Archive for December, 2011

Mercury pollution; $$ for Great Lakes

December 25, 2011

The Freshwater Society blog 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.

Mercury pollution worse near cities
Atmospheric deposition of mercury is about four-times higher in lakes near several major U.S. cities compared to lakes in remote areas, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Atmospheric deposition is the predominant pathway for mercury to reach sensitive ecosystems, where it can accumulate in fish and harm wildlife and humans. Coal-fired power plants and industries are among the primary sources of mercury emissions.

Mercury emissions can travel far in the atmosphere, and the relative importance of local, regional, or international mercury emissions to natural waters is generally unknown.

This is the first study to quantify the relation between mercury fallout and distance from major urban centers. The study included lakes nearby, and remote from Boston, Mass., Albany, N.Y., Montreal, Canada, New Haven, Conn., Tampa and Orlando, Fla., Chicago, Ill., Minneapolis, Minn., Denver, Colo., Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Ore.

To better understand geographic patterns of mercury deposition, the USGS analyzed sediment cores from 12 lakes with undeveloped watersheds near to (less than 30 miles) and remote from (more than 90 miles) several major urban areas in the United States. Mercury deposition in the near-urban lakes greatly exceeds amounts found in remote lakes.

The full report can be found in the journal Environmental Pollution.
–USGS News Release

Congress Oks $300 million for Great Lakes
Congress is pressing ahead with a scaled-back version of the ongoing Obama administration’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

A coalition of conservation groups welcomed the news that both the House and Senate had approved $300 million in the upcoming budget for the program that is focusing on cleaning up toxic hot spots, halting the onslaught of invasive species and restoring sensitive areas such as wetlands. The budget bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama in the coming days.

The $300 million for the program’s third year is about the same amount of federal money dedicated to the program this year, but well under the $475 million that was approved in the first year of what was designed to be a 10-year, $5 billion restoration plan for the world’s largest freshwater system.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

EPA issues air pollution rules on mercury
The Environmental Protection Agency released far-reaching air pollution regulations, 21 years after they were first mandated by Congress and six days after they were signed by the agency.

The rules require coal- and oil-fired power plants to lower emissions of 84 different toxic chemicals to levels no higher than those emitted by the cleanest 12% of plants. Companies have three years to achieve the standards, and EPA has made clear a fourth year and perhaps even more time are also available to them.

“We’re delighted,” says Janice Nolen of the American Lung Association. “After waiting 21 years, it looks like we may actually have a rule that will help to save 11,000 lives a year and reduce exposure all across the country to a bunch of really toxic substances.”

The EPA rules govern multiple toxics, including mercury, arsenic, nickel, selenium and cyanide.

Power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and more than 75% of the acid gas emissions in the United States, the EPA says. The EPA estimates that about half the nation’s power plants already have pollution control technologies in place. This rule will “level the playing field” in the agency’s words, by ensuring that the rest, about 40% of all coal-fired plants, take similar steps.
–USA Today

Mankato Free Press looks at Minnesota River
The Mankato Free Press recently published a five-part series on water quality in the Minnesota River. Take a look at the fine work by reporter Tim Krohn. It is called “From Amber Waves to Muddy Waters.”

Anti-carp precautions urged
A combination sound/bubble or electric barrier would be installed at the Ford dam in the Twin Cities as part of a suite of options endorsed to limit the spread of Asian carp and other invasive creatures into Minnesota rivers and lakes.

In a short meeting at the state Capitol, a panel of state, federal and city officials gave its blessing to an action plan prepared over the past couple of months by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Besides installing the barrier to stop or hamper the invasive fish from moving up the Mississippi River, the plan seeks federal authorization to close locks at the Ford dam or just upstream at Upper St. Anthony Falls if Asian carp are found nearby. There also would be studies on whether to install other barriers, including a permanent one at St. Anthony Falls and a sound/bubble barrier at the mouth of the St. Croix River.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Wolves coming off ‘threatened’ list
Minnesota’s gray wolves will be removed from the federal government’s threatened species list and returned to state management in January.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Dec. 21, 2011, that it will publish a final de-listing rule in the Federal Register on Dec. 28. After a 30-day period, the Minnesota DNR will re-assume management of the gray wolf.

As it did after previous de-listing rules in 2007 and 2009, DNR will again manage the state’s wolf population by state statute, rule and provisions of a wolf management plan.

