Archive for January, 2010

Merriam calls for ‘cultural shift’ on water

January 25, 2010

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

Merriam calls for ‘cultural shift’ on water 
Most Minnesotans no longer think it is OK to smoke in the office or in other places where their secondhand smoke will affect non-smokers. And most Minnesotans now accept the minor inconvenience of buckling up their seatbelts as a small price to pay for the safety the belts provide.

In a commentary published by Minnpost.com, an on-line news source, Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam reflects on the “cultural shift” he says has occurred in recent decades in the way people view smoking and seatbelt use.

Merriam says he and the Freshwater Society are working to bring about a similar cultural shift in attitudes toward water protection and conservation.

 He concludes that – as with smoking restrictions and requirements for seatbelt use – we eventually will need more government regulation to enforce that protection and conservation of water resources. 

MPCA won’t renew controversial dairy’s permit
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says it won’t re-issue a permit for the Excel Dairy farm in northwestern Minnesota, in effect shutting it down, but that doesn’t mean the foul-smelling and overflowing manure pits will be cleaned up anytime soon.

 The state has been unable to get the farm, near Thief River Falls, to obey state law, for three years. Excel Dairy has been in violation of state law almost from the moment it opened in 2005.

The operators had more cows in the barn than they should have, they built a feed pad without permission, and they tried methods of treating manure that weren’t approved. They also ignored orders to repair and empty manure ponds and failed to cover manure ponds that can hold 33 million gallons of manure.

Neighbors for more than a mile around have been enduring extremely high levels of hydrogen sulfide. That’s the rotten egg smell no one likes to encounter.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Wisconsin approves dairy expansion
A Wisconsin dairy farm has been given permission to double its herd despite environmentalists’ concerns that manure might poison groundwater supplies.

The Department of Natural Resources approved a permit by Fon du Lac County’s Rosendale Dairy to expand its herd from 4,000 to 8,000 cows, making it Wisconsin’s largest dairy operation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Rosendale told the newspaper the expansion represents an investment of more than $70 million.

But an attorney for the environmental group Clean Wisconsin sees the approval of Rosendale’s expansion as a step toward more large dairy farms, the Journal Sentinel said.
–United Press International

 Amendment money not raided for deficit, group says
Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota Legislature kept faith with voters last year when they approved the first round of conservation funding under the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, a review by a key conservation group says.

 In a report, Conservation Minnesota said Pawlenty and legislators followed a constitutional requirement that amendment funds raised by a sales-tax increase not be used as a substitute for general-fund spending.

 The amendment approved by voters in 2008 said, in part, that “money under this section must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute.”

 Still, with the governor and lawmakers looking to solve a projected $4.6 billion budget deficit last session, environmental and outdoors interests feared they might disproportionately cut spending for such places as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the state Department of Natural Resources. 

The report, however, said cuts to general-fund spending at the MPCA and the DNR were “roughly proportionate to those of the overall state budget.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Ramsey looks to soil to save water
Quality dirt has become a consuming issue in Ramsey in recent years. It’s drawn the attention of city commissions, staff and elected leaders, who have mulled over what kind of topsoil to require in new developments. The goal?  To save water by reducing the need for lawn and garden irrigation on lots where new homes or buildings go up.

 Black dirt containing organic material holds water so that it doesn’t drain as quickly through Ramsey’s sandy soil, which is part of the underlying Anoka Sand Plain. The city erected a new water tower last year and doesn’t want to build another anytime soon.
— The Star Tribune

Last decade sets warmth record, NASA says
The decade ending in 2009 was the warmest on record, new surface temperature figures released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show.

The agency also found that 2009 was the second warmest year since 1880, when modern temperature measurement began. The warmest year was 2005. The other hottest recorded years have all occurred since 1998, NASA said.

James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that global temperatures varied because of changes in ocean heating and cooling cycles. “When we average temperature over 5 or 10 years to minimize that variability,” said Dr. Hansen, one of the world’s leading climatologists, “we find global warming is continuing unabated.”
–The New York Times

U.N. climate change panel admits error
For many Indians, the most powerful and urgent reason to battle global warming arose from a report warning that the Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.

But that prediction was an error, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which authored the report, said.

Speaking publicly on the issue for the first time ,Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning panel, said the mistake occurred because rigorous procedures for scientific review were not followed. He promised a more robust research system in the future. 

But he said the blunder should not detract from a sense of urgency over the need for action on a crisis that threatens the entire planet. “I hope that people around the world are not going to be distracted by this error. Climate change is not only limited to what will happen to the Himalayan glaciers,” he said.
–The Washington Post 

Signs of life in the Minnesota River
The Minnesota River contains less phosphorus, a whole lot more fish, less sediment and is seeing a rebound in the otter population.

But nitrate levels haven’t improved much, if at all, mussel populations are just holding steady, and the amount of prairie land continues to dwindle.

Those are some of the conclusions in a first-ever trends report recently completed by the Water Resources Center, Minnesota State University and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Scott Kudelka of the Water Resources Center said they pulled various data and research together to get a big picture of what’s happening in the 335-mile-long river. To read the full report, click here.

