Archive for September, 2011

Book-signing set; win $500; Jackson defends EPA

September 26, 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.

Book-signing honors Breneman and Seeley
Don Breneman and Mark Seeley, the authors of a new book, Voyageur Skies, will be guests at a book-signing event on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Gray Freshwater Center.

The book features 120 photos by Breneman of Voyageurs National Park in all seasons, plus text by Seeley of weather conditions and climate trends in the park. Gene Merriam, Freshwater Society president, wrote a forward for the book.

The book-signing will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Freshwater Society.

An exhibit of photos from Voyageurs Skies opens Oct. 1 at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum.

The 140-page Voyageur Skies is published by the Afton Historical Society Press.

Breneman is a retired University of Minnesota Extension photographer. Seeley is a professor in the university’s Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, and he is a weekly commentator on Minnesota Public Radio.

Enter now to win $500 for fighting pollution
Do you want to reduce urban runoff and pollution that flow into lakes and rivers? Do you have a good idea for how you and your friends and neighbors could work together to clean up soil, grass clippings and leaves from streets and storm drains? And could you use $500?

Then we have a contest for you.

The Freshwater Society and InCommons are sponsoring a Work For Water “micro challenge” that will award two $500 prizes for the best short-term community projects to protect our waters from the pollution found in the leaves, grass and soil that wash into streets. Enter here.

In addition to the two statewide prizes, a grant from the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation, will provide two additional $500 prizes for the best ideas coming from entrants in the 14 counties the foundation serves in Central Minnesota.

The contest began Sept. 20, and entries will be accepted until Oct. 11. The winner will be announced Oct. 18. The project must be completed by Nov. 12.

Who can enter? Individuals, church groups, Scout troops, service clubs, neighborhood groups, lake associations, school organizations and classrooms. What kind of project can you suggest? Almost anything you can accomplish by Nov. 12. Be imaginative, and have fun. The main requirement is that the person submitting the entry must be 18 years old.

EPA’s Lisa Jackson defends her agency.
Across an often contentious three-hour congressional hearing, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson vigorously defended her agency’s policies promoting cleaner air and water, and rejected suggestions by Republican lawmakers that the EPA is a chief factor in the country’s stagnant economic recovery.

“The American people have a right to know whether the air they breathe is healthy or unhealthy,” Jackson said during her appearance before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Time and again, she dismissed the notion that stubbornly high unemployment should prompt policymakers to roll back robust environmental protections.

“It is analogous to a doctor not giving a diagnosis to a patient because the patient might not be able to afford the treatment,” she said.

GOP members cast Jackson as an über-regulator, oblivious to the economic hardship her policies have created in their home districts. “We have focused on cracking down on the private sector, on the job generators,” lamented Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif.
–Fox News

Diverse group works to improve Root River
The Root River Field to Stream Partnership has brought together a diverse group of people and organizations in pursuit of water quality answers.

Farmers, farmer organizations, the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Monsanto and the Nature Conservancy are working together on the field-to-stream project.

The project includes in-field and stream side monitoring in three subwatersheds of the Root River Watershed. The goal is to determine if what flows off farm fields and through tile drainage ends up in the water.

The Root River Watershed is a diverse and complex watershed of more than a million acres, said Joe Magee, TMDL and water plan coordinator for the Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District.

Lessard council urges carp spending
Despite misgivings, an outdoors advisory panel agreed to set aside $3 million to explore ways to keep Asian carp from moving into state waters.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council included the amount as part of $95.6 million in projects it’s recommending to the Legislature next session.

The amount is less than one-third of what the state Department of Natural Resources wanted to build and operate an experimental underwater acoustic bubble barrier where the St. Croix River empties into the Mississippi River. The 12-member council added restrictions, including approval of any eventual action plan and a requirement that border projects obtain matching funds from elsewhere.

But it tried its best to avoid doing even that.

Several members of the panel, which recommends outdoors restoration and protection projects funded with Legacy Amendment sales-tax dollars, questioned whether the emergency proposal from the DNR would be effective and worth the money.

Council members Jim Cox, Ryan Bronson, Les Bensch and Wayne Enger said the state has been aware of the Asian carp threat for a decade, had interjected itself late in the annual allocation process and was proposing to spend millions of dollars on a relatively untested concept.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Carp: It’s what may be for dinner
Minced Asian carp tacos? How about spaghetti with carp sauce?

Illinois officials hope serving the invasive species on a plate is the creative solution to two big problems: controlling the plankton-gobbling carp from entering the Great Lakes and record numbers of people facing hunger. But the idea has major obstacles, mainly overcoming people’s nose-crinkling response to eating a fish that grows to 100 pounds and is able to sail out of the water — a trait spotlighted in YouTube videos.

