Archive for June, 2012

Conservation wins one in Senate’s Farm Bill

June 25, 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.

Senate restores conservation to crop insurance
The U.S. Senate, on a bipartisan vote, approved a 10-year, nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill that will cut $24 billion from current spending levels. The bill includes a provision requiring farmers comply with  minimum conservation standards in order to qualify for crop insurance subsidies. Many environmental organizations, including the Freshwater Society, had urged lawmakers to restore the conservation compliance measure dropped from the federal crop insurance program in 1996. Read a New York Times article on the bill that emerged from the Senate. Read a column from last fall in which Freshwater President Gene Merriam supported restoring the conservation requirement. Both Minnesota Senators voted for the amendment restoring the conservation requirement.

DNR holds off on roadside stops for invasives
First-ever random roadside checks of Minnesota boaters planned for this spring and early summer — part of a crackdown to slow the spread of invasive species — have been delayed because of legal concerns by some county attorneys.

“Some are just not buying into whether the legal authority is there,” said Jim Konrad, Department of Natural Resources enforcement chief.

Otter Tail County Attorney David Hauser is among those who have concerns. “Our Supreme Court has found random stops for DWI are not constitutional,” Hauser said. “We’ve asked the DNR, before we proceed with these stops, let’s look at this.”
–The Star Tribune

Minneapolis steps up invasives restrictions 
Park leaders in Minneapolis have imposed new restrictions on boat traffic on city lakes, a drastic effort to prevent the spread of invasive species that surprised anglers and conservation leaders.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board unanimously approved an emergency resolution that will require boats entering its lakes to be inspected, chaining off boat launches during weekday afternoons and other times when inspectors aren’t present.

The new rules go beyond state law — which doesn’t require boat checks unless an inspector is there — making it the most stringent such measure by a Minnesota city. “We’re concerned about the loss of access and that we might end up with different restrictions across the state depending on who owns it,” said Steve Hirsch, director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ ecological and water resources division. “We need to be consistent.”

He said the DNR hasn’t determined if the city’s steps are legal.
–The Star Tribune

How big will that Dead Zone be? It’s hard to say 
A team of NOAA-supported scientists is predicting that this year’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone could range from a low of approximately 1,197 square miles to as much as 6,213 square miles.

The wide range is the result of using two different forecast models. The forecast is based on Mississippi River nutrient inputs compiled annually by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The smaller dead zone forecast, covering an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island, comes from researchers from the University of Michigan. Their predicted size is based solely on the current year’s spring nutrient inputs from the Mississippi River which are significantly lower than average due to drought conditions throughout much of the watershed. The larger dead zone forecast, the equivalent of an area the size of the state of Connecticut, is from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Louisiana State University scientists.

The Louisiana forecast model includes prior year’s nutrient inputs which can remain in bottom sediments and be recycled the following year. Last year’s flood, followed by this year’s low flows, increased the influence of this “carryover effect” on the second model’s prediction.
–USGS News Release

 How old is that groundwater? Pretty old
A portion of the groundwater in the upper Patapsco aquifer underlying Maryland is over a million years old. A new study suggests that this ancient groundwater, a vital source of freshwater supplies for the region east of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, was recharged over periods of time much greater than human timescales.

“Understanding the average age of groundwater allows scientists to estimate at what rate water is re-entering the aquifer to replace the water we are currently extracting for human use,” explained USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “This is the first step in designing sustainable practices of aquifer management that take into account the added challenges of sea level rise and increased human demand for quality water supplies.”

This new study from the USGS, the Maryland Geological Survey and the Maryland Department of the Environment documents for the first time the occurrence of groundwater that is more than one million years old in a major water-supply aquifer along the Atlantic Coast.
–USGS News Release

Big firms call for sustainable water use, pricing 
It’s not often that you get 45 of the world’s most powerful CEOs calling on governments to push up the price of a key resource.

But this is exactly what happened when companies ranging from Coca Cola, Nestle, Glaxo SmithKline, Merck and Bayer signed a special communiqué at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development highlighting the urgency of the global water crisis and calling on governments to step up their efforts and to work more actively with the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders to address it.

Of particular importance is their call to establish a “fair and appropriate price” of water for agriculture, industry, and people.

Gavin Power, deputy director the UN Global Compact, which is overseeing the collaboration, said that it was in companies’ long-term interest to preserve water supplies and that in many countries water is not treated with respect because it is too cheap.
–The Guardian

Springs are Florida’s canary in the coal mine
Invasive species and diminished flow caused by a recent drought and groundwater pumping are afflicting Florida’s artesian springs. Read a New York Times report on Florida’s emerging realization that its springs are vulnerable.

