Archive for March, 2011

Attacks seen on state, U.S. environment rules

March 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.

Environmentalists charge legislative assault
It started with proposals to cut regulatory red tape and to repeal a long-standing ban on new nuclear power plants. Soon, there was a push to lift restrictions on new coal-fired power plants. Later, Minnesota legislators voted to ease water-quality standards protecting wild rice.

“This is really an unraveling of Minnesota’s outdoors legacy — on multiple fronts, from energy to water to forestry to parks,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environment Partnership, a coalition of outdoors and environment groups.

As the 2011 Minnesota Legislature passes the halfway point, there’s growing discontent within environment and conservation communities. The reason? They see lawmakers — especially Republicans — systematically rolling back or weakening environmental protections.

Few days go by, they said, when something threatening doesn’t emerge. With strong Republican majorities in the House and Senate and solid discipline so far within ranks, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Mark Dayton is seen as their best, and perhaps only, option for an effective defense.

Rep. Denny McNamara, a scrappy Republican from Hastings, has taken a leadership role in the new order, unabashedly pushing parts of the GOP agenda through committees. The outdoors enthusiast and House environment committee chairman said many of his Republican colleagues are simply trying to make it easier for business in a tough economy, are offering provocative ideas and approaches,  or are simply removing confusion in legislation.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Former EPA leaders see retreat on environment
In a Washington Post column, William Ruckelshaus and Christine Todd Whitman –  former administrators of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Republican presidents – lament the attack they say the current Congress is making on decades of progress against air and water pollution.

 Read their column in the Post.
–The Washington Post

Find a lake – on your phone
Minnesota’s great outdoors used to be ‘off the grid.’ You left the web, email and so on far behind while camping, boating, fishing or hunting. It’s good to unplug once in a while, right?

 Now with wireless data networks blanketing the state, outdoorsy types don’t have to be without Internet on their iPhones or Android smartphones. And this, believe it or not, can be a good thing. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources certainly thinks so. It is increasingly encouraging the use of smartphones by providing apps, mobile-friendly websites and other mobile-device resources designed to enhance the outdoor experience.
 –The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Mondale blasts St. Croix bridge plans
Amending a federal law to allow a new bridge over the St. Croix River amounts to a repeal of protection for scenic rivers nationwide, said former U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale, who was a co-author of the 1968 bill that protects those waterways.

 “I’m against it. This bridge as proposed should not be built,” said Mondale, now a Minneapolis attorney who was President Jimmy Carter’s vice president.

 “I think that people ought to be soberly thinking about whether they want to assault the uniqueness and majesty of that river. This is establishing a dangerous precedent of the whole river system.”

 Mondale’s concerns put him at odds with key Minnesota leaders — Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both fellow Democrats, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican.

 Never in the history of the 43-year-old law protecting the nation’s most scenic rivers has Congress allowed a new bridge over one of them. But Bachmann had introduced legislation to do just that, while Klobuchar is planning similar legislation that would accomplish the same thing. Dayton recently said he also favors a new bridge.
–The Star Tribune

 Ocean winds and waves increase
Ocean wind speeds and wave heights around the world have increased significantly over the past quarter of a century, according to Australian research that has given scientists their first global glimpse of the world’s rising winds and waves.

 Published in the journal Science, the research – the most comprehensive of its kind ever undertaken – used satellite data collected from 1985 to 2008.

 It shows the extreme wave height off the coast of south-west Australia today is six metres on average, more than a metre higher than in 1985.

 “That has all sorts of implications for coastal engineering, navigation and erosion processes,” said Alex Babanin, an oceanographer at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, and co-author of the paper.
–Sydney Morning Herald

 Got a deficit? Cut down some trees
Seeking another way to plug a looming budget deficit, at least one Minnesota House Republican has trained his eyes on state-owned black walnut trees.

 A Republican-controlled environmental panel directed the Department of Natural Resources to assess the value of black walnut trees in Frontenac and Whitewater state parks, log the ones considered suitable for harvest and put the money into its parks budget. 

“It’s, as far as I know, the most valuable tree that we have in Minnesota,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who pitched the idea after noting that acquaintances told him about the trees and their revenue-raising potential.

 The directive, approved mainly along party lines, was put into a larger House bill providing money for environment and natural resources operations and projects. It and a comparable Senate measure slash spending and are headed to their respective floors, where they’re expected to pass as legislative bargaining chips in a developing budget showdown with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton over solving a projected $5 billion deficit.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin phosphorus rules in play
Members of the Natural Resources Board urged Gov. Scott Walker to reconsider his plan to roll back rules that protect Wisconsin lakes and streams from phosphorus pollution.

The board, which sets policy for the state Department of Natural Resources, approved the regulation last year. The rule sets limits on levels of phosphorus, a nutrient that gets into water from fertilizer and human waste and spurs the growth of weeds and toxic blue-green algae. At the time it was passed, the regulation was described as one of the most important water protection laws in Wisconsin since the federal Clean Water Act.

