Archive for January, 2012

Precision conservation; water re-use

January 30, 2012

Precision Conservation conference set March 29

NRCS chief Dave White
Dave White

Precision conservation effectively and efficiently targets scarce resources to the spots on the landscape where they will do the most good. Learn about the latest technology — much of it

based on LiDAR scanning – that pinpoints “sweet spots” where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately severe and the potential for improvement is disproportionately great.

On Thursday, March 29, the Freshwater Society will sponsor a day-long conference: “Precision Conservation: Technology Redefining Local Water Quality Practices.”

The keynote address will be delivered by Dave White, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Dr. David Mulla, a University of Soil Scientist and a pioneer in employing modern LiDAR-based technology in the service of conservation, will describe current and emerging strategies.

The conference will focus both on technology — much of it derived from vastly improved terrain mapping developed from Light Detection and Ranging laser scanning — and the decision-making process by which policy-makers choose where to employ their time, energy and scarce financial resources.

Who should attend? Watershed District managers, Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors, county commissioners, water planners and policy-makers.

Report explores water re-use
Each day, American municipalities discharge treated wastewater back into natural sources at a rate that would fill an empty Lake Champlain within six months.

Growing pressure on water supplies and calls for updating the ancient subterranean piping infrastructure have brought new scrutiny to this step in the treatment process, which is labeled wasteful and unnecessary by a spectrum of voices.

“As the world enters the 21st century, the human community finds itself searching for new  paradigms for water supply and management,” says a report releasedby the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Research Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report investigates the potential for establishing a more resilient national water supply through the direct recycling of municipal wastewater.

“Law and practice have always been that water goes back into a river or into groundwater or the ocean before it returns for further treatment,” said Brent Haddad, founder and director of the  Center for Integrated Water Research at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a member of  the committee that wrote the report. The critical question, he said, is “whether that natural stage of treatment is actually an efficient stage of treatment.”
–The New York Times

Don’t forget: Mindy Lubber to lecture March 1 
Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers. Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change.

As part of that work, Lubber directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of 100 institutional investors who manage $10 trillion in assets. In 2011, she was voted one of “the 100 most influential people in corporate governance” by Directorship Magazine.

Lubber’s lecture will focus on the risks businesses and their shareholders face as a result of a population-driven demand for increased water use colliding with a fixed global supply, aggravated by more pronounced droughts and flooding resulting from climate change. She will offer specific examples of companies that are changing their business models to become more sustainable.

Minnesota joins effort to protect L. Winnipeg
Minnesota, North Dakota and Manitoba are planning to work together to fix an expanding dead zone in Lake Winnipeg.

The lake is a major fishery in Manitoba, but it’s health is declining because of nutrients like phosphorus flowing in through the Red River. The nutrients cause large algae blooms.

The problem has been building for decades, said Lance Yohe, Red River Basin Commission executive director.

“The new research is indicating we’re getting closer and closer to a tipping point where the lake would start to deteriorate rather fast,” he said. “If we solve the problem and make progress, this is the best tool to do that.” The Red River drains a large area, and the first step is to identify where nutrients are coming from, Yohe said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Carver County joining zebra mussel fight
Beginning May 15, all boats entering Lake Minnewashta in Carver County will be inspected for zebra mussels in the most ambitious effort yet in the state to prevent the invasive pests from infesting a lake.

It marks the first time that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has authorized a local government to take over such a program, with authority to require inspections and deny boat launching if necessary.

County commissioners voted 3-2to pay half of the $31,000 cost for daily inspections. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District will pay the rest.

The partnership could become a model for other lakes in the southwest metro county, as well as those in other counties. It comes at a time when some lakeshore owners and others are desperately trying to devise local efforts to stop zebra mussels, which have infested about two dozen lakes in the state, including heavily trafficked Lake Minnetonka in 2010.
–The Star Tribune

Tons of Asian carp seized in Canada
Almost 6.3 tonnes of Asian carp, an invasive species no one wants in the Great Lakes, has been seized at the Windsor-Detroit border in the last three weeks. That’s alarming, University of Windsor professor and aquatic invasive species expert Hugh MacIsaac said.

“The Americans have put $78 million into trying to detect where the fish are and to make sure they don’t get into the Great Lakes at Chicago,” said MacIsaac. “And here on the other hand we still have people shipping these things around as though it’s legal and advisable, and it’s neither.”

