Archive for September, 2010

World using up groundwater, researcher says

September 27, 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: World depleting its groundwater
The rate at which humans are drawing from vast underground stores of groundwater on which billions rely has doubled in recent decades, a Dutch researcher says.

Findings published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters say water is rapidly being pulled from fast-shrinking subterranean reservoirs essential to daily life and agriculture in many regions. 

So much water is being drawn from below ground that its evaporation and eventual precipitation accounts for about 25 percent of the annual sea level rise across the planet, the researchers said. 

Global groundwater depletion threatens potential disaster for an increasingly globalized agricultural system, Marc Bierkens of Utrecht University in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said. 

“If you let the population grow by extending the irrigated areas using groundwater that is not being recharged, then you will run into a wall at a certain point in time, and you will have hunger and social unrest to go with it,” Bierkens says.

U of M reverses itself on showing documentary
A University of Minnesota documentary about farming, pollution and the Mississippi River is headed to the big screen after all. 

The U reversed itself and will now show the film that Karen Himle, vice president of University Relations, pulled from broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television. 

“Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” will be shown at the Bell Museum as originally scheduled on Oct. 3. Bell Museum director Susan Weller said she now hopes that TPT will agree to reschedule the broadcast, which had been set for Oct. 5.
–The Star Tribune

 Cut down on the flow of unwanted phone books
Do you have a collection of unused phone books accumulating on a desk or the top of your refrigerator? Here’s your chance to stop the flow of Yellow Pages directories to your home.

 Conservation Minnesota is working with the Yellow Pages Association, a trade group; and three Yellow Pages publishers – Dex One, SuperMedia and Yellowbook – to Minnesotans adjust the number of directories they receive, stop delivery altogether and learn about recycling oportunities.

 To take advantage of the service, go to

Everglades restoration shows progress
Over the past two years, the multibillion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades has finally begun showing some results on the ground.

 The work has been slow and, given the ambitious goals and big money already spent, hasn’t restored much of anything yet, aside from 13,000 acres of the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida where water levels have been raised.

 But the Strand and a handful of other projects are actually being built. Congress at long last opened its wallet. The state and federal partners managing the work are no longer squabbling.

 A National Research Council progress report on the Everglades points to all those things as signs of marked improvement at the end of a decade that had previously produced stacks of science and engineering studies, countless meetings and endless red tape.

 Still, the 276-page report makes clear that the challenges have only grown more difficult — particularly from water pollution — and the need to accelerate projects more pressing.
–The Miami Herald

MPCA offers grants for water monitoring
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced the availability of $1.5 million in grant money for lake and water monitoring projects. Grant proposals are due to the MPCA by 4 p.m. on Nov. 5.

 Water monitoring is often the first step toward protecting or improving water resources. Volunteers across Minnesota have been measuring the health of lakes and streams to see if the waters meet standards set for fishing and other uses since 2007 as part of a state program called Surface Water Assessment Grants.  To date, the program has awarded 113 grants totaling $5.84 million, leading to monitoring of 991 lake sites and 981 stream sites. 

Eligible applicants may apply through a competitive application process. Eligible applicants include counties, soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts, water management organizations, nonprofits, Minnesota colleges and universities, and American Indian tribes. No matching or in-kind funds are required under this program. 

The MPCA seeks applicants with experience in project administration, water quality monitoring and data management. The agency prefers projects that involve volunteers and that gather data for determining whether lakes and streams meet state water quality standards for aquatic life and/or aquatic recreation such as fishing.

Details are also available at
–MPCA News Release

 Extreme heat puts coral reefs at risk
This year’s extreme heat is putting the world’s coral reefs under such severe stress that scientists fear widespread die-offs, endangering not only the richest ecosystems in the ocean but also fisheries that feed millions of people.

From Thailand to Texas, corals are reacting to the heat stress by bleaching, or shedding their color and going into survival mode. Many have already died, and more are expected to do so in coming months. Computer forecasts of water temperature suggest that corals in the Caribbean may undergo drastic bleaching in the next few weeks.

 What is unfolding this year is only the second known global bleaching of coral reefs. Scientists are holding out hope that this year will not be as bad, over all, as 1998, the hottest year in the historical record, when an estimated 16 percent of the world’s shallow-water reefs died. But in some places, including Thailand, the situation is looking worse than in 1998.
–The New York Times

 North Dakota lake just keeps rising
It’s been called a slow-growing monster: a huge lake that has steadily expanded over the last 20 years, swallowing up thousands of acres, hundreds of buildings and at least two towns in its rising waters.

 Devils Lake keeps getting larger because it has no natural river or stream to carry away excess rain and snowmelt. Now it has climbed within 6 feet of overflowing, raising fears that some downstream communities could be washed away if the water level isn’t reduced. 

And those worries are compounded by another problem: Scientists believe the pattern of heavy rain and snow that filled the basin is likely to continue for at least another decade. 

