Archive for November, 2010

Beer, Asian carp, manganese and nutria

November 29, 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.

Want a beer with that climate talk?
Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist, will give a free public lecture — “Weather vs. Climate: A Minnesota Perspective” – Wednesday, Dec. 8, as part of  a new science happy hour series from the university’s  National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics.

The happy hour lecture series is called “A SIP OF SCIENCE.”   It will be held at 5:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main St. at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis.

 The series — free and open to the public – combines food, beer and learning in a happy hour forum that offers the opportunity to talk with researchers about their current work, its implications and its fascinations.

Seeley will touch on such questions as: Are summers in Minnesota really getting more hot and humid? Are we experiencing more frequent thunderstorms than we used to? If so, what does it all mean? How do we put our day-to-day weather experiences into the context of a changing Minnesota Climate?

U.N. climate negotiators gather in Cancun
To hear climate change negotiators describe it, this week’s U.N. global warming summit in Cancun, Mexico, is shaping up like a confab of homebuilders.

 Delegates say they are “laying foundations,” setting up “frameworks” and installing the “building blocks” for a future treaty.

They might also need a bomb shelter. Analysts say a blast is ready to detonate, and it’s called the Kyoto Protocol.

 “It is one of those issues that could blow up in a toxic way,” one British climate diplomat told ClimateWire.

 As negotiators from 192 countries descend on the Latin American city, best known for its sandy, white beaches and spring break nightlife, many delegates still carry the bitterness of last year’s contentious climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the same time, participants insist, they spent much of 2010 trying to repair the rifts and are ready to get to work.
–The New York Times

 Manganese rule relaxation rejected
Minnesota will keep, for now, an existing rule imposing limits on manganese in drinking water.

The Minnesota Department of Health was proposing to weaken the rule, but reversed course after receiving public comments.

 One of those comments came from Paula Maccabee at the environmental group Water Legacy.

“We’re very pleased that the Minnesota Health Department has listened to Water Legacy and other citizens of Minnesota, and is keeping in place Minnesota rules that protect children and elderly persons,” Maccabe said. “We think that’s a very positive step.”

 About 30 individuals and public interest groups protested, pointing to a health effects study published in September.

 At small dose, manganese is good for us, but in larger amounts it can harm the nervous system. The Health Department was planning to adopt a looser federal standard, until it could study the problem thoroughly.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Coming to a fur coat near you: Invasive nutria
What’s trendy this holiday season? Invasive species. In New York City, New Orleanians gathered to show off one of their worst—and now, most fashionable—at an event called Nutria Palooza, part of designer Cree McCree’s Righteous Fur campaign. She won a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to bring the fur of this semi-aquatic rodent back into vogue, and all the way to Brooklyn.

 Nutria are native to South America. Introduced to Louisiana in the 30s to bolster its fur trade, they’ve become a force that, like a small hurricane, is eating away at the state’s already vanishing coast. While Louisiana’s native counterpart, muskrats, prefer the tips of plants, nutria are larger basal-stem lovers that dig up and kill their forage. As a result, “eat-outs”—patches of open water caused by the rodents—can be seen from the air, amounting to over 8,000 acres of habitat damage in the Barataria-Terrebonne Basin (or even land loss, if the tides wash rootless sediment away). An estimated 20 million nutria swim rampant in this 4.2 million acre estuary between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

 A decade ago, Louisiana spent $2 million trying to convince its citizens that this swamp rat was delectable, but, however nutritious, its meat hasn’t caught on. Now the state’s Nutria Control Program offers a $5 bounty for every tail, and this year proved the program’s most successful: Over 400,000 nutria were culled. But most of those carcasses simply sank, unused, into the brackish. So if you’re going to sport fur, why not consider nutria an option?
–Audubon Magazine

 Invasive medusahead grass threatens rangeland
Burmese pythons in Florida, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, feral pigs and other mammals in Hawaii: These are just a few of the dozens of stories about animals introduced — accidentally or deliberately — in the U.S. that have ended up playing havoc on regional ecologies and economies.

