Archive for June, 2011

Good news/bad news on western water use

June 27, 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.

Good news/bad news on western water use
Water conservation efforts in the western US over the past 20 years appear to be paying off.

Major communities that rely partly or completely on the Colorado River for their water have reduced per-capita demand on the river an average of 1 percent or more each year between 1990 and 2008, according to a new study. In all, that’s some 2 million acre-feet of water saved – enough to supply Los Angeles for about three years.

But as populations grow, per-capita efficiency isn’t enough. Communities are still siphoning ever-larger amounts of water from the river.

 During the study period, the volume of water drawn from the Colorado River – by 100 municipal and regional water authorities – grew by 5 percent, even as the amount they drew from all sources rose by 10 percent, according to the report, which was issued by the Pacific Institute, a water-resource policy group based in Oakland, Calif.

 The increased demand was fueled by a population that blossomed from around 25 million in 1990 to 35 million by the end of the study period.
–The Christian Science Monitor

 Oceans are in great peril, report concludes
The state of the oceans is declining far more rapidly than most pessimists had expected, an international team of experts has concluded, increasing the risk that many marine species — including those that make coral reefs — could be extinct within a generation.

 The scientists, who gathered in April at the University of Oxford, cited the cumulative impact of the stresses on the oceans, which include ocean acidification related to growing carbon dioxide emissions, a global warming trend that is reducing the polar ice caps, pollution and overfishing.

‘‘This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted,’’ they wrote in the report.

 The April workshop, organized by the International Program on the State of the Ocean in concert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, brought scientists from a broad range of disciplines together to talk about the problems in the marine environment and what steps can be taken to arrest the collapse of ocean ecosystems.
–The New York Times

Western Wisconsin well still controversial
A Crawford County landowner’s proposal to drill a high-capacity well for “emergency water bottling purposes” still worries some neighbors, despite proposed government restrictions designed to mitigate the well’s environmental impacts.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued responses to dozens of comments generated by the landowner’s application to drill the high-capacity well. The agency attached a dozen proposed conditions that limit how much water can be extracted and how it can be used.

 Landowner Darrell Long said in his application that he would use the well sporadically to sell bulk water during emergencies, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

But neighbors fear he has bigger plans. 

Their concerns stem in part from Internet advertisements in which Long offers bulk spring water under the name Mount Sterling, the name of the nearest municipality.
–The La Crosse Tribune 

EPA criticizes House legislation
U.S. EPA warned of the potential dire consequences of legislation being fast-tracked through the House that would give states final say on rules concerning water, wetlands and mountaintop-removal mining.

In a four-page legal analysis (pdf), EPA said the measure sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) “would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.”

GOP House leaders expect to bring the bill to a floor vote this summer.

EPA said the Mica-Rahall bill would “significantly undermine” the agency’s role of overseeing states’ establishment and enforcement of water pollution limits and permits. It said the measure would hinder EPA’s ability to intervene on behalf of downstream states harmed by pollution coming from a state upstream. And it said the bill would prevent EPA from protecting local communities from ill-conceived mountaintop-removal and similar projects allowed to go forward under Army Corps of Engineers-issued permits.
–The New York Times 

Engineers: Maintenance of  U.S. dams neglected
As the U.S. and China endure record-breaking floods this spring, there is a risk that is being overlooked amidst the inundated towns, evacuations and rising waters. Dams in the U.S. boast an average age of 50 years, and the American Society of Civil Engineers continues to give the nation’s dams a D grade overall in terms of maintenance. Will it take the catastrophic collapse of a dam—like the five in the 1970s in the U.S. that killed hundreds—before the infrastructure is repaired?

The nation’s more than 80,000 dams have served us well—restraining less-than-epic floods and generating billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity for regional grids. In fact, massive dams across the western U.S., like Grand Coulee in Washington state, still provide the vast majority of “renewable” electricity in the U.S., some 7 percent. At the same time, hydropower can help balance more intermittent renewable resources, such as wind power. For example, water can be held back water to cope with “wind droughts,” prolonged periods of little or no wind such as an 11 day wind drought in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year.