–The Mankato Free Press 

Asian carp DNA found in Lake Michigan
Genetic material from the Asian carp, a voracious invasive species long feared to be nearing the Great Lakes,  has been identified for the first time at a harbor within Lake Michigan, near the Illinois-Indiana border, ecologists and federal officials said. 

A second DNA match was found in a river in Illinois within a half-mile of the lake, according to scientists at the University of Notre Dame who tested water samples and provided the results to officials. 

Experts said the most recent findings, from Calumet Harbor and the Calumet River, could mean that the carp has found its way beyond an elaborate barrier system built at the cost of millions of dollars to prevent the fish’s access to the Great Lakes and its delicate ecosystem, where it has no natural competitors and would threaten the life of native fish populations.
–The New York Times

Silverfin (a.k.a. Asian carp) coming to a store near you
Building off a state-developed marketing plan, a group of Louisiana-based companies has started a joint venture that will put Asian carp on retail shelves within weeks.

The fish are being marketed as silverfin, the name it was given in a marketing plan developed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The agency is promoting recreational and commercial applications of an invasive fish that has caused huge problems for boaters in northern states.

Rather than poisoning the fish to get rid of them like northern states have done, wildlife officials are opting to make them an appetizing meal.
–National Public Radio

Volunteers worth $8.8 million to Minnesota DNR
More than 32,000 citizens donated services valued at $8.8 million during 2009 to assist the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with a variety of projects and programs. That’s the equivalent of an extra 209 full-time staff. 

DNR managers, professionals and technicians work alongside volunteers to help manage the state’s diverse natural resources. 

“We’re fortunate to have so many dedicated Minnesotans who are willing to donate their time and talents for conservation projects,” said Renée Vail, DNR volunteer programs administrator. “We’re extremely grateful for their efforts. Many of our projects would not be possible without their help.” 

Volunteer positions can range from specialist jobs requiring extensive skill and experience to work requiring little or no previous experience.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Florida cold snap saps groundwater
An uneasy truce could be struck in the impending groundwater rift between agitated Plant City area residents whose wells have run dry and the strawberry farmers who sucked the water out of the ground to keep their crops from freezing during this month’s unusually long cold spell.

 Over the past week, about 400 small, private wells around the strawberry fields of Plant City have dried up. 

Some residents have been forced to move from their homes; others have resorted to running hoses to neighbors’ homes for drinking water. Families are showing up at fire stations for water rations. One woman has had to carry water for her horses.

 Anger is growing among some of the residents, even though strawberry farmers must pay for new wells or well repairs under their water-use permit with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

 Still, the inconvenience of living without running water is irking people, who have accused big growers of ignoring their neighbors to make a profit. Growers have said they also stand to lose money after the unusually long freeze and had no other choice but to run sprinklers all night to save their crops.
–The Tampa Tribune 

Maryland chicken farm resists testing
A month after environmental groups alleged that an Eastern Shore chicken farm was polluting a Chesapeake Bay tributary, state regulators have yet to test the fouled waterway or the pile of sewage sludge said to be contaminating it, officials have acknowledged.

Robert M. Summers, deputy secretary of the environment, said the owner of the farm near Berlin has refused to allow inspectors to take samples of the pile or of the water in a drainage ditch running through his property. Summers said the department had mailed the farmer a letter Friday and warned that the state would seek a search warrant if he did not permit sampling.

The disclosure that no testing has been done on the farm comes after a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment told reporters more than two weeks ago that inspectors had collected samples and that most of the sludge pile had been removed to a local landfill. Dawn Stoltzfus, the spokeswoman, confirmed last week that both statements were in error after the environmental groups alleged the department had given out inaccurate information.
–The Baltimore Sun

Radioactive water found at Vermont nuke plant
A day after contaminated water was found in a test well at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, company officials announced finding wastewater containing high levels of radioactivity, news outlets are reporting.

The water, reportedly about 100 gallons, was contaminated with radioactive tritium at a concentration of about 2 million picocuries per liter, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the Brattleboro Reformer. That’s about 100 times the allowable federal level for drinking water and 70 times the standard for groundwater.
–USA Today

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Will Steger helps open 2010 – The Year of Water

January 18, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important 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.

Will Steger helps open  2010 – The Year of Water
To educate and inspire people to value, conserve and protect Minnesota’s water resources, the Freshwater Society is launching a yearlong initiative, 2010: The Year of Water, with a free public lecture by Will Steger, noted polar explorer.

Steger will speak on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at a 2010: The Year of Water kickoff event at the Gray Freshwater Center in Excelsior.

 A Minnesota native who has led multiple dogsled expeditions to the North Pole, Greenland and Antarctica over the last 20 years, Steger now spends most of his time working to educate people, especially young adults, about the threat of global warming.

 Steger will speak about his first-hand observations of global warming in polar regions, the impact of climate change on water resources, the recent Copenhagen conference on climate change and the opportunities he sees for Americans to fight global warming and revitalize their economy by dramatically reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.

 Steger’s talk is the first of several initiatives planned by Freshwater Society as part of 2010: The Year of Water. Other activities include:

 A four-part lecture series, co-sponsored by Freshwater and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, in which national and local experts will discuss major water issues.

