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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.