Archive for May, 2010

Groundwater contaminants, dioxins, atrazine

May 24, 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.

USGS finds contaminants in 20% of public wells tested
More than 20 percent of untreated water samples from 932 public wells across the nation contained at least one contaminant at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

 About 105 million people — or more than one-third of the nation’s population — receive their drinking water from one of the 140,000 public water systems across the United States that rely on groundwater pumped from public wells. 

The USGS study focused primarily on source (untreated) water collected from public wells before treatment or blending rather than the finished (treated) drinking water that water utilities deliver to their customers. 

“By focusing primarily on source-water quality, and by testing for many contaminants that are not regulated in drinking water, this USGS study complements the extensive monitoring of public water systems that is routinely conducted for regulatory and compliance purposes by federal, state and local drinking-water programs,” said Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water. “Findings assist water utility managers and regulators in making decisions about future monitoring needs and drinking-water issues.” 

Findings showed that naturally occurring contaminants, such as radon and arsenic, accounted for about three-quarters of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks in untreated source water. Naturally occurring contaminants are mostly derived from the natural geologic materials that make up the aquifers from which well water is withdrawn. 

Man-made contaminants were also found in untreated water sampled from the public wells, including herbicides, insecticides, solvents, disinfection by-products, nitrate, and gasoline chemicals. Man-made contaminants accounted for about one-quarter of contaminant concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks, but were detected in 64 percent of the samples, predominantly in samples from unconfined aquifers. 

The USGS also sampled paired source and finished (treated) water from a smaller subset of 94 public wells. Findings showed that many man-made organic contaminants detected in source water generally were detected in finished water at similar concentrations. Organic contaminants detected in both treated and source water typically were detected at concentrations well below human-health benchmarks, however.
–USGS News release

Hand soap dioxins found in Mississippi River
Specific dioxins derived from the antibacterial agent triclosan, used in many hand soaps, deodorants, dishwashing liquids and other consumer products, account for an increasing proportion of total dioxins in Mississippi River sediments, according to University of Minnesota research.

The study appears online in the May 18 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The researchers, from the university’s Institute of Technology (soon to be College of Science and Engineering), found that over the last 30 years, the levels of the four dioxins derived from triclosan have risen by 200 to 300 percent, while levels of all the other dioxins have dropped by 73 to 90 percent.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would study the safety of triclosan, which has been linked to disruptions of hormonal function and may also play a role in the evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. In papers published in 2003 and 2009, university civil engineering professor William Arnold and his colleague Kristopher McNeill, a former professor in the university’s Department of Chemistry, discovered that triclosan, when exposed to sunlight, generated a specific suite of four dioxins.

In the current study spearheaded by Jeff Buth, a recent Ph.D. graduate in chemistry (supervised by Arnold and McNeill), the researchers examined sediment core samples from Lake Pepin, an enlargement of the Mississippi River 60  miles downstream from St. Paul.. The sediment cores, containing a record of pollutant accumulation in the lake for the past 50 years, were analyzed for triclosan, the four dioxins derived from triclosan, and the entire family of dioxin chemicals. The study was a collaborative effort between researchers at the University of Minnesota, Pace Analytical (Minneapolis), the Science Museum of Minnesota and Virginia Tech.

Triclosan was first added to commercial liquid hand soap in 1987, and by 2001 about 76 percent of commercial liquid hand soaps contained it, researchers say. About 96 percent of triclosan from consumer products is disposed of in residential drains, leading to large loads of the chemical in water entering wastewater treatment plants.

The toxicity of the dioxins derived from triclosan currently is not well understood, nor is the extent of their distribution in the environment at large, Arnold says.
–University of Minnesota news release

Atrazine impedes fish spawning, study shows
Atrazine, one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, has been shown to affect reproduction of fish, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

 “Concentrations of atrazine commonly found in agricultural streams and rivers caused reduced reproduction and spawning, as well as tissue abnormalities in laboratory studies with fish,” said USGS scientist Donald Tillitt, the lead author of the study published in Aquatic Toxicology.

