Archive for February, 2011

Watersheds; ag pollution; carp and moose

February 28, 2011

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.

Izaak Walton-Freshwater conference set March 12
Learn about how watershed districts in Minnesota are governed and what they do. And, most important, learn how citizens can work through local watershed organizations to improve water quality in the lakes, rivers and streams around them.

 On Saturday, March 12, the Izaak Walton League and the Freshwater Society will sponsor a workshop titled “Managing Water on the Land from a Watershed Perspective.”

 Tom Davenport, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expert on nonpoint-source pollution, especially agricultural pollution, will give the keynote luncheon address.

 The workshop – the latest in an annual series of Izaak Walton League summit meetings on important water and conservation issues – will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 4:30 p.m. at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

What are some farmers doing, things that many more could do, to prevent soil erosion and water pollution? What are some the trends in agriculture —  rapidly rising commodity prices, soaring land prices and cash rent payments to non-farmer land owners, a huge demand for corn for ethanol production — that threaten to increase pollution and erosion? And how should the federal Farm Bill be rewritten to encourage and reward conservation?

About 200 people turned out Feb. 24 to hear Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group address those questions in a lecture at the University of Minnesota.

For more information, an agenda and registration details, go to the web site of the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League.

Craig A. Cox

If you had to miss the lecture

What are some farmers doing, things that many more could do, to prevent soil erosion and water pollution? What are some the trends in agriculture —  rapidly rising commodity prices, soaring land prices and cash rent payments to non-farmer land owners, a huge demand for corn for ethanol production — that threaten to increase pollution and erosion? And how should the federal Farm Bill be rewritten to encourage and reward conservation?

About 200 people turned out Feb. 24 to hear Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group address those questions in a lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

If you could not attend the talk, video and audio recordings are posted at www.freshwater.org.

Coon Rapids Dam backed as carp barrier
The Coon Rapids Dam Commission recommended the state spend $17 million to upgrade the 100-year-old dam to keep unwanted fish from migrating up the Mississippi River into popular northern Minnesota lakes.

The recommendation, backed by the state Department of Natural Resources, urges legislators to make improvements as soon as possible using state bonds, money provided by the Legacy Amendment or other funds. 

“This is the best option we have at the moment,” said Luke Skinner, supervisor of the DNR’s invasive species program. “We don’t have the luxury of time.” 

A major concern is a feared influx of high-jumping Asian carp, reducing habitat for game fish and creating a hazard to boaters and water skiers. 

Gov. Mark Dayton has included $16 million for dam repairs in his proposed $1 billion bonding bill.
–The Star Tribune

Moose decline may cut permits
Officials of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say they likely will cut the number of moose hunting permits in half for this fall’s moose season.

That follows the latest moose population survey, which shows moose numbers continuing to decline in northeast Minnesota.

Last year, 212 permits were issued for the bulls-only moose season. Minnesota Public Radio News reports the DNR is expected to reduce that to a little more than 100 permits for the season that starts in October.

DNR area wildlife manager Tom Rusch in Tower says there is no clear answer why the moose population is declining.
–The Associated Press

 Minnesota Senate OKs permitting speed-up
Throwing a nod to business, the Minnesota Senate passed a collection of regulatory streamlining measures aimed at boosting statewide job growth.

 The effort to speed up environmental review and permitting processes cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 49-16 vote two weeks after the House passed a slightly different version.

 The bill would make permanent four initiatives Gov. Mark Dayton required in an executive order last month. But it would add two more controversial ones: allowing permitting appeals to skip lower courts and go straight to the state Court of Appeals and allowing businesses to develop their own draft environmental reviews.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the measure would help new and expanding businesses cut the time it takes to get the state permits they need and, accordingly, add jobs.

It would establish goals for the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency to issue or deny permits and would require agency reports tracking progress. It also would enable electronic submission of environmental review and permit documents. And it would require the state to prove federal standards are inadequate before adopting more stringent ones. 

Over objections from some Democratic-Farmer-Labor colleagues, the Senate exempted the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board from permitting requirements.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin bill would repeal drinking water rule
Republican members of both legislative houses have pushed a bill for discussion that would effectively repeal a rule that requires municipal governments to disinfect drinking water.

The Department of Natural Resources law that went into effect Dec. 1 requires all local governments to go through certain steps to ensure the area’s water is safe for the public. 

State Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, I-Manitowoc, said the rule needed to be repealed because it only aids a small number of Wisconsinites, but all are forced to pay for its costs. 