Since 2005, it’s been illegal to possess live Asian carp in Ontario. Over fives tonnes of Asian carp, some of them alive, was seized on the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor. That came about two weeks after nearly 1.2 tonnes of live Asian carp was seized at the border Jan. 9, Ministry of Natural Resources spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski said.
–Postmedia News

MPCA seeks comment on Anoka County lakes
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking feedback on a draft water quality improvement report for Peltier Lake, Centerville Lake, and the lakes in the Lino Lakes chain (George Watch, Marshan, Reshanau, Rice and Baldwin lakes) in Anoka County.

The MPCA has identified these lakes as impaired because of their high levels of phosphorus. Lakes with excess phosphorus are prone to algal overgrowth, which interferes with swimming, fishing and recreation.

The MPCA, in partnership with the Rice Creek Watershed District, has determined that the phosphorus levels in Peltier Lake must be reduced by up to 85 percent to meet state water quality standards. For this chain of lakes, much of the phosphorus load comes from internal sources, such as rough fish (carp) and decaying vegetation. Therefore, the studies recommend managing populations of fish and aquatic plants in the lakes to control the internal phosphorus load.

Local initiatives to improve the management of stormwater will also reduce the flow of phosphorus into Peltier Lake. Focus on this upstream lake will be critical for success in restoring the downstream lakes. Part of the study included an evaluation of historic phosphorus levels in Peltier Lake.

The MPCA has proposed assessing Peltier Lake in comparison to its natural background level of phosphorus, rather than using the more stringent state water quality standard. George Watch, Marshan, Rice and Baldwin lakes, since they are downstream of Peltier, would also use the natural background condition as their standard.

The MPCA report, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load report, or TMDL, may be viewed on line. For more information or to submit comments, contact Chris Zadak (email ; phone 651-757-2837), MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55155-4194.
–MPCA News Release

DNR begins moose count 
Recent snowfall in northeastern Minnesota has allowed for the start of the 2012 aerial moose survey, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The annual survey, which has been conducted every year since 1960, provides critical data needed to determine the size of the moose population and to set the number of moose hunting permits.

Observers from the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division, the 1854 Treaty Authority, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gathered in Ely to begin the survey, which is expected to last two to three weeks, depending on the weather.

Forty-nine survey plots randomly scattered across the survey area will be flown. This includes the addition of nine specially selected “habitat” plots that will be studied to determine how moose respond to recent wildfires, prescribed burns and timber management.
–DNR News Release

Research: PFCs impact immune systems 
Children exposed to the same common household chemicals that have contaminated groundwater near a number of 3M Co. sites in the St. Paul suburbs have weakened immune systems that make them more vulnerable to infections, according to research.

The study is the first to confirm the suspected link between immune function and PFCs, a family of compounds used in everything from Teflon pans to microwave popcorn bags.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it’s the latest in a growing number of scientific studies raising questions about the health implications of the compounds, which have become ubiquitous in the environment, animals and people.

The chemicals are of particular concern in the east metro area, where groundwater and drinking water were contaminated after 3M made and used the compounds for decades at its Cottage Grove plant to make products like Scotchgard, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam. 3M stopped using the chemicals in 2002.

But many people who live nearby have elevated levels of the compounds in their blood — significantly higher than do the Scottish children who were studied in the research published by JAMA. That means their immune systems could be even more affected, Minnesota health officials said.
–The Star Tribune

Garden chart recognizes warmer winters
It’s still too cold for Japanese maples and flowering dogwoods, but warmer winters have shifted the Twin Cities into a new plant-hardiness zone, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The Twin Cities used to be Zone 4A, which meant winter temperatures plunged as low as 30 degrees below zero. Now the USDA places the Twin Cities in Zone 4B, which means winter temperatures drop as low as minus 25 degrees.

The move to a slightly balmier zone comes after the USDA recalculated its map with newer weather data for the first time since 1990. Two decades of gradually warmer winters have shifted most of Minnesota – and much of the United States – one notch higher on the USDA’s plant-hardiness charts.

The zones depict the lowest winter temperatures for each region and are used to advise gardeners which plants are safe to buy. “The new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States,” said Kim Kaplan of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
 –The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lubber to lecture on sustainability’s bottom line

January 23, 2012

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.

Leader on corporate sustainability to lecture

Mindy Lubber

Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers.

Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change. As part of that work, Lubber directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of 100 institutional investors who manage $10 trillion in assets.

