Archive for November, 2011

Ethanol plant faces pollution penalty

November 28, 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.

Corn Plus ethanol plant penalized – again
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has announced that Corn Plus will pay a $310,000 civil penalty to resolve violations of the air-quality permit issued to the company’s ethanol-production facility in Winnebago.

The violations, occurring from 2008 to 2010, were discovered through on-site inspections by MPCA enforcement staff and through analysis of monitoring data the company is required to submit under its air quality permit.

A staff inspection in August 2009 found violations of Minnesota laws and rules as well as permit conditions. The inspection confirmed that some of the violations were not previously reported to the MPCA as required by the facility’s permit. MPCA staff requested more monitoring records and discovered many repeated data patterns that indicated Corn Plus had falsified up to a year’s worth of monitoring data, primarily relating to operations of the facility’s air-emissions-control equipment.

In March 2011, staff from the MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency interviewed the facility’s environmental manager and requested more monitoring records. The facility was issued a grand jury subpoena at that time by the EPA. After reviewing the records, EPA and MPCA staff identified more potentially false data from 2010.

Last month, Corn Plus was charged by the EPA with a felony for falsifying information about its pollution-control equipment. These actions follow an $891,000 settlement with the MPCA in January 2010, and another criminal charge from the EPA in late 2009 for water-quality violations.
–MPCA News Release

New UN report cites degraded land and water resources
Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, according to a new FAO report..

The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) notes that while the last 50 years witnessed a notable increase in food production, “in too many places, achievements have been associated with management practices that have degraded the land and water systems upon which food production depends.”

Today a number of those systems “face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices,” the report says.

No region is immune: systems at risk can be found around the globe, from the highlands of the Andes to the steppes of Central Asia, from Australia’s Murray-Darling river basin to the central United States.
—Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN news release

Photo contest seeks signs of winter
Calling all Photographers…. Check out Freshwater Society’s Facebook page and submit your best photo of the first signs of winter! Winning photos will be published in the 2013 Weatherguide Environment Calendar! The deadline for submission is Dec. 31.

Dec. 6 book-signing by Darby Nelson
Darby Nelson, a Freshwater Society board member, will talk about  and read excerpts from his new book, For Love of Lakes,  in a book-signing event at 6 p.m.  Tuesday, Dec. 6, in the Student Center Theater on the University of  Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus.

Read a Freshwater article about the book and link to the introduction Nelson wrote for it.

Minnehaha Creek district eyes expanded role
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District is about to make what it says is one of its most important—and potentially expensive—decisions in recent memory.

Citing internal study and consensus that invasive species are the No. 1 threat to the watershed’s long-term vitality and health, the district is considering taking a lead role in the fight to prevent the spread of aquatic hitchhikers—something that has historically been the Department of Natural Resource’s responsibility.

“We would like to see the DNR take a very strong, very active role in this, but we don’t feel the state has the resources to protect our resources—nor do they have the staff,” said Eric Evenson, the MCWD’s top administrator.
 –Minnetonka Patch

Rare isotope tracks ancient aquifer
The Nubian Aquifer, the font of fabled oases in Egypt and Libya, stretches languidly across 770,000 square miles of northern Africa, a pointillist collection of underground pools of water migrating, ever so slowly, through rock and sand toward the Mediterranean Sea.

The aquifer is one of the world’s oldest. But its workings — how it flows and how quickly surface water replenishes it — have been hard to understand, in part because the tools available to study it have provided, at best, a blurry image. Now, to solve some of the puzzles, physicists at the Department of Energy’s Argonne  National Laboratory in Illinois have turned to one of the rarest particles on earth: an elusive radioactive isotope usually ricocheting around in the atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour.
The New York Times

Budget collapse leaves winners, losers
Count pheasant hunters as among those likely disappointed that Congress is plowing under that new farm bill. Biofuel producers, on the other hand, may be happy to see the bill go.

Those groups were among the winners and losers in the hastily crafted bill that the House and Senate agriculture committees had planned to stuff in a deficit-reduction plan that a congressional supercommittee was charged with writing. The supercommittee gave up trying to agree on the plan, leaving the agriculture committees in Congress to start over on the farm legislation.

The agriculture committee leaders did all their work on the bill behind closed doors and never released an actual text of the legislation.

But Pheasants Forever, an advocacy group, successfully lobbied the lawmakers for provisions that would have steered conservation funding to landowners who preserved grassy areas as habitat for the game bird.

The ethanol industry was dismayed to find out that the bill, according to a summary that leaked out, would have blocked the Agriculture Department from subsidizing the installation of service station pumps that can dispense higher blends of the biofuel. The legislation also contained no money for subsidizing farmers who provided crop residues and other new feedstocks for making biofuels.
–The Des Moines Register

Septic systems threaten Cape Cod waters
When the tide rolls out, the beaches on the west coast of Cape Cod often turn a shade of lime green, with splotches of a slimy substance that locals say resembles black mayonnaise and smells like rotten eggs.

In the warmer months, a film of algae spreads through the harbor in Cataumet and the opaque waters turn a copper color, veiling the little life left on the seabed.

“There can be so much algae in the water that they look like huge lily pads, like you can walk across them on the water,’’ said Scott Zeien, owner of Kingman Yacht Center, who has been swimming and sailing off this Bourne village since he was a child. “It’s really gross. It looks like a bad day on the Mississippi River – not a place anyone would want to swim.’’