“I can tell you a couple of villages in my district have been very extensively impacted by a rule that is a one size fits all rule,” Ziegelbauer, one of the bill’s endorsers, said. “Their drinking water is perfectly safe — they monitor it, and this new requirement would require them to put in some very expensive unnecessary equipment.”
–The Badger Herald

Air testing planned in St. Louis Park
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Health and the city of St. Louis Park will hold two open houses Thursday, March 3, to answer questions about upcoming vapor intrusion testing near the Reilly Tar & Chemical Superfund site.

The open houses will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at the St. Louis Park Public Library, 3240 Library Lane. 

In late March or early April, EPA will offer free air sampling air in about 30 homes and apartment buildings in an area bounded by 32nd Street West to the north, Highway 7 to the south, Louisiana Avenue to the east and Pennsylvania Avenue to the west. 

 The sampling area is part of the 80-acre Reilly Tar & Chemical Corp. site, which was used for coal tar distillation and wood preserving from 1917 to 1972. It was sold to St. Louis Park and converted to residential and recreational uses in 1972.

Air samples will be analyzed for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, better known as PAHs, which have been detected in the ground water and soil under the site. Breathing low levels of PAHs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems.

 The project will involve “sub-slab” sampling under basements and slabs to test for gases that may be collecting beneath building foundations.
–EPA News Release

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EPA criticized; moose decline continues

February 21, 2011

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.

Industries criticize EPA standards for Florida
A coalition of national industry associations is warning Congress that U.S. EPA’s move to impose tougher water pollution limits in Florida could become a model for similar actions in other states and ultimately cost taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars at questionable environmental benefit.

EPA immediately fired back, rejecting the claim and noting that the numeric limits on nutrient pollution the agency imposed on Florida last year were required under a settlement agreement EPA struck with environmental groups.

The groups had filed suit alleging that federal regulators stood idly by for years as the state continuously failed to enforce the Clean Water Act, allowing phosphorus and nitrogen — components of fertilizer and byproducts of sewage and wastewater treatment — to saturate waterways, triggering soupy algae blooms that killed fish and sucked oxygen out of the water.

“While States are free to control nutrient pollution, and many are starting to, EPA has no plans to establish numeric nutrient criteria in any other states,” EPA said in a statement yesterday responding to the industry letter. “The establishment of numeric limits of nutrient pollution in Florida was due to specific legal challenges about the State of Florida’s implementation of the Clean Water Act.”
–The New York Times

Moose decline continues
Northeastern Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, according to results of an aerial survey released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Survey results revealed lower moose numbers and the proportion of cows accompanied by calves continued a 14-year decline, dropping to a record low of 24 calves per 100 cows. The proportion of cows accompanied by twin calves was at the lowest level since 1999, which contributed to the record-low calf-to-cow ratio.

“These indices along with results from research using radio-collared moose all indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Dr. Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader.

Moose numbers are estimated using an aerial survey of the northeastern Minnesota moose range.

Based on the survey, wildlife researchers estimate that there were 4,900 moose in northeastern Minnesota. Last year’s estimate was 5,500.

A study of radio-collared moose in northeastern Minnesota between 2002 and 2008 determined that nonhunting mortality was substantially higher than in moose populations outside of Minnesota.

The causes of moose mortality are not well understood. Of 150 adult moose radio-collared since 2002 in Minnesota, 114 have subsequently died, most from unknown causes thought to be diseases or parasites. Ten moose died as a result of highway vehicle accidents. Two were killed by trains. Nine deaths were clearly the result of wolf predation.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

U.S. House defeats anti-carp proposal
The U.S. House rejected a proposal to force the closure of Chicago-area shipping locks that could provide an opening to the Great Lakes for voracious Asian carp, a potential threat to native fish species and the region’s economy.

By a vote of 292-137, lawmakers defeated a budget bill amendment offered by Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan that would have denied funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to open the two navigational structures. Opponents argued successfully that the locks were vital to commerce and closing them wouldn’t necessarily prevent the unwanted carp from reaching Lake Michigan.

“It’s a great relief that we were able to defeat this amendment,” said Rep. Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican. “Its passage would have been devastating to Chicago’s economy and cost thousands of jobs in our region. Worse, it would have been an empty gesture against the carp, doing more to kill jobs than slow down fish.”

Michigan and four other states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania — are suing in federal court to close the locks and permanently sever the man-made link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds to prevent invasive species from migrating between them.
–The Canadian Press

MPCA urges care in manure applications
As another winter of heavy snowfall gives way to warming temperatures, rapid melting and potential for flooding pose challenges for manure management among the more than 25,000 livestock farms in Minnesota.  Many smaller operations that spread solid manure during winter must ensure that it doesn’t run off with rapid snowmelt flowing to ditches, streams and other waters.

