Archive for February, 2012

Minnesota and Mississippi river plans

February 27, 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.

Public comments sought on two major TMDLs
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is taking public comment on two long-awaited reports on sediment pollution in the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

Public comment period began Feb. 27 and runs through April 27 for draft Total Maximum Daily Load studies on the Minnesota River and on the Mississippi, from its confluence with the Minnesota at Fort Snelling to Lake Pepin. The studies attempt to calculate the amount of pollution the rivers can sustain and still meet water-quality standards.

Sediment – much of it from bluffs collapsing into the Minnesota and its tributaries, from erosion in deep ravines and from runoff from farm fields – currently sends about 700,000 metric tons of sediment down the Mississippi each year. Three-quarters of the total comes from the Minnesota. The reports call for 50 percent to 60 percent reductions in the sediment flowing from the Minnesota.

Both reports are available on the MPCA web site. Comments on the draft Minnesota River Turbidity TMDL may be sent to Larry Gunderson, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55155. For more information, contact Gunderson at larry.gunderson@state.mn.us or  651-757-2400. Comments on the South Metro Mississippi Total Suspended Solids TMDL may be sent to Robert Finley, MPCA, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165, Mankato, MN 56001. Contact Finley at Robert.finley@state.mn.us or 507-344-5247.

Three big events this week and next month
You can still register to take part in three important events:

  •  A lecture Thursday, March 1, by Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to pressure corporations to become more sustainable in the water they use and the carbon they emit. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
  • A Watershed Solutions Summit sponsored March 17 by the Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League. The event will include discussions of the Great Lakes Water Compact and the 2012 federal Farm Bill.
  •   A conference March 29 on precision conservation. The conference, sponsored by the Freshwater Society, will examine technology and decision-making strategies for targeting conservation practices to places on the land where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately bad and the potential for improvement is disproportionately great.

Groundwater pumping depletes White Bear Lake
New research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows White Bear Lake water levels are falling because communities north of the lake are pumping too much water from an aquifer connected to the big lake.

The water level at White Bear Lake has dropped five feet in the last decade.

Dry weather accounts for just a small part of the drop, said USGS hydrologist Perry Jones. Jones said growth in suburbs north of the lake has led to greater demand on the Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer. When the aquifer depletes, lake water trickles from higher elevation to replenish it.

“There was probably always some water from White Bear Lake leaving and going down into the lower aquifers,” Jones said. “But what’s happened is that by increasing the amount of pumping, you actually lower the water levels in that lower aquifer, so it exacerbates the amount of water leaving the lake.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

Take a carp to lunch 
Don’t forget to observe this week – Feb. 26 through March 3 – as National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

Minnesota moose herd continues decline
 Minnesota’s moose population continues to decline, dropping from an estimate of 4,900 in 2011 to 4,230 in 2012, according to the annual aerial survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Estimates from the survey and results from research using radio-collared moose both indicate that the population has been declining in recent years,” said Mark Lenarz, DNR forest wildlife group leader. Minnesota’s moose population was estimated at 8,840 in 2006 and has trended downward since then.

The causes of moose mortality are not well understood. Of 150 adult moose radio-collared since 2002 in Minnesota, 119 have subsequently died, most from unknown causes thought to be diseases or parasites. Ten moose died as a result of highway vehicle accidents. Two were killed by trains. Only 11 deaths were clearly the result of wolf predation.

This year’s aerial survey, however, showed some positive trends. The number of cows accompanied by calves and twin calves increased in 2012, which means more calves can potentially mature into adults. But the cow and calf ratio,estimated at 36 calves per 100 cows in 2012, remains well below 1990s estimates that likely contribute to a peak population in the early 2000s.
–DNR News Release

Texas court says landowners own groundwater 
In a ruling with possible wide-ranging effects on water regulation, the Texas Supreme Court sided with two Von Ormy landowners who objected to the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s power to limit the pumping of groundwater on their ranch.

“The water underneath your property belongs to you,” Joel McDaniel, who brought the lawsuit more than 10 years ago, said about the ruling. “This changes everything for everyone who owns a well.”

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Nathan Hecht, the court ruled ownership of groundwater should be considered no differently than that of oil and gas. “We held long ago that oil and gas are owned in place, and we find no reason to treat groundwater differently,” Hecht wrote.

While ownership rights are the same, regulation of water should not be, the court found. “Unquestionably, the state is empowered to regulate groundwater production,” the opinion states. “In many areas of the state, and certainly in the Edwards Aquifer, demand exceeds supply.”
–The Houston Chronicle

Research: Farmers support conservation
A new research paper finds that most farmers support the long-standing conservation compact that has helped protect the rich soil and clean water that sustain food, farming and public health.

