Archive for August, 2011

Vote to support conservation mentoring

August 29, 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.

FarmWise conservation program needs your vote
A farmer-to-farmer mentoring project aimed at promoting conservation efforts in the Minnesota River Valley is one of three finalists in online voting that will award a $15,000 grant.

The FarmWise project is a partnership between the Freshwater Society and the National Park Service. Its goal is to identify the most vulnerable areas in the Minnesota River Valley, and work through existing community relationships to mentor, advise and implement farmer-proven and farmer-approved water-friendly practices that protect these critical, high-priority areas.

Go to the MN Idea Open to view a video on the proposal and to cast your vote.

Court rejects bid to close Chicago locks
A federal appeals panel rejected the request of five Great Lakes states to close Chicago-area shipping locks. But the panel warned that the issue could be revisited if ongoing efforts to stop the advance of Asian carp stall.

The ruling by the three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals follows a district court decision in December concluding that the invasive species did not appear to be an imminent threat and that closing the locks still might not keep them from reaching Lake Michigan.

Cal-Sag Channel and the Chicago River to limit the amount of water leaving Lake Michigan when engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River at the turn of the century. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District control the locks to limit flooding during heavy rains and to allow cargo ships and boats to pass.

In July 2010, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin sued the federal government to force a temporary closure of the locks until other carp-control methods could be put in place. Critics, however, alleged that the effort was “politically motivated” and could devastate the regional shipping industry and put residents who live in flood-prone areas at risk.
–The Chicago Tribune

Oil sands pipeline gets OK
The State Department issued its final environmental impact statement for a controversial oil pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas, affirming earlier findings that its construction and operation will have “limited adverse environmental impacts.”

The assessment moves the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline closer to fruition, though State Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science Kerri-Ann Jones emphasized the analysis “is one piece of the information that will be considered” in making a final decision on the permit by the end of the year.

The department will have to conduct a 90-day review of whether the project is in the “national interest” before deciding whether to allow the pipeline to go through.

Still, the conclusion of the 2 1/2-year-long review is significant because the primary objection raised against the pipeline is its potential environmental impact — during construction and in case of ruptures during operation — on wildlife, land and drinking water supplies.

In addition, the proposed pipeline, which could transport as much as 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada’s “tar sands” or “oil sands” fields to refineries in the Gulf Coast, has sparked an outcry from environmentalists in both countries on the grounds that the extraction of oil will increase emissions linked to climate change.
–The Washington Post

Warming spurs bass populations
Minnesota’s walleye anglers might want to invest in some bass-fishing equipment.
Rising temperatures in recent years have boosted bass populations in many Minnesota lakes, say fisheries researchers with the Department of Natural Resources.

And if the climate change continues, northern and central Minnesota’s lakes may well continue to tip toward warm-water species such as smallmouth and largemouth bass.

“Our weather station data from around the state shows we have had significant warming trends,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries research manager. “It’s been most noticeable in the last decade. We’re seeing earlier ice-outs and longer growing seasons,” he said.
“It makes sense that with species like bass, their rate of production would go up,” Pereira said. “They metabolize more efficiently and quickly at warmer temperatures.”
–The Star Tribune

Grasslands under the plow
A group advocating the preservation of America’s grasslands worries that rising crop prices are causing farmers to plow under native South Dakota grass to grow more grain.

Besides the fear of losing native prairie and other grasses, the advocates say they are frustrated by their inability to learn how much grass in the state has been plowed under in recent years.
About 250 participants from 17 states met last week at America’s Grasslands Conference in Sioux Falls and identified threats to grasslands, and began to shape an agenda to preserve it. The conference drew people from state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups and colleges.

The event, organized by South Dakota State University, was sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, along with the Sun Grant Initiative and other grass proponents.
–The Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Invasive species in Yellowstone: Lake trout
The first “Judas fish” have been released.
As the Biblically inspired name suggests, the fish — surgically altered lake trout, implanted last week with tiny radio transmitters on a gently rocking open boat by a team of scientists here — are intended to betray. The goal: annihilation.

“Finding where they spawn would be the golden egg,” said Bob Gresswell, a research biologist at the United States Geological Survey, and leader of the Judas team, a strike force in the biggest lake-trout-killing program in the nation. The idea is that the electronic chirps will lead trout hunters into the cold, deep corners of Yellowstone Lake, where the fish might be killed in volume.

“The eggs could be killed before they hatch, maybe with electricity, or suction,” Dr. Gresswell said.
–The New York Times

U.S., Canada update Great Lakes plan
With relatively little fanfare – and, conservationists argue, not enough public oversight – the U.S. and Canadian governments have spent the last two years reworking a decades-old agreement designed to coordinate management decisions for their shared Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was first passed in 1972 after public outrage over chronic phosphorus-driven pollution problems plaguing the lakes. The agreement helped foster sweeping upgrades for industrial and municipal waste treatment systems on both sides of the border.

The lakes responded quickly. Rivers stopped burning, algae blooms waned and fish populations rebounded.

The agreement was subsequently updated in the late ’70s with a goal to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters” inside the Great Lakes basin.

But while this shared blueprint to maintain and restore the health of the world’s largest freshwater system still has grand ambitions, today it is way more words than action.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Defense Dept. cuts water use 13%
In fiscal year 2010, military installations operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) decreased their water use per square foot of building space by 13 percent compared with a 2007 baseline — more than double the goal of a 6 percent reduction, according to the department’s annual energy management report.

The DoD was able to exceed its water conservation goals largely by installing low-flow showerheads and toilets, fixing leaky valves, and making other efficiency upgrades.Over the same time period, however, the DoD failed to meet its energy-intensity goal of a 15 percent reduction, compared to a 2003 baseline. Averaged across the department, energy intensity has fallen 11.4 percent, continuing a slow downward trend. Total energy use, however, has risen slightly since 2007, as wartime operations have increased demand.
–Circle of Blue

St. Ben’s halts bottled water sales
The College of St. Benedict is the first Minnesota college to eliminate sales of bottled water on campus, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The college is also the ninth in the nation to implement a water bottle policy.

The campus now has 31 hydration stations that will dispense tap water. The school’s office of sustainability will provide reusable bottles to a number of student and employee groups to promote the hydration stations.
–The St. Cloud Times

Vegas water pipeline costs could soar
A proposed pipeline to bring groundwater about 300 miles from Utah and eastern Nevada to Las Vegas may cost as much as five times more than current estimates under a worst-case scenario provided to officials reviewing the plan.