“It’s a slow-moving torture,” said 72-year-old Joe Belford, a lifelong resident of Devils Lake and a county commissioner who spends most of his time seeking a way to control the flooding and money to pay for it.
–The Associated Press

 Drug-filled mice used against invasive snakes
Dead mice packed with drugs were recently airdropped into Guam’s dense jungle canopy—part of a new effort to kill an invasive species of snake on the U.S. Pacific island territory.

 In the U.S. government-funded project, tablets of concentrated acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, are placed in dead thumb-size mice, which are then used as bait for brown tree snakes.

 In humans, acetaminophen helps soothe aches, pains, and fevers. But when ingested by brown tree snakes, the drug disrupts the oxygen-carrying ability of the snakes’ hemoglobin blood proteins.
— National Geographic News Service

 Cut down on the flow of unwanted phone books
Do you have a collection of unused phone books accumulating on a desk or the top of your refrigerator? Here’s your chance to stop the flow of Yellow Pages directories to your home.

 Conservation Minnesota is working with the Yellow Pages Association, a trade group; and three Yellow Pages publishers – Dex One, SuperMedia and Yellowbook – to Minnesotans adjust the number of directories they receive, stop delivery altogether and learn about recycling oportunities. 

To take advantage of the service, go to 

BP officially ‘kills’ leaking oil well
U.S. officials said BP Plc killed its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico after creating another cement seal, plugging the source of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

 “The Macondo 252 well is effectively dead,” said National Incident Commander Thad Allen in a statement. BP completed its last pressure test on the plugs at 5:54 a.m. local time before declaring the well sealed, according to the statement.

The 87-day spill, triggered by an April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers, tainted hundreds of miles of U.S. coastline. It also wiped out more than $70 billion of BP’s market value, brought new drilling in the Gulf to a standstill and cost Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward his job. About 400 lawsuits are pending, and the trial judge overseeing those predicted hundreds more will be filed. 

“The whole industry is terrified it could happen to them,” Peter Hitchens, an analyst for Panmure Gordon UK Ltd. in London, said in an interview. “The whole way we drill wells could actually change. They’re going to take a lot longer. They’re going to be a lot more scrutinized.”
–Bloomberg News

EPA head told to testify in Florida court
Five months ago, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold ordered the top bosses of two state and federal environmental agencies to show up in his Miami courtroom to explain in person how they are going to end the “glacial delay” miring efforts to clean up the Everglades.

He reaffirmed his order, rejecting a request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a substitute for Administrator Lisa Jackson, who argued that a high-ranking assistant oversaw Glades issues and that Jackson was too busy to make the Oct. 7 hearing. 

“Furthermore, the demands of the administrator’s schedule, including travel to Asia as part of an official government delegation beginning October 8, would create a hardship for her to prepare for and attend the hearing,” an EPA motion filed last month read. Gold’s response: See you in court, Ms. Jackson. 

In a nine-page order, the judge questioned the federal agency’s priorities, saying the EPA had not “demonstrated any showing of a matter of national importance, issue, or great significance to preclude” her attendance. 

In April, in a federal lawsuit first filed in 2005 by the Miccosukee Tribe and the Friends of the Everglades, Gold delivered a blistering 48-page order finding state lawmakers and water managers had crafted “incomprehensible” rules and loopholes pushing back a 2006 cleanup deadline by a decade and that the EPA erred in approving watered-down standards.
–The Miami Herald

Cut greenhouse gases – feed oregano to cows
When cows and other ruminants digest their food, methane builds up in their rumen, the largest chamber of their four-chambered stomach. Releasing that greenhouse gas — mostly by belching — accounts for 20 percent of all methane emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

 That’s a problem, because methane is a far more powerful contributor to climate change than, say, carbon dioxide, since it prevents more heat and radiation from escaping into space.

 An agricultural scientist thinks he has a solution: oregano. 

Alexander Hristov, a professor of dairy nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, says that oregano-supplemented feed can reduce a dairy cow’s methane production by up to 40 percent, while increasing its daily flow of milk by close to three pounds. (That’s a lot, he says, about 5 percent of the average U.S. cow’s production.)
–The Washington Post 

Wisconsin considers L. Michigan water request
The state Department of Natural Resources restarted its review of Waukesha’s historic application for a Great Lakes water source, a process that stalled in June after Waukesha’s newly elected mayor raised questions about the city’s proposal.

 Waukesha is the first community outside the Great Lakes drainage basin to seek a diversion of water under terms of a regional Great Lakes protection compact. In announcing its decision to reopen the review, DNR officials said that its study of the plan’s environmental impact will extend into next year.

Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank also informed city officials that their request for Lake Michigan water is not complete, and more information is needed.

Among details the department seeks are costs to Oak Creek and Racine if they are tapped to supply lake water to Waukesha and an explanation of why Waukesha wants to discharge its treated wastewater to Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa regardless of whether it buys water from Milwaukee, Oak Creek or Racine, said Bruce Baker, DNR water division administrator. 

The Great Lakes compact requires a community to return water to a lake as close as possible to where it is withdrawn, Baker said.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

USGS report documents nitrate pollution

September 24, 2010

Pollution of both surface and ground waters by two major contaminants – nitrogen and phosphorus – has failed to improve or has gotten worse since the early 1990s, a major new study by the U.S. Geological Survey reports.

