Archive for May, 2012

Conservation Reserve acres to drop

May 29, 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.

3.9 million acres accepted for Conservation Reserve
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on May 25 that the agency had accepted farmers’ requests to enroll 3.9 million acres of environmentally sensitive land into the Conservation Reserve Program next year. Those acres, which farmers will be paid to take out of production, will be more than offset by more than 6 million acres scheduled to come out of the  CRP program on Sept. 30. Read the USDA news release. A Des Moines Register article said Iowa will have a net gain of about 13,000 acres in the conservation program.

Information on the amount of Minnesota farmland going into, and coming out of, the CRP program was not immediately available. Nationwide about 30 million acres of farmland are currently in the CRP program.

Study: Groundwater use a risk to food supply
The nation’s food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere.

The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the highest resolution picture yet of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S.

Researchers hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

“We’re already seeing changes in both areas,” said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology and lead author of the study. “We’re seeing decreases in rural populations in the High Plains. Increasing urbanization is replacing farms in the Central Valley. And during droughts some farmers are forced to fallow their land. These trends will only accelerate as water scarcity issues become more severe.”
–Science Daily

MPCA’s Stine talks policy 
Read an important Associated Press interview with John Linc Stine, the new commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In the interview, Stine talks about agricultural runoff in the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers and prospects for copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Oil drilling in the Arctic
Read a New York Times article on oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Shell is scheduled to begin test drilling off the Alaskan coast in July.

A source of conservation news 
Do you follow news about soil and water conservation, especially in agricultural settings? Take a  look at SWCS Conservation NewsBriefs and consider subscribing. It is an electronic digest of new items published for members of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

Taconite approved to fight phosphorus 
A Minnesota pollution-control panel has approved the dumping of 13.5 tons of taconite concentrate into a Chisago County lake to battle high levels of weed-producing phosphorus.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board gave the Rush Lake Improvement Association clearance Tuesday, May 22, to go ahead with the experimental project.

The panel signed off on it without requiring an informational review that an environmental group and other area residents had sought. “It’s a huge disappointment,” said Don Arnosti, policy director for Audubon Minnesota, which sought the review, an exercise that can lead to a more stringent examination. “In the end, they wimped out. It’s throwaway words in a public meeting. There are no consequences.”

The pollution-control board added a few stipulations, though, after some members openly wondered why such a review, called an environmental assessment worksheet, shouldn’t be conducted. The lake association has been trying for years to reduce levels of phosphorus, a nutrient that promotes algae growth when present in elevated concentrations. Common sources include animal waste and fertilizer.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Higher Grand Canyon river flows OK’d
The Interior Department announced a plan to allow periodic increases in the flow of Colorado River water through the Grand Canyon, alleviating the environmental disruption caused by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona in the 1960s.

The secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, said the plan would allow the river’s managers to release excess water — more than twice as much as average flows — through and over the hydroelectric dam at will to help propel silt and sediment downstream into the canyon.

By mimicking the river’s original dynamics, Interior Department officials said, the flows could help restore the backwater ecosystems in which native fish are most at home. The goal is partly to enhance sandbars that create backwaters for an endangered fish, the humpback chub. The excess sand also nourishes beaches used by wildlife, hikers and rafters.
–The New York Times

Pollution taints China’s groundwater 
Underground water in 57 percent of monitoring sites across Chinese cities have been found polluted or extremely polluted, the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper run by Xinhua News Agency, reported, quoting figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The MEP statistics also suggest that 298 million rural residents do not have access to safe drinking water. In the first half of last year, of the seven main water systems in China, only the Yangtze and Pearl rivers had good water quality, and the Haihe River in north China was heavily polluted, with the others all moderately polluted, according to the MEP.

To address poor water quality, the MEP has decided to beef up protection of water sources.
–China.org.cn

Residents, farmers debate Wis. groundwater use
As a child, Barb Feltz spent her days along the Little Plover River, fishing for trout, playing in the water and muck, hunting for critters. Some years, those memories are about all that’s left of the Little Plover. As an adult she’s seen the water disappear, leaving a dry creek bed in 2009 and taking with it the opportunity for others to enjoy nature and form memories, like she did while growing up.
–The Northwestern

Some good news for the Atlantic
A new study by Rutgers University finds that New Jersey’s coastal waters are not as polluted as scientists had thought. Marine scientists studying pollution-sensitive sea creatures on the ocean floor since 2007 found their numbers and types indicate healthier water conditions than expected. The study involved scooping small animals from 153 ocean floor sites along New Jersey’s 127-mile coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May.
–Bloomberg Businessweek

Soil erosion worsening 
There’s a lot of soil erosion so far this spring around Clarke McGrath. The Iowa State University Extension field agronomist near Harlan in western Iowa says it’s the worst it’s been in that area about 2 decades.

