Archive for March, 2010

UN: Pollution is leading cause of death

March 29, 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 in their entirety where they originally were published.

 Polluted water is leading cause of death, U.N. says
More people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence, including war, the U.N. said in a report that highlights the need for clean drinking water.

 The report, launched to coincide with World Water Day, said an estimated 2 billion tons of waste water — including fertilizer run-off, sewage and industrial waste — is being discharged daily. That waste fuels the spread of disease and damages ecosystems.

 ”Sick Water” — the report from the U.N. Environment Program — said that 3.7 percent of all deaths are attributed to water-related diseases, translating into millions of deaths. More than half of the world’s hospital beds are filled by people suffering from water-related illnesses, it said.
–The Associated Press

 EPA announces drinking water changes
The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would overhaul drinking water regulations so that officials could police dozens of contaminants simultaneously and tighten rules on the chemicals used by industries.

 The new policies, which are still being drawn up, will probably force some local water systems to use more effective cleaning technologies, but may raise water rates.

 “There are a range of chemicals that have become more prevalent in our products, our water and our bodies in the last 50 years,” the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson said in a speech.
–The New York Times

Endocrine disruptor BPA detected in sea water
Scientists have reported widespread global contamination of sea sand and sea water with the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) and said that the BPA probably originated from a surprising source: Hard plastic trash discarded in the oceans and the epoxy plastic paint used to seal the hulls of ships. 

“We were quite surprised to find that polycarbonate plastic biodegrades in the environment,” said Katsuhiko Saido, Ph.D. He reported on the discovery March 23 at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, being held in San Francisco. 

Saido and Hideto Sato, Ph.D., and colleagues are with Nihon University, Chiba, Japan. “Polycarbonates are very hard plastics, so hard they are used to make screwdriver handles, shatter-proof eyeglass lenses, and other very durable products. This finding challenges the wide public belief that hard plastics remain unchanged in the environment for decades or centuries.
–Science Daily

 EPA forcing cities to levy storm water fees
New environmental regulations are prompting cities to impose fees on property owners for the cost of managing storm water runoff, the leading cause of water pollution in most of the nation.

The Environmental Protection Agency has started issuing a series of limits on storm water pollution that will require local governments to spend large amounts of money on water quality and soon start slowly reshaping America’s roads, housing developments and even the traditional lawn.

The EPA for the first time is placing specific limits on how much storm water pollution can flow into the nation’s streams, rivers, lakes and bays. Federal courts have ruled that the Clean Water Act requires more stringent regulations.
–USA Today 

California at odds over tracking groundwater use
A state report says California should start tracking how much water is being pumped from underground aquifers to get a better measurement of what some officials consider unreliable supplies.

Each year, California gets at least one-third of its water supply from the ground. A bill passed by the Legislature last year set up a largely voluntary program to monitor groundwater basins, but the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends measuring how much is being pumped out as well.

Both cities and farmers have resisted attempts at groundwater permitting because they consider it a freely available resource.

The legislative analyst says groundwater is a shared public asset and suggests California follow models in other Western states that require active measurement of groundwater pumping.
–The San Jose Mercury News

Quenching the Middle East’s thirst
Historically, water unavailability has been a key concern across the Middle East and Africa. Many countries in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have renewable water resources per capita less than 1000 m3/year; the level that defines water scarcity.

 Furthermore, the geographic distribution of these limited water resources is highly uneven. Over 80% of the region is desert and receives little or no rainfall. Water supply provisions under such conditions have always been a key policy issue with social, economic and environmental ramifications. In the past it has been erratic rainfall and prolonged drought periods, widely believed to be manifestations of climate change, which have added a new dimension to the problem. This is particularly the case with Syria, Jordan, Israel and Algeria, which are facing severe water shortages.

While supplies are constrained, the demand for freshwater over the years has continued to increase at a rapid pace. This increase in demand is a result of several interplaying forces. Across MENA, the agricultural sector is the prime consumer of water. In some countries, it accounts for over 80% of the total annual water withdrawals. Agricultural subsidies, improving irrigation and pumping technologies and the discovery of fossil groundwater reserves have helped expansion of agricultural activity.
–Water World

Turtle Lake, Wis., cheese plant fined for pollution
Lake Country Dairy, Inc., which owns and operates a cheese production facility in Turtle Lake, has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle state claims under Wisconsin’s water pollution laws. The judgment resolves charges that Lake Country Dairy failed to properly manage its discharges of wastewater into the Village of Turtle Lake wastewater treatment plant since 2006.

Wisconsin law requires manufacturers such as Lake Country Dairy, Inc. to pre-treat wastewater resulting in discharges that do not contain pollutants at levels that contribute to a violation of the local water treatment plant’s permit and do not have a pH below 5.0 unless the treatment plant is specifically designed to handle acidic waste.

The complaint charges that Lake Country Dairy operated in violation of state water pollution statutes since 2006 by causing violations of the Village of Turtle Lake’s treatment plant permit on at least 13 occasions, and that it discharged wastewater with a pH below 5.0 on at least 15 occasions.
–The Barron News-Shield

Poll: U.S. enviromental concerns decline

March 22, 2010

Environmental concern declines, poll shows
Americans are now less worried about several environmental problems than at any time in the past 20 years, partly because they believe conditions are improving, according to a Gallup Poll.

 Their concern for each of eight environmental problems fell from a year ago and in all but two areas — global warming and maintenance of the nation’s fresh water supply — reached an all-time Gallup low.

