Ag runoff, phenology and invasives

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

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