The new study, released Thursday, Sept. 23,  contained compelling evidence about the widespread nitrate contamination of shallow aquifers, the source of water for many people who rely on private wells.  

The study, which examined results from multiple tests of streams and groundwater between 1992 and 2004, found:

  •   Nitrate concentrations in 7 percent of about 2,400 private wells across the country exceeded the national health standard for drinking water.
  •  In agricultural areas, water from more than 20 percent of the shallow private wells tested exceeded the health standard.
  •  In deeper wells used for public water supply systems, about 3 percent of the water tested exceeded the limit.
  • In streams in agricultural and urban areas, levels of nitrogen and phosphorus were two to 10 times greater than Environmental Protection Agency criteria set for protecting the health of plants and other organisms.

Elevated levels of nitrate can be caused by fertilizers, runoff from feedlots and septic systems. High levels of nitrate in drinking water are especially harmful for infants, causing a condition known as methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome.”

Phosphorus from fertilizers and naturally occurring organic sources feeds nuisance algae growth. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to oxygen-deprived “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and other waters.

The USGS report, titled Elevated Nitrogen and Phosphorus Still Widespread in Much of the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater, is available at

In a news release announcing the report’s release, Mathew C. Larsen, the USGS associate director for water, said: “Despite major federal, state and local efforts and expenditures to control sources and movement of nutrients within our nation’s watersheds, national-scale progress was not evident in this assessment, which is based on thousands of measurements and hundreds of studies across the country from the 1990s and early 2000s.”

In Minnesota, a random test of water quality in about 700 private wells in the mid-90s by the state Health Department, found that 5.8 percent exceeded the health standard for nitrate.

 In Dakota County, where the county aggressively samples water from private wells, about one in every four wells violates the health standard for nitrate, according to Jill Trescott, the county’s supervisor for groundwater protection.

 “It’s definitely worse in the rural parts of the county, particularly in the east and the south,” Trescott said. And she added: “It’s the older wells we see problems with.” Newer wells, drilled since about 1989, are much less likely to exceed the nitrate standard because wells since then have been drilled deeper, she said.

Drug collections; a documentary reviewed

September 20, 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.

Special drug collections set Saturday, Sept. 25
Dozens of police departments and county sheriffs in Minnesota and Wisconsin are taking part in a special effort to collect unused and out-of-date prescription and nonprescription drugs on Saturday, Sept. 25.

 The collection effort was organized by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and it is aimed at preventing accidental poisonings of children, keeping drugs out of toilets and drains — where they pollute lakes and rivers — and out of garbage cans — where the drugs sometimes fall into the hands of drug abusers. Drugs collected on Saturday will be incinerated. 

Six counties in or near the Twin Cities metro area – Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Washington and Sherburne – are among more than 3,400 groups nationwide that are taking part in the collections, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Many western Wisconsin police and sheriff’s agencies also are taking part. In some cases, you may need to live in the county conducting the collection to be allowed to drop off drugs there. 

To find a collection near you, go to the DEA web site. Taking drugs to a collection, such as these, is the best option for disposal. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has guidelines for disposal when a collection is not available. 

U of M suspends opening of film on ag pollution
Two weeks ago, the University of Minnesota abruptly put on hold the scheduled release of a documentary film about pollution of the Mississippi River by agricultural nutrients and other contaminants. The documentary was partly funded by a $349,000 state grant. Here are reports on the university action by: the Star Tribune; the Pioneer Press; Minnesota Public Radio; the Twin Cities Daily Planet online publication, which first reported the university’s sudden postponement of a premiere of the film; and an official statement from the university’s Bell Museum, which was responsible for production of the film. 

Can barley bales beat algae?
Stillwater residents who live around McKusick Lake are using a novel—and natural—way to get rid of the algae that’s clouding their lake: a bale of barley.

 Residents pooled their money earlier this year to buy a 700-pound bale of barley straw, divide it up and sink it in the lake.

 So far, so good, said Bruce Werre, who lives on the lake and has been spearheading the barley drive.

“Let’s put it this way: The algae has not reared its ugly head again,” Werre said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m optimistic enough to have quadrupled our order for next year.” 

A major algae bloom in May after several rainstorms and a heat wave led Werre and about 10 other members of the McKusick Lake Water Association to spend $300 on the project.

“It was the weekend of the fishing opener. I left on May 14, and the lake was beautiful,” Werre said. “I came back on May 18, and the lake was covered—completely covered. We just needed to do something. This was something that we could do as far as boots on the ground and feet in the water to try and combat the algae.” 

Studies have shown that decomposing barley straw releases an enzyme that inhibits new algae growth, said Erik Anderson, a water resource specialist with the Washington Conservation District. In 2002 and 2003, the district released barley straw to combat algae growth in Gellums Bay of Big Marine Lake, but it didn’t work and hasn’t been used since, he said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Research: Manganese in water affects IQ
An IQ comparison shows that Canadian regulations on manganese in drinking water should be updated to protect children, Quebec researchers say. 