Sea level rising fast on East Coast
Rates of sea level rise are increasing three-to-four times faster along portions of the U.S. Atlantic Coast than globally, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report published in Nature Climate Change.

Since about 1990, sea-level rise in the 600-mile stretch of coastal zone from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to north of Boston, Mass. — coined a “hotspot” by scientists — has increased 2 – 3.7 millimeters per year; the global increase over the same period was 0.6 – 1.0 millimeter per year.

Based on data and analyses included in the report, if global temperatures continue to rise, rates of sea level rise in this area are expected to continue increasing.
 –USGS News Release

House bill threatens BWCA protections

June 18, 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.

House bill threatens wilderness protection
Language in a Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, passed two months ago by the U.S. House, threatens to undo wilderness protections for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Supporters of current restrictions on motorized use of the BWCA are attempting to keep the measure, which is backed by some hunting and fishing groups, from being  attatched to the 2012 Farm Bill in the Senate. Read environmental reporter Dennis Lien’s Pioneer Press article on the controversy.

Many boaters violate laws on invasives
The first numbers are in on intensified efforts to police Minnesota boaters’ compliance with laws aimed to curb the spread of invasive species. And the numbers are not good. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said 20 percent of the boaters checked in a stepped-up enforcement effort violated the laws.

Between May 12 and June 6, the DNR issued 193 criminal citations, 463 civil citations, 975 written warnings and 267 verbal warnings. Last year about 850 citations or warnings were issued to violators of Minnesota’s AIS laws. That compares with 293 citations and warnings issued in 2010. Read the DNR news release.

Don’t forget: Clean Water Act lecture set June 25
Don’t miss the June 25 free public lecture on the federal Clean Water Act 40 years after it was enacted.

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 the lecture at 7 p.m. in the theater of the Student Center on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the university’s College of Biological Sciences.

The lecture is titled The Clean Water Act After 40 Years: What Has It Accomplished? How Do We Fulfill Its Promise?   Learn more and register to attend.

Wisconsin eyes penalties in frac sand spills 
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is weighing a penalty to be imposed on two sand mines for large spills in the St. Croix River.

In both of the spills, the mining companies were not meeting their permit conditions. Wisconsin DNR enforcement specialist Deb Dix said one site had no erosion control structures, and the other used soft sand to build a berm.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Firms join UN push for water efficiency 
The United Nations has received support from chief executive officers at 45 companies, from Levi Strauss & Co. to Coca-Cola Co. (KO), in an effort to use water more efficiently.

The companies joined the UN Global Compact in committing to improve water-management practices during a meeting in Rio de Janeiro, according to a statement. The compact is the world’s biggest organization backing sustainability measures.
Bloomberg

Public responds to mercury warnings 
Got mercury? If so, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency warns that it’s important to manage it properly to protect yourself and the environment, and to avoid significant health and legal problems.

In recent weeks since a statewide news story about a Floodwood, Minn., man trying to sell 64 pounds of mercury on Craigslist, the MPCA and county collection centers have fielded dozens of tip calls from people with mercury to turn in. One Minnesota county hazardous waste facility took in 20 pounds of mercury as a result of the news story.

Consistent with current practices and despite the one-time mercury purchase by the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, none of the people who subsequently surrendered their mercury received any payment for the hazardous waste.
–MPCA News Release

EPA approves $880 million Everglades clean-up 
Federal environmental regulators approved an $880 million state plan intended to dramatically reduce the flow of farm and suburban pollution into the Everglades. Both sides hailed the agreement as a milestone in a decades-long dispute over cleaning up the River of Grass.

If approved by two federal judges, it would commit Florida to a major expansion of projects intended to clean up storm run-off before it flows into the Everglades, adding to the $1.8 billion the state has already poured into cleanup efforts.

In a letter announcing the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, regional administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said the state’s plan represented “a significant and historic milestone in restoring America’s Everglades.”
–The Miami Herald

Grafton, Ill., plant to process Asian carp 
A formal agreement is in place for a new company in Grafton to process Asian Carp harvested from the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and send them to markets in China, but state assistance for the plant is not yet in place.

Businessmen from China were in Grafton to meet with local investors to officially announce the plan that could mean nearly 40 new jobs in Grafton once the plant is open.