Conservation Compliance: A Retrospective…and Look Ahead by conservationist Max Schnepf concludes through a comprehensive review of public opinion polls that the farming community has consistently supported the historic deal between taxpayers and farmers that was struck in the 1985 farm bill. Under it, growers agreed to keep soil from washing away and chemicals out of waterways in return for generous taxpayer support.

Seven polls taken in the last 30 years show that a solid majority of farmers believe that bargain is a fair one.

“The conservation compact was a godsend for agricultural and conservation groups and farmers,” Schnepf writes. “In the 10 years following the 1985 farm bill, farmers did more to curb soil erosion than at any time since the infamous Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.”   Schnepf notes that Environmental Working Group’s 2011 report, Losing Ground, found that high prices, intense competition for farmland leases and ethanol mandates have put unprecedented pressure on land and water. As a result, the historic gains in soil conservation the compact achieved are being lost.
–Environmental Working Group News Release

DNR seeks frog counters
logo of frog and toad surveyThe Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program is looking for volunteers to participate in its ongoing Minnesota Frog and Toad Calling Survey. The survey is part of the nationwide North American Amphibian Monitoring Program.

“Without the dedication of generous volunteers, this project would not be possible,” explained Rich Baker of the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program. “Many frog and toad species are indicators of habitat quality and provide valuable information on the condition of Minnesota’s wetlands.”

New volunteers receive a kit that includes a CD of calls by Minnesota’s frog and toad species, a poster of Minnesota’s frogs and toads, a map of a predefined route in an area of their choice. Route availability and past survey results are on the DNR web site, as are directions on how to run the route. A vehicle is required to travel between stops. Read a 2009 Freshwater article on the frog survey. –DNR News Release

Iowa measuring groundwater reserves 
Iowa may have trouble coming up with enough water to fill taps and meet industrial needs in coming decades. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is worried that underground water supplies in some areas might not be able to quench the future thirst created by urban sprawl and the state’s growing biofuels industry.

Geologists already wonder if the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area, one of the fastest growing parts of the state, will have enough water to go around decades from now. That’s especially true of Marion, which may have to find new sources or pipe in water from another system, said state geologist Robert Libra.

Those concerns are emerging from the DNR’s four-year-old effort to inventory and measure how much water remains in Iowa’s network of aquifers. It’s the first large-scale effort of its kind, and one that some say is long overdue.
–The Des Moines Register

Feds reject Colorado water pipeline
Conservationists are casting a project to pipe water from Wyoming to Colorado as dead after federal authorities nixed an entrepreneur’s pitch for a preliminary permit.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a zombie. It’s just staggering around looking for anything to latch onto to keep it alive,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, a Western Resources Advocates energy policy analyst.

But entrepreneur Aaron Million said he’s undaunted and soliciting bids after investing millions in planning the pipeline. He’ll submit new engineering and pipeline details within two weeks.

And Parker water manager Frank Jaeger is moving ahead with a rival project to divert water from Wyoming. Jaeger said he has 19 water utilities committed — mostly in southern suburbs dependent on depleted underground aquifers.
–The Denver Post

 Environmentalists rip ballast rule 
Ships entering the Great Lakes should be made to kill all the creatures that hitch a ride in their ballast tanks, environmental groups said, challenging as too lax a proposed government standard to combat invasive species.

Zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, round gobies and other invaders brought into the lakes in ships’ ballast water have damaged the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishery and allowed algae – some that produce toxins that foul the world’s largest body of fresh surface water – to flourish.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame put the annual cost of dealing with invasive species such as clearing mussels from clogged water intakes at $200 million. The mussels and other invaders have filtered out plankton at the base of the food web, hurting lake fish species and allowing more sunlight to fuel algae growth.

Environmental groups said they may go to court for a fourth time since the 1990s to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten its restrictions on ballast discharge.
–Reuters

Mixed ruling on Florida water standards 
A federal judge has upheld a 2009 formal determination by the Environmental Protection Agency that numeric nutrient standards are necessary for Florida’s waters, but invalidated certain aspects of the water quality criteria the agency developed.

Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in a mixed decision Feb. 18 said EPA was correct in determining that standards were needed. Hinkle upheld the criteria for lakes and springs, but invalidated the criteria for streams, saying they were arbitrary and capricious.

Moreover, he upheld the decision to adopt downstream protection criteria and upheld some, but not all, of the criteria EPA set.

The judge also backed the EPA administrator’s decision to allow site-specific alternative criteria and the procedures for adopting them. He also upheld a March 6 deadline, or an extended date approved by the court, for the validated portion of the rulemaking. –Bloomberg

Lubber lecture, conservation conference set

February 21, 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.