Fathead minnows were exposed to atrazine at the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center in Columbia, Mo., and observed for effects on egg production, tissue abnormalities and hormone levels.  Fish were exposed to concentrations ranging from zero to 50 micrograms per liter of atrazine for up to 30 days.  All tested levels of exposure are less than the USEPA Office of Pesticides Aquatic Life Benchmark of 65 micrograms per liter for chronic exposure of fish.  Thus, substantial reproductive effects were observed in this study at concentrations below the USEPA water-quality guideline. 

Study results show that normal reproductive cycling was disrupted by atrazine and fish did not spawn as much or as well when exposed to atrazine.  Researchers found that total egg production was lower in all atrazine-exposed fish, as compared to the non-exposed fish, within 17 to 20 days of exposure.  In addition, atrazine-exposed fish spawned less and there were abnormalities in reproductive tissues of both males and females.
–USGS news release 

 Research Council calls for climate change action
In its most comprehensive study so far, the nation’s leading scientific body declared that climate change is a reality and is driven mostly by human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The group, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued three reports describing the case for a harmful human influence on the global climate as overwhelming and arguing for strong immediate action to limit emissions of climate-altering gases in the United States and around the world — including the creation of a carbon pricing system.

 Congress requested the reports in 2008. This is the first time the academy has issued specific recommendations on how to mitigate or adapt to climate change. 

One of the reports, “Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change,” urges the United States to set a greenhouse gas emissions “budget” that restricts overall emissions and provides a measurable goal for policy makers and for industry. It does not recommend a specific target but says the range put forward by the Obama administration and Congress is a “reasonable goal.”
–The New York Times

Gulf oil spill imperils sea turtles
It is nesting season here, and just offshore, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle No. 15 circles in the water before dragging herself onto the sand to lay another clutch of eggs.

 The sea turtle, affectionately nicknamed Thelma by a National Park Service employee, has already beaten some terrible odds. Still in the egg, she was airlifted here from Mexico in the years after the 1979 blowout of the Ixtoc 1 rig, which spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and covered the turtles’ primary nesting place.

 Now Thelma and others of her species are being monitored closely by worried scientists as another major oil disaster threatens their habitat. Federal officials said that since April 30, 10 days after the accident on the Deepwater Horizon, they have recorded 156 sea turtle deaths; most of the turtles were Kemp’s ridleys. And though they cannot say for sure that the oil was responsible, the number is far higher than usual for this time of year, the officials said.
–The New York Times 

Nuclear dump proposed in Texas
Texas was all set to be part of an agreement with Vermont to dump nuclear waste in a remote region of the Lone Star state, and for the most part people living near the site were OK with it. 

Now, though, that compact could mushroom to include waste from 36 other states, reinvigorating those who oppose the project to fight harder. 

Environmentalists, geologists, the Texas League of Women Voters and others say the huge dumping ground will pollute groundwater and otherwise wreak havoc with the environment. The company that runs the site contends it’ll be safe and many local residents applaud any expansion as a way to bring more jobs and prosperity to the West Texas scrubland.
–The Associated Press

 Poison targets Asian carp in Chicago
The Little Calumet River became the latest battleground against Asian carp as workers dumped barrels of a deadly fish toxin in a desperate attempt to locate the elusive invasive species in Chicago’s waterways.

“If there are Asian carp here, we should get confirmation of that this week,” John Rogner, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said during a morning news conference.

State officials targeted a two-mile stretch of the river, about seven miles west of Lake Michigan, because numerous DNA samples have indicated the presence of Asian carp. But no one has yet seen an Asian carp, alive or dead, making this stretch of waterway an important staging area to not only test the validity of the DNA research, but also to gauge how imminent a threat the carp are to the Great Lakes.

