Archive for April, 2012

Scott County’s Credit River off ‘impaired’ list

April 30, 2012

Scott County’s Credit River gets cleaner 
John Hensel, who oversees all of the metro area’s watersheds for the state of Minnesota, had brought a camera along to remember this by. On the riverbank he peered down into the flashing current and said, “It looks spring-fed!”

Apparently it didn’t look quite that clear a few years ago.

The Credit River in Scott County for years has been listed as one of Minnesota’s thousands of polluted bodies of water. But now, it is one of a handful to be removed from that list — to be credited, so to speak, as unimpaired.

There are more theories than absolute surefire answers as to why it’s in so much better shape, experts say. But what is known for sure is that people all along its length — often just stray citizens — worked in a host of ways to counteract what could have been causing the problem.
–The Star Tribune

Conservation groups praise Farm Bill votes
Conservation groups across the country are applauding the Senate Agriculture Committee for its decision to maintain a strong conservation component in the 2012 farm bill.

The bill passed out of committee with bipartisan support, but the timing for a full vote on the Senate floor is uncertain.

Besides the Conservation Reserve Program, the farm bill includes a conservation easement program with a strong wetland component, a regional partnership program aimed at improving water quality and a Sodsaver provision.

Sodsaver aims to protect native grasslands by reducing federal support on any new cropland acres put into production as a result of breaking grassland with no previous cropping history.
–The Grand Forks Herald

Research looks at organic ag’s potential
Can organic agriculture feed the world?   Although organic techniques may not be able to do the job alone, they do have an important role to play in feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental damage, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and McGill University.

A new study published in Nature concludes that crop yields from organic farming are generally lower than from conventional agriculture. That is particularly true for cereals, which are staples of the human diet – yet the yield gap is much less significant for certain crops, and under certain growing conditions, according to the researchers.

The study, which represents a comprehensive analysis of the current scientific literature on organic-to-conventional yield comparisons, aims to shed light on the often-heated debate over organic versus conventional farming.

Some people point to conventional agriculture as a big environmental threat that undercuts biodiversity and water resources, while releasing greenhouse gases. Others argue that large-scale organic farming would take up more land and make food unaffordable for most of the world’s poor and hungry.

“To achieve sustainable food security we will likely need many different techniques – including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems – to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods to farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture,” the researchers conclude.

Overall, organic yields are 25% lower than conventional, the study finds. The difference varies widely across crop types and species, however. Yields of legumes and perennials (such as soybeans and fruits), for example, are much closer to those of conventional crops, according to the study, conducted by doctoral student Verena Seufert and Geography professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill and Prof. Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
–University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment News Release

Climate change moving Corn Belt north 
Researchers have found that climate change is likely to have far greater influence on the volatility of corn prices over the next three decades than factors that recently have been blamed for price swings — like oil prices, trade policies and government biofuel mandates.

The new study, published  in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests that unless farmers develop more heat-tolerant corn varieties or gradually move corn production from the United States into Canada, frequent heat waves will cause sharp price spikes.

Noah S. Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford and an author of the study, said he was surprised by the notable effect of climate change on price volatility for corn, the country’s largest crop. “I really thought climate would be a minor player before we did this analysis,” Professor Diffenbaugh said.
–The New York Times

MPCA approves BWCA haze rules 
The Citizens Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approved a plan to reduce haze in Voyaguers National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The plan is required by the federal government, which wants states to clean up the air in the nation’s biggest natural areas. The haze in Minnesota’s northern wilderness areas is the result of a complex and ever-changing mix of pollutants. But the MPCA is focusing on taconite plants and coal-fired power plants which have — up to now — escaped other pollution regulations.

In March, the MPCA staff presented a plan to the citizens’ board that would reduce emissions. Cliffs Natural Resources said it would have trouble meeting the standards assigned to its plants in Hibbing and Eveleth. The citizens’ board told its staff to negotiate with the company. The result is a new plan, which gives the company more flexibility and less stringent standards.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Asian carp forum set in Stillwater 
With news coming out that another invasive Bighead carp was caught near Prescott in the St. Croix River, a public forum to discuss the issue will be held May 16 in Stillwater.

The St. Croix River Association is sponsoring a public forum from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16 at the Water Street Inn for river users to learn more about the carp, what the invasive fish could mean for the St. Croix and what can be done to control their spread.
–Stillwater Patch

USGS: Look to cancer model to fight invasives 
Lessons learned from the medical community’s progress in fighting cancer can provide a framework to help prevent the introduction and spread of  harmful aquatic invasive species, according to a study released in American Scientist.

With more than 6,500 harmful non-native species causing more than 100 billion dollars in economic damage each year in the United States, more effective methods of confronting them are essential.

