Archive for May, 2011

Rules on invasives; an ag-environment discussion

May 31, 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.

New invasive species rules in effect
Minnesota anglers must drain their portable minnow and leech buckets when they leave any waters — not just waters infested with invasive species — if they want to keep their bait under a bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton.

 The bait bucket provision, one of several affecting the state’s 1.4 million anglers, goes into effect immediately and is intended to fight the spread of invasive species.

Before, anglers were required to empty portable bait buckets of water only after leaving infested waters. Anglers will have to bring extra water if they want to keep their minnows and leeches alive, officials said. Then after draining their bait buckets at landings, they can refill them with clean water. It’s illegal to dump bait in lakes or on the ground, and most public accesses don’t have garbage cans.

 The law also requires the state’s 800,000 boaters to place a free invasive species decal on their boats. The stickers will remind boaters to comply with the laws, including draining all water and removing vegetation or invasive species from boats and trailers. That provision goes into effect Aug. 1, and the DNR will distribute the stickers this summer.

 Another major provision gives the DNR more authority to inspect boats at public or private locations where boats are in plain view, if officers believe they might be infected. It allows the DNR to set up check and decontamination stations that are not at boat landings, where boaters will be required to stop.
–The Star Tribune

Agricultural crossroads: Food, fuel and the future
Have a beer or a glass of wine while you ponder the future of U.S. agriculture in the context of the competing demands for food, fuel and environmental protection.

 A Sip of Science — a combination happy hour and serious scientific discussion –will look at current and proposed goals and strategies for agriculture at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8, at the Aster Café. The café is at St. Anthony Main, 125 SE Main St., Minneapolis. 

Participants will be:

  • Nick Jordan, a University of Minnesota professor of agronomy and plant genetics and an agro-ecologist.
  • Tony Thompson, a farmer and conservationist from Windom.
  •  Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition.
  • Jim Kleinschmit, director of the Rural Communities program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
  •   Anna Clausen, a landscape architect focused on building resilient rural communities through alternative land-use plans.

Music will be provided by Mother Banjo, a one-woman band featuring Ellen Stanley.

A Sip of Science, a monthly discussion of scientific topics,, is sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the University of Minnesota. For information, go to http://www.nced.umn.edu/content/sip-science-agricultural-crossroads-food-fuel-and-future.

 The bad – and good – news on invasive round gobies
When John Janssen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, found a round goby in Calumet Harbor in 1994, he feared the worst.  The round goby, a small fish with an almost endearing wide-eyed stare, reproduces prolifically and eats voraciously. Mr. Janssen and other scientists expected it to gobble up eggs of prized sport fish and hog the mussels and snails that other fish would normally eat.

Now, millions of round gobies are thriving in the waters of Lake Michigan off Chicago and throughout much of the other Great Lakes. But as is often the case with invasive species, their ecological impact has not been devastating, but complicated — even beneficial in some cases.

Like the majority of the 185 known invasive species in the Great Lakes, the round goby arrived in the ballast water of ocean-going ships that came down the St. Lawrence Seaway into the lakes. It was first seen in the St. Clair River between Lakes Huron and Erie in 1990. Mr. Janssen was the first to identify one in Lake Michigan.
The New York Times

Wisconsin panel rejects pollution rule
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted to overturn rules regulating nonpoint pollution in the state.

Both houses of the Legislature will have to approve the measure. For now, regulations stay in place until new rules are written.

Nonpoint pollution – the kind of pollution that comes from farm fields and city streets – is the largest source of water pollution in the state.

The committee’s action drew criticism from environmental groups. Amber Meyer Smith, program director for Clean Wisconsin, says her organization fears that lawmakers want to weaken the regulations.

The River Alliance of Wisconsin called it a “giant step backward.”

Ken Johnson, water division administrator with the Department of Natural Resources, said the agency needs to talk to lawmakers to learn what kind of changes they are seeking.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Evidence of lunar water mounts
It’s not raining on the Moon, but it does seem to be getting wetter and wetter.

For decades, the prevailing view of the Moon was that it was dry. Then, two years ago, a NASA probe crashed into a deep crater near the Moon’s south pole, and confirmed large amounts of water ice within the shadows. Meanwhile, measurements by an orbiting Indian spacecraft suggested that a veneer of water,  generated by the bombardment of solar wind particles, covered much of the Moon’s surface.

Now, scientists analyzing tiny fragments of hardened lava from long-ago lunar eruptions report that the fragments contain about as much water as similar magmas on Earth, meaning there’s plenty of water inside the Moon, too.
–The New York Times

 Research tracks water flow through L. Minnetonka
Lake Minnetonka’s 26 bays and 125 miles of shoreline make it a desirable destination for sportsmen, boaters and well-heeled homeowners. Its high level of use and complex eco-system also make it a perfect subject for water quality researchers.

But until now, no one knew how to predict how water flowing into an enormous lake—and the land use activities on its shores—affected its water quality.

University of Minnesota Water Resource Science graduate student Shane Missaghi has cracked the code of predicting the water quality of a complex lake like Minnetonka with a computer program that promises to be an effective tool for improving a lake’s water quality and shoreline restoration efforts.

Missaghi’s program is a three-dimensional computer model that simulates the path of a lake’s water by tracking 200 x 200 x 0.5 meter grids of water as they enter, circulate and exit the lake. “We’ve known what goes into the lake, but we haven’t known how to follow the water along its path,” he says. “Until now there was no way of predicting the water quality in all the different areas of the lake.”
–University of Minnesota Water Resources Center 

Stepped-up search for Asian carp begins
The annual hunt for Asian carp around Chicago has begun in earnest, yet again. But this year, federal and state officials said they have taken their battle against the fish to a new level, employing a handful of novel tools and strategies to detect and dispel the pesky species.

 New efforts include an underwater carp camera, fine mesh nets intended to catch larvae and a large water gun that creates a barrier by emitting sound waves underwater, said John Rogner, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve got to step it up another notch,” Rogner said. “We’re not letting up.”

 Rogner’s comments came during an Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee news conference held on the Chicago River.

 This spring marks the third year of carp monitoring on Chicago waterways. The focus on larvae and smaller fish follows a finding in March that the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal’s electric-dispersal barriers were effective for large fish, defined as 5.4 inches or longer.
–The Chicago Tribune

 Stearns County water testing offered
The Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District is offering a free nitrate water-testing clinic from 4-7 p.m. June 9 in the atrium of Marketplace Mall, 110 Second St. S, Waite Park.

To participate, homeowners must bring at least one-half cup of water in a clean plastic or glass container. Allow the tap to run five to 10 minutes before taking the sample. Homeowners that maintain a nitrate removal system should take one sample before and one after the treatment process.