But invasive species also extend to plant life. Residents of the South are well acquainted with kudzu, the fast-growing and disruptive vine originally intended as livestock feed and for erosion control. Purple loosestrife arrived in New England back in the 1800s as an ornamental plant, but now threatens to clog and dry out great areas of America’s wetlands — while reportedly costing communities across the country about $45 million a year in control efforts.

Here’s yet another invasive plant species, and a particularly nasty one, to add to the list: Medusahead, aka medusa’s head. It’s a Mediterranean grass accidentally brought to the Western U.S. in the 1880s. Researchers at Oregon State University and the Agricultural Research Service have a new report warning that Medusahead is threatening to crowd out native grasslands in the West — to the detriment of both wildlife and livestock.
–Daily Finance

Asian carp heads back to Asia
An Illinois fish processor is sending 44,000 pounds of Asian carp back to Asia as food. A small startup in Pearl, Ill., the Big River Fish Company is just one group that sees Asian carp not as a voracious, invasive species, but as a business opportunity.

 Asian carp can be huge — up to 100 pounds — and they have been feasting on native fish in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for years. Originally introduced to the United States in the 1970s to eat algae, the carp now threaten the Great Lakes.

But those attempting to market the fish say the tasty white meat is destined for culinary greatness, and some fishermen see the carp as the next frontier in commercial fish production.
–National Public Radio

Putting the (farmed) perch back in fish fries
Three Milwaukee entrepreneurs have launched an experiment in an abandoned crane factory to try to reestablish a fish native to Lake Michigan: perch. The fish was once a stable of the traditional Friday fish fry. But in the 1980s, the perch population in Lake Michigan plunged and by 1996 commercial fishing was banned.
–National Public Radio

Half of household water could be re-used
About 50% of the water used inside U.S. homes can be reused to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets, according to a greywater report released by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. The Overview of Greywater Reuse examined the application of greywater systems worldwide to determine how the wastewater generated from sinks, baths, showers and clothes washers could be reused to reduce demand for more costly, high-quality drinking water.

 “In California, there are a lot of reasons why we’re looking for new and innovative water sources, including the legal restrictions that are coming to bear on our ability to move water around the state,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, senior research associate at the Oakland-based research institute. “Climactic changes are occurring…. We are looking at a future with less of a natural reservoir in our snow in the Sierras and less water available from the Colorado River system.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Drinking water emergency called in California town
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, where the water supply for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel.

A day earlier, Golden State Water Co. warned residents of the desert town that their drinking water contained high levels of percchlorate,  a contaminant often associated with defense and aerospace activities.

Perchlorate, a type of salt derived from perchloric acid, has been found in drinking water in at least 35 states. It can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. The thyroid, which releases hormones, helps with proper development in children and helps regulate metabolism. 

According to the governor’s declaration, more than 40,000 customers were without their normal supply of drinking water, and several restaurants, hotels and other businesses had to close because of the contamination.
–The Los Angeles Times

 Invasive lionfish threatened Florida ecosystem
Crawling through turquoise murk on the ocean floor near Tea Table Key, Rob Pillus glances at a half dozen lobsters that twirl their antennae in the fast-moving current. Mr. Pillus, an avid spear fisherman, would normally stuff the crustaceans into his mesh bag for dinner, but today he is after more exotic quarry: an invasive species called the lionfish that threatens to wreak havoc on this ecologically sensitive marine system.

 Within a few minutes Mr. Pillus spots a lionfish and its extravagant zebra-striped fins on a bridge pylon. He steadies his homemade spear and skewers the fish, slicing off its venomous fins before putting it in his bag. He gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up and keeps moving.
–The New York Times

 Rep. McCollum calls for triclosan ban
U.S. Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota and two congressional colleagues are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban the chemical triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soaps, shampoos, household cleaners and even such products as socks and toys. They’ve asked for a full review of triclosan to be submitted to Congress by April. The co-sponsors are Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York and Raul Grijalva of Arizona.

Dr. David Wallinga, director of the food and health program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says that for years the scientific community has expressed concern over triclosan contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs.”

“Bacteria – bugs around us – are actually quite smart, and exposing them to antibacterials or antimicrobial chemicals helps to make them smarter. So putting an antibacterial or antimicrobial like Triclosan out there in the environment and our waterways unnecessarily is just not a good idea at all.”
–public news service

Comments sought on Lake Vermillion park plan
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources invites anyone with an interest in Lake Vermilion and Soudan Underground Mine state parks to attend one of two open houses in December to comment on the parks’ draft master plan.