In the study, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center outline five integrated steps used in cancer prevention and treatment that could be adapted to use in battling invasive species: prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment options and rehabilitation.
–USGS News Release

EPA faces decision on 2,4-D-resistant corn
To Jody Herr, it was a telltale sign that one of his tomato fields had been poisoned by 2,4-D, the powerful herbicide that was an ingredient in Agent Orange, the Vietnam War defoliant.

“The leaves had curled and the plants were kind of twisting rather than growing straight,” Mr. Herr said of the 2009 incident on his vegetable farm in Lowell, Ind.

He is convinced the chemical, as well as another herbicide called dicamba, had wafted through the air from farms nearly two miles away. Mr. Herr recalled the incident because he is concerned that the Dow Chemical company is on the verge of winning regulatory approval for corn that is genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds without harming the corn stalks.

That would be a welcome development for corn farmers like Brooks Hurst of Tarkio, Mo., who are coping with runaway weeds that can no longer be controlled by Roundup, the herbicide of choice for the last decade. But some consumer and environmental groups oppose approval of Dow’s corn, saying it will lead to a huge increase in the use of 2,4-D, which they say may cause cancer, hormone disruption and other health problems.
 –The New York Times

USDA planning water-quality credit trades 
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Environmental Markets (OEM) is developing a nationwide network of water quality trading (WQT) programs, slated to become operational in September.

It will consist primarily of projects that earn a share of up to $10 million in targeted Conservation Innovation Grants that the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will award that same month.

Roughly 25 programs are currently under review, and grant recipients will be announced in July.
–Ecosystem Marketplace

Twin Cities air gets worse
For the first time in nearly two decades, air in the Twin Cities is dirty enough that it might violate federal health standards, the American Lung Association said in an analysis.

That could lead to more health problems for Twin Cities residents and more hospitalizations for heart attacks, asthma and other lung disorders that can be triggered by the higher amounts of microscopic particles such as soot from leaf blowers, generators, diesel trucks, auto shops, light industry and, most of all, cars.

Ramsey County, one of seven counties tracked for particulate matter, got an F for the first time since the Lung Association began compiling the annual report. Air monitors there measured dangerously high levels of particulate matter 10 times between 2008 and 2010. Hennepin and other metro counties fared about the same as last year, but those counties also experienced several days with high levels of particulate matter in the air.

State pollution officials said that air quality in the Twin Cities metro has been declining for some time and that this summer it could routinely reach levels considered unhealthy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
–The Star Tribune

Anoka County well testing set May 7-11 
The thirteenth annual Well Water Wise (3W) week promotion will be held on May 7-11 to encourage residents to check the safety of their private (home or cabin) well.

The Anoka County Community Health and Environmental Services Department, in cooperation with 13 municipalities, sponsors the 3W program to provide testing services to residents throughout the year. County residents may pick up a well water test kit at participating city and township offices or in the county’s Environmental Services office, Suite 360, of the Anoka County Government Center, 2100 Third Avenue in Anoka.

The well water testing kit includes water collection and submission instructions. Water samples can be submitted to the county’s Environmental Services office of analysis every Monday from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon.

A laboratory fee of $30.00 will be charged for bacteria and nitrate-nitrogen analysis.

During Well Water Wise Week 2012: the Environmental Services office will accept samples Monday, May 7 to Thursday, May 10 from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. On Friday, May 11 samples will be accepted from 8 a.m. to noon.

Washington County nitrate tests set
Washington County, in partnership with the Washington Conservation District and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, will offer a free nitrate water-testing clinic 4-7 p.m., Tuesday, June 5, at Scandia City Hall.

Nitrates are the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater. Experts recommend that private well owners who get their drinking water from wells should test their water regularly.

To participate in the testing, collect at least one-half cup of water in a clean plastic or glass container. Run the water for 5-10 minutes before filling the container. Do this within 24 hours of the clinic and keep it refrigerated. Homeowners with water treatment equipment (other than a softener) should take two water samples – one before and one after the treatment process. This will determine if the system is working.

Label the container with name, phone number, if the sample is before or after a treatment system, and a well identification number if more than one well is sampled. Samples will be analyzed on the spot – the process usually takes less than five minutes – and results will be given directly to the homeowner. For questions about the clinic or how to take a water sample, contact Wendy Griffin at 651-275-1136, Ext. 24.
–Forest Lake Times

Asian carp; ag certainty; African groundwater

April 23, 2012

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

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$800,000 fine is latest in Ethanol crackdown
A Minnesota ethanol plant has been hit with an $800,000 pollution penalty, the latest in a multi-year regulatory crackdown that state officials say appears to be changing the industry’s ways.

Bushmills Ethanol Inc. of Atwater, Minn., was fined for illegally discharging salt-laden wastewater into a ditch and then lying about it, the state Pollution Control Agency said.

It is the third-highest penalty against a Minnesota ethanol producer in six years, a period when 13 of the state’s 21 plants got caught polluting the air or waterways, and sometimes both. Altogether the penalties have exceeded $5.1 million.