Pipeline opponents claim the estimated $15 billion price tag is another “black mark” against an already controversial project.
Nevada water authority officials, however, argue the study — which they were required to do as part of their application — proves the project is feasible and that the biggest potential rate increase for water users is about $30 per month.

The study by Las Vegas-based Hobbs, Ong and Associates projects the pipeline could cost more than $7 billion to build. There would be an additional $8 billion in interest payments if the pipeline was funded with 60-year bonds.
–The Associated Press

EPA offers $6 million for Great Lakes
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work,” said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. “In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps.”

Funded projects will advance the goals and objectives of the GLRI Action Plan, developed by EPA with 15 other federal agencies in 2010. Projects must provide immediate, direct ecological benefits; be located in areas identified as federal priorities such as national lakeshores or areas of concern; include a detailed budget, and produce measurable results. EPA will award funding for selected projects by the end of September.
–EPA News Release

Interest grows in toilet-to-tap
This summer, Texas’ drought of the century is an uncomfortable reminder that often there just isn’t enough water to go around. But the 40 consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures and minuscule rainfall may also be boosting the case for a new freshwater source being developed in Big Spring, Texas, and surrounding cities.

With a waste-water-to-drinking-water treatment plant now under construction, Big Spring will soon join the growing list of cities that use recycled sewage water for drinking water – a practice that the squeamish call “toilet to tap.”

The trend is expanding as climbing temperatures and dry weather across the West force environmentalists, politicians, and citizens to find newer, better solutions to freshwater resources.
–The Christian Science Monitor

40,000 Chinese dams at risk
More than a quarter of Chinese cities are at risk from tens of thousands of run-down reservoirs, prompting the government to speed up efforts to make repairs, state media said.

More than 40,000 reservoirs around the country have been in use longer than their design life and are poorly maintained due to a lack of funds over the past few decades, the state-run Global Times reported.

As a result, more than 25 percent of Chinese cities and vast rural areas are at threat from potential devastating floods if dams break, it said, citing the state-run China Economic Weekly magazine.
–AFP

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EPA targeted by GOP candidates

August 21, 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.

Republican contenders bash EPA
 The Environmental Protection Agency is emerging as a favorite target of the Republican presidential candidates, who portray it as the very symbol of a heavy-handed regulatory agenda imposed by the Obama administration that they say is strangling the economy.

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota wants to padlock the E.P.A.’s doors, as does former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wants to impose an immediate moratorium on environmental regulation.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas wants environmental disputes settled by the states or the courts. Herman Cain, a businessman, wants to put many environmental regulations in the hands of an independent commission that includes oil and gas executives. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor, thinks most new environmental regulations should be shelved until the economy improves.

Only Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has a kind word for the E.P.A., and that is qualified by his opposition to proposed regulation of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming.
–The New York Times

EPA gets report on ‘reactive nitrogen’
A new report on the impacts of nitrogen on the environment has been released by EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

The report analyzed the sources and fate of “reactive nitrogen” in the U.S. and provided advice to EPA on “integrated nitrogen and control strategies,” according the report’s preface. (Reactive nitrogen includes all biologically active, chemically reactive, and radiatively active nitrogen compounds in the atmosphere and biosphere of the earth, in contrast to non-reactive gaseous N2, according to the report.)

The study, undertaken by a committee of scientists and chaired by agricultural economist, Dr. Otto Doering III, of Purdue University, presented its findings and recommendations.

In one of the key findings, the committee wrote: “In the United States, human activities across multiple sources currently introduce more than five times the reactive nitrogen into the environment than natural processes.” The largest sources included the manufacture and use of synthetic fertilizers, production of legumes, and the combustion of fossil fuels.

The report warned that excess reactive nitrogen in the environment are “associated with many large-scale environmental concerns” include dead zones in water, toxic algae blooms, hypoxia, acid rain, nitrogen saturation in forests, and global warming. But noted “multiple strategies and action exist to more effectively minimize the inputs of reactive nitrogen and maximize nitrogen use efficiency.”
–Feedstuffs

MPCA, U.S. Steel strike deal
The state of Minnesota and U.S. Steel have reached an agreement that allows the company to expand production at one plant and clean up pollution at another plant on the Iron Range.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials say the deal represents a good balance between protecting the environment and not interfering with economic development in a part of the state that needs jobs. Environmentalists and Indian tribes, however, oppose the deal because they don’t trust the MPCA or U.S. Steel to do the right thing.
The deal between the state and U.S. Steel, called a schedule of compliance, is similar to a contract, and it doesn’t allow for public input. It specifies actions the company will take at its Minntac plant — the behemoth of the Iron Range, near Mountain Iron — and the smaller Keetac plant, 30 miles to the west.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 
Vilsack hopes conservation programs survive
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told an Iowa State Fair audience that he hopes the next farm bill will preserve conservation programs that have been a part of federal farm legislation since the 1930s. But the former two-term Iowa governor said economics makes continuation of conservation efforts uncertain.

“There was less interest by farmers in the last round of CRP signups,” Vilsack said, referring to the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program where farmers idle land in return for government payments.
“In an era of high commodity prices and high costs, farmers are under more pressure.”

The next farm bill, Vilsack said, will be a different animal than its predecessors.

“In the past, policy drove money,” Vilsack said. “This time, the financial framework of the budget will drive the farm programs.”

The next farm bill may be one of the fastest assembled in the last eight decades, since the special House/Senate “Gang of 12” committee tasked with cutting another $2 trillion from the federal budget must have its plans in place by late October.
Farm interests still are divided about whether or not to lobby the special joint committee for favors and programs, or just take their chances and let the automatic 4 percent across-the-board reduction in all programs take place without a fight.
–The Des Moines Register

Iowa environmentalists to sue EPA
 Three environmental activist groups began legal action they hope will strip the Iowa Department of Natural Resources of its power to enforce federal water quality rules.

The national nonprofit Environmental Integrity Group joined the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement in filing a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Representatives of the three groups said they want the EPA to bring Iowa into compliance with federal regulations to clean up the state’s lakes and streams.

The groups first filed a petition with the EPA in 2007, seeking to remove the state DNR’s authority to handle wastewater discharge permits.
–The Des Moines Register

DNR seeks sonic barrier for carp
 In response to new evidence that Asian carp may be swimming in Minnesota waters, the state’s natural resource officials are accelerating a plan to build a multimillion-dollar sonic bubbler across the mouth of the St. Croix River at Prescott, Wis.

“This is a high priority for the governor, and we don’t have another project in the pipeline,” said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “But we feel it’s imperative that we do something.”

DNR officials will present the idea to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the group that recommends how to spend much of the 2008 Legacy Act sales tax money. The barrier, which would deter carp but not other species, would cost a minimum of $7 million to build. It would be the first time such a system had been used across a major river, and it’s not guaranteed to work.