Manure-contaminated runoff not only threatens water quality, it reduces the value of manure as a crop nutrient.  “Manure applied to snow-covered or frozen soils during conditions of snow melt or rain on frozen soils can contribute the majority of the annual nutrient losses,” says Dennis Frame, University of Wisconsin-Extension.  “There is a high potential for manure runoff this year based on current field conditions and typical weather patterns.”

If possible, farmers should refrain from spreading manure during periods of rapid snow melt.  Frame offers manure-handling suggestions in article.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also has a fact sheet available titled, “Managing manure and land application during adverse weather conditions.”
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release

Indiana bill aims at manure transport
Indiana could be in deep trouble.

The Indiana House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee had a hearing Feb. 8 concerning House Bill 1134. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, and aims “to amend the Indiana Code concerning agriculture and animals.”

More specifically, the bill targets interstate manure transport into Indiana.

Richmond, Ind., Environmental Activist Barbara Sha Cox said it is crucial for eastern Indiana counties to take a stand.

“This should be of special interest to those in Richmond who drink water from the reservoir and everyone in the counties who have private wells,” Cox said in an Indiana Living Green press release. “As it stands now, they can dump piles of manure near waterways with no runoff protection.”

According to the press release, Ohio has been shipping and dumping excess manure into Indiana border counties

Congressman seeks to halt Chesapeake Bay plan
Money for a far-reaching pollution control plan for Chesapeake Bay would be stripped from this year’s federal budget under a proposed amendment to an important House spending bill.

The amendment, filed by Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, takes aim at an Environmental Protection Agency program to reduce the flow of several major pollutants into the bay by roughly a quarter by 2025. Called a “pollution diet” by federal regulators, the plan was deemed necessary after the E.P.A. determined that states were moving too slowly to curb polluted runoff from farms and cities into the bay.

In an interview, Mr. Goodlatte called the E.P.A. plan a “power grab” that exceeded its authority under the Clean Water Act and said that the agency had failed to calculate the program’s impact on jobs and the region’s economy. He argued that under the new regulations, towns and cities would be required to spend millions of dollars to upgrade their stormwater runoff systems.
–The New York Times

Macalester College tries bottled water ban
MacCares, the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society, in conjunction with the Sustainability Office and the Social Responsibility Committee, is launching what organizers call the “full-scale test run” of a policy they eventually hope the college will implement permanently: ending the sale of bottled water on campus.

The test run was to  start on Feb. 21, and last until Mar. 13. The ban will mean that no bottled water will be sold at the Grille, the Highlander and the vending machines in the Leonard Center.

“The idea is to have a big educational campaign to make sure that people on campus understand some of the issues with bottled water and tapped water,” said Brianna Besch ’13, a member of MacCares who is helping to lead the initiative and Bottled Water Awareness Month.

The trial discontinuation is the result of concerns raised regarding the environmental and social effects of bottled water, including the waste it generates, the lack of oversight over its quality, and the commodification of what the United Nations has declared a human right. “You’re paying a lot more for something that you can almost get for free,” said Besch. “A lot of people think bottled water is healthier, but it actually has much more lax standards for quality. . . then you’ve got the waste component. It takes seventeen million barrels of oil per year to produce and transport bottled water [in the United States].”
–Mac Weekly
 

11% budget cut proposed for MPCA
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says even with an 11 percent reduction in funding, it will be able to make progress on key issues under Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal.

MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said the MPCA is also moving to streamline its permitting process. If federal cuts add significantly to state cuts, it will be harder to fulfill the agency’s mission, he said.

He says the agency will be able to absorb the reduction through normal turnover and early retirements, even as the PCA works to streamline its permitting processes.

The agency will give priority to new projects and expansions that create jobs, he said, and that means existing businesses may operate longer under expired permits — but they have to maintain the same conditions as required in their old permit.
–Minnesota Public Radio

DNR submits 25-year plan for parks and trails
Minnesota finally has a strategic blueprint for how best to spend more than $1 billion in state sales tax money during the next quarter-century to build what advocates hope will be a world-class system of parks and trails.

The state Department of Natural Resources gave its 25-year plan to the Legislature, a key step in helping future lawmakers direct those Legacy Amendment dollars to specific parks and trails projects.

The plan, sought by legislators and developed over 18 months with help from the Citizens League and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Changing Landscapes, doesn’t offer specific project recommendations.

Rather, it lays out a broad set of guidelines, developed in response to insights from more than 1,000 parks and trails enthusiasts and also stemming from the most detailed inventory of local, regional and state parks facilities ever put together in the state.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Great Lakes funding keeps shrinking
The Obama administration’s much-trumpeted Great Lakes restoration plan continues to shrink in the face of federal budget woes.