 The draft master plan, which covers both state parks, includes statements about the types of activities (e.g., hiking, camping, boating) that will be offered, how natural and cultural resources will be protected and interpreted, and suggested locations for major facilities within the parks.

The open houses will be: 

  • Tuesday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m., Silverwood Regional Park, 2500 W. County Road E., Fridley.
  • Thursday, Dec. 9, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tower Civic Center, 402 Pine St., Tower.

 For an electronic copy of the plan, more information, and a public input questionnaire about the parks’ draft master plan, call the DNR at  651-296-6157, or toll-free 888-646-6367, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
–DNR News Release

Water security as a national and global issue
The U.S. Geological Survey has issued a new and interesting fact sheet on the importance fresh water plays in national and global security.

 It describes how conflicts over water can occur and can be exacerbated by population increase and economic growth.
–U.S. Geological Survey


Florida gets 15-month grace period from EPA

November 22, 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.

EPA downplays cost of Florida rules
For months, everyone from Florida’s new Republican governor to its Democratic senator to its farmers, sewer plant operators and utilities has been trying to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back off new water pollution standards for Florida.

Cleaning up the waterways, they warned, would ruin the state’s already shaky economy.

EPA officials announced they were ready to unveil the new pollution limits for Florida’s rivers, lakes and springs — but with a catch.

The federal agency will not implement the 168 pages of new standards, which could cost residents an extra 11 to 20 cents a day per household, for another 15 months.

The delay is necessary to counteract all the “exaggerated, doomsday claims” that opponents have been spreading, explained the EPA’s Atlanta regional administrator, Gwen Keyes Fleming.

For instance, a lot of the opposition to the new standards has come from agricultural concerns. However, Fleming pointed out, the standards apply only to industries that pipe their pollution into a waterway. Farmers do not do that, and therefore they won’t be affected, she said.
–The Miami Herald

$25 million prize fails to solve global warming
Not long ago, it seemed that big money and boundless optimism were all that were needed to solve some of the biggest environmental problems facing the planet.

An initiative from Richard Branson,  the shaggy-haired billionaire owner of Virgin Atlantic airlines, was emblematic. In February 2007, he offered a cash prize of $25 million to anyone who could come up within just a few years with a process that would suck large amounts of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

 Flanked by Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president and the author of the book “An Inconvenient Truth,” Mr. Branson likened his offer to an 18th century competition for a method of estimating longitude accurately that eventually saved thousands of lives at seas.

 “Man created the problem, therefore man should solve the problem,” said Mr. Branson, who was referring to global warming. His initiative to help ensure the stability of the climate was “the largest ever science and technology prize to be offered in history,” Mr. Branson said.

Nearly four years later, Mr. Branson’s plans to award that prize, known as the Virgin Earth Challenge, are effectively on hold.
–The New York Times

Carp barriers planned in Washington County 
The Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District has received a $283,000 grant to pay for three rough fish barriers for Bone Lake in Scandia and Moody Lake in Chisago Lake Township, said Doug Thomas, district administrator. The district’s project was the only one in Washington County project to receive funding through a competitive grant process administered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

 The barriers are intended to keep aggressive fish, such as carp, from harming the lakes. They will be designed and approved next year, with plans calling for installing them in the two lakes in winter 2012, Thomas said.
–The Star Tribune

 Haiti desperately needs clean water
Aid workers in Haiti say the government has done little to improve water and sanitation since a Jan. 12 earthquake, making it likely that the cholera epidemic there will continue to spread.

 “The situation has deteriorated. We really need a massive push of political will,” says Joia Mukherjee, medical director of Partners in Health, which is helping the Haitian government halt the outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 people. “This can’t just be about handing out water purification tablets.” Haiti’s leaders must expand the country’s treated water and sewer systems to prevent future outbreaks of waterborne diseases, Mukherjee says. Oxfam, an aid group focused on water and sanitation, says it’s still operating in emergency mode instead of creating permanent water and sewer systems.