Matt Moroney, deputy secretary of the DNR, told the board that Walker intends to rewrite the rule and that agency staffers are working with the governor’s office on the proposed changes. 

According to the initial proposal, the numeric standard for phosphorus in the rule passed last year would be replaced with a so-called “narrative” standard, which is not a number but instead a description of water quality. Walker also proposes that phosphorus regulations could be no more strict than standards set by neighboring states.
–Wisconsin State Journal

 Road salt tainting our waters
The sound of water gurgling through storm sewers is the promise of a spring that’s been a long time coming. 

But it’s also the sound of a toxic legacy that for decades has been quietly building in lakes and streams around the Twin Cities — road salt. 

The fish, bugs and other wildlife that live in the lakes pay a price for winter traffic safety when the snow melts. This winter, the Pollution Control Agency (PCA) started a four-year project to figure out which Twin Cities’ lakes hold too much chloride, a primary ingredient in salt, and what it will take to keep urban waters healthy. 

But the far more difficult task will be changing long-held beliefs about what it means to be a good citizen in a northern city. After all, most people in Minnesota, from homeowners to city officials, feel pretty strongly about keeping the sidewalks and roads clear and safe in the winter — even if it means putting down a lot more salt than is necessary.
–The Star Tribune

Mining backers seek weaker wild rice rules
High-profile mining projects proposed for northern Minnesota are prompting a fight at the Legislature over water quality rules for wild rice.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has only recently begun enforcing a law, on the books for nearly 40 years, that limits how much sulfate can go into waters where wild rice is found. Officials say the MPCA didn’t enforce the rule for much of that time because the agency didn’t have evidence that sulfates from iron mines or any other operations were entering lakes and streams.

Prompted by industry, members of Legislature are trying to put a stop to the agency’s enforcement of the law. It began applying the standard two years ago, when taconite plants on the Iron Range wanted to expand.

The discharges from copper-nickel mines several companies want to build in the area are expected to have an even higher level of sulfate than taconite mines.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Iron mining firm eyes northern Wisconsin
A company outlined a proposal to conduct test drilling for a proposed open pit mine near the border of Ashland and Iron counties – a move that could lead to the first such mine in Wisconsin since 1997.

Gogebic Taconite asked the state Department of Natural Resources for permission to drill eight exploratory holes to test for the presence of iron ore.

If approved, Gogebic Taconite would still need to go through an extensive review process that could take several years, DNR officials said.

The issue is likely to pit the interests of environmental protection and economic development.

Water from the site flows through the sensitive Kakagon and Bad River sloughs – the largest such vegetative areas of Lake Superior.

Ultimately, the company and its parent, the Cline Group, would invest more than $1 billion to extract iron ore over the next 35 years in an area near Mellen and Upson, said William T. Williams, president of Gogebic Taconite.
–The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

UW-Madison water scientist honored
University of Wisconsin-Madison limnologist Stephen Carpenter has been awarded the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize, the world’s most prestigious award for water-related activities.

 The award, which comes with $150,000 and a crystal sculpture, honors individuals and organizations “whose work contributes broadly to the conservation and protection of water resources and to improved health of the planet’s inhabitants and ecosystems.”

The award will be conferred in August by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in a royal award ceremony at Stockholm City Hall.

 “It s a great honor to be selected,” says Carpenter, the Stephen Alfred Forbes Professor of Zoology at UW-Madison. “So many great people have received this award, and there are so many great people who could have received it. I am surprised.”
–UW-Madison News Release

 Court narrows Wisconsin DNR power
The Wisconsin Supreme Court says the state does not have the authority to determine whether state-issued water pollution permits comply with federal law.

The court’s 5-2 ruling comes in the case of environmentalists who argued a permit was improperly issued in 2005 to Georgia-Pacific’s Broadway Mill in Green Bay.

The court says the state Department of Natural Resources was not required under Wisconsin law to hold a hearing on complaints that the permit failed to comply with the federal Clean Water Act related to phosphorous discharge levels.

The ruling reverses a 2008 appeals court decision that said DNR could determine whether state-issued permits comply with federal law.
–The Associated Press 

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Dayton, DNR unveil invasives effort

March 22, 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.

Dayton seeks fee increases for invasives fight
Saying zebra mussels, Asian carp, Eurasian water milfoil and other invasive species threaten Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, billion-dollar tourism industry and a way of life, Gov. Mark Dayton announced a legislative proposal to slow their spread.

 Catching boaters who transport invasive species to or from infested lakes is part of the plan, which would be paid for by raising the boat registration surcharge and nonresident fishing fees. But the proposal clashes with the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has vowed no tax increases or fee hikes.

 Still, Dayton and DFL legislators said it’s imperative that both parties agree to slow the spread of invasives before it’s too late.