“We are in unchartered water here,” said Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris McCloud. “Why remove them and put them into a landfill when you can take them and use them for good? If we can get past the name ‘carp’ and the perception … we can prove this is going to be a highly nutritious, cheap meal.”

The department launches a campaign to change the fish’s image and demonstrate how to work with the ultra-bony meat. Officials have enlisted Louisiana chef Philippe Parola, who’s become a national advocate for the fish he calls silverfin. He plans to fry up the fish that tastes something like mahi mahi, so audience members can taste samples.
–The Associated Press

Research: Earth getting more acidic
Human use of Earth’s natural resources is making the air, oceans, freshwaters, and soils more acidic, according to a U.S. Geological Survey – University of Virginia study available online in the journal, Applied Geochemistry.

This comprehensive review, the first on this topic to date, found the mining and burning of coal, the mining and smelting of metal ores, and the use of nitrogen fertilizer are the major causes of chemical oxidation processes that generate acid in the Earth-surface environment.

These widespread activities have increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing the acidity of oceans; produced acid rain that has increased the acidity of freshwater bodies and soils; produced drainage from mines that has increased the acidity of freshwater streams and groundwater; and added nitrogen to crop lands that has increased the acidity of soils.

Previous studies have linked increased acidity in oceans to damage to ocean food webs, while increased acidity in soils has the potential to affect their ability to sustain crop growth.
–USGS News Release

Groundwater pumping raises seas
Groundwater mining — pumping aquifers faster than they can be replenished — can have nasty consequences. Mining the Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains aquifer), for example, has infamously run the White River dry where it once gushed over Texas’ Silver Falls.

Most of the groundwater sprayed on thirsty croplands across America makes its way into streams and rivers. Even though much of the water seeps into the soil first, the vast majority never makes its way back into the aquifer. Instead, it heads toward the sea, where it eventually contributes a surprising share of global sea level rise, reports Leonard Konikow, a hydrogeologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

In a rigorous new analysis of global groundwater depletion published earlier this month, Konikow estimated that global aquifers lost 4,500 cubic kilometers between 1900 and 2008 — enough to raise global sea level by about 12.6 millimeters. That’s a little more than 6 percent of the total sea level rise that took place over that time.
–Discovery News

Dayton to name mining contact
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is looking to fill a new position of state mining coordinator to oversee all aspects of mining expansion in the state.

Dayton was asked by mining industry officials to appoint the new position, and the governor appears poised to do so in coming days.

The position will offer a single and first point of contact for industry officials and others seeking answers to questions on state regulations and state involvement in both taconite and copper-nickel mining projects.

The person in the new position will act as a facilitator for mining projects.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Obama budget cuts farm programs
When it comes to farm policy, Congress often ignores White House proposals. It passed the 2008 Farm Bill over President George W. Bush’s veto and it’s possible both parties will ignore some of the ideas put forth in President Barack Obama’s Economic Growth

Obama didn’t ignore agriculture, however. He wants to eliminate or reduce these ag programs:

  • Eliminate Direct Payments. The White House says they’re not needed at a time of high farm income, adding that “Economists have shown that direct payments have priced young Americans out of renting or owning the land needed to enter into farming.” It would save $3 billion per year.
  • Crop Insurance. The Administration is looking for more cuts here. It says currents costs are $8 billion per year, with $2.3 billion going to insurance companies and $5.7 billion to farmers as premium subsidies. USDA has already trimmed $600 million a year from support for insurers and hasn’t touched subsidies of farmer premiums. Obama’s deficit cutting plan would trim another $200 million a year from insurance companies, arguing that they would still have a return on investment of 12%. Farmer premium subsidies for coverage at the 50% catastrophic level would not change but premium subsidies on higher levels over coverage would be shaved by two basis points, or $200 million per year (a 3,.5% cut from current levels).
  •  Conservation. Obama would cut conservation programs by $200 million a year “by better targeting conservation funding to the most cost-effective and environmentally- beneficial programs and practices.” Even with those cuts, conservation assistance is projected to grow by $60 billion over the next 10 years.

USGS notes Arizona groundwater decline
Arizona has depleted its groundwater over the past 70 years enough to fill Lake Powell nearly three times, according to the first federal study of the state’s groundwater since the 1980s.

Knowing that fact and others contained in the U.S. Geological Survey’s report will help policy makers better understand the state’s limited water resources, said Fred Tillman, a Tucson-based hydrologist who served as the study’s lead author.

“It’s critical that we are vigilant about our groundwater use,” he said.

The study, which covers 1940 through 2007, establishes a baseline measurement of levels in the state’s aquifers prior to development, allowing researchers and policy makers to assess how population growth has affected the state’s groundwater.
–Cronkite News

Schools wring water from air conditioning
Two Houston universities are tapping into one of the city’s defining features – air conditioning – to conserve water in the midst of a historic drought.