California utility to buy ‘Erin Brockovich’ homes
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. confirmed that the utility has sent letters to more than 100 residents of Hinkley this week, offering to buy their properties.

 The High Desert town has long been threatened by a toxic plume of groundwater contaminated with cancer-causing chromium 6; the situation was made famous by the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.”

 PG&E previously settled with more than 600 Hinckley residents for $333 million. But company officials say they are now expanding their property purchase program due to residents’ demand.

 “More residents have expressed concern and want to relocate,” said Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman. He added: “We have complete confidence in our remediation efforts in the area.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Report: BP sharply criticized for oil spill 
An “insufficient consideration of risk” and “a lack of operating discipline” by oil giant BP PLC contributed to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, according to a report from a team of technical experts.

The report from the National Academy of Engineering represents the most comprehensive examination so far of the causes of the disaster. The panel’s interim report reaches few firm conclusions, repeatedly saying that possible causes require further investigation.

 Nonetheless, its tone is sharply critical of the companies involved, especially BP, which owned the troubled well that exploded on April 20. Eleven rig workers died in the accident.

 The panel also criticizes regulators and the broader industry, according to a copy of the report viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked the academy in May to probe the Gulf disaster, saying he wanted “a set of fresh eyes on the issues surrounding” the incident and an independent, science-based understanding of what happened.
— The Wall Street Journal

EPA names chemicals to be screened 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified a list of 134 chemicals that will be screened for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interact with and possibly disrupt the hormones produced or secreted by the human or animal endocrine system, which regulates growth, metabolism and reproduction.

 “Endocrine disruptors represent a serious health concern for the American people, especially children. Americans today are exposed to more chemicals in our products, our environment and our bodies than ever before, and it is essential that EPA takes every step to gather information and prevent risks,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

The list includes chemicals that have been identified as priorities under the Safe Drinking Water Act and may be found in sources of drinking water where a substantial number of people may be exposed. The list also includes pesticide active ingredients that are being evaluated under EPA’s registration review program to ensure they meet current scientific and regulatory standards.

The chemicals listed include those used in products such as solvents, gasoline, plastics, personal care products, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals, including benzene, perchlorate, urethane, ethylene glycol, and erythromycin.
–U.S. EPA News Release

DNR seeks input on Grand Marais-area waters
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reviewing proposals for changing the ways it manages fish populations and fish stocking over the next 5 to 20 years in a number of lakes and streams near Grand Marais. 

 Some management changes also are considered for several popular lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Citizens have until Dec. 31 to ask questions about the proposals or comment on them.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

Coal to fuel power plants for years to come
LIVELY GROVE, Ill –On the coasts, states are limiting carbon dioxide output, banning new coal-fired power plants and building wind turbines to fend off global warming. But here in the heartland, thousands of workers are building a $4 billion new coal plant with a 700-foot chimney, 70 feet higher than the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Around the country, construction of coal plants has been slowed, partly by opposition but also by the recession, which has stunted electric demand and forced cancellation or deferral of all kinds of utility projects. But numerous coal plants under construction today are likely to be pumping out carbon dioxide profusely until at least 2050, when, as President Obama would have it, American carbon output will be 80 percent lower.

 And the project here is not just a power plant; it is the Prairie State Energy Campus,  because it includes a vast new coal mine as well, which will supply 6.5 million tons a year. Everyone here, 40 miles southeast of St. Louis, has heard about the idea of cap and trade or other strategies for limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Some day, one might get enacted, they believe. But it does not keep them awake at night.
–The New York Times

 Iowa feedlot penalized for water pollution
The owner of a cattle and hog feedlot in Plymouth County, Iowa, has agreed to pay a $5,850 civil penalty to the United States to settle alleged violations of the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

 Mark Beitelspacher, doing business as Beitelspacher Farms, of LeMars, Iowa, did not maintain adequate records associated with the land application of liquid effluent from his feedlot, as required by the NPDES permit.

 Beitelspacher Farms’ facilities have the capacity for approximately 3,000 cattle and 4,700 hogs, according to an administrative consent agreement filed by EPA Region 7 in Kansas City, Kan.