  • A water conservation curriculum that will encourage many fourth- and fifth-grade students across Minnesota to measure the water they and their families use and consider ways to use less.
  • Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality in which clubs, organizations and youth groups throughout Minnesota will be encouraged to combat phosphorus pollution of lakes and rivers by recycling leaves that, otherwise, would wash into storm sewers in the spring and fall.

The Jan. 26 opening event that features Steger’s talk on global warming begins at 7 p.m. at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior. Minn.

The event is open to the public, but seating is limited and pre-registration is required. To register, go to the Freshwater Society Web site: http://www.freshwater.org .

 Minnesota atrazine rules are adequate, ag department says
The Minnesota Agriculture Department says state regulations controlling the use of a popular agricultural weedkiller are doing their job. 

The department is reviewing the use of atrazine, which is commonly sprayed on cornfields. Nila Hines with the Agriculture Department says monitoring wells near farmland show that the amount of atrazine turning up in groundwater is declining. 

“Our environmental and human health regulations are adequate,” Hines said. “So there’s no need to change a specific label or change the registration of atrazine in Minnesota at this time.” 

Environmental groups have said atrazine levels in ground water are often too high, and that they pose a health risk. 

Samuel Yamin with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy says health studies convince him the limit should be stricter.
–Minnesota Public Radio
 To read the report on atrazine rules prepared by the Agriculture Department, the state Health Department and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and to learn how you can comment on it, click here.

 In a first, EPA sets tough nutrient limits for Florida
In a move cheered by environmental groups, the federal government proposed stringent limits on nutrient pollution allowed to foul Florida’s waterways.

 The ruling — which will cost industries and governments more than a billion dollars to comply — marks the first time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has intervened to set a state’s water-quality standards.

The agency issued the proposed regulations after reaching a settlement in August with five environmental groups that sued the federal government in 2008 for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.

 The caps on phosphorus and nitrogen levels in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals would replace the state’s vague “narrative” approach to monitoring the effects of waste and fertilizer runoff, which the EPA deemed insufficient. The proposed rule includes provisions giving the EPA oversight authority to enforce the standards.
–The Miami Herald

 Evelyn Moyle, nature author and Freshwater board member, dies
Evelyn Wood Moyle, an original board member of the Freshwater Society and the co-author of a premiere guide to Minnesota wildflowers, died recently at age 95.  The Star Tribune published a complete obituary describing her longtime devotion to nature. 

With her husband, John, she created Northland Wildflowers: The Comprehensive Guide to the Minnesota Region in 1977. Tom Orjala, senior editor for regional studies and contemporary affairs for the University of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune that the guide became a bible for nature lovers in this region. “It was the book that any enthusiast had in their backpack, on the kitchen table,” Orjala said. 

In 2001, she and photographer John Gregor published a revised edition. 

Legislators to decide $18 million deal for Lake Vermilion park
The state of Minnesota has reached a deal to buy property on the east edge of Lake Vermilion for a vaunted new state park. But the price is higher than legislators have allowed, and they may not give it their blessing.

 Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that after more than two years of negotiations, U.S. Steel Corp. has agreed to sell the 3,000 undeveloped acres to the state for $18 million in cash. The company values the land at $2.3 million more and would treat that amount as a donation to the state.

 But the cash price, while lower than the $20 million in bonding the Legislature set aside for the project two years ago, is still higher than the state’s property appraisal. As a result, the Legislature must agree to lift a price cap that limits the state’s offer to 12 percent above the appraisal.

With the state facing a huge budget deficit, key legislators indicated they may resist lifting the price cap.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Mississippi Makeover open house set
Citizens can learn about the Mississippi Makeover project, the first locally led comprehensive plan for restoring the river south of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, at an open house Thursday, Jan. 28.

The open house will be from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Hastings High School, 200 General Sieben Drive. 

The river suffers from poor water clarity caused by sediment, algae and other suspended materials. The cloudy water is aesthetically unpleasing to people and harmful to fish, wildlife and aquatic plants. The sediment is also harming Lake Pepin by settling to the lake bottom and making the lake shallower. 

The Mississippi Makeover plan focuses on managing the river in the Hastings area and downstream, including building islands, removing rough fish and perhaps temporarily lowering water levels to stimulate plant growth and improve water clarity and river habitats. With funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Dakota County is coordinating this project with assistance from partners including MN Department of Natural Resources, Army Corps of Engineers, Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District, and others. 

For more information about the Mississippi Makeover project, contact the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District at 651-480-7784 or www.dakotaswcd.org. 

Investment could aid copper mine near Ely
Duluth Metals has announced a partnership with one of the world’s leading copper mining companies, a deal that’s expected to provide money to start an underground mining project south of Ely. 

The new deal catapults the low-profile Duluth Metals into prominence after existing in the shadows of Polymet’s better known and more developed copper-nickel mining project. 

The new partnership is with Antofagasta PLC, a British company considered one of the world’s leading copper miners. Duluth Metals Chairman Christopher Dundas explained in a conference call that Antofagasta would provide up to $227 million for a 40 percent share of what they call the Nokomis project. 