Biologists dumped about 2,000 gallons of the organic fish poison Rotenone into the river Thursday and are expected to search for Asian carp over the next several days as dead fish float to the surface. The federal government is picking up the estimated $1.5 million price tag for the effort, which likely will kill thousands of fish and shut down a vital shipping corridor for about a week.
–The Chicago Tribune

 China builds ‘Solar Valley’ to power industry
Uprooting the last traces of rural life on the edge of this northern Chinese city, laborers with chain saws spent a recent morning cutting down trees to make way for a hulking factory. A big red banner trumpeted the future for what used to be farmland: “The Biggest Solar Energy Production Base in the Whole World.”

 Across China, villages are being turned into pollution-belching industrial zones, but nature’s retreat on the outskirts of Dezhou boasts a paradoxical purpose — protecting nature. 

“This is an experiment. It is a big laboratory,” said Huang Ming, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon, who is driving one of China’s boldest efforts to promote, and profit from, green technology.
–The Washington Post 

Invasive kudzu contributes to ozone, research says
Kudzu, a fast-growing and invasive Asian vine introduced in the American South several decades ago, has now blanketed more than 7 million acres of the region, making it sometimes seem more common than the hallmark azaleas, dogwoods and peach trees.

Now there’s evidence that the plant also increases air pollution.

 A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a link between kudzu and the production of ozone, the colorless and odorless gas that is the main component of smog. Ozone can damage lung tissue, increasing inflammation and the risk of asthma attacks.

Some crops and plants are known to contribute to ozone. But this study is the first to establish a connection between an invasive plant and poor air quality, said lead researcher Jonathan Hickman, a fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Manure-powered data centers?
Hey diddle diddle. Guess what the cow has done this time?

 America’s dairy farmers could soon find themselves in the computer business, with the manure from their cows possibly powering the vast data centers of companies like Google and Microsoft. While not immediately intuitive, the idea plays on two trends: the building of computing centers in more rural locales, and dairy farmers’ efforts to deal with cattle waste by turning it into fuel. 

With the right skills, a dairy farmer could rent out land and power to technology companies and recoup an investment in the waste-to-fuel systems within two years, Hewlett-Packard engineers say in a research paper.
–The New York Times

 Penn State researches ‘gray water’ use
Horticulturists at Pennsylvania State University have come up with a low-cost, green method for recycling so-called “gray” water – the stuff from sinks, showers and washing machines that would otherwise go down the drain.

 They filter the water through some plant roots and layers of crushed stone, peat moss and waste materials – making it clean enough to reuse for growing vegetables or flushing toilets – but not for drinking. 

Using gray water is generally not allowed in the United States, but some states have explored the idea. The Penn State researchers hope their data – which show such biofilters can remove almost all suspended solids, nitrogen compounds and other pollutants from gray water – might lead to greater acceptance.
–The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mail-in drug disposal plan tried
Through a grant awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging has completed the first statewide mail-back pilot program for managing pharmaceutical waste from consumers.

Studies show that pharmaceuticals are present in our nation’s water bodies and that certain drugs may cause ecological harm. The EPA is currently evaluating the potential risks associated with pharmaceuticals and personal care products on public health and aquatic life.

The program included the use of mailers to return unused and unwanted medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, from households.

Maine Care (Maine’s Medicaid program) established a limit for certain drugs on the quantity that can be filled with an initial prescription. This policy is targeted at reducing the supply and accumulation of unused medications and to prevent pollution. The Maine legislature also recognized the value of the take-back pilot and enacted legislation to continue the program for an additional two years. As part of the EPA grant, the University of Maine’s Center on Aging developed a handbook on the project and collected data on the type and amount of unused medications. 

To view the executive summary of the report, click here.
–EPA New release

Conserving water conserves energy
In the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit conference last year, water researchers and advocates held a special meeting to address the fact that water issues were absent from the draft negotiating text.

This was a major oversight, given the amount of energy that is used to collect, treat, distribute and use water and wastewater.