 Samples should be taken no more than 24 hours before the testing. Mark the container with a name, phone number and a well identification number if more than one well is sampled. Homeowners who choose to remain anonymous should identify their water sample by another easily recognized number.

The process usually takes less than five minutes and results will be given directly to the homeowner.
–The St. Cloud Times

Taconite mine to pay water pollution penalty
Northshore Mining Company recently agreed to pay a $26,087 civil penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for alleged water quality permit violations at its Peter Mitchell taconite ore mine near Babbitt.  The company has completed one of the stipulation agreement’s requirements and must adhere to a compliance schedule to resolve the remaining violations.

 The company’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit authorizes Northshore Mining to pump water (effluent) out of its open pit mine and discharge it to surface waters.  The permit requires the company to sample effluent from pump-out locations to ensure it is clean enough to meet its permit limits.  Northshore must also monitor and meet required effluent limits at the mine’s domestic wastewater treatment plant.

 The enforcement action covers effluent limit violations that occurred between October 2009 and March 2011.  The most frequently occurring violation was for failing to meet pH requirements in the water at four mine pump-out monitoring stations.  Other violations were for total suspended solids and un-ionized ammonia levels.  Three violations of biochemical oxygen demand also occurred at the facility’s wastewater treatment plant.
–MPCA News Release

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Texas egg producer faces record penalty

May 23, 2011

Texas egg producer faces record $1.9 million penalty
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department announced that Mahard Egg Farm, a Texas corporation, will pay a $1.9 million penalty to resolve claims that the company violated the Clean Water Act in Texas and Oklahoma.

The civil penalty is the largest amount to be paid in a federal enforcement action involving a concentrated animal feeding operation. The company will also spend approximately $3.5 million on remedial measures to ensure compliance with the law and protect the environment and people’s health.

“By working with DOJ and our state partners in Texas and Oklahoma, we have reached a significant settlement that reflects the seriousness of Mahard’s violations,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Large animal feeding operations that fail to comply with our nation’s environmental laws threaten public health and the environment and put smaller farming operations at a disadvantage.”

The Clean Water Act complaint, filed jointly with the settlement by the United States and the states of Texas and Oklahoma, alleges that Mahard operated a facility without a permit and discharged pollutants into area waterways. Mahard also allegedly discharged pollutants or otherwise failed to comply with the terms of its permits at six other facilities, including its newest facility near Vernon, Texas, where it also failed to comply with the Texas Construction Storm Water Permit and to ensure safe drinking water for its employees.
–EPA News Release

 Dayton, GOP on collision course on environment
The first bill that DFL Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican Legislature agreed on was to streamline environmental review and permitting. Since then, they’ve been able to agree on little else. And now a whole host of measures affecting the environment are appearing in a budget bill, which the governor is expected to veto.

 The Legislature’s proposed environment budget would cut 66 percent from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s general fund budget. That amounts to a cut of the agency’s total budget of about two percent, according Republican legislative leaders. 

The MPCA says that cut would mean the loss of so many staff members it would be impossible to meet some of the short timelines required in the streamlining law signed early in the year by Dayton. 

The chief author of the budget bill in the House, Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), doesn’t buy that. He pointed out that most of the MPCA’s budget comes from fees and not the general fund. He said it’s time for the MPCA to focus on priorities.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Landwehr, Aasen criticize budget cuts
Read an op-ed column that Minnesota DNR Commissoner Tom Landwehr and Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Paul Aasen jointly wrote for the Grand Forks Herald. In it, they decry big budget cuts proposed for both agencies.

 Chicago plans for a hotter, wetter future
The Windy City is preparing for a heat wave — a permanent one.

 Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century. 

So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. 

Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.
–The New York Times

 Calls for major shift in U.S. flood policy
As the Mississippi River reaches historic crests, the flood control system designed to protect property is instead destroying crops, homes and businesses that will cost billions of dollars and require months of recovery efforts, flood experts and conservationists say.

That has prompted them to call for a major shift in federal policy that since the 1920s has tried to limit Mississippi River flooding through a massive system of levees, release valves, floodways and drainage basins. The shift would let the river run more freely but would probably force the relocation of communities to convert developed areas into open space.

“We need some retreat from our rivers,” said Larry Larson, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. This year’s flooding, along with overflows of the Mississippi in 1937 and 1973, show the limits of control systems in protecting communities from intense rains and increased flows into the river caused by development and farming. “They need to re-evaluate the entire system,” Larson said.
–USA Today

Get your feet wet in the flood
Can’t get enough information on the downriver flooding on the Mississippi?

The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment has a great Facebook page that is aggregating lots of coverage – photos, science, human interest coverage – on the great flood of 2011. Go to http:www.facebook.com/RiverLifeUMN. 

Proposed western Wisconsin well draws ire
Residents of a small town in western Wisconsin have raised a large red flag about a high-capacity well proposed near their community.

 At the center of their concern, both real and symbolic, is a tinkling trout stream.

 The groundswell of opposition to the project may carry regional and statewide significance.

 First the proposal: Darrell Long of Lima, Ohio, has applied to construct a high-capacity well on 45 acres he owns near the Village of Mount Sterling in Crawford County.

 The property is set among the scenic bluffs and valleys of the Driftless Area. The proposed well is 500 feet from the North Branch of Copper Creek, a Class 1 trout stream.

The well would withdraw a maximum of 500,000 gallons of groundwater per day.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Share your ideas for saving water
Minnesotans have good ideas—it’s time someone listened.  The Idea Open brings everyday Minnesotans together to help solve our state’s most critical issues. This year the Idea Open is looking for answers to the question “How would you use $15,000 to help your community become aware of and address water issues in Minnesota?”  

Starting June 21, people from all over Minnesota will be able to submit ideas to the Challenge. In the meantime, check out www.MNIdeaOpen.org to sign up for updates and connect on Facebook and Twitter. The Idea Open is a venture of Minnesota Community Foundation, in proud partnership with Pentair and its foundation on Challenge II.
–Idea Open News Release

 Opinion: Time to end farm subsidies
Farm subsidies could finally be on the chopping block.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently acknowledged that corn and ethanol “subsidies need to be phased out” over time. And on a swing through Iowa, Mr. Vilsack suggested that the Obama administration will support some cuts in next year’s budget.

 On the right, Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, has called for an end to sugar subsidies, and the budget plan from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would reduce agricultural handouts — which often go to large corporate farmers — by $30 billion over 10 years.

 This is good news. Agricultural subsidies cost taxpayers more than $15 billion each year, and until those subsidies are eliminated, farming in America will never be sustainable.

 Times have changed since Mark Twain described farmers as “fast rising from affluence to poverty.” Today’s farmers are earning record profits. Coupled with record federal deficits, the case for eliminating agricultural subsidies has probably never been more palatable. 

