Archive for March, 2012

Zebra mussels in court; water conflicts loom

March 26, 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.

West Metro zebra mussel fight goes to court
The ice went out on Christmas Lake, and soon a new gate will go up at its only public boat ramp, signaling the start of what may be the most contentious boating season yet in Minnesota’s two-decade fight over zebra mussels and other invasive species.

The gate, installed in November, is more than a method to keep invasive species out of one of the most pristine and exclusive lakes in the metro area. Some see it as a challenge to individual privacy and a virtual Minnesota birthright — unfettered access to any lake or river in the state.

Those two imperatives — protecting the lakes and keeping them open to all — are at the heart of a lawsuit filed last week by three west-metro lake associations against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The associations claim the state has failed to devise a comprehensive plan against invasive species and has thwarted their efforts to protect the lakes they treasure.
–The Star Tribune

Intelligence report: Water conflicts possible 
The American intelligence community warned in a report that problems with water could destabilize countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over the next decade.

Increasing demand and competition caused by the world’s rising population and scarcities created by climate change and poor management threaten to disrupt economies and increase regional tensions, the report concludes.

Prepared at the request of the State Department, the report is based on a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed last October that reflected an increasing focus on environmental and other factors that threaten security. An estimate reflects the consensus judgment of all intelligence agencies.
–The New York Times

Save these dates:

 March 29. The Freshwater hosts a conference on precision conservation, the science and philosophy of putting conservation practices into place at spots on the landscape where are most  effective and provide the most return on investment. Learn more.  April 12. The Freshwater Society’s Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser celebrates spring.  The event will be from 5:30 to 8;30 p.m. at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach. There will be music, food, a silent auction and – where else can you find this? – a loon-calling contest.

Medicine drop box

Medicine drop box

Hennepin County accepts unneeded drugs
Prescription and non-prescription drugs are a significant source of water pollution. Don’t flush them down the toilet or pour them down a sink. Hennepin County has installed self-service drop boxes for unneeded and outdated drugs in a number of places throughout the county.

Learn more about where you can find the drop boxes and what you can – and cannot – dispose of in them.

Eden Prairie backs water conservation 
Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens is asking residents to join the “Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.” It is a friendly, online competition between residents of cities across the nation to see who can be the most “water-wise.

All residents have to do is log on to and make an online pledge on behalf of Eden Prairie. By making the pledge, residents promise to follow a series of conservation measures for their homes, yards and cars, things like washing only full loads of laundry, fixing leaky faucets and walking or biking short distances.

Iowa State offers advice on nitrate loss 
As Corn Belt farmers face challenges to reduce nitrate loss in surface and groundwater by 40-45%, Iowa State University (ISU) research confirms what many growers fear: “The right application of nitrogen (N) is [just] the first step,” says Matt Helmers, ISU associate professor, agricultural and biosystems engineering.
–Corn and Soybean Digest

Research: Fracking causes air pollution
People living within a half-mile of oil- and gas-well fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above a federal hazard standard, according to a new Colorado study.

The University of Colorado Denver School of Public Health analysis is one of a string of studies in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado that highlight the air-quality impacts of drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. “Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural-gas development that has focused largely on water,” said Lisa McKenzie, the study’s lead author.

The analysis found volatile organic chemicals at five times the level below which the emissions are considered unlikely to cause health problems, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazard Index.
–The Denver Post

Metro-outstate fight looms on park funding
 A bitter battle is brewing between park agencies in the Twin Cities and in outstate Minnesota over how much each should get from the nearly $40 million state Parks and Trails Legacy Fund.

More than 60 percent of the sales tax money comes from the seven-county metro area, but only about 40 percent is being used for parks and trails there. The rest goes to the state Department of Natural Resources and to regionally important parks and trails outstate.

“This wasn’t a fund just created for outstate parks, for gosh sakes,” said Carver Commissioner Tom Workman, who used to serve in the Legislature. “We’ve got to take a stand here.”

Carver County and nine other county and local governments with metro regional parks want a bigger piece of the pie. So far, three metro cities and three county boards have passed identical resolutions, including Carver County and Bloomington’s City Council.  –The Star Tribune

Sturgeon recovering in Lake of the Woods
Lake sturgeon populations in both the United States and Canadian waters of Lake of the Woods and Rainy River have met short-term recovery goals, and fisheries managers now are setting their sights on the long term.

