USDA: Progress on erosion; more needed

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.

 USDA: Progress on pollution and erosion; more needs to be done
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says farmers in the Upper Mississippi River Basin have made good progress in reducing sediment, nutrient, and pesticide losses from farm fields through conservation practices. But more work is needed to reduce nonpoint agricultural sources of pollution to acceptable levels, according to the draft report.

The report’s executive summary states:

  • Use of soil erosion control practices is widespread, with most acres receiving some form of erosion control treatment. Nevertheless, about 15 percent of the cultivated cropland acres still have excessive sediment loss from fields and require additional erosion control practices.
  •  Complete and consistent use of nutrient management (proper rate, form, timing, and method of application) is generally lacking throughout the region. About 62 percent of the cultivated cropland acres require additional nutrient management to reduce the loss of nitrogen or phosphorus from fields. 
  • The most critical conservation concern in the region is loss of nitrogen through leaching. About 51 percent of cropped acres require additional nutrient management to address excessive levels of nitrogen loss in subsurface flow pathways, including tile drainage systems. About 36 percent of cropped acres need treatment only for nitrogen loss in subsurface flow. 
  • About 15 percent of the acres are critically under-treated in terms of conservation practices. 
  • Nutrient loss from fields is within acceptable limits when soil erosion control practices are paired with management of rate, form, timing, and method of nutrient application that maximizes the availability of nutrients for crop growth while minimizing environmental losses. A suite of practices that includes both soil erosion control and consistent nutrient management is required to simultaneously address soil erosion and nitrogen leaching loss. 
  • Treatment of erosion alone can exacerbate the nitrogen leaching problem because reducing surface water increases infiltration and, therefore, movement of soluble nitrogen into subsurface flow pathways. Soil erosion control practices are effective in reducing the loss of nitrogen in surface runoff, but for some acres the re-routing of surface water runoff to subsurface flow along with incomplete nutrient management results in a small net increase in total nitrogen loss from the field. 

The full draft report is available here.

Wisconsin poised to adopt phosphorus limits
Wisconsin farmers would face phosphorus run-off limits for the first time and wastewater treatment plants would have to follow tighter discharge standards on the oxygen-depleting nutrient under a sweeping rules package state environmental officials are poised to adopt.

The rules represent more than a decade’s worth of work by the Department of Natural Resources to curtail phosphorus pollution in state waters. They address a wide range of pollution sources, from farm fields to wastewater plants to developers. The Natural Resources Board, which sets DNR policy, is scheduled to vote on them.

Bruce Baker, the head of the DNR’s Water Division, said phosphorus regulation has been one of the agency’s weak points since the early 1980s. Now research has advanced enough to provide a scientific basis for new standards, he said.
–The Associated Press  

North-flowing phosphorus threatens Lake Winnipeg
A commercial fishing industry that has prospered for 120 years on Lake Winnipeg, the world’s 10th largest freshwater lake, is threatened by pollution, much of it flowing north in the Red River from Minnesota and North Dakota. 

The main culprit is phosphorus from both human-made and natural sources, and scientists say there are no easy solutions to the problem. State and international borders make it more complicated as farmers, fishermen and scientists alike try to save the lake.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Half a world away from the Gulf, oil spills are commonplace
BODO, Nigeria — Big oil spills are no longer news in this vast, tropical land. The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless.

Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the nonstop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the mangroves was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.
–The New York Times  

EPA’s proposed Florida water standards draw fire
The Hillsboro Canal slices through the sugarcane fields south of Lake Okeechobee and heads east through the houses and strip malls of Parkland, Boca Roton and Deerfield Beach. Empty plastic bottles, candy wrappers and other trash litter the banks. An occasional wading bird pokes for food in the black water.

The canal is among hundreds of streams, canals, lakes and rivers that face tough and controversial new pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The rules are intended primarily to keep algae from choking the springs, lakes and rivers of North and Central Florida, but the EPA has included all the state’s waterways, with special criteria for South Florida’s canals.

Environmental groups, who sued to force EPA to impose the limits, say the restrictions are necessary to protect water bodies from fertilizer and other pollutants washing off lawns, farms and industrial operations.

Dozens of powerful opponents have lined up against the proposal, with paper, citrus and power companies expressing concern about costs. The Florida Department of Agriculture estimates it would cost more than $1 billion a year to implement.
–The Sun-Sentinel

Colorado River water runs a deficit
Colorado River water consumed yearly for agriculture and by the 30 million Westerners who rely on it now exceeds the total annual flow.

