Water use down; ethanol plants penalized

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

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