But these dams of legend are old. And old dams are in danger of failure—more than 4,000 in the U.S. alone are at high risk of imminent failure, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
–Scientific America

 Dairy penalized for water pollution
BGR Dairy has agreed to pay a $12,075 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and take corrective actions to address alleged compliance violations at its dairy feedlot operation near Lake Park, in Becker County.

 In November 2010, MPCA staff conducted a compliance inspection at the facility.  They observed noncompliant conditions that included a manure spill next to one of two liquid manure storage areas, lack of depth markers and damage to the liquid-manure-storage areas, three paddocks being used as open lots without MPCA approval and containing pools of manure-contaminated runoff, an unauthorized drain, and an unpermitted barn and associated open lot without runoff controls.  These deficiencies had not been reported to the MPCA as required.  In addition, a review of aerial photos in January 2011 showed an unpermitted expansion of the feed storage area pad occurred between 2008 and 2009.

BGR Dairy has taken steps to correct the alleged deficiencies and must complete all corrective actions by Dec. 1, 2011.  These include allowing no more than 50 head of cattle to have access to two open lots and closing two lots, submitting a complete application for a NPDES/SDS discharge permit, submitting complete plans for managing wastewater from the feed storage area and open lots, and repairing and installing depth markers in the liquid-manure-storage areas.
–MPCA News Release

 EPA offers new advice on rising sea levels
From his government office in Virginia Beach, Clay Bernick can see the future, and that future looks a rather lot like the movie “Waterworld.” 

The sea level is rising in Virginia Beach and the entire area known as Hampton Roads because of the warming climate, and the area also happens to be sinking for other geological reasons. 

Within 50 years, a big part of Virginia Beach’s identity — its beach — could be lost if nothing is done, said Bernick, the city’s environment and sustainability administrator. Large pieces of land could also be lost to the ocean in Norfolk within a few generations. 

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the greatest risk from sea-level rise for any area its size.
–The Washington Post

Mississippi R. levee repairs could cost $2 billion
The federal levee system that prevented an estimated $62 billion in losses during Mississippi River flooding last month sustained a good bit of damage itself, Corps of Engineers officials say.

The corps estimates it’ll take $1 billion to $2 billion to repair and rebuild the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project, which stretches from Illinois to Louisiana and is the world’s largest flood-control system. The work will include repairing 1,000 sand boils, or seepage areas, and restoring the Missouri levees blown up by the corps to purposely inundate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

“If we don’t restore the system by the next flood season, all the damages that did not happen from the catastrophic flooding this year might happen,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, president of the Mississippi River Commission, which oversees the corps’ work.

 But some environmentalists are suggesting a rethinking of the existing levee concept, while a Knoxville advocate for clean water said the levee system is contributing to historic contamination in the Gulf of Mexico.
–The Knoxville News Sentinel/Memphis Commercial Appeal

 California groups oppose pesticide plan
Twenty-five environmental and pubic health groups asked Gov. Jerry Brown to abandon the state’s new plan for eradicating agricultural pests and explore a less toxic approach, such as crop rotation or planting neighboring crops that deter insects.

 The plan, announced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, would abandon the traditional practice of assessing the environmental effects of attacking pests one by one, and instead publish a $3-million comprehensive impact report on eradicating all flies, worms, moths and other insects at once.

 Such a comprehensive report would reduce oversight, according to Nan Wishner of the California Environmental Health Initiative.  “This is a huge state, with many ecosystems and bio-regions, with many threatened or endangered species, and it’s impossible to assess in detail all the implications of all possible pesticides for any pest or future pest” in one report, she said. 
–The Los Angeles Times

 Roseville bans coal tar driveway sealants
Roseville residents could face a fine or imprisonment if they are found guilty of violating a new ordinance passed by the city council.

Coal-tar-based driveway sealants are now banned in the city because they contain carcinogens that can end up in the water.

According to a statement released by the city, approximately 2-4 years after the sealants are laid down on driveways and parking lots they can begin to flake off and be carried to storm water ponds. Because the carcinogens are toxic and damage aquatic life, sediments containing them must be disposed of in a hazardous materials landfill, which taxpayers are ultimately responsible for in terms of cost.