Landwehr said, however, that it’s the only viable option now and that Legacy funds are the only source of money.
–The Star Tribune

Dreaded invasive – the smallmouth bass – found in L. Tahoe
Researchers have confirmed the presence of smallmouth bass in Lake Tahoe, and they’re saying it’s likely the most voracious invasive species within the waters.

“In our work to remove warm-water fish from Lake Tahoe, we’ve discovered smallmouth bass, a much more ferocious predator than other species known to have invaded the lake,” said Sudeep Chandra, a limnologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, in a statement.

Scientists are especially concerned about this fish because it uses much more habitat than other warm-water fish. It can survive colder waters, and it uses rocky outcroppings — in abundance at Tahoe — for spawning.

“The population could explode and put more stress on the native fish population,” Kevin Thomas, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game, said. “We’ve had reports of smallmouth bass before, but now we’ve 100-percent confirmed its presence in Lake Tahoe.”

The smallmouth bass, found in the near-shore zone, not only consumes food needed by native fish, but also aggressively feeds on natives such as redsides, dace, suckers and chubs.
–North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

Redneck Fishing Tournament targets carp
Armed with nets and baseball bats, hundreds of self-described rednecks earlier this month battled leaping silver Asian carp at the seventh annual Redneck Fishing Tournament at Bath, Ill.

Conditions were good. The Illinois River water level was low and the fish were, literally, jumping.

Participants netted a record 8,977 carp, with the winning boat bagging 432 and another getting 306.
–The Muskegon Chronicle

Ban deer feeding to save moose?
Worried that Minnesota’s iconic North Woods moose population could be doomed, the state Department of Natural Resources is proposing an end to recreational deer feeding in northeast Minnesota and the possible closure of moose hunting.

But neither step may be enough to keep moose from vanishing from Minnesota.

“If we don’t do anything, the end point [for moose] is fairly certain,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program leader.

The proposals are part of a long-term moose management plan released by the DNR. The plan offers those strategies and others, including improving habitat and boosting research, to try to reverse the decline in the moose population.

But no one knows what factors led to the decline. Climate and habitat changes, parasites, impacts from deer and predation all could be causes.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin ads fight pollution
Elm Grove Village President Neil Palmer and Milwaukee Ald. Nik Kovac were pollutants, not politicians, for a day.

Both agreed to be dropped into a dunk tank at Greenfield Park in West Allis so the splashes they made for media cameras might be seen by residents of the metropolitan area and persuade them to take a few simple steps to reduce pollution of local waterways.

Palmer and Kovac – representing pet waste, lawn fertilizer, grease, oil and other pollutants rinsed off streets, parking lots and lawns by rain and melting snow – faced former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jerry Augustine at a dunk tank set up next to Milwaukee County’s Cool Waters Family Aquatic Park.

Recent studies found that contaminants coming off the landscape, known as urban and rural nonpoint sources, account for 90% of water pollution in the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic and Root rivers, and in Oak Creek, said Jeff Martinka, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, or Sweet Water.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Minneapolis lake gets plastic islands
 Once a tiny jewel in the Minneapolis chain of parks, Spring Lake has all but disappeared from the public eye. Squeezed between Kenwood Parkway and Interstate 394, the little lake is surrounded by a wall of grapevine and buckthorn and, thanks to decades of urban pollution, coated in a thick layer of chartreuse algae.

But its fortunes changed. Spring Lake is now home to seven little floating islands built and launched to undo what humans have done to it. Made from recycled plastic bottles and planted with wildflowers, reeds and grasses, the floating islands act like wetlands on steroids and represent a new and startlingly simple technology that’s attracting interest around the world.

“It’s cleaning up water nature’s way,” said Arlys Freeman, president of Midwest Floating Island, the St. Paul company that designs and distributes them. “There is habitat for birds and butterflies, and below that they have habitat for fish.”
–The Star Tribune

Colorado water pipeline draws opposition
A plan by a Colorado businessman to pipe Green River and Flaming Gorge water from southwest Wyoming to Colorado’s bustling metropolitan corridor faces opposition from a tri-state area that includes Utah over fears it will impact present and future water rights.

“If this project moves forward, we’re afraid that whatever water rights we have left (on the Green River) will be a paper water right without any wet water,” said Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee.

The so-called “Million” pipeline is now being proposed as a hydropower project and will be reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, rather than the Army Corps of Engineers.

Aaron Million’s project as envisioned under his company, Million Conservation Resource Group, would entail construction of a 578-mile pipeline that would trace I-80 through Wyoming before dropping down into Colorado east of Fort Collins and ending near Pueblo. Million says construction costs range from $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion, although his critics put it much higher.
–The Salt Lake City Deseret News

Oklahoma tribes sue over water
 A water rights dispute between Native Americans and the Oklahoma government spilled into federal court when the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes sued to stop water being taken from tribal lands.

The tribal land is home to some of Oklahoma’s best water, and the state’s water agency wants to increase the amount taken from it in the coming years and send it to Oklahoma City, the state’s largest city.

But the tribes, in their lawsuit against Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma City and the water resources agency, say the state has no jurisdiction over the land the tribes were granted by an 1830 treaty.
–Reuters

USDA promises $100 million for Everglades
More money is coming to help with restoration of the Florida Everglades, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and state officials announced during a tour of land that feeds into the vast sub-tropical wilderness reserve known as the “River of Grass.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it will use $100 million to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners and help restore wetlands on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed.

“This is an important day. It’s an important day for the United States. It’s an important day for Florida,” Vilsack said of the effort to reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land. The goal is to slow water runoff and the concentration of nutrients entering the public water management system and ultimately Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
–The Associated Press

Warming threatens Wisconsin ciscoes
The cisco, a key forage fish found in Wisconsin’s deepest and coldest bodies of water, could become a climate change casualty and disappear from most of the Wisconsin lakes it now inhabits by the year 2100, according to a new study.

In a report published online in the journal Public Library of Science One, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources project a gloomy fate for the fish — an important food for many of Wisconsin’s iconic game species — as climate warms and pressure from invasive species grows.
In the case of the cisco, a warming climate poses a much greater risk than do exotic species such as the rainbow smelt, the invasive that most threatens the deep-dwelling cisco by eating its eggs and young, the Wisconsin researchers say.