Yet as the state collects the latest fine, a top state regulator said he is hoping the industry’s chronic environmental problems are behind it. “We don’t have any other large enforcement actions going against ethanol plants,” said Jeff Connell, manager of compliance and enforcement for the MPCA’s industrial division. “They may have turned a corner, or at least we are hopeful they have.”
–The Star Tribune

Frederickson, Aasen, Baloun praise  ‘certainty’ 
Read a Star Tribune op-ed on agriculture and water quality written by Dave Frederickson, the Minnesota commissioner of agriculture; Paul Aasen, the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; and Don Baloun, state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The op-ed praises a “certainty” agreement between state and federal agencies that will offer a guarantee to participating farmers who meet certain still-to-be-developed conservation standards  that they will not be obliged to meet more-rigorous standards over a 10-year period if stricter standards are adopted by state or federal agencies.

Feeding the world without destroying it, Part I
Read a Fortune Magazine transcript of a conversation between Greg Page, CEO of Cargill, and Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. The conversation at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference was about sustainability and feeding a growing world population.

Feeding the world without destroying it, Part II
Jon Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in on a quest for answers to how we can feed the world without destroying it. Read and comment on a blog about Foley’s work by Dave Peters of Minnesota Public Radio.

The Nature That We Make
Read an intriguing essay on conservation, environmentalism and human beings’ role in nature. The essay — The Nature That We Make — was published as an Earth Day 2012 reflection in the American Spectator. It was written by G. Tracy Meham III, an Arlington, Va., consultant who served in the Environmental Protection Agency under both Presidents Bush.

Another Asian carp caught in St. Croix 
A bighead carp was caught Monday (April 16) on the St. Croix River at Prescott, a sobering reminder that while millions of dollars and years of planning have been focused on keeping the invasive fish from Lake Michigan, Asian carp have been in waters along Wisconsin’s western border since at least 1996.

A commercial fisherman netting for buffalo and common carp caught the 27-pound bighead just north of the St. Croix’s confluence with the Mississippi River and contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesota DNR officials held a news conference in St. Paul to announce the catch. The fish, all 34 inches of it, was iced and on display.

It was the sixth bighead carp found in Wisconsin-Minnesota border waters since 2003; the first was caught in 1996. Most of the invasive fish have been caught in or near Lake Pepin. Minnesota fisheries officials said the fish caught was likely a “loner” that swam north this spring during high water.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Great Lakes lawmakers offer anti-carp bill
Great Lakes lawmakers in both chambers of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes and destroying the Lakes’ ecosystem.

In the Senate, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), lead sponsor, Rob Portman (R-OH), lead Republican sponsor, and cosponsors Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-M), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Stop Invasive Species Act to require the speedy creation of an action plan to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through a number of rivers and tributaries across the Great Lakes region. Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced similar legislation in the House.

A bipartisan bill introduced last year, the Stop Asian Carp Act, required the Army Corp of Engineers to develop an action plan to permanently separate Lake Michigan from the Chicago Area Waterway System, long seen as the carp’s primary entry point to the Great Lakes. This bill goes further to require a plan to stop Asian carp at all potential entry points.
–Minnesota Ag Connection

Wisconsin slow to enforce phosphorus rules 
Wisconsin is not fully enforcing strict phosphorus limits adopted two years ago to reduce lake-algae blooms that make people sick, a Gannett Wisconsin Media review has found.

That’s despite the Department of Natural Resources secretary’s alarm at foul conditions in at least one Wisconsin lake last summer.

The state Legislature in 2010 approved DNR regulations intended to cut down on the amount of phosphorous running into waterways, where it causes algae to grow so thick that the water turns to green soup. The regulations are aimed at wastewater treatment plants, paper mills and factories — which are required to reapply for permits at five-year intervals.

But, only 19 permits with stricter limits have been issued since September 2010. The DNR still is evaluating applications from 201 municipal facilities and 155 industrial facilities, while hundreds more must apply for permits in the coming years.
–Gannette Wisconsin Media

Greenpeace takes on ‘cloud’ computing
In their race for the cloud, tech companies are leaving a trail of pollution from dirty energy sources, Greenpeace said in a report that accused some of the world’s biggest tech companies of failing to make clean energy a priority.

Cloud computing allows users to store and access data, programs and more on remote servers, preserving computing power. To offer this service, however, requires massive data centers that suck up electricity around the clock. Three tech companies with popular cloud offerings were singled out in Greenpeace’s report for using coal and other fossil fuel energy for their data centers.

“Three of the largest IT companies building their business around the cloud — Amazon, Apple and Microsoft — are all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to the source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds,” Gary Cook, senior IT policy analyst at Greenpeace International, wrote as the first key finding in his report.
–The San Jose Mercury News

EPA issues air pollution rules for fracking
Oil and gas companies will have to capture toxic and climate-altering gases from wells,  storage sites and pipelines under new air quality standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule is the first federal effort to address serious air pollution associated with the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which releases toxic and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and hexane, as well as methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

The standards were proposed last summer in response to complaints from citizens and environmental groups that gases escaping from the 13,000 wells drilled each year by fracking were causing health problems and widespread air pollution. Industry groups said meeting the proposed standards would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and slow the boom in domestic natural gas production.

