Archive for December, 2010

EPA recommends chromium tests

December 26, 2010

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

EPA suggests water systems test for ‘Erin Brockovich’ chemical
The Environmental Protection Agency is suggesting that water utilities nationwide test their drinking water for hexavalent chromium, a probable carcinogen, after an independent survey found the chemical in tap water drawn from 31 cities.

The EPA said it is issuing guidance to the utilities explaining how to test for the chemical but is not requiring tests at this time. The agency said it will also give technical help to the 31 cities identified in the survey – including Washington and Bethesda – so they can set up a monitoring and sampling procedure for hexavalent chromium, a chemical made famous by the film “Erin Brockovich.”

Testing for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, is technically challenging. Many laboratories that handle standard tests for water companies are not equipped to perform the more sophisticated tests.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with 10 senators representing some of the 31 communities to discuss the findings of the survey, which was conducted by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization.

There is no federal limit for the amount of hexavalent chromium that can be in drinking water. The EPA is reviewing emerging science on the question to determine if the chemical’s presence in drinking water poses a clear threat to public health and whether a limit should be set. That work is expected to be completed by summer.

(The Environmental Working Group analysis did not sample water from any Minnesota cities.)
–The Washington Post

Wisconsin to relax ballast-water rules
Wisconsin officials announced that ballast water regulations they adopted in February are too strict and should be relaxed.

The Department of Natural Resources says the technology simply isn’t available to comply with the strict ballast-water filtration regulations developed last year and imposed by the state in February.

Instead, the DNR is proposing to scale back regulations to those suggested by the International Maritime Organization.

The current state standards require filtration or killing of organisms 100 times smaller than the IMO standards. The rule change would put Wisconsin at the same filtration regulation level as Minnesota.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Where will the next water pollution disaster hit?
When an estimated 184 million gallons (697 million liters) of industrial waste spilled into Hungary’s Marcal River in early October, arsenic and mercury threatened to taint water supplies and degrade rivers, both at the site and for hundreds of miles downstream. In some ways, Hungary’s toxic mud disaster was a wake-up call, shining a spotlight on potential water pollution hotspots around the globe.

Where might disaster strike next?

Only a tiny fraction of the ore miners exhume contains gold, copper, lead, zinc, or the other metals they’re after. The rest is waste, or tailings, full of large quantities of metals and minerals ranging from benign to very toxic. These fine-grained wastes are often held in tailings ponds that can cover many square miles.

Unfortunately the dams holding tailing ponds aren’t always examples of high-level engineering and, in some countries, may be made by simply bulldozing the tailings themselves into an embankment, explains geologist Johnnie Moore, of the University of Montana.

“There is the potential for huge amounts of [toxic waste] to move into a river system whenever any of those things break, and in fact it does happen,” he said.

(Part of a National Geographic series on global water issues.)
–National Geographic News

Beet processor to pay $50,000 in water case
American Crystal Sugar Company has agreed to a $50,000 civil penalty and promised to complete actions requested by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to settle alleged violations of state environmental protection and reporting regulations at its facility in East Grand Forks, Minn.

Some of the alleged violations occurred  in May 2009 when runoff from company land application sites entered Grand Marais creek, resulting in complaints about odors and discoloration.  This occurred after the company applied industrial by-products to farm fields at excessive levels and too close to waterways during the 2008 cropping season.  In addition, the company, once notified of the complaint, failed to take necessary actions to minimize pollution to Grand Marais Creek.  The creek is currently on the Minnesota’s list of impaired waters for high sediment and pH levels, and low levels of dissolved oxygen.

The MPCA also alleges that the company used testing results from a non-certified laboratory, failed to report all monitoring results and failed to maintain quality assurance procedures adequate to ensure compliance with testing requirements. The company also failed to adequately control vegetation in a wastewater treatment pond.

In addition to agreeing to the $50,000 civil penalty, American Crystal agreed to submit plans and update procedures to ensure future compliance. The company has already completed many of the required actions and paid the penalty.
–MPCA News Release

Outdoor Heritage fund stakeholders forum set Jan. 6
The Dedicated Fund Working Group, sponsored by the Izaak Walton League and other Minnesota conservation groups, will host a forum Jan. 6 that will examine how the state is spending new revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008.

The forum is free, but seating is limited and the organizers request pre-registration.  Dave Zentner of the Izaak Walton League chairs the working group.

The meeting will be held at the Earle Brown Center in Brooklyn Park from 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6, one day before the Department of Natural Resources holds its annual Roundtable at the same site.

Register by emailing Noreen Tyler at before Jan. 1 to reserve a spot. View the agenda for the forum.

About $250 million a year is being generated by the tax increase. One-third of that is designated to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. One-third is designated to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife.

EPA, Texas clash over greenhouse gas limits
The feud between Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency reached a new level, with federal officials saying that they will take over the granting of permits for new power plants and refineries in the state because Texas refuses to regulate its emissions of greenhouse gases.