The problem, a growing body of evidence suggests, stems from the dramatic rise in development on the Cape and the lack of sufficient waste-disposal systems. The remnants of sewage from septic tanks of the more than 200,000 full-time Cape residents is seeping into the ground water and polluting estuaries, bays, and other bodies of water from Bourne to Orleans.
–The Boston Globe

Add hairy crazy ant to the list of invasives
America is under siege — not by a foreign power, but by invasive species slowly working their way across the nation, leaving a sometimes-devastated and often-changed landscape in their wake.

Just as Dutch elm disease from Asia removed an iconic tree from the American landscape beginning in the 1940s, the emerald ash borer may conquer the ash tree in coming years. West Nile virus from Africa killed 57 Americans last year. And work crews often encounter giant Burmese pythons in South Florida.

The latest addition to the list of non-native creepy-crawlies is the hairy crazy ant. The tiny foragers are believed to have come from South America. They first got to the Caribbean in the late 19th century and are working their way through Florida and the Southeast. First discovered nine years ago in Texas by exterminator Tom Rasberry, the ants are now also in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for the National Pest Management Association in Fairfax, Va.
–USA Today

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A report card on Minnesota’s environment

November 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.

Dayton seeks environmental report card
Trumpeting his administration’s success in speeding up permitting and environmental reviews, Gov. Mark Dayton ordered additional steps to make things even better.

With state departments now issuing 80 percent of permits within a time frame he called for in January, Dayton signed an executive order requiring the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to recommend ways to simplify and to improve things further and to come up with an annual report card tracking the state’s performance.

“We’re feeling really good about this,” said Dayton, adding, “We’re looking for ways to do even better.”

At a Capitol press conference, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Paul Aasen said his agency has issued more than 1,300 permits within a 150-day goal set by Dayton and Republican legislators last winter as both sought ways to speed up the permitting and environmental review pace to make things easier for businesses.

Dayton and Aasen said 96 percent of permits for new or expanding projects are being issued within 150 days. Aasen, meanwhile, said permits not decided within the 150-day period typically involved complex air-quality issues.

During the legislative session, Republicans called their streamlining efforts a signature achievement, even though Dayton had required some of them in an earlier executive order.

Dayton said he wants the first EQB report card by Nov. 15, 2012. By the following Jan. 15, he wants the EQB to organize and host a followup “congress” on the state of Minnesota’s environment.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

3M, state agree on clean-up
The 3M Co. and state regulators signed off on a plan to start cleaning up groundwater in Cottage Grove that for decades has been contaminated with industrial toxins used in some of the company’s best-known consumer products.

Though it brings the long, controversial cleanup one step closer to completion, the parties still haven’t agreed on how to address a far more difficult problem: removing the contaminants, known as PFCs, from the water before it is discharged from the company’s Cottage Grove manufacturing plant into the Mississippi River. The river above Hastings is also contaminated with the toxins, and, as a result, the state Health Department has said fish there are not safe to eat.

Early this year both 3M’s groundwater cleanup and the water treatment plan were presented to east metro communities affected by contamination from PFCs, chemicals that 3M used for years in the manufacture of Post-it Notes, fire retardants and other products.

But many local residents objected to the plan. It gave 3M two years to reduce the concentrations of the most critical contaminant, called PFOS, down to the level that would protect the Mississippi — seven parts per trillion. At that level, pollution in the river would gradually improve, eventually making the fish safe to eat again.

But even with the best available technology, company officials said, 3M has been able to get the PFOS level down only to 100 to 500 parts per trillion.
–The Star Tribune

Dec. 6 book-signing by Darby Nelson
Darby Nelson, a Freshwater Society board member, will talk about  and read excerpts from his new book, For Love of Lakes,  in a book-signing event at 6 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 6, in theStudent Center Theater on the University of  Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus. Read his introduction to  the book. Please RSVP for the event.

House passes ban on state ballast water rules
The U.S. House has approved a bill that would set a national policy for cleansing ship ballast water to kill invasive species while prohibiting states from imposing tougher requirements.

The measure that passed the Republican-controlled chamber would adopt an international standard limiting the number of live organisms in ballast water. Vessel operators would have to install technology to comply.

The shipping industry says an existing patchwork of more than two dozen state and tribal policies is unworkable because vessels move constantly from one jurisdiction to another. New York rules scheduled to take effect in 2013 would be 100 times tougher than the House standards.

Environmentalists say the House measure isn’t strong enough to prevent more invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes. They say they hope to derail it in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
–The Associated Press

Groups seek lock closing as Asian carp barrier
More than a dozen conservation and environmental groups urged a state-federal panel to endorse closing two navigation locks in the Twin Cities to keep Asian carp from moving farther up the Mississippi River.

“The ability to temporarily and permanently close the locks at St. Anthony Falls and the Ford dam needs to be of the highest priority in any final Asian carp plan,” said the letter signed by the 14 organizations.

The letter was given to Gov. Mark Dayton, who convened the panel to identify strategies the state can adopt to limit the statewide impact of those fish, which already have been caught in border waters in recent years. Genetic material from one type, silver carp, has even been found as far upriver as the Ford dam, between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The groups’ request was echoed by Paul Labovitz, National Park Service superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 72-mile stretch of river corridor winding through the Twin Cities metro area.

The Department of Natural Resources will prepare responses the panel can consider next month.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

UM researchers study common carp
Fitted with electrofishing equipment, the boat eased into the cattails along North St. Paul’s Casey Lake, two University of Minnesota technicians standing at the bow with dip nets ready to scoop up stunned common carp.

