Loons, Gulf oil, feedlot pollution

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.

Gulf oil spill could impact Minnesota loons
Could Minnesota’s state bird, the common loon, become a victim of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico more than 1,200 miles away?

 A state Department of Natural Resources expert says it is a real possibility.

 Unknown numbers of nonbreeding, juvenile loons from Minnesota reside in the Gulf, awaiting the time when they will be old enough to breed and return north. Juvenile loons spend three years in the Gulf before they are sexually mature and migrate to Minnesota, said DNR nongame lake wildlife expert Pam Perry. 

“We have juvenile loons down there right now, and we don’t know what will happen to them,” she said. “Oil can have a direct impact on their mortality, but it can also disrupt the food chain. We certainly have a lot of concerns.” 

Mature loons residing in Minnesota are raising their young, but come late October and early November, they will migrate to the Gulf Coast, as well as the shores of Florida, where they will spend the winter. During that time, they will molt, or grow new feathers, and spend their time feeding in the Gulf, Perry said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Estimate of Gulf oil flow doubled
A government panel essentially doubled its estimate of how much oil has been spewing from the out-of-control BP well, with the new calculation suggesting that an amount equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster could be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico every 8 to 10 days.

 The new estimate is 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day. That range, still preliminary, is far above the previous estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

 These new calculations came as the public wrangling between BP and the White House was reaching new heights, with President Obama asking for a meeting with BP executives and his Congressional allies intensifying their pressure on the oil giant to withhold dividend payments to shareholders until it makes clear it can and will pay all its obligations from the spill.

 The higher estimates will affect not only assessments of how much environmental damage the spill has done but also how much BP might eventually pay to clean up the mess — and they will most likely increase suspicion among skeptics about how honest and forthcoming the oil company has been throughout the catastrophe.
–The New York Times

 Gulf oil plumes unprecedented in ‘human history’
Vast underwater concentrations of oil sprawling for miles in the Gulf of Mexico from the damaged, crude-belching BP PLC well are unprecedented in “human history” and threaten to wreak havoc on marine life, a team of scientists said, a finding confirmed for the first time by federal officials.

 Researchers aboard the F.G. Walton Smith vessel briefed reporters on a two-week cruise in which they traced an underwater oil plum 15 miles wide, 3 miles long and about 600 feet thick. The plume’s core is 1,100 to 1,300 meters below the surface, they said.

“It’s an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history,” said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader.

 Bacteria are breaking down the oil’s hydrocarbons in a massive, microorganism feeding frenzy that has sent oxygen levels plunging close to what is considered “dead zone” conditions, at which most marine life are smothered for a lack of dissolved oxygen.
–The New York Times 

Scientists skeptical of Gulf sand berms
The frenzied response to the BP oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico has featured any number of wing-and-a-prayer options from engineers and elected officials. But the debate over a sand-barrier plan that skeptical scientists are referring to as “The Great Wall of Louisiana” has been the most politically charged.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and angry parish presidents have hammered the Obama administration in past weeks over what they characterize as a glacial federal approval process for the state’s plan to construct 128 miles of sand berms, dredging up 102 million cubic yards of seabed in the process, to bolster the state’s barrier islands and absorb oil before it reaches sensitive coastal marshes. 

The Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval last week to a scaled-down version of the project after rejecting the state’s original proposal, which could have cost as much as $950 million and taken as long as nine months to build. 

But as Jindal and other politicians celebrate the partial victory, coastal researchers warn that the project can’t be built in time to help — even if it had been approved when first proposed last month. And scientists warn that it may have unforeseen consequences. 

The berm system could reroute the spill up the Mississippi Delta, and it would be unlikely to survive even a mild storm during the current hurricane season.
–The Los Angeles Times 

Media struggle to get close to oil spill
When the operators of Southern Seaplane in Belle Chasse, La., called the local Coast Guard-Federal Aviation Administration command center for permission to fly over restricted airspace in Gulf of Mexico, they made what they thought was a simple and routine request.

 A pilot wanted to take a photographer from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans to snap photographs of the oil slicks blackening the water. The response from a BP contractor who answered the phone late last month at the command center was swift and absolute: Permission denied.

