Conservation wins one in Senate’s Farm Bill

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

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