The original proposal was significantly revised, giving industry more than two years to comply and lowering the cost.
–The New York Times

Senate Ag Committee acting on Farm Bill 
The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee kicked off the massive undertaking of crafting a new farm bill on Friday (April 20), proposing to overhaul the current subsidy program as part of a broader effort to cut $23 billion in spending.

The U.S. farm law, which covers everything from food stamps and conservation programs to direct payments, expires Sept. 30.

Lawmakers in the Senate are expected to debate and then vote on the 900-page bill beginning Wednesday (April 25) in Washington. Even if the bill passes the Senate Agriculture Committee as expected, it is uncertain if the U.S. House, which has targeted cuts of as much as $33 billion including reduced spending for food stamps, will act this year.

Lawmakers in the House have not said when they will move forward on their bill.
–The Des Moines Register

 Africa’s groundwater mapped
Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater.

They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. The team have produced the most detailed map yet of the scale and potential of this hidden resource.

Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they stress that large scale drilling might not be the best way of increasing water supplies.
–The BBC World Service

‘Saturated buffer’ cuts nitrogen loss 
Directing tile water through a grass buffer can significantly improve drainage water quality. This new conservation drainage practice, called a “saturated buffer,” removes nitrates from subsurface drainage water at low cost – without affecting farm field drainage.

A 1,000-ft. saturated buffer along Bear Creek in Story County, IA, removed 100% of the nitrate N that was diverted into it, says Dan Jaynes, a soil scientist at the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames. That amounted to 550 lbs. nitrate that never reached Bear Creek.

“We’re more than pleased,” Jaynes says. “The practice was more effective than we expected.” These are the results from the first year in a three-year saturated buffer study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
–Corn and Soybean Digest

2011 weather hurt Chesapeake Bay 
Heavy spring rains, a hot summer and two major storms caused the Chesapeake Bay’s overall health to worsen last year, scientists said, though there apparently was a slight improvement in the Baltimore area’s Patapsco and Back rivers, long considered among the bay’s most degraded tributaries.

The beleaguered bay saw its ecological grade slip from a C- in 2010 to D+ last year in an annual report card drawn up by the University of Maryland and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the second decline in as many years, with North America’s largest estuary getting its second-worst health score, 38 percent, since scientists began making annual assessments in 1986.
–The Baltimore Sun

Fertilizers pollute ground, surface waters

April 16, 2012

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Report analyzes pollution from fertilizers
The Environmental Working Group has issued a 54-page report on the pollution of ground and surface waters caused by nitrogen and phosphorus, two major farm fertilizers.

The report, “Troubled Waters: Farm Pollution Threatens Drinking Water,” looked at the problem in four Midwest corn belt states – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Both nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to the oxygen-deprived “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen also has a health risk for humans, especially for infants, when it leaches into drinking water drawn from shallow wells. Phosphorus in lakes feeds algae blooms that can be a deterrent to recreation and sometimes a health threat.

The report quotes a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that removing nitrate from drinking water costs nearly $5 billion a year. According to the report, nitrate levels in Minnesota streams are eight times natural background levels, and phosphorus levels are five times background levels.

The also report quotes data from a Minnesota Department of Agriculture voluntary testing program that evaluated water from 9,700 wells between 1995 and 1998. In those tests, 9 percent of drilled wells had nitrate in excess of the human health standard, 16 percent of sandpoint wells had nitrate that exceeded the health standard, and 40 percent of the relatively few dug wells that were tested had nitrates in excess of the standard. A Minnesota Health Department survey of randomly selected private wells in the 1990s found about 6 percent had nitrate levels that exceeded the health standard.

Read the Environmental Working Group report. Read a Star Tribune article about the report. Read a Des Moines Register article on it. Read an article on it.  View the  Minnesota Department of Agriculture web page reporting data on well contamination and offering advice on water testing for owners of private wells.

View video of Craig A. Cox, one of the authors of the Environmental Working Group report, delivering a February 2011 lecture, sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. Cox’s lecture was titled “Taking the Pollution out of Agricultural Production.”

Research: Migrating loons visit L. Michigan
At least six of the 29 loons that have had radio and satellite telemetry devices placed in them by researchers have returned to their breeding lakes in Minnesota as of April 11, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

One of the loons, known as “M2,” returned to Big Mantrap Lake in northern Minnesota March 29.

“This is a very exciting time in science exploration,” said Carrol Henderson, supervisor of the DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program. “We have been able to learn more about our fabulous state bird than we have ever known before.”

During the last two years, the loons were equipped with satellite transmitters in an effort to study their migratory movements and foraging patterns while migrating.