In short order, they did, plopping them into a pail so that small radio tags could be inserted into the largest ones, enabling researchers to track their movements.

That outing, on a recent sunny afternoon, was just one of a half-dozen ways U scientists are researching one of the state’s most vexing creatures. Brought to Minnesota in the 19th century, common carp have taken over thousands of shallow lakes and wetlands, rooting on the bottom for food and turning many of them into mud holes that no longer sustain ducks and other species.

Now, though, relief could be on the way.

Led by professor Peter Sorensen, U scientists are trying to figure out what makes these carp tick: where they go, when and why, and what attracts and repels them.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Research offers hope for oil sands
Several years ago, Paul Painter, a professor of polymer science at Pennsylvania State University, saw a news report about the deaths of hundreds of ducks that landed on a tailings pond near an oil sands mine in the Canadian province of Alberta. The ducks had become coated with residual petroleum floating on the pond, which was filled with wastewater from the process used to extract oil from the strip-mined sands.

“It wasn’t that I’m a rabid environmentalist,” Dr. Painter said recently. “It just occurred to me that we were working with something that might prove useful.”

That something was an ionic liquid, a salt that, unlike ordinary table salt, is liquid at temperatures below the boiling point of water. Dr. Painter had been using ionic liquids to try to get nanoparticles to mix with polymers, but he realized that they could also be used to help separate different materials — in this case, oil from sand.

Dr. Painter has since demonstrated in the laboratory that ionic liquids have the potential for greatly reducing the amount of water used in the oil sands industry. If he can scale up the process, and if it is adopted, it could go a long way to making the oil sands industry more environmentally sound.
–The New York Times

National Geographic documents river preservation
The November National Geographic magazine has a beautiful article on America’s Wild and Scenic Rivers. It quotes former Vice President Walter Mondale, a co-sponsor of the legislation that preserves the rivers, on the St. Croix River. Read the article here.

Arsenic taints Iowa wells
Hundreds of Iowans across the state are drinking tap water polluted with poisonous arsenic as health workers move to rein in the problem.

The problem is so widespread that health officials statewide gathered last week in Des Moines to discuss remedies. Large public water supplies routinely test for arsenic. But health officials are now stepping up efforts to encourage private well owners to pay for their own tests, which cost about $20.

The element occurs naturally in Iowa’s soil. It leaches into ground water, which is the source of tap water for 55 percent of Iowans.

Drinking large amounts of arsenic over decades could lead to cancer of the skin, bladder, lungs, liver and prostate, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Short-term exposure to very high levels can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and skin problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

(In Minnesota, the state Health Department estimates that about 10 percent of all wells have levels of naturally occurring arsenic that exceed a 10 parts per billion health standard. Learn more.)
–The Des Moines Register

DNR makes grants for habitat
Twenty grants totaling $1.83 million have been awarded to conservation groups to improve state habitat.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages the Conservation Legacy Partners program to provide competitive grants from $5,000 to $400,000 to local, regional, state, and national nonprofit organizations, including government entities. The grants are for work to enhance, restore, or protect the forests, wetlands, prairies, and habitat for fish, game, or wildlife in Minnesota.

The grants are made possible by Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment dollars.
–DNR News Release

Long Prairie packing plant pays pollution penalty
Long Prairie Packing Co., LLC, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently reached an agreement that requires the company to pay $52,000 for alleged water quality violations. The violations occurred between fall 2009 and spring 2010 at the company’s facility in Long Prairie, Minn.

According to MPCA staff inspection reports, the company improperly stockpiled and land applied industrial byproducts, and failed to maintain a required 600-foot land application setback from surface waters at seven sites. Some of the land applications occurred within farmed wetlands. The company also failed to notify the MPCA or immediately recover blood-contaminated leachate which spilled out of a dumpster and a large storage tote; improperly stored more than 500 gallons of used oil; and operated parts of the facility without a required federal and state industrial stormwater permit.

Of the $52,000 civil penalty, half will be paid to the MPCA, and half will be spent on completing a supplemental environmental project. Long Prairie Packing Co. plans to construct an industrial anaerobic digester near the plant that will reduce the amount and toxicity of pollutants entering area waters, and significantly reduce the land application of industrial byproducts.
–MPCA News Release

Groundwater use threatens rivers
Great Plains river basins are threatened by pumping of groundwater from aquifers, risking a bleak future for native fish in many streams, U.S. researchers say.

Unlike alluvial aquifers, which can be replenished with rain and snow, these regional aquifers were created by melting glaciers during the last Ice Age, the researchers say, and when that water is gone, it’s gone for good.

“It is a finite resource that is not being recharged,” Jeffrey Falke, a researcher at Oregon State University and lead author on the study, said.

“That water has been there for thousands of years, and it is rapidly being depleted. Already, streams that used to run year-round are becoming seasonal, and refuge habitats for native fishes are drying up and becoming increasingly fragmented.”
–UPI

Mormons criticize groundwater pipeline
An attorney for the LDS Church called a proposal for tapping ground water in the dry regions of Nevada and pumping it to Las Vegas a disaster with good intentions.

“It’s the cotton candy of good intentions with nothing good at its core,” attorney Paul Hermonskie said. “It does not provide the protection my client must have.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just one of hundreds of protestors who have lined up against the proposal for tapping groundwater aquifers in eastern Nevada. Hermonskie was among several who testified during a closing hearing convened by the Nevada State Engineer’s Office.

Hearings first began in September in which hundreds of documents were submitted and more than 80 people have testified.

