Archive for November, 2009

Climate change, endocrine disruptors in the news

November 30, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety.

Obama to promise greenhouse gas reduction
President Obama will travel to Copenhagen at the start of the United Nations conference on climate change on Dec. 9 just before flying to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama, who had not previously committed to making an appearance at the climate conference, had been under considerable pressure from other world leaders and environmental advocates to make the trip as a statement of American seriousness about the climate change negotiations.

 Mr. Obama will tell the delegates to the climate conference that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, officials said. The administration has resisted until now delivering a firm pledge on emissions reductions.
–The New York Times

 Indonesian peat lands spew CO2
From the air, the Kampar Peninsula in Indonesia stretches for mile after mile in dense scrub and trees. One of the world’s largest peat swamp forests, it is also one of its biggest vaults of carbon dioxide, a source of potentially lucrative currency as world governments struggle to hammer out a global climate treat. The vault, though, is leaking.

 Canals — used legally and illegally — extend from surrounding rivers nearly into the peninsula’s impenetrable core. By slowly draining and drying the peat land, they are releasing carbon dioxide, contributing to making Indonesia the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States.
–The New York Times

Root and Sauk watersheds to get funding
The watersheds of the Sauk River in Central Minnesota and the Root River in the southeastern part of the state are among 41 watersheds in 12 states that have been selected to participate in a new initiative to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the watersheds – 42 million acres in all — that will be the first targets of a $320 million federal program to improve the Mississippi. 

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which was announced on Sept. 24, will provide U.S. Department of Agriculture financial assistance over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The program will help farmers put in place conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land. 

Selections were based on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus — nutrients associated with water quality problems in the Mississippi basin — while maintaining agricultural productivity and benefiting wildlife. 

For information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including eligibility requirements, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi_overview.html. 

Water pollution underestimated, researchers say
Inaccuracies in published data underestimate the amount of organic pollutants in raw sewage, providing flawed information for environmental policy makers, claim US scientists.  

High quality analysis of raw sewage is crucial to measure pollutants in the environment and the efficiency of wastewater treatments plants. Suspended solids in sewage can block analytical apparatus and complicate analysis so samples are commonly filtered before analysis. But, appropriate corrections for the filtration step are not always made say Rolf Halden and Randhir Deo at Arizona State University, Tempe. 

Some hydrophobic organic compounds adsorb onto these solid filters and disappear from the sample, so the analysis of the resulting aqueous phase does not show the total amount that was present before filtering, explains Halden.  

Halden and Deo studied reported data for 33 organic compounds in the aqueous phase and found that between 15-60% of some compounds’ mass was adsorbed onto the suspended solids, which led to estimates of organic pollutants being 50% lower than actually present.
–Highlights in Chemical Science

Endocrine-disruptors found in pristine lakes
Minnesota scientists say it appears endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pharmaceuticals are found in even the most pristine lakes in the state.

 Researchers say they’re not sure why the chemical compounds are so widespread, but they say more research is needed to better understand the potential impact on wildlife and humans. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sampled a dozen lakes and four rivers across the state. Some of the samples came from water close to cities and others were from lakes in remote northern forests.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Endocrine-disruptors alter gender of fish
Something strange is happening to the fish in America’s rivers, lakes and ponds. Chemical pollution seems to be disrupting their hormones, blurring the line between male and female.

And as CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds reports, those fish swim where millions get their drinking water.
–CBS Evening News

 Answers come slowly in endocrine research
What’s the problem with the Potomac River — and could whatever it is spell problems for those of us who drink its water? 

In 2003, scientists discovered something startling in the Potomac, from which at least 3 million Washington area residents get their drinking water: Male fish were growing eggs. But six years later, a government-led research effort still hasn’t answered those two questions. Scientists say they still aren’t sure which pollutants are altering the fish, or whether the discovery poses any threat to people’s health.
–The Washington Post

Wisconsin groups threat to sue EPA over nutrients
The threat of a potential lawsuit could set the stage for new regulations of a pair of pollutants that are responsible for algae blooms and poor drinking water. 

Lawyers for several environmental groups notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on of their s intent to file suit against the agency for failing to protect state water from two forms of nutrient pollution – phosphorus and nitrogen. 

The source of the pollution is farm fields, manure, lawns and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Two law firms, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the notice with the EPA. The agency said in 1999 that it would start to regulate the pollutants.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  

Sea level rise could cost $28 trillion
A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world’s largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

 The value of infrastructure exposed in so-called “port mega-cities,” urban conurbations with more than 10 million people, is just $3 trillion at present. 

The rise in potential losses would be a result of expected greater urbanization and increased exposure of this greater population to catastrophic surge events occurring once every 100 years caused by rising sea levels and higher temperatures.
–CNN

MPCA seeks comments on water quality
A public comment period on a water-quality report for six lakes in Washington and Chisago counties began Nov. 23 and continues through Dec. 23, 2009.  The Total Maximum Daily Load report addresses water pollution caused by excessive nutrients, mainly phosphorus that fuels algal blooms. 