Lubber’s lecture will focus on the risks businesses and their shareholders face as a result of a population-driven demand for increased water use colliding with a fixed global supply, aggravated by more pronounced droughts and flooding resulting from climate change. She will offer specific examples of companies that are changing their business models to become more sustainable.

Conservation Minnesota analyzes spending
So how did environmental programs fare in the budget deals that ended the shutdown of Minnesota government last summer?

Not so well, according to a new 23-page analysis prepared by Conservation Minnesota, the latest in a series of such reviews the group has conducted since 2002.

The 2008 Legacy Amendment  specified that revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters for the environment, clean water and arts and culture “must supplement traditional sources of funding for those purposes and may not be used as a substitute.” The Conservation Minnesota analysis does not directly answer the legal question whether that provision was violated during last year’s budget deals, but the title of the analysis is pointed: “If it Looks Like a Duck…”

The executive summary of the analysis states: “There are increasingly frequent instances where the Legislature has used Legacy funds to backfill budget cuts, raising concerns that the intended benefits of Legacy funds may erode over time.”

State, feds sign ag pollution agreement
 The State of Minnesota, the federal Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 17 signed an agreement to develop a new program to encourage farmers to meet still-to-be-defined standards for preventing erosion and pollutant runoff from their fields and feedlots.

Under the program, farmers who take part and meet the standards would receive a guarantee that they would not later be subject to more stringent standards for up to 10 years.

The agreement was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

Read about the agreement in the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio, a Dayton news release, a USDA news release. And read a Minnesota Environmental Partnership news release questioning the agreement and the concept of providing farmers safe harbor from future regulation.  Read a recent report to the EPA from the agency’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee that recommends the EPA encourage such “certainty” agreements. Read the memorandum of understanding signed by Dayton.

Report details nitrogen pollution of air, water
Read a new article on nitrogen escaping into the air and water. The research paper, titled Excess Nitrogen in the U.S. Environment: Trends, Risks, and Solutions, was published by the Ecological Society of America.

  •  Key findings include:  Forty to 60 percent of the world’s population depends on crops grown with synthetic nitrogen.
  • About half of the nitrogen used in agriculture escapes into the environment.
  • More than 1.5 million Americans drink water that exceeds, or comes close to exceeding, health standards.
  • Nitrogen pollution warms the climate through nitrous oxide emissions, but cools it by promoting the growth of hardwood trees, which sequester carbon dioxide. On balance, the cooling effect is greater.
  • U.S. use of nitrogen fertilizer increased rapidly in the 1960s and ‘70s, then slowed. Since 1978, nitrogen fertilizer use has increased by about six-tenths of a percent annually. During that yields of corn, a major user of nitrogen, have increased 1.9 percent per year.

The report says that current strategies exist within the “current agricultural system, that – if practiced —  could reduce nitrogen losses from agriculture by 30 to 50 percent.

Report: There is good news on acid rain
 Measurable improvements in air quality and visibility, human health, and water quality in many acid-sensitive lakes and streams, have been achieved through emissions reductions from electric generating power plants and resulting decreases in acid rain. These are some of the key findings in a report to Congress by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program, a cooperative federal program.

The report shows that since the establishment of the Acid Rain Program, under Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, there have been substantial reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from power plants that use fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, which are known to be the primary causes of acid rain. As of 2009, emissions of SO2 and NOx declined by about two-thirds relative to levels in the 1990s. These emissions levels declined even further in 2010, according to recent data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Because emission reductions result in fewer fine particles and lower ozone concentrations in the air, in 2010 there were thousands fewer premature human deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits annually leading to estimated human health benefits valued at $170 to $430 billion per year.
–USGS News Release

USDA promotes pollution credit trading 
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a funding opportunity that will bring states, USDA and other stakeholders together to enhance the effectiveness of water quality credit trading. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is providing up to $10 million in Conservation Innovation Grants for these projects, with up to $5 million focused on water quality credit trading in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Proposals for projects are due March 2, 2012.

“For the first time USDA has offered funding specifically for water quality trading. We want to help states and other partners develop robust and meaningful markets,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to demonstrate that markets are a cost-effective way to improve water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and agricultural producers are critical to the function of these markets.”

Water quality credit trading is a market-based approach to lowering the costs of reducing pollution, and has the potential to engage more farmers and ranchers in water quality improvement efforts through the implementation of more conservation practices on agricultural lands. Through water quality credit trading, a producer who implements conservation practices to reduce water quality pollutants can also benefit by generating water quality market credits that could be sold in an open market, which would reduce the costs of implementing and maintaining the conservation practices.