Minnesota has a population of about 3,000 gray wolves, the largest population in the lower 48 states. This is roughly twice the number required in the federal government’s wolf recovery plan.

The state wolf plan is designed to protect wolves and monitor their population while giving owners of livestock and domestic pets more protection from wolf depredation. It splits the state into two management zones with more protective regulations in the northern third, considered the wolf’s core range.

The plan establishes a minimum population of 1,600 wolves to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf in Minnesota.
–DNR News Release

Joe Beattie honored by SWCD group
Hastings High School teacher Joe Beattie received the distinguished Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award from the Soil and Water Conservation District state convention for incorporating soil and water conservation education programs into his classes. Beattie teaches 11th- and 12th-grade biology courses at Hastings High School.

“Joe has students learn by being outdoors rather than just in the classroom,” said Laura Jester, Watershed Conservationist with the SWCD. “He constantly has his students performing actual restoration, identification and collection activities of our natural environment. These valuable real-world activities are helping shape and develop future conservationist and environmental leaders.”
–The Hastings Star Gazette

Zebra mussels spreading in L. Minnetonka
Minnehaha Creek Watershed District researchers have found that zebra mussels have become more prominent on the east side of Lake Minnetonka and are spreading to western areas of the lake. These findings, based on data collected from June through September 2011, complete the first year of a three-year study to monitor and measure zebra mussels’ spread throughout the lake.

“The expansion and increased density of zebra mussels are concerning,” said MCWD Water Quality Technician Kelly Dooley. “In just a year, this invasive species has spread to nearly all of Lake Minnetonka’s eastern bays and is moving west. We have been working closely with the DNR and our community partners in efforts to prevent their spread. But we need the public’s continued help to prevent the spread of zebra mussels so we can save Minnesota lakes – one of the state’s most valuable assets.”

Once established, zebra mussels spread rapidly, litter beaches with their sharp shells, damage boats and equipment, and alter the food chain of local lakes, rivers and streams.
The three-year study being conducted by the MCWD, with support from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Blue Water Science, began after zebra mussels were first detected in Wayzata Bay in 2010. Early in 2011, the MCWD placed two monitoring devices at each of 32 sites from Grays Bay to Halsted Bay to measure the spread of this invasive species. The findings will help create a more accurate map of where the invasive species are located in the lake.

Learn more at the MCWD web site.
–Minnehaha Creek Watershed District news release

LCCMR director Susan Thornton fired
The head of a Minnesota state office that helps direct how lottery proceeds are spent for special environmental and natural resources projects was fired,  prompting questions about the legality of the firing and accusations that House Republicans orchestrated it for political purposes.

Susan Thornton, director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources since 2008, was called into House Speaker Kurt Zellers’ office and told she was being terminated Jan. 2 so the commission could go in a different direction, according to several commission members and DFL legislators.

Neither Thornton nor Zellers could be reached for comment.

The commissioners and some DFL legislators said they were shocked to hear of the firing. They said the commission, which hired Thornton, had expressed no concerns about her work performance and retains authority over that position.

“If the commission is the only entity that can hire her, it’s the only entity that can fire her,” said Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, a legislative member of the commission.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Bioluminescencent bacteria measure pollution

Read a fascinating New York Times article on marine biologist Edith Widder’s use of glow-in-the-dark bacteria to measure pollution in river sediment.

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Sediment, Asian carp and a Legacy forum

December 19, 2011

The Freshwater Society blog 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.  

 You are reading this blog. Thanks. Maybe you knew of its existence and came looking for it. Maybe a search engine brought you here. Since late 2009, we have published links to hundreds of important articles about the water, science and the environment. If you like what you see here, please use one of the “Subscribe to this blog” features, at right, to sign up to receive it regularly.

Cities want ag to share pollution costs
Already hamstrung by tight budgets, communities across much of Minnesota are bracing for what could be an $843 million bill – this one aimed at reducing the amount of sediment reaching Lake Pepin on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.

And many resent having to pay so much for what amounts to a relatively small bump in water quality. Especially while agriculture, a much larger source of sediment, is let off the hook.

“This kind of thing is just beyond the pale for what is acceptable and what we feel is how we should be spending our taxpayers’ money,” said Klayton Eckles, Woodbury’s city engineer.

The developing urban-rural tiff will get new legs soon when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency releases a study explaining the sediment problem, establishing goals and outlining ways to reduce the amount of silt getting into Lake Pepin, the widening of the Mississippi River southeast of the Twin Cities.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lock closing sought as carp deterrent 
A coalition of conservation groups says it is not too late to stop Asian carp in the Mississippi River.