The recommendations to ban coal-tar-based sealants came to the council from city staff and the Public Works, Environment and Transportation Commission. Other communities that are already banning the sealants include Maplewood and White Bear Lake.

 MPCA seeks comment on two Scott County Lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Cedar and McMahon lakes in Scott County.  The lakes were identified as impaired because they contain high levels of phosphorus. Though phosphorus occurs naturally, lakes with excess phosphorus are prone to frequent algal overgrowth.

The MPCA determined that the largest sources of phosphorus in the two lakes are the release of phosphorus attached to sediment particles, decaying vegetation from invasive species like curlyleaf pondweed, and runoff from the lakes’ watersheds.  In Cedar Lake, bottom-feeding carp also stir up sediment, releasing phosphorus into the water.

 The draft report concludes that the phosphorus level of Cedar Lake must be reduced by 85 percent and that of McMahon Lake by 81 percent.

The draft report may be viewed at the MPCA web site.
–MPCA News Release

 Taconite firm seeks Wisconsin law changes
Gogebic Taconite says that it won’t proceed with a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin until the Legislature rewrites laws to speed the state’s review process to construct mines.

 A company official, J. Matthew Fifield, said that Gogebic is poised to spend $20 million to $30 million on the next phase of the project — but only if legislation addressing the specific needs of open-pit mining of iron ore is signed into law, he said.

 “For us to move forward, we need iron mining laws,” said Fifield.

The project would employ 700 workers with an average base pay of $60,000. It would also have a two-year economic impact during construction of $2 billion, according to the company.

 Mining legislation foundered this spring in Madison as deliberations on the two-year budget, collective bargaining for public employees and other issues muscled Gogebic’s interests out of the way.

 Wisconsin’s mining laws were written decades ago to address sulfide mining, which uses chemicals to extract minerals in rock. Iron ore mining relies on water, magnets and mechanical power to extract iron.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 Research notes birth defects near mining
Birth defects are more likely to occur in Appalachian counties with mountaintop removal coal mining — including Eastern Kentucky — than in other counties in the region, according to a new study.

The study, published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research, suggests that birth defects could result from air and water pollution created by mountaintop removal, including mercury, lead and arsenic, which have been shown to pose risks to fetal development.

The study stops short of blaming mountaintop removal for birth defects. But its authors said they tried to account for other possible causes, such as higher rates of smoking, less education and poorer prenatal care among expectant mothers in mining counties. The common factor seemed to be proximity to the blasting of mountains to remove coal, they said.
–The Lexington Herald-Leader

Missed the Daily lecture? View the video

June 14, 2011

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Gretchen C. Daily

Gretchen C. Daily

Ecosystem valuation: Putting a price on nature to save it
We all live on a crowded planet that is getting more crowded all the time. So how should we practice conservation, keep plant and animal species from going extinct and preserve the economic, social and aesthetic  benefits that nature provides to humans?

The answer, according to ecologist Gretchen C. Daily, cannot be to create many new reserves where the environment is protected in a natural state, untouched by humans.  Instead, Daily told a University of Minnesota audience on June 13, the answer has to be look for ways the plants and animals we most need can survive in coexistence with agriculture and other human activities.

And the answer to protecting nature in the face of human population growth,  Daily said, almost certainly will involve putting a price on everything  we get  from nature so the environment’s value is recognized upfront in every decision-making process, rather than after ecosystems have been irreparably damaged.  

In a lecture titled “Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model,” Daily, a Stanford University biologist, described the emerging science of ecosystem valuation, a blend of ecology and economics. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

View video of Daily’s presentation, listen to audio of the talk or download a podcast.

EPA delays greenhouse gas rule
Facing intense opposition from Congressional Republicans and industry over a broad range of new air-quality regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency said that it was delaying by two months the release of a proposed rule on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major pollution sources.

 The rule would have a major impact on the nation’s efforts to reduce emissions of gases blamed for climate change,  and its postponement is the latest step by the E.P.A. to slow the issuing of regulations that critics say will slow economic growth, drive up energy costs and reduce employment.

