Archive for April, 2011

Asian carp, ethanol and ‘fracking’

April 25, 2011
DNR staffer holds bighead carp

DNR supervisor Brad Parsons holds carp caught April 18. (DNR photo)

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.

Asian carp caught in St. Croix
A rogue bighead carp was pulled from the Lower St. Croix River , adding to fears the invasive creatures are slowly working their way into Minnesota border waters.

A commercial fisherman netting for buffalo and common carp caught the 27-pound fish  just north of the St. Croix’s confluence with the Mississippi River and contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, agency officials said.

 It was the seventh bighead carp found in eastern border waters since 1996 but the sixth since 2003. DNR officials stressed the fish appears to be a loner that swam north and there’s no indication yet of a reproducing population in Minnesota portions of the Mississippi or St. Croix rivers.

 “Large migratory river fish — that’s what they do … they migrate,” said Brad Parsons, DNR central region fisheries manager.

“It’s alarming, but it’s one fish,” added DNR communications director Chris Niskanen. 

Bighead and silver carp, another type of Asian carp noted for its leaping abilities, have been on the agency’s radar for years because of the threat they pose to the state’s $2.7 billion fishing industry.

Imported from Asia four decades ago to control algae and other problems in Southern fish farms, they eventually escaped or were released into the wild and have been slowly making their way up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to southeastern Minnesota and South Dakota. They consume huge amounts of tiny plankton, upsetting the food chain and pushing out native fish, eventually making up 90 percent of some area’s fish biomass.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Flood waters may have helped carp reach St. Croix
A 27-pound bighead carp’s journey up the Mississippi River might have been eased by floodwaters, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expert said. 

Luke Skinner, invasive species supervisor for the DNR, said the fish a commercial fisherman caught in the St. Croix River might have used high water to find its way to where the two rivers merge.

The DNR is concerned about the invasive fish disrupting Minnesota’s river ecosystems.

 “It is cause for alarm because now we’re finding something pretty high up in the river, and we just don’t have a lot of ways to slow their spread, especially big river systems like this that are prone to flooding,” Skinner told MPR’s Morning Edition.

 All the locks, dams and gates are open this spring to allow high water to flow through, Skinner said. But even when the locks are closed, fish can get in. Skinner said there needs to be more fish barriers that would prevent invasive fish species from spreading. Listen to an MPR question-and-answer interview with Skinner.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Lamberton ethanol plant faces water penalties
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has announced that Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton has agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the company’s MPCA-issued environmental permits at its production facility.

The agreement covers violations that have occurred since the facility began production in August 2009.  From startup until recently, the company’s operations have resulted in numerous violations of the facility’s air quality and water quality permits.

 The most serious violations involved the facility’s wastewater-treatment system.  Part of the system includes an on-site constructed pond which is permitted to receive only reject water from the reverse osmosis treatment system, yet unpermitted discharges were made to the pond repeatedly from other components of the facility.  This caused the capacity of the pond to be exceeded.  To get rid of the excess the company applied wastewater from the pond onto cropland, a treatment method for which the facility is not permitted. 

There were also a number of violations of the facility’s air quality permit, including failure to conduct monitoring at required intervals, maintain required operating parameters, maintain monitoring records, and submit required data to the MPCA.
–MPCA News Release

 Aging levees guard cities
Faced with epic floods in the late 1960s, dozens of communities across Minnesota hurriedly shaped dirt, clay, sand, gravel or whatever else was available into temporary walls to hold off the floodwaters.

 In most cases, those levees were supposed to be removed once the water receded.

 But more than 40 years later, ”emergency” levees remain the primary line of defense against floods, protecting hundreds of homes and businesses in numerous towns and cities. In an era of rising water and falling budgets, officials are viewing them with both thankfulness and nervousness.

 “We’re lucky they did it,” said Dale Graunke, mayor and lifelong resident of Delano, which late last month held off the fourth-highest crest on the South Fork of the Crow River. “But we don’t know the material. And if that levee breaks, 47 homes would be inundated. It’s all over the place.”
–The Star Tribune

 Obama acknowledges concern on ‘fracking’
President Barack Obama acknowledged concerns about natural gas drilling and groundwater contamination as part of a wide-ranging monologue on energy production at a town hall meeting.

 Obama has said natural gas should be part of a “clean energy standard” going forward but noted concerns about pollution. Although he didn’t mention hydraulic fracturing by name, the practice that has allowed new gas plays in the U.S. is increasingly controversial because of alleged links to groundwater contamination.

“We have a lot of natural gas here in this country,” Obama said. “The problem is, is that extracting it from the ground — the technologies aren’t as developed as we’d like and so there are some concerns that it might create pollution in our groundwater, for example.