A representative of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said the state was supportive of the venture, but no specific details of a state financial plan were released. The Chinese group has entered into an agreement to buy between 30 and 40 million pounds of the fish over the course of a three year contract.
–The Alton Daily News

Minnesota conservation reserve acres are declining

June 8, 2012

More than 100,000 acres of environmentally sensitive Minnesota farm land are likely to be removed this fall from the federal Conservation Reserve Program that pays farmers to idle land for 10 to 15 years.

Much of that land that now is planted in grass will be growing corn or soybeans next spring. The return of the land to row crops will continue a trend occurring in Minnesota, and across the country, since 2007.

And the trend – driven by federal budget constraints and high commodity prices that induce farmers to choose cropping over the yearly federal conservation payments – is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

“We’re looking at potentially losing 750,000 more acres in Minnesota within the next five year,” said Bill Penning, the supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources prairie habitat team.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced recently that it has approved 99,000 acres for re-enrollment or new enrollment in CRP in Minnesota. But that is only about one-third of the 290,000 acres on which CRP contracts expire on Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.

The exact amount of land that comes out of CRP on Sept. 30 will be determined by how many farmers with land in a small subset of the program decide to remove from the conservation effort many relatively small tracts of land dedicated to practices that include stream buffers, uncropped wellhead protection areas, windbreaks and living snow fences.

Land idled for those kinds of practices currently totals about 43,000 acres in Minnesota.  All of that land could stay in CRP, but it is likely some of it will come out.

“It’s going to be well over 100,000 acres that’s going to come out of the program,” said Matt Holland, senior field coordinator for Pheasants Forever in Minnesota.

Across the country, CRP acres peaked at about 36.8 million acres in 2007. In 2008, Congress capped national participation in the program at 32 million acres.  The USDA has predicted that the current CRP enrollment of about 29.6 million acres will decline to 29 million in the new fiscal year.

Minnesota participation in CRP peaked at about 1.8 million acres in 2007 and has slowly declined since then to about 1.6 million this year.

To view state-by-state data on CRP contracts this year and over the next  years, click here, then scroll down to CRP Contract Expirations by State, 2012-2018.

White Bear Lake levels and a Freshwater app

June 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.

Newsletter available electronically
A new Freshwater Society newsletter is available. Check it out on our website. The 12-page newsletter can be downloaded as a PDF, or you can page through it in electronic-magazine form.

It includes articles on:

• U.S. Geological Survey research linking a big decline in the water level in White Bear Lake to groundwater pumping.

• A free Freshwater app now available for smartphones.

• A column by Gene Merriam urging consumers to demand more-sustainable food.

G. Tracy Mehan III

G. Tracy Mehan III

Clean Water Act lecture set June 25
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 avenues that can lead 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 register to attend.

Ag Department names ‘Certainty’ committee
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has announced the membership of an advisory committee that will help develop the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program.

The new program is the result of an agreement between Gov. Mark Dayton and federal officials, with the goal of enhancing Minnesota’s water quality by accelerating adoption of on-farm water quality practices. The committee will provide recommendations to MDA Commissioner Dave Frederickson.

Members are:
• Douglas Albin, farmer and chairman of Yellow Medicine County Corn Growers. • Dennis Berglund, CEO and general manager, Control Crop Consulting.
• Nathan Collins, president, Swift County Farm Bureau and Murdock City Council member.
• Elizabeth Croteau-Kallstad, executive director, Cannon River Watershed Partnership.
• Dean Fairchild, assistant vice president, Mosaic Company.
• Dennis Fuchs, district administrator, Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District.
• Kirby Hettver, farmer and member of Chippewa County Corn and Soybean Growers.
• Jim Kleinschmit, rural communities Program director, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
• Bob Lefebvre, executive director, Minnesota Milk Producers Association.
• Mike Myser, mayor of Prior Lake.
• Doug Peterson, president, Minnesota Farmers Union.
• James Riddle, supervisor, Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District.
• Kris Sigford, water quality director, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
• Tony Thompson, farmer and member of North Heron Lake Game Producers Association.
• Bill Zurn, farmer and past president of Minnesota Soybean Growers.
–Minnesota Agriculture Department News Release

Oklahoma enacts water conservation
When looking at the numbers in their water plans, many states and cities fret about how to cover projected gaps between demand and supply. With the governor’s signature on May 21, Oklahoma’s political leadership has placed a big bet on conservation.