Antofagasta has sales of more than $3 billion and operates large copper mines in Chile as well as rail transportation and water projects. Dundas said the new joint venture will not only speed up the Minnesota mining project; it may get a lot bigger.
–Minnesota Public Radio 

Michigan agency OKs Upper Peninsula mine
Michigan regulators have given final approval for construction and operation of a bitterly contested nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula

The Department of Environmental Quality said  it has determined the Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. project meets the requirements of the state’s mining laws. 

The mine would be built in a remote section of Marquette County called the Yellow Dog Plains. Opposition groups say it could pollute groundwater and streams, while mine officials say they’ll protect the local environment.
–The Associated Press 

Twins stadium conserves runoff
That brand new Colorado-grown turf in Target Field will be watered with good old-fashioned recycled Minnesota rain water, the Minnesota Twins announced. 

The Twins and one of their newest sponsors, Minneapolis-based Pentair Inc., said that the team’s new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis will be the first major sports facility anywhere to be irrigated and washed down with recycled rain water. 

The recycling system, designed and installed by Pentair, will collect water from Target Field’s seven acres and drain it into a 100,000-gallon cistern buried below the field. There the water will be disinfected and treated.
–The Star Tribune 

Ethanol hurting some bird populations
Government incentives for corn-based ethanol have prompted farmers to convert land for corn production, hurting some grassland bird populations in the prairie pothole region of the Upper Midwest, a University of Michigan study says. 

The study, conducted for the National Wildlife Federation by a team of graduate students, analyzes current and potential impacts of corn ethanol production on wildlife and habitat in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. 

It shows grassland being turned into cropland at an alarming rate, according to Greg Fogel, the study’s co-author. 

The report said the nation’s ethanol production has tripled since the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandated a large increase in domestic ethanol production. In addition, it said federal legislation in 2007 requires corn ethanol production to increase from 10.6 billion gallons last year to 15 billion gallons in 2015. The report found 31 federal incentives and mandates to encourage ethanol production.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Chicago suburbs seek L. Michigan water
In what could be the state’s largest collective gulp of Lake Michigan water in nearly two decades, 10 suburbs are seeking approval to tap the vast but closely guarded natural resource.

With groundwater supplies drying up and vulnerable to contamination, the Lake County communities that now rely on wells are casting envious eyes on that tantalizingly close supply — the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the world. They propose spending $250 million to lay about 57 miles of pipe and take other steps that would bring Lake Michigan water to the western part of Lake County.

It would be the largest diversion since the early 1990s and may spur criticism from other states that adjoin the Great Lakes, which brim with nearly 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water. The move comes at the same time that Michigan and other states are battling Illinois in U.S. Supreme Court over whether it’s doing enough to halt the potential invasion of Asian carp into Lake Michigan.

The carp fight has no bearing on Lake County’s request for water, but the application could fuel further animosities — especially because other states face much more stringent barriers to Great Lakes water than Illinois.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Illinois officials seek to allay carp fears
On a day when federal officials acknowledged the presence of Asian carp DNA closer to Lake Michigan than previously thought, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and state lawmakers attempted to calm fears and assure political forces around the Great Lakes that the invasive fish problem was under control.

“We are not in denial about the threat of this invasive species,” Durbin said at a packed news briefing at the Shedd Aquarium. “For at least the last 10 years, maybe longer, we’ve been actively dealing with this.”

Michigan’s attorney general sued Illinois in the U.S. Supreme Court last month, seeking the closing of navigational locks and dams in the Chicago region to seal off Lake Michigan from the voracious Asian carp. Environmental DNA sampling had previously indicated that the carp, which have steadily moved up Chicago’s waterways since at least the 1990s, had bypassed an electronic underwater barrier near Lockport and were within about six miles of the lake.
–The Chicago Tribune 

Group seeks limits on endocrine disruptors
Citing the decline in frogs and rise of “frankenfish,” a Bay Area environmental group filed a legal petition Monday for tighter federal standards on pollutants that disrupt the hormones of humans and wildlife. 

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Environmental Agency to beef up criteria under the Clean Water Act for pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other endocrine disruptors that leak through the water-treatment process and contaminate groundwater and drinking-water supplies. 

“We’ve found that a very small concentration of these chemicals can have profound reproductive effects,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

DNR proposes five new muskie waters
In response to growing interest in muskellunge fishing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is considering the stocking of muskie in five new waters starting in the fall of 2011.

The four lakes and a river are:  Roosevelt Lake in Cass and Crow Wing counties; Upper South Long Lake and Lower South Long Lake in Crow Wing County; Tetonka Lake in Le Sueur County; and the Sauk River Chain in Stearns County.

 “All of these waters meet or exceed the biological and physical criteria for muskie management,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR acting fisheries chief. 

The muskie is one of Minnesota’s largest fish, growing to more than 50 pounds and more than 50 inches in length. Anglers have become increasingly interested in the so-called “fish of 10,000 casts” now that 50-plus inch fish can be caught in Lake Mille Lacs, Lake Vermillion and other waters that have been stocked since the 1980s.
–DNR news release

Narrow Bering Strait has big impact on climate
At 50 miles wide, the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska from Russia, hardly seems like a major player in Earth’s climate.