 “So we’ve got to make sure that if we’re going to do it, we do it in a way that doesn’t poison people,” he added.

Maryland to study septic system pollution
Gov. Martin O’Malley created a task force to figure out how to curb pollution of the Chesapeake Bay from septic systems, saying he hoped the study would help overcome “fears” of the legislation he had introduced this year that would have banned major housing developments relying on them.

“We must find a way to grow in a clean, green, more sustainable way,” O’Malley said prior to signing an executive order establishing the task force. He held the signing ceremony at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center on the Severn River, where household septic systems account for roughly 30 percent of the nitrogen fouling the water.

Currently, about 411,000 Maryland households are on septic systems. Although a relatively small source of nitrogen pollution baywide compared with sewage plants or farm runoff, septic leakage of the harmful nutrient could increase by 36 percent over the next 25 years if nothing is done, state officials project. 

O’Malley’s bid to curb major housing developments on septic systems failed to get out of committee in Annapolis after rural lawmakers, farmers and developers raised an outcry, warning that it would throttle growth and cost jobs in the state’s rural and suburban counties.
–The Baltimore Sun 

Florida governor ask EPA to back off
The day after the Florida House passed a bill to ban implementation of water quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, Gov. Rick Scott asked the agency to rescind a January 2009 determination that the federal rules are necessary for Florida.

Opponents of the federal requirement say the state is better equipped to decide how best to comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which is intended to manage nitrogen and phosphorous pollution of lakes, rivers, streams and bays. They say the EPA standards will be costly to implement, don’t address specific conditions of local waterways and provide little biological benefit.

 According to Scott’s office, the petition sent to the EPA details eight pollution control measures already in place Florida that mirror EPA recommendations for effective water pollution control.

 “Florida is one of the few states that has a comprehensive program in place to address excess nutrients, and we continue to lead the nation in developing innovative tools to ensure the health of our state’s waterways,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with the EPA to reach an agreement that will promote clean water standards in the way that makes the most sense for our state.”

The U.S. EPA released pollution standards for Florida waterways in December 2010 as part of a 2009 legal settlement with environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, who sued the agency for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida.
–The Miami Herald

Study: Erosion steals tons of soil

April 18, 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.

Study says soil erosion is increasing
A new study by the Environmental Working Group suggests that soil erosion from Iowa farm fields is significantly worse than federal data indicate, and that the U.S. is losing ground in the decades-old fight to control erosion and the water pollution it produces.

The chief author of the study was Craig A. Cox, who delivered a Feb. 24 lecture on agricultural pollution at the University of Minnesota. The lecture was sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences. To learn more:

Sediment is strangling Lake Pepin
On a sweet spring day last week, Mike McKay looked out from a bluff above this breathtaking sweep of the Mississippi River and pointed out a scrubby little island that grows just a bit bigger every year.

“There’s a saying in our house,” he said. “The river giveth and the river taketh away.”

 For the past several decades, the river has mostly given to the lake he loves — up to a million tons of mud each year, enough to bury the Foshay Tower from top to bottom.

 At that rate, within this century the northern third of Lake Pepin will become a marsh, with a narrow channel dredged through its center for barge traffic. This grim accumulation represents a looming threat to one of Minnesota’s scenic jewels. But it also signals a much bigger problem that in the past 70 years has fundamentally changed long stretches of state’s two great rivers, the Mississippi and the Minnesota.

 Now, for the first time, a clear picture is emerging of the source of most of that sediment — the heart of Minnesota’s farm country. It foreshadows exactly who will be asked to take on most of the responsibility for protecting one of the state’s most treasured lakes and returning the rivers to health.
–The Star Tribune

Ice Out/Loon In party set April 21Freshwater celebrates spring April 21
This year’s ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was declared Thursday, April 14. Now plan to celebrate that event – a sure sign of spring – with the Freshwater Society.

 Freshwater is hosting a party and fund-raiser from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 21, at Bayview Events Center in Excelsior. The party celebrates ice going out on the lake and – further proof of spring – visits to the lake by migrating loons.

 The party will feature food, drink, bluegrass music, talks on loons and ice-out, a loon-calling contest, a raffle and a silent auction. The silent auction features scores of items: vacation getaways in Colorado and at the North Shore, fly fishing lessons, boat trips on Lake Minnetonka, Twins tickets, art objects, an antique boat motor and much more.

 Go to for information and to register to attend the event.

 Indian tribes press for water rights
Sardis Lake, a reservoir in southeastern Oklahoma young enough to have drowned saplings still poking through its surface and old enough to have become a renowned bass fishery, is not wanting for suitors.