“The Rainy River-Lake of the Woods population is probably one of the most robust, healthiest recovering populations of lake sturgeon in North America,” said Tom Mosindy, fisheries assessment biologist for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in Kenora, Ont. “It’s definitely a good news story.”

Mosindy is chairman of the Border Waters Sturgeon Management Committee, which includes representatives from the MNR, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Rainy River First Nations Indian band in Ontario. He shared findings of the recovering sturgeon population with partners during a joint Ontario-Minnesota fisheries meeting in Fort Frances, Ont.
–The Grand Forks Herald

Court expands property owners’ recourse against EPA 
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of an Idaho couple who were prevented from building their dream home after the Environmental Protection Agency barred them from building on their land. The agency claimed the property was protected wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act.

The ruling gives property owners the right to challenge an EPA compliance order from the time it is issued, rather than waiting for the agency to begin enforcement actions.

The decision comes in the case of Chantell and Mike Sackett, who purchased two-thirds of an acre of land near the shore of Priest Lake, Idaho. In 2007, they broke ground on a planned three-bedroom house, but three days later, EPA officials arrived and asked to see their permit for filling in wetlands. The couple, who had only building permits, said they had no idea that they needed a permit from the EPA because there were other houses nearby.
 –National Public Radio

UN calculates ag pollution’s worldwide cost

March 19, 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.

Save these dates:

  •  March 29. The Freshwater hosts a conference on precision conservation, the science and philosophy of putting conservation practices into place at spots on the landscape where are most effective and provide the most return on investment. Learn more.
  • April 12. The Freshwater Society’s Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser celebrates spring. Get info at The event will be from 5:30 to 8;30 p.m. at the Lafayette Club in Minnetonka Beach. There will be music, food, a silent auction and – where else can you find this? – a loon-calling contest.

UN report: Ag pollution costs billions worldwide 
Water pollution from agriculture is costing billions of dollars a year in developed countries and is expected to increase in China and India as farmers race to increase food production, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

“Pollution from farm pesticides and fertilizers is often diffuse, making it hard to pin down exactly where it’s coming from,” Kevin Parris, author of a report from the Paris-based organization, said in an interview in Marseille. “In some big agricultural countries in Europe, like parts of France, Spain and the U.K., the situation is deteriorating.”

In some regions of China, pollution of waterways from agriculture may already have reached the point where it may trigger health problems in people, he said.

The OECD report is part of a series of studies published to coincide with the World Water Forum in Marseille. Ministers, industry representatives and non-government organizations are discussing resource management, waste, health risks and climate change at the meeting. Pollution from farming is gaining prominence as the global population increases, raising demand for food and putting strain on water resources.

EPA sued over Mississippi R. pollution
A number of environmental groups, led by the Gulf Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed two lawsuits to force the Environmental Protection Agency to set and enforce water quality standards for the Mississippi River. The lawsuits, filed in New Orleans and New York, target nutrient pollution from farm fields and sewage treatment plants. The pollution contributes to the massive “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Read a Reuters report on the two suits. Read a Des Moines Register article focusing on Iowa and the Midwest. Read the court filings.

California nitrate pollution worsens 
Nitrate contamination of groundwater in some of the state’s most intensely farmed regions has grown worse in recent decades and will continue to spread, threatening the drinking water supplies  of more than 250,000 people, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by UC Davis scientists, underscores the complexity of dealing with nitrate pollution, which is largely the result of nitrogen leaching into aquifers from fertilizers and manure applied to cropland.

High nitrate levels have been linked to cancer and reproductive disorders and can be lethal to infants. Examining groundwater data from the southern San Joaquin and Salinas valleys, the authors concluded that even if all farming operations ceased, nitrates would remain in water supplies and continue to spread for decades.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conference March 18 and 19 on aquatic invasives 
A two-day conference in St. Paul will present state and national speakers discussing the threat of aquatic invasive species – both plants and animals. The conference, sponsored by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and a number of partners, will be held Monday and Tuesday, March 19 and 20, at the Kelly Inn, near the state Capitol.

The first day will focus on aquatic invasive plants such as flowering rush and curly leaf pondweed, include an update on AIS initiatives during the 2012 Minnesota legislative session and an appearance by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has introduced federal legislation to curb the spread of Asian carp. The second day will focus on aquatic invasive animals such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.  Learn more and view an agenda.