 “It also may reflect greater public concern about economic issues, which is usually associated with a drop in environmental concern,” Gallup says in its release, adding that another factor may be “greater action on environmental issues at the federal, state, and local levels.”

 The declines are quite dramatic for some issues. 

Less than half, or 46%, of Americans worry a great deal about pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs, down from 72% in 1989.
–USA Today

 World Water Day: Raising awareness of clean water
Monday, March 22, is World Water Day, an observance sanctioned by the United Nations. 

An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide rely on unsafe drinking-water sources. Therefore the theme of World Water Day 2010 is focusing on raising awareness of water quality under the theme “Clean Water for a Healthy World.” 

World Water Day has been observed annually since 1992.

Some fish stocks rebounding, report says
A new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report shows that the last decade has been a period of progress in rebuilding depleted fish stocks, sustaining many fisheries populations, and gaining a better understanding of the complex relationships between marine species and their habitats. 

The report cites the Alaskan groundfish fisheries—walleye pollock, Pacific cod, rockfishes and Atka mackerel—as a prime example of how managers and fishermen are working together to keep fish harvest rates at sustainable levels while reducing risks to other species in the ecosystem, including marine mammals, juvenile fish and other fish species not being targeted. 

These findings are one of a number of highlights from the nation’s coastal communities that are described in the newly released NOAA report Our Living Oceans: Report on the Status of U.S. Living Marine Resources

While the report details much progress, it also outlines significant challenges, including ending overfishing for about 20 percent of U.S. stocks where overfishing persists.
–NOAA news release

 EPA delays part of Florida water rules
The Environmental Protection Agency is delaying the downstream portion of water pollution rules being developed to control urban and farm runoff in Florida.

Peter Silva, the agency’s assistant administrator, advised Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole of the decision in a letter .

The downstream rules will be delayed until next year when the agency also will be working on similar regulations for estuaries and coastal waters.

The agency is still on track, though, for finalizing rules for lakes and springs by Oct. 15. The pollution has been blamed for causing algae blooms.
–The Associated Press

DNR won’t expand L. Minnetonka milfoil treatment
Bay-wide chemical treatments worked well to kill Eurasian water milfoil on Lake Minnetonka, but they won’t be expanded this year because of other troubling changes in the water, the Department of Natural Resources has ruled. 

Milfoil was nearly eliminated on Grays Bay and greatly reduced on Phelps Bay after chemical treatments last summer. But some desirable native plants disappeared with the unwanted weeds. Water clarity also dropped on Grays Bay. 

It’s not certain that the chemical affected water clarity, but both developments have given the DNR pause about expanding the treatments, said Chip Welling, DNR coordinator of aquatic invasive species management.
–The Star Tribune

 Anoka County preserves Rum River land
Anoka County is buying a prime tract of land for a natural area along the Rum River in Andover and Oak Grove.

The 590-acre property is one of the largest undeveloped tracts in the metro area, officials said.

 “It’s a real gem,” said John VonDeLinde, Anoka County parks and recreation director. Cedar Creek flows through the property, which has wetlands, flood plain, upland forests and grasslands, he noted.
–The Star Tribune

Lamprey battle offers hope for defeating Asian carp
The forecast was grim.

A parasitic invasive species that fed on healthy trout, salmon and catfish had entered the Great Lakes through its shipping canals, quickly asserted its dominance, and pushed the region’s commercial and sport fishing industries to the brink.

 The invader was the sea lamprey, a razor-toothed, eel-like monster that attaches itself to large fish and sucks the life out of them. And in the 1940s, with no known predators and no clear road map to stop them, many feared the sea lamprey would take over the largest freshwater body in the world.

More than 50 years after biologists launched an all-out assault on the sea lamprey — among the most intensive and costly invasive species eradication efforts in history — the war is all but over. With science, money and muscle, biologists have reduced the sea lamprey population by 90 percent and restored the natural balance to the Great Lakes.
–The Chicago Tribune

Six frequently asked questions about Asian carp
The Asian carp’s presence is highly contentious in the Midwest, with ramifications that could affect the economy as well as the environment. Here’s a primer on the Asian carp and why this invasive species poses such a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem. 

What is the Asian carp?

It’s a collective term that describes four species of fish that originated in China but have shown up in the United States: the silver, bighead, grass, and black carp. The bighead and silver carp are the ones that have made their way to the front door of the Great Lakes system. 

Grass and black carp can be found farther south, in the Mississippi River. But “they’re not knocking at the door [of Lake Michigan] yet,” says Jennifer Nalbone, director of navigation and invasive species for Great Lakes United, a coalition of advocacy groups.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 Company says it can lock carbon in cement
It seems like alchemy: a Silicon Valley start-up says it has found a way to capture the carbon dioxide emissions from coal and gas power plants and lock them into cement.

If it works on a mass scale, the company, Calera, could turn that carbon into gold.

Cement production is a large source of carbon emissions in the United States, and coal-fired electricity plants are the biggest source. As nations around the world press companies to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions, a technology that makes it profitable to do so could be very popular. Indeed, Calera’s marketing materials may be one of the rare places where glowing quotes from a coal company and the Sierra Club appear together.
–The New York Times

 DNR seeks to de-list Minnesota wolves
The Minnesota gray wolf should be removed immediately from the federal government’s endangered and threatened species list and returned to state management, according to a petition filed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 

The DNR filed the petition with the Washington, D.C., office of the U.S. Department of the Interior and asked the government to make its decision within the next 90 days. The petition is a procedural step between state and federal natural resource conservation agencies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has tried to delist the wolf in Minnesota and the western Great Lakes region from federal protection on two occasions. Both times the decision was overturned due to legal challenges related to procedural issues. 