 Oklahoma City and fast-growing suburbs like Edmond want to see the water flowing through their shower heads someday. So do the water masters of Tarrant County, Tex., 200 miles to the south, who are looking to supply new subdivisions around Fort Worth and are suing for access.

 Now another rival has arrived: the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, who were exiled to southeastern Oklahoma 175 years ago and given land in the area.

 Gregory Pyle, chief of the Choctaw nation, said his tribe would sue to win some of the water if necessary. “All this water was controlled originally by the Indian tribes in this area,” Mr. Pyle said. “It is all Choctaw and Chickasaw water.”

 The tribes want the state to recognize them as joint owners. The issue has been increasingly on the minds of city planners in fast-developing cities as they contemplate the prospect of tapping other existing water sources.
–The New York Times

 A glass of beer, some Cajun music – and science
Learn about the Mississippi River’s disappearing delta – and what can be done to restore it – in an informal, happy-hour setting.  Chris Paola, a University of Minnesota professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, will talk about his research on the delta and the efforts to control the river that have diminished it during A Sip of Science at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at the Aster Café in Minneapolis.

A Sip of Science is combination of science, music, conversation and food and drink. It is sponsored by the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics at the university, and it is held at the Aster Café, 125 SE Main St., Minneapolis.

Paola will focus on how to restore and protect the remaining river delta – 3 million acres of coastal wetlands – while providing the flood protection and navigational services the United States needs. His talk is titled “The Delta Dilemma: Man vs. Nature on the Mississippi.”  Cajun music will be provided by Eric Mohring and Gary Powell.

 Wolves may be removed from endangered list
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it’s trying again to remove gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from the federal threatened and endangered species lists, enabling those states to launch their own wolf-management plans.

 Several earlier proposals to remove federal protections have been blocked by challenges from environmental and animal rights groups.

 Hoping for a different result this time, the federal agency has tweaked its draft rule to respond to procedural concerns identified by courts. The proposal also addresses emerging information that two species of wolves coexist in the western Great Lakes area.

 After a public comment period, the agency will review feedback and publish a final decision later this year that likely will get another court challenge. 

“No matter what we put out there, they probably will challenge it,” said Laura Ragan, a wildlife biologist for the agency’s Midwest region. “My hope is we have come up with something that is solid and can withstand that litigation.”

 Collette Adkins Giese, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, maintained it’s still premature to lift wolf protections.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Appeals Court overturns invasives conviction
A minnow isn’t a fish, in the eyes of the state of Minnesota, and as a result, Kim Douglass Barsness is off the hook.

 At least that’s according to a ruling issued by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

 The case involves Barsness, a Baudette resident, who was caught by a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer in May 2009 harvesting minnows in Upper Red Lake, according to the appellate decision.

 Barsness had a permit to harvest minnows, but he was using equipment with orange DNR tags labeled “INF (infested) WTR (waters) ONLY,” the decision said.

 The labels are part of a DNR effort designed to stop the spread of an invasive species called the spiny water flea.

Upper Red Lake is not infested with the spiny water flea, and the DNR said Barsness wasn’t supposed to use equipment labeled for infested waters in Upper Red Lake, according to the ruling.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

TVA to close 18 coal-fired generators
In a sweeping legal settlement, the Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed for the first time to reduce its overall capacity to generate coal-fired electricity, promising to close 18 of its coal-burning generators over the next six years while spending $3 billion to $5 billion on pollution controls on any remaining units that use coal.

The accord, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, will bring about one of the most significant cuts in coal-fired power generation by any utility that relies heavily on coal in its fuel mix. The closings will eliminate 16 percent of the authority’s coal-fired capacity, and the accord holds out the prospect that some or all of another 18 units will shut down as well, for a total loss of as much as a third of the authority’s coal-burning capacity.

By the end of 2017, the utility’s emissions of nitrogen oxides, a crucial component in smog and ground-level ozone, will be reduced by at least 69 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions will be cut by 67 percent, the E.P.A. said, compared with 2008 levels.
–The New York Times

Could Coon Rapids dam stop silver carp?
The original question was simple:

After decades of serving as an effective barrier — separating fish downstream from those up — why is the Coon Rapids Dam no longer considered a formidable barrier?

 It is to most fish down the stream, but not to the silver carp, that fish also known as the “flying carp.”

This giant jumping fish, the one that leaps four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and even 10 feet out of the water when a motorized boat passes and the one that now inhabits many areas of the lower Mississippi River from Iowa to Louisiana and its tributaries east and west, is already in Minnesota and pointed toward…Mille Lacs Lake.

