Archive for July, 2012

Ex-skeptic further supports climate change

July 31, 2012

Richard A. Muller, a University of California, Berkeley, physicist, used to be a prominent scientific skeptic on climate change. Last year, he concluded global warming is real. Now, read a New York Times op-ed in which Muller goes further and says he’s convinced “humans are almost entirely the cause.”

Innovative Wisconsin phosphorus rules OK’d

July 30, 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.

 
EPA approves Wisconsin’s phosphorus rules
The Environmental Protection Agency approved a first-of-its-kind program to cut phosphorus levels in Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams.

The goal is cleaner water, fewer weeds and algae blooms and better habitat for fish and other aquatic life.

The idea is to allow wastewater treatment plants and companies such as paper mills or dairies with pollution discharge permits to avoid or reduce pollution-control costs, which they would presumably pass on to customers, in favor of partnerships within watersheds aimed at stemming the flow of phosphorus.

Those partnerships could include grants for farmers to change their field and husbandry practices and help communities control runoff from streets.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sediment, carp threaten Pool 2
Read two articles by St. Paul Pioneer Press on threats facing the Mississippi River’s Pool 2, the stretch of river between St.

Paul and Hastings. The first of the related reports deals with the sediment filling the pool, and the second deals with Asian carp.

Minneapolis, St. Paul water use declines
During a summer as hot as this one, it may be difficult to believe that water use in Minneapolis and St. Paul has been declining steeply and steadily over a prolonged period.

Different measures are available for the two cities, but they both show the same strong trend over the past 15 to 30 years:

• In Minneapolis, consumption dropped 17.2 percent from 1998 through 2007, a time when the population was virtually unchanged. In August 2011, a dry month, the city used 31 percent less water than it did in August 2006, a wet month. And in 2011, Minneapolis residents and businesses used 378 million fewer gallons than they did the year before.

• In St. Paul, daily average water use dropped nearly 21 percent from 1980 through 2011. Peak use during that period was in the drought year of 1988.
–The Star Tribune

Cutting water use in Nebraska
Does talking about water conservation work?

It did recently in Lincoln, Neb.

Read a Lincoln Journal Star article about daily water use dropping by 10 million gallons the day after Mayor Chris Beutler urged residents to water their lawns less.

Hearing set on Shakopee sand mining
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency invites the public to an informational meeting Aug. 2 on the draft state air emissions permit for the proposed Great Plains Sands facility near Shakopee.

The meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Scott County Conference Center, 205 Fourth Ave. W., in Shakopee. The meeting will start with an open house for informal discussion, followed by a formal presentation at 7:15 p.m., with time for questions and answers.

Great Plains Sands proposes to operate a mining facility to produce hydraulic fracturing sand, commonly called “frac sand” or “silica sand,” for use in the natural gas and oil industry. The facility would be located in Louisville and Sand Creek townships, along Highway 169, in Scott County, on the south side of the Twin Cities metro area.

The company would mine about 100 acres, use an additional 28 acres for processing and railcar loading, and leave 12 acres as setbacks and buffer areas. The site is zoned for rural industrial use and previous land uses include mining, hog farming, auto salvaging, and concrete mixing.

Scott County recently approved an interim-use permit for the proposed Great Plains Sands facility. The MPCA is the government unit responsible for the air emissions permit. The draft permit will be available for review and comment on the MPCA Public Notices webpage. The public comment period will run July 27 to Aug. 27.
–MPCA News Release

Audubon challenges Florida ag rules
The Florida Audubon Society took on the state’s largest sugar producers, challenging recently issued permits that allow the pollution control practices the companies use on 234,932 acres of farmland in the Everglades.

The permits were issued after the South Florida Water Management District approved the companies’ “best management practices,” procedures growers undertake to reduce pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants that flow off from their fields.

Audubon filed a petition with the district for an administrative law judge to intervene and deny the permits. The petition will be sent to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings to determine whether to appoint a judge.
–The Palm Beach Post

Chinese protest water pollution
Angry demonstrators entered a government office in the port city of Qidong, near Shanghai, and smashed computers and destroyed furniture to protest a waste discharge plant that they said would pollute the water supply.

In reaction, the local government Web site said that plans for the discharge plant, which was to be part of a paper manufacturing plant, had been abandoned.