 Its delay is a tacit admission that the regulations pose political, economic and technical challenges that cannot be addressed on the aggressive timetable that the agency set for itself early in the Obama administration.
–The New York Times

 USGS: Humans put out more CO2 than volcanoes
On average, human activities put out in just three to five days, the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide that volcanoes produce globally each year. This is one of the messages detailed in a new article “Volcanic Versus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide” by Terrance Gerlach of the U.S. Geological Survey appearing in this week’s issue of Eos, from the American Geophysical Union. 

 “The most frequent question that I have gotten (and still get), in my 30 some years as a volcanic gas geochemist from the general public and from geoscientists working in fields outside of volcanology, is ‘Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities?’ Research findings indicate unequivocally that the answer to this question is “No”—anthropogenic CO2 emissions dwarf global volcanic CO2 emissions,” said Gerlach.

 Gerlach looked at five published studies of present-day global volcanic CO2 emissions that give a range of results from a minimum of about one tenth of a billion, to a maximum of about half a billion metric tons of CO2 per year. Gerlach used the figure of about one-quarter of a billion metric tons of volcanic CO2 per year to make his comparisons. The published projected anthropogenic CO2 emission rate for 2010 is about 35 billion metric tons per year.
–USGS News Release

St. Paul unveils river revival plan
In a dazzling effort to invigorate St. Paul’s 17 miles along the Mississippi River, the city has devised a breathtaking long-term vision for transformation of the river banks from the Minneapolis border to Pig’s Eye Lake. 

Among the goals are a massive upgrade to the Watergate Marina to include a restaurant and canoe outfitter, a swimming pool on a barge east of downtown and a Riverview Balcony promenade at the former West Publishing site to physically and visually connect downtown to the riverfront with eateries and walkways. 

Mike Hahm, St. Paul Parks and Recreation director, called the voluminous plan “an epic vision not just for transforming parks but the city and its relationship and connection with the riverfront.”

 He said “underutilized is the most generous” way to describe the city’s tie to the river now.

 That would change dramatically as other anticipated amenities include a climbing wall area to be flooded with ice in the winter, a skate park, mountain bike paths, the unearthing of an existing stream from the Ford Plant to the river and a National Parks Service headquarters at Island Station, the former energy plant near where Shepard Road meets Randolph Avenue.
–The Star Tribune

Minnesota Idea OpenShare 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 to sign up for updates and connect on Facebook and Twitter. The Idea Open is a venture of Minnesota Community Foundation, in  partnership with Pentair and its foundation on Challenge II.
–Idea Open News Release

 EPA offers to back off Florida regulation
The uproar over a federal effort to force Florida to clean up its rivers and lakes kicks up a notch as state officials air their strategy to avoid the controversial pollution regulations by writing a new set of their own.

In a groundbreaking dispute between federal and state officials, Florida officials want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its pollution-prevention rules and give the state back legal responsibility for cleaning up its waters, even though the state hasn’t rewritten its rules yet.

The EPA, which has antagonized many in Florida by not being accessible for discussion and debate, said in a written statement that Florida’s latest gambit may succeed — but only if the state actually writes its new rules and they pass muster. If that happens, the federal agency “will promptly initiate rulemaking to repeal” its pollution limits, set to take effect early next year, wrote Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator.
–The Orlando Sentinel

Flooding may have spread Asian carp downstream
While scientists have been battling to keep a ravenous, invasive fish species out of the Great Lakes, some worry that spring floods along the Mississippi River may be spreading the Asian carp downstream.

 Duane Chapman, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist and Asian carp expert, says the fish are likely to show up in places where Mississippi floodwaters intruded. They can weigh up to 100 pounds grow 4 feet long and live for 25 years.

 They could be crowding out food sources of native species for decades.

 “I think there is a very serious issue here,” said Chapman. “We may now be finding them in lakes, ponds, bayous, anywhere the river water went. Those things will be full of carp now.”

 Asian carp is a term applied to several related species of carp that were brought to the United States in the 1970s to control algae in catfish farms in the South. Floods washed them into the Mississippi River in the 1980s. 