 That is, of course, if it can get over the Coon Rapids Dam spillway and into the upper portion of the Mississippi. A study commissioned by the Department of Natural Resources and the Three Rivers Park District from Stanley Consultants, Inc., says this could happen.

 It will definitely happen, the study points out, if the present dam is not upgraded soon and could still happen even after repairs and the planned preventative modifications are put into place.
–The Coon Rapids Herald


Nitrogen-skimping corn is ‘holy grail’
Marc Albertsen, the bespectacled, 62-year-old research director at Pioneer Hi-Bred, DuPont Co.’s seed-development unit, was catching up on paperwork one morning in July 2007 when he got a call from an assistant, Sharon Cerwick.

“Marc,” Cerwick said, “you’d better come out here and see this.”

Cerwick had been in the field inspecting rows of experimental corn planted next to Pioneer’s headquarters in Johnston, Iowa. The corn had been genetically engineered by Albertsen and his colleagues in hopes of achieving a new trait: more efficient use of nitrogen. That’s at the top of the corn growers’ wish list because the cost of ammonium nitrate fertilizer has soared 130 percent to $450 a ton since 2002. Albertsen and other seed scientists have been trying to build nitrogen-efficient stalks for at least five years, but their supercorn is still five to 10 years away.

 “You’re talking about our holy grail,” said Pamela Johnson, a National Corn Growers Association board member with 1,200 acres in Floyd, Iowa.

 In the field, Albertsen discovered one row of corn whose leaves were afflicted by a V-shaped yellowing, the telltale sign of nitrogen deficiency. The other row — the plants that had been engineered for nitrogen efficiency — was green and thriving. Both had been planted in severely nitrogen-deficient soil, but the genetically engineered plants seemed unaffected.

 Tougher Lake Tahoe invasives ruled eyed
Lake Tahoe regulators aim to get tough when it comes to people attempting to evade inspectors trying to protect the lake from aquatic invaders attached to boats launching into the lake.

 Later this month, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will consider rules making it illegal to lie to boat inspectors or tamper with seals designed to show boats have been inspected and are free of invasive species such as the quagga mussel.

 The change is designed to beef up a boat inspection and decontamination program that’s been in place at the landmark alpine lake since the spring of 2008.
–The Reno Gazette Journal

Merriam warns of environmental retreat

April 11, 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.

Gene Merriam criticizes retreat on the environment
Freshwater Society President Gene Merriam writes that lawmakers, both in the Minnesota Legislature and in Congress,  increasingly are retreating from leadership on the environment.  He warns that Minnesota is in danger of “joining other states in a race to the bottom – in the pollution we accept and in the scientific evidence we ignore.”

 Merriam’s column was published in Freshwater’s April Facets newsletter and re-printed on the Minnpost web site. Read it either place. 

The newsletter also has articles on Craig A. Cox’s prescription for “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production” and a q-and-a interview with Pamela Shubat, director of the Minnesota Health Department’s Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.  

freshwater party and fund-raiser set April 21 Support Freshwater; come to a party
The Freshwater Society will host an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser April 21 in Excelsior. 

The event is keyed to two signs of spring:  Ice-out on Lake Minnetonka and the frequent stop-overs of migrating loons on the lake.

The party, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.,  will feature food, drink, bluegrass music, a raffle and silent auction, and presentations on loons and ice-out on the lake. If you think you are up to it, join the loon-calling contest.

 Visit the Freshwater web site for information and registration

Open house on south metro Mississippi plan set
A public open house on a draft clean-up plan for the Mississippi River in the south metro area will be held from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May  4.

The open house will be at the Merriam Park Library, 1831 Marshall Ave., St. Paul.

 The open house is sponsored by the Friends of the Mississippi River, the Mississippi National River &  Recreation Area and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota River in St. Paul to Red Wing, currently fails to meet basic health standards because of excess sediment in the water.

 People attending the open house attendees will learn about a Total Maximum Daily Load plan prepared by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that spells out maximum levels of pollution that the river can accept and still offer a clean and healthy environment for humans, animals, fish and plants.

At the open house, there will be two presentations on the plan – at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. – and each will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of water quality and restoration experts.

 To learn more about the South Metro Mississippi Turbidity TMDL, visit the MPCA’s Mississippi River TMDL web page.  For more information about the open house, contact  Trevor Russell at 651-222-2193 x18 or Lark Weller at 651-290-3030 x304.

 Sigurd Olson lectures scheduled
Amy Vedder, a renowned gorilla researcher and conservationist, will deliver three public lectures – in St. Paul, Duluth and Ely – on April 19 and 20 in the 2011 Sigurd Olson Lecture Series. The series is sponsored by Vermilion Community College and the Friends of the Boundary Water Wilderness.

