Archive for February, 2010

Great Lakes plan; EPA hearings in Florida

February 22, 2010

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

EPA announces Great Lakes plan
The Environmental Protection Agency  unveiled a five-year, $475-million plan to revitalize the Great Lakes, including cleaning up polluted water and beaches, restoring wetlands and fighting invasive species such as Asian carp.

Federal and state officials call the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan “historically unprecedented” in size, funding and coordination between branches of government.

The plan calls itself light on study and heavy on action, seeking to heal the Great Lakes ecosystem from “150 years of abuse” and to ensure that “fish are safe to eat; the water is safe to drink; the beaches and waters are safe for swimming, surfing, boating and recreating; native species and habitats are protected and thriving; no community suffers disproportionately from the impacts of pollution; and the Great Lakes are a healthy place for people and wildlife to live.”

Developed by 16 federal agencies, the plan requires annual progress reports from the EPA on restoration activities and the allocation of funding, which would come from the normal congressional appropriations process.
–The Los Angeles Times

Some environmentalists cooling toward Obama
There has been no more reliable cheerleader for President Obama’s energy and climate change policies than Daniel J. Weiss of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

But Mr. Obama’s recent enthusiasm for nuclear power, including his budget proposal to triple federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors to $54 billion, was too much for Mr. Weiss.

The president’s embrace of nuclear power was disappointing, and the wrong way to go about winning Republican votes, he said, adding that Mr. Obama should not be endorsing such a costly and potentially catastrophic energy alternative “as bait just to get talks started with pro-nuke senators.”

The early optimism of environmental advocates that the policies of former President George W. Bush would be quickly swept away and replaced by a bright green future under Mr. Obama is for many environmentalists giving way to resignation, and in some cases, anger.
–The New York Times

Lake Vermilion State Park moves forward
A Minnesota Senate panel voted to remove a price cap for land along Lake Vermilion so the state can pay $18 million for it and put a new state park there.

The action is a step toward lifting a two-year obstacle that has blocked the state’s attempt to buy more than 3,000 acres on the east side of the scenic northeastern Minnesota lake. The owner, U.S. Steel, places a higher value on the land than the state and hasn’t been willing to accept the state’s $14.7 million offer, which was limited to 12 percent above what it valued the land.

Late last year, U.S. Steel and the Department of Natural Resources finally worked out an $18 million sale price, but the agreement needs the legislative action to go through.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

EPA holds hearings on Florida runoff  limits
Citrus growers, cattle ranchers, sugar farmers and utility operators told federal environmental regulators that they are all for keeping rivers and lakes clean, but they don’t want to go broke doing it.

They warned that could be the ripple effect from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s unprecedented decision to step in and tighten Florida’s pollution laws. The EPA wants to set hard caps on two nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, largely responsible for triggering algae blooms that have fouled waters from the St. Johns River to Florida Bay.

More than 200 people packed a public hearing in West Palm Beach, the last of three the EPA scheduled around the state. Most speakers, aside from a handful of environmentalists, urged the agency to go back to the drawing board on rules they branded as flawed and costly.
–The Miami Herald

Texas Court considers who owns groundwater
The ownership and control of groundwater pumping rights in Texas is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court.

The nine justices heard arguments in a case that pits the right of a landowner near Von Ormy to pump from the Edwards Aquifer against the government’s authority to regulate the use of ground and surface water.

For more than a decade, the Edwards Aquifer Authority has argued that in order for it to regulate pumping, landowners cannot own the water in the Edwards Aquifer.

It was first time the state’s highest court considered that argument.
–The San Antonio Express-News

Maryland considers delaying storm water rules
Responding to a barrage of complaints from developers and local officials, some lawmakers in Annapolis have proposed legislation to delay and weaken Maryland’s new storm-water pollution-control requirements before they can take effect. Environmentalists denounced the move, saying it would give developers a “free pass” from having to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The bill, introduced in the House of Delegates, would “grandfather” from the new rules an untold number of proposed development projects statewide that are in the local planning pipeline. The measure also would ease runoff controls required for redevelopment, as well as for affordable housing and projects built around transit stops.

Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr., the bill’s chief sponsor, said he put it in to address what he called “flaws” in the storm-water regulations issued last year by the Department of the Environment. He said that the measure would allow developers to proceed with projects that have won preliminary local government approval, and that unless redevelopment requirements are relaxed, suburban sprawl would keep gobbling up forest and farmland.