EPA review discounts fracking complaints
Federal environmental regulators say well water testing at 11 homes in a northeastern Pennsylvania village where a gas driller was accused of polluting the aquifer failed to show elevated levels of contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency is sampling well water at dozens of homes in Dimock, Susquehanna County.

The agency said  it received initial test results for 11 homes. Regulators say water samples from six of the 11 homes showed sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria, but at safe levels. Arsenic was found in the well water of two homes but at low levels.
–The Associated Press

 Climate-driven flooding imperils millions 
About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research.

If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century.

By far the most vulnerable state is Florida, the new analysis found, with roughly half of the nation’s at-risk population living near the coast on the porous, low-lying limestone shelf that constitutes much of that state. But Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable, researchers found, and virtually the entire American coastline is at some degree of risk.
–The New York Times

Ogallala restrictions worry Texas farmers
J. O. Dawdy, who has been a farmer for 36 years, is so worried about getting enough groundwater that he is considering a lawsuit to protect his right to it.

As sleet pounded his West Texas farmhouse one recent afternoon, Mr. Dawdy and three other farmers said that new regulations — which limit the amount of water they can withdraw from the Ogallala Aquifer and require that new wells have meters to measure use — could have crippling effects on their livelihoods.

“We view it as a real property-rights violation,” said Mr. Dawdy, who grows cotton. If the restrictions had been in place last year during the drought, he said, his land would not have produced a crop.

Water is a contentious issue across Texas, but tensions have been especially high in a 16-county groundwater conservation district stretching from south of Lubbock into the Panhandle, an area considered part of America’s “breadbasket.” There, farmers reliant on the slowly diminishing Ogallala are fighting to maintain their right to pump unrestricted amounts of water.
–The Texas Tribune

Study evaluates all-renewable power future 
If you’ve ever driven past the wind farms in southern Minnesota or seen a house with solar panels, maybe you’ve wondered how much of the state’s total electricity demand wind and solar power could support.

According to a study released March 13, the answer is 100 percent. All of Minnesota’s electricity generation could be met by a combination of wind and solar energy, as long as it’s combined with big energy storage and grid improvements that dramatically reduce demand, the study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research says.

In the end, electricity would cost about 3 cents more per kilowatt hour than today’s statewide average of about 10.6 cents for residential customers, the study by the Takoma Park, Md.-based think tank concluded.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lowly eelpout may be in decline 
The eelpout or burbot, that beady-eyed freshwater cod widely known as the “ish of fish” for its unsightly appearance, doesn’t get a lot of attention, but fisheries managers in Minnesota and North Dakota say the species is in decline.

“It’s almost more of an anecdotal thing,” said Tom Heinrich, large lake specialist for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn. “They’re not all that vulnerable to gillnets, which are our primary lake assessment gear. Most of the information is based on what you see on the ice. People just aren’t catching nearly the ’pout they used to.”
 –Grand Forks Herald

MPCA seeks citizen water quality monitors
Do you live near a lake or stream in Minnesota, or visit one regularly? If so, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency needs your help!

Join more than 1,500 Minnesotans who track the health of their favorite lake or stream through the Citizen Lake or Citizen Stream Monitoring Programs.

These volunteers measure water clarity in their lake or stream weekly throughout the summer months, using simple equipment provided by the MPCA. Water clarity, or transparency, is an important indicator of the health of a lake or stream. The MPCA uses water clarity data to track water quality trends and make decisions on watershed protection and restoration. For some lakes and streams, data collected by volunteers is the only data available, making this work very valuable.

To become a volunteer or learn more about the program, visit the MPCA’s website, or  call 651-296-6300 (Twin Cities) or 800-657-3864 (Greater Minnesota). Read a 2009 Freshwater Society article about the lake and stream monitoring programs.
–MPCA News Release

Sewage effluent cools Google in Ga. 
The data center has become the coal-fired power plant of the tech industry – the most visible symbol of the online world’s environmental impact. And in recent years, Apple, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley giants have undertaken efforts, voluntarily and under pressure from groups like Greenpeace, to slash their massive electricity consumption and secure power from renewable energy sources.