“We filed the petition because it is time to have the federal classification match the Minnesota reality,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. “Federal officials agree that the Minnesota gray wolf population is not threatened or endangered. They agree our wolf management plan ensures the long-term survival of the wolf.”
–DNR News Release

 Florida eyes rivers for drinking water
State water managers and utilities, some offering determined resistance, are drafting long-term plans for taking drinking water from Northeast Florida’s rivers.

 Specifically, they are targeting Black Creek in Clay County, the St. Marys River on the Georgia border and the Ocklawaha River in Putnam County. Together, they could yield 164 million gallons a day for utilities that rely on the increasingly strained Floridan aquifer. 

The plans may never be used, and just discussing them is stirring strong reactions from both sides, environmentalists and utilities. 

But the St. Johns River Water Management District is saying there are no more easy alternatives.
–The Jacksonville Times-Union

 Thompson Reuters goes greener
At Thomson Reuters’ sprawling campus in Eagan, employees on a committee dubbed “Bluebirds and Beyond” volunteered to work in a carpentry workshop on a recent afternoon, nailing together cedar birdhouses. 

Meanwhile, on a paved “Blue Bird Trail” that winds more than two miles past ponds and meadows, other employees were hiking, hoping for a glimpse of the deer, coyotes, wild turkeys and jackrabbits that populate the company’s land near Hwy. 149 and Opperman Drive. 

With an array of conservation projects underway, the landscape here is changing. This summer, it will bloom with wildflowers as the birds and wildlife get an upgrade in their habitat. 

That’s because more than 100 employees have been volunteering for stewardship projects that began last year with the removal of invasive plant species and reseeding.
–The Star Tribune

Tell the EPA what you think on protecting water

March 18, 2010

What is the EPA doing wrong? What’s it doing right? And how could the federal agency do a better job of protecting and cleaning up the country’s waters?

Here is your chance to tell agency administrators what you think.

For two week, the EPA is holding a public web-based listening session in advance of a big national conference on water in April.

Here is the EPA news release announcing the listening session:

Is The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public input on how the agency can better protect and improve the health of our waters. For a two- week period, EPA is holding a Web discussion forum on how the nation can better manage some of the most significant water pollution problems facing our nation. The feedback received on the online forum will help shape the discussion at EPA’s upcoming conference in April, Coming Together for Clean Water, where we will engage approximately 100 executive and local level water leads on the agency’s clean water agenda.

“We look forward to reviewing the ideas and feedback from the public,” said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator EPA’s Office of Water. “This online discussion is for anyone who wants to share their best solutions for restoring healthy waters and creating sustainable communities across the country.”

EPA wants to receive input from water professionals, advocates, and anyone interested in water quality issues about best solutions—from planning, scientific tools, low impact development, to green infrastructure and beyond—in controlling water pollution and how resources can be better focused to improve these efforts.

To join the discussion: http://blog.epa.gov/waterforum/

‘Dead zones’ expand; ag-water conference set

March 15, 2010

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

Ocean ‘dead zones’ spreading
Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth’s oceans, particularly off the United States’ Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say.

 They warn that the oceans’ complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.

In some spots off Washington state and Oregon, the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.

 Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas — in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and in some places, such as the Pacific Northwest, encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline.
–McClatchy Newspapers

Minnesota summit set on ag and water quality
The Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America — in partnership with the Freshwater Society — has scheduled  the 2010 Wetlands Summit, Agriculture and Water Summit 2010: Keeping Water on the Land for Conservation and Production.

The conference will be Saturday, March 27, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

The goal of the conference is to connect farmers, researchers, conservationists, students, and anyone interested in working together to protect  water resources while ensuring productive farms.

The morning session will feature Bruce Wilson and Gary Sands from the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering discussing the history of agricultural drainage in Minnesota and current strategies for conserving water in the soil and reducing the flow of nitrogen to surface waters. A panel discussion will feature Warren Formo from the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition; Tim Larson from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Tony Thompson, a corn, soybean and native plant farmer from Windom; and Martin Jaus, an organic milk producer.

The keynote speech will be given by Jon Foley, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment titled The Other Inconvenient Truth: A Global Challenge for Agriculture and the Environment” addressing the challenges of feeding our growing world population while protecting the land and water resources necessary to sustain the planet.

Aging water mains fail across the U.S.
One recent morning, George S. Hawkins, a long-haired environmentalist who now leads one of the largest and most prominent water and sewer systems, trudged to a street corner here where water was gushing into the air. 

A cold snap had ruptured a major pipe installed the same year the light bulb was invented. Homes near the fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood were quickly going dry, and Mr. Hawkins, who had recently taken over the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority despite having no experience running a major utility, was responsible for fixing the problem. 

As city employees searched for underground valves, a growing crowd started asking angry questions. Pipes were breaking across town, and fire hydrants weren’t working, they complained. Why couldn’t the city deliver water, one man yelled at Mr. Hawkins.

Such questions are becoming common across the nation as water and sewer systems break down.
— The New York Times

 EPA and Florida at odds over water quality
A political battle is heating up between Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how best to clean up the state’s polluted waters.

 A lawsuit filed by environmentalists has forced the EPA to begin setting hard numeric limits on nutrient pollution in Florida waters. Those waters exceeding the limits would be considered “impaired,” triggering forced reductions on polluters.