The average IQ of children whose tap water was in the upper 20 per cent of manganese concentration was six points below children whose water contained little or no manganese, the researchers found.

The study looked at 362 children aged six to 13. The amount of manganese from tap water and food was estimated, based on the results of a questionnaire. 

Manganese is a naturally occurring metal found in groundwater. It is an essential nutrient, but in excessive amounts, it can damage the nervous system. It occurs in naturally high levels in several parts of Quebec, New Brunswick and other regions, researchers say. 

Their study, published in the online issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, focused on manganese levels in drinking water in eight communities along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City.
–CBC News 

Xcel plans to remove Granite Falls dam
Local residents expressed concerns at a town hall meeting in Granite Falls as Xcel Energy presented a plan to remove the Minnesota Falls Dam located three miles downstream from the city.

 More than 100 years old, the dam was constructed in 1905 to provide hydroelectric power but has not been used to generate electricity since 1961. In the 1930s the dam provided chilled water to an Xcel Energy coal-fired power plant, but since the plant’s closure Xcel officials said the deteriorating structure serves no purpose and has been nothing but a potential liability to the company.

 The decision to remove the dam does not come without controversy. Several businesses upstream from the river, such as Granite Falls Energy and the Granite Falls Golf Course, use water intake structures on the river that would be affected if water levels drop as a result of the dam removal.

“Water levels will go down if the dam is removed,” Tom MacDonald, an engineer with Barr Engineering, who was hired by Xcel Energy to analyze the dam, said. “Granite Falls Energy will be impacted the most.”
–The Independent

Wisconsin citizens monitor mussels
ROME, Wis. — On a recent September evening, 17 people gingerly waded into the cool, fast-flowing waters of the Bark River outside this Jefferson County village and commenced a search for some of Wisconsin’s rarest and most threatened creatures.

 There, not far from the village’s backyards and within sight of a barnyard or two, they started finding as exotic a menagerie as one might imagine finding in the most remote rainforest. Fat muckets and elktoes. Threeridges and pigtoes. Pocketbooks and ellipses and black sandshells. 

These delightfully named river denizens are all freshwater mussels, or what most know as clams. The health of their populations in the state’s rivers are an excellent indication of the health of our waters, according to Lisie Kitchell, a DNR conservation biologist whose speciality is mussels. 

Now, a new citizen monitoring program is sending Wisconsin residents into their neighborhood rivers and streams to provide the first new information on the state’s mussels since data was last gathered in the 1970s.
–The Wisconsin State Journal 

Groundwater pollutants blames on ‘fracking’
Water testing by a private environmental engineering firm has discovered toxic chemicals in wells in a township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

Victoria Switzer, a resident of the northeastern Pennsylvania township of Dimock, revealed the results of the water tests from her well this week at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on hydraulic fracturing in Binghamton, New York.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a controversial process used to extract natural gas from deep underground. Critics say chemicals used in the process can be injected into groundwater.

 U.S. military to cut water, energy use
Defense Department officials plan to reduce the military’s water and fossil fuels consumption by more than 20 percent in the next decade under an Obama administration plan to make government agencies better stewards of the environment.

 The department’s priorities for this year and next are to invest in fixed installations, enhance buildings and ensure sustainability concepts in doctrine and policy, Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, wrote in the department’s portion of the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan.

 White House officials released the plan Sept. 9. It includes a roadmap submitted from each department outlining how they will reduce their impact on the environment while meeting mission goals. The plan is the result of an executive order by President Barack Obama.
–Defense Department News Release

Opinion: Restoring Lake Pepin is a priority
The little fishing boat launched as usual from Hansen’s Harbor for a late-summer excursion on Lake Pepin, the Mississippi River’s broad-shouldered bend through the lush bluffs of southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin. But just beyond the shoreline riprap, a troubling sight came into focus. 

Something resembling a giant, fluorescent mat of Astroturf carpeted the waves ahead. The same green gunk coated other swaths of the sailboat-studded lake — bringing back memories of the 1988 blue-green algae bloom that caused foul-smelling scum and localized fish kills. 

A closer look at the oatmeal-like growth, along with calls to the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of natural resources, quickly allayed fears that blue-green algae was back. The swaths on the lake this summer are a relatively benign type of aquatic plant called duckweed that may have been swept downriver by this summer’s heavy rainfall.

While the duckweed diagnosis isn’t cause for alarm, its startling appearance should serve as a reminder that Pepin remains an impaired water body whose very existence is at risk.
–The Star Tribune

‘Green’ products come with tradeoffs
Some longtime users were furious.

 “My dishes were dirtier than before they were washed,” one wrote last week in the review section of the Web site for the Cascade line of dishwasher detergents. “It was horrible, and I won’t buy it again.”

 “This is the worst product ever made for use as a dishwashing detergent!” another consumer wrote.

 Like every other major detergent for automatic dishwashers, Proctor & Gamble’s Cascade line recently underwent a makeover. Responding to laws that went into effect in 17 states in July, the nation’s detergent makers reformulated their products to reduce what had been the crucial ingredient, phosphates, to just a trace.