All six lakes are in the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District near the cities of Wyoming and Forest Lake.  The lakes include Comfort, Birch, Bone, Moody, School, Shields and Little Comfort.  Water-quality monitoring of these lakes has shown that their nutrient levels frequently exceed state standards. 

The Six Lakes report is available on the Web at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/project-clflwd.html or at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road N.  For more information and to submit comments, contact Christopher Klucas, MPCA Project Manager, at 651-757-2498 or christopher.klucas@state.mn.us.
–MPCA news release

 EPA issues rules on construction runoff
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ssued a final rule to help reduce water pollution from construction sites. The rule takes effect in February 2010 and will be phased in over four years.

The final rule requires construction site owners and operators that disturb one or more acres to use best management practices to ensure that soil disturbed during construction activity does not pollute nearby water bodies.

In addition, owners and operators of sites that impact 10 or more acres of land at one time will be required to monitor discharges and ensure they comply with specific limits on discharges to minimize the impact on nearby water bodies. This is the first time that EPA has imposed national monitoring requirements and enforceable numeric limitations on construction site stormwater discharges. For information, go to http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/guide/construction.
–EPA news release

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Lake Pepin EDCs, aging sewers and invasive carp

November 23, 2009

Lawmakers question MPCA on Lake Pepin
A pair of Minnesota lawmakers expressed frustration with a developing plan to evaluate pollution problems in Lake Pepin, a widening of the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The comments came at a joint meeting of House and Senate environment and natural resources committees.

 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is several years into an assessment of lake pollutants, a precursor to an effort to clean up the water body.

State Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, and state Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, questioned whether the agency’s current evaluation is too narrow, and doesn’t include such emerging issues as endocrine disruptors, chemicals that cause biological changes in fish and other creatures.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Aging U.S. sewer systems often pollute
It was drizzling lightly in late October when the midnight shift started at the Owls Head Water Pollution Control Plant, where much of Brooklyn’s sewage is treated.

 A few miles away, people were walking home without umbrellas from late dinners. But at Owls Head, a swimming pool’s worth of sewage and wastewater was soon rushing in every second. Warning horns began to blare. A little after 1 a.m., with a harder rain falling, Owls Head reached its capacity and workers started shutting the intake gates. 

That caused a rising tide throughout Brooklyn’s sewers, and untreated feces and industrial waste started spilling from emergency relief valves into the Upper New York Bay and Gowanus Canal.
–The New York Times (From the Times’ Toxic Waters series)

Invasive Asian carp may have reached Great Lakes
The decade-old battle to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes might be over.

 New research shows the fish likely have made it past the $9 million electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a source familiar with the situation told the Journal Sentinel.

 The barrier is considered the last chance to stop the super-sized fish that can upend entire ecosystems, and recent environmental DNA tests showed that the carp had advanced to within a mile of the barrier.

 That research backed the federal government into a desperate situation because the barrier must be turned off within a couple of weeks for regular maintenance. The plan is to spend some $1.5 million to temporarily poison the canal so the maintenance work can be done.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lake Vermillion park negotiations on hold
Already a long shot, Minnesota’s efforts to add another state park on the east side of Lake Vermilion could get squeezed even further when the state Legislature resumes in February. 

Talks between U.S. Steel Corp. and the state Department of Natural Resources have been on hold for months, with no detectable movement. Meanwhile, U.S. Steel is proceeding with plans to develop housing on the 3,000-acre site along the picturesque northeastern Minnesota lake. 

But any lingering hopes of a breakthrough are dampened by several developments. 

DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said the agency and the company are “standing down” until after the agency completes an environmental review of U.S. Steel’s proposed Keetac mine expansion project near Keewatin, Minn. He said both sides consider that process a distraction and want to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 South Florida puts sweeping limit on lawn watering
Recognizing the need to conserve water and increase protection for South Florida’s water resources, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board has unanimously approved sweeping year-round water conservation measures that place permanent limits on landscape irrigation throughout the region. 

The rule limits irrigation of existing landscapes to two days per week, with some exceptions. 

The Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Rule is designed to curb water use in South Florida, which is the highest in the state at an estimated 179 gallons per person per day. Outdoor irrigation uses up to half of all drinkable water produced within the region. Up to 50 percent of the water applied to lawns is lost to evaporation and runoff with no benefit to the landscape, according to the district.
–Environment News Service

Wisconsin mine offers window on Minnesota dispute
A closed Wisconsin mine is playing a prominent role in the ongoing debate over mining for metals like copper and nickel, a debate that’s currently raging in Northern Minnesota. 

Depending on whom you talk to, the Flambeau mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, is either a perfect example how metals like copper can be mined without harming the environment, or it’s a sad example of regulators ignoring serious problems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Huge S.D. dairy cited for manure
A gigantic dairy operation near Minnesota’s western border is violating manure storage law and suspected of allowing pollutants to enter public waterways.