The new storm-water rules, which counties and municipalities were to begin enforcing May 4, were drafted to carry out a law that Holmes and other lawmakers overwhelmingly approved in 2007 to crack down on runoff from developed land. Storm-water pollution is a significant source of pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and the state’s rivers and streams, officials say.
–The Baltimore Sun

Butterfield penalized for sewage vioations
The city of Butterfield, in south-central Minnesota, has paid a $10,000 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for alleged violations at its wastewater treatment plant. The city is also expanding its treatment system to prevent illegal discharges. In addition, the city will provide at least $20,000 in assistance to residents to redirect sump pumps from the sanitary sewer system to home exteriors, in order to reduce excess flows to the treatment plant during rain events.

During inspections of the Butterfield wastewater treatment plant in 2008 and 2009, the MPCA observed and documented many violations in reporting, monitoring, operating, recordkeeping and discharge requirements. The violations include discharging large volumes of untreated or partially treated wastewater to Butterfield Creek during four periods total from 2006 to 2009. Butterfield Creek flows to the Watonwan River, which flows to the Minnesota River.

In addition, the treatment plant exceeded the state limits for certain parameters, such as fecal coliform bacteria, on 39 occasions from March 1, 2006 to April 30, 2009.
–MPCA news release

Freighter slows down to cut emissions
It took more than a month for the container ship Ebba Maersk to steam from Germany to Guangdong, China, where it unloaded cargo on a recent Friday — a week longer than it did two years ago.

But for the owner, the Danish shipping giant Maersk, that counts as progress.

In a global culture dominated by speed, from overnight package delivery to bullet trains to fast-cash withdrawals, the company has seized on a sales pitch that may startle some hard-driving corporate customers: Slow is better.

By halving its top cruising speed over the last two years, Maersk cut fuel consumption on major routes by as much as 30 percent, greatly reducing costs. But the company also achieved an equal cut in the ships’ emissions of greenhouse gases.
–The New York Times

 Urban parks may be net loss for climate
Green is good — right? Not necessarily when it comes to lawns, according to a new study by University of California Irvine researchers. For the first time, scientists compared the amount of greenhouse gases absorbed by ornamental turfgrass to the amount emitted in the irrigation, fertilizing and mowing of the same plots.

In four parks near Irvine, they calculated that emissions were similar to or greater than the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the air through photosynthesis — a finding relevant to policymakers seeking to control the gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. “Green spaces may be good to have,” said geochemist AmyTownsend-Small, the lead researcher in the paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “But they shouldn’t be automatically counted as sequestering carbon.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Climate change, declining moose, St. Croix ruling

February 16, 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.

How will climate change affect ecosystems?
Scientists have made lots of projections over the past few years about how warming temperatures and a changing climate will affect the planet. Real-world measurements have confirmed at least some of them: sea level is clearly rising, for instance, and the ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is shrinking and thinning — in the latter case, faster than anyone had expected just a few years ago.

Other measurements are a lot more difficult, though. It’s reasonable to expect, for example, that ecosystems will change as plants and animals respond to a rising thermometer — but how do you measure the change of an ecosystem that may consist of hundreds or even thousands of species?

 The answer, evident in a paper just published in the journal Global Change Biology, is that it isn’t easy — but it’s possible nevertheless. A team of scientists led by Stephen Thackeray, an expert on lake ecology at the United Kingdom’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, has combed through observations of more than 700 species of fish, birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, plankton and a wide variety of plants across the U.K. taken between 1976 and 2005, and found a consistent trend: more than 80% of “biological events” — including flowering of plants, ovulation among mammals and migration of birds — are coming earlier today than they were in the 1970s.
–Time Magazine

 Minnesota moose decline, survey indicates
Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, according to results of an aerial survey released by the Deparment of Natural Resources. 

Survey results revealed lower moose numbers and the proportion of cows accompanied by calves continued a 13-year decline and dropping to a record low of 28 calves per 100 cows. 

“These indices along with results from research using radio-collared moose all indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Dr. Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader. 