 Just how much energy is consumed has not been measured in most places, but a 2005 energy policy report published by the state of California found that annual water-related energy consumption in the state accounted for 19 percent of electricity consumption, 32 percent natural gas consumption, and 88 million gallons, or 333 million liters, of diesel fuel. River Network, an organization that advocates water conservation, has extrapolated that data nationally. In a report last year it calculated that Americans use 520 megawatt-hours, or 13 percent of U.S. electricity consumption, on water.
–The New York Times

Ely mayor fined for BWCA violations
The case of the purloined porta-potty is over.

Ely Mayor Roger Skraba was sentenced Tuesday in Duluth after admitting that he drove his snowmobile in the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) three years ago, broke into a U.S. Forest Service shed and stole and hid a portable toilet.

Federal Magistrate Judge Raymond Erickson fined Skraba $3,600. The sentence also includes 40 hours of community service and two years’ probation.

Skraba, 48, was charged on Nov. 9, 2009, and pleaded guilty two months ago to three misdemeanors: removing property belonging to the federal government, entering a protected wilderness area without a proper permit, and possession or use of a motor vehicle or motorized equipment in a protected wilderness area.
–The Star Tribune

The Gulf spill, Chesapeake Bay and nitrates

May 17, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles 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.

BP manages to capture part of oil spill
After more than three weeks of efforts to stop a gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers achieved some success when they used a milelong pipe to capture some of the oil and divert it to a drill ship on the surface some 5,000 feet above the wellhead, company officials said.

 After two false starts, engineers successfully inserted a narrow tube into the damaged pipe from which most of the oil is leaking.

 “It’s working as planned,” Kent Wells, a senior executive vice president of BP, said at a briefing in Houston on Sunday afternoon. “So we do have oil and gas coming to the ship now, we do have a flare burning off the gas, and we have the oil that’s coming to the ship going to our surge tank.”

Mr. Wells said he could not yet say how much oil had been captured or what percentage of the oil leaking from a 21-inch riser pipe was now flowing into the 4-inch-wide insertion tube.
–The New York Times

Gulf spill could be 5 times official estimate
The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is far greater than official estimates suggest, according to an exclusive NPR analysis.

At NPR’s request, experts analyzed video that BP released. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that. 

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry. 

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.
–National Public Radio

 Litany of problems listed for BP shut-off device
A House energy panel investigation has found that the blowout preventer that failed to stop a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of a key component and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through steel joints in the well pipe and stop the flow of oil.

 In a devastating review of the blowout preventer, which BP said was supposed to be “fail-safe,” Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on oversight, said that documents and interviews show that the device was anything but. 

The comments came in a hearing in which lawmakers grilled senior executives from BP and oilfield service firms Transocean, Halliburton and Cameron, maker of the blowout preventer. In one exchange, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) pressed BP on why it seemed to be “flailing” to deal with a spill only 2 percent as large as what it had said it could handle in its license application.
–The Washington Post 

Some permitting bypassed for Gulf drilling
The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf.

 Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf each day.

The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists.
–The New York Times

West Coast drilling ban proposed
The political ripples from the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster spread in the capital as six West Coast senators proposed a permanent ban on drilling in the Pacific and another group tried to raise oil company liability in a spill to $10 billion from the current $75 million.

 The move by senators from California, Oregon and Washington, all Democrats, was largely symbolic because there are no plans at present to open the West Coast to drilling. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican, withdrew a modest plan for new offshore drilling shortly after the gulf accident.
–The New York Times  

Nitrates taint California drinking water
The wells that supply more than 2 million Californians with drinking water have been found to contain harmful levels of nitrates over the past 15 years — a time marked by lax regulatory efforts to control the colorless and odorless contaminant. 

Nitrates, a byproduct of farm fertilizer and some wastewater treatment systems, are now the most common groundwater contaminant in California and across the country. 

