Archive for July, 2010

Report predicts climate impact on U.S. water

July 26, 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.

Analysis predicts climate stress on water sustainability
Climate change will have a significant impact on the sustainability of U.S. water supplies in the coming decades, according to a new analysis commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental organization.

The analysis, performed by consulting firm Tetra Tech, examined the effects of global warming on water supply and demand in the contiguous United States. The study found that more than 1,100 counties — one-third of all counties in the lower 48 states — will face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of global warming. More than 400 of these counties will face extremely high risks of water shortages, the analysis predicted. 

The study by Tetra Tech, a consulting firm used by the federal government, electric utility and other industries, finds that some states have an extreme or high risk to water sustainability, or are likely to see limitations on water availability as demand exceeds supply by 2050. These areas include parts of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

The report was not intended to predict where water shortages will occur, but rather where they are more likely to occur. The goal of the analysis was to estimate future renewable water supply compared with water demand, assuming a business-as-usual scenario of growth in demand for electricity production and domestic use, both largely driven by population growth, with other demands remaining at their present level. 

In Minnesota, the analysis identified eight counties – Anoka, Clay, Crow Wing, Hennepin, McLeod, Nicollet, Sherburne and Scott – as facing high or extremely high risk from predicted population growth and climate change.
–Natural Resources Defense Council 

Tell federal officials what you think
Do you have something you would like federal officials to hear about conservation, outdoor recreation and reconnecting people to the outdoors?

Here’s your chance.

Representatives of  the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Defense will conduct a public listening session in Minneapolis from 4 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

The listening session – to be held at the Ted Mann Concert Hall at 2128 Fourth St., S, on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus – grew out of a White House conference in April.

President Obama directed agency leaders to initiate a Great Outdoors Initiative and to travel across the country, seeking  grassroots solutions to conserve lands, waterways, historical and cultural resources, and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.  The listening session is meant to attract: tribal leaders, farmers and ranchers, sportsmen, community park groups, foresters, youth groups, businesspeople, educators, state and local governments, recreation and conservation groups and others.

The listening session is free and open to the public. For information and to register, click here. 

Community Clean-Ups win governor’s award
Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality, an effort initiated by the Friends of the Minnesota Valley to keep excessive phosphorus out of lakes and rivers, is one of six winners this year of a Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention.

 The clean-up campaign recruits neighborhood groups and other organizations to conduct spring and fall drives to collect and recycle leaves and other organic material that otherwise would be washed into storm sewers and then would flow – untreated – into surface waters.

 The Freshwater Society is partnering with the Friends of the Minnesota Valley to promote the clean-ups statewide and to develop a tool kit instructing community groups on how to conduct and publicize the clean-ups. Information on the tool kit is available here.

Over seven years, clean-ups inspired by the Friends of the Minnesota Valley have resulted in the removal of 8,400 pounds of phosphorus and 47,000 pounds of trash from the Minnesota River and its watershed.

Other winners of the Pollution Prevention awards are: 

  • East Metro Clean ‘n’ Press of West St. Paul.  A large dry cleaners and shirt laundry, East Metro made use of heat exchangers to increase energy efficiency and offer excess heat to a neighboring business in the winter. 
  • Sappi Cloquet, LLC, of  Cloquet. The firm’s Cloquet paper mill made changes in the pulping process that reduced the amounts of several sulfide compounds being emitted.  
  • The City of Buffalo. Buffalo’s wastewater treatment facility uses innovative technology to serve a growing population while nearly eliminating land-application of  bio-solids. Bio-solids are instead turned into fuel for the facility, reducing natural gas consumption by 80 percent. 
  • The Minnesota Department  of  Natural Resources -Alternative Energy and Energy Conservation Initiative.  The DNR recently completed several energy conservation projects, including a building at Camden State Park that uses wind and geothermal energy and a geothermal heating and cooling system for the Itasca State Park’s Douglas Lodge.  
  • The City of St. Anthony. The city of St. Anthony collects filter backwash water, a waste byproduct from the city’s wastewater treatment and stormwater runoff, and uses it to sprinkle a 20-acre site that includes a municipal park and City Hall, saving 5 million gallons of pure drinking water-quality water per year.