 An EPA representative conducted a compliance inspection of Beitelspacher Farms on April 28, 2010, and found that the facility did not maintain adequate records of its liquid effluent land applications.
–U.S. EPA News Release 

USGS finds many birth defects in birds

November 15, 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.

USGS finds many birds with birth defects in beaks
The highest rate of beak abnormalities ever recorded in wild bird populations is being seen in a number of species in the Northwest and Alaska, and scientists to this point have not been able to isolate the cause.

Black-capped Chickadees, Northwestern Crows, and other birds are being impacted by the problem, which affects their ability to feed and clean themselves and could signal a growing environmental health problem. 

In birds affected by what scientists have termed “avian keratin disorder,” the keratin layer of the beak becomes overgrown, resulting in noticeably elongated and often crossed beaks, sometimes accompanied by abnormal skin, legs, feet, claws and feathers. Biologists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center published their findings in this month’s issue of The Auk, a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology.

 “The prevalence of these strange deformities is more than ten times what is normally expected in a wild bird population,” said research biologist Colleen Handel with the USGS, “We have seen effects not only on the birds’ survival rates, but also on their ability to reproduce and raise young. We are particularly concerned because we have not yet been able to determine the cause, despite testing for the most likely culprits.”
–USGS News Release

DNR increases monitoring of groundwater
In a state known for its abundant water, just how much can metro-area residents count on to be available in the future?

 To get at the answer, a $4 million slice of the voter-approved natural legacy fund will be used by the Department of Natural Resources to site about 40 monitoring wells around the 11-county metro area. The idea is to measure the quantity of groundwater and determine how fast it is being pumped out for homes, schools and businesses.

 The question that the DNR seeks to answer is what rate of water use can be sustained into the future.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Greg Kruse, supervisor of the DNR’s water monitoring unit. “It will take us a while to be able to show some results.”

Three monitoring wells are expected to be dug in Maple Grove, adjacent to a parking lot at Elm Creek Park Reserve, owned by Three Rivers Park District. Others are going in now near the Vermillion River outside Farmington.
–The Star Tribune

EPA acts to set pollution rules for Florida
Despite a barrage of opposition from Florida newly elected governor down to individual farmers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that has finalized its unique water pollution rules for Florida and will give the state 15 months to start enforcement.

 EPA’s new rules apply to nutrient pollution, which consists of compounds of nitrogen and phosphorus that come from sewage treatment, lawn fertilizer, dairy farms, factories and many more sources.

 Industry and agriculture have decried the EPA’s move as a imposing a huge financial burden for a pollution-control approach based on faulty science. Some environmentalists think industry and farmers face very little challenge from new rules that include big loopholes.

 In announcing the new rules, EPA’s regional administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said the high cost of water pollution already is being paid by homeowners who live next to waterfronts, tourism businesses that depend on healthy aquatic environments and municipal utilities that must make costly investments to treat drinking water.
–The Orlando Sentinel

 Army Corps to study Asian carp threat 
The vast number of twisting rivers, canals and backwater channels funneling into the Great Lakes present a daunting challenge for those safeguarding the lakes from dangerous invasive fish, mollusks and algae.

Though a federal judge soon will decide whether to close Chicago-area shipping locks to block the movement of Asian carp, most on both sides of the contentious debate say sealing locks may disrupt shipping routes but are unlikely to stop the carp’s northward migration.

There are simply too many alternative pathways for Asian carp and other invasive species to enter the Great Lakes, officials say, putting pressure on government officials, scientists and environmental advocates to come up with a solution.

The Army Corps of Engineers is embarking on an exhaustive, multiyear study of the Great Lakes water basin to find out how many alternative pathways exist and to better understand the depth of the invasive species problem threatening the world’s largest freshwater body of lakes.
–The Chicago Tribune

 DNR slowly removing Minnesota dams
Back in the early 1900s, Minnesotans built a lot of dams — to run sawmills, make electricity, create lakes and try to control flooding.

 As a result, Minnesota’s rivers and streams have a lot of small dams on them. At last count, there were 1,300 — many of them aging, unsafe and unnecessary.

 Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources are using a 25-year-old state program to remove old dams and restore the natural flows of rivers, a process that can lead to increased numbers of fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 China eyes huge seawater pipeline
Local officials in China’s arid northwest have launched a new push for a vast water-diversion project that would pump raw sea water thousands of miles from the coast to the deserts of Xinjiang through a pipeline made of plastic and fiberglass.

The idea is to desalinate some of the seawater, but to use the rest to fill Xinjiang’s dried-up salt lakes and desert basins in the hope that it will evaporate and encourage rainfall over drought-stricken areas of northern and northwestern China.

Local government officials and water experts held a conference in Xinjiang on Friday to give new impetus to the proposal under which seawater would be pumped across four mountain ranges, and up to a height of more than 1,280 metres, on its way from the Bohai Sea off the coast of northeast China via Inner Mongolia to Xinjiang.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Comment sought on Keewatin taconite plan
A Final Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared for a proposed taconite mine expansion project near Keewatin. The FEIS was prepared jointly by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The impact statement is available for public review and comment until 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 20.

The project, proposed by U. S. Steel Corp., would increase the production of taconite pellets by expanding the existing mine and restarting an idle production line. The proposed project is estimated to begin in 2012 or 2013.

 “The FEIS describes potential environmental, social and economic effects stemming from the proposed project and alternatives,” said Erik Carlson, DNR principal planner who is coordinating the review project. “We are seeking public comment on the adequacy of the information contained in the document.” 

The proposed project would increase Keetac’s annual taconite pellet production output by 3.6 million tons to a total output of 9.6 million tons per year. Iron ore pellets would then be transported to steel production facilities. 

To view the documents, click here. To submit comments, click here.
–DNR News Release

 39% of large world businesses face water problems
At least one in five of the companies using the largest amounts of water in the world is already experiencing damage to their business from drought and other shortages, flooding, and rising prices.

 The wide scope of commercial problems posed by growing pressure on global water supplies and changing weather patterns is revealed by a survey of the 302 biggest companies in the most water-intensive sectors, across 25 countries.

 The study was commissioned by the increasingly influential Carbon Disclosure Project, which conducts an annual study of what companies are doing to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on behalf of investors holding US$16trillion (£9.9tr) of assets.

 About half the companies responded to the water survey, of whom 39% said they were already experiencing “detrimental impacts”. In answer to a separate question, about half said the risks to their businesses were “current or near term” – in the next one to five years – a sample likely to have significant crossover with those already reporting problems.
–The Guardian


Conservation drives up water prices

November 8, 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.

Water conservation yields higher rates
Thanks to lower-flow showerheads and a growing sense of thrift when it comes to watering lawns, water conservation is working around the Twin Cities.

 People are using less water.

 And the reward?

 Higher water bills.

 St. Paul Regional Water Services, which serves the capital city and several surrounding communities, has proposed a rate increase of roughly 5.5 percent, which would cost the average family $10.56 next year, according to the department’s estimates. The St. Paul City Council will hold a public hearing.

 Minneapolis has proposed a 4.9 percent hike, which would cost users of its water — including suburbs such as Bloomington, Golden Valley and Columbia Heights — about $14.40 a year, if approved, according its department’s estimates.

 In both cities, the past several years have shown a steady trickle of rate increases. In a trend that’s playing out across the country, municipal water departments are tapping their customers for more money to use less water, according to officials and studies.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press



 $25 toilet modification saves water
Michael Schuster grew up in the family plumbing business, and he quickly noticed the amount of water wasted with every flush of a toilet.

 “Four out of five times you flush, it’s for flushing liquid and paper, and you’re using twice as much water as you need,” said Schuster, who started his own company, MJSI Inc., six years ago to start developing solutions to the waste issue.

 To help conserve water, Schuster developed HydroRight, a drop-in converter for toilets featuring a Quick Flush setting that uses lower water volumes for liquids and paper. A second, Full Flush, button uses the normal amount of water for solids. The HydroRight retails for less than $25 at retailers such as Ace Hardware, True Value and Home Depot.

“HydroRight gives the toilet water-efficient performance without a sacrifice,” Schuster said. “We make conservation easy.”
–The Chicago Sun-Times

Iowa approves land-and-water amendment
Iowa voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment – somewhat similar to the one Minnesota voters approved in 2008 – that authorizes the Legislature to raise the sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent to pay for new clean water and anti-pollution initiatives.