They show up primarily in private wells, especially in rural California, but also in some municipal water systems. State law requires public systems to remove nitrates. Many rural communities, however, don’t have access to the type of treatment systems available in metropolitan areas.
–The San Jose Mercury News

 DNR makes choice to drain Bovey mine pits
Governmental wrangling over how to take water from a chain of abandoned mining pits threatening to flood Bovey appears to be over.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten recently chose to lower the water level by diverting it west to the Prairie River. The Western Mesabi Mine Planning Board prefers an option that would pump water east to Holman Lake.

 “A project needs to be built as soon as possible,” Holsten wrote the board on May 5. “Even though the Holman-Trout option is the Board’s preferred project, I have determined that this option is not ready to proceed due to budget and time issues.”
The Duluth News-Tribune 

Urban Birding Festival set
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ fifth annual Urban Birding Festival will be held May 13-16 at various locations throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul. It’s a free celebration of springtime birds, especially those which inhabit urban areas. 

“There are excellent birding opportunities in the heart of a metropolitan area,” said Liz Harper, DNR nongame wildlife specialist. “Experts can help birders of all levels learn where the best birding spots are in the Twin Cities.” 

The festival is billed as “Where Birds and People Meet” and is being organized in part by the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program. It features a day-long series of events at Fridley’s Springbrook Nature Center and daytime and evening bird walks at various locations.
-DNR news release

 Gulf oil spill impacts Senate climate and energy bill
The long delayed and much amended Senate plan to deal with global warming and energy was unveiled to considerable fanfare but uncertain prospects.

 After nearly eight months of negotiations with lawmakers and interest groups, Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, produced a 987-page bill that tries to limit climate-altering emissions, reduce oil imports and create millions of new energy-related jobs.

 The sponsors rewrote the section on offshore oil drilling in recent days to reflect mounting concern over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, raising new hurdles for any future drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts while allowing it to proceed off Louisiana, Texas and Alaska.
–The New York Times

EPA announces Chesapeake clean-up plan
Local farmers, communities with stormwater runoff problems and sewage plant owners got a clearer picture of their marching orders from a federal government that has vowed to do what it takes to clean up the Chesapeake Bay

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed a 176-page strategy outlining an “unprecedented” and “historic” effort on how it would accomplish the feat in six bay watershed states, including Pennsylvania.

The agency promised “rigorous new regulation and enforcement” to get the job done.

Exactly a year to the day earlier, President Barrack Obama had issued an executive order to clean up what he called a “national treasure” after decades of sputtering attempts.

EPA signed a legally binding agreement with time deadlines to require pollution to be reduced across the bay watershed. That agreement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation citizens group followed a lawsuit which accused EPA of failing to restore the bay as required by the Clean Water Act.
–Lancaster Newspapers

Opinion:  Cautious optimism Chesapeake Bay
A turning point. A fresh start. A new hope. How often have Marylanders heard these words spoken about the future of the Chesapeake Bay over the last quarter-century or more? Usually they are articulated by politicians touting some new multi-state agreement or strategy that they insist will lead to a cleaner, healthier body of water.

In recent days, these all-too-familiar promises have been heard again, this time on the strength of two seemingly linked events — a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation against federal regulators for not sufficiently enforcing Clean Water Act standards and the release of the Obama administration’s plan to revive the Chesapeake Bay by essentially doing what the environmentalists have long been seeking.

Both boil down to promises of future actions. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and others say this time will be different, with specific goals and timetables for reducing the stream of pollutants, chiefly nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments, that have done so much harm to the bay and its tributaries.
–The Baltimore Sun

Gulf oil spill, cancer and ‘smart growth’

May 10, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles 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.

Panel warns of environmental cancer risks
An expert panel that advises the president on cancer said that Americans are facing “grievous harm” from chemicals in the air, food and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored.

The President’s Cancer Panel called for a new national strategy that focuses on such threats in the environment and workplaces.

Epidemiologists have long maintained that tobacco use, diet and other factors are responsible for most cancers, and that chemicals and pollutants cause only a small portion — perhaps 5 percent.

The presidential panel said that figure has been “grossly underestimated” but it did not provide a new estimate.

