Fish disease, drug disposal and an ethanol fine

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 Each driver handed over out-of-date pills, old cough medicine; drugs that someone stopped taking.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 http://www.flickr.com/groups/vintagesplitrock 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  sacke032@umn.edu

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

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