China’s authorities face a mounting pattern of protests against pollution, and in particular, against industrial plants that locals can single out during the planning stage or in the early days of construction.
–The New York Times

Erodable land sought for conservation reserve

July 27, 2012

Minnesota farmers have an opportunity to receive federal payment to take – or keep – highly erodable land out of crop production.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Minnesota has announced a sign-up for up to 11,200 acres of erodable land eligible for payments under the Conservation Reserve Program.

Offers of land to receive payments under the program will be accepted until Sept. 30 or until the acreage allotment is filled.

“CRP is a voluntary program that has protected environmentally sensitive land for more than 25 years,” said Linda Hennen, the Farm Service Agency’s executive director in Minnesota. “This initiative will accept offers with an erosion rate of at least 20 tons per acre per year for new cropland or CRP acres that expire on September 30, 2012; however, existing grass stands that are not considered expiring CRP will not be considered eligible,” she said.

Producers are encouraged to contact their local FSA service center or visit FSA’s website for information regarding CRP.
–FSA News Release

EPA declares water safe in fracking dispute

July 26, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has closed an investigation into allegations that a Pennsylvania community’s water wells were contaminated by hydraulic fracturing — fracking — for natural gas. The EPA said tests on water samples from 64 homes in Dimock, Penn., found the water is safe to drink. Read an Associated Press account, published in the Washington Post, of the agency’s announcement July 25. Read the EPA news release.

 

Water level drops in Ogallala aquifer in Texas

July 23, 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

Water level drops in Ogallala aquifer in Texas
In case we need another example of the disturbing ramifications of extreme drought for our future water security, we can look to recent news out of northwest Texas.

The High Plains Water District, based in Lubbock, recently reported that the 2011-12 drought drove groundwater levels in its sixteen-county service area to drop an average of 2.56 feet (0.78 meters) – the largest annual decline recorded in the last 25 years and more than triple the annual average for the last decade.

The lesson: as droughts intensify, our depletion of groundwater will pick up speed.
Water Currents, a National Geographic blog by Sandra Postel

Science on fracking is complicated and takes time

July 20, 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.

Check out a thoughtful Philadelphia Daily News editorial on the widely varying media coverage of some recent Duke University research related to hydraulic fracturing – fracking – in drilling for oil and natural gas. The editorial’s point is that science takes time and advocates are too quick to seize on research to support their beliefs and economic interests. As you read the editorial’s summary of headlines from various media, keep in mind the headline this blog put on a Bloomberg News account of the research:  ‘Duke research has implications for fracking.’

Conservation takes hit in House ag bill

July 16, 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 Farm Bill lacks conservation teeth
The U.S. House Agriculture Committee passed a new 10-year, $969 billion federal Farm Bill that makes deeper overall spending cuts and does less to encourage soil and water conservation than the Senate version of the legislation.

(An earlier version of this blog posting had two incorrect headlines. It is the House bill, not the Senate legislation, that is the weaker of the two versions on conservation.)

It now appears very likely the Senate and House will not agree on a compromise bill before the November election. Scores of farm programs currently are scheduled to expire after Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. But the Senate and House almost certainly will approve a stopgap extension of those programs.

Unlike the Senate bill passed last month, the House version would not require farmers to protect wetlands and maintain soil erosion plans on marginal land as a condition of qualifying for crop insurance. The House bill also cuts $3 billion – $1 billion more than the Senate legislation — in federal payments to farmers and ranchers through the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Read a  National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition analysis focusing on conservation provisions in the bill. Read New York Times and Politico articles on the House committee action.  Read a 2011 column by Freshwater President Gene Merriam advocating for the conservation compliance requirement for crop insurance.

From the USGS' Water Science for SchoolsPlay a game, stretch your mind 
If you haven’t already looked at it, check out the expanded Freshwater web page for kids. It’s got games for kids and basic information about water that most adults can learn from, as well. Sources include the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Parents, teachers, home-schoolers will find the page useful.

Pelican Lake zebra mussel infestation confirmed
Scuba divers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have found zebra mussels in Pelican Lake in Crow Wing County near Brainerd. They were found in two separate locations during a search of the lake on July 9.

The search was a follow-up to an intensive search last November after a single juvenile zebra mussel was found on a dock. The November search of the lake failed to turn up any additional mussels. DNR staff also asked the Pelican Lake Association to notify its members to report any suspect mussels, but no other zebra mussels were found in 2011.
–DNR News Release

Wisconsin court rejects local water rules 
The Wisconsin Supreme Court dealt a blow to environmentalists concerned about water pollution from huge livestock farms, when it said communities couldn’t set stricter standards than the state.

