California water deal mandates conservation

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

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