Now Google has opened a new front on a less-noticed impact of data centers – water consumption. Like power plants, data centers, with their acres of servers, suck up millions of gallons of water a year for cooling (as an alternative to using electricity-hogging mechanical chillers).

Google said it had switched to using recycled water at its Douglas County, Ga., data center rather than continue to tap drinking water as it had when the facility opened in 2007.

“But we soon realized that the water we used didn’t need to be clean enough to drink,” Jim Brown, Google’s data center facilities manager, wrote in a blog post. “So we talked to the Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority (known locally as the WSA) about setting up a system that uses reuse water – also known as gray or recycled water – in our cooling infrastructure. With this system in place, we’re able to use recycled water for 100% of our cooling needs.”

Aquatic invasives draw legislative flurry

March 12, 2012

Invasives spur rare unanimity at Capitol
From electric barriers to a proposed research center at the University of Minnesota, aquatic-invader legislation is gaining traction at the state Capitol. Millions of state dollars are almost certain to follow.

More than a dozen bills have been introduced so far this session to address a looming problem for boaters and other water enthusiasts: the spread of invasive creatures such as Asian carp and zebra mussels into lakes and rivers. Those and other invaders on the horizon can alter aquatic ecosystems and disrupt popular activities, including fishing, boating and waterskiing.

The state has responded to the threats before, but never with so much muscle or variety.

With genetic evidence of silver carp found in two Twin Cities-area rivers last year and three Asian carp caught earlier this month in the Mississippi River near Winona, a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold. The recent netting was the farthest upstream that a silver carp has been caught.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Anti-carp bills seek review of closing locks
Five members of the Minnesota congressional delegation introduced legislation aimed at slowing the spread of invasive Asian carp in state waters.

Their proposal would order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct feasibility studies on both the temporary and permanent closings of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Dam and to complete the studies within six months and a year, respectively, of the bill becoming law.

Depending on the findings, the corps would then be given broader authority to close the navigation lock at the Minneapolis dam. If Asian carp were found nearby, it would require the dam to be closed until effective controls were put in place.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Dayton calls for $$ for Coon Rapids Dam
Read an op-ed in the Outdoor News in which Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton calls for state spending to repair the Coon Rapids Dam as a deterrent to Asian carp migration up the Mississippi River.

Three important dates
Mark your calendar for three important upcoming events:

 On Saturday, March 17, the Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League will sponsor a Watershed Solutions Summit at Normandale Community College in Bloomington. Protection of the Great Lakes and the federal Farm Bill are among issues on the agenda.

 On Thursday, March 29, the Freshwater Society and a number of co-sponsors will host a conference on precision conservation.

 On Thursday, March 12, Freshwater will host an Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser. There will be music, food, drink, a silent auction and a loon-calling competition.

When will the ice break up on Lake Minnetonka? 
The winter we had, and the temperatures we’re getting, are bringing us closer to the breakup every day.

The surest indicator of an early ice-out is a balmy winter in December, January and February. And the 26.3 degree average temperature we had in those months makes it the fourth-balmiest winter on record.

In ice-out records going back to 1855, the earliest ice-out on Lake Minnetonka was March 11, and the latest was May 8. Last year, ice-out came on April 14, the median date for ice-out.

Check out a year-by-year record and a calendar showing how many times ice-out has occurred on specific dates.

Give some thought to water beneath our feet
 Did you know that this week – March 11 through 17 – is National Groundwater Awareness Week? Spend a few moments to learn more about this precious resource.

Firm to phase out coal tar driveway sealant 
Coal-tar residues that can contaminate stormwater ponds may become a thing of the past thanks to a voluntary phase-out by Eagan-based Jet-Black International, one of the nation’s larger franchisers of pavement seal-coating services.

The company decided to voluntarily phase out coal-tar-based sealers late this winter in response to scientific data showing that coal-tar-based sealers are an important source of contamination to stormwater-collection systems in Minnesota.

The switch to an asphalt-based formulation will help keep harmful chemicals out of Minnesota’s surface waters. The phase-out calls for all 25 of Jet-Black’s Minnesota franchises to voluntarily phase out coal-tar-based sealants in 2012, with a complete change to an asphalt emulsion sealant by the start of the 2013 season.

“Jet-Black stepped up and took action to phase out coal tar in their sealant,” MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said. “When an industry leader embraces science-based recommendations like this, it really helps.”
–MPCA News Release

EPA to re-test ‘fracking’ pollution 
 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to work with the Wyoming state government to retest water supplies after a federal report last year concluded natural gas drilling likely polluted a local aquifer.