 Vedder, the senior vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, is the author of In the Kingdom of Gorillas, which describes her effort to study and protect mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

 The title of her lecture is “From Gorillas to Grizzlies: A Conservation Journey.” The lectures will be:

  •   At  3 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, in Room 203 of Green Hall on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
  • At noon on Wednesday, April 20, in the fourth-floor library rotunda at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
  • At 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in the auditorium of Vermilion Community College.

 $103 million Texas groundwater deal set
A West Texas tycoon who shopped valuable water across the state for more than a decade has settled for selling to his neighbor.

 Lubbock and 10 Panhandle cities have a purchase agreement for thousands of acres of water rights owned by famed corporate raider T. Boone Pickens, potentially solidifying the group as the state’s largest holder of groundwater rights and closing a combative and fascinating chapter in water marketing in Texas.

 The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority confirmed the purchase of water rights beneath 211,000 acres in seven counties north of Amarillo for $103 million, increasing its groundwater holdings by 80 percent and an estimated 4 trillion gallons. The sale is expected to close in July or August, based on a statement from the authority.
–The Lubbock  Avalanche-Journal

 Electric carp barrier activated  near Chicago
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it activated a new electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville designed to keep Asian carp from migrating to Lake Michigan. 

It was completed a year ahead of schedule, the corps said.

Because of the electric discharge, the corps warned boaters to use “extreme caution” while traveling between river mile markers 296.1 and 296.7. It is dangerous to enter the water or place hands or feet in the water for any reason, the agency said.

Last month, federal officials said that lab testing found the Sanitary and Ship Canal’s electric dispersal barriers were effective for fish 5.4 inches or longer. 

Higher electric power levels might be needed to immobilize small Asian carp about 2 to 3 inches long, they said. The smaller fish are not believed to be close to the barriers, which are near Lockport.

 Chicago urges quick action on Asian carp
Chicago is leaning on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track an ongoing study to protect Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline – and the rest of the Great Lakes – from an Asian carp invasion.

 “The proposed timeline for the study is too long,” Chicago environment commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna wrote to the Army Corps on March 25. “The threat of Asian carp has been known for more than a decade. It is not acceptable to wait another five years for solutions. We urge the Corps to speed up this timeline to every extent possible.”

 It is an ironic twist of history, considering that Chicago sparked the problem over 111 years ago when it obliterated the natural barrier between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan by constructing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

 The canal remains the linchpin in the Windy City’s giant plumbing system that flushes waste away from its Lake Michigan drinking water intake pipes, down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico. The canal, which reversed the flow of the Chicago River so it flowed out of Lake Michigan instead of into it, was built to send about 6 billion gallons of Lake Michigan water per day into the Mississippi basin, though a Supreme Court ruling has capped that amount at about 2 billion gallons per day.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Can and bottle deposit bill proposed
When it comes to recycling bottles and cans, Minnesota pales in comparison with Iowa.

Here, 35 percent of them are recycled; the rest are lost or tossed. But south of the border, where a beverage container deposit law is in place, 86 percent, or 1.65 billion every year, are recycled.

 The reason for the difference?  “The answer is the deposit,” said Minnesota Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.  “People don’t throw away money.”

 Minnesota would adopt a similar approach under a bill she and Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, plan to introduce. Their proposal would attach a 10-cent deposit on most bottles and cans containing beverages such as soft drinks and beer. Consumers would get their money back when they turn in the empty containers.

 By putting value on bottles and cans, people would be much more likely to return them, keeping them out of ditches or other parts of the waste stream, Hortman said.

And because there always would be fewer containers returned than bought, there would be unclaimed refunds that the state could use to offset budget problems, she said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wisconsin gov backs off on phosphorus rule repeal
Gov. Scott Walker has apparently backed off his plan to repeal a rule passed last year that sets limits in Wisconsin lakes and streams for phosphorus, a nutrient from fertilizers which causes weed and algae growth.

 Instead, Walker has proposed that the new rule not be put in place for two years, according to Cathy Stepp, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. Stepp testified on the proposal, and other conservation-related items in the budget, before the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

 Stepp said municipal officials and others affected by the rule told the agency that implementing the tougher statewide standard would be too expensive during this difficult economic period. Some communities estimated they would have to raise sewage treatment rates by as much as $900 per customer per year.
–Wisconsin State Journal

 Minnesota DNR seeks tougher inspections for invasives
The Legislature is poised to give the Department of Natural Resources new authority to require boat inspections and decontamination to slow the spread of zebra mussels.

And that means Minnesotans could see some changes at boat landings this summer when they go out to visit their favorite lakes.

But there is disagreement about how effective these efforts could be.