 “What we’re trying to protect is truly priceless,” Dayton said. “The clock is ticking. This is not a Republican, DFL or Independence Party problem, it’s a Minnesota problem. And once it’s too late, it’s too late.”
–The Star Tribune

U.N.’s World Water Day looks at urban water
Half of the world’s population now lives in cities, with 3 million urban arrivals every week. In the next two decades, nearly two-thirds of humanity will be living in cities, delegates at a three-day event held in Cape Town to mark World Water Day were told.

This year, WWD is focusing on the provision of water in urban areas.

Over a thousand representatives from more than 30 organisations gathered in South Africa to discuss the urban water challenges and opportunities facing the world today. It is hosted by South Africa, in collaboration with UN-Water, the African Ministers’ Council on Water (Amcow), the UN secretary general’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (Unsgab), the UN Environment Programme, and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

In Africa, where the rate of urbanisation is the world’s highest and urban populations are expected to double in the next 20 years, water services have been on the decline since 1990. Amcow highlighted the opportunities provided by the conference for African ministers, mayors, civil society organisations and representatives of development banks and the private sector to discuss how they can move faster and more effectively in closing this gap and achieving millennium development goals. The critical need for collaboration and communication between sectors, and the need for visionary leadership to manage the planet’s limited water resources were recurring themes.
–The Guardian 

 EPA probes chronic sewage spills in Chicago
Billed as an engineering marvel and national model, Chicago’s Deep Tunnel was designed to protect Lake Michigan from sewage overflows and put an end to the once-frequent practice of dumping human and industrial waste into local rivers.

But nearly four decades after taxpayers started paying for one of the nation’s most expensive public works projects, billions of gallons of bacteria-laden sewage and storm runoff still routinely pour into the Chicago River and suburban waterways during and after storms, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

Lake Michigan, long considered the sewage outlet of last resort, has been hit harder during the past four years than it was in the previous two decades combined.

Between 2007 and 2010, records show, the agency in charge of Deep Tunnel dumped nearly 19 billion gallons of storm water teeming with disease-causing and fish-killing waste into the Great Lake, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs.
–The Chicago Tribune 

Research: House cats a menace to birds
While public attention has focused on wind turbines as a menace to birds, a new study shows that a far greater threat may be posed by a more familiar antagonist: the pet house cat.

 A new study in The Journal of Ornithology on the mortality of baby gray catbirds in the Washington suburbs found that cats were the No. 1 killer in the area, by a large margin.

 Nearly 80 percent of the birds were killed by predators, and cats were responsible for 47 percent of those deaths, according to the researchers, from the Smithsonian Institution and Towson University in Maryland. Death rates were particularly high in neighborhoods with large cat populations.
–The New York Times

Phenology applies nature to science
People have tracked phenology for centuries and for the most practical reasons: it helped them know when to hunt and fish, when to plant and harvest crops, and when to navigate waterways. Now phenology is being used as a tool to assess climate change and its effects on both natural and modified ecosystems.

 How is the timing of events in plant and animal life cycles, like flowering or migration, responding to climate change? And how are those responses, in turn, affecting people and ecosystems?

 The USA National Phenology Network is working to answer these questions for science and society by promoting a broad understanding of plant and animal phenology and their relationship to environmental change. The network is a consortium of organizations and individuals that collect, share, and use phenology data, models, and related information to enable scientists, resource managers, and the public to adapt in response to changing climates and environments. In addition, the network encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to observe and record phenology as a way to discover and explore the nature and pace of our dynamic world.
–U.S. Geological Survey

 Wisconsin Gov. Walker calls for rules rollback
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill proposal would roll back regulations designed to protect waterways from weed-producing phosphorus and other pollutants that wash from streets and construction sites.

The changes to water pollution rules – some of which were approved as recently as last summer – are coming under fire from environmentalists who say the existing regulations are needed to clean up lakes, rivers and streams.

Critics of Walker say his budget proposals also would unwittingly wipe out other pollution laws.

But the state Department of Natural Resources, which advanced the regulations under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, now says it needs to make changes to avoid heaping huge costs on municipalities and businesses.

 “What we are trying to address are cities’ and companies’ concerns and still make sure we are addressing the phosphorus problem,” said Bruce Baker, administrator of the water division of the DNR.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Farmers urged to do more to clean Chesapeake Bay
A federal study assessing how much farmers are doing to clean up the Chesapeake Bay credits them with making progress in reducing their pollution but says the vast majority need to do more to help the troubled estuary.

Conservation practices adopted by farmers in Maryland and the other five states draining into the bay have cut erosion by more than half and curtailed runoff of fertilizer by 40 percent, according to the study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But 80 percent of the 4.6 million acres used to raise crops need additional measures, the report says, to keep fertilizer from washing off fields into nearby streams when it rains or soaking into ground water and ultimately reaching the bay.