Moose populations are estimated using an aerial survey of the northeast Minnesota moose range. Based on the survey, wildlife researchers estimate that there were 5,500 moose in northeastern Minnesota. The estimate, while not statistically different from last year’s 7,600, reinforces the inference that the moose population is declining.
–DNR news release 

Supreme Court rules against DNR on St. Croix mansion
The Minnesota Supreme Court sided with broadcasting executive Rob Hubbard in his fight with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources over building a 10,000-square-foot house on the St. Croix River.

 The court ruled that the DNR, which oversees the lower portion of the federally protected riverway, had no authority to overturn the city of Lakeland’s approval of the project.

 Hubbard said the ruling vindicates what he has argued since the case began almost four years ago.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

DNR downplays court ruling’s impact
Is the crown jewel of regional rivers in trouble? 

No, said the deputy commissioner of the state agency that no longer will be able to veto local government shoreline decisions along the St. Croix River.

 Larry Kramka said the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that takes away the state’s ability to govern “setback variances” on waterfront construction won’t lead to significant new development pressure on the river. 

“All of the requirements remain in effect,” said Kramka, of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The only part that was found illegal was that the DNR had a veto.”
–The Star Tribune

 Close Chicago canal, invasive species expert says
Unless Congress or federal agencies decide to permanently wall off the infamous Sanitary and Ship Canal from the Great Lakes, it will continue to be a superhighway for invasive species, a scientist warned at a Congressional hearing.

 The canal already has helped to spread invasive species such as Asian carp between the  Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, and there are other species waiting to invade in both directions, said David Lodge, director of the Center for Aquatic Conservation at the University of Notre Dame. Lodge is among the scientists conducting DNA testing for Asian carp in the canal.

“This is not just about Asian carp,” he told members of a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee in Washington, D.C.
–The Detroit Free Press

 U.S. proposes $78.5 million anti-carp plan
Federal authorities presented a $78.5 million plan intended to block Asian carp, a hungry, huge, nonnative fish, from invading the Great Lakes.

 The threat has grown increasingly tense throughout the region in recent months as genetic material from the fish was found near and even in Lake Michigan.

In a meeting in Washington with leaders of some Great Lakes states, officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies laid out an “Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework” to ensure that the fish, known to take over entire ecosystems, do not establish themselves in the lakes.
–The New York Times 

California eyes 43-mile tunnel for water
A giant tunnel – not a canal – has emerged as the leading option to ship Sacramento River water across the Delta to thirsty Californians from the Silicon Valley to San Diego.

 Officials guiding the Bay Delta Conservation Plan chose the tunnel for more detailed study at a meeting in Sacramento. The plan is an effort to secure California water supplies from environmental problems, flood risk and rising sea levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. 

About 25 million Californians and 2 million acres of farmland depend on the Delta today for at least some of their water supplies.
–The Sacramento Bee

Disinfectant reduces fish virus transmission
A disinfection solution presently used for salmon eggs also prevents transmission of the virus that causes viral hemorrhagic septicemia or VHS — one of the most dangerous viral diseases of fish — in other hatchery-reared fish eggs, according to new U.S. Geological Survey-led research. 

VHS has caused large fish kills in wild fish in the U.S., especially in the Great Lakes region, where thousands of fish have died from the virus over the last few years.  The disease causes internal bleeding in fish, and although in the family of viruses that includes rabies, is not harmful to humans. Thus far, the virus has been found in more than 25 species of fish in Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, St. Clair, Superior and Ontario, as well as the Saint Lawrence River and inland lakes in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin.
–USGS News Release

 Nitrate limits working in Europe
The implementation of legislation to prevent nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters is proving effective, a European Commission report says.

 However, in some regions, nitrate concentrations exceed water quality standards and farmers must adopt sustainable practices, said the report on the implementation of the nitrates directive. It reported that between 2004 and 2007, nitrate concentrations in surface water including rivers, lakes and canals remained stable or fell at 70 per cent of monitored sites. Quality at 66 per cent of groundwater monitoring sites was stable or improving. 

But the report revealed a number of regions where nitrate levels were “worrying” in groundwater sites, including parts of Estonia, southeast Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, several parts of France, northern Italy, northeast Spain, southeast Slovakia, southern Romania, Malta and Cyprus.
–The Irish Times 

UN climate scientist faces scrutiny
Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist’s version of sainthood: A vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations’ climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore. 