Most of the loons that are part of this research project left Minnesota in October and spent about a month on Lake Michigan before departing for the Gulf of Mexico in early December.
–DNR News Release

Rules tightened on antibiotics for livestock 
Farmers and ranchers will for the first time be required to get a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals, federal food regulators announced. Officials hope the move will slow the indiscriminate use of the drugs, which has made them increasingly ineffective in humans.

The Food and Drug Administration has been taking small steps to try to curb the use of antibiotics on farms, but federal officials said that requiring prescriptions would lead to meaningful reductions in the agricultural use of antibiotics, which are given to promote animal growth. The drug resistance that has developed from that practice has been a growing problem for years and has rendered a number of antibiotics used in humans less and less effective, with deadly consequences.

Initially, the F.D.A. is asking drug makers to voluntarily change their labels to require a prescription; federal officials said that drug makers had largely agreed to the change.
–The New York Times

GAO: U.S. could save $1 billion on crop insurance 
The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors.

The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending. Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.
–The New York Times

Maps spur interest in protecting Le Sueur River 
A “map party” may not sound like a rousing way to kick off the formation of a citizen-led movement to improve the Le Sueur River.

But as people filed into the Pemberton Community Center for an informal open house, they eagerly pored over a variety of maps of the area — historic maps from the early 1900s to high-tech maps showing crisp aerial views and maps created with cutting-edge imaging showing erosion of bluffs over time.

The event was the first step in trying to get residents in the watershed to focus on a river that is one of the biggest contributors of sediment into the Minnesota River — sediment that is rapidly filling in Lake Pepin on the Mississippi and leading to growing calls for action.

Patrick Moore, the leader of Clean Up the River Environment or CURE, said bringing together the seemingly endless number of maps created by state and federal agencies grew out of a comment by Blue Earth County’s land use planner, Julie Conrad.
–The Mankato Free Press

Zebra mussel shells clog Lake Winnebago 
For some area residents on the lakeshore, it’s like something out of a bad horror movie. No matter what they try, the bogeyman keeps regenerating itself.

In this case, the monster is a barrier of zebra mussel shells that pile up and stretch across an inlet to Lake Winnebago on the lakeshore property of the Jesuit Retreat House in the Town of Black Wolf.

Chuck Linde, facilities manager for the retreat house, estimates there is about 12 dump trucks’ worth of mussels in the lake inlet, next to an island just off the shore. “It’s created a landmass,” Linde said. “It bridges the gap between the island and our property.” –The Oshkosh Northwestern

Precision conservation talks archived

April 11, 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.

David Mulla

David Mulla

Precision conservation talks archived
Did you miss the March 29 Freshwater Society conference on precision conservation? If you did, you missed some really exciting presentations on some of the most exciting strategies for targeting conservation and pollution-prevention practices to the places on the land where they will do the most good. But all the presentations are archived on video on the Freshwater website.Here’s the link to the lead presentation by University of Minnesota Professor David Mulla.

Report: States fail to plan for climate challenges to water 
Only nine states have taken comprehensive steps to address their vulnerabilities to the water-related impacts of climate change, while 29 states are unprepared for growing water threats to their economies and public health, according to a first ever detailed state-by-state analysis of water readiness released by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report ranks all 50 states on their climate preparedness planning, and is accompanied by an interactive online map at  showing the threats every state faces from climate change.

The new NRDC report, “Ready or Not: An Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning,” outlines four preparedness categories to differentiate between the nine best-prepared and most engaged states with comprehensive adaptation plans (including California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), from those states that are least prepared and lagging farthest behind (including Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia, and Texas).

“Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events are impacting our families, our health and our pocketbooks. Water is a matter of survival. It powers our lives and industries, and it keeps our natural systems healthy,” said NRDC Water & Climate Program director Steve Fleischli. “This report is both a wake-up call and a roadmap for all communities to understand how vital it is to prepare for climate change so we can effectively safeguard our most valuable resources. Preparing for the impacts of a changing climate requires that states confront reality, and prioritize climate change adaptation to reduce local water risks and create healthier communities.”

Read what the report had to say about Minnesota.
–Natural Resources Defense Council news release

Research: U.S. rivers lower in sediment 
Almost all the sediment-associated chemical concentrations found in 131 of the nation’s rivers that drain to the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts are lower than worldwide averages, according to a new study by the USGS. These coastal rivers are a significant pathway for the delivery of sediment-associated chemicals to the world’s coastal zones and oceans.

“I hope that the results of this new study will remind everyone that it is not only river water that can transport chemicals and pollutants, but also the associated sediment load,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Our citizens expect high environmental quality as compared with worldwide averages, but clean water alone will not suffice if river sediments are host to toxic heavy metals and concentrated organics that can produce dead zones.”