–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

 EPA takes new look at ‘fracking’ process
So vast is the wealth of natural gas locked into dense rock deep beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio that some geologists estimate it’s enough to supply the entire East Coast for 50 years.

But freeing it requires a powerful drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” using millions of gallons of water brewed with toxic chemicals, that some fear could pollute water above and below ground and deplete aquifers. 

As gas drillers swarm to this lucrative Marcellus Shale region and blast into other shale reserves around the country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking a new look at the controversial fracking technique, currently exempt from federal regulation. The $1.9 million study comes as the nation reels from the Deepwater Horizon environmental and economic disaster playing out in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The oil and gas industry steadfastly defends the process as having been proven safe over many years as well as necessary to keep the nation on a path to energy independence.
–The Associated Press

Rules update on shoreland, docks delayed
Long-awaited rules to protect Minnesota lakeshores and limit supersized docks are far behind schedule and have been parked in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office for several months. 

The lack of action by Pawlenty has angered some legislators, who in 2007 and 2008 ordered the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to revise the rules. 

“It’s obviously a purposeful delay that allows as much bad lakeshore development as possible,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis and chair of the House environment and natural resources finance committee. 

Officials said the rules are complicated, and have required extra time for both the DNR and Pawlenty’s office to review.
–The Star Tribune

 Chesapeake Bay pollution suit continues
A federal judge has denied a bid by Perdue Farms and an Eastern Shore chicken grower to dismiss a lawsuit accusing them of polluting a Chesapeake Bay tributary, clearing the way for trial on the potentially pioneering legal case.

 Judge William M. Nickerson of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore ruled the lawsuit brought this year by the Waterkeeper Alliance could go forward, though he struck two environmental groups as plaintiffs on a technicality.

 The Waterkeeper Alliance, the Assateague Coastal Trust and Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips filed suit in March alleging that harmful levels of bacteria and nutrient pollution were flowing from a drainage ditch on a Worcester County farm into a branch of the Pocomoke River. It is the first lawsuit to target Maryland’s chicken industry for water pollution, and it named not just the farmers as defendants but poultry giant Perdue Farms, based in Salisbury, for whom the chickens were being raised.

 Lawyers for the farmers, Alan and Kristin Hudson of Berlin, and for Perdue had petitioned the judge to dismiss the case on a variety of legal grounds, and Perdue had argued that it should be let out of the lawsuit. The company contended that it was not liable for any pollution because the Hudsons owned the farm and held the government permit to raise chickens there, not Perdue.
–The Baltimore Sun

India, Pakistan at odds over water
BANDIPORE, Kashmir — In this high Himalayan valley on the Indian-controlled side of Kashmir, the latest battle line between India and Pakistan has been drawn. 

This time it is not the ground underfoot, which has been disputed since the bloody partition of British India in 1947, but the water hurtling from mountain glaciers to parched farmers’ fields in Pakistan’s agricultural heartland. 

Indian workers here are racing to build an expensive hydroelectric dam in a remote valley near here, one of several India plans to build over the next decade to feed its rapidly growing but power-starved economy. 

In Pakistan, the project raises fears that India, its archrival and the upriver nation, would have the power to manipulate the water flowing to its agriculture industry — a quarter of its economy and employer of half its population.
–The New York Times

Notre Dame gets $2.5 million to study invasives
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has awarded $2.5 million to the University of Notre Dame and its partners to predict the next wave of invasive species likely to enter the Great Lakes and to identify cost-effective countermeasures. 

Invasive species such as zebra mussels are already a large problem, costing the region more than $200 million annually by disrupting Great Lakes fisheries and damaging waterway infrastructure by clogging water intake valves. Information generated by the study will help authorities prepare for new invasions and control current non-native populations. 

“We’ve got to identify the invasive species that pose the greatest environmental and economic threat here in the Great Lakes and plan for their containment,” said Felix Martinez, a program manager with NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Research . “There are many different potential invaders that could do enormous damage to the Great Lakes ecosystem and our region’s economies.”
–NOAA News Release

MPCA warns of toxic blue-green algae
When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is again reminding people that some blue-green algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.