Don’t forget: Two Freshwater events coming up
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.

Mindy Lubber

Mindy Lubber

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.

Lubber, a former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will speak at 7 p.m.  in the theater of the Student Center on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus.

Dave White, NRCS chief

Dave White

And on March 29, the Freshwater Society will sponsor a conference on precision conservation.

Precision conservation is the science and philosophy of placing conservation practices at spots on the landscape where runoff, erosion and pollution are disproportionately severe and the potential for improving water quality and soil loss is disproportionately great.

Dave White, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will deliver the luncheon keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.

Peter Gleick admits deceit in climate leak
A prominent environmental researcher, activist and blogger from California admitted that he had deceitfully obtained and distributed confidential internal materials from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group based in Chicago devoted in part to questioning the reality of global warming.

Peter H. Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, wrote in a statement published on The Huffington Post that he had posed as someone else to get the materials, which include fund-raising and strategy documents intended only for the board and top executives of the group.

Dr. Gleick distributed the documents to several well-known bloggers and activists who support the work of mainstream climate scientists and who have denounced the Heartland Institute as a center of climate change denial.

The document release, which lit up the Internet, was cast by some bloggers as the work of a whistle-blowing Heartland employee or ex-employee who had access to internal papers, when it was in fact orchestrated by Dr. Gleick, a Yale- and Berkeley-trained scientist and environmental activist who says that he was frustrated with Heartland’s anti-climate-change programs.

Dr. Gleick denied authorship of the most explosive of the documents, a supposed strategy paper that laid out the institute’s efforts to raise money to question climate change and get schools to adjust their science curricula to include alternative theories of global warming. The Institute asserted that document, which is in a different format and type style from the rest of the Heartland materials, was a fake, but implicitly acknowledged that others were legitimate and vowed to legally pursue those who stole and published them.

In his statement, Dr. Gleick said he had received the dubious strategy paper anonymously in the mail this year. He said he did not know the source of the document but said he tried to confirm the validity of the document because the disclosures in them would serve to undercut the institute’s mission.

“In an effort to do so,” he wrote, “and in a serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name.”
–The New York Times

Pricing alternative zebra mussel strategies 
There’s one way to slow – really slow – the spread of invasive zebra mussels in their steady campaign to populate all of Minnesota’s waters.

The simple plan, which some have off-handedly suggested: require boat inspections at every launch. Cost: $2,300 per boat owner, on average.

Oh. Guess that won’t happen.  That sobering price tag is one of several such figures contained in a new Department of Natural Resources report examining what it would actually cost to combat the little enemy mollusks.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Snuffbox mussel is endangered 
 A small mussel that’s found in the St. Croix River and few other places has been declared endangered by the federal government.

The snuffbox mussel has disappeared from 62 percent of the streams where it was historically found. The survival of this native mussel — which can live for decades — is threatened by loss and degradation of habitat, due in part to pollution and sedimentation. Non-native zebra mussels are also a threat.

The National Park Service is raising snuffbox mussels and releasing them in the gorge area of Mississippi River Pool 2 in St. Paul, where water conditions have improved in recent years.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Obama proposes cut in EPA aid to states
 President Obama proposed a fiscal year 2013 budget containing $8.3 billion in discretionary funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, a $105 million decrease from fiscal 2012 achieved through cuts to state wastewater treatment and drinking water funds.

The proposed 1.2 percent decrease in EPA funding would mostly come from reduced funding for the clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, which provide capitalization grants to states for loans for water infrastructure. The president’s budget also would reduce funding for superfund cleanup efforts and eliminate a clean diesel grant program and replace it with a combination of rebates and grants. The budget proposal contains increased funding for priority programs, including a large increase for state and tribal air quality and water pollution programs.

While overall assistance to states would decline, EPA’s operating budget would increase under the budget proposal from $3.57 billion in fiscal 2012 to $3.74 billion in fiscal 2013. The proposal would increase funding for targeted water infrastructure and Chesapeake Bay restoration, while maintaining funding levels for leaking underground storage tanks programs and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
–Bloomberg

Bill seeks further permitting changes 
A House committee approved a bill to streamline the environmental review and permitting process. The bill picks up where last year’s streamlining law left off. It would allow project proposers to hire a consultant who can actually draft permits, a job currently in the hands of the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

But Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said the state still would have final authority. “No matter what you do in regards to filing your application, the PCA and DNR still have to approve,” Fabian said.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Texas research downplays ‘fracking’ threat 
The concern that hydraulic fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas is contaminating groundwater is overstated, claims a new report.

Researchers reviewing the available data in the US found nothing to suggest “fracking” had a unique problem. Rather, they suggest the contamination events that do arise are just as likely to afflict other types of oil and gas drilling operations.