 The environmental groups say they were forced to file the suit in July 2008 because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had done little to halt the degradation of rivers, lakes, springs and bays. Nutrients, mostly from fertilizers and minimally treated sewage, can trigger algae blooms that are deadly to fish and unhealthy for humans.

“We say that Florida’s economy and environment are linked,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, one of the groups that filed suit. “If we can’t stop the state from degrading our waters now, they’ll just get worse.”

 State environmental officials say they agree numeric criteria are needed for nitrogen and phosphorus, the main nutrients. But they claim EPA’s numbers are too stringent and would require pollution reductions in many rivers and lakes that are in good shape.
–The Tampa Tribune

 Bill aims to halt invasive species by limiting boat ramps
How far should Minnesota go to prevent invasive species such as zebra mussels from getting into more lakes?

Should boaters get a $250 fine for accidentally moving bait bucket water from one lake to another? Should there be a moratorium on new public lake accesses? Should the penalty for transporting a lake weed be the same as poaching a deer? 

As unwanted aquatic critters such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas infest more Minnesota waters each year, the public cry to stop the spread is getting louder.

To date, the Department of Natural Resources has relied on boat inspections, stiffer laws and public information to try to slow the spread of lake pests. 

Now the problem hits upon a bigger societal question: Who gets to use Minnesota’s lakes?

“If your only solution is to ban access, you’re giving unfair access to people who own lakeshore access,” said Shawn Kellett, a member of the group Anglers for Habitat. 

Kellett is referring to new legislative proposals ordering the Minnesota DNR to stop developing new public accesses at lakes where no access currently exists. The moratorium would exist for the next five years until the agency develops better ways to control aquatic species.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Water systems sue over Atrazine
A group of public water systems in Missouri and Kansas are part of a federal lawsuit filed in Illinois by 16 water systems against the leading maker of a popular farm herbicide.

 The lawsuit seeks at least $5 million from Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, N.C., and its parent, Syngenta, AG, Basel, Switzerland, in damages and to pay for the costs to treat water laced with atrazine.

Cameron, Mo., northeast of Kansas City; and Concordia, Mo., east of Kansas City; Miami County Rural Water District No. 2, Spring Hill, Kan., just southwest of Kansas City; and the city of Carbondale, Kan., about 60 miles southwest of Kansas City, are among the group of cities and water districts in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illiniois, Indiana and Ohio involved. 

The group’s attorney is seeking to make the lawsuit a class-action suit on behalf of other cities and water systems. 

Syngenta is a major manufacturer of the herbicide atrazine, short for 2-chloro-4-ethylamino-6-isopropyl amino-s-triazine.
–The KC Tribune  

Climate change stressing  birds
Changes in the global climate are imposing additional stress on hundreds of species of migratory birds in the United States that are already threatened by other environmental factors, according to a new Interior Department report. 

The latest version of the department’s annual State of the Birds Report shows that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or suffering from population decline. 

For the first time, the report adds climate change to other factors threatening bird populations, including destruction of habitat, hunting, pesticides, invasive species and loss of wetlands.
–The New York Times 

Judge blocks St. Croix bridge
For the second time, a U.S. district judge in Minneapolis has blocked plans for a St. Croix River bridge south of Stillwater. 

Chief Judge Michael Davis ruled in favor of the Sierra Club in its lawsuit to prevent construction of the bridge. 

“It’s not a win for us. It’s a win for the river,” said St. Croix Valley Sierra Club spokesman Jim Rickard. 

In a 93-page decision, Davis found that the National Park Service’s approval of the bridge plans violated federal law.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

International scientists to review climate change research
A group of top scientists from around the world will review the research and management practices of the United Nations climate change panel so that it can try to avoid the kinds of errors that have brought its work into question in recent months, officials said.

 Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, said that the InterAcademy Council, a consortium of the world’s most prestigious scientific societies, would name scientists to take a thorough look at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

 The panel has come under sharp attack after revelations of several mistakes in its most recent report, published in 2007, including a poorly sourced and exaggerated account of how quickly the Himalayan glaciers are melting.

 Scientists and officials say that the panel’s finding that the earth is warming — probably as a result of human activity — remains indisputable. But critics have used the errors to raise doubts about the credibility of the entire 3,000-page study.
–The New York Times 

Huge ethanol producer to cut water use 22%
Poet, the world’s largest producer of ethanol, says it can do the world one better and embarked on an ambitious initiative called Ingreenuity that first seeks to reduce its water consumption by 22 percent.

 The company wants to squeeze water use at its 26 processing plants by a billion gallons – and wants to reach that goal by 2014.

“We’ve had a 20 percent increase in ethanol yields since our inception, but we’re not done yet. We’re not satisfied,” Poet President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Broin told employees at the company’s Sioux Falls headquarters. “This is how we’re going to define our sustainability as we go forward. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do – it’s the right thing for our planet, and it’s the right thing for future generations.” 

If successful, Ingreenuity would reduce Poet’s water use per gallon of ethanol produced from the current average of 3 gallons to 2.33, or a 22 percent reduction. When it started producing ethanol in 1987, Poet used 17 gallons of water to create 1 gallon of ethanol.
–The Argus Leader

Anoka County aquifers could drop
There’s a fervor to Jamie Schurbon’s voice as he warns of a coming crisis few can see. 

If Metropolitan Council population projections come true, increased water use in urban parts of the metro area will lead to significantly lowered aquifer levels, to the detriment of lakes, ponds and even some shallower private wells. 