“By 2100, 30 to 70 percent of cisco populations could be extirpated in Wisconsin due to climate change,” says Sapna Sharma, a researcher at the UW–Madison Center for Limnology and the lead author of the new study, which predicts the decline of the cisco according to a number of possible future climate scenarios. “Cisco are much more at risk due to climate change rather than interactions with exotic species.”
–University of Wisconsin-Madison News Release

The Pronto Pups can wait – learn about water
The sixth annual Eco Experience at this year’s Minnesota State Fair features an array of fresh, new exhibits to engage fairgoers in learning about lakes, streams and watersheds.

At the Stream Lab, Eco Experience visitors will have a chance to build their own model stream in a sandbox. After turning on flowing water, they can experiment by changing the shape of their stream, making the water flow faster, or adding “plants” to the streambed. Like a real stream, the model stream will change shape in response to these changing environmental factors.

Also new this year will be an interactive rain garden photo booth. Fairgoers will be encouraged to browse a selection of native plants and choose a plant or flower that matches their style; for example, “tall”, “high-maintenance” or “always thirsty.”

Fairgoers can visit the Eco Experience from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., from Thursday, Aug. 25, through Monday, Sept. 5. The Eco Experience is in the Progress Center at the corner of Randall and Cosgrove. Look for the 123-foot-long wind turbine blade. For more information, visit www.ecoexperience.org.
–MPCA News Release

‘Conservation Volunteer’ archived online
Since 1940, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine has been a chronicle of Minnesota’s woods, waters and wildlife. Today, the entire archive of this flagship publication of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is only a mouse click away.

Thanks to a partnership with Minnesota Historical Society and a grant made possible by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, every issue published over the past 70 years has been scanned and is available as a searchable PDF file.

The archives, which can be found at www.mndnr.gov/magazine, are searchable by article, author and subject. Users can then choose to either download the article or the entire issue.
–DNR News Release

Nitrate in the Mississippi; carp DNA in St. Croix

August 15, 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.

Research: Nitrate increasing in Mississippi
The nitrate flowing down the Mississippi River each year and feeding the algae-rich, oxygen-poor “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico increased 9 percent over about the last three decades, a new U.S. Geological Survey analysis concludes.

At Clinton, Iowa — the water sampling site closest to Minnesota for which data were analyzed — the average load of nitrate transported by the river increased 67 percent between 1980 and 2008, to about 242 million pounds per year.

Major findings of the new research were:

  • Despite years of effort by scientists and policy-makers aimed at reducing the nitrogen flowing into the river and then the Gulf, the volume increased, to about 1.9 billion pounds per year in 2008.
  • At Clinton, Iowa, and at Hermann, Mo., on the Missouri River, a tributary of the Mississippi, the average amount of nitrate in the water at any one time and the amount carried downstream on an annual basis increased dramatically. At six other sites in Iowa, Illinois, and Louisiana, nitrate concentrations stayed the same or increased to a lesser degree.
  • Sampling showing that nitrate concentrations increased more in the Mississippi and its tributaries during periods of low water – when much of the rivers’ volume comes from the inflow of groundwater — suggests that nitrate-contaminated groundwater is a significant contributor to nitrate pollution in the rivers. And, because groundwater moves slowly, that means strategies already put into place to reduce nitrate in the rivers may take years to pay dividends.

The new USGS research, published in the journal “Environmental Science & Technology,” did not attempt to determine the source of the nitrate in the rivers. But 2008 modeling by the USGS estimated these sources for nitrogen flowing to the Gulf:

  • Farm fields, primarily corn and soybeans, 66 percent.
  • Pasture and range land, 5 percent.
  • Municipal sewage effluent and urban storm water, 9 percent.
  • Atmospheric deposition, 16 percent.
  • Natural land, 4 percent.

The latest USGS research, led by Lori A. Sprague, used sophisticated statistical analysis to evaluate the results of about 3,000 water samples collected at the eight sites between 1980 and 2008 and to even out the big differences that high and low water levels produced in calculations of the total volumes of nitrate carried downriver on an annual basis.

In a USGS news release announcing publication of the new research, Sprague said: “Applying this new model to decades of USGS water quality data allows us to distinguish between the effects of natural changes in precipitation and streamflow and the effects of purposeful changes in the management of nitrate in the basin.”

In an interview, Sprague said she could not say why the analysis showed such a big increase in average nitrate concentrations, and average annual nitrate loads, at Clinton, Iowa.

Read the full report in Environmental Science & Technology. Read a USGS news release on the research. Read a Star Tribune article on it.

Silver carp DNA found in St. Croix
DNA from the invasive silver carp has been found at 22 sites in the St. Croix River, a development that has deepened despair about the imminent arrival of the notorious leaping fish and doubts that state and federal officials can do anything to stop it.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that 22 of 50 water samples taken between St. Croix Falls and Franconia tested positive for silver carp DNA. The samples did not test positive for the other three species of Asian carp that are believed to moving upriver from Illinois, and another 50 samples from the Mississippi River were negative.

The results are not conclusive evidence that the fish are living and breeding in the St. Croix — none has been found in the river — or that they are absent from the Mississippi, DNR officials said. The DNA could have come from dead carp, live carp someone dumped in the river or fish pellets used in hatcheries.

Still, it ratchets up the fear considerably, they said.

“This is disappointing news,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

The four species of Asian carp have caused enormous ecological damage in the Illinois and Missouri Rivers, where they are well established. The carp eat 40 percent of their body weight every day in plankton and bugs, squeezing out every other creature up the food chain, from sunnies to fish-eating birds.
–The Star Tribune

FAQ on Asian carp
Read a question-and-answer primer on Asian carp from Minnesota Public Radio.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Farm Bill forum on Aug. 22
Register now for the forum on the next federal Farm Bill that the Izaak Walton League of America will host Saturday, Aug. 22, in West St. Paul. The Freshwater Society is helping plan and organize the event.

The forum is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. View the agenda.

Attend the forum, and let your voice be heard on what the next Farm Bill should offer — for farmers, and for the environment.

Report: Canada’s tar sands to increase pollution
The Canadian government has long fought efforts by politicians and environmentalists in other countries, including the United States, to characterize oil sands production as “dirty oil.” But an analysis quietly released late last month by its environmental agency indicates that the tar-like deposits will become an increasingly significant source of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade.

Canada’s Emissions Trends,” a peer-reviewed report by the agency, Environment Canada, forecasts that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands will triple to 92 million metric tons, or 101 million short tons, by 2020 from a base level of 30 million metric tons, or 33 million short tons, in 2005.

