Gulf may see a record ‘dead zone’

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 ‘dead zone’ is one of the biggest
The annual Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” – a low-oxygen region of seawater that appears each spring and summer and either snuffs marine life or sends it fleeing – is one of the largest on record this year.

That’s the assessment of a team of scientists who wrapped up a cruise to take the dead zone’s measure. This year it’s roughly the size of Massachusetts and stretches from off of Galveston, Tex., east to the Mississippi’s “bird’s foot” delta.

The patch off of Texas is particularly noteworthy, says Nancy Rabalais, a marine scientist and director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Dr. Rabalais heads the annual survey effort.

 This year’s is the largest oxygen-deprived area seen off of the Texas coast since she and her team began conducting the surveys in 1985, she says. Indeed, the dead zone’s “total area probably would have been the largest if we had had enough time to completely map the western part.” 

The dead zone forms each spring and summer as snowmelt and rainfall in the Mississippi River’s vast drainage basin leach nutrients from farm fields and to a lesser extent from urban landscapes along the river and its tributaries.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 U.S. environmental officials seek Minnesota input
Lisa Jackson, the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and top officials of other federal agencies with responsibility for the environment came to the Twin Citites on Aug. 4 for a “listening session” seeking citizen input as the Obama administration plans a new national agenda for conservation.

 In a meeting at the University of Minnesota that was attended by about 300 people, the administration officials asked for suggestions on four topics:

  • What is working well in promoting conservation and outdoor recreation?
  •  What obstacles keep people from connecting with the outdoors?
  • How can the federal government be a more effective partner with state and local groups working on conservation?
  •  What additional tools would help the state and local organizations?

 Read a Minnesota Public Radio report on the listening session and the officials’ visit to Minnesota. For more information about the national initiative, or to submit on-line comments, click here.

 Chicago’s Asian carp may have been put there
A 3-foot-long Asian carp discovered in a Chicago waterway near Lake Michigan appears to have spent most of its life there and may have been planted by humans who didn’t know what type of fish it was or the environmental risk it posed, researchers said.
Tests of chemical markers in the bighead carp suggest it was not a recent arrival to the waterway and probably did not get there by evading an electric barrier meant to prevent the species from infesting the Great Lakes, said Jim Garvey, a fisheries biologist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

He acknowledged the findings were not certain because of incomplete data and were based on a number of assumptions.
–The Associated Press 

Scientists question rosy assessment of Gulf spill
The “greatest environmental disaster” in U.S. history — which has appeared at times to leave a high-control White House powerless — seemed to have lost its power to scare.

A few hours after BP’s well was declared virtually dead, the Obama administration announced that only about 26 percent of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico was unaccounted for.

“A significant amount of this,” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “is a direct result of the very robust federal response efforts.”

But, in interviews, scientists who worked on the report said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates with a significant margin of error.

Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used interpretations that made the gulf — and the federal efforts to save it — look as good as possible.
–The Washington Post

 DNR sues over lakeshore set-back variance
As more homes creep closer to Minnesota’s environmentally sensitive lakeshore, the state Department of Natural Resources is pushing back by suing a western Minnesota township that allowed a property owner to build a house 14 feet from Ida Lake. The rare move could signal a new statewide emphasis on controlling building on waterfront land.

 “This is a shot across the bow on the part of DNR,” said Brad Karkkainen, an environmental law expert at the University of Minnesota.

 Karkkainen said the new suit against Cormorant Township will send a message to localities that are allowing more buildings — often expansive vacation homes — that exceed state standards for size and distance from the water’s edge and create polluting stormwater runoff. “The importance of the suit,” he said, “is in setting a policy precedent that DNR will use state resources to prosecute.”
–The Star Tribune

Water study probes DEET insect repellent
DEET may be safe to spray on your skin, but not to swallow in drinking water.

To see how safe or unsafe it is, the Minnesota Department of Health has picked the popular insect repellent ingredient as the first of seven “chemicals of emerging concern” to assess during the next year. 

“We shower, it goes down the drain, and it ends up in wastewater that goes into rivers,” said state toxicologist Helen Goeden. 

Like many compounds, there are no state or federal standards for DEET, yet it has been detected in water samples nationwide, including Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Huge Everglades restoration keeps shrinking
For the third and likely last time, Gov. Charlie’s Crist’s controversial Big Sugar deal is being dramatically downsized.