South Dakota’s largest dairy, Veblen East, and its neighbor Veblen West have been operating since the summer with too much manure in their huge lagoons, or ponds. Permits require that the ponds have at least two feet of space at the top so that manure won’t overflow when it’s windy or rainy.
–The Star Tribune

Nevada solar project abandons groundwater plan
A solar developer caught in the crossfire of the West’s water wars is waving the white flag.

Solar Millenium, a German developer, had proposed using as much as 1.3 billion gallons of water a year to cool a massive solar-power plant complex it wants to build in a desert valley 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

 That divided the residents of Amargosa Valley, some of whom feared the solar farm would suck dry their aquifer. Others worried about the impact of the $3 billion project on the endangered pupfish, a tiny blue-gray fish that survives only in a few aquamarine desert pools fed by the valley’s aquifer.

Now Solar Millennium says it will instead dry-cool the twin solar farms, which would result in a 90 percent drop in water consumption.
–The New York Times

 EPA must set Florida water pollution limits
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must come forward with a set of numeric limits on freshwater pollution by Oct. 15, 2010, under a consent decree approved by a federal judge in Tallahassee. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle ruled from the bench that a Jan. 14 consent decree penned between the EPA and environmental groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation was both reasonable and valid. 

The ruling, which was made after nearly three hours of testimony, was a defeat for a coalition of critics including agricultural interests, power companies, fertilizer manufacturers, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services.
–The Orlando Sentinel 

The mystery of  Bangladesh’s arsenic-tainted water
It was a twisted cycle: In the 1970s, Bangladeshis used surface ponds or rivers to collect rainwater for drinking. But thanks to garbage dumping and sewage, that water became a breeding ground for disease. So UNICEF sought to fix the problem—the agency helped residents drill simple wells that drew water from a shallow aquifer. But this remedy became a tragedy. Bangladesh’s groundwater was laced with arsenic. Now, in a study in Nature Geoscience, a team from MIT has answered one of the outstanding pieces of the Bangladesh puzzle: Just how all that arsenic got into the water in the first place. 

Bangladesh occupies the flood-prone delta of the river Ganges [New Scientist], and that river brought the arsenic to the region’s sediments. But why doesn’t it just stay in the sediments once it’s there? Back in 2002, another MIT team began to answer the question by showing that microbes digest organic carbon in the soil in such a way that frees up the arsenic, but they couldn’t say where that carbon itself came from until Rebecca Neumann and colleagues figured it out this year: man-made ponds left behind by excavations.
–Discover Magazine 

 

EPA funds study of storing CO2 in aquifers
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded an $897,225 grant to the University of Illinois for a three-year research project to find out the environmental impact of injecting carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from a source such as a coal-fired electric generating power plant into Illinois’ deep underground water reservoirs for long-term storage. 

Researchers will use field work and modeling to determine the effects of CO2 sequestration on ground water aquifers.  The plan is to see whether CO2 injection could cause changes in reservoir pressure and possibly result in salt water migrating from deeper ground water and contaminating fresh water near the surface. 

Although underground injection of CO2 for such things as enhanced oil and gas recovery is a long-standing practice, CO2 injection specifically for geologic sequestration involves different technical issues and potentially larger volumes of CO2 than in the past.
–EPA News Release

 Health Dept. studies new threats to water
Using money from the sales tax increase approved by voters last year, the Minnesota Department of Health has begun a new Drinking Water Emerging Contaminants project. The Legislature last spring appropriated $1.3 million over two years for the project. 

Health Department staff will evaluate chemicals that are potential threats to drinking water, but do not have health-based guidance values. These chemicals may include substances that have not yet been detected in groundwater, but are present in surface water or soil and have the potential to contaminate drinking water. Evaluations may also be done for chemicals that have recently been found to be more toxic than previously known. 

The department has created a web page to describe the program.
 –Minnesota Health Department

 What to do about endocrine disruptors
Nearly a year ago, toxicologist Linda Birnbaum was named director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. She sat down with Environmental Health News journalist Jane Kay in San Francisco to answer questions about the environmental health risks we face today.

As head of the federal institute examining environmental health, Birnbaum and her staff are taking on many controversial topics, including Bisphenol A and new flame retardants in consumer products. She talks about those issues and explains how scientists are trying to figure out what role chemicals and contaminants may play in breast cancer and other diseases and disorders.
–Scientific American

 California water bond laden with pork
Lawmakers want voters to borrow $11 billion next year to keep California supplied with clean water, but more than $1 billion of the money is earmarked for projects that have little or nothing to do with quenching the state’s thirst.

The bond proposal includes funding for bike paths, museums, visitor centers, tree planting, economic development and the purchase of property from land speculators and oil companies — all in the districts of lawmakers whose key votes helped it pass the Legislature.
–The Los Angeles Times

Mercury taints lakes; climate pact delayed

November 16, 2009

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

Fish in 49% of U.S. lakes tainted by mercury, EPA says
A new EPA study shows concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish tissue from lakes and reservoirs in nearly all 50 U.S. states. For the first time, EPA is able to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs nationwide that have fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as mercury and PCBs.

