Archive for October, 2009

Health costs of fossil fuels; irrigation’s demand

October 25, 2009

The cost — in terms of health care — of fossil fuels. A looming battle in California over desalination. The demands irrigators make on the Colorado River’s waters. Check out these articles and more, then follow the links to read them in their entirety where they originally were published.

Fossil fuels add billions in health costs
Burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution, the National Academy of Sciences reported in a study.

The damages are caused almost equally by coal and oil, according to the study, which was ordered by Congress. The study set out to measure the costs not incorporated into the price of a kilowatt-hour or a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel.

The estimates by the academy do not include damages from global warming, which has been linked to the gases produced by burning fossil fuels. The authors said the extent of such damage, and the timing, were too uncertain to estimate.
–The New York Times

Water shortages put target on irrigators
Along its final miles, the Colorado River snakes through a dizzying series of dams, canals, siphons and ditches, diverted to hundreds of users in Arizona and California until barely a trickle remains.

What flows through this watery Grand Central Station could fill the needs of all the homes and offices in Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and much of Southern California.

But it doesn’t.

The water, more than a billion gallons a day, irrigates vast fields of wheat, alfalfa, cotton, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, melons and a produce aisle of other fruits and vegetables, feeding an industry tilled from the desert more than a century ago.

In Arizona, the crops yield about 1 percent of the state’s annual economic output, yet the fields soak up 70 percent of the water supply. That outsize allotment has painted a target on the farms as urban water managers search for the next bucket of water to meet future demands.
–The Arizona Republic

Desalination plan focus of fight over growth
Nothing about the Marin Municipal Water District storage yard and the run-down wooden pier protruding into San Francisco Bay give any hint of what they are: the site of what may become one of the fiercest water battles in Northern California in decades.

It is, on the surface, a set piece: an emotional struggle over a large planned water project facing strong environmental opposition. But at a more basic level, it is a contest over the ever-volatile issue of growth in Marin County.

The district is proposing to use both the yard and the Marin Rod & Gun Club pier as locations for a desalination plant that would suck up saltwater and initially could produce about five million gallons of water a day for its 190,000 customers, an increase of 6 percent in the district’s supply.
–The New York Times

Hugo Chavez calls for 3-minute showers
Leftist President Hugo Chavez called on Venezuelans to stop singing in the shower and to wash in three minutes because the oil-exporting nation is having problems supplying water and electricity.

Venezuela has suffered several serious blackouts in the past year because of rapidly growing demand and under-investment, which has been aggravated by a drop in water levels in hydroelectric dams that provide most of its energy.

Chavez announced energy-saving measures and said he would create a ministry to deal with the electricity shortages, which have affected the image of his socialist revolution before legislative elections due in 2010.

Corps wants Red River flood choice by Dec. 1
Fargo-Moorhead officials finally have plenty of options for flood control.

But it will test their ability to work together to quickly pick a plan by Dec. 1 that could determine the area’s safety for decades.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented an array of diversion and levee options at a meeting of the Metropolitan Flood Management Committee at the Moorhead Marriott .

With the project on a tight timetable, corps engineer Craig Evans said his agency needs to know by Dec. 1 whether it’s a diversion channel in Minnesota or North Dakota, or levees, that has local support.
–The Forum

Pollution credit trading  market planned
American Farmland Trust is teaming up with Electric Power Research Institute, the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Kieser & Associates, Hunton and Williams, the Miami Conservancy District, University of California at Santa Barbara, Ohio Farm Bureau, Hoosier Rural Electric Cooperative, and Tennessee Valley Authority to establish a water quality trading market across the Ohio River Basin, an area that spans fourteen states.

The project will focus on Ohio and seven nearby states, with the goal of improving water quality in the Ohio River Basin and reducing hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

Water quality trading creates a market that pays participants for reducing the pollution they emit into watersheds. It creates a market that allows pollution sources who reduce their nutrient emissions or releases below an agreed upon baseline, to generate credits to sell to point sources required to reduce their nutrient releases. Such point sources include public utilities or manufacturing operations. Subsequently, participants are given a financial incentive to reduce their own pollution.

Washington County preserve to grow
Land dedicated to scientific research in south Washington County grew substantially when the Trust for Public Land completed the purchase of 120 acres in Denmark Township.

