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.
Questions dog Legacy expenditures
Over the next 23 years, Minnesota will spend an estimated $2 billion in Legacy funds to make its lakes and rivers cleaner.
But who’s to say whether that money will be well spent? That those waters will be in appreciably better shape than they are now? That the money won’t go down some big hole or lots of little ones?
As the state begins handling constitutionally dedicated money approved by voters in 2008, questions are being raised about the clean-water portion of that amendment. Some activists worry much of that money, especially that dealing with pollution from agriculture, could be wasted or could go to less effective uses.
“There are a lot of things to be concerned about, and I worry a lot,” said Gene Merriam, head of the Freshwater Society and a former Department of Natural Resources commissioner and state senator. “This is a lot of money. I’m concerned that little or nothing comes of it.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press
More good news on rare species
Two weeks ago, this blog took some delight in the recent spotting of a baby Blanding’s turtle in Minnesota’s Martin County. Scientists had feared the threatened species was not reproducing at the study site.
Now comes some good news about another species: The rare nine-spotted ladybug.
The Coccinella novemnotata is the state insect of New York but has long been thought to be extinct in the state. A live ladybug was found on Long Island in July.
It turns out that disappearing ladybugs are a problem throughout the U.S., and there is a Lost Ladybug Project at Cornell University that encourages citizen scientists to look for, photograph and report rare ladybugs.
The Associated Press reports that the leading theory about the decline of native ladybugs is that they were somehow displaced by the seven-spotted ladybug, which was introduced from Europe and released as natural pest control to eat aphids on crops. Seven-spotted ladybugs are now common, as are Asian multicolored ladybugs, which were released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s and ’80s to control scale insects on trees.
The nine-spotted ladybug was once one of the most common ladybugs in the United States. But by 1999, extensive surveys by scientists failed to find any live specimens. Cornell researchers launched the Lost Ladybug Project in 2000. to enlist children and adults as citizen scientists to survey the ladybug population.
China invest billions in desalination race
TIANJIN, China — Towering over the Bohai Sea shoreline on this city’s outskirts, the Beijiang Power and Desalination Plant is a 26-billion-renminbi technical marvel: an ultrahigh-temperature, coal-fired generator with state-of-the-art pollution controls, mated to advanced Israeli equipment that uses its leftover heat to distill seawater into fresh water.
There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest.
“Someone has to lose money,” Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. “We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.”
In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy.
As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.
–The New York Times
Public comment sought on Lutsen snowmaking
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments on a proposal for a temporary permit that would allow Lutsen Mountain Corporation to continue to draw water from the Poplar River for its snowmaking operation.
Normally, pumping operations would be discontinued due to the river’s low flow, but the DNR is authorized by statute to allow exceptions under unique circumstances.
The 2011 Legislature authorized the resort owner to take up to 150 million gallons of water from the Poplar River for snowmaking this fall, but included a provision that suspends the appropriation if flows fall below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five consecutive days. The flow in the river has been at or near that threshold for weeks. A separate provision of Minnesota statutes, however, authorizes the DNR to issue a permit beyond what is normally allowed if there is “just cause.”
In this case, the DNR believes there is just cause to issue LMC a permit based on the potential economic impacts to the local community, the low numbers of trout present in the affected reach of river, and the likelihood that some trout mortality will occur, whether the resort temporarily appropriates water or not.
“The most important aspect of this issue is that the Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source of water for LMC,” explained DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We need concurrence from LMC and key legislators that they are committed to finding an alternate source of water for snowmaking – probably Lake Superior – within three years to prevent a reoccurrence of this very difficult situation.”
The draft permit and a FAQ with additional background information is available online.
The public may submit comments through Nov. 4 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–DNR News Release
Research shows stream buffers’ value
A new take on a fairly common conservation practice can do a lot more than previously thought to control nutrient runoff in crop fields, according to new research in Iowa.