It was conceived as a 10-year, $5 billion program to do things like clean up toxic messes, restore wetlands, stem the influx of invasive species and promote native fisheries. But the funding has shrunk from $475 million in 2010 to $225 million this year if the House Appropriations Committee has its way.

That figure, included in the committee’s continuing resolution to wrap up the current year’s budget, was $75 million lower than the $300 million President Barack Obama had requested for this year. The Senate has yet to weigh in.

Obama released his 2012 budget, which includes $350 million for the restoration program next year.

Conservation groups said all the uncertainty is making it difficult to execute a comprehensive plan to restore the world’s largest freshwater system. “There are long-term projects that require some certainty of funding levels from year to year,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “It’s put people in limbo, projects in limbo and research in limbo, just awaiting congressional action.”
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Research: Human actions yield more rain, snow
An increase in heavy precipitation that has afflicted many countries is at least partly a consequence of human influence on the atmosphere, climate scientists reported in a new study.

In the first major paper of its kind, the researchers used elaborate computer programs that simulate the climate to analyze whether the rise in severe rainstorms, heavy snowfalls and similar events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere. They found that it could not, and that the increase made sense only when the computers factored in the effects of greenhouse gases released by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.

As reflected in previous studies, the likelihood of extreme precipitation on any given day rose by about 7 percent over the last half of the 20th century, at least for the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere for which sufficient figures are available to do an analysis.

The principal finding of the new study is “that this 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability,” said Francis W. Zwiers, a Canadian climate scientist who took part in the research. The paper is being published in the journal Nature.
–The New York Times

Rising sea levels could hurt 180 U.S. cities
Rising seas spurred by climate change could threaten 180 U.S. coastal cities by 2100, a new study says, with Miami, New Orleans and Virginia Beach among those most severely affected.

Previous studies have looked at where rising waters might go by the end of this century, assuming various levels of sea level rise, but this latest research focused on municipalities in the contiguous 48 states with population of 50,000 or more.

Cities along the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico will likely be hardest hit if global sea levels rise, as projected, by about 3 feet (1 meter) by 2100, researchers reported in the journal Climate Change Letters.

Sea level rise is expected to be one result of global warming as ice on land melts and flows toward the world’s oceans.
–Reuters

Studies predict water shortfall in Southwest

February 14, 2011

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.

Studies predict water shortfall in Southwest
The glum projections of the growing gap between demand for water in the Southwest and the dwindling supplies have never been optimistic, but two new studies— one a research report based on satellite data, and the other an analysis of rainfall, water use and the costs associated with obtaining new water — make earlier forecasts seem positively rosy.

The United States branch of the Stockholm Environment Institute, based in Somerville, Mass., just released an extended analysis of water demand and future supplies that estimates that the cumulative shortfall over the next century in the Southwest, without the adoption of adaptation strategies, will be 1.815 billion acre feet. And that’s without factoring in a climate-change-driven reduction in supply.
–The New York Times

River cities brace for spring floods
Ice is still on the rivers, but the flood fight is on.

With near-historic crests predicted for the third year in a row, people along the state’s flood-prone waterways are sandbagging, strengthening their defenses, and watching with confidence, wariness and weariness.

Fargo-Moorhead, the epicenter of recent flood fights, have both declared states of emergency. Fargo will launch a drive to fill 3 million sandbags to hold off the Red River in North Dakota.

Along the Minnesota, the Mississippi, the St. Croix, and even along tributary creeks, communities are buying sandbags, hiring levee builders, planning for volunteers and prodding residents to buy flood insurance.
–The Star Tribune

Federal aquaculture rules proposed
The federal government issued the nation’s first policy guidelines for aquaculture, opening the way for farm-raised seafood to be produced in federal waters as long as the operations do not threaten wild fish stocks or saltwater ecosystems.

 The guidelines, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, offer general standards that regional fishery councils will have to meet when they propose fish farms.

 Aquaculture has been growing rapidly worldwide, and in 2009, farmed fish and shellfish surpassed wild-caught stocks as the major source of seafood worldwide.

 NOAA estimates that 84 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is now imported, and half of that is produced through aquaculture.
–The New York Times

Ex-Sens. Frederickson, Lessard join DNR
Gov. Mark Dayton announced that former GOP state Sen. Dennis Frederickson will be southern director for the Department of Natural Resources. He also announced that former Sen Bob Lessard will be a senior adviser to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. Chris Niskanen, the outdoors writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, will also be communications director for the DNR. 