That runs counter to the recent discovery of genetic material from the fish above a pair of dams that might have served as barriers.

“The eDNA testing, it indicates that there are some fish in place. But in terms of a breeding population, that is not likely to be the case. It could be the case,” said Irene Jones of Friends of the Mississippi River. “But usually you find them in much larger numbers when they start to breed. There is something called an invasion front, which is where the breeding population has reached. Right now the invasion front, it’s in Iowa.”

Friends of the Mississippi River joins with the Izaak Walton League, the Minnesota Seasonal Recreation Property Owners and the Minnesota Conservation Federation in calling for locks in St. Paul and Minneapolis to close. The coalition wants the two Mississippi River locks to stay closed until a plan is in place to stop the fish.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Legacy Amendment forum set Jan. 5
 Fourteen environmental groups will sponsor a Thursday, Jan. 5, forum on the 2008 Legacy Amendment that raised the sales tax to protect, enhance and restore water and the environment in Minnesota.

The Legacy Stakeholder’s Forum, an annual event, will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul. It will include presentations and panel discussions involving legislators, policy-makers and members of the Clean Water Council and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

The forum will attempt “follow the money” and evaluate what the public is getting for its money.

Participation is free,  but space is limited. To register, send an email to Noreen Tyler  at the Izaak Walton League.

Sponsors include: Anglers for Habitat, Audubon Minnesota, the Conservation Fund, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Minnesota Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Parks & Trail Council of Minnesota, Pheasants Forever, Sportsmen for Change and the Trust for Public Land.

Peter Gleick offers water policy guides
Pacific Institute President Dr. Peter Gleick presented a set of recommendations to Congress for a more effective and sustainable 21st-century national water policy.

Dr. Gleick, one of the world’s leading experts on freshwater issues, testified before the Subcommittee on Water and Power of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that coordinated federal planning for water is needed in the face of new water challenges such as climate change, unregulated or inadequately regulated pollutants, and decaying physical water infrastructure.

“Growing human populations and demands for water, unacceptable water quality in many areas, weak or inadequate water data collection and regulation, and growing threats to the timing and reliability of water supply from climate change call for fundamental changes in federal policy,” said Dr. Gleick. “The water crisis around the nation and around the world is growing, presenting new direct threats to our economy and environment – but it also offers opportunities for better and coordinated responses.” His full testimony is available on the Pacific Institute website.
–Western Farm Press

Facebook, Greenpeace reach truce on coal
Facebook and Greenpeace have called a truce over a clean energy feud that had the environmental group using the social network’s own platform to campaign against it.

Greenpeace and Facebook said that they will work together to encourage the use of renewable energy instead of coal.

Last year, Facebook opened a data center in Prineville, Ore., using the area’s cool nights and dry air to save energy while keeping its systems from overheating. It also received generous tax breaks for adding jobs to the economically struggling region.

But Greenpeace wasn’t happy that Facebook picked site for its data center that’s served by a power company that generates most of its electricity from coal. It started a campaign to get the social network operator to use renewable energy. It attracted some 700,000 supporters on Facebook. Greenpeace said it was ending the campaign and declared victory on its “Unfriend Coal” Facebook page.
–The Associated Press

DNR offers habitat-improvement grants
Organizations and governments now can apply for fish and wildlife habitat improvement grants.   The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is accepting Conservation Partners Legacy grant applications for projects ranging from $5,000 to $400,000.

Funds must be used to enhance, restore, or protect the forests, wetlands, prairies, and habitat for fish, game, or wildlife in Minnesota. A total of $3.48 million of funding is available.

Application deadline is Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 at 5p.m.  The request for proposals is available on the CPL grants web page.

Awards for this second round of grants are expected to be announced in early April. Grant funds are provided annually from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is a portion of the revenue generated by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment sales tax.
–DNR News Release

Canada withdrawing from Kyoto Protocol
Canada said that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Under that accord, major industrialized nations agreed to meet targets for reducing emissions, but mandates were not imposed on developing countries like Brazil, China, India and South Africa. The United States never ratified the treaty. Canada did commit to the treaty, but the agreement has been fraying.

Participants at a United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa, renewed it but could not agree on a new accord to replace it.