The showdown centers on Texas’ opposition to the Obama administration’s program to rein in heat-trapping emissions, which has become a symbol of a broader struggle by industry and some Republican politicians to thwart such regulatory efforts.

Texas and several other states are fighting the mandates in court, and Republican leaders who will take over the House of Representatives next year have made no secret of their opposition, arguing that mandating cuts in industrial emissions will harm the economy.
–The New York Times

The carbon dioxide record at the heart of climate debate
MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawaii — Two gray machines sit inside a pair of utilitarian buildings here, sniffing the fresh breezes that blow across thousands of miles of ocean.

They make no noise. But once an hour, they spit out a number, and for decades, it has been rising relentlessly.

The first machine of this type was installed on Mauna Loa in the 1950s at the behest of Charles David Keeling, a scientist from San Diego. His resulting discovery, of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, transformed the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth. A graph of his findings is inscribed on a wall in Washington as one of the great achievements of modern science.

Yet, five years after Dr. Keeling’s death, his discovery is a focus not of celebration but of conflict. It has become the touchstone of a worldwide political debate over global warming.
–The New York Times

Group threatens suit over gray wolves
A wildlife conservation group put the government on notice that it would sue to restore wolves across the United States, far beyond a range now limited mostly to Alaska, the Rockies and the Great Lakes.

The move by the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Arizona, marks the latest twist in a long and heated battle over federal protections for wolf populations first established in 1978.

That fight has centered recently in the Northern Rocky Mountains, where wolves have recovered so well that Montana, Idaho and Wyoming want the Obama administration to remove them from the Endangered Species List.

Rather than remove protections, or focus on protecting them only in certain regions, the Center said it was long overdue for the federal government to develop a national plan.

A trout stream reborn
PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. — The Rio Blanco tumbles out of a range of 12,000-foot mountains in the San Juan National Forest into a picture-perfect valley that’s reminiscent of a miniature Yosemite. In its upper reaches, the Blanco runs in a whitewater cascade, where native cutthroat trout thrive. In the valley, on the meadowland of El Rancho Pinoso, a privately owned ranch that rents out cabins and provides fly-fishing access, the water slows and deepens, providing an excellent habitat for introduced rainbows that frequently exceed 20 inches.

But it wasn’t always that way. The Rio Blanco has had a little assistance from a hydrologist named Dave Rosgen.

“When I first visited El Rancho Pinoso in 1987, it seemed like the valley was one big gravel bar,” Rosgen said. “The Blanco was anywhere from 350 to 500 feet wide and just inches deep, when the river bed should be 50 or 60 feet wide. You had a system that had no hope to be anything but a very poor fishery; with a little help, the stream could provide great fish habitat, and give visitors a chance to feel good.”

Rosgen began doing stream restoration in the late 1960s, when he worked in the  United States Forest Service. There, he witnessed the destruction of streams by the erosion resulting from clear cutting practices.
–The New York Times

Albertine Kimble – A guardian of the marshes
A daughter of Plaquemines Parish, her camouflage outfit the color of the forest, checks the oil. She checks the steering, the coolant, the gas. She makes sure that everything is tied down or stored away, so that nothing loose will fly into the fanlike propeller at the rear of her airboat.

“Maintenance,” she says. “Maintenance.”

Then off she roars, a singular woman named Albertine Marie Kimble, guiding her airboat across the grass and into the precious marsh waters, where she is most at home. An honor guard of green-winged teal ducks rises to greet her, the only resident of this southeastern Louisiana spot called Carlisle.

“Wow!” she shouts. “Whee-e-e-e!”

The BP oil spill of 2010 has come and gone, mostly. The cleanup armies have been reduced to platoons, the oil company’s public-relations blitz has lost its apologetic urgency, and you have to know where to look to find any remnants of the catastrophe. But Albertine Kimble, protector of these waters, is still here; she has neither forgotten nor forgiven.
–The New York Times

USDA seeks conservation projects to fund
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking proposals for new conservation projects that support comprehensive efforts under way to improve the water quality and overall health of the Mississippi River from North-Central Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Mississippi River is one of America’s most valuable water resources,” said U.S. Ag Secretary Vilsack. “Through the cumulative actions of conservation-minded farmers, we can continue to provide our nation with the food, fiber and fuel we rely on, while at the same time ensuring cleaner waters than we’ve seen in decades.”

As part of its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, USDA is providing up to $40 million in financial assistance for new partnership projects in 43 priority watersheds in 13 states. USDA will use a competitive process to distribute the available funding through existing conservation programs such as the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.
–USDA News Release

U.S., Mexico agree to raise L. Mead’s level
The United States and Mexico have struck a deal that could raise the level of Lake Mead by about 3 feet and open the spigot on future cross-border Colorado River agreements.