The 158-page report comes as the Obama administration’s push to increase Chesapeake cleanup efforts comes under fire from farm groups and their supporters in the bay region and nationwide.
–The Baltimore Sun

Fix a leak. Save a trillion gallons.
Across the country, household leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water per year – enough to supply the water needs of Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles combined. Easily corrected household leaks can increase homeowners’ water bills by 12 percent.

 “When households have a leak, it’s not just a waste of water, it’s a waste of money,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. “But by fixing leaky pipes, buying WaterSense products and taking other simple steps, families can save on their water bills and conserve clean water for future generations to enjoy.”

 Homeowners’ water bills provide an easy and quick leak-checking measure; if wintertime water use for a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, their home may have a leak. Fixture replacement parts often pay for themselves quickly and can be installed by do-it-yourselfers, professional plumbers, or EPA’s WaterSense irrigation partners.
–EPA News Release

 Invasive lionfishes’ spread is unprecedented
The rapid spread of lionfishes along the U.S. eastern seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean is the first documented case of a non-native marine fish establishing a self-sustaining population in the region, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey studies.

 “Nothing like this has been seen before in these waters,” said Dr. Pam Schofield, a biologist with the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center here.  “We’ve observed sightings of numerous non-native species, but the extent and speed with which lionfish have spread has been unprecedented; lionfishes pretty much blanketed the Caribbean in three short years.”

 More than 30 species of non-native marine fishes have been sighted off the coast of Florida alone, but until now none of these have demonstrated the ability to survive, reproduce, and spread successfully.

Although lionfishes originally came from the Indo-West Pacific Ocean, there are now self-sustaining populations spreading along the western Atlantic coast of the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean.
–USGS News Release

 Conference on St. Croix set April 5
The 12th annual “Protecting the St. Croix Basin” conference will be held Tuesday, April 5, at the University Center in River Falls, Wis. The conference is sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team.

This year’s conference features a celebration of the 100-year history of the St. Croix River Association.  The conference will also explore phosphorus reduction, which is necessary to bring cleaner water to Lake St. Croix, a 25-mile stretch of the St. Croix River between Stillwater, Minn. and Prescott, Wis.  This year, the conference will feature a musical tribute, keynote speaker Tia Nelson and an art exhibition called “In a New Light.”

The conference is open to the public.  Advance registrations will be accepted through March 25.  See www.stcroixriverassociation.org  or call 715-635-7406 for information and registration.  The cost is $50, or $25 for students.
–MPCA News Release

Japan quake jolted Florida groundwater
The devastating earthquake that shook Japan caused a temporary jolt in groundwater levels throughout much of Florida, officials said.

 The South Florida Water Management District reports that a network of groundwater gauges registered a jump of up to three inches in the water table from Orlando to the Florida Keys about 34 minutes after the quake struck on March 11.

 The oscillations were observed for about two hours and then stabilized.

 “We were not expecting to see any indication of the geological events in Japan given the island’s great distance from Florida,” Susan Sylvester, the water district’s director of operations control and hydro data management department, said.

 Shimon Wdowinski, an earthquake researcher with the University of Miami, said the water table likely rose because of Florida’s porous limestone, which allows water to easily flow beneath the earth’s surface and respond to changes in pressure caused by a wave.
–The Associated Press

Study finds chemicals widely in streams

March 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.

Panoply of chemicals found in Minnesota streams
Potentially harmful chemicals and pharmaceuticals are widespread in Minnesota streams, state scientists found in a new study.

The study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also shows fish have genetic changes when exposed to the mix of chemicals.

 In the most comprehensive study of chemicals in Minnesota, the agency’s scientists collected water samples from 25 sewage treatment plants across Minnesota. They also sampled water upstream and downstream from the treatment plants for 78 chemicals.

Among the substances scientists most often found are the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole and carbamazepine, a drug used to treat attentional deficit hyperactivity disorder, agency scientist Mark Ferrey said. They also found the antibiotic trimethoprim and anti-depressant compounds.

Other commonly found chemicals include components of detergent, bisphenol A, which is found in plastics, and contraceptive hormones.

 Scientists found chemicals at more than 90 percent of the locations they sampled and chemical traces at all locations. Researchers expected to find the chemicals flowing out of sewage treatment plants, but were somewhat surprised to also find the chemicals upstream from treatment plants.

Ferrey said that indicates other sources, such as septic systems, or agricultural runoff. He said the compounds are all found at very low concentrations, measured in parts per billion or parts per trillion.

 “But just because these concentrations are very, very low doesn’t mean they can’t have effects,” Ferrey said. “More and more results are coming out that show that these compounds can have pretty profound hormonal effects or estrogenic effects even at those concentrations.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 LCCMR funding debate continues
An advisory commission on funding environmental projects continues to wrestle with dozens of proposals being held up by the change in the majority party in the legislature.