Over the last two decades, the nation’s appetite for food from “sustainable” farms has grown immensely. Sustainability is a buzzword, but at its optimum it aspires to maximize the benefits of farming while minimizing its negative impacts. Americans are starting to demand such practices — and they’re willing to pay for them.
–The Baltimore Sun

 Compliance with invasive rules is spotty
Many anglers still have a lot to learn about preventing the spread of invasive species to Minnesota lakes.

Compliance with the state’s new invasive species regulations during the first weekend of the fishing season was poor on some key lakes — including Lake Mille Lacs and Gull Lake.

Jim Tischler, a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer who worked both lakes, was dismayed at the poor compliance and confusion among anglers. Both lakes, among the most popular in the state, are infected with zebra mussels.

“People are getting the idea of pulling their drain plug, but they just don’t really understand the requirements for draining their bait water, and having other water with them if they want to keep their bait [when they leave the lake],” Tischler said.

 The law says boaters must drain their boats, live wells, bait wells and bilges when they leave any water, and they must also drain portable bait buckets when they leave infested waters.
–The Star Tribune

Christmas Lake homeowners want mussel inspections
In another grass-roots attempt to stop the spread of zebra mussels from Lake Minnetonka, homeowners on nearby Christmas Lake are angling to have a code-activated gate installed on the lake’s solitary boat ramp.

 “There are huge numbers of lake homeowners who don’t feel the Department of Natural Resources is doing enough,” said Joe Shneider, president of the 140-member Christmas Lake Homeowners Association.

 “We can’t just do what we have done in the past, which is monitor and communicate and educate, because it’s just not enough.”

Christmas Lake is one of the cleanest, clearest lakes in the metro area because it is deep, spring-fed and gets no farm runoff.

 The lake’s boat ramp on Hwy. 7 in Shorewood is a stone’s throw from Lake Minnetonka, where zebra mussels were discovered last summer. Many boaters take a ride or fish on Lake Minnetonka and then, without having to be inspected for unwanted aquatic plants and animals, go on to Christmas Lake, Shneider said.
–The Star Tribune

 Glacier park steps up invasives inspections
Glacier National Park will step up its boat inspection and permit program this summer in response to the rapid westward migration of aquatic invasive species on recreational watercraft. The consequences of such an infestation could be devastating to the Park’s ecosystems and the local economy.

Visitors can still launch most motorized and trailered watercraft in the Park, but a thorough inspection is required upon every entry to the Park. Hand-propelled watercraft are not required to obtain a permit, but Park managers encourage all boaters to thoroughly clean, drain and dry their watercraft or fishing equipment before coming to the Park.
–Hungry Horse News

Colorado begins 62-mile water pipeline
As much as 100 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water trapped in a reservoir for southern Colorado and downriver states is about to take a left turn — to Colorado’s biggest water project in decades.

 Construction crews began work on the $2.3 billion Southern Delivery System. It is designed to pump water uphill and north from Pueblo Reservoir — through a 62-mile pipeline — to sustain Colorado Springs, which owns the rights to the river water, and other growing Front Range cities.

 The cities embarked on this project because water supplies have emerged as a constraint on population growth.

 Three 15,000-horsepower pumps are to propel the water through a pressurized 66-inch-diameter steel pipeline. Moving water to the planned end points — two 30,000 acre-foot reservoirs to be built east of Colorado Springs — requires an elevation gain of 1,600 feet.
–The Denver Post

Pennsylvania told to oversee  ‘fracking’
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked Pennsylvania to do a better job sampling, monitoring and regulating Marcellus Shale wastewater discharges near public drinking water sources.

The EPA also has reminded the state Department of Environmental Protection that any new methods for disposing of drilling wastewater must comply with federal rules.

 The federal agency directed six of the major Marcellus Shale drilling companies in Pennsylvania to disclose, by May 25, how and where they will dispose of or recycle wastewater now that they can no longer use municipal sewage treatment facilities. 

Range Resources, Atlas Resources LLC, Talisman Energy USA, Cabot Gas and Oil CVorp.. SWEPI LP and Chesapeake Energy Corp. account for more than half of the Marcellus gas drilling in the state. 

The EPA said it is getting involved in regulatory and enforcement actions usually overseen by the DEP because it wants to ensure that Marcellus Shale gas development and production are done in ways to protect public health and the environment.
–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Or just turn off the faucet
Budweiser is asking adult men across America to help save one million gallons of water by not shaving in the days and weeks leading up to World Environment Day (June 5).  As part of Budweiser’s ongoing commitment to water conservation, the Grow One. Save a Million. program allows consumers to get involved and save roughly 5 gallons of water for each shave they skip.

Consumers 21 years of age and older can visit Budweiser’s Facebook page to make a pledge and share the program with friends.  Participants can commit to a range of options, from a few days to multiple weeks.  Women can get involved by recruiting male friends or family members.  The page also features a daily tracker of the gallons saved to date.
–Budweiser news release

Web site predicts areas of water stress
Water services provider Veolia Water has launched GrowingBlue.com, a site that uses animated maps, infographics and case studies to help municipalities, businesses and consumers better understand water challenges in 180 countries.

The site includes water availability scenarios for 2050 and explanations of the link between water and economic prosperity, societal stability and environmental sustainability. 

According to new data presented on the web site, almost half of the world’s economy and 4.8 billion people, roughly half the world’s expected population, could be located in regions facing water limitations by 2050.

 In rapidly developing countries such as China and India, water scarcity will begin to materially risk growth. In these two areas alone, 2.7 billion people will live in areas of high water stress by 2050.
–environmental leader


DNR working on catfish management
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is looking for the public’s help in gathering data on catfish angling and consumption as part of a project to enhance management of the fish.

 The project includes DNR tagging catfish to get a better idea of their population and movement. It also will draw upon catfish anglers who are willing to answer a few survey questions and keep diaries of their angling efforts. The angler diaries will provide valuable information that is not typically obtained in standard creel surveys, because many catfish anglers fish at night.

 Two surveys are currently online. One survey, which is a statewide survey, asks 10 questions about anglers’ catfish consumption. The other survey is a continuation of an earlier 12-question survey launched in 2009 and aimed at catfish anglers who fish in the Twin Cities metro region.
–DNR News Release

Artist Christo’s project hinges on sheep
Nearly 20 years after the artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, proposed draping a river canyon in southern Colorado in miles of translucent fabric, a federal thumbs up or down on the project may hinge on one factor above all others: the happiness of several hundred bighorn sheep.

 Crucial to the federal government’s decision, expected in August or September, will be a final environmental impact statement on the $50 million installation, known as “Over the River,” that federal land managers plan to unveil in coming weeks.

