A report card on Minnesota’s environment

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

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