Frederickson served as a state Senator from 1980 – 2010. He decided against running for reelection. Lessard served in the Minnesota Senate from 1976 – 2003. He was a member of the DFL Party and the Independence Party during his time in office. 

Niskanen is a prominent outdoors writer who worked for the Pioneer Press for 17 years. 

“We went out and found the very best people we could to lead us into the future,” said Landwehr in a news release. “I’m very excited about leveraging their skill and experience to better reach out to the people of Minnesota and represent their needs and concerns.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Apple Valley, Burnsville agree on runoff
After years of looking for ways to deal with water pollution, Burnsville and Apple Valley have reached an agreement to create a large holding pond to collect storm runoff. 

Apple Valley will build the new Whitney pond this summer on land owned by Burnsville in Lac Lavon Park. The pond, expected to be completed by November, also will have a walking trail around it. 

“It’s a great partnership between the two cities,” said Terry Shultz, Burnsville’s director of parks, recreation and natural resources. “It will greatly improve the water quality of Keller Lake and Crystal Lake.” 

The two lakes are on the state’s list of impaired waterways, Shultz said, and the new Whitney pond will allow the cities to lower the phosphorous levels in those lakes.
–The Star Tribune

Hugo-area drainage dispute lingers
The century-old Judicial Ditch No. 2 in Hugo is the problem that refuses to die.

 A lawsuit filed against the Rice Creek Watershed District is the latest in a long line of legal conflicts over the drainage ditch, which has been making headlines for more than a decade because of flooding, farmers’ complaints and bickering between government agencies.

 The watershed district voted in December to alter a small dam in the ditch. In January, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Hugo farmer Fran Miron sued the district.

The DNR claims the district needs DNR permission to do anything that will affect the water level of nearby Rice Lake. Miron is asking the court to force the district to either maintain the ditch according to its original specifications or pay for any land that is adversely affected by failing to do so.

An attorney for the district said attempts have been made to compromise with the DNR, including offers to let the DNR take over the dam, and that the Miron claim was made once before and already addressed by the court.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 U.S. House chided on bottled water
If the Potomac River, which supplies water to the nation’s capital, had run dry, Congress might be able to explain itself. But it hasn’t.  

And that has left one group calling out the U.S. House for spending $860,000 last year on bottled water — money it says could have gone toward installing fountains of perfectly potable water. 

 A report from the nonprofit Corporate Accountability International found that between April 2009 and March 2010, House lawmakers spent an average of $2,000 per member on bottled water. 
–FoxNews.com

 Climate change tracked in Wisconsin
Recent findings from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin researchers suggests the effects of climate change have been accelerating over the past 60 years and could drastically transform the state’s idyllic landscape in the future. 

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, a group of experts and scientists from across the state, released the report as the culmination of nearly three-and-a-half years of research. 

Using data from the past 60 years and as far back as the 1800s, researchers tracked ongoing trends of climate change distributed across the state to make projections as to what the climate is going to look like in 50 years, said Lewis Gilbert, associate director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Gilbert said the results of this statistical analysis were combined with global climate models that had been scaled down to better reflect the size of the state.
–The Badger Herald 

Research: Algae affect fish hormonally
Fertilizer runoff from farms can feed blooms of toxic cyanobacteria, which are deadly to pets and livestock. As if that weren’t enough to worry about, new research suggests for the first time that the blooms also could disrupt reproduction in aquatic wildlife through estrogenic effects (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es103538b).

 Until now, most studies of Microcystis aeruginosa, the most common bloom-forming cyanobacterium, have focused on the bacterium’s 80 or so microcystin toxins, says Ted Henry, an ecotoxicologist at the University of Plymouth, in the U.K. The toxins can cause massive internal bleeding and liver damage in mammals and fish.

 Henry, Emily Rogers of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and their colleagues stumbled on the estrogenic actions when they were looking for genes that turn on when fish encounter Microcystis. They hoped that these genes could serve as biomarkers for bloom events in lakes when biologists observe fish die offs. “We wanted to develop a short list of genes that would determine whether a fish had been exposed to Microcystis or not,” Henry says.
–Chemical & Engineering News

Ag runoff, phenology and invasives

February 7, 2011
Craig A. Cox from the Environmental Working Group

Craig A. Cox

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 where they originally were published.

‘Taking the pollution out of agriculural production’
Aricultural runoff – fertilizers and pesticides from cultivated fields, manure from pastures and feedlots, sediment washed away by erosion – pollutes many U.S. lakes and rivers. Craig A. Cox of the Environmental Working Group will talk about the agricultural pollution problem and some strategies for reducing it in a free public lecture on Thursday, Feb. 24,  at the University of Minnesota.

Cox’s lecture, titled “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences. It is part of the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources.