Schurbon, a water resource specialist with the Anoka Conservation District, hopes information being gathered now will give water a more prominent place at the table as development resumes in the county after being interrupted by the recession.
–The Star Tribune 

Judge blasts North Dakota water pipeline
A federal judge has issued a harsh rebuke to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, ordering the agency to conduct more studies on the potential environmental impact of a project to divert water from the Missouri River to a large swath of North Dakota. 

 The Northwest Area Water Supply Project would carry water from Lake Sakakawea, a Missouri River reservoir in central North Dakota, to the city of Minot, N.D., where it would be distributed to 10 counties. Most of the planned 45-mile pipeline has already been finished. 

In her opinion in Manitoba v. Salazar, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Canadian province, which claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that the agency failed to take the necessary “hard look” at the project’s environmental impact as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
–The New York Times

 Sierra Club’s Edgar Wabum dies at 103
Edgar Wayburn, a physician who joined the Sierra Club to take a burro trip and then went on to become a major figure in the conservation movement, leading campaigns that preserved more than 100 million wild acres, died at his home in San Francisco. He was 103.

 In announcing his death, Sierra Club called Dr. Wayburn “the 20th-century John Muir,” referring to its founder, who preserved the Yosemite Valley.

When President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Wayburn the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, he said Dr. Wayburn had “saved more of our wilderness than any other person alive.”

Dr. Wayburn had central roles in protecting 104 million acres of Alaskan wilderness; establishing and enlarging Redwood National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore in California; and starting the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco.
–The New York Times

 Iron, fluoride threaten India’s aquifers
Ground water in more than a third of Indian districts is not fit for drinking. The government, in reply to a parliamentary question, admitted that iron levels in ground water are higher than those prescribed in 254 districts while fluoride levels have breached the safe level in 224 districts.

The alarming situation could bring trouble for the government, which has promised to provide drinking water to all habitations by 2012 under the millennium development goals.

While ground water is not the only source of drinking water that government utilises, it is one of the key supplies and the dependence on ground water has been increasing over years.

The government, in its reply, said salinity had risen beyond tolerance levels in 162 districts while arsenic levels were found higher than permissible limits in 34 districts.
–The Times of India

Study links atrazine to frog sex changes

March 9, 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.

Atrazine alters frogs’ gender, study finds
A new study has found that male frogs exposed to the herbicide atrazine — one of the most common man-made chemicals found in U.S. waters — can make a startling developmental U-turn, becoming so completely female that they can mate and lay viable eggs.

 The study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seems likely to add to the attention focused on a weedkiller that is widely used on cornfields. The Environmental Protection Agency, which re-approved the use of atrazine in 2006, has already begun a new evaluation of its potential health effects.

 Its manufacturer, Swiss agri-business giant Syngenta, says research has proven that the chemical is safe for animals and for people, who could be exposed to trace amounts in drinking water. 

But in recent years, a series of scientific studies have seemed to show atrazine interfering with the hormone systems that guide development in fish, birds, rats and frogs. In many cases, the result has been “feminized” males, with behaviors or body parts more like those of females.
–The Washington Post 

U of Iowa aims to hire 10 sustainability profs
University of Iowa officials are working to draw 10 experts on water sustainability to tenure-track positions by the fall of 2011. With searches underway now, five of the 10 may be here by July 1.

The water-sustainability hirings will be the first group of the 100 new tenure-track positions that the UI  Strategic Plan will create. 

A committee overseeing the hirings has been working for more than a year on the new initiative. UI administration are searching to fill five slots soon, while various departments will begin the process of hiring the other five next fall. The first round of candidates began visiting campus in February. 

“For [water sustainability] to be studied, and talked about, and investigated across campus, we think, is an outstanding opportunity,” said Larry Weber, director of the UI’s hydroscience labs.

The 10 new positions will cost roughly $1 million plus start-up costs, UI Provost Wallace Loh said.
–The Daily Iowan

 Everglades restoration threatened
It started out so big, so bold and with so much promise for healing the River of Grass that environmentalists proclaimed it the holy grail of Everglades restoration.

But 20 months after Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled his $1.75 billion bid to buy out the U.S. Sugar Corp., the grail is at serious risk of slipping away — rather, what’s left of it. 

Crist remains confident his landmark land buy will survive. “It’s a done deal,” he told The Miami Herald. “It’s got to be done.” 

Others, even supporters like Drew Martin, Everglades chairman for the Sierra Club, are less certain. “There is no question it’s hanging by a thread,” he said.
–The Miami Herald

Conservation easements go unchecked
Minnesota is preparing to pay more landowners to set aside thousands of acres for conservation, but it appears state officials have little idea how much they have already spent on such projects over the years and have rarely monitored how the land was being used. 

A continuing inventory of the properties, ordered by a state panel, shows that the Department of Natural Resources now has more than 1,000 such “conservation easements” across Minnesota, but has not inspected many properties in years. 

Use of conservation easements has grown since the practice started in the 1970s, exploding in recent years.
–The Star Tribune 

Minnesota DNR  lacks land management $$
The Department of Natural Resources continues to buy land for wildlife areas, parks, trails and other natural areas even though it lacks adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land, according to a report released by the legislative auditor.

 The report notes that the DNR or citizens advisory groups have recommended significant acquisitions of land and conservation easements in recent years — including a 64 percent increase in wildlife management areas, land open to public hunting.

 “Despite these ambitious proposals, DNR does not appear to have adequate resources to manage and maintain its current land holdings,” the report said.
–The Star Tribune

 EPA enforcement slows
The Environmental Protection Agency is riling many businesses with proposals to regulate greenhouse gases for the first time, but data suggest it has been slow out of the gate under President Barack Obama in enforcing existing regulations on traditional pollutants. 