Rice University is recycling 12 million gallons of water per year, 5 percent to 6 percent of its annual water consumption, by harvesting condensate water, or gray water, from air-conditioning units on campus. The initiative will save the university about $80,000 to $100,000 per year.

Across town at the University of Houston, officials started recycling water for three science buildings five years ago and plan to expand the initiative to new buildings being constructed.

“In a typical year, adding water to the cooling tower is our biggest portion of our water consumption,” said Richard Johnson,, director of energy and sustainability at Rice. “So, to the extent to which we can find ways to find water to recycle to use in our cooling tower, it means that we need less water from the city of Houston.”
–The Houston Chronicle


Organic ag leader F. Kirschenmann to lecture

September 19, 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.

Organic advocate Kirschenmann to lecture
Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement, will deliver the next free public lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Fred Kirschenmann

Kirschenmann will speak on “Water and the Challenges Facing U.S. and World Agriculture in the 21st Century.”

The lecture, the sixth in a series, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.

There are lots of ways to describe Kirschenmann: philosopher, farmer, author and advocate. Since 2000, he has been the director or a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He also is president of the board of directors of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. He wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University of Kentucky Press. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”

‘Cleaning Minnesota’s Water’
Read “Cleaning Minnesota’s Water,” Minnesota Public Radio’s comprehensive package of reports on water quality in the state and the debates and sometimes conflicting strategies for improving it.

Dayton outlines Asian carp plan
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr argues that to combat the spread of Asian carp could mean taking chances.

“We may have to take some risks here,” said Landwehr, speaking at an aquatic invasive species summit at the State Capitol.

That is, taking actions against invading species that in the future, in hindsight, may be deemed less than effective, he explained. But Landwehr and other officials argued that Minnesota does not have the luxury of time.

Landwehr, Gov. Mark Dayton, and a host of state and federal officials attended the summit.

An action plan — more of draft, Dayton later described it — was presented by DNR officials.

One step called for congressional action to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emergency authority to close the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Ford lock and dam on the Mississippi River if Asian carp are detected in the area.
–ECM Publishers

What went wrong with carp barrier plans?
Four years ago, with the ecological dangers posed by Asian carp already well-documented, state Department of Natural Resources officials backed a $5 million plan to build an underwater sound bubble barrier across the Mississippi River as far downstream as Winona.

The following year, in 2008, the DNR was given $500,000 to start the project.

Now, sounding fresh alarms about the threat from Asian carp, the state is seeking at least $7 million in emergency funding for a barrier to be built near Prescott, Wis.

But much of the original money has never been spent.

The back story of what happened to the original initiative is one of confusion and misunderstanding — amid doubts about whether a barrier would even work — that ate away valuable time in the race to stop the spread of voracious Asian carp into Minnesota waters. Only last month the DNR unveiled evidence that the carp, which can grow to 60 pounds and outmuscle native species for food, were in the St. Croix River.
–The Star Tribune

Drought underlines ‘water-energy nexus’
The worst single-year drought in the recorded history of Texas has caused cotton crops to wither and ranchers to sell off cattle. It may also hurt power plants, which need vast amounts of water to cool their equipment.

“We will be very concerned” if it does not rain by spring, said Kent Saathoff, an official with the Texas electric grid operator.
The worries in Texas bear out what an increasingly vocal group of researchers has been warning in recent years: that planners must pay more attention to how much water is needed in energy production.

“Water and energy are really linked,” said Henrik Larsen, a water policy expert with the DHI Group, a research and consulting firm based in Denmark. “If you save water, you save energy, and vice-versa.”
–The New York Times

Chinese protest solar plant’s pollution
In a fresh indication of growing public anger over pollution, hundreds of demonstrators in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang were camped outside a solar panel manufacturing plant that stands accused of contaminating a nearby river.

The demonstration was the latest move in a four-day protest that has sometimes turned violent.

The unrest began when about 500 residents gathered outside the plant, in Haining, roughly 80 miles southwest of Shanghai. Some protesters stormed the five-year-old factory compound, overturning eight company vehicles, smashing windows and destroying offices. The next day, four police cars were damaged.
–The New York Times

Farm groups push subsidy overhaul plans
Some farm groups are rushing to put out ideas for overhauling farm subsidies as the congressional deficit-cutting supercommittee starts work.

The National Corn Growers Association has a plan that would scrap the current system of fixed, direct payments and use the money both for deficit reduction and to expand the revenue-protection program known as ACRE that was created in 2008.

Under the existing ACRE program, which relatively few farmers have signed up for, payments are triggered only when state-level farm revenue drops below the average on a combination of average yields and commodity prices.