The data showed mercury concentrations in game fish exceeding EPA’s recommended levels at 49 percent of lakes and reservoirs nationwide, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in game fish at levels of potential concern at 17 percent of lakes and reservoirs. These findings are based on a comprehensive national study using more data on levels of contamination in fish tissue than any previous study.

Burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, accounts for nearly half of mercury air emissions caused by human activity in the U.S., and those emissions are a significant contributor to mercury in water bodies. From 1990 through 2005, emissions of mercury into the air decreased by 58 percent. EPA is committed to developing a new rule to substantially reduce mercury emissions from power plants, and the Obama Administration is actively supporting a new international agreement that will reduce mercury emissions worldwide.
–EPA news release

Analysis: Obama climate change push delayed
President Obama came into office pledging to end eight years of American inaction on climate change under President George W. Bush, and all year he has promised that the United States would lead the way toward a global agreement in Copenhagen next month to address the warming planet. 

But this weekend in Singapore, Mr. Obama was forced to acknowledge that a comprehensive climate deal was beyond reach this year. Instead, he and other world leaders ageed that they would work toward a more modest interim agreement with a promise to renew work toward a binding treaty next year.
–The New York Times 

Duluth pharmaceutical disposal set
The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) will host a free collection event for unwanted or expired medications at its regional Household Hazardous Waste Facility in Duluth from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20.

“Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Day” is a one-day event offering residents free disposal of unwanted medications in a safe, convenient and environmentally sound manner. This is the first medication collection event held in over a year. Due to U.S. drug laws, medication can only be accepted at these specially-staffed events. 

Residents may bring their own or a family member’s unwanted or expired medication to the event for disposal. Drop-off is free and confidential. Residents will use the drive-through area at the Household Hazardous Waste facility during this special event. The facility is located at 2626 Courtland Street in Duluth.
–Pine Journal 

EPA tries a new threat on Chesapeake pollution
Trying to impose new accountability measures in the failing effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, the Obama administration is considering an odd-sounding threat.

 Stop missing deadlines for cleaning up polluted waterways, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would tell states in the bay watershed.

 Or we’ll . . . cut off funding for cleaning up polluted waterways.

 That idea, announced in a new “draft strategy” for the Chesapeake, might sound as if the EPA is threatening to shoot itself in the foot.

But it is at the heart of the Obama administration’s plans to overhaul the failed cleanup of the Chesapeake, where federal and state governments have repeatedly broken promises to reduce pollution.
–The Washington Post 

‘Stink bug’ eats kudzu – but soybeans, too
A kudzu-eating pest never before seen in the Western Hemisphere has arrived in northeast Georgia, but it’s not all good news.

 The bug feasts on soybean crops and releases a stinky chemical when threatened.

Researchers from UGA and Dow AgroSciences identified the bug, which is native to India and China, last month. It’s been spotted in Gwinnett, Hall, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Greene, Clarke, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties.

 Commonly called the lablab bug or globular stink bug, it’s pea-sized and brownish with a wide posterior. The bug waddles when it walks but flies well.
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Amazon rain forest: Less trendy; still in danger
We used to hear so much about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, but lately not a word. So what happened: Did we save it, or not? 

We didn’t save it, but we haven’t stopped trying. Environmentalists fret over the fate of the Amazon for good reason: It contains more than half of the planet’s remaining tropical rain forest, one-fifth of our global freshwater and as much as one-third of the world’s biodiversity. Saving all this was once a rallying cry for green activists, and a few early triumphs made that goal seem likely. But attention soon shifted away from the rain forest to such issues as climate change and organic agriculture, and now the Amazon is disappearing at about the same rate it was in the 1980s.
–The Washington Post 

Wisconsin firm penalized for water pollution
The manager of a Trempealeau County manufacturing plant will pay $5,000 in fines and fees for pumping “acutely toxic” wastewater into the Buffalo River in 2006, and his employer will pay nearly $19,000 in a civil action related to the discharge, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced.

Thomas A. Callaghan, 53, of Eau Claire, Wis., agreed to pay the sum as part of a plea agreement after pleading no contest to discharging pollutants into state waters without a permit, according to the department. Callaghan is plant manager for Tremplo Manufacturing in Osseo, Wis., which fabricates metal parts for industrial mixers. 

The company will also pay $18,907 in forfeitures and costs for the discharge.

On Sept. 20, 2006, Callaghan ordered Tremplo employees to pump wastewater from the plant’s water table, which collects metal dust and shavings from the cutting process, to a storm sewer manhole outside the facility because of its foul odor, according to a criminal complaint. The storm sewer ran directly to the Buffalo River.
–The Winona Daily News 

California aquifers finally to be measured
California for the first time will require water users to disclose ground-water levels as a result of legislation recently approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers.