Some wildlife experts worry that sheep could be displaced or even harmed if the fabric is unfurled over 5.9 miles of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City. Last week the Colorado Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to urge federal officials to reject the proposal, citing in part its concerns about the bighorn, Colorado’s state animal.
–The New York Times

 China acknowledges dam’s problems
China’s landmark Three Gorges Dam project provides benefits to the Chinese people, but has created a myriad of urgent problems from the relocation of more than a million residents to risks of geological disasters, the Chinese government said. 

The statement from China’s State Council, or cabinet, marked a rare acknowledgment of the issues that have shadowed the world’s largest dam, an engineering feat designed to tame the Yangtze River that snakes from the Tibetan plateau to Shanghai. 

“At the same time that the Three Gorges project provides huge comprehensive benefits, urgent problems must be resolved regarding the smooth relocation of residents, ecological protection, and geological disaster prevention,” the statement said, which appeared on the government’s website.

Premier Wen Jiabao presided over the meeting that produced the statement, which also said problems existed for down-river transport, irrigation and water supplies.
–Reuters

DNR launches Facebook pages
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has launched four Facebook pages that will appeal to fans of fishing, hunting, the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine, and Minnesota state parks and trails.

 The four Facebook pages represent the DNR’s desire to connect with the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

 With more than 500 million users worldwide, Facebook is an ideal tool for outdoor recreation fans to tap into the latest DNR news and interact online with others who click the “Like” button on the agency’s four pages. Facebook will give hunters, anglers and campers the opportunity to share their experiences with others who enjoy outdoor recreation.

 “Facebook is a great way for our hunting and fishing license buyers, readers of the Conservation Volunteer magazine, and users of our state parks and trails to learn about the outdoors and share their great experiences in Minnesota,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
–DNR News Release

Sediment TMDL released; the ‘fracking’ rap video

May 16, 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.

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River plan calls for big sediment reductions
The south metro Mississippi River is receiving nearly 1 million tons of sediment from other rivers annually, but a new cleanup plan has targeted the pollution sources and is calling for significant reductions.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released the first draft of a TMDL — total maximum daily load —that recommends the Minnesota River – the primary source of pollution to the south metro Mississippi reduce its sediment flow by up to 60 percent.

Other reductions stated in the TMDL include 50 percent from the Cannon River, 25 percent from urban runoff, 20 percent from the Upper Mississippi River and 20 percent from smaller rivers and streams in Minnesota and Wisconsin that flow directly into the Mississippi River.

The plan’s goal is to reduce the amount of total suspended solids in this section of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River from U.S. Lock & Dam No. 1 in Minneapolis past Red Wing to the head of Lake Pepin is designated as the south metro stretch.
–The Red Wing Republican Eagle

 Minnesota River clean-up far from complete
After 20 years of cleanup efforts and close to a billion dollars in public spending, the Minnesota River is, well, not much better than it was in 1990, according to a long-awaited assessment.

Some of the river’s headwater creeks have more varieties of fish, and some local streams are providing healthier habitat for wildlife in and around the water, state pollution officials reported. But the tiny insects that make up the bottom of the food chain are still not back, and the fish are as scarce as ever in the main streams and the big river itself, the study found.

The disappointing report card, on a river considered the state’s most troubled, is prompting serious questions about whether the state’s largely voluntary approach to protecting its waters is working, said both state officials and clean-water advocates.

“We are not getting very much for our investment,” said Gene Merriam, president of the Freshwater Society. “We have to circle up and figure out a better way to manage our resources.” 

The study by the state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) is the third progress report since 1992, when then Gov. Arne Carlson stood on the banks of the Minnesota holding a jar of dirty water and vowed to clean up the river by 2002. Each time, researchers returned to the same sites throughout the Minnesota River basin to count both types and numbers of fish, invertebrate insects, and to measure habitat like grassy banks and shade-covered streams.
–The Star Tribune

  Opinion: Ag and water on a collision course
It appears environmental and agricultural interests are on a collision course on water quality and the degradation of the Minnesota River, the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently released the most extensive study ever of river water quality and its sources of contamination. A significant amount of the blame was directed at runoff from agriculture.

We’re sure the report spreads some of the blame to cities and development and other sources of pollution, but agriculture will be clearly under the microscope from powerful interests that it has until now not really had to face.

The report concludes that the water quality of the Minnesota River and aquatic life has not improved much despite 20 years of effort that began with Gov. Arne Carlson standing in Sibley Park in Mankato declaring that the river will be cleaned up.
–The Mankato Free Press

My Water’s on Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song)
Have you been reading all the news articles about hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” —  the increasingly common practice of pumping water and chemicals into the ground to extract natural gas from deep shale formations?

Fracking has led to worries about groundwater contamination, including the introduction of flammable and explosive methane into tap water.   Now view a rap video on fracking, produced by journalism students at New York University, and titled “My Water’s on Fire Tonight.”

 House adds invasives rules to environment bill
An upgraded invasive species action plan was added to a bill that cleared the Minnesota House over objections that the overall package would weaken environmental protections.

 The Republican-controlled body voted 95-37 for the large environment and natural resources measure.

 Sponsored by state Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the bill is a collection of smaller policy proposals covering a wide variety of concerns – from trails to all-terrain vehicle regulations. 

DFLers objected to including the agency initiative in the bill, proposing instead to pass it separately, as the Senate did. They said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton would be more inclined to sign it and do so quickly if it were on its own. 

Among other things, it would give the Department of Natural Resources increased authority for inspections and enforcement and would require aquatic invasive species rules decals to be displayed on watercraft.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 MPCA levies $420,946 in pollution penalties
In January through March, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency settled 43 cases involving  violations of air and water pollution rules. The companies and individuals accused of the violations will pay a total of $420,946.

 View the list of cases from 31 counties.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency News Release

Mining companies eye Wisconsin
Wisconsin is known as the Badger State. However, the state’s nickname does not come from the short-legged member of the weasel family, portrayed by University of Wisconsin mascot Bucky Badger. The Badger State name is actually derived from lead miners who were called badgers because they borrowed into holes in the southwestern part of the state in the 1800s.

 Today mining is largely a forgotten industry in Wisconsin. There are thousands of non-metallic mines in the state, mostly gravel pits. However, there has not been a metallic mine operating in Wisconsin since 1999.

But now two mining companies are considering plans for new metallic mines in the state. Gogebic Taconite LLC is exploring plans to create an iron ore mine near Ashland in Ashland County and Iron County. Aquila Resources Inc. is exploring plans to create a gold mine east of Wausau in Marathon County.

 The mine proposals appear likely to pit environmental advocates against mine supporters who hope their mines will boost the state’s economy.
–BizTimes.com

 U.S. to speed up endangered species decisions
The Interior Department, facing an avalanche of petitions and lawsuits over proposed endangered species designations, said that it had negotiated a settlement under which it will make decisions on 251 species over the next six years.