 The LCCMR — the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — has new members with new priorities, and they’ve advised the group to drop 25 projects from its list of recommendations.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who chairs the House Environment Committee, said some emerging issues should take precedence.

“Chronic wasting disease, Asian carp, zebra mussel, the sulfate and wild rice is really important and that’s just evolved in last couple months,” McNamara said.

 Jeff Broberg, vice-chair of the group, said changing the list now would damage the LCCMR’s credibility.

“The long-term consequence of what’s happened here in the last couple weeks is that it will always be fiddled with,” Broberg said. “It has no stability or security no matter what we think is in the plan, that’s the big consequence we haven’t faced yet.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Canadians practice Asian carp war games
It’s not every day emergency response experts gather to test their readiness to deal with a fish.

 But the Asian carp is no ordinary fish, and so a boardroom in the Peterborough offices of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is being turned into a temporary war room of sorts. It marks the first time government experts have come together to simulate an invasive-species emergency.

“We’ve run emergency-preparedness exercises before for influenza outbreaks,” said Eric Boysen, director of the MNR’s biodiversity branch. “We’ve done them for ice storms. We said we want to run one for Asian carp.”

While the Great Lakes are already home to 180 invasive species, the potential for the next invader to be an Asian carp is spurring both the provincial and federal governments into action.
–CBC

California cities prepare for rising seas
Cities along California’s coastline that for years have dismissed reports of climate change or lagged in preparing for rising sea levels are now making plans to fortify their beaches, harbors and waterfronts.

Communities up and down the coast have begun drafting plans to build up wetlands as buffers against rising tides, to construct levees and seawalls to keep the waters at bay or to retreat from the shoreline by moving structures inland.

Among them is Newport Beach, a politically conservative city where a council member once professed to not believe in global warming. Now, the wealthy beach city is considered to be on the forefront of preparing for climate change.

Though some in Newport Beach remain skeptical that global warming caused by humans is elevating sea levels, city planners are looking at raising seawalls by a foot or more to hold back the ocean. New homes along the city’s harbor are being built on foundations several feet higher than their predecessors as a precaution against flooding.
–The Los Angeles Times

GOP spending plan targets EPA
The House spending bill passed last month wouldn’t just chop $60 billion from the federal budget — it seeks to cut a broad swath through environmental regulation.

From fish protections in California to water pollution limits in Florida and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, environmental programs were targets of the Republican budget resolution, which appears to have been as much about setting a political agenda as about deficit reduction.

Democrats have promised to block the environmental and other cuts in the Senate, where they hold a slim majority, and President Obama has raised the threat of a veto, making it unlikely that many of the hits in the proposal will survive. Lawmakers passed a stopgap measure to keep the government operating while they hash out a compromise.

But few expect the recently elected and highly motivated GOP majority in the House to give up. “I think they’re going to try and use every tactic in the book,” said Nick Loris, a research associate with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “This is largely what they came into office saying they were going to do.”
–The Los Angeles Times

EPA targets old California mercury mine
An abandoned mercury mine that for decades has sent polluted, orange waste into a creek that eventually feeds into San Francisco Bay is a threat to human health and should be added to a list of the nation’s worst polluted places, federal environmental regulators say.

The New Idria mercury mine in remote San Benito County was shuttered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972 because of pollution from piles of mine waste and the site’s towering blast furnace. For decades, however, the agency refused to add it to the National Priorities List, which qualifies a site for millions of dollars in federal Superfund cleanup funding.

The EPA proposed listing the site — a year and a half after The Associated Press reported that federal and state regulators had failed to clean it despite their own studies showing the mine was polluting nearby streams and making fish unsafe to eat. The Blue Ledge copper and cadmium mine, along the Rogue River near the Oregon border, is also being recommended for Superfund status.

“In 2010, we realized … that our previous investigations had not sampled in areas that were likely impacted (and) that the effects were likely much farther downstream than we previously thought,” a group of EPA mine experts said in an e-mailed response to questions from the AP about the proposed change.
–The Associated Press

U of Iowa hiring sustainability profs
The only resource that will sustain a population set to grow by 50 to 80 million people in the next 25 years is water.

Dave Dzombak, civil and environmental professor from Carnegie Mellon University, spoke to a crowd of nearly 50 at the University of Iowa Chemistry Building about the increasing demand for water and alternatives for water in thermoelectric power production.

And in the quest for water sustainability, it’s time to move forward, Dzombak said.

“I’ve been thinking a lot these days about our various footprints,” said Dzombak. “The real challenge is to decrease resource consumption.”

As experts put more emphasis on water sustainability, the UI is keeping pace.

The university’s Water Sustainability Initiative established the Water Sustainability Cluster Steering Committee in 2009 in order to improve research in water sustainability. The initiative’s current goal is to hire 10 faculty to study the topic.