Instead, the 200 nations represented at the conference agreed to begin a long-term process of negotiating a new treaty, but without resolving a core issue: whether its requirements will apply equally to all countries.

The decision by Canada’s Conservative Party government had long been expected. A Liberal Party government negotiated Canada’s entry into the agreement, but the Conservative government has never disguised its disdain for the treaty.
–The New York Times

Comment sought on hog feedlot 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites comments on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) prepared for Matt Holland’s proposed swine facility expansion in southwestern Steele County.

Written comments must be received by the MPCA by 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2012.

Holland proposes to double his swine operation from 2,400 to 4,800 finishing hogs. He also maintains a beef herd of 20 cow-calf pairs on pasture. For the expansion, Holland plans to build a total confinement barn with a manure pit underneath.

The feedlot is located in Berlin Township, 1.26 miles west of Ellendale. After expansion, the feedlot would generate 1.9 million gallons of liquid manure a year. Holland plans to remove manure from the pits beneath the barns once a year in the fall for application to nearby cropland. The feedlot would have two manure-storage basins with a total storage capacity of 2.5 million gallons, reducing the likelihood of overflow or emergency applications during the winter.

Although the feedlot is surrounded by land zoned for agriculture, 41 homes are located within one mile of the feedlot and manure-application sites. The closest home is about one-third mile from the feedlot. Based on a computer modeling study, the MPCA expects the expanded feedlot to comply with state air-quality standards, with odors below levels usually considered unpleasant.

Copies of the EAW are available on the MPCA web site. Send questions and comments on the Holland EAW to Charles Peterson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, or  Charles.peterson@state.mn.us MN 55155.
–MPCA News Release.

Speed-up set in Chicago sewage overflow plan
Nearly four decades after officials broke ground on the Deep Tunnel, federal and state authorities unveiled a legal settlement intended to finally complete the Chicago area’s massive flood- and pollution-control project.

Relief from swamped basements and sewage overflows into local streams still is years away, though.

Most of the settlement adds legal teeth to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s latest construction schedule for the Deep Tunnel, which has been repeatedly delayed by funding woes and engineering hurdles. The deal brokered by the U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection agencies and U.S. Department of Justice imposes deadlines to finish sections, but the entire system won’t be completed until 2029.
–The Chicago Tribune

Bird Conservancy seeks windmill rules
American Bird Conservancy, the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to protect millions of birds from the negative impacts of wind energy by developing regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development.

The nearly 100-page petition for rulemaking, prepared by ABC and the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to  issue regulations establishing a mandatory permitting system for the operation of wind energy projects and mitigation of their impacts on migratory birds.

The proposal would provide industry with legal certainty that wind developers in compliance with a permit would not be subject to criminal or civil penalties for violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The government estimates that a minimum of 440,000 birds are currently killed each year by collisions with wind turbines.

The petition is available online.
–American Bird Conservancy news release

Bill coming due for water infrastructure
The overdue bill for water systems is reaching alarming size, with economic consequences that will weigh on U.S. businesses for years to come. An economic analysis on unmet public water and wastewater system needs commissioned by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) paints a grim future for the U.S. economy.

The costs associated with unreliable delivery and inadequate treatment, the analysis shows, will combine to cut the nation’s gross domestic product by as much as $416 billion over the next decade if current spending levels remain unchanged.

Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure is the second of four ASCE-commissioned assessments of infrastructure spending. The analysis examines the economic consequences of aging drinking water, wastewater and wet weather management systems on businesses and households based on existing capital spending trends.

Lacking any new investment in this infrastructure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 estimate of a $55 billion shortfall in maintenance and upgrade needs could balloon to $84 billion by 2020, and nearly double to $144 billion by 2040.
–Engineering News-Record

Asian carp DNA found upstream of dam

December 12, 2011

The Freshwater Society blog 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.

 You are reading this blog. Thanks. Maybe you knew of its existence and came looking for it. Maybe a search engine brought you here. Since late 2009, we have published links to hundreds of important articles about the water, science and the environment. If you like what you see here, please use one of the “Subscribe to this blog” features, at right, to sign up to receive it regularly.

Asian carp DNA found north of Coon Rapids Dam
The latest round of eDNA testing for Asian carp in the Mississippi River has yielded unexpected results, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources .

Nineteen of the 48 water tests near the Coon Rapids Dam have tested positive for silver carp DNA, and three of the positive results are from above the dam. The highly sensitive tests are designed to detect DNA in the environment that comes from the mucus or excrement of invasive Asian carp. Although testing was done to detect DNA of two Asian carp species – bighead and silver – all positive results were for the leaping silver carp.

The Coon Rapids Dam, located upstream of the river’s lock and dam system, has been a significant fish barrier since it was upgraded in the 1970s, preventing a number of native species such as white bass from migrating upstream. DNR fisheries biologists are surprised by the positive eDNA results.

“We are investigating the likelihood of false positives or other sources of Asian carp DNA in the river,” said Tim Schlagenhaft, Mississippi River manager for the DNR. “A study being done in the Chicago area is providing insight into other potential sources of Asian carp DNA, where they have also been getting positive eDNA samples but have been unable to document the presence of live fish. The results of that study will help determine other potential sources of DNA in our waters. Until we can prove the DNA is from other sources, the risk is too high to assume live fish are not present.”

In recent years, the dam’s effectiveness as a fish barrier has figured prominently in the DNR’s strategy for keeping invasive Asian carp out of the Mississippi River north of the Twin Cities. The dam is about to undergo $16 million in repairs and upgrades in an effort to further improve its effectiveness as an Asian carp barrier. DNR officials said the improvements are still necessary to slow the upstream spread of Asian carp in the Mississippi River.

“The positive test results don’t change the fundamental goal of the state’s Asian carp action plan,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We must research and implement our available options to prevent or slow the movement of Asian carp upstream in our river systems, and to manage and control their populations should they become established.”
–DNR News Release

Barriers won’t stop carp, researcher says
 Physical barriers will not be effective enough to stop invasive species from damaging Minnesota waters, according to a University of Minnesota researcher.

The Coon Rapids Dam had previously been thought to be an effective barrier against Asian carp, but the Department of Natural Resources announced that it had found e-DNA evidence of the silver carp in the Mississippi River above the dam.

Peter Sorensen has studied carp for years, and helped design an acoustic-bubble carp barrier at his lab at the U of M. The fish have probably been upstream of the dam for 10 years, Sorensen said. “I think we’ve just lost the first battle,” he said. “The silver carp are here, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost the war.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Climate talks yield modest agreement
After 72 hours of continuous wrangling, the 17th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change wrapped up with modest accomplishments: the promise to work toward a new global treaty in coming years and the establishment of a new climate fund.

The deal on a future treaty renews the Kyoto Protocol, the fraying 1997 emissions agreement that sets different terms for advanced and developing countries, for several more years. But it also begins a process for replacing the Kyoto agreement with something that treats all countries — including the economic powerhouses China, India and Brazil — equally.

The deal on a future treaty was the most highly contested element of a package of agreements that emerged from the extended talks among 200 nations here.
–The New York Times

EPA links ‘fracking’ to contamination 
For the first time, a government study has tied contamination in drinking water to an advanced drilling technique commonly known as “fracking.”

The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft study tying the technique, formally called hydraulic fracturing, to high levels of chemicals found in ground water in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo.

EPA scientists found high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and synthetic glycol and alcohol, commonly found in hydraulic fracturing fluid.

The gas industry and other experts have long contended that fracking doesn’t contaminate drinking water. The EPA’s findings provide the first official confirmation to the contrary.

In hydraulic fracturing, companies inject chemicals deep underground at high pressure to blast fractures in formations to make the gas flow faster.
–National Public Radio

USDA pledges $50 million for the Gulf
 The federal government committed $50 million to jump start a sweeping new road map for restoring the Gulf of Mexico after decades of environmental abuse.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pledged the money to reduce runoff, improve water quality and increase wildlife habitat on agricultural lands in seven river basins that drain into the Gulf, including the San Antonio River in Texas.

“This initiative will be a powerful demonstration that the Gulf of Mexico strategy will not be another report on a shelf,” said Harris Sherman, undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the Agriculture Department.
–The Houston Chronicle

Comment sought on Lake St. Croix plan 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking comments on a water quality improvement report for the portion of the St. Croix River known as Lake St. Croix. The report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Loa study, focuses on pollution caused by excess phosphorus.

The public comment period for the TMDL begins Dec. 12 and continues through Jan. 11, 2012.

Lake St. Croix is a natural lake in the lower 25 miles of the St. Croix River. Its watershed is about 7,760 square miles with 44 percent of that area located within Minnesota and the rest within Wisconsin.