A project testing the viability of riparian buffer strips to remove nutrients from crop runoff water was conducted this growing season by the Ames, Iowa-based Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The main target for the research was a 1,000-foot stretch of Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa, where a “saturated buffer” was installed to catch tile-line water before it’s released into waterways.
The system uses “a shallow lateral line” that “has control structures that raise the water table and slow outflow, allowing the buffers to naturally remove nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous.””
The results: In addition to curbing over half of the immediate tile line outflow into waterways, it removes all of the nitrate output, says USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment and lead researcher for the project Dale Jaynes.
“The system removed 100% of the nitrate from 60% of the field tile flow,” Jaynes says. “We figure that 250 kilograms, or about 500 pounds, of nitrate nitrogen was kept out of the stream.”
Mississippi River is Sip of Science topic
Pat Nunnally, the River Life coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, will be the next speaker in the Sip of Science lecture series. The series, sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics at the university’s St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, offers scientific discussion in a happy-hour setting.
Nunnally will speak Wedenesday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. at the Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main St., Minneapolis.
The River Life Program connects University teaching, research and programs to off-campus partners who are working toward a sustainable river and inclusive planning for our river future. The program utilizes diverse digital platforms and makes strong use of social media to create unique learning opportunities — students learn from practitioners, river agency staff network more with each other, and communities up and down the river can share their experiences.
Research: Wis. Dairy wells would lower lakes
State Department of Natural Resources officials will need to decide whether lowering the level of surrounding lakes and streams by about two inches is an acceptable outcome from a planned large dairy operation, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor says.
People who live near the proposed Richfield Dairy in Adams County asked George Kraft, a hydrogeologist at UW-Stevens Point, to look at the potential impact of two high-capacity wells planned as part of the proposed 4,300-cow dairy operation.
Kraft said he doesn’t favor or oppose the wells, and he’s just providing the DNR with facts about the potential effects.
“Is two inches too much? I don’t know,” Kraft said. “This is up to the DNR; this is beyond the science I’m doing.”
The previous owner of the Richfield property where the proposed operation would be located had one high-capacity well, said Bill Harke, director of public affairs for Milk Source, the group that plans to build the dairy. Company officials said in the DNR application the dairy operation would use about 52 million gallons of water annually.
–Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune
MPCA approves taconite expansion
A $300 million expansion proposed for U.S. Steel’s taconite operation in Keewatin, Minn., cleared an important hurdle when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency board voted to approve its wastewater emissions permit.
The permit, approved in a unanimous vote, sets a more restrictive level for sulfate emissions than the current state standard. That drew praise from at least one environmentalist who has tracked the permitting process.
“It’s a positive,” said Paula Maccabee, an attorney with the environmental group WaterLegacy. “U.S. Steel has owned that plant since 2003, and this is the first time they’ve been asked to comply” with sulfate emission standards, she said.
–The Star Tribune
DNA suggests Asian carp are in Mississippi
Read a Minnesota Public Radio transcript of Luke Skinner, the Minnesota DNR’s invasive species program director, being interviewed about Asian carp.
States ask Supreme Court to hear carp case
Five Great Lakes states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to require nets in Chicago area waterways to stop the spread of Asian carp.
“We need to close the Asian carp superhighway and do it now,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “Time is running out for the Great Lakes, and we can’t afford to wait years before the federal government takes meaningful action.”
The Supreme Court has previously declined two requests from Michigan to close Chicago area waterways to block Asian carp from Lake Michigan.
A federal appeals panel in August rejected the request of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to close Chicago navigational locks, upholding a district court decision. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cautioned that the issue could be revisited if ongoing efforts to stop the advance of the invasive species stall.
Attorneys General for the five states cited that warning in their appeal filed to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to overturn the panel’s decision.
–The Chicago Tribune
Looking for snow removal contractor?
If you are looking for someone to plow your parking lot, choose a firm trained and certified to remove snow
and ice with minimum chloride pollution of water and soil. Find a list of certified contractors on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency web site.