At issue is the divisive proposal by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to take ground water so it can supply the future needs of customers in the Las Vegas area. As many as 126,000 acre-feet of groundwater would be tapped to fill the proposed 300-mile, $3.5 billion pipeline that proponents say is necessary to keep the tourism industry — and the economy — of Las Vegas and Nevada afloat.
–The Deseret Sun

Canadian report urges higher water prices
Canadian provinces should consider charging higher fees for water to encourage its water-reliant natural resource industries to use the resource more efficiently, a new report suggests.

The natural resource sectors — agriculture, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, pulp and paper and thermal electricity generation — use more than four litres of water for every litre used by all other sectors combined, including drinking water, said the report released Thursday by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

“And many of them depend on water to do their business,” said Marc Parent, vice-chair of the, round table.
–CBC News

Anoka Rotary cleans up for cleaner water

November 16, 2011

The Anoka Rotary Chapter rallied local community members last weekend in their first Community Clean-Up for Water Quality in Penninsula Park.  Members of the Anoka Rotary Club were joined by the Anoka Lions Club, students and faculty from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Anoka High School and a local Boy Scout troop to sweep fallen leaves out of streets, parking lots and storm drains.

Anoka rotary collects leaves

Rotary volunteers collect leaves

Ace Solid Waste contributed a roll-off dumpster to collect the leaves and debris, and Steve’s Lawn Care donated a lawn vacuum and an additional truck to carry the leaves to a composting facility.

The event was the latest in a series of clean-ups this fall sponsored through a partnership between the Freshwater Society and Friends of the Minnesota Valley.  The Anoka Rotary chapter joined a growing number of citizen groups engaged in direct action to protect Minnesota’s water resources.  Biology professor Melanie Waite-Altringer said, “I LOVED being a part of this and so did my students.”

The clean-ups focus on cleaning up organic debris like leaves and grass from streets, storm drains, boulevards, parking lots and public areas, and taking the debris to a local composting facility.  Organic materials contain high levels of phosphorus, one of the primary sources of pollution that turn Minnesota’s lakes and rivers green with algae.  For every five bags of leaves collected, volunteers keep up to a pound of phosphorus out of rivers and lakes, preventing the growth of up to 500 pounds of algae.

The Anoka Rotary Clean-Up gathered up 2.5 tons of organic material.  That adds up to that’s up to 50 pounds of P that won’t flow to the river, and up to 25,000 of algae that won’t be growing in the river.  Organizer Gary Campbell said, “It was a fabulous day and a job that needed to be done. Many people asked when we would be doing this again.”

Learn more about Community Clean-Ups for Water Quality coming up in spring of 2012.

Litigation, a fishing limit and Lutsen pumping

November 14, 2011

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

Met Council joins state in suit against 3M
The Metropolitan Council has put a $1 billion price tag on a small part of the cleanup of chemicals made by the 3M Co.

The council gave that estimate as it announced it was joining the state of Minnesota’s lawsuit against 3M for damage to the environment.

The council estimates it will cost $1 billion to remove a chemical used in the production of the fabric protection treatment known as Scotchgard and other 3M products from the water discharged by the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant near Pig’s Eye Lake in St. Paul.

The cleanup will be required when state officials decide how much of the pollutant – PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonate – should be allowed in Pool 2, a section of the Mississippi River between the Ford Dam in St. Paul and Hastings.

The standards are needed to protect fish and the people who eat them, said Dave Verhasselt, spokesman for the state Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Support Freshwater; Give to the Max
Please support the Freshwater Society’s work to educate and inspire people to value, conserve and protect water resources. Make a generous contribution on Give to the Max Day, Nov. 16.

Your support is vital to our work.

Fred KirschenmannKirschenmann lecture available on video
Did you miss the Nov. 10 lecture by Fred Kirschenmann on water and the future of agriculture?

Don’t worry. You can watch it on video.

Kirschenmann is a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

Weatherguide calendar photo contest set
The first signs of winter are everywhere. Take a photo that captures those signs – the freeze-up of ponds, the migration or hibernation of animals, early-season snowfalls — and enter it in a new Freshwater Society contest. The winning photo will be printed in the 2013 Minnesota Weatherguide
Environment Calendar.

The deadline for submission is Dec. 31. The winner will be announced in January. Get details on the contest and how to enter.

Limit put on East Coast forage fish catch
A fishing oversight group voted  to sharply reduce the allowable East Coast catch of menhaden, an oily forage fish that does not show up on dinner plates but is vital, scientists say, to the ocean ecosystem.

Millions of pounds of menhaden are caught along the Atlantic Seaboard each year, but the population is now at 10 percent of historic levels.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which includes representatives from 15 Eastern states and the federal government, voted to reduce the menhaden harvest by as much as 37 percent compared with 2010 levels after a review found the species had been overfished and needed to rebuild.

Millions of pounds of menhaden are caught along the Atlantic Seaboard each year, most by Omega Protein, a company that grinds it and reduces it to fish meal and oil that goes into fertilizer, feed for  livestock and farmed fish, pet food and even dietary supplements. But menhaden — which is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and is also known as bunker or pogy, depending where you live — is also an ecological building block, serving as a crucial food for larger fish like tuna, striped bass and bluefish, as well as birds and marine mammals.