The lake is a highly valued resource that provides exceptional recreational opportunities and supports a highly diverse ecology of aquatic and terrestrial species. However, over the years algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water have occurred due to excess phosphorus loading. This affects fish and other aquatic life and diminishes the enjoyment and use of the lake.

The findings in the report are largely based on the results of past lake and nutrient loading studies. To meet water quality standards, the phosphorus load will need to be reduced by 122 metric tons per year. Reductions will need to come from various sources, including runoff from agricultural and urban lands and discharges from wastewater-treatment facilities.

The draft report may be viewed on the Lake St. Croix TMDL webpage. For more information, or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, MN 55155; email chris.zadak@state.mn.us; phone 651-757-2837.
–MPCA News Release

Wisconsin GOP unveils mining bill 
Assembly Republicans finally released a draft of a bill designed to streamline Wisconsin’s mining regulations, introducing language that calls for state regulators to make a permit decision within a year and severely limits environmentalists’ ability to challenge it.

The bill is designed to jump-start Florida-based Gogebic Taconite’s plans to mine iron ore in the Penokee Hills, just south of Lake Superior. The measure will almost certainly undergo multiple changes — Republicans in the state Senate are calling it a starting point — but it’s already triggered one of the fiercest environmental debates the state has seen in years.

Republicans insist the mine will create thousands of good-paying jobs that will last for generations. Minority Democrats and conservationists say the job figures are exaggerated and fear pollution from the mine will ruin one of the most pristine regions in the state.
–The Associated Press

Wisconsin experiences sand mining boom 
 A controversial natural gas mining technique called “fracking” is creating a boom in Wisconsin sand mines with more than 20 new mines proposed, including some as large as 500 acres or more.

While the mines bring jobs, they also bring dust, traffic and other problems the state Department of Natural Resources and local governments aren’t prepared to deal with, residents and government officials said at a recent conference on “frac sands.”

“The state is woefully unprepared for this,” said state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma. “We’re regulating sand mines like we regulate gravel pits. There is a big difference between a one-acre gravel pit and a 900-acre sand mine.”

While sand companies and others tout the economic benefits of the mines, the boom has left some families and the rural towns in which they live dealing with changed landscapes, blowing silica dust, around-the-clock noise and glaring lights, heavy truck traffic and water pollution.
–The Wisconsin State Journal

Algae plague Lake Erie 
As the general manager of a marina in Ottawa County’s Catawba Island Township, Jack Madison saw a recurring theme during last summer’s algae outbreak along the Lake Erie shore.

“Mothers kept their kids [and people kept their dogs] out of the water … It is important that people don’t view Lake Erie as a place to stay away from,” said Mr. Madison, one of dozens to hear testimony and react in a standing-room-only hearing from scientists, environmental advocates and state officials.

The hearing at the Lake Erie Islands Regional Welcome Center on St. Rte. 53 was assembled by members of the Ohio House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to address the harmful algae blooms that plagued Western Lake Erie late last summer and how to best combat them in the future. Speakers gave their testimony to the committee surrounded by the center’s large replica of the Marblehead Lighthouse, mounted walleye and brochures for the area’s fishing, camping and boating attractions.

There have been annual outbreaks of algae in Lake Erie’s western basin since 1995, however, last summer’s outbreak was especially acute. Legislators vowed to take action by springtime to help avoid an escalating problem next year.
–The Toledo Blade

Human effect of 3M pollution easing 
The 3M cleanup is working. Levels of a chemical pollutant found in some Washington County residents are dropping, following a seven-year, $50 million effort by 3M Co.

A study by the state Department of Health found that the amount of perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, has dropped between 13 percent and 26 percent. In a conference call, Dr. Jessica Nelson, bio-monitoring program coordinator for the department, called the study “good news.”

The study measured the amount of PFCs in 164 people in 2008, then checked the same individuals last year. The sampled adults live in Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove, where drinking water contains traces of PFCs.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Air pollution angers Chinese
The statement posted online along with a photograph of central Beijing muffled in a miasma of brown haze did not mince words: “The end of the world is imminent.”

The ceaseless churning of factories and automobile engines in and around Beijing has led to this: hundreds of flights canceled since Sunday because of smog, stores sold out of face masks, and many Chinese complaining on the Internet that officials are failing to level with them about air quality or make any improvements to the environment.