Jerald Schnoor, head of the initiative, said the 3-year-period hiring process is on schedule. Two faculty have already been hired, offers have been extended to two more and searches for three additional faculty are underway.
–The Daily Iowan

 Pennsylvania rivers scrutinized
Radioactivity levels are “at or below” safe levels in Pennsylvania rivers, state regulators said, based on water samples taken last November and December from seven rivers.

 The results come at a time of growing scrutiny of the potential hazards of radioactivity and other contaminants in wastewater fom natural-gas drilling. The wastewater is routinely sent to treatment plants in Pennsylvania, which then discharge their waste into rivers.

 In a letter sent to the state, the federal Environmental Protection Agency noted the state’s test results, but instructed officials there to perform testing within 30 days for radioactivity at drinking-water intake plants.

 It also said that all permits issued by the state to treatment plants handling this waste should be reviewed to ensure that operators were complying with the law.
–The New York Times

 

Dayton signs permitting speed-up

March 7, 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.

Dayton signs permitting speed-up bill
Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill designed to streamline the state’s environmental review processes. Environmental groups say it’s a sign that natural resource protections are being unraveled in the state.

 House File 1 and Senate File 1 were the top priorities for the new Republican-controlled legislature. They sped through the House and Senate, before Dayton signed them into law.

Dayton said Minnesota needs to improve the permitting process, because “too many possible business expansions have been delayed in recent years.”

The measure sets goals that state agencies should issue or deny all environmental permits within 150 days of submission.

It also moves disputes over agency decisions directly to the Appeals Court, skipping the District Courts, which are physically closer to citizens affected by many projects.

The chief author in the House, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said in the long run the bill will create jobs.

Environmental groups say they’re disappointed with Dayton’s decision. They say the streamlining measure is one of several advancing in the legislature that “threaten to unravel Minnesota’s foundation of environmental protections.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Audit: Environmental review often delayed
Minnesota’s process for environmental review of business projects is too often burdened by delays, uncertainty and duplication of effort, according to a report released by the state’s legislative auditor.

Analysts found that “the environmental review process has not always fully met its objectives and that previous reform efforts have achieved only limited results,” read an introduction to the report written by Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles.

The audit found that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources were at times guilty of inconsistencies in expertise and experience in undertaking the two main methods of state environmental oversight: environmental assessments and the more in-depth environmental impact statements. It also said the agencies lacked the data to measure and monitor the timeliness of their permitting processes and identify improvements.

The auditor’s report found that overall, the MPCA responded to 83 percent of environmental permit applications within 150 days.
–The Associated Press

GOP chairs demand environmental spending changes
A joint legislative-citizens advisory group on environmental spending agreed to drop 25 projects from its list of recommendations headed to the Legislature. The action came after two key lawmakers warned the group the projects would never pass.

The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — the LCCMR — advises the Legislature on how to invest proceeds from the state lottery, some of which is dedicated to the environment.

 After a year of study that led to a list of more than 100 recommended projects around the state, two new members told the group that the Legislature would reject some of those projects. 

“I’m sorry folks, the rules changed on Nov. 2 last fall,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the new chairman of the House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee. “The group that compiled this list is not in control anymore. They don’t have the majority in the Legislature.

“When you see a TV commercial about the lottery, they talk about a loon, and money getting on the ground and being spent on projects, and not going to studies and research.” 

McNamara teamed up with Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, to comb through the list of recommended projects. They presented a list of 25 projects they said wouldn’t fly with the new Republican majority, and another dozen they wanted more information about.
–Minnesota Public Radio

  Scientists urge broader review of chemicals
Groups representing 40,000 researchers and clinicians are urging federal agencies responsible for the safety of chemicals to examine the subtle impact a chemical might have on the human body rather than simply ask whether it is toxic.

 In an open letter to the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency published in the journal Science, the scientists say the regulatory agencies need to tap into genetics, developmental biology, endocrinology and other disciplines when they analyze the safety of chemicals used in everyday products.

“Although chemical testing and risk assessment have long been the domain of toxicologists, it is clear that the development of improved testing guidelines and better methods of assessing risks posed by common chemicals to which all Americans are exposed requires the expertise of a broad range of scientific and clinical disciplines,” said the letter, which was signed by eight scientific societies. 

Broader analysis is particularly needed for chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, said Patricia Hunt, a molecular biologist at Washington State University who helped write the letter.
–The Washington Post

 It’s National Ground Water Awareness Week
Learn to value and protect the groundwater that is the source of drinking water for most Minnesotans. This week, March 6-12, has been declared National Ground Water Awareness Week by the National Ground Water Association.
–National Ground Water Association

Hunting, fishing fee increases going nowhere
A proposal to raise Minnesota’s hunting and fishing license fees for the first time in a decade looks to be dead on arrival at the State Capitol.