“With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action,” the panel wrote in a report.
–The Washington Post

Environmentalists see oil spill as rallying point
The catastrophic oil spill unfolding in the Gulf has provided the environmental community with a rare opportunity to shift public opinion on climate and energy issues, an opening on which it has been quick to capitalize.

National environmental groups — including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Fund and others — have rushed both volunteers and scientific experts to the Gulf of Mexico to help with the cleanup in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon rig’s collapse. But they are also holding news conferences, filming television ads and organizing protest rallies, all aimed at persuading lawmakers to block new offshore oil drilling and pass legislation curbing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
–The Washington Post

Manipulating the Mississippi to fight oil spill?
Louisiana state officials and the Army Corps of Engineers are considering increasing the flow of water from the Mississippi River  to help keep the Gulf of Mexico oil spill from reaching land.

Currents from the USA’s longest river are believed to have already played a role in pushing the oil away from shore since an exploration rig exploded off the Louisiana coast two weeks ago, says Garret Graves, an adviser to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

A series of dams, locks and spillways regulate both the flow of water and exactly where the river exits the Mississippi Delta into the Gulf. Graves says that Louisiana has already “flipped on” sites it controls to increase water flow, and scientists are studying which of the larger sites controlled by the Corps of Engineers might also have a positive effect.
–USA Today 

EPA uses water $$ to promote ‘smart growth’
If you build it, they will come. And, if you don’t, they won’t.

Such is the thinking behind a policy released late last month by the Environmental Protection Agency that instructs states to adopt smart-growth principles in allocating the $3.3 billion in water infrastructure funding that the federal government doles out each year. States, it asserts, should prioritize projects that upgrade the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in cities over projects intended to serve new developments on the suburban fringe.

The new guidance arguably arrives five years too late — after a home building boom that swallowed up vast swaths of land. But building will eventually resume, and EPA officials say the leverage of the federal funding — the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund — could coax states toward a more sustainable form of development.
–The Washington Post 

Chisago County leads way on drug disposal
For years, unused pharmaceuticals were flushed down toilets or tossed in the garbage without a second thought. Now concerns about environmental impact and potential drug abuse have a growing number of communities looking at alternatives.

Counties across Minnesota are considering drug take-back programs, in which drugs are dropped off with local law enforcement and then incinerated, said Sgt. Karl Schreck with the Chisago County sheriff’s office.

Schreck heads the drug-disposal program in Chisago County — the first such ongoing program in the state. He thought the county program would be a flash in the pan when it began in 2007. But to date, the department has collected and disposed of more than a ton of unused drugs.

“Right now, our county is taking in a little more than five pounds a day,” Schreck said. “It’s been steady — I don’t see it declining anytime soon.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Roundup-resistant ‘superweeds’ spread
For 15 years, Eddie Anderson, a farmer, has been a strict adherent of no-till agriculture, an environmentally friendly technique that all but eliminates plowing to curb erosion and the harmful runoff of fertilizers and pesticides.

But not this year.

On a recent afternoon here, Mr. Anderson watched as tractors crisscrossed a rolling field — plowing and mixing herbicides into the soil to kill weeds where soybeans will soon be planted.

Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.
–The New York Times

 Minnesota DNR seeks help in catfish survey
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is entering year two of an effort to better understand and manage catfish in metro region rivers and is looking for a few avid anglers to help.

The project includes DNR tagging catfish to get a better idea of their population and movement. It also draws upon catfish anglers who are willing to answer a few survey questions and keep diaries of their angling efforts. The angler diaries will provide valuable information that is not typically obtained in standard creel surveys because many catfish anglers fish at night. More than 200 anglers have taken the survey since last year, but few have kept diaries.
–DNR news release 

Poison to again target Asian carp
Federal and state officials in Illinois plan to again poison a stretch of water around Chicago to kill any Asian carp that might be lurking there, past the electric barrier built to repel them.