 Zebra mussels hitchhike from lake to lake on boats and trailers. They can clog water intakes and boat motors, leave sharp shells on beaches, and, in high numbers, they can alter the food chain.

Minnesota now has 19 lakes and four rivers infested with zebra mussels — including Mille Lacs Lake, the state’s best-known walleye fishery, and popular Lake Minnetonka.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Climate change threatens extinctions
Over the past 540 million years, life on Earth has passed through five great mass extinctions. In each of those catastrophes, an estimated 75 percent or more of all species disappeared in a few million years or less.

 For decades, scientists have warned that humans may be ushering in a sixth mass extinction, and recently a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the hypothesis. They applied new statistical methods to a new generation of fossil databases. As they reported last month in the journal Nature, the current rate of extinctions is far above normal. If endangered species continue to disappear, we will indeed experience a sixth extinction, over just the next few centuries or millennia.

The Berkeley scientists warn that their new study may actually grossly underestimate how many species could disappear. So far, humans have pushed species toward extinctions through means like hunting, overfishing and deforestation. Global warming, on the other hand, is only starting to make itself felt in l the natural world. Many scientists expect that as the planet’s temperature rises,  global warming could add even more devastation. “The current rate and magnitude of climate change are faster and more severe than many species have experienced in their evolutionary history,” said Anthony Barnosky, the lead author of the Nature study.
–The New York Times 

 Texas clean-air advocate wins $150,000 Goldman award
They call Port Arthur gasoline alley, cancer alley, and the armpit of Texas. For most of his life, Hilton Kelley has called it home.

 The city has had the same distinctive odor since he was a boy, Kelley said. Adults jokingly called it the smell of money, because the nearby oil refineries and petrochemical plants did most of the hiring. But after the cancer rate grew, the childhood asthma rate rose and the population plummeted, Kelley, now 50, stopped laughing.

 Kelley’s decade-long fight to lower the city’s air pollution earned him this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize for the North America category, being awarded Monday in San Francisco.

The annual prize and a $150,000 stipend is routinely awarded to six grass-roots environmentalists from different parts of the world. Since the award was established in 1990, a total of $13.2 million has been awarded to 139 recipients from 79 countries, as of 2010, according to a spokeswoman.
–The Washington Post

 Migrant’s genes transformed Isle Royale wolves
In Ontario, in the winter of 1997, a particularly virile male wolf stepped onto the ice of Lake Superior and headed toward Isle Royale, an island about 15 miles offshore. There he radically changed the genetic makeup of an isolated group of wolves that had lived there since the late 1940s.

 Researchers, who for many years have been observing the Isle Royale packs and the moose they feed on, did not realize at first that he was an immigrant, but soon his appearance and behavior became impossible to ignore.

He was larger than most of the Isle Royale wolves, and was so strongly territorial that he completely displaced one of the four packs, driving it to extinction within two years of his arrival. His own pack grew to 10 wolves, the largest seen on the island in almost 20 years. As he aged, his fur grew paler, almost white, a phenomenon known in other wolves but never before seen in the Isle Royale animals.
–The New York Times

 California board eyes groundwater clean-up
Farmers in California’s agricultural heartland, which also is home to some of America’s most contaminated aquifers, may soon have to start monitoring and cleaning up groundwater.

But the proposal being considered by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in Rancho Cordova has generated frustration on all sides.

Farmers say the new regulations affecting 35,000 famers and 7 million acres of irrigated land are an expensive, bureaucratic burden. And environmental groups say the rules are not strong enough to protect drinking water from the threat of fertilizers and other agricultural runoff.

The new long-term rules would cover not only ground water but also surface water, which has been regulated on an interim basis since 2003.

University and local government studies have found that nitrate levels harmful to human health have increased dramatically in drinking water supplies in past decades. A report last month by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute concluded more than 1 million San Joaquin Valley residents—a third of the Valley’s population—are exposed to drinking water tainted with fertilizer and other toxins.
–The Associated Press

 Advocacy group releases report on carcinogen
U.S. water utilities have known about the prevalence of a likely carcinogen in water sources for seven years and have failed to share that information with the public, according to an advocacy group, which released a 2004 industry study of hexavalent chromium.

The American Water Works Association Research Foundation study focused on hexavalent chromium in groundwater sources nationwide. The AWWA report was obtained and released by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.

The 124-page report features data from tests on 341 water samples from 189 water utilities in 41 states. About two-thirds of those samples came from groundwater sources, while another third came from surface sources. The report found hexavalent chromium nationwide, particularly in groundwater. The highest levels were found in California.