Algae are microscopic aquatic plants that are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem.  But some forms of algae can become harmful.  Blue-green (cyanobacterial) algal blooms may contain toxins or other noxious chemicals that can pose harmful health risks.  People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms. 

 Blue-green algae are found throughout Minnesota, but thrive particularly in warm, shallow, nutrient-rich lakes.  Often occurring on downwind shorelines, it is in these blooms that humans and animals most often come in contact with blue-green algae and where the risk of algal toxins is greatest.

 There is no visual way to predict if a blue-green algal bloom contains toxins and is harmful to humans or animals, and distinguishing blue-green algae from other types may be difficult for non-experts.  But harmful blooms are sometimes said to look like pea soup, green paint or floating mats of scum. They often smell bad as well. 

 Humans are not affected very often, probably because the unpleasant appearance and odors of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water. An animal that has ingested toxins from an algal bloom can show symptoms that include skin irritation or vomiting, disorders involving the circulatory, nervous and digestive systems and skin lesions.  In worst cases, the animal may suffer convulsions and die. 

For more information about harmful algae blooms, go to www.pca.state.mn.us/water/clmp-toxicalgae.html or call 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA News Release

 MPCA seeks comment on Carver County lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking comments on two water quality improvement reports for seven Carver County lakes west of the Twin Cities. A public comment period began July 19 and continues through Aug. 18. 

The South Fork Crow River Lakes Excess Nutrients Total Maximum Daily Load Report covers Eagle, Oak and Swede Lakes. The Carver Creek Lakes Excess Nutrients Total Maximum Daily Load Report covers Goose, Hydes, Miller and Winkler Lakes. All are in primarily rural areas where agriculture is the dominant land use. 

 The seven lakes have been placed on the state’s impaired waters list because of excess nutrient levels, particularly phosphorus. While phosphorus is an essential nutrient for algae and plants, it is considered a pollutant when it stimulates excessive growth of algae. The TMDL studies indicated a phosphorus reduction from 42 to 97 percent will be needed to meet state water quality standards. 

The Carver Creek Lakes and South Fork Crow River Lakes draft reports are available on the Web at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/tmdl-draft.html. For more information, contact Chris Zadak at 651-757-2837, 1-800-657-3864 or via e-mail at chris.zadak@state.mn.us
–MPCA News Release 

MPCA seeks comment on Nine Mile Creek
The Nine Mile Creek Watershed is in an urban area, which includes portions of Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Richfield. Excess chloride levels in the creek are generally highest in the winter, when road salt is applied to paved surfaces. Excess chloride is harmful to fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants living in streams.

 The MPCA’s report indicates that chloride must be reduced by 62 percent for Nine Mile Creek to meet water quality standards. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load study, or TMDL, quantifies pollutant levels, identifies sources of pollution and proposes ways to bring water quality back standards.

 The draft report is available online at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/project-ninemilecreek.  For more information, to receive a copy of the report, or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak by phone at 651-757-2837 or by e-mail at Chris.Zadak@state.mn.us.
–MPCA News Release

Army Corps admits missteps in Tennessee flooding
Poor communication within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and among the Corps and the National Weather Service and other agencies caused errant flood forecasts and other problems during the devastating May flooding in Tennessee, a Corps report concludes.

But the Corps’ after-action review also states that the Corps operated successfully and that its actions reduced the flood crest on the Cumberland River in Nashville by 5 feet.

The Corps’ report will be the centerpiece of a Senate hearing to look at what happened and discuss lessons that can be used to lessen future disasters.
–The Nashville Tennessean

Alaskan water to slake Mumbai’s thirst?

July 19, 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.

Company plans to ship Alaskan water to Asia
A tiny company has a big plan to ship billions of gallons of water from Sitka, a town of 8,500 located on Baranof Island off the southeast coast of Alaska, to a port south of Mumbai on India’s west coast. 