Under the accord, Mexico will be allowed to store up to 260,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead while it repairs canals and pipelines damaged in a 7.2 magnitude quake that struck Mexicali on April 4.

The extra water could raise the surface of Lake Mead by 3 feet or more, enough perhaps to stave off federally mandated shortages on the Colorado River for another year. Under such a declaration, the amount of water that Nevada and Arizona could take from the system would be reduced.
–The Las Vegas Review-Journal

Chesapeake Bay coastal areas are sinking
First, the good news: Sea levels around the Chesapeake Bay are not rising as quickly as other places in the world – actually, they are moving about half as fast as the global average.

Now, the bad news: Coastal lands around the Bay are sinking more rapidly than elsewhere around the planet, especially in Hampton Roads.

It is this sinking phenomenon, called subsidence, that makes Hampton Roads one of the spots in the United States most vulnerable to rising sea levels and to events such as flooding, tidal surges and storms. Only New Orleans is more susceptible.

Such are the findings of a study released Monday by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, a branch of the College of William and Mary.
–The Virginian-Pilot

Study: $$ penalties for water violations are rare

December 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.

Study: 11 percent of water violations yield financial penalties
At old taconite waste pits near Hoyt Lakes, Cliffs Erie had 225 wastewater violations in a five-year period ending last year.

 Yet the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which oversees those discharge permits, didn’t fine the operation until earlier this year, when it issued a $58,000 penalty one day before a citizens’ lawsuit was to have been filed.

“I would say if we hadn’t sent out a notice-of-intent letter, action still wouldn’t have been taken,” said Marc Fink, the Duluth lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups.

Cliffs Erie isn’t the only Minnesota wastewater polluter who hasn’t been asked to dig too deeply into its pocketbook.

A recent Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy analysis of all wastewater permit violations reported to the agency from 2005 through 2009 shows two-thirds violated permits at least once. Yet only 11 percent of those violators paid a financial penalty.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Chamber sues state over mining and wild rice
The state’s largest business group filed suit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, raising the heat in an increasingly contentious fight over mining in northern Minnesota and what’s good for wild rice.

 The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which represents PolyMet Mining Corp. and other minerals companies, accused the agency of holding them to a different standard from other industries on how much sulfate they can discharge into Minnesota’s wild rice waters.

 High concentrations of sulfates are toxic to wild rice, and the debate about how much is too much has become a flashpoint in the broader environmental conflict over the proposed expansion of mining on the Iron Range.
–The Star Tribune

U.S. files civil suit in BP oil spill
The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit in New Orleans against the oil giant BP and eight other companies over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the complaint does not specify the damages that the administration is seeking, the fines and penalties under the laws that are cited in the complaint could reach into the tens of billions of dollars.

“We will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible for this spill,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference.

 Mr. Holder said the department was “making progress” on a criminal investigation of the companies involved in the spill.
–The New York Times

 Report: La. sand berms stopped little of BP’s oil
A chain of sand berms built by the State of Louisiana to block and capture oil from BP’s runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico stopped a “minuscule” amount of oil and was largely a waste of money, the staff of the presidential commission investigating the spill said in a report.  

 The report, a draft, found that a decision by Thad W. Allen,  the retired Coast Guard admiral who led the spill response, to approve construction of the berms was made under “intense political pressure” from federal, state and local politicians and against the advice of an expert panel advising on the spill response.

 “The decision to green-light the underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive Louisiana berms project was flawed,” the commission staff wrote.
–The New York Times

 New study offers some hope for polar bears
Sea-ice habitats essential to polar bears would likely respond positively should more curbs be placed on global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new modeling study published in the journal, Nature. 

 The study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, included university and other federal agency scientists. The research broke new ground in the “tipping point” debate in the scientific community by providing evidence that during this century there does not seem to be a tipping point at which sea-ice loss would become irreversible. 

 The report does not affect the decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008 to list the polar bear as a threatened species. 
–USGS News Release

3M retirees build solar water purifier 
Bob Nepper’s North St. Paul basement is littered with strange-looking tools, some of them hand-made on his metal lathe. His garage is filled with an assortment of devices he created to make household chores easier.

But inventing is more than just a hobby for Nepper. He and his friend Bill Stevenson of Lake Elmo have created a device that may help relieve the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

 The invention is a solar-powered water pasteurizer that can cheaply and easily clean water.

 Missionary groups from Indiana and South Dakota took a few of the pasteurizers to Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in January, but the devices were held up in customs and sat idle at a dock. Now a Florida missionary group has bought another of the pasteurizers and plans to take it to Haiti. 

Contaminated drinking water has been the main cause of the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 2,200 Haitians in the past few months.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Army Corps says it lacks $$ for Mississippi dredging
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is likely to run short of funds as early as next spring to fully dredge one of the nation’s busiest waterways, potentially slowing the movement of key imports and exports and raising shipping costs.