“There’s really not much in the ocean that is as healthy to eat, pound for pound, as menhaden,” said Peter Baker, director of Northeast fisheries at the Pew Environment Group, which supported the catch reduction. “If these other species don’t have menhaden in their diet it becomes less nutritious and they’re more susceptible to disease.”
–The New York Times

DNR allows Lutsen resort to keep pumping
The owners of Lutsen Mountain ski area on Minnesota’s North Shore can pump water out of the Poplar River to make snow for skiers this winter even though the river has dropped to unusually low levels.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Lutsen Mountain Corp. can pump water from the drought-stricken river because the alternative, shutting off the water supply, could force the ski hill to close.

The issue became public in May when the News Tribune first reported the ski hill had been in violation of its water use permit for years. It is the only commercial use of designated trout stream water in the state in winter.

DNR officials last spring appeared to be moving toward requiring the company to instead pump its snowmaking water from Lake Superior — more than a mile away — a move the company said is too expensive.

The 2011 Legislature then intervened, stopping the DNR from cracking down on Lutsen and allowing the company to pump up to 150 million gallons per year, about 2 million gallons per day during the snowmaking season, out of the Poplar River that runs through the ski area.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Drought may deter spring floods
In much of Minnesota, the last three autumns brought vivid color and a lot of talk about spring flooding to come. This year — not so much of either, thanks to a drought.

In addition to reducing the potential for calamitous flooding, dry conditions have also helped farmers and public agencies zip through their chore lists.

The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has been restoring shoreline plantings in areas along Lake Minnetonka where recent high water kept them from taking root. The district also has been able to carry out some controlled burns of unwanted vegetation and dredging of silted-in retention ponds, said spokeswoman Telly Mamayek.
–The Star Tribune

The energy and expense of quenching California’s thirst
The aqueduct stretched across the desert like an endless blue freight train, carrying its cargo of Colorado River water to a concrete building at the base of a craggy-faced mountain.

Inside the plant, adorned with the seal of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a set of massive pumps hoisted the water 441 feet high, disgorging it into a tunnel and the final leg of its journey from the Arizona border to a Riverside County reservoir.

The Julian Hinds Pumping Plant is one of the hydraulic hearts of California’s vast water supply system, built early in the last century to push water from where it is to where it isn’t, no matter how many hundreds of miles of desert, mountains and valleys are in the way.

Defying geography on such a grand scale takes energy. A lot of it. It’s also expensive. And it’s going to become more so, driving up Southern California water rates and forcing the region to consider more mundane sources closer to home.

The volume of water propelled uphill on one recent day at Hinds weighed the equivalent of more than four World Trade Center towers and required six 12,500-horsepower motors driven by electricity, much of it from Hoover and Parker dams on the Colorado.
–The Los Angeles Times

Comment sought on Carver, Bevens creeks
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking comments on a draft report concerning pollution in Carver and Bevens creeks, located west of the Twin Cities metro area, in the Lower Minnesota River watershed. According to the report, the creeks carry excess sediment and other fine material that limit the growth and reproduction of aquatic plants and fish. The sediment comes primarily from erosion in the stream channel and runoff from the surrounding landscape. The report calls for reducing sediment in Carver Creek by as much as 86 percent and up to 83 percent in Bevens Creek.

The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load report or TMDL, is part of a nationwide effort to clean up pollution in lakes and streams. The purpose of the report is to assess conditions in the impaired water bodies, identify the sources of the problem, and specify changes needed to return water conditions to an acceptable level. After reviewing comments from the public and obtaining approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the MPCA and other local organizations will work out a specific plan for improving water quality in Carver and Bevens creeks.

The draft report may be viewed at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/veiz965. For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak (e-mail Chris.Zadak@state.mn.us ; phone 651-757-2837), MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd., Saint Paul, MN 55155. Comments must be received in writing at the MPCA office by Dec. 14.
–MPCA News Release

Bird Conservancy criticizes feral cats
Are feral cats becoming an invasive species?

You might think so from the letter the American Bird Conservancy sent to 50 mayors,  including Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak.

Specifically, the ABC wants the mayors to stop encouraging trap-neuter-release programs that are widely used by animal shelters and other animal protection organizations, including Animal Ark in Minnesota. The idea is that feral cats, which cannot be turned into domestic pets, are caught, neutered, and then released back into the wild. Often, they congregate in “cat colonies,” especially if a cat-loving person puts out food for them.

The programs were designed in an effort to control the explosive growth of feral cats, usually the offspring of domestic cats that have been born and raised outdoors with little or no social contact with humans. They are, in effect, wild animals that continue to breed more wild animals. Female cats start breeding at six months. One cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in just seven years.

There are now an estimated 95 million outdoor and feral cats in the United States that kill at least 532 million birds, and perhaps more, the ABC says. They are far more common in the south, but the numbers in Minnesota are growing, according to local animal shelters, because our winters are warmer.
–The Star Tribune

Park Service blocks water bottle ban
Weary of plastic litter, Grand Canyon National Park officials were in the final stages of imposing a ban on the sale of disposable water bottles in the Grand Canyon late last year when the nation’s parks chief abruptly blocked the plan after conversations with Coca-Cola, a major donor to the National Park Foundation.

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his superiors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand and has donated more than $13 million to the parks, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled. His account was confirmed by park, foundation and company officials.

A spokesman for the National Park Service, David Barna, said it was Jon Jarvis, the top federal parks official, who made the “decision to put it on hold until we can get more information.” He added that “reducing and eliminating disposable plastic bottles is one element of our green plan. This is a process, and we are at the beginning of it.”
–The New York Times

First the good news: It’s all good
There seemed to be no doubt that Mike Adams was a productive journalist, even if his beat was a bit obscure: the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

In recent months, he churned out more than 20 stories on the water wholesaler based in southeast Los Angeles. He wrote about recycled water that kept the grass green on street medians and parks. About the computer system a college used to irrigate its landscaping. About a water-saving youth soccer field.

