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.
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.
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.”
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