It’s come from a combination of factors, he says. First, rainfall has been spotty and extremely variable in that area, as it has been in many parts of the Corn Belt this spring. Long dry spells have been dotted with heavy rains, making for optimal erosion potential.

“We’ve had such unpredictable wild swings in weather. Rainfall, when it comes, seems to have amped itself up. We got 6 inches in 3 hours the other night. It’s been coming hard and fast,” he says.

So, Mother Nature’s definitely done her fair share. But, so have farmers. This year’s early start to spring has helped, McGrath says, but the way farmers have used their time this spring has worsened the erosion potential.

“We’ve done more tillage this year than any year I can remember. When we do any kinds of tillage on these highly erodible soils, it’s going to loosen that soil up and it’s going to make it susceptible to erosion,” McGrath says.
–Agriculture.com

Ag $$ available for water improvement
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has $20 million available for low-interest loans to help farmers and rural landowners finance projects that prevent or reduce water pollution.

The funding is made available through the MDA’s Agricultural Best Management Practices (AgBMP) Loan Program and is available in all counties in the state. The AgBMP Loan Program works with Soil and Water Conservation Districts and local governments to help farmers, rural landowners and agriculture-related businesses solve pollution problems by offering loans at three percent interest through participating local lenders.

All practices that reduce water pollution are eligible, such as fixing septic systems, replacing contaminated wells, upgrading livestock facilities, constructing erosion control structures, purchasing conservation tillage equipment, improving chemical application and storage methods, and adopting other water-related best management practices.

The AgBMP Loan Program is based on a revolving loan structure where repayments from existing loans are reused to finance new loans. By continually revolving the repayments, the $70 million appropriated to the program has provided $170 million in loans to help finance projects costing more than $268 million.
–Tri-State Neighbor

Advertisements

Religion, phenology and peregrines on video

May 21, 2012

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

G. Tracy Mehan III

G. Tracy Mehan III

Lecture set June 25 on Clean Water Act
Forty years ago this autumn, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto and enacted the Clean Water Act. The act dramatically reduced pollution from industry and sewage treatment plants that must obtain federal permits to discharge their wastes. But the legislation was much weaker in dealing with today’s biggest water-quality challenge: Polluted runoff from multiple, diffuse sources, especially from agriculture.

G. Tracy Mehan III, an environmental consultant who was the top water-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, will deliver a free, public lecture in St. Paul on the Clean Water Act’s successes, political obstacles to strengthening the law and alternate avenues to progress.

The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. It will be at 7 p.m. in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus. The lecture is titled The Clean Water Act After 40 Years: What Has It Accomplished? How Do We Fulfill Its Promise?

Learn more and reserve your place at the lecture.

 

Lecture on religion, the environment
What can environmentalism learn from religion about sustainability?

U.K.-based environmental theologian Martin Palmer will explore how faith traditions encourage us to be a part of nature, not apart from nature as the grand finale speaker in the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s Momentum 2012 event series Wednesday, May 23, 7:30 p.m., at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis.

Palmer is a theologian, author, broadcaster, environmentalist and lay preacher in the Church of England, and serves as secretary-general of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a secular non-governmental organization that helps faith-based and international groups develop environmental and conservation projects.

His presentation, “Creation or Ecosystems? Rediscovering Our Place in the Natural World,” will challenge the narrow utilitarian view of our planet and explore how we can tap the storytelling skills of the faiths to imagine and create a better future.

Order tickets for the lecture.
–University of Minnesota News Release

Phenology network reaches milestone
Thanks to citizen-scientists around the country, the USA National Phenology Network hit a major milestone by reaching its one millionth nature observation. 

The millionth observation was done by Lucille Tower, a citizen-scientist in Portland, Ore., who entered a record about seeing maple vines flowering. Her data, like all of the entries, came in through USA-NPN’s online observation program,

Nature’s Notebook, which engages more than 4,000 volunteers across the country to observe and record phenology – the timing of the recurring life events of plants and animals such as when cherry trees or lilacs blossom, when robins build their nests, when salmon swim upstream to spawn or when leaves turn colors in the fall.   