The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the university’s St. Paul campus. Seating is limited, and pre-registration is required.

 Cox has worked on land and water conservation for nearly 30 years for agencies that include the National  Academy of Sciences, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Society. As senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, he coordinates the organization’s research and advocacy on agriculture, renewable energy and climate change.

 Calling all phenologists and weather observers
Do you keep track of when the first butterfly arrives, when the oaks lose their leaves? Do you make a record of the weather around you every day? Do you just have fun observing nature?

  If your answer is yes, here is an invitation to join the second annual gathering of Minnesota Phenology and Weather Observers to learn, share your interests and play in the snow in the hills overlooking Lake Superior.

This Phenology and Weather Observers Gathering will take place on the weekend of March 4-6, 2011, at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center; Finland, Minn. 

Space is limited. First come, first serve. The cost of $130includes six meals and occupancy in rooms of up to six. For information and registration, go the Wolf Ridge web site. 

The Gathering is organized, taught and supported by Minnesota Phenology Network, University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources, UMD Large Lakes Obeservatory,National Weather Service (Duluth office), Minnesota Climatology Working Group, USA National Phenology Network, Wolf Ridge ELC, Sugarloaf North Shore Stewardship Assn., John Latimer, Larry Weber, and a variety of dedicated individuals.

Enthusiasts, casual observers, professionals, teachers, researchers all have something to gain. Activities range from exploring nature’s happenings on snowshoes to learning how researchers utilize satellites to monitor changes in nature the size of a leaf. Presenters are very experienced: naturalists, professors, and professional researchers from highly regarded institutions. The new organization’s first meeting in 2010 was profiled in the Freshwater Society newsletter.

 Legislators want quick action on invasives
State lawmakers are urging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to move faster in crafting new laws to stop the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species.

Rep. Dennis McNamara, R-Hastings, told DNR officials during a House hearing that the Legislature is ready to hear proposals as soon as possible.

“You can’t sit on your hands and not deal with this,” said McNamara, the chairman of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. “I want legislation here shortly to deal with this in a major way.”

 DNR officials told McNamara’s committee some far-reaching proposals could infringe on boaters’ movement from lake to lake and would be expensive. They also said fighting the pests would require help from local governments.”We get a lot of, ‘The DNR is not doing enough,’ ” Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species program supervisor, told the House committee. “But we turn around and say, ‘Help us.’ ”

McNamara’s challenge was a clear signal to the DNR to formulate the most stringent rules yet to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, especially zebra mussels.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press 

Bill seeks bar to DNR land buys
Some state representatives want to put the brakes on new land purchases by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has authored a bill that prohibits the state from purchasing land unless it puts up for sale an equal amount of state property. The idea is for the state to have no net gain of state land.

 The bill has 16 co-authors, including Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who has been a vocal opponent of the DNR acquiring additional land.

The bill is the strongest effort yet by House lawmakers to stop state land acquisition that is under way with money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

 Rukavina and others argue the DNR can’t maintain the land it owns, and thus shouldn’t buy any more.

DNR officials say land prices in many areas of the state are bargains and landowners are eager to sell to protect it for state parks, Wildlife Management Areas and lakeshore protection.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

  USGS predicts groundwater declines in Great Lakes basin
Though the Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth, the basin has the potential for local shortages, according to a new basin-wide water availability assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey.

For example, though groundwater pumping has had relatively little effect on water in the basin as a whole, pumping in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas has caused local groundwater levels to decline as much as 1,000 feet. Moreover, if pumping were to increase as anticipated in the region, water levels in these areas are estimated to decline an additional 100 feet by 2040.

 While there is an abundance of water in the region, we may see local shortages or conflicts because water is not distributed evenly,” said Howard Reeves, USGS scientist and lead author on this assessment. “In some areas, the physical quantity of water may be limiting, and water availability in most of the Great Lakes Basin will be determined by social decisions about impacts of new uses on existing users and the environment.”
–USGS News Release

Research depicts ground-surface water link
An article published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters describes a new and simple way of measuring groundwater’s contribution to small streams on the surface.

Sinking land levels in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

By taking snapshots of streams with a device designed to capture, through infrared radiation images, the temperatures in various parts of the water, the approach “advances the immediate detection and quantification of localized groundwater inflow for hydrology, geology and ecology,” the article’s authors, Tobias Schuetz and Marcus Weiler of the University of Freiburg’s Institue of Hydrology, wrote. 