Under the new plan, the payment trigger would be based on crop-reporting districts, which are areas within a state. That would make the program more likely to pay out to farmers — and more expensive to taxpayers.
–The Des Moines Register

MPCA approves taconite permit
Acting over the objections of environmentalists and Indian tribes, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency agreed to allow U.S. Steel Corp. to increase mercury emissions at an Iron Range mining facility without also requiring a precise schedule of reductions elsewhere.

The vote of the citizens commission that oversees the agency was unanimous and made without discussion.

The long-awaited decision moves forward a $300 million expansion of U.S. Steel’s Keetac taconite processing facility in Keewatin, Minn., that will create an estimated 160 new jobs. It also includes technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, making it the first facility in Minnesota to do so under new federal rules.

Environmentalists, however, said the decision conflicts with the state’s long-term plan to reduce mercury, a toxic metal that has polluted two-thirds of the state’s waters and can make Minnesota fish unsafe for children and pregnant women.
–The Star Tribune

Wisconsin governor takes on ballast rules
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and several other governors are joining the federal government and Canada in demanding New York reconsider shipping regulations that protect waters from invasive species but could damage Wisconsin’s economy.

In a letter sent to New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Walker joined forces with the Republican governors John Kasick of Ohio and Mitch Daniels of Indiana to argue that unless the New York Department of Environmental Conservation regulations are amended, the regulations could require the St. Lawrence Seaway to close down, resulting in thousands of maritime-related job losses in the Great Lakes states and in Canada.

New York’s regulations deal with ballast discharge. When cargo ships are not fully loaded, they have to take on water to maintain their stability. This water is stored in ballast tanks, and it may contain aquatic organisms.

When ships discharge this water in harbors, they may also discharge these organisms that could become invasive, Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, said.

The New York regulations require boats to install ballast cleaning technology that will clean ballast water to a certain quality standard. The regulations also create a water quality standard 100 times stronger than the current standards given by the International Maritime Organization, which coordinates international shipping policy.
–The Badger Herald

College GOP protests bottle ban
College Republicans passed out bottled water to passers-by in protest of the College of St. Benedict’s new ban on bottled water in campus vending machines, cafeterias and sporting events. The protesters said they aren’t against sustainability but are defending the free-market system.

“Just as the government should not ban plastic bottles in America, a school administration should not ban the sale of plastic water bottles on their campus,” said Ryan Lyk, chairman of the Minnesota College Republicans, in a statement.

This fall, St. Ben’s became the first school in the state — and the ninth in the nation — to ban the sale of plain bottled water on campus. Macalester took a similar step Sept. 1.
–The Star Tribune

Denver seeks toilet mandate
Denver utility managers bothered by the city’s penchant for old-style porcelain toilets that use twice as much water as federal standards are pushing for a legislative fix.

They’ve asked lawmakers to consider setting a statewide toilet standard of 1.28 gallons per flush.

Toilets account for about a quarter of household water use, and the new standard could save 44,000 acre-feet of water a year by 2050. An acre-foot is said to be enough to serve the needs of two families of four for a year.

Toilet makers, who supported similar limits in California and Texas, have embraced the idea.

New toilets sold today use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush, in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency limits set in the 1990s.

But in Denver, an abundance of homes still have old-style fixtures that use an average volume of 3.14 gallons per flush, according to Denver Water’s latest “end-use study.”
–The Denver Post

Panel to explore invasives on Sept. 16

September 12, 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.

Panel on invasives set Sept. 16
Minnesota Waters will sponsor a panel discussion on two of Minnesota’s most troublesome invasive species – zebra mussels and Asian carp – at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 16.

The event, which will be held at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Road, Excelsior, is free and open to the public.

The panel will include experts from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center in La Crosse, Wis., and from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Daniel Molloy, a retired State University of New York at Albany scientist who discovered a naturally occurring strain of bacteria that kills zebra and quagga mussels also will take part in the discussion. The Douglas County Lakes Association is seeking state funding for research on a commercial pesticide based based on the bacteria. Minnesota Waters is sponsoring a five-day visit by Molloy to Minnesota.

View a video of a presentation by Molloy.

Council disagrees on zebra mussel research
Members of the council charged with distributing Legacy Amendment funds for the outdoors disagreed whether a proposal to research bacteria that can kill zebra mussels should be considered for funding.

The Douglas County Lakes Association asked the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for $350,000 to research the possibility that a product called Zequanox, made of a dead form of a soil bacteria, could be used in a lake setting to control zebra mussels, an invasive species. Zebra mussels have taken over in dozens of lakes and rivers in Minnesota.

Several members of the council said it wouldn’t be appropriate to use Legacy money to fund research.

“Our constitutional mandate is to fund on-the-ground projects that are going to accomplish things. Research is not part of that,” said David Hartwell, the council’s chairman.