 But the Iowa tax increase does not require lawmakers to enact the sales tax increase. It provides that, if the Legislature raises the sales tax increase for any reason, the money for water and land conservation will start flowing into a special fund.  Read a Des Moines Register report on passage of the amendment.

 Chemicals affecting male fish in Minnesota
Endocrine disrupting chemicals were identified in all of the 11 Minnesota lakes studied by the U.S. Geological Survey, St. Cloud State University and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 Female characteristics were observed in male fish in most of the lakes studied. Less than 10 percent of caged minnows placed in the lakes for 21 days showed signs of intersex, which can be caused by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

 Although endocrine disrupting chemicals and endocrine disruption in both resident fish and caged minnows were generally more pronounced in lakes surrounded by urban and agricultural lands, they were also identified in more remote lakes. Further studies are needed to determine if there is a link between the prevalence of these chemicals and surrounding land use. The full study can be found in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

The lakes studied include Budd, Cedar, Elk, Kabetogama, Northern Light, Owasso, Red Sand, Shingobee, Stewart, Sullivan, and White Sand. 

 The journal article expands on a research results the MPCA released in 2009.
–U.S. Geological Survey news release

Water prosecutions dip; EPA readies Florida rules

November 1, 2010

EPA water prosecutions decline again
Criminal enforcement of federal water-pollution laws has continued a more than decadelong slide under the Obama administration, despite pledged improvements, according to U.S. EPA data.

The government reported 32 new Clean Water Act convictions during the fiscal year that ended in September, down from 42 in 2009. The number of criminal water pollution cases initiated by the agency fell from 28 last year to 21 this year.

Both figures have dropped nearly 60 percent since the late 1990s, their highest points in the past 20 years.

The numbers indicate that the Obama administration so far has been unable to reverse a trend that started under President George W. Bush, when EPA criminal enforcement activity dropped in conjunction with a 27 percent cut to U.S. EPA’s overall budget, said William Andreen, an environmental law professor at the University of Alabama.
–The New York Times

 EPA readies Florida water standards
Florida is bracing for the federal government to impose tough new pollution limits on its rivers and lakes. Depending on the point of view, the new rules will clobber an already weak economy — or bring a welcome end to fish kills, algae blooms and contaminated water supplies.

The rules, which could be released any day, have triggered rancorous debate, pitting, for example, a U.S. senator against a confrontational environmentalist who specializes in lawsuits.

The first-of-their kind regulations, drafted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,  will set “numeric” pollution limits for streams and lakes based on their type and location — not necessarily on each body of water’s individual characteristics.

The state of Florida, in contrast, has long relied on customized limits derived from lake-by-lake and river-by-river analyses — an approach criticized by environmentalists as far too slow and cumbersome.

The pollution targeted by these limits consists of various nitrogen and phosphorus compounds that act as liquid fertilizer in nature. Such compounds are found in treated sewage, stormwater runoff, farm discharges and many manufacturers’ wastewater.
–The Orlando Sentinel 

 U of M rates high for sustainability
The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is one of only three schools in the nation that has received all “A’s” in the College Sustainability Report Card scores. This is the fifth consecutive year the U of M has improved its marks and the first time the university has received A’s in all nine categories.

 The College Sustainability Report Card surveyed 322 schools this year.

 In 2004, the Board of Regents established the Policy on Sustainability and Energy Efficiency, which has fostered the integration of sustainability into research, education, outreach and campus operations.

 This is the fifth annual Report Card issued by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a Cambridge, Mass.-based non-profit organization engaged in research and education to advance sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices.

The university’s sustainability profile can be found on the web site.
–University of Minnesota news release

 Draft USDA report calls for farmers to do more
Seeming to contradict assertions by farmers that they’re doing their share to protect the Chesapeake Bay, a new federal report finds major shortcomings in what crop growers are doing across the six-state region to keep from polluting the troubled estuary.

 While farmers have made “good progress” in reducing the amount of soil and fertilizer washing off their fields into the bay and its rivers, more pollution controls are needed on about 81 percent of all the croplands, says the draft report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And nearly half of the region’s 4.3 million acres of croplands are “critically undertreated” to keep pollutants from running or seeping into nearby ditches and streams.