 Ground-water monitoring has long been sought by Democrats and environmentalists, but opposed by Republicans and farm groups, who fear an invasion of property. But the parties last week struck a compromise as part of a larger water deal, which includes new conservation rules and an $11 billion water bond voters will consider in a year to pay for dams and other projects.
–The Fresno Bee 

U.S. agencies ordered to cut water use by 2 percent per year
Water conservation has long been the “stepchild” of energy management programs, says William Lintner, a U.S. Energy Department official who coordinates federal water management policy.

Green government advocates focus far more on buying electronics and constructing buildings that are energy efficient, driving alternative-fuel vehicles and erecting solar panels. 

That’s about to change. 

Last month, President Barack Obama significantly extended and expanded mandates on agencies to cut their water use and better manage their waste water. 

Since 2007, agencies have been required by an executive order to cut potable water consumption by 2 percent annually through fiscal 2015, compared with 2007 baselines.  Obama extended that mandate through 2020 and added a new requirement to cut consumption of nonpotable water — such as that used for landscaping, industrial and agricultural purposes — by 2 percent annually through 2020, compared with a 2010 baseline.
–Federal Times

Bisphenol A implicated in sexual maladies
A paper in the journal Human Reproduction adds weight to a long-held (by some) suspicion that the plasticising chemical bisphenol A (BPA) does bad things to the body’s hormone balance.

 In this study, male workers in Chinese factories handling BPA were compared to a control group of Chinese factory workers who weren’t exposed to BPA over five years. 

The results showed that the workers in the factories handling BPA had four times the risk of erectile dysfunction, and seven times more risk of ejaculation difficulty.
–Nature.com. 

Brown Pelican removed from endangered list
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the brown pelican from its list of endangered species. 

The recovery of the brown pelican is proof that the often criticized Endangered Species Act is effective, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a conference call with reporters . 

“For all the criticism that the Endangered Species Act takes, we need to celebrate now in 2009 that we have a bald eagle, we have a peregrine falcon, we have the brown pelican,” Mr. Salazar said.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Artificial glaciers save water in Himalayas
Faced with a dwindling supply of water for agriculture as northern India’s glaciers recede, a retired civil engineer has come up with an innovative adaptation to the pressures of climate change: artificial glaciers. 

By diverting unneeded winter glacial runoff into shaded mountain depressions, and using a basic system of metal pipes to spur freezing, he has created three new ‘glaciers’ designed to provide a stable supply of irrigation water. 

The technique improves on what locals say is an ancient method of preserving snow and runoff in shady areas of the Himalayan foothills.
–Reuters

California water deal mandates conservation

November 9, 2009

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of top news 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.

California mandates 20% cut in cities’ water use by 2020
Lawmakers capped months of discussions, weeks of tedious negotiations and years of chasing a water deal with approval of major legislation in a marathon session.

The package, which includes an $11.1-billion bond that must go before voters, would nudge California in new directions on water policy while giving something to each of the major factions that have warred over the state’s supplies.

The measure, likely to reach the governor’s desk early next week, would establish a statewide program that for the first time would measure if too much water is being pumped from underground aquifers. It mandates an overall 20% drop in the state’s per capita water use by 2020 and creates a new, politically appointed council to oversee management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the state’s water hub.
–The Los Angeles Times

 California agriculture avoids big water cuts
Cities across the state must slash water consumption by about 20 percent over the next decade under newly passed legislation aimed at reworking the aging policies and plumbing that determine water flow to 38 million Californians.

 But the California agriculture industry, which consumes an estimated three-quarters of the water used in the state, won’t have to change its practices much under the new rules. 

And that vexes many involved in the political wrangling over water in a state where global warming, population growth and crumbling infrastructure are forcing wrenching changes in the way natural resources are divvied up.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

 Pesticide concentrations drop in rivers, USGS finds
Concentrations of several major pesticides mostly declined or stayed the same in “Corn Belt” rivers and streams from 1996 to 2006, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. 

The declines in pesticide concentrations closely followed declines in their annual applications, indicating that reducing pesticide use is an effective and reliable strategy for reducing pesticide contamination in streams.

 Declines in concentrations of the agricultural herbicides cyanazine, alachlor and metolachlor show the effectiveness of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory actions as well as the influence of new pesticide products. In addition, declines from 2000 to 2006 in concentrations of the insecticide diazinon correspond to the EPA’s national phase-out of nonagricultural uses. The USGS works closely with the EPA, which uses USGS findings on pesticide trends to track the effectiveness of changes in pesticide regulations and use.

 Scientists studied 11 herbicides and insecticides frequently detected in the Corn Belt region, which generally includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio, as well as parts of adjoining states. This area has among the highest pesticide use in the nation — mostly herbicides used for weed control in corn and soybeans. As a result, these pesticides are widespread in the region’s streams and rivers, largely resulting from runoff from cropland and urban areas.