Other members suggested the company that’s trying to bring Zequanox to market, Marrone Bio Innovations, find private investors to finance the research.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Freshwater-Park Service win mentoring grant
Minnesota FarmWise, an innovative program to encourage conservation and protect clean water in the Minnesota River Valley, has won a $15,000 challenge grant in the Minnesota Idea Open.

The Freshwater Society and the National Park Service will use the grant to form a farmer-to-farmer mentoring program to encourage practices aimed at reducing soil erosion and the runoff of fertilizers and pesticides into the streams and rivers that lead to the Mississippi River.

View a video about the mentoring program. Read the Minnesota Idea Open announcement of the grant.

Dayton calls Asian carp summit
Gov. Mark Dayton has called a meeting for Monday (Sept. 12) on the Asian carp, with an invitation list that stretches from Sen. Amy Klobuchar to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Canadian Consulate.

Dayton is trying to solve a basic obstacle to stopping the disruptive invasive species: Everyone and no one is in charge.

The meeting is designed to tell the state’s congressional delegation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and numerous federal agencies about Minnesota’s plans to deal with the carp before it’s too late.

The carp are making their way up the Mississippi River from Missouri. While an enormous effort is focused on keeping them from entering the Great Lakes from the Illinois River through a canal in Chicago, no one has figured out how to protect Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The carp are not in Minnesota yet — in quantity — but individual fish are found from time to time, and recent DNA testing has shown that at least some are likely present in the St. Croix River.
–The Star Tribune

Sea Grant gets $400,000 to fight invasives
Everyone knows Smokey Bear’s reminder that only you can prevent forest fires, and now Minnesota Sea Grant wants to add zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and fish-killing VHS virus to your instinctive guilt list.

The University of Minnesota Duluth-based Sea Grant program now has an extra $400,000 to hammer home the message.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Minnesota Sea Grant the money as part of the 2011 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding approved by Congress and President Obama. The Sea Grant money is earmarked to slow the rate at which people spread invasive species through everyday activities like fishing, boating or tossing an unwanted pet fish into a pond.

The new money is on top of $1.55 million Sea Grant received from the Great Lakes initiative last year.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Goodhue OKs sand mining moratorium
Goodhue County commissioners unanimously approved a proposal that will temporarily block a controversial kind of sand mining in the southeastern Minnesota county.

About 200 people filled a public hearing room in Red Wing for a meeting that lasted nearly three hours and included public comments from 20 people in support of the moratorium. No one spoke in opposition.

Commissioner Jim Bryant said the moratorium will give county officials time to assemble an advisory board to study the potential health, environmental and financial impacts of sand mining around the county.

“Is this really a good fit for us here?” Bryant said. “Maybe for some. Maybe in some areas but maybe not in other areas.”

Goodhue County is particularly strategic for its deposits of “frac” sand, round grains of sand that are used in fracture mining. It is highly sought after for its size and strength. Frac sand has perfectly round grains that look like brown sugar crystals.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Wisconsin report inconclusive on sand mining
There is little conclusive information on possible negative health effects of a pollutant linked to Wisconsin’s burgeoning sand mining industry, the Department of Natural Resources said in a new report.

The DNR made no formal recommendations, but environmentalists, citizens’ groups and others called for regulation while business groups urged a hands-off approach.

Crystalline silica comes from many sources, but worries about it as a source of ambient air pollution has grown with a boom in sand mining in western Wisconsin.

The sand is coveted by the petroleum industry, which is using it with water and chemicals under pressure to extract oil and natural gas from hard-to-reach deposits. Exposure to crystalline silica in enclosed settings can be a human carcinogen and is known to cause silicosis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs.

During mining and processing, tiny bits of silica are kicked up in the air. One question examined in the report is whether crystalline silica poses health risks for people living around such facilities.

“A recurring theme in the literature review and survey is that very little conclusive information exists regarding sources, controls or levels of silica present in ambient air,” the report concludes.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Track loon migrations on your computer
Loon migratory movements from current and previous studies using satellite transmitters can be followed online at the U.S. Geological Survey Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center web site.

Several common loons breeding in the Upper Midwest are sporting satellite transmitters in order for researchers to study the migration of these fish-eating water birds through the Great Lakes toward their southern winter homes. By using satellite tracking devices implanted in the loons from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Michigan Upper Peninsula, USGS scientists expect to learn information about avian botulism essential for managers to develop loon conservation strategies.

“This study will also help managers better understand how loons fare as they head to their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts,” said USGS scientist Kevin Kenow of UMESC in La Crosse, Wisc. “This is the second year of the study. Ten loons radiomarked in 2010 provided insight into use of the Great Lakes during fall and spring migration and revealed wintering sites. Another 21 loons were radiomarked this past July over a broader area of the Upper Midwest.”
–USGS News Release

Illinois denies permit for mega-dairy
State regulators announced that they have denied a permit related to a proposal to build the largest dairy in the state near Galena, saying they were worried the facility would pollute groundwater in the area.