 A loose coalition of shippers, state governments, port operators and farmers up and down the Mississippi River is pressing Congress to add tens of millions of dollars to the Corps’ budget for fiscal 2011. The money is needed, they say, to allow the agency to dredge the ports and channels around New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., to a standard depth and width necessary for cargo ships to pass.

 The Mississippi River is a major transportation route for American businesses and farmers to send and receive goods, but its mouth requires constant dredging to remove the silt brought down the river and its tributaries.

 The fiscal 2011 budget calls for the Corps to receive $63 million for Lower Mississippi dredging, $6.3 more than it received in fiscal 2010. But actual costs of dredging total about $85 million annually on average, and topped $110 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Corps.
–The Wall Street Journal

 Dawson, Mn., meat processor to pay for pollution 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Noah’s Ark Processors LLC, have reached an agreement that resolves alleged violations of water quality laws and rules at its meat processing plant and animal hide storage building in Dawson. The company was given a $20,000 civil penalty and is required to complete a number of corrective actions.

 An inspection Aug. 25, 2009, documented blood-contaminated water and untreated manure discharging from the facility to the ground, and discharges of animal hide salting leachate discharging from the hide building. The company has stopped the discharges and worked to recover contamination, applied for permits, and submitted reports on recovery work and plans to prevent future discharges.

 Alleged violations include operating without appropriate industrial stormwater, wastewater and industrial by-product permits, failure to notify the agency of the discharges and provide requested information and lack of a stormwater pollution prevention plan.
–MPCA news release

 Study: Cancer rate not high in ‘Erin Brockovich’ town
A state survey has not found a disproportionately high number of cancers in Hinkley, a high-desert community that has become the symbol of public fears about exposure to groundwater tainted with carcinogenic chromium 6.

 From 1996 to 2008, 196 cancers were identified among residents of the census tract that includes Hinkley — a slightly lower number than the 224 cancers that would have been expected given its demographic characteristics, said epidemiologist John Morgan, who conducted the California Cancer Registry survey.

 The survey did not attempt to explain why any individual in Hinkley contracted cancer, nor did it diminish the importance of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. cleaning up a plume of groundwater with elevated levels of chromium 6, Morgan said.

 In this preliminary assessment we only looked at cancer outcomes, not specific types of cancer,” Morgan said. “However, we did look at a dozen cancer types in earlier surveys of the same census tract for the years between 1988 and 1998. Overall, the results of those surveys were almost identical to the new findings, and none of the cancers represented a statistical excess.”

The findings come as some residents are pushing PG&E to purchase their properties, after tests showed that chromium-tainted groundwater was migrating toward them. That miles-long plume, the result of decades of dumping water tainted with chromium compounds into local waste ponds, was at the center of a $333-million settlement over illnesses and cancers made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.”
–The Los Angeles Times

 Measuring groundwater by satellite
When you dive into that salad full of lettuce grown in the American West, there’s a good chance you are enjoying the product of irrigation from an underground water source. These hidden groundwater systems are precious resources that need careful management, but regulatory groups have a hard time monitoring them, owing to a lack of accurate data. 

Now, scientists at Stanford have found a way to cheaply and effectively monitor aquifer levels in agricultural regions using data from satellites that are already in orbit mapping the shape of Earth’s surface with millimeter precision.

 The amount of water in a groundwater system typically grows and shrinks seasonally. Rainfall and melted snow seep down into the system in the cooler months, and farmers pull water out to irrigate their crops in the warmer, drier months.

 In agricultural regions, groundwater regulators have to monitor aquifer levels carefully to avoid drought. They make do with direct measurements from wells drilled into the aquifers, but wells are generally few and far between compared to the vast size of most groundwater systems.
–Stanford University News

 River bypass for California delta wins support
Federal and state officials said they supported construction of a massive structure around California’s environmentally crippled delta to make deliveries of fresh water to farms and cities more reliable.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said such a structure would divert water from north of the delta, where the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers meet, to water users in the Central Valley and in the southern part of California.

It would be accompanied by the restoration of “tens of thousands of acres of marshes and flood plains” in the delta to bolster populations of endangered and threatened fish, he said in a telephone news conference.

Farmers and cities in Southern California have been at loggerheads with environmentalists over how significantly water flows to the south should be restricted to help threatened species recover. The delta is the central switching yard where water from the Sacramento River is either sent south to agribusinesses and cities or to the west, where it supports diminishing stocks of native fish as it flows into San Francisco Bay.
–The New York Times 

 Feds promise to battle Asian carp
Federal officials promised a stepped-up fight to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by better tracking their movements, blocking potential migration pathways and killing any that manage to evade a network of new and improved barriers.