Since their escape into the wild, the carp have established themselves in the Mississippi and Missouri river basins. They endanger native fish by greedily eating aquatic vegetation and robbing local species of their food supply.
–The Associated Press

 Research: Rockies snowpack declining
A U.S. Geological Survey study suggests that snowpack declines in the Rocky Mountains over the last 30 years are unusual compared to the past few centuries. Prior studies by the USGS and other institutions attribute the decline to unusual springtime warming, more precipitation falling now as rain rather than snow and earlier snowmelt.

 The warming and snowpack decline are projected to worsen through the 21st century, foreshadowing a strain on water supplies. Runoff from winter snowpack – layers of snow that accumulate at high altitude – accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the annual water supply for more than 70 million people living in the western United States.

 “This scientific work is critical to understanding how climate change is affecting western water supplies,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “It helps land managers adapt to changing conditions on the ground, assists water managers with planning for the future, and gives all of us a better understanding of the real impacts that carbon pollution is having on our resources and our way of life.” 

USGS scientists, with partners at the Universities of Arizona, Washington, Wyoming, and Western Ontario, led the study that evaluated the recent declines using snowpack reconstructions from 66 tree-ring chronologies, looking back 500 to more than 1,000 years. The network of sites was chosen strategically to characterize the range of natural snowpack variability over the long term, and from north to south in the Rocky Mountains.
–USGS News Release

 Babbitt blasts Obama on environment
Already under criticism over the economy, President Obama is now taking heat from fellow Democrats on another key issue: the environment.

 Former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt visited the National Press Club on Wednesday to question whether Obama is willing to take to congressional Republicans who want to open more acreage to logging and energy exploration.

 “I am returning to the public stage today because I believe that this Congress, in its assaults on our environment, has embarked on the most radical course in our history,” said Babbitt, who served in the Clinton administration.

 A former governor of Arizona, Babbitt added: “Therefore, it is imperative that President Obama take up the mantle of land and water conversation — something that he has not yet done in a significant way.”
–USA Today

 Stingless wasps unleashed on ash borers in St. Paul
The emerald ash borer was reunited with an old nemesis from the homeland as part of Minnesota’s attempts to impede the tree killer.

 State Department of Agriculture scientists released nearly 2,500 stingless Chinese wasps onto infested ash trees in Langford Park in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood. More releases are planned at four sites in Minneapolis over the summer.

 The gnat-size wasps are the natural predator to the ash borer in their native Asia. Here, scientists call the wasps a “biocontrol agent.” Thousands of them will be let loose on trees this summer.

 Monika Chandler, biological control program coordinator, said since the state didn’t have to pay for the wasps, the cost is minimal. “They work for free,” she said of the wasps. “Once you get your bugs out there, they’re self-sustaining.”
–The Star Tribune

UN report: Climate change will impact food production
Climate change will have major impacts on the availability of water for growing food and on crop productivity in the decades to come, warns a new FAO report.

Climate Change, Water, and Food Security is a comprehensive survey of existing scientific knowledge on the anticipated consequences of climate change for water use in agriculture.

These include reductions in river runoff and aquifer recharges in the Mediterranean and the semi-arid areas of the Americas, Australia and southern Africa — regions that are already water-stressed. In Asia, large areas of irrigated land that rely on snowmelt and mountain glaciers for water will also be affected, while heavily populated river deltas are at risk from a combination of reduced water flows, increased salinity, and rising sea levels.
–United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization news release

USDA funds ag-carbon project
With the Obama administration looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Agriculture Department is trying to perfect methods for farmers and landowners to get paid for emission-saving practices.

A $2.8 million project in Iowa and Illinois that the USDA is helping fund will study methods of cutting back on the amount of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas that escapes from farmland as a result of farmers using nitrogen fertilizer.

The three-year project will involve 100 farmers in the two states.

The USDA will use this and other projects to attempt to quantify how much greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by various methods and how much farmers and landowners could earn in emission-reduction credits for different practices, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
–The Des Moines Register 

California groups to sue over ag runoff
Thirty years after toxic farmland runoff poisoned and malformed thousands of birds in a now infamous incident at a Central Valley reservoir, environmentalists contend the federal government has done little to stop the flow of hazardous contaminants into California’s second largest river and the important estuary downstream.