The 161-page federal report — the most comprehensive analysis of farm conservation practices in the bay region to date — relies on computer modeling and hundreds of soil and other samples taken across the region, plus a survey of farmers. It has not been officially released, but an Internet link to a “review draft” was distributed to news media and to environmental groups.

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service released a statement saying that the draft report, though still under review, “suggests that conservation practices in the Chesapeake Bay are working but “more work remains to be done.”
–The Baltimore Sun

Texas farmers, ranchers worry about water rights
The rule of capture has been just as much a part of Texas lore as cowboys and cattle.

Under that concept, landowners have had the right to pump an unlimited amount of water from beneath their land.

 But rancher J.K. “Rooter” Brite Jr. is worried — worried that the courts, legislators or groundwater districts might take that water right away.

Brite, 58, isn’t opposed to all regulation — he doesn’t approve of water marketers like billionaire Boone Pickens sucking aquifers dry, and he believes that groundwater districts can provide some protection from the oil and gas industry — but he said strict groundwater-use regulations could cripple his ranching operation during a drought. 

“If that right doesn’t belong to me, and I do benefit because I know it’s in reserve, then what incentive do I have to care for this land?” Brite said as he drove his pickup through tall stands of native grasses on his 3,400-acre ranch outside Bowie.
–The Fort  Worth Star Telegram

Grocery chains push sustainable farming
Veteran west-side farmer John Diener has always felt confident in his ability to grow quality tomatoes, almonds and wheat — but to some, that may not be good enough. 

Responding to consumer sentiments, grocery-chain buyers are pushing Diener and other farmers to show they practice “sustainable” agriculture — a popular if still fuzzy concept. 

While similar to organic farming, its focus is broader: In contrast to conventional farming, sustainable agriculture puts greater emphasis on practices that have long-term benefits. For example, instead of using harsh chemicals, some farmers rely on parasitic insects to battle bad bugs. Or they use renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Others work on improving the standard of living for farmworkers, ensuring a more productive and stable labor force.

The goal of sustainability is to reduce farming’s impact on the environment while ensuring a future for agriculture.

 Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, announced on Oct. 14 a global plan to train 1 million farmers and workers on crop selection and sustainable-farming practices, including using water, pesticides and fertilizers more efficiently.–The Fresno Bee 

U.S. Navy tests algae-powered gunboat
It looked like a pretty ordinary day on the water at the US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia: a few short bursts of speed, a nice tail wind, some test manoeuvres against an enemy boat. 

But the 49ft gunboat had algae-based fuel in the tank in a test hailed by the navy as a milestone in its creation of a new, energy-saving strike force. 

The experimental boat, intended for use in rivers and marshes and eventually destined for oil installations in the Middle East, operated on a 50/50 mix of algae-based fuel and diesel. “It ran just fine,” said Rear Admiral Philip Cullom, who directs the navy’s sustainability division. 

The tests are part of a broader drive within the navy to run 50% of its fleet on a mix of renewable fuels and nuclear power by 2020. The navy currently meets about 16% of its energy and fuel needs from nuclear power, with the rest from conventional sources.
–The Guardian

 China’s dams change live on the Mekong
The Mekong River sparkles in the early morning sun as Somwang Prommin, a stocky fisherman wearing a worn-out black T-shirt and shorts, starts the motor of his boat. As the tiny craft glides on the river’s calm surface in the northeastern Thai district of Chiang Khong, Somwang points to a nearby riverbank. Three days ago, he says, the water levels there were 3 meters (10 feet) higher.

 The Mekong, which translates roughly as “mother of the waters” in the Thai language, has become unpredictable since China started building hydropower dams and blasting the rapids upstream, says Somwang, 36, who’s been fishing for a living since he was 8.

 In August 2008, there were devastating floods that reduced his catches and income, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December 2010 issue. Early this year, he witnessed the most severe drought in his life.

 Tens of millions of residents are experiencing similar currents of change along the 4,800-kilometer-long (2,980-mile- long) Mekong, which flows through six countries — Southeast Asia’s longest river.
–Bloomberg Markets Magazine