Dayton urges $$ for Lutsen snow-making 
The bonding proposal announced by Gov. Mark Dayton includes $3.6 million to build a water pipeline from Lake Superior to the Lutsen Mountains ski resort. Lutsen Mountains currently pumps water from the Poplar River, a designated trout stream, to make snow for skiing.

Despite low water levels, the DNR issued Lutsen a permit last fall to pump 150 million gallons per year. In exchange, the agency told the ski area to find another water source by 2014.

The governor’s proposal would provide water to the ski resort, a golf course, resorts and private homes.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Obama wants more time to mull pipeline
The Obama administration refused to authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying a congressionally imposed deadline left too little time to evaluate routes that would avoid an aquifer in Nebraska.

In rejecting the permit, however, the State Department said Canadian pipeline company TransCanada Corp. can reapply to build the link between oil sands in Alberta and Gulf Coast refineries. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said the company was disappointed but will reapply after mapping another route around the Ogallala aquifer, a source for drinking and irrigation water, later this year.

The pipeline has been an election year lightning rod across the political spectrum. Republican and industry leaders are painting the pipeline as creating jobs and boosting U.S. energy security. Environmentalists and many Democrats argue that the pipeline would promote a particularly polluting form of crude oil and could threaten water supplies.
–The Houston Chronicle

California suit focuses on sucker fish 
A federal plan to preserve more than 9,000 acres of river habitat so that the threatened Santa Ana sucker fish can fulfill its complex life cycle has run into stiff resistance from critics who say it jeopardizes development and water supplies in the Inland Empire.

Two cities and 10 water districts have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court over the agency’s decision to preserve the habitat. They say that it imposes restrictions on water conservation, groundwater recharge and flood control operations that affect water supplies for 1 million residents, and that it threatens plans to sell Santa Ana River water to thirsty communities elsewhere.

Environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity, CalTrout, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society responded by filing petitions to intervene in the case on behalf of the federal agency. A hearing on the case has been scheduled for February.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conservation Stewardship deadline extended
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White announced that the cut-off date for the current Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) ranking period has been extended to January 27, 2012. Producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship are eligible for CSP payments.

“We want to make sure that people who want to be considered for CSP during this first ranking period have the time they need to complete their applications,” White said. “CSP is a very popular program and I encourage interested producers to apply at their local NRCS office as soon as they can.”

CSP is offered in all 50 states, tribal lands and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups. Administered by NRCS, CSP provides many conservation benefits including improved water and soil quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and conservation activities that address the effects of climate change.

Impaired waters; tracking CO2

January 16, 2012

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.

List of impaired Minnesota waters grows
Minnesota is adding another 500 lakes and stretches of river to its list of impaired waters.

This new list brings the total number of impaired rivers and lakes to more than 3,600. Impaired means the waters have excess nitrogen, phosphorus, mercury, bacteria or other pollutant to support activities like swimming or fishing, or even to provide healthy habitats for fish and wildlife.

Listing these lakes and rivers is the first step in attempts to fix them. But some critics say the state isn’t doing what it takes to clean up the pollution.

Once they’re on the list, the state works with local governments and citizen groups to design clean-up plans. So far, researchers have found that about 40 percent of Minnesota’s waters are impaired. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to update their list of impaired waters every two years. Minnesota is one-fifth of the way through surveying its nearly 12,000 lakes and nearly 70,000 miles of rivers and streams.

In the nearly twenty years these efforts have been under way, about 900 clean-up plans have been approved or are being developed. But only 15 water bodies have been removed from the list because of actual clean-up.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Data base shows greenhouse gas sources
 The EPA has posted a new searchable data base of greenhouse gas emissions last year. Go to it and explore the power plants and other sources of Minnesota’s 47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide-  equivalent emissions. Read a New York Times article about the new trove of pollution data.

Research: Cut soot, methane to slow warming
 Simple, inexpensive measures to cut emissions of two common pollutants will slow global warming, save millions of lives and boost crop production around the world, an international team of scientists reported.

The climate-change debate has centered on carbon dioxide, a gas that wafts in the atmosphere for decades, trapping heat. But in recent years, scientists have pointed to two other, shorter-term pollutants — methane and soot, also known as black carbon — that drive climate change.