The ruling was believed to be the first decision by a state Supreme Court in about a half-dozen cases pitting neighbors and small farmers throughout the Midwest against so-called factory farms, which can have hundreds or even thousands of animals. Similar cases have been filed in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma, and the decision was closely watched.
 –The Associated Press

Duke research has implications for fracking
A study that found hydraulic fracturing for natural gas puts drinking-water supplies in Pennsylvania at risk of contamination may renew a long-running debate between industry and activists.

The report by researchers at Duke University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said a chemical analysis of 426 shallow groundwater samples found matches with brine found in rock more than one mile (1.2 kilometers) deep, suggesting paths that would let gas or water flow up after drilling.

While the flows weren’t linked to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the study found natural routes for seepage into wells or streams.

“The industry has always claimed that this is a separation zone, and there is no way fluids could flow” from the shale to the aquifers, Avner Vengosh, a professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and one of the study’s eight authors, said in an interview. “We see evidence of hydrologic connectivity.”
–Bloomberg News

Heat causing Minnesota fish kills
Record-setting heat may be contributing to fish kills in lakes across the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Natural summer fish kills are not unusual,” according to Brian Schultz, DNR assistant regional fisheries manager. “In the past several days, however, we’re getting increased reports of dead and dying fish in many lakes from around the state.”

Unusually warm weather has raised water temperatures of many shallow lakes. Schultz has received reports from DNR field staff of surface water temperatures in some lakes reaching 90 degrees, with temps at the bottom only a few degrees cooler where maximum depths are less than 10 feet.
–DNR News Release

DNR completes wolf hunt rules 
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resource has finalized rules for Minnesota’s first regulated wolf hunting and trapping season this fall and winter.

There are several changes to what the DNR originally proposed in May as a result of input received since the proposal was announced.

“We changed the closing date for the late season from Jan. 6, 2013, to Jan. 31,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager. “We also tightened the wolf harvest registration requirement so we can more quickly close a zone based on harvest results.”

Another notable change is that the wolf range will be divided into three zones for the purposes of harvest targets, registration and season closure. The northeast zone and the east-central zone closely parallel the 1854 and 1837 treaty ceded territory boundaries. These zones will allow the state to allocate and manage wolf harvest in consultation with Indian bands that have court-affirmed off-reservation hunting rights. The northwest zone will be the other area open to wolf hunting. Only that portion of Minnesota where rifles are legal for deer hunting will be open for taking wolves.
–DNR News Release

Nitrate tests at Benton County Fair
Area residents who rely on their own wells for drinking water can have their water tested for nitrate contamination for free during two days of the Benton County Fair in Sauk Rapids.

The Benton Soil & Water Conservation District and Minnesota Department of Agriculture are conducting the nitrate clinic from 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2.

The clinic will be at the SWCD’s fair booth in the Education Building. Nitrate is a common contaminant, particularly in shallow wells, dug wells and wells with damaged or leaking casings. Nitrates can come from fertilizers, animal waste and human sewage.
–The St. Cloud Times

The Farm Bill, conservation and crop insurance

July 9, 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 Farm Bill lacks conservation measure
A key soil and water conservation provision in the Senate-passed federal Farm Bill is not in a  House draft of the bill unveiled last week.

The Senate bill, approved last month, would require farmers to meet certain minimum conservation standards in order to qualify for taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance. That provision would maintain conservation requirements that most farmers currently have to meet to receive direct subsidy payments, which are being phased out in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.

In addition to the difference over the conservation provision, the House legislation would cut total Farm Bill spending more deeply, make bigger cuts in the food stamp program and provide more federal spending for southern rice and cotton farmers at the expense of Midwestern corn and soybean growers.

Read a National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition commentary critical of  the conservation provisions in the House legislation.  Read a Politico analysis of the two bills. Read a Star Tribune editorial  on the Farm Bill, and an op-ed response to it that focuses on conservation provisions. The op-ed was written by Becky Humphries of Ducks Unlimited, Peggy Ladner of the Nature Conservancy, Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever and  Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Research: Rising seas can be slowed, not stopped
Rising sea levels cannot be stopped over the next several hundred years, even if deep emissions cuts lower global average temperatures, but they can be slowed down, climate scientists said in a study.

A lot of climate research shows that rising greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for increasing global average surface temperatures by about 0.17 degrees Celsius a decade from 1980-2010 and for a sea level rise of about 2.3mm a year from 2005-2010 as ice caps and glaciers melt.