Elevated concentrations can affect aquatic organisms in streams as well as the quality of drinking water in some high-use areas where surface water is used for municipal supply. Four of the 11 pesticides evaluated for trends were among those most often found in previous USGS studies to occur at levels of potential concern for healthy aquatic life. Atrazine, the most frequently detected, is also regulated in drinking water.

 Although trends in concentration and use almost always closely corresponded, concentrations of atrazine and metolachlor each declined in one stream more rapidly than their estimated use. According to Skip Vecchia, senior author of the report on this analysis, “The steeper decline in these instances may be caused by agricultural management practices that have reduced pesticide transport, but data on management practices are not adequate to definitively answer the question. Overall, use is the most dominant factor driving changes in concentrations.” To view the full report, click here.
–USGS news release

 3.4 million acres taken out of conservation reserve
Surveying undulating grasslands that disappear into the western Kansas horizon, retired farmer Joe Govert pointed out parcel after parcel no longer enrolled in a federal program that pays property owners not to farm environmentally sensitive land.

 The arid, wind-swept ground stripped of topsoil by Dust Bowl storms has laid undisturbed beneath a protective cover of native grasses that took two decades to re-establish under the Conservation Reserve Program. But millions of those acres are being plowed again after the 2008 Farm Bill capped the program at 32 million acres. 

More than 3.4 million acres nationwide were taken out of the program in September when the owners’ contracts expired. Most of them were in Texas, Colorado and Kansas, but hundreds of thousands of acres also came out in Montana and the Dakotas.
–The Associated Press

Federal money for Minnesota water projects increases
Minnesota stands to get a nice boost in federal cash for water infrastructure projects under a newly signed appropriations bill.  

The 2010 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama late last week, includes $2.1 billion for wastewater and $1.39 billion for drinking water projects throughout the country.

Minnesota’s take is about $35.7 million for wastewater and $23.6 million for drinking water, which is roughly three times as much as Minnesota’s federal funding allocation was just a few years ago, noted DeAnn Stish, executive director of the Minnesota Utility Contractors Association.
–Finance and Commerce

 Malibu to phase out septic tanks
The great sewer wars of Malibu have finally drawn to a close. Sewers won.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board agreed late Thursday to ban septic systems in central and eastern Malibu, a move that would end years of fierce debate over the wastewater devices still commonly used in one of Southern California’s most picturesque and exclusive coastal communities.

New septic systems will not be permitted in Malibu and owners of existing systems will have to halt wastewater discharges within a decade.
–The Los Angeles Times

County donates land to settle water pollution case
Mower County  has agreed to donate 33.1 acres of land to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources instead of paying a $31,000 penalty for alleged stormwater violations during a ditch repair project.

 The deal completes what County Coordinator Craig Oscarson described as a three-way swap.

“It’s just like all the stars aligned,” he said. “The DNR wanted it. We didn’t want it, because by keeping it we had to maintain it.”

 The agreement is between the county, the project’s contractor, Freeborn Construction Inc. of Albert Lea, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The fine pertains to an incident that occurred between 2005 and 2006 when the county repaired Judicial Ditch 1 in Bennington Township.
–Austin Daily Herald

Missouri research explores algae-to-fuel
Backers of algae-based biofuels tout the simplicity of their feedstock. Sunlight and water are all that’s needed to convert carbon dioxide into fuel.

 Now, some scientists are testing the notion that sunlight might be optional.

 Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology are planning to grow algae for fuel in abandoned mines using light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
–The New York Times

 Climate plan proposes turning Sahara into a forest
Some talk of hoisting mirrors into space to reflect sunlight, while others want to cloud the high atmosphere with millions of tonnes of shiny sulphur dust. Now, scientists could have dreamed up the most ambitious geoengineering plan to deal with climate change yet: converting the parched Sahara desert to a lush forest. The scale of the ambition is matched only by the promised rewards – the scientists behind the plan say it could “end global warming.” 

The scheme has been thought up by Leonard Ornstein, a cell biologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, together with Igor Aleinov and David Rind, climate modelers at NASA. The trio have outlined their plan in a new paper published in the Journal of Climatic Change, and they modestly conclude it “probably provides the best, near-term route to complete control of greenhouse gas induced global warming”.

Under the scheme, planted fields of fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus would cover the deserts of the Sahara and Australian outback, watered by seawater treated by a string of coastal desalination plants and channelled through a vast irrigation network. The new blanket of tree cover would bring its own weather system and rainfall, while soaking up carbon dioxide from the world’s atmosphere. The team’s calculations suggest the forested deserts could draw down around 8bn tonnes of carbon a year, about the same as emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation today. Sounds expensive? The researchers say it could be more economic than planned global investment in carbon capture and storage technology.
–The Guardian

 Minnesota scrap dealers agree to limit air pollution
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has issued administrative consent orders to three Minnesota scrap metal recycling companies – Leroy Iron and Metal Division of Behr Iron, Alter Trading Corp. and Timm’s Auto Salvage.