 Alaska Resource Management was formed by S2C Global Systems and True Alaska Bottling, which holds the right to 2.9 billion gallons a year of water from Sitka’s Blue Lake Reservoir for a penny per gallon. An S2C press release claims that the joint partnership will be distributing water in India within six to eight months. The water will move from Blue Lake Reservoir through an already-complete pipeline to the True Alaska facility in Sitka. From there, it will be loaded onto Suezmax vessels capable of holding 41 million gallons of liquids. After being transloaded into holding tanks, the water will be distributed in office-cooler sized bottles. 

The development was first reported by Circle of Blue, a journalistic outfit covering global water issues affiliated with the Pacific Institute, a non-profit think tank.
–The Atlantic 

DNR merger of water functions proceeds
The state Department of Natural Resources is merging two of its divisions, a change the agency says will result in better protection for the states lakes and rivers. 

The DNR is combining the divisions of waters and ecological resources into one as yet unnamed division that will focus on water quality.

Ecological Resources Division Director Steve Hirsch said the state is changing in terms of climate, population and development pressure. The DNR needs to be more responsive to those changes, he said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 EPA begins water conservation campaign
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program is kicking off its national “We’re for Water” campaign to encourage Americans to make simple choices that save water. The program, in collaboration with its partner, American Water, will spread the word about saving water by traveling cross-country, stopping at national landmarks and educating consumers about WaterSense labeled products. 

WaterSense products use about 20 percent less water than standard models.

Consumers can start saving water today with three simple steps: check, twist and replace. 

  • Check toilets for silent leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank; if the color shows up in the bowl indicating a leak, fixing it may be as simple as replacing the toilet’s flapper.
  • Twist on a WaterSense labeled bathroom faucet aerator to use 30 percent less water without a noticeable difference in flow.
  • Replace a showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model that uses less water and energy, but still has all the power of a water-hogging model.

–EPA News Release 

Great Lakes states press for action on carp
Federal officials are not moving swiftly enough to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, say critics of the Obama administration’s plan to ensure the invasive species, recently found near Lake Michigan, is stopped. 

 “At some point we need to have a permanent solution,” said US Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan at a subcommittee hearing on water and power. 

Senator Stabenow acknowledged that President Obama’s framework to fortify entryways to the Great Lakes systems is providing valuable information on the Asian carp’s movement, but she and other Great Lake lawmakers want a more sure-fire plan for keeping the fish, an aggressive eater known to devour local species, from harming local fisheries and thus damaging area economies. 

“Obviously, the fish are not going to wait for us. This is something we have to act on as quickly as humanly possible,” she said.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Saving water on the National Mall
The National Park Service released final plans for a makeover of the National Mall in Washington that includes new buildings, landscaping and a number of measures aimed at conserving energy and water. 

The $700 million plan is aimed at guiding long-term management of the mall, a 2-mile-long swath of lawns and walking paths that link the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and serve as the front yard to some of the nation’s most famous and most heavily visited museums and monuments. 

Sustainability is a theme for the plan, which includes measures for reducing water use at the Reflecting Pool, which has been described as a “giant bathtub” between the Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial. Park Service spokesman Bill Line said the agency is proposing replumbing the pool with a system that would circulate, filter and recycle water to ease the strain on the District of Columbia’s water supply.
–The New York Times

EPA reviews dioxin limits
The Environmental Protection Agency is holding public hearings to review a proposed safe exposure limit for dioxin, a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor produced as a common industrial byproduct. 

It’s all but impossible to avoid exposure to dioxin. Research done by the Environmental Working Group has shown that adults are exposed to 1,200 times more dioxin than the EPA is calling safe — mostly through eating meat, dairy and shellfish — and mothers pass it on to babies in the womb and in breast milk. A nursing infant ingests an amount 77 times higher than what the EPA has proposed as safe exposure. (Formula is also widely contaminated with the stuff.)

Because dioxin is such a common pollutant — it’s a waste product of incineration, smelting, chlorine bleaching and pesticide manufacturing — its health effects are well documented. Fifties-era research linked high-level exposure to cancer and disease outbreaks. Newer studies have shown that ongoing low-level exposure can result in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, endometriosis, early menopause and reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

Natural gas ‘fracking’ raises worries
American politicians often extol natural gas as abundant, cleaner-burning than other fossil fuels, and domestically produced, unlike Middle Eastern oil. But the process of extracting it is raising concerns among people with wells in their backyards. 