The study emphasizes that the “majority of the hexavalent chromium results were found to be less than” the current U.S. EPA Method Detection Limit. But it also concluded that conventional filtering systems used by water utilities in 2004 were typically ineffective in addressing hexavalent chromium.
–The New York Times

 Research: Invasive species could cost $1.4 trillion
The recent disasters in Japan may be driving increased resolve to plan for biological invasions of species, a crisis that can be as costly as natural disasters.

Global biological invasions, including the potential carp invasion of the Great Lakes, could cost an estimated $1.4 trillion per year of damage – 5 percent of the global economy – according to an article in this month’s “BioScience.”

The report by three biologists from McGill University in Montreal contends that biological invasions may be more damaging economically than natural disasters.

“Obviously, the disaster in Japan will bring to people’s attention the problem of rare extreme hazards,” said invasive species biologist Anthony Ricciardi, lead author of the report. “You never know when they are going to strike, or how costly they will be.”

Their proposal is simple: because biological invasions are similar to natural disasters, they require similar management strategies that are not currently in place in any nation. This includes safety codes and standards, emergency preparedness and rapid-response measures similar to those in place for earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis.
–Medill Reports

Polls, wild rice, bats and fish kills

April 4, 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.

Economy outranks environment in poll
What is more important to you: The economy or the environment?

 I you are reading this blog, you may choose the environment. But a recent Gallup poll showed most Americans chose economic development.

 Fifty-four percent of Americans gave a higher priority to economic growth than to protecting the environment, according to results of the poll. Thirty-six percent attached more priority to environmental protection.

 Since Gallup started asking the economy vs. environment question in 1984, Americans have generally favored the environment.

 The poll was conducted in early March, before an earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused the failure of several nuclear reactors.

 In a 2000 Gallup survey, Americans favored the environment over the economy, 67 percent to 28 percent.
–Gallup Inc.

Bill would change wild rice rules 
A bill that would water down Minnesota’s wild rice pollution rules passed the House and Senate in a vote that reflects a fundamental shift in environmental philosophy at a Legislature now controlled by Republicans.

The zeal to change the wild rice water quality standard is driven in part by the allure of a resurgence of Minnesota’s mining industry on the Iron Range. Supporters say the current standard imposes a heavy burden on business, and they are unwilling to wait for ongoing research to provide better guidance.

“It does not make sense for major expenditures of capital to be made to comply with a standard that we know is subject to change in the near term,” said Mike Robertson, an environmental consultant for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

But environmentalists charge that the bill, which dictates a fivefold increase in sulfate limits for wild rice, is just one example of a Republican preference for business interests over both clean water and environmental science.
–The Star Tribune

 Legacy $$ loom large in deficit debate
In what has become a biennial ritual of the deficit years, lawmakers are running their fingers through every pot of dedicated state money within reach as they labor to erase a multibillion-dollar deficit. But in 2011, most of the easy pickings have long since been taken – starting with $1 billion in tobacco lawsuit proceeds appropriated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature to help with a $4.3 billion deficit in 2003 – and legislators have already laid claim to roughly half of the $108 million in one of the few sizable dedicated funds still left intact, the Iron Range-specific Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund.

 But the most coveted, and most closely guarded, stash of all is the roughly $540 million in revenue from the 2008 Legacy sales tax amendment. Arts and environment advocates are already crying foul over lawmakers’ efforts to skirt the constitutional strictures governing Legacy spending.

 “It looks like there’s huge potential to do that, and I cannot see how you can legitimately spend the Legacy money in the way it has been proposed,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius, the environment minority lead on the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
–Politics in Minnesota

Virus blamed for Milwaukee fish kill 
A massive fish kill last month in the Milwaukee harbor has been linked to a deadly fish virus that was first discovered in Lake Michigan in 2007.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reports it is the first time the disease known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, has been found in Lake Michigan waters since 2008.

VHS is sometimes referred to as a fish-specific version of the deadly Ebola. It is harmless to humans, but can affect several dozen fish species, including popular sport and commercial fish such as perch, trout and whitefish.

The virus targeted thousands of gizzard shad in last month’s fish kill. It’s the first time that species has tested positive for VHS in Wisconsin waters, according to the DNR. 

Nobody knows how the virus got into the Great Lakes, but a likely explanation is it was carried in by oceangoing freighters.
–The Milwaukee  Journal  Sentinel

 Wax cylinders clean groundwater
An experiment underway in a small Nebraska town may hold the answer to a common problem associated with industry — groundwater contamination.

 If the results are as successful as preliminary reports indicate, then researchers will have found a vastly cheaper and easier method that could then be applied to a wider range of contaminates found in the nation’s water supply.