The only mystery, really, was Adams himself. The Times could not find evidence he exists.

Adams’ stories were published on the website News Hawks Review after Central Basin agreed to pay up to nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money to public relations consultant Ed Coghlan. Under the deal, Coghlan said he would produce promotional stories about the district that would be indexed on Google News.
–The Los Angeles Times

UM has role in $25 million biomass research
Can a single biofuel production system reduce water and nutrient runoff from farm fields, cut down on soil erosion and turn a profit for the farmers who grow it? University of Minnesota scientists and Extension Master Gardeners will explore this possibility as part of a new, five-year, $25 million multistate grant.

Funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, nationwide research will focus on harvesting perennial grasses—mostly native species such as bluestem and switchgrass—and using the biomass as a feedstock for a biofuel process known as pyrolysis. Interdisciplinary research teams from eight states will explore the best ways to grow, harvest, transport and distribute the biomass and biofuel.

In Minnesota, research efforts will center on the use of biochar, a nutrient-rich solid and co-product of the pyrolysis process, as a soil amendment. To help determine biochar’s viability as a commercial product for home gardeners, Master Gardeners will test its ability to increase productivity in vegetable and flower gardens. They will design, plant, maintain and collect data from research plots at three Minnesota sites: the St. Paul Campus Display Garden, the Rosemount Research and Outreach Center, and the Landscape Arboretum. In addition, Master Gardeners will share preliminary findings and results at horticulture days, open houses, field days and other public events statewide.
University of Minnesota News Release

California suit alleges pollution
California fishing and conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court, accusing farmers of illegally discharging polluted groundwater into tributaries of the San Joaquin River.

The suit is the latest move in a decades-long battle over selenium-tainted farmland and agricultural drainage problems on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley.

The suit claims the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority allowed contaminated groundwater to co-mingle with irrigation drain water.

The mixture was then discharged without a federal wastewater permit into a canal and a slough that feed to the San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay-Delta, the lawsuit states.
–The Associated Press

Pollution found near ‘fracking’ wells
As the country awaits results from a nationwide safety study on the natural gas drilling process of fracking, a separate government investigation into contamination in a place where residents have long complained that drilling fouled their water has turned up alarming levels of underground pollution.

A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The findings are consistent with water samples the EPA has collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008, when ProPublica began reporting on foul water and health concerns in Pavillion and the agency started investigating reports of contamination there.
–Pro Publica

‘Fracking’ gets preliminary OK in Texas study
The University of Texas Energy Institute has released preliminary results from a study that finds no direct link between hydraulic fracturing and reports of groundwater contamination.

A team made up of experts from UT’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, Bureau of Economic Geology, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, School of Law and College of Communication are conducting the study.

“From what we’ve seen so far, many of the problems appear to be related to other aspects of drilling operations, such as poor casing or cement jobs, rather than to hydraulic fracturing, per se,” Dr. Charles ‘Chip’ Groat, said the project’s leader, in a news release.
–Texas Business Journal

USGS: No trend in earthquakes
The magnitude-7.2 earthquake on Oct. 23 in Turkey and the magnitude-9.0 quake that impacted Japan in March are leading many to wonder if these events are part of a larger global trend toward giant earthquakes. After combing through 110 years’ worth of global seismic records, USGS seismologist Dr. Andrew Michael concluded that the recent increase in the number of large earthquakes may just reflect random occurrence.

Using three distinct statistical tests, Dr. Michael studied whether variations in the number of large, global earthquakes could be explained as a random fluctuation, once local aftershocks of the large earthquakes are taken into account. In a recently published paper, he explains how he tested whether the intervals between earthquakes have followed a clustering pattern that would be suggestive of quakes related to each other. He then developed a specific earthquake-triggering statistical model to determine if global seismicity increased after the largest earthquakes, examining the effect of the largest earthquakes on smaller ones. Finally, he tested for clustering in the energy released by earthquakes.

In each test, he found that the apparent clustering among large earthquakes can be described as a random fluctuation and cannot be used to predict future events.
–USGS News Release

Save some water; freeze your jeans

November 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.

Save some water; freeze your jeans
From the cotton field in rural India to the local rag bin, a typical pair of blue jeans consumes 919 gallons for water during its life cycle, Levi Strauss & Company says, or enough to fill about 15 spa-size bathtubs. That includes the water that goes into irrigating the cotton crop, stitching the jeans together and washing them scores of times at home.

The company wants to reduce that number any way it can, and not just to project environmental responsibility. It fears that water shortages caused by climate change may jeopardize the company’s very existence in the coming decades by making cotton too expensive or scarce.

So to protect its bottom line, Levi Strauss has helped underwrite and champion a nonprofit program that teaches farmers in India, Pakistan, Brazil and West and Central Africa the latest irrigation and rainwater-capture techniques. It has introduced a brand featuring stone-washed denim smoothed with rocks but no water. It is sewing tags into all of its jeans urging customers to wash less and use only cold water.

To customers seeking further advice, Levi Strauss suggests washing jeans rarely, if at all — the theory being that putting them in the freezer will kill germs that cause them to smell.
–The New York Times

UC Berkeley climate skeptic backs off
Remember when scientists who had cast doubt on global temperature studies boldly embarked on an effort to “reconsider” the evidence?