Anger and fear were on display at a public meeting convened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Forth Worth, a gas-drilling hub. Dozens of local residents took turns at the microphone to voice concerns about potential contamination of drinking water. 

A film called “Gasland,” released on the cable channel HBO, showed people in drilling areas lighting their tap water on fire, as gas found its way into their water supply. 

At issue is a procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has been adopted widely in the United States over the past 10 years to extract gas trapped in shale formations. It is just starting to spread to other parts of the world, including Europe, China and Australia.
–The New York Times

 San Diego water conservation is working
Mayor Jerry Sanders said that San Diego residents cut their water use by 11 percent during fiscal year 2010, exceeding the goal of 8 percent. 

“A year ago, I urged all San Diegans to make water conservation a conscious part of their everyday lives,” Sanders said. “They’ve clearly listened.” 

The numbers are significant because they show 12 consecutive months under heightened water restrictions.
–The San Diego Union-Tribune

Pawlenty joins call for Asian carp summit

July 12, 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.

Pawlenty joins call for Asian carp summit
Gov. Tim Pawlenty seconded a call for an emergency summit to find ways to protect the Great Lakes from an invasion of Asian carp.

Saying the invasive species threatens both ecological and economic interests, Pawlenty agreed with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s request for a meeting to discuss building a physical barrier to keep the fish out of the region. Pawlenty also sent a letter asking President Barack Obama to convene the summit.

An Asian carp was recently found near Lake Michigan, on the wrong side of an electric barrier designed to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. Scientists are concerned the carp could disrupt habitat and fisheries in the Upper Midwest.

Both of Minnesota’s Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, are supporting proposed legislation expediting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of the problem.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Oil spill commission faces unique task
The presidential commission appointed to study the causes of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and to recommend improvements for offshore drilling has navigated tight spots as it prepares to begin work this week.

Unlike the commissions that investigated space-shuttle accidents and the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, the Deepwater panel must analyze what went wrong while things still are going wrong.

That real-time analysis of a catastrophe “makes this commission pretty unusual,” said Amy Zegart, an associate professor at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs who has studied the more than 600 presidential commissions convened in the past two decades.
–The Washington Post

Lake Superior warms early this year
C’mon in — the water’s fine (relatively speaking). Long notorious for its bone-chilling frigidity, Lake Superior is far warmer than normal for this time of year, and could be headed for record-setting high temperatures later this summer.

Thanks to less ice last winter and an early spring, the top layer of the big lake will be “exceptionally warm by August,” according to researchers at the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Temperatures in the top 30 to 50 feet of water usually peak at 59 degrees in mid-August, but they hit that mark this week. The record of 68 degrees, reached in 1998, could well be matched or broken.

The heat is welcome news for swimmers and some species of fish, but streams feeding the largest Great Lake have seen some fish kills.
–The Star Tribune

Public comment sought on Reitz Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is requesting comments on the draft water quality improvement report for Reitz Lake in Waconia in Carver County. The report summarizes a study, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, that focused on pollution in the lake caused by excess nutrients. The public comment period begins July 12 and continues through Aug. 11, 2010.

This is the second public comment period for this TMDL due to changes made to the original draft report. Those changes included an increase in the overall needed reduction in pollutant loading as well as revisions in the pollution allocations among the contributing sources.

The draft TMDL calls for phosphorus reductions for Reitz Lake. The phosphorus is transported to the lake in runoff from agricultural lands, feedlots, lawns and other urban surfaces, and failing septic systems. Phosphorus in the runoff that reaches the lake must be reduced if excessive growth of algae is to be reduced.

The Reitz Lake draft TMDL report is available here.