Each record not only represents a single data point — the status of a specific life stage of an individual plant or animal on one day – but also benefits both science and society by helping researchers understand how plants and animals are responding to climate change and, in turn, how those responses are affecting people and ecological systems.   

“My dream is that through the wonders of modern technology and the National Phenology Network we could turn the more than six billion people on the planet into components of our scientific observing system,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “We could make giant leaps in science education, improve the spatial and temporal coverage of the planet, lower the cost of scientific data collection, and all while making ordinary citizens feel a part of the scientific process.” 
— USGS News Release

Peregrine chicks on video
The Minnesota DNR is offering live streaming video of peregrine falcon chicks in a nest on the Bremer Bank building in downtown St. Paul. Check it out.

MPCA rescues 64 pounds of toxic mercury
Preston Winter was cleaning out his late grandfather’s garage in Floodwood, Minn., when he found four plastic jugs of mercury.

Sixty-four pounds of mercury, to be exact. Enough to fill 30,000 thermometers.

His grandfather apparently had stored the jugs 13 years ago, when he was thinking about mining gold. Figuring he might make a few bucks, Winter, 23, posted a photo on Craigslist and offered the batch for $650 — not realizing that mercury is a highly toxic metal subject to tight legal restrictions.

Officials announced that a state hazardous waste specialist, acting on a tip from someone browsing the online site, went to Winter’s home and picked up the mercury after the state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) paid $300 for it.
–The Star Tribune

Fracking sand pollutes St. Croix
An undetermined amount of fine sand sediment from a mining operation near Grantsburg, Wis., has seeped through a protective berm into a wetland and creek and then into the federally protected St. Croix River.

The accident, which turned the creek a creamy coffee color, was discovered by a hiker April 22, three days after a new waste settling pond holding the suspended sand was put into use, Burnett County Conservationist Dave Ferris said.

Damage to wildlife, as well as to stream and river ecosystems, hasn’t been determined yet.

The leak has been stopped, but the mine operator, Maple Grove-based Tiller Corp., faces potential penalties for improper discharge of storm water, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Warmer air temps but cooler streams?
If climate change warms the air, it must also be warming steams, right? Not necessarily, some new U.S.

Geological Survey research finds. Read the report on a new analysis of stream temperatures in the western United States. 

UN plans sustainability summit
Next month, the United Nations will hold what is expected to be the largest ever gathering of leaders to discuss sustainable development at a time when inequality is on the rise from the U.S. to China. Around 180 world leaders are expected to meet in Rio de Janeiro to brainstorm the future of environmental policy and poverty reduction in June.

The question conference gatherers will be trying to answer is “If you could build the future, what kind of future would you want?” For some, it’s healthy water and food. For others, it’s a good job that will help them support themselves and their families.

At a time when humanity is now firm into the 21st century, modern man’s early vision of a future of flying cars and ultra-comfort has surely disappointed. Populations the size of India, the U.S. and Brazil combined still live on less than $2 a day. While that is better than it was in the 1990s, the numbers remain a serious roadblock for some of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

The conference, called “Rio+20”, is the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It takes place in Rio de Janeiro on June 22 – twenty years after the landmark 1992 Earth Summit took place in the same sunny city.
–Forbes

Heavy rains becoming more common
Read a Pioneer Press article about an analysis of rainfall measured between 1961 and 2011 at 218 weather stations in eight Midwestern states, including Minnesota. The analysis concluded that the average annual number of storms with a 3-inch rainfall increased 103 percent, and storms with at least 2 inches of rain increased 81 percent. The study was done by two environmental groups, the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council. University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley, quoted in the article, questions some of the analysis’ methodology, but says most climate scientists agree there is an upward trend in the frequency of severe storms.

Sealing wells to protect groundwater
As the Twin Cities suburbs rapidly grew, thousands of homeowners unable to access a water system drilled their own wells to tap the aquifers.

Now the state and counties are sealing the unused wells before they can be used to contaminate the groundwater — a huge undertaking because there are so many.

Within the last year, Minnesota passed the 250,000 mark for the number of sealed wells in the state, according to Department of Health statistics. But at least that many unused wells are left, and perhaps as many as 500,000 more, officials say.

It’s easy for people to forget that the innocuous-looking pipe in their yard or basement is actually a well, says Jill Trescott of Dakota County’s Water Resources Office. Even if homeowners know, they may be tempted to use it to toss out things they don’t know what to do with.
–The Star Tribune

Cormorants missing from Lake Waconia
Double-crested cormorants — large, migratory, fish-eating birds that nest in colonies at this time of year — have returned to the same island on Lake Waconia for years.