Rising sea levels threaten about a tenth of the world’s population who live in low-lying areas and islands which are at risk of flooding, including the Caribbean, Maldives and Asia-Pacific island groups. More than 180 countries are negotiating a new global climate pact which will come into force by 2020 and force all nations to cut emissions to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius this century – a level scientists say is the minimum required to avert catastrophic effects.

But even if the most ambitious emissions cuts are made, it might not be enough to stop sea levels rising due to the thermal expansion of sea water, said scientists at the United States’ National Centre for Atmospheric Research, U.S. research organisation Climate Central and Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Melbourne.
–Reuters

Citizens join fight against aquatic invasives
Clayton Jensen spends a lot of time at the public access to Lake Melissa, about a mile down the beach from his home.

He carries a handful of glossy fliers he designed and printed, simple one-page handouts that explain how boaters can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The creatures, which include zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil, are moving from lake to lake across Minnesota. Often, they hitch a ride unobserved on boats and equipment.

Jensen, a retired doctor, is part of a movement of citizens and local governments joining the effort to slow the spread of the unwanted plants and animals. Although he attended a training session sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources, he has no authority as an inspector. His job is to educate.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Drip irrigation expands worldwide 
As the world population climbs and water stress spreads around the globe, finding ways of getting more crop per drop to meet our food needs is among the most urgent of challenges.

One answer to this call is drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to the roots of plants in just the right amounts. It can double or triple water productivity – boosting crop per drop – and it appears to be taking off worldwide.

Over the last twenty years, the area under drip and other “micro” irrigation methods has risen at least 6.4-fold, from 1.6 million hectares to more than 10.3 million. (One hectare is about 2.5 acres. The latest figures from the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage include countries accounting for only three-quarters of the world’s irrigated area, so the 10.3 million figure is low.) The most dramatic gains have occurred in China and India, the world’s top two irrigators, where the area under micro-irrigation expanded 88-fold and 111-fold, respectively, over the last two decades.
–National Geographic

Proposal seeks to cut nitrous oxide releases from ag 
Read an interesting article from the Corn and Soybean Digest about a proposal to pay farmers to reduce their losses of nitrous oxide – a particularly potent greenhouse gas – from the fertilization of their crops. Under the proposal, other industries faced with caps on the greenhouse gases they emit could buy credits for nitrous oxide emissions reduced by farmers.

Overall, farms are not a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but nitrogen fertilizer use releases nitrous oxide. And nitrous oxide in the atmosphere traps far more heat than the most common greenhouse gas,  carbon dioxide. A California nonprofit group, Climate Action Reserve, is pushing for establishment of a market in nitrous oxide credits.

GAO reviews EPA water pollution grants
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sends about $200 million a year to the states to fight non-point water pollution, including agricultural runoff. A new General Accounting Office review of  the spending finds fault with some aspects of the grants. Read the report.

Nitrogen; invasive species; water infrastructure

July 2, 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.

Otto Doering to lecture on nitrogen pollution

Otto Doering

Save the date: Nitrogen pollution lecture set Oct. 4
Nitrogen. It makes up three-fourths of the air all around us. It cascades through our environment between land, water and the atmosphere. It is critical to agricultural production that feeds the world. And it is a byproduct of all the fossil fuels we consume.

In the United States, we put five times more nitrogen into the environment than is deposited or released naturally. That excess nitrogen causes a variety of environmental and health problems – pollution of ground and surface waters, smog, increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

On Oct. 4, 2012, the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences will present an important lecture by Purdue University professor Otto Doering on the problem of excess nitrogen. It is an issue that the National Academy of Engineering has called one of the “grand challenges” facing this country in the 21st Century.

Doering is a professor of agricultural economics and director of Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center. He led a team of scientists that last year produced a major report on the nitrogen problem for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

The 141-page report is titled “Reactive Nitrogen in the United States: An Analysis of Inputs, Flows, Consequences, and Management Options.”

His lecture will be titled “Excess nitrogen: A Confounding Problem for Energy Use, Food Production, the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe.” Information on registering to attend the talk is coming soon to the Freshwater web site.

Minnesota’s penalties on invasives double
Civil fines for people violating Minnesota’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) laws doubled on July 1, when new, tougher laws took effect.

Minnesota law prohibits the possession or transport of any AIS in the state. AIS include zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas.

Last month, DNR officials announced that the AIS violation rate among Minnesota boaters and anglers is at an unacceptable rate of 20 percent.