But a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience concludes that this shallow strait between the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans has played a large role in climate fluctuations during recent ice ages. Depending on whether it’s closed or open, the strait dramatically changes the distribution of heat around the planet. 

When sea levels decline enough that water can no longer flow from the Pacific to the Arctic through the strait, the North Atlantic responds by growing warmer. That warmth is strong enough to melt ice sheets and temporarily reverse the glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere.
–The Christian Science Monitor 

Obsolete California dam to be razed
In what could be the largest dam removal project ever completed in California, government officials and a Monterey water company agreed to tear down the 106-foot-tall San Clemente Dam. The move is a victory for endangered steelhead trout which for decades have been blocked from their spawning grounds by the obsolete concrete structure on the Carmel River.

 The signed agreement ended more than 10 years of study and debate and sets in motion an $84 million project. The dam closure — a formidable engineering and biological enterprise — is expected to be watched by scientists and water managers around the United States.

 Built in 1921, San Clemente Dam once stored drinking water for thousands of people around the Monterey Peninsula. It irrigated golf courses and helped run clanking sardine canneries.

But today its reservoir is 90 percent silted up, choked with sand and mud. And the dam doesn’t provide electricity or flood protection.
–San Jose Mercury News

 Lake Erie studied for wind energy
The most consistent and unchecked winds in Ohio are found off the state’s northern coast: above Lake Erie.

That’s why Cuyahoga County leaders are pushing a $92 million project to build three to eight turbines three to five miles off Cleveland’s coast. 

The pilot project would, depending on the size of the turbines, produce 5 to 20 megawatts, enough electricity to power 9,000 to 12,000 houses. 

Supporters would like to see the 260-foot-high turbines operating by 2013 and want the project to be the first offshore wind development in the United States, spokesman A. Steven Dever of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force said.
–The Akron Beacon Journal

 Wisconsin hearings set on ag runoff
Proposals to further reduce Wisconsin’s runoff pollution are the topic of public hearings statewide later this month and February. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the updates are aimed at reducing toxic blue green algae blooms, fish kills, contaminated wells and other problems fueled by pollutants running off urban areas and farm fields and entering Wisconsin lakes, rivers and groundwater.

Major provisions of the proposed rule changes seek to reduce the potential of croplands, pastures and winter grazing areas that contribute phosphorus to Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and groundwater. Farmers would have to meet a maximum average level of phosphorus allowed to come off their fields, with that average calculated over an eight-year period.

The DNR estimates that 80 percent of farmers will meet the average with little or no change in their practices.
–The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald 

MPCA investigating Carver County
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating how Carver County’s environmental staff allowed an illegal septic system to operate at the county-owned Waconia ballroom for 18 months.

 The MPCA inquiry, which began recently, is directed at the county’s Office of Environmental Services, which last year told the County Board that the system was legal and had passed inspections.

 The office accepted a compliance inspection report in 2008 even though it was prepared by the same man who installed the system about 30 years ago. Questions were raised almost immediately about the accuracy of the report, with critics claiming that the septic system was too close to the area groundwater to be legal.
–The Star Tribune

Asian carp, atrazine and the U.S. water supply

January 11, 2010

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

White House steps into Asian Carp fight
The Obama administration and Illinois urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to order the closure of Chicago-area locks and waterways, a step sought by neighboring states to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

 The administration said the “dramatic steps” sought by states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota weren’t warranted to prevent the fish from migrating into Lake Michigan.

 “The possibility that Asian carp will move into the Great Lakes is a matter of great concern to the United States, and federal agencies are undertaking concerted, collaborative efforts to combat that risk,” U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, told the justices in papers filed in Washington.

Last month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox sued Illinois in the Supreme Court, saying the Asian carp is an aggressive species that could “devastate” the lakes’ native fish population and ruin the region’s $7 billion fishing and tourism industries.
–Bloomberg News 

Groups urge independent study of atrazine 
Almost a dozen Midwestern family-farm groups urged the Environmental Protection Agency to give greater weight to independent science as the agency undertakes a re-evaluation of a popular and controversial weed killer.

The groups said that when the EPA last reviewed the health effects of atrazine in 2003, it held dozens of closed-door meetings with Syngenta, the herbicide’s primary manufacturer, and then approved its continued use.

In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the groups cited health concerns about atrazine and said only a completely transparent process would serve the public and the environment.

 Since atrazine hit the U.S. market a half-century ago, it has become one of the most widely used herbicides, with an estimated 76 million pounds used each year, primarily on corn and in the Upper Midwest. In recent years, it has been found in surface water, groundwater and public water systems.

Many scientists consider atrazine an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can interact with the hormone system and cause health problems at low exposure levels. Its use is banned in Europe and unsuccessful attempts have been made to restrict or ban its use in Minnesota.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 America’s dwindling water supply
In its Where America Stands series, CBS News is looking at a broad spectrum of issues facing this country in the new decade. 

Here is the series’ installment on United State water supplies

Americans are the world’s biggest water consumers. By 9 a.m., after showering, using the bathroom, brushing our teeth and having a cup of coffee, each of us typically has used more than 30 gallons of water.

After doing the dishes – 12 gallons per load – running the washing machine – 43 gallons per load – and watering the lawn – 10 gallons per minute – by the time we go to bed, we’ve used up to 150 gallons.