 While phosphates help prevent dishes from spotting in the wash cycle, they have long ended up in lakes and reservoirs, stimulating algae growth that deprives other plants and fish of oxygen. 

Yet now, with the content reduced, many consumers are finding the new formulas as appealing as low-flow showers, underscoring the tradeoffs that people often face today in a more environmentally conscious marketplace.
–The New York Times

Endocrine disruptors, irrigation and a carp ‘czar’

September 13, 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.

Lecture to explore pollution-birth defect link
It’s not too late to register to attend the Tuesday, Sept. 14, lecture by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist. Guillette, who spent 25 years researching the impact of water pollution on alligators and other wildlife, will present a free, public lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of St. Paul Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. 

Guillette’s research indicates common pollutants, including endocrine-disruptors, are causing birth defects, both in animals and humans. 

Go to for details. Dr. Guillette also will be interviewed at 10 a.m. Tuesday on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning show. 

Debate still rages over bisphenol-A
The research has been going on for more than 10 years. Studies number in the hundreds. Millions of dollars have been spent. But government health officials still cannot decide whether the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, a component of some plastics, is safe. The substance lines most food and drink cans, and is used to make hard, clear plastic bottles, containers and countless other products. Nearly everyone is exposed to it.

Concerns about BPA stem from studies in lab animals and cell cultures showing it can mimic the hormone estrogen. It is considered an “endocrine disruptor,” a term applied to chemicals that can act like hormones. But whether it does any harm in people is unclear.

Where science has left a void, politics and marketing have rushed in. A fierce debate has resulted, with one side dismissing the whole idea of endocrine disruptors as junk science and the other regarding BPA as part of a chemical stew that threatens public health.
–The New York Times

Study: Irrigation masks some climate warming
Expanded irrigation has made it possible to feed the world’s growing billions — and it may also temporarily be counteracting the effects of climate change in some regions, say scientists in a new study. But some major groundwater aquifers, a source of irrigation water, are projected to dry up in coming decades from continuing overuse, and when they do, people may face the double whammy of food shortages and higher temperatures.

 A new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research pinpoints where the trouble spots may be.

“Irrigation can have a significant cooling effect on regional temperatures, where people live,” said the study’s lead author, Michael Puma, a hydrologist who works jointly with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and its affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “An important question for the future is what happens to the climate if the water goes dry and the cooling disappears? How much warming is being hidden by irrigation?”
–Science Daily

 Asian carp ‘czar’ named
The White House has tapped a former leader of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources as the Asian carp czar to oversee the federal response for keeping the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

 On a conference call, President Barack Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality announced the selection of John Goss to lead the nearly $80 million federal attack against Asian carp.

The carp, which have steadily moved toward Chicago since the 1990s, are aggressive eaters and frequently beat out native fish for food, threatening those populations.

 Goss was director of the Indiana department under two governors and served for four years as executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation. His challenge will be to oversee several studies — including one looking into shutting down the Chicago waterway system linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River — and to bring together Great Lakes states locked in a court battle over the response to the Asian carp threat.
–The Chicago Tribune

DNR: White Bear Lake needs more rain
For Bill and Kitty Anderson, White Bear Lake residents who fish on their hometown lake every week, waiting for rain to refill their fishing hole was no longer good enough.

 At a public meeting at White Bear Lake City Hall, the couple and at least 100 other residents listened to hydrologists and climatologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explain why the lake level has fallen five feet over the past three summers. The DNR blames persistent dry and drought conditions.

 In terms of solutions, Bill Anderson asked, why not run water from somewhere else, like the Mississippi River, into White Bear Lake?

 The water quality of the river doesn’t match the lake’s, the DNR specialists said.

 The city organized the meeting after several summers of dry weather have contributed to the lake dropping and receding from its shoreline — by more than 100 feet in some areas.

The meeting was timely — the lake reached a new all-time low days before, hitting 919.65 feet above sea level, down from the normal watermark of 924.89 feet above sea level, according to DNR data.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Colorado wastewater affecting fish
Wastewater pouring from sewage-treatment plants in Boulder and Denver is bending the gender of fish living downstream, a new study has found. 

Some of these strangely sexed sucker fish have male and female organs, and others have sexual deformities, according to a study by University of Colorado researchers. 

“It’s sort of a sentinel for us,” said David Norris, a CU biologist and an author of the report. “Every major city in the Western U.S. is looking at it.”

The paper, published this month in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, is the first peer-reviewed study documenting the reproductive problems of fish downstream from Colorado wastewater-treatment plants. 

Similarly odd fish have been found in England and in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., Environmental Protection Agency officials said.
–The Denver Post

 Hydro-power making comeback
The giant pipes wheeze and rumble, the whoosh of water coursing through them as noisy as a freeway. The Mount Elbert hydropower plant high in the Rocky Mountains isn’t much to look at—or listen to. But to true believers, it’s a road map to a greener future.

 Hydropower, shunned just a few years ago as an environmental scourge, is experiencing a remarkable resurgence in the U.S. Dams are still viewed warily; in fact, Congress is considering dismantling four hydroelectric dams blamed for depleting salmon in the Klamath River basin in southern Oregon and northern California.