Several conservation and fishing groups announced that they intend to sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and large agricultural irrigators for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

“This is a huge pollution problem that should have been corrected decades ago,” said Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Time has run out.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle

Invasive species headline Duluth aquarium
The story of the Great Lakes might be better if it didn’t include a chapter on invasive species — critters such as sea lampreys, quagga mussels and gobies that are creating economic and ecological harm across the region.

 But that unseemly chapter is still one that needs telling, and the Great Lakes Aquarium on Duluth’s harbor front is diving in.

 The new “Aquatic Invaders” exhibit opens June 30 at the aquarium, where officials hope the educational mission that’s become synonymous with lake trout, river otters and sturgeon can transfer to invasive species.

 Work on the exhibit started as the aquarium readies tanks and space for live round gobies, sea lampreys and goldfish to go along with dead and replica zebra mussels.
–The Duluth News Tribune

 Comments sought on Buffalo Creek
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for Buffalo Creek, a major tributary to the South Fork Crow River.  The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load,  focuses on pollution caused by excess bacteria.  A public comment period begins June 13, and continues through July 13, 2011.

Buffalo Creek runs primarily through Renville and McLeod counties and flows into the South Fork Crow River near the city of Glencoe.

Buffalo Creek was placed on Minnesota’s list of impaired waters in 2008, because of excess bacteria levels, particularly fecal coliform.  This TMDL study indicated that bacteria will need to be reduced by 40-75 percent in parts of the creek for it to meet water quality standards. 

The Buffalo Creek TMDL draft report is available online or at the MPCA’s St. Paul office, 520 N. Lafayette Road.
–MPCA News Release

 Take a bear a day and call in the morning
University of Minnesota researchers think lessons learned from hibernating black bears will help save human lives in a unique study that could someday improve the odds of surviving a heart attack.

Despite starving for four to six months, a bear’s heart and other muscles remain strong and healthy, said Paul Iaizzo, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied hibernating bears for a dozen years. He is convinced that putting critically ill patients in the same sort of state of hibernation could save lives.

“You’re trying to protect the vital organs and the loss of skeletal muscle,” Iaizzo said. “And that’s exactly what the bear will do here at the den. So they could be the ideal model for that [intensive care unit] patient.”

Black bears are amazing physical specimens. They crawl into a hole in the ground in late fall. They don’t eat or drink anything for four to six months. Then they climb out in the spring strong and healthy.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Flooding may increase ‘dead zone’

June 6, 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.

Flooding may increase this year’s ‘dead zone’
As the surging waters of the Mississippi pass downstream, they leave behind flooded towns and inundated lives and carry forward a brew of farm chemicals and waste that this year — given record flooding — is expected to result in the largest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico.

 Dead zones have been occurring in the gulf since the 1970s, and studies show that the main culprits are nitrogen and phosphorus from crop fertilizers and animal manure in river runoff. They settle in at the mouth of the gulf and fertilize algae, which prospers and eventually starves other living things of oxygen.

 Government studies have traced a majority of those chemicals in the runoff to nine farming states, and yet today, decades after the dead zones began forming, there is still little political common ground on how to abate this perennial problem. Scientists who study dead zones predict that the affected area will increase significantly this year, breaking records for size and damage.

 For years, environmentalists and advocates for a cleaner gulf have been calling for federal action in the form of regulation. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has been encouraging all states to place hard and fast numerical limits on the amount of those chemicals allowed in local waterways. Yet of the nine key farm states that feed the dead zone, only two, Illinois and Indiana, have acted, and only to cover lakes, not the rivers or streams that merge into the Mississippi.
–The New York Times

Philadelphia begins $2 billion stormwater effort
Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia have embarked on what environmental officials say is the largest project in the U.S. to reduce stormwater pollution through eco-friendly measures, such as porous asphalt and rooftop gardens.

 The state and city, the country’s fifth largest with 1.5 million people, signed a “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, kicking off a 25-year, $2 billion effort to modify infrastructure to reduce the amount of rainwater tainted with road oil, litter and raw sewage flowing into rivers and streams.

 Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and national environmental groups said the initiative should serve as a blueprint for cities and towns nationwide. The changes are expected to reduce by 5 billion to 8 billion gallons the amount of sewer overflow going into the city’s waterways each year, including the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. That represents an 80 percent to 90 percent reduction.

“Philadelphia is setting the national model for how to clean up troubled waterways, and how to do it right,” said Lawrence Levine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several environmental advocacy groups that helped the city develop the plan.
–The Associated Press

 Food consumes vast quantities of water
“We’re using tomorrow’s water to meet today’s food demand,” warned Sandra Postel, National Geographic Freshwater Fellow, helping to provoke a meaningful discussion on water as it relates to food at the Aspen Environmental Forum. Agriculture was a central theme as it consumes a disproportionate share of global water resources.

Jon Foley from the University of Minnesota painted a picture of our inefficiency. “One liter of water is needed to irrigate one calorie food, but that changes by factor of 100 for the most inefficient practices.” It is clear that water efficiency improvements for agriculture must play a large role.

 One challenge is to gain an accurate understanding of the issue because allocation of water resources is not easily visible. Postel explained the concept of “virtual water” to paint a clearer picture. 

Water is a direct and indirect component of everything we use, make and eat. The average American consumes 2,000 gallons of water per day and more than half is incorporated into our diet. Grain represents the trading currency for water in the same way that oil is a trading currency for energy.
–National Geographic News Watch

 Buy some Patagonia shoes, support Freshwater
The Freshwater Society will benefit from Patagonia’s Our Common Waters conservation campaign, aimed at balancing human water consumption with the needs of animals and plants.

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing gear chain,  will donate $10 to Freshwater for every pair of  Patagonia shoes sold at its St. Paul store through the end of June..

The store is at 1648 Grand Avenue, St. Paul.  A Freshwater representative will greet customers and provide information about the Freshwater Society at the store from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 18.

Patagonia, based in Ventura, Calif., annually donates at least 1 percent of its sales receipts to environmental groups.

Workshops set on conservation and GIS
Are you a GIS – geographic information systems – specialist? Do you work for an environmental organization that needs to better target scarce resources to areas where they will do the most good?

 Learn how use terrain analysis tools such as LiDAR to plan and place conservation activities where they are most needed.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and the University of Minnesota have extend edthe registration deadline for workshops June 15 in Moorhead and June 20 in Marshall. 

 The workshops are designed for GIS technicians-specialists from organizations that decide where to locate land conservation practices, such as easements or best management practices. For detailed information on the workshops and to register, go to:

The training sessions are coordinated by Ann Lewandowski  of the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center.  Contact her at 612-624-6765 or
–News Release

Are wild horses an invasive species?
Animal rights groups are pressing a case in federal court maintaining that wild horses roamed the West about 1.5 million years ago and didn’t disappear until as recently as 7,600 years ago. More important, they say, a growing stockpile of DNA evidence shows conclusively that today’s horses are genetically linked to those ancient ancestors.

 The new way of thinking, if accepted, could affect hundreds millions of acres in the West where the U.S. Bureau of Land Management divides livestock grazing allotments based partly on the belief that the horses are no more native to those lands than are the cattle brought to North America centuries ago.

 American history textbooks teach that the wild horses roaming Western plains were first brought by European explorers and settlers. But that theory is being challenged at archaeological digs and university labs as horse protection advocates battle the U.S. government over roundups of thousands of mustangs they say have not only a legal right but a native claim to the rangeland.

Rachel Fazio, a lawyer for Defense of Animals and other plaintiffs, told a 9th Circuit appellate panel in San Francisco earlier this year that the horses are “an integral part of the environment,” adding, “as much as the BLM would like to see them as not, they are actually a native species. They are tied to this land. There would not be a horse but for North America. Every single evolutionary  iteration of the horse is found here and only here.”
–The Los Angeles Times

China plans $62 billion river diversion
North China is dying.

A chronic drought is ravaging farmland. The Gobi Desert is inching south. The Yellow River, the so-called birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer supply drinking water. The rapid growth of megacities — 22 million people in Beijing and 12 million in Tianjin alone — has drained underground aquifers that took millenniums to fill.