The EPA has been investigating an aquifer near natural gas drilling in Pavillion, Wyoming, for years after residents complained their drinking water smelled and tasted odd. It concluded in a December draft report done without broad input from the state that chemicals including benzene, alcohols and glycols likely migrated up into the aquifer from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.

Wyoming politicians and the oil and gas industry criticized the report when it came out. Matt Mead, the governor of Wyoming which produced 10 percent of U.S. natural gas in 2010, called for more sampling, more data, and more participation in the study by state regulators.

Wisconsin iron mine plan dropped 
The state Senate rejected mining legislation, prompting a prominent mining company to say it was abandoning a project after months of often bitter debate that pitted conflicting claims of economic development against environmental protection.

“Senate rejection of the mining reforms . . . sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message,” said a statement from Bill Williams, president of Gogebic Taconite LLC. “(We are) ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine.”

Top Republican leaders said they considered the measure dead. At stake were an estimated 600 to 700 jobs at a large open pit mine in northern Wisconsin. Bob Seitz, a lobbyist representing Gogebic, said: “This isn’t an attempt to negotiate anything because that’s done.” He said that the company made numerous concessions, and wasn’t willing to go any further.

“We let something slip away,” said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon). His comments came shortly after Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) voted with all Democrats to reject the bill, 17-16.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Climate change and groundwater demand
Climate change has been studied extensively, but a new body of research guided by a San Francisco State University hydrologist looks beneath the surface of the phenomenon and finds that climate change will put particular strain on one of our most important natural resources: groundwater.

SF State Assistant Professor of Geosciences Jason Gurdak says that as precipitation becomes less frequent due to climate change, lake and reservoir levels will drop and people will increasingly turn to groundwater for agricultural, industrial, and drinking water needs. The resource accounts for nearly half of all drinking water worldwide, but recharges at a much slower rate than aboveground water sources and in many cases is nonrenewable.

“It is clear that groundwater will play a critical role in society’s adaption to climate change,” said Gurdak, who co-led a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists who are now urging policymakers to increase regulations and conservation measures on nonrenewable groundwater.

The scientists recently released a book of their research, titled “Climate Change Effects on Groundwater Resources,” that is the result of a global groundwater initiative by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They will soon make their case to international policymakers at the March 12-17 World Water Forum in Marseille, France.
–Science Codex

Some good news on world drinking water
Close to nine out of every 10 people in the world now has access to clean, safe drinking water, finds a report issued by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The new statistic means that the world has achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water in advance of the 2015 deadline.

The safe drinking water target is part of the Environmental Sustainability Goal. Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. By 2010, 89 percent of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, exceeding the target of 88 percent.

“Today we recognize a great achievement for the people of the world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “This is one of the first MDG targets to be met. The successful efforts to provide greater access to drinking water are a testament to all who see the Millennium Development Goals not as a dream, but as a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.”
–Environmental News Service

Conserving Mower County – one farm at a time 
One could say Justin Hanson has a full-time job in persistence. Without that trait, he would likely be doing something else. As a man who persuades farmers to retire farmland for conservation projects, he’s no stranger to the word “no.”

“We spend a lot of time failing,” Hanson said about his job. “It’s like baseball — you miss more than you hit.” So he keeps swinging.

Hanson is a resource specialist with the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District, and though he’s all about preserving the land and protecting the water, he knows he wouldn’t have a job without farmers. His job relies on their land, which is also why his job may become increasingly difficult.
–Austin Daily Herald

Even Antarctica beset by invasive species 
Alien species are invading Antarctica from as far away as the Arctic — and could fundamentally alter ecosystems in the world’s last relatively untouched continent, an international team of scientists has reported.

The risks from these biological interlopers — seeds and plant material carried in on the shoes and clothing of well-meaning scientists, ecotourists and support staff — will increase as the icy content continues to thaw because of climate change, the scientists reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People think of Antarctica as a pristine wilderness, but that is fast changing, said lead author Steven Chown of Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Over the last few decades, human activity there has increased dramatically. During the 2007-08 summer season, about 33,000 tourists and 7,000 scientists (including support personnel) made landfall there, bringing unintended ecological consequences, Chown said.
–The Los Angeles Times

EPA underestimated cost of Florida water rule 
Federal environmental officials underestimated the cost of implementing their new water pollution rules for Florida, just as critics have been saying, a National Research Council panel concluded in a report.