 But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Senator John Barrasso,  a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri’s resignation. 

Critics, writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm — a claim he denies.
–The New York Times 

U.S. consolidates climate-change team
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will create a new  climate change office to gather and provide data to governments, industry and academia as part of a broad federal effort to prepare for long-term changes to the planet, officials said.

The new unit, to be known as the NOAA Climate Service, will assemble the roughly 550 scientists and analysts already working on the issue at the agency into a cohesive group under a single leader.

 The climate service is designed to be analogous to the National Weather Service, also part of NOAA, which celebrates its 140th birthday this month. Officials said they hoped the reorganization would shore up the profile of government climate science and perhaps drive the creation of new businesses like those that repackage and sell weather and census data.
–The New York Times

Two slots on Clean Water Council are open
The Minnesota Clean Water Council, which advises the governor and Legislature on water policy, has two vacancies. One is for a member representing an environmental organization to complete a four-year term expiring on Jan. 3, 2011. The second vacancy is for a representative of tribal governments. 

Council members are appointed by the Governor. The application deadline for the slot reserved for environmental organizations is Tuesday, Feb. 23. Information about the Clean Water Council and this vacancy can be found on the Secretary of State’s Open Commissions and Appointments web site, along with the application forms. Information about the Clean Water Council; its members, publications, and past meeting agendas and minutes can be found on the council’s web site at Clean Water Council

The vacancy for the tribal representative will be posted in March on the Secretary of State’s Open Commissions and Appointments web site.
–Clean Water Council news release 

California company eyes Mojave groundwater
More water could exist below privately owned valleys in the eastern Mojave Desert than in all of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, according to a geological study released by the company that hopes to tap the vast supply.

The study by CH2M Hill, a Colorado-based environmental consulting firm, also estimated that rain and snowmelt add about 32,000 acre-feet of water a year into the aquifer below the Cadiz Valley and nearby areas. That’s more than three times as much as previous estimates, a company official said.

“We always believed that this is a significant water resource, but having these findings, we are now able to point to the science behind it,” said Courtney Degener, investor relations manager for the Los Angeles-based Cadiz Inc.

 The company wants to use the aquifer about 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms to store water from the Colorado River and then pump out a combination of stored and natural water at a volume of 50,000 acre-feet each year — enough to meet the needs of about 400,000 people.
–The Press-Enterprise 

China’s water pollution doubles in new report
China’s government unveiled its most detailed survey ever of the pollution plaguing the country, revealing that water pollution in 2007 was more than twice as severe as official figures that had long omitted agricultural waste. 

The first-ever national pollution census, environmentalists said, represented a small step forward for China in terms of transparency. But the results also raised serious questions about the shortcomings of China’s previous pollution data and suggested that even with limited progress in some areas, the country still had a long way to go to clean its waterways and air. 

The pollution census, scheduled to be repeated in 2020, took more than two years to complete. It involved 570,000 people, and included 1.1 billion pieces of data from nearly 6 million sources of pollution, including factories, farms, homes and pollution-treatment facilities, the government announced at a news conference.
–The New York Times

U.S. considers protection for coral
The Obama administration will consider federal protection for 82 coral species threatened by warming water temperatures.

The National Marine Fisheries Service said that it has found “substantial scientific or commercial information” that Caribbean and Indo-Pacific corals may be threatened or endangered.

 Environmentalists have predicted the corals — found near Florida, Hawaii and U.S. territories — could be wiped out by midcentury if the government does not take steps to protect them from warming waters, rising ocean acidity and pollution.

The announcement in the Federal Register launches a formal status review by federal biologists.
–The New York Times

 Rural-urban video conferences planned
As part of a cooperative effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, Minnesota Rural Partners Inc. is hosting a series of videoconferences through May 2010 to encourage conversations across the state about rural – urban connections that impact individual lives, communities, and work.  

 The goal is to foster increased innovation and job growth by leveraging the strengths of rural and urban areas.

The USDA’s Rural Development program aims to improve housing, create jobs and improve the lives of residents of rural communities. Minnesota Rural Partners is a 10-year-old nonprofit organization that works to strengthen rural-urban partnering, increase community entrepreneurship and support continued broadband deployment in rural communities. 