 A $47 million battle plan for 2011 calls for refining technologies that detect the presence of Asian carp by identifying their DNA in water samples, and for developing better means of trapping, netting or starving carp already in waterways that lead to the lakes. It also pledges to continue initiatives begun this year, such as researching ways to prevent the unwanted fish from breeding.

 “The Obama administration has taken an aggressive, unprecedented approach to protect our Great Lakes and the communities and economies that depend on them from the threat of Asian carp,” said John Goss, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s carp program director.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 New environment chair wants mining guarantees
The incoming Republican chair of the Minnesota House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee says he will build on groundwork laid by his Democratic predecessor.

 Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he shares a results-oriented approach with former committee chair Jean Wagenius. He said he’s interesting in streamlining government, and the permitting process in particular.

“Are there things we can do … that speed it up so business knows what’s going to happen,” McNamara said. “I think that’s possible while protecting the environment.”

On the topic of mining, McNamara said copper-nickel mining can be done responsibly, but he wants substantial guarantees from mining companies that they’ll be around to clean up when the mining is done.
–Minnesota Public Radio

USDA offers funding for conservation projects
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is seeking proposals for projects that will bring partners together to help farmers, ranchers and private nonindustrial forest landowners implement beneficial water and land conservation practices.

“Farmers, ranchers and owners of forest land play pivotal roles in protecting and enhancing natural resources,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to support projects that will improve the health of the natural resources on their land and bring the environmental and economic benefits of conservation to their local communities.”

The requirements for submitting project proposals for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative can be viewed at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible producers in approved project areas.
–USDA news release


EPA slows down air pollution rules

December 13, 2010

Obama administration delays air regulations
The Obama administration is retreating on long-delayed environmental regulations — new rules governing smog and toxic emissions from industrial boilers — as it adjusts to a changed political dynamic in Washington with a more muscular Republican opposition.

The move to delay the rules, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, will leave in place policies set by President George W. Bush. President Obama ran for office promising tougher standards, and the new rules were set to take effect over the next several weeks.

 Now, the agency says, it needs until July 2011 to further analyze scientific and health studies of the smog rules and until April 2012 on the boiler regulation. Mr. Obama, having just cut a painful deal with Republicans intended to stimulate the economy, can ill afford to be seen as simultaneously throttling the fragile recovery by imposing a sheaf of expensive new environmental regulations that critics say will cost jobs.

 The delays represent a marked departure from the first two years of the Obama presidency, when the E.P.A. moved quickly to reverse one Bush environmental policy after another. Administration officials now face the question of whether in their zeal to undo the Bush agenda they reached too far and provoked an unmanageable political backlash.
–The New York Times

Invasive Oriental bittersweet strangles trees
A new invasive plant called Oriental bittersweet has made its way into Minnesota this year. Infestations have been found in the Twin Cities metro area, as well as in southeastern Minnesota, near Winona.

 The Oriental bittersweet looks much like its cousin, the American bittersweet. Both plants have a bright red fruit that prompts people to collect it this time of year for use in wreaths and other holiday decorations.

But the Oriental bittersweet is bad news for forest areas.

Monika Chandler, an invasive species coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, says what makes the Oriental bittersweet such a threat is its vines. They can wrap around trees and strangle them. They also dominate the forest canopy.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Florida challenges new EPA rules
Florida sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking to block new clean water regulations opposed by business and agriculture interests as well as some municipal utilities.

 The federal lawsuit alleges the rules, which apply only to Florida, are unfair, arbitrary and lack scientific support. Florida is the first state where EPA has imposed such regulations although 13 others have adopted similar rules of their own.

 “They’re picking on Florida,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum. “I’ve heard nobody in EPA say ‘We’re going to go after Georgia next.’ … We’re happy we’re the focus of some attention, but this is a little bit more than we think we’re justified to have – in fact, a whole lot more.” 

McCollum said he expects similar lawsuits will be filed by local government agencies and private entities.

The regulations are required by EPA’s settlement of an earlier federal lawsuit that five environmental groups filed in Tallahassee.
–The Associated Press 

Save the date: Heritage fund stakeholders forum set Jan. 6
Are you a Minnesota conservationist interested in how the state is spending new revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008?

 If you are, you may want to attend a Jan. 6 meeting of a Dedicated Fund Working Group made up of members and representatives from a number of conservation groups. Dave Zentner of the Izaak Walton League chairs the working group. 

The meeting will be held at the Earle Brown Center in Brooklyn Park on the afternoon of Jan. 6, one day before the Department of Natural Resources holds its annual Roundtable at the same site.  

The agenda for the stakeholders forum has not yet been completed, and registration for the forum is not yet open. Watch this web site for the agenda and registration information as it becomes available.

 About $250 million a year is being generated by the tax increase. One-third of that is designated to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. One-third is designated to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife. 

Road salt pollutes Ohio wells
The road salt that cities and businesses stockpile to melt ice along sidewalks and treat Ohio’s roads and highways is increasingly polluting drinking water, according to state environmental regulators.