Chronic pollution in Beijing, temporarily scrubbed clean for the 2008 Summer Olympics, has made people angry for a long time, but the disruptions it causes to daily life are now raising questions about the economic cost, and the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the population.
–The New York Times

Legacy spending, zebra mussels, carbon emissions

December 5, 2011

Tthe Freshwater Society blog 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.

You are reading this blog. Thanks. Either you knew of its existence and subscribed to it or came looking for it, or perhaps you found it through a search engine. Since late 2009, we have published links to hundreds of important articles about the water, science and the environment. If you like what you see here, please use one of the “Subscribe to this blog” features, at right, to sign up to receive it regularly.

Audits examine Legacy spending
A legislative auditor’s report looking broadly at spending so far from Minnesota’s $240 million a year Legacy Amendment said “efforts to ensure accountability are generally adequate.”

But the report – intended as a first benchmark for many more audits to come — listed a number of questions and concerns about how the Legislature, state agencies and appointed oversight boards and councils use money from the sales tax increase that voters approved in 2008.

Those questions include:

  • How can lawmakers and others ensure that spending decisions meet a constitutional mandate that spending from the new tax revenue should supplement and not substitute for traditional sources of funding?
  •  Will the 25-year sales tax increase produce a qualitative improvement in the health of the Minnesota’s environment, especially the cleanliness of its waters?
  •  Are the oversight groups and the recipients of Legacy money doing enough to disclose and prevent conflicts of interest in decision-making?

A second, related audit report looked specifically at financial accountability for expenditures.

Read the two audit reports. Check out coverage of the reports by the Pioneer Press, the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio.

Darby Nelson

Dec. 6 book-signing by Darby Nelson
Don’t miss the book-signing Tuesday, Dec. 6, by Darby Nelson, a longtime conservationist and Freshwater Society board member. Check out an article about his new book, For the Love of Lakes, and link to the introduction Nelson wrote for it. RSVP for the book-signing event at 6 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Zebra mussel found in Pelican Lake
A single juvenile zebra mussel was found recently on dock equipment removed from Pelican Lake in Crow Wing County near Brainerd, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

A dock services provider discovered the zebra mussel attached to a dock post during removal of a dock. Local DNR staff were subsequently contacted for a positive identification.

DNR biologists are investigating how the zebra mussel might have gotten into Pelican Lake. They have conducted a thorough survey of other docks and marker buoys on the lake and have not located additional zebra mussels. The small size of the zebra mussel indicates it is not at a reproductive stage.

The DNR is working closely with homeowners and the Pelican Lake Association to continue monitoring the lake for zebra mussels. Any additional zebra mussel detections should be reported immediately to DNR invasive species specialists Dan Swanson at 218-833-8645 or Rich Rezanka at 218-999-7805.
 –DNR News Release

Carbon emissions rise in 2010 
 Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.

The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades. The researchers said the high growth rate reflected a bounce-back from the 1.4 percent drop in emissions in 2009, the year the recession had its biggest impact.
–The New York Times

USGS documents groundwater draw-down 
More than 280 million acre-feet of groundwater has been withdrawn from the Mississippi embayment aquifer system between 1870-2007, according to a new water modeling tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

This cumulative withdrawal, which is the equivalent of five feet of water over 78,000 square miles, contributes to one of the largest losses of groundwater storage anywhere in the United States.

The new USGS modeling tool was designed to help resource managers find a balance between water supply and demand for future economic and environmental uses. The three-dimensional model provides a holistic picture of how water flows below ground and how it relates to surface-water. The Mississippi embayment aquifer system encompasses approximately 78,000 square miles in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

A report documenting past and current groundwater conditions, and tools to forecast regional response to human use, climate variability, and land-use changes are all available online.

“Our groundwater aquifers are nature’s own natural method for storing water safely long term where it is less vulnerable to loss through evaporation and surface contamination,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “We should be as concerned about loss of groundwater as we are about dropping levels in reservoirs behind dams, because in the depths of the worst drought, when the rivers run dry, it is only the groundwater that will sustain us.”
–USGS News Release

EPA’s ballast water rules criticized 
Newly proposed ballast water regulations fell flat with environmental groups that argued the restrictions would not go far enough to thwart the spread of invasive species.

Ballast water, which ships carry for stability, has long been known to transmit foreign organisms between bodies of water. The zebra mussel, quagga mussel and round goby, which have wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes ecosystem, are suspected to have arrived through ballast water.