The claims were made at the annual AAAS conference in Vancouver, Canada. Charles “Chip” Groat, associate director of Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, led the study. “The bottom line conclusion of our study is that in the states we investigated, we found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself, the practice of fracturing the rocks, had contaminated shallow groundwater,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.
–BBC News

Taconite plant to pay air pollution penalty
Northshore Mining Co. has agreed to pay a $240,175 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) for air-quality violations that the MPCA says occurred at the company’s taconite-processing plant in Silver Bay. The violations were for emissions of excessive amounts of very fine dust that is unhealthy to breathe. Northshore is also taking steps to prevent future violations, including emission-control improvements at its large taconite pellet storage yard.

Between November 2010 and May 2011, ambient air quality monitors located between the taconite pellet storage yard and the Silver Bay marina measured violations of permit limits for particulate matter, or dust, smaller than 10 microns (PM10) in width, or about one-fourth the diameter of a human hair. Dust deposits were also documented at the Silver Bay marina. PM10-size dust is one of the federal and state governments’ health-based standards that help determine the levels where exposure can compromise human health.
–MPCA News Release

Sustainability pioneer sentenced to prison
A pioneer of the sustainable business movement, Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in connection with asbestos-related deaths at his former company, Eternit AG.

A court in Turin, Italy, ruled that Schmidheiny and lead Eternit shareholder Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier were partially responsible for hundreds of deaths and illnesses caused by asbestos in Eternit factories. They were also sentenced to pay damages, which reportedly could reach past 250 million euros ($330 million), to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims’ relatives and to a number of local authorities.

Schmidheiny announced in 1978 that Eternit would stop making products with asbestos, when he became president of its board of directors. Half of production was asbestos-free by 1984, and the company last used asbestos minerals a decade later, according to Eternit AG’s website. The company closed its Italian facilities in 1986, six years before Italy banned asbestos.

Schmidheiny is also the founder of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which provides a forum for 200 member companies with combined revenue of more than $7 trillion “to develop innovative tools that change the status quo,” according to the website of the Geneva-based group. He founded the council after Maurice Strong, then secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, appointed Schmidheiny as his principal advisor on business and industry “to represent the voice of business” at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
–Bloomburg

China faces water quality, quantity woes
China faces a tougher situation in water resources in the future as demand increases amid the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization, an official said at a press conference. Hu Siyi, vice minister of water resources, said water shortages, serious river pollution and the deteriorating aquatic ecology are “quite outstanding” and may threaten the country’s sustainable growth. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China now consumes more than 600 billion cubic meters of water a year, or about three-quarters of its exploitable water resources, Hu said.

“Because of the grave situation, we must put in place the strictest water resources management system,” he said. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, the average per capita of water resources is only 2,100 cubic meters annually, or about 28 percent of the world’s average level.
–ChinaDaily

Report cards on Legacy spending

February 14, 2012

Report issued on Clean Water Fund spending
A number of Minnesota state agencies that receive Clean Water Fund appropriations have released a new report tracking how the money was spent in 2010 and 2011.

A news release from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which led the inter-agency review, says the report found:

  •  For every state dollar invested in implementation activities such as improvements to municipal sewage plants and buffers to control agricultural runoff, an additional $1.45 was leveraged through local and federal partnerships.
  •  Although the pace of activities to restore polluted lakes and streams is being accelerated by Clean Water Funds, requests for clean-up funds are about three times greater than what is available.
  •  Drinking water protection efforts are on track, but there is a growing concern about nitrate levels in new wells and in certain vulnerable aquifers.

Read the full 48-page report. Read a shorter report-card-type summary. Read a Star Tribune article, based on a Conservation Minnesota analysis of spending from the 2008 Legacy Amendment, that suggests some spending violated a constitutional requirement that Legacy spending supplement, not substitute for, traditional spending. Read a MinnPost account of the same analysis.

Low-level contamination found in groundwater
A new study finds Minnesota groundwater is contaminated with low levels of chemicals, but the chemicals are not as widespread in groundwater as they are in lakes and streams.

This is the first study to examine groundwater across the state for “chemicals of emerging concern.” Researchers tested 40 shallow wells around the state for 92 contaminants. They found 20 different contaminants. One or more chemicals were found in about one-third of the sampled wells.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency scientist Sharon Kroening said the chemicals come from products like plastics, medications, detergents, insect repellents and fire retardants.

“The ones that we found most commonly in this round of sampling was a fire retardant, tris dichloroisopropyl phosphate, an antibiotic, sulfamethoxazole, and two plasticizers, one that’s pretty well known called bisphenol A, and another one called tributyl phosphate,” Kroening said.