The land, bought from private landowner Mike Rygh for $1.14 million, will be added to the 200-acre Lost Valley Prairie Scientific and Natural Area and will remain open to the public for walking, exploring, nature observation, educational use and scientific research.
–The Star Tribune

Coloradoans contest Nestle bottled water plan
In many ways Salida, Colo., typifies the 21st-century Rocky Mountain town. Originally founded along a railroad line in the late 1800s, it’s now geared primarily toward tourism.

Among the red brick buildings of the historic center where ranchers, miners, and railroad workers once held sway, tourists now move between coffee shops, galleries, and outfitters. During warmer months, kayakers “surf” a man-made wave in the fast-flowing Arkansas River, which marks the edge of the downtown area.

For the better part of this year, Salida – population 5,400 – has also been the setting for a 21st century kind of battle – over water.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Exxon hit with damages in pollution suit
A federal jury in New York City ruled Exxon Mobil Corp had polluted the city’s ground water and ordered the oil giant to pay $105 million in damages, the city said.

The city contended Exxon knew that gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether would contaminate ground water if it leaked from the underground storage tanks at its retail stations.

Exxon ignored warnings from its own scientists and engineers not to use MTBE in areas of the country that relied on ground water for drinking water, the city said.

Times journalist talks about ‘worsening pollution’
An estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals, parasites, bacteria or viruses, or fails to meet federal health standards. Part of the problem, says journalist Charles Duhigg, is that water-pollution laws are not being enforced.

Duhigg reports on the “worsening pollution in American waters” — and regulators’ responses to the problem — in his New York Times series, “Toxic Waters.” In researching the series, he studied thousands of water pollution records, which he obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
–National Public Radio

California considers massive water overhaul
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers are laboring over an ambitious package of policy and spending initiatives that could transform — from dam to tap — how California uses its limited water supply.

If the changes happen, most residents and businesses probably would have to pay more and consume less.

For the first time, statewide law would require farmers to pay a premium if they draw too much water. Among the dozens of potential directives is a proposal for urban customers, including those in the San Diego region, to wring at least 5 percent more in water conservation.

Longer term, the area’s water agencies might be able to compete for billions in state grants to build more storage facilities, invigorate conservation and extend alternative supplies, such as desalination.
–The San Diego Union

Tougher water enforcement; bow fishing for invasives

October 19, 2009

EPA chief Lisa P. Jackson announces a tougher effort to enforce water quality rules. An Illinois man, confronted with a river full of jumping Asian carp, develops a new sport: extreme aerial bow fishing. And cleaner air sometimes means dirtier water, the New York Times reports in the latest installment in its Toxic Waters series. Follow the links to read those articles and more.

EPA chief pledges stepped-up water enforcement
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing that the agency is stepping up its efforts on Clean Water Act enforcement.

 The Clean Water Action Enforcement Plan is a first step in revamping the compliance and enforcement program. It seeks to improve the protection of our nation’s water quality, raise the bar in federal and state performance and enhance public transparency.

“The safety of the water that we use in our homes — the water we drink and give to our children — is of paramount importance to our health and our environment. Having clean and safe water in our communities is a right that should be guaranteed for all Americans,” said Administrator Jackson. “Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.”

The plan announced outlines how the agency will strengthen the way it addresses the water pollution challenges of this century. These challenges include pollution caused by numerous, dispersed sources, such as concentrated animal feeding operations, sewer overflows, contaminated water that flows from industrial facilities, construction sites, and runoff from urban streets.
–EPA news release

Extreme aerial bow fishing for invasive carp
The sound and vibration of a boat engine make the fish fly.

The Illinois River and other waterways flowing into the Mississippi have become infested with invasive Asian fish species commonly called silver carp, which can turn a leisurely ride on a johnboat into the aquatic version of the running of the bulls. The carp can jump out of the water by the hundreds, sometimes soaring 10 feet in the air and often landing in the boat. They have loosened fishermen’s teeth, broken their jaws and left them scarred.

This unlikely and often violent meeting of quaint pastime and airborne fish is a problem for wildlife officials. For Chris Brackett, a guide on the Illinois River, it is a business opportunity.
–The N.Y. Times

Cleaner air yields dirtier water
MASONTOWN, Pa. — For years, residents here complained about the yellow smoke pouring from the tall chimneys of the nearby coal-fired power plant, which left a film on their cars and pebbles of coal waste in their yards. Five states — including New York and New Jersey — sued the plant’s owner, Allegheny Energy, claiming the air pollution was causing respiratory diseases and acid rain.