With their budget squeezed by a brutal economy and two major legal defeats, South Florida water managers have proposed yet another major whack at a land buy once so bold and bright that environmentalists touted it as the holy grail of Everglades restoration: Buy out the entire U.S. Sugar Corp. — lock, stock and all 180,000-plus acres — for $1.75 billion and convert much of the massive swath of farms into water storage and cleanup projects. 

The fragments now left on the table: $197 million cash for 26,800 acres, most of it citrus groves, and “options” to buy the rest at $7,400 an acre over the next three years or at market price over the next decade.
–The Miami Herald 

Scientists probe California estuary
Scientists tasked with unraveling one of the nation’s most vexing environmental puzzles started their first field trip to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta at a fish processing facility here near one of the estuary’s major water-pumping stations. 

Assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists — 15 experts in estuarine ecology, hydrology, fisheries science and water resources engineering — were gathering information for a series of reports that could influence management of the West Coast’s largest estuary for decades to come.

The stakes for the two-year study are high. All around the delta, demand for water is growing — water for endangered fish, for farms and for 25 million people. Political pressure from California’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, and others finally forced the White House to order the review this spring.
–The New York Times
 

Florida contest saves tons of water
Gary and Linda Rogers are turning blue into green. 

The Cooper City couple saved $117 by reducing their water usage by 27,000 gallons in just three months. 

They weren’t the only ones. 

When the city’s utilities department issued a three-month water conservation challenge, 12 teams of Cooper City homeowners signed on. The competition pitted two local homeowners’ associations — the Homes at Forest Lake and Reflections at Rock Creek — to see who could save the most water. 

“Water conservation is not a new concept. We just wanted to make it more visible and try to engage folks a little more,” said Mike Bailey, director of utilities.
–The Miami Herald 

Chicago suburbs seek L. Michigan water
Worried about tapping out their wells and the possible risk of pollution, nearly a dozen Lake County communities have pushed a plan to allow them to draw their water from Lake Michigan.

The $252 million proposal, which needs approval from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, calls for pumping water from a proposed new treatment plant at Zion and running it through 57 miles of new pipelines.

Towns involved in the project now get their water from wells that tap into an aquifer in the bedrock. Some communities are running low, officials say.

“We’re seeing severe depletion,” said Matt Formica, Lindenhurst village administrator. The village has nine functioning shallow wells. “Two are on their last legs. We have to do something. … We’re running out of water.”
–The Chicago Tribune

Invasive spiny waterfleas spread to Burntside L.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources confirmed that spiny waterfleas were discovered in Burntside Lake near Ely recently. They were discovered by an angler when he observed them collecting on fishing lines in the water.

 “Spiny waterfleas can spread when boats, fishing or bait harvesting gear become contaminated with egg-laden females or when water from the infested lakes and rivers is transported,” said Rich Rezanka, DNR invasive species specialist. “Although the waterfleas can die between fishing trips, they might be carrying resting eggs that can begin a new infestation.” 

Spiny waterfleas are currently found in Lake Superior, Mille Lacs Lake, Fish Lake, and the U.S.-Canadian border waters such as Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake and Namakan Lake as well as lakes on the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marias.

 Spiny waterfleas can collect in masses, entangling on fishing lines, downrigger cables, and anchor lines. The masses can resemble gelatin or cotton batting with tiny black spots, which are the creatures’ eyes or eggs. Individual animals are difficult to distinguish without magnification because they are only one-fourth to five-eighths inch long.

 Experts believe spiny waterfleas originally arrived in the U.S. from Eurasia in the ballast water of cargo ships. They were first found in Lake Superior in 1987.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Research: Gulf oil dispersants not likely to be EDCs
Government researchers are reporting that eight of the most commonly used oil dispersants used to fight oil spills, such as those being used in the Gulf of Mexico, appear unlikely to act as endocrine disruptors.

More than 1.5 million gallons of oil spill dispersants — a combination of one or more surfactants with the ability to emulsify oil and a hydrocarbon-based solvent to break up large clumps of high molecular weight — have been used recently in the Gulf of Mexico following the spill at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

The NIH and Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study to measure the potential for endocrine disruption with eight oil spill dispersants. The researchers applied a rapid screening method using mammalian cells to determine the eight dispersants’ potential to act as endocrine disruptors and relative toxicity to living cells.

The tested dispersants also had a relatively low potential for cytotoxicity with JD-2000 and SAF-RON GOLD showing the least potential. Cytotoxicity was not seen until dispersants were tested at concentrations above 10 parts per million, according to the researchers.
–Edocrine Today

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