Not in 2012.

University of Minnesota researcher Linda Wires spotted only two of the protected birds when she flew over Coney Island late last month. That’s down from 470 cormorant nests — each with two birds — in 2010 and 324 nests last year.

“I would have expected at least some to come back,” said Wires, who since 2004 has been monitoring the 32-acre island in Carver County. “It’s very odd.”

Speculation is that sharpshooters hired in past years to legally reduce the bird’s population — long viewed as a nuisance by anglers who say they eat too many fish — worked a little too well: More than 900 cormorants were shot in the past two years.
–The Star Tribune

BP oil spill residue found in MN pelicans
Pollutants from the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago are showing up in Minnesota birds that migrate to the gulf.

Researchers for the state Department of Natural Resources have found evidence of petroleum compounds and the chemical used to clean up the oil in the eggs of pelicans nesting in Minnesota.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Scientists urge environmental priorities
National science academies from 15 countries have called on the leading industrialised economies to pay greater heed to science and technology.

The academies include those from the US, China, India and the UK.

The organisations agreed three statements on tackling Earth’s most pressing problems.

According to Dr Michael Clegg of the US National Academy of Sciences: “In the long term, the pressing concerns are managing the environment in a way that assures that future generations have a quality of life that’s at least as equivalent to the quality of life we enjoy today.”
–The BBC

Groundwater drops in Washington State
Twenty-five communities in Eastern Washington’s arid Columbia River basin could have their municipal wells go dry as soon as a decade, according to a study of the underground aquifer that supplies their groundwater.

State officials say the problem is not an immediate crisis but a looming one, and they are working to better educate those communities about the issue. The combined population in the affected areas stretching from Odessa to Pasco is 200,000 people.

“Many of these communities are now learning about the problem,” said Derek Sandison, director of the Washington Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. “We want them to have contingencies in place so that they’re in a position to deal with it.”
–The Seattle Times

Iowa may offer carp a back door to Minnesota

May 14, 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’s back-door route to Minnesota
There’s a back door for Asian carp to sneak into Minnesota, and fisheries officials are worried the invaders already might have found it.

Commercial fishermen recently caught dozens of Asian carp in northwestern Iowa’s Great Lakes, one of that state’s most popular vacation spots. Those waters connect with lakes and streams in southwestern Minnesota, so the haul came as an unwelcome surprise to Minnesota officials who’ve been more focused on the higher-profile fight against Asian carp infiltrating up the Mississippi.

“We view it as a big threat. … These fish don’t recognize political boundaries,” said Ryan Doorenbos, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Windom.
–The Associated Press

Free showing of Leopold documentary
The National Park Service, the Mississippi River Fund, the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Curt Meine are sponsoring a free film screening and discussion of “Green Fire:  Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time.”

The documentary about legendary environmentalist Aldo Leopold will be shown from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, May 17, at the St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 Main St. SE, Minneapolis.

No registration is required.

Court upholds wild rice pollution rule
A bitterly contested rule established decades ago to protect Minnesota’s wild rice from pollution that comes primarily from mining has been upheld by a Ramsey County District Court.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sued the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2010 at the height of a contentious argument over the state’s iconic plant, which has become a potent symbol in the growing controversy over the potential environmental impact of new mining projects in northern Minnesota. The controversy has pulled in environmental groups, industry, Indian tribes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and even the Minnesota Legislature.

The chamber, the state’s largest business lobbying group, accused the PCA of holding mining companies to a different standard from other industries on how much sulfate they can discharge into lakes and streams. It also argued that the sulfate rule was vague and that the PCA applied it capriciously.

But Ramsey County Judge Margaret Marrinan dismissed those claims, saying that the state’s standard is in line with the federal Clean Water Act and that the state uses it appropriately.
–The Star Tribune

BWCA land swap bill introduced
Just days after the Minnesota Legislature approved a plan to trade state land in the Boundary Waters for federal land outside the federal wilderness, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack has introduced the deal in Congress.

Cravaack, R-North Branch, introduced the bill that would order the U.S. Forest Service to trade for about 86,000 acres of state land locked inside the 1.1 million-acre federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In exchange, the state would get a similar amount of Superior National Forest land outside the wilderness — acres that could then be mined, logged and otherwise managed for state revenue, primarily to stock the state’s public school trust fund.

The bill would direct the U.S. secretary of agriculture, who oversees the Forest Service, to conclude the exchange within one year.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Where are the mid-sized walleyes?
Something puzzling is happening on Mille Lacs Lake, the giant walleye lake in east-central Minnesota, and it’s got officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wondering what they should do.