Groundwater, they found, tends to be cooler than surface water in summer and warmer in winter; the infrared devices record the difference and produce images that show groundwater as clearly as night goggles show a human figure in the dark.
–The New York Times

 Asian carp czar interviewed on MPR
The man President Barack Obama has charged with managing the Asian carp threat is hearing criticism that the government is not moving fast enough to prevent the invasive fish from infiltrating the Great Lakes.

John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is in the midst of 12 public meetings scheduled around the Great Lakes region to discuss the federal strategy.

 Asian species known as bighead and silver carp have migrated up the Illinois River. They are being stopped from entering Lake Michigan by an electric barrier 25 miles south of Chicago.

Biologists have warned that if they reach the Great Lakes they could starve out other fish and harm the eco-system.

 Goss was interviewed on MPR’s “All Things Considered.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Flooding predicted throughout Minnesota
The forecast for spring flooding statewide came down to two words:

 Look out. 

Offering their first formal long-range regional outlook of the season, Dan Luna, a National Weather Service meteorologist, and other officials said all the state’s rivers are expected to close roads, including major highways, foul up sewer systems and back up into basements again this spring. That’s almost certain to mean detours for metro-area commuters and hours of sandbagging and sump-pumping for residents from Fargo-Moorhead to Afton.

 “Every river in the state of Minnesota is at risk of flooding this spring,” Luna said, noting how the third straight wet autumn was followed by snowfall that has been twice the norm (or more) over nearly the entire state. He said 3 to 6 inches of frozen water now rests atop frozen ground across Minnesota.
–The Star Tribune

Ex-MPCA head Brad Moore joins mining firm
A former head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, who also held a top position at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, has been hired by PolyMet Mining Co. as the firm’s executive vice president of environmental and governmental affairs.

 Duluth native Brad Moore will assume “overall responsibility for the Company’s effort to complete environmental review and obtain permits necessary for construction and operation of the’’ proposed PolyMet copper mining operation between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, the company announced.

 Moore served as PCA commissioner from 2006 to 2008 and as assistant commissioner for operations of the DNR from 1999 to 2006. He also worked in several policy positions at DNR and the Minnesota Department of Public Service (now the Department of Commerce.)

Moore’s “existing knowledge of the project and the process mean that he can step in immediately to effectively help the environmental review and permitting process move forward to completion,’’ said LaTisha Gietzen, PolyMet’s vice president of public, governmental and environmental affairs, in a statement on the hiring.

 Moore has most recently worked for Barr Engineering as Senior Advisor, Public and Governmental Affairs where he advised several companies, including PolyMet, on environmental strategy.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Dow, Nature Conservancy sign $10 million deal
Dow Chemical Co. pledged to make environmental protection a primary consideration in all its business decisions and to operate its plants in more nature-friendly ways in partnership with a leading conservation group.

 The Michigan-based chemical company said it had entered a five-year, $10 million collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, which will advise Dow and provide technical assistance on reducing its ecological footprint. Executives said they hoped to lead the way to a new era in which corporations and environmental advocates would become less confrontational and work together for sustainable economic growth. 

“Most people believe it’s a choice — it’s either grow the economy or protect the environment . . . the classic zero-sum game in which someone has to lose,” Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said in a joint appearance before the Detroit Economic Club with Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Dow intends to “demonstrate that protecting nature can be a profitable global priority and can be a smart business strategy,” Liveris said.
–The Associated Press

 Report: Population growth threatens Colorado ag land
Increasing water demands could dry up more than a half million acres of agricultural land in Colorado over the next several years.

That’s one of the findings of a new state report on the outlook for Colorado’s water supplies to 2050. The report by the Colorado Water Conservation Board updates one released in 2004 that identified water needs to 2030.

The report says if water use follows current trends, large volumes will be shifted away from agricultural uses, drying up as many as 700,000 irrigated acres. The report found that Colorado will have look to conservation, reusing water, local water projects and developing new water supplies to meet the state’s needs.
–The Associated Press

 Jordan gravel pit plan draws concern
A proposed gravel pit near Jordan has created a dust storm over concerns that the city’s water, air and roads could be damaged by the operation.

Officials in Sand Creek Township also oppose it because of possible groundwater contamination they believe could result from the digging. 

The proposed pit would be on about 80 acres in Sand Creek in the 17000 block of Valley View Drive, just north of Jordan near Hwy. 169. After the mining is done, the pit would be turned into a pond. 

“There’s a ton of issues out there,” said Cy Wolf, chairman of the Sand Creek Township board. “But that’s the biggest fear we have out there, Sand Creek flooding over.” If the polluted river were to flood, it could flow into the pond and contaminate it. From there, some fear, it could seep into the groundwater.
–The Star Tribune

Endangered status proposed for two freshwater mussels
In these parts, freshwater mussels often conjure up images of invasives, infestations and lake devastation. And that’s understandable. In October, zebra mussels were found in Gull Lake, and Brainerd’s best-known lake was designated as infested waters.