The companies agreed to comply with EPA regulations designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer at their scrap metal recycling facilities.  The Leroy plant is at 2275 Dale Ave., Leroy;  the Alter plant is at 801 Barge Channel Road, St. Paul; and the Timm’s plant is at 936 W. 12th St., St. Charles. 

The companies have agreed, among other things, to recover ozone-depleting refrigerants from each appliance and motor vehicle air conditioner that they accept or to verify that the refrigerants have been recovered according to EPA regulations.  The companies will keep logs of the details of refrigerant recovery. 

Chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants and certain substitute refrigerants deplete the stratospheric, or “good,” ozone layer allowing dangerous amounts of cancer-causing ultraviolet rays from the sun to strike the earth.  Production of some of these chemicals was stopped in 1995, and federal law strictly controls their use and handling.
–EPA new release

Water use down; ethanol plants penalized

November 2, 2009

U.S. water use is declining, according to a new report. After a long delay, the EPA orders tests on suspected endocrine disruptors.  Two Minnesota ethanol plants will pay penalties for pollution. And states are paying little heed to predictions of rising sea levels. Scan a digest of these articles and more, then follow the links to read the articles where they originally were published. 

U.S. water use declines, USGS says
The United States is using less water than during the peak years of 1975 and 1980, according to water use estimates for 2005. Despite a 30 percent population increase during the past 25 years, overall water use has remained fairly stable according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle announced the report, Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2005, as part of her keynote speech today at the Atlantic Water Summit in the National Press Club.

The report shows that in 2005 Americans used 410 billion gallons per day, slightly less than in 2000. The declines are attributed to the increased use of more efficient irrigation systems and alternative technologies at power plants. Water withdrawals for public supply have increased steadily since 1950–when USGS began the series of five-year trend reports–along with the population that depends on these supplies.

“The importance of this type of data to the American public cannot be exaggerated,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “The Department of the Interior provides the nation with the best source of information about national and regional trends in water withdrawals. This information is invaluable in ensuring future water supplies and finding new technologies and efficiencies to conserve water.”

Nearly half (49 percent) of the 410 billion gallons per day used by Americans was for producing electricity at thermoelectric power plants. Irrigation accounted for 31 percent and public supply 11 percent of the total. The remaining 9 percent of the water was for self-supplied industrial, livestock, aquaculture, mining and rural domestic uses.
–U.S. Department of the Interior news release

 $475 million approved to restore Great Lakes
Congress approved President Barack Obama’s plan to spend $475 million next year on programs to restore the Great Lakes, the first installment in what is expected to be a multiyear restoration plan.

 Obama hatched a plan during the campaign to spend $5 billion on the lakes over the next 10 years, and the idea has won wide support with conservationists, industry and both political parties.

 “This is a great day for the Great Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them for their jobs and way of life,” Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, said in a statement.

 The new funding will essentially double the amount of federal dollars now flowing into the lakes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Chisago County power plant draws water worries
At first blush, a proposal for a large power plant in rural Chisago County would seem to have a lot going for it, including apparent need and general support from clean-energy interests.

 But that doesn’t mean LS Power’s natural gas-fired project is racing along. Far from it. Many county residents, skeptical of the company’s assertions and irked by what they consider a secretive approach, don’t like it one bit.

 “Whether they are for it or against it, people in this area have a right to know what this is about,” said Joyce Marienfeld, a member of an opposition group called Friends of the Sunrise River. “This has been real slippery — just not right.” 

County residents have been on edge since earlier this year when the East Coast power plant builder offered what residents viewed as a vague proposal to build a 780-megawatt power plant on a 40-acre site northwest of Lindstrom, 30 miles north of St. Paul. The plant, expected to cost $300 million to $500 million, would use low-polluting natural gas to supplement the state’s growing wind industry by operating when wind power isn’t available or during periods of peak demand. 

The Legislature quickly approved tax breaks similar to those given to other plants, provided local governments follow suit. If that happens, the project would be free to seek various air and water permits and Public Utilities Commission approval. 

Critics soon objected, especially over plans to use 2 million gallons of groundwater a day and to discharge that water into the nearby Sunrise River, which empties into the nationally protected St. Croix River.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 After long delay, EPA orders endocrine tests
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued the first test orders for pesticide chemicals to be screened for their potential effects on the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interact with and disrupt the hormones produced or secreted by human and animal endocrine systems, which regulate growth, metabolism and reproduction.

“After years of delay, EPA is aggressively moving forward by ordering the testing of a number of pesticide chemicals for hormone effects,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. “These new data will be carefully evaluated to help identify potential hormone disruptor chemicals.”

On Oct. 21, EPA made available the battery of scientific assays and test guidelines for conducting the assays, as well as a schedule for issuing test orders to manufacturers for 67 chemicals during the next four months.

Testing, conducted through the agency’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, will eventually expand to cover all pesticide chemicals.

For more information about the screening program, go to: http://www.epa.gov/endo
–EPA news release

Federal study of bisphenol A planned
The National Institutes of Health will devote $30 million to study the safety of bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-like chemical used in many plastics, including sippy cups and the linings of metal cans.