So three years ago, when Allegheny Energy decided to install scrubbers to clean the plant’s air emissions, environmentalists were overjoyed. The technology would spray water and chemicals through the plant’s chimneys, trapping more than 150,000 tons of pollutants each year before they escaped into the sky.

 But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was switched on in June, the company has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000 people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north. (From the New York Times Toxic Waters series.)
–The New York Times

 Canada’s rivers in trouble, environmental group says
Serious action is required to keep Canada’s rivers flowing and to prevent them from being drained by expanding cities, soaring energy demands and climate change, says a new report.

“Flow regimes in some of Canada’s most important rivers, such as the South Saskatchewan and the St. Lawrence, have been modified to the extent that ecosystems are in serious trouble,” said the report, Canada’s Rivers at Risk, produced by WWF-Canada, an environmental organization. “Soon, many others — including some of the planet’s increasingly scarce, large, free-flowing rivers like the Skeena, the Athabasca, and the Mackenzie — could be in trouble, as well, as demands on the waters grow and climate change intensifies.” 

Overall, the study assessed the flow of 10 Canadian rivers that drain into the Pacific, the Arctic, the Hudson Bay and the Atlantic, and the impact of economic development, infrastructure and hydroelectric dams in the water basins.
–CanWest News Service

 EPA told to limit endocrine testing
The Office of Management and Budget has instructed U.S. EPA to use existing toxicity data rather than require companies to conduct new tests to determine whether chemicals can damage the human endocrine system.

At issue in the White House directive is the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program created by the 1998 Food Quality Protection Act to identify chemicals that can disrupt reproductive systems. 

EPA started the program in April with the announcement of the first 67 pesticides for screening with a “Tier 1” goal of identifying possible endocrine disruptors and requiring that they be tested by their manufacturers. The program’s second tier is aimed at determining safe exposure levels for such chemicals.
–The New York Times 

Carver County septic system gets pricier
For several years, Carver County officials have been trying to force Lowell and Janet Carlson to replace the septic system at their Norwood-Young America farm, eventually threatening them with a jail sentence earlier this month if they did not comply.

 It turns out, however, that the septic system the county approved and wanted the Carlsons to install in 2006 apparently would have been illegal, according to people the Carlsons brought in to help them replace the system.

As a result, the couple will have to install an even more costly mound system to keep themselves out of the Carver County jail.
–The Star Tribune

Lake Vermillion park negotiations dormant
Back in 2008, funding for Lake Vermilion State Park was one of the signature accomplishments of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s legislative maneuvering, a prize for which he had twisted arms and played hardball in last-minute negotiation with legislators. 

When the session was over, the governor had agreed not to veto funding for the Central Corridor Light Rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul. In exchange, DFL leaders approved $20 million in bonding authority for the “acquisition and development” of nearly 3,000 acres of land, including five miles of pristine shoreline, along Lake Vermilion. 

It was to be Minnesota’s first new state park since 1979. Today, however, the chances that Lake Vermilion State Park will ever happen are remote, and steadily diminishing. Negotiations between the Minnesota DNR and property owner U.S. Steel over the purchase of the land are, according to both sides, lying dormant.
–St. Paul Legal Ledger

Faucet snails found in Twin lakes
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is in the process of designating Upper and Lower Twin lakes in Hubbard and Wadena counties as “infested waters” because the faucet snail (Bithynia tentaculata) has been found there. The snail has been linked to waterfowl deaths at Lake Winnibigoshish and the Upper Mississippi pool system in southeastern Minnesota. 

A local resident of Lower Twin Lake first noticed the snails attached to his boat and brought them to the attention of local DNR staff. Trained DNR and U.S. Geological Survey staff later verified them as faucet snails.

 New regulations will take effect at the lake to help stop the movement of the faucet snail to other waters. Once designated as “infested waters,” state law prohibits the transport of water from Upper and Lower Twin without a permit. It also prohibits anglers or commercial bait harvesters from harvesting bait from these waters.
–Minnesota DNR news release

 USGS assesses risk of giant invasive snakes
Five giant non-native snake species would pose high risks to the health of ecosystems in the United States should they become established here, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report.

 The USGS report details the risks of nine non-native boa, anaconda and python species that are invasive or potentially invasive in the United States. Because all nine species share characteristics associated with greater risks, none was found to be a low ecological risk. Two of these species are documented as reproducing in the wild in South Florida, with population estimates for Burmese pythons in the tens of thousands.