By comparison, people in the U.K. use a quarter of that – 40 gallons of water a day. The Chinese average just 22 gallons per day. And in the poorest countries like Kenya, people use less than the minimum 13 gallons to cover basic needs.

Because Americans use so much, the report card shows water is an emerging crisis here.
–CBS News

New scrutiny for chemical secrecy
Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision. 

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to. 

At a time of increasing public demand for more information about chemical exposure, pressure is building on lawmakers to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cloak their products in secrecy. Congress is set to rewrite chemical regulations this year for the first time in a generation.
–The Washington Post

EPA backs mountain-top mining permit
The Environmental Protection Agency came out in support of a permit for one West Virginia mountaintop coal-mining operation and suggested it might endorse another permit for the largest such operation in Appalachia.

 The EPA announcements continue the Obama administration’s up-and-down stance on mountaintop coal mining, which involves blasting off mountaintops to get at the coal underneath. Environmentalists oppose the practice, because they say it permanently damages the land and pollutes streams. Mining companies say the practice is safer and cheaper than traditional underground mining.

The EPA said it decided to support a permit sought by Patriot Coal Corp.’s Hobet Mining LLC after talks with the company “resulted in additional significant protections against environmental impacts.” Patriot Chief Executive Richard Whiting said he was “hopeful” the company could begin work in the area “in the very near future.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still must issue the permit.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Groundwater issue lingers for 3M
3M Co. has been claiming for years that its chemicals in water don’t hurt anyone.

 But it turns out they are harmful — to 3M itself.

 The company is now facing an unexpected backlash based on the PFCs — perfluorochemicals — in drinking water. It has erupted in a dispute that has nothing to do with water quality — a routine permit change for an incinerator.

“This isn’t about the incinerator at all, as much as the water pollution,” said Myron Bailey, mayor of Cottage Grove, the home of the incinerator. “It does not matter what 3M thinks. What matters is that people are concerned, and rightly so.”

The company announced in May that it wanted to burn material from non-3M sources in its 38-year-old incinerator. Neighbors objected — citing the water pollution as much as the potential air pollution.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Utah and Nevada close to groundwater deal
Utah and Nevada officials say they’re ready to sign a deal splitting border groundwater in the Snake Valley despite opposition from members of a new Utah advisory board set up to study the plan.

The Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council met at the Utah Capitol to review public comments about the deal, which effectively grants Nevada the water that a Las Vegas utility wants for a proposed pipeline supplying the city. After discussing those comments, board members themselves voiced their misgivings but learned that a final agreement is imminent.

That dismayed Kathy Hill, a Snake Valley teacher whose husband, Ken, is an advisory council member. She told the council the states’ rush to enter an agreement shakes her faith in government. Rural residents are being sold out as Nevada seeks its Vegas pipeline and Utah seeks Nevada’s blessing for one from Lake Powell to St. George, she alleged.
–The Salt Lake Tribune 

Pennsylvania man builds Afghani water supplies
Aldo Magazzeni leans across the table in his farmhouse kitchen and explains why, when it comes to supplying clean water to thousands of impoverished Afghanis, small really is beautiful. 

During the last five years, the 60-year-old co-owner of a New Jersey manufacturing firm has arranged for some 75,000 people in remote areas of Afghanistan to be connected to community water systems.

His efforts helped to end the toil of fetching water and to reduce water-borne diseases, particularly among children. 

The key to his success, he says, is not large sums of money or the involvement of international aid organizations, but his willingness to cultivate relationships with communities and to persuade them to donate the labor that has reduced costs to a fraction of what a commercial contractor would charge.
–Reuters 

CIA and scientists team up
The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis. 

The trove of images is “really useful,” said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.
— The New York Times

Invasive species add to extinction of endangered animals
As 2010, the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity, gets under way, a fight against some of the most damaging invasive species in US waterways is heating up. 

The UN says some experts put the rate at which species are disappearing at 1,000 times the natural rate, and invasive species – which consume the food or habitat of native species, or the native species themselves – are one factor contributing to this acceleration. Climate change is another major factor. 

“Often it will be the combination of climate change and [invasive] pests operating together that will wipe species out,” says Tim Low of the Australia-based Invasive Species Council. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature says that 38% of the 44,838 species catalogued on its Red List are “threatened with extinction” – and at least 40% of all animal extinctions for which the cause is known are the result of invasive species.
— The Guardian

Coast Guard preparing invasive species rules
Twenty years after the pervasive zebra mussel was first detected in the Great Lakes, the U.S. Coast Guard is preparing rules to prevent new invasive species from infiltrating the nation’s freshwater systems.

Ecologists, environmentalists and public officials have mixed feelings about the rules. Some expressed their sentiments during a public comment period that ended earlier last month. 

While they are delighted over the prospect of the first national standard for treating ship ballast water — the main conveyor of invasive species — they’re disappointed by the timetable.
— Ganette Washington Bureau 

Arctic may face warmer temperatures in future
There is increased evidence that the Arctic could face seasonally ice-free conditions and much warmer temperatures in the future.