 Under the agreement, species that the department has already deemed to be at potential risk but whose status remains in limbo, including the New England cottontail and the greater sage grouse of the West, will take priority in the Fish and Wildlife Service workload.

If approved by a federal judge, the settlement would bring about the most sweeping change in the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act since the 1990s, when the department streamlined a procedure for protecting the habitats that endangered species need to recover.

The backlog of more than 250 cases resulted from lawsuits and petitions filed by environmental groups, a strategy for forcing the Fish and Wildlife Service to be more assertive about fulfilling its wildlife-protection mandate. Over the past four years, the service has fielded requests for listing more than 1,230 species as endangered or threatened.
–The New York Times

Wisconsin considers sweeping changes in DNR
Gov. Scott Walker is considering a plan that would turn the state Department of Natural Resources into a self-contained agency, operating outside many of the rules and regulations guiding the rest of state government.

 The plan, released by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, would give the agency more autonomy to hire employees, offer merit pay and speed up the permitting process – a common complaint from businesses dealing with the department.

“We would be freed up from a lot of the red tape that slows things down,” said Bob Manwell, DNR spokesman. “We would still be a state agency; we would just be operating under a different set of guidelines.”

Anne Sayers, program director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, called the proposal “a classic case of having the fox guard the hen house.
–The Wisconsin State Journal

Research Council weighs in on Chesapeake TMDL

May 9, 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.

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National Research Council reviews Chesapeake clean-up
The new national strategy for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is better than the one used over the past 30 years, but is lacking in science, accounting and fairness, a study by the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

 The study is depicted as an independent review of a blueprint pushed by the Obama administration to put the Bay on a “pollution diet” over the next 15 years and restore healthy water quality after 2025.

Supporters and critics of the Obama initiative found something to like in the report, prepared by nine scientists from across the country, including one from the University of Virginia.

 Supporters latched onto its bottom-line message: A federally led strategy to cut the Bay’s three most troubling pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment – through two-year progress reports and detailed cleanup plans from six states and the District of Columbia is more likely to succeed than the old system of politically expedient promises and little transparency.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the report shows that, after decades of empty pledges and missed deadlines, government overseers finally are on the right track.

 Critics said they were heartened to see some of their concerns validated in print, including a reliance on incomplete computer models and a system of analyzing data that “cannot on the whole be viewed as accurate,” according to the report.

 For example, in determining if farms are reducing polluted runoff, the report notes how farmers who took action on their own and without government money were not counted as helping the Bay in computer models.

 The report also points out that “nearly all states have insufficient information to evaluate their progress in reducing nutrient pollution,” and that few states even check to see if farm or stormwater improvements are actually working.
–The Virginia Pilot

 EPA joins effort to regulate Renville beet co-op
Federal pollution authorities have quietly stepped in to help Minnesota force a huge sugar beet processor near Renville to end its long history of fouling streams that lead to the state’s most troubled river.

 Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet Cooperative has tangled repeatedly with the state Pollution Control Agency over its processing plant near the Minnesota River, and it has been fined numerous times in the past 15 years for air and water quality violations.

 Now, in an unusual step, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the lead on legal action against the farmer-owned co-op and has initiated a discussion with executives about what it will take to address its chronic problems.

Co-op officials did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Taken one by one, the plant’s violations are not egregious, state officials said. But their ongoing nature, environmental advocates say, illustrates the limits of the state’s ability to enforce state and federal air and water quality laws.
–The Star Tribune

Forest Service retains motorized limits on lakes near BWCAW
A debate simmering since the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act was passed by Congress has quietly ended with a formal decision by the U.S. Forest Service that favors conservation groups.

 Jim Sanders, supervisor of the Superior National Forest, which includes the BWCAW, recently rendered a decision that will keep the number of motorboat permits on three chains of lakes in the Ely and Gunflint Trail areas at low levels.

 Local home and cabin owners on the Moose-Newfound-Sucker, Birch-Farm and Saganaga-Gull Lake-Sea Gull River chains of lakes, along with the Forest Service, had sought increased motor permits for the lakes to offer easier access for property owners. The lakes are adjacent to the federal wilderness.

 But a series of challenges and lawsuits from 1999 to 2006 by conservation groups opposed the increase, saying the landowners should be required to compete with everyone else who wants a day-use permit to operate a motorboat on the chain of lakes.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Opinion: Ag has role in preserving L. Pepin
It’s an essential truth that too few Minnesotans contemplate as they gaze over the state’s rolling fields or across their landscaped back yards. Human development has radically altered the state’s landscape.

 Native prairie has been plowed under and paved over, wetlands misguidedly filled in. Beneath it all are vast networks of drainage tile to quickly move rainwater off the land.

 All of this was done with good intentions.

 Minnesota’s rich soil has helped feed the world and now, through ethanol, is helping fuel it. The growing communities derided by some as sprawl are home to the citizens who come here or stay here because of the high quality of life.

 There is, however, a high price to be paid for this undeniable change in land use, as a newly finalized state plan to clean up a 64-mile stretch of the Mississippi River makes abundantly clear.

 The so-called “south-metro” portion of the nation’s premiere river, which winds through the Twin Cities down to Lake Pepin, is choking on the sediment swept downstream by the tributaries that drain half the state — an issue spotlighted last year in the documentary “Troubled Waters.
–The Star Tribune

 Wisconsin deploys invasive hit squad
Authorities in Wisconsin will release an invasive species this month to kill another invasive species.

More than 1,000 tiny stingless wasps the size of a grain of rice will be let go at Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville later in May in the hope that they destroy another insect – the highly destructive emerald ash borer.

This is the first time Wisconsin has experimented with the wasps to kill emerald ash borers, and it will become the 10th state to experiment with the insect.

Officials in Wisconsin said that the wasps present no threat to the public.

 The emerald ash borer was first detected in 2008 in nearby Newburg on the Ozaukee-Washington county line. Since then, they have been found in Cudahy, Franklin, Oak Creek, Green Bay, Kenosha and Victory in Vernon County.

Wisconsin has an estimated 700 million ash trees.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Hoyt Lakes taconite plant penalized
Mesabi Nugget Delaware, LLC and Steel Dynamics, Inc. recently agreed to pay a $12,500 civil penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for alleged water quality permit violations at their iron nugget production facility in Hoyt Lakes, Minn.  The permittees have since fulfilled all of the settlement’s required corrective actions.

In 2005, the Mesabi Nugget/Steel Dynamic Hoyt Lakes facility received a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System permit that authorizes treated wastewater discharge to state surface waters.  The facility uses water for a variety of purposes, including cooling and air emissions control.  Prior to discharge, treated wastewater must meet specific effluent limits.

The MPCA alleges that Mesabi Nugget did not meet the permit’s effluent limits, effluent volume restrictions and various reporting requirements.