Though overall levels are better than worldwide averages, about half the rivers draining to the Atlantic Ocean have elevated concentrations of nutrients and trace and major elements in their sediment. About a quarter of the rivers draining to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico also have elevated levels.
–USGS News Release

144 Asian carp netted in two Iowa lakes
A commercial fishing company caught 55 silver carp and 82 big head carp on March 28 and 29, fishing in the same general area of East Okoboji Lake where two big head carp were netted by the Iowa DNR last August during a population survey.

On April 3, one silver carp was caught by the same commercial angler in Spirit Lake. A second netting effort on April 4 in the same East Okoboji Lake location resulted in only two bighead carp and two silver carp.

Mike Hawkins, fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the invasive fish had a small window last summer in which to enter the Iowa Great Lakes. Flood events in June and July allowed the fish to navigate the Little Sioux River past the Linn Grove Dam, landing at the doorstep of the Iowa Great Lakes.

Once below the Iowa Great Lakes, heavy rain events in July caused flooding conditions on the lakes that allowed these fish to enter Lower Gar Lake, which is the final lake in the chain of six glacial lakes in Dickinson County.

“While it confirms the presence of both species, this commercial seine haul does not tell us how many Asian carp are in the lakes. Nor does it get us any closer to knowing at what level these fish will be a problem,” Hawkins said.
–Iowa DNR News Release

Federal ballast water rules target invasives 
Nearly a quarter-century has passed since an oceangoing ship from Europe docked somewhere in the Great Lakes and discharged ballast water carrying tiny but tenacious zebra mussel larvae from Europe.

Within a few years after they turned up in Lake St. Clair, between Lakes Huron and Erie, the small freshwater mussels and their larger and even more destructive cousins, quagga mussels, had coated lakebeds throughout the region, clogging intake valves and pipes at power, water treatment and manufacturing plants.

The filter-feeding mussels have since helped to upend the ecosystems of the Great Lakes, fouling beaches, promoting the growth of poisonous algae and decimating some native fish populations by eating the microscopic free-floating plant cells on which their food web depends.
–The New York Times

Spawning steelhead get lift from DNR 
In an unprecedented move because of low water levels, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials began transporting steelhead from the Knife River fish trap upstream past the Second Falls on the Knife River to assist the fish on their spawning migrations.

The fish are being transported about 5½ miles in tanks on trucks.

“We were urged strongly to do this by the Lake Superior Steelhead Association,” said Don Schreiner, DNR Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor at French River. The steelhead association advocates for steelhead, or rainbow trout, that live in Lake Superior and migrate up North Shore streams each spring to spawn.

With low water flows this year, it’s more difficult for fish to clear the falls as they move upstream. The DNR would continue to move steelhead only if flows remain low, Schreiner said.
–The Duluth News Tribune

World food demand strains energy, water 
The northern region of Gujarat State in western India is semi-arid and prone to droughts, receiving almost all of its rain during the monsoon season between June and September.

But for the past three decades, many crop and dairy farms have remained green—even during the dry season.

That’s because farmers have invested in wells and pumps, using massive amounts of electricity to extract water from deep aquifers. The government has artificially propped up the agricultural sector through power subsidies and price supports.

The pumping hasn’t occurred without dire environmental impacts. Groundwater tables have fallen precipitously, 600 feet below the ground in some places, requiring even more powerful pumps to bring water to the surface. Over-consumption has taxed the power grid, constraining the electricity available for others.
–National Geographic

Navajo, Hopi may face choice on water rights
Arizona’s two senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, traveled to the Navajo reservation meet with Navajo and Hopi tribal leaders about a proposed water rights accord that would settle the two tribes’ claims to the Little Colorado River system.

Mr. Kyl and Mr. McCain have introduced a bill known as the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement, which would require the tribes to waive their water rights for “time immemorial” in exchange for groundwater delivery projects to three remote communities.

The tribes must sign off on the settlement, along with 30 other entities including Congress and the president, before the bill becomes law.
–The New York Times

Minnesota, Mississippi TMDL comment extended 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has extended the public comment periods for reports about water quality in the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Due to a high level of interest, the public comment period has been extended to May 29, 2012, for the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) draft reports about Minnesota River turbidity and South Metro Mississippi River total suspended solids.

The comment period for the reports began Feb. 27 with a notice in the State Register.

The TMDL reports focus on turbid water caused primarily by sediment. Turbidity is caused by suspended and dissolved matter, such as clay, silt, organic matter, and algae. High turbidity results in poor water quality for aquatic habitat, recreation, industrial use, and human consumption.

The two documents are available for public review and comment on the MPCA’s TMDL Projects and Staff Contacts webpage.
–MPCA News Release

$5.2 million slated for water protection
Reducing phosphorus in lakes, protecting water resources, and addressing failing septic systems are among the projects funded by $5.2 million in financial aid recently approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. As funded by the Clean Water Partnership (CWP) program, 10 agency partners across Minnesota will receive grants and/or loans to investigate pollutants in lakes and rivers and take action to protect waters from those pollutants. View the projects.
–MPCA News Release

Invasive species decal required for boaters
A new required decal is now available for Minnesota boaters to help remind them of the state’s aquatic invasive species laws, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced.