To address that problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued draft permits that would require certain ships to treat ballast water before releasing it. In some cases, ships would be required to have fewer than 10 living organisms per unit of water, a concentration in line with the International Maritime Organization’s standard. The amount of water depends on the size of the organism.

But several environmental groups said that the standard should be closer to zero.

“It is not like this is a smokestack where you can scrub out 90 percent of the mercury or carbon dioxide and then feel pretty good about yourself,” said Thom Cmar, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy organization based in New York. “Here you have a living pollutant that can breed and reproduce.”
–The Chicago Tribune

Nature Conservancy brokers sustainable fishing
On the Pacific Coast, south of San Francisco, the Nature Conservancy and local fishing captains have forged an unusual business partnership aimed at maintaining both the local fishing industry and the threatened stocks of fish on which the industry depends.

Five years ago, the Nature Conservancy bought out a number of boats and fishing permits. Now the environmental group leases back the permits and boats – on the condition that crews abandon trawling in favor of more sustainable methods of fishing and that they put some areas of ocean habitat off limits to fishing.  Read a New York Times article profiling the unusual arrangement.

Lots of pros and cons on fracking
Is hydraulic fracturing – fracking – a safe and effective way to dramatically expand the domestic oil and gas production in the U.S.? Or is the practice of injecting vast amounts of water deep into the rock formations that contain oil a bargain with the devil that eventually will contaminate groundwater that is even more valuable than oil?

Read competing views in multiple opinion pieces published in U.S. News & World Report’s Debate Club feature.

Army Corps eyes dredging north of Hastings 
The Mississippi River will get a new island near Cottage Grove in a plan to straighten out a crooked barge channel.

The Army Corps of Engineers has begun a study of the $5 million project involving a section of the river north of Hastings. A sharp bend in the barge channel is becoming tougher to navigate and needs to be rerouted, said Paul Machajewski, the corps’ channel maintenance coordinator for the St. Paul District.

Cleared sediment would be piled out of the way, creating an island that boaters already are eyeing.

“I am pretty excited by this. There are a lot of win-win things about it,” said Greg Genz, a consultant who works on river-related issues. Shippers who used to weave through the passage with 15 lashed-together barges now can manage only eight 10 12.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

EPA rule threatens L. Michigan ferry 
Facing a deadline to stop dumping toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan, owners of the last coal-powered steamship on the Great Lakes are pushing for it to join Mount Vernon, Lincoln’s Tomb and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace as a protected national historic landmark.

Even if the Badger fails to make the list of the nation’s historic and cultural treasures, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be unable to force the aging coal burner to eliminate the nearly 4 tons of waste it dumps in the lake every time it sails.

An amendment added to a budget bill by Republican congressmen from Michigan and Wisconsin would prevent the EPA from imposing more stringent pollution limits on any ship that is “on, or nominated for inclusion on” the list of landmarks.

In documents obtained by the Tribune, the car ferry’s owners plead for the National Park Service to grant the Badger special protection from the EPA, which in 2008 gave them four years to find a solution to the ship’s pollution problems.
–The Chicago Tribune

The dirty truth about La Brea Tar Pits
For years, residents living near Ballona Creek and environmentalists have complained of mysterious sheens of oil and grease in the western Los Angeles County waterway, often blaming industrial dumping, urban runoff or other man-made causes for the pollution.

One cause that apparently never crossed their minds: the La Brea Tar Pits.

It turns out the tourist attraction and preferred field trip destination of seemingly every grade schooler in the region has sent oily wastewater spilling into the highly polluted creek.

The tar pits, in Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile neighborhood, overflow during heavy rains, overwhelming the devices that separate oil from water. Polluted runoff then gets into the storm drain system, spilling into the creek and emptying into the ocean, according to county planners.
–The Los Angeles Times

Suit claims grazing’s impact ignored 
Millions of cattle graze on public lands all over the West and have done so for more than a century.

But a new complaint filed by an environmental group charges that despite Clinton-era moves to examine and diminish the impact of grazing in the arid West, Interior Department employees have blocked the use of federal data on the impact in regional scientific studies. The actions by mid-level Interior employees “seriously compromise” the scientific integrity of efforts to figure out how and why western ecosystems are changing, said the complaint, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington-based environmental group.

The complaint charges that officials of the Bureau of Land Management not only effectively prevented ecosystem scientists from making grazing a significant part of their regional analyses but also failed to inform them of data gathered by the bureau.
–The New York Times