“We want to get Minnesotans talking and thinking about the interdependence between rural and urban areas, as well as future opportunities arising from stronger rural-urban connections,” said Jane Leonard, president of Minnesota Rural Partners. 

The videoconferences will culminate in a Symposium on Small Towns and Rural-Urban Gathering at the University of Minnesota, Morris, on June 9 and 10.  

Participants are asked to register for videoconferences in advance at Information on the video conferences is available there.

Minnesota phenology conference set Feb. 26-28

February 9, 2010

Do you pay attention and make a note when you see the first robin each spring? Are you interested in the way the plants and trees around you change with the seasons?

 Are you a scientist who actively employs phenology – the study of the timing of nature – in your research and want to network with other phenologists and learn about changes in the science. Do you want to learn how to use phenology as a teaching tool at a school or nature center? Are you interested in starting a regional phenology data base? Are you curious about why there is such interest niow in using phenology to monitor climate change?

 If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should attend the Northwoods Phenology Conference, Feb. 26-28 at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center near Finland, MN.

 To learn more, go to or click here. Conference classes will be taught by expert in the field, including university professors. Many classes will be taught in the woods around Wolf Ridge; others will be taught indoors. This will be a chance to network with folks interested, as you are, in this emerging science called Phenology.

  In addition, you or family member attending with you can ign up for limited spots to take additional Wolf Ridge classes such as cross country skiing, rock climbing, winter survival and dog sledding.

Climate change and ducks; copper-nickel mining

February 8, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society posts 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.

Global warming bodes ill for ducks
The loss of wetlands in the prairie pothole region of central North America due to a warmer and drier climate will negatively affect millions of waterfowl that depend on the region for food, shelter and raising young, according to research published in the journal BioScience.

The new research shows that the region appears to be much more sensitive to climate warming and drying than previously thought. 

“The impact to the millions of wetlands that attract countless ducks to these breeding grounds in spring makes it difficult to imagine how to maintain today’s level of waterfowl populations in altered climate conditions,” said Dr. Glenn Guntenspergen, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher and one of the report authors. “Parents may not have time to raise their young to where they can fly because of wetlands drying up too quickly in the warming climate of the future,” he added. 

A new wetland model developed by the authors to understand the impacts of climate change on wetlands in the prairie pothole region projected major reductions in water volume, shortening of the time water remains in wetlands and changes to wetland vegetation dynamics in this 800,000-square kilometer region in the United States (North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and Iowa) and Canada.
–USGS News Release 

Climatologist mostly cleared of misconduct
An academic board of inquiry has largely cleared a noted Pennsylvania State University climatologist of scientific misconduct, but a second panel will convene to determine whether his behavior undermined public faith in the science of climate change, the university said. 

The scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, has been at the center of a dispute arising from the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 e-mail messages from the servers of the University of East Anglia in England, home to one of the world’s premier climate research units. 

While the Pennsylvania State inquiry, conducted by three senior faculty members and administrators, absolved Dr. Mann of the most serious charges against him, it is not likely to silence the controversy over climate science. New questions about the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which Dr. Mann was a significant contributor, have arisen since the hacked e-mail messages surfaced last November.
–The New York Times 

Copper-nickel mine draws flood of comments
More than 3,500 comments in 45 days. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has received a mini tidal wave of letters, e-mails and oral comments about a proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota. It’s not a surprise, since everything about the $600 million PolyMet project is big.

“This is certainly an extraordinary level of comments,” said Stuart Arkley, the project’s environmental study manager. “Normally a couple hundred might be considered a lot.” 

The comment period ended for the lengthy environmental impact study for the PolyMet mining and ore processing project near Hoyt Lakes. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal partner with the DNR in preparing the study, which began nearly four years ago.
–The Star Tribune 

Court upholds New York’s ballast rule
A New York State appeals court has dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s new ballast water requirements, intended to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes. In a ruling, a three-judge panel of the court upheld the authority of states to adopt ballast water rules that are more protective than federal standards. 

Ballast water is taken on by cargo ships to compensate for changes in the ship’s weight as cargo is loaded or unloaded, and as fuel and supplies are consumed. 