 Since 2009, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has found rainwater runoff from road-salt piles fouling public and private wells in five Ohio communities. Though not considered a health threat, the salty taste of drinking water grew so bad that the village of Camden in Preble County had to abandon its wells.

“After you get to a certain level, you can certainly tell there is a change in the taste,” said Melissa Williams, the Preble County health commissioner. “It will corrode your plumbing fixtures, also.”

The issue has Ohio EPA officials dealing with a new type of pollution that’s not specifically covered by environmental law.
–The Columbus Dispatch

 Bugs, beetles, borers threaten U.S. forests
Call them America’s most wanted critters: the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle, the Asian gypsy moth. After arriving via wooden shipping pallets or crates, this insatiable trio has munched its way through millions of trees over the past 20 years, costing state, local and federal agencies tens of billions of dollars for eradication, quarantine, and tree removal and replacement.

 Emerald ash borers – named for their habit of drilling through bark – have crawled into 15 states and two Canadian provinces since surfacing near Detroit in 2002, arriving in Tennessee this summer. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state natural resources departments have rolled out campaigns urging the public to look out for the bug and to use only local sources of firewood. 

These high-profile offenders are among friends. From 1860 to 2006, at least 455 tree-loving insect species arrived on American shores, as did 16 damaging tree diseases, say the authors of a report in the December issue of the journal BioScience. Despite regulations designed to stymie the six-legged hoard, two to three new invasive insect species set up shop in the United States each year.
–The Washington Post

 DNR completes Leech Lake management plan
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has finalized a five-year management plan that aims to sustain Leech Lake as one of Minnesota’s top fishing destinations.

The plan outlines fisheries management objectives for 2011 through 2015. Minnesota’s third-largest lake, Leech Lake’s 112,000 acres offer year-round angling opportunities for walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, yellow perch and largemouth bass. 

“This document was developed by combining fisheries science with extensive public input,” said Dirk Peterson, fisheries management section chief for the DNR. “From habitat protection to stocking to continued support for cormorant control, Leech Lake’s management plan clearly details our approach to sport fish species and habitat during the next five years.”
–Minnesota DNR

N.Y. gov imposes ‘fracking’ moratorium
On the surface, it looked as if Gov. David A. Paterson threaded the needle when he addressed one of the most far-reaching environmental and economic issues facing New York: the future of natural gas drilling upstate.

 Mr. Paterson vetoed legislation that would have placed a moratorium on drilling that uses a technique called hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting millions of gallons of chemically treated water underground to crush shale and release the gas inside. Instead, he issued an executive order instituting a longer moratorium that extended until July 1, 2011, but that more narrowly defined the types of drilling to be restricted.

In apparent contradiction of the laws of physics, both the gas industry and the environmentalists seemed pleased.
–The New York Times

Edina approve trail by creek
The Edina City Council has unanimously approved a creek-based route for a Three Rivers Park District walking and biking trail that eventually will run from Hopkins to the Minnesota River in Bloomington.

 The vote followed more than three hours of public testimony and council discussion on the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail, which has been one of the most contentious issues the city has dealt with in recent years.

 Opposition from residents whose backyards would be adjacent to the trail led to petition drives and anti-trail web pages; 243 residences next to the creek would be affected. The trail would be an average of 175 feet from those homes.

 But the roughly 8-mile Edina portion of the trail would be built almost exclusively on public right-of-way already owned by the city.
–The Star Tribune

 Gas driller accused of polluting wells
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that oil and natural-gas producer Range Resources Corp. has contaminated a pair of drinking wells in North Texas’s Barnett Shale, one of the richest natural-gas reservoirs in the U.S.

Two families living near natural-gas-producing wells owned by Range outside Fort Worth complained to federal regulators about “flammable and bubbling drinking water coming out of their tap”

beginning in late August. EPA testing has identified “extremely high levels” of natural gas in the water, the agency said. The water wells are located in the Trinity Aquifer, which underlies 20 Texas counties, the agency said in a court filing.

 Regulators said the concentration of natural gas “posed an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire.” The government also identified other contaminants, including the carcinogen benzene, in the water and has asked a nearby rural water-system operator to test its supplies.
–The Wall Street Journal

Melting glaciers imperil Mount Rainier road
The greatest threat to the busiest road in Mount Rainier National Park is the mountain itself.

Receding glaciers, loose rocks and boulders, glacial outbursts and debris flows could combine to cut off Nisqually-Paradise Road. Half the 1.2 million people who typically visit the park each year travel that roadway.

 Yet the threat is not limited to the 18-mile road.

 Nearly every major roadway in the park – including Westside Road, Stevens Canyon Road, state Route 123, state Route 410 and Carbon River Road – is threatened.

 Portions of the Carbon River and Westside roads have been closed because of flooding. Stevens Canyon and state Route 123 are susceptible to landslides. State Route 410 could be flooded should the White River jump its banks.