“The larger fines should help people realize that this is a serious problem, and we need everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of AIS,” explained Maj. Phil Meier, DNR Enforcement operations manager.

For example, failure to remove a drain plug while transporting a watercraft will mean a $100 fine, instead of a $50 penalty. The fine for unlawfully possessing and transporting prohibited AIS will increase from $250 to $500.
–DNR News Release

EPA water infrastructure $$ at risk 
A House subcommittee approved a 53% cut to the federal program that makes low-cost loans to cities to build infrastructure to prevent water pollution. Next it will go to the full House for a vote.

U.S. cities lose one-fifth of their water to leaks and suffer 1.2 trillion gallons of wastewater spills each year, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

It is clear we need to repair our water systems, but the financial burden is huge: more than $600 billion by 2019, found an EPA report.

The cause of much of the wastewater spills is storm water overflows, said the Congressional Budget Office . Many cities in the Northeast and Great Lakes region collect storm water to clean it in wastewater treatment centers. Unfortunately, these systems frequently overflow, and so untreated sewage and storm water runoff are expelled into surrounding water bodies. These events happen up to 75,000 times a year, says the EPA.
–Forbes

Zebra mussel worries close boat ramps
Boater access to two more Minnesota lakes is being tightened in hopes of preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Seven Lakeview Township accesses on Lake Melissa and Lake Sallie south of Detroit Lakes have been closed for boat launching and removal, though they remain open for swimming and other uses.

The lakes aren’t being closed to the public, however. Each lake has one state access that isn’t affected by the closures, said Dave Knopf, township chairman.

“It will make it a lot easier monitoring people coming and going from just one access,” Knopf said. “Otherwise it would be impossible to monitor those two lakes.”
–The Star Tribune

Army Corps ordered to speed up Asian carp plan
Congress passed a measure ordering the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up its efforts to devise a plan to keep voracious Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

The measure — tucked inside the highway spending and student loan compromise approved by both the U.S. House and Senate — gives the Corps 18 months to come up with a plan for blocking Asian carp at 18 points where they could pass into the Great Lakes. Within three months, Congress wants a progress report.

The Corps would be expected to look into means of separating the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes where feasible to stop the spread of Asian carp, especially around Chicago — where an electronic barrier has been used to keep the invasive species from reaching Lake Michigan.
–The Detroit Free Press

Supreme Court to hear beach pollution case
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Los Angeles County’s appeal of a lower court decision requiring the county to clean up polluted runoff that flows to the ocean through two urban waterways.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year sided with environmental groups in finding the county and its flood control district responsible for tainted water released into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Santa Monica Baykeeper sued the county in 2008 in an effort to get the agency to treat or divert the water before it reaches the beach.

Water quality experts have long identified storm runoff — the toxic soup of bacteria, pesticides, fertilizer and trash that is swept to the sea when it rains — as the leading source of water pollution at Southern California beaches and a cause of swimmer illness.
–The Los Angeles Times

MPCA seek comment on Nicollet County dairy 
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  invites the public to comment on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet prepared for a proposed 3,000-cow dairy northwest of St. Peter in south-central Minnesota.

Comments must be in writing and accepted by 4:30 p.m. on July 25. The MPCA is the state agency responsible for regulating feedlots in Minnesota. High Island Dairy LLC, owned by Davis Family Dairies LLC, proposes to build a total confinement barn in Lake Prairie Township of Nicollet County to house 3,000 dairy cows.

The barn would be located off 348th Street in the township, about two-thirds of a mile southwest of County Road 8. The dairy would use a process called “anaerobic digestion” to break down its manure and wastewater along with wastewater and sludge from the Le Sueur Cheese Co. This process would also create methane gas to use as energy at the site.

After digestion, the manure solids would be separated from the waste stream and used as bedding for the cows. The liquid manure, along with solids not needed for bedding, would be stored in a covered earthen basin on site until it is applied as fertilizer to cropland every year after harvest.

The dairy would generate 32.85 million gallons of manure a year. The on-site basin would have 15 months of storage capacity for manure and wastewater produced at the proposed facility as well as for the waste from the cheese factory.

Copies of the High Island Dairy worksheet are available on the MPCA Environmental Assessment Worksheets and Environmental Impact Statements webpage. The proposed dairy requires a water appropriation permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as it would use 45 million gallons of water a year. It also requires a conditional use permit from Nicollet County. –MPCA News Release