When a ship takes on ballast water, organisms native to that water are also taken on board. When that ballast water is discharged into another body of water, those organisms are released, often harming the native species of the new ecosystem.
–Environmental News Service

Georgia governor calls for water conservation
Georgians will be called to a new “culture of conservation” under water legislation outlined by Gov. Sonny Perdue, struggling in the twilight of his term to find a solution to the long-running water dispute with neighboring Florida and Alabama.

At a news conference, Perdue called the legislation “a diverse and comprehensive package,” and then went on to warn that it will require a brand new mindset for many Georgians:

“Where it makes sense, we’re going to ask Georgians to make commitments that we have never asked of them before, and at other points, we will launch incentive-based efforts to encourage creativity and innovation involving our very diverse bill will require efficient water fixtures in all new residential and commercial construction statewide.
–The Southern Political Report

U.S. knew of mothballed ships’ toxic threat
The U.S. Maritime Administration knew in 1997 that paint falling off its obsolete ships anchored in Suisun Bay could cause toxic pollution, yet took no action for more than a decade while denying a problem existed, according to federal documents. 

Cleanup was called “essential” in a 1997 memo that stated, “Environmental precautions must be recognized to the fullest extent.” 

“Exfoliating paint on (Maritime Administration) ships is an issue that must be addressed,” the August 1997 internal memo states. “The discharge of lead and tributyltin, commonly found in marine paints, are prohibited by federal, state and local environmental regulations … there may be some impacts on water and biotic resources.” 

But the Maritime Administration undertook no cleanup as the so-called Mothball Fleet anchored off Benicia continued to deteriorate for another decade. A 2007 study — launched after a series of articles in the Contra Costa Times that questioned the fleet’s condition — found that 21 tons of paint flakes laden with lead and other toxic metals had fallen into local waters and that 66 more tons remained on the vessels.
–The Contra Costa Times

Fish disease, drug disposal and an ethanol fine

February 1, 2010

Every 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.

Deadly fish disease found in Lake Superior
A new virus that is deadly to muskies, walleyes and a wide range of fish species has been found for the first time in Lake Superior, raising fears it could spread to inland Minnesota waters.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, which has been blamed for major fish kills in the Great Lakes and surrounding states, was found in four sites in Lake Superior, researchers with Cornell University announced.

Infected fish were found in the Wisconsin waters of St. Louis Bay and Superior Bay, which are part of the Twin Ports harbors of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis. It also was found in Paradise and Skanee bays in Michigan.

The virus poses no threat to humans but is known to infect 28 species of fish. Fish with the disease show widespread bleeding on the eyes, skin and fins and within internal organs. The virus has reached epidemic proportions in the Great Lakes and threatens New York’s sport-fishing industry, Cornell researchers said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Disposing of old medicines is tricky business
Researchers have long been finding residues from pharmaceuticals and personal care products in our lakes and rivers. Some of them are endocrine disruptors and can cause fish to develop both male and female characteristics.

Traces of pharmaceuticals are even showing up in some cities’ drinking water supplies, though not in Minnesota. No one knows yet whether these drugs are having a significant impact on human health, but biologists are clearly worried.

The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth has been organizing special medicine collection events. One day in late January, a steady stream of drivers pull up at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility. Each driver handed over out-of-date pills, old cough medicine; drugs that someone stopped taking.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Environmental index ranks U.S. 61st in the world
A new ranking of the world’s nations by environmental performance puts some of the globe’s largest economies far down the list, with the United States sinking to 61st and China to 121st.

 In the previous version of the Environmental Performance Index, compiled every two years by Yale and Columbia University researchers, the United States ranked 39th, and China 105th. 

The top performer this year is Iceland, which gets virtually all of its power from renewable sources — hydropower and geothermal energy. It was joined in the top tier by a cluster of European countries known for their green efforts, including Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Finland.
–The New York Times

 Ethanol plant faces $891,000 bill for pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Corn Plus will pay a $200,000 civil penalty and complete a Supplemental Environmental Project costing no less than $691,000 for a variety of alleged water-quality violations at the company’s ethanol production facility in Winnebago.

Last year, Corn Plus paid a penalty totaling $150,000 to resolve a criminal water quality charge brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The violations, occurring from 2006 to 2008, were documented during MPCA staff inspections of the facility following complaints of odorous and discolored discharges to nearby surface waters, and after law enforcement personnel observed similar discharges.  Eventually it was found that the wastewater discharges from a cooling tower at the facility had been illegally connected to a stormwater system that discharged to Rice Lake via a county ditch. 