Slashing emissions of these twin threats would be a “win-win-win” for climate, human health and agriculture, said NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell, who led the study appearing in the journal Science.  “Even if you don’t believe climate change is a problem, these things are worth doing.”

Previous studies have noted the benefits of reducing methane and soot. But the new study looked at the specific effect of about 400 actions policymakers could take. Of those, just 14 interventions — such as eliminating wood-burning stoves, dampening emissions from diesel vehicles and capturing methane released from coal mines — would offer big benefits.
 –The Washington Post

Investors push water sustainability 
Jonas Kron is worried about water. The investment adviser at Trillium Asset Management, a $900 million fund manager that focuses on environmentally sustainable investment, fears the world’s dwindling supply of fresh water is hurting the companies he has invested in. For most of the year, Kron has led a shareholder challenge to J. M. Smucker, the strawberry jam maker that also owns Folgers coffee. Kron says the company hasn’t demonstrated it’s prepared for the market changes that are sure to come as climate change reduces the size of the world’s coffee growing area.

The conversation has been difficult in part because corporate leaders still seem unaware they need to factor water risk into their financial projections, says Kron. “We’re not talking about charity here,” says Kron. “These are investors seeking to have the company address the risks in its supply chain.”

Smucker’s says it’s hedging against potential increases in raw material prices, but Mother Nature, Kron points out, can defeat any hedge. “At a certain point, you need to deal with the fundamental, underlying fact that these are crops grown with soil, sunlight, and water, and you can’t escape the laws of nature.”

Most companies act as if the water they have today will be there tomorrow, says Brooke Barton, who runs water programs at Ceres, an environmental group in Boston that worked with Trillium and others to create an online checklist aimed at helping investors and companies assess efforts to manage water risk.

3M counter-sues Met Council over pollution 
The 3M Co. has a new tactic to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council: If we polluted, so did you.

In a counterclaim, the company said that if it is found liable for polluting the Mississippi River, the Met Council also should pay. That’s because, 3M says, the planning agency for the seven-county Twin Cities area dumps chemicals into the river from its seven waste treatment plants.

The court document is a new twist in the legal battle over PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonate, found in the river. The state sued 3M in December 2010, saying its chemicals had damaged the environment. The Met Council joined the suit 11 months later. But 3M now argues that the chemicals are coming from treated sewage and other sources.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Cellulosic biofuels go missing 
When the companies that supply motor fuel close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.

But there was none to be had. Outside a handful of laboratories and workshops, the ingredient, cellulosic biofuel, does not exist.

In 2012, the oil companies expect to pay even higher penalties for failing to blend in the fuel, which is made from wood chips or the inedible parts of plants like corncobs. Refiners were required to blend 6.6 million gallons into gasoline and diesel in 2011 and face a quota of 8.65 million gallons this year.

“It belies logic,” Charles T. Drevna, the president of the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, said of the 2011 quota. And raising the quota for 2012 when there is no production makes even less sense, he said.

Penalizing the fuel suppliers demonstrates what happens when the federal government really, really wants something that technology is not ready to provide.
–The New York Times

Climate change, elk reduce tree cover 
Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants, according to a groundbreaking study in Nature Climate Change.

The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study not only showed that the abundance of deciduous trees and their associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined over the last 22 years as snowpack has declined, but it also experimentally demonstrated that declining snowfall indirectly affects plants and birds by enabling more winter browsing by elk. Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.

The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.

“This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences.”
–USGS News Release

Farm Bureau call to end direct subsidies
The American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Honolulu has voted to adopt an Iowa proposal that would recommend the end of direct payments to farmers as part of the new farm bill to be written this year.

The Iowa Farm Bureau’s county delegates shook the agricultural world in August 2010 when they voted to recommend the end of direct payments, which in 2010 put $495 million into the hands of Iowa farmers. The 2011 American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Atlanta declined to follow the Iowa resolution, largely because of resistance from Southern delegates. But during the year, it became increasingly evident that direct payments, which have long been a target of opponents of farm subsidies, were vulnerable as Congress looks for ways to reduce the federal budget deficit.

“This week our national delegation of farmers agreed: The time is right to take a stand,” said Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill of Milo.
–The Des Moines Register

Washington works to clean Potomac 
Washington is starting to dig deep in a $2.6 billion underground solution aimed at helping clean up the polluted Potomac River and the ailing Chesapeake Bay, the biggest U.S. estuary.