DNR researchers are finding a lot of big females laying billions of eggs. That’s no surprise — it’s the desired result of stricter limits on size and numbers of walleye that can be taken. And the DNR is finding no shortage of young fish.

The puzzle is in the middle: Nid-size fish, those 14 to 20 inches, aren’t showing up in good numbers in test nets, said Rick Rick Bruesewitz, area fisheries supervisor in Aitkin. “We have lots of little fish out there, but they just aren’t making it into the fishery,” he said.

A report found that the number of those fish now, compared with 1987-1997, has dropped 39 percent for females and 60 percent for males.
–The Rochester Post Bulletin

NRCS targets 3 Minnesota watersheds
Minnesota State Conservationist Don Baloun announced the launch of a new National Water Quality Initiative committed to improving three impaired waterways in Minnesota.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will manage the initiative by making funds available to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in the selected watersheds. “The Water Quality Initiative will further NRCS’ partnership efforts to improve water quality using voluntary actions on private lands,” Baloun said.

Through this effort, eligible producers in Chippewa, Elm Creek, and Seven Mile Watersheds will invest in voluntary conservation actions to help provide cleaner water for their neighbors and communities. The selected watersheds were identified with help from state agencies, partners, and the NRCS State Technical Committee.

Using funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, NRCS will provide funding and advise to producers to install conservation practices such as cover crops, filter strips and terraces in watersheds with impairments where the federal investment can make a difference to improve water quality.
–NRCS News Release

Rains break Minnesota drought 
The drought is officially over for nearly all of Minnesota.

The new map issued by the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that only about 10 percent of Minnesota remains in drought, the state’s best showing since last September. From late January until just seven weeks ago, 96 percent of the state was in a moderate to severe drought.

The shrinking remaining pockets of drought include part of the North Shore, some of northwestern Minnesota along the Canadian border and part of south-central Minnesota.

Greg Spoden of the Minnesota Climatology Working Group said the data show the drought has broken. He said the recent heavy rain has recharged dry soils, which will be good for agriculture. But because the soil has captured nearly all that precipitation, he said, it will still take some time for some larger lakes to rise to normal levels.
–The Associated Press 

Free showing of Leopold documentary
The National Park Service, the Mississippi River Fund, the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Curt Meine are sponsoring a free film screening and discussion of “Green Fire:  Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time.”

The documentary about legendary environmentalist Aldo Leopold will be shown from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, May 17, at the St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 Main St. SE, Minneapolis.

No registration is required.

Research blames cows for California smog
While people typically blame Southern California’s smog on automobiles, a new study suggests that cows might be just as responsible, if not more so.

A large fraction of the region’s smog, especially the smallest particles, is ammonium nitrate. Those particles form when ammonia, which is generated by cars with certain types of catalytic converters and by bacteria that consume cattle waste, reacts with nitrogen oxides that are produced in large quantities in automobile emissions.

Data gathered in and around the Los Angeles basin in May 2010 suggest that the region’s 9.9 million autos generate about 62 metric tons of ammonia each day. However, ammonia emissions from dairy farms in the eastern portion of the basin — home to about 298,000 cattle — range between 33 and 176 metric tons per day, researchers report in Geophysical Research Letters.
–Reuters

Groundwater pumping raises sea levels
Groundwater for irrigation, drinking and industrial use, evaporating or running into rivers and canals, could cause sea level rises, a U.S. journal reported.

Researchers writing in Geophysical Research Letters say groundwater, once pumped to the surface for use, doesn’t just seep back into the ground but eventually ends up in the world’s oceans. “Other than ice on land, the excessive groundwater extractions are fast becoming the most important terrestrial water contribution to sea level rise,” lead study author Yoshihide Wada of Utrecht University in the Netherlands said.

Sea level rise caused by groundwater pumping from 1970 to 1990 was canceled out as people built dams, where water was trapped instead of emptying into the sea, Wada said. His research shows that changed in the 1990s as populations started pumping more groundwater and building fewer dams.
–UPI

Company to pay $10,000 for water pollution
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has penalized Flame Metals Processing Corporation for improper disposal of waste and wastewater at its processing plant in Rogers.

An extensive investigation by Hennepin County’s Department of Environmental Services led the MPCA to conclude that the company sent toxic wastewater treatment sludge and filters with a potential to release toxic fumes in common waste situations to a regular solid waste landfill instead of a hazardous waste facility equipped to properly handle the waste. The company also discharged wastewater that did not meet limit requirements for discharge to the publicly owned wastewater treatment facility.