The free decals are available at:

  •  DNR offices.
  •  Deputy registrar offices where licenses are sold.
  •    Large sporting goods shops.
  •  DNR watercraft inspectors and conservation officers.

The decals will also be included in envelopes with new and renewal watercraft licenses mailed from the DNR. The decal should be attached to all types of watercraft including canoes, kayaks and duckboats before launching on, entering into, or operating on any Minnesota waters.

The two-piece, gray-and-black decals detail new state laws that watercraft users must follow in order to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas.
 –DNR News Release

Maryland eyes banning arsenic in chicken feed
The state Senate signed off on a bill to ban chicken feed containing arsenic, bringing Maryland a step closer to being the first state to prohibit the additive.

The chamber approved a version of the measure 32-14, sending it back to the House of Delegates for final authorization.

The bill bans the use of roxarsone, a chemical used to help the birds grow and fight parasites. Supporters of the legislation say the arsenic additive contaminates chicken meat and waste, polluting soil and the Chesapeake Bay.

But opponents say the legislation isn’t necessary because Pfizer Inc., the company that makes roxarsone, voluntarily suspended the sale of the chemical.
–The Associated Press

Researcher seek carp-specific toxin

April 4, 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.

Asian carp researchers seek ‘bio-bullet’ 
Biologist Jon Amberg has spent the last two years obsessed with fish guts, laboring over a singular challenge: Develop a poison pill that will kill Asian carp and leave other fish unscathed.

Voracious and freakishly resilient, the fish has left a trail of destruction on its decades-long migration up the Mississippi River and into Illinois, seemingly undeterred by the ordinary ammo of invasive species warfare.

Now, designer drugs and engineered poisons, often called “bio-bullets,” have become increasingly popular among scientists trying to create sniper-shot solutions to unyielding problems, from malignant pests in rivers and fields to tumors in human bodies.

“If you look at Asian carp as being kind of like a cancer, we’re in essence developing a drug to be able to target it without killing the ‘cells’ around it,” said Amberg, who works for theU.S. Geological Survey in La Crosse, Wis.

Akin to chemotherapy, attempts to chemically control Asian carp today would require dumping thousands of gallons of pesticide into waterways, possibly harming other aquatic life. By contrast, an Asian carp bio-bullet would theoretically deliver toxins specifically to silver and bighead carp in a digestible microsize particle, about the width of a human hair.
–The Chicago Tribune

Save these dates:
 Thursday, April 12. The Freshwater Society celebrates spring with an  Ice Out/Loon In party and fund-raiser at the Lafayette Club. Don’t miss the loon-calling  competition. Get more information.

 Tuesday, April 19. Dick Osgood, Executive Director of the Lake Minnetonka Association, will present a state-of-the-lake status report on challenges facing Lake Minnetonka. The presentation will focus particularly on aquatic invasive species.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be at 7 p.m. at the Gray Freshwater Center, 2500 Shadywood Drive in Excelsior. It is sponsored by the South Tonka chapter of the League of Women Voters. Co-sponsors are: the Freshwater Society, the Lake Minnetonka Association, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and Minnesota Waters.

Conservation inextricably linked to Farm Bill
Brian DeVore from the Land Stewardship Project recently wrote a fine Star Tribune op-ed on the federal Farm Bill and crop insurance. The column argues that crop insurance, as it currently is structured, encourages farmers to plant crops on marginal land. DeVore encourages Congress to, once again, make compliance with minimum conservation standards a requirement for the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance.

Read DeVore’s Star Tribune op-ed. Read the longer article in the Land Stewardship Project Letter from which the op-ed was adapted. Read a column on the same subject last fall by Freshwater society president Gene Merriam.

Pelicans recovering in Minnesota
Flocks of giant white birds are catching the eyes of birders and outdoor enthusiasts across Minnesota as once-rare American White Pelicans return to their summer nesting grounds at 16 sites across the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The pelicans were driven to near extinction in the early 20th century from human pressures. There were no reports of nesting pelicans in Minnesota for 90 years, from 1878 until 1968.

However, conservation efforts led by the DNR’s Nongame Wildlife Program along with federal regulations have helped pelican populations make a slow and steady comeback. In Minnesota, there are estimated to be about 22,000 pairs of pelicans that nest at 16 sites on seven lakes across the state.

“The Prairie Pothole Region of western Minnesota hosts 22 percent of the global population of this species, making it a stewardship species,” said Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer, DNR nongame wildlife specialist.
–DNR News Release

Live Asian carp seized at Canadian border
Canadian authorities say 14,000 pounds of live Asian carp were seized at the U.S.-Canadian border, the third such seizure in less than two months.