For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions by the MPCA, visit the agency’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us/newscenter/enforcement.html.
–Minnesota Pollution Control Agency news release

Fishing is big business in Minnesota
A ripple spreads when a bobber plops in calm water. Waves of economic impact roll over Minnesota when all its anglers do the same.

 “Though often perceived as a pleasant pastime, fishing is more than that,” explained Dirk Peterson, fisheries chief of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It’s an economic engine that supports 43,000 Minnesota jobs, generates $2.8 billion in direct annual expenditures and contributes more than $640 million a year in tax revenues to the treasuries of our state and federal government.”

These figures, Peterson said, are based on a 2007 study that analyzed the economic impact of the nation’s 39 million licensed anglers, including 1.4 million in Minnesota.
–Minnesota DNR news release

Faster rising seas predicted
Global sea levels will rise faster than expected this century, partly because of quickening climate change in the Arctic and a thaw of Greenland’s ice, an international report said.

 The rise would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also raise the cost of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

 Record temperatures in the Arctic will add to factors raising world sea levels by up to 5.2 feet by 2100, according to a report by the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

 “The past six years [until 2010] have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic,” the report said.

 “In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 metres [3 feet] to 1.6 metres [5.2 feet] by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution,” it added.
–The Washington Post

Unexpected population growth predicted
The population of the world, long expected to stabilize just above 9 billion in the middle of the century, will instead keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100, the United Nations projected in a report.

 Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.

 The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.
–The New York Times

 Mercury in fish a danger; PFOS not so much
Fish taken in 2010 from nine of Minnesota’s 10 largest walleye lakes had levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) that were either very low or undetectable, suggesting those lakes have very little or no contamination from perfluorochemicals (PFCs).

That is one of the early findings from new data for fish contamination recently received by the Minnesota departments of Health, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 The results of the PFC testing mean that advice on how much fish can be eaten safely from those walleye lakes will not be impacted by perfluorochemicals. That’s good news for Minnesotans who like to catch and eat fish from those waters, said Pat McCann, MDH fish advisory program manager.

 “Minnesotans can continue to enjoy the benefits that come from eating fish from some of their favorite lakes without concern for PFCs,” McCann said. “People should continue to follow the existing consumption advice for those lakes, which is based on mercury.”

 The walleye lakes tested were Kabetogama, Rainy, Vermilion, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Leech, Winnibigoshish, Cass and Upper Red Lake. The 10th largest walleye lake is Lake Pepin, part of the Mississippi River, which had been previously tested and had levels of PFCs that led to recommendations to limit consumption for some species. Perfluorochemicals are a family of man-made chemicals that have been used for decades to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. 

For more background on perfluorochemicals in Minnesota, go to: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/pfcshealth.html.
–Minnesota Health Department news release

UM to commercialize storm water device
The University of Minnesota finalized an agreement with Upstream Technologies, a Minneapolis startup company that aims to commercialize a device that will improve sediment control for urban storm water.

The device was developed at the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory, a research unit within the university’s College of Science and Engineering. Researchers nicknamed the device the “SAFL Baffle” and are finding it to be a cost-effective method for preventing harmful sediments carried by storm water from reaching Minnesota lakes and streams.

As water makes its way into storm sewers after a rainstorm, and eventually into lakes and rivers, it picks up sediments like sand and gravel along the way. These sediments sometimes contain nutrients that can interrupt the biological balance of lakes and streams and can be harmful to plant life.

“Urban runoff hits the road, goes into the storm sewers and ends up in receiving water bodies like lakes and rivers,” said John Gulliver, a civil engineering professor in the U of M’s College of Science and Engineering and co-inventor of the SAFL Baffle. “Cities are required to treat urban runoff and are trying to figure out how to deal with this.”

The SAFL Baffle is installed in a sump — a vertical cylinder that connects two or more sewer pipes. There are usually 30 to 40 sumps in the sewer system on a given street. The Baffle slows down water rushing into the sump and prevents it from picking up sediments that have settled there during low-flow periods.
–University of Minnesota news release 

Groups sue over Chicago sewage disposal
With no end in sight to Chicago’s chronic water pollution problems, environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the routine dumping of human and industrial waste into the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

 The 12-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, is the latest salvo in a long-running dispute about the river, which engineers reversed away from Lake Michigan at the beginning of the last century to block Chicago’s sewage from flowing into its source of drinking water.

Environmental groups accuse the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of repeatedly violating the federal Clean Water Act by allowing sewage to pour out of overflow pipes during rainstorms. During the most intense downpours, district officials open locks separating the Chicago River from Lake Michigan and allow a noxious mix of runoff and disease-causing waste to flow into the lake.

 The groups are asking for a court order to stop the district from dumping sewage into area waterways immediately, but the lawsuit does not specify how that should happen.
–The Chicago Tribune 

 

G. Daily to lecture; EPA unveils new water rules

May 2, 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.

Save the date;  Gretchen Daily to lecture June 13
What is a wetland worth? Is it only the price a buyer might pay for the land at the moment? Or does the wetland’s value include the future flood damage or water pollution it may prevent? How do you put a value on any individual natural site’s contribution to keeping plant and animal species from going extinct decades into the future?

Gretchen Daily

Those are the kinds of questions Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily has devoted her career to asking and answering.

 Daily, a global leader in efforts to protect the environment by attaching monetary value to all the services that natural systems provide to humans, will deliver a free public lecture in St. Paul on Monday, June 13.

 Her talk – titled “Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model — will be the fifth lecture in the Moos Family Speaker Series co-sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. She will present the lecture at 5 p.m. in the theater of theSt. PaulStudentCenteron the university’s St. Paul Campus. 

 Stricter U.S. water controls proposed
The Obama administration announced that it will impose stricter pollution controls on millions of acres of wetlands and tens of thousands of miles of streams.

The new guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency, which will be codified in a federal regulation later this year, could prevent the dumping of mining waste and the discharge of industrial pollutants to waters that feed swimming holes and drinking water supplies. The specific restriction will depend on the waterway.

The question of which isolated streams and wetlands qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act has been in dispute for a decade. The Supreme Court has issued two decisions, and the George W. Bush administration issued guidance in 2003 and 2008 limiting the scope of the act.

 EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a telephone news conference with reporters that although the new rules will expand the waterways enjoying federal protection, “this is not some massive increase, as far as we can tell.”

 The policy change is likely to affect tributaries flowing into water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who chairs the water and wildlife subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, joined 13 other senators last month in urging President Obama to expand the application of federal law to such waterways.
–The Washington Post

 Opinion: New water rules praised
The Obama administration’s new guidelines for the Clean Water Act are an important first step in restoring vital legal safeguards to wetlands and streams threatened by development and pollution.