In the U.S. capital’s biggest public works project in more than 40 years, work started this fall to cut about 16 miles (26 kilometres) of tunnels to keep overflow sewage and stormwater from running into the Potomac. The project, designed to be finished in 2025, is seen by environmentalists as part of resolving the next great water pollution challenge facing the United States — keeping fouled runoff out of lakes, streams and rivers.

The vast dig “is a dramatic piece of the puzzle to improve the water quality in the Potomac,” said Carlton Ray, head of the District of Columbia’s Clean Water Project.

Permits required for lake service providers 
Training and permitting requirements for people who install and remove docks and other water recreation equipment will be implemented by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources this summer.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a number of new laws in 2011 related to prevention and management of aquatic invasive species. The laws apply to not only boaters and property owners, but also lake service providers and others involved with transportation of water-related equipment.

Service providers are individuals or businesses hired to install or remove water-related equipment such as boats, docks, boat lifts or structures from waters of the state. They are now required by state statute to obtain a permit from the DNR before providing any services. The DNR will begin to implement and enforce this during the 2012 open water season. All service providers must complete invasive species training and pass an examination in order to qualify for a permit.
–DNR News Release

Legacy spending, invasives, wolves

January 9, 2012

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.

Merriam questions spending’s impact
Ensuring water projects funded through the state’s Legacy Amendment are making a difference — and proving it to the public — is a major challenge, conservationists and those who oversee Legacy money acknowledged.

Freshwater Society president Gene Merriam

Gene Merriam

About 300 Legacy stakeholders, including conservation groups, legislators and state officials, gathered in St. Paul to hear how Legacy money has been spent so far on clean water, the outdoors and parks. The annual forum’s goal is to ask whether Legacy money is going to projects and programs as voters expected.

Most of the attention was directed at the Clean Water Fund, which receives about a third of the sales tax revenue generated from the constitutional amendment approved by Minnesota voters in 2008.

Gene Merriam, president of the Freshwater Society, pointed to several reasons to question whether past funds for water projects are being spent effectively. That included a failed cleanup plan on Lake Independence and a report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency showing only moderate improvements on the Minnesota River over the last 20 years, he said.

“That report tells us we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and have very little to show for it,” Merriam said. “We need to do better over the next two decades and better target our resources.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

EPA says air rules will save lives
The EPA estimates that new air-quality standards that limit emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from power plants will prevent up to 150 premature deaths in Minnesota. Read an EPA news release on the standards.

DNR plans crackdown on invasives
Minnesota plans to crack down on boaters, anglers and waterfront landowners who transport non-native invasive species among the state’s cherished waters.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources announced a major increase in action – including roadside checkpoints for motorists hauling boats and piers – as well as a change in attitude about consequences.

“Warnings are going to come to an end,” said Col. Jim Konrad, the agency’s head of enforcement. “It’s time to step up and get people’s attention. I have instructed our officers that the appropriate action to take if there’s a violation is to write a citation.”

Last year, the DNR stepped up its enforcement around certain waterborne invasives, most notably zebra mussels, but Konrad said that it wasn’t enough.

In 2011, the DNR tripled its number of citations and warnings, Konrad said. Often, a warning was all that was issued for a motorist who was, for example, transporting a boat without its drain plug removed, as the law requires. Fines might not have been levied, but the DNR still tracked the data, he said, and the data showed an unacceptably lax public.

“Some of these laws have been on the books for 15 years,” Konrad said. “We found an 18 percent violation rate. That’s unacceptable.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

DNR plans late-season wolf hunt
Minnesota wildlife officials have begun to plan for a limited gray wolf hunting and trapping season in late 2012.

This action follows last month’s announcement that wolves will return to state management Jan. 27 following roughly 35 years of federal protection.

Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the agency is taking a “deliberate and science-based” approach to implementing initial wolf hunting and trapping seasons.

Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist, said the DNR proposal would manage wolves as a prized and high-value fur species by setting the season when pelts are prime, limiting the take through a lottery and requiring animals be registered.

This approach, he said, is different than simply allowing hunters to shoot a wolf as an “incidental take” while primarily pursuing another species such as deer.
–DNR News Release

UM research puts $ value on nature
Scientists in Minnesota are trying to do something that may be impossible: put a dollar value on nature.

Nature performs many important functions that benefit humans — not just offering beauty but cleaning water, taming floods and pollinating crops. Some researchers think it’s time to put a dollar value on those natural processes.