The action by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency means the dairy sponsors have to make changes to correct deficiencies or submit a new plan, IEPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson said.

California dairyman A.J. Bos has proposed putting up to 5,500 head of cattle in a concentrated animal feeding operation at Tradition Dairy, near the small town of Nora, about 30 miles east of Galena in northwestern Illinois.
–The Chicago Tribune

Mississippi levies mostly held in flood of 2011
James Parker steps onto a sandy ledge to get a clearer view of where the Mississippi River almost cut Presidents Island in two, tearing out a half-mile-wide chunk of land and leaving water and flocks of geese on a place where cotton formerly grew.

Parker, crew chief for the Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission, says he’ll never forget the first time he saw this testament to the raw power of the Mississippi.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought it was going to cut all the way through (the island).”

Ever since the historic flood of 2011 receded, officials up and down the Mississippi have identified places where the mighty river sought out new channels and made initial efforts to change course during the high water this spring.

The Corps of Engineers’ $13 billion flood-control system along the river largely held, preventing an estimated $62 billion in damage.
–The Memphis Commercial Appeal

Building owners look to re-use water
Building owners and managers are discovering a great untapped resource: the water that flows out of—and off—homes and commercial structures.

Some wastewater from buildings is reused after treatment at municipal plants, but much of it ends up flowing back into the environment. And buildings rarely are equipped to capture rainwater. A slew of technologies hitting the market, though, are enabling more homes and businesses to reuse much of their wastewater, without it ever leaving the site, and to put the rain to use as well.

That saves building owners money by allowing them to purchase less water from municipal sources. And it benefits communities by conserving water.

The techniques range from a simple sand filtration system for the home costing only a few hundred dollars to a mini water-treatment plant for commercial buildings that costs as much as $1 million. What they have in common is a goal of recycling everything from sink water to rain runoff, and reusing it for nonpotable purposes such as toilet flushing and lawn watering.
–The Wall Street Journal

Arsenic, Asian carp and a climate poll

September 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.

Arsenic often found in water samples
About 20% of untreated water samples from public, private, and monitoring wells across the nation contain concentrations of at least one trace element, such as arsenic, manganese and uranium, at levels of potential health concern, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“In public wells these contaminants are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and contaminants are removed from the water before people drink it,” said Joe Ayotte, USGS hydrologist and lead author on the study. “However, trace elements could be present in water from private wells at levels that are considered to pose a risk to human health, because they aren’t subject to regulations.”

Trace elements in groundwater exceed human health benchmarks at a rate that far outpaces most other groundwater contaminants, such as nitrate, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds. Most trace elements, including manganese and arsenic, get into the water through the natural process of rock weathering. Radon, derived from naturally occurring uranium in aquifers, also occurs frequently at high levels in groundwater. Human activities like mining, waste disposal, and construction also can contribute to trace elements in groundwater.

Arsenic was found above the EPA human health benchmark in 7% of wells. (The Minnesota Health Department estimates that 10 percent of wells in the state have arsenic in excess of the health standard.)
Read the USGS full report.
–USGS News Release

No Asian carp caught in St. Croix
A commercial fishing operator and state fisheries employees failed to catch a single Asian carp in the St. Croix River in nine days on the water.

“That’s very good news,” said Tom Landwehr, Department of Natural Resources commissioner. “It most likely means there are a small number of fish in there.”

Water samples from the St. Croix tested positive last month for genetic material from silver carp, suggesting the invasive, leaping Asian species may be in the river as far north as the dam at St. Croix Falls.

The commercial operator from Illinois, with experience catching Asian carp, set nets at various places from the river’s mouth at Prescott, Wis., to the dam at St. Croix Falls over four days last week. The DNR also used nets and electro-fishing for five days and didn’t find an Asian carp.

Landwehr said experts believe the environmental DNA (eDNA) testing used to detect the carp is accurate, but it’s impossible to determine how many carp might be in the river. “They searched everywhere that looked like good carp habitat,” Landwehr said. Failing to find fish might give officials a bit more time to deal with the problem, he said.
–The Star Tribune

Poll: Climate change worry drops
Worldwide fears about climate change have receded in the past four years, as other environmental issues such as air and water pollution, water shortages, packaging waste and use of pesticides have been given more attention, according to a new report issued by Nielsen Co. In an Internet survey of more than 25,000 respondents in 51 countries, 69% said they are worried about climate change, up from 66% in 2009, but down from 72% in 2007.