Almost half of that money comes from the economic stimulus bill, says Robin Mackar, spokeswoman for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Although a growing number of scientists and consumers are concerned about BPA — which has been detected in the urine of more than 90% of Americans — government agencies have been divided about whether it poses a threat.

According to the NIEHS, animals studies link BPA with infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and breast cancer and diabetes. New research will focus on low-dose exposures to BPA and effects on behavior, obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and various cancers. Researchers will also see if the effects of BPA exposure can be passed from parents to their children.
–USA Today

States disregard threat of rising sea levels
As early as the 1980s, scientists warned that rising seas could submerge vast portions of Florida’s coast.

How have local and state governments responded? Build, baby, build.

A new study of development trends along the Atlantic Coast shows Florida has opened more vulnerable areas to construction than any other state. Three-quarters of its low-lying Atlantic coastline has already been, or will be, developed.

 Despite mounting evidence of sea level rise, other states plan to follow Florida’s lead — though to lesser degrees — eventually pushing homes, condos and other buildings onto nearly two-thirds of coastal land less than a meter above the Atlantic. By 2100, many scientists predict a rise near or beyond a meter.
–The Miami Herald

Ethanol plant gets $150,000 penalty for water pollution
An ethanol producer in south-central Minnesota has been nicked for $150,000 for discharging polluted wastewater into a lake, violating the federal Clean Water Act.

In sentencing in federal court in St. Paul, Corn Plus of Winnebago, Minn., was fined $100,000 and ordered to make a $50,000 community service payment to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to benefit the Rice Creek Watershed. 

Judge Jeanne Graham also required Corn Plus to implement an environmental compliance plan and a code of conduct as well as retain a full-time environmental health and safety manager.
–The Star Tribune

Second ethanol plant agrees to air and water penalties
Bushmills Ethanol Inc. will pay a civil penalty totaling $425,000 for a variety of alleged violations at the company’s ethanol production facility in Atwater.  A portion of the penalty includes supplementary environmental projects, valued at $175,000, which will be completed by the company during the next four years.

 The violations, which occurred from 2006 to 2009, were discovered during Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff inspections of the facility and through review of operational records the company is required to submit to the MPCA under its environmental permits.

 Numerous violations were identified, including producing ethanol above the facility’s permitted limit, failure to inspect and maintain production and pollution-control equipment, recordkeeping and reporting violations, and exceeding permitted wastewater discharge limits.

 The company agreed to the penalty in mid-October.
–MPCA news release

 Judge blocks Las Vegas water pipeline
A Nevada judge’s sternly worded ruling blasting a water giveaway as “arbitrary” with “oppressive” consequences has tossed a huge roadblock in the way of a controversial pipeline opposed by Utah ranchers and farmers.

The ruling by Judge Norman Robinson of Nevada’s 7th Judicial District reverses water right applications granted by the state engineer to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for Cave, Delamar and Dry Lake valleys. 

Those valleys are in the same geographical region as Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah and Nevada border and are integral to the water authority’s plan to build a $3.5 billion, 285-mile pipeline to convey water to Las Vegas. 

The judge said the state engineer’s decision to grant those water rights “results in an oppressive consequence for the basins affected, with the state engineer simply hoping for the best … ,” adding that the engineer “abused his discretion” because there was no evidence cited over the availability of water for future use.
-The Deseret News

 Impact statement issued for copper-nickel mine
A proposed open-pit copper-nickel mine and processing plant on Minnesota’s Iron Range would increase sulfate levels in several northeastern rivers, a long-awaited environmental review concluded.

More than four years in the making, the draft environmental impact statement provides an overview of Polymet Mining’s proposed NorthMet mine and processing project, analyzes its possible effects and outlines how it would operate under federal and state rules.

 Polymet wants to operate the state’s first copper mine, but environmental groups have pushed back, noting widespread pollution at such mines elsewhere in the world. The company, however, contends safeguards built into the sulfide mining process would minimize or eliminate those problems.

 Company officials, backed by northern legislators, have long touted the $600 million project’s benefits to the economically depressed region, saying it would create about 400 jobs over 20 years. It also could lead the way for other such projects in the region.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Solar power has a powerful thirst
The West’s water wars are likely to intensify with Pacific Gas and Electric’s announcement on Monday that it would buy 500 megawatts of electricity from two solar power plant projects to be built in the California desert.

The Genesis Solar Energy Project would consume an estimated 536 million gallons of water a year, while the Mojave Solar Project would pump 705 million gallons annually for power-plant cooling, according to applications filed with the California Energy Commission.

 With 35 big solar farm projects undergoing licensing or planned for arid regions of California alone, water is emerging as a contentious issue. 

The Genesis and Mojave projects will use solar trough technology that deploys long rows of parabolic mirrors to heat a fluid to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine. The steam must be condensed back into water and cooled for re-use.
–The New York Times