Conservation takes hit in House ag 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.

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

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