The MPCA has assessed Flame Metals a $10,000 penalty for the violations. In addition, the company will be required to implement a supplemental environmental project with a minimum investment of $90,000. The company chose to purchase new wastewater treatment equipment at a cost of $235,700. This new equipment is designed to effectively treat cyanide and help ensure wastewater discharged from the facility exceeds the requirements for discharging to the public facility.
–MPCA News Release

Army Corps promises options on carp 
Obama administration officials say a new timetable developed by the Army Corps of Engineers should speed up the search for a permanent way to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp and other invasive species.

Officials said the corps will present a shortlist of options by the end of 2013 for preventing the carp and other fish from migrating between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins through waterways in the Chicago area. Congress will have the authority to make a final choice.

Members of Congress and state officials said the corps’ previous plan to develop a single recommendation by late 2015 was not fast enough.
–The New York Times

Saving a Georgia river from over-use
Read a National Geographic article about a Nature Conservancy effort to help Georgia farmers pump  less irrigation water from the Flint River.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack profiled
Read a Des Moines Register profile of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the challenges he faces as Congress re-writes the half-trillion-dollar  Farm Bill.

Minnehaha Creek joining climate change study
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, in partnership with the cities of Minneapolis and Victoria, is participating in a two-year study of Minnesota’s changing weather and what it may mean to metro communities and how they manage stormwater runoff. A key component of the project is community input which is getting underway this month at a special forum. The Are We Ready? Forum is planned from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center.

Climate research, current weather patterns and projected trends show a significant increase in both the frequency and severity of rain events across Minnesota. This study will look at how these events could affect flooding potential, local water bodies and stormwater infrastructure and how they might impact land uses and development patterns. In addition to scientific analysis, this project also includes a participatory planning process to help inform local decision makers as they determine how to create effective stormwater adaptation plans for their communities.

Enforcement  increased for invasives
Anglers and boaters can expect stepped-up patrols and citations for violating the state’s aquatic invasive species laws, according to Lt. Col. Rodmen Smith, Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division assistant director.

“We are setting the expectation of the angling and boating public that they will follow the laws to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, that they will be checked for AIS violations, and that they will cited if a violation is found,” Smith said.

The increased patrols beganwith the walleye opener on  May 12 and continue through the Memorial Day weekend and into the summer.

Minnesota law prohibits the possession or transport of any AIS in Minnesota. Conservation officers and peace officers may stop and inspect motorists pulling boats or other marine equipment upon a “reasonable belief” that AIS are present.
–DNR News Release

South Florida cuts water use
South Florida has suffered through some dreary declines of late — home values, paychecks and the Miami Dolphins, for instance. But in the case of the public thirst for one precious commodity — fresh water — the decline has actually turned into a major money-saving plus.

The 53 water utilities serving Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties pumped about 83 million fewer gallons a day in 2010 than they did in 2000 — despite a population that grew by some 600,000 over the decade — according to a new draft analysis produced by the South Florida Water Management District.

Do the math and it adds up to South Floridians using about 20 percent less water each day for drinking, bathing and sprinkling yards per person than they did a decade ago.
–The Miami Herald

China’s groundwater threatened 
Groundwater in about 55 percent of the cities monitored across China is not safe to drink, according to a national annual report on the situation of the country’s land and resources in 2011. The outlook is not optimistic, according to the report, which was released by the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Monitoring conducted in 2011 found groundwater quality declined in parts of Gansu, Qinghai, Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hubei and Yunnan provinces. About 200 key cities across the country were monitored in the report, which covered more than 4,700 testing sites.

The problem of groundwater pollution is spreading from cities to the countryside, according to a national pollution control plan aimed at improving water quality over the next decade.
–China Daily.com

Biodiversity, groundwater and crop insurance

May 7, 2012

Research affirms biodiversity’s value 
Vegetation, such as a patch of prairie or a forest stand, is more productive in the long run when more plant species are present, a new University of Minnesota study shows.

The unprecedented long-term study of plant biodiversity found that each species plays a role in maintaining a productive ecosystem, especially when a long time horizon is considered. The study found that every additional species in a plot contributed to a gradual increase in both soil fertility and biomass production over a 14-year period.

The research paper, published in the May 4 edition of the journal Science, highlights the importance of managing for diversity in prairies, forests and crops, according to Peter Reich, a professor in the university’s forest resources department and the study’s lead author.