The vast majority of oil produced from the deposits is shipped to the United States. The study indicates increased emissions from oil sands will more than offset emission reductions in other areas like electricity generation.
–The New York Times

Panel gives conditional OK for ‘fracking’
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release vast supplies of natural gas trapped in shale deposits can be conducted in an environmentally responsible way, a federal energy panel has concluded, but only if major steps are taken, including greater transparency by the gas-drilling industry, the close monitoring of groundwater quality, and the adoption of rigorous emissions standards.

The Department of Energy panel – the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee – created in May at the direction of President Obama to study the controversial fracking procedure, released its findings in a report.

The report was hailed by the gas industry as showing that environmental concerns about fracking were exaggerated, but it came under quick fire from environmental groups, who called the panel heavily tilted toward the oil and gas industry and accusing it of “advocacy-based science.” They said the findings could undercut environmental studies already under way.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Fracking’ yields sand boom in Wisconsin
The oil boom has come to western Wisconsin.

But instead of roustabouts and oil rigs, the region is moving big into the business of sand – a special type that’s used to extract oil and natural gas from hard-to-reach subterranean deposits.

At least 20 sand mines and sand processing plants that cater to the oil and gas industry are operating or in the planning stages, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Geologist Bruce Brown of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey calls the business the “bright star” of the state’s mining industry.

“So many people have come so fast that it’s been like a gold rush out there,” Brown said.

But the projects have also sparked controversy over potential environmental threats.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Residents seek zebra mussel inspections
Residents around three lakes that are a quick boat-trailer pull from zebra mussel-infested Lake Minnetonka are digging into their own pockets to staff public boat launches to protect their lakes from the spread of the dreaded aquatic creatures.

They want all boats headed for Lake Minnewashta, Lotus Lake or Christmas Lake inspected for aquatic invasive species before they are launched into the water. They have raised thousands of dollars and, in addition to relying on volunteers, they are paying college students and interns from the Department of Natural Resources.

To streamline their efforts, they are seeking permission from Carver County and the city of Chanhassen to combine inspections for all three lakes at Lake Minnewashta Regional Park. That’s where boaters heading to nearby Christmas Lake or Lotus Lake would get a punch-in code to raise boat ramp gates on those lakes.

Their proposal, conjuring up images of closed ramps that run against Minnesota’s long-standing open lakes access, has stirred emotions and sparked letters to the editor suggesting elitism on the part of lake homeowners.
–The Star Tribune

Zebra mussels explode in Mille Lacs
Huge Lake Mille Lacs — Minnesota’s most popular fishing hot-spot — rocked gently, but beneath the surface was bedlam.

There, on the lake bottom, a population explosion of tiny zebra mussels is occurring that could change the great lake forever.

“It’s a solid carpet of zebra mussels,” shouted Tom Jones, bobbing in the lake in his scuba gear after surfacing from a dive Friday in the gray-green waters.

Jones, a large lake specialist with the Department of Natural Resources, and coworkers dived this month in Mille Lacs to document the growth of the invasive mussels, first found in the 200-square-mile lake in 2005.

What they found stunned them.
–The Star Tribune

DNR tracks 24 ‘sentinel lakes’
After hauling in a rakeful of aquatic plants, Sean Sisler ticked off their names faster than many people can list their relatives.

Eurasian watermilfoil. Canadian waterweed. Coontail. Duckweed.

All were on the double-headed rake Sisler had just tossed to the bottom of Peltier Lake, which lies just outside Centerville north of the Twin Cities, and pulled to the surface.

Sisler, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources employee, is part of a larger effort to gather data about plants, fish, water temperature and water quality in 24 so-called sentinel lakes in Minnesota. With that information, scientists believe they’ll be better able to track changes in lake ecology and make quicker assessments about those causes – whether from something as defined as agricultural or urban land-use changes or as complex as global climate change.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Two charged in Chicago-area tainted water
For nearly two decades, the former mayor of Crestwood, who ruled the village of 11,000 with an iron fist, hid from regulators and residents the fact that they were drinking contaminated water, federal authorities said, announcing indictments against two former water department officials.

But Chester Stranczek, whose attorney confirms he’s the “Public Official A” mentioned in the 23-count indictment, has not been charged — and likely will not ­— face criminal charges, his attorney said, because Parkinson’s disease dementia has left him unfit to stand trial.

Facing felony charges are Frank Scaccia, 59, Crestwood’s former certified water operator, and Theresa Neubauer, 53, former water department clerk and supervisor and currently Crestwood’s police chief. Both are accused of lying to environmental regulators for more than 20 years about using a tainted well to supplement the village’s drinking water supply from Lake Michigan, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced in a press release.

The village told residents and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency it was only using Lake Michigan water after 1985, when it discovered a village well had been tainted by vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. But regulators later discovered the village continued to use the well for as much as 20 percent of its water from 1985 to 2007.
–The Chicago Sun-Times

Sewage frequently taints Hudson River
Sewage routinely contaminates the Hudson River throughout the year, rendering the waterway unsuitable for swimming and other recreational activities for at least one and a half days a week, a report based on four years of water testing shows.

The comprehensive study, released by the environmental group Riverkeeper, shows that the recent sewage spill as a result of a fire at a treatment plant in Manhattan reflects a widespread and regular problem along the 155-mile river. Despite much improvement in water quality since passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the group said, 21 percent of water samples taken have unacceptable levels of bacteria because of problems like discharges from aging and failing sewage treatment plants, sewage overflows caused by rain and poorly maintained septic systems.
–The New York Times

Forum on 2012 Farm Bill set Aug. 22

August 8, 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.

Minnesota forum set on U.S. Farm Bill
Every five years, a massive federal Farm Bill allocates tens of billions of dollars to food programs for the poor, subsidies to farmers producing many crops, a fast-growing crop insurance program and incentives for farmers to practice conservation.

 Learn about the Farm Bill, scheduled to be re-authorized by Congress next year or perhaps in 2013, and prospects for changes in it in an era of high commodity prices and demands for reduced federal spending. Offer your input for how the bill should be changed.

 The Freshwater Society is joining the Izaak Walton League of America in planning and organizing a Monday, Aug. 22, forum in West St. Paul that will focus on the next Farm Bill to be considered by Congress. The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required.

 The Freshwater Society is one of several conservation groups, farm organizations and state agencies helping the Izaak Walton League plan and organize the conference. Learn more about the forum. 

Register now: Festival benefits Freshwater
The Freshwater Society will receive the proceeds from a Wednesday, Sept. 7, festival and fund-raiser at Otten Bros. Garden Center and Landscaping in Long Lake.

  The “Fresh for All” festival kicks off a four-day sale of recycled and re-imagined arts and crafts.