The most chemicals were found at wells near landfills. Researchers also found a higher incidence of chemicals in wells near residential areas with septic systems.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Research: Driveway sealants a big air pollution source
 Coal-tar-based sealants are emitting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the air at rates that may be greater than annual emissions from vehicles in the United States, according to new reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in the scientific journals Chemosphere and Atmospheric Environment.

Children living near coal-tar-sealed pavement are exposed to twice as many PAHs from ingestion of contaminated house dust than from food, according to a separate new study by Baylor University and the USGS, published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Several PAHs are probable human carcinogens and many are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. These results and those of previous research on environmental contamination and coal-tar-based pavement sealants are summarized in a feature article appearing today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The article is jointly authored by researchers with the USGS, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, University of New Hampshire, City of Austin Texas, and Baylor University.

Links to the four new articles on this topic can be found on the USGS website on PAHs and sealcoat. Coal-tar-based sealant is the black liquid sprayed or painted on many parking lots, driveways, and playgrounds. An estimated 85 million gallons are used each year, primarily in the central and eastern U.S.

Coal tar is known to cause cancer in humans and is made up of more than 50 percent PAHs. “The value of this research is that it identifies the pathways by which PAHs move from pavements to people and measures the contribution in relation to other sources,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “The most striking finding is that pavement sealcoat contaminates virtually every part of our every-day surroundings, including our air and our homes.
–USGS News Release

EPA demands more study of PolyMet mine
A long-awaited mining project that promises economic renewal for Minnesota’s Iron Range has been delayed repeatedly in the past year because federal regulators are insisting the company conduct more rigorous research to predict its environmental ramifications on the wildest and most scenic corner of the state.

In the latest delay, PolyMet Mining Corp. said its two-year-old environmental review will not be made public until next fall. That means the copper-nickel mine, first proposed in 2006, would not begin construction until 2014 at the earliest if the project is approved.

The new delay is related to questions the Environmental Protection Agency raised Sept. 1 about the validity of the company’s computer model because it did not include sufficient data from the mine site.

“Any modeling…using this inadequate number of samples would have results that are not scientifically defensible,” the EPA said in a letter to the state and federal officials who are overseeing the environmental review. PolyMet says it has since reached agreement with the EPA on the computer model and is gathering the data the agency requested.
–The Star Tribune

Liquid lake found through 2 miles of ice 
In the coldest spot on the earth’s coldest continent, Russian scientists have reached a freshwater lake the size of Lake Ontario after spending a decade drilling through more than two miles of solid ice, the scientists said.

A statement by the chief of the Vostok Research Station, A. M. Yelagin, released by the director of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, said the drill made contact with the lake water at a depth of 12,366 feet.

As planned, lake water under pressure rushed up the bore hole 100 to 130 feet pushing drilling fluid up and away from the pristine water, Mr. Yelagin said, and forming a frozen plug that will prevent contamination. Next Antarctic season, the scientists will return to take samples of the water.

Lake Vostok, named after the Russian research station above it, is the largest of more than 280 lakes under the miles-thick ice that covers most of the Antarctic continent, and the first one to have a drill bit break through to liquid water from the ice that has kept it sealed off from light and air for somewhere between 15 million and 34 million years.
–The New York Times

What would it take? 
Momentum, the magazine of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, offers 15 intriguing short interviews from national and international thought leaders on what it might take for the world’s people to solve some vexing environmental problems.

Some examples:

  • Alexandra Cousteau on creating sustainable ocean fisheries.
  • Climate strategist Robert Socolow on reining in greenhouse gas emissions and solving climate change.
  • Comedian Brian Malow on scientists becoming better communicators.
  • Ecologist Gretchen Daily on protecting nature AND meeting human needs.

Comment sought on Le Sueur biofuels project 
 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is inviting comment on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet prepared for Minnesota Municipal Power Agency’s proposed biofuels plant in the city of Le Sueur, which is about 40 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.

The plant, called Hometown BioEnergy, would convert 45,000 tons a year of agricultural and food-processing waste, such as corn silage, into three products: methane biogas that would be burned to create electricity; liquid fertilizer that would be applied to nearby cropland; and a residual solid material that would be converted into burnable pellets.

The plant would generate eight megawatts of electricity and deliver it directly to the city of Le Sueur, population 4,000. The plant’s total building area would be 25,500 square feet on a site 35 acres in size. The site is a depleted gravel pit on the south side of Le Sueur surrounded by cropland, an airport, and an operating gravel mine.

On March 20, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., the MPCA will also host a public informational meeting on the permit for the project at the Park Elementary School auditorium in Le Sueur.