 “We were questioned extensively. Who was on the aircraft? Who did they work for?” recalled Rhonda Panepinto, who owns Southern Seaplane with her husband, Lyle. “The minute we mentioned media, the answer was: ‘Not allowed.’ ”
–The New York Times 

State completes Lake Vermilion park deal
With Gov. Tim Pawlenty completing a land deal for a new Minnesota state park, visitors could make their first trips there yet this year. 

Pawlenty and U.S. Steel Executive Vice President John Goodish signed documents transferring about 3,000 acres in northeastern Minnesota to the state for Lake Vermilion State Park. 

The state paid U.S. Steel $18 million for the property on Lake Vermilion’s eastern shore and has an additional $2 million available to begin developing the park, a process that will take six or more years. 

That $20 million was set aside by the Legislature two years ago, but an additional $30 million or so for future development costs still must be approved. 

The event in the governor’s reception room culminates a process that began three years ago when Pawlenty announced plans for the park, the first major new one in Minnesota since Tettegouche in 1979.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

St. Paul brewery well flows again
St. Paul’s old Schmidt Brewery is once again selling water that has remained deep under the Earth’s surface for 35 millenia.

 For 50 cents a gallon, people can now draw water from the brewery’s 1,050-foot-deep well. The well was drilled in 1980, and its water was later gauged by a University of Minnesota geology professor to be about 35,000 years old.

A pair of vending machines on the West Seventh side of the building at 882 W. Seventh St. will dispense as many gallons as residents need.

 But if 50 cents is too much, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 19, the brewer’s old Rathskeller, or German drinking hall, will be open to the public. At that time, David Kreitzer, who represents the building’s owners, said he will start offering free water for several days, followed by half-price water for a number of weeks.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

MPCA, farmer agree to $45,000 pollution penalty
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has reached an agreement with feedlot owner Joe Varner that requires him to pay $45,000 for alleged water pollution violations at his cattle farm near Clarissa in Todd County. 

 MPCA and Todd County feedlot staff inspections during 2008-2009 revealed several violations, mostly relating to pollution discharges into area waterways.  According to inspection reports, Varner failed to correct identified pollution hazards which allowed manure-contaminated sediment and runoff to discharge into two road ditches, one of which leads directly to area streams and rivers.  These discharges were not reported and no attempt was made to recover them once they had left the property.  The feedlot also exceeded its county-permitted limit of 712 head of cattle, and failed to obtain a required national pollution discharge elimination system permit once the number of cattle exceeded 1,000 head.  

Of the $45,000 civil penalty, up to $15,000 may be abated if Varner proves he spent that amount to correct the pollution hazards that allowed the discharges from his property.  If this is not done to the satisfaction of the MPCA, then the final $15,000 will be due in March 2012.  Varner must also submit a list of all sites in Minnesota that contain cattle he owns, along with evidence that these sites are properly registered and permitted. 

The MPCA regulates the collection, transportation, storage, processing and disposal of animal manure.  It also provides outreach and training for feedlot operators. 
–MPCA news release 

EPA takes action against Iowa feedlots
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken a series of civil enforcement actions against three beef feedlot operations in Iowa for violations of the Clean Water Act, as part of a continuing enforcement emphasis aimed at ending harmful discharges of pollutants from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) into the region’s rivers and streams.

 “In some instances, we are finding harmful bacteria such as E.coli in wastewater discharged by feedlots at levels that are exponentially higher than the levels at which EPA permits municipal wastewater treatment systems to discharge their treated wastewater,” EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said. “This is just one measure of the harm that can come when feedlots fail to operate within the law.”

 Runoff from CAFOs may contain such pollutants as pathogens and sediment, as well as nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, all of which can harm aquatic life and impact water quality.
–EPA Region 7 News Release 

Cottage Grove eyes reuse of tainted water  
Cottage Grove will hold off on instituting new restrictions on midday lawn watering until city leaders meet with state officials about finding a way to reuse millions of gallons of water being pumped out of south Washington County’s aquifers as part of 3M’s efforts to clean up contaminated groundwater. 

Under pressure from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to lower the city’s per capita water usage, public works officials proposed a ban on residential irrigation between noon and 4 p.m. for properties on the city’s water system, as well as an amendment to the city’s water conservation ordinance that would have allowed the public works director to impose emergency regulations in extreme conditions. 