But engineers and entrepreneurs are pressing an alternative view of hydropower that doesn’t involve new dams. They argue that plenty of efficient, economical energy can be wrung from other water resources, including ocean waves, free-flowing rivers, irrigation ditches—even the effluent discharged from wastewater treatment facilities.
–The Wall Street Journal

If water smells bad, it probably is 
Earthy or musty odors, along with visual evidence of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, may serve as a warning that harmful cyanotoxins are present in lakes or reservoirs. In a newly published USGS study of cyanobacterial blooms in Midwest lakes, taste-and-odor compounds were found almost every time cyanotoxins were found, indicating odor may serve as a warning that harmful toxins are present.

 “It is commonly believed that there are no health risks associated with taste-and-odor compounds,” said Dr. Jennifer Graham, USGS limnologist and lead scientist on this study. “While taste-and-odor compounds are not toxic, these pungent compounds were always found with cyanotoxins in the blooms sampled. This finding highlights the need for increased cyanotoxin surveillance during taste-and-odor events so that the public can be advised and waters can be effectively treated.”

Cyanotoxins are produced by some cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria commonly form a blue-green, red or brown film-like layer on the surface of lakes and reservoirs. This phenomenon is frequently noticed in the United States during the summer, but also occurs during other seasons.

 Cyanotoxins can be poisonous to people, aquatic life, pets and livestock. Removing or treating affected water can be both costly and time-intensive. Cyanotoxins are currently on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water contaminant candidate list, and many states include cyanotoxins in their freshwater beach-monitoring programs.
–USGS News Release

California now lags in waste-to-energy race
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Government officials from around the world used to come to this port city to catch a glimpse of the future: Two-story piles of trash would disappear into a furnace and eventually be transformed into electricity to power thousands of homes. 

Nowadays, it’s U.S. officials going to Canada, Japan and parts of Western Europe to see the latest advances.

 The Long Beach plant, for all its promise when it began operations roughly 20 years ago, still churns out megawatts. But it is a relic, a symbol of how California, one of America’s greenest states, fell behind other countries in the development of trash-to-energy technology.
–The Associated Press 

DNR warns boaters on invasive species
With the growing popularity of autumn fishing and the Minnesota waterfowl season set to open on Saturday, Oct. 2, there could be considerable boat traffic on state waters once again this fall.

“That means the potential for spreading invasive species will continue until freeze-up so it’s important that boaters keep in mind the law concerning transporting aquatic vegetation on boats and trailers.” said Lt. Cory Palmer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area conservation officer supervisor at Litchfield.

 Because human activity is a frequent cause for spreading invasive species to new lakes, a state law was passed making it illegal to transport any type of aquatic vegetation on a boat or trailer, even if the vegetation is not invasive, Palmer said.
–DNR News Release

Montreal tap water fills Aqufina bottles
Water conservation groups say the City of Montreal should increase how much it charges companies to turn its cheap tap water into bottled water for a profit.  

Last year, the beverage giant PepsiCo began pumping municipal water into its Pepsi-QTG plant in Ville St. Laurent. The company filters the water and then bottles it under the brand name Aquafina. 

The Polaris Institute and Quebec’s Coalition Eau Secours said the City of Montreal isn’t charging companies like PepsiCo enough money to use municipal water as the basis for its bottled water product.
–CBC News 

FDA considers genetically modified salmon
Will the Food and Drug Administration approve the first genetically modified animal for human consumption? The animal is a genetically engineered salmon that grows to market size twice as fast as conventional salmon. And the FDA will be holding public meetings about that fish starting on September 19th. 

The company behind the salmon, AquaBounty Technologies, got a thumbs-up last week from a panel of FDA scientists. They concluded there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from consumption of food from this animal.
–National Public Radio 

Invasive quagga mussels threaten L. Michigan
An invasive species of mussel called quagga has recently begun eating its way through the phytoplankton population of Lake Michigan, which could have dire effects on the lake’s ecosystem, scientists now warn.

 A giant ring of phytoplankton (microscopic plants such as algae) was discovered in Lake Michigan in 1998 by Michigan Technological University biologist W. Charles Kerfoot and his research team. The “phytoplankton doughnut” is formed when winter storms kick up nutrient-rich sediment along the southeastern shore of the lake. The disturbed sediments begin circulating in a slow-moving circle with the lake’s currents, which provides a massive supply of food for phytoplankton.
–Our Amazing Planet

Holes found in bed of White Bear Lake 
A series of holes discovered in the sandy lake bed off  Manitou Island had state natural resources officials investigating the site and speculating about the sudden appearance.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Supervisor of Groundwater and Hydrology Jennie Leete and Hydrologist Craig Wills inspected a 6-inch deep, 4-foot by 4-foot hole about 25 feet off shore on the south side of the island Sept. 3. The hole was discovered Aug. 25.

Leete and Willis said it appears the hole may be part of a spring that has been revealed by historically low lake water levels. The pair said they did not believe water was leaking down into the hole.