Meanwhile, 77% of respondents named air pollution as a main concern, while 75% cited water pollution. For 73% of those surveyed, pesticides were seen as a serious problem, Nielsen said. “Focus on immediate worries such as job
security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years,” said Maxwell Boykoff, senior visiting research associate at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute.
–Market Watch

USGS offers on-line water quality modeling
The USGS has released an online, interactive decision support system that provides easy access to six newly developed regional models describing how rivers receive and transport nutrients from natural and human sources to sensitive waters, such as
the Gulf of Mexico.

Excessive nutrients in the nation’s rivers, streams and coastal areas are a major issue for water managers, because they cause algal blooms that increase costs to treat drinking water, limit recreational activities, threaten valuable fisheries, and can be toxic to humans and wildlife.

Each region and locality has a unique set of nutrient sources and characteristics that determine how those nutrients are transported to streams.

For example, the decision support system indicates that reducing wastewater discharges throughout the Neuse River Basin in North Carolina by 25 percent will reduce the amount of nitrogen transported to the Pamlico Sound from the Neuse River
Basin by three percent; whereas a 25 percent reduction in agricultural sources, such as fertilizer and manure, will reduce the amount of nitrogen by 12 percent.

The new USGS regional models were developed using the SPARROW (SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes) modeling framework. Results detailing nutrient conditions in each region are published in the Journal of American Water Resources Association.
–USGS News Release

AGs press to close L. Michigan to Asian carp
Six attorneys general in the Great Lakes region called for a multi-state coalition that would push the federal government to protect the lakes from invasive species such as Asian carp by cutting off their artificial link to the Mississippi River basin.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the officials invited colleagues in 27 other states to join a lobbying campaign to separate the two watersheds, contending they have as much to lose as the Great Lakes do from migration of
aquatic plants and animals that can do billions in economic damage and starve out native species.

“We have Asian carp coming into Lake Michigan and zebra mussels moving out of the Great Lakes and into the heart of our country, both of which are like poison to the ecology of our waters,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said. “This is not just a Great Lakes issue. By working together, we hope to put pressure on the federal government to act before it’s too late.”

Also signing the appeal were attorneys general from Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It was being sent to their counterparts across the Mississippi basin as well as Western states such as Nevada, where Lake Mead and other waterways have been infested by zebra mussels believed to have been transported from the Great Lakes by unwitting recreational boaters.

Five of the Great Lakes states are suing the Army Corps over its operation of a Chicago-area waterway network that creates
an artificial pathway between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, a Mississippi River tributary.
–The Associated Press

Iowa Farm Bureau rejects conservation rule
The Iowa Farm Bureau’s policy conference reversed itself. After lengthy debate and a multitude of motions, the group approved a resolution stating that compliance with conservation programs not bea condition for purchasing federally subsidized insurance programs.

The new resolution reads “the Iowa Farm Bureau supports conservation compliance; however, eligibility for federal crop
insurance should not be subject to farm program conservation requirements.”

If federal direct payments to farmers are eliminated by congress, as is widely expected, federal agriculture and
environmental regulators would be left without a compliance requirement if conservation compliance were not added to insurance eligibility. Such compliance was linked to farm insurance for decades but removed in 1996.

The county delegates spent the largest chunk of their debate on conservation issues, matching concerns voiced earlier by
conservationists that wholesale changes in the Farm Bill would imperil hard-won advances in conservation and environmental practices in agriculture.

The delegates had approved the linkage resolution by voice vote, but when the matter was brought for the final consideration that normally is routine, a tallied vote went 57-36 in favor of removing the compliance requirement.
–The Des Moines Register

How many species? Would you believe 8.7 million?
In the foothills of the Andes Mountains lives a bat the size of a raspberry. In Singapore, there’s a nematode worm that dwells only in the lungs of the changeable lizard.

The bat and the worm have something in common: They are both new to science. Each of them recently received its official scientific name: Myotis diminutus for the bat, Rhabdias singaporensis for the worm.

These are certainly not the last two species that scientists will ever discover. Each year, researchers report more than
15,000 new species, and their workload shows no sign of letting up. “Ask any taxonomist in a museum, and they’ll tell you they have hundreds of species waiting to be described,” says Camilo Mora, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii.

Scientists have named and cataloged 1.3 million species. How many more species there are left to discover is a question that has hovered like a cloud over the heads of taxonomists for two centuries.
–The New York Times

UM sponsors raingarden documentary
“A Neighborhood of Raingardens,” a documentary depicting the transformation of a Minneapolis neighborhood through a community raingarden project, will premiere Friday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. at the St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis.The
60-minute film, sponsored in part by the Institute on the Environment, follows the initiative from inception to fruition.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Land use/biofuels conference set
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, will host a one-day conference on land use change and biofuel sustainability on Sept. 14 on the university’s St. Paul Campus. There is a $125 fee, $95 for students and representatives of nonprofit organizations.