University of Minnesota economic researcher Steve Polasky is building on ideas first presented in the field of applied economics back in the 1960s. The idea is kind of a merger of ecology and economics to identify services that nature provides, and assign a monetary value to those services.
–Minnesota Public Radio

UM prof seeks invasive species research center
Beating back invasive species with boat inspections, dams or bubble barriers only buys time at best, a University of Minnesota professor told a legislative panel..

Instead, he said, let’s outthink ’em.

That was fisheries researcher and carp expert Peter Sorensen’s message to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee when he recommended that a world-class invasive species research center be developed at the U to study not only how to keep leaping carp, clinging zebra mussels and other weird critters out of the state but also how to get rid of those already here.

“Every species has a weakness,” he said.”Nothing is perfect. We need to find weaknesses and target them.”
–The Star Tribune

Ohio ‘quakes linked to wastewater disposal
The 4.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Youngstown Saturday (Dec. 31) occurred at an almost identical location to one a week before, a seismologist who studied the quakes said. Both earthquakes occurred close to the bottom of a 9,200-foot-deep disposal well where for months, brine and other liquid waste from natural-gas wells had been injected under pressure.

They were the 10th and 11th earthquakes to occur near the well since March, but the first to be precisely located. The finding provides further evidence to support what some scientists had suspected: that the waste, from the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing that is used to unlock natural gas from shale rock, might have migrated from the disposal well into deeper rock formations, allowing an ancient fault to slip.

Similar links between hydraulic-fracturing disposal wells and earthquakes have been suspected in recent years in Texas and Arkansas.

John Armbruster, a seismologist with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, said that the epicenter of the quake was about 100 meters, or 110 yards, from that a 2.7-magnitude quake on Dec. 24. There were a few reports of minor damage from the earthquake, but none from any of the earlier quakes.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reached an agreement with the owner of the disposal well, D&L Energy, to halt operations indefinitely and issued a moratorium on further development of disposal wells in the area until the analysis of the 4.0 quake was completed.
–The New York Times

Forestville park expanded
Add 454 picturesque acres of limestone cliffs, cold-water trout streams and rare habitats to Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in southeastern Minnesota.

The Department of Natural Resources announced the state bought the addition to the 2,973-acre state park for $1.75 million, culminating five years of collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and a local family that has owned the land since 1947.

The park is about 45 minutes southeast of Rochester in the driftless bluffland region that escaped glaciation, giving the area a steep topography unlike any other in the Midwest. In addition, the park lies in the porous-rock karst region, and its namesake Mystery Cave – with more than 12 miles of subterranean passages – owes its existence to eroded limestone.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

MPCA urges low-salt diet for roads, sidewalks
For years doctors have told people to stick to a low-salt diet. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, our waters should follow the same advice.

When snow and ice start to accumulate on Minnesota roads, parking lots, and sidewalks, one of the more common reactions is to apply salt, which contains chloride, a water pollutant. When snow and ice melt, most of the salt goes with it, washing into our lakes, streams and rivers. Once in the water, there’s no way to remove the chloride, and it becomes a pollutant.

According to Brooke Asleson, MPCA project manager for the Twin Cities Metro Area chloride project, “Salt is a real threat to water quality. It only takes one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water. We are trying to spread the word that less is more when it comes to applying road salt because at high concentrations, chloride can harm the fish and plant life in our waters.”
–MPCA News Release

Army Corps weighs in on Asian carp debate
A new Army Corps of Engineers study of Chicago-area waterways has stirred the debate over whether to sever the connection between Lake Michigan and inland waterways that was created by the construction of canals a century ago. The study is part of the Corps’s nearly decade-long process aimed at preventing invasive species, including voracious Asian carp, from spreading between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River ecosystems.

But how to achieve that environmental goal has become bound up with varying predictions of what the future of shipping in the Midwest, and even farther South, will be.

Advocates of separating the waterway system from Lake Michigan said that the study bolstered their case because it found that in 2008 only 12 percent of Chicago-waterways cargo moved between Chicago-area waterways and the lake, the great majority of it to and from industries in nearby northwest Indiana. Opponents have argued that closing off the lake would block a vital shipping route.
–The New York Times

Scientists train a big gun against the round goby
Scientists want to know if an underwater cannon can protect valuable Great Lakes fish from a greedy predator.