Starting May 20, they are to dump rotenone, a fish-killing poison, into two miles of the Little Calumet River below the O’Brien lock and dam in southeast Chicago. DNA testing earlier this year detected the presence of Asian carp in a harbor where the Little Calumet empties into Lake Michigan. The operation is expected to last five to six days.

Michigan and other states tried to get the O’Brien and another lock in central Chicago closed temporarily this spring to stop Asian carp, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that plea.

Two species of Asian carp are near the Great Lakes, and because of their size and voracious feeding habits experts fear that if they reproduce in the Great Lakes they could out-compete native fish species for scarce food and hurt the $7-billion fishing industry. Silver carp leap many feet in the air at the sound of motors and injure anglers when they flop into boats.
–The Detroit Free Press

Symposium set on biocontrol of invasives

May 6, 2010

Since the beginning of the year, Asian carp have been making headlines across the country, as efforts to halt their invasion of the Great Lakes watersheds have spurred a Supreme Court case and the involvement of the Obama Administration. 

The four species of carp collectively known as Asian carp threaten huge dangers to the health of the Great Lakes. They are a major factor in the deterioration of aquatic environments, devastating food sources and habitats for native fish and waterfowl species.  At present, states are employing multiple strategies to control the spread of these invasive species.  Mechanical obstructions such as physical barriers, electric barriers, and acoustic deterrents are often used alone or in conjunction with poison.

 But, as Asian carp continue to knock at the door of the Great Lakes, it has become clear that these measures are not enough to provide a viable, long-term solution to the problem.

 Enter genetic biological control.  Armed with the tools of recombinant DNA technology, many scientists have begun to evaluate the potential for using genetically manipulated organisms to disrupt the survival or reproduction of a targeted invasive species.  This strategy of biocontrol entails the intentional release of transgenic or sterile individuals into populations of invasive species. 

 Biocontrol has the capability to be more effective than present methods because of its ability to target only invasive species with little to no effect on native fish populations, unlike mechanical or chemical approaches.  However, this potentially powerful new tool would likely be integrated into existing control measures as part of a multi-faceted management strategy for minimizing the harmful effects of non-native species invasion.

 Next month, Minneapolis will play host to a gathering of the world’s leading experts on biocontrol.  The International Syposium on Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Fish will take place June 21-24 and will address current developments in genetic biocontrol technologies, environmental risk assessments, regulatory issues, and possible economic impacts of future biocontrol implementation.

 It will bring together fisheries managers, industry representatives, and government regulators with experts in all facets of genetic biocontrol.  The keynote speaker will be Dan Simberloff, Ph.D., of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he studies the theoretical susceptibility of ecosystems to invasion from exotic species.  

 Simberloff, who earned an Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America in 2006, has been critical of the U.S. government’s inaction in combating invasive species.  One of the major sponsors of the symposium is the Minnesota Sea Grant. 

 People interested in attending the symposium can see the agenda and register at the Sea Grant website:

Gulf oil spill; drinking water standards

May 3, 2010

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

Gulf oil spill shows limits of technology
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is pushing current oil cleanup technology to its limits, but also serving as a testing ground for futuristic decontamination methods. 

Some cutting-edge imaging techniques that let responders size up slicks better, as well as novel engineering solutions such as a deep-water oil containment dome could see use in the Gulf of Mexico in coming days and weeks, experts say. 

But other long-touted measures, such as oil-eating microbes, however, are not yet ready to fight large spills. 

As the Deepwater Horizon cleanup effort is demonstrating, many of the current methods of cleaning up oil spills are decidedly low-tech. 

At least 70 response vehicles have fanned out in the Gulf and are using conventional physical containment methods such as floating tubes called booms and skimmers that slurp up mixed oil and water from the sea surface.
–The Christian Science Monitor 

Fishing halted near oil slick
The government ordered a halt to fishing in areas affected by the ever-spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, a ban that covers waters from Louisiana to Florida and hinders the livelihoods of untold numbers of fishermen. 