Based on the biology and known natural history of the giant constrictors, individuals of some species may also pose a small risk to people, although most snakes would not be large enough to consider a person as suitable prey. Mature individuals of the largest species—Burmese, reticulated, and northern and southern African pythons—have been documented as attacking and killing people in the wild in their native range, though such unprovoked attacks appear to be quite rare, the report authors wrote.
–Science Daily

Midwestern governors want CO2 pipeline
Midwestern states are working with energy companies to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to carbon capture and storage: finding ways to transport the gas from its industrial source to its final resting place.

The Midwestern Governors Association announced a goal to site and permit by 2012 at least one interstate pipeline to ferry global warming pollution from the region’s power plants to suitable underground storage sites.

The goal was among several laid out in the Midwestern Energy Infrastructure Accord aiming to transform the region’s coal-rich states into hubs for CCS technology (Greenwire, Oct. 7).

 An early step in the accord involves the development of a pipeline that would move carbon dioxide from capture-ready coal plants in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky to the Gulf Coast for use in enhanced oil recovery.
–The New York Times

Atrazine, dairy pollution and sewage rules

October 12, 2009

EPA considers new rules on atrazine
TheEnvironmental Protection Agency plans to conduct a new study about the potential health risks of atrazine,  a widely used weedkiller that recent research suggests may be more dangerous to humans than previously thought.

Atrazine — a herbicide often used on corn fields, golf courses and even lawns — has become one of the most common contaminants in American drinking water.

For years, the E.P.A. has decided against acting on calls to ban the chemical from environmental activists and some scientists who argued that runoff was polluting ecosystems and harming animals.

More recently, new studies have suggested that atrazine in drinking water is associated with birth defects, low birth weights and reproductive problems among humans, even at concentrations that meet current federal standards.
–The New York Times

Complaints persist about Thief River Falls dairy
Eye-watering plumes from a dairy feedlot north of Thief River Falls are a “health hazard,” say authorities, and when the wind shifts nearby families and children must escape the foul air by evacuating, sometimes in the dead of night. Local elected officials have joined a chorus of residents to demand the site be closed, but for two years feedlot owners have sidestepped cleanup orders they consider “a joke.”

The source of the rancid stench, Excel Dairy, still has a permit to operate, and some who’ve endured the nauseating, rotten-egg smelling hydrogen sulfide rising off manure lagoons are wondering why state authorities aren’t more forceful in stopping it.

Petition challenges MPCA oversight of sewage
An environmental group petitioned the federal government to force the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to do what it characterizes as a better job issuing permits required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy contends the state agency hasn’t taken necessary actions against straight-pipe septic systems that dump raw sewage directly into lakes and rivers. It also says the agency has repeatedly issued weaker permits than required by federal law to governments and businesses discharging phosphorus into those water bodies, resulting in excessive algal growth.

The petition asks the Environmental Protection Agency to require the MPCA to correct those matters or take away its authority to issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water permits.

“We’re kind of calling for the ref to say, ‘Just a minute. You have some markers you need to meet here,’ ” said Kris Sigford, the advocacy group’s water quality director.

An MPCA spokeswoman said the agency has not had a chance to review the petition in detail, but she added that it appears the issues already have been addressed by Minnesota courts and the Legislature.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Airlines required to monitor drinking water quality
U.S. airlines will be required to regularly disinfect and monitor on-board drinking water systems under a new rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency has for the first time tailored existing public water monitoring regulations to commercial aircraft.

The change, five years in the making and affecting 63 airlines and 7,300 planes, will replace interim systems for monitoring bacteria and other pathogens that could sicken passengers.

The EPA expects the annual cost to the industry to be about $7 million.

Fight over septic system ends short of jail
A Chanhassen couple, faced with going to jail after a six-year battle with Carver County over their septic system, decided to throw in the towel.

The decision by Janet and Lowell Carlson to fix the septic system will keep them from going to jail Oct. 16 for contempt of court. Carver County District Judge Richard Perkins last week gave them one final chance to make the repairs, estimated to cost at least $10,000.

After the Carlsons bought their farm in 2003, the county ordered them to upgrade the system, saying that it did not have the required 36 inches of separation between its drain field and groundwater on the property. The couple objected, contending there was no indication that the system was leaking or polluting the groundwater.
–The Star Tribune

Obama orders federal sustainability push
Urging the government to “lead by example,” President Obama ordered federal agencies to set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy use, save water and recycle more.