But city council members said the amount of water saved by tacking the midday restriction on top of the city’s existing odd-even watering regulations would have been a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of gallons of water being pumped, treated and dumped into the Mississippi River during 3M cleanup efforts.
–The South Washington County Bulletin 

Army Corps to restore islands in Mississippi
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, awarded a $3.4 million contract to J.F. Brennan Co., Inc. of La Crosse, Wis., to restore islands in the Mississippi River.The project is an effort to restore lost and diminished fish and wildlife habitat in Pool 8 by restoring islands that have eroded or completely disappeared. Island loss allows more wave action in the backwaters, which can uproot plants and keep sediment suspended. Suspended sediment increases turbidity levels in the water, which reduces the amount of sunlight that penetrates the water and enables plant growth.
Phases I and II of the Pool 8 Islands habitat restoration project included building Horseshoe and Boomerang islands near Brownsville, Minn., and an island complex near Stoddard, Wis. The first stage of phase III was completed in 2006 in an area downstream of Stoddard. Stage 2 was completed in the fall 2009 and involved the construction of 12 islands in the Raft Channel area below Brownsville.Stage 3A will involve the construction of five large and three smaller islands near the raft channel area. Material to build the islands will be dredged from the vicinity of the islands and from Schnicks Bay. Most of the construction under this contract will be completed this year with three additional islands to be built in 2010.
–Army Corps of Engineers news release Climate scientists cite harassment
A few years ago, Ben Santer, a climate scientist with Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, answered a 10 p.m. doorbell ring at his home. After opening the door, he found a dead rat on his doorstep and a man in yellow Hummer speeding away while “shouting curses at me.” 

Santer shared this story last week before a congressional committee examining the increasing harassment of climate scientists, and the state of climate science. 

After the online posting in November of 1,073 stolen e-mails from climate scientists, including some from Santer, the threats took a more ominous turn,” Santer told members of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Skeptics of climate change have dubbed the e-mail incident “Climategate.” 

“The nature of these e-mail threats has been of more concern,” Santer said. “I’ve worried about the security and safety of my family.”
–The Contra Costa Times

 Group promotes safer, homemade cleansers
What do you get when you mix baking soda, olive oil and borax, with a little white wine on the side?

 A green cleaning party.

 Dubbed the 21st-century equivalent of a Tupperware party by Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), an environmental and health organization, the parties are a way for women to gather and create green, safe and cheap cleaning products.
–The Star Tribune

Lights pollute the night sky
Time was, the stars in the sky epitomized the very concept of countlessness. “Innumerable as the stars of night,” wrote Milton. If the poet’s contemporaries had tried enumerate the twinkling beacons above, they might have been able to make out 5,000 or more with the naked eye on a clear, moonless night. Today, a stargazing city-dweller would be lucky to identify a few dozen distinct points of light overhead, even under optimal meteorological conditions. And just one in three Americans can see the Milky Way from where they live. 

What happened to the stars? They got polluted. Polluted by light.

It’s not the stars themselves that have vanished, but rather the inky-black backdrop against which they used to be visible. Artificial light, cast upward from our cities and roads, has washed out the natural darkness. It has obscured the obscura. It has made the night false.
–The Washington Post

 Drainage information sessions set
Agricultural producers, ditch and tile contractors, watershed professionals, elected officials and citizens are invited to learn about farm drainage technology that has the ability to save groundwater, reduce runoff to local waterways, improve tile drain water quality and potentially increase crop yields.

 The technique – known as drainage management or conservation drainage – involves the installation of mechanisms in farm drainage tiles that allow water to be drained quickly from fields before spring tillage and then allow water to be held in the soil during the growing season. 

Three information sessions – from 7 to 8:30 p.m. — will be held:

  •   Wednesday, June 16, LeSueur County Environmental Services Center, 515 S. Maple Ave., LeCenter.
  •  Tuesday, June 22, Arlington Community Center, 204 Shamrock Drive, Arlington.
  •  Wednesday, June 23, Redwood Falls Community Center, 901 East Cook St., Redwood Falls.

 All the sessions are free. For information, contact Scott Sparlin at yasure@lycos.com or 507-276-2280.

 

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