They have. And they conclude that their doubt was misplaced.

UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller and others were looking at the so-called urban heat island effect — the notion that because more urban temperature stations are included in global temperature data sets than are rural ones, the global average temperature was being skewed upward because these sites tend to retain more heat. Hence, global warming trends are exaggerated.

Using data from such urban heat islands as Tokyo, they hypothesized, could introduce “a severe warming bias in global averages using urban stations.”

In fact, the data trend was “opposite in sign to that expected if the urban heat island effect was adding anomalous warming to the record. The small size, and its negative sign, supports the key conclusion of prior groups that urban warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change.”
–The Los Angeles Times

Support Freshwater; Give to the Max
Please support the Freshwater Society’s work to educate and inspire people to value, conserve and protect water resources. Make a generous contribution on Give to the Max Day, Nov. 16.

Your support is vital to our work.

Fred Kirschenmann photo

Fred Kirschenmann

Lecture set Nov. 10 on water and ag
It’s not too late. You can still register to attend a free public lecture Thursday, Nov. 10, on water and the future of U.S. and world agriculture. Fred Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, will deliver the lecture.

The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.

Get more information and register to attend. If you can not attend, view the lecture in real-time video or view archived video later.

Lecture set on Mississippi R. sediment
Get the “dirt on sediment pollution” of the Mississippi River. Dan Engstrom, a scientist in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s St. Croix Field Station will speak Thursday, Nov. 17, on his research about the sediment filling in Lake Pepin.

The 7:30 p.m. lecture at the Science Museum is sponsored by the museum, the Friends of the Mississippi River, the City of St. Paul, the National Park Service and the Capitol Region Watershed District.

The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Contact Alyssa Johnson at the Science museum at ajohnson@smn.org or 651-221-4511. Admission to the museum is free for lecture-goers who enter the museum after 4 p.m.

Groups win $500 prizes for leaf clean-ups
Three groups – four fourth-grade classes in Apple Valley, youth from a Lutheran Church’s confirmation program in Blaine and a Boys and Girls Club in Sauk Rapids – have won $500 apiece for anti-pollution projects aimed at keeping leaves and other organic debris out of lakes and rivers.

The contest was sponsored by Freshwater and InCommons to encourage small neighborhood-based efforts to reduce the phosphorus pollution that leads to excessive algae growth in surface waters throughout Minnesota. The Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation also was a sponsor and contributed the prize for the Sauk Rapids winner.

The winners were:

• Four fourth-grade classes at Cedar Park Elementary School in Apple Valley, where students operated a drop-off site at the school that allowed Apple Valley residents to recycle leaves.
• About 130 youth and a nearly equal number of parents from Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine, who raked leaves from yards, parks and streets in neighborhoods around the church on Oct. 12.
• Members of the Raymond Park Boys and Girls Club in Sauk Rapids, who raked leaves in and around the park for two purposes: to keep the leaves out of the nearby Mississippi River, and to mulch vegetable and flower gardens.

State, feds negotiating BWCAW land swap
A deal is close that could end a decades-long dispute over state land within the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
An advisory committee of state and federal officials, environmental groups, logging and mining interests and local government land officials has met quietly several times in the past year to forge a compromise on a combination land trade and purchase.

They’ll meet again in Sandstone as they near agreement on how to handle nearly 87,000 acres of state land locked inside the 1.1 million-acre BWCAW.

Under the deal, the state would trade about 43,000 acres inside the BWCAW for Superior National Forest federal land outside the wilderness.

The federal government also would purchase another 40,000 or so acres of state land in the BWCAW directly from the state. The money — estimated at about $80 million — would go into the state’s permanent school trust fund that funnels interest earned to school districts across the state.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Pollution lingers at closed Wisconsin mine
Fourteen years after mining operations ended, water samples on the site of the Flambeau mine near Ladysmith show high levels of toxic pollutants.

In the most recent tests, state records show that copper and zinc levels have exceeded state toxicity standards for surface waters, potentially threatening fish and other aquatic life.

The findings come as mining regulation looms as a legislative issue this fall, and the Flambeau mine has been cited as a model of mineral extraction without environmental harm. Lawmakers are poised to rewrite mining laws and ease restrictions after Gogebic Taconite, based in Hurley, put plans on hold this year for a $1.5 billion iron ore mine until regulations are streamlined.

Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources and the Flambeau Mining Co., a subsidiary of Kennecott Mineral Co., say pollution problems haven’t been ignored – the company has been removing contaminated soil from the property since 2003.
Nevertheless, DNR testing revealed that 41% of 94 samples taken in 2010 and 2011 had more copper and zinc than standards set by the state to protect aquatic life. The samples were taken from a small stream, a pond and ditches.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

3M says river clean-up is working
The Mississippi River above Hastings is no longer impaired by a compound once used in some of 3M Co.’s best-known products, according to a study released by the company.

It shows that after half a century of pollution that has spawned enormous concerns in the east metro area, the company’s 2002 decision to stop using the compound known as PFOS, and its subsequent multimillion-dollar cleanup effort, are starting to pay off, said 3M officials and environmentalists.

“I would sure as hell hope so, after all the money and effort that went into it,” said Trevor Russell, program director for Friends of the Mississippi River.

The study measured contamination levels in fish and water in the river, not in groundwater and drinking water in the east metro area, which have also been contaminated by PFOS and similar compounds.