Not atypically, the Chinese government has a grand and expensive solution: Divert at least six trillion gallons of water each year hundreds of miles from the other great Chinese river, the Yangtze, to slake the thirst of the north China plain and its 440 million people.

 The engineering feat, called the South-North Water Diversion Project, is China’s most ambitious attempt to subjugate nature. It would be like channeling water from the Mississippi River to meet the drinking needs of Boston, New York and Washington.
–The New York Times

New York suit seeks ‘fracking’ review
A top New York State official filed a lawsuit against the federal government to force an assessment of the environmental risks posed by drilling for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin, arguing that a regulatory commission should not issue final rules governing the drilling until a study is completed.

The suit, filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn by Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, involves the Delaware River Basin Commission, a regional regulatory agency. Made up of the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers,   it is preparing to issue regulations intended to bring some uniformity to the rules applied to a controversial type of gas extraction that combines horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking.

 The method involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground under high pressure to free pockets of gas from dense rock formations. The agency estimates that there could one day be more than 10,000 wells in the Delaware River Basin, a 13,500-square-mile expanse that includes a portion of the New York City watershed and reaches into parts of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Schoharie, Green, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan Counties.
–The New York Times

Beware of blue-green algae
When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reminds people that some types of algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.

 Algae are microscopic aquatic plants and are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem.  Under the right conditions, some forms of algae, particularly a type called “blue-green algae,” can pose harmful health risks.  People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms.  In extreme cases, dogs and other animals have died after exposure to lake water containing toxic blue-green algae.

 Most algae are harmless.  However blue-green algae, when sunlight and warmth cause them to “bloom” in dense populations, can produce toxins and other chemicals.  There are many types of blue-green algae.  They are found throughout Minnesota, but thrive particularly in warm, shallow, nutrient-rich lakes.  

An animal that has ingested toxins from an algae bloom can show a variety of symptoms, ranging from skin irritation, vomiting, severe disorders involving the circulatory, nervous and digestive systems, and severe skin lesions.  In worst cases, the animal may suffer convulsions and die.

 Humans are not affected very often, probably because the unpleasant appearance and odors of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water.  But human health effects can include irritation of skin, eyes and nasal passages, and nausea and vomiting. 

For information about harmful algae blooms, go to or call 651-296-6300 or 1-800-657-3864.
–MPCA News Release

Bridge work closes part of Minnehaha Creek
A stretch of Minnehaha Creek in Edina will be closed to canoeists and kayakers from until mid-July to make way for a bridge improvement project.  For safety reasons, the creek will be closed to canoeists and kayakers between the Browndale Dam and the landing at 58th Street in Pamela Park.  Signs along along  the creek inform people about the project.

Check the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District website for updates. 
–Minnehaha Creek Watershed District news release

Celebrate summer, the Mississippi River and clean water

Dancers — some in kayaks on the Mississippi River, some on rooftops near the historic Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis – will celebrate summer at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 25.

 This event will be one of 45 Global Water Dances performed across six continents on June 25.  This year’s performances focuses on global water issues and access to clean and safe drinking water. Partners in the project include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the university of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, the Mill City Museum, the Guthrie, KBEM, Twin Cities T’ai-Chi Ch’uan Studio, and Earth Spirit Environments Inc.

Hamline University School of Education’s Center for Global Environmental Education provides public information about the care and health of the river. For information click here.

Measuring groundwater from spaceScientists have been using small variations in the Earth’s  gravity to identify trouble spots around the globe where people are making unsustainable demands on groundwater, one of the planet’s main sources of fresh water.

They found problems in places as disparate as North Africa, northern India, northeastern China and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley in California, heartland of that state’s $30 billion agriculture industry.

Jay S. Famiglietti, director of the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling here, said the center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, known as Grace, relies on the interplay of two nine-year-old twin satellites that monitor each other while orbiting the Earth, thereby producing some of the most precise data ever on the planet’s gravitational variations. The results are redefining the field of hydrology, which itself has grown more critical as climate change and population growth draw down the world’s fresh water supplies.
–The New York Times