Reich and his colleagues examined how the effect of diversity on productivity of plants changed over the long term in two large field experiments at the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in central Minnesota. These are the longest-running biodiversity experiments in the world, and contain plots with one, four, nine or 16 different species of plants.

“Prior shorter-term studies, most about two years long, found that diversity increased productivity, but that having more than six or eight species in a plot gave no additional benefit,” Reich said. “But we found that over a 14-year time span, all 16 species in our most diverse plots contributed more and more each year to higher soil fertility and biomass production. The take-home message is that when we reduce diversity in the landscape–think of a cornfield or a pine plantation or a suburban lawn–we are failing to capitalize on the valuable natural services that biodiversity provides.”
–University of Minnesota News Release

USGS evaluates nitrates, chloride in groundwater 
There was no change in concentrations of chloride, dissolved solids, or nitrate in groundwater for more than 50 percent of well networks sampled in a new analysis by the USGS that compared samples from 1988-2000 to samples from 2001-2010. For those networks that did have a change, seven times more networks saw increases as opposed to decreases.

Read the full report. Check out a map showing nitrate concentrations in Minnesota groundwater during the two study periods. Check out data on Minnesota chloride levels.

“By providing a nation-wide, long-term, uniformly consistent analysis of trends in groundwater quality, communities can see whether they belong in the group of more than 50 percent which are maintaining their water quality, or within the group of more than 40 percent for which water quality is back sliding,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt.

High levels of chloride and dissolved solids in water don’t present a risk to human health, but are considered nuisance chemicals that can cause the water to become unusable without treatment because of taste or hardness. Excessive nitrate concentrations in groundwater have the potential to affect its suitability for drinking water. Also, when nitrate-laden water is discharged from groundwater to streams, the nitrate can end up in downstream water bodies, such as the Gulf of Mexico, and cause algal blooms.
–USGS News Release

Crop insurance and conservation in the 2012 Farm Bill
Read a blog about the debate in Congress over proposals to restore a requirement that farmers meet minimum conservation standards to be eligible for subsidized crop insurance coverage. Read a Congressional Research Service report on the issue. Read an op-ed in the Sioux City Journal on the subject. Read a Des Moines Register editorial on it.

Filing beginning for Minnesota SWCDs
Minnesota citizens interested in influencing natural resources issues at the local level are encouraged to run for supervisor of their local Soil and Water Conservation District. SWCD supervisor positions are filled through general elections on Nov. 6.

Individuals who wish to be on the ballot in 2012 must file for the election between May 22 and June 5.

SWCDs are local units of government that manage and direct natural resource management programs at the local level.  Minnesota’s 90 SWCDs cover the entire state and generally follow county lines.  Districts work with landowners in both rural and urban settings to carry out programs for the conservation, use, and development of soil, water, and related resources.

Interested citizens should file a Minnesota Affidavit of Candidacy (available from the county auditor), along with a $20 filing fee.  More information on the filing process can be obtained at the Minnesota Secretary of State web site. Persons interested in finding out what nominating district they live in and which supervisor positions are open for election should contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.  Consult a directory of SWCDs and a list of SWCD web sites.
–Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts News Release

2011 drinking water report issued
The Minnesota Department of Health has released its 2011 report on the health and purity of water in public drinking water systems. Check it out.

PolyMet mine debate explored 
It would have been a good-sized congregation on a Sunday morning, but the 250 who gathered at Concordia Lutheran Church on a Wednesday evening weren’t there for a sermon.

They came seeking the word of experts on all sides of the debate about the proposed PolyMet copper mine north of Hoyt Lakes.

Some may have come with their minds firmly made up, one way or the other, about the wisdom of allowing the first-ever copper mine in Minnesota. Others may have come with open minds, eager to hear divergent views and draw their own conclusions.

Whatever, it was an earnest crowd at the event sponsored by the Izaak Walton League of Duluth.
–The Duluth News Tribune

Minnehaha creek report card
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has released its 2011 report card on the health of district lakes.  Water quality in the lakes held steady compared to previous years with most lakes getting grades of A or B.  Read the watershed district’s news release.  Link to a PDF that lists lake-by-lake grades assigned to the water bodies since 2001.

Shift in Wisconsin enforcement philosophy 
Read a Wisconsin State Journal article about a changing philosophy in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on how to bring businesses and developers into compliance with environmental regulations. The department’s number of permit violation notices hit a 12-year low in 2011, the newspaper reported.