In fiscal 2009, the EPA’s enforcement office required polluters to spend more than $5 billion on cleanup and emission controls—down from $11.8 billion the previous year, according to a report recently published by the agency. The report, which examines the EPA’s performance in enforcing limits on pollutants like sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and soot, covers the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, a period that covers the last 3½ months of President George W. Bush’s watch and the first 8½ months of Mr. Obama’s. 

Defendants in agency enforcement cases committed to cut pollution by about 580 million pounds in fiscal 2009, down from 3.9 billion pounds in fiscal 2008, according to the report.
–The Wall Street Journal

Obama adviser defends climate science
The disclosure of research “missteps” hasn’t shaken the consensus that manmade emissions from burning fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, President Barack Obama’s top science adviser said.

 The release of scientists’ e-mails and errors in a report by a United Nations climate panel show researchers are human, John Holdren said at an energy conference in Washington’s Maryland suburbs.

The errors don’t alter the reality that carbon dioxide emissions are warming the earth, he said. 

Opponents of limits on emissions from burning coal and oil have seized on the miscues to challenge Obama’s plan to put a price on gases that cause global warming. Climate-change legislation has stalled in the Senate and more than 80 lawmakers are seeking to curb the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new greenhouse-gas limits. 

“Fossil-fuel and biomass burning, and land-use change are almost certainly responsible for a large part of the changes that are being observed,” Holdren said. “Nothing in the recent controversies cast doubt on any of those fundamental propositions.”
–bloomberg.com 

Take time to test your well
National Ground Water Awareness Week, sponsored annually by the National Ground Water Association, is March 7-13.

The majority of public water systems in the United States use groundwater as their primary source to provide drinking water to an estimated 90 million persons. An additional 15 million U.S. homes use private wells, which also rely on groundwater.

 Owners of private wells are responsible for ensuring that their well water is safe from harmful groundwater contaminants. These contaminants can occur naturally, but are usually the result of local land use practices (e.g., fertilizer and pesticide use), manufacturing processes, and leakage from nearby septic systems. The presence of contaminants in drinking water can lead to illness, disease, and other health problems.

NGWA uses this week to stress the importance of yearly water testing and well maintenance (4). Private well owners can take simple steps to reduce well water contamination risks. These precautions include ensuring that the well is located away from potential contamination sources (e.g., septic and waste-water systems, animal enclosures, and chemical storage areas) and conducting an annual maintenance check of the well.

 Additional information about Ground Water Awareness Week, well maintenance, water testing, and well water treatment is available from the Centers for Disease Control at http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/index.html, from the Environmental Protection Agency at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/privatewells/whatyoucando.html  and from NGWA at http://www.wellowner.org.
–Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

 World Bank warns of groundwater crisis in India
About 60 per cent of aquifers in India will be in a critical condition in another 15 years if the trend of indiscriminate exploitation of ground water continues, the World Bank has said in a report.

 In its latest report on the country’s ground water level, the bank has expressed concern over the rate of depletion of water table in the country and has called for immediate corrective measures.

Around 29 per cent of ground water blocks in the country are semi-critical, critical or overexploited and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. By 2025, an estimated 60 per cent of ground water blocks will be in a critical condition. Climate change will further strain ground water resources, the report said.

India is the largest user of ground water in the world, with an estimated use of 230 cubic km of ground water every year––more than a quarter of the global level. Now,  ground water supports around 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture and more than 80 per cent of rural and urban water supplies.

“Out of a total of 5,723 ground water blocks in the country, 1,615 are classified as semi-critical, critical or overexploited, and regulatory directives have been issued by the Central Ground Water Authority for 108 blocks.  However, neither the authority nor the state ground water agencies have the resources or the personnel to oversee the enforcement of these regulations.”
The Deccan Herald

 Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration
Who has the right to bodies of water, in our state, our country, our world? What are the issues involved in making water available to us? How does gender affect the right to water?

These are just some of the questions a group of women began asking a couple of years ago. Their inquiry has blossomed into a project called Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration, which includes a visual arts exhibit, with music, dance and poetry performances, a two-day symposium and multiple lectures.

“Bringing awareness, gathering unity and encouraging legislation about the global fresh water crisis-and the part that women play” is what all of this activity is about, said Liz Dodson, board member on the Women’s Caucus for Art and coordinator of the project. “We can see [the crisis] especially in Africa, where women are the ones who need to gather fresh water for their families. Here, in Minnesota, it’s about women being part of water management efforts.”

The month-long WWR project began on Feb. 26 at a reception at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. At the center of the WWR project is the exhibit of work by around 50 women artists from Minnesota and around the world. Displayed in the Nash Gallery of the Regis Center for Art, their artwork is inspired by the symbolism and deep meaning of water.

Throughout the month of March, events will be held to challenge people to think analytically and emotionally about global and local water rights.
–Minnesota Women’s Press

Methane being released undersea
Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.

Now researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and elsewhere say this change is under way in a little-studied area under the sea, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, west of the Bering Strait.

Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the university and a leader of the study, said it was too soon to say whether the findings suggest that a dangerous release of methane looms.
–The New York Times

 Wind turbines in Lake Michigan?
Halfway up Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, wooded bluffs rise next to dunes, ice-fringed winter beaches, and steel-gray water stretching as far as the eye can see.

 Pentwater, a resort town whose year-round residents number fewer than 1,000, sits in the middle of some of the most prized lakefront in the region. So when a Norwegian-American company recently proposed putting up as many as 200 wind turbines in the water, many residents were appalled.