 The JUNKMARKET Under Glass sale is sponsored by Otten Bros. and author and entrepreneur Sue Whitney.  The Sept. 7 opening night event features food, drink, music, a silent auction of crafts and works of art, and admission to the sale.

 For more information, visit Whitney’s JUNKMARKET Style or the Otten Bros. web sites. Register to attend the Fresh for All festival.

EPA declines to set ‘dead zone’ rules
Environmentalists say the Environmental Protection Agency has shot down a request for new regulations to deal with the massive area of low oxygen that crops up every summer in the Gulf of Mexico due to the huge amount of nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizer, urban runoff and sewage systems that winds up in the Gulf.

Environmental groups in Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and Kentucky asked EPA to draw up nationwide standards for nutrient pollution.

 In a recent letter, EPA said it favored keeping the current system because it would be too time consuming and costly to undertake “an unprecedented and complex set of rulemakings.”

 Environmentalists, who’ve formed the Mississippi River Collaborative, said that leaving individual states to regulate nutrients would do little to solve the dead zone.
–The Associated Press

 Record ‘dead zone’ so far fails to materialize
As the Midwest reeled from catastrophic flooding this spring, scientists warned of devastating consequences for the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

 They feared that chemicals and waste rushing down the Mississippi would result in the largest-ever oxygen-depleted “dead zone” measured in the gulf since monitoring began in 1985.

New results are in: the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration announced that a team of scientists mapping the dead zone had just returned from a midsummer research cruise. The zone was mapped at 6,765 square miles — above average, but not as large as the 8,500 to 9,400 square miles predicted earlier. In fact, this year’s dead zone is only the 11th-largest of those recorded in the last 20 years.

 But it is hardly time for a collective sigh of relief, according to Nancy Rabalais, chief scientist of the Louisiana Marine Consortium, who led the research effort. She emphasized that Tropical Storm Don had swept through the gulf as the research team was collecting data last week, stirring up the otherwise stratified waters and at least temporarily supplying oxygen to formerly depleted areas.
–The New York Times

Pawlenty: Global warming natural
Tim Pawlenty is chalking up global warming almost entirely to natural causes.

The Republican presidential candidate who once cut commercials advocating for cap-and-trade legislation while serving as Minnesota governor told The Miami Herald that he doesn’t believe in the science attributing climate change to humans.

 “The weight of the evidence is that most of it, maybe all of it, is because of natural causes,” Pawlenty said in an interview. “But to the extent there is some element of human behavior causing some of it — that’s what the scientific debate is about. That’s why we’ve seen all this back and forth between some of those prominent scientists in the world arguing about that very point.”

 Pressed to explain how his view squares with scientific research concluding human activities are very likely to blame for the warming planet, Pawlenty replied, “There’s lots of layers to it. But at least as to any potential man-made contribution to it, it’s fair to say the science is in dispute.
–Politico

’87 EPA report documented ‘fracking’ contamination
For decades, oil and gas industry executives as well as regulators have maintained that a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking,  that is used for most natural gas wells has never contaminated underground drinking water.

The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.

“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.

t is a refrain that not only drilling proponents, but also state and federal lawmakers, even past and present Environmental Protection Agency directors, have repeated often.

But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.

–The New York Times (Part of the Times’ Drilling Down series on the risks of natural gas drilling)

 Chicago hunt finds no Asian carp
Authorities hunting for Asian carp in waterways near Chicago say they didn’t find any during four days of intensive monitoring.

Crews used electric jolts to stun fish and set huge nets during stepped-up surveillance of Lake Calumet and the Calumet River this week. The efforts came after tests found DNA from the carp in the waterways beyond electric barriers meant to keep them out of the Great Lakes.

The barriers repel the fish by giving them a jolt, and are in canals connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River watershed.

Scientists fear the voracious carp could starve out prized Great Lakes sport fish if they get into the lakes.
–The Associated Press

 Opinion: EPA sends ‘wake up’ to Wisconsin
In a letter to state officials, the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently noted numerous deficiencies in the way Wisconsin manages water pollution. The letter is part of a review process, and state officials say some deficiencies were bound to come up. They also say that they will work to address the concerns.

But finding 75 deficiencies in the state’s management of the Clean Water Act, something the state took over in 1974, is indeed
troubling, as an attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates argued. “This is certainly one of the most dramatic statements I have seen from the EPA,” said that attorney, Dennis M. Grzezinski.

The EPA’s list of deficiencies ranged from long-standing state practices to measures advanced this year by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The letter should serve as a wake-up call to the Department of Natural Resources and to state legislators to tighten up the state water permitting process to make sure it’s in accord with the federal Clean Water Act. Legislators also should be careful that they don’t further loosen the rules as they consider Walker’s measures.
–The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Judge rejects tall tower near BWCA
AT&T Mobility cannot build a 450-foot lighted cellphone tower that would be visible from portions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a Hennepin County judge ruled.

But Judge Philip Bush said the telecommunications company can build a 199-foot unlit tower on the same site that would not be visible from inside the federal wilderness.

“It would provide very similar coverage to area residents,” said Paul Danicic, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, the Minneapolis-based wilderness advocacy group that fought the company’s proposal. “So we’re glad they can go ahead and do it. It’s a win-win.”

In his decision, Bush wrote that the proposed 450-foot tower and its flashing lights would materially impair the scenic and other natural resources of the wilderness and would violate the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.

bush found the tower would “have a significant, persistent and long-term negative effect on the scenic views from numerous locations within the BWCAW.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Pipestone manufacturer penalized for pollution
In a court settlement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Suzlon Rotor Corp. has agreed to resolve air quality, hazardous waste, solid waste, and stormwater violations at its wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in Pipestone.

Under the terms of the consent decree, entered July 7 in Pipestone County District Court, Suzlon has completed corrective actions, and will pay a civil penalty of $490,000.

A 2009 MPCA inspection revealed sandblasting operations far exceeded emissions standards for airborne particles. In addition, the company failed to evaluate waste for hazardous substances, or properly manage its hazardous waste. Other hazardous waste violations included improper disposal of lead-containing damaged turbine blades in a landfill. The lead has been recovered from the landfill.
–MPCA News Release

July was 4th-hottest on record
Persistent, scorching heat in the central and eastern regions of the United States shattered long-standing daily and monthly temperature records last month, making it the fourth warmest July on record nationally, according to scientists at NOAA’s
National Climatic Data Center. The heat exacerbated drought conditions, resulting in the largest “exceptional” drought footprint in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Exceptional” is the most severe category of drought on the drought monitor scale. Drought conditions at several locations in the South region are not as long lived, but are as dry, or drier, than the historic droughts of the 1930s and 1950s.