The order calls for a 30% cut in vehicle fuel use by 2020, a 50% increase in recycling by 2015 and the implementation of high-efficiency building codes.

It also instructs agencies to set goals within 90 days to reduce the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for global warming.

The measures echo a Los Angeles sustainability program launched under the direction of then-Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who now heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
–The Los Angeles Times

Big phosphorus reductions needed
Storm water carries so much phosphorus into a chain of lakes in Maple Grove and Plymouth that it may take 20 years to get the three lakes off the state’s impaired waters list.

That’s the finding of a new report to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency which describes the extent of the pollution in each lake and what can be done to reverse it. The report begins the process of cleaning up the lakes as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

In Eagle Lake, a 291-acre lake popular for fishing and swimming, phosphorus would have to be reduced by 40 percent to meet Clean Water standards for swimming, the report says.
–The Star Tribune

DNR plans new mineral leases
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will hold the state’s 31st sale of metallic minerals exploration and mining leases, tentatively scheduled for January 2010. The lease sale plans are being announced at this time in order to give mining companies, public interest groups and other interested parties additional time to review the areas under consideration.

The areas under consideration for the lease sale cover portions of Aitkin, Benton, Carlson, Itasca, Morrison, Pine and St. Louis counties. The lands being considered have been offered in previous metallic minerals lease sales, but based on the interest shown by industry, new geologic data, and exploration techniques developed during the past few years, officials think there may be potential for the discovery of mineral resources within these lands.

The exact time and place of the lease sale will be announced by legal notice at least 30 days prior to the sale.

A map showing the general areas under consideration is available from the DNR Division of Lands and Minerals, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4045, by phone at 651-259-5959, or by visiting the DNR Web site.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Hydropower plans submitted for Coon Rapids Dam
Renewed efforts are being made to explore whether the Coon Rapids Dam can once again be used to generate electricity.

The dam produced electricity for Northern States Power (NSP) from 1914 to 1966, at which time operations stopped because it was no longer economical to generate electricity at the dam.

Over the years, studies have been undertaken  from time to time to look at whether it would be feasible to return the dam to hydroelectric use, but not to the point of a project being submitted for approval to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Now, two competing applications for preliminary permits have been submitted to the FERC to study the feasibility of a hydroelectric power project at the dam.

One is from Three Rivers Park District and the other is from BOSTI Hydroelectric LLC, Golden Valley.
–ABC Newspapers

Suburbs seek to emulate Burnsville rain gardens
Even now, with fall rushing toward winter, the handsome gardens along Rushmore Drive in Burnsville draw the eye with their maroon sedums, purple asters and waving ornamental grasses.

All the gardens are near the curb, and all drop a foot or two below street level at their lowest point.

They’re rain gardens.
–The Star Tribune

California agencies adopt water diets
As the state enters its fourth straight year of drought, water agencies are putting in place permanent rules to reduce use even after the rains and snow return.

Their directives are aimed at new and renovated developments, businesses and homes.

“There is not a Californian who won’t be affected,” said Tim Quinn, executive director for the Association of California Water Agencies.

By January, cities statewide are supposed to have regulations that limit the amount of water used for landscape irrigation in future commercial and residential projects. In particular, the developers will have to abide by a water “budget” for each property.
–The San Diego Union-Tribune

Restoring Wisconsin’s wild rice beds
It was silent, except for the sound of rice seed falling on water as still as a mirror.

John Patrick dug his hand into the 50-pound sack of wild rice, stood up in the canoe and threw, repeating the action until the white bag was empty. Some of the seed, which had been harvested a few days before, floated on the surface of Jackson Box Flowage in Douglas County, while some sank to the brown, nutrient-rich bottom.

“You can see it falling down. They’re like missiles heading straight into the muck,” said Patrick, a Bad River tribal member and wild rice assistant for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Wild rice seeds spiral down, where they grab hold of the bottom, germinate and grow tall above the water until someone or something comes along to dislodge them – a human harvesting the tasty grain, or a duck, muskrat, goose or even white-tailed deer looking for a meal.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Florida ag dept. challenges deal on nutrients
Florida’s agriculture commissioner wants to undo a deal between environmental groups and the federal government that would rewrite an important water pollution rule.

Commissioner Charles Bronson asked a federal judge last week to let the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services join an ongoing lawsuit and fight the agreement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed in August to set clear-cut numeric limits on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus – the nutrients that feed algae in the St. Johns River – allowed in Florida’s rivers and creeks. Florida uses rules that describe what’s allowed, but not nutrient numbers.