 “People are very up in arms about this,” says Juanita Pierman, Pentwater’s village president. “We still need to find alternative forms of energy, but I’m not sure putting windmills two or three miles out in the lake is going to do it.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 E.U. eases resistance to genetic modification
The European Commission began a new push to allow farmers in Europe to grow more biotech crops, clearing a genetically modified potato for cultivation despite persistent public opposition to the technology.

 In the first such decision in more than a decade, the commission approved the Amflora potato produced by the German company BASF for cultivation inside the 27-country European Union. John Dalli, the bloc’s health commissioner, said the potatoes could be planted in Europe, with some conditions, as soon as next month.

 The potato is engineered to be unusually rich in a starch suitable for making glossy paper and other products, as well as for feeding animals.

 Currently the only other biotech crop grown in Europe is a type of corn produced by Monsanto, which was approved in 1998.
–The New York Times

 USDA seeks water quality proposals
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking project proposals that will improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River in 41 eligible watersheds in 12 states.

The Request for Proposals  for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, through which up to $75 million will be available for partnership projects, was published in the Federal Register.Proposals are due by May 1. The RFP explains the procedures for potential partners to sign agreements with USDA for projects that meet with the initiative’s objectives. 

In Minnesota, three watersheds are eligible to participate: the Root, Middle Minnesota and Sauk. 

For more information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including the RFP and the eligible watersheds, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi.html.
–USDA news release

Manure: The huge new pollution challenge

March 1, 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.

Manure: The new pollution challenge
Nearly 40 years after the first Earth Day, this is irony: The United States has reduced the manmade pollutants that left its waterways dead, discolored and occasionally flammable.

But now, it has managed to smother the same waters with the most natural stuff in the world.

Animal manure, a byproduct as old as agriculture, has become an unlikely modern pollution problem, scientists and environmentalists say. The country simply has more dung than it can handle: Crowded together at a new breed of megafarms, livestock produce three times as much waste as people, more than can be recycled as fertilizer for nearby fields.
–The Washington Post

Court rulings hamstring EPA enforcement
Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.

As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.

Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.
–The New York Times

 Dairy lobby gains influence in Wisconsin
As the number of factory farms has grown in Wisconsin, so has the power of the Dairy Business Association, a lobbying group that has gained unprecedented influence over the permitting and regulation of the giant farms — in some cases, crafting the law itself. 

Correspondence and memos obtained through the state’s open records law show the association is heavily involved not only in shaping policy but also has intervened in the state’s handling of individual permit applications. 

The DBA is the most powerful advocate on behalf of the state’s biggest dairies, those with 700 or more cows, requiring them to get pollution permits from the state Department of Natural Resources. Each of the farms produces millions of gallons of liquid manure that is stored in large lagoons and spread on fields. In some cases, waste has run into nearby streams or polluted nearby wells. 

Despite the volume of waste, an investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal found inspections by the DNR have been spotty, with some farms being checked only once during the five-year life of their permit.
–The Wisconsin State Journal 

EPA criticizes Polymet mine proposal
The Environmental Protection Agency says the proposed Polymet copper-nickel mine proposed for northeastern Minnesota should not go ahead as currently planned. 

The EPA listed more than two-dozen so-called inadequacies in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ draft environmental impact statement, or EIS. 

The DNR’s Steve Colvin says the criticisms come in part because of a difference in approach by the two levels of government. 

“In the federal process, you’re expecting the information in the EIS to be more detailed, very close to what you need to make a permit decision, whereas in the state process you’re not at that permitting level of detail,” Colvin said. 

The EPA warned of possible impacts to water quality and wetlands, increased emissions of mercury into the Lake Superior watershed, and what it called “inadequate financial assurance for performance.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Climate change panel seeks review of procedures
Because of recent criticism of its work, the Nobel Prize-winning international panel studying global warming is seeking independent outside review for how it makes major reports, the panel said. 

Critics have found a few unsettling errors — including incorrect projections of retreats in Himalayan glaciers — in the thousands of pages of the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Scientists say the problems, ranging from typos in key dates to sloppy sourcing, are minor and have nothing to do with the major conclusions about man-made global warming and how it will harm people and ecosystems. But researchers acknowledge that they have been slow to respond to criticisms in the past three months. And those criticisms seem to have resonated in poll results and news media coverage that have put climate scientists on the defensive. 

“The IPCC clearly has suffered a loss in public confidence,” Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, a chairman of one of the IPCC’s four main research groups, told the Associated Press on Saturday. “And one of the things that I think the world deserves is a clear understanding of what aspects the IPCC does well and what aspects of the IPCC can be improved.”
The Washington Post

Minnesota budget fix taps boating fees
There’s no doubt Minnesota’s budget is in crisis. But now the state’s 860,000 boaters might help close that $1.2 billion deficit.

 Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s supplemental budget calls for $1.2 million to be taken from the state’s Water Recreation Account — funds generated by boat registration and other boater fees — and put in the general fund.

 The diversion apparently is unprecedented.
–The Star Tribune

 Obama Great Lakes plan lauded, questioned
The Obama Administration’s Great Lakes restoration plan is getting favorable marks in the upper midwest, but many details, including most of the funding, remain to be worked out.

 The five year action plan spells out specific targets and goals the Obama Administration wants to reach while spending more than $2 billion over five years on its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

 The plan takes on challenges including invasive species, long-term pollution and wildlife restoration.

 Tom Landwehr with the Nature Conservancy in Minnesota says the plan lays out a coordinated approach to restoring a huge swath of U.S. territory.