 “It’s almost historically unprecedented the conditions Mount Rainier (National Park) has to manage in terms of access,” said Paul Kennard, the park’s geomorphologist.
–The Tacoma News Tribune

Wild rice, Asian carp, corn and cotton

December 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.

Wild rice is new focus in mining debate
In the fight over proposed mining projects in northern Minnesota, a new player with a surprising amount of clout has emerged — wild rice.

This month, a routine state review of a water quality standard that has lain largely dormant for three decades erupted into an intensely emotional debate about how to protect the state’s most iconic plant.

On one side are environmentalists and tribal governments who want to keep the rule — created specifically to protect wild rice from sulfates — and are insisting that the state enforce its own standard.

On the other are mining and business interests who question the science, and who say that industry should not be required to pay millions of dollars in environmental costs that might be pointless.

Hanging in the balance are thousands of potential jobs on the Iron Range, the cultural heritage of the Chippewa — and the graceful sway of wild rice in Minnesota waters.

All the players say they want science to prevail in the upcoming two-year review. The decision by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) could ultimately help make or break the proposed Polymet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes, as well as million-dollar expansions of existing taconite mines.
–The Star Tribune

Judge again refuses to close Chicago locks to Asian carp 
A federal judge has blocked a third and perhaps final attempt to close Chicago-area shipping locks, saying Asian carp do not appear to be an imminent threat and closing the locks might not keep them from reaching Lake Michigan anyway.

In a long-awaited ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow said that “the bottom line is that even giving every benefit of doubt … plaintiffs cannot establish a showing of irreparable harm.”

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who spearheaded the unsuccessful lock-closing effort in federal court and twice last year in the U.S. Supreme Court, said he will fight on.

“Our legal fight against Asian carp will continue, but President (Barack) Obama could stop the spread of Asian carp with the flick of a switch,” Cox said. “Obama’s persistent failure to stop Asian carp is a slap in the face to Great Lakes citizens genuinely concerned about preserving their livelihood.”
–The Chicago Tribune

USGS: Biofuels soak up Mississippi Delta groundwater
Growing corn for biofuels production is having unintended effects on water quality and quantity in northwestern Mississippi.

 More water is required to produce corn than to produce cotton in the Mississippi Delta requiring increased withdrawals of groundwater from the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer for irrigation.

This is contributing to already declining water levels in the aquifer.  In addition, increased use of nitrogen fertilizer for corn in comparison to cotton could contribute to low dissolved oxygen conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.

These are some of the key findings from a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey to assess water quality and quantity in the Mississippi Delta, in relationship to biofuels production.

“Because corn uses 80 percent more water for irrigation than cotton, exchanging corn for cotton will decrease water-levels,” according to Heather Welch, USGS Hydrologist and author of this USGS Report.
–USGS News Release

Chronic polluters reap stimulus payments 
In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out about $2 billion in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters while granting them exemptions from a basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Inegrity. 

 The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing the projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Officials said they did not consider companies’ pollution records in deciding whether to grant the waivers. They said that creating jobs quickly was an important part of the stimulus plan, and that past environmental violations should not disqualify a company from pursuing federal contracts for unrelated projects.
–The Washington Post

 Pavement sealants a big source of pollution
Coal-tar-based pavement sealant is the largest source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in 40 urban lakes studied by the U.S. Geological Survey.

PAHs are an environmental health concern because several are probable human carcinogens, they are toxic to fish and other aquatic life, and their concentrations have been increasing in urban lakes in recent decades. 

Coal-tar-based pavement sealant is the black, shiny substance sprayed or painted on many parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds. USGS scientists evaluated the contribution of PAHs from many different sources to lakes in cities from Anchorage, Alaska, to Orlando, Fla. The full report can be found in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

 USGS scientists collected sediment cores from 40 lakes, analyzed the cores for PAHs, and determined the contribution of PAHs from many different sources using a chemical mass-balance model. On average, coal-tar-based sealcoat accounted for one-half of all PAHs in the lakes, while vehicle-related sources accounted for about one-quarter.
 –USGS News Release 

 EPA seeks agency-wide sustainability focus
Aiming to reform its policies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has enlisted one of the biggest guns in the federal arsenal to help: The National Academy of Sciences.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone launched an effort to develop the so-called Green Book, a project to ensure all EPA policies are driven by sustainability.

The effort is reminiscent of the 1983 Red Book, written by the National Research Council to develop a strategy of risk assessment to guide the agency’s policies. That project triggered a dramatic shift in how the EPA developed regulations, focusing for the first time on scientifically evaluating risks to human health and the environment. 