New York resisting pressure on ballast rules
The state of New York does not appear to be bowing to pressure from a group of Great Lakes governors, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, to back off on its plan to adopt the region’s toughest ballast discharge laws for overseas ships visiting the Great Lakes.
All overseas vessels sailing into the Great Lakes must pass through New York state waters, and in 2013 New York had planned to begin requiring ships to install water treatment systems in their vessel-steadying ballast tanks in order to kill unwanted hitchhikers making their way into the lakes from ports around the globe.
This did not sit well with Walker and fellow governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and John Kasich of Ohio, who in September sent a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to back off on the law. They fear it could harm overseas traffic, a sector of cargo flow that in recent years has accounted for less than 10% of the tonnage that moves on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes.
Great Lakes states like Wisconsin are pursuing weaker ballast rules developed by the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, that allows for a certain number of species of a certain size to be discharged from the ballast tanks, and ships would not have to meet that requirement until 2016.
New York had proposed standards that are 100 times more stringent than the IMO rules for existing vessels and 1,000 times more stringent for ships built after Jan. 1, 2013.
The problem, according to Walker and the other governors, is that technologies do not yet exist to accomplish what New York is pursuing. They fret that New York’s rule will affect the whole Great Lakes region because it covers ships that are only passing through New York waters. Any ship visiting ports such as Milwaukee, Toledo or Gary, Ind., must first travel through New York waters on its journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Ceres investor group takes on water
Against a backdrop of increasing business exposure to global water supply threats, Ceres released a new tool for evaluating those risks – and opportunities – that both investors and companies can use as a roadmap to enhanced water stewardship.
Ceres is a U.S.-based coalition of investors, environmental groups, and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.
“Water risks are urgent today and, given population and climate trends, can only grow increasingly more so,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in announcing the Ceres Aqua Gauge: A Framework for 21st Century Water Risk Management.
Even as companies accelerate water efficiency and improved water resource management, water pressures are likely to worsen. According to estimates by McKinsey & Company, the world may face a 40 percent global shortfall between forecast water demand and available supplies by 2030.
–Ceres News Release
Vilsack opposes crop insurance-conservation rule
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he is not proposing the linking of conservation compliance with subsidized crop insurance, but he is confident that the farm bill will include some kind of regulatory leverage.
Proposals to cut between $23 billion and $33 billion from the omnibus farm bill have been floated to the 12-member “supercommittee” of lawmakers making federal budget cuts.
The committee’s work, rather than the traditional process of the Senate and House agriculture committees, is expected to frame the next farm bill.
–The Des Moines Register
Kansas lakes filling with sediment
John Redmond Reservoir averages just 6 feet deep.
The lake, which supplies water to several Kansas towns and the Wolf Creek nuclear plant, now sits with only about 58 percent of its original capacity.
The rest is goo.
From the smallest farm pond to the largest reservoirs, all Kansas lakes are slowly filling with dirt. Sediment, the simple mixture of water and dirt, is considered one of Kansas’ largest environmental concerns by some experts.
Currently about 60 percent of Kansans get their water from lakes and that number is expected to grow.
Kansas experts say no simple solutions are in sight.
–The Wichita Eagle
China plans groundwater clean-up
China has pledged to make all its underground drinking water safe and to significantly improve the overall quality of groundwater by 2020, a goal that even some senior environmental officials say will be difficult to achieve.
All pollution from urban sewage, industrial projects and agricultural activity must be cut off from underground sources so that it will not contaminate the water, said Zhao Hualin, director of pollution prevention department under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The government also plans to import technologies for groundwater restoration and start pilot treatment projects in the coming five years, Zhao said, citing a national blueprint to tackle underground water pollution for 2011 to 2020, which the State Council issued in August.
About 63 percent of China’s groundwater is safe for drinking, and the rest is polluted, according to a nationwide monitoring study carried out by the Ministry of Land and Resources.