Scientists documented evidence that the Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas were too warm to support summer sea ice during the mid-Pliocene warm period (3.3 to 3 million years ago). This period is characterized by warm temperatures similar to those projected for the end of this century, and is used as an analog to understand future conditions.

 The U.S. Geological Survey found that summer sea-surface temperatures in the Arctic were between 10 to 18°C (50 to 64°F) during the mid-Pliocene, while current temperatures are around or below 0°C (32°F).

 Examining past climate conditions allows for a true understanding of how Earth’s climate system really functions. USGS research on the mid-Pliocene is the most comprehensive global reconstruction for any warm period. This will help refine climate models, which currently underestimate the rate of sea ice loss in the Arctic. To read the full article, click here.
— USGS Press Release

EU ministers consider endocrine disruptors
The European Union’s 27 environment ministers recently asked the European Commission to determine whether legislative action is needed to protect human health from exposure to multiple chemicals. So-called “chemical cocktails,” the combined effects of chemicals that seem safe in isolation but may present health risks when absorbed together, were identified by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas last June as a large future challenge on the global chemicals agenda, according to the EU.

The European Environment and Health Strategy (SCALE) and the EU Action Plan on Environment and Health (2004-2010) also state the combined exposure of chemicals should be addressed in risk assessments. 

Under REACH, the EU’s chemicals legislation, risk assessments are made on a chemical-by-chemical basis with little consideration given to combined effects. However, this gap occurred because “there has been insufficient knowledge of the matter to date, a situation which is now changing,” said Ulf Björnholm Ottosson, environment counselor at the Swedish Representation to the EU.
–Occupational Safety and Health

 Farm groups question USDA staffing
Farming groups in Maryland and Virginia are voicing concern over the recent sudden reassignment of a federal agriculture official whom they saw as their champion in the struggle over ramping up the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort.  Some have even suggested she was yanked because she was questioning how much farmers needed to do to clean up the bay.  But the official’s boss says there was nothing nefarious in her being pulled – she was simply needed elsewhere. 

Dana York, a senior manager with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, had been working since last spring as a senior advisor to the bay program in the Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Annapolis. But late last month she was ordered back to Washington to take on a new assignment. 

Her reassignment prompted letters from the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., which represents chicken growers and producers, and the Virginia Grain Producers Association. In a letter to growers, Bill Satterfield, executive director of the poultry group, called York’s reassignment “a big blow” to farmers’ ability to cope with the Obama administration’s moves to ramp up bay restoration efforts, including proposals to expand regulation of poultry and other livestock farms.
–The Baltimore Sun

 

Meetings set on Minnesota’s water resources

January 3, 2010

Report documents impacts of land retirements
The U.S Geological Survey and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources have released a report on a study of the water-quality impacts of programs that took agricultural land out of production near three streams in the Minnesota River Basin.

The study, partially funded by the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources, assessed water-quality and biological characteristics in the streams using data collected in 2006–08.

 In general, the research found that total nitrogen, suspended-sediment, chlorophyll-a, and fish resource quality in streams improved with increasing land retirement. Index of biotic integrity scores increased as riparian land-retirement percentages increased.  Data and analysis from this study can be used to evaluate the success of agricultural land retirement programs for improving stream quality and may have implications for prioritizing land in retirement programs in the Minnesota River Basin and other basins, the researchers concluded.
–USGS

Public meetings set on water issues
Minnesotans will have the chance to voice their opinion in person on how the state should invest resources to protect clean water at statewide public meetings beginning Jan. 19, 2010 coordinated by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center.

The meetings, called “listening sessions,” will be facilitated by staff from the Water Resources Center and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and are a chance for people to voice their opinions on a range of water-related issues from boating and water recreation, to priorities for cleaning up polluted lakes and streams.

The meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • Jan. 19 —   Holiday Inn and Suites, 75 S. 37th Ave, St. Cloud.
  • Jan. 21 —   Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Dr., Chaska.
  • Feb. 3  —   University of Minnesota, Crookston’s University Youngquist Auditorium, 2900 University Ave., Crookston.
  • Feb. 4  —  Northland Auditorium, 14250 Conservation Dr., Baxter.
  • Feb. 10 —  Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Building, 525 S. Lake Ave., Duluth.
  • Feb. 11  —  Holiday Inn South, 1630 S. Broadway, Rochester.
  • Feb. 16  —  Best Western Marshall Inn, 1500 E. College Dr., Marshall.

From 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., each meeting will focus on concerns of professionals associated with local government units, soil and water conservation districts and watershed districts. Citizens, community leaders and elected and appointed officials will have a chance to share their concerns from 4 to 6 p.m.
–University of Minnesota news release

Wright County lake to be lowered for ducks
To some, it’s an angler’s paradise just a short drive from St. Cloud and the Twin Cities, with the promise of trophy-sized panfish lurking beneath the surface.

To others, it’s a once-thriving resting spot for migrating waterfowl that has been almost destroyed by rising water levels and pollution.

In the next several years, Wright County’s Pelican Lake will be the focus of an ambitious restoration effort by the state Department of Natural Resources that will permanently lower its water level by 2 feet and regain acres of wetland long ago drained for farming.