A significant portion of the violations alleged in the agreement relate to operating an unpermitted wastewater-disposal system; unpermitted discharge of wastewater that violated surface water-quality standards and caused nuisance conditions; failure to prevent the unpermitted discharges; and failure to report the unpermitted discharges and disposal system.
–MPCA News Release

 The ozone hole: Good news; bad news
That the hole in Earth’s ozone layer is slowly mending is considered a big victory for environmental policy makers. But in a new report, scientists say there is a downside: its repair may contribute to global warming.

 It turns out that the hole led to the formation of moist, brighter-than-usual clouds that shielded the Antarctic region from the warming induced by greenhouse gas emissions over the last two decades, scientists write in Geophysical Research Letters.

“The recovery of the hole will reverse that,” said Ken Carslaw, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Leeds and a co-author of the paper. “Essentially, it will accelerate warming in certain parts of the Southern Hemisphere.”
–The New York Times

 Less water vapor may slow global warming
A decade-long plateau in global warming appears to have occurred in large part because the stratosphere – the layer of atmosphere that few but airliners enter – got drier. 

That’s an explanation by a team of atmospheric scientists from the United States and Germany. They’ve studied trends in stratospheric water vapor over the past 30 years and calculated the effects of those trends on temperatures. 

A decline in stratospheric water vapor between 2000 and 2009 followed an apparent increase between 1980 and 2000, according to balloon and satellite measurements that the team used. The decline slowed the long-term growth in global average temperatures by some 25 percent, compared with the warming one could expect from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases alone, the team estimates. 

“There’s not a lot of water in the stratosphere. It’s extremely dry,” says Susan Solomon, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., who led the team. “But it packs a wallop” in terms of its climatic effects, she says.
–The Christian Science Monitor 

Expert: Carp may not proliferate in Great Lakes
Do Asian carp really spell doom for the Great Lakes?

Many experts say the future looks grim, since the fish are voracious breeders and feeders that can multiply and scoop up all the plankton other fish need to survive. 

Anglers and boaters fear them because one species, silver carp, typically weighs more than a bowling ball and can come flying into boats, injuring humans. The fish have no predators in the animal world, and they appear to have accomplished that over generations by growing too big for predators to eat.

But others say the likely harm from Asian carp depends on how many get into the Great Lakes, and whether they’ll find the right conditions to survive and reproduce. Keeping those numbers low is the new mission.

“A few fish getting into Lake Michigan doesn’t mean there’s a population there,” said Duane Chapman, a leading Asian carp expert with the U.S. Geological Survey in Missouri. “This game is not over. It’s the numbers that invade the lakes that will ultimately determine whether they have a chance to get established.”
–The Detroit Free Press 

How do you put price tag on invasive species?
Invasive species – long the cause of environmental hand-wringing – have been raising more unwelcome questions recently, as the expense of eliminating them is weighed against the mounting liability of leaving them be.

Which is worse? Closing two locks on a critical waterway that is used to ship millions of dollars’ worth of goods from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi basin? Or allowing a voracious Asian carp to chow down on the native fish sustaining a Midwestern fishing industry that nets $7 billion a year?

And how do you put a price tag on the damage caused by the Burmese python and other constrictor snakes that are strangling the precious ecology of the Everglades? Questions like those became more urgent last week, when a team of scientists led by the University of Notre Dame disclosed that silver carp dominating stretches of the Mississippi River and its tributaries had infiltrated Lake Michigan.
–The Washington Post

Environmental groups to sue over Babbitt mine
A coalition of three environmental organizations has filed notice of intent to sue to stop ongoing water pollution at the former LTV Mine, now controlled by Cliffs Erie. The site is also the proposed location of PolyMet Mining’s planned NorthMet mine, currently the subject of environmental review.

The suit will also seek to halt ongoing pollution at the Dunka mine site, located near Babbitt. 

The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, and the Indigenous Environmental Network announced their intent to sue in a formal filing with the Federal District Court in Duluth. The 60-day notice letter is a prerequisite to filing a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act.

A Cliffs spokesperson had no comment on the court filing. 