The guidelines are opposed by the usual suspects — real estate interests, homebuilders, farmers, the oil companies. They were welcomed, rightly so, by conservationists and others who have watched in despair as enforcement actions dropped and water pollution levels went up.

 For nearly three decades, the 1972 act was broadly interpreted by the courts and federal regulators as shielding virtually all the waters of the United States from pollution and unregulated development — seasonal streams and small, remote wetlands, as well as lakes and large navigable waters. The basic idea was that small waters have some hydrological connection to larger watersheds and should be protected against pollution that would inevitably find its way downstream.

 Then came two Supreme Court decisions that left uncertain which waterways were protected by the law.
–The New York Times 

Ag and EPA heads talk about soil and water
Read an op-ed column that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson jointly wrote for the Des Moines Register. In it, they say: “If we are going to solve the major environmental challenges of our time – combating climate change, reducing soil erosion and ensuring an ample supply of clean water for our families and food production – farmers need more than just a seat at the table. They need to help lead the way.”

DNR offers drain plug reminders
A bright-yellow warning sticker has been created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to help remind boaters to “check the drain plug.”

Invasive species regulations, which went into effect last year, now require boaters to remove the plug and drain the bilge and live well before transporting a watercraft. The DNR developed the sticker because some boaters forget to put their drain plug back in place before re-launching their boats.

 DNR conservation officers say that some boaters have reported near-misses.

 “I’m told that one angler returned to the dock after parking his truck and trailer, only to find his boat nearly filled with water,” said Tim Smalley, Minnesota DNR boating safety specialist. “This is something new that boaters need to incorporate into their boat launch routine.”

 Bpaters can obtain the stickers at no charge by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367. They are also available by emailing boatandwater.dnr@state.mn.us  and requesting the “Drain Plug Sticker.”
–DNR News Release

 Salmon struggling to survive in L. Michigan
Forty years ago, fisheries biologists in Michigan dazzled the nation when they took salmon from the Pacific Ocean and planted them in the Great Lakes. Their success transformed the lakes into a sport-fishing paradise and created a multi-billion dollar industry. But now invasive species have changed the food web in the lakes. Salmon are struggling to find food, and the state might end one of its stocking programs.
–National Public Radio

Douglas County, MN, board acts on zebra mussels
Douglas County Commissioners are plunging right in.

 The board approved a list of action items to try to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species – specifically zebra mussels – in Douglas County lakes.

Currently, seven lakes are infested with zebra mussels: Lakes Darling, Carlos, L’Homme Dieu, Geneva, Victoria, Jessie and Alvin.

With a 4-0 vote, the county board authorized moving forward to:

  •   Take the position that no further lakes in the county shall become infested with zebra mussels or other aquatic invasive species.
  • Appoint Dave Rush, director of the county’s land and resource management department to serve as a zebra mussel “czar” to implement board-directed action to control, contain and eradicate zebra mussels.
  •  Sign a letter of intent with county lake associations indicating a united front to address zebra mussel containment and eradication.
  •  Commit an unspecified amount of funding to develop and place signage at lake access points. The Douglas County Citizen’s Committee recommended signage costs of about $1,500. The signs, stating “Don’t Move a Mussel,” would inform water-craft owners about pulling the boat’s drain plug, draining live wells and bait buckets and washing watercraft and trailers.
  •  Commit an unspecified amount of funding to establish a watercraft decontamination facility – also referred to as a washing station. A washing station would offer a spot at a lake access for watercraft owners to use hot water to wash off their boat, limiting the chance of transporting zebra mussels to another lake. With the Department of Natural Resource’s permission, the DCCC recommended a $26,000 washing unit be placed at the north access on Lake Geneva as part of a pilot project. That access has the space for a wash station and the Geneva Lake Association reportedly supports the concept.

–Alexandria Echo Press

 Montana eyes boat inspections in invasives fight
Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public comment on a new rule that would require vessels launched on Montana waters to be inspected at designated aquatic invasive species inspection stations operated by FWP.

Under the proposed rule, personnel at the stations would search the exterior of the vessel, livewells, bait buckets, bilge areas and trailers. If invasive species are found on a vessel, state officials would decontaminate it. The vessel would then be required to pass a second inspection before it can be launched on state waters. FWP has performed watercraft inspections since 2004.
–Hungry Horse News

Bad news on carp’s survival chances in L. Michigan
Some distressing news emerged at the end of a news conference at which federal officials went to great lengths to assure the public they are doing everything they can to protect the Great Lakes from an Asian carp invasion: the idea that Lake Michigan has become too sterile in recent years to support the giant fish may not hold water. 

New lab studies show that Asian carp, which normally make their living sucking plankton suspended in the water, also have a penchant for noshing on the noxious algae blooms that have exploded on the lake bottom in recent years. 

Plankton populations in Lake Michigan have plummeted in the past decade because of the invasion of plankton-loving quagga mussels, which now blanket the bottom of the lake from Wisconsin to Michigan. The mussels have dramatically increased the lake’s water clarity, and that has led to growth of sunlight-dependent algae, called Cladophora, on the lake bottom. 

Tests are now under way to determine whether this algae, which regularly washes ashore and smothers some of the lake’s prized shorelines, including Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach, has enough nutrition to sustain the fish as they migrate up the lake shorelines toward the rivers in which they need to spawn.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MPCA seeks citizen water monitors
For the past 10 years, Watonwan County farmer Norman Penner has been making weekly visits to a small bridge over the Watonwan River, about 1,000 feet from his home near Darfur, Minn.

 Penner, who grows corn and soybeans and raises beef cattle, is a volunteer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen Stream Monitoring Program.  Penner and 1,700 other volunteers across the state take regular readings of water clarity at assigned lakes or streams.  The information the volunteers collect aids in the MPCA’s efforts to improve water quality and ensures a long-term, continuous data record for water scientists. 

Water clarity, measured using a transparency tube (for streams) or a Secchi disk (for lakes) is a simple test that helps water resource professionals understand the health of a water body. 

This year marks Penner’s 10-year anniversary monitoring water clarity on the Watonwan River.  Penner enjoys noticing how clarity patterns change during the seasons. 

“In spring, after planting, I notice a lot of sediment in the water after a hard rain,” he observed.  “Into the summer, as the crops grow, that doesn’t happen nearly as much, and there is very little change even after a heavy rain.  You notice things like that when you’ve been monitoring for a while.” 

The MPCA is currently recruiting volunteers for the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program and Citizen Lake Monitoring Program.  Volunteers are asked to take readings of water clarity at a designated site every week from April through October.  

To learn more about becoming a volunteer, call Laurie Sovell (for the streams program) or Johanna Schussler (for the lakes program) at the MPCA at 651-757-2227 or toll-free at 800-657-3864.  More information is available at http://www.pca.state.mn.us.
–MPCA News Release

 Small earthquake hits Minnesota
A rare earthquake rippled in and around Alexandria in western Minnesota early Friday (April 29), prompting numerous middle-of-the-night calls to emergency dispatchers and acting as a seismic alarm clock for one royal wedding fan. 