Nonetheless, 3M officials said they hope the results will influence the outcome of a lawsuit the state filed against the company last year over future clean-up costs and persuade the state to relax stringent rules on how much of the compound will be allowed to go into the river.
–The Star Tribune

Research: Chesapeake clean-up is working
Efforts to reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay are starting to pay off, a major new study says, finding that despite weather-driven ups and downs, the “dead zone” that stresses fish and shellfish every summer has actually shrunk, on average, in recent years.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science teased from 60 years’ worth of water-quality measurements what they described as one of the first clear signs of progress in the costly 27-year-old campaign to clean up the bay.

“It’s a leading indicator of the kind of change we had hoped would occur,” said Donald F. Boesch, president of the UM environmental research center, who has reviewed the study. “The gains aren’t huge, obviously. We haven’t gotten anywhere close to the targets we want to reach, but we’re headed in the right direction.”

The study, published in the current issue of the scientific journal Estuaries and Coasts, appears to explain away recent research finding no real improvement in the “dead zone,” where oxygen levels in the bay drop so low each summer that fish and shellfish struggle to survive. The oxygen gets sucked out of the water by the breakdown of massive algae blooms that grow every spring, fed by sewage, farm and urban runoff and air pollution.
–The Baltimore Sun


EPA outlines study of ‘fracking’
The Environmental Protection Agency released the outlines of its long-awaited probe into whether hydraulic fracturing — the unconventional drilling technique that’s led to a boom in domestic natural gas production — is contaminating drinking-water supplies.

Investigators will try to determine the impact of large-scale water withdrawals, aboveground spills of drilling fluids, and the fracturing process itself on water quality and quantity in states where tens of thousands of wells have been drilled in recent years.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemical additives, deep underground to extract natural gas trapped in shale rock. Energy companies have greatly expanded their use of fracking as they tap previously unreachable shale deposits, including the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater. The EPA study, mandated by Congress last year, is the agency’s first look at the impact of fracking in shale deposits.

EPA will examine drilling sites in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota and Texas. The earliest results will be available in 2012.
–The Associated Press

Wisconsin DNR approves mega-dairy
The Department of Natural Resources said that it is giving final approval for a company to move forward with plans to construct a 4,300-cow dairy farm in Adams County, a project that had sparked controversy for the potential environmental effects of so many cows.

But the DNR also imposed conditions designed to protect groundwater and local waterways from manure and heavy water use.
The decision means that Richfield Dairy, which is owned by Milk Source Holdings, can move forward with the $35 million dairy farm in Richfield Township, which will employ about 40 people.

With Richfield Dairy, Milk Source will own five dairy farms with about 26,500 cows, according to the company. In addition, it owns a separate 9,200-calf operation near De Pere.

The conditions added by the DNR include installing groundwater monitoring wells, a leak detection system and more conditions on spreading manure and process wastewater. There will also be limits on monthly and annual groundwater withdrawals.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 65,000 pounds of Asian carp caught
Workers along the Illinois River are hunting for invasive fish to turn into organic fertilizer, fillets and other commercial products.
The hope is to reduce the population of Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes.

Originally imported to cleanse ponds in the South, Asian carp made it into Mississippi River waterways and have traveled north. The voracious fish can starve other species by consuming their food.

State fish biologist Ken Clodfelter told a group of fishermen in north central Illinois that he watched workers catch 65,000 pounds of Asian carp in two days, the (LaSalle) News-Tribune reported. Workers loaded the carp into air-conditioned trailers to be taken to Schafer Fisheries in Thompson, which processes an estimated 30 million pounds of carp every year.
–The Associated Press

Fighting erosion on the Le Sueur
When Dave Johnson moved into his home along the Le Sueur River, he wasn’t worried about erosion.
Johnson says, “Not at all, there were lots of trees along here…”

Seven years and a couple floods later, he’s lost about 40 feet of his backyard.

Johnson says, “All we could do is watch and step back further every time more ground fell into the river”

As the banks got closer to homes along the river, Johnson and some of his neighbors decided to take action.

Blue Earth County Soil and Water Conservation District Jared Bach says, “Homeowners got together, came to the soil and water office to discuss a possible fix to stop the erosion.”

After receiving funding from clean water land and legacy tax money, the soil and water conservation office with the support of homeowners, the county, and DNR decided to do a state of the art toe wood sod mat stabilization project.
–KEYC-TV, Mankato

Invasive bugs eat invasive kudzu
Patti Bennett was looking out the window of her home office one morning two years ago when a swarm of green bugs flew out of the neighboring kudzu patch.

The invasive Kudzu vine has finally met its match. The problem? It’s killer–the kudzu bug–is an invasive species, too. WSJ’s Valerie Bauerlein reports from Griffin, Ga.

“I thought, ‘What the hell is that headed at my house?’ It was like a horror movie,” says Ms. Bennett, a 53-year-old insurance underwriter who lives about an hour from Atlanta. She killed hundreds of bugs with spray, while thousands more released a musty, bittersweet odor in defense.

She scooped some bugs into a Tupperware container of alcohol and handed them to the local Home Depot specialist, an exterminator and a county agricultural agent.

Ms. Bennett was one of the first people in the South to report seeing Megacopta cribraria, an insect native to Asia that likely stowed away on a flight in 2009 and entered the U.S. through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, entomologists say.

Often a new bug brings nothing but bites and headaches for entomologists who race to limit the damage. But battle lines are being drawn over Megacopta cribraria.
–The Wall Street Journal