While the pending lawsuit is unrelated to the ongoing environmental review of PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet mining operation, the attorney representing the groups suggests the two issues are related.
–The Timberjay 

Cleaner water = warmer world, Chicago argues
Chicago is the only major U.S. city that doesn’t disinfect its sewage, and the agency that treats its wastewater has a new reason for opposing the idea:
It’s bad for the environment.

Engineers with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago recently completed an in-house study of its carbon footprint at the request of the elected board of commissioners. Going beyond the assignment, they also decided to look at how the footprint would change if it had to kill bacteria in sewage before pouring it into the Chicago River.

Starting to disinfect the wastewater — a change the 120-year-old agency has long opposed — would bolster the district’s greenhouse gas emissions and thereby cause more bad than good, they concluded.
–The Chicago Tribune 

Chicago plots its future water supply

Leaks, waste and road salt are endangering the Chicago area’s water supply. That’s according to regional planners, who approved a new strategy to avoid future shortages.

The water plan is the first of its kind. It spells out how northeastern Illinois can keep the spigot running in the face of a growing population, aging infrastructure and a warming climate. Some recommendations could hike the price of water, such as eliminating public subsidies so people have to weigh the true cost of what they use.
–Chicago Public Radio

Historical Society seeks Split Rock photos
Split Rock Lighthouse is one of the most photographed places in the United States. Since 1924, when the first road was built, the lighthouse has been a popular tourist destination with families, couples and friends recording their visit with a camera. 

In 2010, Split Rock Lighthouse will celebrate its 100th anniversary. As part of the celebration, the Minnesota Historical Society is launching a “Vintage Split Rock Lighthouse Pictures” Flickr group. The goal is to gather vacation photos from the early years of the North Shore landmark’s life. The Flickr group will allow visitors of the iconic Lighthouse to join the Society in telling the stories of Minnesota by submitting their photos. 

Visitors to Split Rock Lighthouse should add their pre-1980 pictures to the group at via their own Flickr account. Visitors are encouraged to post vintage pictures of people at the lighthouse and include the story behind the picture, as well as the year the photograph was taken. 

The group is not intended as a photo contest, but photographs submitted before March 31, 2010, may be selected by the site manager for inclusion in an exhibit to be on display in the Split Rock Lighthouse Visitor Center this summer. People wanting to bring their photos to the Lighthouse to have them scanned should call  218-226-6372 to make arrangements.
–Minnesota Historical Society news release

Fairmont conference planned on ‘Third’ crops
The first of four Third Crop Producer Meetings – aimed at persuading Minnesota farmers to consider growing crops other than corn and soybeans — will be hosted by Rural Advantage in Farirmont on Monday, Feb. 8. A variety of speakers will be presenting on “Biomass Establishment” from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. 

For more information, contact Jill Sackett, University of Minnesota Extension educator and conservation agronomist, at the Rural Advantage office: 507-238-5449, or

L.A. considers requiring rainwater capture
A proposed law would require new homes, larger developments and some redevelopments in Los Angeles to capture and reuse runoff generated in rainstorms.

The ordinance approved in January by the Department of Public Works would require such projects to capture, reuse or infiltrate 100% of runoff generated in a 3/4 -inch rainstorm or to pay a storm water pollution mitigation fee that would help fund off-site, low-impact public developments.

The fairly new approach to managing storm water and urban runoff is designed to mitigate the negative effects of urbanization by controlling runoff at its source with small, cost-effective natural systems instead of treatment facilities. Reducing runoff improves water quality and recharges groundwater.
–The Los Angeles Times 

State borrowing sought for Coon Rapids Dam
State bonding money is being sought to fund repairs that need to be made to the Coon Rapids Dam.

 A large hole has been discovered in the concrete apron below gate two at the dam and is causing washout conditions under it.

Three Rivers Park District operates the Coon Rapids Dam and also owns Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the Hennepin County side of the river, while Anoka County operates Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the Anoka County side of the Mississippi.

But the Three Rivers Park District Board, in addition to seeking state bonding dollars to make permanent repairs to the dam – installing a metal piling wall underwater across the width of the dam to prevent any future scour holes in the apron from threatening the integrity of the dam – is also concerned about the continued drain on the park district’s financial resources from the maintenance and repair needs of the dam, according to Cris Gears, Three Rivers Park District superintendent.
–The Coon Rapids Herald