Comments on the permit will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on March 27. The MPCA web site  has a copy of the Hometown BioEnergy EAW.
–MPCA News Release

Media miss UN report on sustainability
As the world’s media focused on the deepening crisis over Syria, it missed a less pressing story with profound long-term implications. The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, released a sobering assessment for the world’s seven billion inhabitants. The document — Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing — offers humanity a stark choice: modify our patterns of production and consumption, or risk crashing through the “planetary boundaries” of growth and social progress.

It’s easy to mock UN reports, particularly from “high-level” panels. (Does the UN have any other kind?) But this document is an eye-opener—and offers some crucial recommendations for the Rio+20 mega conference in June.

First, it highlights just how far the world is from realizing the vision of “sustainable development.” That paradigm, introduced by the Bruntland Commission in its 1987 report, Our Common Future, is deceptively simple. Sustainable development is not a synonym for “environmental protection,” as Resilient People underlines. It’s about ensuring that today’s actions, particularly in the economic sphere, advance growth and social welfare but don’t undermine critical ecosystem services.
–The Internationalist, a blog from the Council on Foreign Relations

Texas acts to protect Ogallala aquifer 
A group of farmers in northwest Texas began 2012 under circumstances their forbearers could scarcely imagine: they faced a limit on the amount of groundwater they could pump from their own wells on their own property.

The new rule issued by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, based in Lubbock, declares that water pumped in excess of the “allowable production rate” is illegal.

In Texas, a bastion of the free-market Tea Party, such a rule is hard to fathom. Most of the state abides by the “rule of capture,” which basically allows farmers to pump as much water as they want from beneath their own land. But irrigators in northwest Texas rely on the Ogallala aquifer, an underground water reserve that is all-too-rapidly disappearing. If the region is to have any future at all, water users must find a way to curb the pumping.

The Ogallala is one of the nation’s largest and most productive underground water sources. It makes up more than three-quarters of the High Plains aquifer, which spans 175,000 square miles and underlies parts of eight U.S. states — Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Water drawn from it irrigates 15.4 million acres of cropland, 27 percent of the nation’s total irrigated area.
–The National Geographic

Draft ‘fracking’ rule requires disclosure 
Natural gas drillers would be required to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on public lands, according to draft rules created by the Department of Interior.

The proposed regulations would also force companies to report the amount of any given chemical injected during the fracking process. The move for increased regulation comes after President Barack Obama touted his commitment to expanding natural gas production while ensuring the drilling is done responsibly.

“My administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy,” he said during his State of the Union address.

Fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of undisclosed chemicals into rocks containing oil or natural gas, has drawn increasing scrutiny from environmentalists who suggest the process contaminates groundwater and destroys ecosystems. Under the proposed regulations, companies would be required to reveal the “complete chemical makeup of all materials used,” according to a copy of the rules obtained by The Huffington Post.
–The Huffington Post

Canon River speaker series set
Looking for something to do to liven up your Monday nights this February?  The Cannon River Watershet Partnership CRWP and St. Olaf College invite you to take part in a speaker series on the topic of Alternative Agriculture.  How has agriculture changed in the last 50 years? How can we take advantage of the marginal lands?  What “third crops” are out there that could enhance the typical corn/soybean rotation?  How can farmers earn a living while protecting our waters?  Each speaker will discuss his or her  work, then take questions from the audience.  The event is FREE and open to the public.

Location:  St. Olaf College, Regents Hall, Room 150, Northfield, MN. Time:  7 to 8:30 p.m.

Speakers include:

Feb. 20 – Linda Meschke – President of Rural Advantage. She will review the idea of “third crops” and the concept of alternative income beyond corn and soybeans.

Feb. 27 –  Paula Westmoreland – President of Ecological Gardens and author of the book This Perennial Land.  She will discuss her book and GIS maps about farming the margins.

Ohio withdraws tougher stream rules
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency withdrew proposed regulations meant to strengthen protections for streams after business groups complained that they might cost too much.

The package of regulations included a system to grade the ecological value of thousands of small, mostly unnamed “headwater” streams in Ohio. Conservationists say those streams frequently are filled in or polluted by strip mines, roads and housing subdivisions.

Under the new system, the higher the value of a stream, the more work a developer would have had to do to avoid or repair damage. First proposed in 2006, these standards and other enhanced protections of streams and wetlands never got past the proposal stage. They were instead mired in opposition from business, manufacturing and homebuilder groups.
–The Columbus Dispatch

Grand Canyon park bans plastic bottles
In a plan just approved by John Wessels, National Park Service Intermountain Regional director, Grand Canyon National Park will end the sale of water sold in disposable bottles within 30 days. The park has free water stations available where visitors can fill reusable water containers. The ban on less-than-one-gallon bottles and different kinds of boxes is hoped to eliminate the source of 20 percent of the park’s “waste stream” and 30 percent of its recyclables.