The temblor at 2:20 a.m. measured 2.5 in magnitude, falling into the “weak” category, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There were no reports of damage or injury.

 The quake probably “felt like a truck rumbling by or thunder,” said USGS geophysicist John Bellini.

Bellini said the agency collected several dozen “felt reports” on its website from citizens in Alexandria and nearby communities such as Brandon, Carlos and Garfield. 

While there is a margin of error in pinpointing any epicenter, the USGS put this one on the southwestern edge of Alexandria, near the town’s airport.
–The Star Tribune

 Questions follow farmed tilapia boom
AGUA AZUL, Honduras — A common Bible story says Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, which scholars surmise were tilapia.

 But at the Aquafinca fish farm here, a modern miracle takes place daily: Tens of thousands of beefy, flapping tilapia are hauled out of teeming cages on Lake Yojoa, converted to fillets in a cold slaughterhouse and rushed onto planes bound for the United States, where some will appear on plates within 12 hours.

 Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year, four times the amount a decade ago, making this once obscure African native the most popular farmed fish in the United States. Although wild fish predominate in most species, a vast majority of the tilapia consumed in the United States is “harvested” from pens or cages in Latin America and Asia.

 Known in the food business as “aquatic chicken” because it breeds easily and tastes bland, tilapia is the perfect factory fish; it happily eats pellets made largely of corn and soy and gains weight rapidly, easily converting a diet that resembles cheap chicken feed into low-cost seafood.
–The New York Times

 What’s a shark worth? A lot, it turns out
Sharks can be worth far more when they are swimming around the reef than when they are in a bowl of soup — as much as nearly $2 million each, in fact, according to the results of a study.

 For the study, researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science considered the expenditures of divers who travel from around the world to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau to dive with the mainly gray reef and reef whitetip sharks that inhabit its waters, which were declared a shark sanctuary in 2009. 

As a remote country of more than 300 islands — Manila, 530 miles away, is the closest city of consequence — Palau does not have many attractions beyond diving, so spending by international tourists on airfare, lodging and diving makes up an important part of the nation’s economy.

 The economic logic is straightforward: diver tourism contributes about 39 percent of the country’s gross domestic product of $218 million, and 21 percent of divers chose their vacation there specifically to see the sharks, meaning that tourism to view sharks contributes about 8 percent of G.D.P., the study said.

 The researchers concluded that the roughly 100 sharks that inhabit the prime dive sites were each worth $179,000 annually to the island nation’s tourism industry, and that each shark had a lifetime value of $1.9 million.
–The New York Times

 California eyes Mexico for desalination
After more than a decade of public debate, Southern California water officials are considering Mexico for controversial desalination plants.

With efforts to build large-scale ocean desalination plants along the coast of California taking longer than anticipated, Southern California water agencies are looking more seriously at financing a desalination plant across the border in Mexico. 

Water agencies representing southern California, Arizona and Nevada are in discussions with the Mexican government about sharing a desalination plant in Rosarito Beach, just south of San Diego. But it’s the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that are the most serious, based on interviews with officials. 

Construction could begin in as little as two years on a plant producing up to 75 million gallons of fresh water daily. That is more than 50 percent larger than the biggest facility currently planned for California – within San Diego County in Carlsbad – which has been delayed by lawsuits and permitting for more than a decade.
–Natural Resources News Service

 China plans $612 billion in water spending
Climate change is threatening China’s water supply, a government official said.

 “China faces an imbalance between the supply and demand of water to support its rapid social and economic development, while protecting the natural environment and ecosystems,” Minister of Water Resources Chen Lei told a roundtable meeting on climate change in China, the country’s English newspaper, China Daily, reports.

 Global climate change could further exacerbate existing problems over water security, water supply and farming irrigation, Chen said. 

While China has the world’s largest population, figures from China’s Ministry of Water Resources indicate the country’s per capita water resources are only 28 percent of the global average. 

Chen said China has a water shortage of 40 billion cubic meters a year, with two-thirds of cities experiencing increased scarcity of water. 

The Chinese government is expected to invest $612 billion in water conservancy projects over the next 10 years.
–UPI.com 

Forest Service plots fight against invasive plants in BWCA
Superior National Forest officials asked for public comments on a new plan to battle invasive species on land in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

 The plan is to attack the invading plants at critical spots using herbicides, people power and education.

 While its remote location has helped keep the relative abundance of invasive plant species down in the BWCAW, the Forest Service has identified about 1,000 known sites totaling 13 acres for treatment in St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties within the 1.1 million-acre wilderness.

 Most of the problem spots are near campsites and portages, indicating the plants probably moved in as seeds by hitchhiking with unsuspecting campers. 

Invading species can choke out native plants and can affect entire ecosystems, including wildlife that is dependent on native species. 

For more information on the plan, or to comment, go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/superior, and select Land and Resource Management” then “Projects.” Look for “BWCAW Non-native Invasive Plant Management Project.”
–The Duluth News-Tribune

 Judge OKs EPA regulation of Florida pollution
Aiming a legal shot directly across the bow of Gov. Rick Scott’s anti-regulation agenda, a Miami federal judge cleared the way for the federal government to do something he contends the state has failed to do for decades: Enforce water pollution standards tough enough to protect the Everglades.

In the latest in a string of blistering rulings, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold reiterated frustration at repeated delays and “disingenuous” legal maneuvers by state lawmakers and agencies he charged have weakened rules intended to reduce the flow of phosphorus into the River of Grass.

“Protection of the Everglades requires a major commitment which cannot be simply pushed aside in the face of financial hardships, political opposition, or other excuses,’’ Gold wrote. “These obstacles will always exist, but the Everglades will not — especially if the protracted pace of preservation efforts continues at the current pace.”

Specifically, Gold’s order would strip authority from the state to issue critical pollution discharge permits for the state’s $1.2 billion network of nutrient-scrubbing marshes and give it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That may sound minor but it potentially has major implication in ongoing, high-stakes legal battles between the state and the federal government over setting the bar for what level of damaging nutrients can be released , not only in the Everglades but in lakes, streams and coastal waters statewide — at least if his ruling stands up on appeal.
–The Miami Herald

Dubuque settles sewer suit
The city of Dubuque agreed to pay $205,000 in fines and to install $3 million in sewer system improvements over the next three years to settle a federal water pollution lawsuit.

A court agreement settled the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The state of Iowa will get half the fine money. Dubuque has also agreed to spend about $260,000 to install pavement designed to reduce runoff.

Dubuque’s violations of pollution limits date to the 1970s, the EPA reported.
–The Des Moines Register