The Water for 2060 Act, introduced by House Speaker Kris Steele, sets a goal that the state will consume no more freshwater in the year 2060 than is currently used, even as the population is expected to grow by 28 percent to 4.8 million people.
–Circle of Blue

Class-action Atrazine deal announced
Swiss chemicals company Syngenta announced a proposed $US 105 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by communities in six Midwestern U.S. states who claimed that atrazine — one of the most widely used herbicides in the nation — had contaminated their drinking water.

The plaintiffs, representing 16 communities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio, asked for money to cover the cost of installing treatment systems to filter out the weed-killing chemical, which has been used since 1959 in the United States, primarily for corn, sorghum, and sugar cane.

Money from the settlement fund will be available to any community water system in the U.S. that shows a measurable level of atrazine in its supply. It is estimated that close to 2,000 such systems, mostly in the Midwest, will be eligible.
–Circle of Blue

Cities, environmentalists seek action on farms 
Minnesota farms send far more sediment into the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers than do the state’s cities. But what to do about it?

That question resurfaced May 29, when environmental, city, business and farm interests called on state regulators to make farmers do a better job of reducing that runoff. Otherwise, they said, communities across much of Minnesota, and the taxpayers who live there, could be hit with more than $1 billion in added infrastructure-related expenses to cut their own.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Crop insurance subsidies cost billions
Federal subsidies for crop insurance cost U.S. taxpayers $11 billion last year, according to a new analysis of government records by the Environmental Working Group. Across the country, more than 10,000 individual farming operations got subsidies worth between $100,000 and more than $1 million apiece.

In Minnesota, federal subsidies for crop insurance premiums totaled more than $526 million, and farmers paid about $318 million in premiums, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Read the Environmental Working Group report. Read a Star Tribune article about it.

MPCA warns of toxic blue-green algae
When the summer sun shines and temperatures climb, conditions are ripe for Minnesota lakes to produce harmful algal blooms. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is again reminding people some types of algae can harm pets, livestock and even people.

Algae are microscopic aquatic plants and are a natural part of any aquatic ecosystem. Under the right conditions, some forms of algae, particularly a type called “blue-green algae,” can pose harmful health risks. People or animals may become sick if exposed to these blooms. In extreme cases, dogs and other animals have died after exposure to lake water containing toxic blue-green algae.

Most algae are harmless. However blue-green algae, when sunlight and warmth cause them to “bloom” in dense populations, can produce toxins and other chemicals. There are many types of blue-green algae. They are found throughout Minnesota, but thrive particularly in warm, shallow, nutrient-rich lakes. Often blown toward downwind shorelines, it is in these blooms that humans and animals most often come in contact with blue-green algae, and where the risk of algal toxins is greatest.
–MPCA News Release

Viruses found in unfiltered Wis. Water 
A new study of 14 Wisconsin communities that do not disinfect their water revealed the presence of human viruses in drinking water in nearly one-quarter of all samples taken.

The results suggest that people in municipalities that don’t treat their water systems may be exposed to waterborne viruses and potential health risks, the study concluded.

The authors calculated that water that isn’t disinfected was responsible for 6% to 22% of gastrointestinal illnesses reported during the study period. At one time during the study, when norovirus was commonly found in tap water, the researchers attributed up to 63% of the cause of illness to dirty drinking water in children younger than 5.

The likely virus source was leaking wastewater sewers, the study concluded.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Minnesota Waters members absorbed 
Minnesota Waters, a lakes and rivers organization that ended operations, is being absorbed by Conservation Minnesota, another nonprofit group.

“Their members and network and their brand are going to be part of Conservation Minnesota going forward,” said Paul Austin, executive director of Conservation Minnesota. No Minnesota Waters staff will join Conservation Minnesota, he said.

Some Minnesota Waters work is being assumed by other organizations, such as the Freshwater Society. Other functions will continue under Conservation Minnesota, which will contact the new membership to establish how best to serve it and to protect its interests, Austin said.
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Minnehaha Creek clean-up set July 8 
Volunteers are being recruited from across the Twin Cities to clean up Minnehaha Creek at a free, family-friendly event.

On Sunday, July 8,  Minnehaha Creek Watershed District is teaming up with the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company’s “Canoes for a Cause” campaign to host the 6th annual Minnehaha Creek Clean-up at Lake Hiawatha at 46th Street and 28th Avenue South in Minneapolis. The goal this year is to collect two tons of trash. For more information, visit www.minnehahacreek.org.