“I’d be shocked if the water was going (down),” said Willis. “We think the water is (going up) into the lake.”
–The White Bear Press 

Don’t miss lecture on pollution-birth defects

September 7, 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.

Register now for lecture on pollution and birth defects
Less than two weeks remain to register to attend a free, public lecture in St. Paul by Louis J. Guillette Jr., an internationally recognized reproductive biologist.

Guillette’s lecture – at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota – is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.

Guillette, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina, spent 25 years studying sexually stunted alligators living in polluted lakes in Florida.

His lecture, titled “Contaminants, Water and Our Health: New Lessons from Wildlife,” will deal with links between water pollution and birth defects – in animals and in humans. For information, and to register,  go to To read an interview with Guillette, published in the Freshwater Society’s September newsletter, click here.

Asian carp case back in court
The 30-pound silver carp that leapt from the water and knocked a kayaker out of a 340-mile race down the Missouri River is a reminder of what’s at stake when the Asian carp debate returns to court in Chicago.

 Five Great Lakes states are suing the federal government to force closing of Chicago-area shipping locks as a last-ditch effort to keep the invasive species from entering Lake Michigan. But closing locks in the waterway system, even for a short time, could deal a crippling blow to the shipping and boating industries that help drive Illinois’ economy, business leaders say.

 This case “is a tremendous risk for the city of Chicago and the region’s economy, traffic congestion and flood control,” said Jim Farrell, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has fought to keep the locks open. “This irresponsible filing has very serious consequences.” 

The anticipated three-day legal showdown was to begin Sept. 7  in federal court as attorneys from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota try to persuade U.S. District Judge Robert Dow that Asian carp pose such a grave threat to the Great Lakes that nothing short of an emergency shutdown of the system will stop them.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Coon Rapids dam eyed as carp barrier
Can the 97-year-old Coon Rapids dam over the Mississippi River serve as Minnesota’s barrier to the northward migration of unwanted fish, including the notorious Asian carp?

Stanley Consultants, an international firm with an office in Wayzata, has a $164,087 contract with Three Rivers Park District to answer that question by the first of next year.

The west-suburban park district, which owns and operates the dam, will be reimbursed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from a $500,000 fund set up by the Legislature to create a fish barrier on the Mississippi.

 Although the dam at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, the Ford Dam in St. Paul and the Hastings Dam are taller and therefore better blocks to the invasive fish, they all have locks that allow fish to move upstream with boats, said Luke Skinner, DNR supervisor of the state’s invasive species program. “Coon Rapids dam is the first dam on the river that does not have a lock.”
–The Star Tribune

GE exec calls low prices for water ‘wacky’
Why doesn’t water get more attention? 

According to Jeff Fulgham, it’s because it’s available on demand virtually everywhere — from taps to toilets to showers and sinks.

 But as the newly-appointed chief sustainability officer of GE Power and Water — as well as the division’s Ecomagination leader — Fulgham knows better. The reality is that the world is quickly running out of water — and if we don’t do anything about it, what was once ubiquitous will become scarce in some of the world’s most populous areas.
–Smart Planet

 U.S. energy use dipped in 2009
A bright spot in the nation’s flickering economy is that Americans used less energy last year than in 2008, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently published its findings online.

 “Part of the reason is [that] the whole economy shrank,” said A.J. Simon, an energy analyst at Livermore who calculated that overall energy use in the country dropped from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008 to 94.6 quadrillion in 2009. “People are doing less stuff overall, using less oil, saving money.”

 Another reason, Simon added, is that the residential, industrial, commercial and transportation sectors of the economy are using more products that are energy-efficient. 

“People put in [compact fluorescent light bulbs],” Simon said, “and they actually use less electricity, and that change percolates all the way through the energy system.” 

The data also revealed that people are increasingly relying on hydropower, geothermal and wind energy, thereby cutting their use of coal, natural gas and petroleum.
–The Washington Post 

Spotted owls continue to decline
Twenty years after northern spotted owls were protected under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers continue to decline, and scientists aren’t certain whether the birds will survive even though logging was banned on much of the old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest where they live in order to save them. 

The owl remains an iconic symbol in a region where once loggers in steel-spiked, high-topped caulk boots felled 200-year-old or even older trees and loaded them on trucks that compression-braked down twisty mountain roads to mills redolent with the smell of fresh sawdust and smoke from burning timber scraps. 

Regionwide, the owl populations are dropping 2.9 percent a year. In Washington State, they’re declining at 6 percent to 7 percent a year. 

While that may seem like a small number, it adds up, said Eric Forsman, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Ore., who’s studied the owl since 1968. 

The fight over the owl, however, perhaps the fiercest in the history of the Endangered Species Act, was always about more than just protecting a surprisingly friendly, football-sized bird with dark feathers, dark eyes and white spots.
–McLatchy News Service

USGS research focuses on road salt toxicity
The use of salt to deice pavement can leave urban streams toxic to aquatic life, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study on the influence of winter runoff in northern U.S. cities, with a special focus on eastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

More than half of the Milwaukee streams included in this study had samples that were toxic during winter deicing. In eastern and southern Wisconsin, all streams studied had potentially toxic chloride concentrations during winter, with lingering effects into the summer at some streams. Nationally, samples from fifty-five percent of streams studied in 13 northern cities were potentially toxic; twenty-five percent of the streams had samples that exceeded acute water quality criteria. 