It was the second time in less than four months that zebra mussels were discovered in a popular Minnesota lake. In July, the DNR found them in Lake Minnetonka.

But not all mussels are bad. In fact, nearly all freshwater mussels are a positive for Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams. And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, two are in need of protection.

 The USFWS has proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the sheepnose and the spectaclecase, two freshwater mussels found in river systems in Minnesota.
-The Brainerd Dispatch

 Anti-zebra mussel bacteria holds promise
A bacteria that can kill zebra and quagga mussels has raised hopes for private and public organizations fighting to control the environmentally hazardous species.

New York State Museum researchers Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer discovered a bacteria strain — Pseudomonas fluorescens — that can kill zebra and quagga mussels without killing other native species in the ecosystem.

“The eureka moment did not come, interestingly enough, when we discovered the bacteria could kill zebra and quagga mussels, but came when we discovered the lack of sensitivity among non-target species,” Mayer said in a phone interview.

Scientists have found plenty of agents capable of killing the mussels, but in most instances they’ve also killed everything else in an ecosystem, Mayer said.
–The Tahoe Daily Tribune 

USDA approves genetically modified alfalfa
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that he would authorize the unrestricted commercial cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa, setting aside a controversial compromise that had generated stiff opposition.

In making the decision, Mr. Vilsack pulled back from a novel proposal that would have restricted the growing of genetically engineered alfalfa to protect organic farmers from so-called biotech contamination. That proposal drew criticism at a recent Congressional hearing and in public forums where Mr. Vilsack outlined the option.

 Mr. Vilsack said that his department would take other measures, like conducting research and promoting dialogue, to make sure that pure, nonengineered alfalfa seed would remain available.
–The New York Times

Got milk? Got antibiotics?
Each year, federal inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue.

But the testing plan met with fierce protest from the dairy industry, which said that it could force farmers to needlessly dump millions of gallons of milk while they waited for test results. Industry officials and state regulators said the testing program was poorly conceived and could lead to costly recalls that could be avoided with a better plan for testing.

In response, the F.D.A. postponed the testing, and now the two sides are sparring over how much danger the antibiotics pose and the best way to ensure that the drugs do not end up in the milk supply.
–The New York Times

Climate threatens Kenya, Ethiopia
The increased frequency of drought observed in eastern Africa over the last 20 years is likely to continue as long as global temperatures continue to rise, according to new research published in Climate Dynamics.

 This poses increased risk to the estimated 17.5 million people in the Greater Horn of Africa who currently face potential food shortages.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California, Santa Barbara, determined that warming of the Indian Ocean, which causes decreased rainfall in eastern Africa, is linked to global warming. These new projections of continued drought contradict previous scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting increased rainfall in eastern Africa. 

This new research supports efforts by the USGS and the U.S. Agency for International Development to identify areas of potential drought and famine in order to target food aid and help inform agricultural development, environmental conservation, and water resources planning. 

“Global temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, and we anticipate that average precipitation totals in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue decreasing or remain below the historical average,” said USGS scientist Chris Funk.
–USGS News Release 

Oregon rules seek to promote graywater use
Oregon has a new proposal to allow reuse of household and business wastewater for irrigation — and, yes, it excludes wastewater from toilets.

The draft “graywater” regulations require homeowners, schools, businesses, apartment complexes and others to apply for permits costing at least $50 a year before installing irrigation systems using water from showers, baths, sinks or washers.

That’s tougher than California, which decided in 2009 not to require permits for the simplest graywater systems.

But the costs and paperwork in Oregon should be lower than the patchwork of local regulation and permits in place now, regulators say.
–The Oregonian

 Silt building up at mouth of Mississippi
River pilots and exporters are warning that the mouth of the Mississippi River is silting in, threatening a major commercial route, because there is not enough money to pay for dredges that normally keep the channel open.

Seizing on the State of the Union speech, they said the muddy picture on the Mississippi undermines President Barack Obama’s goal of making the United States more competitive. In his speech, Obama told Americans he was focused on “doubling our exports … because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.”

The Mississippi River is a major thoroughfare to the world’s markets for grain, soybeans, pig iron, coal and many other products for 29 states and Canada. About 60 percent of U.S. grain exports cross the mouth of the Mississippi.

But to keep the cargo flowing, the river needs constant tinkering.

The Mississippi carries huge amounts of silt and sediment down river — about 200 million tons a year — and unless it is stirred up by dredges the river clogs up — and that’s what’s happening now.
–The Associated Press