Canadian border patrol agents at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, in Canada made the seizure Feb. 28, The Detroit News reported. The seizure, the fifth in the last year, involved fish from farms in the southern United States bound for markets in Toronto, where the invasive species is popular in Asian cuisine, officials said.

Possessing live Asian carp in Ontario has been illegal since 2005, and while it is legal to possess live carp in the United States, transporting them across state lines is prohibited.

MPCA offers truckers loans to cut air pollution 
With diesel fuel prices climbing to $4 per gallon, low-interest loans are available to help Minnesota long-haul truckers save money, stay cool this summer and reduce pollution on overnight rest stops.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency offers loans at 4 percent to owner-operated long-haul truckers and small trucking companies to purchase idle-reduction devices.

These auxiliary power units, or APUs, are either small, 15-horsepower diesel engines or battery pack systems that can run air conditioning, heaters and electricity to power laptops while the truck’s main engine is shut off.

Paul Ahles, long-haul truck owner-operator, used his new APU on an older truck for nine months and estimated he’s saving $500 per month in fuel idling costs even after deducting a loan payment and fuel and maintenance costs.

Ahles averages about 266 hours of idling per month. Long-haul trucks consume about one gallon of fuel per hour while idling. But a diesel APU will use only one-fifth as much.
–The Brainerd Dispatch

Cottage Groves OKs 3M filtration plan 
The Cottage Grove City Council recently approved a 3M site plan proposal to construct a filtration facility to clean chemically-tainted water before it is re-used or pumped into the Mississippi River.

Seven groundwater extraction wells pump millions of gallons of 3M-manufactured perfluorochemical-tainted water per day from underneath a former 3M dumpsite near the Woodbury-Cottage Grove border. From there it is piped six miles south to the 3M Cottage Grove facility. There, it flows untreated into the Mississippi River.

As part of a 2009 Minnesota Pollution Control decision related to cleanup of east metro PFC groundwater contamination, 3M has proposed to build a carbon filtration facility to clean that water before it is re-used at the Cottage Grove facility or piped into a river cove.
–The South Washington County Bulletin

Moose hunt to continue this fall
Minnesota hunters will still have the chance to shoot moose this fall, state officials announced.

The moose population remains in steady decline, but scientists and wildlife managers agree that a limited hunt of males would not significantly change the number of animals because there are plenty of bulls to impregnate cows. “I don’t think it’ll matter at all,” said Rolf Peterson, a researcher from the Isle Royale moose-wolf study who chairs the state’s moose advisory committee.

The decision by the Department of Natural Resources to issue 87 moose tags – a reduction from past years – comes as adult moose continue to die off faster than young moose are growing into their ranks. The current population in the northeastern part of the state is estimated, based on aerial surveys, at 4,230 animals, down from 4,900 last year and 8,840 in 2006.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

EPA steps back from ‘fracking’ order 
The Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn an order requiring a natural gas drilling company to provide water for two North Texas families based on accusations that the company contaminated water wells.

The EPA said its decision regarding Range Resources drilling in Parker County allows the agency to shift the focus “away from litigation and toward a joint effort on the science and safety of energy extraction.”

Range was accused of contaminating water with benzene, methane and other toxic gases through a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing. The process involves breaking up rock with chemical-laced water to free previously out-of-reach natural gas.

The Fort Worth company and the Texas Railroad Commission argued the contamination came from other natural causes.
–Business Week

Congress considers cormorant clash
To hear the fishermen around Lake Waconia tell it, the ancient black cormorants that congregate on the lake’s Coney Island in the summer are the scourge of the fishes and trees. To naturalists who see the native Minnesota birds as unloved relations of the revered loon, it’s all a big fish tale.

A congressional panel was left to sort it all out, hearing a bill by two of Minnesota’s leading outdoors-men and congressmen that would give the state wider latitude to shoot some of the federally protected birds. That’s already the standard method of culling cormorant flocks that have hurt fisheries in Leech Lake and other popular recreational areas.

Now Carver County’s Lake Waconia — the metro area’s second-largest lake — is ground zero in the battle against a bird long derided for its ability to dive, propel itself underwater and eat prized fish that humans like to put on their dinner plates.
–The Star Tribune

Low water keeps White Bear beach closed
Low water levels have closed one of the most popular swimming beaches in the north metro area for the fourth summer in a row.

The Ramsey County Parks Department recently announced Ramsey Beach off Highway 96 in White Bear Lake will be closed to swimming during the summer of 2012. Signs have been posted warning swimmers to stay out of the water.

“It’s highly likely we’re not going to open it again this summer,” said Director of Park Services and Operations Jody Yungers. “Unfortunately the water levels are too low.”

The White Bear Lake water level has dropped more than 5 feet below its ordinary high water mark since 2009. The decrease has exposed hundreds of feet of open beach and move the water line close to a dramatic drop off. Yungers said swimmers would encounter an 8-foot drop-off just a few feet from the shoreline. The drop-off would create dangerous conditions for inexperienced swimmers.
 –The White Bear Press