“There are so many…entities that have some role in management regulation of the Great Lakes, that it’s absolutely imperitive that there be some kind of coordinating plans to go forward,” Landwehr said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 USGS scientists take aim at Asian carp
Scientists are stepping up the quest for new poisons and other tools that could prevent Asian carp from gaining a foothold in the Great Lakes, Obama administration officials told a congressional panel. 

U.S. Geological Survey experts are looking at short- and long-term methods of reining in the invasive fish amid rising fears they may have eluded electrical barriers on Chicago waterways and are poised to colonize Lake Michigan, said Leon Carl, the agency’s Midwest executive. 

“The pressure is on our scientists,” Carl said, adding that money provided under the Obama administration’s $78.5 million carp control plan would help researchers make progress. “I think we’re going to do some really exciting research.” 

Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the studies and other proposals in the government plan have good prospects to succeed — despite complaints from many in the region that the strategy is inadequate because it doesn’t close shipping locks that could open a carp pathway to the lake.
–BusinessWeek

 Groundwater use threatens Anoka County lakes
Anoka County lake levels would drastically drop and many wetlands and streams would dry up if a Metropolitan Council study’s predictions come to fruition.

Rainfall is the short-term culprit in lakes, streams and wetlands drying up, but the long-term threat is the over-pumping of groundwater, said Jamie Schurbon, a water resource specialist for the Anoka Conservation District.

A Metropolitan Council study predicts that groundwater pumping will lead to greater drops in surface water depths in Anoka County than in other areas of the Twin Cities. Depths in many areas of the county could drop one to five feet by 2030 and three to 10 feet by 2050.

“We’re building to that point where if everything is as it is indicated now, we’re going to have to make some really hard decisions at a local level about growth and development,” Schurbon said.
–The Coon Rapids Herald

Funding for trails becomes an issue
Minnesota lawmakers clearly like state hiking and biking trails. After all, they’ve authorized almost 2,600 miles of them.

 But with only half of those trails developed so far, it’s just as clear they haven’t been as eager to pay for them. 

That inaction has produced a $440 million funding gap — the difference between the price tags of what they’ve authorized and the money they’ve directed to them. Under a recent scenario that anticipates $20 million in trails-related bonding each two-year budget cycle, it will take until 2044 just to develop the ones already in the pipeline. 

“There’s a significant backlog,” conceded Forrest Boe, deputy director of the Parks and Trails Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  “That says a couple of things. Some of them will have to wait a while. The Legislature is taking a look at that, and they need to decide whether to make greater investments to speed up the process or to continue as they have.”
–St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Counties, Chamber oppose MPCA landfill rules
Lobbyists at the Capitol are kicking back against new permitting and financial assurance rules for landfills that were recently released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA). And some state legislators are likewise questioning whether the rules reflect the original legislative intent of the law that spawned the new rules. 

Business and municipal interests such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Minnesota Counties are concerned that new draft rules released by PCA on Nov. 30 could ultimately close landfills in the state. 

Mike Robertson, a lobbyist for the Chamber, testified in front of the House Environment Policy and Oversight Committee that a coalition of 40 counties and private landfill operators are worried that new permitting rules and financial assurance requirements (designed to ensure that operators could pay for any environmental clean-up needed at a later date) for existing and new landfills would put many such operations out of business.
–Politics in Minnesota 

Wisconsin considers permit process changes
Two proposed general permits covering livestock operations of different sizes will be the topic of public hearings statewide in March and April, and a public comment period through April 23. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the state is proposing to issue standardized water protection permits known as ‘general permits’ instead of writing the permits individually as a way to free up time for compliance and inspections of large-scale livestock operations.

“Wisconsin has among the most rigorous permitting standards in the nation right now, and our proposed general permits have the same requirements,” says Gordon Stevenson, who leads the Department of Natural Resources runoff management section. “But we are the last state to use individual permits for large-scale livestock operations.”

Stevenson says since the requirements for many of these large operations are the same, there is limited need for DNR staff to draft each permit individually. Switching to standardized general permits would allow DNR staff to spend more time in the field inspecting those livestock operations to make sure they are following requirements for manure storage, handling, spreading, and other activities.
–Wisconsin Ag Connection

North Dakota pesticide use up 30 percent in 4 years
Acres treated with pesticides across the state set a new record in 2008 by jumping more than 10 million acres, according to a recently released study. 

Conducted by North Dakota State University in collaboration with the state’s agricultural statistics office, “Pesticide Use and Pest Management Practices in North Dakota 2008” revealed that pesticide-treated acres jumped nearly 30 percent, from 22.5 million acres in 2004 to 32.6 million acres in 2008, the highest recorded figure since the study began in 1978. 

Between 1978 and 2004, pesticide-treated acres fluctuated between 16 million and 22.5 million acres. 

“With this study we try to demonstrate a reduction of pesticide use because we want to use more biological management practices, so when you see a big increase like this you really wonder,” said Marcia McMullen, a plant pathologist at NDSU who helped with the study.
–The Minot Daily News

 Guelph, Ont., to study grey water use
The city has received more than $70,000 in funding to study the feasibility of recycling grey water for residential toilet flushing.

 The funding comes from the Green Municipal Fund, administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

 “Canada-wide we’re the only community with this type of grey water recycling program, so it’s really quite exciting,” Wayne Galliher, the city’s water conservation project manager, said. 

A pilot project to test whether reusing grey water is feasible began about a year ago. Fourteen homes have reuse systems installed, and the city would like another 16 homeowners to sign on.
–guelphmercury.com