Toxicity was measured by direct testing of organisms in samples during the local study component; in the regional and the national study components, observed chloride levels were used to assess potential toxicity.

“We expected to see elevated chloride levels in streams near northern cities during the winter months,” said Steve Corsi of the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center. “The surprise was the number of streams exceeding toxic levels and how high the concentrations were,” said Corsi, who led the study.
–US Geological Survey News Release

First, the good news: Potomac shows improvement
The Potomac River in Washington, D.C. is showing multiple benefits from restoration efforts, newly published research suggests. Reduced nutrients and improved water clarity have increased the abundance and diversity of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Potomac, according to direct measurements taken during the 18-year field study. 

Since 1990, the area covered by SAV in the lower Potomac has doubled, the area covered by native SAV has increased ten-fold, the diversity of plant species has increased, and the proportion of exotic species to native species has declined as nutrients have declined, according to the study by the U.S. Geological Survey and England’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southhampton, UK. 

“Improvements to plant communities living at the bottom of the river have occurred nearly in lock step with decreases in nutrients and sediment in the water and incremental reductions in nitrogen effluent entering the river from the wastewater treatment plant for the Washington DC area,” said USGS scientist Dr. Nancy Rybicki.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Now, the bad news: Coastal ‘dead zones’ increase
A report issued by key environmental and scientific federal agencies assesses the increasing prevalence of low-oxygen “dead zones” in U.S. coastal waters and outlines a series of research and policy steps that could help reverse the decades-long trend. The interagency report notes that incidents of hypoxia—a condition in which oxygen levels drop so low that fish and other animals are stressed or killed—have increased nearly 30-fold since 1960, when data started to be collected.

 The report was compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and had significant inputs from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. It provides a comprehensive list of the more than 300 U.S. coastal water bodies affected by hypoxia and, in eight case studies, highlights a range of representative ecosystems affected by hypoxia.

 The full release and report can be found at
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

 Big banks grow leery of environmental risks
Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists’ biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.

 For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

 In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”
–The New York Times

 EPA declines to ban lead bullets
The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a request that it ban lead bullets, saying it does not have the legal authority to do so. The American Bird Conservancy and the Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned for the ban. The Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the petition was made, exempts ammunition from its controls. The agency will, however, seek comment on the merit of a ban on lead fishing sinkers. Adam Keats, a senior counsel for the center, said in a news release that “the E.P.A. has the clear authority and duty to regulate this very harmful and toxic substance as used in bullets and shot, despite the so-called exemption for lead ammunition.”
–The New York Times

 San Francisco proposes effluent re-use
It doesn’t sound like a radical idea: Watering Golden Gate Park’s meadows and bowers with treated wastewater.

But for a city that for 75 years has relied on a pristine water supply from the Sierra Nevada, it is. 

San Francisco’s water utility will unveil a proposal for the city’s first large-scale water recycling project, an arc-shaped facility near Ocean Beach that would filter and disinfect 2 million gallons of sewer and storm water each day for use on 1,000 acres of San Francisco land. 

The $152 million Westside Recycled Water Project would be used to water Golden Gate Park, the Presidio Golf Course and Lincoln Park.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

MPCA seeks comment on Como Lake pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for Como Lake in St. Paul. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load study, focuses on pollution caused by excess nutrients. A public comment period began Aug. 30 and continues through Sept. 29. 

The Como Lake watershed is located in the north-central portion of the Capitol Region Watershed District and is within the Upper Mississippi Watershed. The 69-acre lake is a popular recreational water body used for fishing, boating and aesthetic viewing. 

The lake was 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 or aquatic plants. 

The TMDL study indicated that the overall phosphorus load to Como Lake will need to be reduced by 60 percent in order to meet water quality standards. 

After receiving public comments, the MPCA will revise the draft Como Lake TMDL report and submit it to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. Following approval, a plan will be developed to reduce phosphorus pollution in the lake. 

The Como Lake TMDL draft report is available on the Web at, or at the MPCA St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road North. Comments may be submitted to Brooke Asleson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Asleson at 651-757-2205.
–MPCA News Release

Abandoned turtles threaten LA waters
When a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department task force followed a tip about illegal fireworks in San Pedro on the fourth of July, a stash of 10,000 live baby turtles was the last thing they expected to find.

 “There were about 500 turtles in each box – and they literally exploded out of the boxes,” said Linda Crawford, the adoption chairwoman of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club’s Foothill chapter.

 Along with other members, Crawford took in thousands of the “filthy” and sick animals – red-eared slider turtles reportedly smuggled cross-country from their native Louisiana. Despite antibiotics, more than half died. The rest were adopted out, Crawford said.

In an effort to quell the spread of salmonella to children, federal law has prohibited the sale of any turtle under four inches since 1975. But authorities say that hasn’t slowed black-market sales of the ever-popular red-eared sliders.
–The Pasadena Star-News