 Written comments on the draft TMDL report should be submitted to Chris Zadak, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, MN 55155-4194. They must be received by 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 12. Anyone who has questions about the review and comment process may call Zadak at 651-757-2837 or 1-800-657-3864,

or e-mail him at Chris.Zadak@state.mn.us
–MPCA News Release

Cass County feedlot agrees to pollution fine
Crow Wing Feeders LLC, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have reached an agreement that requires the company to pay $15,000 for alleged feedlot violations at its cattle feedlot in Cass County, Minn.

MPCA staff inspections in December of 2009 revealed several violations relating to an unpermitted construction and expansion, discharges, and failure to obtain required permits. According to inspection reports, the company expanded its feedlot to nearly 2,700 head of cattle without obtaining a required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. NPDES permits are required when a feedlot exceeds 1,000 cattle. The company also used unpermitted and uncertified liquid manure storage areas for manure and manure-contaminated runoff. These areas were not engineered or designed in accordance with Minnesota statutes, and the company failed to submit a permit application, and plans and specifications prior to constructing them. 

In addition to paying the $15,000 civil penalty, the company was required to empty and close the manure storage areas and land apply the manure and contaminated soils. The firm must also limit the number of cattle on the feedlot to its current registered number of 840.
–MPCA News Release 

Report: Ag research needs sustainability focus

July 6, 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.

Research Council urges focus on agricultural sustainability 
Government policies and agricultural research are too focused on increasing crop production and should be directed toward softening the impact of farming on the land and water, researchers say.

Farms have increased production by 158 percent over the past 60 years, but that has come with a cost to water quality and water supplies, and agriculture also is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

 “Our finding was that there is too much emphasis on productivity, mainly of industrial ingredients,” said one of the 15 members of the study panel, Cornelia Flora, a sociologist at Iowa State University who specializes in agricultural and rural issues.

The report said that most public agricultural research funding is targeted toward improving farm productivity and reducing costs. Just one-third goes toward other aspects of farming practices, such as the environmental impact. Federal and state research programs “should aggressively fund” studies of farming systems that making farming “robust and resilient over time,” the report said.

The researchers also said that federal farm subsidies encourage farmers to maximize yields and plant the same crops year after year and that more study is needed to determine what impact alternative policies could have on farming practices.
–The Des Moines Register

 Sulfide mining review under way again
Four months after an environmental analysis of a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota was slammed by a federal agency, a revamped study is finally moving ahead.

Anxious environmentalists and many concerned residents hope this one turns out to be a lot more comprehensive.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction, and we are really counting on it being a thorough analysis,” said Betsy Daub, policy director for the advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “It’s what Minnesota’s waters deserve.”

At issue is whether a type of mining proposed by PolyMet Mining, which has led to widespread pollution elsewhere, can be done safely near one of Minnesota’s most vulnerable areas — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a vast system of federally protected and interconnected lakes and rivers. 

Nearby, two other ambitious sulfide-mining proposals also are in the works, offering the prospect of more intensive activity near the wilderness border.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Arsenic in groundwater epidemic in Bangladesh
Hanufa Bibi stoops in a worn sari and mismatched flip-flops to work the hand pump on her backyard well. Spurts of clear water wash grains of rice from her hands, but she can never get them clean.

Thick black warts tattoo her palms and fingers, the result of drinking arsenic-laced well water for years. It’s a legacy that new research has linked to 1 in 5 deaths among those exposed in Bangladesh — an impoverished country where up to half of its 150 million people have guzzled tainted groundwater.

 The World Health Organization has called it “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history,” as countless new wells continue to be dug here daily without testing the water for toxins.

 “The magnitude of the arsenic problem is 50 times worse than Chernobyl,” said Richard Wilson, president of the nonprofit Arsenic Foundation and a physics professor emeritus at Harvard University who was not involved in the study.
–The Associated Press

EPA proposes crackdown on nitrogen pollution
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed tough pollution caps for the Chesapeake Bay, requiring Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states to do more to clean up the troubled estuary than previously thought necessary.