Citing public safety concerns, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restricted fishing for at least 10 days in the affected waters, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Pensacola Bay in Florida. Scientists were taking samples of water and seafood to ensure food safety. 

“We want to make sure that we can maintain the public confidence in the safety of the food supply and make sure that members of the public aren’t at risk,” said Roy Crabtree, the Southeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We’ll continue to look at this and evaluate this.” 

Trawlers fishing for swordfish and tuna, and charter-boat operators, many of whom work out of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, are likely to feel the impact more than Louisiana fishermen, said Harlon Pearce, the chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.
–The New York Times

 Minnesota Health Dept. seeks input on drinking water standards
The Minnesota Department of Health, which provides health-based guidance on chemicals detected in Minnesota’s drinking water, is undertaking  two efforts to improve standards regulating contamination:

 n  MDH is seeking to amend the Health Risk Limit (HRL) rule for contaminants found in groundwater (Minnesota Rules, Part 4717.7860) used for drinking purposes. The amendments will expand the HRL rule by adding guidance in the form of new HRL values for 14 additional groundwater contaminants.

The department  will host a public meeting on May 19, 2010, to solicit public comments on the draft amendments

n  MDH has established the Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) program,  funded by the Clean Water Fund. CEC is a proactive program to protect drinking water by identifying contaminants of emerging concern that have the potential to occur in Minnesota drinking water sources, investigating the potential for human exposure to these contaminants, and developing guidance values, as applicable.  

Contact the Health Department to learn more about the effort and find opportunities to participate in it.
–Minnesota Health Department news release

 Rains ease long California drought
April’s battery of storms pushed snow levels well above normal but not enough to definitively end California’s three-year drought

The amount of water locked in the Sierra snowpack, California’s largest source of water, is 143 percent of normal and double last year’s levels for the same period, according to the state’s final snow survey of the season conducted Friday near Lake Tahoe. 

“All around, the figures look really, really good,” said Don Strickland, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources.
–The San Francisco Chronicle 

Catostrophic water main break affects Boston
Nearly 2 million residents of Greater Boston lost their supply of clean drinking water when a huge pipe abruptly burst, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency and to impose a sweeping order for homeowners and businesses to boil the untreated water now flowing from their taps.

 Governor Deval Patrick said residents in Boston and 29 other communities east of Weston should boil water for at least a minute before drinking it to avoid the risk of getting sick. He also asked bottled water companies and the National Guard to help make clean water available to residents in the affected communities.
–The Boston Globe

Benson ethanol plant to pay air quality penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co.  will pay a penalty consisting of $70,000 in cash and implement one or more Supplemental Environmental Projects costing at least $50,000 to resolve alleged violations of the company’s air quality permit at its ethanol production facility in Benson, Minn.

The violations, occurring in 2008 and 2009, centered on the company’s operation of a biomass gasification unit that went online in the spring of 2008.  The unit represented an advanced technology for the ethanol industry, in which wood products are heated to produce gas to fuel the facility’s boilers.

 There were significant problems with burning wood contaminated with lead and arsenic, most likely from wood that had been painted or treated with preservatives.  The company did not knowingly burn contaminated wood, but the MPCA alleged in the agreement that CVEC did not take proper precautions to ensure the wood supply was uncontaminated.  The company also failed to meet emission limits during stack performance tests for the waste heat boiler and a filter receiver, did not conduct required performance testing on other parts of its processes, and did not properly calculate and record total emissions as required during rolling 12-month periods.
–MPCA News Release 

L.A. County violates Clean Water Act
The County of Los Angeles violated the federal Clean Water Act when it discharged polluted water onto the world-famous Surfrider Beach at Malibu, according to a decision issued by the federal District Court in Los Angeles.

The court also found the county liable for illegally discharging polluted water into a marine coastal preserve in northern Los Angeles County, one of three dozen designated Areas of Special Biological Significance along the California coast. 

This lawsuit is the first to enforce California’s prohibition on polluted discharges to designated Areas of Special Biological Significance.
–Environment News Service