The action came after Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis recently decided to ban the bottles. At first, Director Jarvis was portrayed as bowing to corporate pressure for telling Grand Canyon officials to hold off on implementing a ban on the plastic bottles. Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility had claimed that Director Jarvis put the ban on hold after Coca Cola officials raised concerns with the National Park Foundation, which in turn contacted the director and his staff. Grand Canyon National Park’s plan to eliminate the bottles was submitted and approved under the policy issued by Director Jarvis on December 14, 2011.
–National Parks Traveler

$37 million available for Mississippi Basin projects
  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced that proposals for conservation projects addressing water quality and wetland conservation in the Mississippi River Basin are due to NRCS by March 19, 2012.

Accepted projects would support conservation efforts already underway on agricultural operations in the basin, improve the overall health of the Mississippi River and help reduce hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for conservation-minded farmers to do even more to protect and improve one of America’s most valuable resources,” White said.

Through this request for proposals, NRCS is providing up to $37 million in new financial assistance through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) for projects in 54 priority watersheds in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
–USDA News Release

Dates not to miss, pythons and butterflies

February 6, 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.

DNR proposes boat trailer permitting 
Minnesota’s 800,000 boat owners would have to pass a course on how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species before they could trailer their boats anywhere, under a bill proposed by the Department of Natural Resources.

“We’re envisioning it would be an online training course,” said Luke Skinner, DNR invasive species specialist. “This would be required training so boaters know the laws and what they need to do to prevent the spread of invasive species.”

Those hauling other water-related equipment, such as docks or boat lifts, also would have the pass the course. Also, fines for those caught violating invasive species laws would be doubled — all part of increased efforts by the DNR to slow the spread of invading critters to Minnesota’s waters.

Some measures will be implemented this season, including random roadside boat checks and a requirement that boat owners place free DNR stickers on their boats spelling out invasive species requirements. But the training requirement proposal wouldn’t kick in until 2015, under the proposed bill.
–The Star Tribune

Important events in March
Put these three important dates on your calendar:

  • March 1. Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to persuade and pressure multinational companies to adopt sustainable business practices, will give a free public lecture. The lecture is titled “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship into the Bottom Line.” Learn more and register to reserve your place at the lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
  • March 17. The Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League will sponsor Watershed Solutions Summit 2012, at Normandale Community College. Learn more.
  • March 29. Precision Conservation is the science and art of putting conservation practices at the places on the landscape where they will do the most good. The Freshwater Society, with the assistance of a number of partners, will sponsor a conference aimed at Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors, Watershed District managers, county commissioners and others who care deeply about protecting water quality. Dave White, the national chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, will deliver the keynote address. Learn more and register to attend.
Darby Nelson book a finalist for award

Darby Nelson

Darby Nelson

For Love of Lakes, a new book by Darby Nelson, is a finalist in this year’s Minnesota Book Awards. Nelson, a member of the Freshwater Society Board of Directors, is a longtime conservationist, a retired environmental science professor and a former Minnesota legislator. His book, a collection of first-person essays about lakes in Minnesota and across the United States, was published by the Michigan State University Press. It is one of four finalists in the memoir and creative nonfiction category. The winners will be announced April 14. Learn more about For Love of Lakes and read its introduction. Learn more about the Book Awards and vote on-line in the People’s Choice category.

Mercury rules an issue in taconite plant dispute 
Iron Range officials expressed frustration with Magnetation Inc. over the company’s threats to build an iron ore pelletizing plant in another state. But company officials say it’s Minnesota’s tough pollution rules that are forcing them to look elsewhere.

State Rep. Tom Rukavina and St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson say they are upset that the company is considering building the $300 million plant somewhere other than the Iron Range, especially after Minnesota invested heavily in helping Magnetation get started.

Magnetation is considering sites in Superior, Indiana and Illinois in addition to Itasca County for the plant that will employ about 150 people.

“To me, it’s embarrassing that a guy who got $1 million of free taxpayer money from Minnesota would even consider going to another state,’’ Rukavina said, referring to a $1 million grant Magnetation’s CEO Larry Lehtinen received in 2008 from the Minnesota Minerals 21st Century Fund administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
-The Duluth News Tribune.

GOP seeks environmental permitting changes 
Republicans in the state Legislature are advancing a new set of initiatives to overhaul environmental regulation.

The measures come after they reached accord last year with Gov. Mark Dayton on a sweeping bill that streamlined the environmental permitting process. That bill was a noteworthy but ultimately fleeting act of bipartisanship. Now, backed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and opposed by environmental organizations, a second round of permitting legislation passed in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote.