The round goby (GOH’-bee) is an exotic species that hangs around spawning beds, gobbling up eggs of native varieties such as lake trout and whitefish that are important to the fishing industry.

Biologists plan to use a seismic gun to chase gobies from several Lake Michigan reefs that are popular spawning areas. The experiment is to begin next fall.

Researchers hope the shell-shocked gobies will stay away long enough for native fish eggs to hatch and escape.
–The Associated Press

Meetings set on impaired waters
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will hold a series of public meetings throughout the state in January to discuss the more than 500 impairments that are proposed to be added to the draft list of the state’s impaired lakes and stream segments.

The meetings will be held:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 11, 1-3 p.m., MPCA Office, 714 Lake  Ave., Detroit Lakes
  • Thursday, Jan. 12, 1-3 p.m., MPCA Office, 520  Lafayette Road N., St. Paul
  • Wednesday, Jan. 18, 1- 3 p.m., MPCA Office 7678 College Road, Baxter
  • Thursday, Jan. 19, 1-3 p.m., MPCA Office, 525 Lake  Ave., Duluth
  • Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2-4 p.m., McKinneys on Southside,  300  14th St. S., Benson
  • Wednesday, Jan. 25, 1-3 p.m. Blue Earth County  Public Library, 100 E. Main St., Mankato

Updated every two years, the draft 2012 list contains 2,171 impairments that require Total Maximum Daily Load “cleanup” studies. The inventory of all impaired waters now totals 3,638, which includes impairments in need of TMDLs, those with completed TMDLs that have not yet been restored, and impairments due to natural sources.

Four impairments are proposed to be removed from the list as a result of water-quality-improvement activities in the watershed.

The proposed 2012 Impaired Waters list and methodology for listing will be available on the MPCA’s Impaired Waters web page  before the first public meeting. The list will be formally on public notice from Jan. 23 through Feb. 27, 2012. Submit questions, comments, or requests for additional information to Howard Markus at MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, MN 55155, call Markus at 651-757-2551, or email him at
–MPCA News Release

Report: Chesapeake clean-up not a job-killer
A report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation concludes that storm water and sewage plant upgrades intended to help nurse the environmentally-battered bay back to health would create nearly 250,000 jobs.

The report is aimed at countering claims that the multi-state, multi-billion restoration directed by the Environmental Protection Agency will be harmful to the economy and result in job losses, the foundation’s president said.

“That is not borne out by the facts,” William C. Baker said in a statement. “Whether the target is EPA or the bay pollution limits, it is essential that the public understand that environmental regulations will create jobs to reduce pollution, and sustain jobs that depend on clean water.”
–The Associated Press

 Ford sets 30% water reduction goal
Ford enters 2012 with plans to further reduce the amount of water used to make vehicles and continue showing efficiency is not only inherent in its vehicle lineup, but also in its manufacturing practices.

A new goal calls for Ford to cut the amount of water used to make each vehicle 30 percent globally by 2015, compared with the amount of water used per vehicle in 2009.

Ford is also developing year-over-year efficiency targets as part of its annual environmental business planning process and has established a cross-functional team spanning several divisions to review water usage more holistically.
–PR Newswire

San Francisco gets bargain on Yosemite water
The going rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is about $2,500 a month. That’s the same amount the city pays to use eight miles of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park as a reservoir.

The $30,000 annual fee was set by federal law in 1913 and has not been changed since. But now, as the federal government struggles with budget problems, a Central Valley congressman is pushing to increase the city’s Hetch Hetchy rent by a thousandfold, to $34 million a year.

Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican from Tulare, said the current low rent amounts to a federal subsidy for San Francisco’s water and electricity supply and is unfair to farmers in his heavily agricultural district, whose water supply is diminished.
–The New York Times

Water, science, environment: The lighter side

January 3, 2012

There is lots of serious — often very bad — news about water and the environment published every day. But there also are some quirky and entertaining news items out there.

Here is a look back at some of the offbeat news items among the hundreds of important articles and research papers linked to from the Freshwater blog in 2011:

A New York Times story on corporate sustainability efforts reported the Levi Strauss & Company’s advice to consumers: Freeze your jeans – instead of washing them – to save water.

Budweiser suggests men stop shaving to conserve a million gallons of water.

New York University journalism students write and record My Water’s on Fire Tonight, their take on the controversy over hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Who knew? Smallmouth bass are an invasive species 

Who knew – Part II: Lake Trout are invasives, too

January 3, 2012