The average U.S. temperature in July was 77.0 degrees F, which is 2.7 degrees F above the long-term (1901-2000) average. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 2.46 inches. This was 0.32 inch below the long-term average, with large variability between regions. This monthly analysis, based on records dating back to 1895, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA
provides.
–NOAA News Release

BWSR announces grant availability
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources) announced that $16.6 million in competitive grants is available for projects that will protect and restore Minnesota’s streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Funding for the competitive grants is provided by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

 BWSR Executive Director John Jaschke said interested citizens should contact an eligible local government unit to find out how they can support the grant application process and participate in local efforts to protect and restore water quality.

 Eligible projects include those that control stormwater runoff in urban and agricultural areas, or that will improve water quality by replacing problem septic systems, upgrading feedlots, or establishing native vegetation along shorelines in environmentally sensitive areas. Summaries of previously funded projects and more information about BWSR’s role in the Legacy Amendment is available on the BWSR website: www.bwsr.state.mn.us/citizens.html

 The application period will began Aug. 8; the deadline to apply is Sept. 20.
–Board of Water and Soil Resources News Release

Ben Franklin beats invasive species rap
American founding father Benjamin Franklin was – among many things – a highly regarded scientist.

 So it seems appropriate that it was science which proved him blameless in importing an invasive species of tree which has overrun thousands of acres of U.S. coastal prairie from Florida to East Texas.

 While in London in the late 1700’s, it seems Ben was taken with the potential offered by the Chinese tallow tree.

Each of the tallow tree’s seeds is covered by a waxy, white tallow which can be processed to make much-needed items such as soap, candles and edible oil.

 The fact that these trees tend to be quite bountiful, with each producing up to a half million seeds per year, added to its appeal.

 So, Mr. Franklin packed up a batch of tree seeds and sent it back to his friends in the States for them to plant, harvest and process.–Voice of America

USGS research: Falling leaves contain mercury
Fallen autumn leaves transfer as much, if not more, hazardous mercury from the atmosphere to the environment as does precipitation each year, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey research.

Mercury is an environmental contaminant that accumulates in fish and food webs and poses a health risk to humans and wildlife. Precipitation is a major avenue by which mercury is transferred from the atmosphere into the environment, but new studies by the USGS and partners show that litterfall—the leaves and needles that drop to the forest floor each year—delivers at least as much mercury to eastern U.S. ecosystems as precipitation, and precipitation has been increasing in the Great Lakes region.

“Before these studies, we didn’t know the extent of litterfall as a mercury pathway in different types of forests across the eastern U.S.,” said USGS research hydrologist Martin Risch. “Our research found that annual amounts of mercury deposited in autumn litterfall from deciduous forests were equal to or exceeded the annual amounts deposited in precipitation.”

Most of the mercury that eventually ends up in fish and food webs comes from the air, and much of the mercury in the air comes from human sources such as coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, cement manufacturing, and incinerators. Forest canopies
naturally remove mercury from the air and incorporate the mercury into and onto the leaves and needles of trees.
–USGS News Release

Wisconsin ground water initiative debuts
The groundwater of Wisconsin’s central sands region is a vital resource that sustains a diverse regional economy comprised of rural communities, businesses, agricultural industries and fishing and recreational interests.

The region is home to businesses such as Del Monte Corp., one of the nation’s premier vegetable product centers, Lands’ End, Kimberly-Clark, Foremost Farms USA, Sentry Insurance, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Travel Guard, McCain Foods
and Golden County Foods. Farms and agri-businesses are key employers having a tremendous economic impact on the region.

During the past two decades, increasing business development, population growth and an expanding recreational market have led to concerns regarding the long-term quality and availability of groundwater in the central sands region. In particular, concerns have been raised regarding how the agricultural industry affects the region’s groundwater.

In response to these concerns, the University of Wisconsin — through the Wisconsin Institute of Sustainable Agriculture — is launching the Central Wisconsin Water Initiative. The initiative will be led by Dr. Sam Kung, professor of soil science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and will feature a team of scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplines.
–The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

 

 

Report: The pollution from 9 billion chickens

August 1, 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.

‘Big Chicken’ examines poultry pollution
“Big Chicken,” a new report by the Pew Environment Group, looks at the United States’ fast-growing poultry industry and the water pollution that often results from the highly concentrated manure chickens produce.

Chicken, once a distant third to pork and beef, is now the most popular meet in America. Each of us, on average, consumes 84 pounds of chicken a year, according to the Pew report.

High-phosphorus chicken manure from big poultry operations in Maryland and Delaware long has been implicated as major cause of pollution in Chesapeake Bay.

About 9 billion broiler chickens – grown for food, not eggs —  are grown each year in the U.S., according to the report. Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas account for 65 percent of the total.  Minnesota, a big turkey-producing state,  grows about 48 million broilers a year, less than 1 percent of the total, according to data
on the Pew web site.

New carp evidence found near Chicago
Federal officials announced that they will begin intensive monitoring of waterways near Lake Michigan after genetic material from the invasive Asian carp showed up in a third consecutive round of testing.

Crews will use electric jolts to stun fish, sweep the waterway with half-mile-long nets and conduct additional sampling in Lake Calumet and the Calumet River near Chicago during a four-day period beginning Monday, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Council announced.

DNA from silver carp, one of two Asian species threatening to enter the Great Lakes after migrating northward from the South for decades, was found in 11 samples in the lake and the river during testing in July. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on July 22 that it had found two consecutive samples containing DNA from silver carp and would increase its response if DNA was
found in a third sample.
–The Associated Press

Chesapeake Bay ‘dead zone’ expanding
A giant underwater “dead zone” in the Chesapeake Bay is growing at an alarming rate because of unusually high nutrient pollution levels this year, according to Virginia and Maryland officials. They said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.

This year’s Chesapeake Bay dead zone covers a third of the bay, stretching from the Baltimore Harbor to the bay’s mid-channel region in the Potomac River, about 83 miles, when it was last measured in late June. It has since expanded beyond the Potomac into Virginia, officials said.

Especially heavy flows of tainted water from the Susquehanna River brought as much nutrient pollution into the bay by May as
normally comes in an entire average year, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources researcher said. As a result, “in Maryland we saw the worst June” ever for nutrient pollution, said Bruce Michael, director of the DNR’s resource assessment service.
–The Washington Post

A mid-summer update on Minnesota lakes
If you missed it, listen to Patrick Sweeney from the Freshwater Society and Luke Skinner and Jason Moeckel  from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources discuss water quality and invasive species  in Minnesota’s lakes. The three were
interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midday program on July 29.