The committee of scientists was not asked to offer its own estimate but wrote that whatever the expense turns out to be it would be small compared to the ultimate cost of restoring Florida’s waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which commissioned the study, issued a statement saying it already is incorporating some of the report’s recommendations in its economic analysis. It noted that the scientists also found critics’ estimates of much higher costs also were faulty.
–The Associated Press

Anti-mining petition delivered by dog sled
A former Minnesota legislator finished a 360-mile dog-sled trip to the State Capitol and delivered anti-sulfide mining petitions to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Frank Moe, a former DFL state representative from Bemidji, began the trip March 1, and ended it with an event on the State Capitol steps.

He said Dayton accepted the petition, which contained almost 13,000 signatures, and asked several questions about it.

State, federal and other operations are preparing a detailed environmental review of a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northeastern Minnesota.

Environmental groups pointing to problems elsewhere with such sulfide-mining operations oppose allowing it in the region because it could pollute watersheds leading to the federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior. But supporters of PolyMet’s proposal argue that safeguards can be added, allowing crucial jobs to be created in that area.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Silver carp, zebra mussels, ag ‘certainty’

March 5, 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.

First silver carp caught in Minnesota
A silver carp and a bighead carp were caught in a seine net by commercial fishermen in the Mississippi River near Winona, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Silver and bighead carp, members of the Asian carp family, are nonnative species that can cause serious ecological problems as they spread into new waters.

The silver carp caught March 1 weighed about 8 pounds. It represents the farthest upstream discovery to date of the species, known for its tendency to leap from the water when startled.

“A silver carp discovery this far upstream is discouraging, but not surprising,” said Tim Schlagenhaft of the DNR’s Mississippi River Team at Lake City. “This is further evidence that Asian carp continue to move upstream in the Mississippi River.”

No established populations of bighead or silver carp are known in Minnesota. However, individual Asian carp have been caught by commercial fishermen in recent years. Three silver carp (two in pool 8 near La Crosse, one in pool 9) were caught between 2008 and 2011. One bighead carp was caught in the St. Croix River in 1996 and one in 2011. Between 2003-2009, six bighead carp were caught in the Mississippi River between Lake Pepin and the Iowa border.
–DNR News Release

Ag ‘certainty’ candidates sought
Candidates are being sought to serve on an advisory committee to help develop the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program. The new program is the result of a January 17 agreement by Governor Mark Dayton and federal officials, with the goal of enhancing Minnesota’s water quality by accelerating adoption of on-farm water quality practices.

The committee, being formed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, will provide recommendations to MDA Commissioner Dave Frederickson regarding the development of the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification, as well as its particular features and focus. The committee will be convened and staffed by MDA, and will serve at Commissioner Frederickson’s discretion.

Committee composition will be established by Commissioner Frederickson, with membership from the following:

  • Two farmers or ranchers.
  •  Two representatives of general farm organizations.
  •  Three representatives of commodity or livestock organizations.
  • One representative of agriculture-related business.
  • One representative of crop consultants or advisors.
  • Two representatives of environmental organizations.
  • Two representatives of conservation organizations.
  • Two representatives of local government units.

In addition, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, the University of Minnesota Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will be invited to provide technical support.
–MPCA News Release

Legacy $$ sought for zebra mussel fight 
Zebra mussels are a form of biological pollution spreading rapidly across Minnesota lakes. So does that make the fight to combat them worthy of Legacy Fund money?

Some residents of lakeshore communities in the west metro think so, and they’re mobilizing to persuade lawmakers to direct some of the $90 million raised each year for the Clean Water Legacy Fund toward zebra mussels, arguing that they’re the most urgent environmental problem facing the state’s lakes.

“We see this as the threat of our time, and prevention needs to happen,” said Terrie Christian, president of the Association of Medicine Lake Area Citizens in Plymouth. “If we wait until afterwards, it’s going to cost the state and all citizens a lot more, and our lakes are going to be wrecked.”

For Christian and other lake advocates, the invasive fingernail-sized mussels are just as detrimental to clean water as too much silt or fertilizer or other pollutants. They’ve infested about 30 lakes across the state, including heavily trafficked Lake Minnetonka.