Get more information.

Projects honored for pollution prevention
Three projects have won Minnesota Governor’s Awards for Pollution Prevention.

The awards honor Minnesota’s businesses, nonprofits, governmental agencies and other institutions demonstrating a commitment to pollution prevention, resource efficiency and sustainable practices.

They were:

  • The City of St. Paul’s Public Pools Green Initiative, which worked with Creative Water Solutions and
    USAquatics to reduce chemical use in public swimming pools. Water use for pool
    backwash was reduced by 30,000 gallons every two weeks, and the city saved $40,000
    in overtime costs and $36,000 in chemical costs.
  •  Recycling and Waste Reduction Initiatives, a partnership between Fairview Health Services, Merrick Inc., Partnership Resources Inc., PPL Industries, and Minnesota Waste Wise, developing an environmentally friendly way to handle material used to cover operating room supplies during sterilization in Fairview Health Services buildings.
  •  From Roofs to Roads, a coalition public, private and nonprofit partners — Solid Waste Management
    Coordinating Board, Dem-Con, Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association and
    Commercial Asphalt Company –worked to recycle roofing shingles. Some of the
    shingles now are used in paving asphalt.

To learn more about the award winners, go to the Governor’s Awards  webpage.

Floating environmental classroom launched
Just in time for back-to-school season, Living Lands & Waters (LL&W) is launching a floating classroom that will bring students out on the river to learn about life on the nation’s waterways. This new, 150-foot barge features a handicapped-accessible classroom that can host up to 60 students at a time, as well as sleeping quarters for the eight-person LL&W crew. LL&W premiered the floating classroom at a dedication hosted on the Mississippi River by long-time partner Cargill on Sept.1 in St. Paul.

The primary goal of the floating classroom is to give participants – specifically young people – the tools and experience to teach others about the need to preserve and protect natural resources. This classroom will bring kids of all ages on board for workshops on a variety of topics related to their studies in history, biology and economics among others, using the river as a teaching tool.

Each workshop will be customized with the teacher to correspond with in-class curriculum. LL&W staff and classroom members will also participate in river clean-ups during their day-long journey on the river.

The floating classroom was made possible by the  support of five LL&W partners: Cargill, ADM, AEP River Operations,
Caterpillar, and Ingram Barge Company, as well as several unions whose members donated many hours of labor to help complete this project in time for the upcoming school year.
–Cargill News Release

British firm developing zebra mussel poison
Cambridge University spinout, BioBullets Ltd, has won a £500k grant from the Technology StrategyBoard to advance commercialisation of its pest control technology for water treatment plants and power facilities.

The company estimates that zebra mussels fouling the plants costs industry billions every year – $5bn in the US alone. Other
invasive species for which the company is developing pesticides cost the UK £2bn a year.

It has patented technologies for the environmentally-friendly control of the pests.

BioBullets has produced and is currently testing a control product for fouling by invasive mussels in shrimp farms. Scientists call it a toxic Malteser.

The products greatly increase toxicity of active ingredients by microencapsulation in edible coatings that the mussels actively filter from the water. Uneaten material rapidly degrades to harmless concentrations.
–Business Weekly

Peterson scales back Red River flood request
Come hell, high water or partisan priorities, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson had pledged for months he’d secure $500 million in the 2012 farm bill toward water-retention projects in the Red River Valley.

Not so fast.

Facing the harsh reality of federal spending constraints, the veteran Democrat acknowledged he needs to scale back his plans.

“It’s going to be more difficult, and that’s why I have to be ealistic in what we can accomplish,” Peterson said, reflecting a significant hift in tone from previous months.

Peterson says he’s now hoping to get at least $300 million uaranteed toward boosting regional flood mitigation – but even that’s not a certainty.

This fall, a special committee of Congress will outline spending cuts for the federal budget.

However much the committee demands from agriculture will influence how much the Red River Valley might get for its water projects, Peterson said.
–In Forum

Wisconsin court hears dairy case
A long-running battle between the residents of one Rock County community and thereach of big dairy will come to a head when the first case to test the state’s livestock siting law will be heard before the state Supreme Court.

The law, which was approved in 2004 under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and a Republican-controlled Legislature, for
the first time outlined state standards for location, odor and air emissions, manure spreading and storage, and runoff management for new farms of all sizes or those that are looking to expand.

The law gave local governments the option of using the new state standards or adopting their own siting ordinances as long as they weren’t more restrictive than the state’s.

And that is the problem, say the eight families from the town of Magnolia who brought John Adams v. Wisconsin.

When their town board tried to place groundwater and manure-spreading stipulations on Larson Acres Inc., Rock County’s largest dairy farm, it was ultimately overruled by the Livestock Facility Siting Review Board.
–The Capital Times