally, a kind word for invasive kudzu

Kudzu, the wild vine that has overtaken almost 10 million acres in the southeastern U.S., may be more nutrient than nuisance. Previous studies have suggested a chemical in kudzu may help alcoholics curb addiction. Now a study shows it can help regulate blood pressure, glucose metabolism and cholesterol levels.

Kudzu root contains polyphenols, and is already available in health food stores as a dietary supplement. In the new study, researchers gave half of a rat population kudzu root extract and compared them with rats that didn’t receive the extract. The findings, the authors wrote, “suggest that polyphenols in kudzu root may provide a nonpharmacological complement to traditional approaches for treating hypertension.” The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

–The Baltimore Sun

Michael Osterholm to speak on groundwater

September 11, 2009

Michael Osterholm, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota and an international expert on infectious diseases, will speak Oct. 8 in a forum on groundwater quality and sustainability.

The forum, sponsored by three League of Women Voters chapters and the Freshwater Socitey, is free and open to the public. It will be at 7 p.m. in the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior, Minn.

Osterholm, a passionate advocate for protecting the groundwater most Minnesotans depend on for their drinking

Michael Osterholm

Michael Osterholm

water, will speak on the intimate connection between ground and surface waters and the contamination threats our underground aquifers face from all the drugs and personal care products we put in or on our bodies, and all the chemicals we use in industry and agriculture.

 Osterholm is director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and director of the Minnesota Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. If you have followed national reports of the H1N1 flu epidemic, you have seen or heard him quoted.

 One of Osterholm’s passions is protecting and restoring the streams and underground water resources in the Karst regions of southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa. He has worked to restore three trout streams that flow through his Prairie Song Farm in Iowa.

 He also is a member of the Guardianship Council, a Freshwater Society advisory group that in 2008 produced an extensive report on the quality and sustainability of both ground and surface waters in Minnesota.

His lecture is sponsored by three League of Women Voters chapter – South Tonka, Wayzata-Plymouth and Eastern Carver County — and the Freshwater Society. It is the second lecture in a series. In the first lecture May 21, Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam and Glenn Skuta of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency talked about surface water pollution.

 Osterholm will talk about the contamination of drinking water by industrial chemicals and agricultural fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. He will talk about the difference in quality between groundwater that, in some places, is thousands of years old and the water, in other places, that fell as rain or snow in the last decade.  And he will talk about a new class of pollutant – endocrine disruptors – that threaten to interfere with the hormonal systems that regulate the lives of fish, animals and humans.

 For more information, go to or contact Patrick Sweeney, , 952-471-9773. Or Patricia Hauser, South Tonka League of Women Voters, 952-470-0132.

Climate change, tar sands and invasives

September 7, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts a digest of some of the best regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to where they originally were published.

Climate change reverses cooling in Arctic
Human-generated greenhouse gas emissions have helped reverse a 2,000-year trend of cooling in the Arctic, prompting warmer average temperatures in the past decade that now rank higher than at any time since 1 B.C., according to a study published in the online version of the journal Science.

The analysis, based on more than a dozen lake sediment cores as well as glacier ice and tree ring records from the Arctic, provides one of the broadest pictures to date of how industrial emissions have shifted the Arctic’s long-standing natural climate patterns. Coupled with a separate report on the region issued by the World Wildlife Fund, the studies suggest human-induced changes could transform not only the Arctic but climate conditions across the world.

“It’s basically saying the greenhouse gas emissions are overwhelming the system,” said David Schneider, a visiting scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the Science article’s co-authors.
–The Washington Post

Tar sands debate hits Minnesota
The fight over global warming and Canadian oil is heating up, and Minnesota, which gets 80 percent of its oil from Canada, is sitting on the griddle.

A group of oil companies and big industries launched a TV and radio ad campaign to try to snuff out rules that might raise the cost of piping Canadian tar-sands oil through the Dakotas to refineries in the Twin Cities.

Meanwhile, environmentalists appealed a federal decision that allows construction of another major pipeline across northern Minnesota to bring in even more tar-sands oil from Alberta.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

White House ‘green jobs’ adviser resigns
Van Jones resigned as the White House’s environmental jobs “czar” after weeks of controversy over his past comments and affiliations had slowly escalated.

Appointed as a special adviser for “green jobs” by President Obama, Mr. Jones did not go through the traditional vetting process for administration officials who must be confirmed by the Senate. So it was not until recently that some of Mr. Jones’s past actions received broad airing, including his derogatory statements about Republicans in February and his signature on a 2004 letter suggesting that former President George W. Bush might have knowingly allowed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to occur in order to use them as a “pre-text to war.”
–The New York Times

Mille Lacs zebra mussels increase
The number of zebra mussels in Lake Mille Lacs — Minnesota’s most popular fishing lake — has increased tenfold from last year.

Officials say the invasive species, discovered in the state’s second largest lake in 2005, is growing exponentially. Such rapid growth could be a mere nuisance or pose a serious new threat to the famed walleye fishery that annually attracts more than 400,000 anglers from Minnesota and beyond.
–The Star Tribune

Investing in climate: The next mega-trend?
It is being dubbed the next “mega-trend” for the stockmarket. Companies that focus on alternative energy and combating climate change will offer outstanding growth for investors, while the environmental laggards will face increasing pollution taxes and penalties. Surely this is a one-way bet for investors with both profits and principles in mind?

Already British investors, even those with as little as £50 a month to invest, can choose from a number of funds promising to direct your cash into the environmental industries of the future. Schroders and HSBC were among the first to launch climate change funds in 2007, followed soon after by Virgin Money. Other big-name providers include F&C and BlackRock (formerly Merrill Lynch).
–The Guardian

Army Corps to restore Louisiana wetlands
The Army Corps of Engineers expects to spend between $400 million and $1.1 billion on coastal restoration and forest-rebuilding projects to make up for the destruction of similar habitat caused by its ongoing levee improvement program, corps officials said.

Federal law requires the corps to replace each acre of habitat damaged during construction with an equal number of acres of similar wetlands and forested areas.
–The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Rule would require water treatment in Wisconsin
A proposed rule that will affect as many as 70 Wisconsin communities by requiring treatment of public drinking water supplies will be the subject of statewide public hearings in October, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Lee Boushon, who manages the DNR’s public drinking water programs, said the treatment requirement is one of several drinking water rule changes that will be discussed at five public hearings around Wisconsin this fall.

Among the other proposals on the agenda for the hearings are plans for heightened groundwater monitoring, a rule regulating contaminant by-products produced by water treatment systems and new design and construction standards for water systems.

Most communities already treat drinking water but Boushon said about 70 water utilities will have to install treatment systems as a result of the rule. Among those communities in southern Wisconsin, according to the agency, are Spring Green, Mineral Point, Hollandale and Dane.