Agriculture officials say what’s planned is scientifically unsound and could put some farmers out of business by raising costs to manage fertilizer and animal manure.
–The Florida Times-Union

Carleton, Mac and UM honored for sustainability

Carleton College is one of only 26 higher education institutions nationwide to receive an A- on the College Sustainability Report Card 2010.

The group rated Carleton an “A” in the categories of food and recycling, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, and investment priorities. The report card graded Carleton a “B” in administration, climate change, and energy and green building.

Carleton was one of three Minnesota higher education institutions to receive an overall “A-“ grade, joined by Macalester College and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, on the top-performers list. Carleton has received a top grade of “A-“ the last three years, the only Minnesota school to earn that distinction.
–Carleton news release

Exxon appeals verdict in gasoline leak
Exxon Mobil Corp., the oil company found responsible for a 26,000-gallon leak of gasoline into the groundwater of a northern Baltimore County neighborhood in 2006, filed an appeal  of a trial verdict that awarded $150 million to a group of residents affected by the spill.

“We agree with the jury’s finding that this incident was an unfortunate accident and not a fraudulent or intentional act,” said Kevin M. Allexon, a spokesman for the company. “We believe, however, that compensation should be limited to actual harm caused by the spill, and the jury’s verdict goes well beyond reasonable compensation.”

Neighbors of the Jacksonville service station from which the leak originated filed suit against Exxon when it became clear that the area’s groundwater, which supplies homeowners’ wells and household needs, had been contaminated by the leak.
–The Baltimore Sun

DNR report recommends 200 monitoring wells

October 9, 2009

The Twin Cities need about 200 new monitoring wells, at a cost of nearly $9 million over four years, for state agencies to keep track of how much water we have, how fast we are using it and how good or bad is its quality.

That’s the recommendation of a new report to the Minnesota Legislature prepared by the Department of Natural Resources.

Last spring, the Legislature directed the DNR to “develop a plan for the development of an adequate groundwater monitoring network of wells in the 11-county metropolitan area.” And lawmakers told the DNR to submit its plan by Oct. 1.

The 11 counties covered by the law are: Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey Scott, Sherburne, Washington and Wright.

At present, the DNR has 177 observation wells in those counties, and water levels in the wells are monitored about 10 times a year.

The new plan – prepared by the DNR in consultation with the U.S. Geological Survey and a number of state agencies – recommends installing about 60 “nests” of wells drilled into the overlapping aquifers that lie under the Twin Cities.

For example, a nest of wells in Minneapolis probably would include four closely spaced wells, ranging in depth from about 60 feet to 900 feet. And each well would be monitored electronically monitored in real time, yielding measurements of water levels on a daily or hourly basis.

The new wells would not supplant separate wells used, or planned, by the Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Health or the Department of Agriculture to monitor water quality. But the DNR plan calls for gathering substantially more water quality information from the new wells than currently is collected from DNR observation wells.

The $8.9 million four-year cost the DNR estimated for the new monitoring wells includes $5.5 million for drilling the wells and installing monitoring instrumentation; $1.4 million for technical support, including computer modeling of groundwater supplies; and $2 million for developing a web-based means to store and disseminate data on water quality and quantity.

In 2008, the DNR told a legislative committee that, on a statewide basis, the agency would need 6,000 more wells, at a cost of $120 million, to adequately monitor groundwater. Dave Leuthe, the DNR administrator who led the team that recommended 200 new wells for the 11 counties, said:

“It is an adequate network. I think the 6,000 was probably viewed as somewhat more of a desired network.”

Part of the law asked the DNR to estimate the cost of building and operating the proposed 11-county monitoring system on a “cents per gallon” basis.

The estimated four-year cost of drilling and operating the wells, spread over the approximately 140 billion gallons of ground water pumped each year in the 11 counties, comes to .0000001589 cents per gallon per year, or $15.89 per million gallons.

Solar power vs water, atrazine and river dams

October 5, 2009

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

Alternative energy projects soak up water
In a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating hundreds of jobs. 

But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of this desert valley’s available water. 

Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a Western water war.
–The New York Times 

Study says atrazine impacts fish, amphibians
An analysis of more than 100 scientific studies conducted on atrazine, one of the world’s most common and controversial weed killers, reveals the chemical’s consistent ill effects on the development, behavior, immune, hormone and reproductive systems of amphibians and freshwater fish, University of South Florida researchers have concluded in a new study. 