EPA gave Wyoming time to dispute fracking report
Wyoming’s governor persuaded the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to postpone an announcement linking hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination, giving state officials — whom the EPA had privately briefed on the study — time to attempt to debunk the finding before it rocked the oil and gas industry more than a month later, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.

During the delay, state officials raised dozens of questions about the finding that the controversial procedure that has become essential to unlocking oil and gas deposits in Wyoming and beyond may have tainted groundwater near the gas patch community of Pavillion.
–The Associated Press

CDC to study fracking and health The Institute of Medicine will examine whether the process of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from rock “poses potential health challenges,” a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said.

Health concerns related to fracking, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water are forced underground to break up rock and free gas, include the potential for water contamination and air pollution, Christopher Portier, director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, said at a workshop in Washington.

Fracking has enabled energy companies to access fuel trapped in previously impenetrable shale rock, reversing a decline in U.S. gas production. Environmentalists have claimed the chemicals used contribute to water contamination and airborne toxins.

“As public health officials, we are committed to ensuring that development happens responsibly,” Portier said in introductory remarks. Portier, who also directs the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said that agency has received complaints from people in communities with gas wells.
–Bloomberg

AIS decal law changed; fines doubled
A slate of new laws designed to curb the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species was approved in a recent bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

A program requiring watercraft owners to place an AIS rules sticker on their boats is being discontinued and replaced with an online education program. Watercraft owners will no longer be required to place on their boats the rectangular, silver and black decals, which include a summary of the state’s AIS laws.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources  began distributing the decals earlier this year and will continue to give them to interested boat owners for informational purposes only.

A new law, which goes into effect 2015, will require anyone who transports watercraft or water-related equipment with a trailer to complete an online education course. After completing the course, the person will receive a decal that must be placed on their trailer.
–DNR News Release

U.S. releases 10-year strategic research plan 
The Obama Administration released a 10-year strategic plan for research related to global change, identifying priorities that will help state and local governments, businesses, and communities prepare for anticipated changes in the global environment, including climate change, in the decades ahead.

The plan—released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which for more than 20 years has coordinated Federal global change research— was developed collaboratively by more than 100 Federal scientists. It reflects extensive inputs from stakeholders and the general public, as well as a detailed review by the National Research Council, chartered by Congress to provide independent expert advice to the Nation.
–U.S. Geological Survey News Release

Aasen leaves MPCA post
The state’s chief pollution regulator has left the job after he was nominated for a key position in Minneapolis city government. Paul Aasen, who was Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was nominated by Mayor R.T. Rybak to become city coordinator. Aasen was one of two Dayton-appointed commissioners on a Republican “watch list,” suggesting their confirmation was in question in the Legislature.
–The Star Tribune

‘Last Call’ film documents water crisis 
If you thought only Third World countries have water crises, a new documentary asks you to think again. Increasingly, problems are rising to the surface in the United States.

Filmmaker Jessica Yu harnesses the celebrity power of actor Jack Black and environmental activist Erin Brockovich — immortalized by Julia Roberts in the 2000 movie about Brockovich’s work — to  give the looming U.S. water crisis a thorough ringing out in “Last Call at the Oasis.”
–Reuters

Climate-change skeptics bank on clouds 
For decades, a small group of scientific dissenters has been trying to shoot holes in the prevailing science of climate change, offering one reason after another why the outlook simply must be wrong.

Over time, nearly every one of their arguments has been knocked down by accumulating evidence, and polls say 97 percent of working climate scientists now see global warming as a serious risk.

Yet in recent years, the climate change skeptics have seized on one last argument that cannot be so readily dismissed. Their theory is that clouds will save us.

They acknowledge that the human release of greenhouse gases will cause the planet to warm. But they assert that clouds — which can either warm or cool the earth, depending on the type and location — will shift in such a way as to counter much of the expected temperature rise and preserve the equable climate on which civilization depends.
–The New York Times

EPA official resigns over ‘crucify’ remark 
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Dallas has resigned over comments he made in 2010 that became the focus of political condemnation last week.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that she accepted a letter of resignation from Al Armendariz.

“I respect the difficult decision he made and his wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the agency,” Jackson said in a written statement. In the letter, Armendariz said he regrets his comments, adding that they did not reflect on his work or the work of the EPA. The controversy eruptedwhen a video surfaced showing Armendariz saying in 2010 that his methods for dealing with non-compliant oil and gas companies were “like when the Romans conquered the villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into little villages in Turkish towns and they’d find the first five guys they saw and crucify them.”
–CNN