The project has the support of duck hunters who say it will restore rapidly disappearing waterfowl habitat. But some anglers worry it will mean the demise of their favorite fishing spot.
–The St. Cloud Times

Who should bear brunt of Red River flooding?
Although the Red River’s swollen waters have long tormented this city and the region straddling North Dakota and Minnesota, the severity of flooding last spring galvanized leaders here to come up with a solution in a $1 billion water diversion project. But as memories of the floods of 2009 — the images of farmhouses surrounded by miles of water — begin to fade, there are signs that the consensus may be tested.

The project would create a large-scale diversion channel, essentially sending some part of the water off on a man-made path, around the neighbor cities of Fargo and Moorhead, Minn. The sensitive question, though, is where the water should go. Residents of the small, sugar beet farm towns near Fargo fear that any diversion would, in sparing the larger cities, send extra floodwaters straight for them.

 “There’s only one place for it to go — our way — and we can’t take anymore, believe me,” said Ann Manley, the mayor of Perley, Minn., population 111, one of the towns sprinkled along the river, some of which found themselves isolated for nearly two months last spring because of floodwaters.
–The New York Times

Asian carp fight threatens Great Lakes states’ unity
Asian carp, the voracious, nonnative fish whose arrival near Lake Michigan is threatening to cause havoc in the Great Lakes, are now setting off strife on land as well.

In an urgent effort to close down Chicago-area passages that could allow the unwanted fish to reach Lake Michigan, the State of Michigan is suing the State of Illinois and other entities that govern the waterways here. Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin have filed documents in recent days supporting Michigan’s move, and Indiana says it will soon do the same.

The new rift between these Midwestern states, which would reopen a nearly century-old legal case in the United States Supreme Court over Great Lakes waters, comes at a particularly sensitive moment — just as the numerous entities with interests in the Great Lakes had united in what lakes advocates consider some of their most significant progress in decades.
–The New York Times

Reducing road salt to save the lakes
Can a lake-loving state with snow-cursed highways go on a low-salt diet?

Joe Wiita in Prior Lake thinks so, and he’d like your city to mix up a batch of his anti-icing cocktail and try it on a street near you.

Amid rising concern over the effects that road salt has on Minnesota’s lakes, streams and groundwater, Wiita and other public works officials around the state are whipping up new brews to spread on pavement, moistening rock salt so it sticks better, and working to establish a less-is-more culture while striving to keep motorists safe and happy.
–The Star Tribune

EPA outlines Chesapeake Bay demands
The Obama administration warned that Maryland and other states that drain into the Chesapeake Bay face federal sanctions, including roadblocks to growth, if they fail to meet new cleanup goals – though federal officials said they’re counting on not having to wield the rod.

Environmental activists, in turn, questioned the administration’s resolve to do what is needed to restore the bay in the wake of the states having repeatedly failed to meet cleanup goals and compliance deadlines during the past 26 years.

In a long-awaited announcement that had been seen as a test of whether the Obama administration was serious about the bay cleanup, the EPA sent a letter to Maryland, the District of Columbia and the five other states in the bay watershed outlining the potential consequences of failure.
–The Baltimore Sun

Manure: A resource and a pollution problem
Day and night, a huge contraption prowls the grounds at Frank Volleman’s dairy in Central Texas. It has a 3,000-gallon tank, a heavy-duty vacuum pump and hoses and, underneath, adjustable blades that scrape the surface as it passes along.

In function it is something like a Zamboni, but one that has crossed over to the dark side. This is no hockey rink, and it’s not loose ice being scraped up. It’s cow manure.

 Lots of cow manure. A typical lactating Holstein produces about 150 pounds of waste — by weight, about two-thirds wet feces, one-third urine — each day. Mr. Volleman has 3,000 lactating Holsteins and another 1,000 that are temporarily “dry.” Do the math: his Wildcat Dairy produces about 200 million pounds of manure every year.
–The New York Times

Massive project seeks to link China’s 4 main rivers
Surveying the rubble of their recently demolished village, the huddle of Chinese peasant-farmers is in an openly mutinous mood, their list of gripes and grumbles against the local government spilling out one after the other.

“The land they gave us isn’t fit for beggars,” spits one old man squatting on his homespun wooden stool, “And the new houses have leaking roofs,” adds another, “And there’s no security,” complains a third, “last week someone stole my chickens.”

The men from what remains of Machuan village in Henan, central China are seated at the “ground zero” of China’s latest feat of mega-engineering, a project so vast that it dwarfs the Three Gorges Dam in cost, scale and perhaps even controversy.

Scheduled to be finished in 2050, the plan to link China’s four main rivers and redirect trillions of gallons of water from China’s tropical southern mountains to its arid northern plains will have taken 100 years from conception to completion.
–The Telegraph

Air Force commits to conservation
The U.S. Air Force plans to spend $2.3 billion over the next six years on energy and water conservation and an expanded use of renewable energy projects.

The capital investment strategy is expected to reduce energy intensity at air force facilities by 30% by 2015, according to a release. 

Other goals for 2015 include reducing potable water usage by 16%; increasing on-base renewable energy to 3% of all electricity use; and increasing renewable energy to 10.5% of all electricity.
–sustainablebusiness.com