The pollution limits proposed by the EPA would force the six states and the District of Columbia to roughly double the pace at which they’ve been removing nitrogen, one of the two nutrients fouling the bay. Maryland, for instance, would have to curtail nitrogen by 15 percent over the next seven years — a regimen likely to require costly upgrades to sewage treatment plants, expensive retrofits of storm drains in urban and suburban areas, and major new curbs on runoff of fertilizer and chicken manure from Eastern Shore farms.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said the draft pollution-reduction targets would not be easy for the states to achieve. But they represent federal scientists’ best estimates of what’s needed to restore fish-sustaining oxygen to the waters of North America’s largest estuary. Dead zones form every summer in the Chesapeake from algae blooms that are fed by sewage plants, farm and urban and suburban runoff and air pollution.
–The Baltimore Sun 

FDA inches toward regulating drugs fed to livestock
Federal food regulators took a tentative step toward banning a common use of penicillin and tetracycline in the water and feed given cattle, chickens and pigs in hopes of slowing the growing scourge of killer bacteria.

 But the Food and Drug Administration has tried without success for more than three decades to ban such uses. In the past, Congress has stepped in at the urging of agricultural interests and stopped the agency from acting.

 In the battle between public health and agriculture, the guys with the cowboy hats generally win.

The F.D.A. released a policy document stating that agricultural uses of antibiotics should be limited to assuring animal health, and that veterinarians should be involved in the drugs’ uses.
–The New York Times

Turn in a polluter – on line
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently launched its new online Complaint Tracker system. Citizens with environmental complaints can now fill out an online form available via the MPCA web site and click to send it directly to a MPCA inspector. 

 The MPCA receives about 1,000 environmental complaints from citizens each year. Complaints range from seeing a neighbor illegally dumping garbage to spotting a puzzling oily sheen on a lake. 

 “The MPCA relies on citizens to notify us of potential environmental problems, whether it’s someone dumping a mystery substance into a river or someone running a business without appropriate environmental safeguards and permits,” said Katie Koelfgen, supervisor, MPCA Air Quality Compliance and Enforcement Unit. “Speed and efficiency are important when it comes to protecting the environment. Once the MPCA knows about the problem and investigates, we’re able to take action quickly before further environmental damage is done. ” 

 While citizens can still rely on the phone to report a complaint, the new online system eliminates the need for messages, phone tag or repeated phone calls for more information. MPCA inspectors find the Complaint Tracker system to be user-friendly and efficient, allowing them to follow up on complaints more quickly. The phone numbers for complaints are 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA news release

DNR sampling well water in Benton County
Water samples from about 100 wells in Benton County are being collected and analyzed for general and trace chemistry during the next two months by hydrogeologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The data is being collected for the Benton County Geologic Atlas, a cooperative effort involving staff from the Minnesota Geological Survey, DNR Waters Division and Benton County. Samples are also being tested to learn how long the water has been underground.

 DNR Waters staff will be contacting Benton county residents to request permission for well sampling, which involves collecting a water sample and measuring the depth to water in each well. The selection of wells for sampling will be based on geology, location, well depth and well construction. Water sampled will come from wells drawing water from aquifers at varying depths. Owners of wells that are sampled will receive a report of the laboratory results for their well.
–DNR News Release

No federal permit required for U.P. mine
A member of Congress says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided that Kennecott Eagle Minerals Co. doesn’t need a federal permit to build a nickel and copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, whose district includes the section of Marquette County where the mine would be located, announced the decision. The Associated Press left messages seeking comment with EPA’s regional office in Chicago. 

The federal permit was the last regulatory hurdle for Kennecott Eagle, which already has state permits to build and operate the mine.

 Opponents of the project contend the mine would pollute groundwater and rivers in the remote area near Lake Superior. Kennecott says it will protect the environment.
–The Associated Press 

Penn State climate scientist cleared of misconduct
An American scientist accused of manipulating research findings on climate science was cleared of that charge by his university, the latest in a string of reports to find little substance in the allegations known as Climategate.

 An investigative panel at Pennsylvania State University, weighing the question of whether the scientist, Michael E. Mann, had “seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities,” declared that he had not.

 Dr. Mann said he was gratified by the findings, the second report from Penn State to clear him. An earlier report had exonerated him of related charges that he suppressed or falsified data, destroyed e-mail and misused confidential information.
–The New York Times