The National Research Council project was announced as part of EPA’s 40th-anniversary celebration.
–Environmental Health News

Wyoming farmers sell groundwater to oil drillers
BURNS, Wyo. — Kenneth King climbed into his Ford pickup and slowly drove through a muddy alfalfa field as his dog Molly easily kept pace. He pointed to a spot in the field to the right and said, “What I’m hoping to do here is — see I’ve got this low spot here?” 

King hit the brakes and pointed in another direction. “And that’s my irrigation well? And I’m hoping to just pump water that will run into the pond and let trucks come in and suck it out.” 

Ranching and farming in far southeast Wyoming is an unassuming affair, dependent on the sparse amount of rainfall in the region and whatever volume of water an electric pump can coax from the shallow aquifers below. 

Three Groundwater Control Areas have been in place for many years, established by the state due to rapidly declining groundwater levels. Irrigators reflexively object when anyone proposes drilling a new water well in the region because most everyone agrees that freshwater aquifers here are overappropriated. 

Yet instead of using the family’s adjudicated water right to irrigate his fields nine miles north of Burns next year, King plans to sell a good portion of the water to oil companies.
–The Billings Gazette

Climate change imperils coastal wetlands 
 Many coastal wetlands worldwide, including some on the U.S. Atlantic Coast, are at risk of disappearing by the end of this century, scientists say.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists say coastal wetlands may be more sensitive than previously thought to climate change and sea-level rise projected for the 21st century, a U.S. Interior Department release reported.

 Even in a slow sea-level rise projection, wetlands with low sediment availability and low tidal ranges are vulnerable and may drown, researchers say.
–United Press International

Georgia considers pollution credit trading
The group in charge of planning the future of water in North Georgia has proposed a system of credits and debits based on water pollution that the council hopes will translate going green into greenbacks for industries in the region.

 The Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council included a system of “water quality credit trading” in the first draft of its water plan, initially presented in Blue Ridge. The system, as explained by council members and state consultants, would allow utilities and industries that discharge below maximum levels of nutrients or other pollutants into area streams to sell credits to dischargers who are above the limit.

The credits would represent the gap between the low-discharge operations and the threshold, giving dischargers an incentive to cut their levels of discharge, according to officials.

Similar systems of credits for output levels have been common with air pollution for years.
–Chattanooga Times Free Press

Pollution threatens Taj Mahal
A new Indian government survey has revealed that the Taj Mahal, the nation’s best-known monument, is again facing a major threat from pollution.

The report, compiled by India’s National Environment Engineering Research Institute, shows that measures taken after previous scares that the 17th-century tomb was being irreparably damaged by air and water pollution are failing.

The survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, found that pollution levels in the city of Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, had risen significantly over recent years as a result of growth in industry, traffic and population.
–The Guardian

 Close-to-home invasives are the biggest problem
Invasive pests moving from state to state within the United States are a greater danger than similar pests coming from outside the country, researchers say.

 That’s because state lines in the United States are open and for the most part unregulated, as opposed to intrastate precautions taken by other countries, a release from Penn State says. 

For example, travelers in Australia moving from one state to another may encounter a quarantine stop and be required to forfeit recently purchased fruits and vegetables. 

“Our findings have significant implications for biosecurity policy and the need to consider security measures beyond established national borders,” Matthew Thomas, a Penn State professor of entomology, said. 

Invasive species cost the U.S. economy $120 billion annually.
–United Press International

Water Footprint a complex concept
A water-use report issued in September by Coca-Cola with the Nature Conservancy found that 518 liters of freshwater are required to produce just one liter of its Minute Maid orange juice, and 35 liters are needed to produce a half liter of Coca-Cola.

A growing awareness of just how much water it takes to produce everyday consumer goods is inspiring a rising interest in “water footprinting” — akin to carbon footprinting — as a tool to analyze and guide the development of new technologies, water infrastructure investment and policies aimed at coping with the world’s rising water demand.

Conceptually, the water footprint is similar to that of carbon — an impact indicator based on the total volume of direct and indirect freshwater used in producing a good or service. There is a difference, however. Unlike carbon in the atmosphere, fresh water resources are localized, not global.

“Water is not carbon,” said Jason Morrison, program director at the Pacific Institute, a research organization in Oakland, California, that studies resource sustainability issues. “Whatever you might say about the validity of carbon credits, it will be extremely hard to have that amount of success in the water area because, volumetrically, one volume of water has a different meaning in one part of the world versus another.”
–The New York Times

Abbotsford, Wis., firm settles pollution case
Abbyland Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle air pollution and storm water management violations that date back to 2000.

 The settlement approved by Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Brady involved the Abbotsford meat processor’s alleged failure to obtain air pollution permits and pay annual emission fees after it expanded plant operations several years ago, said Paul Hess, company controller. 

“We hired an environmental consultant who performed an audit, which showed we were required to have air emissions permits. … When it was discovered, we notified the (Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). Since that time, we’ve been working to comply with regulations,” Hess said.
–Wausau Daily Herald