It appears unlikely that Republicans, who control the Legislature, will OK an increase proposed by the Department of Natural Resources and the Dayton administration. 

“I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the key Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
–The Star Tribune

GOP likes some of what the EPA does
Republicans have spent a lot of time this year criticizing the EPA, so one would think that President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut $1.3 billion from its budget would be well-received.

 For all their talk about the “job-killing” EPA, Republicans have a dirty little secret: They actually like many of the agency’s efforts, particularly bread-and-butter programs aimed at cleaning up drinking water and air pollution in their districts.

 It’s in those areas where Obama has suggested the most budget pain, putting Republicans in the position of defending EPA and accusing the White House of playing politics.

 Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Washington’s top climate skeptic and most vocal opponent of EPA regulations, took issue with the proposal to slash nearly $1 billion from state revolving loan funds — cash that gets doled out to local drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects. 

“You can bet these cuts will be restored, because many of my colleagues believe these are worthwhile programs,” Inhofe told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at a hearing.
–Politico

 Who owns Texas groundwater?
It sounds simple: Who owns the groundwater in Texas? But this issue, like others in the hot-button area of aquifer planning, is embroiled in an ongoing policy battle.

 At a crowded hearing, members of the state Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources heard testimony on a bill introduced by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay and the committee’s chairman, that would declare that landowners have a “vested ownership interest” in the water beneath their land. A less-discussed second  bill, filed by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, recognizes both landowner rights and the “compelling public interest” of effective groundwater management.

Both bills are part of a vigorous debate over the best way to manage the declining aquifers in this fast-growing state, where irrigated agriculture is a powerful political force. The conflict pits existing water users against prospective new users, and conservation-minded officials against businesses seeking to sell water.
–The Texas Tribune

Fine levied for Asian carp smuggling
Most of the recent Asian carp panic in Michigan and the upper Midwest has been directed at the threat posed by fish escaping the Chicago River into Lake Michigan.

But the recent seizure of a truckload of live fish at the Detroit-Windsor border — 4,000 pounds of prohibited bighead and grass carp apparently bound for consumer markets in Toronto — demonstrates how complex the threat can be.

 Feng Yang, 52, the owner of a fish import company, pleaded guilty this week in Windsor to violating the federal Fisheries Act, and was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. He was stopped Nov. 4 after crossing the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.

 Yang paid a $40,000 fine in 2006 for a similar offense.

 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Officer Bill Ingham said officials believe Yang obtained the fish in the South, where they are legally raised and sold, and then drove them through Michigan into Ontario, where possession of live Asian carp is prohibited.
–The Detroit Free Press

 Recycling no panacea  for ‘fracking’ pollution
As drilling for natural gas started to climb sharply about 10 years ago, energy companies faced mounting criticism over an extraction process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water into the ground for each well and can leave significant amounts of hazardous contaminants in the water that comes back to the surface.

 So, in a move hailed by industry as a major turning point, drilling companies started reusing and recycling the wastewater. 

“Water recycling is a win-win,” one drilling company, Range Resources, says on its Web site. “It reduces fresh water demand and eliminates the need to dispose of the water.”

But the win-win comes with significant asterisks. 

In Pennsylvania, for example, natural-gas companies recycled less than half of the wastewater they produced during the 18 months that ended in December, according to state records.   

Nor has recycling eliminated environmental and health risks. Some methods can leave behind salts or sludge highly concentrated with radioactive material and other contaminants that can be dangerous to people and aquatic life if they get into waterways.

 (Read other articles from the New York Times’ Drilling Down series on natural gas drilling and water quality.)
–The New York Times

 Research on drilling allegedly withheld
When Congress considered whether to regulate more closely the handling of wastes from oil and gas drilling in the 1980s, it turned to the Environmental Protection Agency  to research the matter. E.P.A. researchers concluded that some of the drillers’ waste was hazardous and should be tightly controlled.

 But that is not what Congress heard. Some of the recommendations concerning oil and gas waste were eliminated in the final report handed to lawmakers in 1987.

“It was like the science didn’t matter,” Carla Greathouse, the author of the study, said in a recent interview. “The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed to stand in the way.”

 E.P.A. officials told her, she said, that her findings were altered because of pressure from the Office of Legal Counsel of the White House under Ronald Reagan. A spokesman for the E.P.A. declined to comment.

 (Read other articles from the New York Times’ Drilling Down series on natural gas drilling and water quality.)
–The New York Times

 Toxic or not? Scientists take precautions
Dr. Ana Soto won’t use plastic in the microwave.

 R. Thomas Zoeller uses an iPhone application that flags products with potentially dangerous chemicals to help him make wise choices at the grocery store.

 Dr. Perry E. Sheffield washes her hands often — as much to get rid of potentially dangerous chemicals as germs.

 It’s nearly impossible to prove scientifically that certain diseases are caused by household chemicals, such as bisphenol-A, phthalates, and flame retardants, which are found in everything from kitchen cleaners to baby creams, carpeting to tin cans.