The bill picks up where the 2011 legislation left off. Last year’s legislation allowed businesses to submit their own environmental reviews of projects for consideration by state regulators. This year’s bill, sponsored by Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, proposes to allow companies to hire an outside consultant to prepare environmental permits. The applications would ultimately be approved or rejected by the state Pollution Control Agency.
–Politics in Minnesota

China arrests 8 in massive pollutant spill
China has detained another company official, bringing the total to eight, over a massive river pollution case in the country’s south, the government and state media said. Industrial waste — including toxic cadmium — polluted up to a 300-kilometre (190-mile) section of the Longjiang River in the Guangxi region and threatened drinking water supplies for millions of people.

Police have detained eight executives from two firms, Jinhe Mining Co. and Jinchengjiang Hongquan Lithopone Materials Factory, according to a statement from Hechi city, where the pollution originated. Authorities were seeking another four people who had fled, the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted Hechi Mayor He Xinxing as saying.
–AFP

Pythons swallowing up Everglades mammals
Precipitous declines in formerly common mammals in Everglades National Park have been linked to the presence of invasive Burmese pythons, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Burmese python caught in 2009

15-foot, 162-pound Burmese python. Photo, Mike Rochford, University of Fla.

The study, the first to document the ecological impacts of this invasive species, strongly supports that animal communities in this 1.5-million-acre park have been markedly altered by the introduction of pythons within 11 years of their establishment as an invasive species.

Mid-sized mammals are the most dramatically affected. The most severe declines, including a nearly complete disappearance of raccoons, rabbits and opossums, have occurred in the remote southernmost regions of the park, where pythons have been established the longest. In this area, populations of raccoons dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent and bobcats 87.5 percent. Marsh and cottontail rabbits, as well as foxes, were not seen at all.

“Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt. “Right now, the only hope to halt further python invasion into new areas is swift, decisive and deliberate human action.”
–USGS News Release

‘Loophole’ might shield Sherco emissions
Environmental groups called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to close a “loophole” in new air pollution rules that would let the oldest coal-fired units at Xcel Energy’s Sherco power plant forgo expensive retrofitting.

Sherco, located in Becker, 45 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, is the state’s largest power plant, capable of producing 2,400 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 1.8 million households. But the plant burns 30,000 tons of coal a day, and the environmental groups say its emissions are the main contributor to the haze that hangs over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and other natural areas.

Estimates for the cost of retrofitting the Sherco plant range from less than $50 million to several hundred million dollars.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Health Department sets forum on drinking water 
The Minnesota Department of Health Drinking Water Contaminants of Emerging Concern Program will hold a public forum on drinking water and the department’s effort to explore potential contaminants.

The forum will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the department’s Snelling Office Park,  1645 Energy Park Drive, St. Paul.

The Forum is open to anyone concerned about protecting the state’s water resources from contaminants. It is an opportunity to share information related to contaminants of emerging concern and to learn more about CEC program activities.

If you have questions or would like to participate via the Web, contact Michele Ross at michele.ross@state.mn.us or 651-201-4927. Learn more about Advisory Forum . Read a 2010 Freshwater Society interview with Pamela Shubat, who directs the Contaminants of Emerging Concern program.

Karner blue butterfly
Photo: Phil Delphey, USFWS

Rare butterfly an issue for Wisconsin sand mines
In the sand barrens of Wisconsin lives an endangered blue butterfly. Its range overlaps almost perfectly with the sand that’s become a lucrative part of a boom in natural gas drilling. And to kill a Karner blue without a permit violates federal law. But of the dozens of frac sand companies that have descended upon the area, just one, Unimin, has applied to the state Department of Natural Resources to be able to legally destroy Karner blues in its operations, according to David Lentz, who coordinates the agency’s Karner blue butterfly habitat conservation plan. And only four companies have contacted the agency’s Bureau of Endangered Resources directly.
–The Fond du Lac Reporter

Elephants in Australia?
 Australia could introduce large herbivores such as elephants as part of a radical biological solution to the problem of bushfires and invasive species, says one expert.

The argument is laid out in a provocative commentary from Dr David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, and is published in Nature magazine.

“I’m being as provocative as possible to try and wake everybody up to say, ‘Look, what is currently happening is not sustainable. We have to think outside the square,'” Dr Bowman said.

He says the short-term programs designed to address Australia’s serious problems with bushfires and invasive species are piecemeal, costly and ineffective.

For example, he says, they are not succeeding in controlling the invasive gamba grass that leads to frequent intense fires in Australia’s north.

“It’s out of control,” he said. “Last year we had a fire in the outback in Central Australia the size of Tasmania. These things are very bad.”
–Asia Pacific News