A growing awareness of that limited flow is leading to increased scrutiny of urban development — especially projects that require diverting more water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

“We’re no longer in a surplus situation,” said Bill McDonald, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s deputy commissioner for policy and budget. “The teeter-totter has tipped.”

Federal data show that the average annual use of Colorado River water (15.4 million acre-feet) has surpassed the average annual supply (14.5 million acre-feet) in the river.
–The Denver Post

California not ready to say drought is ended
Late spring storms smothered the Sierra in snow. The state’s biggest reservoir is nearly full. Precipitation across much of California has been above average. By standard measures, California’s three-year drought is over.

“From a hydrologic standpoint, for most of California, it is gone,” said state hydrologist Maury Roos, who has monitored the ups and downs of the state’s water for 50 years.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t lifting his drought declaration. Los Angeles isn’t ending its watering restrictions and Southern California’s major water wholesaler isn’t reversing delivery cuts. Despite months of rain and snow and rising levels in the state’s major reservoirs, water managers aren’t ready to celebrate or make the drought’s end official.
–The Los Angeles Times 

 Faucet snails afflict Crow Wing River
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will designate the Crow Wing River in Hubbard, Wadena, Todd, Cass and Morrison counties as “infested waters” later this month because the faucet snail (Bithynia tentaculata) has been found there. The snail is linked to waterfowl deaths at Lake Winnibigoshish and the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota. 

The faucet snail was first noticed in nearby Upper and Lower Twin lakes and the Shell River in Wadena County last fall. The Twin lakes and the Shell River are connected to the Crow Wing River, so the recent detection of the faucet snails is not a surprise.

New regulations will take effect along the river to help stop movement of the faucet snail to other waters. Once designated “infested water,” state law prohibits the transport of water from the Crow Wing River without a permit.  It also prohibits anglers or commercial bait harvesters from harvesting bait from these waters without a permit.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Ethanol producer eyes 1,700-mile pipeline
Poet, the world’s largest producer of ethanol, and Oklahoma-based Magellan Midstream Partners LP want to build the nation’s first pipeline to transport corn ethanol from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Both companies say the project would create more than 50,000 construction jobs during the installation of the ethanol pipeline, which could be complete as soon as 2014.

About 1,100 permanent jobs would be generated by the joint venture following completion of the pipeline, which could position the United States as an exporter of ethanol.

Stretching from South Dakota to New Jersey, the proposed 1,700-mile, $3.5 billion project would extend into southern Minnesota and snake through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey before terminating in Linden, N.J.
–Finance & Commerce 

EPA questions Monsanto dam in Idaho
Federal regulators are concerned that a dam built by Monsanto Co. earlier this year to trap phosphate mine runoff may be stopping more than just pollution.

They say the dam has also halted millions of gallons of water in Sheep Creek that would otherwise help fill the Blackfoot River.

The Environmental Protection Agency now wants the maker of Roundup herbicide to begin a costly treatment to remove selenium and heavy metals, then discharge clean water downstream, instead of capturing it in a 50-million-gallon lake behind the dam and using it for dust control on its mining roads.

The situation shows the predicament that companies like St. Louis-based Monsanto and the government face in Idaho’s rich-but-polluted phosphate mining country not far from Yellowtone National Park: They must work to contain naturally occurring poisons unearthed during a century of digging, while protecting water supplies in an agricultural state hit hard by drought over the last decade.
–The Associated Press

U.S.-Canada panel warns of threats to groundwater
 The Great Lakes Science Advisory Board issued a bi-national assessment of threats to groundwater in the Great Lakes basin.

The report, prepared for the International Joint Commission, notes groundwater in the Great Lakes basin is similar in volume to Lake Michigan and provides a source of drinking water for millions of basin residents.

“Yet this major component of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem receives inadequate attention in policies designed to protect Great Lakes water quality,” officials said. A PDF of the full report is available.
–UPI.com

 St. Paul to get new water meters
That dusty, aging water meter in your basement? It’s getting replaced.

St. Paul Regional Water Services is embarking on a nearly $20 million program to replace every water meter in St. Paul, Maplewood, West St. Paul, Mendota Heights, Falcon Heights and Lauderdale. That’s 94,000 meters in all, over the next three years, beginning this fall.

The new meters will be high-tech compared with the current devices. They will allow workers to remotely check water use by driving past meter locations but never actually going onto private property.

Important details, such as when a work crew will come into your basement to do the work, and how much your rates will go up as a result, have yet to be determined. The water agency is still sorting through bids on the project, and its top executive will propose an annual budget and water rates next month.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

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