Great Lakes plan; EPA hearings in Florida

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

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