In a study published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, USF assistant professor Jason R. Rohr and postdoctoral fellow Krista A. McCoy say the body of scientific research on the chemical shows that while atrazine typically does not directly kill amphibians and fish, there is consistent scientific evidence that it is negatively impacting their biology.  The authors conclude that these non-lethal effects must be weighed against the benefit of using the weed killer. 

Atrazine was banned in Europe in 2004, but is still widely used in the United States and 80 other nations, making it one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world.
–U.S. News & World Report 

Four Klamath River dams to be removed
In a major boost for California’s dwindling salmon stocks, a utility company has agreed to the removal of four hydroelectric dams that for decades have blocked fish migrations on one of the West Coast’s most important salmon rivers.

The dam decommissioning is vital to restoring the Klamath River, which for years has been the subject of bitter feuding among farmers, fishermen and tribal interests.

It would open historic salmon spawning and rearing grounds on the upper reaches of the river, which winds from southern Oregon through the Cascades and Coast Ranges to California’s Pacific Coast.
–The Los Angeles Times 

Xcel considers removing Minnesota River dam
A dam built for one of the state’s first hydroelectric facilities is being considered for removal.

 Xcel Energy hosted an informational meeting in Granite Falls to outline its evaluation process for the Minnesota Falls dam, located about three miles south of Granite Falls on the Minnesota River.

 Constructed in 1905, the nearly 600-foot-wide dam housed a hydroelectric facility that operated until 1961. The dam also provided a reservoir of cooling water for a Northern States Power coal-fired power plant built upstream in the 1930s.

 The dam no longer serves any purpose for the company, according to Jim Bodensteiner, senior environmental analyst and scientist with Xcel Energy
–The West Central Tribune

 Philadelphia sets $1.6 billion plan to contain storm water
Philadelphia has announced a $1.6 billion plan to transform the city over the next 20 years by embracing its storm water – instead of hustling it down sewers and into rivers as fast as possible.

The proposal, which several experts called the nation’s most ambitious, reimagines the city as an oasis of rain gardens, green roofs, thousands of additional trees, porous pavement, and more. 

All would act as sponges to absorb – or at least stall – the billions of gallons of rainwater that overwhelm the city sewer system every year.
–The Philadelphia Inquirer 

India’s groundwater use raises seas
NEW DELHI: The amount of groundwater pumped out by Delhiites and others across northern India is highest in the world and is contributing as much as 5% to the total rise in sea levels.


 A new study using satellite data has found that the region — a swathe of over 2,000km from west Pakistan to Bangladesh along north India — extracts a mindboggling 54 trillion litres from the ground every year, a figure that’s likely to cause serious concern over the future of water availability.

The study, conducted by Virendra Mani Tiwari from National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad, along with scientists from University of Colorado, US, found that the average depletion of groundwater level in the Indian part of the region was an alarming 10cm a year.
–The Times of India

Adelaide, Australia, faces water crisis
The water in Australia’s biggest river is running so low and is so salty that the nation’s fifth-largest city, Adelaide, is at risk of having to ship water in to its residents, politicians have warned. 

Adelaide’s water crisis follows similar problems in cities around the world, as the combination of growing population, increasing agricultural use and global warming stretches resources to the limit. Experts are warning of permanent drought in many regions. 

Salinity levels in some stretches of the Murray River already exceed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations for safe drinking, and South Australia’s water authority and 11 rural townships east of Adelaide have been told to prepare for the worst. 

“Another dry year will deplete our reservoirs and the water in the Murray will become too saline to drink. We are talking about 1.3 million people, who are not far off becoming reliant on bottled water. We are talking a national emergency,” said South Australian MP David Winderlich.
–The Guardian 

New York regulates gas drilling to protect water
After months of deliberations, state environmental regulators released long-awaited rules governing natural gas production in upstate New York, including provisions to oversee drilling operations near New York City’s water supplies.

 The regulations, in a report requested last year by Gov. David A. Paterson, do not ban drilling near the watersheds, as many environmental advocates had urged. But the report sets strict rules on where wells can be drilled and requires companies to disclose the chemicals they use.

 The prospect of gas drilling in upstate New York has stirred strong opposition from a coalition of environmental groups, city politicians and residents, who fear that expansive operations of this sort could contaminate the city’s drinking water.
–The New York Times