But as research accumulates about their potential dangers, and rates of diseases that are plausibly caused by these chemicals rise, these three scientists are anxious enough to make changes in their own homes.
–The Boston Globe

 MPCA seeks comment on Bald Eagle Lake plan
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites public comments on a water quality improvement report for Bald Eagle Lake, located on the Ramsey-Washington county line. 

  Bald Eagle Lake has contained excess phosphorus since at least the mid-1970s.  Too much phosphorus can produce frequent summer algae blooms, which interfere with recreation on the lake.

The report explains that some phosphorus enters Bald Eagle Lake through runoff from the watershed, but a larger portion comes from internal sources such as lake sediment and decaying vegetation.  In order to achieve the necessary phosphorus reduction of 58 percent, the report recommends strategies to limit phosphorus release from sediment and manage invasive plant species in the lake.  Local initiatives to improve stormwater management and better enforce existing runoff rules will also reduce the flow of phosphorus into the lake.

The draft report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load  report, may be viewed online at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/tmdl/tmdl-draft.html.  For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak  at  651-757-2837. Comments must be received in writing at the MPCA office by March 30, 2011, and must include an explanation of the commenter’s interest in the TMDL report, a clear statement of any recommended changes and specific reasons for any suggested changes.
–MPCA News Release

 Eastern cougar is extinct. Or is it?
Seven decades after the last reported sighting of the eastern cougar, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declared it extinct and recommended that it be removed from the nation’s endangered species list.

 There’s one wrinkle, though: it may not be extinct, exactly.

 Scientists are moving toward the conclusion that the eastern cougar was erroneously classified as a separate subspecies in the first place. As a result of a genetic study conducted in 2000, most biologists now believe there is no real difference between the western and eastern branches of the cougar family.

 Either way, the “eastern” cougar as such is no longer with us. Any recent sightings in the cougar’s historic range, which stretched from eastern Ontario and Michigan eastward to Maine and southward to Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri, were actually sightings of its relatives, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
–The New York Times

Iowa State research disputes myth on invasives
Invasive plant species, although widespread, are no more abundant in their new homes than in their native area, a U.S. researcher says.

 “There is this assumption that when plants invade a new area that they become much more abundant in the new area than they were in the native areas,” Iowa State University ecology Professor Stan Harpole said in an ISU release. “It turns out that, on average, they aren’t any more abundant away from home than they are at home.”

Previous assumption held that problematic invasive species often spread widely in their new habitats because they don’t encounter predators or diseases that help keep them in check in their home ranges.
–UPI

U.S. approves deep water oil permit
The federal government approved the first permit to drill the kind of deepwater oil well that was banned after last year’s BP disaster, but it’s yet to be seen whether the move will open the gates to the type of aggressive and lucrative exploration the industry has been clamoring for.

Top offshore regulator Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the approval for Houston-based Noble Energy is a milestone, even though it’s to pick up work on a well southeast of Venice that Noble had already drilled to more than 13,000 feet.

The work at Noble’s Santiago well, less than 20 miles from where the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling BP’s ill-fated Macondo project, stopped when President Barack Obama imposed a moratorium blocking most drilling in deepwater from May 30 through Oct. 12. Since then, the only permits approved have been for technical work, such as water-infusion wells that are not intended to tap into oil reservoirs.
–The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Satellites show California groundwater decline
We all know the dangers of not balancing our check books: we could withdraw from our bank accounts more than we’ve deposited, and get fined-or worse-for overdrawing.

You’d think we’d manage our groundwater accounts at least as carefully as our bank accounts, especially given that the food security of this and future generations depends on them. But we don’t. Rarely is groundwater use monitored, measured or regulated. This is true for most of the world, as well as for California’s Central Valley-the fruit and vegetable bowl of the United States. Farmers in the 52,000 square-kilometer valley produce 250 different kinds of crops that together account for 8 percent of the nation’s agricultural value.

 But thanks to the National Atmospheric and Space Administration’s (NASA) satellite mission called GRACE (the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), we’re getting some excellent assessments of what’s happening to water underground-and the picture is sobering. GRACE monitors changes in Earth’s gravity field that result from changes in water storage, and the technology can give a fairly accurate picture of what’s happening to groundwater supplies.

Jay Famiglietti of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine, and eight colleagues used data from the GRACE mission to estimate that California’s Central Valley lost 20.3 cubic kilometers (16.4 million acre feet) of water between October 2003 and March 2010–a volume equal to 63 percent of the capacity of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Most of that depletion occurred between April 2006 and March 2010, a period of drought when farmers pumped more groundwater to compensate for less rainfall and cutbacks in surface water deliveries to irrigators. Famiglietti’s team published their findings this month in Geophysical Research Letters.
–Sandra L. Postel in a National Geographic blog