 “We’re always looking for new, better ways to handle the contamination and obviously the cheaper the better, as long as it can be effectively and safely done,” said Ken Rapplean a project manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency .

An estimated 15,000 sites across the country leach toxic chlorinated solvents into groundwater — anywhere an old landfill, dry cleaning facility or military installation might be found. Among the most common is a solvent typically used as a degreaser and metal parts cleaner, trichloroethylene or TCE.
–ABC News 

Notre Dame prof leads fight against invasives
When the United States Fish and Wildlife Service decided in March to ban the import and transport of bighead carp — one of the infamous Asian carp — under a century-old law called the Lacey Act, David Lodge had one reaction.  “It’s about time,” he said.

 It figures that Mr. Lodge, 54, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, would have a decided opinion. He has spent much of his career predicting which foreign species could harm the Great Lakes. And in the decades since Asian carp escaped Southern fish farms and began marauding up the Mississippi River, Mr. Lodge, a nationally known expert on invasives,  has become nearly as famous in some circles as the voracious fish.  

He has also been an advocate of using the Lacey Act to block Asian carp and other invasive species. Though the act is the sole federal defense against the importing of potentially devastating plants and animals, it covers only 20 groups of organisms. As with the carp, most were added to the list long after they became environmental hazards.
–Chicago News Cooperative

 Ground Water Association to meet
Sustainable water use will be the theme of the Minnesota Ground Water Association’s spring conference on May 4.

 Speakers include:  state Rep. Paul Torkelson, speaking about the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment;  Princesa VanBuren Hansen, speaking on the Environmental Quality Board’s 2010 Minnesota Water Plan; and Deborah Swackhamer, speaking on the 25-year water sustainability plan fo the state that was drafted by the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center. 

Other speakers include: Jeanette Leete, speaking on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ process for defining groundwater management areas; and Lanya Ross, describing the Metropolitan Council’s water supply planning for the Twin Cities. 

The conference will be on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. For information and to register, go to

 Members sought for Lake Superior council
The Governor’s Council on Minnesota’s Coastal Program, or Coastal Council for short, is seeking applications by April 15 for a number vacancies. There is a particular need for applications from people who live in Cook, Carlton and Lake counties. 


The Coastal Council is an integral element of Minnesota’s Lake Superior Coastal Program. As part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Ecological and Water Resources Division, the program mission is to preserve, protect, enhance and restore coastal resources for present and future generations. The program provides technical and financial assistance for local communities.

 The council is made up of 15 Governor-appointed individuals who have a passion for Lake Superior and the desire to make a difference. Members must have some knowledge and interest in Lake Superior.

 Experience reviewing grant applications is helpful, but not required. Council members are not compensated, but receive travel reimbursement and training. The time commitment is approximately 60 – 70 hours per year. Meetings are held at various locations along the North Shore including Duluth, Two Harbors and Grand Marais.

 For instruction on how to apply to the Coastal Council, contact Lisa Angelos, Coastal Program manager at 218-834-1443.
–Minnesota DNR News Release

 Alexandria-area fish kill reported
Around 300 dead fish were found in Lake Agnes and Lake Henry in open water areas after ice had melted. But both residents and experts said they’re not sure why.

 “All winter long, I’ve been fishing the lake (Henry), and I ran into a situation where we had a four to six foot column of fish, and all of the sudden, they disappeared. I could not find a fish on the lake,” Lake Henry resident and fisherman Rick Colden said.   

Colden isn’t the only one who’s had a hard time on the lakes, as more than 2,000 anglers failed to catch a fish at a tournament on the adjoining Lake Agnes on Feb. 12.

 But the recent evidence of fish kill may be to blame.

 “A lot of game fishes; walleye, bass, bluegill, some crappie, (were found dead). So certainly a concern,” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor Dean Beck said.

 Research: Bats are worth billions
Pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats in the United States likely save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year, and yet insectivorous bats are among the most overlooked economically important, non-domesticated animals in North America, according to an analysis published in this week’s Science magazine Policy Forum. 

“People often ask why we should care about bats,” said Paul Cryan, a U.S. Geological Survey research scientist and one of the study’s authors. “This analysis suggests that bats are saving us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops. It is obviously beneficial that insectivorous bats are patrolling the skies at night above our fields and forests  —  these bats deserve help.” 

The value of the pest-control services to agriculture provided by bats in the U.S. alone range from a low of $3.7 billion to a high of $53 billion a year, estimated the study’s authors, scientists from the University of Pretoria (South Africa), USGS, University of Tennessee and Boston University.  They also warned that noticeable economic losses to North American agriculture could occur in the next 4 to 5 years as a result of emerging threats to bat populations. 
–USGS News Release