Once introduced in a lake or stream, the mussel populations explode and cannot be stopped because they have no natural predators. For now, the best solution to slowing their spread is to inspect and, if necessary, decontaminate all boats that leave infested waters, a daunting and costly proposition.
 –The Star Tribune

Wisconsin wetlands bill signed 
Following months of controversy, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law making it easier for developers to build on wetlands throughout the state.

Under the new law, developers proposing a project on wetlands either would have to create new wetlands equal to the amount they destroy or pay the Department of Natural Resources to protect other wetlands throughout the state.

“What we are going to sign today is a great example of how government can be a true partner to economics development instead of a barrier,” Walker said. “There is a balance out there. I want clean air, clean water and clean land. The two can go hand in hand.”

Walker said the balance could be achieved because the bill still allows development and expansion of wetlands under the new agreement with DNR, while at the same time eliminating government barriers to economic development in the state.
 –The Badger Herald

St. Croix bridge bill passed 
Decades of debate over the proposed St. Croix River crossing ended with a five-minute vote in the U.S. House, which approved the plan overwhelmingly and sent it to President Obama for his signature.

The 339-80 vote easily surpassed the two-thirds needed to fast-track the project, a move made necessary after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton gave Congress a March 15 deadline before reallocating state funding.

“This is it!” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, who carried the bill in the House. “After decades of bureaucratic holdups and frivolous lawsuits from radical environmentalists, the people of the St. Croix River Valley will finally have their bridge.”

A unanimous Senate approved the same measure last month, belying the discord that underlies the $690 million project. Congressional action was needed to exempt the bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a landmark law from the 1960s sponsored by former U.S. Sen. and Vice President Walter Mondale. Mondale lobbied against the bridge, calling it “a brutal assault on one of the most magnificent rivers in America.”
–The Star Tribune

Guilty verdict in zebra mussel case
George Wynn, the 54-year-old Fargo man believed to have caused the zebra mussel infestation of Rose Lake near Vergas, was convicted for transferring water equipment with invasive species attached.

Wynn’s case is one of the first of its kind in Minnesota after a 2011 law change that allows the state to prosecute people who transfer invasives on any kind of water equipment, not just boats and trailers. Wynn’s offending piece of water equipment was a boat lift, which is believed to have been moved from the mussel-infested Lake Lizzie to Rose Lake.

Wynn’s charges, however, stem from his moving of the lift from Rose Lake to a different area without cleaning the lift, which was clearly covered in mussels by that time. Wynn faced fines and fees of $500, as well as a restitution charge of an additional $500.

He was also placed on probation for a year. Assistant County Attorney Heather Brandborg said that $500 was all the DNR requested in restitution costs, and The Journal could not reach DNR representatives who could comment further role on the department’s costs in the case. However, the DNR reported in October 2011 that costs of treating the lake could run about $14,000.
–The Fergus Falls Journal

Farmer-led council works to protect Whitewater
Farmers in the Whitewater Watershed are taking the lead in water quality improvement through the Farmer-Led Council of the Whitewater River Watershed.

The council is the first of its kind in Minnesota. It’s modeled on similar efforts in Iowa where farmers gather to determine what they need to do to clean up impaired streams in their watershed.

Jim Frederick of Lewiston chairs the council. He’s involved because he wants to leave an environmental legacy and wants the land to be in better shape when he’s done farming than when he began.

Improving the land ties with improving water quality. The Whitewater River and its tributaries are impaired for nitrates, fecal coliform and turbidity, which is a measure of the water’s clarity.

USGS tracks phosphorous through groundwater 
Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have, for the first time, demonstrated how aquifer composition can affect how excessive levels of phosphorous (an essential nutrient contained in fertilizers) can be carried from fertilized agricultural fields via groundwater to streams and waterways.

This finding will allow for more informed management of agriculture, ecosystem, and human water needs.

“Until now, studies of phosphorus transport to streams have been focused on surface-water pathways because it was previously assumed that phosphorus does not dissolve into soil water and is not mobilized to groundwater,” explained USGS researcher Joseph Domagalski. “Farmers and resource managers can use the study information to better manage the application of fertilizer on agricultural fields and minimize phosphorus contamination in downstream water bodies.”
–USGS News Release