Judge excoriates EPA for inaction
A federal judge blasted the Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland and District of Columbia for ignoring the impact of pollutants on the Anacostia River in approving a cleanup plan that was more than 30 years in the making.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth lamented the trio’s failure to adhere to the letter and the spirit of the Clean Water Act in a decision granting summary judgment to Anacostia Riverkeeper Inc. and Friends of the Earth.

The 67-page opinion forces the agency to reconsider the total daily maximum loads (TDML) of pollution that can be discharged into the river.

“The CWA [Clean Water Act] was enacted in light of severe threats to the nation’s navigable waters, and it was intended to spur immediate action by both federal and state authorities,” Lamberth wrote. “Yes (sic) despite the act’s command that states identify and develop TMDLs for implemented waters, the district and EPA spent 20 years ignoring these obligations and fighting attempts to compel them to act. Then, despite the act’s unmistakable requirement to develop a total maximum daily load for each
pollutant, EPA and the district spent the next 7 years insisting that they need only develop annual loads. And now, despite the act’s clear instruction that each TMDL set levels necessary to implement all applicable water quality standards, EPA and the District – now joined by Maryland-have spent the last 4 years arguing that they need only pay attention to some of those
standards. The Court will not countenance such conduct.” (Italics in original.)
–Courthouse News Service

EPA tells Wisconsin to improve permitting
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has informed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that its permit system to control water pollution doesn’t meet standards set by the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The EPA’s action is a victory for the Clean Water Action Council of Northeastern Wisconsin, which has opposed for years the state’s water pollution permit to the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Green Bay. The council claimed the permit, which expired last year, allowed unlimited discharges of mercury and increased amounts of phosphorous into the Fox River.

In a letter to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, the EPA’s Regional Administrator Susan Hedman wrote that there are “numerous apparent omissions and deviations between Wisconsin’s current statute and regulations and federal requirements.”

Hedman said the EPA has not approved elements of Wisconsin’s permits that “are less stringent or comprehensive than federally required.” The EPA requires states to meet at least the minimum standards in the Clean Water Act.
–The Green Bay Press Gazette

Opinion: House GOP ‘riders’ attack environment
While almost no one was looking, House Republicans embarked on a broad assault on the nation’s environmental laws, using as their weapon the 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. When debate began, the bill included an astonishing 39 anti-environmental riders — so called because they ride along on appropriations bills even though they have nothing to do with spending and are designed to change policy, in this case disastrously.

Riders generally are not subjected to hearings or extensive debate, and many would not survive on their own. They are often written in such a way that most people, even many Capitol Hill insiders, need a guide to understand them. They are, in short, bad policy pushed forward through a bad legislative process.

A rider can be removed from the bill only with a vote to strike it. The Democrats managed one big victory when, by a vote of 224 to 202, the House struck one that would have gutted the Endangered Species Act by blocking the federal government from listing any new species as threatened or endangered and barring it from protecting vital habitat — a provision so extreme that even some Republicans could not countenance it.
–The New York Times

California regulates chromium 6 in water
The California Environmental Protection Agency released the nation’s first standard for limiting a cancer-causing chemical in drinking water.

The agency set a public health goal for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, that will be used by the state’s Department of Public Health to help create a legally enforceable limit on the chemical in drinking water. The agency set the goal at .02 parts per billion.

Chromium 6 gained national infamy after a toxic plume contaminated water in the Mojave Desert town of Hinkley (San Bernardino County) – leading to a $333 million settlement from the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. – and was dramatized in the film “Erin Brockovich.”

Dr. George Alexeef, acting director of the agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said the goal “is the culmination of years of study and research on the health effects of this chemical. As the nation’s first official goal for this contaminant, it will be an important tool” to develop a regulatory standard.
–The San Francisco Chronicle

4 million Chinese face pollution crisis
The drinking water for a major city in China’s Sichuan Province has become unusable due to pollution from an electrolytic manganese plant. Bottled water and some food items have become scarce as people emptied store shelves to stock up. In addition, it took authorities five days to make a public announcement that tap water was unsafe for consumption.

Four million people in Mianyang, the second largest city in Sichuan Province, have been left without municipal drinking water when the Fujiang River, the city’s water source, became polluted by manganese tailings.

Torrential rain on July 20 in the upstream area of the Fujiang River threatened the gangue dam of an electrolytic manganese metal plant in Xiaohe Village, Songpang County. Fearing the possibility of landslides, the plant released floodwater in the early morning of July 21, resulting in 10,000 cubic meters (353,146 cubic feet) of the tailings being washed into the Fujiang River, the
Southern Metropolis Daily reported on July 28.

On July 26, five days after the initial pollution incident, the environmental
protection department of Mianyang City reported that samples
from both upstream and downstream contained manganese levels about 20 times
higher than allowed by the state’s water quality standards.
–The Epoch Times

USDA announces non-food biofuel sites
The US Department of Agriculture announced the designation of nearly 80,000 acres in six different states for the production of non-food crops that can be converted into biofuels.

Four project areas in California, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington will be set aside for growing camelina, hybrid poplar trees and switchgrass under the Agriculture Department’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

These designations add to five BCAP project areas announced earlier this year for up to 250,000 acres in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These crops are the first-ever national investments in expanding U.S. biomass resources beyond corn and forestry to meet domestic energy security.
–SustainableBusiness.com

California water users sue water ‘bankers’
Peter Key knew something was strange when the water levels in his tropical fish tank began to go down last summer. Then the
washing machine took 40 minutes to fill, and the toilets would not flush.

But even as Mr. Key and neighbors spent $14,000 to deepen their community well here, they had identified a likely culprit.

They blamed water banking, a system in which water-rights holders — mostly in the rural West — store water in underground
reservoirs either for their own future use or for leasing to fast-growing urban areas.

So the neighbors’ small local water utility has gone to state court to challenge the wealthy farming interests that dominate two of the country’s largest water banks.
–The New York Times (Second installment in the Times’ Precious Waters series about dwindling water supplies across the U.S.)

Wisconsin suit challenges 4,300-cow dairy
Factory farm opponent Family Farm Defenders along with Bob Clarke, a property owner near the proposed Richfield Dairy, have
filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in an effort to slow down the process that would allow construction of a new 4,300-cow dairy near Coloma.

Clarke and Family Farm Defenders, in their lawsuit filed in Dane County, are asking for judicial review of an administrative decision by the DNR that approved plans and specifications for Richfield Dairy, a concentrated animal feeding operation in Adams County owned by MilkSource.

Richfield Dairy applied for plans and specifications approval on Feb. 23, and received statutory approval from the DNR on June 24.
–The Northwestern